The aquatope on white sand – 10 – You can’t go home

Only a damn week left in August. A week of Summer Break. Until reopens, the aquarium closes, and Fuuka goes back to Iwate, among other things. After staring at the downtown monstrosity that reminded me of the Olympic Stadium in AKIRA, Kukuru is staring at that damn calendar with only seven days left.

Kai, whose first memory of Kukuru is watching her back tremble as she wept in her front yard, sees that back again. It’s not trembling, but he knows it’s troubled. But he can’t, because he’s just a little too slow and Kukuru is so distracted by her problems she doesn’t even notice Kai is there, and certainly doesn’t see him as a potential source of healing.

Kukuru isn’t really seeing Fuuka either. Fuuka did commit to supporting Kukuru’s dream when her own dream ended, but thanks to the call from Ruka, that dream is suddenly alive again if she wants it: a goddamn starring movie role. Of course she can’t share this news with Kukuru, who has no time or headspace for anything but her beloved Gama Gama. Seeing how Kukuru flails near the finish line really accentuates just how grown up and mature Chiyu was by comparison last week.

Chiyu can see her future and she’s lunging forward and grasping at it with everything she has. Kukuru is trying to keep her past her present and future. She’s so desperate, she resorts to asking Udon-chan’s mom to see if there’s a way to exploit the inscrutable magical realism moments she, Fuuka, and others have experienced. She thinks if she can put it out there on social media that Gama Gama is a “place of miracles” and a “healing power spot”, she can save it.

But just look at everyone’s faces. Kukuru’s desperation is clear to see. Udon-chan is the only one humoring her with a half-hearted, almost patronizing smile. Fuuka is quietly neutral. Karin is like this girl is going off the deep end.

During what was without doubt the most depressing watermelon-eating scene I’ve ever seen committed to the screen, Fuuka can’t hold in what’s bothering her anymore, even if it only adds to Kukuru’s problems. When Fuuka doesn’t enthusiastically say she’ll turning the movie role down, Kukuru cant stomach any more watermelon, or Fuuka’s presence.

In a way, it’s not fair. Fuuka has pretty much had to couch all of her issues while August has worn on and Kukuru’s various ideas to save Gama Gama have come and gone with the same middling success. But Fuuka isn’t sure what she’s doing anymore, which means she’s not committed to helping Kukuru salvage her dream. There’s no point in lying, and I’m glad Fuuka doesn’t, nor does Kukuru hide her disappointment.

Kai, who it’s clear has been working himself way too hard just so Kukuru has an extra strong back at the aquarium, finally gets a chance to spend some time alone with Kukuru, but it’s strictly business: she needs him to be her guinea pig to see if the “illusions” will occur for him. Kukuru’s obsession with saving Gama Gama is flattening all of her relationships. She only noticed Kai when she needed him.

Why she thinks sitting three feet away and leaning towards him with a notebook will put him in the right state to see said illusions…but like I said, Kukuru is desperate…almost as desperate as Kai is to help and console and comfort her. But once again, he’s a little to slow to call her name and reach out, as she buzzes off on her motorbike after their failed illusion session. He keeps getting so close! 

Back home, Kukuru’s Gramps gives her a talking-to about how it was wrong to try to lure supernatural otaku to the aquarium with promises of miracles and illusions. In effect, this week is when Kukuru’s illusory world finally comes into focus. Everyone but her isn’t saying Gama Gama is doomed because they’re being assholes. It’s because Gama Gama is doomed. Barring some serious Kijimunaa divine intervention, of course.

I don’t know of Kijimunaa is directly responsible for the illusions, but the reason for them is made plain (if it wasn’t already) when Kai, distraught over his inability to reach present-day Kukuru, finds himself behind the shoulder of his younger self when he first met her. Audio is added to this scene and it’s brought into context as one of countless times young Kukuru ran out of her grandparents’ house declaring through tears that she’s going home to “mommy and daddy.”

This was, predictably, the point at which I broke down in tears, and basically unconditionally forgave Kukuru for all of her transgressions both this week and in previous episodes. Kukuru lost her parents at a tender age, but not so tender that she was shielded from the weight of the loss. She was old enough to know, but wasn’t ready to accept, that they were gone. The home she knew and loved was gone too.

Past Kai hesitates just like Present Kai did three times prior, but Present Kai is there to give Past Kai a push towards Kukuru. He whips out a big, gorgeous fish he just caught, and Kukuru’s tears stop almost immediately.

Kai comes out of his illusion to a Kukuru hopeful she just witnessed him experiencing what she experienced. But to both her dejection and my own, Kai softly shakes his head. It was a beautiful memory, but just a memory. It was the past, and just the illusion of it. He doesn’t want to feed her any more illusions. Instead, rather than gathering her into a big hug, he puts up his hands so she can punch them and yells “Come!”

Kukuru cries as she punches, but Kai tells her to keep punching, as hard as she can, into his palms. I’m sure if he had a big beautiful freshly caught fish, he’d give her one to cheer her up. We later see that Kukuru posted a retraction on social media, so even that last-ditch plan ended in failure.

If I were her, I’d also be grateful for a friend willing to absorb my punches, my failures, my despair—all of it, for my sake. And when my fists (and their palms) were sufficiently red and stinging, I’d feel better, and maybe even be ready to take a step forward.

RABUJOI WORLD HERITAGE LIST

 

The aquatope on white sand – 09 – Compassion for the unfamiliar

Two very common ways anime deal with an interlopers is by either turning them into friends or putting them in their place. Aquatope does neither, opting for a far more nuanced, multifaceted, and ultimately more satisfying and enriching experience. In the complexity of emotions it expresses (and elicits), Aquatope is as diverse and colorful as its sea life.

