Hinamatsuri – 08 – Getting Angry at Balls

When a serious-looking woman with black boots and gloves arrives in town (fully-clothed-Terminator-style) asking Anzu for Hina’s whereabouts, it felt like the beginning of the end for Hina’s stay with Nitta…for about five minutes.

Then we learn that while Ikaruga Kei looks the part of a badass punative field officer, Anzu has to keep her from constantly taking shortcuts in her duties, and she’s terrified of clashing with Hina, who apparently destroyed a city when she lost control one day.

Ikaruga’s duties aren’t even that involved or complicated; as Anzu says, anyone could follow Hina and check off boxes that determine whether she’s still out of control (she isn’t). As for Anzu herself? When she never returned due to her travel orb getting ruined in the wash, she was declared KIA and is now free to live her best life.

Ikaruga ultimately gives up when both the novice and advanced-level questionnaires reveal Hina has changed and grown, but later reads an addendum that stipulates if she gets over a 90% score, it means she can, and should, return “home”, wherever that is; thankfully the show never says. Ikaruga also has a dog, thanks to a failed gambit to get Hina to fail a question about caring for animals.

Meanwhile, Hina continues going to school where she mostly eats and sleeps. However, despite having a broken leg she still has cleaning duty, and a classmate witnesses her using telekinesis to toss out the garbage. Not just any classmate, but Shinjou Mami, who is obsessed with magic and the occult.

Mami believes she’s made a monumental discovery, but has heard what the ominous “Organization” did to the last person to speak out about it, and so intends to tread carefully. At the end of the day, however, she just comes right out and directly confronts Hina, who does not deny her powers.

Mami quickly befriends Hina and decides to become the disciple to the master, even though Hina’s powers are non-transferrable. Watching Mami try all day to lift a rock on her own, Hina lifts it for her out of a desire to leave the riverbank since it’s getting late.

That only makes things worse for Mami, who believes she lifted the rock (and later rocks), and despite not being able to lift anything when Hina’s not around, she quickly gets full enough of herself to make a big show of her powers in class, which ends in abject failure and humiliation.

Eventually Ikaruga confronts Hina, who is celebrating her leg being healed with a big chocolate parfait, and tells her she has to go home. Hina doesn’t want to, but she’s grown to the point where she knows the value of orders, and will obey them in this case, to Ikaruga’s shock.

That means she has to drop the news to Nitta that she’s leaving, and the novelty tees she wears that say “BYEBYE” and “SAYONARA” don’t do the trick. She levitates and flies around in place until she’s nauseous trying to think of the best way.

After a brace of medical tests comes up, Nitta finally demands she tell him what’s up. He responds by taking her out for one last ikura bowl before driving her to the spot where she’ll meet with Ikaruga. Nitta is honest in his parting words, telling Hina she’s been a royal pain in the ass, but he nevertheless really enjoyed the time they had together.

That puts a rare joyful smile on Hina’s face…but she’s obviously not going anywhere. After all, the “Orb” in which she arrived at Nitta’s apartment—and in which he got stuck and had to stew in his own urine all night—was discarded (with other non-burnable trash) and is now lost and possibly destroyed. No orb, no return home.

Hina’s, and the episode’s, return to the status quo is marked when she reappears at Nitta’s to learn that he is holding a New Year “Without Hina” Party…all by himself. She interrupts the start of his explanation with a grave “NOT COOL.”

Between the sometimes lazy security chief Ikaruga and the would-be disciple Mami, we got two solid new players in this world of complex characters who each command their share of laughs with both their actions and their inner thoughts.

I also enjoyed little moments like when Anzu and Ikaruga muse on what should be done with the dog, or Mami’s mom standing in the hall. While it might well have been interesting for Hina to actually go home, by not doing so the show preserves the mystery of that place and the organization that administrates it.

I don’t mind learning how “powered” girls need the Orbs to travel…but I don’t really need to get too deep into the workings of the other world. I dig the mystique. Plus, there’s plenty to do right here on Earth.

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Fate/Extra Last Encore – 10 (Fin) – Hakuno Picks a Third Way

FELE’s last episode for a while elaborates on the plan devised by Rin and Rani to bring a Master to the Sixth Floor, and they relay those plans to Hakuno on the roof of a high school down on what I assume to be the level where he started.

Waking up in the ladder with Saber, Hakuno explores his code casting powers, which apparently contain all of the weapons and skills of the masters who died before him. That combination of abilities adds credence to Saber’s insistence that he is himself and no one else, and must proceed as such.

When they reach the Sixth floor, it is a white wasteland piled with long-unused lances. Suddenly, Rin appears in her Lancer garb and attacks Saber, and a giant Rani sneaks up on Hakuno. Then Rin and Rani fight each other, more Rins show up, more Ranis show up, and Hakuno and Saber basically get a very efficient course in what’s been happening for about a millennium.

