AICO – 12 (Fin) – A World for Both Aikos

AICO ends by having its cake and eating it too, with only Isazu suffering long-term ill effects from the events of the finale. In the last couple episodes he’d devolved into a raving, maniacal villain, but at least it was presumably out of his Papa-Grizzly desire to protect his cub, Yuzuha. However it’s clear he’s willing to use Yuzuha to manipulate the matter to his whims and gets drunk off the power, ignoring her pleas for her to stop.

Isazu presents a persistent threat to Kanzaki’s attempt to perform extremely sensitive “brain transfer surgery”, the science of which neither the show nor I will bother getting into; suffice it to say Yura is one of the greatest medical and scientific minds in human history, which is frankly…a bit much.

But with the other Divers arriving at Primary Point, and Kurose successfully infiltrating the hospital and disconnecting Yuzuha from her duplicate bodies (ending the threat Isazu presented), Kanzaki/Yura has just enough time to pull it off. When the procedure is complete, The “Real” Tachibana Aiko emerges from the surgical capsule safe and sound, if a little out of it.

However, Yura’s intention wasn’t just to revive Aiko, but save the other Aiko who had spent the last eleven episodes proving that she was just as real. He didn’t want either Aiko to die. Yet once the “fake” Aico has confirmed Aiko is alright, she seems ready to do just that, as her head retreats into the mass of Matter, which starts to turn green, as if decomposing.

But just when everyone is lamenting the loss of a person they’d become quite fond of, the dying matter spits out a strange fetus-like thing, which then spits out a fully alive (and naked) Aiko. Turns out Gummi, whom her father gave her, was meant to serve a far more important role than just that of a pet and companion.  Gummi also contained the sum total of data for Aico’s body, such that once the brain transfer was complete, Gummi was able to surround and regenerate her body.

Aiko invites Aico to join her family (her mom and brother are released and soon up and about), but while she’s grateful for her conterpart’s kindness, she respectfully declines.

Aiko at least insists she meet at least once with her Mom and Ryouta before going off and doing her own thing, and the resulting reunion is every bit as powerful and earned-feeling as when she first arrived at their cocoon, particularly when she starts to tear up immediately after turning her back on them.

From there, everyone returns to their lives, and the Area, now free of malignant Matter, begins to rebuild. As for Aico, she starts on her own path at a new school as a transfer student, but her name probably isn’t Aico.

As for what it is, we never find out, and I enjoyed the ending that cut off her introduction. All that matters is she is a different person. She’s the girl in loafers walking into a classroom in the ED. Most importantly, she’s the one we’ve been watching and following all this time. I wish her well.

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AICO – 11 – More Technobabble Leads to the Home Stretch

When Yura/Kanzaki finds Aico, she’s already willing to forgive all the lies he’s told to that point, because she exists in part because of those many lies. She’s also as ready as ever to sacrifice herself to save her mother, brother, and the “real” Aiko, even though that Aiko has already offered to do the same. For his part, Kanzaki is hesitant in the moment to let Aico go through with it, even though, as she says, that’s how the Burst will end.

In that moment of hesitation, Dr. Isazu hooks himself up to some kind of interface we’ve never seen before which allows him to connect to and manipulate the same Matter as his unconscious daughter.

Isazu uses the human-form Matter to restrain Aico and Kanzaki and a rather lengthy argument with the latter ensues, densely packed with a whole mess of technobabble about networks and cell assemblers. Suffice it to say, Isazu wants his daughter back, and is willing to sacrifice both Aikos to do so; Burst be damned.

Isazu gets increasingly frustrated with Kanzaki’s apparently boundless, “god-like” genius, but is unable to kill him, because Kazuki swoops in just in time to free Kanzaki and Aico from their bonds. A torrid chase ensues, and the real Aiko succeeds in suppressing the purple Matter with her Red long enough for the trio to get to shelter…only it’s not the shelter, but some kind of storeroom.

There, Kanzaki gathers materials for a makeshift explosion to blast their way out of their dead end and continue to Primary Point, but Kazuki doesn’t want Aico to go…because he’s fallen in love with her, plus when the matter attacked his arm he saw her memories. Aico tells him she’s flattered by his confession, but if he truly loves her as he says, he’ll let her save her family, which she can only do by reuniting Aiko’s body and brain.

