Tower of God – 08 – Getting “It” Twisted

Even as Quant makes quick work of the Team A members trying to slow him down, Khun maintains an air of confidence. The show also wants to make it clear that the fiery Quant has a temper and can be very impulsive, which means a Light Bearer as shrewd as Khun can very well play him like a fiddle. But since we just met Quant, we have no way of knowing if his outward behavior, so convenient to Khun’s plans, is just an act, and he’s actually a step or more ahead of Khun. He is a Ranker, after all.

Meanwhile, Bam sits with the rest of Team B, whose mood rises and falls with Team A’s setbacks and progress, respectively. Endorsi sits beside him, giving him a chance to ask about “Michelle”, but Endorsi has little to say; she, Michelle and the giant monster guy were just the last three remaining, so they teamed up. Probably more germane to Endorsi is what does Bam care about that weird little mousey girl anyway?

Khun’s choice to use Anaak and his lighthouse as bait and compel Quant to dive off the bridge with him is both inspired and inventively composed. I love the steep drops in this show. It heightens the pace and excitement of an otherwise elegant, no-frills action scene. I love when Quant passes Anaak on his way down, while Green April arrests a smug Khun’s fall. And as usual, the music rises to the occasion.

But what I like even more is that it was understood that Khun’s line last week about Bam losing was always meant to be followed by the words “if I (Khun) don’t do something about it.” Khun decided he cared more about preventing Bam (and those on Team B on the “friends list”) from being eliminated than winning the tag game.

This tracks since, he, Lauroe, Anaak, etc. were already assured of passing regardless of the game result. So he betrays Team A to keep Bam & Co. in the running, by giving Quant a ride back up to the bridge via his lighthouse. Quant snatches Anaak’s “it” badge, and Team A loses.

Last week often cut to Hoh just barely keeping it together and stewing in resentment for Bam’s relative ease in the Wave Controller tests. This week we get a vulnerable moment from Serena, about whom we know so little. It’s only a nugget about her past, and how she was once a cat burglar whose crew was killed by a Ranker.

She approached the Tower climb with renewed energy and confidence, but now is not so sure about the prospect of eliminating people she’s come to like. Hoh tells her that’s just the way things are. Those who climb the Tower must choose what’s more important: friendships, or reaching the top.

Bam, Serena, and Hoh’s Team B is being led by Endorsi, who took advantage of the fact she’s idolized by one of three other competitors for the spot. Khun may have given Bam & Co. a chance by ensuring Team A’s loss, but Team B still has to win, using what they learned from Team A’s game. That may be difficult depending on what Endorsi’s intentions, as she betrays one of her fellow Fishermen to pursue a plan all her own.

This is, of couse, in keeping with Endorsi’s character so far. She has no connection to her two original teammates, and while may not mind Bam or others on the friend sheet she signed, but she’s not going to let that document rule her actions or dilute her ambitions. Like Hoh, she’s willing to do whatever and backstab whoever it takes to climb the Tower.

You can read Crow’s write-up of episode 8 here.

Tower of God – 07 – Her Only Niece

When Endorsi’s heel breaks, Anaak takes advantage and pushes her off the edge, only for Endorsi to grab Anaak, ensuring her “niece” shares her long drop. Endorsi was taught that Princesses of King Jahad can never bear children (using the metaphor of fancy shoes that will never be worn).

But faced with the product of defying that taboo, knowing her mother treated her kindly, and knowing there’s nothing Anaak can do about her parentage softens the enmity between the two.

Funnily enough, their assured mutual defeat makes them rip targets for Shibisu and Hatz, who were stressing over finding two more friends. Khun devises a scheme whereby Bam will offer food in exchange for friendship.

Endorsi is broke and flattered by Hatz’s (canned) compliments and so can’t turn down food, while the specific dish Bam offers (chicken pie) just happens to be Anaak’s favorite. Thus the two princesses join the rest of the crew for lunch.

Rachel remains apart from the others, no doubt to remain as far out of Bam’s orbit as possible, and keeps buying bruised apples to save points. In the lavatory Endorsi admits she doesn’t really understand why Rachel is doing all this.

She won’t say anything about Rachel to Bam, but hopes what she seeks at the top of the tower is “worth more than” him. Rachel seems angered by the presumption, but her insistence on staying away from Bam is about to be tested.

The next test is an elaborate game of “tag” set in a large purpose-built venue. Rak and his counterpart passed their spear trials, so they get to sit the game out. Bam and Khun are on different teams (a first), while Bam is on Rachel’s (AKA Michelle Light’s).

Sure, she’s one of three Light Bearers on his team so who knows how much they’ll interact, but one imagines at some point they’ll come in contact and need to cooperate. How much longer can she keep up this thin charade?

While everyone gets individual points based on their performances, each team will get a windfall of 100k points if their “it” person reaches the goal and 200k if they capture Quant. As is typical of Tower of God, we get right down to business, with Khun orchestrating a multi-layered trap for Quant, one of the “it” people and a ranker.

Khun is also certain that Bam will fail in this game. Whether it’s because he and Khun aren’t on the same team, or because Bam and Rachel will inevitably sabotage each other again, or both, who can say, but Khun is rarely wrong. Then again, if anyone can prove him wrong, it’s Bam, the ultimate wild card.

