Attack on Titan – 58 – The…Attack Titan

The entire flashback with Grisha being rescued by the Owl, Eren Kruger, is being retold by Eren as Armin writes it down and Mikasa listens in an adjacent cell. Eren is able to provide this information from many years ago thanks to his coordinate status.

Among the things he learns is that once given the powers of a Titan, a subject of Ymir will only live 13 years, something Mikasa dismisses out of hand, as she’s probably committed to making sure her beloved Eren lives to at least 100.

Kruger doesn’t have any comfort or solace to give to Grisha, because he was never given any himself. He’s only been able to survive as an Eldian spy within Marley by actually acting the way a Marleyan would; injecting his countrymen and casting them over the wall one after the other. By the same token, he deems Grisha so suited to save Eldia because he has already set that path into motion by leaving the gates of the ghetto with his sister.

Leave it to Titan to break up all that dourness with a couple moments of levity, such as when Eren seems to pose when he repeats what Eren Kruger called his Titan: the Attack Titan. This is funny on several levels, as Levi waves it off as latent chuunibyou on the teenage Eren’s part, while the older Hange is ignorant about such things. More than that, though, Eren finally gets to say the title line—a title that in English perhaps never should have had that confusing “on” in it…

There’s also the suggestion that for the duration of their imprisonment, Mikasa only ate the bare minimum to stay alive, and thus was literally wasting away without Eren by her side. But their sentences are commuted and they’re free to go, seeing as how they’re heroes of humanity and all.

“Free to go” is relative, however. They’re out of the stockade and back in uniform, but they are ordered to attend an audience with none other than Queen Historia, who feels a connection to Ymir’s letter similar to Eren’s with the books and photo they found in the Basement.

While the words of the letter seem to be not much more than the “love letter” they appear to be, it’s clear Ymir sent it in its form in order to deliver far more and different information to Tory; she’s just not sure what to do with it, or even whom to tell. She’s just glad to see Eren, Mikasa and Armin, and embarrassed when they all bow before her.

At the hearing, Hange delivers the report full of revelations provided by Eren and recorded by Armin, all about the reality that their kingdom within the walls being but a tiny sliver of the real world, and that the vast majority of that world is dedicated to their destruction.

As he listens to the testimony with everyone else, the new memories provided by Grisha continue to swirl in his head. He notes that the Titan into which Dina Fritz transformed was the same Titan who ate his mother and Hannes. When he met that Titan later and touched it, a similar surge of information suddenly flowed into him.

Now he knows why, and he almost blurts it out, but thankfully Hange can sense why he ends up holding his tongue, and chalks it up to his chuuni phase to the assembled bigwigs. What Eren now knows is that it’s possible for him to gain the vaunted powers of the Founding Titan—the main mission Kruger gave Grisha when he sent him to the walls—by touching Historia while she is a Titan.

He’s loath to bring this up because he doesn’t want to see Historia suffer any more than she already has. But what if, like Grisha and Kruger and so many other subjects of Ymir before them, he’ll have to sacrifice something important in order to gain that which will restore Eldia.

Or perhaps not; perhaps Eren is supposed to break that cycle. After all, another part of Kruger’s mission to Grisha was for him to fall in love with someone in the walls, raise a family, and love them. Now there are people Eren loves, and perhaps there are lines he won’t cross, even for the sake of saving the world.

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Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online – 04 – The Game is the Game

Back to the “present” of Squad Jam (though not far enough into the present where Karen is entertaining her diminutive friends IRL). I tell ya, this show can give one temporal whiplash like nobody’s business.

Having defeated the pros and after another scan, LLENN and M determine they’re one of only three squads remaining. One of them ambushes them from hovercraft in the lake, forcing the huge M to set up his “space battleship armor” shielding, while the tiny LLENN remains just plain hard to hit.

Safe behind his shield, M is able to pick off the hovercraft gunners one by one and takes out the last one with a well-placed grenade that detonates underwater, sending the craft and its occupant flying and vulnerable to LLENN’s killshot.

M was able to kill all of those enemies without creating bullet lines, because he learned to aim without his finger on the trigger or using Bullet Circle assist. But when the next scan comes, the last team is not only right on top of them, but in position to take a shot at LLENN, not missing a fatal spot by much.

M grabs LLENN and races out of there with one of the hovercraft, getting shot in the process, but LLENN heals the two and they prepare for a counterattack. But first, LLENN lets M read a letter he was going to read before they were ambushed.

Immediately after reading the letter, he pulls a gun…on LLENN, saying he’s “sorry” before pulling the trigger. His shot misses; LLENN’s agility wins out again, and moments later his safety is on and she has her gun trained on him, demanding to know why he betrayed her.

M merely responds with streams of tears, begging the Pink Devil not to kill him, because he doesn’t want to die. It’s a 180 in M’s character, though he did mention he prefers fighting from a distance and from the safest possible position.

In this instance, with LLENN’s P90 at his throat, he’s suddenly way out of his comfort zone, so it’s understandable we’d see a new side of him. But it doesn’t explain why he suddenly pulled his gun on her. I suspect there’s a real-world reason for it. All I know is, LLENN’s reaction to his sudden change in character was priceless.