Back outside the area, the JSDF is poised to start their bombardment of the entire facility, but they’re foiled at the last second when Nanbara lifts the blockade on the Area and sends in wave after wave of civilian Divers. The generals must hold their fire, and Nanbara is summarily fired by her superior, though her assistant Hori remains on the job for the time being, likely by design.

Nanbara gave up everything to save the Matter that will keep her country at the forefront of science from being annihilated by that same country’s military.

Now we’ll see if her sacrifice, and those of Shinoyama and many others, will be validated, as Kanzaki finally gets Aico to Primary Point, where the Burst and Aico’s existence began. The other Divers are holding their own, led by Sagami and Shiraishi and now convinced that what they’re doing has a crucial and noble purpose.

After many trials, lies, revealed secrets, and yes, one very lame confession, Aico has reached her destination, and it’s where she herself has chosen to come. Now let’s see if she and Kanzaki can end the Burst, save her family, wake Yuzuha up, and maybe, just maybe, save Aiko as well.

Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 20

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This was a quiet, leisurely episode, especially after last week’s excitement on the high seas, but few shows do quiet and leisurely more pleasantly than Shirayuki, and in any case, a little rest and celebration is in order. Shirayuki and Zen are invited to the village headquarters of the Lions of the Mountain, whose chief, Mukaze, is indeed Shirayuki’s father. She remembers seeing him at her grandparents’ bar years ago, but held on to that memory in case she ever saw him, since those grandparents went against Mukaze by saying he was alive after all.

What I like about their reunion is that there isn’t any rancor or hard feelings; Shirayuki is just glad she had the opportunity to meet her dad, and vice versa. We even learn that his wife, Shirayuki’s mom, was once betrothed to Mukaze’s relative, but he stole her fair and square and was then banished. Not all that different from Shirayuki herself being “selected” by the earlier, awful-er iteration of Prince Raj!

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It’s not just a time for Shirayuki to catch up with her dad; Kiki manages a genuine “thanks” for Mitsuhide worrying about her. I’ve always enjoyed the rapport and, if we’re honest, love between these two badasses, even though it’s not romantic love. They care about each other, and it shows when it counts.

As for Obi, he’s so down about letting Shirayuki down by letting her get nabbed, he spends much of his time in the forest alone…until Shirayuki goes after him, to assure him she doesn’t blame him for what happened; it was an unavoidable, unfortunate situation all around.

Obi knows she doesn’t hold his failure against him, but that doesn’t make his failure any more acceptable to him. Even so, Shirayuki asks that he be her guard next time they visit Tanbarun.

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A night of light drinking and carousing ensures, with Mitsu, Obi, and Kiki matching drinks, Shirayuki talking with her dad and Kazuki. Later. Mukaze finds Zen on his own and has a conversation he’s probably been looking forward to, the “what are your intentions towards my daughter” talk.

Mukaze first asks if Shirayuki loves him, then realizes he’s the wrong one to ask, and instead asks him how he feels about her. Zen is forthright in declaring his love for her, leading Mukaze to shout “I won’t allow it!” – but he’s only joking, and always wanted to say that. Worse for Zen, Shirayuki overheard everything, and when he spots her on the stairs, the two turn an intense beet red that really pops in the blue-filter night.

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When it’s time to go to bed, Shirayuki asks Zen to stick around with her a little longer. Uh-oh, I thought…but only for a minute. These two aren’t really going to do anything until they’re good and married, so instead they spend a few hours simply chatting and enjoying each others’ hard-won company. Shirayuki is the first to doze off, whereupon Zen puts her to bed and gives her a tender goodnight kiss straight out of the fairy tales.

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Mukaze expresses his happiness that his daughter has found a place where she’s happy (even though it’s not where he is), and sees her off. Shirayuki, Zen and Co. then head back to Tanbarun, where Prince Raj is elated to see her once more, and the rescheduled ball is still on.

Raj’s little siblings again try to start some shit, but they are stayed when he tells them he doesn’t want Shirayuki at the palace “forever”, because that would be boring. It’s one of Raj’s better lines, delivered with his trademark snap, and is essentially a mic drop to the meddling twins.

A lovely ball ensues, with Raj having the orchestra play the piece chosen by Shirayuki, and the two having a nice dance together. Zen watches from afar, and is surprised how far Raj has come. Rajs owes a lot of his growth to his time with Shirayuki, including the predicament she ended up in.

