Takt Op. Destiny – 09 – New York, Old Problems

While it’s a shame they skipped Baltimore and Philadelphia, there’s definitely a sense of sudden, profound accomplishment when we see Anna’s trusty blue 70s sedan rumble down Times Square. They’ve made it! Now Destiny can get tuned and stop sapping Takt’s life and everything’s going to be okay!

The sense of having arrived at one’s destination after a long road trip (with several exciting detours) is reinforced by the fact that Anna and Cosette’s elder sister Lotte and their parents live in NYC, which means reuniting with them feels like returning home. Anna, having finally gotten Destiny and Takt to the Symphonica, deserves a rest.

Unfortunately there’s no rest for the deserving, as Lotte’s tests on Takt and Destiny bear no promising fruit. Their contract between Conductor and Musicart, while more symbiotic than parasitic, will nonetheless soon result in both dying, confirming that Takt’s corroded arm is not only permanent, but cumulative.

Lotte tells the pair that their only hope is…to not fight. If they settle down, stop hunting D2s and live normal lives, they’ll live far longer. After a full-on New York Day of food, drink, shopping, sightseeing, and aquarium-ing, Takt and Destiny get a pretty decent taste of what that life might be like. The problem is, like everyone else in the city, their lives are constantly dependent on the Symphonica’s protection.

Neither Takt nor Destiny refuse the possibility of settling down out of hand, rather its just that Destiny still can’t imagine a life without battle, which is not only her duty, but purpose. Not to mention neither of them probably like the prospect of being “intentionally useless” by letting others fight and die for their sake. They still have the power to fight, and so they’ll keep hoping that the fighting will end and they can enjoy live music in the park together.

Except…they suddenly have to leave NYC immediately and takt Anna and Cosette’s family with them, according to Lenny sounding as grim as we’ve ever heard him. When Takt assures him he’s not an “outsider”, Lenny agrees to tell Takt the truth about everything: even the infamous incident ten years ago in Boston.

It all starts with Destiny hearing another tuning fork, which means Felix was far from the only Symphonica member using the D2 to fuel his own ambitions. From that musical stab as the camera locked on Heaven’s eyes, the trouble could go all the way to the top. Do Takt and Destiny retreat with their family as Lenny urges, or remain New York, where everything is happening, to see where the cards fall?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Takt Op. Destiny – 08 – Call Her By Her Name

Despite being worn down by a combination of sleep deprivation and Destiny, Takt makes the first move against Felix, and would have socked him in the face with a speed and force Felix didn’t expect, were it not for his trusty sadistic bodyguard, Hell, who breaks his ribs with a kick. Destiny retreats with Takt in her arms, and Hell lets them go, because killing them now won’t be as fun as waiting until they’ve recovered.

When Takt comes to (after she administers water to him with a kiss), Destiny has returned to Normal Girl Mode and made a fire, but her bandage wrapping leaves much to be desired. She acknowledges this, and her shortcomings outside of battle in general. When Takt asks why she didn’t continue fighting without him, she says when she saw him crumpled on the ground, her body moved on its own: to him, and away from the fighting.

Takt tells Destiny more about Cosette, and how now that she’s gone, there’s no one left around to hear his music he might compose. Of course, he’s wrong; not only are Anna and Destiny there, but a whole lot of people who want and need to hear his music so it can warm their hearts like the fire in the cave.

The next morning, Destiny meets Felix and Hell back in the woods with two axes and tries her best to fight. Alas, without her Musicart Mode she’s no match for Hell, who merely toys with her. Just when she’s about to be choked out, Takt arrives, and the two get into a lover’s quarrel, completely ignoring Felix. Lenny and Titan arrive to keep Felix and Hell busy while the two talk things out.

Takt asks Destiny—by name, for the first time—if she also needs to hear his song like all those other people out there. Destiny says she doesn’t simply need to; she wants to hear it. With Felix and Hell standing in the way of that, Takt tells Desinty to use as much of his life as she needs to dispatch them. And what do you know, Destiny actually takes it to Hell, overpowering her giant attack with one of her own and  burning her arm.

Hell is ready to go another round, but the fight is stopped by the ethereally calm and gentle voice of Heaven, Grand Maestro Sagan’s Musicart. Speaking for Sagan, Heaven relieves Felix of his position and fires him from the Symphonia with immediate effect.

Just like that, Hell turns her back on her former Maestro and snaps his baton, and departs with Heaven. There’s an ominous to Heaven’s presence (aided by the music that plays when she arrives) and to the fact that Felix was officially relieved for disobeying orders…not for trying to kill Takt and Destiny.

Still, it’s probably not the last we’ll see of him, and I was a little miffed Takt wasn’t able to land a punch to his smug, villainous face. But in the end I was just glad Takt and Destiny made it out of the predicament alive, and doubly glad to see them reunite with a ridiculously relieved Anna. Like Takt, she calls Destiny by her name for the first time. She lost a little sister, but now realized she gained another.

Watching Destiny evolve before our eyes with an essentially full suite of emotions, and watching Takt and Anna shed their denial and accept Destiny for Destiny, was as fun as watching Destiny, Takt, and Titan kick ass. After all this excitement, could another comparatively relaxing road trip episode be in the offing?