They realize the lands and waters are littered not just with weapons, but corpses of endless Rin and Rani copies. But there is one place where there are no corpses, and Hakuno determines that’s where they should go.

While pondering what the heck is up with all the Rin copies, the “real” Rin arrives, but like her “soldier” versions, she’s only a digital copy, and a fragile one at that. She’s just able to lead them to the central dome when she starts to disperse, a process she tells them actually hurts quite a bit.

Within the halls of the dome, recorded video of Rin and Rani is projected on cross-shaped supports. They once fought as rival Masters on this floor, but Moon Cell deemed their fight a draw just before the Holy Grail War was suspended, leaving them in a horrifying limbo of fighting and killing each others’ endless digital copies as the “originals” lay dormant.

It’s a stalemate, but it’s also a bug in the system that’s gotten way out of control, so they both sent avatars of themselves to guide Hakuno here, so he could end the cycle and choose a winner and a loser, something Moon Cell couldn’t do.

However, Hakuno doesn’t choose to kill either Rin or Rani. Instead, he tries to revive both of them. Only Rin survives, while Rani passes on due to the “peculiar” nature of her digital body. But she’s grateful for the attempt, and Rin is grateful he succeeded in bringing her back. Once Rani is laid to rest, she commits herself to continuing to aid Hakuno until the end.

“Fate Spin-off By Shaft” was met with mixed and polarizing emotions, but I for one enjoyed it immensely. It took the parts of Fates I’d seen before and liked and placed them in a gorgeously-rendered distant and unsettling future where a tiny glimmer of hope still remains thanks to a walking talking manifestation of death itself and his trusty, adorable, formidable Roman Emperor of a Servant. I’m looking forward to Part Two.

Fate/Extra Last Encore – 09 – The Emperor’s Soliloquy

The “film” the female Kishinami Hakuno shows her male counterpart is of her own quest with Saber as her Servant, and a more noble, loyal and true servant, no one could possibly have.

Like the current Hakuno, the female Hakuno learns that she’s neither wizard nor Master, but a “recreation of the data of someone who once existed”; an “NPC”. But Saber tells her that’s of no consequence, either to her value as an individual or her role as prospective victor of the Grail War.

It is in She-Hakuno’s moment of deepest despair and crisis of identity that Saber reveals her True Name: Nero Claudius, fifth emperor of the Roman Empire and one history condemns as a raving despot and dictator. Naturally, Nero herself has a more nuanced life story to tell, and that story is told through what appears to be the work of Ueda Hajime, a frequent collaborator with Shinbo Akiyuki who also animated all Monogatari EDs.

Saber makes no attempt to sugar-coat her tale or excuse the life she led, only to lay it all out to provide Hakuno with context in which to consider her sage advice. Nero loved strangers and commoners more than the royal family to which she belonged. She’s proud of bringing the Great Fire of Rome under control, but as her reign went on she became seen as a moody, unstable dictator.

The Senate could not depose her as long as she had the loyalty of the common people, but when push came to shove no one came to her aid when she was brought down, and she died alone, in despair, with the love of no one. Both in its flamboyantly unconventional presentation, themes of adoration and fall from grace, and truly epic scope, Saber’s story parallels that of the vampire later known as Oshino Shinobu in Monogatari.

And now that we finally have the whole picture of who Saber is, and was, we can appreciate just how much weight there is behind her words of encouragement, for both past and present Kishinami Hakunos. She is at peace with her demise, and will set her life ablaze for the sake of those who wish to believe she is beautiful. In other words, who will love her.

Whatever love she had in her lifetime—of family or people—was either nonexistent or fleeting, so it stands to reason she’s not picky about where she gets her love now. Both Hakunos may deem themselves pale imitations unworthy of having a Servant as excellent and wise and kind as Saber.

They are utterly mistaken for thinking that way. Saber doesn’t care from whom she gets her love. In fact, she would prefer if those people did not “mind every little thing” about themselves.

Call it the extension of her affinity in life for those deemed “less than” in the society in which she lived. Commoners. Bastards, cripples, and broken things. And yes, even NPCs who have been killing and hating for a millenium.

Saber’s been dead three millenia, but doesn’t let it get her down for a second. To her, Hakuno isn’t beholden to the person or people he was before. As far as she’s concerned, he’s is a new person, who deserves a fresh start without prejudice. But he has to take it.

Reinvigorated and healed thanks to the ministrations of Rani (or, at least, her ghost), Hakuno and Saber head back out. Saber faces off against Berserker once more.

After copying and countering his martial arts moves with Royal Privilege, she unleashes her Noble Phantasm: Kingdom of Heaven and Hell,  the Golden Theater of the Deranged, and Veil of Petals, ending Berseker without any difficulty. It’s a short but gorgeous battle.

That leaves Hakuno to deal with Julius, who no longer has any backup. Julius tries his usual spiel denigrating Hakuno for not being alive or having a wish or any business fighting him. This time, the words don’t hurt Hakuno. Saber has opened his eyes. Julius isn’t talking about him; those were other people, and he’s not interested in hearing about their pasts.

