Sakurako-san – 12 (Fin)

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Shoutarou is not satisfied with being separated from Sakurako, especially when it’s “for his own good,” but as of the start of the episode, he has yet to gather the courage to confront her about his displeasure. That is, until he reminisces about the time he first saw her (she put a spell on him with her ethereal beauty) first called the cops on her (when he saw her boiling bones), and accompanied her on their first case as a mystery-solving duo, during which Sakurako did all the heavy lifting.

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The case involved an elderly relation of his neighbors, who had the urge to visit a certain shrine. Sakurako canvases the shrines and determines the old lady murdered the man she finds buried beneath the tree, and does her Sakurako thing that transforms her into the young girl she was when she did it, in order to save her mother from her father’s beatings. It packs the usual emotional punch of such encounters throughout the show.

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The part of the flashbacks pertinent to Shou’s present predicament is Sakurako’s assertion that “time stopped” for Yachi-san when she killed her father. Her regret kept her standing still, no better than a still-living corpse, just waiting to die. But time never stops for anyone, and stopping in fear of the future gains nothing, according to Sakurako’s past self. Shou now has all the inspiration he needs to face the present Sakurako-san, and all the ammo he needs to get her back in his life, and him back in her’s.

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So Shoutarou storms back on to her property, declares he wants back in her life, and won’t take no for an answer. Like the first time they met and he followed her around, he’s come to “escape his everyday life”…only he wants his everyday life to be one with Sakurako in it. Saku warns him of the “abyss” Hanabusa, and by extension she, represents, and how she dreads seeing Shoutarou’s bones. But he rattles off all of the people she saved from Hanabusa’s machinations—Ii-chan, the baby, Fujioka-san—as well as two of the three girls who worshipped Hanabusa, along with Yuriko’s peace of mind.

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With that track record, Shou feels safer with Sakurako than without, and asks her to continue protecting him. Defeated, Sakurako agrees, and we know she’s a bit relieved herself that this boy shook her out of her attempt to carry on alone. So much so, she calls him by his name again, without reservation; a sign she herself may be willing to keep moving forward beyond whatever dark mysteries are in her past, or whatever skeletons are in her closet.

Shou is well aware their path won’t be an easy one; Hanabusa is definitely watching them and will try to tap into their grief and regrets and despair just as he has his many victims. But in a battle of wits between him and Sakurako, there is no choice for Shoutarou: Sakurako will win. Especially with an excellent assistant such as himself by her side.

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Sakurako-san no Ashimoto – 11

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A night at Sakurako’s moves Minami to tell her Hitoe’s location, and when they find her covered in butterflies the worst is feared. Alas, “only” her dog is dead and attracting the insects; she merely took a non-lethal dose of sleeping pills and soon wakes up. Not shortly thereafter, Hector barks from outside, announcing he’s found what Sakurako was hoping to find: more bones. Specifically, the bones of a young woman; Minami and Hitoe’s friend Futaba. And that’s far from all that’s unearthed this week.

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Minami recounts the tale of how Futaba showed her and Hitoe this abandoned cabin in the woods, and they made it their home, their place where they belonged. All three of them had their problems, but Futaba was the worst, and soon wanted to enter a suicide pact with the other two. Hitoe agreed, but Minami didn’t want to die, so she ran. When she returned later, Futaba was dead, having hung herself, while Hitoe injured her hands trying to save her.

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Minami buried the body, and that was that. Only…Sakurako-san wasn’t born yesterday by any stretch, and Futaba’s bones tell her a far different story. Not a story of Futaba hanging herself as Hitoe struggled to stop her, but a story of being strangled to death, as indicated by bones that would not have been broken by hanging, and the dubiousness of dying while hanging so low her feet touched the ground.

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Hitoe can’t keep up the fiction any longer, though she kept it hidden within her memory for so long, it flows out like a river through breached dam, all anger and despair. Futaba gave her an ultimatum: she’d either help her kill herself, or she’d kill her, then commit suicide. It was an impossible situation for Hitoe, who comes out and blames Minami for running. Had she been there, maybe Futaba would have kept it together a little longer (though considering both she and Hitoe were already considering suicide when Minami fled, I doubt it).

Isozaki is able to calm Hitoe, and puts all the blame on himself, not for failing to see the pain his three students were in, but for seeing the pain, and turning away, not wanting to be hurt himself.

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After burying Futaba, Minami and Hitoe drifted apart, partly because Hitoe started seeing other friends, partly because Hitoe reminded Minami of what happened to Futaba. Then she met Hanabusa, who she waxes poetic about as if her mind had been programmed to say these things. But it wasn’t; she simply fell victim to the honeyed words of a criminal mastermind, just as Hitoe would, and just as many other victims have.

Sakurako knows Hanabusa never loved Minami—that he’s incapable of loving anyone unless they’re bleach bones—and that Minami was just another pawn in his game. The thing is, she doesn’t really need to be so blunt about all these things at this particular time. For someone so good at detecting, she fails to read the room, and turns her back on Minami, who can’t handle what she’s saying and tries to stab her with a palette knife.

But Sakurako doesn’t get stabbed, because Shoutarou comes between her and Minami, catching the knife in his side. Remembering her brother, who apparently drowned in a rainstorm, she shouts out Shoutarou’s name.

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But it’s all okay; the stabbing wasn’t precise, nor was it lethal. Shou will be fine. But Sakurako isn’t. It was too close a call for her. As she hits the home stretch on tracking down the “abyss” that is Hanabusa, Sakurako has unilaterally decided she and Shou must part ways. It almost feels like a breakup…because it is, and Shou is heartbroken. But the bottom line is, Hanabusa is a dangerous, brilliant son of a bitch, and while Sakurako loves bones, she never wants to see Shoutarou’s.

Will Shoutarou really accept this? He’s too shocked and overwhelmed to protest here, but once he’s discharged, I wonder how Sakurako will keep him away, and whether he’ll honor her selfish desire to go it alone with Hanabusa. I’m hoping he won’t, because as the tear Sakurako sheds indicates, these two people belong together. Call them soul mates, if you will.

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Noragami Aragoto – 05

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Last week, it was all coming up Kugaha: everyone was playing the roles he’d laid out for them, and everyone was tied up in a knot, culminating in the shattering of Yukine by Bishamon’s untempered-by-Kazuma hand. But Yukine is fine, in fact, he’s better than fine: his act of sacrifice to save his master led to his evolution and transformation from mere regalia to blessed vessel, the same thing that happened with Kuzama.

