Sword Art Online: Alicization – 19 – Femme Fatale

In the last episode, Alice warned Kirito to give her the unvarnished truth; anything less and she’d strike him down. That’s fine with him. He wants her to know the truth, because once she does, they won’t be enemies anymore.

Alice remarks that, like Kirito, Bercouli and other knights were worried that the forces of the Dark Territory were growing too large to deal with, but their concerns were dismissed by Chudelkin, in a classic “I don’t pay you lunkheads to think!” kind of response.

To hear her real surname, the name of her village, and the name of her sister Selka, brings Alice right to the cusp of remembering. She cannot deny that the pontifex has deceived the knights, so it’s well within her to have been the one to steal Alice’s memories of her human life and lie about it.

The moment Alice rejects the Pontifex’s authority, a System Alert appears in her right eye, which threatens to burst, just like Eugeo’s when he attacked Lord Raios the rapist. Of course, as we’ve seen, Alice is tough as cold-rolled steel, and with help from Kirito, manages to overcome the pain of the eye.

She’s done being Administrator’s puppet. All she asks is that before she regains Alice’s memories, Kirito promises to take her to Rulid to see her sister. He promises, and just like that, the forced foes are are finally allies, and she is committed to the same goal as him: raising a human army to fight the Dark forces.

If only it were so simple. When Eugeo comes to from his deep-freeze, he’s in a dream, in the house where he grew up. His mother is on the bed, but it’s not really his mother, it’s Administrator, telling him he’s the one who killed his own father and brothers so that his mother would love only him.

Eugeo wakes up from the disturbing dream in Administrator’s bedchamber atop the Cathedral, and it’s clear what route the main boss will be taking in neutralizing him as a threat: by exploiting and amplifying his deep-seated longing for the total and unconditional love of someone, anyone.

First of all, I have to note the love with which Administrator is rendered throughout this sequence: she’s ethereally gorgeous, and combined with the delicate, aloof, and haunting voice of Sakamoto Maaya, she cuts quite the bewitching profile. Administrator can also claim to know Eugeo better than he knows himself, and backs this up by telling him all about his life and where it has never gone right: in the love department.

He may love his mother, but she loved their brothers and her husband too. He may love Alice, but she also loves Kirito (and Administrator jacks up the jealousy by showing him a memory of the two kissing as kids). Tiese is the closest thing to someone giving him all their love, but Administrator insists she’ll forget him, as everyone else has. And there’s nothing Eugeo fears in that moment more than not being loved or remembered.

Administrator proceeds to lay the seduction on treacle-thick, slowly disrobing and drawing the entranced Eugeo towards her, until he’s on top of her on the bed. She offers all of her love, and unimaginable pleasure, in exchange for Eugeo offering everything he has in return. In other words, a simple monetary transaction. Due to her otherworldly charms, Eugeo is in no mental condition to refuse her, and repeats after her the words “System Call: Remove Core Protection.”

Regarding this development, it’s a good thing Kirito has managed to bring Alice back to his side, because it sure looks like Administrator has manipulated Eugeo into joining hers. That probably means that order to get to her, they’ll have to through him first. Just as Alice is breaking the Pontifex’s hold over her, she’s fitting shackles on Eugeo, and trading one integrity knight for another—and one trained Aincrad style, to boot.

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Boogiepop wa Warawanai – 09 – The Tower

All quotes are from Biddy Tarot.

The Tower shows a tall tower perched on the top of a rocky mountain. Lightning strikes set the building alight, and two people leap from the windows, head first and arms outstretched. It is a scene of chaos and destruction.

The Tower itself is a solid structure, but because it has been built on shaky foundations, it only takes one bolt of lightning to bring it down. It represents ambitions and goals made on false premises.

When Masaki visits Aya’s flat, he quickly finds evidence that she was up to all kinds of strange, and when Aya answers, she’s reluctant to involve him any further than he is. After all, she’s been using and betraying him all this time. Their relationship was built on lies, so it’s only natural for it to crumble now.

Except that Masaki doesn’t care what Aya says she’s done to him. He cherishes the time they spent together, and he fell in love with her. So no matter how shaky she insists the foundation of his love may be, he’s still willing to take a leap of faith for her. He won’t give up on her, even after she’s given up on herself.

The lightning represents a sudden surge of energy and insight that leads to a break-through or revelation.

It enters via the top of the building and knocks off the crown, symbolising energy flowing down from the Universe, through the crown chakra.

Desperate to solve—and witness the resolution of—the case of the Imaginator, Suema speaks with Kotoe, who tells her where she was when Spooky E first brainwashed her: the abandoned Paisley Park, with its tower called The Ladder. It’s the tower Masaki sees a plane fly over—a plane he can hear on Aya’s end during their call.