Read Crow’s review of Episode 7 here.

Tower of God – 06 – Real Night, Fake Princess

Rachel visits Bam while he’s still unconscious, but doesn’t wait for him to wake up. In fact, she asks Khun to lie that Bam he mistook her for someone else. She fears that she and Bam are each other’s greatest weaknesses, and the best way to avoid becoming burdens for each other is to remain apart.

I’m not quite convinced of Rachel’s assessment of the situation, but Khun acquiesces, no doubt to protect Bam from the same misfortune-via-sister figure that befell him. Bam doesn’t buy it, and almost visits Rachel (AKA “Michelle Light”), but agrees with Khun that all he can do for now is get stronger. Then, perhaps, his “burden” status might be lifted. In any case, there’s gotta be more to this than a clear view of the starry sky.

Bam then comes to, but learns he wasn’t disqualified because his instructor is running two days late. We learn about the five positions in a Tower-climbing party (Fisherman, Spear Bearer, Light Bearer, Scout, Wave Controller) and that Bam is one of the latter, responsible for supporting his team with shinsu.

We then learn that Scouts like Shibisu must make nine friends, leading to a congenial scene in the cafeteria with former foes lunching together, a sight Bam can’t help but want to be a part of. Rachel skulks on the margins and in her dark room, only able to afford a bruised apple and eating chocolate bars stolen from Rak’s stash.

Two people its clear are never going to get along are Anaak and Endorsi, despite both being princesses of Jahad. Endorsi earlier called Anaak an “impostor”, while Anaak has no qualms about making off with Black March, even though Yuri is its rightful owner.

Anaak has also separated herself from Hatz and Shibisu, and seems to be going it alone, damn the consequences. Meanwhile the outgoing Endorsi is happy to sit with the new group of friends, but doesn’t believe men and women can be friends, and like Jedi, as a princess of Jahad isn’t allowed to love.

Endorsi and Anaak’s discord comes to a head during a Fisherman (close-range fighter) training test. It’s a neatly-designed test, with multiple sparring circles perched atop ridiculously-high towers, and the promise of very long (but non-lethal) falls for the losers. Throughout the session Anaak has eyes only for Endorsi, who is more than willing to rise to her provocations.

Endorsi proves she deserves to be a princess of Jahad by dodging all of Anaak’s attacks (except for one slick surprise shinsu-aided baseball slide). When Anaak tries to deliver a kick to Endorsi’s beloved face (which for the record is pretty lovely), Endorsi catches her foot and drives her into the ground.

That’s when her suspicions are confirmed: Anaak reveals she’s the daughter of the real Princess Anaak. When her mother was murdered (apparently by other princesses), Anaak assumed her name and title, and is on a single-minded quest of vengeance. Her target is no less than every other princess named Jahad.

This week disclosed Anaak’s backstory and motivations, accentuated Endorsi’s general badassdom, and taught noobs like me more about the different “jobs” various Tower-climbers are assigned based on their specialty. As usual everything was elevated by the bold, bright palette, lively, inventive action, and more righteous musical ownage courtesy of Kevin Penkin.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 13 (Fin) – Ten Thousand Times More Beautiful

With no more conflicts or catharses left to have, the girls enjoy their final days in Antarctica. They’ve settled into such a routine and gotten so used to the astonishing environment, one adult jokes they won’t be able to reintegrate into society, presenting Shirase and the other Mahjong junkies as evidence.

Their final journey to the frozen sea affords them the opportunity to taste snowcones made from ice with thousand-year-old air pockets, which Mari attests to be delicious. They also learn that much of the winter team’s activities will include sleeping, drinking, and games to pass the time.

Shirase finally gets her wish to be surrounded by adorable penguins, but she’s locked in a cycle of being disgusted by the smell and delighted by being in their presence while asking for some unspecified form of help. I imagine many of us would feel the same way.

Mari is getting cold feet about leaving, and wonders out loud to the others why they can’t just stay. Hinata flicks her forehead and doles out reality; they have to get back to their homes, their families, and their school. But all four promise that they’ll come back together someday.

They then present their final request to the rest of the team: that they play a game of snow softball. Captain Toudou is, naturally, the ace, but just like Takako, Shirase is not only able to hit her pitch, but drive it out of the “park.”

On the eve of departing, Shirase decides to have her hair cut short—her heart wasn’t broken by a guy, but such a change makes sense after her catharsis with the laptop (she also wisely chooses Hinata to cut it, not Mari). The whole team musters for the girls’ farewell ceremony, and after a heartfelt speech by Gin that starts everyone crying, Shirase confidently delivers and even more heartfelt, tear-jerking speech.

In it, she expresses the understanding she reached in this place beyond the universe, and why both her mother and her love it so much: It’s a place that strips everything bare, with nothing to protect you and nowhere to hide. It’s a place where someone can come face-to-face with who they really are…and she did that.

Before embarking for home, Shirase hands Gin her mom’s laptop, stating she no longer needs it. Later, Gin discovers there’s still a message from Takako in the outbox; the last she ever composed. The quartet waves goodbye to their Antarctic summer home where they experienced and learned so much about the world, each other, and themselves.

