Chihayafuru 3 – 20 – Sticking Around

On a luck-of-the-draw that would have sealed Dr. Harada’s victory, he faults, giving he win to Master Suo and forcing a fifth decisive match. It’s really the closest of close outcomes, but Harada tries not to let it get to him, and retires to his chambers to rest. But the moment Suo won, I knew not only that he’d win it all, but that he’d be back for more next year.

Between matches, Shinobu unties the tasuki Chihaya gave her and notices the bear motifs. Just as the cards ultimately decided to side with her, Chihaya’s good wishes were always there under her arms, letting her move freely and confidently. She says as much in her post-victory interview, giving Inokuma her fair due while also saying she won today because of those beside her.

As for Chihaya, she goes off on her own, cursing herself for not being born a man so she could teach that nasty Master Suo a lesson in her own arena. That’s when Arata arrives—at the exact moment Taichi finds her—resulting in Chihayafuru going into Full Soap Opera Mode for a few fleeting moments, as an enamored Oe and Sumire watch. Suffice it to say Chihaya is in no position to respond to Arata’s confession yet.

Harada’s best chance of becoming Master slipped thorough his fingers when the fourth match ended in a luck-of-the-draw, but he still had a chance if Suo played as lazily as he did in the first two matches. Yeah…that wasn’t gonna happen. Due in large part to the older Harada’s unrelenting intensity, Suo is shaken from his apathy, and after scarfing down a whole box of daifuku, ties his hair up and shaves his beard, getting correct before his swift and almost foregone victory to clinch his fifth win and successful defense.

Surely Harada saw how he gradually poked the karuta monster that is Master Suo awake simply by wanting to take his throne so badly. The sting of Harada’s defeat is softened by two factors: his wife never actually cared about him becoming Master, just in having fun; and the young bucks who watched his epic duel with Suo now have more ammo for going after him in the future. After all, Harada is a player, a teacher, and a mentor. You could even say he taught Suo a lesson by playing him so damn hard he almost won.

When Suo is phoning in his live interview, Arata beats Chihaya to the punch and loudly urges Suo not to retire, but return next year, so he can beat him. Suo doesn’t tell his interviewer how much goddamn fun he had playing Harada, but he sure as hell is thinking it, and Arata provides the little nudge Suo needed to reverse his decision to retire. This, after Taichi was expressing inner relief that he wouldn’t have to deal with Suo, in another stark contrast to Arata.

Inokuma Haruka is pretty sure she’s done too, and even comes to believe she’s finally carrying her first daughter after two sons (she told god a third son was fine as long as she won, but alas). But Sion’s grandmother isn’t buying it. From her perspective, Haruka is still a spring chicken, and it’s ludicrous to her to think she’s done with competitive karuta. It’s all about perspective.

After ten long hours of tense karuta, the Mizusawa gang rushes to catch the last Shinkansen out of Kyoto, but in their haste, Chihaya neglects to notice Taichi didn’t board the train with them. That’s because he’s staying behind to play in the Takamatsu Memorial Cup tomorrow. I guess his thinking is if Arata’s going to go behind his back and confess to Chihaya, he’s going steal a march on Chihaya to jump back on a different train: the train to karuta greatness.

Chihayafuru 3 – 19 – Hollow Man

I don’t like Master Suo.

I don’t like his creepily soft voice, or his obsession with sweets, or the way he macks on Chihaya, or the way he plays karuta, or the way he’s clogging up a throne I’d rather see Arata in sooner rather than later. The show hasn’t gone out of its way to make him a likable character, as it has so many others whose backstories we only get at a crucial point in a match, but at least this week it makes the attempt.

Suo has always seen himself as “hollow,” taken away from deadbeat parents to live in the main family’s house full of relations young and old. One of his aunts took him under her wing, insisting that he one day “make something of himself.” We learn that he has the same affliction she has that narrows the field of vision and may one day blind him.

He doesn’t learn of this prognosis until he’s already attempted several different paths and, not feeling passion for any of them, moved on to another. It’s a pretty lady at college who first attracts him to karuta, and like everything else he picks it up quickly.

That young woman gets a boyfriend who’s not him, but he still becomes so good at karuta he scares opponents away, leading to the adoption of a playing style in which he intentionally narrows his margin of victory and forces opponents to fault. He feeds on the passion of others because he has none himself.

