TONIKAWA: Over the Moon For You – 13 – Love In the Time of LINE

It’s been over eight months since the last TONIKAWA but this extra OVA episode doesn’t skip a beat, delivering all of the notes that made the first twelve episodes so endearing and comforting, especially at the end of one of the worst years of many peoples’ lives. Things are going a bit better now, so it’s especially nice to check in on these two sweet young lovebirds in that context.

Tsukasa’s smartphone finally arrives, which means she’s finally arrived in the 21st century (though she still contemplates how much one could accomplish with a smartphone in the Sengoku era, one more hint that she’s either lived a very long time or carries the memories of past lives).

Something as simple as adding contacts is made much more profound as only one person in their address books can occupy the “spouse” category. But no sooner does she gain a smartphone (and LINE app) than she loses Nasa…if only for the day, as he’s summoned to his old work for a last-minute project.

Tsukasa goes in to work at the bathhouse, only to get bored and start wavering over whether to send Nasa a text or sticker. Aya doesn’t help matters by saying she’s sure he’ll message Tsukasa, since when he doesn’t do so all day, it only adds to her loneliness and anxiety.

While sitting out on the back patio after dark, she tries and fails to hold back tears despite knowing how ridiculous it is to be crying. But is it so ridiculous? Tsukasa and Nasa have been together—and close—for most of their married lives, and love each other dearly. So it’s no surprise that they both feel lonely.

That intensity of their love also makes it that much more satisfying and relieving when we finally hear that little alert sound and Nasa confirms he couldn’t use his phone while working. He misses her every bit as much as she misses him; smartphones or no, their hearts remain tightly connected.

When Nasa shambles home at four in the morning, he fully expects Tsukasa to be asleep, but she’s wide awake, having not been able to sleep “for some reason”. His futon is out, so they lie down together, and Tsukasa, still out of sorts from being without her darling for so long, takes the initiative for the first time by giving him a passionate goodnight kiss.

Nasa is wide awake at this point, contemplating how his wife suddenly seems more aggressive, only for Tsukasa to visit his futon and insist that he hold her tight. Now, I’m not saying they go on to make full-on love for the first time in that early morn, nor am I saying they don’t, but this is definitely the most hot and heavy we’ve seen them.

Even in the morning, with the couple’s faces beet red and smoking it’s not clear exactly how far the two went a few hours prior, but it is clear from Kaname that they “had fun” in the early morn. She’d love the details (as someone with a “sexy radish” as her LINE picture), but also knows these two well and how easily they’re embarrassed whenever they contemplate the prerogatives of their status as husband and wife.

Because this is a check-in OVA, we also check in on Chitose and her maids Aurora and Charlotte, the latter of whom was at the bathhouse and overheard about Tsukasa’s potentially fun night. Charlotte, despite being an adult, has no idea what that “fun” entailed.

After doing a coffee spit take Chitose tells her it’s “far more intense” than the horseplay she and Char get up to. Chitose demonstrates her growth from last season as she doesn’t immediately head to Tsukasa’s house to investigate/put a stop to it. After all, Tsukasa is married; it’s perfectly normal for things to get intense.

After a parting scene of Char teasing Aurora, who actualy would like to hold hands in bed, the standard credits roll. While a couple of decent romances like Horimiya showed up in Tonikawa’s wake, that series grew more scattered and disinterested in its main couple down the stretch. It was nice to be reminded how good, steady, and consistent Tonikawa always was, and how deftly it portrayed young love—or in Tsukasa’s case, very very old young love! XD

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The aquatope on white sand – 01 (first impressions) – A strange place still near home.

First of all, kudos to Aquatope for starting out so cleanly and crisply, with a series of shots of Misakino Kukuru’s quiet Okinawa hometown that were so summery and relaxing that they gave me goosebumps. It was literally a slice of life in this place, and this episode’s full of ’em. It seems inconceivable Kukuru would be unhappy in what looks to an outsider like paradise, but maybe paradise doesn’t feel like paradise to its embedded residents.

I’m sure at some point Miyazawa Fuuka felt she was in paradise as a member of a popular idol group in Tokyo. But then suddenly it became a dreary slog, leaving her with nothing but shit-talking co-workers and an empty apartment. Her final interaction is with one of her former groupmate, who for all we know puts on just another performance, lamenting Fuuka’s departure.

Weary of an big embarrassing welcome home party in her own sleepy rural hometown, Fuuka hops on a plane to Okinawa on a lark. The tropical heat hits her like a ton of bricks, and she’s quickly scooped up by a fortune teller who turns out to be pretty nice, following as she does the local saying “meet once, and we’re siblings.” She tells Fuuka to follow Sagittarius.

Fuuka ends up nodding off on the beach, and wakes up the next morning surrounded by neat circles of washed-up coral bits. Was this the work of the cheeky looking deity to whom Kukuru offers fish heads every morning? Speaking of, Kukuru is a total fishophile, far more interested than the creatures of the sea than humans on land or their math.

When a tour guide happens to spot Fuuka suffering the onset of heatstroke, she stops her car, offers her water, and gives her some brochures. One of them promotes the Gama Gama aquarium, to which the guide, Kudaka Karin, gives her a lift. It’s here where’s I’ll admit I’m a sucker for aquariums too.

I was lucky enough to grow up in a city with one of the best in the world, and though I don’t visit nearly as much as I should considering I’m still not far, it always felt like you were crossing a threshold into an entirely new world: a world of endless, captivating blue, where the air was water and full of creatures “flying” in it.

