Banana Fish – 12 – “Who am I?”

Ash continues his winning streak by knocking off one gang leader after another, with Arther getting more flustered as his subordinates report the losses.

Ash is also confident almost to a fault, whether it’s confronting Dino at the airport to tell him shit is ON, to meeting with the leader of a Harlem gang alone and even pulling a gun on him while completely surrounded. In both cases, Ash earns respect.

He and Eiji have also settled in to an idyllic domestic life at the fancy condo. Eiji is kept busy photographing everyone who goes in and out of the mafia property next door, as well as preparing a traditional Japanese dinner.

But while it’s all smiles and rainbows at home, Ash is spilling lots of blood on the streets, including by his own hand. While I’m sure opinions vary on its continued utility, I feel that instances in which protagonists come right out and ask themselves “Who am I?”  should be retired from drama forever.

That being said, I do enjoy the very natural chemistry and interactions between Ash and Eiji throughout the episode; they truly come off as a couple of people who care about each other a great deal despite very different backgrounds and skills.

Indeed, when they get into a fight when Ash comes home with blood on his shirt, Eiji basically has him pegged, and Ash lashes out not because Eiji is wrong about him, but because he’s right. Thankfully, they make up quickly the next day, when Eiji finds him at the library.

The Harlem gang leader (Bloody Cain) whom Ash impressed with their first meeting ends up as a go-between observer in Ash and Arthur’s full-on war, which I imagine will soon culminate in Ash and Arthur going at it mano-a-mano. In preparation for that, Ash is ready to send both Eiji and Ibe back to Japan…though one wonders if they’ll be safe there.

Meanwhile, Eiji’s photos and further research have uncovered a massive conspiracy between White House officials, congressmen, and military officers. Ash believes Banana Fish will be used to cause coups-de-etat in countries America wants kept in chaos.

As Max says, this is really big…too big, frankly. Just like Ash’s unspeakably awful past or the extent of the gang activity on Manhattan, the whole titular Banana Fish thing is just too comically huge and ungainly; it’s honestly hard to take seriously.

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Banana Fish – 11 – Ashilles Heel

Turns out leading a gang is like riding a bike: you never really forget how to do it. Ash slides right back into his simpler life, and Eiji sees, for the first time, Ash the Leader, and how all his subordinates hang on his every word and breath.

They’re also impressed that Eiji isn’t scared of waking Ash up from a two-hour nap. But once Ash is up, he sends them all off on an intelligence-gathering mission, leaving him and Eiji alone to enjoy a simple meal of takeout together.

It’s there that Eiji sees yet another side of Ash, as for the first time ever in their friendship they can just relax. He also learns that Ash has cucurbitophobia (fear of pumpkins) and teases him for it, eliciting a very boyish pout.

That night we see the contrast between the two young men: Eiji sleeping soundly and Ash waking up from nightmares that will probably never go away. Ash lets himself be vulnerable with Eiji and cries into his lap; it’s how they both end up falling asleep.

Ash gets up at dawn, letting Eiji sleep in, and sets to work on his laptop. Having spent his jade earring buying guns from “The Fly” yesterday, Ash hacks into Golzine’s stocks, using the spyware he implanted on Dino’s computer while Dino was having fun with him.

So not only is Dino’s favorite mansion in ruins, but so are his finances, and those of the mafia organization he’s a part of. He’ll have to answer to the dons now, which means his life is a lot more complicated and fraught with danger. From what we know of Dino, no one deserves it more…though Arthur is trying to make a case for himself.

Ash uses his influx of cash to buy an $8 million condo right next to a building owned by the Corsican organization, showing he’s still a fan of bold moves. He has Max pretend to be his dad to cosign on the purchase. But Max is worried that for all Ash has accomplished since gaining his freedom, he still has one potentially crippling weakness: Eiji.

Banana Fish – 10 – Wounded Tiger

The youngest Lee brother sat out last week’s unpleasantness, but returns to Ash to tend to his wounds and also decides to lend him a hand in escaping from Dino’s mansion. Dino is away for the night demonstrating Banana Fish on a woman who is forced to kill her husband, a presidential candidate. Meanwhile Ash’s gang has joined forces with Shorter’s Chinese crew, led by Sing, and after gathering some intel, they hit the mansion the same night Dino is out.

