Mahoutsukai no Yome – 13

This week’s cold open drips with dread as an evil-sounding guy asks what the adorable Chise will find “at the end of her journey with the failure born in the shadows of the forest”, which doesn’t strike me as the nicest way to describe Elias Ainsworth. Maybe the guy has some kind of grudge? Or maybe he’s jealous that Elias found a Sleigh Beggy?

After that, things take a much lighter tone, as Chise, Ruth, Elias and Silky deal with a sudden infestation of “woolly bugs” in dire need of shearing. Just when Elias steps away for a moment, an icy bug steals Chise’s body heat, but she isn’t in any lasting danger. Elias merely needs to warm her back up.

As a result of that objective, Elias stays with Chise until she wakes up, and the opportunity arises for the two to finally talk a little more about how they feel about each other. Chise had been torturing herself about the “timing” of what she’d say, not the content, and that’s evident here as she’s quite eloquent once the obstacle of when to tell him is gone.

She’s able to clear up a couple of things with Elias—that she’s not afraid of him like most humans are, and that she wants to keep the memory of him going wild, even if it wasn’t pleasant, because it’s the memory of “someone important to her”, which is to say, someone she cares about.

Elias continues to emphasize that he can’t truly emphathize with Chise, or even honestly tell her what his feelings are, because the creature that he is just doesn’t allow for that, or at least hasn’t up to this point.

Elias can say that his home was dreadfully cold when Chise was gone, now it’s much warmer, and he prefer the latters. He also knows that while he may be Chise’s magic teacher, Chise is his human teacher. They have a lot to teach one another.

Chise, unfortunately, doesn’t know not to answer the door alone late at night if she’s not expecting someone, and Elia’s door sadly lacks a peephole, so when Chise opens the door to find the many millennia-old Ashen Eye on the other side, she’s wide open for whatever Ashy might want to do.

Ashen Eye is, of course, the creepy guy we heard talking at the beginning. He seems to be obsessed with Chise, but at least partially informed by a longstanding resentment of humanity he’s built up over the centuries.

He claims he has no intention of “harming” Chise at all, but apparently “transforming her into a red fox” doesn’t fall under the “harm” category of “harm.” So what’s Ahsen Eye’s game, and how will Elias (or Fox Chise, for that matter) deal with him?

I’ve learned not to immediately think everyone who does something weird like this to Chise is automatically a villain with ill intent. It’s possible he’s just teaching both of these youngins a lesson in not answering your door. But that creepy cold open weighs on me…it’s more likely he’s up to no good.

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Mahoutsukai no Yome – 12

As a restless Elias lounges around the house, lacking the energy to do anything even though there are things to be done, Chise completes her wand (an exhausting process) and basically “contracts” with it by sharing a bond of fate with Nevin, source of the wand’s wood.

She and Nevin meet in a nebulous space between the worlds of the living and dead. There, Nevin hears Chise out, then gets her to address her appalling lack of self-worth and confidence, believing as she has since her mother discarded her that she is readily disposable.

But rather than curse the parents who messed their kid up so much, Nevin thanks them for everything they did, because that string of actions and inactions led Chise to him, and she allowed him to fly again in his last moments.

Nevin also asks Chise to consider everything she’s done and the people she’s met and saved. If a savior such as Chise believes herself of so little value, that reflects poorly on the value of those she saved.

Having concluded her talk with Nevin, Chise returns to the regular world, and wishes to head back home so she can say the things she needs to say to Elias. Can I just say how it feels like she gives us this spiel about wanting to say things left unsaid in every episode, and yet it never happens.

This episode is no exception, though I can forgive it for using the conceit of Chise simply running out of energy, because she did, after all, use her wand to fly home by herself, utilizing fire faeries to transform herself into an elegant phoenix.

Visual similarities to Ghibli films notwithstanding, Phoenix-Chise’s extended journey through the sky was a high point of the episode, with Chise relying on her own power and embracing both the freedom her new wand allows her and the more advanced magic she, a sleigh beggy, can pull off with ease.

The trip knocks her out, and she has a dream involving her parents unlike any other she’d had before: a dream in which her mother isn’t crying or angry, but rather happy and smiling, even at Chise.

We see a glimpse of her life that she had forgotten, as it had likely been buried under years of emotional trauma. Her mom, pregnant with her little sister, and her dad, enjoying a lovely sunny day.

That’s the day that awaits Chise back home in the waking world, albeit with a sky full of floating sheep insects waiting to be shorn. After a bath and breakfast, Chise slips back into the warm comfort of her life as an ancient mage’s apprentice. Realizing the “bride” part, however, will require more time.

3-gatsu no Lion – 03

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3GL‘s third episode is again split into two vignettes with an overarching theme: Rei encountering those with more powerful outward emotions than he expresses, leading him question if the way he handles his own emotions is really optimal.

The first vignette deals with his self-proclaimed rival Nikaidou Harunobu, whom Rei beat on the rooftop of a department store in the searing summer heat years ago. In what he describes as an arrogant presumption, he wished to defeat Harunobu quickly so the poor kid could get out of the hot sun.

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But his strategy only made Harunobu play harder, desperately dragging out the game until he was totally out of moves. Years later he faces Harunobu in a professional match, and Harunobu is pumped up, but nothing has really changed.

It takes many hours, but Rei eventually defeats Harunobu once more, because like him, he doesn’t want to lose. Harunobu’s new line of attack is better than the last one, but Rei is better too, and he does what has to be done to win again. He’s both bemused and a bit inspired by Harunobu’s raw intensity.

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The second vignette, a real tearjerker, marks the welcome return of the Kawamoto sisters and their gramps, completing their Obon observance with an elaborate meal. Rei comes late but Rina has his dishes ready, in appropriately small portions to match his slight appetite.

As they light the fire to see off their lost loved ones they only recently welcomed back with a similar ritual, Rei sees the barely-contained pain in the faces of the Kawamotos, though Akari is still smiling outwardly and Momo hides her face. He doesn’t see the point of doing something that brings out so much pain.

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When Hinata suddenly says she has to grab a manga at the convenience store, Gramps sends Rei to go with her, but Rei keeps his distance, even as Hina’s pace quickens and it’s clear her destination isn’t the store, but the river. There, he finds her crying her eyes out, the gorgeous July moon shining down on her.

As with Harunobu, Rei is a bit in awe of Hina’s intense display, a display he long gave up on when he decided to push the pain of losing his family away. There is no doubt Hina is not okay, but just because he’s not crying doesn’t mean he is.

Again he wonders if the path he chose in dealing with his loss was the right one, all while staying with Hinata and giving her all the time she needs to cry it out. Just as certain defeat isn’t enough to rush a match to its conclusion, pushing pain aside doesn’t make it disappear.

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3-gatsu no Lion – 02

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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3-gatsu no Lion – 01 (First Impressions)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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