Kageki Shoujo!! – 09 – A Beautiful Frame

Even Kouka has a sports festival, and every ten years it’s a grand sports festival; since this will be the centennial festival it’s even more significant. For instance, Kouka’s “Superiors” will be heavily involved in the festivities.

Since Ai, like us, has no idea what that meants, Sawa helpfully explains they’re venerable veteran actresses who don’t belong to any one troupe and enjoy a higher rank than top stars and troupe leads. They are the creme de la creme, and the episode really sells that fact.

That said, the four top otoko-yaku in one room is a pretty awe-inspiring sight too. These ladies are very, very good at portraying men and boys, and the first years are understandably starstruck; Sawa even bleeds from the nose at the sight of them.

The four are not just there to look handsome and get fawned upon. Just as their individual troupes compete for the most and most passionate fanbases, they’re equally passionate rivals in the sports festival. Each of them intends to win and beat the others.

At one point Sawa needs some scissors, so Sarasa voluntters to grab some from the faculty lounge. There, she encounters Andou-sensei for the first time since he basically told her to forget everything she knew about acting to that point and start over.

I love how Sarasa shows Andou what he was hoping for: that she wasn’t going to let harsh but true criticism keep her down in the dumps forever. After summer break that fleeting disappointment is in her rearview mirror. She’s back and ready to put in the work.

Back in episode 6 I mentioned my wish to learn more about the Sawada Twins, Chika and Chiaki. The remainder of this episode grants my wish and then some, delivering what I believe to be one of the most beautiful and realistic depictions of the unique issues that befall twins; namely the realization they’re not the same.

Chika, the “darker” twin, resents when Chiaki easily befriends one of the Superiors, Mirai—whom we later learn was the top star that inspired them as children to become Kouka actresses. When Mirai mistakes Chika for Chiaki and calls her “Juliet”, Chika ignores her and walks away.

It’s Chiaki who later gets in trouble with Mirai when she next sees her, ruining the good vibes of the rehearsals….but Chika, the real culprit, keeps quiet. Ultimately it’s Sarasa and her good hearing who clears up the mix-up.

That night, the twin sisters have a fight that quickly grows in nastiness, with Chika spewing most of the venom. Later we’ll learn it’s the first time they’ve fought. Now Chiaki moves out of the dorm room they share, switching places with Sarasa.

As we’d expect, Ai neither knows how nor tries to get Chiaki to open up, but Sarasa and Chika are a different story. We learn that the two did everything together and even walked in lockstep, but when they both applied for Kouka and only Chika got in, that suddenly ended their run of identicalness.

Rather than attend as was her right, Chika felt bad for Chiaki, who wasn’t eating or sleeping and didn’t leave their room, and as her twin knew the only way to console her was to turn down her acceptance and try again with her sister next year.

That pulled Chiaki out of her emotional nosedive, but it came as a cost: the twins were always going to be out of balance due to Chika’s sacrifice, which is both something she decided on her own to do and something she felt she was obligated to do, out of loyalty to her twin. She chose blood over fame.

But that resentment lingered, and festered, and caused Chika to become someone who’d pass up opportunities again and again for Chiaki’s sake. She felt she couldn’t do things for her sake and eventually came to hate Chiaki for it.

When Chika gets the opportunity to apologize to Mirai for her rudeness, she explains the dark thoughts that had overcome her, and Mirai understands. Jealous befalls us all, but the key is to turn it into ambition, and not let it twist us into self-destructive choices.

Rather than be a haughty Superior, Mirai comforts her junior like a mother would comfort a daughter, assuring her that her desire to apologize and make up with Chika means she’s a good person, and this bad experience will ultimately make her stronger person.

I’m not an identical twin, so I can’t imagine how scary and lonely it feels to them when they come upon a “fork in the road” past which they won’t be the same in everything. That fork came earlier than they expected; the mere fact they had to expect it would happen really speaks to that unique turmoil.

Part of Chika was just as apprehensive about taking off ahead of Chiaki on her side that fork in the road as Chiaki was about getting left behind. The two have accepted that they can’t be the same anymore, but they’re not ready to drift apart forever, either.

There’s potential in the Kouka Revue for twin roles, and Mirai, now friends with both twins, tells them they can realize that potential if they become popular enough. Nothing in Kouka comes easily; it takes blood, sweat, and tears. But the Superiors, and the Top Stars below them, embody what you get for all that hard work: a kind of apotheosis and immortality. Chika and Chiaki could be Kouka’s Apollo and Artemis…or twin Juliets.

Kageki Shoujo!! – 08 – The Bus Stop by the Sea

Back at school after summer break, Hoshino Kaoru is sporting a new super-short hairstyle, in keeping with her goal to become an otoko-yaku, but soon  scolds Sarasa and Ai for allowing themselves to get a tan. Flashback to a formative summer in Kaoru’s life: the summer before her third year of high school, her last chance to get into Kouka…and when she fell in love for the first time.

Kaoru walking on sunny days with an umbrella was derided by some, not only was it odd behavior, but also presumptuous to those who knew her pedigree. While using a bus stop to the hospital to visit her gran (recovering from surgery), she encounters Tsuji Rikuto, the younger brother of a famous rising star of baseball.

Since his gran is so into the Kouka Revue and he overheard from mean girls of Kaoru’s relation, Rikuto works up the courage to ask her about the troupe, but is interrupted by another girl in love with his brother to give him her love letter. He refuses, and shortly thereafter, Kaoru tells him her name.