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.

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 17 – Having It Easy

Lest last week’s episode make us too hard on Paul, we flash back to the same disaster that sent Rudy and Eris to the Demon Continent. Paul suddenly finds himself a stranger in a strange land, with only Norn with him. With Zenith, Lilia, and Aisha nowhere to be found, all Paul could do is keep Norn safe and try to find the rest of his family. Just as Rudy did everything he possibly could to keep Eris safe, Paul did the same with Norn.

Back in the present, Paul once more escapes into drink, but he just so happens to know Geese, who tells him that actually, if he stops and thinks about it (preferably while sober), he was pretty harsh on his eleven-year-old son. Yes, Rudy was an amazing and special prodigy, but that doesn’t change the fact that he is also a little kid who went through a lot and still managed to come out of it with himself intact.

Geese’s man-to-man chat with Paul really provides a key assist to Rudy, as Paul dries himself out and visits Rudy once more at the tavern. Eris is ready to attack him, but Ruijerd stops her. As the two leave to allow Paul to be alone with his son, Ruijerd reminds Paul that the grievances he has with Rudy are only important because Rudy is still alive. As in, Paul still has much to be thankful for.

Last week, both Paul and Rudy learned a lot about themselves and each other. Rudy learned that yes, he actually was kind of treating this like a game this whole time, because he didn’t know the extent of the disaster that befell Fittoa (Paul warns him there’s basically nothing left of their home). When the bartender tells Rudy to look his father in the face, he sees a face he hadn’t seen since the last friend who hung out with him when he was a shut-in in his previous life.

When that friend was doing his best to help Rudy feel like what he was and what he was doing wasn’t bad or wrong, Rudy at the time took it as nothing but patronization and pity. He lashed out at his friend, who never returned to his place. But Paul did come back, to apologize for being too harsh with his son. So Rudy, in turn, suggests they simply forget the previous day happened and start over with a simple father-son hug.

Back at the inn, and with Paul present, Rudy has another Dead End strategy meeting with Eris and Ruijerd. He tells Eris that the home they knew doesn’t exist anymore, and to his surprise, Eris had long ago already accepted that possibility. Thus their mission is no longer to return home, but to find the rest of his family.

Now his party will be active in the same search Paul’s party and Roxy’s party have been involved in since the disaster. That means there’s a good chance one of those groups will find someone. After all, Paul and Rudy found each other. And while it was initially a tough reunion, once both of them committed to being grown-ups they were able to be honest with each other.

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 16 – Son, I Am Disappoint

After a beautiful sequence showing the quartet journeying by horse and wagon, Rudy, Eris, Ruijerd and Geese arrive at Millishion, capital of the Holy Country of Millis. And it’s quite a city; between the white stone of the buildings and the very religious sounding leitmotif, I was reminded of the Holy City of Aquaria from Star Ocean: Till the End of Time.

Once there, Rudy proposes the three take a day off. Eris is off to hunt goblins, Ruijerd will tag along just in case she’s in over her head, and Rudy wants to produce more Ruijerd statuettes for sale in the human city, as well as write his first letter to his family in over a year and a half. But Dead End’s mandate to save any and all children in need results in him running into a group of kidnappers led by none other than his dad, Paul.

Paul is still a formidable opponent, despite being drunk and desperate. This reunion of father and son is not a happy one, and only gets worse when Rudy regales the entire tavern with the story of his adventures since being teleported to the Demon Continent, adding enough flourish to make it sound like he was having fun with his cute rich girl…when both he and Paul know he could have been doing so much more.

The thing is, Rudy, and we as extension, thought he was doing everything he could with the cards he’d been dealt; keep Eris safe and get her home. But Paul knows the power his son possesses, and doesn’t understand why Rudy didn’t try reaching out sooner (indeed, he never ends up writing that belated letter). As Rudy says, it just never occurred to him all this time that anyone other than him and Eris were teleported.

Being berated by Paul throws Rudy into a rage, and he starts beating up on his father until his little sister Norn, who doesn’t remember him, bravely puts herself between them. It turns out the entire tavern is occupied by a search-and-rescue party dedicated to finding the missing people of Buena Village, including Rudy’s mom, Lilia, and Aisha. The only bully here…is Rudy.

In light of all this, Rudy finds himself ostracized by the entire place, and there’s nothing to do but stalk away. He tries to put a brave, optimistic face on things (and also, ahem, whacks off) but only ends up vomiting as the weight of everything his father said—everything he overlooked all this time washes over him. When Eris and Ruijerd return and see what a mess he is, and he tells them why, Eris wants to murder Paul.

But Ruijerd tells her to comfort Rudy instead. And even though it’s not something she says she’s very good at, all Rudy really needs is a hug, so when Eris gives him one (after some adorable hesitation), he immediately cheers up. He remembers he’s not all alone, and he has a family in her and Ruijerd.

Can he make amends with his father and join him in locating the rest of his other family?  Considering everything he and his party of three have been through and overcome thus far, I’m not about to bet against them now.

The Detective Is Already Dead – 06 – Monsters and Maidens

Once Siesta busted through the walls of the huge complex beneath the Houses of Parliament, I knew we were in for some gleefully bizarre action. After explaining how she really doesn’t care about her sidekick enough to beg the government for a top-secret humanoid weapon, she puts Kimi in the only seat in the cockpit and sits on his lap as the pair go up against Hel and her eldritch abomination.