Sympathy for Suo can be found for those looking hard enough, in his unenviable parentage, his loyalty and devotion to his aunt and her wish for him to make something of himself, and the two ticking clocks in his eye sockets. Backed into a corner with no more room for slacking off, Suo then feeds off Dr. Harada’s passion in order to turn an eight-card deficit into a one-card advantage.

Dr. Harada has passion to spare, but after three games and change his knee is starting to howl, as he knew it would, hurting his focus. That knee makes him a little less surer of his form and speed, and a refocused Suo capitalizes. Kitano, well aware of Harada’s discomfort, looks past their decades of fierce rivalry, sees how close one of them is to beating him to the throne, and tosses his friend a cushion to ease the agony.

Over on the women’s side, it’s becoming clear to Shinobu that the cards have become fickle, and that some of them like Inokuma too. Shinobu makes it a point not to get into a luck-of-the-draw scenario, no longer sure the remaining cards will side with her.

In the end, Inokuma double-faults at the worst possible time, while Shinobu uses her left hand to reach confidently across the field. Inokuma is devastated and tearful by her loss, but Queen Wakamiya shows her kind side by asking Inokuma to count the cards, assuring her they still like her despite the loss.

That result gets Arata out of his sickbed and onto the subway, hoping to catch the end of the Master tournament in person. However, he probably should have stayed put, as there’s no guarantee he’ll get there in time, and the internet signal on his tablet cuts out every time his train goes into a tunnel (which, in tunnel-filled Japan, is often).

In between service interruptions, he manages to hear the word “luck”—Harada and Suo are in the luck-of-the-draw Shinobu managed to avoid. While I’m still not a big fan of Suo, and will be disappointed if after coming so close Dr. Harada comes up short, I at least understand the four-time Master a little better now. I just hope his musings this episode don’t set him up to not only win, but to decide not to retire.

After all, he’s still Master Suo…whom I dislike.

Chihayafuru 3 – 18 – Right Now is Everything

As her grandmother surfs her regular TV in vain, (somehow) unaware the tournament is streaming online, Shinobu loses her focus. She can’t hear the cards, and loses to Haruka, tying them at one game apiece.

It’s the first game in Queen tournament play she’s ever lost, and everyone is shocked. A lethargic Suo drops the second game in a row to Dr. Harada, meaning both Master and Queen are in check: one more loss means losing their titles.

During the two-hour break for the women, Haruka experiences acute morning sickness. The timing sucks, but she’s hoping this means her third child will be a daughter. As she tells Rion, this may be her last chance, but she’s not going to let a little nausea keep her from making the very most of it.

Shinobu tears off her gaudy kimono and rushes to the shrine to pray. Chihaya, sensing Shinobu is out of whack, follows her without a coat, leading Shiobu to lend her her Snowmaru scarf. Later, before the match, Chihaya insists upon fitting tatsuki to improve the Queen’s movement.

Shinobu may have gotten to where she is in part due to abject loneliness, and she doesn’t resent that trade-off, as she proceeds to win the third game with relative ease, restoring her focus. But it must nevertheless be heartening to have a so-called rival/maybe friend in Chihaya by her side when she needed someone, anyone.

Suo feels a solidarity with Shinobu, but only because of their statuses at the top of the karuta food chain (and possibly due to their shared social awkwardness and eccentricity). But there’s nothing he can really do to help Shinobu. In the third game, he trounces Harada by 17 cards, but Harada essentially threw the game.

Indeed, drawing from Chihaya’s final intel report, Harada is pulling out all the stops to attack and confuse the defending Master at every turn. This presents itself to the crowd as showing complete and utter contempt for one’s opponent, but considering the gap between their age and raw talent, and the ticking time bomb that is his leg, Harada can’t afford to play nice.

Unlike Suo, he has a wife, and he wants to make her proud. I’d be surprised if this doesn’t go to the fifth game, but hopefully he can.

Chihayafuru 3 – 17 – An Attractive Advertisement

Before the matches begin, Chihaya notices the people chosen to be the card boys and girls for the matches. She wonders whom she’d choose for her Queen match, and envisions that, should they let her choose guys, neither Arata nor Taichi would be available, for they’d be facing each other in the Master match.

It’s a beautiful dream, and we get a glimpse of it in her head. Part of me wishes Chihaya and Arata’s journey to their respective crowns were sidetracked, by Chihaya’s school trip and Arata’s loss to Harada. If I’m honest, Shinobu is the only one of the four players in these matches in whom I have any significant emotional investment.