At first, Rikuto thinks she’s another girl trying to get closer to his bro through him, but she quickly clears that up by telling him about the expectations being the daughter of a Kouka actress and granddaughter of a top star, and he gets it; they’re like kindred spirits.

Of the two, Kaoru is the one more keen to fight against those who would define them by their more accomplished relations, and it’s her texts to him encouraging him to be himself and not worry about being compared that causes an uptick in Rikuto’s baseball play.

Their bus stop encounters and bus rides soon become something both look forward to, such that Kaoru starts visiting her gran more so she can also see Rikuto. She confides in him how she’d never be somebody to say “I’m getting in” knowing how hard it really is (Sarasa doesn’t have that problem). Kaoru is all about the hard work, right down to covering up in the sun to avoid getting tanned.

When she shows off the skirt she’s wearing, eager to wear as many as she can before she gets into wearing men’s clothes when she’s an otoko-yaku, Rikuto is sure that even if she had a mustache she’d be pretty. It’s the first time a boy ever called her pretty, and she wasn’t prepared for how happy it made her.

Rikuto eventually asks Kaoru out to the fireworks festival marking the end of summer; unaware that it would also mark the end of their brief, cozy romance. Before meeting him there, his grandmother assures her she doesn’t have to keep trying to become a Kouka actress if she doesn’t want to.

Kaoru isn’t about to tell her still-recovering gran that she’s full of shit, but she’s still down in the dumps when she meets Rikuto. For a time, him complimenting her yukata catching her when she’s pushed by some kids, and holding her hand is enough to soothe her troubled heart.

But then she asks why Rikuto seems so down, and he tells her that he’s questioning what the point of forcing himself to follow in his brother’s footsteps and fulfill everyone’s expectations of him…then he says he’s sure Kaoru thinks the same way all the time.

Kaoru…does not. Like her gran, and practically everyone else in her life, Rikuto doesn’t understand her after all; that this is precisely the path she chose to walk and she’s never questioned why she was walking it. She’s not trying to get into Kouka for anyone other than herself.

As she runs away from Rikuto in tears, she calls herself stupid for feeling jealous of the “typical high school girl’s life”, including having a boy worry about her and cheer her up. She runs along the beach singing a song, her voice wavering from her flowing tears, but eventually her voice clears as heartbreak turns into iron determination.

She swears to herself she’s going to make it. The normal life isn’t for her. She’s bound for the world of dreams and glamour.

While she intends to make a clean break by blocking Rikuto on her phone, his team actually makes it to the Koshien prelim final, and he just so happens to hit a game-winning pinch-hit home run as Kaoru is walking past a TV in the window broadcasting his game.

Despite knowing nothing about baseball (except what he taught her), and how things turned out at the fireworks festival, Kaoru is still happy Rikuto got to play, and win. Seeing him succeed on TV showed her that he didn’t give up on his path after questioning the point of it all, and after he incorrectly assumed her motives for walking hers.

She still never went back to that seaside bus stop, but it reappears again at Kouka of all places, when Sarasa sees it going viral on social media. Some mystery person left a note on the wall of the stop saying he didn’t give up and thanking another mystery person. Being a hopeless romantic, this kind of thing is right up Sarasa’s alley.

As the newly-shorn Kaoru examines the picture, she smiles knowingly and blushes ever so slightly. Of the thousands sharing that picture, only she and Rikuto know who it’s for and what it means, just like only they know what they want to do in life and are going to go after it with everything they can.

Hoshino Kaoru closes this incredibly moving portrait of her character the way one would close an epic romantic movie: by saying that when she gets to walk out on that Silver Bridge, she’ll save Rikuto “a primo seat in the SS section”…and maybe even say she was in love with him one bright, beautiful summer.

The perfect parting shot of the two having fun at the bus stop by the sea, at the height of that summer and the height of their love, was a thing of exquisite bittersweet beauty—as was the closing theme as sung by Kaoru ‘s seiyu Taichi You. And just like that, I’m in love with yet another character in this show, along with Sarasa, Ai, and Ayako.

GODDAMN TEARJERKER™ CERTIFIED

Kageki Shoujo!! – 07 – The Curse of “Never”

Summer Break is upon Kouka’s hundredth class, but Ai’s version of giddiness over getting to spend it at Sarasa’s is somewhat tempered by how the semester ended: with Sarasa taking a major hit from Andou-sensei. As I suspected, perfect replication of other actors isn’t going to cut it if you’re going to be a Top Star in the Kouka Revue. This doesn’t mesh with what Sarasa learned about kabuki growing up, where succeeding generations of actors do their best to embody their predecessors as closely as possible.

But that’s Kabuki; and this is Kouka. Sarasa and Ai also get a little education on Andou-sensei and why he’s nicknamed “Phantom”, courtesy of the two top Kouka stars who happened to be seated in the row ahead of them! Apparently Andou was an esteemed actor with a musical troupe, most famous for his Phantom of the Opera, but due to a stage accident he had to retire, and decided to teach instead.

I’m glad he did, because as I said, as painful as it was to see Sarasa’s reaction and ensuing gloom, she was straying from the path to Lady Oscar, and needed a course correction. Fortunately, there’s plenty of family and friends waiting for Sarasa to take her mind off being “Sara-sad”, if only temporarily.

Ai insists on sitting formally for the duration of the gathering downstairs, even though she’s mostly ignored and suffering the agony needlessly (gramps told her to sit however she likes). Then Sarasa then goes to see her grandma at her grave, suggesting Ai can hang with the cat while she’s gone.

Of course, we know even when Sarasa and Ai don’t that it’s not just the cat waiting in her room, but Akiya. Ai, who is not good with people, comes off as curt with Akiya, who misinterprets it as intentional rudeness, but when Ai profusely apologizes and hides behind a wall, Akiya’s stance softens.