Violet Evergarden – 09

A tool cares nothing for itself. It doesn’t even consider itself a “self”. It only has purpose in the hands of its master. No master, no purpose. Violet was only able to get as far as she did as an Auto Memoir Doll because she thought the Major was out there somewhere, they would one day reunite so she could be issued fresh orders.

Despite Gilbert’s attempts to appeal to her humanity, Violet had been so conditioned for carrying out orders and nothing else that even when she loses one arm to a bullet and another to a grenade, she’s still compelled to try to dress his wounds with her teeth, until he has to all but order her to stop.

But now there are no more orders to look forward to, and Violet is lost in her past. She revisits the ruin of the castle where he fell, perhaps harboring a glimmer of hope everyone was wrong, and Gilbert was there after all. It doesn’t take long for that hope to be crushed, which is just about when Claudia and Benedict arrive to pick her up.

Claudia explains his need to withhold the truth from her when she was admitted to the hospital; she was more concerned with Gilbert than herself, but Gilbert demonstrated to Claudia on the eve of battle that he never saw Violet as a tool or weapon, but an ordinary girl he’d taken it upon himself to care for.

Gilbert had hope of his own: that one day Violet could be an ordinary girl with a purpose and emotions and dreams all her own. And even if he wasn’t around to meet that girl, he entrusted Claudia to care for her in his stead. Claudia perhaps understood more than Gilbert did just how difficult a transition from weapon to person would be.

Still, he doesn’t regret how he’s handled things. Cattleya thinks him heartless to tell Violet she’s “burning in the flames of what she’s done”, but it’s true, and it’s not something unique to Violet. Everyone has lost people, and parts of themselves. There’s nothing for it but to accept those flames, and they’ll gradually subside.

Upon returning to Leiden, everyone is worried about Violet, but also keep their distance out of respect. She sits in her dark room, alone with her flames, her grief and regret. She dreams of returning to the steps where she last saw Gilbert, but he’s not very nice.

Dream Gilbert essentially repeats the words his brother said to Violet at the port—words that appeal to her guilt over being able to write letters that connect people with the same hands that took the lives of so many others. She cries. She makes a mess. She puts those hands around her throat and contemplates joining the major.

Then there’s a knock at her door and she receives a letter; her first. Before reading it, she helps deliver some letters an errant delivery boy abandoned, and seems to enjoy ensuring the thoughts and hearts and souls of those who wrote them find their way to where they belong.

The letter addressed to her was written by Iris and Erica, figuring writing Doll-to-Doll was the best way to maintain that respectful distance while making sure Violet knew they were worried about her and are hoping and waiting for her to return. Additionally, Spencer requested her by name to ghostwrite an apology/thank you letter for his sister Luculia.

In this way, Violet gets back to work, the embers still glowing but the flames perhaps gradually subsiding. Spencer’s hope was to express gratitude for the one who got her back on her feet, all the while unaware that he’s helping Violet to do the same.

On her way back to the office, she spots a newspaper article featuring Princess Charlotte and her new husband meeting with children, as well as an advertisement for Oscar Webster’s newest play about Olivia. It’s a little on the nose, but it’s important that she she be reminded of what she’s done since her military career ended.

That’s because when she rushes to Claudia’s office to ask him if it’s really, truly all right for her to live on, he tells her that while the things she did back then can’t be undone, neither can the things she’s doing and will continue to do as an Auto Memoir Doll. Not only is it all right to live on…it’s essential. Both the show and this episode share her name. They are hers, and so is her life. Time to start living it.

Ao no Exorcist: Kyoto Fujouou-hen – 06

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Who’s cuter than Mamushi? LIL’ MAMUSHI! XD

As soon as we were in flashback mode with Mamushi, I knew Ao no Exorcist had a better story to tell than her turn to the dark side and ultimate demise. It was also an early indicator I was in for a good episode, and this turned out to be the best Ao 2 to date. For once, I wasn’t feeling impatient or shortchanged during the credits. Instead, I was pumped up.

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Whether intentional or not, the backstory of Master Tatsuma meeting Fujimoto, and the resulting expanding of his world (and evolution of his beliefs) is, at least so far, the best thing to come out of this Ao 2. I’d say it’s done Rin & Co. a disservice by sidelining and outshining them, if it wasn’t such a good backstory.

Of course, when the guy you thought was a bandit ends up healing your comrades…and your pregnant wife you thought was going to die, that tends to have a profound effect on how you look at the world and how you judge people.

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Despite his bluster and stated plans to kill a kid with the Koma Sword, Fujimoto spends enough time with Fujimoto to know he won’t actually kill the kid he speaks of (the, ahem, spawn of satan, as it turns out). And Tatsuma is done praying to a sword he knows is empty, having unsheathed it as a curious youth.

By being exposed to Fujimoto, Tatsuma learns there may be a better way to protect his people other than strict, at times self-destructive orthodoxy. So ever since his father died and passed on the ultimate secret of the Myoda sect to him, he’s been looking for a way to exit the sect from its 150-year obligation.