That said, the two matches are still hella interesting, and made moreso by the airheaded Eternal Queen commentator, the online feed, and a truly legendary reader whose voice coats the environment in a rainbow light. The first round of karuta itself isn’t anything fancy, but is marked by the sheer closeness of the games.

Inokuma, being a former queen herself, puts up the best fight in a Queen match Shinobu has ever encountered, culminating in a luck-of-the-draw that Shinobu wins. She never doubted the cards would choose her. Is the mega-eyed Mama’s comeback tour about to come to an end? Haruka hedges her bets in the green room between games.

Suo also ends up in a luck-of-the-draw with Harada, by design, only Harada manages to defend the last card read to pick up a win, breaking Suo’s tournament winning streak at twelve. It would be the promising start of a huge upset, if Suo had any actual will to win; he seems to have lost interest. Poor Harada: working his ass off for decades to get here, and his opponent is goofing off.

As for poor Shinobu, it’s clear she’s wounded by her relative’s (assistant’s?) comment about her grandmother basically using her as a mannequin for the kimono made by one of her investments. Just when she’s feeling low, Chihaya comes in with Snowmaru dorayaki to share, but then pisses Shinobu off by saying she put her class trip ahead of Queen qualifying. After that roller coaster of a break, I wouldn’t be surprised if Haruka evens things up in the second game.

Chihayafuru 3 – 16 – Karuta in the Streaming Age

No sooner does Chihaya lose to Suo (and be told the simple yet devastating two words “you can’t”) than Taichi is challenging him for a match of his own. Suo refuses until Taichi bribes him with sweets, and then Suo proceeds to beat him by fourteen cards. But Unlike Chihaya and most of Suo’s opponents, Taichi didn’t commit a single fault. That’s because Taichi is starting to want to play his karuta the same way: through the mistakes of his opponents.

Taichi also tells Suo that Chihaya isn’t really his boyfriend, which means now Suo thinks he has a chance with her. I’m sorry but I could not care less about this creep’s further attempts to woo someone who is already thoroughly in love with someone/thing (more on that later). What I do like? Chihaya wasting no time reporting to Harada about a possible weakness in Suo’s game.

Christmas Eve arrives, and the karuta club celebrates at the Tsukaba residence. This party feels like it could have been a lot longer and probably should have been. Not a whole episode, mind you, but at least half of one. Chihaya’s appearance as Santa comes and goes so fast there’s barely any time to process it.

But more than the hasty Chihaya-as-Santa cameo, the party just isn’t given any time to breathe the way slice-of-life scenes should, especially when Desktomu tells Chihaya how he considers the club a family, and they all consider Tsukaba’s little brothers their own little brothers.

When Christmas arrives, Shinobu spends it practicing in her hoity-toity family’s reception room, drawing her mother’s ire. Shinobu considers karuta to be more her family than her mother, but her grandmother likely scores some family points by letting Shinobu keep practicing and even writing on the tatami with a marker!

Shinobu is desperate to practice because she missed the Fall tournaments with illnesses, and she’s rusty. She also has no choice but to look towards the future she must discuss at high school, although because it’s a school full of “rich girls” the counselor kinda half-asses it. When Shinobu said she’d have “nothing” if she loses the queen match, it made me sad, but also made me wish she had a home that accepted her foibles, and the proper guidance at school.

New Years and the next week after that pass by in a flash, and the day of the Master and Queen tournaments arrives. There’s notably less pomp and spectacle at Omi Jingu since NHK decided it would not televise the matches live on TV. Tsukaba fears it’s a sign that karuta is “in decline”, but Desktomu assures him, the opposite is true.

Karuta has found a larger, younger audience via online streaming, and there’s more interaction thanks to the live chat. The first year of this change comes with a very convincingly intimidating challenger in Harada, a shifty creeper in Master Suo, an adorable mother in Inokuma, and the ethereal-yet-also-goofy-haired Queen Shinobu—so there’s plenty to chat about besides karuta!

As for Chihaya, she’ll be watching the matches in person for the first time, and had expected/hoped Arata would be there too. Alas, he’s come down with a fever. In a way, they both have. As their mutual love of both karuta and one another ever-so-gradually untangles, it seems to be affecting both their games. Chihaya notes how warm she feels just by dialing Arata’s number and talking to him for a minute, and feels like she’d “blow up” if he were really there.