When she was out of danger, she taught him how to be more self-aware and selfless and less presumptuous; in times of crisis he brought out his courage and stalwart determination to secure her safe release from baddies. Now they’re at the point that when Shirayuki’s hair grows out again, she’d be happy to show it to Raj, because now she considers him a friend, and the feeling is mutual.

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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 19

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I’d been waiting all Winter for an episode of Shirayuki to break out of its streak of polished and quietly competent 8s into 9 territory, and this action-packed conclusion to Shirayuki’s latest predicament did the trick nicely. Even better, it was a team affair, with everyone contributing to securing our heroine’s release.

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Raj is able to appeal directly to the masses and muster a merchant fleet to chase Umihebi, and then able to lead his flagship by the seat of his pants (with no seamanship, just will and pure dumb luck) in order to get past the “Blue Vortex” the pirates hoped to lose them in. Meanwhile, Umihebi marks her captive with her kusarigama, but Shirayuki’s gaze remains defiant.

Umihebi pays pretty quickly for cutting Shirayuki’s face by only being able to gloat about having gotten away for a grand total of, oh, about ten seconds, before Raj’s ship enters their “secret” cave and rams her ship, destroying it.

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Then Kiki takes advantage of the chaos and springs into action. Umihebi snags Shiayuki with her handy weapon once more, but it’s already the beginning of the end of the pirates having their way. First Mitsuhide jumps out of the shadows to aid Kiki, then Prince Zen himself, whose face is a sight for Shirayuki’s sore eyes.

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Shirayuki gets an opening in Umihebi’s hostage hold thanks to Obi, biting the pirate’s hand and then getting separated. As she and Kazuki are whisked away by Zen, the Lions of the Mountain surround the Claw of the Sea and start picking them off.

Kazuki soon joins his fellow Lions in the melee, giving Zen an unexpectedly early moment alone with his love, the first such moment in about five episodes. He doesn’t waste it, drawing Shirayuki in close as their mutual relief and happiness washes over them.

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After that, Zen rejoins the battle with the pirates until Umihebi is surrounded with just a handful of men on her side, and has no choice but to surrender. I wonder if this is the last we see of Umihebi (classically, pirates are hanged), who looked like a worthy adversary for a time but was ultimately not that huge a threat, at least against the unswerving dedication of Raj and Zen to get their girl back.

All’s well that ends well, but there’s one last twist this episode tosses our way. When Shirayuki gets her first good look at the leader of the Lions of the Mountain, she exclaims “Dad?” His hair is kinda reddish now, isn’t it? I personally like this and I’m interested to see how it shakes out: is he really her dad; if and how they’ll bond; what insights on her past he can provide.

There’s also the little matter of Zen telling his bro he intends to marry Shirayuki. After all, Zen didn’t drag his crown in the mud to rescue her, so Izana’s unlikely to ban her from the castle.

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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 18

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Having been held captive many times before, I fully expected Shirayuki to waste no time attempting escape, relying on her Ellie Sattler-like botanical knowledge and MacGyver-like resourcefulness…and the girl don’t disappoint. First thing she does is rip up her expensive ball gown to make it easier to move, then she discovers some seeds among the cargo that give off a thick smoke when burned.

They successfully misdirect and knock out their two guards, but once she and Kazuki are on the deck, in broad daylight, they’re instantly re-caught by Umihebi. I was actually glad about that, because while burning smoky nuts is clever, these pirates would look pretty incompetent if they let her get away so easily.

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Back at Raj’s castle, I’m a little surprised the princes haven’t set off yet, though I liked how Mitsuhide and Kiki give Zen (holding the broken watch he gave Shirayuki) a much-needed slap on the back to focus him and release all the stuff he’s holding in. Kiki also gives him a note from Obi that ends up aiding their search considerably.

Rather than damage her precious cargo Shirayuki, Umihebi punishes her by viciously whipping her crew members in front of her. Shirayuki, ever abhorring violence, only gains an even lower opinion of the pirate queen, and can’t help diagnosing their injuries, impressing Umihebi.

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Meanwhile, Zen finds Obi thanks to one of Kihal’s homing birds, drawn to the bell Zen meant for Obi to give to Shirayuki, but was never able to due to her kidnapping. Obi and Itoya had joined up with other members of the autonomous Lions of the Mountain.

It takes a little while to sort out what’s going on (Raj seems especially lost at moments), but the bottom line is that Kazuki was once a “decorative ornament” to nobles, then a member of the Claw of the Sea, but defected to the lions and made it his personal mission to rescue Shirayuki from what he (wrongly) believed was a similar fate.