After a trippy zero-gravity battle in which the two Dead Faces fight in midair as their surroundings rotate and reorganize around them, Hakuno delivers a decisive blow. Yet even in his dying breath, Julius assures him that he’ll end up like him eventually.

Hakuno doesn’t worry about those words; he’s recommitted to being the best Master he can be for the best Servant one could ask for, who is waiting for him at the ladder to the sixth level.

Rani and Rin seem poised to remain behind having accomplished their shared goal of getting a “decent Master” to the sixth level. But citing the increased difficulty at that level, Rin changes her mind and follows the pair after all, while Rani vanishes in a cloud of digital code.

Thinking back on this episode, I’m astounded at how much it achieved in 25 scant minutes. It felt like a feature film, without ever feeling overstuffed, while cementing my undying love for this version of Saber, whose story was so vividly and painfully told. My head is still spinning. That was truly awesome.

Fate/Extra Last Encore – 08

The fourth level was apparently so uneventful the series skips it altogether, and we end up on the very rainy and somber fifth level, which takes the form of a enormous jumbled mass of skyscrapers. While the ladder to Level Six is in sight (and just an ordinary physical ladder) and there’s no Floor Master, there is a “homicidal maniac” lurking the floor; Julius Harwey, whom Rin remarks was defeated by Saber and her former master.

All of the hope Hakuno seemed to carry with him from the third floor seems to have faded away, and the more Saber discusses her former master (who was a girl), the harder Hakuno is on himself.

Saber, in another one of her warm, caring monologues, tells Hakuno not to worry about doing anything other than what he’s capable of.

True genius, Saber believes, lies not in one’s talents, but by their ability to bear the cruel truth that not everyone is equal; that everyone has their roles and weaknesses. Basically, she wants Hakuno to buck up and keep doing his best.

But once Julius shows up (with either a Berserker or Assassin Servant), Hakuno and Saber are quickly separated, and Saber needs an emergency save by Lancer-Rin. Saber leaves the Servant to Rin so she can return to Hakuno’s side.

Hakuno, meanwhile, is goaded into summoning his Dead Face, but learns that Julius is also a Dead Face…”unable to save anything or save anyone,” beings whose purposes were torn away long ago.

While taking what would be a fatal blow to the midsection were he actually a living human named Kishitani Hakuno, Hakuno enters a dreamlike state where he’s told exactly what he is: an amalgamation of the massive number of  dead, defeated, and failed souls bearing grudges…a mass of hatred brought about by SE.RA.PH.’s long decline.

He is told he ascends “only to kill”, and was born “only to die.” If Hakuno were to take these words at face value and do as Saber recommended, dying would seem to be the only thing he is capable of doing, so he should do that, no?

Regaining consciousness just as Saber and Rin arrive, the battle is lost almost as soon as it resumes, as Julius reveals his Servant kills with a single blow, and Saber received that blow. Hakuno crawls towards the apparently defeated Saber (Julius and the Servant only flee when a giant arm breaks up the battle that was). He’s sure that she’d have been able to win had he been a real Master…even if there aren’t any of those left.

He descends into darkness, accepting everything he was told in his dream about being born from hatred. He allows himself to think for a moment that he might have been Saber’s former Master reincarnated before dismissing it as folly. But he hears Saber’s encouraging voice once more, asking if he really wants to simply give up at this point.

A door appears, and Hakuno walks through it, into a classroom with projector running. Seated beside it is a girl wearing the same uniform as him, who asks him (in Ishikawa Yui’s voice) to take a seat…because “it’s starting.” Very intriguing.

Mahoutsukai no Yome – 13

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mahoutsukai no Yome – 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mahoutsukai no Yome – 11

Lindel’s fireside infodump-er-saga with Chise continues as he recounts his early travels with his new apprentice Elias. While making a house visit to heal a sick child, the child’s sister has “the sight” and spots Elias in Lindel’s shadow.

The girl assumes it’s an evil demon, and before long the entire village is mobilized against Lindel and Elias. When Lindel is injured by a thrown rock, Elias loses his temper and attacks the villagers with his thorny vine appendages, basically confirming their worst fears.

And here is the start of the trouble with Elias Ainsworth that I’ve had for the past ten weeks; a problem no closer to being solved in its eleventh. As Lindel’s master noted, he has a tiny amount of human in him, but there just isn’t enough humanity for me to fully emotionally connect.

That’s made any exploration of Elias and Chise’s relationship—in terms of her status as his future wife—feel incomplete and unsatisfying. As Lindel said to Chise, Elias “seemed to be missing something”, and for me, he’s still missing it.

(There’s also the little matter of Elias having a vague memory of—and occasionally feeling the urge to—eat humans, though Chise claims she’s never once feared Elias, even during that tense bed scene.)