This episode’s breathless progression through the holidays made for some odd pacing I wasn’t really a fan of, while Suo continues to cast a pall on the whole show with his eccentric unpleasantness. As such, this is the first episode of Chihayafuru’s third season I cannot enthusiastically endorse. That said, if the Master and Queen challenger matches were any indication, the impending Master and Queen tournaments should be lit.

P.S. Chihaya mentions in her inner monologue that she’ll never wear earbuds lest they hurt her hearing, but does so while riding on a train. Trains, and especially subway cars, can get pretty piercingly loud. Just sayin’!

Chihayafuru 3 – 15 – Crushed Like Autumn Leaves Underfoot

Chihaya can’t concentrate on studying for final exams because she’s still stunned from Arata’s confession and news he’s planning to attend college in her neck of the woods. While Taichi may have somewhat of a clue why she’s so distracted, only Oe and Sumire heard the confession with their own ears.

Sumire insists that they not tell Taichi, but just watch things unfold. She’s glad there’s finally some movement in what had been a completely log-jammed love triangle, and is hopeful things work out with Arata and Chihaya so she can be the one to swoop in and claim Taichi.

Later, Sumire is frank in her selfishness, and in being okay with the fact dating Taichi means he first must have his heart crushed like autumn leaves. But she can’t change the fact she loves Taichi and wants to be with him, and Arata may have finally given her an assist in that department.

Alas, she and Oe are only partially interpreting the source of Chihaya’s stunned state. Yes, Arata is part of it, but so is karuta. As has always been the case, her love of both has been so intertwined as to make it hard, especially for someone with zero romantic experience, to tell the two apart.

Quite suddenly, Chihaya gets a call from Suo via Sudo Akito agreeing to have a match with her, and all of a sudden she’s broken out of one trance…and into another. She finally sees Suo in a new environment, doted upon by his fellow karuta players at the practice facility, and even occasionally yelling.

Getting to play the Master is a trip for Chihaya, and you can’t blame her. Since she’s never played him before one-on-one, she has no idea what she’s in for, and even though she mimicked him as best she could, she was not prepared for the level of psychological warfare he directs at his opponents before, during, and after a match.

She loses by fourteen cards, but by the end of the match she’s notably encouraged by the strong finish she had and the fact she never lost heart…that is until Suo throws a bevy of compliments her way before crushing that heart like autumn leaves, telling her someone like her, pretty, positive, popular, “having a boyfriend”, can’t become Queen.

Chihya’s reaction is only shown for a few frames—not even a full second. She looks like she’s in the shadow of someone’s shoe, about to be stomped into oblivion. All of the good vibes she had gathered during her visit snuffed out. One wonders how much of Suo’s assessment is based in his karuta wisdom, and how much is couched in his inability to successfully court her. Either way, she’s not shining anymore…and that’s a damn shame.

Chihayafuru 3 – 03 – Up to Fate and The Times

Sorry for doing these out of order, but I wasn’t aware Chihayafuru 3 was airing two episodes at a time last week (and this week!). Nevertheless, it’s instructive to see the match that came before Chihaya’s promising quarterfinals match, because it’s when she truly gets her groove back.

Same with Taichi, who has a pre-match brush with Arata that, while cordial and even friendly, still steams his beans just because…Arata just does that. He’s in Taichi’s way on two fronts: karuta and Chihaya (whether he knows it or not), and hearing that he wants to start his own school club is yet another thorn in Taichi’s side.

Few know Chihaya’s game as well as Porky, so even when she seems to be doing well, he can tell, for instance, if she hasn’t quite come back from her injury. He’s also a great analyst of her game, and when she is up against a former Master runner-up (Takemura, who lost badly to Master Suo), he notices that there’s a reason she seems slower and less forceful, and it’s not because she’s still recovering her game.

In fact, Chihaya has absorbed a lot of pointers from Shinobu, Rion, and others that it’s not all about power. Playing left-handed also turned out to be beneficial to her, as it gave her more experience and insight into a side of the cards she was weakest against. Since she could never move as fast with her left hand as her right, she compensated with accuracy and efficiency, which she’s carried into her right-handed game.

