Chihayafuru 3 – 10 – The Same as Always

Aside from a minute at the women’s final (a minute so quick I wonder why it bothered) the episode is dominated by the final between Arata and his society-mate Murao. The two have played countless games together, but Arata enters the match unsettled.

He’s unsure why he sighed after learning Taichi lost, and when he tries to visualize himself in his old room playing against Chihaya, he’s suddenly replaced by Taichi. Rather than a motivating factor, Taichi becomes a distraction Arata can’t afford.

Matters are made worse by the food Yuu gave Arata, which gives him the runs in the middle of a match. By the time he returns he’s lost four more cards and Murao has built a lead of eleven. Arata also doesn’t know which cards were read and which are dead.

He eventually settles down and mounts a calm, efficient comeback, focusing on offense rather than his usual balanced game. He ends up with the victory, and will face Dr. Harada (an offensive specialist) in the match that will determine who challenges Master Suo.

Back in Kyoto, Chihaya is hanging out her girl friends, staying up past curfew playing cards and chatting. But when she goes to grab some tea, she encounters Taichi in the hall; he says he “felt better” so he rejoined the class, and tells her Dr. Harada won the qualifying final and will face Arata.

Chihaya isn’t sure quite how to react, nor does she know yet who she’ll root for in the East-West match. Taichi, meanwhile, passes out as soon as he re-enters the boy’s dorm, leaving Desktomu to tuck him into a futon. Not being able to face Arata is certainly a blow, as is knowing that if he couldn’t get to him, he wouldn’t have had much of a chance against him regardless.

Assassins Pride – 07 – The Blue-Flamed Assailant

On the eve of a training trip to her hometown of Shangarta, Rosetti begs Kufa to pretend to be her lover so she can refuse the hand of the man chosen by her father, Marquis Blossom Pricket. Judging by a cold open in which a young, lighter-haired Kufa is with an unconscious young Rose in a burning church, the two go back far further than we thought, and Kufa decides to help her out again here.

Naturally, Melida doesn’t like this one bit, as she doesn’t want her instructor to have even pretend eyes for anyone but her. Marquis Blossom arrives (and with him a very Gilderoy Lockhart vibe), but the dispute over who shall marry Rose is tabled, as prep for the trip takes precedence.

Incidentally, that cold open came in the form of one of many strange dreams Melida has been having, no doubt due to the fact Kufa transferred his mana to her in order to help her awaken hers. She continues to hear a voice no one else can (not even Black Madia AKA “Instructor Laqua”), but then hears a scream everyone hears while chasing after a troubled Kufa.

One of the students has been rendered unconscious, though shows no signs of injury (unless they didn’t check her neck carefully). Marquis Blossom whips out a magic potion that reveals the mana of the culprit: blue, male, and belonging to someone still in their teenage years. In other words, the only one around fitting that description is Kufa.

This is the second plot point (after Rosetti’s betrothal) to be tabled so the training trip can press on, which is odd because nothing comes of the potion pointing to Kufa as the culprit, he attends the rest of the group on the train as if nothing happened. I was also surprised to learn that Shangarta isn’t one of the domes that make up Flandore, but a separate bustling town in its own right, built deep into a chasm. It’s a fascinating place, made all the more bizarre by the presence of several “mystery spots” Marquis Blossom vaguely states do not follow the normal laws of nature.

There is also a raging disease in which townsfolk take leave of their senses and become mindless killers and need to be quickly put down…sounds pretty vampiric to me! The way Blossom so casually executes the afflicted man in front of all the students is quite disturbing.

Rosetti takes Kufa to the same church we saw in the cold open—thankfully not on fire in the present—and introduces him to all of the orphans her father has taken in and lies about him being her lover. I wonder how far such a fiction can be taken.

Melida certainly voices her displeasure at the existence of such a farce, to the point she forces Kufa to put her socks on, conceding that he doesn’t see her as a woman. Kufa offers to make it up to her by taking her on a late-night date, and he is immediately forgiven as her frustration turns to bubbly delight.

Specifically, Kufa takes Melida to a glowing magical cave that contains one of the “mystery spots”, where the two are able to glide across the surface of the water and fly about as if weightless in a stirring scene that further builds the chemistry between them. But once Melida is back in bed, she’s back to having weird vampirish dreams most likely involving a young Kufa, and is awakened by Elise with bad news: another student has been attacked, and Kufa is nowhere to be found.

