Goblin Slayer – 02 – Not a Man’s Man, but Maybe a Goblin to Goblins

This week begins from the perspective of a rose-haired farm girl who is going off to the city. She gets into a fight with her childhood friend, a boy who can’t go with her. Jump forward to the present, and the farm girl is a very buxom farm woman who prefers to sleep in the nude.

She’s friends with the Goblin Slayer, who rents a place to stay at the farm. He has a routine of inspecting the entire area for signs of goblins, keeping her and her dad uncle safe for no charge. He never removes his mask—not even for breakfast—but it’s clear the farm girl knows who’s behind it.

When they go into town, she can see that while she admires the Goblin Slayer a great deal, neither he nor his singular task of goblin slaying are particularly well-regarded. His fellow Silver-rank adventurers look down on his shoddy arms and armor and his weak chosen opponent, while the Porcelains wonder if he’s really worthy of Silver.

And yet, while they’re all jockeying for position to get the highest-paying or most dangerous quests, he waits until the end, when all the goblin-slaying requests remain unclaimed. The priestess is there too, and will stay by his side even though he refuses to go to the aid of another party of rookies.

Turns out those rookies come back alive, well, and victorious; it’s often just the roll of the dice out there. As for Goblin Slayer and his new companion, together they bring down an entire mountain goblin fortress. The priestess uses a new miracle, “Protection”, but to trap the goblins to choke and burn in the flames.

The Priestess doesn’t much like using the Earth Mother’s miracles for such heartless slaughter, but as the guild admin opines, the Goblin Slayer is doing something that needs to be done. There has to be someone out there culling the herds of the weakest rung of foes, or else they won’t be so weak for long. That makes him, and anyone who aids him, a net good for society, methods be damned.

The farmer’s daughter niece knows this, and also is simply glad her childhood friend is still by her side, even if he never takes off his mask. Her father uncle warns her not to get too involved with the guy, whom he believes “lost it” ever since their village was raided by goblins, introducing the GS’s motivation.

While certainly unglamorous, the GS’s adventures are known by at least one bard in a city, who tells the tale of how even after he saved the fair maiden from the goblin king, he left her to keep wandering the wilds the rest of his days, slaying and slaying and slaying some more goblins.

A tough-looking she-elf approaches the bard after a performance to ask if it’s all true, and he answers in the affirmative, letting her and her party (an old dude and some kind of lizard-man, also tough-looking) know where they can find him. Do they seek a fight with our tortured, single-minded slayer…or a team-up?

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Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 13 (Fin) – Ten Thousand Times More Beautiful

With no more conflicts or catharses left to have, the girls enjoy their final days in Antarctica. They’ve settled into such a routine and gotten so used to the astonishing environment, one adult jokes they won’t be able to reintegrate into society, presenting Shirase and the other Mahjong junkies as evidence.

Their final journey to the frozen sea affords them the opportunity to taste snowcones made from ice with thousand-year-old air pockets, which Mari attests to be delicious. They also learn that much of the winter team’s activities will include sleeping, drinking, and games to pass the time.

Shirase finally gets her wish to be surrounded by adorable penguins, but she’s locked in a cycle of being disgusted by the smell and delighted by being in their presence while asking for some unspecified form of help. I imagine many of us would feel the same way.

Mari is getting cold feet about leaving, and wonders out loud to the others why they can’t just stay. Hinata flicks her forehead and doles out reality; they have to get back to their homes, their families, and their school. But all four promise that they’ll come back together someday.

They then present their final request to the rest of the team: that they play a game of snow softball. Captain Toudou is, naturally, the ace, but just like Takako, Shirase is not only able to hit her pitch, but drive it out of the “park.”

On the eve of departing, Shirase decides to have her hair cut short—her heart wasn’t broken by a guy, but such a change makes sense after her catharsis with the laptop (she also wisely chooses Hinata to cut it, not Mari). The whole team musters for the girls’ farewell ceremony, and after a heartfelt speech by Gin that starts everyone crying, Shirase confidently delivers and even more heartfelt, tear-jerking speech.

In it, she expresses the understanding she reached in this place beyond the universe, and why both her mother and her love it so much: It’s a place that strips everything bare, with nothing to protect you and nowhere to hide. It’s a place where someone can come face-to-face with who they really are…and she did that.

Before embarking for home, Shirase hands Gin her mom’s laptop, stating she no longer needs it. Later, Gin discovers there’s still a message from Takako in the outbox; the last she ever composed. The quartet waves goodbye to their Antarctic summer home where they experienced and learned so much about the world, each other, and themselves.

Yuzu wonders if maybe they all got a little stronger during the journey. A ‘little’? I think she sells herself and the others short here. They were the first high school-age students to explore Antarctica, and they made it. Now, all of a sudden, they’re headed back to the normal world. Even if and when they come back, it will never be the same as their first time.

When night falls, Mari finally gets to experience the one thing they couldn’t due to the laughably short Antarctic nights: view the aurora. Just when they do, Gin sends the last email Takako wrote to Shirase, stating how the real thing is “ten thousand times more beautiful”—something of which, in that moment, Shirase and the others are all to aware.

The four friends, having forged their bonds in the coldest and harshest crucible on the planet, go their separate ways with confidence and return to their lives that were with a serious sense of accomplishment, self-awareness, and maturity.

