Alice to Zouroku – 03

In the aftermath of Sana’s big pig-conjuring hiccup, she’s loath to come right out and apologize to Zouroku (as any little kid would be), but playing Good Cop Bad Old Man, Ryuu manages to get Sana to wear a tracking device so he and Shizuku can help keep her safe.

He also wants Zouroku to go ahead and adopt Sana, which is a big step, but isn’t necessarily out of the question for the ol’ buzzard. Sana is a highly believable (and adorable) little kid throughout, constantly asking for juice but taking offense when Sanae asks if she needs help in the potty.

Meanwhile, Kitou takes of the kid gloves and sends in Minnie C Tachibana (again) to retrieve Sana. While en route to her mission we learn quite a bit about Minnie that makes her both a more sympathetic character and explains why she’s on the side of the bad guys.

Minnie met and immediately fell in love with and married an American marine, but when he was killed defusing a bomb in Iraq, she was a lost at sea (figuratively). That is, until she was reborn as a Dream of Alice out of a desire to be held in his big hairy arms – the arms we saw in episode one.

We also learn, I believe for the first time, that Sana’s elaborately costumed saviour from that first episode was actually Shizuku; they have the same blue mirror gate, after all. What’s interesting about this is that while Minnie, the Twins, and the Artist are all under the control of the facility, Shizuku is not only free but leads a normal life.

This is probably why despite Sana possessing power many magnitudes higher than she, Shizuku is working to keep Sana free. At her young age, she still has a chance to lead a normal life. But controlling her powers is key.

And what powers. In another flashback we see Kaitou showing Minnie C the “Wonderland” Sana conjured with a thought. Among the Dreams of Alice, Sana is clearly the crown jewel for them, and the facility wants to keep studying her under it’s determined if others can gain the same level of power.

Minnie C is fully on board with this, because if she can attain Sana’s power, she might be able to bring back her husband. That seems like a long shot, but she clearly thinks its worth it and has dedicated her life to that goal, even though Sana’s power specifically does not harm humans…for now.

Minnie C and Shizuku, then are diametrically opposed in their treatment of Sana. Minnie C has absolutely no compulsions about violently restraining Sana and threatening to break her neck. Sana is The Objective, nothing more. For Shizuku, as well as Zouroku and Sanae, Sana is a little girl who deserves better than lab rat status simply because she has supernatural power.

We leave Sana in the firm hands of Minnie’s beloved, and the good guys only have the faintest idea where she might have gone. But Shizuku is flying through the city, hoping she’s going in the right direction, and won’t rest until she’s found and re-rescued. Hopefully she won’t be too late before Minnie C’s obsession allows Sana to be hurt any further.

3-gatsu no Lion – 02

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Two stories are told in this episode of 3G, which have thesis statements of their own, but tie into the central idea that Rei and the Kawamoto sisters aren’t in a one-sided deal. He’s not the only one getting something out of this. And he’s well aware he’s getting something out of this.

The first begins with the not-surprising realization that Rei has shoji buddies with far more forceful personalities, which he’s nonetheless able to coexist with on his own terms. Nishioka has made Rei his personal rival, and Matsumoto wants to beat him so he can appear on TV for his ill grandpa who taught him.

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Matsumoto and his longtime friend Smith are also nice guys, so when they go out to celebrate at the hostess club where Akari works, they’re nothing but respectful (and appropriately in awe) of the stunning Akari, and don’t make their 17-year-old Kohei drink liquor. Akari confides to Rei that these are the kind of guys to hang out with.

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It hearkens to the first time Akari and Rei met: when some not-so-nice guys did make Rei drink himself into a stupor (which probably didn’t take much, considering his size and complete lack of tolerance). It was Rei at his most vulnerable, and he had no way to hide it.

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That didn’t matter at all to Akari, who took him into her home and took care of him. It’s a pretty good chance he got alcohol poisoning that night, so when he couldn’t force himself to vomit some of it up to ease his pain, she showed him how. Concerned, gentle, caring: both the Akari at home and Akari the Hostess are equally amazing and beautiful to Rei.

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Before he met Akari, Rina, and Momo, Rei saw the new town he lived in in monochrome, as if walking through a dream. But from the moment Akari welcomed him in their lives and told him he could come by anytime (and meaning it), color returned to his life, and with it, a measure of joy.

The second half, “the other side of the bridge”, marks the difference between the cold industrial/commercial side where he lives (akin to Ayanami Rei’s memorable digs) and the warm, homey, comfortable side where all the Kawamoto sisters are, as well as the food.