It’s at this aquarium, which is understaffed and suffering cratering attendance and yet still absolutely magical, where Fuuka has what you might call a spiritual experience. After spotting her undersea counterpart—a little guy who hides in the corner but works the hardest, like she did in her idol group—and Fuuka starts to cry pent-up tears.

Those tears and the accompanying despair are soon washed away when the tanks start to expand out towards her. She tries to run, but is soon surrounded by water, yet is able to breathe. She becomes one with all of the fish, turtles, and even a particularly badass whale shark. Then she snaps out of it, and suddenly there is Miyazawa Fuuka.

Our two protagonists have finally encountered one another. Their stories have intersected, thanks to the otherworldly allure of the aquarium. Kukurui has a knowing look on her face; she knows that Fuuka saw “it”, as in experienced what it means to be temporarily tricked by that local deity, Kijimunaa. Apparently Kukuru has experienced something similar.

Such strange phenomena are nothing new to the aquarium or its ancient environs. It’s called “Gama Gama” due to the coral formations that make up part of the building’s architecture; thought to be the gateway between the world and underworld. And yet, as Kukuru remarks, as strange and enchanting as it all is, it’s still close to her home. It still feels like “your grandma’s living room.”

Kukuru needs staff. Fuuka needs a fresh start in a new job. These two are perfect for one another. Perhaps it was Kijimunaa’s will, fueld as it was by offertory fish heads, to point the wayward former idol to the struggling aquarium director. I foresee great things from this auspicious meeting.

As focused as the episode is on its two leads, it’s also ever contemplative of the state of Japan’s cutthroat idol culture (where a well-meaning girl who did everything right still lost) or the worsening crisis of an aging population. And while daydreaming in class, Kukuru recalls a memory of having  a “parenting journal”.

Whether kids her age are encouraged early to have babies or she actually got pregnant and either lost it or gave it away, there was such trauma and pathos coursing through Kukuru and Fuuka’s lives. Whatever wounds they both possess, perhaps they can start healing them together at the aquarium—the gateway between worlds.

Re: Zero – 49 – Every Moment Matters

Episode 48 turned the action up to 11 and supplemented it with a fair amount of effective comedy to keep things grounded and hopeful despite everything being on the line. This week the action is turned down considerably and the comedy excised entirely in favor of a number of dramatic set pieces that complete the table-setting for the season two finale.

We begin with Emilia emerging from the Graveyard and encountering the snowstorm. Fortunately the villagers are safe thanks to a shield of ice Puck created around them, though he told them they had Lia to thank for it. She asks everyone to seek shelter in the Graveyard and stay safe and patient.

Emilia runs to the tree of ice from where much mana seems to be emanating, and it shatters and transforms into Puck’s familiar green spirit form, which leads her into the giant crystal room. There she finds a whole mess of Ryuzus, with Shima preparing to “fulfill her role”.

With a flash of white, the crystal containing the Ryuzus’ progenitor and that forms the core of the barrier vanishes. Emilia asks Birma where Roswaal and Ram are, and finds them freezing to death in a field. With his tome of wisdom destroyed, Roswaal is lost and feels that “nothing matters.” Even so, he is healing Ram, who lets out a breath, proving to Emilia she’s still alive.

The first wave of demon bunnies approach, but Emilia freezes them solid with her magic. She then creates a clear and solid ice road above the deepening snows so the Ryuzus can take both Roswaal and Ram to safety. To Emilia, nothing doesn’t matter, so she’ll stand strong and keep fighting until she can’t anymore.

From the freezing sanctuary to the burning mansion, Beatrice laments her present situation and looks back on her past, when Echidna left her in charge of the Forbidden Library full of her knowledge, and asked her to wait for someone “suitable to inherit” that knowledge, which she simply called “that person.” Echidna used those particular words simply for the sake of getting the pertinent information to Beatrice.

However, she’s treated them like a rigid gospel, and they gradually turned into a curse. For 400 years, various Mathers descendants would visit the library but rarely speak to her, instead looking through the library’s books. By the time Emilia the “half-devil girl” showed up, she killed her emotions and stopped talking. Then Natsuki Subaru arrived, and for a time felt like he was “that person” for whom Echidna had entrusted her to wait.

But last week, as we saw, Subaru said flat out “there’s no way I could ever be whoever ‘that person’ is…”, and she threw him out with her telekinesis. Even if Subaru didn’t even understand what she meant by “that person” anymore than she did, because the two words Echidna used were so imprecise. Four centuries of time may have given them more weight and importance they didn’t deserve.

When Subaru first makes it back in the library, Beako is ready to toss him out without any further discussion, but he holds on to the door and manages to stay in the library. He tells her even if he isn’t that person, he wants to stay with her, to end her days of loneliness. His argument isn’t strong enough, and Beako de-reses the library, banishing him seemingly for good with a “farewell.”

Of course, that’s not enough for Subie to give up either; not as long as there’s still a door in the mansion left to open. He finds it in the secret underground passage, and even though smoke billows and flame lick at its seams and the knob burns his hand, he puts his faith in Beatrice that she won’t let him die when he opens it.

Since this is probably his last chance (there are no more doors), rather than say he’s come to take her away or save her, Subaru tries a different tack: he needs her to save him, by agreeing to stay with him. Otherwise, he’d be too sad to go on living. Beako’s refrain is that he’ll ultimately leave her by dint of his far shorter lifespan.