They discovered as much about themselves in Antarctica as they discovered about the place itself, like how there are no “nothing” days but there’s still more to discover upon returning, like the smell of one’s house.

And in a perfect capper to a marvelous series, Mari texts Megumi that she’s home, and gets a near-immediate response, along with a photo of her posing with the aurora: “Too bad. Right now, I’m in the Arctic.” Well played, Megu-chan; well played.

 

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 12

Shirase vividly remembers the day she was suddenly pulled out of class and informed of her mother’s death. How can she not? We all carry days like that in our memories. For her, it was the end of life feeling as it had before, and the beginning of a dream; an awful dream from which she hoped every day to wake up from.

She’s worked so hard, endured mockery, made and fought with friends, and arrived at the place where she lost her mother. Yet she still doesn’t feel like the dream is over. Now Gin has invited her and the other girls to join the team that will press inland, to the observatory site from which Takako never returned.

Shirase tells her friends it’s not so much that she’s depressed to stressed out about her mother. Rather, she’s weary that if and when she gets to the end of the road, there will be nowhere left to go. If nothing changes, the way it hasn’t thus far, what if she keeps feeling the way she does the rest of her life? What if she can’t wake up?

The girls decide to give Shirase space, proof, according to an adult colleague, that they’re truly good friends. Shirase sits with Gin, who tells her that neither of them know what Takako felt, or whether she wanted them to return to Antarctica, where she’d be waiting in some form.

All Gin can say for certain is that she came because she wanted to come: “At the end of the day, those ideas we latch on to aren’t enough to motivate us. But when we run around on the injustices of reality, they’re the only things that can break through, make the impossible possible, and allow us to proceed on.”

After laying out all of her cash and listing all the ways she made it, Shirase regains the idea that brought her to Antarcica, and joins Gin and the other girls on the inland trip…because her mother is waiting there.

Along the slow, cold slog of a trip, Shirase and he girls experience the harshest conditions so far, but still have to work in them, because there’s no other choice. They also experience some of the most otherworldly sights, like a sun pillar.

When Shirase asks Gin if her mother saw the same thing, Gin answers in the affirmative. Later, Gin has Shirase check in with Syowa Station. From then on, as Shirase realizes she’s following in her mother’s last footsteps, the journey adopts an increasingly melancholy mood.

When a punishing blizzard arrives identical to the one that suddenly claimed Takako, Gin remembers Takako’s last call on the radio, saying “it’s beautiful” but not telling Gin where she was, because if Gin went out to attempt rescue, nature would likely have claimed her as well.

The girls are snug in their sleeping bags as the winds lash against the snowcat, and Shirase sees a vision of her mother sitting nearby, working on her laptop. Mari wakes up to thank Shirase for taking her for allowing her to get the most out of her youth.

It doesn’t matter to her whether they went to Antartica or the Arctic or anywhere else; what made the trip special was that they took it together, as friends. Shirase then tells her mother that she, who thought she’d be fine alone forever, now has friends: slightly weird, frustrating, and broken friends, but friends who were willing to come this far with her.

Now, there’s only a little further to go, and once the snowcats arrive at the observatory site, those same friends rush into the underground complex to try to find something, anything that serves as proof Shirase’s mother was there. And boy do they ever find it: Takako’s laptop, with a photo of Takako and Shirase taped to the back.

Again Shirase’s friends recede to the hallway as Shirase fires up the laptop. She gets the password right on the second try, and when Takako’s inbox opens, it immediately starts updating, with a dozen, then a hundred, then a thousand emails gradually pouring in…and Shirase loses it. Her friends hear her anguish and then they start crying.

In a show that’s had no shortage of episode climaxes that tug at the heartstrings, no scene to date has tugged quite this far (I pretty much lost it too!). It truly feels like Shirase has finally awakened from her hazy three-year-long dream, having experienced a profound measure of closure from this. In any case, her fear of not feeling anything once she came to the end of her journey didn’t come to pass. She didn’t just feel something; she felt everything.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 11

It’s the year’s end, and the members of the expedition get to communicate with family and/or friends via a satellite feed. This is how Mari’s mom and sister get to laugh at her ski goggle tan, but it’s also how three high school track club members reopen a wound for Hinata; a wound she decided to forget about and move on from in…the furthest place in the universe.

But just the sight of those three girls boils Hinata’s blood to the extent she must run outside and wreck some shit while yelling for them to “piss off!” Shirase witnesses this display, and it only reinforces the concern she felt the minute Hinata covered up the camera lens.

Hinata—and, unwittingly, Mari—conspire to keep Shirase from ever being able to broach the topic with Hinata, almost intuitively senses what Shirase wants to talk about, and wants nothing to do with it. Shirase gets so worked up about what Hinata might be hiding, she crosses a line and opens Hinata’s email.

I was as curious as Shirase to learn why Hinata was acting this way, and truly wanted both her, Mari and Yuzu to find some way to make things better for Hinata. I may have even done what Shirase did…but it doesn’t make it right.

Hinata comes to realize she’s partly to blame for Shirase’s breach of privacy by being so inaccessible. So she tells Shirase and the others her sob story of being too good at running, showing up the upperclassmen, and getting ostracized. Not only does she leave the club, but she quits school due to the fallout.