Taichi has some trouble with his quirky opponent, Shiroyama from Hokuo, and is particularly irked by his opponent’s ability to take cards despite being, well, slow. He eventually realizes Shiroyama is playing a true team match, focusing on wearing Taichi down rather than winning quickly. Once Taichi realizes what’s going on, it’s like a weight off his shoulders, and he puts Shiroyama away.

Chihaya beats Takemura, who is admittedly out of practice after taking a whole half-year off following his brutal defeat. But he sees how big a mistake that was, as youngins like Chihaya are no longer nipping at his heels, but surpassing him with relative ease. Contrast that with mother of two and former Queen Inokuma Haruka, whose passion is such that even two kids, including a still-nursing newborn, can’t keep her out of the tournament.

While no one questions her prowess in previous years (nor the shape of her eyes, which give Chihaya’s a run for their money), there are questions about whether she can make a comeback; questions that are answered in the positive in this round. But during the match, both she and Chihaya snatch the “Impassionate” card at the exact same time, such that their cards collide. That incident is all too fateful, as they end up facing off in the quarterfinals.

Before the match, Miyauchi asks Sakurazawa if Chihaya has what it takes to be Queen. She’s worried about the future of an academically average-at-best student, but would be less worried if she knew Chihaya could ascend to the top of karuta. All Sakurazawa can tell Miyauchi is that in order to reach that height, Chihaya will have to do what she could not; defeat someone like Inokuma Haruka.

P.S. Yamashita Kousuke’s music continues to be one of the many great things about this show. Earbuds don’t really do it justice; I’d recommend watching on a system with some nice powerful speakers for full effect. I continue to be amazed by how exciting watching kneeling people swiping at cards can get, and the music is a big part of that.

HenSuki – 04 – The Desired Outcome

Last week, before I endured a week of high-altitude training, I presupposed that Nanjou Mao has a particular interest in Keiki, but considering she was neither a sadist or masochist, the particular peculiar shape that interest took remained up in the air.

Keiki gets a bit of a reprieve this week when both Yuika and Sayuki independently offer their apologies for “going too far” and urge him to “make up” with Mao. When he confronts Mao after class, she asks if he’ll hang out with her and Shouma at the arcade, like they used to.

There, we get the second hint of Mao’s interest—her first was the very characteristic Stressed Mangaka Girl Look (AKA the School Queen/Home Nerd Look popularized by Kare Kano, but I digress). When Keiki slips and is about to fall backwards, he’s caught in an inadvertent wall slam by Shouma, which excites Mao very much.

Later, while walking Mao home, Mao wonders out loud if he wants to be in a couple rather than a trio. Keiki also notices Mao staring intently at a photo of Shouma, and gets the wrong idea that she likes Shouma. But when he pries too deeply and too directly, she runs off on him, even in the pouring rain, leaving him with the rank of Sex Animal Sergeant.

Having made next to no progress, Keiki seeks advice from Mizuha, of all people, who was previously peeping at his porn stash, puts his head in her lap, and hides an annoyed look from her brother when he discusses other girls.

Still, she advises him to go all out, but act naturally, and if it doesn’t work, she’ll surely will be there to comfort him. When Keiki once more confronts a sleepy Mao after class and apologizes profusely for hurting her feelings, and unwisely offers to do “anything” to make things right.

Mao declares she wants Keiki in a relationship…not with her, but with Shouma. That’s right: Mao is a fujoshi, and her Shortcake series uses Shouma and Keiki as her character models. She wasn’t jealous that other girls were coming on to him; she was angry that they were ruining her image of Keiki as a BL model!

If he refuses to date Shouma, she threatens do everything in her power to impede all of his other romantic endeavors. So now all three of the non-sister girls in Keiki’s circle have some quirk he’s not sure he can live with. If that weren’t bad enough, someone leaves an envelope in his shoe locker containing a photo of him groping Sayuki…perhaps an prelude from one of the yet-to-be-introduced other girls?

HenSuki – 03 – The Third Way

With Sayuki and Yuika declaring themselves masochist and sadist and their intent to make Keiki their master/slave respectively, one thing becomes clear: Keiki isn’t that into this. He avoided dating girls because he felt himself to normal and boring, but now he’s having nightmares as a result of Yuika’s “punishment” last week. He doesn’t even want to go to school, but Mizuha makes him, since he’s not really ill.

Things don’t get any easier for Keiki, as he’s greeted by Yuika’s bra in his shoe locker, followed by a photo of him with his shirt open lying with Sayuki, with the implication it will be distributed if he doesn’t meet with her. When he gets there, Sayuki is dressed as a maid and handcuffed; he must fish the key out of her cleavage.