I’m not prepared to conclude Kufa is deceiving her intentionally—these attacks could well be subconscious on his part (unless he’s being framed). The bottom line is, Kufa hasn’t told Melida enough about him for her to paint a full picture, so in a way he’s already deceiving her by omission.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*  *  *

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

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

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

Fruits Basket – 20 – Sickeningly Immature

Yes, it was wonderful that Tooru was able to become good friends with Kisa, and through that friendship, encourage her to talk and go back to school. And yes, it’s also nice that Tooru gets to meet the Sheep (Goat) of the Zodiac and assure him that with his smarts and courage to admit to his own failings and weaknesses, he will one day be a splendid “prince” to Kisa’s princess.

BUT. But but but but but. But. God DAMN is Souma Hiro an immensely annoying brat! One who comes into Tooru’s life out of nowhere and immediately starts treating her like dirt. And he never, ever, ever shuts the fuck up. While I realize his importance to the story, his presence almost always detracted from my enjoyment of the episode.

In this regard, I identified with Kyou, in that I really wanted to slug the little punk at times (though I would have probably not made that known to Hiro as Kyou did, as owning up to the deside to knock Hiro’s teeth out doesn’t make things any more pleasant for Kyou).

Yes, there’s a reason Hiro is such a little shit: he’s just in sixth grade, and while he’s an otherwise sharp kid, the fact of the matter is he’s intensely jealous of Tooru spending so much time with Kisa, even as he spend much of recent weeks ignoring Kisa and pretending he doesn’t want to hang out or watch anime with her.

We eventually learn the reason for that, as well, and suddenly Hiro’s frustration and lousy attitude come more into focus. Hiro blames himself for what happened to Kisa, because before she was bullied at school, she was badly beaten by Akito, all because Hiro told Akito he loved Kisa.

Once more Akito emerges as the bogeyman, the uber-villain of Fruits Basket: vicious, cruel, wildly unpredictable, and utterly determined going to make sure every Souma is as miserable as he is, if not moreso. As Shigure and Hatori discuss Hiro’s case and the toll of Akito’s wrath, Shigure not-so-subtly declares that one day Akito will be sorry for doing as he pleases all this time.

So yeah, it makes sense for a kid like Hiro to act out as a result of hating how helpless he was to spare Kisa, as well as how easily Tooru managed to comfort and heal her when she’s such a damn space cadet. At times, I was almost glad someone was finally calling Tooru out on her constant apologies and modesty, but at the same time, Tooru’s apologies are always genuine, as is her modesty.

She’ll never admit she’s good at sorting out Soumas. She helps them simply by existing as herself, even if that self is deeply flawed and troubled. This episode did as good a job as it could rehabilitating Hiro into someone sympathetic and understandable, but likable? He’ll never be that for me. Not until he grows up a bit more, and stops kicking Tooru! Damnit!

O Maidens in Your Savage Season – 06 – Solo Sumo

The cultural festival committee, wanting to boost outside attendance this year, come to the lit club requesting they come up with a romantic urban legend. Little do they know how sensitive a subject romance is for all five of the girls, for very different reasons. And yet, just when the other four are ready for a vehement refusal from Rika, she quietly agrees to take the job.

Hitoha, meanwhile, feels like she’s in a sumo match all by herself, as she’s walking around in a cold, uncomfortable black thong, part of another example of her dangerous “indirect play” with Milo-sensei. It’s all about the fact she’s wearing it, he knows she’s wearing it, and she know he knows she’s wearing it, but he doesn’t seem that excited.

Instead, when the pretty (and age-appropriate) Tomita-sensei shows up, he leaves with her, and while flirting lets loose an important nugget Hitoha will use later. I still hold out hope Milo, the adult, will stop this before things go too far.

There’s a different match going on between Niina and Kazusa, and Momo is ill-equipped to referee. The problem is, the Niina and Kazusa girl are playing with different sets of rules. When Niina tells Kazusa to imagine how she’d want her love story with Izumi to start, Kazusa brings up how beautiful Niina is and how she lacks the same confidence over her looks.