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To Mamushi’s surprise, that obligation turns out to be holding the shriveled body of the Impure King, employing the power fire demon Karura and removing the King’s eyes to keep him in a dormant state. Karura not only demands but draws its power from the secrets of men—the more and bigger the better.

Of course, when the guy you thought was a bandit ends up healing your comrades…and your pregnant wife you thought was going to die, that tends to have a profound effect on how you look at the world and how you judge people. Those secrets have done nothing but allow the Myoda to keep, essentially, a nuke in their sub-basement.

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Mamushi, who is also determined to protect her people, is quickly betrayed by her former teacher when he takes the eye she was carrying and re-awakens the Impure King himself, Akira-like in form and expanding to ginormous size.

The twist is that the titular Fujouou isn’t even Todou’s target. He only awakened the King to force Suguro Tatsuma out and compel him to summon Todou’s true target: Karura, whom Todou devours and from whom he gains youth and vigor.

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Todou is now more powerful than ever, but to my relief, Mamushi is no longer his acolyte, now that she knows their interests don’t align at all. Before Karura is taken from him (and before he’s stabbed through the throat) Tatsuma manages to seal the Impure King with a powerful spell. But using that spell means he can no longer defeat him.

He entrusts that task, in his hastily-scrawled letter, to Rin, knowing it’s an unenviable task to be saddled with, and indeed that it could result in Rin’s death, either by failing to take down the King or by being executed by the authorities for using his blue flames. Of course, we all know Rin isn’t just going to sit back and save himself.

Tatsuma saw a good man in Fujomoto, and clearly saw a good young man in Rin. I doubt Rin will let him down.

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91 Days – 12 (Fin)

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With Avilio’s grand revenge plan all but complete (but for Nero), this final episode is not a lot more than an extended epilogue in which the remainder of the Vanettis are wiped out, Avilio is captured by Nero, and the two kind of dance around each other until Nero finally does what he needs to do.

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I’ll be honest: I’ve never been fully emotionally invested in any of the characters, even Avilio, and was never all that big a fan of Nero, so watching all of the underlings, whom I often couldn’t tell apart from each other, was a bit of a bore. Not to mention the tommy guns in this show were way too reliable (not a serious criticism, just sayin’).

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I’ve also expected for a while now that Avilio would eventually end up succeeding but feeling utterly unfulfilled, in the same way Vincent was when he killed the Lagusas seven years ago, so the campfire confrontation isn’t all that impactful. These are two people who have been set up from the start to be unhappy and alone, and they’ve done too much to each other for there to be any outcome but one or both of them ending up dead.

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The bottom line: any and all hope this show had was wiped out back when Avilio killed Corteo, believing that last shedding of his humanity would be worth it, but it wasn’t. Avilio and Nero have a pleasant final road trip to the seaside, but only Nero gets back in the car and drives away, and we have no reason to believe he’ll be alive long with the new Don Strega and the long arm of the Galassias after him.

As their two pairs of footsteps are washed away by the waves, the lesson of 91 Days is clear: if you’re going to kill a family in a mafia coup, make sure you get all that family’s members. Nero can blame Avilio all he likes, but it was his nervousness/mercy that kept Angelo alive, leading to a life spent—wasted—planning only revenge.

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91 Days – 11

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Avilio’s time in Chicago was productive; he was able to strike a deal with the Galassias – just not the one Nero thought. Don Galassia takes a shine to Avilio, as the capable inside man who could help him get rid of the Vanettis.

But it’s also painfully evident that killing Corteo took a bigger chunk of Avilio’s soul than most of the killings. He’s barely keeping it together, catching glimpses of Corteo’s ghost off in the distance.

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The stage for the final act of Avilio’s revenge couldn’t be more appropriate: the grand opening of Vincent’s opera house in Lawless. One gets the feeling like Vincent is willing himself to stay alive just to get to this evening. Little does he know Avilio has been looking forward to the evening just as much, if not more.

Avilio, Ganzo, Don Galassia and his nephew Strega all know the game plan, but things don’t go according to that plan, as Del Toro takes longer to bring down and Barbero gets wise to Avilio’s treachery.

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It matters not, as Ganzo is able to free Avilio, killing Barbero in the process, and give Avilio a free path to Vincent and Don Galassia’s royal box, even as Nero is running off to stop a potential sniper all the way on the other side of the theater.

Avilio manages to do worse than simply kill Vincent: he kills Don Galassia, which is a death sentence to the entire Vanetti family. Strega takes out Ganzo, leaving Strega, Avilio, Nero…and not many others still alive.

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Avilio is pretty happy with how things worked out, as he sits in an alley as sirens blare. The Vanettis have lost everything, just as he did the night his family was taken. But the cost is high, and his decision to kill Don Galassia made him an enemy of Strega, who finds him in the alley. Is he there to thank Avilio for getting his uncle out of the way for him, or to kill him for it?

While the animation continues to be a serious liability, the overall experience this week was some thrilling and heart-wrenching mob drama. Avilio did most of what he set out to do, but he’s even more of a wreck than when he first got that letter. All of this, like Vincent’s murder of his family, might end up being for nothing.