Thus both Masaki and Suema head towards this Tower: a symbol of change, upheaval, chaos, revelation, and awakening. Atop that tower, Jin/Imaginator seek to bring about all of those things by tearing out Aya’s heart a creating a seed that will take root in the hearts of everyone in the city, bringing them under Imaginator’s control. From there, the seed will spread across Japan and eventually, the rest of the world.

The people are desperate to escape from the burning building, not knowing what awaits them as they fall.

Around them are 22 flames, representing the 12 signs of the zodiac and 10 points of the Tree of Life, suggesting that even in times of disaster, there is always divine intervention.

Masaki gets a head start to Paisley Park by borrowing Nagi’s motorcycle, but he’s met by Jin’s army of “thralls”, all of them protected by the thick padding of mascot costumes. Just as he’s about to be injected with nothing good, the real Boogiepop suddenly comes to the fake Boogiepop’s aid.

After dispatching the thralls, Boogiepop blares some Wagner on the park’s loudspeakers while she explains to Masaki that all his fear had been brainwashed away by Spooky E. This leads him to question whether his feelings for Aya were genuine or a product of his brainwashing.

Boogiepop puts the question to him: how does he know when, if ever, he’s exercised his true free will? After all, isn’t the process of adapting oneself to society its own kind of brainwashing? In the context of not having freedom one way or another, her next question is: what does he value most?

Thankfully, the Tower doesn’t always associate with pain and turmoil. If you are highly aware and in tune with your inner guidance system, then this Tarot card can indicate a spiritual awakening or revelation.

You may be able to see the cracks forming and take action before the whole structure comes tumbling down.

Boogiepop leaves Masaki and reappears atop the tower, where Jin is poised to sacrifice an Aya seemingly resigned to this fate. When he looks into her heart and finds nothing, Jin panics; this is someone he can’t manipulate. Yet after a brief interlude with a gun, she assures him he can do what he was planning to do and she won’t stop him.

When Jin attempts to tear out Aya’s heart, his hand goes right through the rose. Aya laments that she expected such a thing to happen, because Jin needed a human sacrifice, and she’s not a real human. Boogiepop revels in the fact that even had she not intervened, Imaginator had already lost by choosing Aya. By only looking towards a new future under her control,  Imaginator chose “shaky foundations” to build her tower, and now it’s crumbling.

You may create a massive transformation before you reach the point where change is your only option.

In its most positive form, the Tower card is your opportunity to break free from the old ways of thinking that have been holding you back.

Imaginator separates herself from Jin, who leaps out of the tower in the process. But like the divine intervention suggested in the Tower Card, Boogiepop arrests his fall before he dies. Without Imaginator, Asukai Jin is no enemy of Boogiepop’s, and Boogiepop doesn’t take lives without purpose.

She tells Aya that even if Imaginator had succeeded in changing everyone’s hearts and removing the pain, that change would only be temporary, and eventually fade away. Imaginator and Jin alike were missing a very important fact about the hearts they saw: that they can change without their help; and grow through communication with others. Boogiepop also assures Aya there’s something deep in her heart that would have protected her from tampering.

Be it real or synthetic, a different kind of seed has taken root in her heart; that of love for Masaki. It’s a seed that’s replicated in his own heart, and survived all emotional attacks against it. Before disappearing into the either, Imaginator salutes the half-paralyzed Masaki and the love in his and AYa’s hearts, which neither she nor Jin could manage to break through.

Suema, disappointed she arrived too late to have any significant role in the resolution of the case, is asked by a departing Boogiepop to go up the tower and bring Aya down so she can be with Masaki, whose head is again in Aya’s lap when he comes to, while Nagi is by their side, glad he’s okay.

Aya and Masaki built a stronger structure than they thought, and it holds together even after those of Spooky E, Towa, Asukai Jin, and Imaginator have crumbled to dust…all with nothing more than a little help from that plucky reaper, Boogiepop. Suema takes comfort in knowing some like that really is out there.

Iroduku: The World in Colors – 13 (Fin) – Back to the Future…In Color!

The structure of the Irodoku finale is simple: Everyone says their goodbyes before Hitomi heads off back to her proper time. Shou (“I loved…your photos”), Chigusa (“Uhh…Smile more, I guess?”), Kurumi (“Don’t make me cry!”), Asagi (“I don’t care, I’m crying!”), and Kohaku (“See you in 60 years!”) each get their turn as the star sand matures, but when it’s time for Yuito, both he and Hitomi hesitate to say everything the want to say, despite the fact this may be the last time they see each other.

Turns out Hitomi, or rather Hitomi’s unconscious magic, isn’t going to be satisfied with their sedate, half-assed goodbyes. The magical device starts to malfunction, and Hitomi is swallowed up into another full-dive illusion. Only Yuito jumps into the stream and ends up in the same place. He rushes about looking and finally finds her, devoid of color, and they embrace.

They thank each other for having such profound effects on each other’s lives before confessing their love to each other, saying all the things left unsaid before. Yuito was all but done drawing before she showed up, and Hitomi couldn’t see colors. Both had shut themselves into dark, gray corners, but now the walls of those corners have shattered and given way to brilliant colors.