When Niina presses, saying Kazusa is cute and in any case a relationship isn’t all about looking perfect, Kazusa flees. Momo tells Niina that she should clear it up with Kazusa that there’s nothing going on with Izumi, but Niina would rather exercise some “tough love.” For one thing, if there’s nothing to spur Kazusa or Izumi on, they’ll remain in limbo forever. Not to mention Niina is (rightfully!) mad at one of her supposed best friends Kazusa for assuming what so many others have—that she’s out to “steal their man.”

Rika, the one lit club member who has “won” her match and now has a boyfriend, has no idea what to do next. Amagi is eager to sing out their relationship from the rooftops, but she’d rather find a way to hide it in a forest. She wants to ask Amagi for a little more time to do so, but going public seems like something very important to him. This couple will need to learn to find a middle ground, lest it wither like an unpicked fruit on the vine.

Bereft of good ideas, Hitoha suggests a club field trip to an inn…the inn run by Milo-sensei’s family which she heard about while he was flirting with Tomita-sensei. Hitoha has since been given the run-around by her “editor,” saying erotica is no good and purer “young love” pieces are what’s hot now (the girl who published erotica ahead of her didn’t fare so well). Hitoha now finds herself perfectly positioned to draw from her own life for this new literary direction. She promises Milo she’ll thank him “with her body.”

The change of scenery doesn’t do much to get the creative juices flowing, particularly for Kazusa due to an incident on the train when Niina mentioned she had tea with Izumi. While Niina hoped being aggressive would spur Kazusa to action, it’s having an unexpected effect of making Kazusa retreat ever further into her burrow of self-loathing.

A break for baths is called when in the brainstorming session Kazusa suggests an urban legend about blowing up the school so you can be with the one you love in heaven forever. Dark. Shit. But even in the baths, Kazusa can’t escape her worsening inferiority complex, as Niina walks in without even trying to cover herself, showing off a body against which Kazusa doesn’t think she has any chance.

Niina is right to think neither Kazusa or Izumi will come out of their shells without external action. She’s also right to be hurt by Kazusa assuming she’s trying to steal Izumi, as well as the fact she believes Niina is the better choice because of her looks. But the difficulty level is way too high, and by episode’s end Kazusa has literally burned out in the bath. Whether Niina takes it down a notch for Kazusa’s sake depends on whether she honestly has zero interest in Izumi—the jury’s still out on that.

As for Momo, she’s mostly caught in between other conflicts this week. While there’s not much additional evidence this week to support viewers’ growing opinion that she’s into girls—and has a crush on Niina in particular—I would definitely welcome further exploration of that development. For now, she’s trying her best to keep the peace, because Niina vs. Kazusa could get ugly, fast.

Sarazanmai – 09 – Only the Bad Ones Survive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fruits Basket – 05 – Rescuing the Princess

This episode’s cold open moved me to tears. Tooru’s grandfather has informed her that his house is sufficiently ready for them to move back in. Just like that, her new life with her unique new friends has been snatched away from her.

There’s a palpable atmosphere of gloom and emptiness to the scene in which she tells the others, before realizing she hasn’t started dinner. Then, while in the kitchen, her mom suddenly walks in the door, and she’s in her old kitchen, making dinner despite suffering a fever.

When she tells her mom she couldn’t just stay in bed while she’s working so hard, her mom simply hugs her, and says sometimes it’s okay to be discouraged or selfish, once in a while. It’s as if she almost did too good a job raising her daughter!

When the kettle whistles she’s brought back to the Souma house, and declares that no, she’s okay. It doesn’t matter if she can get discouraged, she won’t get discouraged. Gramps’ newly renovated house may well be fine; and definitely better than her tent!

But for someone who’s come so far in so short a time, it feels like moving backwards, and that she’s deferring her happiness in order to go with the flow. Trying to convince herself she and the Soumas can’t be family when they already are just that.

It’s heartbreaking and yes, tear-jerking. It remains so as she tells herself she was never the brightest bulb, hearkening back to grade school when she played in the “Fruits Basket” game that gives this series its name, and in which she was cruelly excluded by being declared an onigiri.

She declares it foolish to ever believe she could join the Fruits Basket group of Zodiac animals that is the Souma clan. But she’s wrong, you see. She’s foolish to think she was or is foolish. It’s when she’s welcomed “home”, where her grandfather can’t even get her fucking name right, when I thought to myself it can’t end this way.