Haebaru Chiyu is the interloper, and immediately an interesting choice was made to have Ishikawa Yui voice her. Ishikawa has one of the most charming and likable voices around, even as she voiced Mikasa Ackerman, one of the toughest motherfuckers in all animedom. I automatically like everyone she voices, even if they’re not easy to like otherwise.

Despite the only reason Chiyu agreed to go to Gama Gama for training was because of the “Legendary Aquarium Keeper”, Gramps pairs her up with Kukuru. Kukuru doesn’t know Chiyu, but hates everything she represents, and cannot mask her disdain and hostility.

It quickly becomes clear that beneath her polite façade Chiyu masks a similar contempt, but for an aquarium she believes (not without good reason!) to be a failure. The place is mostly empty and the equipment is falling apart. Not only is it a depressing place with which she has no emotional ties, it is to her the antithesis of a properly run aquarium.

Gramps and Fuuka are in the middle of the ensuing rivalry of passive aggression and pointed barbs; Gramps tells Kukuru it doesn’t matter what building an aquarium occupies; what matters is that people get to enjoy and come to love the creatures of the sea. Gran backs him up by telling Kukuru it would do her well to occasionally think outside her proverbial seashell.

To her credit, Kukuru does take a look at why exactly she’s trying so hard to save Gama Gama, and if she’s just selfishly clinging to her memories rather than facing reality and coming to terms with it. Fuuka tells Kukuru that she’s chasing her dream, and she’ll keep supporting her.

In response to this loving gesture, Kukuru brings up the possibility of having a sibling to someone for the first time. As the omniscient audience we’ve seen her look at those two maternity books, but now we know why: they’re in her parents’ shrine, but she’s never had the courage to ask Gran why there’s a second one.

Before going to sleep while holding hands, Kukuru promises she’ll be more civil to Chiyu tomorrow, but Chiyu has already had her fill of a teenaged assistant director, and basically demands that Gramps train her from now on. Gramps does his rounds, and Chiyu is suitably unimpressed with the “Legendary Aquarium Keeper.”

And why is that? Because with her outsider’s perspective she can’t quite see what he’s doing, and what he’s done, with Gama Gama. To him, an aquarium is more than just the building, but also more than just the fish. He knows and greets everyone, asks them how they’re doing. It’s a vibrant community of people young and old.

One could castigate Chiyu for so thoroughly missing the forest for the trees, but as we learn in her private moments, she has a dream too, and she’s not going to let what she regards to be a half-assed failing aquarium to hurt her chances at gainful employment.

That night in her Western-style hotel room—another sign she’s not interested in straying too far from her established world—she demands that her boss assign her somewhere else, and he agrees. She can’t afford to waste time…not when she’s come so far on her own.

Honestly, as much as she clashes with Kukuru and simply doesn’t “get” the appeal and value of Gama Gama, I can’t fault Chiyu for feeling or acting as she does. When Kukuru asks her what deficiencies she found there, Chiyu doesn’t hold back, and also makes the very good point that at the end of the day, Kukuru isn’t doing this for a living.

She may be slacking in her studies, but Kukuru is still young enough to do anything with her life. That’s less true for Chiyu, and because she desperately wants to work at an aquarium, she has to work that much harder in a country of 126 million with only about 100 aquariums.

Kukuru needs to use an unwitting Kai as a stress-relieving punching bag (a wonderful moment between the two old friends) not only because Chiyu pisses her off royally, but because Chiyu is right about a lot of what she said. For someone who earlier questioned her motives about saving Gama Gama, Chiyu adds salt to that wound.

The previous day, Fuuka overheard Chiyu remarking how no one at Gama Gama is actually looking at the fish. But as Fuuka learns, Chiyu was wrong: theyu have looked at the fish, over and over, with their cheap annual passes they’ve memorized most of them. They’re past that “tourist” phase of aquarium visitor. Now, Gama Gama is their living room, their lounge, their game room, their parlor….their home away from home.

Oh, and one of the kids mentioned he once say his dead dog, which means there’s something even more inscrutable and intangible about Gama Gama at which Ciyu turned her nose up. Between that kid’s comment and the brief look at Fijimunaa, the show wants to make it clear it hasn’t forgotten its magical realism elements.

Lest we forget Fuuka has her own baggage, she finally picks up when her old group-mate Ruka calls her. She eventually had to face her mom, and so it only made sense she’d have to face her very different past life as well. Unfortunately we don’t get to learn what exactly Ruka has to say to Fuuka, but it’s a great hook for next week.

Fuuka only gets this chance in part because Kukuru doesn’t go home with her, instead riding out to the big city to see the great nemesis itself. And just as her nighttime ride reminded me of Akira, seeing her behold and be dwarfed by the towering behemoth, still under construction and looking like a great sleeping beast.

This episode defly introduced a new character who was both likable in her own right while also providing a welcome thorn in the whole Gama Gama kubaya environment. Not everyone needs to be friends, and sometimes that makes for great, sometimes downright thrilling  anime, as it did here.

It also marked what looks like the beginning of some significant growth and soul-searching for Kukuru. She’s faced the beast…but what does she make of it, and what will she do next?

The Saint’s Magic Power is Omnipotent – 12 (Fin) – Quite the Day

After Drewes and Aira join the battle in the forest, we’re back in Krausner’s capital experimenting with crops with the Alchemist lady. Both she and the Gran Magus really put Sei to work such that she’s exhausted by the evening, but Drewes knows she’ll have to perfect her conjury and speed it up if they’re going to win the war against the monsters. The next morning, Aira joins Sei along with Leo, Drewes, and Al on the next adventure into the woods.