But perhaps I’m not being open-minded enough with the premise that it isn’t that Elias isn’t human enough, but that for all the years he’s lived, Elias is still a child, and not just in Lindel’s eyes.

As a child, he’s insecure, emotionally stunted, and prefers the shadows. Chise, with her own stunted childhood, is in a similar state, leaving us with two would-be “lovers” who really have no clue what they’re doing.

A large part of that is neither Elias nor Chise have really taken the time to dig that deeply into who they are and what they want, aside from the big things like “survival” and “being wanted/needed”.

But never mind that for now; we’ve got a long way to go with these two crazy kids. For now, Chise gets tossed back into the water by baby dragons, meets a leviathan (neat!) and then sets to work whittling down a wooden log into her wand, which is meant to be an introspective process.

When night falls, Lindel, AKA Echos, sings the song of a hundred flowers, and all number of magical beings emerge and join in a dance. Chise dances for the first time, and then inadvertently opens a “water mirror” through which she can communicate directly with Elias.

Chise says Elias “looks troubled”, which is a bit silly since his bony face never really changes that much, and then the two remark at how much they miss one another, despite not having been apart all that long.

Home is cold without Chise, and Chise wants to show Elias the beautiful scene Lindel has created. “Two kids”, as Lindel said, both trying to figure out who they are and what the other person means to them.

And since Chise has learned so much about Elias—things he couldn’t or wouldn’t say—she wants to reveal to him more about her self; something she hasn’t yet been able to do to her satisfaction.

Mahoutsukai no Yome – 10

Lindel sends a selkie along with one of the young dragons (now big enough for a human to ride) to invite Chise to the Land of the Dragons so the “Robin” can have a wand made. For this journey, Elias will stay behind, though Ruth will remain by her side.

Chise’s dragon ride through the wind and clouds is appropriately epic in presentation, with stirring orchestral accompaniment to boot. It’s also nice, for once, to have an episode without any imminent or even perceived threats. There are more sides to Chise’s life than peril…procuring a wand, for instance.

Nevin’s Tree is as big and majestic as ever, and Lindel directs Chise to saw off a piece of it for her wand. Her lack of surefootedness in the tree results in a spill and a demonstration of how crucial it is she have a familiar nearby to, among other things, catch her. Back home, Elias notes how quiet it seems without Chise.

While she’s hardly a Chatty Cathy, she’s a motormouth compared to Silver. Then Elias receives a message via bird-intercom from Adolf Stroud of the College administration, who’d like to learn more about what Elias has in mind for Chise’s future.

That night, Chise arms and hands are covered in scrapes and scratches, which Lindel instantly heals with a touch. As a “bedtime story”, and because Elias hasn’t told her, Lindel regails Chise with the tale of how Lindel met Elias.

Lindel himself didn’t even have a name before his master found him, and Elias has a similar “birth”, one brutally wintry day simply appearing out of seemingly nowhere, nameless, without any memories or idea of what he was. Lindel gave him a place to rest and a meal, but its clear if either of them want any answers, the best bet is to take him to his master.

Lindel finds his master with a sprig of spruce and a red string. When they arrive, when Elias is too big to enter the house, he shrinks himself to child-size. The master, kind and curious, pegs the creature as almost a fairy; as close as one can get, yet still with a bit of human, which pretty much describes the Elias we’ve come to know.

She’d normally chalk his state to the result of a human transformed after abusing black magic, but she keeps her other guess close to her chest. All she can get out of him memory-wise is a color: red. She tells Lindel to take care of him, giving him the name Elias. Lindel is initially hesitant, but when Elias starts to take off (not wanting to be a bother), he agrees, though makes sure to call him his “acquaintance”, not his “apprentice.”

Back in the present, Elias’s bird-call from Adolf is interrupted by Renfred, who warns Elias that he’ll “ruin” Chise if all he does is let her live with him. Everyone from the college to Lindel wants her to spread her wings, but Elias is taking things slow, and Chise, happy simply to be wanted by someone, is being complacent on purpose.

Of course, this episode only provided part of Elias’ past, and we still don’t know exactly who or what he is, particularly before that scene in the forest where he had to fight back wolves. Ultimately, Chise’s future is up to her and no one else, but she’ll need more knowledge before making any concrete plans.

Kino no Tabi – 07

Eating a hot dog reminds Kino of a time she once unsuccessfully tried to get one over on her Master, who was cooking hot dogs at the time. Kino then shares a story with Hermes that her Master shared with her, about a country with a big clock tower and, suspiciously, an even bigger police force.

When Master’s young male apprentice is framed for drug possession and locked up, and she is unable to bribe the dirty cop to let him go, Master uses some of her Apprentice’s infiltration equipment and uses an elaborate set of diversions in the form of city-wide trash can bombs to clear the jail of police and slip in wearing one of their uniforms.

The Apprentice knew she would come—like Kino, he knows very well how good she is—and the question is not can they leave, but how. Both Master and Apprentice agree to make a bang rather than sneak out; demonstrate their full power to an arrogant bully that could use a good nosebleed.