But as I predicted, love is the answer here. Saying she loves Yuito and hearing that he loves her back is enough to restore color to her world; this time, permanently. In the moments before she’s sent back to the future, she can see everyone and the town in color for the first time.

Kohaku privately remarks that it wasn’t her time magic that sent Hitomi back; it was Hitomi’s own unconscious magic simply wearing off. Shortly after Hitomi disappears, Kohaku gets a text from “Kohaku Level 77” in the year 2078: Hitomi has returned safe and sound.

Her life-changing journey thus at an end, Hitomi finds herself on the same hill where she left her granny, and they embrace tearfully. Kohaku (she insists Hitomi call her that rather than “Granny” since they became such good friends in the past) then presents Hitomi with a time capsule containing all the photos they took together.

It was probably already there, buried in the yard, before Hitomi left; Kohaku always knew she’d become a great enough mage to send Hitomi back. She’s just glad her action led to Hitomi finding happiness. Finally, she shows Kohaku the children’s book she read as a child—the only thing she saw in color. Turns out, it was written by Aoi Yuito.

After leaving flowers at her mother’s grave, Hitomi, brimming with the confidence her time in the past awakened, reconnects with her friends with school and starts an all-new Magic Photography Arts Club. As for where the 70ish-year-old Yuito and the others are…the show does not disclose that, nor does Hitomi seem in a hurry to seek them out.

That seems strange, since one would’ve thought Kohaku would have kept in touch with one if not all of them, and one would think that due to advances in technology people would live longer than they do in 2018. Alas, this finale wasn’t about Hitomi reconnecting with her friends from the past (other than Kohaku), nor her rather uninspiring romance with Yuito.

It was about Hitomi leaving that dark corner where she shut herself off, embracing all of the new colors in her world, and resuming her life in her time. She got what she needed in the past. Now it’s time to build a new happy future for herself.—MagicalChurlSukui

Golden Kamuy – 20 – Inkarmat Holmes

Ah, the seaside. Warm breeze, giant sunfish, sea otter meat, and…swarms of locusts?! Golden Kamuy brings a lot of people together, but then immediately splits them apart, both with the swarm, and with sudden clashing stories about who is dangerous and who is (still) working for Tsurumi.

When Sugimoto, Shiraishi, Ogata and Tanigaki seek refuge in a building and proceed to cook the sea otter stew, they all start to get very horny and see sexier versions of each other (including the latecomer Kiroranke), resulting in a ridiculous sumo orgy. There’s more serious activity afoot outside, as a highly suspicious Asirpa demands Inkarmat tell her how she knows her father.

According to Inkarmat, Nopperabo they’re seeking isn’t her father at all. Her father is a man named Wilk, whom Inkarmat befriended and even fell for (though he only regarded her as a child). Wilk, Inkarmat tells her, was murdered by his best friend…Kiroranke.

That night, just as the others are coming down from the sea otter, Inkarmat mounts Tanigaki and disrobes. While there are any number of reasons she decided to sleep with him (including genuine attraction, which is definitely there) she later attributes the lay with the sea otter’s legendary aphrodisiac effects.

Once everyone is reassembled on the beach, Asirpa immediately confronts Kiroranke with what Inkarmat just told her. When Kiroranke plays innocent, Inkarmat produces evidence in the form of fingerprint matching.

Then Ogata draws his rifle on her, accusing her of working for Tsurumi, but she says she was only using Tsurumi. Tanigaki puts himself between Inkarmat and Ogata’s gun, and Ogata accuses him of letting himself be seduced.

It’s a big mess, with multiple people suspecting each other of murder, or conspiracy, or some such foul play. This week Sugimoto not only gets the horny sumo orgy started, but also plays the role of peacemaker (after all, no one is pointing any fingers at him for anything).

He tells everyone that their mission remains the same: go to Abashiri and meet with Nopperabo for answers. He half-jokingly warns that whoever “makes their move”, resulting in another member of the group suddenly meeting their maker, will share the fate of their victim. Call it Mutually Assured Justice.

Tsurumi’s intel network is formidable, and he is informed the moment the reunited group is headed to the prison. He even has a mole there, posing as a greenhorn noob. His superior officer is ordered by the warden to “feed him to the pigs” when his duplicity is uncovered, but the young lad make quick work of the two inmates who ambush him. Looks like our friends are heading straight into a hornet’s nest. What else is new?

As for the post-credits sequence in which a wagon is robbed in the night by a crack shot with a pistol…not enough info to form an opinion one way or another, except to assume the able gunman in question will probably cross paths with either Tsurumi, Hijikata, or Sugimoto & Co.

Golden Kamuy – 19 – Missing Something

The reunion of Tanigaki, Inkarmat, and Cikapasi with Asirpa and the others was facilitated by Ainu hunters who then invite the whole gang to their kitan as they perform a post-bear-hunting ceremony, in which they tell the other gods that the world of humans is a good place. Asirpa is once again the “tour guide” describing the Ainu concept of kamuy.