Now Yukine is two blades instead of one, and they’re both much sharper; all the better to protect his master. Let there be no more doubt about the depth of their bond not just as master and weapon, but family.

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Does the quick resolution of last week’s cliffhanger kill the tension? Not by a long shot. In fact, Yukine’s transformation still plays into Kugaha’s hands, because Yato is now in a far better position to take out Bishamon, who is riddled with blight once Kugaha’s medicine wears off. But if the corruption is weakening her, it’s sure hard to tell; she fights as hard as ever, and her regalia suffer, sharing every blotch of blight she’s enduring.

This won’t end well until someone acts outside of the chain of command and saves Bishamon and everyone else from herself.

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That someone is Aiha, who tells Kuraha, who was just wishing Kazuma was there, where Kugaha stashed Kazuma and Hiyori. As Kugaha lays waste to scores of Bishamon’s lesser regalia with a giant dragonlike phantom, the old lion conveys the two former captives to Bishamon and Yato.

Notably, Hiyori refuses to return to the living world and her body until Yato has seen her; just as Kazuma may be the only one to stop Bishamon, Hiyori is the only one who can stop Yato.

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As Bishamon endures the pain of losing more and more regalia, she refuses to give up the fight, and seeing who’s fighting her, doubles down on her belief Yato is the one behind all this, and is again trying to take everything from her. At the same time, Yato hears the voice of Nora imploring him to cut Bishamon’s regalia down before she entangles him with her scourge. Nora drowns out Yukine’s voice, Yato’s eyes go dead, and he aims for Bishamon’s throat…

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But Hiyori’s voice, now stronger than Nora’s ancient influence, and the reason he’s come, stops him. She shows she’s fine, and explains Bishamon didn’t kidnap her. But it’s too late; if he doesn’t kill her, she’ll kill everyone in a massive atom bomb of corruption. Again going exactly according to Kugaha’s plans, he plans to kill her, saying it’s “not such a big deal” as she’ll be instantly reborn. But it will be a big deal, because she won’t be quite the same Bishamon.

Fortunately, perhaps, Yato’s cut doesn’t kill her, and when she counters, Kazuma comes between the two and takes the full brunt of the attack, then embraces Bishamon and confesses what he deems his sins. He was always going to tell her that he ordered the killing of the Ma clan, but he was the only one left she could turn to, he simply couldn’t say it, and never did, until now.

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Still, I think Kazuma is being too hard on himself. He did what he thought he had to to save his master, and bearing that terrible secret also protected her. Having only Kazuma as a basis for starting over was more important than revealing the truth, which back then would have been the final nail in her coffin. Instead, he became an earring and her exemplar, and she became a better, kinder god.

As with Yukine last week, I can’t definitively speak to the status of Kazuma (though I doubt he’s a goner), but that was some intense catharsis right there, and it had the effect of calming Bishamon and prompting her to release all the regalia she was pushing to their limits.

Most importantly: Aiha’s turnabout, Kazuma’s intervention, Kuraha’s independence, and Bishamon’s catharsis were all events that weren’t part of Kugaha’s plan. He managed to kill a lot of regalia, but his primary goal was thwarted (for now), and now Yato is resolved to go after “the guy behind all of this.” Finally, a break for the good guys.

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Noragami Aragoto – 04

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Well, looks like Kugaha took Kurama too…Damn! That makes things trickier for Yato. Oh yeah, and Yato seems to believe, quite understandably so, that Hiyori was kidnapped under Bishamon’s orders, rather than Kugaha acting alone. Let’s just say Yato gets a little hot-blooded the moment he knows Hiyori is in enemy hands. He’s going to get her back; nothing else matters. When Yukine hears what’s happened, he’s quick to join.

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It’s a race against time, as Hiyori can only survive so long outside of her body. But she and Kurama are stuck, so it’s as good a time as any to explain the beef between Bishamon and Yato. Turns out, as we more or less knew, Bishamon’s entire cadre of regalias were wiped out by Yato, and Kurama was the only survivor. But Kurama also lets us know how a God can be resurrected after being destroyed, which is what Kugaha’s aim seems to be.

Kugaha wants Yato to kill Bishamon for him so a new Bishamon will be born: one he’ll be the exemplar for (rather than Kurama) and will likely be able to mold into more compliance than the current, “spoiled” Bishamon, whom Kugaha also believes is too “soft-hearted” to carry the mantle of God of War. And he may not even be wrong.

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Thanks to Tenjin, Yato and Yukine are able to travel to the realm of Bishamon’s mansion (in exchange for being kept out of it, plus one other thing Yato understands without him saying), and the fight begins. Because Kugaha is basically using Aiha’s corrupted body to weaken Bishamon, the lack of a steady exemplar like Kurama means her power flies out of control easier, which results in tougher attacks but at a risk to herself and her regalias.

Trapped in a dungeon and unable to intervene even if “Veena” heard him, Kurama laments the fact that it was he who got his fellow regalias wiped out by Yato. That’s right: Yato wasn’t only a rabid monster killing indiscriminately (though he was certainly in Nora’s thrall at the time): he was a rabid monster killing indiscriminately because he was asked to, by a young Kurama who didn’t know what else to do.

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When Bishamon’s body became riddled with corruption, and the regalia culprit wouldn’t come forward, discord was sown among them all, and all it took was one spark from someone who’s lost their temper to start fighting amongst themselves. Kurama couldn’t bear to watch Bishamon be destroyed in the chaos, so he exercised the nuclear option: hire a calamity god, Yato, to cut out the rot, to save Bishamon.

In the present, Yato seems to sense Bishamon is corrupted again, but Bishamon insists none of her regalias are betraying her this time—words that make Aiha tear up, because she and Kugaha are betraying her. In the past, Kurama’s quick, decisive action saved Bishamon, but I don’t think Bishamon wanted to be saved that way, even though things had gone to far to save her regalias.

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The collective pain of their fighting and deaths would have probably destroyed her, but better she die than watch them die. It’s the reason she takes on every lost soul she can, even if they’re not useful. She blames Yato, but she blames herself just as much for what happened.

Now, things are on the verge of going past the point of no return, and everything is going according to Kugaha’s plans, with Yato and Bishamon fixed on one another and their colorful pasts, unable to see the forest for the trees. Vastly outnumbered, Yato gets separated from Yukine, is encased in a tripartite barrier, and Bishamon’s killing blow for him is caught by Yukine, shattering him into pieces.