Yuzu wonders if maybe they all got a little stronger during the journey. A ‘little’? I think she sells herself and the others short here. They were the first high school-age students to explore Antarctica, and they made it. Now, all of a sudden, they’re headed back to the normal world. Even if and when they come back, it will never be the same as their first time.

When night falls, Mari finally gets to experience the one thing they couldn’t due to the laughably short Antarctic nights: view the aurora. Just when they do, Gin sends the last email Takako wrote to Shirase, stating how the real thing is “ten thousand times more beautiful”—something of which, in that moment, Shirase and the others are all to aware.

The four friends, having forged their bonds in the coldest and harshest crucible on the planet, go their separate ways with confidence and return to their lives that were with a serious sense of accomplishment, self-awareness, and maturity.

They discovered as much about themselves in Antarctica as they discovered about the place itself, like how there are no “nothing” days but there’s still more to discover upon returning, like the smell of one’s house.

And in a perfect capper to a marvelous series, Mari texts Megumi that she’s home, and gets a near-immediate response, along with a photo of her posing with the aurora: “Too bad. Right now, I’m in the Arctic.” Well played, Megu-chan; well played.

 

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 12

Shirase vividly remembers the day she was suddenly pulled out of class and informed of her mother’s death. How can she not? We all carry days like that in our memories. For her, it was the end of life feeling as it had before, and the beginning of a dream; an awful dream from which she hoped every day to wake up from.

She’s worked so hard, endured mockery, made and fought with friends, and arrived at the place where she lost her mother. Yet she still doesn’t feel like the dream is over. Now Gin has invited her and the other girls to join the team that will press inland, to the observatory site from which Takako never returned.

Shirase tells her friends it’s not so much that she’s depressed to stressed out about her mother. Rather, she’s weary that if and when she gets to the end of the road, there will be nowhere left to go. If nothing changes, the way it hasn’t thus far, what if she keeps feeling the way she does the rest of her life? What if she can’t wake up?

The girls decide to give Shirase space, proof, according to an adult colleague, that they’re truly good friends. Shirase sits with Gin, who tells her that neither of them know what Takako felt, or whether she wanted them to return to Antarctica, where she’d be waiting in some form.

All Gin can say for certain is that she came because she wanted to come: “At the end of the day, those ideas we latch on to aren’t enough to motivate us. But when we run around on the injustices of reality, they’re the only things that can break through, make the impossible possible, and allow us to proceed on.”

After laying out all of her cash and listing all the ways she made it, Shirase regains the idea that brought her to Antarcica, and joins Gin and the other girls on the inland trip…because her mother is waiting there.

Along the slow, cold slog of a trip, Shirase and he girls experience the harshest conditions so far, but still have to work in them, because there’s no other choice. They also experience some of the most otherworldly sights, like a sun pillar.

When Shirase asks Gin if her mother saw the same thing, Gin answers in the affirmative. Later, Gin has Shirase check in with Syowa Station. From then on, as Shirase realizes she’s following in her mother’s last footsteps, the journey adopts an increasingly melancholy mood.

When a punishing blizzard arrives identical to the one that suddenly claimed Takako, Gin remembers Takako’s last call on the radio, saying “it’s beautiful” but not telling Gin where she was, because if Gin went out to attempt rescue, nature would likely have claimed her as well.

The girls are snug in their sleeping bags as the winds lash against the snowcat, and Shirase sees a vision of her mother sitting nearby, working on her laptop. Mari wakes up to thank Shirase for taking her for allowing her to get the most out of her youth.

It doesn’t matter to her whether they went to Antartica or the Arctic or anywhere else; what made the trip special was that they took it together, as friends. Shirase then tells her mother that she, who thought she’d be fine alone forever, now has friends: slightly weird, frustrating, and broken friends, but friends who were willing to come this far with her.

Now, there’s only a little further to go, and once the snowcats arrive at the observatory site, those same friends rush into the underground complex to try to find something, anything that serves as proof Shirase’s mother was there. And boy do they ever find it: Takako’s laptop, with a photo of Takako and Shirase taped to the back.

Again Shirase’s friends recede to the hallway as Shirase fires up the laptop. She gets the password right on the second try, and when Takako’s inbox opens, it immediately starts updating, with a dozen, then a hundred, then a thousand emails gradually pouring in…and Shirase loses it. Her friends hear her anguish and then they start crying.

In a show that’s had no shortage of episode climaxes that tug at the heartstrings, no scene to date has tugged quite this far (I pretty much lost it too!). It truly feels like Shirase has finally awakened from her hazy three-year-long dream, having experienced a profound measure of closure from this. In any case, her fear of not feeling anything once she came to the end of her journey didn’t come to pass. She didn’t just feel something; she felt everything.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 04

Step by step, episode by episode, Sora yori mo Tooi Basho keeps building up the anticipation while continuing to build up the stories of its characters and their growing friendship as they embark on a life-changing adventure…but they still need permission from their parents!