We get Saint’s Magic Power’s longest and most sustained battle, as both toxic slimes and demonic monsters hassle the expeditionary force. Both melee and elemental magic attacks fly freely, with the various magic users employing teamwork for maximum efficiency. All the while, Aira and Sei perform healing and protection duties. There are number of close calls, but someone, usually Al, always has Sei’s back.

When they come close enough to the miasma-infected swamp for Sei to begin her purifying conjury, she is distracted from the task when Al and Aira end up in danger. Drewes insists Sei keep herself focused on her conjury duties, and when the enemies start to surround them, he goes back on his promise to hold back and unleashes a devastating Inferno attack that destroys both nearby fiends and burns the forest. Sei is able to purify the swamp, but that’s all she has the energy for.

That night, Sei finds it hard to sleep, both due to the forest having been destroyed and her unannounced feelings for Albert and what to do about it. Albert escorts her to her tent, but before she heads in to retire, she turns around just as Al does, and they share a tender moment that fades to black and could be interpreted as sharing a chaste kiss. The next day, Sei is back at 100%, and with Al holding her hands, she’s able to revive the forest to its former glory, wowing Aira, Leo, and everyone else in the process.

After the exertion, Sei loses consciousness, coming to in Al’s arms as he princess lifts her back to the city. Sei insists she can walk on her own two feet, but doesn’t pass up Al’s offer to hold her hand as she does. Aira is loving it the whole time! When it’s time to return home to the capital, the old alchemist tells Leo that the Saint’s Magic Power is…love. Well, duh, that’s been pretty clear for a while now! And that love is more often than not focused on a single individual: Albert Hawke.

After the bombast of the forset battles, this very quiet, steady, and pleasant show ends on a characteristically quiet, steady, and pleasant note: Sei and Al enjoying the gorgeous view of the capital from a good vantage point at sunset. As the sun sets on Sei the Saint and her dashing and valiant love interest, I came away nodding agreeably. MAL is often very wrong in its scores, but 7.32 is just about perfect for this show. Never terrible, but also never game-changing, and bolstered by the warm and expressive Ishikawa Yui, whose voice I’m always happy to hear in non-dystopian series!

The Saint’s Magic Power is Omnipotent – 11 – That Time I Got Ambushed by a Slime

With Sei off on an expedition with Al, Yuri takes a shine to Aira. Sei confirms that the best way of summoning her saintly power is to think of Al, the man she loves. The thing is, she’s in no particular hurry to confess to him or start any kind of official relationship, despite the fact she’s already saved the guy’s life and they have superb chemistry. Meanwhile, the hulking Leonhart (no relation to Annie) thinks he might have a chance at Sei, but he’d only be setting himself up for Leonhartbreak—if Al doesn’t kill him first!

With the newfound realization of her feelings for Al, Sei has taken to blushing so much he asks if she’s ill…thought that might be less him being dense and more being courteous or playful. He’s not one to talk about blushing around someone, as he does it a lot around Sei. But besides the insertion of Leonhart, who is shaping up to be more of a big (or big little) brother to Sei than the vertex of a love triangle, there’s not much movement in the Sei x Al romance, which at least for Sei is the way she wants it, at least for now.

When the expeditionary group enters the deep forest, they come afoul of several nasty dark slimes, not at all like our pal Rimuru Tempest from TenSura. Sei is able to purify a bunch and shield herself, Al and others, but they’re soon pinned down by superior numbers. That’s when a column of flame heralds the arrival of Yuri…and Aira, who I’m glad to see in the field. It seems likely she and Sei will be fighting side by side next week, which is something I’ve been waiting for since they were first summoned!

The Saint’s Magic Power is Omnipotent – 10 – The Secret Ingredient Is Love

Sei and Al arrive in Klausner’s Domain and meet Lord Daniel Klausner, who hosts him at his castle. Sei comes to dinner in her Saint’s Robes to show she means business, and it soon becomes clear that this region’s need for her is dire. But that doesn’t mean she can’t have a tasty meal that employs the capital’s new trend of seasoning food with herbs that she started!

Before joining Al and the knights, he says his unit will be scouting for the next few days, giving Sei time to check out the Alchemist’s Holy Land. But while escorting her to her room, Al cannot avoid telling her how stunning she looks in her robes. As one would expect, Sei blushes and runs away from Al, wishing him a curt goodnight.

The next day Sei is more in her comfort zone: making potions at a clip that’s nothing crazy for her but impresses one of Klausner’s venerable court alchemists. It’s clear from the lord and alchemist’s knowing look that her goal is to ascertain whether Sei truly is the Saint. Sei also gets to meet yet another hunk in the alchemist’s grandson Leonhardt, whom Sei regards as a gigantic, dumb puppy.

The alchemist leads her to a dark office where a special book is held in a safe. It is the diary of the Great Alchemist who made Klausner’s Domain the herbal paradise it is. She writes of famine and disease that plagued the land, and how everyone, including her beloved younger brother Curt, seemed doomed to starve. That is, until she unleashed Golden Magic upon the land, healing both the people and their crops.

It’s a moving, inspiring tale, and what happened to her by accident sounds exactly like Sei’s ability…because it is. Soon she pulls it off once again, but first gets warmed up by healing Leonhardt’s mercenaries after they were ambushed by a rare monster. When she hears the Knights were also attacked and didn’t fare any better, she casts a big ol’ Area Heal and runs to the knights…and to Al.

When she spots him covered in blood, she fears the worst, and unleashes her Golden Magic, healing and purifying the entire vicinity. However, Al is actually just fine; the blood on his jacket wasn’t his. He may not make the connection that it is he specifically who fuels her Golden Magic, but Sei confirmed it in the diary of the Great Alchemist, who may well have also been a Saint: the magic is made possible by the power of love.