Ash makes use of the key Lee slipped him by doing a bit of gymnastics, then frees Max and Ibe, head to the armory full of military-grade weapons. From there, Ash becomes the “devil himself”, mowing through Dino’s men on one side of the house while his allies burst in and take care of business from the other. Lee leaves Ash with one more gift: injecting Abe Dawson with a paralytic.

That means, after meeting up with his men, Ash tells them to all get the hell out before Dino’s cavalry arrives, then heads down to the lab, where Abe had been busy extracting Shorter’s brain. Dawson begs for his life, but Ash responds by emptying a mag into him, then burns Shorter’s body so he can pass over in peace.

That gesture leads to a misunderstanding with Sing, Shorter’s subordinate, who heard that Ash killed Shorter (but doesn’t know why). He picks the wrong time to demand vengeance against Ash, who makes quick work of Sing, but lets him run away.

Sing ends up running right into Lee, who takes him away in a helicopter and spots Ash in his red Italian sports car heading back into Manhattan. It was an ugly one, and came at a high cost, but it was good to see a win for Ash, even if it just meant getting his freedom back.

Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu – 11

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Re:Zero continues to dominate our Spring schedule, blasting ahead of the field and lapping it numerous times with its awesom-nitude. Last week set things up for another potential heartbreaking reset, but instead there was no death nor Return by Death; only victory and sweet sweet closure.

It begins, surprisingly enough, with the origin story of Ram and Rem. We’e only known the relatively inept-at-everything Ram, but she was once a demon prodigy, despite only having one horn. Indeed, a display of her power kept her and Rem from being killed in the cradle. All Rem could do was try to be content in standing behind her sister as she dazzled everyone with her talents.

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But one day, when their house was attacked and their parents killed, she lost her horn while protecting Rem. This Rem-centric flashback makes a point of showing the tiniest of smiles of relief on Rem’s face when that damn horn, which had caused her so much grief and self-hatred to that point in her life, finally broke.

And yet, back in the present, Rem has never forgiven herself for smiling, or for envying her sister, or for putting her in the position of having to protect her at the cost of her horn. The “inept, less-than” Ram is a product of Rem’s weakness and worthlessness, and she’s been trying to make up for that ever since, including going after the Mabeasts alone.

Upon coming to, her first reaction is distress that Ram and Subie are there, rejecting her whole notion of sacrificing herself for them. But they can’t change the fact they’re there, here and now, and aren’t going to abandon her.

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Instead, Subie promises he has a plan for the mabeast boss, and sends Rem away on Ram’s back to safety. Rem, however, can’t help but call back to Subaru, which just so happens to imbue him with the courage and confidence to pull off his trump card: a Shamac spell that gives him the opening he needs to stick his broken sword in the mabeast’s throat.

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Unfortunately, that’s not enough to kill it, but just before he passes out from using all his mana, Roswaal arrives to mop up, grateful his subordinates were able to hold their own as long as they did, and all too happy to help.

Rem pounces on Subaru, happy beyond words he’s still alive, and though he passes out and wakes up in his bedchamber, the curse is lifted, so he didn’t die and the same timeline continues on, much to my delight.

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He wakes with Rem’s hand in his, and he then must endure an extended monologue filled with self-loathing and inadequacies stemming all the way back to when Rem and Ram were newborns about to be killed. Even then Ram saved them while she just lay there.

Obviously, Rem is being far too harsh on herself, undermining the wonderful, powerful individual she became by her own efforts, and far too quick to dwell on the past. Subaru tells her she should focus more on the future, value herself more as others like him do, and smile and laugh that life turned out as well as it did. And Rem eventually lets herself laugh, tears in her eyes. BAWWWW.

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With all the talk of leaning on one another, this sure looks like the start of a Subie x Rem romantic arc, but the next time we see Subie, he’s asking Emilia on a date like he did before, and again she accepts, even with her fuzzy concept of what a date is. So I guess Subie’s primary love interest remains his EMF.

As for Ram, now far less than she once was, but at peace with it, we see that her sessions sitting in Roswaal’s lap are so he can restore her mana. Since Roswaal brought her and her sister into his home, Ram has always been utterly devoted to him, and he makes it clear that he may be away for a while, so she must continue to take care of her little sister and Subaru in his stead.