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Orange – 07

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Orange continues to be a particularly hard show to assail, which explains all the 10s I’ve been doling out. It is without question First in Feels, that ahs affected me like no show since AnoHana.

Like many mysteries in fiction, I believe like my RABUJOI comrades that less is more in terms of explanation. To that end, Orange has kept away from explainin how the future letters work. What matters is that they are a means for Kakeru’s salvation, and now Naho is no longer alone in that struggle, and never was.

Suwa suggests they coordinate their moves in order to share the load of saving Kakeru. They do so by finding out his birthday and then asking him what he wants. Not only to Suwa and Naho do this, but the others as well who (as far as we know) are unaware of the letters.

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But because Kakeru and Taka want to support Naho’s pursuit of Kakeru, even being out of the loop doesn’t stop them from helping the cause. Taka finall gets to directly threaten Ueda, but stops short of assault and instead promises the school will know of the scorned girl’s continued bullying if it persists.

It’s still troubling that Ueda continues to pop up on the edges, since she still represents a wild card in the grander scheme of saving Kakeru, but good to see the united front against her. I daresay I’m also starting to feel bad for Ueda. Awful a person as she is, it’s true Kakeru dumped her pretty  fast, and if she’s going to be dumped, then Naho needs to—and forgive the crude metaphor—piss or get off the pot.

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Back in the old future, Naho, Suwa & Co. are still visiting Kakeru’s room, and the others reveal to Naho that Kakeru always loved him. Naturally, Naho’s instinct is to blame her inability to give a response contributed to the spiral of depression that led to his demise.

This time, they remember his birthday, Naho gets him a flashy sports bag—to replace the one his mom threw out in an act of possessiveness, an important symbol of moving on. Suwa gets Kakeru flowers, like he jokingly asked for, but just as Suwa does in his place in the future, Kakeru immediately gives the flowers to Naho, as an even stronger symbol of his feelings.

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Their friends file out and allow Kakeru to properly confess his feelings for Naho, though he doesn’t expect an immediate response. That’s just as well, because it takes some nudging from her friends for Naho to summon the courage to answer him.

Not only that, it takes a letter dated September 23, the day Kakeru attempted suicide after his friends from Tokyo visited and laughed off his stated desire to die. Neither Naho nor Suwa are going to let that happen. Suwa joins Naho and Kakeru for one of the tensest and most emotionally intense scenes in the show so far.

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In it, Suwa tells Kakeru no to hang out with his Tokyo friends, but with them, and goes further, saying he doesn’t want to just laugh with him. He, and Naho, want to know what’s really troubling him. Suwa’s firmness gets Kakeru to admit he wants to die all the time because he regrets breaking his promise to his mother and thinking her texts were “pain.”

As Suwa rightly puts is, Kakeru did nothing wrong. Everyone at some point feels the way he felt. It wasn’t his fault his mom died, and they don’t want him to continue blaming himself for everything. Not only that, Naho chimes in at the right time to deliver her unequivocal response: she loves him, and doesn’t want him to go away.

Kakeru’s joyful tears and smile are still tinged with melancholy, but Naho is in. She did what her past self could not, and she and Suwa, with their friends’ help, changed the future once more for the better. Now that Kakeru and Naho know how they feel about one another, the question becomes what comes next, and how to keep the good going.

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Orange – 06

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This week, as Naho and Kakeru grow closer and Naho learns more about the future, the enormity of her “mission” begins to weigh on her once more, and she again starts to doubt her ability to make the changes that needs to be made to save Kakeru. After all, she’s already failed the letters twice: when she invited Kakeru to hang out the day his mother died, and when she let him start dating Ueda-senpai.

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Since those failures, and the extra problems they created, Naho has been careful to carefully follow the bullet points in the letters. They are saying she has to watch the fireworks with Kakeru alone by the pool, and so that’s what she aims to do.

Knowing that these two are gradually becoming a couple and eager to help them out when they can, Azu, Tako, Hagita and Suwa all work to assist the two in getting together in the ideal time and place. Kakeru brings up his past regrets when asking Suwa if it’s really okay to be in love with Naho and to pursue her.

Suwa’s answer is that it has to be, because being in love isn’t a choice (and also because he has a pretty good idea how Naho feels).

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The consequences of Naho’s second failure almost derail the entire op, but Azu and Tako thankfully find Naho on the steps lugging Ueda’s contest prizes and take over the task, while Suwa and Nagita keep Ueda away from the pool in a way that will surely mean Ueda isn’t done fighting with the group. If she can’t have Kakeru and be happy, no one can. That could prove deadly to Kakeru later on.

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But we’re allowed to forget about Ueda and all her bullshit for a few wonderful, beautiful moments, as Naho and Kakeru are united before the fireworks end. In the courageous mood her future self told her she’d be in, she answers his question about which boy she’d most want to as her out (him), and he in turn answers hers (via Azu): that he’d want her to ask him out. The night ends as one neither will forget for the rest of their lives.