Now the girls know why she was so put off by seeing her friends on camera: she doesn’t see them as friends. Later, when the girls get to do some expeditionary work in an alien landscape that looks kind of like chocolate cake with white frosting, Hinata reiterates that she doesn’t care about the noise from the past, and came to Antarcitca precisely to get away…not just from petty high school drama, but everything.

Shirase ponders all that Hinata said, and puts herself in Hinata’s shoes. Taking Hinata aside to get some of that pure, crisp Antarctica water (my mouth hadn’t watered over water since Last Exile; good job, show!), Shirase tells her that she wouldn’t be okay with it, or be able to smile with it hanging over her.

Hinata makes the good point that she’s not her; different people get to deal with things in different ways. But she also admits she may still simply be too scared to face those track girls, whether it’s to forgive them, to tell them to eat shit…or both. She thanks Shirase for having her back, but tells her she doesn’t need all the words Shirase wants to say…the warmth of her hands is enough.

When those three girls show back up in the satellite feed, Shirase shows she isn’t done. With Hinata’s emotional well-being at stake, Shirase completely shaks off her usual camera shyness, interrupts the planned schedule of the broadcast, and confronts the track girls directly, telling them to leave Hinata the hell alone.

Shirase goes OFF with an epic tirade that only further expanded my love for both Shirase and Hanazawa Kana. Hinata is doing fine without your lame asses, she basically says. She is taking steps forward, with her real friends:

“Unlike Hinata, I’m a real jerk, so I’ll say it straight: You can’t live your lives in this halfway state forever! You hurt someone and made them suffer! Now you get to live with that! That’s what you get for hurting someone…for hurting my friend! You think you can come crawling back now? PISS OFF!”

Masterful shit right there…that not only brings Hinata, but the other girls and Shirase herself to tears, while Toudou Gin has a glint of pride in her eye, surely seeing the passion of her dearly departed friend burn in her daughter. When they ring in the new year, it may be with a block of wood and an steel drum, but it’s no less triumphant. Time to turn the f’in page. A new year and new experiences await.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 10

Now that they’ve arrived at Antarctica, the expedition weighs anchor and starts to bring supplies ashore using a very badass helicopter. The high school girls take a trip (which Yuzu likes not at all) and get to see the ship from the sky (it’s a thrilling bit of CGI) before being deposited at Syowa Station.

Kanae gives the girls—and by extension us—a tour of the facilities, including seperate bedrooms for all four of them, a luxury after having to share a berth at sea. While spartan, the habitations are also quite cozy and homey, far nicer than what I was expecting.

I really enjoyed the contrast between the cool Antarctic “night” (light-wise it stays dusk at its darkest) and the warm, inviting, lived-in interiors; the perfect place to kick back after a hard day’s work.

As unloading, cleaning, and other duties mount, Yuzu learns she’s been offered a role on a popular Japanese TV drama (there’s cell service at the station), but is worried it would mean, as it’s always meant throughout her career, the end of her time with Mari, Shirase and Hinata.

True to that career, she even comes up with a “friendship contract” for them to sign, causing Mari to cry and hug Yuzu with a distinct “you poor thing” vibe.

There were times when Yuzu seemed almost painfully naive about what friends and friendship are, but then I remembered that these three girls are her first, so naturally she wouldn’t be sure when the threshold of friendship had passed. Of course, no one really knows when that happens; friendships may not be as solid and structured as marriages or parenthood, but that’s what sets them apart as something special.

Mari takes the time to impart some wisdom to Yuzu regarding what she considers friendship (since it can be different for everyone) using Megumi as an example. Mari has been sending her pics, and whether Megu responds right away or as often or not, she always knows when Megumi has seen the message by the notification on the phone. That, in turn, helps Mari imagine what Megumi might be doing or thinking about in that moment.

With that, the other three arrive and unveil what they had been planning for Yuzu all along: a surprise birthday party. Her real birthday passed when they were all horribly seasick, so the Christmas party made her sad.

So the girls prepped some poppers and cake so that she could celebrate her very first birthday with friends. It’s almost too much to handle, as Yuzu starts bawling and can’t even speak clearly because of all the tears and snot.

But the next day, when Mari and Yuzu are off doing different tasks, Yuzu sends Mari a text not apologizing, but thanking her. Just a simple little check-in that lets both Mari and Yuzu know that they’re thinking of one another. Finally, Yuzu seems to get what friendship is, and that one should never overthink it.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 09

Ice is broken on two different fronts this week. Crew member Zaizen Toshio is in love with Team Captain Toudou, and needs all the help he can get, so he seeks intel from Shirase, who has known her for ten years.

While that’s a long time, Shirase claims she and Toudou didn’t ever speak that much on the occasions Shirase’s mom wasn’t around. Speaking with Kanae, Gin backs that up; there’s a distance between them.

The girls’ social media views are tanking, so they decide to use Toshio’s crush as an angle to interview the captain on her love life in order to lure followers back. But you have to think they’re also trying to get Gin and Shirase talking.

Since they haven’t talked, Gin has to assume that Shirase hates her and has never forgiven her for not coming back with her mom. As the girls (sans Shirase) ambush Gin about her love life (with Kanae’s help), they don’t come up with much, but we also get little flashbacks to mundane yet meaningful little moments between Gin and Shirase.