Kazuki and Itoya were so intent on carrying out the mission, they never gave her a chance to speak for herself. So while Kazuki’s motives were pure, his assumptions were disrespectful, as well as wrong. All that aside, both the princes and the lions want their people back, so Zen and Raj form an alliance with their leader to rescue them from the Claw.

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It’s not a coincidence that right after the Lion leader mentions that the “half-hearted” shrink away when the Claw leader Umihebi glares at them with her cold eyes, we see Shirayuki glaring right the fuck back at her. Shirayuki’s no half-heart, but she’s not a hardened soldier either, so despite putting on a defiant face for Umihebi and a brave one for Hazuki, the latter still sees her trembling in fear, which is all to understandable, considering she’s on the cusp of being shipped off to God-knows-where, with no way to tell Zen where she is.

Except, at the close of the episode, she’s no longer alone with Hazuki. When considering all their options, Kiki volunteers to get herself arrested and thrown onto the Claw’s ship as another prisoner, so that Shirayuki can have a capable ally by her side both to protect her and give her hope. Kiki has always been a appallingly underutilized character – she’s essentially an onna-kishi – but I’m very glad she gets to shine here. I also like how Mitsu doesn’t like the idea of her going, but doesn’t stop her either.

As for where Umihebi’s ship is headed, another underutilized character who had just complained about being an outsider, Mihaya, thinks he knows the location of the Claw’s secret mansion, since his crooked dad and brother once did business with them. Shirayuki may still be in enemy hands, but the addition of Kiki spices up what could have been a monotonous captivity, and now that she knows Zen is on the case, she’s far less likely to lose heart, even if things get worse before they get better.

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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 17

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Well, it’s happened: Shirayuki has been whisked away once more, just when I was content with all the easygoing slice-of-court life and looking forward to the ball. But hey, sometimes you gotta let a show take you out of its comfort zone. This isn’t just about romance and daily life, it’s about action and adventure, and for some reason the bishounen Kazuki thinks he knows better where Shirayuki “belongs.”

The entire capture scene is fraught with danger and unpredictability, in the brief period when one could suspend the notion that the abductors would definitely succeed. That’s due to Obi showing us his stuff; to Kazuki’s shock he can fight evenly with his partner Itoya, who is clearly no slouch in the combat department.

But Itoya manages to land a knockout blow to Obi, and he and Kazuki make off with Shirayuki, whom they sedated for easier transport. In the process, Zen’s watch comes loose and falls to the floor, breaking it. Not a good omen for what’s to come at all.

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Obi arguably loses because he’s distracted when Eugena and Rona enter Shirayuki’s room in the middle of the fracas, and Itoya takes advantage of his momentary distraction. But when they come to apologize, Obi doesn’t blame them. From his perspective, they alone shouldn’t have been enough to let Itoya get one over on him.

As Zen races to Tanbarun, and a very lost and distraught Raj plays the song he was to dance to with Shirayuki, a furious Obi decides to hunt down the kidnappers alone. He’s pissed, just as much at himself as the at the kidnappers. After all, he had one job to do: keep Shirayuki safe. He doesn’t want to look at Zen until he gets her back. But beyond all that, Shirayuki is important to him. This cannot stand.

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Raj fully expects to be chewed out or worse by Zen when he arrives, but to his shock, Zen is apologetic for not keeping him informed of the threats against Shirayuki’s safety. Raj apologizes anyway, since it was his duty to protect his guest. When Zen learns Shirayuki was enjoying her stay, he’s glad. Good to see there’s no prince-on-prince bickering holding back the rescue.

Zen does have to report to Raj’s father, the King of Tanbarun, however, to be given leave to move freely within his kingdom for the purpose of retrieving Shirayuki. The king gives him permission, as long as he’s discrete. This is similar to Izana’s warning to Zen that he’d better not draw him or sully his position, or Shirayuki, even if he gets her back, is out.

When Zen, Mitsu, and Kiki prepare to go, Raj sheepishly, then firmly asks that he accompany them; after all. He remember’s Shirayuki’s words about wanting to hear from his people that he’s a good prince, and a good prince doesn’t hide in his castle while others fix problems that occurred on his watch. His valor surprises even his father, but I knew he’d tag along, adding a neat dynamic to the rescue party.