When asked about his “girlfriend” Sarasa, all he’ll tell Ai is that they were childhood friends since forever, and they took traditional dance classes together. Fortunately, we get to learn a lot more about both Sarasa and Akiya’s past, and Sarasa comes out even more amazing for having enduring what she had to endure.

Basically, the famous kabuki actor Kouzaburou was always very close to Sarasa, so much so that rumors floated around of her being his illegitimate daughter. Illegitimate or not, had she been a boy, she would have been the heir apparent to the venerable Shirakawa Kaou name…which Akiya is expected to assume instead. He’s far more loosely related, but he’s a boy.

It didn’t help matters for Akiya that while he liked Sarasa a lot for her strength and cheerfulness, she also happened to be a better natural talent than him when it came to Kabuki. Unfortunately, Sarasa was never sat down and told that grown women aren’t allowed to perform Kabuki.

That said, when another actor is ill, Sarasa is chosen to fill in during a performance of Sukeroku, since she memorized all the lines and movements (even back then, she was amazing). Young girls are allowed to perform, so there was no problem.

But while performing beside her, Akiya could tell how goddamn good Sarasa was, and how goddamn unfair it was that Sarasa’s Kabuki career would reach a harsh dead end due to tradition. After the performance, he first hears the rumor that Sarasa is related to Kouzaburou, which he shares with his mom/grandma/aunt/guardian (I forget her exact relation to him).

Tossing that pebble in the pond causes all kinds of drama, including his mom* chewing out poor Sarasa at the front door, telling her for the first time she’ll “never” be able to be something—in this case, Sukeroku. As soon as Sarasa runs off crying she’s immediately ashamed and regretful, but the damage is done.

Sarasa’s gramps comes to Kouzaburou’s house and chews him out for traumatizing Sarasa, and declares that she’ll have nothing to do with him or Kabuki ever again. That said, gramps softens considerably upon seeing a scared Akiya in the hall, and asks him if he’ll continue being Sarasa’s friend. He’s only cutting her off from Kabuki, he says.

Shortly after Sarasa stopped coming to dance classes, her grandma died, and Akiya and Kaou pay their respects from a distance. When Akiya sees Sarasa’s raw eyes, he starts to cry too…and Kaou tells him to hold on to the pain…it will make him a better actor.

Fast-forward to the present, and Akiya and Sarasa remain friends despite having been kinda-sorta rivals in the past. The rivalry never happened because the institution of Kabuki never let it. I’d say it’s for the best, since I have every confidence Sarasa will be okay in Kouka, but if ever there was going to be a first woman kabuki actor, it would be her!

After giving Sarasa her present of another bizarre figurine she’s super excited about (which is also see-through, for reasons), he also invites both Sarasa and Ai to a performance of Sukeroku he’ll be in. He already got clearance from her gramps.

That night, Ai learns about Sarasa’s performance in Sukeroku when she was only six. The two girls are transported into space as Sarasa beautifully, poetically describes what it was like being on that stage, feeling the audience like heat on her skin, feeling like the stage was a different world; feeling she had transformed into someone else.

It was clearly one of the most amazing moments of her life, making it doubly tragic that she was later deprived of pursuing a future there despite how much she loved it and how good she was. Even so, hearing Sarasa’s words makes Ai want to go see Sukeroku with Sarasa all the more, if only to catch a glimpse of the stage Sarasa once stood upon.

During the performance, Ai notices Sarasa crying, and isn’t sure whether it’s due to fond memories or “something else entirely.” Uh, why not both? From there, the episode abruptly cuts to the train platform where Sarasa and Ai are heading home. Akiya gives Sarasa some words of support and assurance from his heart.

He reminds her they’ve only just started down their paths; it’s okay to lose sight of what they want sometimes; and all they can do is keep moving forward. Sarasa still wants to play Lady Oscar, and she’s going to make it happen—”nevers” be damned!

She also wants Akiya to play Sukeroku. After a firm handshake (throwing Ai off a bit, as she assumed they’d at least hug), the two part ways, both feeling better than before they’d seen each other. They may not be a lovey-dovey couple, but they’re a couple where it matters.

Kageki Shoujo!! – 06 – Such Sins Shall Not Be Endured

The 100th Class is restless. For four months they’ve been subjected to basics basics basics when each of them are anything but. They’re fed up of boring lessons…they want to ACT. Sarasa, never one to shy away from making her thoughts known, whatever they may be, airs the united class’s grievance to Andou-sensei.

He seems miffed by her impression of her, even though everyone agrees it’s as spot-on as her impressions of all the other teachers. They wonder if it’s because it’s so good that it struck a nerve. Such is Sarasa’s performative power.

Oh, it’s also Sarasa’s 16th birthday! Akiya’s older kabuki kolleague took the liberty of delivering sixteen roses to Sarasa under an alias, living as he is vicariously through Akiya and Sarasa’s chaste, minimalist long-distance relationship. But Ai isn’t going to lose to some “frog bot”; so she plays and plays the store lottery until she wins a figurine she knows Sarasa will cherish.

She also uses the opportunity to try to call Sarasa by her first name instead of “Sara…Watanabe-san”, and when prompted by Sarasa herself to do so, Ai is finally able to do it. More than by the figurine, Sarasa is made happiest by seeing her first name in Ai’s handwriting and hearing it in Ai’s voice. I love these two so much it hurts.