For three days and nights they hole up in the central clock tower, shooting any and all policemen who draw within range, but not killing anyone; only wounding them. They cause such a disturbance, the police start to lose their grip on the country, as the public and their leaders demand something be done.

Master and Apprentice do not relent as smaller and smaller formations of police form up at the base of the tower. All are scattered by gunfire, until the very petty-tyrant commanding officer who sat on his petty throne and told Master no price was high enough to free her companion, is now the one who must offer a price to the Master—and it better be high enough, or more bullets will rain down.

It’s a good story, and one I’d think was apocryphal were it not for the somewhat magical realist nature of Kino’s world. Not to mention it just makes sense that the woman who made Kino the kind of “traveler” she is would be that badass!

Kino just so happens to be in the neck of the woods of that Clock Tower Country, and when she arrives in the courtyard where many shots were once fired without taking a life, she finds a monument made from a door blown off one of the police trucks back then.

An old man with a cane and and a granddaughter explains to Kino and Hermes that the memorial is a tribute to the two “Travelers of Justice” whose brazen acts freed the people from a corrupt and oppressive law enforcement system by essentially wearing them down until they grew ashamed of their conduct and shaped up.

Kino and Hermes alike are a bit amused that the country took Master and her Apprentice’s actions in such high esteem, but was the Master simply keeping her skills sharp in service of escaping the country, or did she have grander plans for that three-day-and-night stand?

We’ll never know, nor will Kino, but after this black-and-white and sepia-tinged look back to the past, she turns Hermes around and continues forward, into that Beautiful World, to  make some history of her own.

Kizumonogatari III: Reiketsu-hen

Araragi Koyomi has beaten Dramaturgy, Episode, and Guillotinecutter with relative ease, and secured his master Kiss-Shot’s four extremities.
This third movie isn’t about that mission; that’s over now. It’s about everything that comes after, and how we get to Kiss-Shot being at full power to the greatly diminished state in which we were introduced to her in 2009’s Bakemonogatari.

Kiss-Shot promised Koyomi she’d make him a human if he got her arms and legs back, and while Oshino was meant to be Koyomi’s fourth opponent—he in possession of Kiss-Shot’s heart—he is satisfied that the balance has been restored. He not only surrenders the heart, but forgives Koyomi’s 5 million in debt before taking off.

So, will Kiss-Shot keep up her end of the bargain she struck with Koyomi? She’s certainly happy to be in her 26-year-old form; giddy, even. They meet on the roof of the cram school and talk simply like two old chums.

Kiss-Shot tells Koyomi about her first servant, whom she lost to suicide (she tells him more about this during Onimonogatari), and pulls Kokoro-watari, a memento from that time, out of her body.

After watching Kiss-Shot frolick on the roof, Koyomi realizes he’s a bit hungry, so volunteers to pick up some snacks at the local 7-Eleven while Kiss-Shot ‘prepares’ to restore his humanity.

Upon his return, he discovers the nature of that preparation: Kiss-Shot graphically devouring Guillotinecutter, then wondering where Koyomi’s “mobile snack”, i.e. Hanekawa is.

It’s a devastating revelation to Koyomi that yeah, when Kiss-Shot is talking about food she’s talking about humans. She feeds on humans, and he not only saved her life, but restored her to full power. As he rages in the gym equipment room, blaming himself for Guillotinecutter’s death, Hanekawa pays him a visit.

As far as Koyomi’s concerned, he doesn’t deserve to get his humanity back after everything he’s done. He doesn’t even deserve to live, and certainly doesn’t want to live to the point where he sees Tsubasa as food. He’s already disgusted with the fact that the three hunters he defeated were on the side of justice.

Tsubasa, not surprisingly, has his back when he doesn’t have his own. She’s made her selfishness known to Koyomi, and she wants to see him next term, so he can’t die. Besides, throwing away all he’s accomplished thus far would just be running away. Even if he eats her, she’s fine with it, because she wouldn’t call someone a friend unless she’s willing to die for them, no matter the reason.

No, pointing the blame on and killing himself isn’t the right path for Koyomi. Not when he’s the only one who has a chance against a Full Power Kiss-Shot. Knowing he has to go up against her, Koyomi asks, for the first time ever, if he can touch Tsubasa’s boobs, in order to “build up his tolerance” for Kiss-Shot’s own substantial bust.

That attempt goes bust, however, when Tsubasa is more than willing to let him fondle her boobs and even take her maidenhood if he likes, but he chickens out and instead gives her a weak shoulder massage.

Hitagi may end up being Koyomi’s beloved, but there can be no doubt who his best friend is after watching these movies. Because all this takes place before he even meets Hitagi, Tsubasa is free to be the one and only girl, and thus one hell of a best one.

Alright, no more fooling around, it’s time to fight his master Kiss-Shot, who makes one hell of a fiery, explosive entrance in the stadium, the venue of their duel. Kiss-Shot know realizes she was insensitive in being so casual about how she took her meal. With that in mind, she asks him to return to her side, but of course he can’t, because she ate someone.