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As two of the three lads who like Shirayuki just starting their mission, the third had a big head start, and is able to catch up to Itoya and Kazuki thanks to his Mad Ninja-Equivalent Skillz. With no distractions and a full head of steam, he has no trouble neutralizing Itoya, but he’s too late: Kazuki and Shirayuki are gone (we knew it wasn’t Obi Kazuki saw, since there were horse hooves, not footsteps).

That’s right: in an interesting twist, Shirayuki is kidnapped from her kidnappers. It sounds ridiculous on its surface, but when considering Kazuki was acting independently after defecting from the Claw of the Sea, and simply got re-captured by them, it’s not that strange. He had “the goods”, now they do. And by “they”, I mean the badass pirate captain Umihebi.

With cooly merciless eyes, she stares right at Shirayuki and tells her straight up “You can’t go home anymore.” Whatever she has in store for her (using her as a bargaining chip for some men in the mountains), it just can’t be good. So now her former kidnapper Kazuki and her are in the same boat: prisoners needing to escape before they’re taken out to sea, just as Itoya and Obi now have the same objective: find Kazuki and Shirayuki. Things are looking good.

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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 16

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Throughout the duration of Shirayuki’s visit to Tanbarun, the prevailing issue hasn’t been whether Shirayuki would fall for Raj (she just doesn’t see him that way, and in any case is already in love with Zen) or whether Raj would keep her here against her will (he owes his growth as a prince and a person to her, and the present Raj would never do that). Nor is it whether Obi will fall for Shirayuki (he seems to be, but doesn’t want to).

No, the issue that casts a shadow over this entire Tanbarun trip has been not if, but when those who are after Shirayuki will get their hands on her. Because we knew that when that happened, neither Zen nor Raj nor even Obi would be able to protect her, because if any of them did, because this is Akagami no Shirayuki-hime,which is Japanese for “She’s Getting Kidnapped.”

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That being said, until the night of her abduction arrives, life goes on, and it’s still great to see Raj putting in a very Beauty & the Beast (Disney Version) awkward effort into her sorta-not-quite-courtship. He’s even got a rose and a ginormous and awesome library that would even make Mirepoc Finedel gawk with awe.

Initially cute but quickly wearing out their welcome? Raj’s siblings Rona (who can’t help but meedle for Raj’s sake) and Eugena (too passive to stop the force of nature that is Rona). He’s a big boy, Rona. Let him sort this out for himself. Heck, she doesn’t even have the whole picture, wrongly assuming her heart belongs to Obi, which she “confirms” by shoving Shirayuki into him.

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When left to his own devices, Raj is slowly groping his way in the dark shadows of his selfish upbringing, and gradually starting to see the light of what an equitable interpersonal relationship is. Sure, he cheats a bit with notes, but he’s making the effort, which counts. And there’s no subterfuge in his lovely violin playing – at least this guy knows how to do something!

No amount of notes on general knowledge or violin playing, however, will convince Shirayuki to stay in Tanbarun any longer than originally planned, at least not if she’s not specifically asked to and given a good argument for why she should. She misses Zen terribly, which Obi can see when the two inadvertantly meet on their adjacent balconies.

When Obi said goodnight and went in first, staring at the hand that arrested Shirayuki’s fall in the library, as if thinking “I will never wash this hand again!”,  I was more than 50% sure his hand-staring would be interrupted by a scream indicating Shirayuki had finally been captured. After all, when Obi’s mind is staying to thoughts of impossible romance, his efficacy as a bodyguard is diminished.

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But no, the hammer doesn’t drop until the night of the ball, when Shirayuki gets dolled up in a gorgeously flowing pale green gown that makes her hair pop. Obi is telling her all the ways Raj is making the ball as painless and enjoyable as possible for her, before receiving a letter from Zen warning about Kazuki and an accomplice are on their way to Tanbarun.

How did Kazuki know which room Shirayuki would be in? How did he scale the castle walls without detection? Why the heck is he so gung-ho about kidnapping Shirayuki in the first place? These are all questions for which the answers lie ahead. All we know is, this season’s pleasant extended “honeymoon” is over.

Speaking of honeymoons, Zen, in demanding to go to Tanbarun to rescue Shirayuki, tells his brother he wishes to marry her. And Izana warns Zen if anything happens that requires him to bail him out, he can forget about bringing Shirayuki back to the castle. Yikes…everything is on the line now.