This was a brutally intense episode culminating in an equally intense cliffhanger. I can’t quite believe Yukine is dead, since that would surely be curtains for the unarmed Yato, but who knows? It’s a very unfortunate situation. Kugaha has truly made a mess of things, and it’s going to be interesting to see if and how it’s cleaned up.

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Noragami Aragoto – 03

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Aragoto essentially means “rough style” (of kabuki), and rough is exactly how things go for Bishamon’s chief regalia Kazuma in this fast-moving episode. He feels responsible for allowing Suzuha to die, and exposing his master to the agonizing pain of losing a regalia, even a minor one whose name she hadn’t spoken in decades. Dr. Kuga makes sure he feels bad, too. That leads Kazuma to inspect the site of Suzuha’s death, placing flowers at the cherry tree just as Yukine shows up for another playdate.

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When Yukine sees those flowers,  Yato can feel the resulting pain, which is when Nora appears beside him to say if Yukine’s “holding him back” he can always “cut her down;” she’ll help. Very helpful, as always, Nora. As for Yukine, he grabs hold of Kazuma and gets transported to Bishamon’s celestial manor.

In other words, the heart of his master’s mortal enemy. In another piece of convenient timing, Bishamon catches Kazuma with Yato’s regalia, assumes the worst—that she’s been betrayed—and considers stripping him of his name, but only ends up exiling him.

What’s so upsetting about this whole confrontation is that once again Bishamon is acting on pure emotion without getting the whole story, compounded by the pain she’s feeling both from the loss of Suzuha and all of her other grieving, uneasy regalia.

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As Bishamon’s other head regalia ponder what to do next, they let themselves be comforted and counseled by the wise and trustworthy Kugaha, who suggests they forget about Kazuma and concentrate on supporting their master. With nowhere else to go, Kazuma ends up at Kofuku’s where he learns the reason Yato hangs around there so much: Hiyori.

I like how Kofuku’s has become a kind of god-and-regalia orphanage. I also like the fact that Kazuma is now on the outside of the Bishamon citadel, looking in, having essentially switched teams not due to any conscious choice, but simple circumstances.

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Getting Kazuma out of the way was clearly Kugaha’s plan, and while he didn’t expect it to happen so easily due to Yukine’s appearance, he rolls with it and proceeds with his dastardly plans.

Those include siccing Aiha, his fellow regalia and clearly another victim of his manipulation, on Yato to separate him from Hiyori. Hiyori, for her part, leaves her body and tries to fight Aiha, but Yato tells her to stay back, and it isn’t long before Aiha and a mess of phantoms draw him further away from his friend.

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That’s when Kugaha swoops in and nabs Hiyori’s spirit, leaving Yato with only her unconscious living body. We’ve been here before, haven’t we? Only now Yato is as cognizant as ever that Hiyori is not only a dear friend and ally, but one of the only humans he knows who knows him, and whom he’s counting on not forgetting him.

She promised not to, and vowed to spend more time with him and Yukine, but now Kugaha has hit him where he lives, and with Hiyori as leverage, he has Yato right where he wants him, and Yato doesn’t have a whole lot of wiggle room. Still, with Yukine and Kazuma (assuming Kugaha doesn’t take him too) by his side, along with his own godly powers, Yato isn’t powerless, either.

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Yamada-kun to 7-nin no Majo – 08

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I’ve liked how deftly Y7 has kept things fresh by approaching each new witch intro from a different angle, which is also appropriate considering the unique problems that led to them getting their powers in the first place. Urara was and is Yamada’s primary love interest. Nene was an adversary, while Meiko and Maria needed his help.

With Takigawa Noa, we seem to be dealing with another adversary. Her powers are believed to be the opposite of Maria’s, meaning the Supe Club assumes Noa’s turned three formerly popular students into troublemakers through blackmail or manipulation. But nothing is ever as clear-cut as it seems on this show. In fact, Noa’s turns out to be the most emotionally complex witch cases yet.

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She’s also, at first, the toughest nut to crack. Yamada thinks at first he can put on the charm and get a kiss to make things easier, but to his shock, Noa is grossed out by him, having only teased him about liking him.

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With Yamada’s pride hurt, he tries again, but only gets a push broom to the face. When he reveals he’s in the Supe Club and knows she’s a witch, Noa pulls attitude 180, and is suddenly keen to kiss him. So keen, Yamada thinks something is fishy, and rebuffs her advances. Now she’s the one with the hurt pride.

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Using her knew knowledge of Yamada, she hits him where he lives, having her three troubled friends/minions brutally ransack the clubroom. I’m not sure how they weren’t simply suspended or expelled right then and there, but the adults are all but nonexistent in this school, so whatever.

Pissed off more than ever, Yamada confronts President Yamazaki for the truth about Noa, and he gets it: she wants to make witches out of her three friends, and eradicate all the others. That means Urara, Nene, Meiko and Maria are all in danger.

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Rather than panic, Yamada stages a trap for Noa’s crew, using a game, excited Urara as the bait. I appreciate her adventurous spirit throughout this mission, and the fact she trusts Yamada’s judgement more than anyone else. The female friend of Noa kisses Urara, and celebrates the fact she was able to switch bodies, so she can now pesumably do something to get Urara expelled and thus powers revoked.

Only Yamada kissed Urara before, so the girl only ends up switching with him, in Urara’s body. She and the other two are tied up and held captive in the club room while Yamada, still in the girl’s body, opens negotiations with Noa.

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Two others (not sure who) accompany Yamada in the bodies of Noa’s friends, but Noa knows who they are immediately. She offers the notebook, then both notebooks in exchange for her people, but Yamada wants more: for the witch-hunting activities to stop, a condition Noa flatly refuses.

The talks break down, and Tsubaki and Itou beat Yamada for failing again, but Yamada insists this is about more than getting the notebooks back: three students’ reputations are at stake, and Noa must be stopped. That’s when Noa’s friends agree to stop their activities of their own volition. They’d rather be together with Noa than for her to be alone.

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This awakens Yamada to a key point: Noa hasn’t been manipulating her friends. When he gives them back to her, he asks her if taking over the school with her power was really her goal, and castigates them for causing all those problems that caused them to lose the popularity they already had.