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Future Naho asserts that Kakeru’s regret stems from being unable to save his mother, while her regret comes from not being able to save him from the accident. Wondering why she can’t simply save Kakeru on the day of the accident, Naho reads ahead, and learns it wasn’t an accident – Kakeru rode his bike into a speeding truck on purpose, so he could go to where his mother was and apologize.

Knowing when it happens is irrelevant. Naho can’t save him from something his mind is set on anyway. Her true mission is to save his heart. That means learning more about his regret, which means asking about his mother. When Naho and Kakeru’s friends again arrange it so the two are alone for the Matsumoto Bon Bon, she gets plenty of opportunities, while also enjoying each other’s company.

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Despite their ongoing denial about not being a couple (at least not yet), the two look the part, and the camera captures them in a number of gorgeous isolated shots. Most affecting is when they pray to the shrine, which gives Naho her in.

After he evades her question of what he said to his mother at the shrine, Naho resolves to get him to answer her properly, even if he ends up hating her. Saving his heart is more important than preserving their romance, underscoring Naho’s role as a reluctant heroine.

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Turns out, Kakeru doesn’t hate her for pressing, though it’s clearly a painful subject to discuss. Indeed, he was worried she’d hate him if he told her the truth: that his mother, psychologically unstable, committed suicide the day he blew her off to hang out with Naho. That makes Naho’s first failure the reason Kakeru carries the regret that will ultimately destroy him if unchecked.

It’s an overwhelming blow for Naho, who can’t muster the words to comfort him. Suddenly, saving Kakeru’s heart seems like an impossible feat, especially all on her own. So she boldly reaches out to Suwa about her mission, and he seems to already be in the loop. You see, he also got a letter. BOOM.

That’s an explosive revelation right there, delivered with impeccable timing right at episode’s end. But it’s not so shocking, because we’ve seen Suwa and the others working so hard for Naho and Kakeru’s sakes.

I wouldn’t be surprised if everyone had letters, but it stands to reason if Naho could write a letter to her past self, she’d also write one to her future husband. It also explains why Suwa isn’t challenging Kakeru. In any case, now Naho knows his isn’t a mission she has to undertake all on her own. Everyone wants to save Kakeru’s heart.

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Orange – 05

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Last week’s episode ended on an optimistic note that I’m glad was carried through. Naho will never stop worrying or going over things in her head, but on multiple occasions this week, she says and does the things she needs to do to keep changing her (and Kakeru’s) future for the better. Note I said her future, as well as Kakeru’s…not her future self (more on that later).

On a rainy day when Kakeru forgets his umbrella, Naho is prepared not with a handkerchief, but a bath towel. Her friends, who know exactly what’s going on, get her and Kakeru can walk home together, and take a detour into a park with a picturesque view of the city. There, Kakeru gets Naho to close her eyes as he gives her a hair clip and snaps a photo of her wearing it.

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The letter said everyone would walk home with Kakeru, but here in the present it’s just him and her. The letters are from a static future, one that she’s not changing. But she is changing her own future, which means the people around her are starting to say and do things differently than the future Naho’s past.

We learn categorically that Kakeru and Ueda have broken up, and all I have to say about that is GOOD. But more importantly, in a somewhat on-the-nose side-lecture by the science teacher, Naho learns (or at least learns about the theory) that going back in time and changing things creates a parallel world containing the new future, branching off from the future that was, which remains intact.

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That lecture really got Naho down, because such a theoretical system means there’s nothing she can do about her future self’s regrets, nor Kakeru’s loss in that world. BUT, and this is key, she CAN keep herself from going down the same road she went down before, so there is absolutely value in continuing her mission.

A letter eventually informs her that some of her words and actions will erase memories good and bad, including an instance of Kakeru asking Naho out to the fireworks, just the two of them. When Kakeru no longer asks her that, Naho takes it upon herself to ask him, and leaves no room for misinterpretation: she wants to be with him and him alone.

It’s a phenomenal leap for Naho, who is surprised herself that she managed to say such words for the first time. This is what I was hoping for: that Naho would start to grow and take her future in her own hands.

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Obviously, the consequences of her more aggressive pursuit of Kakeru is that Suwa ends up the loser, as the entire circle of friends (other than Naho) are aware he likes Naho, even Kakeru. Suwa, a jock, takes this like any soccer match he’d lose against a superior opponent: c’est la vie.

Time will tell if he’s truly okay and even happy as long as Naho is happy (even if it means she’ll be happy with Kakeru and not him), but for now he seems sincere, and when Azu and Taka confront him about their intent to side with Naho, he tells them he’s on their side too.

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So they’re all in agreement: Naho x Kakeru will be supported and encouraged as much as they can, without getting to intrusive. That means Suwa swapping duties with Naho at the cultural festival so Naho can be with Kakeru.

Unlike Suwa, Ueda isn’t quite ready to concede defeat quietly, nor does she have the slightest intention of rooting for Naho. Rather, she takes the smaller girl aside into a dark corner, and asks questions that are none of her damn business while flanked by her stooges, generally intimidating the hell out of Naho, who finds herself in the unwanted kind of uncharted territory.