When Shirase’s mom says such encounters were very much planned, it confirms that she always intended for Gin to be on good terms with Shirase if anything ever happened to her, which it did. Even back then, the two eventually break the ice over their mutual love of penguins and jumping rope (at which Shirase is presently very adept).

It’s another simultaneous penguin spotting that draws the two together on the deck, and Gin simply comes out and asks Shirase what’s up. Shirase says all the mature things—she doesn’t hate Gin; her mom often stated the dangers of her job; Gin is not to blame—but when Gin asks if that’s how she really feels, Shirase breaks down.

The truth is, Shirase doesn’t know how she really feels, which is why she didn’t want to discuss it. She spent a long time after her mother’s death waiting for her to come home, until she decided the only way forward was to go where she went, “to the place further than the universe,” to grasp what the hell it was her mom was prepared to die—and did die—to brave.

It’s another marvelous, moving monologue from Hanazawa Kana, rudely interrupted by the icebreaker slamming into a sheet of “fast ice”, which was expected by the crew. We watch as the ship repeatedly backs up and rams the ice until it breaks up, which is what icebreakers do.

The procedure underscores just how uninviting Antarctica is—it won’t let you even get close without a fight—while also serving as a handy metaphor for hard the crew of the Penguin Manju, and Japan itself, has had and has to work to get to where they want to be.

As the ship crunches a path in the ice, Gin regails Shirase about how the rest of the world basically gave postwar Japan the most challenging slice of Antarctica and said “if you want to try, go right ahead.” They did go ahead, and they did try, and were successful, just as the crew of the Penguin Manju does, and just as the four girls do when they touch down on ice for a brief spell.

Shirase tears up upon standing there, and goes into a rant encapsulated by the phrase “in your face!” referring to everyone who mocked her for saying she was going to Antarctica. Not only do the other girls join her in a hearty “in your face”; Gin and the entire crew do so as well. No doubt Shirase’s mom would be proud of them both.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 08

The girls are understandably excited to be shoving off for their great life-changing expedition, but not a one of them, even Shirase, really gave much thought to how life would be aboard an icebreaker at sea.

Of course, none of them have any experience being on ships period, so that’s to be expected. And at first, things don’t seem that bad: sure, they’re four to a room, and they’re almost immediately put to work peeling potatoes and the like, but it’s not that bad!

Then the crew is invited to go topside for exercise, and the girls learn just how much toughening they’ll need to function aboard ship. Between the drudgery below and the training above, wasting even small amounts of time (and they waste a lot in the bath) is like digging a hole of lost time from which they’ll never return.

As if settling into an efficient routine in which not a moment in the day is wasted (or night, as they need good sleep to be ready for the day) wasn’t enough on their plate, their anti-seasickness medicine wears off, and once they’re on the high seas, that becomes a devastating problem for the entire quartet.

Okay, I told myself, now they’re going to start to feel the challenge they set for themselves when they agreed to do this. And they do, the poor wretches…they do. They lie in bed, unable to sleep, unable to keep down the food they have to try to keep down, dealing with the unceasing rolling of the ship as they sail further south, where there’s nothing stopping the currents.

This is all great stuff, both pre- and post-seasickness. It never feels like the girls are being tortured, because the whole time they’re enduring all these problems, the rest of the crew, far more experienced as they are, seem completely unaffected by the changing conditions. They are a constant reminder that while it may be tough now, given enough time and perseverance, the girls will get through this.

Heck, when the ship starts hitting some really serious waves, Gin shows her “old salt” side, like the captains of the age of sail, standing on the deck of their ships, fighting with the ocean as if it were an opponent in the boxing ring. She’s ready to take some licks, but she’s not going to be counted out.

Similar sentiments come to Shirase as the four lie in their bunks, miserable and exhausted. Gin and the crew may seem like a “different kind of organism” as Yuzu puts it, but all the girls can do is their best; they have no choice. Mari corrects them: they did have a choice, and it was to do exactly what they’re doing. (Hinata seems inspired by Mari’s words, but in truth she just has to use the toilet).

Before heading back to their bunks, the four open a hatch to take a look outside…which seemed like an extraordinarly bad and reckless thing to do considering how little experience they have being on the deck of a ship during such severe conditions. But they all manage to hold on, and even revel at getting pummeled by the waves crashing over them.

The experience changes them for the better; the next day when things calm down they have their sea legs and are full of energy. A big part of the transition is a matter of one’s state of mind; one’s attitude. Mari knows that no matter how tough or harrowing things might seem in the moment, she knows they’ll all look back on these times as some of the most fun and exciting of their lives.

And things are only going to get more exciting, and harrowing, and possibly miserable and painful and terrifying, as icebergs start coming into view on the horizon. This episode does something truly clever: depict how hard it is to adjust to life on a boat, all the while implying that a boat is nothing compared to Antarctica.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 07

The girls’ fantastic journey to Antarctica is feeling closer and realer than ever now that they’re in Fremantle, not just looking at the Penguin Manju but boarding her, getting settled into their four-person berth (where there will be fights, LOL) and touring its gigantic-ness.

But the girls are just as united in their suspicion that something…odd is going on on the ship as they are in their awe at being aboard her. There’s a lot of negative press about the expedition not having a chance of actually getting to Antarctica, let alone accomplish anything.