All the while, the third girl in his life (not counting his sister), Nanjou Mao, keeps watching silently from afar, her gentle blushing going completely unnoticed by Keiki. But when he tells his best mate he doesn’t believe Sayuki or Keiki are the Cinderella, that friend points out Mao’s staring, who it’s directed at, and what that entails.

Mao’s passive role thus far becomes more active by necessity when Keiki is once again summoned to the clubroom by Sayuki, but is intercepted by Yuika, who ties him up and orders him to kiss her foot or she’ll steal his first kiss on the lips. Sayuki barges in to put a stop to it, and the girls, who have known about each other’s proclivities since they met, start to bicker, with Keiki in the middle.

Enter Mao, who drags Keiki, chair, rope and all, into the hall, away from the two warring girls. He blames him for being so nice to both of them and indulging them too much, and in the process betrays that she’s been observing his interactions with them very closely (we dohear a camera click when he’s fishing out the handcuff keys…was that Mao?).

When Keiki asks why this concerns her at all, Mao has no choice but to be more direct: she just plain doesn’t like it when he’s with other girls. That could well be because she’s developed feelings for her childhood friend, but it also means a third girl has decided to try and assert control over him. Perhaps not as a formal master or slave, but it’s definitely possessive and unbidden by Keiki.

Considering how uncomfortable the other two girls’ antics have made Keiki, perhaps Mao is the “Goldilocks” answer, but first he has to determine whether her particular kink (stalking?) is more or less manageable.

HenSuki – 02 – Kohai Master

Keiki flatly turns down Sayuki’s request that he make her his pet—he’s just not sure if he’s into S&M, and probably never thought about it. But that doesn’t stop her from hanging around him, even in the library, where she gets too close and draws the ire of their mutual kohai, Koga Yuika. When Keiki admits he took Sayuki out for a parfait and performed a romantic wall slam, she’s angry, but he can cure that anger by taking her on a date.

Keiki does everything right thanks to some pointers from his little sister Mizuha: Arrive early, compliment often, go to a movie she likes, have a relaxed lunch, match her pace, let her shop till she drops. He even has the opportunity to rescue her from some leering mall trolls. Yuika gives Keiki a pat and kiss on the head as thanks and then falls asleep on his shoulder on the train home. All in all, it’s a wonderful first date for the both of them.

Yuika always kept to herself in the library and was hard to approach (which he chalks up to her mixed heritage, which…okaaay), but he was persistent in his friendliness and kindness, and her suspicion and “ice in her eyes” gradually melted away to the point they’re now much closer. But is she “Cinderella” who included a pair of underwear with her love letter? The jury’s still out.

What becomes painfully clear, however, is that Yuika is not like Sayuki, and she does not want to be his pet. In fact, when she asks him to meet her in the library storage room, she reveals that she wants to be his master, and wants him to be her slave. As an incentive, she removes her underwear and offers them to him. When he doesn’t immediately take them, she punishes him by stuffing them into his mouth. Yikes!

Suffice it to say, this development comes as something of a shock to Keiki. He was so enchanted by their conventional date, he would have been content if he died the next day. Instead, he finds himself passed out in a closet with Yuika’s underwear in his mouth, and a commando Yuika sitting astride him. They’re tricky, those tides of fortune!

Chio-chan no Tsuugakuro – 09 – A Need for You Somewhere

Chio was up all night gaming and not studying for the exams, so she resorts to praying at a shrine for divine assistance. Instead, they meet the creepy high school girl-obsessed “Master” whom their Kabbadi nemesis “trained” with in the park. While an unapologetic creeper, you have to respect the man’s commitment to his craft. He remembers his time as a high-rolling salaryman that women were only hired for their looks, not their academic bonafides.

Thus he and Manana try to give Chio a makeover, first with a blonde wig that ends up way too Showa Era, then a more classic old-fashioned wig that, while suiting her “plain face”, looks very odd when combined with her school uniform. Manana and Master’s running commentary is a constant source of laughs, as are Chio’s funny little background sounds.

Manana and Master perhaps praise Chio’s ‘do too much, for she starts to believe she’s “made it”, attractiveness-wise now, and decides to show them her sexy side by, ahem, pole dancing on the shrine grounds. Their reaction says it all. And the fact Chio picked up how to pole dance from a video game (and can pull it off due to her surprising athleticism) made it all the more wonderfully weird.

