Yuru Camp△ 2 – 08 – Wabi-Sabi Worrywart

Chiaki, Aoi, and Ena take the episode off this week, as aside from a sprinkling of Sakura it’s a totally Nadeshiko & Rin show, and every moment of it is superbly sublime. It may be my imagination, but this is also an episode that gets a little more creative with camera angles and techniques.

We start with a very cinematic opening shot of Nadeshiko walking through a tunnel. It almost appears like Nadeshiko is walking down the tunnel to enter a Space Shuttle, but the drama is nicely subverted by her singing to herself about towns and the foods they’re known for.

In the middle of her uphill trudge, she stops to soak up the gorgeous view, only to stop herself lest she spoil the view from the campsite. Once she’s arrives, she revels in the wide open space, inspects the clean facilities, and says hi to a camping dad and his two kids.

Nadeshiko gets swept off her feet while laying out her ground cover, and bends one of her tent pegs (just like Rin did once), but is otherwise able to get her tent up without any trouble. She then breaks out all the groceries she bought and prepares for some culinary experimentation. The older of the two camping kids is bemused by this “loner girl”.

Meanwhile, Rin fakes out the audience by first lamenting another path closed for the winter (with another cool camera angle), but it’s a tunnel she already knew would be closed, which coincidentally leads to the Yashajin Pass, where she met the tea shop lady. After arriving in famously scenic Hayakawa and attempting to cross the suspension bridge over the lake, she continues on the Rindou Ikawa Amehata Line to the hot springs.

This also marks the first time a character in the show has uttered the term wabi-sabi, an aesthetic philosophy centered around the “acceptance of and appreciation for transience, imperfection, and incompletion”. In its depictions of Japan’s infrastructure and nature, Yuru Camp and its characters have been uniformly enthusiastic devotees of this worldview.

We get a Sakura sighting as she’s at a store that sells wild game considering whether to buy some deer or some bear paw, but after a quick Googling reveals a far-too-laborious process for cooking said paws, she goes for the easier deer. The final shot in the store is a novel fish-eye surveillance camera filming her from behind and at a distance.

After soaking in the pleasantly not-too-hot spring, Rin enjoys a spell in a massage chair, which must feel especially heavenly after all those hours in the moped saddle. She notices that Nadeshiko hasn’t texted her anything since the photo of her at the Tomato Mart, and decides to give her a call, only to get an automated “phone turned off or out of range” message.

That would be that, except that Rin is both a caring friend and feels responsible for Nadeshiko’s safety after getting her so interested in solo camping. Try as she might to put worries out of her mind, she instead envisions how she’d worry about her at various stages of her own camping trip.

She decides the only way to allay those fears is to take a slight detour and go check on her. Sakura seems to be on the same wavelength as Rin, as she uses the Find My Family app to discern Nadeshiko’s precise location.

Nadeshiko is actually doing just fine, having wrapped all of her veggies in foil and roasted them in a campfire she made inside the cooking pavilion. But when the two camping kids go to the pavilion to heat up their konbini dinners, again the older sister is bemused and a bit weary. Nadeshiko breaks out a little old country granny, further adding to the witch-like aura.

The little brother is the first to approach her, and learns that if she is a witch, she’s a good and kind witch, and one that’s great at outdoor cooking! She roasts a little bit of everything, with the tomato, potato, eggplant and sweet potatoes being particularly successful, the avocado less so, and the carrot gets over-charred.

Nadeshiko not only makes friends of the family, but also inspires the kids to cook next time they go camping, after finding out how easy it can be—literally just wrap a cheap sweet potato in foil, toss it into the flame, and wait! As they part ways, Rin arrives at the campsite to find that Nadeshiko is find, and cell phones just get spotty reception.

When she returns to the parking lot she encounters two glowing eyes and is scared shitless, but it’s just fellow worrywart Sakura, secretly checking in on her sister. The two decide, while they’re there, they might as well go up to the top to see the famously awesome nightscape. I mean, it’s a nightscape!

They do so—and the view is indeed awesome—but are almost caught but for the fact they could hear Nadeshiko coming from her singing to herself. They dash into the tall grass as Nadeshiko beholds the nightscape, takes a selfie, and then wanders around the area trying to find a bar with which to send it.

Rin and Sakura make it out of there without being seen, and as they drive off together, Sakura gets the selfie from Nadeshiko and has Rin stop so she can see it too, then offers to buy her dinner in town. As for Nadeshiko, she sets herself up in her cozy, toasty caterpillar-like sleeping bag on a bench overlooking the nightscape.

I for one am glad she didn’t spot Rin or Sakura, as it preserves the spirit, if not the letter, of the “solo-ness” of her trip, since she didn’t actually ask anyone to stop by and check on her, and there was no need to do so as she was perfectly fine on her own. That said, I’m sure she would have felt good knowing her friend and sister wouldn’t hesitate to do so, even if it diverted them from their own plans. That’s love, baby!

Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina – 02 – You’ll Never Fly Alone

While flying along on her broom during her travels, Elaina makes it a point to declare that even the “sun’s eyes” squint at the beauty and majesty of the lovely Ashen Witch, i.e. her! I like how Elaina isn’t a perfect goody-two-shoes but has a healthy ego that could curdle into arrogance if she’s not careful, but hasn’t yet. That confidence is both to be expected of the youngest Apprentice and full Witch ever, at at times, justified!

Her destination this week is the gorgeous, whimsical City of Mages, so-called because the non-magical are unable to reach it, as if Diagon Alley were a whole city. Instead of flying cars, witches dart hither and thither in the sky, and Full Witches like Elaina are idolized. Unfortunately her first encounter with a resident involves a mid-air collision with a novice who lost control of her broom.

Elaina repairs the damaged roof and the cut on the face of the girl, who introduces herself as Saya. She thanks and apologizes profusely to Elaina, insisting that she be allowed to do something to make up for the trouble she’s caused, but Elaina is content to continue on her journey, and bits Saya farewell—for all she knows, for good.

Of course, Elaina and Saya are fated to meet again. This happens when Elaina is roughly turned away from every other hotel in the city—a far cry from the fawning and deference she expected due to her full Witch status. It’s a fun echo of when none of the witches in her hometown would give her the time of day. However, Saya happens to work at the one hotel that will let her stay there, and Elaina asks for and receives a “nice witch discount”.

Turns out Elaina was turned away from the other hotels because her Witche’s brooch fell off and is now lost. After a fruitless search, she takes a relaxing bath…and Saya waltzes right into her room! It’s the first sign that Saya wants quite a bit more than just to make up for bumping into Elaina. She prostrates herself and begs Elaina to help train her to pass the Apprentice exams.

Saya shows Elaina a photo of her and her little sister, who came with her to the city but passed the exam before her and returned home. Since Elaina’s ego was bruised by getting kicked out of so many fancy hotels, she wants a win, and a boost to that ego. Impressed with Saya’s prostrating skills (an odd but sincere gesture from her home back east), Elaina agrees: while searching for her lost brooch, she’ll train Saya for a week.

It turns out to be a wonderfully equitable arrangement for both parties. Saya proves a quick study in both broom-flying skills, and while she’s lacking in magical attack focus and accuracy (and mushroom tolerance), Elaina’s very close attention is both appreciated and effective.

In return, Elaina gets to experience what it’s like to be a teacher like Flan was for her, and finds nurturing her junior to be extremely appealing and rewarding. While there’s nothing as intense as Elaina and Flan’s duel, there’s still plenty of lovely eye candy to enjoy throughout their training.

While searching on the roof where she landed for her brooch, Elaina spots a lady whom she pays to tell her what she saw the day of the collision. That night, Elaina lets Saya sleep in her bed with her, and Saya indicates how happy she is that, at least until her brooch is found and she continues her journey, they’ll be “together forever.” That’s when Elaina says she knows Saya stole her brooch and has been concealing it.

This was never about learning how to fly properly—Saya wouldn’t have been able to come to the city from far to the East if she weren’t a solid flyer—instead, but how Saya can’t “pin someone down” with “misguided methods” so they’ll remain with her. Ever since her sister left Saya has experienced crippling loneliness, which she hoped would end upon meeting Elaina (with whom her collision was intentional).

Seiyuu Kurosawa Tomoyo brings a beautiful vulnerability and comic expressiveness to Saya throughout the episode, and shows her equally solid dramatic chops in this scene as Saya breaks down. Hondo Kaede is just as effective as a consoling Elaina who, after delivering a needed forehead flick, tells Saya that being alone is an inevitable and necessary part of becoming a witch (like eating mushrooms).

Elaina felt lonely during her development, but she gradually gained the courage to fight alone, and so must Saya. Part of that means understanding that those she loves are always watching her, even if they’re not physically there. To that end, she gives Saya her spare hat, so that when the time comes that she’s lonely, she’ll remember Elaina’s words and her affection.

Six months later, Elaina is elsewhere in the world (looks like Venice…Hi Arte!) and reading this show’s equivalent of the Daily Prophet, an article in which reports that Saya finally passed the Apprentice exam, and announced that her next step is to go see “the traveler I love!” It’s an immensely sweet sentiment to end the episode, while almost assuring us that not only will Elaina and Saya meet again, but Saya could well become her apprentice.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t pick up on some of the yuri undertones to Saya’s interactions. While Elaina kept things platonic, it’s clear Saya is very much enamored of the Ashen Witch…and who can blame her? While Saya first tried to replace her little sister with Elaina, now that she’s advanced to the next stage of her magical life, Elaina is something else—a friend, mentor, and ideal for which to strive!