That’s when a frustrated Noa kisses Yamada, and he experiences her power firsthand: in a dream, he relives the most traumatic memory of her past, when her classmates locked her in a storage room for hours until she wet herself. Similarly, her three friends never did anything bad; they were framed.

Noa has wanted to save them for so long, and thought she could do so by getting them witch powers. But when Yamada stopped them, she remembered they were popular from the start, and only their association with her hurt them.

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Then the three friends come to Noa’s aid, fighting Yamada and insisting they won’t leave her side. But Yamada shoots back that it’s their wishy-washiness that’s causing Noa’s suffering. Yamada doesn’t have all the answers, but he thinks they should at least do whatever they can to make Noa smile.

At that, another switch seems to go of in Noa’s head, and when we next see her, she’s in the club clinging to Yamada, whom she claims to have fallen for completely. Urara, whom you’d think would be jealous about such a development, is actually happy, because Noa’s power is more about simply seeing someone’s darkest hour, it’s about both kisser and kissee opening their hearts to one another, eliminating artifice and pretense.

They haven’t known each other long, but Yamada and Noa experienced that, and now he knows she’s not just an annoying schemer, and he’s not just a nosy, gross upperclassman. Urara also remarks that the two aren’t all that dissimilar: Yamada’s power also ultimately brings him closer to each of the witches, since to know their powers is to know the problems that gave rise to them. He knew exactly what to do for Noa, and she appreciates it.

It was great watching the battle of wills between Noa and Yamada, as well as the breathless evolution of their relationship. Yuuki Aoi is a great addition to the already stacked cast. Two witches to go!

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Cross Ange: Tenshi to Ryuu no Rondo – 25 (Fin)

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One of the question marks last week was what, if anything, would bring Salia back into the fold. That turns out to be Alektra, whom Salia brings to the Aurora. All Alektra wants is a cigarette and the chance to say what she needed to say to Salia, whom she regards as a little sister, if not a carbon copy of herself, complete with the same mistakes. But as Aura halts the world-merging, there’s still a chance to beat Embryo.

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And is there some villainy thee vile Embryo hast not committed? Why, forcable rape, of course! His final move is to return to his own timeless “in-betweeny space”, where he gives Ange more of his backstory in between slapping and stripping her. He won’t be refused, and aims to “purify” Ange, who was “sullied” by Tusk. Now Embryo is just pathetic, though who can say this wouldn’t happen to any man kept alive for a thousand years, with the power to control everything?

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But yeah, in it’s last episode, Ange “goes there”, just it has not been afraid to go there throughout its run, for good or ill. He binds her arms and legs with vines so she’s spread eagle, but is kind enough not to gag her, so Ange takes advantage and sings the song of Villkiss. Tusk boards it, and with his tears of love he’s able to activate her ring, and the Villkiss teleports him, Hilda, Salia and Salako to Ange’s location.

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Tusk is just in time to stop Embryo from going too far, and rescues Ange in their now trademark position of his head in her crotch. This time, Ange is too scared and happy he’s there to blush or slug him. And he even has the panties she gave him so she can cover up. I wondered when those panties would come in handy.

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There’s still Embryo to content with, and Tusk crosses swords with him, as is expected of a knight, and we also learn this is Embryo’s original body. He’s still a tough customer, so Tusk keeps him busy as Villkiss upgrades again to a Ange/Tusk combo paint scheme, and cloaks Ange in a crisp, white flight suit.

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Hilda (riding Chris’ mail), Salia, and Salako prove to be a good group to have accompanied Tusk to this place. They’re kept busy fighting duplicates of Embryo’s Ragna-mail. He tries to brainwash Salia and briefly takes over control of her mail, but as Ange and Salako monologue about how they’ll allow themselves to be controlled (by a man, no less) over their dead bodies. Hilda and Salia join their voices.

Salako even figures out why Norma exist—judgment for Embryo thinking in his hubris he could control human genes—and why they’re all women: so they can re-populate the Earth with a population of humans he can’t control. Life Will Find A WayCross Ange-style. It holds together pretty well.

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As Tusk runs Embryo through and Ange delivers that dynamite one-liner in the top-right, she runs his Ragna-mail through, and it’s over. No more dirty old man. Good game; let’s go eat!

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The world Ange & Friends return to is the “true” Earth of Dragons, now freed from Embryo’s tinkering. There, with no one left to fight, Ange declares she’ll build a new nation, and at this point everyone at her side is fine with that. She was born to lead, after all, not to mention she’s the reason they’re all alive.

When Momoka asks what’s to be done about the other world, Ange basically shrugs and says it’s not her problem, which she’s well within her rights to do. The people of that world are humans; they’ll figure it out.

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Sure enough, we see Sylvia embracing the fact that she really can walk, and arms herself with friends and weapons to protect the weak. The show didn’t have to do anything else with Sylvia, but I’m glad they did. She is Ange’s sister, and Ange herself was once an insufferable brat, so it stands to reason Sylvia had that same strength within her.

As the credits roll we get a great epilogal montage that shows us what everyone is up to now that there’s peace: Ersha, Salia, and the surviving rookies meeting Vivian’s parents; Ange opening her dream cafe with Tusk; Momoka and the bridge crew; hanging out with Salako on her time off; paying respects to the fallen, and building their new nation.

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Left out of the end montage, in a rare showing of restraint for this show: Hilda-Roselie-Chris makeup sex, Ange-Tusk baby-making, and other potential bedroom formations, such as Ange-Salako-Tusk or Ange-Tusk-Hilda-Roselie. Gotta leave some things to the imagination, I suppose…but I imagine at some point they’ll want to populate this new nation, and there are only so many men. Gotta watch out for inbreeding.

And on that somewhat inappropriate note, it’s time to say goodbye to Cross Ange, at least until the OVA or film, if they come to fruition. It was a very fun ride, and I’ll miss the show’s shameless raunchyness and shlock combined with genuinely compelling character drama and feminist commentary.

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Cross Ange: Tenshi to Ryuu no Rondo – 24

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As you can see, a lot happened in the second-to-last episode of Cross Ange, but not a whole lot was resolved; most glaringly the Embryo problem: dude just won’t die. Perhaps they’re leaving that for the last episode; though as Ange remarks in the preview, they could also hold that off until a special or movie…which would make me as cross as Ange usually is (if it’s to be believed the show’s title is a pun).