Tanigaki then tells her about Huci, but Asirpa can’t go home yet, not when she’s so close to Abashiri and learning the secrets of her father. Instead, Tanigaki decides to stay by Asirpa’s side and assist her in her efforts. Asirpa also gives Inkarmat a look that seems to ask  what does this woman want?, which is also something I’d like to know.

One of the Ainu hunters recognizes Tanigaki’s rifle as having once belonged to the hunter Nihei Tetsuzou, whom he once hunted bear with. At the time Tetsuzou revealed the purpose of the seven notches in the rifle: they were made by his only son, who died in battle.

He made a notch for every enemy he killed, but his father would never know whether he lost count or simply died once he’d reached seven. He just wishes he’d never gone to war and simply stayed with him and hunted bear.

Koito, who like the taxidermist is in love with Tsurumi, reports on his failure to keep a hold of Shiraishi, and Tsurumi thinks Koito’s consolation prize of the con artist’s tattooed skin has the wrong marks, suggesting it may be fake. He assigns Koito to henceforth assist him in hunting down those who would prevent the 7th from its glorious victory.

When Koito mentions how Ogata was with Shiraishi and the others on the airship, Tsurumi laments how someone he was sure would be loyal is no longer in the fold. He regails Koito of the tragic tale Ogata told him, of how he was the bastard son of the famous Lt. General Hanazawa and a prostitute who went mad hoping that he’d come back to her if she kept making monkfish stew.

She did that instead of loving her son, who one day poisoned his mother to end her suffering, and also to see if his father would come to her funeral; he didn’t. He then met his half-brother in the army and could tell that he had a family who loved him. He shot that brother in the head, again to see if his father would simply think of his other son and his mother.

Finally, with Tsurumi’s help, Ogata performs seppuku on his own father General Hanazawa, who curses him as a failure of a son who was always “missing something.” Whatever that “something” was, it couldn’t have helped that Ogata never had anyone in his life who loved him. The closest he got was Lt. Tsurumi’s attempt at seduction, which, unlike, say, Koito, didn’t interest him in the least.

Back in the present, when Sugimoto, Asirpa, and the gang reach the sea and jump for joy, Ogata is watching their backs with binoculars, still searching for that thing he’s missing. Could he one day find it by sticking with these folks?

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 06 – One Big Weapons Project

Now that Asuna has revealed herself, Kikuoka must answer some questions for her. It turns out he wasn’t lying when he said Kirito was receiving treatment he couldn’t receive anywhere else. They have him in a full-spec STL that is gradually rebuilding his damaged brain, though they still don’t know if he’ll ever wake up.

However, Kikuoka didn’t bring Kirito to Rath HQ out of the kindness of his heart. As an SDF official, he has always sought new ways to fight wars ever since the NerveGear came out. When fully copying the souls of fully-formed real-world adults failed (none will ever accept they are copies), they had to use the copies of infant souls, and raise them in a controlled virtual environment where they’d accept their existence—bottom-up AI.

While that in and of itself was a major achievement, it caused problems for Kikuoka vis-a-vis his ultimate goal: to develop a new weapon for the defense of Japan. The AIs followed the law—the Taboo Index—precisely and without exception. The Underworld was a utopia with no crime…until Alice crossed that border as a result of her dealings with Kirito, whom they placed into the world after wiping his memory.

In effect, Kirito was the chaotic element they needed in order to “teach” their homegrown bottom-up AIs to break the law; even to murder. Alice, or A.L.I.C.E. (a rather tortured acronym I will not repeat), was the first product of introducing Kirito to the project: the first AI to dissent and resist the Taboo Index (even if it was accidental).

That, Kikuoka hopes, is the first step towards building an army of artificial fluctlights capable of killing an enemy, which will mean no longer having to sacrifice real-world soldiers in conflicts—a huge strategic advantage that could elevate real-world Japan to the highest echelons of global power.

Of course, this opens up a tremendous ethical and philosophical can of worms; one so large Kikuoka himself isn’t interested in pondering it beyond the limited scope of what is essentially a weapon R&D project. But having experienced about as much virtual life as Kirito, Asuna is not okay with exploiting souls that are the cognitive equal to real-world humans as, well, cannon fodder. Perhaps they’re not real humans, but they’re close enough for it to be wrong.

Nevertheless, in the imperfect human world, two or more wrongs often make a right, and while Kikuoka is definitely putting out some serious supervillain vibes with his secret base and yukata, his intentions to eliminate the human cost of war are noble. But he execution has yielded the creation of a new race of beings that aren’t necessarily his to do with as he pleases.

Project Alicization is, in a way, one massive crime against virtual humanity. While she loved Kayaba too much to kill him, Koujirou Rinko is still aware of the role she played in his crimes.  But when she confesses that role to Asuna, Asuna is forgiving, because she doesn’t feel she’s in any position to forgive.