I’m not alone, as a melancholy Yuki and Kyou recall all the good times they had with their dear friend Tooru, whom they allowed to depart without any resistance, and suddenly sport defiant looks on their faces. They’re on my side; they’re not gonna let it end this way.

Every second Tooru is in that hellish house with those trash people, it made my blood boil. Being asked to hurry up and unpack her meager two shopping bags of effects. Her mother’s older sister hiring a P.I. to investigate where Tooru was living to protect her son, who’s going to be a police officer and can’t have any bad apples in the family mucking that up. Calling her sister a bad seed and declaring “like mother, like daughter.” Tooru’s asshole of a cousin, leering at her while asking if the men she lived with did anything indecent.

Gramps may confuse Tooru with his daughter, but he’s still sharp enough to slap his would-be cop punk of a grandson for speaking to “Kyouko” that way, and condemning his family as a bunch of “unpleasant people”…which they most certainly are! Go Gramps! He concedes that he has to put up with them, but tells her that she doesn’t. Her late father said Kyouko deserved to live where she could “spread her wings,” so if there’s a place where she’s happier, she should go there.

Still, Tooru resists. She doesn’t deserve “more.” She has to be grateful with what she has. She’s “blessed”. She shouldn’t say “I want to go home,” and home not be her gramps’. She can’t say “I didn’t want to leave!” If she did, that would be selfish, and mean she’s too soft on herself? “Yes,” replies Yuki, suddenly in the living room, dazzling the stage.

Flashback to before his surprise appearance; he and Kyou are taking out their frustration on each other, as per ususal, with Shigure in the middle. Yuki notices the note with Tooru’s address on the table, and excuses himself to take a walk. Kyou has the same thought, but is just a step behind.

He catches up, and after walking around in circles, remember the exterior walls of the house aren’t finished. They knock on the door but no one answers, then watch the scene we just saw unfold and wait for the right time to swoop in. When that moment arrives, Yuki is there, followed closely by Kyou, who escorts her out while Yuki grabs her things and calls her cousin a lowlife.

Kyou tells her he’s been on edge since the moment she left, and now knows why: she didn’t want to leave. It’d piss him off to indulge someone’s daily selfishness, but in Tooru’s case, it’s okay once in a while, repeating the words her mother said to her. So she finally lets herself be selfish, and declares she wants to go home to where he and Yuki and Shigure are.

Yuki and Kyou take her hands and do just that. Finally, in the Fruits Basket game of her life, the onigiri has been chosen. Her new tribe may not be perfect, and their house always on the verge of being destroyed by familial strife, but she’s home, with her family, where she belongs. As the cameras pan up from the exterior of the house to the dusk sky, it’s never looked more beautiful.

Fruits Basket – 04 – Boarish Manners

That meek, soft-spoken girl at the door who wants to see Ryou? Uh, she’s not so meek once she sees him for the first time in four months. She delivers upon him a beatdown the likes of which we’d yet to see if this series, far beyond his sparring with Yuki. Turns out that’s just how Souma Kagura expresses her affection…with extreme prejudice. Her two-sided personality is voiced by the supremely talented Kugimiya Rie.

Kyou’s two years older, self-professed fiancee (based on a promise he made at knife-point when they were kids), Kagura demands to know where she stands, and doesn’t like how there’s another woman living in his house, albeit one who can’t hug him without making him turn into a cat. Since they’re both Soumas and Zodiac animals, she can hug him freely.

Kagura is clearly much stronger than Kyou, and so basically rolls himself into a ball and endures her savage beatings, but he dares to silence her when she starts mentioning his “true form” to Tooru. As someone who hasn’t yet found her first love, Tooru can’t help but feel a little jealous that Kagura loves someone as deeply as she does.

Repairing the substantial damage to Shigure’s house takes up much of the day (especially with Shigure and Yuki pointedly not helping), and before long, Kyou’s stomach starts to grumble. Tooru offers to start dinner, as is routine, but Kagura stops her in her tracks. Tonight, she’ll be the one to feed her beloved Kyou. The resulting feast reduces the food supply in the fridge to nothing, but as seems to be Kagura’s M.O., she got a little carried away.