Speaking of weird, Chio appreciates things few other girls her age appreciate, like a pipe hanging over a waterway that’s made as hard to cross as possible…but for a valve that serves as a “safe zone.” Chio compares it to a strong, strict man who nevertheless has a kind side.

Speaking of such men, Chio and Manana encounter Andou numerous times during their walk to school, and it occurs to Manana that he seems to be trying extremely hard to impress Chio, and it’s working. She suspects (correctly) that he likes Chio and this is his way of courting her: using special moves to get papers in slots, smoking a cigar…you name it.

Then Manana imagines a future in which she’s still too poor to buy a small car, but Chio is living it up in her Porsche 718 Boxster with a very successful Andou by her side (and hilariously, sporting the same Showa hair/overdone makeup from the makeover segment)—with a haughty accent to boot.

Manana cannot allow such a future to occur, but Chio figures out for herself that Andou might like her (revealing to Manana that they have each other’s contact info). But Chio is immediately “proven wrong” when she and Manana spot Andou pressing another guy against a wall with his foot high up in the air.

Andou, wrongly assuming Chio was a hardcore fujoshi, decided to lift a special pickup move from a BL video…but Chio is still just occasionally glancing at the one mag she bought at the konbini. Instead, she assumes Andou is into guys and she and Manana give the men some privacy.

Later, Chio curses herself for ever believing anyone would fall for her, but Manana quietly insists she’s wrong. And she is! Who wouldn’t fall for Chio?!

Fate/Extra Last Encore – 13 (Fin) – Mankind’s Journey Continues

Twice H. Pieceman is done with humans, and he has been for a long time. On Earth, in life, he was surrounded by the death and suffering of the Vietnam War. After death, he was “reproduced” as an NPC within SE.RA.PH, but that NPC status meant the Holy Grail would always be out of reach, so he sought a successor who also felt the future was wrong.

When none came, and humanity grew stagnant, Pieceman stopped seeing the point of letting it all continue. That’s pretty much where we’re at when Hakuno, Saber, Rin, and Leo arrive at the doorstep of Angelica Cage and the Moon Cell Core, still shielded and guarded by Chakravaratin, the Noble Phantasm of Pieceman’s no-longer-around Servant.

Oh, and Pieceman is also a Dead Face; a remnant of his digital body that was destroyed when he sealed off SE.RA.PH. Killing a final boss that’s already dead will be impossible…but they don’t have to kill him; they simply need to get past him.

When a frontal assault on Twice and Chakravaratin by Rin and Saber fails (Leo is initially neutral and takes no action), Pieceman informs them even if they wish to save humanity, it’s too late; showing them images of what has become of Earth. Yet Hakuno is sure there are survivors he wasn’t able to eliminate—even after a millennium of trying—who will one day make their way to SE.RA.PH to continue civilization.

Having heard both sides, Leo abandons his neutral position and uses a barrier to shield the others from Chakravaratin’s lasers. He also summons Gawain and uses his final Command Seal to order him to use Excalibur Galatine on the wheel, damaging it and giving the others time to finish what he’s started.

Leo goes out as a proud leader fighting for the future of humanity, and Gawain goes out with a majestic bang, reforming Excalibur with the light of the sun.

Damaged but not stopped, it falls to Saber to fly up to the wheel and cease its turning so the shield over Moon Cell core will drop. Emperor Nero Claudius proceeds to prove her worth by achieving what is “no mean task”—stopping Chakravaratin as she promised. While she expected Hakuno to race to the Moon Cell core, he sends Rin instead, as the only true Holy Grail War Master still “in the game” (he’s not an official participant).

That allows Hakuno to come to Nero’s side near her end, which was the one simple wish she told the female Hakuno, since dying alone the first time was “harsh.” She gives Hakuno her sword and sends him off to Moon Cell.

Believing he’ll be able to manipulate a fellow Dead Face’s body and use it as a vessel, Twice is surprised to find his attempts are utterly ineffective as Hakuno bull-rushes Moon Cell, passing right through Pieceman. Despite being a Dead Face, Hakuno was able to go against his kind’s nature by expressing no hatred and not considering Pieceman a foe.