Asuna and Kirito, like Rinko and Kayaba, have also committed crimes in their various virtual dealings. But all they can do is accept that and move forward, learning the lessons that had to be learned. And right now those lessons are telling Asuna that Kikuoka is doing is wrong, even if it is saving Kirigaya Kazuto.

I imagine at some point Asuna is going to plug into one of those unused STLs, to reunite with Kirito and, if he ends up remembering her, confer with him on how they should deal with Kikuoka and his monstrously advanced experiment.

Even assuming Kikuoka had free reign to do as he pleased, there are so many complex variables in his system that something unexpected is sure to arise. If and when it all blows up in his face, he’ll need people like Asuna and Kirito to clean up his mess.

Happy Sugar Life – 12 (Fin) – Nothing But Fun

That’s what Matsuzaka Satou sought for her and for Koube Shio: a world without bitterness or pain; i.e. a world quite the opposite of the one they’d inhabited to that point. Their love for, acceptance of and devotion to one another is the fuel that keeps them moving toward that goal—that, and Auntie’s trash bag full of cash.

All that’s left is to go to the airport, let Auntie do her work, be rid of the old sad bitter world forever, and when they step off the airplane they’ll be in a happy sugar world, where they’ll never have to suffer or despair again, and where they’ll have each other.

That was the plan, at least. Ironically, it’s Satou’s love that makes her take off her ring, so it won’t be sullied by the work of dressing Shouko’s corpse (if she is, in fact, 100% dead when we see her). Forgetting that ring, that symbol of their love, and going back for it at the worst possible time, proves to be Satou’s undoing.

Auntie ties Taiyou up in between “abusing” him—rape is heavily implied)—she didn’t gag him, perhaps because she liked hearing him squeal. That preference is also her undoing (if she cared about self-preservation, of course), as he’s able to get a call to Asahi telling him where he is.

Asahi arrives just as Taiyou escapes—and happens to bump into Satou and Shio in the lobby. They should never have come back for a stupid ring.

Satou and Shio head upstairs to find Taiyou, but they get away from him as well (he’s tied up) as Auntie, who assumes Satou is well on her way to freedom (and damn well should be) ignites the fire on the twelfth floor that will engulf Shouko and supposedly, any evidence tying her to Satou.

Asahi hurries to Room 1205 and finds Shouko there, dead and surrounded by flames, inflaming his rage even more. When he, Satou and Shio cross paths again, he lets her have it with his bat, injuring her leg, but Shio steps between them to prevent further violence.

Shio, exercising her own agency, tells her brother she’s done with her family, and all she wants or needs is Satou, and he’s just going to have to deal. Asahi tells her that their mother only abandoned her because she was in over her head and didn’t want to become their monster father (whom she poisoned to death).

But it doesn’t really matter why she did it anymore; Shio has moved on and isn’t coming back. She’s going to live for herself now, as Asahi should learn to do, rather than defining his life as finding and protecting her. Just then, the flames cut their chat short, and Satou and Shio make a run for the roof…where they are trapped.

Shio tells Satou that it would be alright if they die together by jumping, because they’ll surely be reborn together in that new world they’ve been hoping to reach (but again, couldn’t thanks to one dumb ring).

That potential New Happy Sugar Life flashes before them as they fall, but Satou makes one small change to Shio’s plan: she doesn’t let Shio die, shielding her from the impact of the ground with her larger body.

Shio survives, but Satou does not. She and Shouko are mentioned in the same news report, but as casualties of the fire, not murderer and victim.

Rather, Auntie is suspected, and gladly surrenders herself, having done everything she could for the sake of her niece’s love. Satou’s teacher is arrested in front of his family, Taiyou continues to obsess over his angel in his room.

As for Shio, she’s in hospital, and Asahi comes to visit her, promising to fill the void left by their parents, by society, and finally, by the loss of Satou. But Shio smiles in a very Satou-esque way; there is no void, not from her perspective.

Shio believes Satou sacrificed herself and became a part of her—which is kind of true, in an emotional sense—and as such Shio feels she’ll never be alone again. She still doesn’t need Asahi. She gained more than she lost, and she’s resolved to live her best life for herself and Satou. How exactly she’ll be supporting herself, a minor with no money or job, is left unspecified.

HSL is the story of deeply damaged people and the different ways the consequences of that damage unfold in their lives. There’s a solid causality to everything that, while hardly absolving most anyone of their numerous crimes or obsessions, at least explains them satisfactorily, and makes them subjects of pity rather than simple loathing.

People can grow up to be decent people even if there’s abuse or trauma in their lives, and without traditional families, or no families at all. But that’s an ideal; it doesn’t always happen. It usually doesn’t happen. And when it does (see Taiyou) it doesn’t always mean someone will “turn out” “alright.”