When Kanae will only vaguely tell them that their crew is “determined” to “see the sky”,  the girls take matters into their own hands and stealthily follow the adults around while wearing masks. What they hear and observe confirms their worries that what they thought would be an ironclad operation is threadbare and held together with a lot of hope and not much cash or manpower.

What can the girls do but have faith everything will work out? Perhaps the discovery of the glow-in-the-dark stars on the underside of a bunk is a good omen; the other girls give Shirase that bunk, assuming her mom must’ve painted them.

Walking the deck at night, Shirase runs into Gin, who fills in most of the blanks related to the hardships they’ve encountered, as well as the ill-fated previous trip when they lost Shirase’s mom in the unforgiving cold. Gin says despite their scrappy underdog status, most of the original team has returned in spite of everything.

Gin speaks with such confidence and conviction that she manages to convince the other girls (who were listening off to the side). And on the eve of their departure, Kanae introduces the girls to the rest of the crew (and indicates that they are not legal, repeat, they are not legal) and gives them a chance to introduce themselves.

There, after having failed in front of Hinata’s camera so many times, Shirase gets a pat on the back from Hinata, steps forward, and delivers the most charismatic intro of the four, pledging her commitment to “do catchy, witty, sensational reporting” (we’ll see) and opening the “treasure box” of Antarctica with her own two hands.

The crowd is pumped—all that beer probably helps!—but I think having the older members seeing such passion in a high schooler, particularly the daughter of one of their founders, can’t be anything but inspiring as they prepare to shove off. It isn’t just Shirase; everyone on that boat is out to prove the doubters and the haters wrong. They’re like the Philadelphia Eagles. And they’re going to freakin’ Antarctica.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 06

With Megumi’s breakup of Mari duly rejected, the quartet endures the harsh stare of a customs official and heads to Singapore by A380, where they’ll spend a few days before the next flight to Fremantle.

I enjoyed the fact it was Shirase’s first fight (Mari’s too, I believe), and how the flight scenes accurately portrayed the intermittent fun, wonder, and boredom of a long flight. I also liked the girls’ culture shock of seeing so much more English everywhere and shamelessly tourist-ing out (Merlion! Merlion!).

Mari’s more sensitive side comes out when she waxes poetic about how amazing it is that people go on with their lives in far-off places they’ve never seen—and it is amazing!—but the fun and excitement of the trip hits a major snag when Hinata’s passport comes up missing.

Everything had been going so well for Shirase, and when the prospect of delaying their flight to accommodate the time required for Hinata to get a new passport from the Japanese embassy, she’s quietly but dreadfully worried that her chance to finally follow her mother might slip away.

That night, Yuzuki must deal with Mari the Bed-Sprawling Monster, who evokes murderous thoughts in her bedmate, but Yuzu actually has it easy compared to the other pair of Hinata and Shirase. Both are stubborn in their respective views: Shirase doesn’t want to leave anyone behind, despite her initial bristling at the prospect of a delay.

While flattered, Hinata says being “shown consideration” is disconcerting; it’s partly the reason she left high school. She understands it’s part of normal relationships, but she’s been burned by such consideration in the past and can’t not look upon it with suspicion. She doesn’t wish to bear the guilt of having inconvenienced everyone else.

Shirase goes to sleep abruptly, clearly done with debating the particulars of interpersonal behaviors, and the next morning we learn why: she had to get up before Hinata, turn off her alarm clock, and leave her at the hotel while she and the others go to the airport to get new tickets, against Hinata’s apparent wishes.

When Yuzuki says they can’t change their tickets on such short notice, it would seem the conflict between Hinata and Shirase is moot. However, while the two may both regard themselves as unusually stubborn individuals, Shirase has the edge in cash, plopping down her beloved Mwillion Yen to get everyone Business Class two days later.

When Hinata protests further, Shirase lets her have it with both barrels: This isn’t just about Hinata; it’s about Shirase not wanting to be the kind of shallow friend who just ditches another when they’re slightly inconvenienced, or doesn’t worry when she’s told not to worry, and doesn’t want to be a coward who gives up so easily. “I remain stubborn…because I’m right!”

The speech moves Hinata to tears, and she yields. But not long after she spent the sum total of her hard-earned Antarctica savings on expensive new tickets, Shirase spots Hinata’s passport in her purse; Hinata was tying her shoe and must’ve forgotten she handed it to Shirase, but Shirase forgot she had it.

Thanks to Yuzuki’s uncanny innate method of detecting when one of her comrades is hiding something, it isn’t long until Shirase’s little secret is exposed, but thankfully, the tickets could be cancelled and Shirase’s savings returned. Yuzuki and Mari punish Hinata and Shirase for their collective tomfoolery by insisting they try Durian fruit (which I for one find too foul-smelling to bring anywhere near my mouth).

When Mari befriended Hinata, a part of me was worried we’d lose some of the excellent dynamic between Mari and Shirase, or that Shirase might be marginalized in some way. But those worries have long since been allayed, as the dynamic between Hinata and Shirase is just as compelling, due in no small part to the wonderful script and the abundant talents of Mmes. Hanazawa et Iguchi.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 02

Mari’s seething wanderlust, as well as her determination not to waste what’s left of her high school youth, makes her extra susceptible to Shirase’s Antarctic plans. When Shirase tells her to get a part-time job at once, Mari is looking for ’em (interestingly, both of them come across the same sketchy job offer for “hospitality” work with guys).