But even if Subaru’s life is only a moment in Beako’s, if she gives him a chance he promises to engrave that moment into her soul. Rather than fear their inevitable goodbye, he asks her to embrace a guaranteed Subaru’s lifetime’s worth of tomorrows, in which she’ll be too busy taking care of him to be bored or lonely. Unlike the other memories we saw, the moments with him will never fade to sepia.

Subaru’s speech finally does the trick, and just as the library is about to collapse into the flames, Beatrice takes Subaru—whom he calls by his name for the first time—and flies out of the burning ruins of the Mathers mansion in a gleaming purple-pink streak of light. That color, as brilliant as her sepia memories were dull, happens to be a combination of the blue of the freezing sanctuary and the red of the burning mansion.

The destination of that streak of light is the entrance to the Graveyard, where Emilia is fighting the good fight against the bunnies but starting to run out of steam. Subaru, with Beako’s hand in his, tells Emilia he needs to “make a revision” to his first battle, while Beako tells Subie not to blame her for “whatever may happen next.”

I don’t know what will happen next, but hopefully it involves the defeat of the Great Rabbit the ending of the snowstorm, and the final lifting of the barrier, resulting in a victory for Emilia and Subaru without the need for Return by Death. Then again, I’ll remain firmly on guard for the possibility of Re:Zero throwing a final wrench or two into the works—even unto the final moments of the second season finale. After all, every moment matters!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Yuru Camp△ 2 – 03 – Top-Grade Eels and Feels

When Rin tells Nadeshiko she’ll be staying in Shizuoka for a couple extra nights due to the snow back home, Nadeshiko makes an alternate proposal: Rin could join her at her grandmother’s house on Lake Hamama. There’s are some lovely little moments of tension in between Nade’s offer, the alert sound on her phone, and the reveal of Rin’s reply: “Looking forward to it!”

The snow granted Rin two extra days to be all by herself if she wanted, but she choses to spend it with Nadeshiko, though first she books a surprisingly cheap campsite, spending New Year’s Day reading on the beach and then luxuriating in the bath.

At dusk, she quite accidentally stumbles upon a little local tradition where people gather to watch the sun setting directly into a torii gate near the Hamama-Ohashi Bridge. As Rin puts it, she got to see the sun rise and set on the year’s first day. Early in the morning, Sakura gets Nadeshiko up so she can make all the various train transfers to Sakume Station, where she’ll meet Rin.

After breaking camp, Rin heads to Kazanji in Nishi Ward to buy a gift of Strawberry buns, and soon learns that there’s a fanatical demand for them, as she ends up in yet another crush of people. Nadeshiko is at Sakume and greets her with a formal New Year’s Greeting, then shows her a gaggle of tame black-headed seagulls.

It’s a 20-minute walk to her grandma’s but Nadeshiko suggests they grab some lunch, further suggesting they have eel, a Hamama Lake specialty. Rin is down to just ¥1,920, so when she sees that the Top-Grade unagi Nadeshiko orders costs ¥4,000, she panics. Not to worry: Nadeshiko whips out a crisp ¥10,000 bill her dad gave her specifically to treat Rin to the good stuff, as thanks for how much she’s helped her out over the last half-year.

Rin doesn’t turn down the offer, but is perplexed when Nadeshiko, who decided to sit at the counter, turns away from watching the practiced chef kill and clean the live eels. Watching Rin’s reaction to tasting that eel, I’d say Nadeshiko’s tendency to make food look really good is rubbing off!

Upon arriving at Nadeshiko’s granny’s lakeside house, Rin also meets Nadeshiko’s childhood friend Toki Ayano, who comes off as a lot less energetic than Nadeshiko. In fact, she’s kind of a Lake Hayama Rin … or maybe Rin is a Yamanashi Ayano! There’s a natural bit of tension here as well, as it’s always a bit strange to meet your relatively new friend’s much older friend (or vice versa).

As expected, Rin ends up learning more about Nadeshiko from Ayano. Specifically, she was quite a bit chubbier in middle school, and her sister Sakura put her on a grueling exercise regime biking around Lake Hamana, and she slimmed down by her first year in high school. Now Rin understands why Nadeshiko had the strength and stamina to bike from Nanbucho to Lake Motosu the day they met.

Nadeshiko and Rin show her granny and Ayano more pics of camping, many of which are of food and eating, to which Nadeshiko declares eating outdoors to be the “best part” of camping. Rin doesn’t loudly agree, for a reason we learn later that night, but she does demonstrate her mini offertory box portable campfire grill by grilling mochi outside, and Ayano starts to get it. Also, Ayano has a moped too!

After an evening of watching TV while under the kotatsu, playing the Game of Life, Ayano has to head off to work at the konbini, agreeing to meet up with them at the observatory later. When the time to head there arrives, Nadeshiko wakes Rin up for once, and Rin, who hadn’t slept in a real bed for several nights, needs an extra few moments to shed the coziness.

Rin is initially worried about biking at night, but as Nadeshiko assures her, this area is like her back yard; she knows it like the back of her hand. Ayano is there to meet them at the observatory, and she and Nadeshiko points out all of the landmarks of Hamamatsu at night. Then she asks how Rin’s solo camping went, and she gets a very honest answer.

Going from Christmas Camping to soloing for New Year’s confirmed for her how different it feels when you’re camping alone. You see and hear and taste things you just won’t when you’re not alone, and you have nothing but time to contemplate things.

Rin describes soloing as “a way to appreciate loneliness”—which is a hell of a line! Nadeshiko notably doesn’t come right out and agree with Rin … and that’s okay! She and Rin can prefer different kinds of camping and enjoy occasionally camping together or with larger groups and still be good friends.