But even in the darkest places, some small amount of light can emerge, some small amount of happiness can be found, and a sweet but twisted love can take root between kindred damaged souls, filling their jars and giving them reason to keep living.

Happy Sugar Life – 11 – Turning a Page

Kobe Asahi makes a big meal out of finally taking the gloves off, so to speak, but all he manages to do is threaten Taiyou to find Satou’s address. Even the slightest glimmer of hope he’ll find his angel leads Taiyou to obeying Asahi’s order.

Meanwhile, Satou is resolved to starting a new life with Shio…but she needs help, and calls upon the only adult she feels she can trust: her demented Auntie. Auntie is totally unfazed by Satou’s confession of murder—she lays with murderers all the time—and is even able to guess that the “little bird” Shouko was her victim.

But for all of Satou’s talk of her love being right and Auntie’s being wrong, Auntie points out to Satou that she is still legally a child, and cannot take responsibility. So Satou tells Auntie to take responsibility—for the messed up childhood she bestowed upon Satou, by helping her and Shio disappear.

Auntie picks up a semi-disguised Satou and finally meets Chio, who is easily taken in by Auntie’s kind and syrupy-sweet introduction. After taking them around buying both the means to fake Satou’s death, Satou procures passports from her kohai from work.

As for Taiyou, his dream of meeting Shio again becomes a nightmare when he ends up at the address on file at the cafe, which is Auntie’s apartment. While Taiyou becomes another doomed fly stuck in her web, Satou and Chio doll themselves up as brides and exchange vows and a kiss, marking the beginning of their new Happy Sugar Lives together.

With Asahi depending on Taiyou and Taiyou, well, doomed, one wonders what obstacles, if any, remain on Satou’s path to achieving that life. We’ll find out in the finale.

Hanebado! – 11 – Creating a Monster

“Why do you play badminton?” That question is oft asked in Hanebado!. Characters ask other characters, and also ask themselves. “Because I love it” seems to be a pretty popular answer. I mean, why participate in a sport and work hard at it if you don’t feel a kind of affinity for it, or because it makes you feel good?

Ayano claims not to subscribe to such a glib answer. Everyone who says they play because they love it seems to get on her nerves. Perhaps it’s envy, or perhaps it’s obfuscation. Regardless, Ayano isn’t in this for the love of the game; she’s in it for revenge against the mother who abandoned her—even as that mother claims she left her so she would become stronger.

You can call Ayano’s decision to renounce her mother a kind of growth, but there’s just as much Nagisa growth on display this week. For one thing, she’s learned not to get bothered by Ayano’s haughty provocations. She’s also learned not to push herself too far.

As Ayano is trying her best not to let the sudden reappearance of her mother throw her off her game (she sees it as yet another hurdle to clear), Nagisa is trying to get to bed at a reasonable hour the night before the match; though she can’t sleep and instead studies film of Ayano, ending up with less than three hours of sleep.

The day of the match, Ayano’s “teammates” encourage her, but she rejects that encouragement as a waste of time; her performance won’t be affected either way by their words. It’s the last display of cruel pomposity Elena is willing to bear. She takes Ayano aside and learns of Ayano’s plan to abandon her mom. And Elena blames herself for making Ayano join the club.

I can’t say I disagree with that placing of blame; while Ayano was hardly in a good place emotionally prior to being forced into joining club, the fact that she had come to hate badminton meant she had find a reason other than love of the game in order to prosper in it. With the best of intentions, Elena created a monster.

When play begins, Nagisa shows growth once more by playing a different game; not relying too much on her smash, and using more deception and less aggressive bull-headedness. She’s rewarded by winning the first two points of the first set. She also has the crowd behind her.

Elena spots Uchika walking out after her daughter’s two lost points, and as the rain starts to fall, expresses her desire to talk about Ayano with her. Meanwhile, Ayano, who didn’t see Uchika leave and probably doesn’t much care anymore, is hardly fazed by Nagisa’s surprisingly strong start.

In fact, she’s mildly amused, and then blurts out the strategy Nagisa is trying to employ. Nagisa was able to use the element of surprise to steal a couple of points, but she knew it wouldn’t be long before Ayano picked up on what was going on and adjusted her game.

While it only took Ayano two points for her to analyze Nagisa’s strategy, the show seems to want to present the possibility Nagisa could beat Ayano…but we’ll have to wait at least one of the final two episodes to know the final result. All we know is that Ayano will have a counterattack…and that we’re probably in for more flashbacks next week!

Happy Sugar Life – 10 – Partners in Crime

Shio believes everyone’s heart is a jar made of glass. If it isn’t regularly filled with love, or is hit by various stresses, it will crack and break, and when it does, there’s no coming back.

Shio is worried Satou’s jar is dangerously close to shattering, so she tries to do as much as she can. She covers her with a blanket, warms up the curry, and throws her clothes in the wash—where she sees Satou’s bloodstained clothes.