That’s when we learn Mari hasn’t so much as mentioned this life-changing adventure to her mother, who has to find out from the neighbors. The slasher film-esque scen in which Mari tries to break the news she senses her mother already knows is a tour-de-force of tension and comedy.

Mari gets permission…but only if she passes all of her tests at school, meaning she’s going to have to study her ass off, and nobody is going to help her, because if she can’t do this much, how is she ever going to make it in the Antarctic?

The quartet meet up to be whisked off to their mountain training retreat, and while they’re underwhelmed by the beat-up HiAce, their instructor Maekawa (Hikasa Yoko) notes they’ve got to pinch every penny (she also mentions that Shirase still has her million yen, and in the next sentence, the fundraising needs of the expedition).

She also remarks that those outside of the expedition team have always been concerned about its viability and whether the ship will even leave port. But Maekawa tells the girls they tell those people to shut up. Back at school Shirase doesn’t even do that; she’ll show everyone up when they least expect it, leading to this golden exchange between her and Mari:

Mari: You’re kind of a jerk, you know.
Shirase: I certainly am. You mind?
Mari: Nope!

Once they arrive at the mountain training course, they are quickly given an overview of the basics, and then Maekawa introduces the expedition’s leader Toudou Gin (Noto Mamiko in her tough lady voice) whose no-nonsense demeanor and stirring oratory intimidate and inspire Mari, Hinata, and Yuzuki in equal measure.

What about Shirase? Well, she reacts differently; clearly they know each other, and Mari senses that, but leaves it be for the time being. That night, as the girls bone up on Antarctic exploration in what feels like a field trip sleepover, Maekawa and Toudou share a solemn moment outside.

Toudou didn’t want Shirase on the trip, but Maekawa didn’t help her; she got there by her own efforts (with the help of Mari, Hinata, and Yuzuki, but she befriended them on her own). Toudou accepts this, but the fact she know Shirase’s mother weighs on her.

The next morning, the quartet is sent off to plot a route with a compass, GPS, and marker flags. They start out a little rough and off course (as everyone does at first), but Mari turns out to have a knack for the compass, and soon they’re on the right track, make camp, and settle down for bed.

Mari doesn’t want to sleep yet, thinking this is like any other camping trip, but getting enough sleep is crucial to survival, so the other girls promptly rebuke her attempts to converse. Only Yuzuki flubs her words, leading Hinata to start giggling, which leads Hinata and Mari to start laughing.

Things turn a bit somber when Mari asks a clearly preoccupied Shirase how she knows “Captain” Toudou, and Shirase’s answer is heartbreaking in its brevity: “Toudou and my mother were friends in high school. They both went to Antarctica. Toudou returned. My mother didn’t.”

After a quick by-the-book radio check in with base, the four go to sleep, but Mari, who opened her bag in her sleep, is the first to awaken, and is greeted not only by a gorgeous pre-dawn, but Toudou, almost standing guard out there. Mari asks her about Shirase’s Mom, Toudou says she was “very strange” (sound familiar?) and that her daughter is her spitting image in stubbornness and conviction (not surprising).

Shirase, like her mom, is “trouble”, but Mari says “Isn’t trouble the best?” Indeed, it’s Shirase’s trouble(s) that got Mari to this point, where she’s finally realizing her goal of making the most of her high school years. She didn’t want them to end “the way they were going”, and so decided to join Shirase of her own free will.

This is Peak Awesome Tamaki Mari right here, clearly expressing her intention, desire, and excitement for the impending expedition. And when you see that conviction on her rising sun-washed face, you know she’s going to pass all of those tests. She has to.

Before the sunrise is complete, Mari wakes up the others (none of whom are morning people), and they all climb up a rock face and admire the beauty of the glowing mountains; just a small taste, mind you, of the jaw-dropping, otherworldly majesty they’ll experience way down south.

And in one of the more surprising ways to end the episode, Mari sends a picture of the sunrise to her friend Megumi, who looks incredibly lonely and left out. It occurs to me that Mari never once asked if she wanted to come along. Is this closing scene meant to convey that Megumi is proud of Mari, or dejected over Mari not even considering her participation?

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 03

AND THEN THERE WERE FOUR. While I initially liked it when it was just Shirase and Mari, I quickly ended up liking the addition of Hinata, who while fiery and is no more effective at advancing the group’s Antarctic plans than the other two.

Now Shirase’s worst nightmare has come true: another high school girl—celebrity, aspiring idol, social media personality, and former child actress Shiraishi Yuzuki—has beaten her to the punch, as the group learns she’ll be joining the expedition.

And yet the universe isn’t done with Shirase yet, as she soars from the deepest valley to the highest peak when no less than Shiraishi Yuzuki herself shows up at her house, and willing to give up her seat to Shirase. Yuzuki has no interest in going; it’s too cold (lol duh).

Showing she can be just as energetic as the others, Shirase gets a bit too worked up and bangs her foot on the door. As if to further punish her for celebrating too soon, Yuzuki’s manager and mother (apparently in that order) Tamiko puts the kibosh on her client-daughter’s plans to shirk her duty.

Mari and Hinata try their best to sell Shirase to Tamiko, but while she’s gorgeous, Shirase is too shy when put on the spot to be of any interest to the hard-nosed manager, while neither Mari or Hinata are pretty enough. Harsh!