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Things seemed ready to spiral out of control when Naho slaps one of the girls away, but thankfully Ueda chose a corner with a window that offers Suwa (who just happens to be walking by with some girls who like him) a clear view of what’s going on and ample time to put a stop to it.

I shudder to think what would have gone down had Suwa not arrived, and breathed a big sigh of relief when he came between the girls, towering over even the statuesque Ueda, and leading Naho out of the combat zone.

I hope this is the last time Ueda pulls something like this, but I won’t hold by breath, as the more conflicts Naho has to face only adds to the overall drama. No one said this would be easy.

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Suwa makes one last gesture in favor of Naho x Kakeru by slipping the latter some bandages to put on Naho’s scratched hand. Kakeru makes it clear Suwa gave them to him, and Naho makes sure to do what the letters also directed: thank Suwa for looking out for him.

Present Naho had gotten into such a groove with Suwa (not to mention Azu and Taka) that she’d started to take Suwa’s kindness for granted. Future Naho married Suwa, but only after the first choice was lost to her. That being said, they seem like a happy enough couple, and they’ll continue to be a couple in the parallel future our present Naho is now separate from.

Sure enough, Suwa does appreciate being thanked profusely by Naho, to the point of tears of joy…and, maybe, also tears of resignation and sadness that Naho is out of reach. But this isn’t Suwa’s story. It’s Naho’s. You wanna make an omelette, you gotta break some Suweggs (I’ll show myself out).

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Orange – 04

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I’ve mentioned how cold and bleak and dreary things look in Naho’s “bad future.” With Kakeru dating Ueda, it’s like that coldness has seeped into present-day Naho’s world. Heck, the first image in the present is of a futuristic—and somewhat frightening—looking interior of an automatic ice cream cone-serving machine.

In it, two cones are stuck in their stands, so close together and yet inexorably separate, being pushed and pulled by outside forces ever further away. One is filled with pink ice cream – which I saw as a symbol of the aggressive redhead Ueda’s new regime in Kakeru’s life.

The workings of the ice cream machine seem unchangeable, but that’s just an illusion brought on by its cold, intimidating, mechanical nature. In order to prevent the same thing happening this time, the machine has to be unplugged and reprogrammed. And Naho is the only technician who can do it.

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Kakeru is most definitely dating Ueda-senpai. He is also most definitely miserable, because of the note he got from Naho a hair too late. Now he’s trapped, and Ueda will not leave him alone. She’s hot, but she’s also clingy, monopolizing, and singleminded. She’s also not a fool, so she sees the glances between Naho and Kakeru, and doesn’t like them one bit.

There’s already tension—like Weyoun and Dukat when DS9 was occupied—that Naho could capitalize on if only she had the nerve to. Alas, she still doesn’t. Letters that tell her she can’t keep ignoring Kakeru, even when he calls you to her and Ueda is nearby (as she always is) seem all well and good to Naho, but her future self is looking back; she’s not in the moment, trying the best she can but coming up a few seconds or a few inches too short.

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What present Naho doesn’t realize is that those seconds and inches become the years and miles that end up dooming Kakeru. Ueda will be the death of him if Naho doesn’t stop running away.

When Kakeru says “bye” to Naho, and Naho calls out his name, Ueda hears it all and takes her revenge by knocking Naho over on her way to her boyfriend. But it backfires: Kakeru doesn’t take the side of his current girlfriend—who just demonstrated that one should never pick someone based on looks alone—but Naho’s side, angering Ueda, who storms off in a snit. Smell ya later, missy.

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Back to the subject of color temperature: what had been a cold and bleak episode got much warmer and more comfortable, starting with the Ueda fight and continuing throughout the remainder of the episode, as things start to turn around for Naho, her colors of green and yellow (or, ya know, orange) start to replace the blues and reds.

Naho alone may not have the strength to do what her future self asks of her, but her friends lend her some of theirs, including Suwa, who is putting Naho’s happiness ahead of his own feelings. He, Azusa and Takako have plainly seen what Ueda (whom they loathe) has done to their Naho and Kakeru. They want Naho to know it’s okay to talk to Kakeru; after all, he wants to talk to her too.

Interestingly, Suwa’s mini-intervention wasn’t in future Naho’s letter; Naho takes it as a sign that the positive change she’s affected so far has already started to change the timeline. She can’t very well stop now.

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She doesn’t, and we finally get to end an episode NOT in the depths of despair. Yay! Naho speaks up, from across the street (then crosses after looking both ways. Good Naho!), and she and Kakeru reopen a very enlightening dialogue.

Kakeru is thinking about dumping Ueda, and not just because of the little public fight they had. Naho’s “no”, which she assumed he’d forgotten or ignored, has weighed heavily on him ever since he said yes to Ueda. It’s never felt right as a result, because he only chose Ueda because, at the time, he didn’t know Naho’s position, and Naho’s position is far more important to him than arm candy.

What Kakeru won’t reveal to Naho is the person he likes more than Ueda, even though it would be clear to anyone who wasn’t Naho that he’s talking about her, and like her is too afraid to just come out and say it. But never mind; just the fact he’s considering dumping Ueda makes this a small but crucial victory for Naho.