I don’t know what tragedy might befall our friends next (and I’m sure they’re in for more trouble), I’m glad for an ending without a taste of what’s to come, that I may simply revel in the progress that Subaru has made. He and Rem have come so far, but the evolution of their friendship couldn’t have happened more naturally, as if it was always meant to be this nice. Also, hopefully Subaru will get to actually go on a date with Emilia!

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Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu – 10

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Another unfamiliar ceiling…and another unfamiliar but very welcome occurance: that we may be able to bask in Subaru’s latest victories. He’s alive, the kids are safe and their curses are removed, and neither of the twins are dead, hate him, or want to kill him. This calls for a celebratory steamed sweet potato and some Puck-applause!

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For course, every silver lining has its cloud, which is this case is Beako’s latest unfortunate news for Subie: he still carries the curse of the mabeasts who nommed him, and that curse will allow them to essentially “eat” him remotely by taking all his mana.

He has only half a day. No surprise, then, that Rem has already gone out alone to hunt down the mabeasts who are on the other end of the curse, thus “canceling the meal” and saving Subie, whom she’s become rather fond of, clearly.

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Going into that forest is not for the faint-hearted, but Subie isn’t letting his Return By Death skill undermine his commitment: he’s going in like he has only one life to live, because he really does only have one life he wants to live, and it’s one where everyone, including Rem, is alive.

Joining Subie is Ram, who warns him she’s not the fighter her younger sister is, though she has a pretty nifty Clairvoyance skill, as well as some intimidating wind-elemental magic. Emilia is too drained from healing Subie, so she’s out, as is Puck, while Subie arms himself with the “sharpest sword in the village”, presented as a gift for his heroism.

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Notably absent from the party? Beatrice, despite her likely being more than capable of contributing offense. So while imperfect, the Subie/Ram duo gets off to a good start, with Ram showing off the damage her wind magic can do.

Then Subie gets a bright idea, using the very curse keeping him from talking to others about Return By Death to lure all mabeasts to his and Ram’s location, luring Rem in turn.

For the record, Rem is looking particularly badass and dangerous this week, as her Demon Mode makes her a formidable but also reckless and unstable killing machine.

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Despite Rem’s initial good intentions (saving Subie), because she’s gotten little carried away by the power of her horn (which Ram lacks), so it also comes as no surprise that after surviving a potentially fatal fall off a cliff, Subie and Ram have to deal with a Rem who isn’t too picky about her targets.

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I thought for sure this is how the episode would end: Subie unexpectedly catching a mace to the head and waking back up in the village inn with a sleeping Emilia by his side. It is a new “save point”, after all, and I assumed his Return By Death was only delayed last week so it could occur this week.

Mind you, I wasn’t happy about that prospect, which is why I was happy that Re:Zero decided not to kill Subie this week, either. Perhaps it’s aware of the potential for “Reset Button Fatigue”, especially after we only got a grand total of five minutes of victory to bask in.

That suspension of Subie’s death wasn’t certain at all, though. I like how the episode kept me guessing till the end, with a thoroughly berserk and unpredictable Rem flailing that mace around (sorry weapons experts) and Subie seemingly having few options.

Of course, I was also amused by the tactic he employs in his effort to cut Rem’s horn and restore her to normal: by tossing Ram straight at her, as a smokescreen for his strike. It almost works on the first try, too…but as Subie said earlier, the “difficulty level” is demonically high, to the point where nothing will work on the first try.

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That being said, “Fate-sama” quickly gives Subie a second chance to take out Rem’s horn, and he re-resolves himself not to wuss out at the last second, out of fear of killing either twin. That horn has simply gotta go. I hope he can get it, just like I hope all the mabeasts killed this week mean he’s no longer going to be remotely eaten.

Re:Zero’s action isn’t regularly head-and-shoulders above Kabaneri (despite being better in every other category) but it really distinguished itself this week with some astonishingly cool and exciting animation, made all the more compelling by how much we care about the combatants. Rem truly came off as a force of nature ready to explode. But here’s hoping she doesn’t!

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Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu – 09

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This week served a full plate of contradictions. The tasty morsels included: Subaru recounting the aspirations of each village child to compel Rem to participate, king of exposition Roswaal wearing reasonable clothes and flying off without any exposition, and Rem and Emilia devouring scenes bond-strengthening with Subaru. We also finally learn the source of the curse and witness some brutal combat in the forest.