Rei can never refuse Akari, and he doesn’t when she invites him to join them for Obon. Because he knows, the Kawamotos have suffered profound loss just as he did. He helps fill the void in their lives so it doesn’t fill with grief, and they restore color to his. It’s a nice arrangement, and watching it play out is enough to melt the hardest heart.

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3-gatsu no Lion – 01 (First Impressions)

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Except for a taunting voice in a dream about how Kiriyama Rei’s worth nothing (his name means ‘zero’), the first six-plus minutes of 3GL begin in silence, as we watch Rei’s lonely commute to the shogi hall. I was half-surprised that the automatic doors sense his presence, because he looks like a specter floating around the town.

Rei moves as if the weight of the world is on his slim shoulders. The clacking of shogi pieces starts to grow oppressive, as if playing the game is plumbing the depths of his despair. This is SHAFT at its best, IMO: no walls of words, just impeccable atmosphere building.

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The sun begins to set on Rei’s silent, dour day, when he gets a text invitation to dinner and a second text that makes sure he can’t refuse. Rei goes to the Kawamoto home for dinner with Akari, Hinata and Momo, three sisters who live with their grandpa and cats and run a wagashi.

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And it’s just about the warmest, most loving place you can imagine. An Rei can barely enjoy any of it, because he’s a deeply emotionally wounded individual. The eldest daughter, Akari (Kayano Ai, great as always) can sense the pain emanating from him; all we need is a look to know that.

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The middle sister Hinata (Hanazawa Kana, also great as always) doesn’t fully grasp how bad things are until she puts a blanket on Rei and takes off his glasses, revealing he cried himself to sleep. All these sisters can relate to carrying pain, as they lost their mother and grandmother and there’s no father in the picture. But Rei’s problems seem to go beyond loss and into, well, more existential stuff.

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3GL is gorgeously rendered and deliberately paced to ease you into its world where despair contrasts with unconditional love. Rei comes from a not-so-loving family. Rei both looks similar to and has similar problems to Your Lie in April’s Arima Kousei, and I had to convince myself halfway in that none of these sisters had a terminal illness (thanks, Violin Girl), but he’s not the only thing going on here.

Shinbou and Shaft brings their trademark multi-establishing shots, baller sound design, and over-the-top comedic moments where characters (or cats) exhibit super-strength or speed, but all of his directorial quirks are assets here, and don’t overshadow a familiar but still very nice story.

The sisters a a whirlwind of kindness and love, the youngest Momo (voiced by Kuno Misaki, who has definitely found a groove in such roles) is a little kid done right, and while I’m sure there will be moments when we’re far less sympathetic to Kousei Rei (as he’s very lucky to have these sisters in his life, but he’s likely to shun or lash out at them), but this is still a show I won’t be able to miss.

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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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To Aru Kagaku no Railgun S – 19

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Ruiko and the others befriend Febri, but she’s apprehensive of Mikoto. They can’t find a record of her anywhere, so they list her as a child error and arrange for her to stay at the Cypress Children’s Home. It isn’t ready to take her in yet, so for the next five days Ruiko and the others will have to take care of her. At the grounds of the Academic Assembly, Ruiko leaves Febri with Mikoto, but they get separated. When they find her, Aritomi has sent robots after her, but Mikoto dispatches them, surprising Aritomi, who along with his science team votes to experiment on the third-strongest esper, the Railgun.

This was another one of those “interacting with little kids” episodes that Railgun/Index does sometimes (in fact, probably every episode with Index can count as one of those). It’s not that we don’t like kids (nor is it like Mikoto, where they don’t like her), it’s just that these episodes tend to be quite slow and plodding, in a series that is always best when the pace is, forgive the expression, more electric. As for Febri (or Febli), she’s cute as a button, but otherwise was basically your run-of-the-mill lost kid: shy and weary, but eventually opening up to everyone but Mikoto, whose name she inexplicably knows (Ruiko and Uiharu also make a good ‘mom-and-dad’ pair).

Still, we learn next to nothing about her, except that Aritomi and his colleagues are aware of her existence. We assumed she was an escaped scientific subject on the order of the MISAKAs or Last Order, or possibly even some kind of android built by Aritomi’s team. But the truth of her origin has yet to reveal itself, so for now she seems to be the piece that led Aritomi to Mikoto, starting another story of espers vs. the knowledge- and power-greedy scientists, only on a smaller scale, and with students (not adults) as the antagonists.


Rating: 6 (Good)