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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 15

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After a brief introduction to Raj’s siblings Rona and Eugena, we see that things aren’t exactly going so smoothly between Raj and Shirayuki. It’s nothing dramatic; he just can’t seem to strike up a proper conversation with her, perhaps feeling the pressure of not saying the wrong thing. His difficulty contrasts sharply with Shirayuki’s effortless chat with Obi on the balcony overlooking her hometown. It’s the conversation she should have had with Raj, but couldn’t.

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The siblings were a hint that the whole of Scheherazade is singularly focused on Raj’s interactions with Shirayuki, which explains why he feels like he’s on the spot. So he decides a change of scenery is best, and wouldn’t you know it, the castle has a greenhouse, which is Shirayuki’s wheelhouse.

The only problem is, while Raj has gotten a little nicer and more considerate, he’s still inept at most things, such as finding his way through the labyrinthine (and booby trap-laced) vaults that lead to their destination. Raj is doing his best to seem on top of things with his authoritative snapping, but he soon gets the three of them lost – which surely doesn’t help his confidence.

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Meanwhile, as Zen meets with that island hottie Kihal and her awesome birds, Mitsuhide runs into Prince Izana. He decides to ask point-blank if he’s testing the lovebirds, to which Izana responds point-blank (to Mitsu’s surprise) that yes, he is. If Zen and Shirayuki are for real, this little forced separation in the midst of an at-large would-be kidnapper should be a walk in the park.

Meanwhile in Tanbarun, Obi starts to notice they’re being followed, and manages to catch Rona and Eugena (and show off his mad ninja skillz). That gives Raj a rare moment alone with Shirayuki, during which he expresses his (wrong) opinion that she knows this was all going to go pear-shaped, and that she’s only sticking around so she can “say she couldn’t do it and leave as soon as possible”.

Shirayuki rightly takes exception to that assertion. In fact, she legitimately wants to change her relationship with Raj for the better. She believes she was sent to him for a reason and she’s going to stick it out. Once Obi and the twins (who know a way out) rejoin them, Shirayuki praises Raj for looking her in the eye when speaking to her, a first.

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Once they reach the greenhouse, Raj could, ya know, escort her around the grounds and stike up some kind of conversation about plants, but he’s so exhausted he collapses onto a bench and leaves her to Obi. Still, he makes sure to apologize for his mistakes – another first, by his siblings’ reckoning, and when the sun sets, Shirayuki says she’ll see him tomorrow.

So sure, there’s room for improvement, but large strides have already been made between Raj and Shirayuki; strides forged in those vaults. If only things could stay this breezy; but it would appear Mihaya may be forming an alliance with Kazuki, who promises to reward him handsomely through his “villainous” associates.

I’d say Shirayuki is safe in Raj’s castle with Obi in a room right next door to her, but surely there’s a Shirayuki-napping quota to be met, and Kazuki (who isn’t bad at the mad ninja skillz himself) will find a way.

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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 14

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Shirayuki knows this visit to Tanbarun is a little suspicious, and so does everyone around her. Like Obi, who splits his time looking for the bishounen Kazuki and observing how Shirayuki is taking her sudden orders.

Naturally, she’s working as hard as she can to learn enough about dancing, etiquette, and comportment in order to not bring shame upon Clarines during her visit. Whatever plot, if any, has been hatched, it’s starting with a gentle whisper, rather than a bang, which if anything, is more unsettling, considering how many times Shirayuki has found herself captured by someone.

But maybe there isn’t a plot…right? (No, there definitely is.) But theoretically, if there weren’t one, Shirayuki wants to take advantage of this opportunity anyway. She’s also heard Raj is a “new man”; and I’m as curious as she is to see if that’s true.

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As for Zen, well, he’s pretty sore about the whole thing, but like Shirayuki, keeps himself busy with palace and state matters, and whenever he’s not, he’s sparring with himself, in order to vent his frustration. I enjoy watching his entourage watch and comment on their master, who is more than just their master.

More and more since he became a permanent member of the posse, Obi seems like he’s cultivating a little bit of a crush on Shirayuki, or otherwise wants to be close to and protect her. That would make his master his rival for her affections.

Even if he suspects he has little chance against what the two lovebirds have, he’ll do what he can, like beat Zen in a match (proving how tough he is even unarmed), and granting his permission to accompany Shirayuki instead of Mitsuhide.