But even if she accepts that, it’s just too embarrassing for Sei to just come out and say it. So once again she flees before her confused knight. Perhaps, in time (preferably before the series ends!) she’ll be able to tell Al how she feels. I don’t think there’s any chance of him not returning those feelings.

The Saint’s Magic Power is Omnipotent – 09 – The Selfish, Mistaken Prince

For her role in saving everyone from the horde of monsters with her purification magic, Sei is rewarded by being teased by Grand Magus Drewes, much to Albert’s displeasure. Upon returning to the palace, word of her great saintly deeds precedes her, and she’s even more of a celebrity with the nobles.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Prince Kyle specifically waited until Sei returned in order to stage his spat in the courtyard with Elizabeth, who both wants to be a friend to both Sei and Aira. Kyle lays it on rather thick, calling Sei an “impostor” and “most definitely not the Saint”, making things even more uncomfortable for poor Aira.

Liz, unaware that Kyle is carrying out a ploy, takes him to task for his foolishness, but then both she and Aira spot Sei, and Kyle takes aim, pretending not to know who she is and even trying to put his hand on her. Albert comes out of nowhere to prevent that.

Drewes, who slinked off, returns with the king himself and his retainers, and takes Kyle to task for spreading fake news. Kyle continues to maintain that despite Aira having no accomplishments of note, she’s still the only person he summoned. The king orders them to continue this discussion in private.

There, Kyle bears all, admitting he was intentionally acting like a boorish lout so that all the heat from the public would fall on him, while Aira would be seen as a victim in his craven schemes. After learning he played the fool for Aira’s sake, Liz is no longer angry at her fiancé, and in fact seems to have come to admire him even more, while lamenting how awkward he is.

As for Liz, Aira is left in her care, and she arranges a tea party so that Sei, who is now officially recognized by all as the Saint, can finally meet Aira, and vice-versa. It’s a little awkward at first (due to the age difference, among other things), but Aira soon learns that Sei is a gentle, kind person who is eager to spend more time with her.

She and Liz also suggest that if she wants to continue her magical studies, she should join the Royal Magi Assembly. Considering how long Sei and Aira were kept apart, this first meeting has a very understated, almost anticlimactic quality. And maybe that’s for the best: one thing Sei and Aira have in common (besides their homeworld) is a general distaste of the limelight. A laid-back tea party was the perfect place to begin their friendship in earnest.

The king, striking an Ikari Gendo pose, consults with his chief of staff about the region in most need of assistance against the scourge of monsters and miasma: Klausner’s Domain, AKA “The Alchemist’s Holy Land”, the kingdom’s primary source of medicinal herbs.

When Sei learns Albert and his knights will be headed to Klausner’s, she volunteers to come along, surprising her director who assumed Sei would want to stay put at the institute and was preparing excuses for her. Albert says Sei’s safety is paramount, but what’s a safer place for her—or him—than by each other’s sides?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Saint’s Magic Power is Omnipotent – 08 – Into the Western Woods

The Saint’s Magic Power is Omnipotent would prefer if we forget about Aira and whether or not she and Sei will ever actually speak to each other, and despite being somewhat frustrated by the sudden page-turn, I came to accept it in the spirit of enjoying watching Sei’s magic power continue to evolve, which all starts when she finally gains access to the forbidden section of the library.

Yuri Drewes might have the line of the night when he sidles up to her and asks if she’s thinking about murdering someone. But her interest in poisonous plants is obviously more honorable and altruistic. When her attempts to create holy water or imbue plants with magic fail, she learns from Yuri about “Saintly Conjury”, which is the closest analogue to the “blessing” of water of which she speaks.

At the end of the day, Sei more or less figures out how to perform Conjury quite by accident, simply because she’s concentrating very intently on her desire to help those who have helped her. An orb of magical energy appears just below her throat, and it lets out a little shock wave that imbues all of the surrounding plants with magic, just like she’d been trying.

While this is inarguably a huge breakthrough, Sei isn’t quite sure how she did it, and so isn’t sure how to repeat it. But then duty calls, as the knights request the institute’s best healer to accompany them on a dangerous expedition to the infamous Western Woods. Johan expects her to be very low on the prospect, but to his surprise, she’s fully prepared to do whatever she can to prevent or mitigate more casualties of the kind she treated before.

So early the next morning, she dons her durable, practical, yet stylish adventurer’s outfit and prepares to depart. She’s met by several surprises, first Jude and Johan seeing her off (though I don’t see why she’s surprised; they both adore her). Then she learns Commander Hawke will be joining the expedition in order to protect her. That goes for Yuri too, though a part of him is coming along just in case she pulls off Conjury again.

While Sei is wearing the hear ornament Albert gave her because she knew she’d want to keep her hair out of the way, he tells her that it’s actually enchanted, and will keep her safe come what may. His delicate, respectful, and above all dignified courtship of her has been one of the many surprise delights of this series.

But heck, even if her hairpin didn’t do jack, she’d still be fine, right? I mean, she’s got a Knight Commander and the Grand Magus protecting her. Well, maybe not so much, as the miasma becomes denser and the monsters grow stronger, Yuri and Albert’s hands are full stemming the tide of lesser beasts when a boss-type salamander appears.

When it spits its fire breath at Sei, she doesn’t have time to raise a magical shield, but her hair ornament has her back, raising an ice barrier in the blink of an eye that protects her from the flames. So yes, practical choice of hair accessory, but also a literal lifesaver. Though I suppose she could always heal herself if it came down to it…

But up to this point in the ongoing battle, Sei had been on her back foot and serving a support role as a healer and buffer, a role she knew well from the video games she’d play when not working her ass off. But when she witnesses a demon cat bite Albert in the shoulder, drawing blood and causing a deep wound, Sei just…reacts.