While in theory this would be a pretty cool battle, the execution greatly suffers, with both storyboarding, animation and sound contributing to an underwhelming spectacle. Rather than sitting on the edge of my seat, I was distracted by the fact the show had just written checks it could not cash. To borrow a Top Gear phrase: ambitious, but rubbish.

What keeps this sequence from bottoming out all together is the huming chemistry and always entertaining (if sometimes florid) banter between the Legendary Detective and her sidekick. Yet even as they remind us not to take the mecha/monster battle too seriously, the peril and urgency is suddenly ratcheted up when the battle takes to the skies of London.

It’s here where I kept thinking this could be it; when the Detective who is Already Dead…would die. She even ejects Kimi from the mecha and collides with Hel and her monster in a big explosion as the two combatants fall to the ground in a cloud of dust, smoke, and flame. Somehow, Kimi is able to meet right back up with Siesta, and gives her a hug, telling her never to do that again.

In a heartbreaking moment considering what we know, Siesta promises Kimi she’ll never suddenly willfully die without telling him anything. Then she defeats Hel rather easily by using a pocket mirror—one of her special “tools”—to cause her to stab herself with her own sword. She’s about to finish her off with a bullet when Hell yells “Chameleon!” and then vanishes. Clearly, she had a sidekick…so I guess Kimi was going to be her second?

Hel may not be dead, but neither is Siesta; instead she’s suffered a broken leg, which results in a cast and her and Kimi cohabitating so he can take care of her. She’s loving how much he’s loving this suddenly intimate situation, even if he tries valiantly to hide it. Why else would he head out to buy juicier apples?

It’s that little shopping trip that leads our trouble magnet of a sidekick to the next case, this one involving his discovery of a twin-tailed loli in an Alice dress and striped stockings sleeping in a wooden crate on the sidewalk. Voiced by Kugimiya Rie, the girl’s name is even Alicia, but other than knowing she’s Kimi’s age despite looking ten years younger, she doesn’t remember who she is or why she woke up in a box.

Kimi comes home to a Siesta who was not only wearing an apron (thus fulfilling Kimi’s lifelong dream), but preparing to bake a pie with the apples he was supposed to come home with. Instead, he comes home with an amnesiac girl who ate all those apples, and Siesta’s understandably a bit-miffed.

No matter; Siesta, Kimi, and Alicia discuss the situation over Darjeeling tea and apple-less apple pie. Siesta decides that this is their next case, but since she’s laid up with her injury, she asks Alicia to be the Detective in her place (she doesn’t pick Kimi despite his experience because he just has “the face of a sidekick”). Alicia agrees when she learns she can boss the sidekick around all she wants.

But just as this case gets started, a new one rears its head: Detective Kase barges in without knocking and smokes indoors while reporting that the heart-harvester has struck again: Hel is still at it. I guess we’ll see how Alicia fares as the Substitute Legendary Detective…or maybe the show will switch gears entirely and return to the present. I really don’t know anymore, and I guess, for now, that’s part of the fun.

Read Crow’s episode 6 review here.

The Quintessential Quintuplets – 20 – Tantamount to Love

This week Fuutarou learns why there’s a Fake Itsuki when he finds four of them in one room. As Yotsuba explains, she was the first of the quints to change her appearance (with her bunny ribbon). At some point they all agreed to look identical whenever they visited their grandpa, so he wouldn’t worry about them drifting apart.

Gramps ends up coming in their room, so Fuu has to hide under the kotatsu, and identifies the real Fake Itsuki who spoke to him in the lobby by the bruise on her leg. However, because all of the quints in the room are disguised as Itsuki, he doesn’t know to which quint that leg belongs!

As Fuu continues his investigation, Nino takes Ichika aside to to bathe together, hoping to pick Ichika’s brain about what next steps to take with the guy she likes, describing with wonderful self-awareness how she came to love her “prince”. Of course, Nino is blissfully unaware that Ichika also likes him, and heard her confession to him.

Even Ichika’s best attempts to slow her down end in failure, as Nino makes it clear she’d step over whoever else liked Fuu to get with him. Would she say that if she knew Ichika (or Miku) were that other person? At present, Nino is committed to doing more to get Fuu’s attention, including meeting with him that night and hugging or even kissing him.

Ichika feels powerless to stop her, and even agrees to run interference for their dad so Nino can slip away! She asserts to herself that because she’s such a “coward”, her love for Fuutarou is no match for Nino’s. It’s basically her lowest point yet, where she’s actively working against her interests in deference to someone who made it clear she wouldn’t do the same. That’s when Yotsuba finds her in the hallway, crying.

The two climb up to the roof—an old hiding spot of theirs from years past—and when Yotsuba sneezes from the cold, Ichika lends her her robe. Yotsuba reminisces how Ichika was once the prank-pulling “mean bully” who’d always takes things from the others with impunity—basically the opposite of what she is now: feeling afraid and unworthy of taking Fuu from Nino.