It may just be my imagination, but Yuru Camp seems to have upped its game a bit in the second season. Landscapes and backgrounds seem lusher and more detailed, as are the interactions and emotions it tackles, without beating you over the head with drama.

There’s a pervading realism to everything, from those little indefinable moments and feelings to a strong sense of geography and culture of the places the character inhabit. It’s also making me compile an ever longer (and harder to complete!) list of places to go and things to do next time I make it to Japan!

Shironeko Project: ZERO CHRONICLE – 04 – The Bodyguard

When the Prince and Adel arrive at the Kingdom of Light, the show isn’t quite sure what to do with them, so an interminable amount of time is spent in a standoff with Faios. While en route Adel decides he’ll play the role of envoy while the Prince plays his bodyguard, concerned that if the spotlight is on the air to the Black Throne he’ll be the first one cut down.

Adel may be a better talker, but shunting the Prince off to the side was misguided, in my view. We’ve seen him go through a lot in a short time, but now that he’s aligned with the snail’s pace of the Kingdom of Light, I’d hoped he and Iris would have some things to say. Instead, Adel takes the lead. There’s an increased sense of occasion when they finally meet, yet it almost immediately fizzles out when they go their separate ways.

More maddeningly, time that could have been spent with, say, the Prince and Iris conversing over a meal or some such, is instead utterly wasted on pointless side characters: a quartet of identical brothers goofing off in the hold of the skyship that ferried the Prince to the Kingdom of Light. I honestly don’t know what the point of this was other than some comic relief, but I would have preferred more A-plot for this comedy to relieve.

The Prince asks Faios about Iris only to be shot down, as his stated status as a mere commoner bodyguard makes him unworthy of even speaking the Queen’s name, in Faios’ eyes. The night passes, and the next morning Iris asks the Prince directly about the regular people of Black. The Prince’s response is barely an answer, but repeats Adel’s initial entreaties: this is about establishing a united front against Bahl, who is destruction incarnate.

In other words, this felt like a wasted opportunity, not helped by a host of iffy production values that are increasingly hard to overlook. The ending in which the Prince and Iris are so lovey-dovey almost felt mocking in the wave of such inconsequential first impressions. Iris has very little to go on other than the Prince seems to be reasonable. But they could have interacted a little more.

Shironeko Project: ZERO CHRONICLE – 03 – What a King (and Queen) Need

Well, SPZC has one thing going for it for sure: the story ain’t hard to follow! As with last week, a lot less happens on the light side that has to be stretched out. Queen Iris is troubled by the recent violence, but looks back to the time when she and Cima were still candidates.

Back then she managed to dispel a cloud of darkness on her own when the Rune answered her call. The look back reminds her of her duty not just to protect her people, but maintain the balance of Black and White, even if no one else understands that bit.

Indeed, the only person she can probably relate with on the matter of balance (as opposed to simply eliminating one’s enemy completely) is the Dark Prince. As I said, more happens to him, as he has yet to succeed the present King. However, this week eliminates the obstacle of competition for his spot as successor.

Like Iris, the prince’s commitment to balance causes him to act in a way the other candidates fight inexplicable, like helping one of them rather than letting them die. But the prince remembers the horrors that befell his village and has determined he’ll be a king who doesn’t just look after himself and his own power.

The competition is quick and efficient: after the larger group is whittled down in a beast battle, the last two standing duel each other, with the Prince beating Adel, who like Cima takes the loss very well and is willing to befriend the winner.

Groza bestows upon the Prince the symbol of his right of succession—the unimaginatively named Greatsword of Black—and his first mission: for him and Adel to go to the Kingdom of White as official envoys and deliver the news of their succession to the Queen of Light.

It looks like the fourth episode will be the one when Iris and Prince (God I wish he had a name) finally meet. I wish these first three episodes had delved a little deeper into who these two characters are besides their very simplified archetypes and shared ideals, but this isn’t that kind of show.

Instead, Iris and Prince are more symbols of hope in the idea that a lasting peace beneficial to all could be struck if they can come together. The stage is now set for that encounter. Will Cima and Adel stand by their friends throughout these efforts, or undermine them, more confident in the strength of their side than with the prospects of balance?

P.S. Here’s the poppy ED. It rips!

Somali and the Forest Spirit – 12 (Fin) – Hanging In There

Berserk Golem is terrifying to behold, but at least initially, his attacks aren’t very coordinated. That gives Yabashira a chance to intervene before Golem makes Somali witness something she shouldn’t. He’s tossed aside, and Golem targets Rosa, only for the freed Somali to come between them.

She has enough trust in her dad that he won’t hurt her with his outstretched hand, but pat her on the head. He may have lost a lot of resources when he went into overload, but the love he has for her wasn’t among them, and it serves as a fail-safe switch, and he passes out after acknowledging his daughter.

We part ways with Rosa off-camera, though I’d hope she learned a lesson and will do some serious soul-searching about her attitude towards humans after the one she was ready to dissect saved her life. Golem comes to in a forest, with Somali sleeping by his side.

The pair continue their journey with Shizuno and Yabashira, but after assessing his damage, it’s not looking good for Golem. His left arm is gone for good, as is nearly a third of his skin and much of his internal fluids. He’s at 76%, max, and it’s all downhill from there…though he notably can’t set an exact date of final shutdown.

The quartet arrives in a new town full of horned dog people celebrating their harvest. Never mind that there may be more human hunters here who would recognize Somali’s smell; the show clearly cedes that the time of external threats to Somali are done, as long as she keeps her hood down. I’m skeptical!