Whether it’s Saintly Conjury or simply Saintly badassery, Sei casts the same spell she cast the other night, but instead of simply imbuing nearby plants with magic, it eliminates all monsters and miasma across a vast area-of-effect, while fully healing Albert and everyone else’s wounds, right down to minor cuts and bruises.

Sei’s not just a healer or supporter. She also might just be the greatest weapon against evil alive. That aside, it was just hella fun to finally see her operating in the field, rising to the occasion as I expected she would.

The Saint’s Magic Power is Omnipotent – 07 – All About Aira

SMPO pulled off a clever trick: By having Sei’s story monopolize the first six episodes, we became wholly invested in her happiness, her growth, and her success as the true Saint. Prince Kyle and Misono Aira were always off-camera, and so neither of them really had a chance against someone as charming as Sei—not to mention her seiyu Ishikawa Yui.

But while we were always pretty sure Prince Kyle was a big ol’ asshole for picking Aira and spurning Sei, there was always a lingering feeling that there was more to the story, and in any case Aira was as innocent as Sei in this whole business, having also been summoned there against her will.

The show finally rights a wrong by explicitly placing Aira front an center in her own episode, which is bookended by an instance of Aira encountering Sei in a hallway, who is too preoccupied talking to Liz to notice her. But Aira notices her, and you can’t help but feel a yearning in her; a desire to reach out and know this person.

But first, Aira’s beginning. The daughter of two busy parents, she’s about to head out for a solo dinner when she’s summoned to Salutania and quickly whisked away by Prince Kyle. Her visceral shock over the sudden change of world is beautiful and heartbreaking in its presentation

When she’s told there’s never been an instance of a Saint returning to her home world, she finally breaks down. Here’s where we learn Prince Kyle isn’t a complete shithead, as he displays genuine remorse over putting Aira in such a position. That said, he is convinced the survival of his kingdom and his people will depend on her.

Like Sei, Aira is cast into a den of maids who present her with a variety of dresses to try. Just as her parents did for their family portrait, a “cutesy” pink dress is chosen for her, rather than her being vocal about wanting the more subdued color.

When Kyle sees that Aira still can’t quite believe any of this is real, he springs her from the palace to walk among the masses in the capital. This raises her spirits, and is also when she sees that Prince Kyle is not altogether beloved by his people.

While on a balcony overlooking a gorgeous view of Salutania, Kyle’s friend anf advisor Damian confirms what Aira had suspected: to uphold the Kingdom’s peace, they must be “strict” with its people, even if it doesn’t endear them to said people. Kyle also vows to do whatever he can to find a way to send Aira home once the threat has passed.

Aira tells the “self-centered, awkward…and direct to a fault” prince that she’ll do her best. Shortly thereafter, he presents her with a wand, a robe, and all the other supplies she’ll need to attend the magic academy. There, we see she begins to thrive, all while enjoying the company of spoken-for lads.

Due to her forwardness with said lads, Aira is shunned, resented, and ostracized by the other women, who are in the margin of every shot in her training montage, visually expressing their disapproval. this whole time, I wished Sei would enroll at the academy and give poor Aira a damned hug.

There’s no more heartbreaking, lonely scene than when Aira and a classmate end up sheltering from the rain beside each other. The other girl seems receptive to talking, but before Aira can get a word out, two more girls show up and offer the girl an umbrella, completely ignoring Aira.

Thankfully, Damian shows up with an umbrella, distressed by how soaked Aira is, only for Aira to demonstrate her extremely precise magic by gathering nearly all of the rain that was on her skin and clothes into a single orb suspended over her finger.

But while watching it unfold makes Aira a much more sympathetic figure, I could have imagined this was the life Aira had been living while Sei enjoyed a comparatively easier road. The real twist of the episode concerns Prince Kyle’s decision, in light of rumors Sei is the true Saint, to accept his mistake as having been born of his stubborn pride.

Kyle took Aira’s home away from her, so he feels it is his duty to find her a new home. If it’s inevitable that Sei will supplant Aira as the Saint, he plans to continue playing the role of “incompetent, stubborn crown prince”, hoping the court will take pity on her. He’s proves he’s not just playing lip service; he truly cares about Aira and doesn’t want her to suffer because of his fuck-up.

Not every woman hates Aira’s guts, of course. That one girl in the rain would have likely talked to and even befriended her had those other girls not shown up. Likewise, Elizabeth is ready and willing to become friends with Aira, only for Kyle to step between them and forbid it, saying he alone will look after her.

It’s another misstep for Kyle, who is being overprotective in this case. He may think his fiancee is jealous of Aira, but we know that Liz isn’t that kind of perosn. One would hope the crown prince would get to know his future queen a bit better!

As for Sei, she and Aira still haven’t so much as uttered a single word to each other, nor has Sei even looked directly at Aira since the two were summoned. That remains hugely frustrating, especially when I think of how much tension could be released by their meeting and sharing of experiences. There’s no good reason for them to be on opposite sides of anything. Hopefully this wrong is righted soon!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Violet Evergarden – 08

There are no fancy clients or letters written this week, as learning of Gilbert’s death pulls Violet back into her dark past. Though it’s never explained exactly how the girl who Gilbert would come to call Violet was molded into such an efficient killing machine, but one thing is certain: absolutely no care was taken into how her emotional development would suffer from her military duties; at least not until Gilbert took custody of her.

Violet was too valuable an asset for the military to keep on the sidelines, so Gilbert was ordered to put her on the front lines of the war, where she distinguished herself as a fearless weapon. But as he watched her slaughter the enemy without any kind of expression on her face, many a pained look came from the major.

He really didn’t want to contribute any further to this child’s torment, but he had little choice, not being the particularly rebellious type. And so he watches the girl everyone considers nothing but a weapon continue to tear her soul apart as he watches with pity and regret.