As good as the food looked, part of me expected it to taste vile or some such, but nobody even gets to eat any of it, as Kyou snaps at Kagura when she says it’s ready, and she responds by driving him through the floor and onto the feast, ruining it all. With no other food to cook, Kagura heads out to the grocery store in a huff.

It isn’t until she’s at the checkout that she realizes she left her purse at home, but Tooru bails her out by paying for her, and the two women walk home together. When asked, Tooru specifies her “love” the sign of the Cat more than overt romantic love for Kyou himself, and is “humbled” by the extent of Kagura’s love.

Here we have another example of Tooru not judging someone as volatile as Kagura, but rather believing in her and her long-standing love for Kyou. Kagura in turn thanks Tooru for coming for her, and the two make hamburger steaks together. This time, when everything is ready, Tooru climbs up to the roof to tell Kyou.

Up there, she tells him how lucky he is that someone cares for him and worries about him so much—not surprising, coming from someone who was loved by her parents, but lost them far too soon.

She also brings up peoples’ dreams, whether Kagura’s dream of marriage to someone she can truly embrace, to Kyou’s love of martial arts. Tooru sees another side of Kyou as he lights up talking about martial arts. It’s clearly not just about beating Yuki, but becoming better and better at it.

When Tooru gets Kyou to come down to eat, Kagura presents him with a hamburger steak a little different from the others: his has a fried egg on top, like the fried egg he was drawing in the sand when they first met, which was when Kagura basically fell for him. Kyou tastes his dinner and through his sheepish silence expresses his approval and thanks.

The next morning, Kagura has to leave, and bids Kyou farewell with a big hug, followed by one last beatdown. Kyou says some unkind words, and Kagura responds by punching through the front door…and straight into the chest of the paperboy.

Yuki manages to distract the civilian, but Tooru finally learns that Kagura is the sign of the Boar—very appropriate considering her propensity for charging headlong towards her goals. When Tooru compliments her as the cutest boar anyone could ever ask for, she transforms back into a woman—a naked woman, on Kyou’s back.

That brings us to a cliffhanger that threatens the relative peace of the last four episodes, as well as the status as Tooru’s new home and life. She gets a call from her grandfather, and the contents of the message are enough of a shock for her to drop the gardening books she checked out. Is Tooru doomed to lose everything once more, after an all-too-brief taste of happiness?

Fruits Basket – 03 – The Different Shapes of Kindness

Yuki, Tooru and Kyou’s class decides to do an onigiri stand, and we see again the dynamic between Prince Yuki fangirls and Tooru’s delinquent friends, as well as the fact the class has warmed to Kyou despite—or possibly partly due to—his hot temperament. Oh, and because cute cats flock to him!

Still, when they criticize his idea and accept Yuki’s, he storms off to skulk on the roof. Kyou opens up about his long-held resentment of his “golden boy” cousin, who was always respected and trusted more than him, and excelled at everything he did better and faster than Kyou. He admits if he could be like Yuki, he would be.

That sentiment proves vital to Tooru as she attempts to figure out why these two hate each other so much. She gathers more intelligence when Kyou becomes the life of the party when the class plays cards, while Yuki is off rejecting the umpteenth girl to ask him out. She tells him he’s nice, but closed off to people, and that everyone says a “normal girl” isn’t worthy of him.

It doesn’t sound like a compliment to him, and it puts him in a sour mood when he ends up in Kyou’s presence. The two go at it verbally until Yuki loses his cool and kicks Kyou across the room. All Tooru knows is that this is about more than the fact they’re rat and cat; and probably quite a bit about Kyou waning badly to become the thirteenth member of the Zodiac.

In what feels like a non sequitur of a mini-scene, Tooru falls down the steps at work after her shift is over and encounters a strange blonde who speaks German to her and kisses her before Tooru runs outside. Obviously, we’ll see more of this person in the near future, but all I could do for now was chuckle at Tooru’s extremely flusteredness around someone seemingly not from Japan.

When Yuki arrives to walk her home, Tooru tells him he and Kyou are both so kind, and Yuki flashes a sad smile and turns to walk. Tooru stops him to say he can tell her anything that’s troubling him and she’ll listen and try to help. She’s so passionate about this point she doesn’t notice the drunk salaryman who shoves her into Yuki, transforming him into a rat.