Of course, the main issue is that while on their way to town, Golem noticed that his senses are becoming duller and it’s getting increasingly hard to move. Add to that the potential for him to lose control like he did in the cave, and he considers his continued proximity to Somali a liability. So at the town festival, while Somali is distracted by performers, he gives her the slip.

Shizuno fills Yabashira and Somali in on why Golem left, and why he couldn’t persuade him otherwise; he made his choice. But Somali is hardly satisfied with such an adult conclusion, and chases after her dad, leaving town and finding him in the nearby woods, staring at a pond. When he spots her, Golem orders her to stay away, but she won’t obey, and demands to know why they can’t be together like he promised.

When he denies it’s because of anything she said or did or because he doesn’t like her anymore (Somali is just a little kid, this is where her mind would go first) and tells her he’s worried about being a danger to her, she again rejects his reasoning. She’ll be too lonely without him, and she knows he’ll be lonely too. She gets him to admit the emotions within him (despite that not jiving with his “natural order”)—and even sheds the equivalent of a golem tear.

With that, Golem reverses his decision to run away, and instead vows to stay by Somali’s side as long as he can, enduring whatever hardships might arise. The two of them acquire some nifty new threads and continue their travels with the Shizuno and Yabashira.

This seal the ending as an ellipsis rather than a period, and opens the door for a possible sequel. But that aside, I was pretty certain the show wouldn’t kill off Golem in the last episode, despite some of the “death is not the end” flags during the town festival.

Instead, it galvanized its hopeful outlook with a hopeful ending, in which there’s still time for Golem to find a way to repair himself, and in the meantime, Somali’s formative years can continue to be filled with happy and fun memories with her dad, as long as they can.

Chihayafuru 3 – 19 – Hollow Man

I don’t like Master Suo.

I don’t like his creepily soft voice, or his obsession with sweets, or the way he macks on Chihaya, or the way he plays karuta, or the way he’s clogging up a throne I’d rather see Arata in sooner rather than later. The show hasn’t gone out of its way to make him a likable character, as it has so many others whose backstories we only get at a crucial point in a match, but at least this week it makes the attempt.

Suo has always seen himself as “hollow,” taken away from deadbeat parents to live in the main family’s house full of relations young and old. One of his aunts took him under her wing, insisting that he one day “make something of himself.” We learn that he has the same affliction she has that narrows the field of vision and may one day blind him.

He doesn’t learn of this prognosis until he’s already attempted several different paths and, not feeling passion for any of them, moved on to another. It’s a pretty lady at college who first attracts him to karuta, and like everything else he picks it up quickly.

That young woman gets a boyfriend who’s not him, but he still becomes so good at karuta he scares opponents away, leading to the adoption of a playing style in which he intentionally narrows his margin of victory and forces opponents to fault. He feeds on the passion of others because he has none himself.

Sympathy for Suo can be found for those looking hard enough, in his unenviable parentage, his loyalty and devotion to his aunt and her wish for him to make something of himself, and the two ticking clocks in his eye sockets. Backed into a corner with no more room for slacking off, Suo then feeds off Dr. Harada’s passion in order to turn an eight-card deficit into a one-card advantage.

Dr. Harada has passion to spare, but after three games and change his knee is starting to howl, as he knew it would, hurting his focus. That knee makes him a little less surer of his form and speed, and a refocused Suo capitalizes. Kitano, well aware of Harada’s discomfort, looks past their decades of fierce rivalry, sees how close one of them is to beating him to the throne, and tosses his friend a cushion to ease the agony.

Over on the women’s side, it’s becoming clear to Shinobu that the cards have become fickle, and that some of them like Inokuma too. Shinobu makes it a point not to get into a luck-of-the-draw scenario, no longer sure the remaining cards will side with her.

In the end, Inokuma double-faults at the worst possible time, while Shinobu uses her left hand to reach confidently across the field. Inokuma is devastated and tearful by her loss, but Queen Wakamiya shows her kind side by asking Inokuma to count the cards, assuring her they still like her despite the loss.

That result gets Arata out of his sickbed and onto the subway, hoping to catch the end of the Master tournament in person. However, he probably should have stayed put, as there’s no guarantee he’ll get there in time, and the internet signal on his tablet cuts out every time his train goes into a tunnel (which, in tunnel-filled Japan, is often).

In between service interruptions, he manages to hear the word “luck”—Harada and Suo are in the luck-of-the-draw Shinobu managed to avoid. While I’m still not a big fan of Suo, and will be disappointed if after coming so close Dr. Harada comes up short, I at least understand the four-time Master a little better now. I just hope his musings this episode don’t set him up to not only win, but to decide not to retire.

After all, he’s still Master Suo…whom I dislike.

Chihayafuru 3 – 18 – Right Now is Everything

As her grandmother surfs her regular TV in vain, (somehow) unaware the tournament is streaming online, Shinobu loses her focus. She can’t hear the cards, and loses to Haruka, tying them at one game apiece.

It’s the first game in Queen tournament play she’s ever lost, and everyone is shocked. A lethargic Suo drops the second game in a row to Dr. Harada, meaning both Master and Queen are in check: one more loss means losing their titles.

During the two-hour break for the women, Haruka experiences acute morning sickness. The timing sucks, but she’s hoping this means her third child will be a daughter. As she tells Rion, this may be her last chance, but she’s not going to let a little nausea keep her from making the very most of it.