Megumi thus plays the crucial role of managing Mari’s expectations. The expedition Shirase wants to join is in dire financial straits. The safety of those who join it is not guaranteed. They’re not simply going to let high school kids join them just because they really really want to.

When Megumi’s pragmatism slips into Mari’s interactions with Shirase, Shirase can smell the doubt and hesitation, and snaps at Mari, storming off. But Mari doesn’t doubt Shirase, and she does want to do it…she just wants to do it right. As Mari forlornly walks alone, it isn’t long before Shirase returns, realizing she was too harsh, but assuring Mari she does have a plan in place.

That same evening, Mari has a part-time job, at the local convenience store. There, she meets fellow 16-year-old Miyake Hinata (Iguchi Yuka, doing her Araragi Tsukihi voice), who shows an eager Mari the ropes.

The subject of The Trip comes up, and Hinata wants IN. Thankfully, Shirase isn’t particular about who else comes along, and so now the two are three. And while Hinata’s decision to join them seems abrupt (and it kinda is regardless), she’s a person who’s never liked blending in with the crowd, which is why she bypassed high school and is working towards college.

Her time working at the konbini also made her good at observing people, like the students of Mari and Shirase’s school, including the two of them. She always saw something different about them; something she calls “honesty”. Genuine-ness, earnesty, whatever you call it, she knew they were special, and wanted to be a part of what their noble undertaking.

Next stop: Shinjuku, and these three girls from Gunma stick out like a sore thumb-ma (sorry, that was really lame). The intense sights and sounds of the big city make all three a little crazy, but nobody more than Shirase, who reveals that her grand plan was to crash the Antarctic expedition meet-up (in Kabukicho of all places) by…seducing the guys.

The moment Shirase points her head up and tries to act like a “college student” like it’s no big deal, she’s immediately picked up by a guy, and becomes understandably flustered. She’s also adamant that she can’t be the one who attempts the seduction of the expedition team, because they know her.

So Shirase and Hinata shove Mari out, and her old-fashioned sexy pose utterly fails, they shove Shirase out. The people who know her spot her, and the chase is on. Why do the girls run? I’m not sure, but neither are they. Well, Shirase knows, because this isn’t the first time she’s tried to join the expedition.

But despite the fact Shirase’s plan is crumbling before our very eyes, the fact of the matter is that she, Mari, and Hinata are having a hell of a lot of fun running around Shinjuku…Youth In Motion. Unfortunately, none of the three (even Hinata, good in short-distance sprinting) can beat the stamina of their pursuers.

I love how I was just as taken in by the legitimacy and precision of her plan as Mari and Hinata, even with Megumi offering early words of caution. And yet, even with the adults here telling Shirase “this isn’t happening”, even when they refuse her part-time Antarctica fund…even if what she’s doing amounts to chasing her mother’s ghost, I’m still on Shirase’s side.

She has to go to Antarctica. She can’t not. What kind of show would this be if she failed? It’s just, she’s gone about it the wrong way. Seduction and bribes won’t be effective, but maybe something—or someone else will be. Someone like, say, the daughter of the wealthy-looking woman who was with the expedition team.

That girl happens to be on the same train as the other three girls, two of which—Hinata and Mari—vote to relieve Shirase of her leadership role. It’s for her own good. She’s been trying and failing to get on that ship her way for the better part of three years. Now it’s time to see if others have more luck.

Gorgeous, charming, emotionally satisfying, and brimming with the energy of determined youth, and the anticipation of adventure writ both small (Shinjuku) and large (further south), Yorimoi is a no-brainer Winter keeper.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 01 (First Impressions)

Tamaki Mari (voiced by a nicely toned-down Minase Inori) is restless. It’s her second year of high school and she hasn’t done anything to celebrate her youth. She sleeps in too late and keeps a messy room. One day, she decides no more—she’ll skip school, change out of her uni at the train station, go on a trip without a plan.

But the same thing befalls her that always befalls her when attempting to undertake bold endeavors: she chickens out at the last second, blaming the rain for squashing her Tokyo trip, along with the possibility of planes crashing or trains exploding.

In reality, the culprit was a simple and understandable fear of facing the unknown alone; fear of leaving one’s comfort zone and not being able to return. Her classmate and friend Megumi (Kanemoto Hisako) doesn’t think it’s necessarily a bad trait to have, but Mari hates that part of herself. She feels it’s stifling her youth.

Then something strange and auspicious and wonderful is set into motion when Mari sees a beautiful raven-haired girl wearing her school uniform running past her on the train platform. In her haste, the girl drops something: an envelope containing ONE MILLION YEN (about $8800).

The next day, Mari tells Megumi about the giant wad of cash and enlists her aid in locating the raven-haired maiden with the memorable conditioner. Mari spots her entering the bathroom, stuffing herself into a stall, bashing its walls, and quietly sobbing “one million…one million.”

When the girl (voiced by Hanazawa Kana) opens the stall door, Mari presents her with the cash, and after momentary suspicion, the girl has a paroxysm of relief and gratitude, embracing Mari like an old friend. Finding the cash was chance.

