Re-Kan! – 09

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The mystery of who Amami is making a very specific kind of handmade chocolate for, and why, isn’t all that mysterious. But as always with Re-Kan, the emotional resonance, not the mystery or animation, did most of the heavy-lifting, and succeeded admirably.

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Not only that, as we watch Amami’s activities through the lenses of both her living and dead friends, all of whom have fairly reasonable theories, I felt the episode kept things in doubt long enough for the final twist to have some impact.

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Working with the info we’re given from the start, Amami is going to make a traditional Japanese sweet, the recipe for which she learns from the kindly wife of a grouchy old humbug who infests the park scaring the Valentines-crazed youngs away.

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The episode staves off the last piece of the puzzle with the use of editing and camera angles to keep the wife’s status up in the air until Amami finally presents the chocolates to the husband, at which point we see he is a widower.

Yet again, Amami did a favor for a ghost who couldn’t do it herself: make chocolates for her still grieving, lonely husband. She also doesn’t disappoint the ravenous Yamada or her friends by offering all of them chocolates, so everyone wins!

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When the grumpy old man is alone again, he polishes off the whole box of chocolates, and realizing his departed wife is still there beside him on some plane or another, thanks her, his heart having been lifted from the gloom. The final shot that tracks from him sitting alone on the bench to the shadows of both him and his wife, was quite lovely and affecting.

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Re-Kan! – 08

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Teachers in anime are usually portrayed as single, miserable, and resentful of the youth that surrounds them, but Re-Kan! is a trend-bucker, so in its world, two of the teachers at Hibiki’s school, Moriya-senpai and Kimura-senpai, end up getting married. They’re a very cute couple, and both the guys and girls are super-excited.

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Around the same time, however, a new ghost appears before Hibiki, one unlike any other she’s encountered before. This is the ghost of a very young girl who can only say one word: “Morya.” The Samurai concludes something is tying her to the living world, but she can’t seem to remember what. Yamada suggests they give her new memories to make up for the one’s she’s lost, but first they have to teach her to talk properly, which everyone, even Inoue, gets in on.

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In the cold open that sets the bittersweet mood of this whole episode, we see her and a boy of the same age in adjacent hospital beds. The boy turns out to be “Morya” or Moriya-sensei, who Hibiki brings to the girl to play with for a while. There, he remembers that he used to give his carrots to her in the hospital, but now he can eat them himself. He’s grown up.

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While spending the night with the motherly Hibiki, the girl finally remembers the rest: she loved Moriya and he her, and they promised they’d meet again when they grew up. She was sicklier than him and couldn’t keep her promise, but she still loves him. With her memories restored, she’s able to pass on, which she does in the arms of Hibiki.

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Hibiki, along with Inoue and the others, had grown quite attached to the little girl as they taught her how to speak properly and played with her. For Inoue, she’s another example of a ghost who she didn’t have to fear; and more to the point, a ghost that needed help that she wanted to help.

They’re sad to see her pass on, but in doing so inspired the friends, starting with Yamada, to look more closely at the bonds they share and spend as much time with one another, making new memories as they go forward. This Re-Kan! was another poignant, earnestly-felt triumph, exploring the bittersweet nature of loss, love, and life with grace and dignity.

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Ookami Shoujo to Kuro Ouji – 02

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Pretending to be dating the school Prince has its benefits, like when Sata comes with an umbrella to take Erika home in front of a jealous Marin and Aki. But its immense costs of the lie are starting to mount, and I’m not just talking about her self-esteem: half of the school is in love with the Prince, and all agreed to a “look but don’t touch” policy to keep the peace.

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Between the resulting abuse from that at the continued humiliations she has to suffer when no one’s looking, from holding his umbrella for him to serving as a shield for car mud, to having to actually fetch a stick, one would imagine Erika is getting tired of this charade, which would mean Sata is winning. Her real friend Sanda tells her to just give it up and find a real boyfriend, or at least look for viable alternatives to the Black Prince, or otherwise quit griping.

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Erika for her part is aware of the shabby treatment she’s enduring, but part of her sees it as a battle of wills: she knows Sata is going the extra mile to torture her, and she’s not going to surrender so easily. Sanda perhaps rightfully sees it as simple masochism on Erika’s part, but she doesn’t actually enjoy being treated like this. She’d like a little romance, like the kind she still sees in Marin and Aki’s relationships. (For all we know, they’re both lying too!)

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She finally experiences some, or at least a very realistic simulation of it, in her interactions with Kimura, after surveying the field of guys and finding them lacking (an amusing mini-montage). Because Erika hasn’t so much as fallen for a guy before, she’s particularly vulnerable to deception, and Kimura fools her hook line and sinker, along with us, right up until she admits to him she’s not really Sata’s girlfriend.

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Since the whole point of Kimura being nice to her was to steal her from Sata for revenge, he drops the act like the flipping of a switch, even rubbing it in what a cheap moron she is for falling for his ploy. That’s when Sata reveals he’s been stalking them the whole time (!) and despite saying he hates violence, clocks Kimura. While he’d never admit it, Kimura did succeed in making Sata jealous.

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This is where the show makes the argument that despite the fact both guys objectify and use Erika by exploiting the weaknesses in her personality, Sata is the lesser of two evils…and in this, it mostly succeeds. Sata, after all, doesn’t seem to be maintaining the boyfriend fiction for any ulterior motive I’m aware of; his behavior towards Erika is a lot more sincere, even if he does code it with unfortunate pet dog references.

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There’s also the notion floating around that while Kimura hurts Erika for no real reason other than spiting Sata, Sata’s dog-and-master act seems to come from a buried desire to reform Erika. He’s not saying it, but his actions scream “Things don’t have to be this ridiculous. If you don’t like the way things are between us, you have the power to change it. His latest heroics have her heart starting to skip for him; will she garner the will to abandon her lies and games?

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It still seems there’s a legitimate risk in doing that, as Marin and Aki would surely not take kindly to learning she lied (again, even if they’re lying too) and she’d still have the scorn of every girl who likes Sata. And even after all that, Sata might reject her, like he rejects all girls. The risk is acceptable, and preferable to continuing to maintain falsehoods that open her up to intentionally shabby, degrading treatment. But that doesn’t make Erika’s choice any easier.

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