Hakuno shatters the shield and joins a somewhat flustered Rin right by the core. Touching returns Moon Cell to normal, but results in his disappearance. It’s something he does willingly, with a smile on his face: a being shrouded in death believing in life; and not shrinking from his duty, which led to his end, despite yearning for that life.

Down below at the ruins of Chakravaratin, Nero offers her congratulations to her Master and disperses in a cloud of rose petals, and Moon Cell is restored to normal, whatever “normal” is. The only person who appears to remain there is Rin, sporting a new dirty-blonde hair color, looking ready, willing, and eager to welcome the survivors of Earth, that they may begin rebuilding civilization.

And there you have it…FELE is at an end. Sure, at times things were a bit hard to follow and the jargon was a bit too dense for my tastes, but through it all Hakuno never ceased his dull optimism while Saber and Rin never ceased being awesome and fun to watch. Even Leo had a nice redemption here.

The setting of the final battle was appropriately sprawling, with intricate structures sticking out in a vast, austere void. The soundtrack delivered at every turn, just as it had throughout the show’s run. Shaft’s trademark closeups were on full display but not overused. It took a few months, but FELE came to a powerful and satisfying conclusion.

Fate/Extra Last Encore – 12 – Doing What You Can

Shortly after Hakuno and Saber are expelled from the Seventh Level, Twice Pieceman paying Leo a visit from the Angelica Cage in an apparent flashback. Their unaligned positions are laid bare: Twice believes there is nothing left of humanity but its past; Leo still believes he can restore it if only he has the grail. As a Harwey, Leo has long been groomed to be the ultimate leader, but while he can “control” humanity, but he can no longer save them, or even live among them.

Kishinami Hakuno may not even be a real human, but he still wants save them and continue to live as one. The previous act’s ending suggested he and Saber had a long climb ahead of him, but while FELE faithfully replicated the old-school video game cruelty of having to start back at the beginning, Hakuno had in his pocket the bookmark of hope Alice gave him, which serves as a handheld save point.

Once he and Saber finish falling, he uses the bookmark like a phone flashlight to lead them through Limbo, where they first met. Rin gives a report; she’s still on the Seventh Floor just barely staying alive against Leo and Gawain as SE.RA.PH begins to crumble around them. Leo doesn’t have a concrete plan for defeating Leo, but a simple realigning of his thinking will serve him immensely in Round Two.

In Round One, he and Saber were separated, having to fight their counterparts one-on-one and being so overwhelmed they had no time to regroup. This time, they’ll arrive side-by-side and fight as one unit. Neither Hakuno nor Leo believe a mass of anger and hatred—much of it collected from those who failed to defeat Leo—will ever be sufficient. As such, when Hakuno and Saber arrive to spell an exhausted Rin, Leo is more bemused than anything else; the Dead Face has a death wish.

But Hakuno doesn’t wish do die, nor is he not dying because he’s pursuing a concrete goal. He wants to keep living so he can find a goal. The warmth of Saber helps him to focus just the anger within him, not the hatred. She believes she can break Gawain’s Excalibur, and only needs Hakuno’s best for an instant to do so.

It’s the ideology of hoping the best they can do will suffice against Leo’s bored arrogance and certitude. Indeed, Gawain and Excalibur put on a bigger, brighter show than the tiny red glowing dot that is the Dead Face-turbocharged Saber, while Hakuno’s face starts to crack and bleed like he could come apart at any moment.

But again, a moment is all Saber needs, and it’s what she gets, smiling when the light comes, knowing she’s got it. She shatters Excalibur Galatine in two and then activates her Golden Theater for One Final Play, Fax Caelistis; the Closing Rose that Fames Stars.

Excalibur is broken. Gawain is disarmed. Leo concedes defeat, and the battle is over without him dying, as is the rule of the Holy Grail War…though his still-smug look still amusingly pisses Rin off.

Leo rings the bell signalling Hakuno’s victory, and the floating chunk of rock upon which they stand begins to rise, taking them up to Angelica Cage AKA the Tree of Possibilities (without a bath, to Saber’s disappointment). Rin is upset that Leo still looks like he won something even though he just lost…but maybe he did win something by losing.

Unlike Pieceman, Leo hasn’t given up on humanity, only he lacked the ability to save it. By conceding to someone who can, a part of his goal could yet be achieved. The best Hakuno could do was enough to get to Pieceman. Will it be enough to defeat him? And barring defeat or victory, can humanity be saved another way before SE.RA.PH perishes?