Shinobu tears off her gaudy kimono and rushes to the shrine to pray. Chihaya, sensing Shinobu is out of whack, follows her without a coat, leading Shiobu to lend her her Snowmaru scarf. Later, before the match, Chihaya insists upon fitting tatsuki to improve the Queen’s movement.

Shinobu may have gotten to where she is in part due to abject loneliness, and she doesn’t resent that trade-off, as she proceeds to win the third game with relative ease, restoring her focus. But it must nevertheless be heartening to have a so-called rival/maybe friend in Chihaya by her side when she needed someone, anyone.

Suo feels a solidarity with Shinobu, but only because of their statuses at the top of the karuta food chain (and possibly due to their shared social awkwardness and eccentricity). But there’s nothing he can really do to help Shinobu. In the third game, he trounces Harada by 17 cards, but Harada essentially threw the game.

Indeed, drawing from Chihaya’s final intel report, Harada is pulling out all the stops to attack and confuse the defending Master at every turn. This presents itself to the crowd as showing complete and utter contempt for one’s opponent, but considering the gap between their age and raw talent, and the ticking time bomb that is his leg, Harada can’t afford to play nice.

Unlike Suo, he has a wife, and he wants to make her proud. I’d be surprised if this doesn’t go to the fifth game, but hopefully he can.

SSSS.Gridman – 12 (Fin) – Power of the Finite

“Anyone who can make kaiju is a kaiju themselves,” says Alexis Kerib, after transforming Akane herself into an enormous monster that wails out a terrible lament as it destroys what’s left of the city. Still temporary allies, Gridman (dwelling in Yuuta) asks Anti to deal with the Akane-kaiju, as he and Rikka have something else they need to do.

Akane isn’t feeling particularly good about herself, which is probably what enables Alexis to transform her and control her so easily: he thrives in the corruption of the heart, in hatred, disgust, and aloofness. He chortles when Rikka calls Akane “her friend” not because Rikka is only Akane’s programmed creation, but because he doesn’t believe there even is such a thing as friends.

Right on cue, Rikka’s friend Yuuta-Gridman picks her up in Sky Vitter (to Alexis’ bemusement), and they return to the hospital to snap Shou out of his funk. Regardless of how useless or normal he thinks he is, Yuuta tells him that Junk needs everyone there to work. The Gridman Alliance is more than just a cool nickname for their little circle, it’s the key to unlocking Gridman’s full power.

Anti succeeds in freeing Akane from her kaiju prison (which seemed to be filled with some kind of clear LCL), but Akane wonders why he bothered with someone as terrible as her. Anti fully owns his “failed creation,” since the fact he failed meant he’s more than just a kaiju, but a human.

Alexis makes no distinction between kaiju and human, or anything else, since to him it’s all below him. Because Akane is still in a bad state, he exploits her negative emotions and literally consumes her to become a kind of “Alexisman”—but the Alliance are back at the Junk Shop, and when they activate the new acceptors that appear on their wrists, a new, final form of Gridman appears: less armored and more like, well, a giant guy in a suit.

This new Gridman fights Alexis in order to free Akane once more, and has some success…until the halved Alexis simply auto-repairs. He is immortal and infinite, so however many times Gridman tries to destroy him, he will just keep coming back forever. Since Alexis has everything “of value” in Akane’s world—that is, Akane herself—he decides to head back to his realm…after killing Gridman.

But before he can skedaddle or kill Gridman, Gridman discovers a new power, and possibly his most important: The pink Grid Fixer Beam, which repairs not only the city Akane created and then destroyed, but succeeds in rescuing Akane’s heart from Alexis’ clutches. The Fixer Beam basically deletes him from the world.

Finally, free, Akane worries about what comes next. “A big world’s too much for me!” she laments, because she’s such a weak, pathetic coward. Rikka, Yuuta, and Shou tell her that no one’s perfect, which is why they—which is why everyone—relies on others.

Her world afforded her godhood and a kind of immortality, but it’s run it’s course, and now it’s time to return to the world of mortality and the finite. Akane’s grateful to Rikka for saving her, but also wracked with guilt over the things she’s done that cannot be undone with any Fixer Beam.

Rikka tells her not to sweat it, and gives her the gift of a wallet that matches her own (and also happens to be the same color as Akane’s hair). Rikka wants Akane to stay in the world and be together with her, but tells Akane not to let that wish come true. No one can force Akane to leave; she has to want to do it; to return to her real life.

With that, Akane disappears from Rikka’s side. Gridman & Co. say their goodbyes to Rikka and Shou before returning to the Hyper World, and not long after that Yuuta wakes up in the junk shop, the Gridman Alliance now just a friendship of three kids. The puckish humanoid kaiju who once guided Yuuta heals Anti, who is grateful, and now sports both a human and a kaiju eye—his past and present.

Finally, in the real world—as in, a live action world—a girl with long black hair much like Rikka’s slowly wakes up and rises from the bed, the Akane-colored wallet on her dresser. This, it seems, is the Real Akane, who left the world where she was a god (i.e., her dreams) and returned to the world she thought she couldn’t handle.

Now the ending with Rikka and Akane makes more sense: Akane made the purple-haired Akane to be her ideal avatar, and made Rikka, who more closely resembled her real-life self, to love her. Ergo, in her world, she loved herself. But Rikka taught her the power of friendship, and the need to wake up from dreams and not sink into Alexis-like abysses of darkness and despair.

A lot of this might sound corny, but the show expresses these well-worn ideals so earnestly and powerfully, it all comes together and works pretty well, which can be said of the show as a whole. Despite only catching a tiny portion of the references to Gridman and Gridman-esque works, SSSS was never not a pleasure to watch and listen to.