Then their mom died, Itsuki was hit hardest, and Ichika decided there and then that she had to be The Big Sister. Yotsuba tells Ichika how she’s always saw her as her dear big sister, and how she wants her to do what she wants. For Ichika, right now, that’s for things to remain in the “comfort zone”, where Fuu isn’t “taken” by any of them.

Buoyed by Yotsuba’s words, the last two things Ichika does are in her own interest: taking back the robe she lent Yotsuba, and not distracting their dad so Nino can talk to Fuu. We’ll see if Nino shrugs off Ichika not coming through for her at what for her was a crucial opportunity to impress her feelings upon her Prince.

That brings us back to Fuu himself, who has noticed the quints’ grandfather has no trouble telling them apart. When pressed, Gramps tells him there’s no silver bullet or trick to it, it’s just a matter of learning their mannerisms, voices, and subtle habits, which he says are basically “tantamount to love”. This, of course, leads gramps to ask him why he needs to tell them apart. If he truly can’t, can he honestly say he has the “commitment to face them in good faith?”

Fuu accepts that challenge the next morning, when unbeknownst to him, Miku has already come clean with Itsuki about being the Fake Itsuki. She wanted to end their student-teacher relationship so it could change into something new. Unlike Ichika, she doesn’t want to stay in the comfort zone. So Itsuki tells Miku to meet Fuu one more time as Fake Her.

Fuu uses the process of elimination to narrow it down to Ichika or Miku, and when she gets her to say “Itsuki-chan”, he guesses she’s Ichika, because only she uses “-chan” with Itsuki. Miku pretends he’s right, holding back tears that then start to fall once her back is turned. But then Fuu realizes she is Miku, causing her to run into his arms so fast her Itsuki wig falls off and she tackles him to the ground!

Fuu then goes on to explain his further reasoning for why Miku might be mad—because he never got around to giving her anything in return after Valentines Day. Then he asks why she wanted him to quit, and she tells him to forget it. He’s a teacher, she’s a student, and that doesn’t have to change. She’s just grateful he guessed correctly.

That leads to another strange cliffhanger-like ending, where before Fuutarou and the Nakanos depart from the onsen, someone in white, almost wedding-like shoes runs at him at full speed, causing him to grab the nearby bell for support. This, after gramps confirmed his daughter, the quints’ mother, was named Rena—the same name as the mysterious girl he saw when he fell in the water. To be continued, I guess!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Episode Eight Quintuplet Ranking:

  1. Miku: Her bitterness about Fuu not guessing correctly, immediately followed by her pure unbridled joy, was one hell of an emotional roller coaster! She definitely caused Fuutarou to think about the “love” gramps talked about. Total Points: 22 (Tied for 3rd)
  2. Yotsuba: Who’d have guessed she was the maverick who first changed her appearance? In both explaining the Fake Itsukis and her heart-to-heart with Ichika, Yots seems content to let things with the others play out before making whatever move she has planned…if any. Total Points: 22 (Tied for 3rd)
  3. Ichika: I think she’s finally reached the bottom of her well of defeatism and may be starting to claw her way out. It’s still not looking good, but at least she hasn’t given up on what she wants. Total Points: 21 (5th)
  4. Itsuki: Was instrumental both in getting Fuu to find out why the others were upset, as well as hearing Miku out and having her try one more time. Just an all-around great sis! Total Points: 26 (2nd)
  5. Nino: As she was thwarted from doing anything more with/to Fuu, Nino was relegated to a passive role this week. If Fuu doesn’t make the next move—and he shows no signs of doing so—she may have to try something. Was that her in the white shoes throwing herself at him? Total Points: 29 (1st)

 

Adachi & Shimamura – 11 – Desiring the Future

Back when Shimamura was in P.E. and suspected Adachi was on the second floor, but didn’t go up to see her, Adachi was indeed on the second floor, and didn’t expect her to come up and see her. For a couple moments she thinks she might be proven wrong, but it’s not Shimamura, just a third-year (whom I believe is a Hanazawa Kana voice cameo) looking for a quiet spot to read.

Ever since their second year began, Adachi has witnessed Shima easily find new friends, and can’t discern between her smiles and laughs with them and those with her. She gets the (wrong) impression Shima doesn’t care about her, yet can’t help but bike to the mall where they made happy memories, or think of which puppy she’d like best.

That’s when Adachi and Tarumi bump into each other, unaware of their connection with Shimamura, and Adachi notices Tarumi dropped her strap. Like Tarumi, Adachi thinks it would be just the tops if she and Shima had matching straps. But when spotting a lonely but quiet puppy, Adachi realizes she’s looking at a mirror.

That attitude is nurtured by a very random and fortune-teller, who looks and talks as eccentrically as Adachi is normal. Her advice is solid: the future can’t really be told, it must be desired, which means no running away from what is needed to achieve them. She has nothing to say to Adachi that she doesn’t already know, she just needs a little push to be more assertive in seeking Shima’s attention.

That brings us to a shift in POV to Shimamura, picking up from last week with her “Finally, it’s Adachi” remark. Having not heard her voice since the term began, Shima seems surprised how much she welcomes Adachi’s voice. This new assertive Adachi sits on the same chair as her and shares yummy bread, and Shima just knows that as her fake friends fade, Adachi will keep burning bright.