Koyomi saved her life, and won back her limbs, because she was weak. Once she was no longer weak, and Koyomi saw what she was capable of, he essentially woke up from the spell he had been under. At an impasse, they begin to go at it.

Because they’re both immortal, quick-healing vampires, it’s an absolutely bonkers fight, with heads and limbs flying all over the place, oftentimes sprouting back up before the old parts faded away. But as bloody and brutal as it is, the fight is a stalemate, with neither party able to inflict lasting damage on the other.

Once again unable to stay away when her friend is in need, Tsubasa tells Koyomi something isn’t right, and it’s something everyone but Koyomi would have realize by now: Kiss-Shot wants to be killed; it’s the only way for Koyomi to get his humanity back.

When Kiss-Shot tries to lash out at the interfering Tsubasa, Koyomi (or rather, his head and some neckbones) latch on to Kiss-Shot’s neck, and he starts sucking her blood, a lot of it, until fully half of it is gone, leaving her shriveled and powerless.

But he doesn’t want Kiss-Shot to die.

Instead, he wants everyone to get what they want; everyone to be satisfied. So he calls out to Oshino, whom he knows is watching, and hires him (for five million) to come up with a solution. Unfortunately, no amount of money will change the fact that it’s impossible for everyone to be satisfied.

So instead, Oshino, true to his nature of attaining balance everywhere he can, proposes a way for everyone to be dissatisfied in equal measure. Kiss-Shot can live on as pseudo-vampire mimicking a human, robbed of all her power and dependent on Koyomi to survive.

Koyomi, meanwhile, will become a pseudo-human mimicking a vampire; and both will continue to live, and the risk to humanity will be greatly reduced, but not completely eliminated. Koyomi won’t let Kiss-Shot die, so he takes the deal.

Fast-forward to August and the beginning of a new term for Koyomi and Tsubasa. He still heals quickly for a human, but not nearly as quickly as he was. He also views the world differently now that he can walk in the sun again, something Tsubasa thinks is very positive.

Koyomi pays a visit to Oshino at the cram school to give what’s left of Kiss-Shot some of his blood. On the roof, Oshino characterizes the situation thusly:

What you remember of a vampire eating someone…is like the disillusionment of watching a cute cat devour a live mouse.

And here you are, having chosen to keep your own little vampire like a pet.

You’ve dulled its fangs, pulled out its claws, crushed its throat and neutered it, right?

You, who was once treated as a pet, are getting back at your former master by treating her as one…not a moving tale, is it?

Well, it was, and is, most definitely a moving tale, but I prefer Koyomi’s more poetic way of characterizing it:

We, who hurt each other so terribly, will sit here licking each others wounds. We damaged goods will seek the other out in comfort.

If you are to die tomorrow, I’m fine with my life ending then as well.

But if you want to live for me for one more day, I’ll go on living with you today as well.

And thus begins a tale of kindred bound by their scars.

Soaked in red and written in black, a story of blood.

One of which I’ll never speak.

Our very own, precious as it is, story of scars.

And I have no intention of reciting it to anyone.

It’s not just a beautiful way to end this fantastically epic prequel trilogy, but an artfully powerfully-stated mission statement for all of the stories in the Monogatari Series that follow chronologically. It’s inspired me to re-watch Nekomonogatari (Kuro) and then Bakemonogatari from the beginning, with a new appreciation for where Koyomi has been, andthanks to the recently completed Owarimonogatari—where he’s going.

Finally, major kudos to Kamiya Hiroshi, Horie Yui, and Sakamoto Maaya; all three elevated these movies that much more with their layered, engaging performances.

Fate / Zero – 25 (Fin)

Did the Holy Grail know Kiritsugu would reject it? Who can say? But even if it initially chose him to be its bearer, his order to Saber to destroy it flipped the script. It also flipped the cup, as the Grail’s destruction means the black ooze it contained falls upon Fuyuki, destroying everything in sight, to Kiritsugu’s great despair. Even trying to do the right thing at the right time would seem to have backfired on this exceedingly unlucky and tortured soul.

Speaking of tortured souls, Kariya is still barely alive when he returns to the Matou basement, but while his senses tell him he is reuniting Sakura with Rin and Aoi, in reality Sakura is abandoning him to the Crest Worms and accepting the fate he tried in vain to keep her from.

Perhaps it was the contents of the Grail, not the Grail itself, that mattered most, as those contents fell on Archer, but rather than destroy him along with everything else, it gave him physical form (though not clothes). And because Gilgamesh still had a pact with Kirei, it resurrected him, albeit with no heartbeat.

That literal lack of a beating heart is indicative of his departure from humanity, as is his apparently Grail-fulfilled wish for death and destruction around him, and a hunger to “learn more” and explore the depths of his inhumanity. But as I said, the Grail will never fully satiate; at best it can only lock people—Servants and Masters alike—in a perpetual state of searching.