I could honestly deal quite well with a Kageki Shoujo!! that’s nothing but Sarasa and Ai hanging out and gradually becoming closer, but we’ve got a whole ensemble to cover here, and the results of spreading the love across multiple Kouka students isn’t bad either!

This week focuses on the other members of Sarasa and Ai’s Group E, who along with the other groups have two weeks to prepare to do a scene from Romeo & Juliet. Rock Paper Scissors is used to determine who plays what role, resulting in the suboptimal pairing of Hoshino Kaoru’s Romeo with Ai’s Juliet. Sarasa has to play the much darker Tybalt.

The role of Juliet was really won by Chika, one of the Sawada twins, but she decides to be the lesser role of Juliet’s nurse, later seeing her sister Chiaki claim the role with giddy elation. Is Chika less ambitious than Chiaki, or is she simply trying to differentiate herself from her sister in order to shine on her own? The twins have just been background noise until now, so I’m looking forward to them getting a bit more fleshed out.

Kaoru, whom I’d forgotten wishes to be a otoko-yaku like Sarasa, does not surrender Romeo to Sarasa. Instead, she takes Group E firmly by the reins and does not spare the whip. She harshly criticizes both Sarasa and Ai for seemingly not giving it their all, then finally snaps at Sarasa for daring to propose they practice on the sidewalk like common street performers.

As with Ayako last week, Ai sees a member of JPX in Kaoru, specifically the leader, who was always angry and never satisfied. She also learns why from the other girls; both of the previous generations of Hoshino women were Kouka performers. Ai bridges the gap between her and Kaoru by acknowledging the pressure Kaoru is under, while also admitting something she deems to be shameful and almost disqualifying for a Kouka actress.

Due to all of her years performing from a young age, she never properly learned to read kanji. Ai tells Kaoru there’s nothing wrong with her having a short fuse or being tough on them; if she’s not tough on them, Group E will fail. And if Kaoru doesn’t want to be the bad guy of the group, they’ll also fail!

Speaking of bad guys, Sarasa has zero experience embodying characters like Tybalt, but while she sucks at reading a script, watching a Blu-Ray of Romeo & Juliet is another thing entirely. She absorbs every moment of the performances on the screen, and the shape and color of every line, like a very tall, very efficient sponge. And lest you think I’m being harsh on Sarasa, I hold living sponges in high regard! We should all wish to live such an elegant existence!

When the time comes for the first-ever Great “Let First-Years Act” Experiment, Andou chooses Group E to go first. As they perform in their tracksuits on a rehearsal stage, the audience (including us) are transported to the fully-dressed performance stage, complete with lighting and costumes. This is a nice stylistic touch.

Kaoru makes a good Romeo, but Andou can see her gaze is uneven, indicating she’s distracted and letting her self intrude on her performance. Chika flubs a line by repeating it, but after a momentary breakdown, remembers Ai’s words about them continuing to the end even if they mess up, and improvises a great save. Ai isn’t bringing true love to the performance (because Sarasa is her true Romeo), and she’s also doing what she was trained to do as an idol: performing to an audience of one. A Kouka actress must perform for everyone.

Then Tybalt takes the stage, and we finally see why Kaoru said what she said earlier about people normally improving gradually. Sarasa isn’t normal. After watching the video, once, she manages to serve up a perfect performance of Tybalt, causing her classmates to audibly gasp in unison. Andou is also impressed by the way Sarasa stands, locks her gaze high as if she were performing to a packed Kouka theatre crowd of 2,500. It is stirring, but in the end, it’s too perfect.

In his critique of Group E, Andou-sensei tells Sarasa flat-out that she will never be a top star of Kouka…not unless she changes. As I am prepared to give my life to defend Sarasa’s smile (not to mention Ai’s), it’s here where I must apply Tybalt’s line “Such sins shall not be endured” and “He is naught but a villain” to Andou-sensei. He is a villain whose sin was turning Sarasa’s smile into a look of pained bewilderment. Curse him!

But here’s the thing…he’s absolutely right, and Sarasa needed to hear his harsh words sooner rather than later, because she wasn’t really acting on that rehearsal stage, she was mimicking what she saw—down to the last precise detail. That is an impressive talent, foreshadowed when she did impressions of the other teachers, but it isn’t acting. Sarasa can’t be a top star of Kouka by simply perfectly replicating what she’s seen and heard. At least, that’s what I think Andou-sensei is on about.

Sarasa will have to change. She may even have to forget everything she knows about performing and start over from scratch. Her friend Ai will be there for her, as will the other girls of Kouka. After all, if there’s one person they want to see on stage more than the Sarasa they’ve already seen, it’s the future Sarasa who has mastered how to deliver performances all her own. I know Ai wants to see that Sarasa, and I do too!

Sagrada Reset – 23

Kei is in the back of a Toyota Harrier with Urachi, with Tsushima driving and Tomoki riding shotgun; Ukawa, Murase, Sakagami and Oka Eri (I’ll say her whole name since everyone in the show always does) escape by bike (and Ukawa turning the road into a slot car track). Haruki is still at the Karaoke parlor with Sakuin and Kagaya, apparently outnumbered…but it’s all part of the plan.

I hope you don’t mind the calm, measured voice of Ishikawa Kaito, because you get a lot of it in this episode, and that’s saying something. He has an adversary with the opposite position to try to convince to his side, after all.

Kei is as persistent as he is righteous, laying out all of the alternative options to simply wiping out abilities, using the abilities of others to lighten the burden of his two “locked” parents—even transferring his father’s ability to a cat.

At the end of Kei’s spiel, Urachi is still not convinced, and Kei isn’t surprised…because Urachi isn’t the one he was trying to convince: it’s Kagaya, back at the parlor with Haruki, who heard the whole debate through Tomoki.