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While the fate of Ange, Tusk, Salia, and Embryo remains up in the air for the finale, this episode focused on secondary characters, as many as it could, and tied up some loose ends we were hoping wouldn’t end in tragedy.

The Aurora takes a beating, but Jasmine, Vivi, Riza, Momoka, and Ersha (taking to the cockpit again) manage to keep it together long enough for DRAGON reinforcements to arrive (sent by their empress to back up the Norma).

Embryo also shows his Diamond Rose Knights exactly how little he really thinks of them by using them to bait the Dragons so he can go grab his “wife” Ange. Two of Chris and Salia’s comrades, whom I could never remember the names of, are killed off in quick succession.

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In the episode’s best act, this latest betrayal basically breaks Chris, who just fires wildly at everyone wishing they’d all die. A nifty combo of Hilda’s tough love (“Give it a break, you emo bitch!” is particularly cutting, but apt) and a desperate stunt by Roselie, who plucks Chris right out of her cockpit and won’t let go until she’s heard.

Hilda manages to catch them both, by which time Roselie has reiterated her love for Chris, and the fact she can’t live without her, and wants to be her friend again more than anything. Chris, back to her senses and thinking like the Chris of old, uses this opportunity to make Roselie agree to several conditions, which will have the effect of balancing their relationship.

If nothing else, I’m glad these girls made up and no one had to be killed (well, except Marika).

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While all this feel-good making up is going on, Salako and Ange succeed in releasing Aura from his cage. Jill also smells defeat on Embryo and tries to get him to take her with him…wherever he escapes to. It’s a trick, but one that doesn’t work out for Jill, as she wrongly assumed she was dealing with Emby’s original body. She’s injured, but not dead, so we’ll see what becomes of her.

There’s not a lot of her here, perhaps because she’ll factor so huge in the finale (Embryo plucks her away in the end, sans clothes), but the fact large swaths of time pass where we’re not sure what she’s up to was troublesome. Furthermore, Salia has seen her comrades be betrayed by Embryo, but she doesn’t quite wake up like Ersha and Chris.

Emby doesn’t seem to care about either world anymore, and as they’re 97% converged when the credits roll, he may not have to care about them much longer. Ange remains his top priority, and he seems genuinely pissed when Tusk boasts deflowered her. Which when you look at that flashback and see Embryo with Tusk’s mom, adds a somewhat icky sheen to this whole affair.

Then again, it wouldn’t be Cross Ange if it wasn’t a little icky.

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Cross Ange: Tenshi to Ryuu no Rondo – 23

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Even though two more episodes remain, this had the feel of a second-to-last episode, with a lot of character housekeeping leading into the start of the final battle that will decide the very fate of the world(s). With such a tangled web of character connections, any housekeeping episode in which many were either resolved or set up to be resolved soon could run the risk of feeling overstuffed and unwieldy.

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Not so here, and you can chalk that up to the show’s genuine care and concern for each and every one of its characters, with the possible exception of Embryo, who has been painted pretty consistently as a transparently evil pervert of late.

Because Cross Ange cares so much, so do I. So even when minor characters like a sober Emma and Riza Randog achieve redemption, it lifts my spirits as much as Ange returning to the Aurora with Tusk aboard his mother’s paramail, or Ersha returning to the fold. Everyone is getting into the right place.

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As Ange later remarks to Salia, she has a lot of “errands” this week, which starts with welcoming Salako back and thanking Riza, and continues with trying to slap some pride back into a sulking Jill. Hilda now sees fully what she’d only seen glimpses of before; how inspiring and natural a leader Ange is.

To that end, she offers Ange the command, and to Hilda’s credit it feels more like a correct and practical decision rather than any kind of emotionally-driven concession borne out of her inadequacies. She just prefers to run around with a gun, which is true.

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As for Hilda’s feelings for Ange, well, now is the time to confess them, and when Ange insists, Hilda doesn’t hold back: she sees Ange as her knight; her Tusk. When she laughs away these feelings as strange because they’re both women, Ange leans in for a kiss, and tells her the world where such things are strange is the same world they’re going to destroy.

Ange will need Hilda in that world as much as Tusk and Salako. This suggests it will be a society in which relationships need not be monogamous. It’s another credit to the care with which these characters’ roller-coaster history has been portrayed that this corridor exchange hits all the right emotional notes. Tamura Yukari also turns in a great performance as Hilda here.

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When chewing out Jill, Ange pointed out that many lives were destroyed in her failed missions for revenge and revolution, and that even Salia had to latch onto Embryo when Jill spurned her. When we see Salia saluting Embryo, you can tell that Embryo himself is now secondary to her own desire to rid the world of Ange once and for all, hoping that will make her special and desired. It’s a misguided motivation that I simply don’t see unfolding.

As Ange’s “errands” continue, she and Tusk have a quiet tender moment on the eve of battle, when Ange insists on giving Tusk something back for his undying devotion. Something more than being safe, that is, which is enough for him. But being light on the possessions, she decides to give him the panties she’s presently wearing, which Tusk accepts graciously and promises to return “so she doesn’t catch cold.” It’s the same kind of risque sweetness that has defined so much of their romance.

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After Ange delivers a stirring pre-battle speech that only demonstrates Hilda made the right decision in raising her to the command, the Aurora, with Jasmine at the help and Ersha on the weapons, heads to the Dawn Pillar for a frontal assault. The conventional Misurugi military units don’t put up much of a fight, so as the enemy nears, Embryo sends his harem of ragna-mail pilots out to meet them, and the battle’s stakes heighten accordingly.

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Such a wide-ranging battle with everyone involved means we get some nice matchups: Hilda and Roselie against their former lover Chris, who’s still in Embryo’s court; Salako’s two lieutenants we can’t remember the names of versus the other two Embryo girls we can’t remember the name of, and Vivi inspiring the rookies with her usual kick-ass combat skills. And then Tusk takes on Embryo, who is amused that Tusk isn’t dead.

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Jasmine and Ersha successfully fire the Aurora’s cryo-cannon at the Dawn Pillar, destroying it and opening the way for Salako and Ange to free Aura beneath the ruins. But Ange has to get past a hate-fueled Salia, who may yet again be ignoring her natural shortcomings in her obsessive quest to destroy her rival. Note that her arc has gone in essentially the opposite direction of Hilda’s.