As for Kiritsugu, he’s done searching. Indeed, he seems to be just about done with everything, owing to the curse bestowed on him by a scorned Grail and his entire life’s work burning before him. The last thing he searches for—a single survivor among the scorched rubble—is something he ironically finds immediately.

By saving that single life—a young Shirou—Kiritsugu himself is saved. It’s a concept a sneering Kirei can’t possibly comprehend enough even to envy.

With that, the clock on the Fourth Holy Grail War reaches…Zero and comes to an end, with the official winner in doubt, though more-or-less claimed by Kirei, since the Grail seemingly brought him back.

Back at his “grandparents”, Waver announces he’s going to set aside his magical studies for a bit, get a part-time job, live with them, and save up enough to travel the world his king once conquered a good chunk of.

Kirei has upheld his promise to his master to look after Rin after he’s gone, likely so that he can observe and absorb all of the grief, pain and suffering Rin is likely to experience on the long, hard road all heads of great families must walk.

Rin maintains a stoicsm beyond her years at her father’s futural, even as she wheels her brain-damaged, delusional mom around. What gets her to crack and shed tears is the Azoth dagger; Kiritsugu twisting the blade like the piece of work he is.

And Saber, poor Saber, is back in Britain, on a battlefield strewn with corpses, having led everyone nowhere but to their own deaths. She remembers Lancelot’s last words to her, about how he only ever sought her righteous judgment for betraying her and falling in love win Guinevere.

Arturia considers herself a failed king who never understood anyone, and considering her surroundings it’s hard to argue with that assessment.

As for Saber’s former Master, he is banned from Einzbern Castle forever, having failed to secure the Grail for them, and never sees his daughter Ilya again. So he adopts Shirou, fixes up the old safe house, and spends the next five years raising his adoptive son and living a quiet but happy life.

One night he tells Shirou how he once wanted and tried to be a hero, but ultimately failed. Shirou confidently promises his dad he’ll become a hero in his place. A heavenly light suddenly shines above Saber; a ray of hope.

Clearly contented by his son’s words, Kiritsugu starts to peacefully pass away, with an answer for his friend Shirley’s question about what he wanted to be when he grew up: he wanted, and still wants, to be a hero.

* * * * *

And that’s it for Fate/Zero! Boy, what a ride it’s been these past five weeks. That was a far better show than I could have imagined…which is why it took so long after UBW to watch it. Burned by previous prequels to beloved works, I was worried knowing pretty much how everything would end would make it difficult for the stakes to matter.

Yeah…I was dead wrong about that. Not only was I far more emotionally invested in Zero, it was a lot more approachable, had a lot more heart, and took a lot more risks than the smoother, shinier UBW. It’s not that UBW is bad, it’s simply a matter of Zero kicking ass in virtually every aspect of the game. It wasn’t just a great anime, it was great television; great storytelling, full stop. So thanks to everyone out there who recommended it to me. It was well worth a look back.

Fate / Zero – 24

Ever since the childhood trauma that set him on his path, Emiya Kiritsugu has striven to be a level-headed, efficient, logical man. It’s partly why he kept Saber at arm’s length: an emotional connection with his Servant isn’t necessary and exposure to her illogical honor can only create inefficiencies in his plans.

So as Saber finds herself struggling with the insane anger and hatred of her former most trusted knight, essentially making her the logical one in her fight, and Iri’s body transforms into the Holy Grail, Kiritsugu never would have imagined it would not only toy with his emotions, but use his beloved logic against him.

But first, by god was I not wrong when I said the duel between Kiritsugu and Kirei would be something. It’s quite different and more minimalist than any previous battle in the show, with both participants sizing up their opponents, approaching them with a certain strategy, and switching up tactics on the fly as conditions rapidly change.

Kirei would have surely killed Kiritsugu relatively quickly were it not for Avalon imbuing Kiritsugu with a virtual “Auto-Life” status. In the slight sliver of a moment Kirei’s guard is down, Kiritsugu takes Kirei’s right arm away with Contender, and the odds are evened.

So even is the duel, in fact, that the Grail itself, runnething over with some kind of dark, blood-like ooze directly above the fighters, essentially calls a “timeout” by covering both in that ooze.

That indicates the War is finally at an end, and the Grail has chosen the victor. At the same time, Saber runs Berserker through, killing him, as Kariya also expires; claiming she cannot atone to him without winning the Holy Grail.

In an illusory world created by the Grail, an avatar of Iri representing the will of the Grail names Kiritsugu as the winner, and he need only officially pray for his wish to become reality. The only problem is, the Grail, or at least this Grail, cannot give him the miracle he wants. At least, not in a manner that is acceptable.

The Grail then sets to work taking Kiritsugu’s philosophy to its logical conclusion: killing the smaller percentage of people to save a larger one, thought-experiment style; sacrificing the few to save the many.