In light of everything that was said, Kagaya chooses to support Kei. Just like that, Urachi loses a vital team member of his crusade. He can no longer realistically carry out his plan without Kagaya’s support, so he essentially surrenders to Kei, handing him his notebook.

As for what occurs at the very end, with Souma passing thorough the boundaries of Sakurada in a train, suddenly having all her memories rush back, and lamenting that she’s “certain nothing was even” for Kei? Your guess is as good as mine. It would seem Urachi has been quite suddenly removed as an opponent, but perhaps the events of this episode were the easy part of Kei’s plan, with the true challenge coming in the finale.

Sagrada Reset – 22

Kei knows he can’t accomplish his goals alone. He needs a little help from friends, classmates, acquaintances…and even his “nemesis” Eri Oka, to whom he genuinely admits defeat for losing in the pre-reset timeline. Before long, he has Eri, Murase, Sakagami, Tomoki, Ukawa, and Haruki in a karaoke parlor, where he lays it all out and asks them for their help.

He gives them time to think it over and leave if they wish, but as he tells Haruki in the stairwell, he already knows they’ll all agree, because he looked a little deeper into the future back in the photo. He feels like he’s lying and he ran away, but Haruki is glad he did, because she knows he’ll always persevere.

Once everyone has indeed agreed, Kei sets his multifaceted plan into operation, inviting Urachi to join him at the karaoke parlor. Urachi brings Sakuin and Kagaya; Kei is all alone…or he looks alone. Perceived vulnerability is key in his gambit, for Urachi has to believe that no matter how things go in their talk, he’s in control and will get the last say.

After remarking how their mutual desire to control all abilities (Kei by keeping them, Urachi by eliminating them) makes them alike, he proposes a compromise: the abilities remain, controlled by Kei, but he won’t be a pure dictator, because people like Urachi will help him.

Urachi agrees to the plan—all to quickly, and after shaking hands with Kei, he has Kagaya shake hands with him too. Only, Kagaya forgets his locking ability because Kei utilizes the combined power of Eri, Murase, and Sakagami.

Urachi isn’t worried, however, since he can simply rewind Kagaya’s time to before he forgot his power. He’s also used their time talking to call for backup, and before long Kei is surrounded by Bureau members. But he makes the slip—and takes Urachi with him—by using Ukawa’s ability to construct whatever she wants within a minute; in this case a network of tubes.

Urachi and Kei end up in a car with Tomoki and a very confused Tsushima, meeting Urachi for the first time. When Kei says he’s kidnapped Urachi, Tsushima thinks he’s joking, but he’s not. But Urachi points out that Tsushima is now an accomplice to Kei’s crimes.

Once again Kei, has only bought time and stayed a few steps ahead, but the struggle is far from over. It very much remains to be seen if Urachi can ever be convinced to allow abilities to remain in Sakurada, or if his plans can be permanently thwarted rather than simply delayed. One thing’s for sure: Kei is not alone in this.

Sagrada Reset – 21

The episode begins back when Souma made curry at Kei’s, and gives us more of the conversation they had, specifically the trickiness of their struggle against Urachi. Their adversary has devised a number of contingencies such that any attempt to undo his plans will be thwarted.

Souma laments that she’s thus far been unable to find a way around those contingencies in order to save the abilities of Sakurada, so she asks Kei to use her precognition to find the best possible future for himself; the one she couldn’t find. For Kei, that’s a future in which Souma doesn’t disappear.

Back in the recently reset present, Souma is about to meet with Urachi at the cafe, but changes course, instigating a pursuit by Urachi and Sakuin. Kei heads to the waterfront with the photo of Souma (whose ability he’ll borrow) Haruki (whose future he’ll read), Sakagami (who’ll be the means of borrowing Souma’s power) and Tomoki (to keep track of time and communicate with the other Souma).

It’s quite an intricate little plan, with a lot at stake and in which timing is everything. The moment Kei gains Photo Souma’s precognitive ability and Haruki speaks to him, the look on his face says it all…but in his infinite coyness, he reveals next to nothing in the way of actual details regarding that future.

Meanwhile, Souma is quickly caught and cornered on the top of a fire escape by Urachi and Sakuin, and believing her work to be done, is prepared to jump over the edge to prevent herself from being taken hostage, and thus becoming a potential liability to Kei.

But since Kei can see Souma’s future as well as Urachi’s, he knows what she’s about to do, and stops her before she can, using Tomoki as a go-between. Instead, he tells her he has to meet her again, and has her wait five more minutes, during which time she tells Urcachi what she really is (‘not’ Souma) and the mistakes he made that allowed Kei to reset.

What she doesn’t tell Urachi is what Kei did with his planner in the timeline with no abilities, in which Urachi has a gap in his memories. That’s because the five minutes are up, Souma jumps off the ledge, and rather than fall to her death, she’s caught by Murase (Hi Murase!), who Kei just so happened to have searching for her.

As Kei learns more and more of the futures of Haruki, Souma, and himself, he gives Souma very precise instructions on how to leave Sakurada until returning noon tomorrow. All the while, Kei is conversing with Haruki about favorite colors, and how Haruki has come to like a lot of things she once had no preference for.

It’s that Haruki Kei wants to preserve, as well as all of the abilities in Sakurada. But he won’t do that by sacrificing Souma; he wants her to be able to live a life where she’ll be able to wake up and go to sleep happy day after day.

Is he being selfish, insisting on so many conditions for victory? Perhaps, but as the only person in Sakurada who will always remember everything, no matter what, it’s kinda his show.