Seeing Satou in such a state reminds Shio of her last days with her mom, who became destitute when she finally left her abusive husband. Shio wanted to do what she could then too, including replace her mother’s “jar” with a new one she sees across the street.

But in doing so, Shio is almost hit by a truck, and her mom’s jar breaks. She takes Shio on a walk in the rain, then stops and leaves her there, saying a simple “goodbye.” Her mom’s jar was broken, and she was simply…done.

When Satou awakens, she pretends like nothing’s wrong, but immediately starts talking about their next home. After all her talk about the castle where they’d live happily ever after, it wounds Shio to hear Satou so gung-ho about abandoning it.

But more than that, Shio is hurt by what Satou isn’t saying, and by all the things she’s hiding. When Satou tells Shio all she needs to do is smile and love her, it reminds her of her mother, who also asked nothing of Shio but to stay put; to stay safe.

Shio won’t have it; not anymore. She doesn’t like Satou’s secrets, or her vision of how she should be to her, which is to act as little more than a human doll. She storms off, and in her anger, tells Satou she hates her. Satou then becomes paralyzed with despair.


The same night Shio’s mother abandoned her, Satou happened to be walking around, and meets Shio, asking her why she isn’t chasing after her mom. Shio tells her it’s because what she felt toward her mother wasn’t love, it was just a desperate hope her mom would keep living, so she could live.

With an attitude well beyond her not numerous years, she decides not being with her mom anymore is for the best. But she also realizes she was too harsh with Satou. She doesn’t hate her; but she hates how Satou shoulders the burden of protecting her.

From now on, Shio wants Satou to tell her everything, and they’ll share the burden and protect each other. In other words, a more balanced relationship where Shio has agency. Satou agrees, and tells Shio all of the horrible things she’s done to keep her safe, including killing someone. Shio accepts it all and fills Satou’s jar…because Satou fills and strengthened hers.

Happy Sugar Life – 09 – Eliminating All Risks

In exchange for the change to see and be purified by Shio, Taiyo follows through with Satou’s instructions, giving Asahi Shio’s sock and telling a tale about it being found at a station some distance away. A cordial exchange quickly devolves into nastiness when Asahi smells some kind of trickery afoot, and then triggers Taiyo into a rage by calling him a “dirty adult”; pretty much the worst insult you can throw his way.

Still, Asahi regrets how things ended, and decides to take Taiyos advice and travel afar for more clues. The night before he leaves he meets Shouko in the park once more. Shouko thinks everything about Asahi is amazing, and while he’s not manly or her type at all, a part of her is jealous of Shio for having such a gallant prince willing to move forward no matter how much it may hurt or how scared he is. She bids him farewell with an exchange of contact info, and a kiss.

Satou is at the station to make sure Asahi is on his way, then returns home to 1208 to spend the whole day with Shio. It just happens to be the “anniversary” of the day she first kidnapped her. Satou celebrates by buying a bunch of fancy sweets which the two share together, and when Shio brings up the future, and securing said future together with the bonds of marriage, Satou is ready with two rings.

Both she and Shio are happy beyond words; giddy, even. And in a moment of particularly intense giddiness, Shio pounces on Satou as she’s exiting the front door…

…Where Shouko is waiting there with her cameraphone, and snaps a picture of Shio with Satou. It’s a devastating needle scratch but also a welcome glass of cold ice water on Satou’s frankly impossible (and ridiculously amoral) fantasy dream world. Her Happy Sugar Life is a sham; a mere house of cards that falls all too easily once a sliver of reality peeks in.

And yet, as evil as Satou’s actions are, Shouko comes with at least a veneer of non-judgment, acceptance, and love of and for Satou, no matter what she’s become, what she’s done. No matter how far she’s sunk into the muck, Shouko wants to pull her out and back into the light—the real light. But Shouko is doomed the moment Satou saw her on the balcony; before she even snapped that picture.

In a thoroughly unpleasant, sickeningly brutal scene, Satou grabs Shouko from behind as she’s leaving, sticks a knife in her throat, and suffocates her with her hand as she bleeds out. Another risk eliminated. She used soft power on Asahi, but had to go hard with Shouko, who kept persisting and interfering.

But Shouko’s death wasn’t in vain. The photo of Shio with Satou reaches Asahi. Will he be prudent enough to report Shio’s kidnapping to trained authorities and let them deal with Satou, or will he try to go after her alone? How will Satou deal with Shouko’s body, and will her murder spark a purge of more “risks”?

Most importantly, how will Shio respond to this once the initial shock wears off? Perhaps Shio herself could end up dealing the decisive blow to Satou’s delusional,  impossible world of sugar and happiness. The foundations of that world are as rotten as her aunt’s apartment; they’re sinking ever deeper into the earth made soft by spilled blood.

Happy Sugar Life – 08 – How We Got Here, Where We’re Going

Now the picture of Matsuzaka Satou is that much more complete. Room 1208, the cage in which she now keeps Shio, was once the apartment where a loner artist resided. He didn’t want anything from Satou except for her to pose, and let her talk about whatever she wanted.