Of all shows, Re:Zero has been remarkably good at packing its plates—often skipping opening or closing credits—and even though very little narrative has actually happened, the density and emotional impact has always earned it for me. Unfortunately, parts of this episode were slow, as if intentionally dragging its feet for an unearned cliffhanger ending. Additionally, many of the slower scenes were static, and the general animation quality was noticeably lower than normal.

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Focusing on the good, Re:Zero just nails Emilia’s character. She could very easily be the perfect nice girl central love interest, but the fact that she really doesn’t know Subaru’s motives—that she really doesn’t understand him at all—but accepts that he’s probably a good person anyway gives her a lot of nuance.

Her best scene this week is no different: she enters mid conversation, not even knowing what Subie’s said to Rem and Rin, gets the gist, and gives him a little prayer for safety. Their back and forth is compact, simple, but full of lovely facial expressions. Seriously—just watch how her mouth subtly changes when she’s happy, exasperated, or bemused.

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Rem gets two solid scenes as well, and while both are much more Subaru-pushed than the scene with Emilia, they are still quite touching. Also, narratively advancing, as we learn a little more about the need for barriers to protect human settlements from the creatures of the witch, and that Subaru reveals he knows she can smell the witch on him.

I greatly appreciated how these scenes are painted as less romantic than Subaru’s scenes with Emilia. Here he has a kind word, makes a pinkie-promise, and shows his trust in Rem. It’s friendship, not harem-building, and that adds nuance to the format that easily could be about getting all the girls.

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Intentional or not, the last strong scene starts and ends poorly. The animation leading up to the fight was lackluster, there was a lot of static dialog, and we still don’t know the motives of the villain. That abruptly changed with Subie’s epic kill. Like his fight with Rem several weeks ago, this had a ‘screw you I can take a beating’ vibe that makes all of the Subie fights enjoyable to watch.

Rem’s fight was decent too, for the most part. I get the sense that it ate most of the episode’s budget and the brutality was sweet but the storyboarding was weak. Call me a grouch, but having back to back ‘saved by your partner’s sacrifice’ moves, plus Rem being smashed by what looked like a dodge-able earth attack, felt generic. Eye-rolling, honestly.

The uneven quality of the fight aside, Rem’s brutality is a nice contrast. Specifically, we’ve only seen this kind of slaughter from evil characters before and…that’s kind of the point with Rem.

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Because this episode really works or doesn’t based on it’s reveals, and you will probably only enjoy it more if you’re looking at some of the details, this review has largely been spoiler free.

Technical shortcomings aside, my biggest criticism is that for all the things I didn’t spoil, a lot wasn’t answered. As Rem says, she has a lot of questions and we better be ready to answer. And hopefully soon.

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Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu – 08

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Subaru wakes up, in the bed, once again, with the twin maids sitting beside him. This time, he volunteers to work at the mansion once more and spends as much time with them as he can, working his utmost to earn their trust from the start, so they won’t suspect and kill him! His second priority is finding and stopping the shaman who killed him and most recently Rem in previous loops.

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For the latter part, Subie learns from Puck that he has the somewhat rare “darkness” alignment, rather than any of the standard four elements. Excited to be able to focus his mana through his “gate” and perform magic for the first time in this world (aside from Return By Death, obv) he get’s a little too carried away and blows out all his mana at once.

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Like Explosion Girl in KonoSuba, this leaves him barely able to move, but he’s absolutely committed to continuing his tireless work with Ram and Rem, knowing his life and future may well depend on the results. Everyone notices that Subaru is simply trying way too hard, hiding his churning troubles beneath an overly chipper, caffeinated exterior. Something has to give, and it does, when he’s overcome by nausea.

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Emilia is outside the bathroom when he boots, and he can’t fool her any longer, so she takes him up on his desire to lay his head in her lap when the need arises, and it arises. Emilia is so kind and tender and matronly as she gives Subaru something he’s needed for some time: a pressure valve.

Safe in her lap, free of complications, he can let it all out, and Emilia is glad to see him not holding it in. In fact, it proves to her that he’s a truly good person, and she relays that to Rem. It’s such a lovely, calming scene, and the episode perfectly built up all that pressure and tension.