When Violet treks (in her memoir doll dress no less) to the Bouganvillea mansion and finds Gilbert’s grave beneath a tree, it may be starting to sink in for her that she’ll never see the major again, but as it’s something she’s never before contemplated—any more than she knew what concepts like “beautiful” or “gratitude” meant before meeting him—she just seems utterly lost without the man whose green eyes match the brooch she had him buy for her, calling those eyes “beautiful from the first time they met.”

Gilbert’s and Violet’s relationship was always an utterly tragic one, with the war dictating how Gilbert had to use her, and Violet never properly growing up or mastering human skills of interaction or self-relfection while Gilbert drew breath.

But thanks to him, she at least had a chance to gradually learn; her exploits with the doll company are proof of that. He was always right about her: she was more than a weapon, she was a human being, and it wasn’t too late for her.

Unfortunately, we learn what causes the wound that leads to Gilbert’s demise, and it’s just a cherry on top of the shit life sundae Violet has been handed. Enemy stragglers shoot him in the eye, using the light of the very flare he sent up to alert ground forces to invade the fortress.

It was the last goddamn battle he and Violet had to fight, and thus the war snatched him away from her when she needed him the most—with peace on the horizon. Will she ever recover from that loss? I would hope so, but she’ll need help from those around her, and she’ll have to want to be helped, as opposed to simply wanting to join the major in death.

Violet Evergarden – 07

Much to the envy of superfan Erica, Violet is sent to pastoral Roswell (in Genetrix, not New Mexico) to assist the famous playwright Oscar Webster with his newest work.

As is so often the case with great talents, he also has his problems: he lives all alone, his house is a mess, and he day-drinks too much (Violet helpfully points out it’s “not good for him”…I think he’s aware Vi). When Oscar first sees the blonde Violet, he narrates in his head how she isn’t the blonde he wished he could see again, whose name he can’t utter.

Violet deems Oscar a “handful”, but if anyone can handle him, it’s her. In the day before she begins taking dictation, she cleans the place and even tries her hand a cooking Carbonara. Her difficulty with cracking eggs and the resulting single mass of pasta she presents to Oscar engendered belly laughs from your author.

But again, before going to bed Violet must keep the booze away from Oscar, hiding all of his various bottles that she might get a good day’s work out of him. His status as a handful thus established, we move on to the why, which makes for the show’s most emotionally devastating and sorrowful stories yet—aside from Violet’s own tale of woe.

The why of Oscar’s solitude and drunkenness is revealed quite by chance. Oscar and Violet reach a rapport as he dictates his play—his first for children—and even Violet can empathize with its protagonist, Violet finds a frilly parasol that evokes in Oscar memories of a girl with a gap in her teeth.

With heavy implication that girl passed away, Oscar knocks the parasol out of Vi’s hand in anger and orders her to leave. Violet manages to calm him, correctly guessing there’s something deep in his heart he’s trying to hide. The truth is, Oscar hasn’t been able to write for some time, but thought the best way to do so would be to complete the tale he once told his late beloved daughter, Olivia.

Oscar’s wife, Olivia’s daughter, passed away all too early of an illness, leaving him to raise her. While he was sure she missed her mother, she never let on, as if being strong for both of them.

Then, quite tragically, she took ill as well, and rather than keep her in the hospital to pass, Oscar took her to their vacation home he still occupies, so she could die with a smile on her face. She does so as they sit by the lake; a lake Olivia promised to walk across, using her parasol to keep her aloft.

Oscar’s story is well and powerfully told (it’s akin to the opening scene in Up), and accompanied by composer Evan Call’s familiar ‘tragic’ theme; a theme that never fails to make me suddenly realize how gosh-darn dusty it is in the room in which I’m watching the show. I was glad this was the halfway point so I could grab a few kleenex.

That night, Oscar decides to finish the play after all, giving it the happy ending he and Olivia couldn’t have, in which the protagonist Olive will return home and reunite with her father. They complete it outside on the terrace, and Oscar asks Violet to go stand by the lake with the parasol to help him better visualize the ending.

While this scene is beautifully, breathtakingly staged—it’s one of the best-looking scenes of the series—it failed for me where the pre-intermission montage of Olivia fully succeeded: in not going too far. Call’s score gets a bit too bombastic, and when combined with the Bullet Time of Violet’s “walking on water”, the scene strays uncomfortably close to maudlin.

Still, the idea of Oscar dealing with his grief through finishing the play inspired by his daughter, and having Violet be the muse he needed to draw out the pages, still rang clear and true. The execution simply needed more moderation.

The episode closes with two instances of someone saying something to Violet that sets her off: first, when she and Oscar part, he thanks her for helping Olivia “keep the promise she made.” Violet lies sleeplessly in her berth, thinking of all the lives she took in the past, and all the promises they couldn’t keep because of her.

Claudia once told her she was “on fire”, and she took him literally; now she finally understands that she is on fire, and has not been able to forgive herself.

The second instance occurs when she returns to Leiden to encounter Lady Evergarden at the pier. The Lady can tell how much Violet has grown since their first tense interaction, and believes “now the late Gilbert’s soul can rest in peace.”

This is the first time Violet has been told the Major is dead, and when Claudia confirms it and gives her the details (they never found his body, only his dog tag), she immediately reverts to believing he’s alive and well.

The odds aren’t good, however. That hardly matters to Violet, who, like Oscar with Olivia, tied all her hopes to Gilbert. Coming to terms with the fact she may never see him again will not be easy, especially when the circumstances of his disappearance aren’t so clear cut.

For now, Violet simply runs, not knowing what to do. It’s appropriate then, that this episode has no title.