Salia tosses Ange into the palace, where Ange happens to come upon her sister Sylvia, who is being harassed by commoners furious that nothing’s being done to protect them. Ange has nothing for these people but contempt, and in one case, a bullet to the head. In what she believes will be her last encounter with her pathetic little sister, Ange fires warning shots at her, forcing her to stop pretending she can’t walk and run away, taking care of herself for once.

It’s pretty harsh treatment when you consider that like much of the rest of humanity, Sylvia is simply a slave to her genetic abhorrance of Norma and Dragons, and a victim of her weak, brainwashing-susceptable mind. But alas, this is not a fair world; that’s why Ange’s going to destroy it, giving rise to a fairer one.

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With that last “errand” taken care of, Ange returns to her duel with a patient Salia, and it’s pretty clear at this point there’s nothing Ange can say that will make her see reason. Enter Alektra Maria von Levenherz, who has taken Ange’s words to heart, suits up, and pilots Ersha’s ragna-mail to join the fray, doing her part for Libertus.

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Perhaps Jill will be able to succeed where Ange has thus far failed vis-a-vis Salia. She certainly knows how to press Salia’s buttons, as the first thing she says to her is that she’s disappointed, the kind of tack that drew Salia away from her in the first place.

Is she provoking Salia to throw her off the game so she’ll break off from Ange and start attacking Jill? Is Jill’s goal to atone by snapping Salia out of it, or simply by letting Salia kill her, if she can? Did Embryo really set up this whole world-merging threat simply to draw Ange to kill him for realsies, using the Villkiss’ inter-dimensional ability.

Will the battle end next week, making episode 25 an epilogue? Who will live; who will die; who will reconcile? The housekeeping and table-setting is over: it’s time for the big dance.

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P.S. In the adorable preview, Vivi celebrates Ersha’s return by demanding food, and Ersha headbutts her, but the preview ends before she can tell us what happens next week. Drat!

Cross Ange: Tenshi to Ryuu no Rondo – 22

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This week somewhat inauspiciously begins with Salia being spanked like an insolent child by Embryo, for letting Ange get away. But as painful and humiliating as this experience is, there’s still a glint of defiance in Salia’s face and words. Chasing after Ange the Chosen One like an obedient errand girl is not what she signed up for; in fact, it’s one of the very reasons she defected from Arzenal in the first place.

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Aboard the Aurora, Embryo finally manipulates Emma Bronson to antagonize what looks like the beginning of a Norma/Dragon alliance, in the midst of Riza’s report that Embryo is trying to merge both their worlds to form a new one, destroying them in the process. Even if Salako & Co. are Dragons, Hilda can relate Salako’s friendship to Ange. Roselie, meanwhile, isn’t looking forward to killing Chris, but it’s her or them; something she laments with great sadness.

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Embryo expounds on his grand plans for the world by stating it will be ruled by “strong, intelligent women.” He leaves out “pliable women who will acknowledge his unlimited power and know their place below him.” At the same time, he takes no pleasure in watching Ersha grovel and beg him to restore the lives of her children. He really never intended those children to survive the merging at all. Rather, he intends Ersha to become the mother of the new world’s children, which has some pretty messed-up ramifications if you think too long about it, which, judging from Ersha’s expression, she does.

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Like Salia, Embryo essentially warns Ersha that she’s not acting like the “intelligent women” he needs for that world. Unlike Salia, he basically casts her aside and tells her to stay out of sight, whereas he at least gives Salia one more chance to prove her loyalty. Salia won’t be doing that, though.

It looks like her spanking was the straw that broke the camel’s back; she won’t prove her value to Embryo by finding Ange; she’ll prove she’s stronger by besting and killing her, going against Embryo’s wishes in a desperate bid to win his approval.

This is not the best plan, considering Embryo can bring people back from the dead at will, but even if her judgement-quashing inferiority complex is still as strong as ever, at least she now realizes how much of a sack of shit Embryo is. Ripping up her Pretty Salian cosplay is as strong a symbol as any that she’s done playing the heroine.

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Ersha, meanwhile, realizes how appallingly naive she’s been, and how easily she allowed Embryo to win her obedience by manipulating her powerful maternal instincts. In both her and Salia’s case, they were girls with ambitions (albeit very different ones) that got their way, and now that they’ve seen how thin the veneer of Embryo’s goodness extends, They’re both well and truly disillusioned, and will no longer follow him.

Chris is different, in that nothing happened to her this week that suggests she’ll be going against Embryo. Embryo is her best bud, after all; the one person who would simply be her friend the way no one else ever did. Her ambitions are far smaller by comparison, and so easier to both fulfill and maintain. Are Chris, Roselie, and Hilda doomed to try and kill one another without ever reconciling the often twisted shit they’ve all been through? Or will something Embryo does cause CHris to revolt as well? I hope it’s the latter.

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Meanwhile, Tusk’s chopper-thingy deposits Ange on his island and releases her, and it doesn’t take long for the same crushing loneliness Tusk must have felt in the years he was here to sink in for her, combined with her grief over losing both Tusk and Momoka. Ange can’t see the purpose of trying to save a world she can’t share with those two very important people.

She even considers taking her life, before remembering Tusk’s final words to her about her having to live. But reading Tusk’s diary, including the entry when she arrived (not Ange’s best outing), at which point he’d already chosen to be her knight, only makes Ange more upset. She may have spared her own life for now, but she still can’t see the point of sparing it indefinitely.

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And then, all of a sudden, as she remarks on how she’d have gone all the way with Tusk if she’d known he’d sacrifice himself, Tusk pops up behind her, alive and well! She thinks it’s another of Embryo’s illusions at first, but I had a pretty good idea it was Tusk. Am I going to defend this ridiculous plot twist? No, but I can understand it: You don’t know what you have until you’ve lost it; we never saw Tusk actually die in the explosion.

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Having tasted the bitterness of losing Tusk, Ange isn’t going to side-step the issue of the furtherance of their relationship any longer. On the contrary, she has sex with Tusk right then and there, under the stars, to prove it’s really him. Afterwards, it’s as if all of that sexual tension had simply melted away, leaving two far calmer, less distracted people.

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Momoka’s back too, because Hell, why not? She had a frying pan in her clothes that stopped a bullet. I’m more on the side of happy than angry they’re back, even if it’s very sudden. The why isn’t really important, only the that. And that Tusk and Momoka are alive means Ange has far stronger motivations to stop Embryo.