However, Shirase persists as she usually does, and enters into a contract with Tamiko: if she, Mari and Hinata can convince Yuzuki to go to Antarctica, they can come to. Bang, just like that, they’ve got their in.

Again, Shirase is so brimming with excitement and giddiness Hinata has to knock her on the head to calm her down (Hanazawa Kana puts on a clinic this week showing every side of Shirase, but Iguchi Yuka keeps up as Hinata, as does Minase Inori as Mari).

Once Mari heads home, we get what was somewhat lacking last week: some Shirase/Hinata-only interaction, and we see that they to have become fast friends as well. While Hinata and Mari feed of one anothers’ energy (and Mari admires Hinata’s relative maturity), Hinata interestingly serves as more of a straight man to Shirase’s antics.

She’s serves as an open ear to Shirase’s very earnest self-assessment. She knows she’s being selfish, but Hinata considers it assertiveness, not selfishness, and wouldn’t be hanging out if she wasn’t okay with it.

After not-so-slyly staging a “chance encounter” with Yuzuki, they join her at a family restaurant where there are free refills where she can study. There, the trio begins attempting to convince Yuzuki into changing her mind. She’s on to them immediately, but they still want to hear her out: why is she so adamant about not going?

Her reason, as it turns out, is all to understandable: she’s been acting since she was four years old, and has been kept busy since then. As a result, while she may have a stout 38,000 followers (far more than fair RABUJOI), she has zero friends. Even now, when she tries to make them, they’re more interested in glomming onto her celebrity and aren’t that intereted in who she is.

Yuzuki fears she’s running out of time to make good first impressions for potential friends, and if she goes to Antarctica, she’ll lose more precious time still. When Mari hears this story, she feels suddenly compelled to give Yuzuki a big ol’ hug…and who the hell can blame her?! Thankfully for Yuzuki, she has not one or two but three potential new friends sitting at that booth with her.

She’s initially skeptical these three “best friends” could possibly understand her situation, but that’s before they reveal they haven’t known each other that long at all…they’re “just trying to go to the same place.”

In the end, Shirase, Mari and Hinata didn’t have to use any clever tricks to get Yuzuki to reconsider her refusal. They merely had to show up and present themselves as who they really are: three girls who practically just met and want very much to go to Antarctica. Yuzuki could be the fourth.

Add to that the fact Yuzuki’s last potential friends at school seem ready to give up on her, and a bizarre dream in which Yuzuki is plucked from the window by the three girls on a ladder outside her hotel window (which I briefly thought was real—and rather shark-jumping!)

Yuzuki is charmed by the dream, but acknowledges that that was all it was; a fleeting expression of hope friends would come to her rather than laboring to seek them out.

But hey, the basic idea of her dream comes true anyway, with the trio appearing at her door (not her window, thank goodness) to make their final plea. Their timing is impeccable, and moves Yuzuki to tears of joy. She agrees to go, but only if Shirase, Mari, and Hinata can come as well.

The newly minted quartet then head to the Polar Science Museum in Tokyo (which I must visit next time I’m there).

Shirase gets hyped by the realistic penguin models, the four explore an old Snowcat, watch the aurora in the theater, and take a selfie together. Things are starting to feel real.

So, what’s up with the woman with the beauty spot in a “Challenge for Antarctic” car looking at that photo of Shirase and her Mom? She’s neither of the women who turned Shirase down in Kabukicho. Am I supposed to read her somewhat inscrutable expression as “grave” or “neutral”?

In any case, the band has been formed, and I couldn’t be happier. But something tells me things aren’t going to get easier just because they’ve got their tickets all but stamped. Four high school girls going to Antarctica will require, I imagine, a degree of training and preparation. Looking forward to those next steps and how the group responds to them.

Ramen Daisuki Koizumi-san – 01 (First Impressions)

The first Winter 2018 to find my eyes is Ramen Daisuki Koizumi-san, the latest in an inexhaustible succession of 4koma strip adaptations that follow the formula “[MC]-kun/san is [Characteristic].”[Tanaka]-kun is [listless]. [Morita]-san is [taciturn].

In this case, the beautiful transfer student [Koizumi]-san [loves ramen noodles]. This anime is an exploration of its title—no more, no less—and at least at first, it’s not from Koizumi’s POV, but that of her classmate Oosawa Yuu.

Yuu (Sakura Ayane) is immediately smitten by the aloof, doll-like Koizumi-san (Taketatsu Ayana), perhaps wanting something quieter in a cute class idol than her twin-tailed friend Misa (Kito Akari). Indeed, the more Koizumi ignores and shoots her down, the more Yuu likes her.

Yuu is one of those indefatigable optimists who never stays down more than a few moments after facing rejection or failure, which happens numerous times (this anime understandably has the rhythm of a 4-koma, and Yuu snapping out of her momentary funks forms the “fourth panel” of each segment.

Yuu finds the only way to talk with Koizumi is to voice her ignorance of all things ramen. Because Koizumi is a hardcore ramen enthusiast (otaku?), she doesn’t hesitate to lay some of her encyclopedic knowledge of ramen on Yuu (and us), and Yuu is mostly content with this for now, because a cute girl is talking to her in a cute voice, and the blissful face she makes upon completing a bowl is well worth the indifferent scorn Koizumi doles out.