Shima sees all of Adachi’s moves as a sign her friend has made up her mind that she is the only one she needs. But is the reverse true? Shima can see Adachi has the same interest in straps and need to hold her hand (albeit her other hand) as Tarumi. She envisions her hands being held by the other two, all three of them with straps, in a Shima sandwich.

But only Adachi takes Shimamura aside, draws her into a big hug, and exclaims “I think you’re the best!” and plans to call Shima at 7 PM. She doesn’t stick around long enough for Shima to tell her that’s her usual time, so Shima arranges to eat dinner early, knowing full well Adachi will call her at 7 PM on the dot.

Adachi doesn’t call to say anything specific, she mostly likes the feeling of having Shima all to herself while on the phone. Shima calls her possessive, but Adachi thinks it’s normal, and it is normal, for someone who has feelings for someone and has decided not to run away or equivocate any longer.

Shima admits it’s “not a bad feeling” knowing someone cares about her, and is caught off guard by Adachi’s over-the-phone tears. Still, with Adachi, Shima feels her “possibilities are fixed.” If, not when, she were to choose someone to walk beside, it would be whoever is “best for her”.

While Adachi opened this episode believing she wouldn’t officially graduate to her second year until she confronted Shima, she’s actually well ahead of Shima in terms of knowing exactly what’s best for her and what she wants.

Shima isn’t sure about either, and weary of “surrendering” to Adachi’s puppy-like whims. How can Shima know she’s choosing someone who has already so heartily chosen her? I certainly don’t know, but at the end of the day (and hopefully by the end of this series!), Shima needs to learn what kind of future she desires.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Assault Lily: Bouquet – 05 – Any Gift Will Do

This week’s AL:B takes on a distinct slice-of-life flavor, no better illustrated than Yoshimura Thi Mai napping in the shade of a tree so peacefully, a cat Andou Tasuza was chasing curls up on her belly. The episode tries to draw out the uncertainty of Thi Mai and Tasuza being the two final pieces of Riri’s nine-Lily Legion, but the OP already erased any doubt.

Rather than focus on Riri, Kaede, and Fumi’s attempts to woo Thi and Taz, the episode pivots to Yuyu. She learns by chance when Fumi fires up a vintage tablet that Riri’s birthday is tomorrow. Between the spinning 3D model of Riri and the continued use of name tags for characters, it’s clear AL:B wants to sell some figures, but it was still fun to watch Riri try to run from her AR stats.

Yuyu thinks Riri has given her so much, it’s time to give back, especially on her birthday, but is concerned about giving too random or modest a gift. She talks with everyone but Riri, who has since gotten to know her better, and two facts become clear: that she’ll be happy with any gift Yuyu gives her, and that Riri loves Ramune. Only problem is, the store only sells Ramune candy; Yuyu would prefer to get some of the genuine article.

This leads to Yuyu taking a solitary odyssey to Riri’s hometown the next day. The dialogue-free traveling sequence is gorgeous to behold, and captures both the beauty of the world and, finally, the general peril of ordinary citizens, as Riri’s town is in a constant state of evacuation. Still, there are cold Ramunes for sale at the konbini, and when Yuyu samples one, it’s like learning a little more about her Schild.

Yuyu buys two more and keeps them chilled in a mini-cooler, but when she encounters two thirsty little kids at a station, she gives them both away like the kind and generous Lily she is. Upon returning to the station nearest the academy, she runs into Thi and Tax chasing cats, but can’t very well go lecturing them considering her trip.

Then they notice something glintnig behind some ivy, and discover a hidden Ramune vending machine that was in power-save mode. Now Yuyu can give Riri some Ramune. She might think her whole day-long trip was for nothing, but she ends up clinching Thi and Taz’s decision to join the Legion.

The nine Lilies assemble to celebrate Riri’s birthday, and as expected, she’s elated by Riri’s gift, but amusingly assumes she just went down by the station to buy it, rather than all the way to her hometown. The only other thing Riri wants is, well, Yuyu, and Yuyu offers herself up for a hug, before Yuyu shows how inexperienced she is at hugging back.

With nine members to the Legion and Riri happy on her birthday, Yuyu is flying high that night…until her roommate brings up the fact that the academy is investigating whether Riri’s Rare Skill is “Charisma”, an ability that draws everyone towards her and makes her a natural leader.

This doesn’t sit well with Yuyu, who contemplates whether what she feels for Riri is simply a matter of eating out of Riri’s hand as a result of some power, and not her genuine feelings. With a huge Huge battle coming up, her lingering conflict is sure to be as much a factor as the cohesion of the new Legion.

Assault Lily: Bouquet – 03 – Always Look Your Best

Riri is elated that Yuyu is officially her new Schutzengel, but Yuyu has no intention of going easy on her Schild, delivering no shortage of tough love in the training facility and continuing to be cold and aloof.

Riri also gets to watch the Alfheim legion work. The nine-lily team who work together to bring down a low-level Huge—basically the opposite of Yuyu’s go-it-alone strategy.

While bathing with Kaede an Fumi, Riri is approached by Alfheim members, who offer some explanation for why Yuyu is the way she is: in a battle two years ago her own Schutzengel was killed. She still haunts Yuyu, noting that she’s “scared” both for and of Riri, and thus quick to turn her away.