Sagrada Reset – 20

Urachi strikes the first blow, and as soon as Kei commits to preserving the abilities in Sakurada, all the abilities in Sakurada go bye-bye in an instant. After some momentary disorientation from the memories clashing in his head, Kei finds himself in a new world.

But from the moment this world “begins”, Kei doesn’t seem comfortable in it. How can he, when he has all his memories from the previous one? And how can he live life here knowing there’s a chance he can reverse Urachi’s handiwork and bring abilities back? If he can make it so Haruki’s last text to him isn’t an unnecessary apology?

In this world, Souma Sumire attends his high school and is an ordinary girl who likes him. But she notices something’s ‘off’ about him and through some discussions about the fallacy of memory, the five-minute hypothesis and being happy with the simple, unflashy life one has been given, Souma can help but feel rejected.

But it’s not just her: it’s this entire world. Kei can’t stay; not as long as he has those memories. And due to his ability, his memories will never go away.

In this world, Kei was born in Sakurada, while in reality he was born elsewhere and only moved to Sakurada in the sixth grade. In this world, his parents are dead and he is adopted. But he remembers the apartment he grew up in, and also remembers the taste of his mother’s curry. So he pays a visit to that hometown.

What I didn’t expect was that he would meet his mother, and the sister he never knew he had, whose name, Megumi, shares the same kanji has his name, Kei: both represent deep love, as their mother says to them; since names are what others use to call you.

Of course, Kei’s mother has no idea Kei is her son, so when he brings up something horrible he did to his parents and doesn’t think he has the right to seek forgiveness, she firmly corrects him. She may not know who his parents are, but they surely love him, even if they can’t forgive him, so he should apologize.

Of course, he can’t. Leaving his family was the price of remaining in Sakurada.

Little did I know (and possible little did Kei know himself) that his visit with his mother and sister would be crucial in his plans to undo what Urachi has done. When he visits Haruki, she’s back to her robotic, emotionless self of two years ago, and does not remember or trust him.

What she does do is humor Kei quite a bit, coming along on a bus ride, conceding a text was sent from her phone, proving they are acquaintances, than helping him hold a Polaroid of the cherry tree they’re standing in front of.

That photo, which was in Haruki’s hidden diary, turns out to be Kei’s key to getting back in the fight, as it transports him and Haruki to the time the photo was taken, back when she had the reset ability. All her memories rush back, but they’re a jumble, and she struggles to stand from the stress.

For whatever reason, she still can’t quite remember him, and when he tells her she should Reset, she tells him she can’t, because it “doesn’t feel like the right time.” That time comes almost immediately, however, thanks, again, to Kei’s experiences earlier in the day.

He thinks about the home and family he can never go back to, and the true meaning of his name, and dearly wishes for one last chance to undo some of the things he’s done. He didn’t cry over his past experiences on this day, but he does cry here, and Haruki remembers that that is her cue to Reset: when she sees someone crying. So she Resets.

And what do you know, Sumire Souma is also crying, by the water, in that very moment, upset that even after everything that happened, she’s not the one.

Back on the evening of October 22nd, Kei and Haruki are outside her house, and he can’t help but steal a big hug, so happy he is that his Haruki is ‘back.’ She can tell a lot has happened, and is worried about him. Kei tells her what’s going to happen the night after tomorrow unless they do something…they, not just him.

Haruki asks if abilities are really necessary, and Kei says no…the town would be fine without them, but he likes them, so he’ll do everything he can to protect them. With her help, he’ll attain the MacGuffin.

Aquarion Logos – 03

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Blergh…when you’ve checked out of a show only three episodes in, it’s time to say Sayonara. And between the almost painfully-goofy word-of-the-day crises, Akira’s “I’m the Savior” schtick, and the introduction of a snot-nosed little kid as the newest pilot, I find myself suddenly but categorically checked out of Aquarion Logos.

I’m not alone in this; as of writing fewer than 650 people have bothered to rate the show on MAL (compared to over 11,000 for GANGSTA.), and its rating sits at a paltry 6.20, more than a full point below the older, better Aquarion Evol.

I’m no stranger to going against the whims of MAL (especially when small sample sizes are involved), but in this case our opinions align. Dropped.

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Aquarion Logos – 02

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This week follows much the same pattern as last: Sougon weaponizes another “Word of the Week” (it’s “illness”), Kaibuki Akira commandeers a Vector, goes into the Logos World, and forms an Aquarion with Maia to defeat it.

But in between the problem and the crisis was a part I found much more interesting: when the captured Maia breaks free, she’s kept from flying off in her Vector by a team of tough-as-iron cleaning ladies whose practiced, precises motions, synchronization, strength, and ability to read minds has the sheltered Maia assuming they’re DEAVA’s elite guardian force.

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They assume she’s the new girl, so they set her to work, and Maia learns about the “sacrifices” her master Sougan said were “inevitable” in order to bring about his “Utopia Without Words” (whatever that is). It struck me as a Spirited Away-style situation in which an ignorant, arrogant girl gets a lesson in humility and humanity by putting on another skin for a spell.

Still, if the ladies knew Maia was an escaped prisoner, they’d have probably called security. Why is there no security in the hangar containing the Vectors? Ya know what….never mind.

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Once Akira arrives at the hangar deck and spots Maia, he tells her he’ll “do as he ought, by his own will”, reinforcing the dissonance between her beloved Sougon’s ideal and the price people like the nice ladies she befriended pay for it. She comes to her own opinion on the matter: that any word that starts hurting people is a mistake (even though we know it isn’t a mistake, but exactly what Sougon intended it to be).