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I just don’t see how she’s going to do it considering how easily he dispatched them last time. Maybe these two finally getting laid was the key?

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Cross Ange: Tenshi to Ryuu no Rondo – 21

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Hilda leads a team composed of herself, Roselie, Vivi, Tusk, and the three new pilots to invade Misurugi and rescue Ange, in an action-packed episode that satisfactorily juggles all the involved parties and all their individual stakes and relationships, both forged and shattered. Ange is ultimately freed from Embryos clutches, but it’s only another temporary victory, and it comes at the greatest cost yet.

To think Hilda, Roselie, and Chris started out as an annoying “popular girl clique” that shunned Ange. They’ve come a long way. Hilda is fighting for Ange, Roselie is fighting for Hilda and her novice riders, and Chris is fighting for her new, true friend, Embryo-sama. She looks back in retrospect and concludes that even before Hilda and Roselie “left her for dead”, they were never really her friends. Despite Hilda’s harsh words earlier in the show, I don’t think that’s true, but tempers are too high for any hope of reconciliations.

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Chris knocks out Villkiss’ power, and it ditches in the river. Momoka rescues Ange and tries to get her away by car before Embryo unveils another one of his little tricks: the ability to turn any mana-user into a homonculus. Ane manages to snap Momoka out of it, but throngs of zombie Misurugi citizens converge. Embryo proves as tenacious as ever in cornering Ange and bending her to his will.

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While Hilda and Chris value Embryo as a lover and best mate, respectively, Ersha is doing everything for the kids, not him. So when, in the crossfire of the battle, all those kids get slaughtered, Ersha too loses all possible compunction to ever side with Ange and her cohorts again. Now, I imagine, whatever is left of her life will be dedicated to making sure those kids are avenged.

Chris, meanwhile, takes a sadistic amount of relish in killing off Marika, one of Roselie’s novice riders who came to cover her teacher’s escape. Her end is neither as surprising or as gory as Coco and Miranda’s, but it again escalates the conflict between these former comrades-in-arms, and even proves Embryo’s point that with or without the light of mana, it doesn’t take much to turn once somewhat reasonable humans into monsters.

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Embryo’s intention to punish Ange are thwarted by her trusty, horny knight, who stalls Embryo so Ange and Momoka can escape. After getting in a dig about how Tusk, the final member of “ancient people”, is nothing but a monkey, Embryo ends the stalling by shooting himself in the head.

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Just when we think Ange is home free, with the ocean and skies sprawling out before her, Momoka is taken over by Embryo once again, as he sips tea down on a balcony below them. You have to credit Embryo with being so damn hard to foil, though that’s a given when you have the powers of a god. Frankly, anyone who attempts to oppose such a powerful being has never seemed to have a very good approach for actually doing so, and the fact he’s immortal makes that unpreparedness understandable.

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Ange is then forced to watch as Momoka, whom Embryo has powered up to the very limits of her body, slashes at Tusk with a sword. Ange is able to break Embryo’s hold on her once more, saving Tusk, but then Momoka goes after Embryo while using her mana to make a huge truck hit them and push them off a cliff. It’s one final act of valor and love from Momoka, but I wonder if she didn’t squander her life trying to take out someone who couldn’t be taken out. Ange did tell her and Tusk that Embryo can’t be killed, right?

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No matter. Even if she did know she couldn’t kill him, she could slow him down, and prevent herself from being used as a homonculus again. Tusk does the same thing, sacrificing himself with a suicide bomb in order to buy time for Ange’s escape, which isn’t her choice, as he sets auto-cruise and cuffs her to his ship.

And just like that, Momoka and Tusk, two of the people Ange cared about most, are gone. Seeing the stunned pain in Ange’s face and voice at this realization, one almost can’t fault those who surrendered and sided with Embryo, because this is the price of opposing him, with the final cost yet unknown.

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Stray Observations:

  • I know it’s indicative of far more insidious elements of their dynamic in the past, but Chris is kinda overreacting over the other two making her lose one of her braids when they only gave her a clip for one. She could have, you know, spoke up for herself regarding her hairstyle preference.
  • The fact Embryo can make any one, or any number, of mana-users into his own zombie army seems like a wildly underused power up to this point.
  • Continuing with its utterly irreverent theme of the previews, Ange considers simply replacing the fallen Tusk and Momoka with Hilda and Roselie…but ironically that’s essentially what I see happening!
  • Tusk may have died a virgin, but no one can say he didn’t have his share of interesting experiences with women.
  • I assume Salia was knocked out this entire episode.

Cross Ange: Tenshi to Ryuu no Rondo – 20

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The above scene is a blatant, laughable lie, one proven to be one mere minutes later when Embryo puts the exact same moves on Ange (Also, why does he always get fully dressed before her? Can’t he snuggle Pretty Salian once in a while?). But Salia accepts it, because talk of love or destiny aside, Salia’s made a deal with Embryo.

She gets to live out her fantasy, and he gets to have her mind and body. Embryo is essentially an immortal pimp, and he makes each woman he manipulates feel like they’re his queen, through offering things they want most.

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Angelise is former royalty, so he continues to treat her as such with lovely invitation letters, second flush Darjeeling, and more honeyed words, many of them recycled from speeches with the other women. Salia doesn’t even care what Ange wants or does from this point on, as long as she’s not there to steal her spotlight and her man.

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“These are the implants I’ve had designed for you. We’re gonna make you a STAR!”

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But the same flattering, nurturing faux-kindness doesn’t work on Ange. She’s the same warrior she was when she pulverized that dragon back when she got stranded on that island. If she has a blade and a threat, she’s going to take it out. This time, Ange tries to make her point clearer by making Embryo suffer.

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Little does she know Embryo is going easy on her out of real kindness, preferring to turn her with a minimum of suffering. When he pops back again, alive and well, he reluctantly resorts to stronger measures, and it’s here that we start to take Embryo a bit more seriously.

He did create Ange’s race of humans, after all; it stands to reason he has all the tools at his disposal to manipulate them at will. Playing nice didn’t work on Ange, so he makes things far more elemental: zapping her brain with 50xPain, followed by 50xPleasure. It’s not a pretty sight, even for an eavesdropping Salia.

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What makes this episode the best in a long time is just how nicely it balances development of the careening plot with a bevy of truly great character moments, and because there are so many of them, the pacing is brisk and thrilling. Take Roselie sneaking into Hilda’s room, where Roselie comes to terms with the fact Hilda has fallen for Ange, while she herself admits she loves Chris, and always had the wrong idea about who looked out for whom. They want to be with Ange an Chris again, and Hilda knows that’s not going to happen as long as Jill is in command.