However, Yuu seems determined not just to become proper friends with Koizumi (using their shared love of ramen as an in, as unbalanced as their enthusiasm for it might be), but make her the fourth member of their circle of friends, thus completing the blue/red/green/yellow hair quadrifecta.

I suspect this will be a fairly static slice-of-life involving Yuu and the others enjoying ramen together and learning more about why it’s so good, with perhaps some gradual progress in opening Koizumi’s shell. At the moment, Koizumi doesn’t seem interested in making friends in the least, but due to her love of ramen, she’s not going to stop anyone from developing some ramen love of their own.

Light, crisp, pastel-y, and inoffensive enough (unless you loathe ramen slurping, not as culturally appropriate in America, though of late people tend to do as the Romans, or in this case, Japanese do), RDK is a watchable enough one-trick time-spender…as well as a mild appetite inducer. But with a lot more shows coming in, I probably won’t be reviewing it going forward.

Sagrada Reset – 11

As we approach the halfway point of Sagrada Reset, the show does something different, something far more low key. For one thing, Haruki doesn’t reset once this week. Indeed, no abilities at all are used. There’s no peril, no Souma Sumire, no Asai Kei.

The only things that take place are two extended conversations: one between Haruki and the lazy cat girl Nonoo Seika, and one with Haruki by herself.

The first is in aid of Haruki’s mission to make friends, which was suggested by Kei in an earlier episode. Haruki proves adorably inept at this at first, but thanks to Nonoo’s patience, manages to muddle through and is officially made an acquaintance of the raven-haired truant, with the promise of friendship if they stay in touch.

Haruki also learns about such things as “small talk”, or silly little conversations with no real meaning except to pass the time and hasten fatigue. In this, Nonoo praises Haruki as a natural, and the two commemorate their encounter with an exchange of cute pictures they took of one another.

That was nice, but if I’m as honest as Haruki, it dragged a bit. Somehow more exciting and entertaining was Haruki’s inner monologue in the second segment, where her mission, spurred on by Minami Mirai, is make a house visit to Kei, who is absent from school with a cold.

Haruki makes it a point to be extremely prepared for this visit, constantly listing the items she needs to bring to make him rice porridge, then adding to that list when she finds herself “off-balance”, both due to the weight of the items and the fact Kei isn’t walking beside her.

Pretty much anyone, including Minami, sees Haruki’s dilemma for what it is: a deep desire to see Kei, tempered by her reluctance to put him out. Which is why when she gets cold feet and heads home, and gets a text from Kei that’s clearly not his writing, and Minami springs out from around the corner to own up to the subterfuge and convince Haruki to visit him after all, because he’ll be glad to see her.

And because this episode is more about the journey than the destination, we never see how Haruki’s visit to Kei’s goes. The episode ends on the tantalizing moment before she rings his doorbell. But we can assume it goes fine. Let’s just hope Kei doesn’t order her to reset after she kisses (or attempts to kiss) him!

ReLIFE – 05

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Last week’s cliffhanger portended a rough road ahead for all parties involved, and a galaxy of possibilities in terms of if, and how, the conflicts would be resolved. But judging from the first four episodes, I was confident ReLife would resolve everything relatively quickly, but in the most narratively and emotionally satisfying way. The right way: no shortcuts, no lies, and no running away.

As it turns out, both Kaizaki and Kariu were knocked out by their fall down the stairs, so there was no immediate confrontation between them and Hishino. Instead, Kaizaki wakes up in the infirmary. Hoshino and her bag are gone, so the mystery of where she went and how she feels about what she saw is always hanging in the background, adding tension to an already tense scene.

Before Kariu comes to, Kaizaki pieces together what happened, and he remembers back when he was training at his job. When the woman training him started out-performing the men, they turned on her and started working to knock her down, sullying all the hard work they’d done to get to where they are.

Kaizaki remembers his trainer saying she wasn’t mad, but sad that they had given up trying to fight fair. Now we know one reason Kaizaki quit his job; rivals had twisted into vindictive enemies. It happens all the time.

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Kaizaki knows this, because he’s 27. He’s lived ten years more life than Kariu or any of his other classmates. And so, without even thinking, when Kariu comes to he lectures her the way a 27-year-old would lecture a 17-year-old.

His own baggage comes into play, as he makes the connection between what the “filthy adults” stooped to at his workplace and what Kariu is doing; telling her he’s not mad, but “very, very sad”, and that she’s too young to be acting like this. Kariu blows up at him, caling him too self-righteous and too self-assured, considering they’re the same age. But much of what he said still hit home, even if it was delivered with a bit too much, shall we say, adult authority.

Kaizaki tells her what she’s overlooked: sure, she hasn’t been able to beat Hishiro or Honoka, but she’s still bettered herself. Her hard work wasn’t for nothing, and she shouldn’t give up. Not only that, she has the wrong idea about Hishiro, because they’ve barely ever spoken. Kaizaki delivers this advice knowing full well he himself gave up, but like both Hishiro and Kariu, he’s trying to change. And he is!