Returning every last Fukuzawa to their rightful owner was a choice, and it was the right one, for this strange, expressive girl, who Mari learns is named Kobuchizawa Shirase, is using the cash to do what Mari longs to do: go on a journey.

Shirase’s destination? Antarctica, to find her mother who went missing there after an expedition. Every single peer and adult to hears of her plans all believe the same thing: she’s off her rocker. She spends all non-school time working part-time and saving money instead of having fun with friends.

You could say Shirase is deferring her youth to a later time and a more incredible place (i.e. Antarctica). But girls at school call her “Antarctica”, and some even try to bully her into lending them some of her hard-earned savings.

Enter Mari, who saves Shirase from the bullies and offers her encouragement and excitement over the journey she’s about to undertake, and wants to help in any way she can. Shirase comes right out with it, asking Mari if she’d like to come along.

Mari very much wants to, and prepares to meet up with her at the station, where a train will take them to the icebreaker that will eventually take them to Antarctica, the titular “place further than the universe”, 14,000 km from Japan and the universe Mari knows.

This time, Mari doesn’t chicken out at the last second, and Shirase’s look of elation tells you everything you need to know about how many who claimed to support her backed out at the last second, as Mari was once wont to do. But Mari is committed, inspired as she is by the sheer audacity and dedication Shirase has exhibited. Very soon, they’ll be off, and from the look of the OP, they’ll be joined by two others.

This show was a pleasant surprise for me; I knew nothing but the one-sentence synopsis on MAL when checking it out…that and the fact it was a Madhouse show and that it’s absolutely stacked with voice talent.

Throughout the episode there’s the feeling of a great wave of adventure about to crest, or as Mari puts it, an isolated pool of seawater suddenly breaching and bursting forth, like her youth. As soon as we see the ship, things start to feel real.

Not only that, but both Mari and Shirase exhibit an infectious exuberance that really comes through in their diverse facial expressions and the always-welcome vocal chords of Hanazawa and Minase. I’m looking forward to watching their adventure unfold!

Owari no Seraph – 09

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Owari no Seraph brings the action this week, starting with a gloriously ridiculous cold open in which a squadron of Vampire Apaches are taken out by a line of Demon Army archers, before two higher-ranking Vamps fly a C-130 into Shinjuku’s barrier wall, blasting a huge hole in the humans’ defense.

It looked for all the world like a suicide attack, but not only do the two co-pilots survive without a scratch, but they even carry on a casual, Joss Whedon-style dialogue, like it’s just another day at the office.

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Things are a bit tenser for our young Moon Demon Company members, as the war literally comes to them and doesn’t ask if they’re ready. Thankfully, they are, and we get to see the whole gang flying and slashing through the air in a brilliant sequence that captures the tense chaos. Unlike many action blockbusters, the relatively steady camera makes it pretty easy to see what’s actually going on, which I appreciated.

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As I said last week, the setting of all this fighting couldn’t be more gloomily appropriate: the ruins of Shinjuku are a constantly unsettling reminder of what’s already been lost and how little is left. Particularly striking is the shot of a school—once the site of silly clubs and laughter and columns of teammates chanting “Fight-o”—converted to a field hospital. Even if all the vampires were to drop dead, we’re not even sure humanity’s gene pool is diverse enough for the species to survive. And many humans will die before this new offensive is over.

I also liked the contrast between the urgency of Yuu & Co. with the relative calm of Guren and his immediate subordinates. They’re veterans who have seen it all, or close to it, and they seem a little more comfortable in their skins and confident in their abilities. Even when Guren spots Feris with a scope and Feris stares right back, it doesn’t faze him. He’s also on a first-name basis with the others, like the power-punching Mito.

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Like Guren, Feris is just kind of chilling as the underlings get valuable battle experience; ready to swoop in if there are any problems. Mika is with Feris, but soon goes off on his own. Feris’ insistence he drink someone’s blood takes Mika back to his first days as a baby vamp, during which Krul Tepes was trying to get him to do the same.

Mika refused a human boy’s blood, and knocked a cup of Krul’s own blood out of her hand…but the sound of that blood pouring and splattering on his face has a visceral effect, and in a moment of possible weakness, possible necessity, he finally digs into her arm. She’s very clear: Mika is her dog, and will always be her dog. In the present, he still carries vials of Kurl’s blood—no one else’s—and he has 10 days of it before he needs more, during which time he hopes to find Yuu.

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That makes Krul’s blood a drug that keeps Mika alive and not a reasonless demon. Turns out, it’s also drugs that, in a pinch, give the humans the edge they need to have a chance against higher-ranking vamps. Shinoa whips them out as casually as Bleach’s Kuchiki Rukia introduces the body-swapping Soul Candy to Ichigo.

In both cases, a fundamentally terrifying biological transformation is treated like taking your Flintstones vitamins. But that’s Shinoa for you; always keeping it light and breezy.

Then there’s the fact that she gives everyone, including Yuu, more than the maximum of two the human body can tolerate, almost assuring that when he’s in a tough spot, Yuu might get stupid and take more than two.

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There’s a foreboding to the truck driven by Corporal Nagai taking them to the front line, but that’s replaced when an Apache ambushes them. The team works together to save Nagai and destroy the chopper, but they end up separated when the street collapses and they fall into the subway below. Yuu is with Shinoa and the unconscious Nagai and head for the nearest base, while Mitsuba, Yoichi and Shihou head to the defense line where they’ll ideally meet up later.