She realized that her future self doesn’t  have it easy. She’s dealt with ten years of regret of not doing what she’s telling her to do; Naho’s only dealt with a few weeks. And while future Naho can do nothing about any of it because Kakeru is gone, Naho doesn’t have that problem. Kakeru is right there. She has to keep her chin up, and think warm thoughts.

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Orange – 03

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Mother of God…this show. The emotional hold it has over me was maintained this week; in fact, it only tightened and intensified its formidable grip on my heart. I have to tip my cap to any show that is able to make such an relatively small, personal drama and tragedy feel like a world-reaching epic.

Naho seemed so confident and resolved to change the future, and so convince it was happening, and so happy that her efforts were bearing results.

And then Ueda-senpai happened. I know, right? A “prettier” love interest moving in on the heroine’s man…Naho will surely prevail, because it’s true love between her and Kakeru, right?

This shouldn’t be such a big deal, and yet it is. It’s a huge deal, because Kakeru has no future if he dates Ueda. The two things are firmly intertwined.

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This isn’t just about Naho getting the guy. It’s about saving him from oblivion.

Sure, I care far more for Naho’s happiness than anyone else’s (which is as it should be), but the specter of that increasingly bleak, almost nightmarish future considerably raises the stakes for Naho to win the Kakeru Sweepstakes.

Naho’s fatal flaw now—and in her future self’s original past—was that she cares for others before herself. She questions whether it’s right to trample on Ueda’s feelings to satisfy her own desire. She hesitates, and before she knows it, what had been an iron resolve to save him last week starts to rust and bend.

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What’s so impressive is just how goshdarned fast just a little bit of hesitation can get Naho into such serious trouble. Kakeru asked her flat out if she likes anyone; she couldn’t answer. He asks her “what she wants” before going to get drinks; all she can say is “orange juice.” In both cases, Kakeru is, consciously or not, reaching out to Naho, and it’s either not the appropriate time, or she just can’t muster the words she needs to.

So she ends up behind the curve, and Ueda steals a march on her with the tools Naho desperately needs to develop in a hurry: Directness. Persistence. Initiative Guts. She gets his hidden eraser note too late. She writes her reply to the question of whether it’s okay if he dates Ueda (Hell No) and sticks it in his shoe locker, instead of running to Kakeru herself and yelling “NO!” at the top of her lungs in front of him and Ueda.

Instead, Ueda corners Kakeru, and both overwhelmed by Ueda and absent a clear answer from Naho, Kakeru says yes, he’ll date Ueda, and go out during the break. I was so devastated by this development, even though it was sure to come along, I had to pause the TV and pour a glass of water to calm myself. It wrecked me.

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The only, and I mean only faint glimmer of hope comes when Kakeru finds her “No.” But I imagine he’s too nice a guy to dump someone so enthusiastic about dating him so soon after saying yes, so it could well be that Naho’s response was too little, a hair too late.

As expected, Naho is so crestfallen by the events of the day, she can’t eat, let alone pretend to hide her feelings to her mom. She goes up to the bed, pulls out the juice box Kakeru bought her before everything turned to shit, and drinks it as tears fall from her eyes. Sweet, sour, sorrowful…and utterly devoid of solace (Sorry, Suwa…)

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There are a couple of “post-apocalyptic” shows out this Summer, but none of their dystopias have been as and desolate and dismal as Naho’s future in Orange. It’s still, cold, desaturated, and the trees are leafless. Kakeru’s friends find that his note isn’t to himself, but to all of them.

He didn’t write to himself because he knew he didn’t have a future, which obviously insinuates he may have taken similar steps as his mother rather than suffer an accident. At the same time, no one’s dreams for the future came true, even his wish that they were all still close.

Tears well up in everyone. They shed those tears not just for Kakeru, but a bit for themselves, past and present: This isn’t the way it’s supposed to be.

Despite all that went awry for Naho and how steep a hill she must climb, I have to believe things can be made right; that a more hopeful future can be made. I may well end up even more disappointed and disheartened than I am now, but so be it.

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Orange – 02

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I never like awarding 10s and RWHL certifications willy-nilly, but I was compelled to give this episode the score it deserved, which was, to me, the highest score possible. This episode was an emotional roller coaster that sucked me in and wouldn’t let go. It contained no less than All The Feels. And it made missing the next episode, or indeed the rest of the run of the show, seem like as big a mistake as Naho not listening to her future letters.

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Naho is a good girl. She has a gentle, generous heart, but she also lacks confidence, and sometimes isn’t able to say or do what she wants. The letters she’s getting say in no uncertain terms that if the behaviors that come naturally to her in the present persist unchanged, Kakeru will be out of her life in ten years. Naho is currently falling in love with Kakeru, so she really doesn’t want that to happen.

So when the letter tells her to make Kakeru a lunch, she plans to do so. She doesn’t tell him when it seems like the best time to do so, hesitating until the latest possible moment in the day, and only after her friends tell Kakeru she makes her own lunches and Kakeru “jokes” about wanting her to make one.