Violet Evergarden – 06

Violet Evergarden is not content to keep its titular character holed up at C.H. Postal, which I feel works to the show’s advantage. This episode in particular introduces Justitia Province, a fresh and fascinating new locale where she and 79 other Dolls have been summoned.

There, Violet takes an aerial tramway above the clouds to a vast observatory dramatically perched high atop a mountain. There, the 80dolls are paired off with 80 men from the Manuscript Department to undertake a massive effort to transcribe old books that are on their last legs.

It’s unlike any other mission Violet has undertaken, and one would think the impersonal nature of transcribing old books would not afford her the same insight into love and other human emotions as, say, writing letters for a client.

However, it’s all about who she meets there, and that’s Leon Stephanotis, whom we learn right at the outset harbors an inherent distrust for all Auto Memory Dolls, believing it “a profession full of women who hope to one day marry into money.”

While there may well be Dolls with that goal, it hardly seems proper to lump them all into one category, and Leon learns this firsthand immediately upon meeting Violet, who is, as we know, neither a normal Doll nor a normal woman.

Leon is fairly chilly to Violet, but the fact that Violet doesn’t react like he is throws him off. She doesn’t regard his conduct as particularly chilly, just efficient, and if there’s one quality one could be used to describe Violet, it’s efficient…when it comes to taking dictation, not sorting through her feelings for the Major.

The night after they do three day’s work of work in one, Leon asks why Violet is a Doll, and she says, simply, because “it is a role I can fulfill”, expressing her gratitude that she can do such a wonderful job, while questioning if she deserves it—no doubt the words of Gilbert’s brother weigh on her, even if she has nothing to apologize for.

When other scribes ask Violet whether it’s trying working with an annoying guy like Leon, who is a penniless orphan only there because of donations. Violet sets the lads straight by saying she’s not a person who has lived the kind of “proper life” they’re assuming; she’s also an orphan, never laid eyes on her parents, and only recently learned to read and write, further warning them that if one’s birth or upbringing is such an important requisite for being able to speak to someone, they should stay away from her.

Leon overhears her defense of him, but it was never meant to be a defense; just the facts. But regardless of her intentions, he’s all but smitten with her, and does what so many other scribes must be doing with their Doll partners: he asks her if she’ll join him for the comet viewing (a comet that appears only once every 200 or so years). She agrees without hesitation, and he’s so elated he tears his baguette clean in half.

That night, before the comet reaches its most beautiful position, Leon tells Violet the story of how his father once traveled the world collecting manuscripts but went missing. Rather than stay with him, his mother, who loved his father more than anything (certainly more than him, he figured) left to find her husband, and also never returned. If love makes people such “bumbling fools” they forget the well-being of their own children, he wants nothing to do with it.

When he asks how her story goes, she tells him about the one person who cared for her, and who she cares about more than anyone else. Leon gets her to understand that what she’s feeling in the Major’s absence is, indeed, loneliness. Leon tests her, asking what she’d do if she heard the Major was alive and in need of his aid in the middle of her job there at the observatory.

He assumes she’s upset he put her on the spot, but that’s not the kind of person Violet is. She’s upset because she’d have to find some way to apologize to him, meaning yes, she’d go just as his mother went, in order to find the person she, well, loved.

It feels like a kind of gentle rejection for Leon, who might’ve thought he had found the perfect woman for him. But quoting the first manuscript they transcribed together, “That parting is not a tragedy.”

Indeed, Leon is not sad when the job is complete and Violet heads home, because being with her even for this short time didn’t just subvert his expectations about Dolls. It made him rethink and alter the course of his very life.

As Violet departs on the aerial tram (making for some very nice camera angles) Leon resolves to tour the continent as she does and as his father did, collecting manuscripts. And perhaps they’ll even meet again somewhere, under a starry sky.

Or Leo my man, you could always keep in touch by, uh, writing to her from time to time. Why leave their next encounter to such small odds…unless the show intends to reunited them. We do have a lot of show left to go…fortunately.

Violet Evergarden – 05

Violet must be making a name for herself with her unique yet compelling ghostwriting style, because her latest request comes from the royal family of Drossel, whose princess Charlotte is arranged to marry a prince of Flugel, a former enemy.

Violet must ghostwrite love letters to Prince Damian, on Charlotte’s behalf, which will be public and meant to “sell” the match to the two nations’ subjects. One could scarcely live two lives as differently as the coddled Charlotte and the tortured Violet, who are both around fourteen.

Still, Violet assures her client that she will accomplish her mission without fail. Her first love letter is well-written and has the desired effect among both the royal families, resulting in a favorable and just as well-written reply (no doubt from another Auto Memories Doll).

As such, the reply only frustrates Princess Charlotte (Nakajima Megumi), who is quick to emotion and tears, and knows the prince she only met once would never have written such a letter. Four years ago, she fled her “birthday” party, which was nothing but an endless parade of suitors.

The only one to go looking for her, and tell her it was okay to cry, was Prince Damian. When Violet hears of this, the genesis of true love between two people acting genuinely to one another without airs, she institutes a bold plan: let Charlotte write letters, by hand, from the heart, which Violet will refine as necessary.

A stirring correspondence between her and the prince ensues, captivating the public even more with their brutal honesty, modesty, and emotion. Violet assists, but the words are purely Charlotte’s, and once she gets into a rhythm, she has no trouble speaking her mind and voicing her concerns.

The replies she receives are similarly, refreshingly self-deprecating, suggesting the two are more alike than different, each finding the mantle of royalty—and even maturity—an ill fit.

Finally, the time comes for the prince and princess to reunite in the same moonlit garden where they met for the first and only other time. Damian, fully convinced by the letters that Charlotte will be a splendid match, offers his hand in marriage.