And I like this development. Mitsuhide, bless him, is too stiff for this trip. Shirayuki and Obi’s chemistry, while perhaps not as magnetic as her and Zen, has its own strange-but not-in-bad-way energy; not to mention the show is pushing the suspicion that Obi likes her, not Mitsu.

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If Obi had been peeping in the windows of the palace wing where Shirayuki is boarding, he might’ve seen just how steep a hill he’d have to climb to change Shirayuki’s heart. For the first time in this second season, Shirayuki and Zen get to share some quality time, be calmed and reassured by each others’ presence.

Zen’s last-minute hug-from-behind may not have been steamy, but it was so warm and sweet and lovely, as the atmosphere tends to be when these two are alone. But lest we forget, this is a farewell, for perhaps up to a month, even if all goes smoothly. So the encounter’s sweetness is tinged with the bitter truth that they’ll be apart, something neither of them want but are strong enough to accept.

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Loved the very sudden surprise appearance by Lord Haruka, Eternal Stodgy Sourpuss, only this time he’s fully accepted Shirayuki’s right to be at court. Of course he doesn’t miss out on the chance to remind her not to return in disgrace. Shirayuki very adorably asks for a trinket of Zen’s to keep with her, and he gives her his pocket watch, which she promises to give back upon her return. Even Prince Izana, the apparent mastermind in this dastardly scheme, shows up to see Shirayuki off.

As for Izana’s reasons for doing this, I can think of three: he wants to make sure Prince Zen can still function as a Prince of Clarines when his girlfriend isn’t constantly by his side; he wants Shirayuki to learn more about court life, in preparation for her to one day become Zen’s consort; and finally, to give Shirayuki the opportunity to spend some time outside of Wistal Castle and return to her home; offering her a good look at other potential paths, to ensure she’s on the right one.

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And Shirayuki will definitely see other things and people on her journey, from an Obi who acts a specific way around her (and knows how to clean up and speak pretty when he needs to); and a Prince Raj who upon welcoming her (back) to his kingdom seems to have changed somewhat for the better…only to revert back to his old goofy, wishy-washy self once they’re in the throne room.

I actually thought the transition was too quick; I kinda wanted to see Raj on his best behavior a little longer. Nevertheless, he seems shocked and a little overwhelmed that the girl he tried to forceably marry not long ago is actually there. Maybe he has changed, in that he realizes how badly he acted, and acknowledges he owes her a debt to her from his last stop in Clarines. Time will tell, but for now, all eyes are on Shirayuki–and not just for that dazzling apple-red hair.

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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 13

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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime hung around an 8 all last Summer, and it’s back with more of the same. There’s no surprises here, except for a better OP; if you liked the first season’s serene blend of earnest shoujo romance and slice-of-life with a touch of action, you’ll probably like this. Much of the episode is somewhat re-introductory, with no shortage of brief flashbacks to key moments from last season.

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Shirayuki and Zen, who has such a romantic breakthrough a couple episodes ago, don’t even encounter one another until nearly halfway through the episode. Instead, we get some elegant slice-of-life for court herbalists, carrying out their semi-annual cleaning operation, while Obi befriends Lil’ Ryuu, who doesn’t make friends easily.

Zen still makes Shirayuki’s heart pound, whether he’s taking her hand while napping or telling her how glad he is to see her face after a long, stressful day. Of course, the feeling is mutual: Zen is motivated to work harder after seeing how hard Shirayuki works. This definitely isn’t that kind of couple that hurts one another’s productivity. Rather, the two thrive off one another.

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So it’s inevitable that in the midst of all this lovely slice-of-life that life threatens to get a little more difficult and complicated, either when Shirayuki is inevitably kidnapped for the hundredth time, or placed in a situation where kidnapping is a distinct possibility. That threat is introduced by Mihaya, a former kidnapper, notifying her of the existence of a bishounen named Kazuki who may be her future kidnapper.

The same night they meet Mihaya, Prince Izana summons Shirayuki and orders her to Tanbarun to hang out with Prince Raj, who thanks to her motivational words to him, has actually started getting his act together. Izana wants her to work more of her magic to make sure the future king stays on the right track. Zen is upset, but accepts the decision, as long as Mitsuhide can accompany her.

As for Shirayuki, I’m sure she feels like she’s being pulled in multiple directions, while all she wants to do is keep moving forward with Zen. And not get kidnapped! We’ll see how that goes.

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