Eventually Riri manages to focus her Magie and parry her attack. Right afterward the pair are on duty, and Yuyu makes sure to fix Riri’s tussled hair and uniform: an Assault Lily must look her best on the battlefield.

When the Huge arrives, it is a Restored, a Huge that survived previous attacks and returned to its base for repairs. Its shell is lined with the broken CHARMs of dead Lilies, and Yuyu decides that Riri will sit this one out. She says it’s because she’ll be in the way, but really it’s to avoid a repeat of what happened with her Schutzengel.

You see, Yuyu’s “Rare Skill” is Lunatic Trancer, so called because it transforms her into a white-haired berserk killing machine who will fight friend or foe until her Magie is spent. Seeing the CHARMs of fallen Lilies triggers the skill, and Yuyu goes on an unfocused rampage.

Due to the threat she poses, none of the other on-duty freelance Lilies can lend aid, but once Riri learns the rest of Yuyu’s story—that she was initially suspected of harming her own Schutzengel while in Trancer mode—she decides that she’ll be the one to break her out of it.

Riri rushes in to meet Yuyu, but when they cross CHARMs a first and then a a second time, Riri holds firm, and their Magie touches through the blades. Yuyu dismisses herself as a despicable monster consumed by hatred, but Riri tells her she doesn’t care, she’s still her sister, and gives her a hug that pulls her out of her trance.

Together they finish off the Restored, which will be restored no more. Afterward, Yuyu takes Riri to the cemetery where her Schutzengel Kawazoe Misuzu is buried. Later, in the dark of her dorm, Yuyu remembers clearly when she came out of a trance to find she’d run Misuzu through with her blade, but even then her big sister urged her to forgive herself and move forward.

Her roommate Matsuri Hata comes in, turns on the lights, mentions that she heard Yuyu sortied, and says “good work”, Yuyu thanks her, which is apparently enough of a rarity for Hata to note that she can’t recall the last time Yuyu was so nice. Clearly, the Schutzengel is working out swimmingly so far for both her and Riri.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Fruits Basket – 50 (Second Season Fin) – Feather Brain

Despite all of the chaos and craziness of These Times, leave it to the trusty Fruits Basket’s second season to end one year to the day after the first season ended in 2019. And it doesn’t end with a whimper, but a one-two punch that will leave your pulverized heart slowly stewing in your stomach, even as the brightest rays of hope yet shine upon Tooru’s mission.

The opening images herald what’s to come. As soon as I saw a young, bewildered Kureno surrounded by floating feathers and a positively terrified Akito cowering behind him, I knew the big secret Shigure has known, and would be dying to reveal were it not up to Kureno himself later: Kureno is not a Zodiac member. He hasn’t been for years. His bond with Akito was severed; the curse lifted…only to be immediately replaced by a new curse of his own making.

To the part about his curse being lifted, it’s the best news yet that Tooru’s dream of lifting it for all isn’t pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking, but a reality waiting to be realized. Of course, Tooru doesn’t know anything about this at first, and nor does Rin: but the fact that Rin will remain in a room and talk with Tooru (but leave the moment Yuki shows up) may well foreshadow future collaboration between the two. I certainly hope so, anyway!

For now, Tooru is happy for a new year with Yuki and Shigure and oh yeah, Kyou, who doesn’t appear in this episode, since the exploration of his and Tooru’s failure to confess to one another is best left to a future season for it to be done justice. Instead, most of the episode is given over to the truth about Kureno, and how he’s always seemed “off” to both Shigure and Hatori.

Kureno manages to steal away from a sleeping Akito’s side deep into the night, and plays the Cinderella-ish DVD given to him by Tooru c/o Momiji Both of them pray he’ll watch it, and he does. The scene with Tooru and Kyou was so powerful I almost forgot Arisa also bore her whole damn heart in the play.

First she castigated Prince Kyou for not acting on his feelings when there are “people out there (like her and Kureno) who can’t see the ones they wish to see.” When Arisa cries out “I want to see him!” Kureno can’t help but reach out. But his image of a smiling Arisa in her work apron is juxtaposed by a hysterical younger Akito begging him “Don’t abandon me!” and the dimensions of Kureno’s own personal prison come into clear focus.

The moment Tooru returns home to Shigure’s, he sends her out on an errand to buy envelopes, knowing full well she’ll do it immediately and with a smile (this is Tooru, after all). He also knows it will take her past a certain park where Kureno is waiting. Before noticing him, Tooru approaches a flock of sparrows, who naturally aren’t afraid of her what with her gentle soul and calming aura.

Then Kureno approaches her, and the birds scatter. This confuses Tooru to no end since she’s seen rabbits, rats and cats naturally gather around Momiji, Yuki, and Kyou, respectively. Then the absolute kicker: Kureno draws Tooru into a hug…and nothing happens. He tells her plainly: he’s different. His curse is broken. He isn’t a member of the Zodiac.

It would have been one thing if his burgeoning love for Arisa had broken the curse, but it happened long before they met, and to this day Kureno couldn’t tell you exactly why. All he knows his how he felt when it happened. At first he was sad upon realizing he’d never fly again. But he also felt a happiness and a freedom and a sense of humanity he’d never felt before.