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Saying it was just a joke, and worrying about “bothering” Kakeru by foisting her unworthy slop upon him (well, she’s not that harsh on herself), vex Naho terribly. Interestingly, her thought process mimics her mom’s.

Initially, she casts my heart into the cellar by deciding against making a lunch for him. But thankfully she reconsiders, and gets “fired up” making the best damn lunch Kakeru will ever have tasted.

For a second, I thought she was making lunches for everyone to provide cover and hold back rumors of favoratism. Of course, to all her friends, including Suwa, who likes her, they already know the score with her and Naho.

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But making the lunch is only half the battle for Naho. She must inform Kakeru she’s done so, and deliver the meal to him at the proper time. The time between when she nervously greets him to the lunch bell is tortuously long, as demonstrated by the montage of various teachers giving lectures intercut with quick shots of Naho and the bag containing the lunch.

But when that lunch bell rings…she CHOKES! My heart, having just started back up the stairs, ends up in the sub-basement. I was literally banging my fist on the coffee table, furious by her self-defeating inaction. But then, she waits after school for Kakeru to be done soccer practice with Suwa. And again, Kakeru gives Naho the fresh opening she needs, offering to walk home with her—and only her.

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Naho engages in idle conversation meant to learn more about Naho in basic terms: where she lives; what she does when she gets home, her hobbies. Naho’s truthful answers are nothing flashy, but Kakeru still seems to enjoy them.

Then Naho starts to ask him questions, but gets more specific…like where he was and what he was doing those two weeks he was absent. Because Kakeru has feelings for Naho, he wants her to know, but also clearly exhibits some courage of his own by coming out and saying it:

The very day of their opening ceremony—the day the future letter warned Naho not to invite Kakeru to hang out with them—his mother committed suicide. With that, my heart busted through the floor of the sub-basement and into a subterranean aquifer.

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At this point, even though they were sitting down and Kakeru clearly expressed his hunger, Naho had not yet revealed she had made a lunch for him. But by hearing Kakeru tell her something so intimate and sad, and realizing what not listening to the letters did, Naho finally summons the courage she needs to present the lunch to him.

He accepts it with elation, having hoped she’d followed through on fulfilling his desire, even though he called it a joke at the time. My heart starts another long descent as she finds her footing, promising she’ll make him lunch every day from now on, and give him wake-up calls if he needs them, or any of the other things a parent does until you find someone you love who does them instead.

Returning to her letters, details emerge: Kakeru dies in an accident in the Winter of his seventeenth year, and she and the others always regretted not saving him when, as her future self sees it, they could have. Well, that’s that; Naho WILL save him, no matter what.

GO NAHO. (Sorry, Suwa.)

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Orange – 01 (First Impressions)

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16-year-old Takamiya Naho gets a mysterious letter from her 26-year-old self in the future. The letter details everything that will happen in her second year of high school, and asks that she make different choices to avoid the regrets her future self harbors.

Most of those regrets involve transfer student Naruse Kakeru, who Naho promptly falls in love with. Reading the letter, Past Naho learns that ten years in the future, Kakeru has passed away.

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I’ll admit, at first my cynical ass was a little put off by the sheer raw earnestness of Orange, particularly the exaggerated, almost grotesque expressions made by Azusa and little in the way of comedy, but I gradually got used to the character design and soft, gentle colors evoking a wistful look back to almost idealized better times.

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I also like how Naho doesn’t immediately start doing what her future leter tells her to do, because it’s a lot to take in and she’s certainly a bit weirded out about the situation.

Of course, when she chooses not to keep Kakeru from hanging out, Kakeru ends up absent for two weeks, doing God knows what, so the next time a choice comes, Naho realizes the regret she’d feel if she didn’t pinch hit and her class lost the softball game.

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The stakes here are still low, but a tiny kernel of regret can grow bigger and glom on to other little regrets until you have enough to compel you to write a letter to your past self, so Naho steps to the plate and belts one, too-small shoes and all, and wins it for her classmates.

Kakeru is there to treat her foot injury, in a tender and beautifully lit scene that establishes the romance that’s likely to come, not long after Kakeru makes it plain he doesn’t much care for Suwa, who also seems to like Naho.

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And while I knew full well Kakeru wasn’t in future Naho’s life, just as Menma was a ghost in Jinta’s, when Past Maho reads that part and we see the letters on the page, I still got chills. It was a masterful dramatic blow right to the gut that earned the episode a 9. Kakeru, who Naho only just fell for, won’t be around if she doesn’t make different choices.

It’s probably more responsibility than a carefree high schooler should have to bear, but she seems a lot better off than her future self. Despite being a wife to Suwa and mother to a child, makes it plain that the joy and happiness her past self is currently experiencing will slip away if she loses Kakeru. Will “keeping a close eye” on him be enough?

In all, I was impressed with this first episode. It’s always great to have Hanazawa Kana in a meaty leading role, and as I said, the ending packed a punch, as did her winning homer. Definitely looking forward to this one…even if it might break my heart!

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