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His Emilia-aided lap pillow catharsis, then, turns out to be the means by which he achieves his first objective: earn the trust of the staff. Emilia assures Rem, who tells Ram, who tells Lord Rosvaal. I’d like to think that’s how it works, anyway!

That catharsis and its positive effects would not have been possible if Subie had been a mere houseguest and not someone doing his part in the mansion with the maids. He’s done being lazy and half-assing things; that’s how people have died in the past.

Of course, there’s still that shaman to contend with. He believes both he and Rem (at different times) were hit by a fatal spell in the village. Now he and both sisters will be going to the village together, and thanks to “Beako”, he knows there’s a way to detect a spell before it’s cast (much like a boss’s big timed attack in RPGS).

But once that spell is cast, it can’t be un-cast, so I hope to hell he’s careful and doesn’t have to go through all of this yet again. Another important thing he learned was that people who help him prefer simple thanks to elaborate apologies.

Honesty and simplicity are Subie’s tools of salvation. Cry when he has to, accept help without shame, and thank those who give it. If these people see every side of him, not just the artificial ideal, they just might not end up being the “poisonous flowers” he dreads.

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Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu – 07

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Subaru is able to escape Rem by blinding her with his cameraphone flash, but only temporarily. She slices his leg off, heals it, then starts cutting him up until he’ll talk. She smells the Jealous Witch all over him, and so believes he’s a spy for Emilia’s enemies. She ignores his claims of innocence, and before he can tell her how much he likes her and her sister, she cuts out his throat, and he wakes up once more in that bed.

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Unsure of what will happen if he dies a fourth time, he tries to switch things up by telling Emilia-tan exactly what’s going on, but before he can get the words out, some vile spectral hand clutches his heart and threatens to burst it. The sad part is, Emilia would have likely believed every word he said, if only he was able to say them.

But he can’t, so he has to try something else. When Beatrice visits him in his room to apologize for the first time they met, he asks her to protect him, and she forms a binding contract with him right then and there. He spends the final night before all his previous deaths in the forbidden library with her, and awakes the next morning, elated to be alive and having broken the loop.

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But while the last time he broke the loop, everything turned out fine and dandy, this time Rem seems to die in his place, of the same energy-sapping spell that brought him down the first time he was murdered in the mansion.

While Rem was the sister who hunted him in the past loop to protect Emilia and her sister, this time an enraged Ram vows to avenge Rem by killing Subaru. Beatrice shows up to protect him, like he promised, and Emilia is willing to trust him as long as he explains himself…

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…But he just can’t. He knows now if he even tries to utter anything at all about his predicament, he’ll be killed by that evil force clutching his heart, literally choked with fear. All he can do is separate himself from the standoff, but running only makes Ram think he’s guilty.

All Subaru wants to do is get away. Away from that house, where everything he said and did there was always under the suspicious pall of the twin maids, due to a smell and an influence he didn’t even know existed and still doesn’t understand.

He hopes by offing himself voluntarily over a cliff, he can undo all the suffering that he caused, directly or indirectly. Beatrice tracks him down and confirms really what he wants. “What’s lost can’t be reclaimed,” she says.

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But…with Subie’s ability, can’t what was lost never becomelost to begin with, and thus not need to be reclaimed? And is that not just a roundabout way of reclaiming something, namely a happy future for the inhabitants of the mansion?

Subaru agrees there’s nothing he can do here, and as much as he hates it, he must endure the fact that the Emilia, Ram and late Rem of this loop simply can’t remember all the good times they had in other loops. But he does remember, and they’re the same Ram and Rem throughout them all; the Ram and Rem he’s fallen for. Now that he’s saved his own life, he’s going to take it, in hope that resetting of his own free will will enable him to save them. It’s a gamble, but it beats staying where he is.

Honestly, this show is so damn good. Breaking up its own pattern by making things worse even when Subaru breaks the loop, and giving him the added problem of not being able to properly explain what’s happening to him. The vice just keeps tightening for our protagonist, and while he hit some emotional lows this week, his old can-do self shined through at the end. I honestly don’t know how he’s going to save Rem and Ram, but I most eagerly await to opportunity to watch.