The ending could be said to be too neat and tidy, squandering a universe of potential alternate directions. But at the end of the day the lesson holds: just as friendships have value because we aren’t infinite or immortal beings, an imperfect finite ending will do just fine.

SSSS.Gridman – 11 – Backed Into A Corner

No matter how many kaiju Akane made and Alexis embiggened, they were never able to defeat Gridman. As a god suddenly hemmed in by the intolerable rule that her kaiju will and must always lose, she finally snapped and took matters into her own physical hands.

Rather than use her box cutter to carve a new kaiju, she stabbed Yuuta with it, then wanders away in a haze, hoping that maybe, just maybe, the torturous cycle is over.

It’s not that easy. She missed Yuuta’s vitals, so she didn’t kill him, though he seems to be in some kind of coma. With all the custodian kaiju beheaded, nothing in the city resets, and the chaos just remains. Worse still, as far as Alexis is concerned, nothing’s over.

Lex believes Anti to be the “next Gridman in line” and thus needs Akane to keep creating more kaiju for him to use. When she categorically refuses (pointedly saying she “can’t”, not “won’t”), he simply brings back all the kaiju she already made…at the same time.

A scenario entirely beyond Akane’s control and will thus unfolding, Anti arrives in the hospital room, not to apologize for what he did as a kaiju but to settle his debts as a human. He’ll fight off the kaiju as Gridknight, as Neon Genesis set to work repairing the computer so Yuuta and Gridman wake back up (they can’t sortie without Gridman).

In a brief dream sequence before he wakes up, Yuuta sees Gridman in the mirror, and it dawns on him: He’s not Yuuta; not really. Rather, he’s Gridman dwelling within Yuuta, using his body and mind as a vessel. The matter all along, then wasn’t that Yuuta had amnesia; he was never Yuuta to begin with, and thus whatever memories he had as Yuuta were as repressed as the real Yuuta himself, whom we’ve apparently never even met.

Shou is feeling particularly useless this week, and we can’t really blame him; aside from being the only person with the time to stay by Yuuta’s bedside when he wakes up, he is pretty useless this week. He can’t dissuade Gridman from a course of action that could get his friend killed.

Instead, Yuuta and Neon Genesis mobilize and fight beside a battered Anti against the kaiju “greatest hits,” destroying them all. Alexis can bring back the defeated kaiju all he wants; the fact remains they exist only to be beaten by Gridman.

Meanwhile, Rikka seeks out Akane, not to seek revenge or to give her a piece of her mind, but just to be there for her as a friend. Yes, Rikka may only think she’s Akane’s friend because Akane “set it up” that way, but Rikka doesn’t care; it doesn’t change the fact they are friends, through and through.

Before Rikka can hear what Akane thinks of her, they’re interrupted by Alexis, who labels their conversation “pointless” and tells Akane that new kaiju are needed post-haste. Again Akane tells him she can no longer make kaiju, but Alexis rephrases his position: he’s going to have a new kaiju, even if he has to transform Akane herself…which he promptly does, much to her and Rikka’s bewilderment.

Thus the downward spiral of Akane’s world reaches a new nadir: in which the creator of the world herself prepares to become just another one of the monsters programmed to fight Gridman. This seems to be breaking some fundamental rules of the “game” that’s been played so far, but Alexis doesn’t seem to mind. If Akane really does become another kaiju, isn’t she just as doomed to lose as the ones she created…or is that just another rule poised to be broken?

SSSS.Gridman – 10 – Akane’s in Her Heaven, All’s Wrong with the World

Akane has a dream in which Tonkawa and all of the other people she killed are back, but wakes up in the dark in her room, the weird “ceiling city” in the background, and Alexis looming over her, waiting for her to complete her next kaiju.

Yuuta, Rikka, Shou, and Neon Genesis all determine that if Akane is being controlled by an alien, they have to at least go to her house to talk with her. Somewhat hilariously, that means simply walking out the door to the junk stop and going next door to Akane’s house, but when the door is forced open, there’s nothing on the other end but…more “back-end” city.

Writing the slogan of NERV from Eva in his notebook, Shou gets back to his studies, saying that even if he, his world, and everything in it was made by Akane, there are still things that need to be done, like studying for midterm exams. After all, there are no kaiju attacks for several days in a row.

Yuuta, Rikka, and Gridman muse about why Akane built this world: was it to find tranquility, or refuge from the world of the other gods? Rikka thinks it wasn’t because Akane was/is weak, merely that she’s sensitive, and as she says so, the very sunset she beholds seems to speak to that sensitivity.

When a frankly fucked-up-looking kaiju suddenly disturbs the peace, I was wondering if Alexis had simply used one of the incomplete kaiju models Akane didn’t seem motivated to finish.

It certainly doesn’t take much for a full-powered Gridman to take it down, while a determined Anti in kaiju form doesn’t give him much more of a fight. Later, we learn that unique to all the other kaiju she’s created, Anti alone has “life”, which makes it possible for him to read the hearts of others, even think about or look out for them, something true kaiju would never do.

But Akane doesn’t seem to have a use for a kaiju with feelings, and so basically tells him to buzz off and do whatever he wants. Later that night, out of the husk of the dead weak kaiju, another, more aggressive-looking kaiju emerges.

It proceeds to chop the heads off all of the massive “custodian kaiju” that dot the city, and the pall of fog/poison gas they emit is lifted. When Gridman sorties once more, this new kaiju is more than a match, he can read all of Gridman’s moves and outmaneuver and outgun him.