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Meanwhile, as Mika is milling around, looking for Yuu, a cloud of dust is kicked up, and a detached vamp limb flies by his face. As the dust clears, we see Guren, ready to exterminate his next target. It’s kind of fitting that Yuu’s brothers, past and present, meet before Mika and Yuu, though I don’t see either defeating the other, nor do I see Yuu being brought up unless Yuu himself enters the fray.

However this goes, the buildup in the end, presented without music—just the falling rain and a cut to silence—was very effective. Guren v. Mika: Who ya got?

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Owari no Seraph – 08

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Ahh, good ol’ Omotesando Station… I remember it well, travelling on the Ginza Metro line between Shibuya and Shimbashi. It was in a far better state of repair when I was there. On Owari, after the fall, it’s been re-purposed as a creepy lair for the team’s next targets: seven vampires. Shinoa says they’d probably do okay fighting individually, but better to work together and defeat them without a scratch. For once, Yuu agrees.

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They enter not to find fello Metro users like myself, but the vampires’ thralls, who give their blood in exchange for protection from the monsters above ground. They glare at the soldiers as they press on to their primary targets; saving them is secondary, and for once, Yuu doesn’t protest. They glare because they wish they had the power to choose a different fate for themselves besides this or death.

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When Mitsuba gives the order to prepare their weapons, Yuu takes it upon himself to cut down an unarmed vamp, their first catch of the day, following the letter but not necessarily the spirit of his orders. This irks Mitsuba, but he catches her hand before she can slap him again, then maneuvers her out of the way of a second vamp’s strike, whom he takes care of without any trouble. Two down, five to go, and Yuu’s first rescue of Mitsuba.

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When they confront the final five, three more pop out from behind Mitsuba, and one of them grabs her by the throat. But in one of the vamps’ sillier choices, he decides not to kill her immediately, but wait until Yuu and the others have engaged his comrades to do it, by which time it’s too late, and Yuu slices him in half.

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With Mitsuba rescued by Yuu once more (who regards her as his family), the team closes ranks and mops up the remaining vamps, armed with second-rate weapons no match for their cursed gear. In all, it’s a good first subterranean fight, packed with peril but ultimately not too difficult to pull off with the lessons they’ve learned.

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The girl who told them about the vamps in the station lowballed the figure to save her own friends/family, something Yuu doesn’t hold against her when they return to base camp, where other former thralls are being tended to by the army. When Mitsuba learns from Shinoa about Yuu’s past, and how it so closely resembles her own, but his denseness annoys her and she storms off without telling him anything. There’s pretty textbook romantic bonding exercise in practice here, but not unearned due to solid fundamentals and decent voicework by Iguchi Yuka.

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The second half opens with Shiho getting a derelict Hummer H2T running again to shorten their trip to Shinjuku. While Yuu grows up a lot in this episode, the comedic scene the show allows as a breath between life-and-death ordeals successfully reminds us he still is a kid, judging from how stoked he is about driving a car for the first time. This is Yuu as a charming, wide-eyed kid, not an annoying angsty or arrogant; and it’s nice.

The shot of Shiho gathering the others, as Yuu drives into the frame and crashes into a lamppost, demonstrates decent comedic timing (plus it looks like Yuu is having a ton of fun, which I can speak to having driven one of those brutes). Shinoa sitting in the drivers seat is a nice sight gag, as is her off-camera revenge over the lads for laughing at her.

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Once everyone’s aboard and they near the Shinjuku barrier wall, they spot a Vampire Noble, the first we’ve seen in action since Yuu ran from Ferid. Everyone bails as they set the Hummer on a collision course with the vamp, but he stops the three-ton SUT with one hand and flings it back at them like a toy. *GULP*. They had a relatively easy time with vamps up till now, but it’s clear this will be a little different.

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The noble is so fast he’s upon Shinoa before she can raise her weapon. Yuu is able to block his blow and disarm him, showing her yet again why he and Shiho are Guren’s favorites. The noble is a little impressed as two more noble vamps descend from the sky, flanking him.

Yuu asks if they should retreat from this. Let me repeat that: Yuu mentions retreat. But it’s too late; Shiona believes they’ll still have a chance if the five of them work as one unit at the very limit of their demon power, but she doesn’t pretend there won’t probably be a casualty or two.

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The lady vamps have come to bring their comrade to the front lines, and he grudgingly goes along with them, sparing Yuu & Co. from a fight but promising he’ll drink their blood when they meet again, casually tapping him on the shoulder before flying off. That easy arrogance really ticks Yuu off, but Shinoa is still visibly terrified from the bullet they just dodged.

Even if Yuu had what it took today to take that noble on one-on-one, his friends would get killed as he fought without teamwork. Shinoa also does what Mitsuba couldn’t: thank him promptly for saving her life, noting that as Guren said, he really does care about his friends. Her gratitude brings the bashful boy out in Yuu.

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Those nobles were pretty damn scary, but they’re gone for the moment, and while the episode ends with the team staring down a Shinjuku under assault, about to enter that inferno themselves, it ends with an upward pan right into the smoke, as upbeat music plays. It will be tough going from here on, but they’re going in together, and whatever they face in there, they’ll get through it with teamwork.

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