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Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu – 06

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Back in bed at the beginning of the loop, alive and with his arm intact, Subaru must now investigate his own murder of future past, all while attempting to re-rebuild the relationships he forged in the past two cycles. And while he continues to have no problems charming both Emilia and Puck, Beatrice remains as combative and intolerant of his visits as ever.

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The dynamic between Subie and the twin maids also changes this time around when, instead of asking for a job, he asks to be a house guest, which Roswaal grants. Roswaal, who has a chain on his leg, is clearly not the murdered, by the way, because that clue is to darned easy!

On the first day, Ram maintains a cool servant’s distance while offering her opinion that Subie is little more than a freeloader, almost as if she’s disappointed he didn’t ask for a job this time. Of course, she doesn’t know that there were other times, but as viewers, we do, and the producers know we do.

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As the days pass, however, Ram warms up a little more to Subaru, and actually sits, has tea, and listens to a tale from his world, about the red and blue ogres. The obvious connection to the red and blue-haired maids is not lost on me, no sir!

In this case, the “red ogre” is Ram, who is willing to interact more closely with the “villager” Subaru, while the “blue ogre” Rem, who doesn’t seem to be good at anything maid-wise…well, more on her later. Suffice it to say, Ram warns Subie in no uncertain terms not to share the ogre tale to her sister.

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More than himself, Subaru wants to protect Emilia, and if he can stop the cycle of being killed in various ways and ending up back in that bed, so much the better. To that end, he leaves the mansion and finds a vantage point from which he can observe without interference and take action against whoever or whatever attacked/will attack him.

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The answer comes when he prepares a couple of tricks to stay alive, and the identity of his attacker is revealed as Rem. She, who smiled so sweetly and innocently along with Ram as he left the mansion, was a wolf in sheep’s clothing all along.

With all the foreshadowing, it doesn’t come as a total shock, but it must be disheartening for Subaru to learn that the person he seemed able to befriend so nicely in the previous cycle was gunning for him all this time.

So now we know who is after Subaru. The question is, why? Is this her way of keeping him away from Emilia? Is she acting out of suspicion he’s a spy for her enemies? Where does the highly magical Beatrice, whom it’s revealed was the person who actually healed Subaru’s mortal wounds, fit in?

Also, will next week begin much like this one, with Subie dying in the first moments and waking up back in bed…or will Rem be so kind as to explain herself before doing so? We shall see, I suppose.

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Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu – 05

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It’s a testament to Re:Zero’s balanced, fiercely-confident storytelling that even though it felt like this week would no longer have the element of surprise (since I was reasonably certain things would reset again at the end of this week), it still excelled at both differentiating the path Subaru takes in this go-around.

Not only that, it built up both the chemistry between Subie, the maids, and Emilia, as well as building up suspense for the possibility of things not resetting after all…before delivering yet another bombshell at the very end, proving it never lost its ability to surprise to begin with.

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One could be forgiven for wondering what the point of experiencing all the lovely and often funny slice-of-life moments Subie shares with his fellow mansion-mates, considering everything will be reset all over again.

Yet, for some reason, just as Subie is determined not to be disheartened and simply continue down the same path as next time (hoping to stick it to who-or-whatever it is that’s “doing this to him”), it doesn’t feel like a waste at all.

Part of that is that the character interactions are so good, no matter who he’s talking to. But he’s also retaining everything along with us (he’ll be able to read and write better next time), which will theoretically make each go-around that much easier, since the mistakes he made in past go-arounds could be avoided.

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So while another reset was in the cards, it wouldn’t come before Subaru and we learned a little more about why exactly a reset happened in the mansion to begin with, and even before that, it’s heartening to know that Emilia is fundamentally Emilia, Ram is Ram, Rem is Rem, etc., no matter how many resets occur. He’ll have no trouble making his promise to Emilia in any go-around.

The problem is making it to the next day to keep that promise. After forcing himself to stay awake all night, the room starts to shift and undulate, causing intense nausea. Is it a side-effect of Return By Death…or was he drugged? Then, when he apparently fights his nausea and wanders the mansion seeking help, he is seemingly attacked by someone or something making a very distinctive rattling sound.

The show is very coy about what’s going on (not wrongly so, as it adds to suspense), but it’s looking very likely to me that the reason Subaru reset at the end of last week was that he was murdered in his sleep. That would make this a murder mansion, and it completely changes the complexion of his next reset, when he could, at some point throughout the next go-around, come face-to-face with the person who sliced his arm off and killed him.