Her faith in Sougon’s ideal doesn’t match who Sougon really is: a social networking tycoon trying to make a new world without regard to the casualties that result from the destruction of the old one. As such, her will doesn’t run parallel to her master’s, so perhaps it’s good that he doesn’t let Maia come back to him, but orders her to continue observing Akira.

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Aquarion Logos – 01 (Part II)

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Okay…so I was right: THIS half of the hour-long special I watched was the actual first episode of Logos, representing a clean slate, with no cameos from past shows, just a recycling of terminology (e.g. sousei, vectors, gattai, Aquarion, etc.)  Logos’ new angle is that kanji are possessed with great power that, when unleashed, can be extremely destructive to the fabric of the world.

The “Word of the Day”, if you will, is “Maki”, the kanji for which also means “twist.” Every instance of the kanji in written or digital form comes to life and starts wreaking havoc on modern-day Japan, leaving it up to a special few young people to fight back with the Aquarion hardware we’re familiar with. I must say, this is a pretty clever idea, if a bit Sesame Street.

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That organization is called DEAVA (Division of EArth Verbalism Ability), fronted by a cosplay cafe. When one of those members, Kikogami Kokone, calls out for help when an old lady’s purse is stolen, a dude named Kaibuki Akira answers the call and retrieves the purse. Akira is a bit of a cipher so far, who is fond of calling himself a savior, but also probably happens to be correct about that assertion, as crazy as it sounds to everyone else.

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So sure is Akira that he’s meant for greater things, he follows Kokone into DEAVA and steals her vector to deal with the beastial manifestation of maki in some kind of undefined dimension where one normally does battle with words. In that space, we also have a pair of individuals, one of whom is sure to become one of Akira’s love interests, Tsukigane Maia, who seems to be on the side of the guy who released the word and considers this an important mission.

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Somehow, Akira manages to disconnect Maia’s vector from her partner and dock it to his own, resulting in their transformation into an Aquarion mecha. Maia isn’t sure what’s going on, only that it “feels wonderful”, and she and Akira pair up to blast the maki back into submission with the patented Infinity Punch.

So we have a technicolor cast of characters, an elaborate, often hard-to-follow action that sometimes makes you feel like you’re on some kind of animated Gravitron, yet everything is pretty neatly summed up as “words are power”, and can be used to create as well as destroy.

I wouldn’t exactly call Logos greatit’s awfully helter-skelter and demanding to the senses—but I’ll go with “good” for this first outing. It’s certainly like nothing else this Summer. I’ll just have to see if I have enough time to keep up with it.

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Inou-Battle wa Nichijou-kei no Naka de – 03

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InoBato isn’t just an above-average chuunibyou-infused random school club harem comedy, it’s an above-average chuunibyou-infused random school club harem that has found a way to weaponize its dialogue into a fearsome weapon of mass engrossment, education, and entertainment. It made me laugh, but it also made me think, and let me tell you, that’s a hard thing to get me to do on a Monday night!

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This was an episode split into several diverse scenarios, but the theme running through them all was the exploration and analysis of the language being used. Words that can mean one thing can mean something else entirely depending on who said or read them and who’s reading or listening. I know full well the interpretation of words isn’t infinite, but sometimes it can seem that way.

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Jurai starts by having to defend to his teacher the translating of English sentences on his test to Japanese using florid kanji just because “it’s cooler that way.” And the teacher can’t mark them incorrect, because they aren’t! Or take what happens when he and his anime-loving rival Sagami have a heated debate, and the teacher gets the total opposite idea of what they’re talking about!

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Wordplay aside, I really liked the brief exchange Jurai and Sagami had after the teacher kicked them out of the lounge. Here are, truth be told, two ladies’ men, but of very different kinds. Sagami gets love letters, meets girls after school, and receives confessions; he’s a bit of a romantic nomad. Jurai, meanwhile, is a nester, with a clubroom full of girls he shares a very close bond with, now that they all have powers.

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“Sounding cool” also applies to conversation as much as writing, as demonstrated as Jurai, in a serious tennis stance and a cool smirk, declares to Kohata “I’ll show you a terrifying nightmare! Just no overhand serves, okay? They’re too fast for me to return.” Back to writing: Sayumi tricked him into writing “Bloody Vivre” instead of “Bible” on his dark journal, which just happens to have been purchased at a Vivre store.

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When Jurai forgets his “Vivre” and tells the girls to go ahead without him, they have a little conversation of their own that wouldn’t have been possible if he’d been there: they each earnestly describe what Jurai has done for each of them to help them now that they have powers. Whether it’s telling Sayumi never to even consider bringing back the dead, or warning Chifuyu not to try to create life, Jurai has helped set boundaries that will protect their lives and sanity – serious business when they themselves don’t know those boundaries.

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On a smaller scale, years ago he changed Hatoko’s nickname from “Yakitori-chan” (since Kushikawa can translate to “skewer skin”) to something dorkier so other kids would be too embarrassed to tease her. The bottom line is, he’s done a lot for them, even if most of the time it looks like he’s just messing around.

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When Jurai, AKA Guiltia Sin Jurai, returns to school for his vivre, he bumps into someone I initially thought was him from the future, or from another dimension. Turns out it’s an alumnus by he name of Kiryuu Hajime, AKA Kiryuu Heldkaiser Luci First, and its immediately clear after a few minutes with this more verbose version of Date from SKET Dance that Jurai is in the presence of a Chuuni Pro, were such a profession possible. Even Jurai himself starts to look at himself as a dabbler by comparison, while Kiryuu seems to be Living the Dream! and on a quest to attain some kind of nirvana where your speech becomes nigh indecipherable.