To do something about it, they’ll need help, which means recruiting the gaoled Tusk and Vivian. Hilda initially tries to seduce Tusk, but despite the rumors his head is almost constantly in Ange’s crotch (a gross exaggeration), Hilda is almost disappointed to find that he never slept with her, confirming what Ange said, and is in fact saving himself, like a true knight. Hilda just calls him a “loser”, but he’s also a useful loser, so they make an accord.

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Jill, meanwhile, can’t get Embryo-sama out of her head, so she dons her flight suit and attempts to fly off, leaving Libertus and her crew behind. Hilda organizes and stages the most necessary mutiny ever, and in Jill’s fractured state she’s no match against people with far clearer heads. It’s an awesome bring-down, especially since we learn soon after that Jill needed and wanted to be saved…from herself.

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“How was I supposed to explain? That I went to kill Embryo, but instead he took my body and mind?”

This is the crux of Jill’s sad story, which there’s no point in concealing from her crew any longer, and it really nicely explains all of her actions and attitudes to this point, helping us see her in a far more sympathetic light. Jill may have been an ace mail-rider and royalty and pilot to Villkiss but she’s still only human, and able to be reprogrammed into submission by her creator, the very same curse that befalls all other humans, mana-using or not.

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This is a fact Embryo wishes to impart onto Ange in no uncertain terms, as he enjoys another cup of tea in Dave Bowman’s 2001 Bedroom as a topless Ange flails about on the floor in rapidly fluctuating states of acute pain, pleasure, and amusement. It’s a sickening scene, like watching one of the replicants in Blade Runner go berserk before blowing up.

This is no longer a battle of wills, but a battle of science. Even if her will continues to resist longer than Jill’s or Salias, Ange’s body and mind will only hold up so long against this punishment. When Embryo leaves her, Salia comes in, pleading with Ange again to go away, for both their sakes.

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Salia isn’t going to excuse what she did to get to where she is. Even if Jill deserved to be betrayed, Salia still chose to do so. She traded her pride, duty, and chastity for pleasure, the illusion of true love, and utter dependence on Embryo, just like Jill. But Salia did this because she felt she had no other choice but death, and she’d be right. Embryo is a repellent slimeball, but he’s all Salia has left. She’s either abandoned or revoked everything else.

They may have had their differences, but deep down Salia has always known that Ange was stronger than her; even the sweating, shambling half-naked wretch at her feet is stronger than her (the bit about ‘without having to transform’ is particularly devastating). In Salia’s self-narrative, Ange has been cast as her nemesis, so it does the heroine no good to see the nemesis in such a pathetic state. She’s not just begging Ange to flee Embryo out of the kindness of her heart, but because she needs Ange to continue to be strong, or all the rest of that fantasy falls apart.

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Salia isn’t brainwashed. She’s just chosen the path that she thought would give her the most happiness, and accepted the steep costs. She hasn’t really even transformed herself: the garb and weaponry and love Embryo showers her with is just another form of cosplay, and Salia remains hidden behind those facades because she fears if they were all torn down there’d be nothing at the core. I hope she’s proven wrong.

Ange thanks Salia for freeing her, and even repays her by putting her in a sleep hold and stealing her uniform, hoping it will lessen Salia’s punishment for letting her get away. I’m not convinced Embryo will be so forgiving to a tool that turned out to be defective.

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Plot and character really went hand-in-hand in this well-composed episode, with the anti-Embryo parties starting to coalesce. Jill gives Hilda command of the Aurora and Libertus; Tusk, Vivian, Roselie, and the rest of the crew are behind her plan to rescue Ange. Ange is able to summon Villkiss and escape with Momoka.

Her escape is covered by Salako, which would be an awfully convenient effect, if it didn’t have such a solid cause: Momoka shows an act of kindness and forgiveness by freeing the battered Riza Randog, who is able to contact her Dragon commander. So nice assist from Momoka, an unsung heroine of the series.

Even if Embryo has control over the bodies and minds of all who oppose him, in the case of Hilda with Jill, Momoka with Riza, and Salia with Ange, the capacity for genuine kindness, forgiveness, and love may be effective weapons against him. But at the end of the day, while his methods repel, Embryo is no entity of pure evil. He too a victim of his own immortality, arrogance, and the belief he must bear the entire weight of the world upon his shoulders.

That means if his creations find a way to really kill him, he may not necessarily resist that chance to be freed from his curse, thus ending obsession with “getting humanity right this time.”

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Akuma no Riddle – 12 (Fin)

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“If the will to kill Haru can possibly exist, then that will is mine and mine alone. It would mean that my will is free. That it is not being manipulated by Haru.” This is the crux of what Tokaku has to work out: whether she protected and love Haru of her own free will, or if she simply succumbed to Haru’s inate ability to manipulate others in order to survive.

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When all is said and done, it would seem that her will is indeed free. Even after defeating Nio, who used the black arts her clan is known for to impersonate her, Tokaku still tried to kill Haru. Haru survived, though, since her ribs are made of titanium, and kept the knife from Haru’s heart, where Tokaku aimed. Thus, the show has it’s cake and eats it too.

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As the closing montage shows, Akuma no Riddle was ultimately just as bloodless as Ryuugajou Nanana no Maizoukin, or Sakura Trick, for that matter: none of the assassins I thought were killed actually died; they all recovered from their injuries and live on. Once a means to test Haru’s mettle, now they’re back to their own lives, only Class Black changed them all.

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The class wasn’t all about Haru and Tokaku, as we know. The show went to lengths to flesh out the various assassins in the episodes in which they struck. It showed how they were all in one way or another either running away from their past lives or trying desperately to validate them, but their defeats to Tokaku and Haru led to growth, and now they’re all moving forward.

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While this episode couldn’t quite match the intense showdown with Hanabusa, it was nevertheless a suitable end to the series. Tokaku won, and in the process proved to herself she protected Haru of her own free will. If her wish was to be able to continue being with Haru, it looks like that was granted. We don’t know how she answered Kaiba’s final riddle, but if I had to guess it would be that she told him the thing that the world was full of…was love.

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Final Cumulative Score: 7.75
MAL Score: 7.01 (Fickle Punks!)