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That wonderful exchange (with more baller work from Tomatsu Haruka) would be about all we could reasonably expect from a good episode…but this is a great episode, which means Hishiro is waiting at the gate when Kaizaki, and later Kariu, leave the infirmary.

Kaizaki initially lies about Kariu taking the bag because it was “dangerous to have it in the hall”, but changes his mind and tells the truth, remembering Yoake telling him not to clear all the thorns. Hishiro reacts as one would expect: with calm, cool logic. She doesn’t know the right answer, so she’ll ask Kariu upfront. (There’s also the matter of her heart panging when she saw Kaizaki hugging Kariu, but she wisely tables that issue for now).

Kaizaki may be hiding in the bushes to watch how it goes (with Yoake), but both of them stay out of it when Kariu comes out and sees Hishiro. Kariu doesn’t run, nor does she try to lie and say she doesn’t hate Hishiro, because at the moment, she kinda does.

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The source of that hate had been cultivated each time Hishiro flashed her one of her scary mocking smiles, so when Hishiro assures her she never meant to mock her, and Kariu talkes Kaizaki’s advice and asks her to smile on demand, it dawns on her that she misunderstood; Hishiro is simply very socially awkward.

It was Kariu’s own issues with her than caused her to interpret it as mocking. Also, well, it really does look like she’s mocking her, but hey, that’s why you talk things out with people!

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When Hishiro tells her all those smiles were meant to help them become friends, Kariu lets out a hearty laugh; part in relief, part in amazement. She also realizes Hishiro wasn’t ignoring her handshake, and when Hishiro puts out her hand this time, Kariu takes it and agrees to be friends…as long as it’s clear they’re also academic rivals.

That’s fine with Hishiro, who is so happy to have made a new friend, she smiles for real, surprising and dazzling Kariu in the process.

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So, all’s well that ends well in the Kariu/Hishino Conflict! The operative word there being end, as the show had the guts to lay all the cards on the table and hash everything out in this one episode. Dragging out the misunderstanding would have only kept us from what are sure to be other great stories involving, say An.

I really enjoyed Kaizaki and Yoake celebrating like adults with beer and cigarettes, as Kaizaki gets a thank you from Kariu for ratting her out to Hishiro, realizing it was in her best interest. Kaizaki still isn’t sure he didn’t spare her the ugly truth about life, the truth he saw firsthand and drove him from the workplace.

But Yoake assures him he didn’t lie, either. There’s a happy median between blatant sugarcoating and outright nihilism. And even though Kariu won’t remember Kaizaki in a year, she’ll remember what he said to her if and when she runs into the same obstacles he did later in life. The episode closes with a triumphant shot of Kari sitting with Hishiro at lunch, the rest of the group happy and relieved. On to the next high school crisis!

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ReLIFE – 02

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The test scores are in, and a great many things become known. In ten years, Kaizaki forgot between 75% and 96% of everything he learned in high school the first time around. Kariu is mad about losing the class rep job to Hishiro not because she can’t get free lunches, but because she has feelings for Ooga. Finally, Onoya has even worse test scores than Kaizaki…and she’s a real high schooler!

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These two need tutoring, and Ooga is happy to serve the role as tutor, but gets more than he bargained for when Kaizaki and An start digging into his relationship with Kariu, including their matching earrings. I’m liking how quickly yet naturally the circle of friends is coming together.

I also liked Kaizaki’s outsize reaction to An whipping out her cell phone; once a capital crime in his day, now students use them with impunity (outside of class, that is). Or how he takes Hishiro’s reaction to his lending her 1000 yen (that he’s like a grown-up) literally; worried the brainy girl is on to him.

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Hishiro comes to dominate the latter half of the episode as Kaizaki makes it his mission to get her to come out of her shell a little more. The fact her forced smiles are so disconcerting is proof of how genuine and straightforward she is; the only smiles she can make are real ones, all of which were triggered by Kaizaki being nice to her.

At the beginning of the episode, Hishiro has no friends; now she has one, and of her own choosing, boldly asking for Kaizaki’s phone number. Hishiro really shines in this episode, greatly aided by her adorable character design…and Kayano Ai’s adorable voice.

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Ryou, who was skulking around corners the whole episode, observing Kaizaki from a distance, not only suggests he try to quit smoking (the smell lingers, plus no one will sell to someone with his new babyface), but also not to get too attached to anyone. Apparently, when the year-long experiment is over, everyone young Kaizaki interacted with will forget him, because he’ll be back to being 27.

Not like that’s something he’ll be able to explain if they every learned, but this still seems like a downer, especially considering Kaizaki will remember them, and will likely not feel so great as a result. When Hishiro told Kaizaki she had to rush things, that this was her last chance, it reminded him how confident he was that his future would go the way he thought it would.

It didn’t, and ReLIFE is ostensibly the path to getting somewhere closer to his ideal future (or even creating a new one). But having to sever all his new bonds at the end of the year seems like a steep price to pay for that future. As I watch the next eleven episodes (at my own pace), it will be interesting to see if he ever tries to haggle over that price. Hishiro—callsign “Sorry Cat”—is someone worth knowing. Could she also be a bond worth preserving, even if it breaks Ryou’s rules?