While walking with Rat-Yuki, he tells her his deal with Kyou, which is basically that once the ice is broken it’s easy for him to fit into a group of people, who flock to him just like cats do once they learn the rough edges are only skin deep. Thus Tooru learns that Kyou and Yuki resent each other because they’re both jealous of the ways they’re not like the other. Tooru tells him how kind he is and how that draws people to him too, but Yuki dismisses his kindness as merely self-serving; phony.

When a typhoon suddenly hits, Tooru assists Yuki in protecting his secret base—a vegetable garden—from the harsh weather. Tooru tells him what his mom told her to be, which is a believer and not a doubter in people. When everyone is born they have nothing but desires, but gradually develop their own unique “shape” of kindness; their hearts growing with their bodies and minds. To her, Yuki’s kindness is like a warm, bright candle.

Yuki apologizes for bringing this stuff up, but she assures him she’s glad he did, because it means he trusts her enough to share his problems, and that they’re becoming closer as friends. Yuki promises to try harder to interact naturally with people at school, even if it’s intimidating, because that’s what he wants.

After a night protecting the vegetables, Tooru decides to use some as she spends the rest of the morning experimenting with onigiri in the kitchen. Kyou wakes up before Yuki, but since he’s cat-based he hates the chive filling, and would prefer something meatier. He makes some of his own, showing Tooru that he’s actually a natural at forming onigiri, though he doesn’t think it’s so great.

Tooru disagrees. In fact, she decides to create another metaphor to describe both Kyou and Yuki’s issue, which is not so rare: if a person is a rice ball and the plum is what’s great about them, they have “plums on their backs,” meaning they can’t see them. But people are drawn to both of them, just as all people are drawn to their friends, because they can see those plums. Hence, both he and Yuki are great.

With that, Yuki arrives on cue and force-feeds Kyou a chive onigiri to show him that one politely eats something someone has made for you, even if you don’t like it. Then a knock comes at the door, and Tooru finds a shy young woman outside, asking about Kyou. Could this be an admirer of his, or another member of the Souma clan? Whoever she is, it seems pretty clear she can see his plum!

Tooru could come of to some as overly preachy and poetic this week, but she’s so goshdarn cute and sincere it’s hard to fault her. She had such a good Mama, and duitifully honors her memory by being the best possible person she can be, while sharing the lessons she learned from  her.

For all the loss, grief, and pain she endured, Tooru remains a staunch believer in people, as well as in her ability to help those people. If Kyou and Yuki can’t find each other’s good aspects or make any kind of peace with each other on their own, then she’ll lend them a hand.

Sarazanmai – 08 – Giving Up Something Precious

Where did Kazuki originally get his miçanga? From Toi, years ago, after he shot his brother’s foe. His brother had given up so much for him, he wanted to return the favor, and so gave up soccer, just like Kazuki would end up doing after Haruka’s injury. The thing is, Kazuki doesn’t remember.

That may be part of the equation of why Toi is alright leaving Kazuki and Enta, but it doesn’t mean he’s okay with it. Still, family comes first, and Toi would do anything for his brother. Unfortunately, Chikai is such a selfish jerk that he exploits Toi’s utter devotion to him at every turn, not letting him have his own life. “You need me, I need you.” Neither is true; not anymore.

On the contrary, Toi would be better off if his rotten brother were apprehended and faced justice. He has new connections. Not to be cold with regard to Chikai—he may well genuinely love his brother and wants them to be together. But he’s also an adult who made his choices, which come with consequences.

That he’s okay with Toi getting dragged down with him out of fraternal loyalty is proof of Chikai’s self-serving nature. More proof? Relying on a 14-year-old stranger in Enta to keep him hidden from the roaming Otter policemen. At least during this interaction, Enta learns the truth about the origin of Kazuki’s miçanga, and that Kazuki an Toi’s connection goes back further than he thought.

While the sudden presence of the “bro” of the guy Chikai (though technically Toi) killed wanting revenge seems rather sudden and contrived, when Chikai tosses Enta in the line of the guy’s sword, it’s Strike Three; dude should be in jail.

Thankfully for Enta, Reo and Mabo rescue him from the gangster, and then Reo shoots said gangster dead. Two other police hear the shot, but he and Mabo use special otter pins to brainwash them into telling the story of their choosing.