Even so, he says, upon returning the DVD, Tooru’s present “was for nothing”, as he doesn’t intent to see Arisa again, and will instead remain by Akito’s side as he has done. It seems like a firm declaration, but as he tries desperately to rationalize two simple insignificant meetings with Arisa as easily forgotten with time…he just can’t do it.

There’s no supernatural or spiritual bond keeping him by Akito’s side. It is more pity than love, along with years of trying to make it something it hadn’t been since the curse broke. Upon realizing their bond was broken Akito lost it, taking Kureno aside and threatening to kill anyone else who approached. And then she sobbed and begged and pleaded for him not to leave her. And Kureno, being younger than Tooru is now and not knowing any better, gave in.

Things are even more different now than they were then. Kureno resolved neither to go too far into the outside world nor seek anything there, but he’s fallen in love for the first time since the curse broke, since he “became human”, as he puts it. And as much as he may want to stay by Akito’s side, just as back then, something has happened that cannot be undone.

Kureno might have been able to deceive the other Zodiac members for a while, but I doubt he ever deceived Akito. And yet despite knowing the curse was broken, his staying probably signaled to Akito that their power still held sway, which turned out to be true, only if psychologically and not supernaturally.

As Tooru tries to comfort the long-tormented Kureno, he tells her without self-pity, hatred, or regret, that he made his choice to live only for “the one who cried until sobs racked their body. Weaker than anyone…more fragile than anyone. For the one…so afraid…for a sorrowful girl.”

Akito wakes up before Kureno returns, and notes that it’s the first time he’s left without permission. After ordering their attendants to find him, Akito takes a bath, and when their robe slips off in the mirror, it is finally officially confirmed that Akito is a woman. This had already been heavily implied, both in design, choice of seiyu (Sakamoto Maaya), and in other subtle ways. But that doesn’t lesson the impact of learning the truth explicitly.

Immediately upon Tooru learning Akito is a girl, the second season ends, having answered so many questions and yet left us with so many more about what’s to come. Will Tooru (and Rin, and other allies) succeed in her quest to lift the curse for all? Will she even continue the quest, knowing how much pain it will cause Akito to take her remaining Zodiac members away? Will Tooru ever allow herself to love someone more than her mother? Will Kureno and Arisa meet again? Will Akito escalate her grudge against Tooru?

Lots to ponder, for sure. And that’s even before we get into how we’re supposed to feel about Akito, who regardless of gender has been a pretty consistently selfish, cruel, dispicable character from the start. It goes without saying she’d have a tragic past of her own to match her myriad psychological issues, and while I can empathize, goddamn is it hard to sympathize, when weighing the suffering she’s caused the others.

For all of that food for thought, and yearning for the next season, and the expert direction and framing and pitch-perfect music throughout, I found this one of the best episodes of Fruits Basket yet, which at this point is saying something, and it will be very very hard to wait for what’s next.

P.S. Additional food for thought: the reason Akito cherishes Kureno so much is because he is there by his own free will, and not due to any binding curse, something I hadn’t considered until we learned he’s no longer a Zodiac member. Ultimately this is the way all her companions should be: there by choice and not force. Of course, she’d have to be much nicer to them…

Want to read more? Read Crow’s thoughts here.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 23 (Fin) – A Hug and a Sword

She may have put up a brave front for most of last week’s episode, Alice’s cracks show at a cocktail party and culminate in an escape from Rath altogether. Kirito just gets off the phone with Rinko when he receives a large package.

Sure enough, it’s Alice, who shipped herself to his house! It strikes just the right balance of hilariously ridiculous and tremendously sweet, especially when you consider Alice isn’t just any heartsick maiden, but an artificial life form.

Alice has been unfathomably lonely since awakening in the real world, and who can blame her? She’s literally the only being of her kind in that world. She’s lost and adrift, but the sight of Kirito—or rather the physical presence Kirigaya Kazuto—soon soothes her, especially when wrapped in a big hug. He also tells her she is his hope, and the hope of all decent people in the world.

But Kirito can discern that she needs more than a tour of his humdrum family home. He takes her to the nearby dojo puts a practice sword in her hand, and the two spar. After defeating him with a cheekily improvised move called “Iron Headbutt”, Alice’s confidence and sense of self is restored. All a knight needs is a sword and a cause, after all!

Alice stays the night, and gets to witness a rare sight for SAO: the entire Kirigaya family seated around the dinner table. After his dad asks him to once again apologize for stressing them out during his latest mission, Alice herself defends Kirito as a hero in her world.

To her surprise, her father responds with pride that he’s aware of Kazuto’s accomplishments, and that he’s already a hero in the real world as well, making his son blush. Kazuto also informs his parents of his new course in life: to earn a degree in electronic engineering and join the Oceanic Resource Exploration & Research Institution, AKA Rath.

That night, Alice sneaks into a sleeping Kirito’s room, but not for that. She received a strange message through the network, and with Yui’s help Kirito determines the message is code for a specific IP address in which to re-access the Underworld.

Kirito, Alice, and Asuna meet at the Roppongi facility where Rinko helps them log back into the Underworld, two hundred years after leaving it. The three are shocked to find they’ve spawned not on the Underworld, but in orbit of it, out in space!