Our fellow anime lover Crow has also written on this episode; you read about it here!

Star Trek: Lower Decks – 04 – Bad Lieutenant

For a show with Lower Decks in the title, there sure is a lot of time spent on the senior officers. And while they’re an equally colorful bunch, I’d prefer the majority of episodes spend time with the gritty underdogs. This week we stick with Beckett for the A-plot and Tendi for the B.

In this case it’s impossible to avoid senior officers since Captain Freeman is Beckett’s mom. When the Cerritos and her sister ship Merced encounter a giant dragonfly-like generation ship with a cargo of Genesis-like terraforming fluid, the Merced captain’s briefing is just too boring for Beckett, causing a fit of yawning.

For whatever reason Freeman is loath to kick her daughter off the ship, so Cmdr. Ransom suggests they simply five her the worst and dirtiest jobs on the ship so she’ll request a transfer on her own. Considering her conduct, I’m a bit surprised Beckett is surprised by the shit jobs she ends up getting.

Meanwhile, Ensign Tendi, who cannot allow anyone on the ship to dislike her, acts like a bull in a china shop during a crew member’s “ascension” ritual, resulting in the destruction of his two-year sand mandala, and his ascension doesn’t occur. In response, he tells Tendi “I don’t like you” and “don’t talk to me”…which to be honest, is fair!

While doing holodeck waste extraction (yes, most crew members do that there, because of course they do) isn’t really her cup of tea, Beckett finds small ways to enjoy herself in other duties, like getting in a carbon-phasering race with her colleagues.

Ransom reports his failure to demoralize Beckett into transferring, and Captain Freeman has an even more diabolical idea: if her daughter won’t leave of her own volition and enjoys even the dirtiest jobs, she’ll just saddle her with more responsibility.

That’s how Ensign Beckett Mariner ends up swapping her red shirt for a gold one and gaining a pip to make her a full lieutenant. She gets her own quarters, but in exchange she’s constantly filing reports and audits and audits of audits, or sitting in interminable conferences about what style of chairs to replicate.

Beckett is even invited to the executive poker game (a staple on the Enterprise-D for both senior staff and lower decks), but she can’t even enjoy that because everyone always folds and there’s no real money involved! Since Beckett’s pretty sharp, she eventually realizes her mom promoted her intentionally to make her miserable.

The two in the midst of hashing it out when the captain of the Merced pulls a power move that ends up rupturing the hull of the generation ship and sending the terraforming fluid bursting out. All non-organic matter it touches turns organic, which means it isn’t long before both ships are transformed into biospheres, a process somewhat reminiscent of the TNG episode “Masks” when the Enterprise slowly turned into an ancient temple.

Once again, the limitless production budget of Lower Decks’ animation comes through as the cold sterile ship is transformed into a gorgeous psychedelic menagerie of caves, vines, and coral. Tendi is in engineering still trying to be friends with the guy who doesn’t like her, but they end up making up when they save each others’ lives.

Beckett and Captain Freeman are similarly able to put aside their differences long enough to devise a plan to restore the ship to its normal state and beam the too-far-gone Merced’s crew to the generation ship. Tendi’s friend ends up ascending after all (turning into pure energy as so many Star Trek characters have done) though it’s a much longer and more painful process than either of them expected!

Naturally, Beckett doesn’t remain a gold lieutenant for the rest of the show, and her kumbaya moment with her mom ends when she embarrasses her in front of an admiral after he awards them for their meritorious service. That means by the end of the episode everything’s back to normal—also a venerable trademark of TOS, TNG, and Voyager.

Notable this week: both male mains Brad and Sam barely appeared this week, which was pretty refreshing, as TNG in particular often had trouble creating episodes that focused on Crusher and Troi; I appreciate that as much of the Trek universe presented in Lower Decks is cozy and familiar, there have been notable improvements in non-white male representation.

Stray Observations:

  • The Cerritos and Merced are both California-class, but are not named after the cities you first think of when you think of that state.
  • I’m both surprised and relieved none of the crew of the generation ship were alive. Alien guest stars would have made this episode overstuffed.
  • The initial ascension ceremony really captured that warm lighting of the TNG crew quarters. I always thought those were pretty sweet digs.
  • The senior staff’s discussion about office chairs is a nod to the Burke chairs used in TOS, starting a tradition of interesting-looking conference chairs in Trek.
  • When Beckett and Captain Freeman break through the rock, they emerge into a turboshaft that’s been overrun by jungle. I was immediately reminded of the Genesis Cave in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
  • I’m gradually getting used to the character designs, which I’m told are similar to those in Rick & Morty, with which Lower Decks shares its creator. But I’ll be honest: I’d be just fine with more anime-inspired designs.

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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