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Sousei no Onmyouji – 06

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After spending much of the show on the sidelines (other than an episode alone with Rokuro that established their dynamic), Mayura officially crosses over into the Benio side of Rokuro’s life, but what’s interesting is that it happens quite by accident. Mayura isn’t prying into Rokuro’s life; she merely believes Benio is skipping out on school to hang out with delinquents.

Mayura’s vivid imagination is a constant source of amusement this week, but even more appealing is the fact she simply wants to be friends with Benio, in hope of steering her away from bad seeds; to “show her the light”, so to speak.

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Benio isn’t one for friends. She’s sworn them off as a waste of time; time that is better spent training to become the strongest exorcist. And yet…she’s witnessed firsthand the strength Rokuro is capable of…and HE certainly seems to have friends, like the other, hapless dorm-mates.

When Ryogo is back at nearly 100%, he casually mentions that it sure would be nice if someone other than Benio would accompany them on their routine trips to Magano to exorcise Kegare. Rokuro gets the hint, but is also interested, in his tsundere way, in lending a hand anyway.

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Ryougo requests Benio sit out a mission or two so he can determine how serious Rokuro is, and she does…but not without a degree of resentment: she’s serious too, dagnabbit!

It’s good then, that Mayura catches up to her while on a run (a scene reminiscent of the beginning of Winter Soldier), and provides a destraction Benio didn’t expect, but still welcomes, especially in the form of quality ohagi. I don’t know what’s more adorable: Benio’s look of blissful satisfaction, or Mayura waiting for Benio’s stoic armor to crack.

Shogo and the other two exorcists again prove that with Kegare increasing in number and strength, they simply can’t go to Magano without either Rokuro or Benio—preferably both—to bail them out. They only have Rokuro at first, but he does a fine job breaking out his demon arm to dispatch a particularly tough boss.

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I worried when a tear between reality and Magano opened in the very restaurant where Benio and Mayura were eating, but Benio slips in, takes care of business, and comes back out without any harm to either girl. Benio fully expected to return to find Mayura had run off, fearful of the supernatural phenomenon…

…Only she didn’t. Mayura rushes to Benio’s arms the second she reappears, far more concerned with her well-being than her own. Benio realizes: this is what it means to be a friend: even if Mayura couldn’t do anything, she wasn’t just going to leave Benio. That feels good, and it’s good to see Benio give in and reciprocate the hug.

Of course, in explaining how she knows about exorcists and isn’t scared of this kind of stuff while walking Benio home, Mayura discovers that her beloved Rokuro has been living with Benio all this time. Naturally, Mayura seems to blame Rokuro and only Rokuro for this situation, but while she’s angry now I’m sure she’ll listen to the full explanation, even if she won’t accept their betrothal any more than they do.

At any rate, I really enjoyed the warm Mayura-Benio interactions and their newly-formed friendship (even if it may take a hit now that the two are “rivals in love”), as well as Rokuro getting back on the exorcist bike. Mayura may have the hardest fight of all before her, even if it’s not of the world-saving kind…but she’s certainly not one to shrink from a challenge.

And she’s got bigger boobs than Benio, so there’s that!

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She and Her Cat: Everything Flows – 04 (Fin)

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You’re lonely? Get a cat. They live thirteen years, then you get another one. Then another one after that. Then you’re done. —Katherine Olson, Mad Men

The devoutly-Catholic Kathy may only be telling her daughter this in response to learning she and her boyfriend have moved in together with no promise of marriage, but there’s a grim practicality to her advice, and it’s also oddly prescient of the events that close Everything Flows.

To whit: “She”, whom we learn is called Miyu, is lonely after her friend moves out and gets married. Miyu is so lonely and uncommunicative, in fact, her mother fears the worst when she gets a hang-up phone call from her daughter, and races over, which turns out to be a false alarm.

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It would seem a concerned Daru inadvertently dialed Mom’s number, but the effect of the happenstance is profound: Miyu’s mother is relieved. Miyu sees her mother for the first time in a while. They share a laugh. Daru is relieved too: Miyu is going to be alright. He was hanging onto life until he could confirm that. When he has, he passes away, quietly, in her arms.

Then, a psychic explosion destroys Tokyo and initiates World War III. Just kidding! But that’s kinda what it looked like. That would have been quite the genre shift!

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Naturally, there’s a mourning period for Miyu, whose eye-bags and fetal position recalls another famous, devastating film (only without the drugs). She even feels Daru rub up against her back, the way he did countless times in his life. It’s only a phantom rub, but it doesn’t plunge Miyu into further despair. Instead, she sits up, smiles, and moves forward.

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Not wanting to worry Daru any further, she cleans up her place, finds a job, and faces the world with a smile once more. Then Daru apparently reincarnates as a white abandoned cat, which Miyu finds under a bridge and takes in.

But unlike Peggy Olson in her mom’s scenario of a life with three cats to ward off lonliness, Miyu will either need more than three—to combat the formidable longevity of the Japanese—or find a human. Either way, she’ll be fine. The world still moves, and we still travel upon it.

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