There has clearly been some possibly Macross-inspired technological advances in those two centuries, because Tiese and Ronie (or two people very much like those two) are “integrity pilots” locked in a desperate space battle with an eldritch abomination called “The Abyssal Horror”, all eyes, mouths, and tentacles.

Since the pilots are in trouble, Kirito, Asuna, and Alice all pool their considerable offensive powers in order to freeze, impale, and utterly destroy the spacebeast, all while the pilots gaze in awe and recall that the trio are historical figures back in the Underworld. Unfortunately, we don’t get to see the planet surface and how things have advanced.

Granted, that would probably have been digging too deeply than what was required of this episode: a worthy send-off for Kirito, Asuna, and Alice, and a tantalizing sneak-peak at their next adventure, called the “Inter-Intellegence War.”

Whenever that new anime is released, I’ll certainly be there to follow our old friends as they hopefully manage to avoid falling into comas or being held hostage by perverts! Until then, I bid sayonara to the now-completed War of Underworld and ja ne to Sword Art Online. It was quite a fun ride.

Season Average: 8.55

Oregairu 3 – 11 – The Best Time to Buy In

“There are infinite ways to express a single word,” says Shizuka-sensei, literally illustrating that by writing all the rather harsh negative words she can conjure to describe her relationship with Hikki, then scribbling them all over until the word “love” remains. She tells Hikki if he can’t find a single word, use all the words he needs (he’s no stranger to this practice). If words aren’t enough, pair them up with actions.

This week, Hikki does just that. He finds his words—not the ideal words or the words easiest to understand—but the words that are at least imperfectly sufficient to get his point across, and he pairs them up with bold action. The next day after school Hikki shares an afternoon of nothing with Yui, and she tells him her wish is for Yukinon to be part of them.

With the end of the service club, that seems unlikely to be east or even possible for Hikki, who is so bad at expressing or responding to people’s feelings. The word he uses most is associated, as in he does not want to stop being associated with Yukino.

When Yui hears this, a heartbreaking display of emotions runs across her face, but to her surprise and pride, no tears come out. They do, however, come out once she comes home, and her mom is there to hug her. For all the words Yui and Hikki said, the ones that are meant are “Yui, it’s not you, I love…it’s Yukino”. What she knew all along.

On to Hikki’s action. With the prom over and the service club disbanded, he decides to take his fake decoy prom out of mothballs and make it an actual thing, lack of resources be damned. This provokes an emergency meeting with Yukino, Yukino’s mom, and Haruno, the latter of whom seems to finally be getting satisfaction from how Hikki is doing things.

In effect, Hikki is setting himself for abject failure…unless Yukino takes charge and “saves” him. As someone who ran the first prom so splendidly her mother acknowledged her, Yukino couldn’t save face if she turned this down, and the Yukinoshita family would suffer a blow to its vaunted reputation. So she accepts.

In return, Hikki says he’ll “take responsibility” for anything and everything that results from this supposedly ill-fated venture. Even though none of the words explicitly indicate it, the exchange sounds an awful lot like Hikki is asking Yukino’s mom for her daughter’s hand in marriage.

In the end, the PTO had no say in whether the fake prom became real, so Hikki wasn’t negotiating with Yukino’s mom or Haruno. It was all about creating a new opportunity to regularly associate with Yukino…and she took the bait. That night while walking home, Yukino is confused about what Hikki thinks he’s doing, when she told him to respect Yui’s wish.

Since Yui’s wish is for the three of them to remain together, Hikki tells Yukino he’s fulfilling Yui’s wish by doing this. This angers Yukino, who doesn’t like all the verbal gymnastics being used and wants to “get better at doing this”, but Hikki is more pessimistic: in the process of trying to get better, he believes they’ll drift further apart.

Hikki streamlines these sentiments with a pretty cool line: “If I let you go, I can’t grab hold of you again,” backing up the words by grabbing her hand as she power walks away. He then clarifies that saying he’ll “take responsibility” isn’t sufficient to express his true emotions about it. What he really wants is to have responsibility; for her to let him have it.

Initially Hikki hesitated in telling Yukino what he wanted, but Yui told him he had to tell Yukino anyway, even if it’s not the same thing she wants. So he does: he wants to remain involved with Yukino, not out of obligation, but desire. Putting it only the way Hikki can, he asks for the “privilege of distorting” Yukino’s life.

Yukino is a little put off by the innate harshness of such a word as “distortion”, but Hikki points out that distorting each other’s lives is not only unavoidable, but not a bad thing. And while he knows he doesn’t have a lot to offer her, he pledges anything and everything if he can be involved in her life.

A flustered Yukino tells him she’s troublesome and will cause nothing but problems and will eventually become more useless when she relies on him. He responds that he’ll just have to become more useless. After she play punches him and he tenderly takes her hand and holds it at his hear, she hugs him and asks her way: “Please allow me to have your life.”

“A bit stiff,” as Hikki says, but he’s hardly in a position to complain! And that, my friends, is how these two crazy kids confess to one another and ask to continue to be part of each other’s lives. I feel bad for Yui, but she’ll be okay. And that’s the point: no matter how much of a SNAFU their relationships have been or will be, they’re still young, and still learning what romance is and how love feels. They’re all going to be okay!

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