In the minimalist first half, it’s just Hanazawa Kana as Satou talking. The artist responds, but we only hear static, and never get a good look at him. It doesn’t really matter who he is, but what he wanted. He wanted Satou to remain incomplete and unsatisfied, so he could keep drawing her.

That changed when, one day, for reasons unexplained, Satou brought Shio to 1208. Before long, she started to feel something around her she felt for no one else; she became complete; satisfied. In other words, everything the artist didn’t want.

So he tried to get rid of Shio in the most reckless fumbling way: trying to choke her to death when Satou was out of the room. Of course, she enters, and the atelier becomes a violent murder scene.

Since Shio was a witness to it—albeit likely dazed/disoriented by the choking—it sure looks like the creepy figure she’s drawn in the closet is Satou herself. Shio carries the trauma every day, and it occasionally surfaces. That’s a problem!

Taiyo comes to a kind of revelation: he needs to give up on Shio and try to become a normal guy again. He’s content to keep the wanted poster in his pocket as he puts the pieces of his past life back together, not letting the trauma of the abuse he endured further mire him.

Unfortunately, his resolve to reform is brittle, and Satou finds him at the perfect time to shatter it, offering Shio’s still-warm sock to prove she’s serious about letting the “knight” meet the “angel” and let her “purify” him. All he has to do is get rid of the person trying to take Shio away from her.

I first thought Satou wanted Taiyo to get rid of the teacher, but I rethought that conclusion when Asahi gets a call from someone offering him a clue as to Shio’s whereabouts. I immediately thought that this was the first step in the plan Taiyo is carrying out for Satou.

Complicating matters is that Asahi is the one who finds Shouko at her lowest point, cursing herself for rejecting Satou when Satou needed her most and wanting to “disappear.” Asahi assures her she’s a kind and good person—the type of person prone to always laming themselves.

Asahi comforts Shouko and cheers her up, and they now seem to be friends, since she’s still by his side when he gets that phone call. If Asahi is Satou’s target via Taiyo, I doubt Shouko will escape uninvolved.

Happy Sugar Life – 07 – What are Friends? What is Love?

Satou’s teacher sees her with Shouko and doesn’t like the fact that she seems to be sharing “dirty little secret.” Of course, Sensei is operating under the assumption that Satou’s parents died early and she was brought up by her aunt in an environment devoid of the love humans need to grow up to become “normal.”

He believes Satou snapped one day, murdered her aunt, chopped her into pieces, and gave the bags to him to incinerate. It’s as good a theory as any judging from the evidence he has…but he doesn’t quite have enough for the whole picture, and as a result, he’s dead wrong.

Satou doesn’t take Shouko to the apartment where she lives with Shio; she takes her to her aunt’s apartment. Her aunt turns out to be very much alive, and the cops are at her door answering reports of a “suspicious smell” emanating from the apartment.

Satou’s aunt may be alive, but to the horror of both Shouko and the cops, she’s completely whacked out of her gourd. Seiyu Inoue Kikuko, a grizzled veteran of anime who’s played dozens of mothers, balances the sweet kindness of her voice with an underlying malaise.

Everyone who enters her apartment, and sees horrid room in which she sleeps, immediately wants to leave and take a shower. But before the cops can leave, having found nothing law-breaking, she literally jumps on the male cop, senses he’s lonely, and tells him he can do whatever he wants to her and she’ll accept it—sex, violence, violent sex…anything.

This, Satou later tells Shouko, is how her aunt considered “love”, being a receptacle for whatever other people wanted to give her, good, bad, and ugly…all of it. And she’s never changed, and likely never will, as the cops (and you could say society at large) are neither properly equipped or empowered to “do anything” about her.

The female cop manages to wrest her partner away (and turns down the aunt’s invitation to her), and then turns to Shouko, who she also senses is “lonely” and is looking for her “prince.” Satou comes between them and ushers Shouko out of the apartment. Halfway to walking her home, Shouko expresses herself honestly; that she thought Satou’s aunt was hella weird.

When Satou asks if, now knowing the woman who raised her and how she sees love, if Shouko will still be friends with her. When Shouko hesitates to answer, Satou tells her they can go back to being “just friends at work.” and leaves. Shouko wanted to know the truth, and she only got a small taste, and it was way too much, but she’s still ashamed.

After shedding her tail, Sensei, with some properly dominating language, Satou leaves her aunt’s apartment’s front door, marked 305, and walks up to her apartment with Shio, number 1208, where she continues her Happy Sugar Life, untroubled by what went down with Shouko.

But then we flash back to the rainy day she didn’t want to go home to her aunt anymore. Someone chatted her up, invited her to their apartment (1208), and asked her to model for them (they were apparently an artist). Now we know who she murdered: that artist and 1208’s previous occupant.