In a theater, Keppi consults with Sara on the Otter situation, and Sara unveils an apparatus that will flash freeze them alive upon capture, all to get back “Dark Keppi.” It’s interesting to see these two work so closely together, and to see Sara’s intermittent extreme clumsiness on display as she sneezes from pepper and accidentally kicks Keppi into the device, freezing him.

When Toi calls Enta to say his farewells, Enta tells him he knows about the miçanga, but that Kazuki doesn’t realize it’s Toi who gave it to him. Toi doesn’t think it matters, nor is there any reason to tell him, and says goodbye, wishing Enta and Kazuki the best as the Golden Duo.

When Toi calls Kazuki, he tests him by saying the same words he said years ago about having to “protect the connections he has.” Kazuki assumes, quite wrongly, that Toi is leaving because Enta betrayed them and stole the Dishes of Hope.

That makes Enta’s next encounter with Kazuki fraught with a great deal of anger and sadness over the misunderstanding. Even though Enta returns with the dishes and urges Kazuki to hurry up and help him get Toi back, Kazuki is still burning from Enta’s betrayal, and won’t believe or even listen to another word he says.

This is how, on the same day his friend Toi leaves his life, possibly never to be seen again, Kazuki puts all the blame on Enta and disowns him as a friend. To make matters worses, Keppi is nowhere to be found and thus can’t protect them when Reo and Mabo show up in the park.

Reo pulls out his pistol and shoots, and Enta takes the bullet for Kazuki…a love bullet! As the cops leave with the dishes, Mabo tells Kazuki he may still have time to save Enta’s life, and Enta comes to sprawled over Kazuki’s lap, and laughs that he couldn’t even joke about ever hating him before passing out again.

No doubt unsure what else to do, Kazuki calls Toi, but Toi is already on the boat out of Tokyo with his brother, and doesn’t bother answering. One imagines if Kazuki texted him that Enta got shot, he might ask the boat to turn around, but Kazuki doesn’t text him, so he doesn’t know how dire things are back on land.

With Kazuki a definite emotional wreck, Enta possibly dead, Toi on a boat and Keppi an ice kappa-cube, the Otters couldn’t be in a stronger position, nor could the good guys be mired in a deeper abyss of despair. Where does Sarazanmai go from here?

Sarazanmai – 07 – Back to Who He Was

We check in on Mabu as he’s undergoing some kind of semi-sexy “maintenance,” which makes sense considering we’ve seen that he has a mechanical heart that I believe runs on desire. Mabu and his partner Reo seem more distant than ever.

Meanwhile, Kazuki is now to cherishing his connections: those with his friends, his parents, and of course, his totez-adorbz bro. He doesn’t even accept his mom’s sachet, telling Haruka to hold onto it for him. You can tell his folks are relieved Kazuki is acting more like he used to: cheerful, upbeat, and magnetic.

It’s a triumphant moment just to see Kazuki joining Enta at their riverside practice spot; more so when Toi decides to join the soccer club, a heart once thought cold sufficiently thawed by the warmth and enthusiasm of the other two and their acceptance of him, delinquent history and all.

While the kappa boys are on cloud nine, Reo surveys the ward for potential zombie kappas alone, in the dark. In a flashback to just after the siege of the Kappa Kingdom, he learns that his beloved partner Mabu was gravely wounded, and but for the grace of the Otter Empire’s Chief “Otticer” of Science and Technology, would have shuffled off this mortal coil.

The lads are shocked to find the practice spot has been vandalized by trash (like Dr. Kappa cans) and paint, but immediately set to work cleaning the place up until it sparkles, employing the same teamwork they would have used playing footie.

But the next day, the mess is back, and just as bad, and Toi gets a foreboding call from his brother, informing him his latest job went south and they’ll have to leave town. The timing can’t be a coincidence, can it?

While I initially thought Toi was vandalizing the spot on the sly, my suspicions evaporated when I saw how genuinely disappointed he was that he had to go, and his gratitude when Kazuki suggests they collect the one more Dish of Hope needed to make five, and use them to help Toi and his bro.

When Toi asks Enta why he’s okay with this arrangement, Enta states that the way he sees it, Kazuki’s present wish is to help Toi. Almost on queue, the potential source of that fifth and final dish arrives in the form of a “Balls” themed Kappa Zombie, reported by Sara (who goes on lovey-dovey strolls with Keppi) with an E.T. visual reference.