It could be Beatrice. It could be Lord Roswaal. It could even be one of the angelic maids who flank him the moment he wakes up. I’m confident we have a few general answers, yet the central tantalizing mystery remains afoot here, and I absolutely can’t wait to see Subaru solve it and break through this next barrier…if he can.

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Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu – 04

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The next chapter of Re:Zero gets off to a strong start with a great Eva reference from Subaru followed by his and our dashed expectations he’d wake up with Emilia sitting by his bedside.

Instead he’s greeted by no one, walks down a hall loop, then solves it on the first try with his game master-infuriating natural luck, coming afoul of a “drill loli” sorceress who burns him, claiming it’s just a test to determine if he’s friend or foe.

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Waking up again in the same bed (the ceiling now familiar), he hears snide commentary in stereo about himself, then finds two maids, Ram and Rem, standing in his room. Emilia appears, and all is well. He surveys the massive estate where they’re staying, shows “Emilia-tan” Japanese morning calisthenics (a great cultural crossover), and meets the lord of the mansion, Roswaal L. Mathers, whom he not unreasonably mistakes as some kind of jester.

During a sumptuous meal, Emilia informs Subaru that she is one of the candidates in the running for ruler of Lugunica (her insignia was proof of her status), and with the present king’s whereabouts unknown, things are uneasy in the kingdom. As such, one can’t fault Subaru for requesting something relatively modest as thanks for saving her: he wants a job at the mansion. And hell, who wouldn’t? The place is fantastic.

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Once he’s fitted for a butler’s uniform, the twin maids show him the considerable ropes of estate maintenance. He proves he’s not particularly skilled at anything beyond solving Betty’s door magic on the first try every time, but it’s all stuff he hasn’t done before, so some teething is expected.

Ram and Ren are patient and discover some surprising things about Subaru (like his sewing skills), but are quick to nickname him Barusu (a blinding curse) and don’t go easy with the barbs. It’s a great sequence of Subaru once again starting to find his place, and it lulled me into a comfortable place.

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Ram, who it would appear has some kind of special relationship to her lord, reports to him that Subaru doesn’t make the best butler (or spy, most likely) and doesn’t believe interfering in his friendship with Emilia is necessary, since they’re both kids and “nothing will happen.”

That line is accurate due to the personality of Subaru and Emilia, but also proves prescient. But before it does, Subie and Emi have a nice little chat in the masnion’s yard/field. Emilia offer to heal Subaru’s wounds, but he wants to keep them as proof of his efforts.

He also asks Emilia on what amounts to a date in town when both are free, and Subaru ignores her concerns that being with her would be troublesome for him. When he goes to bed, he can’t even sleep, he’s so excited about their day tomorrow, until he starts counting Pucks.

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But then morning comes, and Ram and Ren call him a guest, and his wounds are gone. Return by Death has occured, only with a new spawning location: the bed in Roswaal Mansion. But when did death occur? Was his power trigger by something else? It’s another stunning turn for a show that’s been full of them.

This truly is a gem of a show that lulls us (along with Subaru) into a sense of comfort and security, then resets all the progress he made. Having to start over from scratch in this new timeline will be particularly demoralizing for Subaru, even though neither he no nobody ended up dead—as far as we know—this time.

But it speaks to the confidence of this show that it can sweep the slate clean with such regularity. Reset buttons are typically a way of making quick, neat endings; of making things easier for the writers. Here, the resets make things harder, since an entirely new route and new bonds must be forged.

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Shounen Maid – 02

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Wherein Chihiro takes on an eager student and resolves to make better eggs

Like Tanaka-kunShounen Maid introduces a new female addition to the cast in the person of Ootori Miyako, who is arranged by her father to marry Madoka when she turns sixteen. The arrives at Madoka’s home having reached another impasse with her father, and we quickly learn she actually prefers Keiichirou.

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Miyako wants to prove to Keiichirou that she can be a dependable woman and future wife, and after learning Chihiro’s story, decides he’s the best person suited to teach her, being pretty hard-working, dependable, and independent himself.