Through the power of the letters and the memory they shared (or perhaps the memory Violet told Cattleya to bring up on Damian’s behalf) the royal couple’s love became real, making their marriage not merely one of political expediency, but a strong and lasting bond that reflects the potential for the two nations to embrace each other in equal measure.

Charlotte, like every other “guest” character in VE so far, is quickly and wonderfully depicted, starting out as your prototypical spoiled princess but gradually revealing much more humanity, ironically thanks to the still very doll-like Violet. Her close bond to her maid Alberta was particularly poignant.

While Violet had to force a smile upon meeting Charlotte, her face bears a real one, without trying, on the beautiful day of Charlotte’s wedding, which neither she nor Damian’s doll Cattleya attend, as they must return to Leiden to tackle their next missions.

That smile is huge, because it means that through Violet’s interactions and education dealing with people whose emotions she must suss out in written form, is gradually rubbing off on her. She is learning how to be a person with feelings and desires of her own.

So it’s particularly troubling for someone from her past (Gilbert’s brother Dietfried, if I’m not mistaken) to appear, condemn her for the bloodshed she committed when she was nothing but a vicious weapon, and make her relive one of her many past slaughters.

It occurs to me that Violet Evergarden’s stoic, doll-like, emotionless demeanor was not something hastily achieved; it was the result of an entire life of fourteen years bereft of mercy, kindness, and love…until Gilbert. Now he’s gone, and someone who remembers what she once was and what she did, and threatens to tear down all her progress.

Yet this is also her first real test: Violet must not simply take Dietfried’s scorn and abuse lying down. Whatever she did, she had to do, because she was never given any other choice at that point in her life. Now that conditions have allowed her to claim a life all her own, it’s up to her to defend that life from those who’d drag her back into the shadows.

Violet Evergarden – 04

Violet Evergarden delivers yet another bravura character study, this time with a focus on Iris, the young, feisty, but not-yet-distinguished Memoir Doll. She’s so excited to get her first personal request—from her hometown of Kazaly, no less—she overdoes it, and ends up spraining her arm falling down some stairs.

That means the ghostwriter will need someone to ghostwrite for her—a ghostghostwriter, if you will—and newly-certified doll Violet accompanies her for that task. During a conversation on the train, Iris is miffed by Violet’s assessment of her hometown as lacking in valuable resources.

But what she doesn’t get about Violet in that moment is that she doesn’t have a mean or even passive-aggressive bone in her body. Violet actually considers Kazaly’s resource dearth a good thing, because it meant warring factions didn’t destroy it fighting over resources.

When Iris agrees that it’s good no one in her town was hurt, she then apologizes to Violet, who was hurt. Violet doesn’t see the distinction between Iris apologizing for what happened to her, and apologizing for being insensitive with her words.

Upon arriving in Kazaly, Iris is approached not by her client, but by her loving parents; her mother sent the request under a false name in order to lure Iris home. Her parents’ true intention to throw a birthday party, with many single young men invited, in hopes she’ll return home, get married, and settle down. Thus, Violet, on behalf of Iris, will type up invitations.

Among the invitees is Emmon Snow, whom Iris asks Violet not to invite. But the day of the party, Emmon shows up and offers his salutations, which throws Iris into a rage. She runs into the house and away from the party.

Violet is confused by Iris’ “change of condition”, so Iris spells it out: Emmon rejected her already. When Violet immediately relays this information to Iris’ parents, and Iris’ mother tells her they’ll find another, better match for her, Iris is furious at Violet for being completely incapable of understanding peoples’ feelings.

Then Violet issues an apology that’s as thorough and revealing as it is heartbreaking:

I’m sorry. I thought I’d come to understand them a little, but people’s emotions are extremely complicated and delicate. Not everyone puts all of their feelings into words. People can be contrary, or at times, untruthful. I can’t decipher them accurately. It’s proving all too difficult for me. I’m truly sorry.

Iris’ attitude towards Violet softens considerably, once she realizes the difficulties Violet faces and battles without complaint.

And despite Violet having parroted almost everything Iris has said to her, Iris opens up even more, giving her the details of her confession to Emmon and his subsequent, devastating FriendZone-ing. The words that “activate” Violet are “I love you.”

The way Iris used them, she deduces that it must take a great deal of courage to say them to someone, and she wonders if the Major felt the same way. Iris, in turn, learns that the Major Violet speaks of was the first person in her life to show her love. Then Violet suggests she help Iris write a letter to her parents, to tell them how she truly feels.

While last week’s letter from a sister to her troubled brother was so short and sweet it could have been a fluke, this week’s letter is no fluke. Violet strikes a balance of cold, straightforward facts and warm, resonant sentiments.

In the letter, Iris properly expresses her desire to return to the city and continue on the path she set out for herself. She is grateful to her parents for their love, and sorry for causing them to worry, but hopes they’ll give her more time and watch over her.

Iris narrates the letter, which is to say Tomatsu Haruka does, and she absolutely knocks it out of the park. By the time her parents finish reading it, they’re near tears; as am I. On the train ride home, Iris assures Violet it was a fine letter, and that her feelings reached those she loves.

Iris is given a bouquet before leaving: one of irises, which were in full bloom when she was born and which are in full bloom when they depart back to Leiden. When Iris tells Violet how her parents named her, she remembers the Major doing the same thing with her.

Gilbert spotted a solitary yet stalwart violet off in the distance, lit up by the sun, and decides that’s what his new charge will be called. It’s his hope she “won’t be a tool, but a person worthy of that name,” yet another episode-ending title drop that gave me all the feels.

P.S. On a lighter note: with the number of close-ups of feet, particularly Iris’, one could be forgiven for thinking this episode was guest-directed by Quentin Tarantino, well-known as one of Hollywood’s foremost foot enthusiasts.

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