But when they all meet in Keppi’s park, he senses something is amiss, and sure enough, they discover the four dishes they hid under the ground tile have been stolen. Keppi suspects the Otter Empire, and he transforms the trio into kappa to do their thing, sticking with the plan to collect a fifth dish.

The Kappa Zombie’s Shirikodama reveals he longed to be kicked, either like a ball or in the balls—or heck, both—by his girlfriend. In the Sarazanmai that follows his defeat, the culprit behind both the practice spot vandalism and theft of the Dishes of Hope is revealed to be Enta, who is jealous of Kazuki’s increased attention towards Toi.

Enta’s treachery is dastardly, but easily explained: just when Kazuki is back to the way he was before Haruka’s accident, Enta has to share the guy he loves with someone else; someone he feels has neither put in the work nor been around long enough to deserve such outsize attention; at least compared to him.

Speaking of being “back to the way he was,” that’s how the New Mabu describes himself on the rooftop when Reo sees him for the first time since his injury and operation. But Reo’s reaction is immediate and intense; this is not the Mabu he knew; he would never look at him the way this Mabu does.

Mabu may have been given a mechanical heart that enables him to live on, but as Reo said earlier in the episode, everything he says is a lie. And of course, consistent with Kunihiko’s love of wordplay, uso is Japanese for “a lie” but can also mean “otter”, as in kawauso.

All this backstory deepening the Otter Cop characters is very welcome. As for the large monster with very Keppi-like pink eyes that ominously yells “daaarknessss”…well, I think I’ll just need to tune in next week to figure out what that’s about…

Ao-chan Can’t Study! – 06 – WE HAVE THE MEATS

With Ao’s father having an apparent bout of writer’s block, Ao accompanies his managing editor Yabe Souichirou to a festival full of meat and boobs…for data gathering. There, Ao encounters Miyabi (despite her slight bust size) and Takumi, both of whom are working at the event.

Thus, Ao worries that the two are a couple. Miyabi, ever the opportunist, sees Yabe for what he is: a much better catch than Takumi. Still, as she considers Ao and Yabe to be a thing, she is content with Takumi.

Yabe and Ao are both a little off when it comes to interpreting things, which means Ao lets her dad-inspired dirty imagination run away with itself regarding Takumi and Miyabi. In reality, Takumi isn’t interested in Miyabi at all.

Once he’s on his break, he seeks Ao out, both because he wants to clear up any misunderstanding about himself and Miyabi, and because, frankly, he’s jealous of Yabe being so close and familiar with Ao. Whether it’s prudent for him to literally sweep Ao off her feet away from Yabe so he can get some time to talk with her…is another matter.

Still, once he and Ao are alone, he makes it clear he only cares about her, and is running out of patience. He must feel she’s strung him along long enough; if she’s interested, she should communicate that. If she’s not, she should say so and give him the opportunity to move on, whether it’s with Miyabi or anyone else.

As far as Takumi is concerned, there’s no one he’s particularly interested in other than Ao. Ao feels likewise…the two just have to find some way to end up on the same wavelength. Unfortunately, considering we’re only halfway into this story, I suspect more bumps in the road to follow.

Ao-chan Can’t Study! – 05 – Be Kind to Virgins

Now, I’m not quite sure where Ao is when she passes out in the bath, leading to Takumi rescuing her and taking her home. After all, the love hotel didn’t accept high schoolers, which is why Miyabi fails to bed Takumi. Ao can’t believe Takumi hasn’t slept with scores of girls, prompting him to finally confess his virginity.

The announcement has a profound effect on Ao, as she now sees him in a totally new light. Far from fearing him as another normie man, she resolves to be nice to him since he’s a virgin, and even assumes she knows more about eroticism than him simply due to her father’s line of work.

Ao sees Takumi as so little a threat all of a sudden, she agrees to go to a restaurant to study English with him. When she later asks if he really wants her to be his first love, she ends up rhetorically and literally backed against a wall. Her whole facade of superiority collapses and she’s forced to flee in tears.

That’s when she spots Miyabi in a restaurant skulking and attaches herself to her, just like she used to when they were little kids, Ao got teased, and Miyabi was always there for her. Miyabi may have it in her head that they’re rivals now, but when push comes to groin-kick, Ao still considers her a friend.