It isn’t until this pointy-headed monster is looming over a trashed Gridman flat on his back, surrounded by flames, that Anti springs back into action, this time saving Gridman from the kaiju. His logic is that in order to crush him, he must fight together with him to defeat that which would crush him first. He doesn’t just want Gridman crushed by anyonehe wants to be the one do it.

Anti then transforms into a Gridman clone, or “Gridknight”, and with a shimmering purple energy donut, cleaves the kaiju—which represent’s Akane’s heart—in two. Perhaps that’s why Akane seems so down when she appears in the Junk Shop and inspects the computer used to interface with Gridman: one could say Anti just “broke her heart”.

In return, now knowing that Yuuta and Gridman are separate entities, she suddenly embraces Yuuta, then pulls away, revealing a bloodied knife as Yuuta falls to the ground.

For the first time, she’s foregone the use of kaiju or other godly powers and bloodied her own hands to rid her world of someone messing everything up. It would seem, then, that she’s made her choice, even if she doesn’t seem particularly happy about it.

SSSS.Gridman – 09 – Don’t Wake Up! , Or: The Intolerable Dilemma of Shinjou Akane

This week things start out different…and weird. Well, weird-er by SSSS standards. A new kaiju appears in the city, from the POV of a random passerby on the phone. We know there’s something fishy going on when Yuuta wakes up in Rikka’s apartment and Akane is there instead, even calling Rikka’s mother her’s.

There’s too much fog; too little activity; and in the glare of many a shiny object, Gridman can be seen for an instant, but goes unnoticed by a confused, amnesiac Yuuta, who at first takes it on face value that he and Akane is dating.

Meanwhile, at school, Rikka goes to the nurse’s office to find Akane already there. The two are friendly together, as friends are (and much like the end credits unfold), then Akane takes her to her house, as friends do. There are no parents, just Alexis, whose odd appearance Akane explains away as elaborate cosplay.

Then, in a repeat of an older scene, Akane strikes up a conversation with Shou in the bookstore about mecha and kaiju and the two hit it off, much to Shou’s delight. While walking home to or from school, we see Akane happily walking with Yuuta, her watch on his wrist. She leans in to hold his hand…and everything pauses.

These three scenarios involving Akane and the three members of the Gridman Alliance are all occurring in dreams. In “real life” (whatever that is) the three are unconscious on the couch in the junk store. The kaiju stands menacingly outside, striding about, but isn’t destroying anything.

As Anti learns when he tries to attacking it (being told by Neon Genesis that its keeping Gridman from appearing), it is a kaiju out of phase: unable to affect anything; unable to be affected. Akane is atop a construction crane with Alexis, watching the dreams…and hoping.

Not hoping to defeat Gridman, or kill someone she doesn’t like…but hoping these three can be re-made to be her friends, as they were originally programmed by her to be.

But the longer the three dwell in the dream, the more they feel like something’s not right. In a graveyard, in the glint of the gravestone of the family of one of the classmates Akane killed, Gridman appears again. In a flash, Yuuta’s memory has returned; at least the bit where he can be confident he’s currently in a dream.

After showering him with attention and rare swag, and about to be invited to Akane’s place to spend the night, Shou also snaps out of it; this is all just too good to be true; too ideal. On the bus, Rikka also quietly comes to the realization she’s not on a real bus and this isn’t her real life…and Akane just might not be a real friend.

She pleads for all three not to wake up; not to go. But they go. Three times she must watch someone get up and three times she must hear the sound of receding footsteps. Three times she’s left alone. Three times her hopes are shattered. The friends she made for herself have abandoned her and allied with each other. No matter what she tells them, or what she gives them, they’ll leave her for each other.

As the kaiju materializes and begins its march of destruction in the real world, the three friends run toward one another, and towards Gridman, in his time of need. Neon Genesis mobilizes on their own, de-scaling and combining into a kind of “substitute hero mecha” to bring down the kaiju.

What’s left is a cloud of dust, and Akane, in her created world, still profoundly, intolerably alone. She asks no one in particular what she should do before jumping from the tower and plummeting hundreds of feet. She lands on her feet, physically unharmed but clearly mentally spent.

At first, Akane was a one-dimensional villain: create kaiju to defeat Gridman every week. But after who-knows how many iterations of that scenario, Akane seems tired, worn out, and above all, lonely and miserable. If it was Alexis who gave her the powers she possesses, perhaps she was excited about having them….at first.

But now those powers have created a cycle without end with no friends to comfort her. A dream from which she cannot wake. A prison from which there is no escape—not even suicide.

As Yuuta, Rikka, and Shou wake up in the shop, and thank Gridman for bringing them out of their dreams, Gridman informs them there’s still a fourth human who must wake from their dream. Then Rikka tells everyone there’s something she wants them all to hear. I for one can’t wait to hear what that is.

So ends the best Gridman episode to date; one that harkens to the weirdest headspaces and corners of Evangelion (the background sound of clanging we hear at one point is straight from Rei’s ‘hood); and even one that seems to take some steps in its own directions after drawing from Gridman lore for so long.

Even if this is more of that borrowed and reimagined mythos, you couldn’t ask for a more gorgeous, cerebral, unnerving, and ultimately  heartbreaking execution. I’ve never felt more for Akane’s plight than I do now, which is quite a feat considering the wrongs she’s committed. And I hope that Rikka, Yuuta and Shou can help her escape her prison and wake from her dream.