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Oh, and he’s also Tomoyo’s runaway older half-brother, surprise! That aspect of who he is is revealed so masterfully; as he goes off on a very good rant about the essence of Chuunibyou as he sees it: the “unresolved paradox of self-denial and self-affirmation”, or Endless Paradox which as it turns out is a nickname he gave his sister Tomoyo. Before he splits, Kiryuu tells Tomoyo in as cool and forceful a manner as he can muster: “When you go home, tell our father this…’send living expenses for this month too.” Denial and affirmation indeed!

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That Tomoyo’s brother is a Chuuni, and an even more advanced one than Jurai, speaks volumes about Tomoyo herself and her relationship to Jurai. Before he’s “more than a friend”, he’s her friend, period, and something of a surrogate brother. She’s comfortable talking about her family life and what happened with Kiryuu, even though he gives her an out. And as close a bond of kinship as Jurai felt, and as many words as he said to him, not one was about his sister and the others having real powers.

But still, as Jurai says, Kiryuu really is incredible…

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…for casually leaving him with the entire bill.

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Inou-Battle wa Nichijou-kei no Naka de – 02

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I found it amusing that this episode of a show with “commonplace” or “everyday life” in the title dealt with something not commonplace at all, at least for most in the Western world: the Japanese written language. Heck, even that title means different things depending on how it’s written or read. I’m apparently drawn to shows that playfully explore the complexity plasticity of the language they’re speaking, usually for laughs.

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And laughs were indeed in ample supply in the episode’s first half, when Jurai decides that everyone needs to come up with a Chuuni nickname to go with their powers (Why he didn’t suggest this when they first got their powers, I don’t know, but never mind). Each girl has a different approach, with Hatoko simply slapping colors in front of her name, then settling on “Play-Along Straight Man Hatoko.”

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Sayumi is next, and has lots of good names, but when Jurai points out that they’re all very cute, like “Powdered-Snow Princess”, she storms out of the room; apparently “cute” is an off-limits subject for her. After her comes Chifuyu, who goes from “Mikan Mikan” to a variety of family-related nicknames, and settling on “Pineapple”, because she likes that part of sweet-and-sour pork.

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Perhaps unsurprisingly, the girl who seems to know, understand, and care for Jurai the most—Tomoyo—comes up with the most thoughtful and impressive nickname, “Endless Paradox” (Paradox Witch Who Sneers at Twilight). Even I have to admit that’s a pretty good name…and I’m not a Chuuni anymore.

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What follows the selection of nicknames in the second half is another application of the theme of language: that of misunderstanding, which is always a deep font of comedy. In this case, Mirei comes in to “respond to Jurai’s love letter”, which she does by reciprocating her feelings and agreeing to go out with him. Naturally, that sets the rest of the girls off, because wait…Jurai wrote Mirei a love letter?

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This is when the scene gets a little chaotic, but amusingly so: as Mirei reads and deconstructs the letter in great detail, explaining precisely (and not unreasonably) how she interpreted it as a love letter, Jurai confirms what Tomoyo suspected almost immediately: that he simply wrote a letter acknowledging Mirei’s superpower and giving it the name “Grateful Lover”, or rather, “Robber.”

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It doesn’t get through to Mirei, however, and the letter seems to have had the unfortunate effect of at least making her feel like she’s very much in love with Jurai. As a result, she follows him around, flirts and clings to him, and turns into a viscous solid of affection. Jurai is understandably flattered—Mirei is adorable, after all. And yet…

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And yet. When he arrives in the clubroom, his four club-mates are all quite pissed, and try to ignore him/take it out on him with varying degrees of success. It’s ultimately Sayumi who is upfront and tells him the understanding between him and Mirei needs to be cleared up. But there’s no superpower to make that easy, so that’s when we get our first taste of actual drama in InoBato, and I have to say, it worked pretty well.

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In the hallway at sunset and bowing deeply in apology, Jurai explains what he explained to Tomoyo: that it wasn’t a love letter and he wasn’t trying to go out with her. Mirei is devastated but tries to apologize herself for jumping to conclusions and keep her composure, but simply can’t. It’s a tough and surprisingly moving scene, even if it is meant to restore the status quo. The lighting, the close-ups, and the voicework all contribute to sell it; now we know, InoBato can do serious.

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What really validates it is when Tomoyo appears to cheer Jurai up, who is mostly angry at himself for having hurt someone so deeply without intending to. For a good while there, Tomoyo drops the tsundere act and sits with Jurai as a friend while he explains that he chose the potentially confusing “robber” to match the character count of his and everyone else’s powers, as a symbol of unity – again, tapping into the written language and its ability to symbolize many things at once. See, he’s actually a very thoughtful, caring guy! Like his letter, Mirei could have interpreted that as affection, too.

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Ultimately, Mirei shoots Jurai an email—they exchanged emails during their short-lived romance—voicing her hope they can still be friends, and her intention to use the name he gave her power. And that’s perhaps the most surprising part of this episode: there was only one use of powers in the whole episode: When Mirei very briefly stole Closed Clock from Tomoyo (and obliged Jurai by giving them right back)…and that’s it.

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And yet this was on some levels a stronger episode than the first, because it didn’t just define its cast by their powers, but really tapped into their personalities through their use of language and their reactions to Jurai’s fling with Mirei, as well as Mirei’s interpretation of Jurai’s language. In the end, the “battle” this week was fought not with elements or matter or time, but with “commonplace” words. And it was a damn good one.

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