But if, like his time-altering battle ability, Kiritsugu would continue to whittle down some humanity in order to save another proportion, before long there will be no one left in the world but him and those he cares about the most, presented to him as Maiya, Iri and Ilya.

To save them, he’ll have to kill everyone else. In other words, “saving the world” means destroying humanity. This is the sum total of Kiritsugu’s wish, according to the Grail.

And the Grail stands ready to grant that wish, even though it is not at all what Kiritsugu wants. He rejects the Grail, unwilling to sacrifice the world for his own few loved ones, symbolically murdering both Iri and Ilya in a thoroughly upsetting scene in an attempt to subvert of the nightmare scenario the Grail put forward. The Grail curses him and he is cast out.

Back in reality, such as it is, Kiritsugu has the advantage over Kirei, who rages and fumes at him for refusing and wasting the Grail’s wish. But in killing him it seems Kiritsugu is almost doing Kirei a favor.

This Grail is not omnipotent, and thus would be no more able to reveal the nature and meaning of Kirei’s existence than it could grant Kiritsugu a miracle that would end all conflict in the world. In both cases, the one making the wish does not know what it is they seek.

That being said, the Grail is still immensely powerful and dangerous in the wrong hands, and Kiritsugu decides that no one, including him, has the right hands.

So as Saber and Archer descend on the physical Grail, poised to fight the final duel in the War, and Saber rejects Archer’s offer of marriage and servitude, Kiritsugu forsakes Saber once more, hitting her where it hurts most: he uses his two remaining Command Seals to order her to destroy the Grail with Excalibur…and she cannot disobey.

But perhaps Kiritsugu is right that Saber, like Kirei and he himself before, is merely deluding herself into believing the Grail will grant her wish, only offer shallow illusions in exchange for being possessed by someone worthy. The Grail is not an answer.

Fate / Zero – 23

Before their epic duel, Rider and Archer have a drink together and exchange words of respect. Waver quips that they’re friends, and Rider doesn’t argue with the label: how can he be unfriendly with the one who could be the last person he’ll ever see?

Rider doesn’t mess around with anything other than the best he’s got, and whips out Ionian Hetairoi. Archer looks pleased to be facing such a strong and worthy foe, but he also doesn’t look worried in the least.

While the ancient kings’ battle takes place on the vast expanse of sand, Saber ends up fighting Berserker in a relatively cramped underground parking lot. Berserker seems to feed off of Kariya’s suffering and regret, as Sakura shows up in his head, and while reassuring her they’ll all be together again, Sakura inadvertently reminds Kariya that “they” no longer includes her mom.

Berserker’s penchant for ‘turning’ weapons for his use continues when he makes use of some automatic weapons; Saber can barely get near him, and when she does, her sword bounces off his armor, or the blade merely caught in mid-strike by Berserker’s palms.

Once he does that, Saber gets into her head that he reminds her of some knight she once knew, and on cue Berserker’s Pigpen-like cloud of miasma dissipates and he removes his helm to reveal he IS someone she knew…or rather he WAS. That someone is none other than Sir Lancelot, the greatest of the Knights of the Round Table.

That Saber has no idea it was him until now, and has no idea how he came to be this way after they parted ways, gets to the heart of that seed of doubt planted by Rider about her reckless self-destructive path to kingship, which he didn’t see as kingship at all. Lance would seem to be proof of that, and I can’t imagine Saber wants to fight him, except perhaps to put him out of his misery.

Back in the desert, Gilgamesh reveals the reason he’s so calm with a massive legendary army descending on him: his own, thus-far-unused Noble Phantasm, Ea. As soon as he unlocks and activates Enuma Elish (an extremely strange and cool sequence, as befits Gilgamesh), the dunes begin to collapse, the legions plummet to their demise, and the very sky shatters along with the Reality Marble.

His trump card utterly defeated, Rider has no course but to charge Archer on his own. Even after his horse goes down, he runs at him on foot, getting impaled several times, before being restrained by great chains, his blade inches from Gil’s face. Before he fades away, Iskandar wonders if the lapping waves of Oceanus, the Ocean at the End of the World, was actually merely the dancing of his own heart.

It’s a legendary ending for a truly legendary Servant with whom there was never a dull moment. He was simply outmatched here. And to his credit, Archer is not cruel in his treatment of Waver. On the contrary, when he asks if as his sworn retainer, Waver should not avenge his fallen king, and Waver replies that he was ordered to survive, Gilgamesh salutes his “splendid loyalty” and spares his life, urging him to never let that loyalty tarnish.

Time for Waver to go home; he got far further in the Holy Grail War than most would expect a mage from a “lesser” family to get. While this fight is over and Rider is gone, the stage is set—literally, Iri’s body is on a stage—for the duel between Kiritsugu and Kirei. Will their fight be as bold and flashy as Archer and Rider’s, or Saber and Berserker’s below them? Perhaps not, but it should still be…theatrical.