Predictably, things don’t go so well on the housework front, and though she has fine cooking skills, she makes a mess in the process. Her depression washes away at first sight of Keiichirou, but soon returns, only for her to be cheered up again when Chihiro tells her what his mom told him: compromise is fine, but don’t betray yourself by doing anything against your heart.

It’s not about being selfish; it’s about making your own choices in life, something everyone should be able to do in this day and age.

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When Miyako’s father shows up to find his daughter and Chihiro a bit too close to Madoka for comfort, he drags her back home, but she returns again soon to continute her training with Chihiro. Overall Miyako is a pleasant addition to the cast, as someone both inspired and encouraged by Chihiro’s unique life story so far.

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While generally feel-good in nature, this show is tinged with the grief of the premature loss of his mother, who was by all accounts a strong-willed but kindhearted woman who never looked down at her son or sugar-coated things. Sure, she put too much sugar in her tamagoyaki back when she made them for her brother Madoka back in the day, but by the time Chihiro came around, Chiyo was an omelette expert.

As part of a bento, tamagoyaki becomes a dish Chihiro decides he’ll practice and perfect, after trying to determine what, Madoka’s favorite food is. Even when he screws up the omelette on his first try, Madoka is reminded of his sister doing the same thing.

IMO there’s few foods better than nostalgia-evoking foods, for even if they remind us of someone who has passed, that’s simply proof a part of that someone is still alive in us. So having lost the one in charge of folded omelettes, he’ll strive to become a worthy substitute.

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Shounen Maid – 01 (First Impressions)

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Shounen Maid seems like a high-concept excuse to, well, put a boy in a maid costume…for some reason, and so I wasn’t optimistic about this show from the start.

But when the titular future boy maid Komiya Chihiro attempts to burn the letter his recently deceased mother wrote him because it’s too vague, I knew we were dealing with something with a lot more wit and nuance than I initially suspected.

There’s also something great about introducing his uncle and new ward Takatori Madoka by showing him cowering in fear from a little puppy who got away from its owner.

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Chihiro may be in elementary school, but he’s had to grow up much faster than most of his peers, both with a busy mother who was always away, leaving him to do the housework, and then dying, leaving him alone in the world…or so he thought.

In reality, Chihiro’s mother Chiyo chose exile from her very wealthy family in order to have and raise Chihiro—to live the life she wanted, not one chosen for her. Learning this makes Chi feel partially responsible for his mom’s death, which is ridiculous, but he is just a little kid, and this is a lot to take in.

I also liked how big and grand and imposing Madoka’s mansion is portrayed when Chihiro first arrives. His exposure to this kind of gaudy lifestyle is completely alien to him, but imbued in his personality is a desire not to accrue debts from anyone, even his uncle.

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But more than big and imposing, Madoka’s manor is a pigsty of the highest order, something Chihiro learns by accident when hiding in the kitchen, then noticing the appalling mess. Detail-oriented, fastidious youth with a solid work ethic that he is, Chihiro pulls up his sleeves and cleans like there’s no tomorrow.

All the while, it’s clear he’s not just cleaning because he can’t tolerate messes (though that’s part of it); he’s also staying busy in order to not be a burden to anyone, as well as to take his mind off the fact he’s homesick for a home that no longer exists.

Inspired by his hard work, his Uncle Madoka makes him a frilly uniform, of a design informed by Madoka’s work as a costume designer. There’s clear contrast between Madoka’s carefree attitude and Chihiro’s serious-beyond-his-years, “Those who don’t work don’t eat” philosophy; both guys are products of their upbringing.

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But when Chihiro is too exhausted to clean anymore, Madoka and his assistant Shinozaki Keiichirou take over, cleaning a room meant to be his. He makes them clean it over again when it’s not done to his satisfaction, but he appreciates the gesture and is glad, if a little overwhelmed by suddenly having a room and a (HUGE) bed all his own. This big, unfamiliar house is gradually becoming his home.

He also sees Madoka working hard on his costumes; often so hard he neglects food and sleep, so Chihiro fixes him a snack in the night. Sure, sometimes Madoka’s “hard work” is composed of indulgent little side projects like a cat mascot suit for Chihiro, but the arrangement that has been struck is beneficial to both parties. Madoka gets a maid (and occasional model), and Chihiro gets a home and a job to avoid feeling indebted.

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