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.

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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.

Juuni Taisen – 12 (Fin)

 

In the finale, we spend virtually the entire time inside Nezumi’s head as he ponders which of the one hundred wishes he has will be the one he asks Duodecuple to grant as a reward for his winning the Juuni Taisen.

For all that inner monologue, we don’t learn anything about Nezumi’s past, only his very mundane present, in which he attends high school and stands out mostly due to how antisocial he is.

We see his ability in action on more than one occasion as he weighs his options, and early on these are mostly frivolous, such as wishing for everyone in his class to die, or for the skirt of only girl who talks to him to flip up in front of him.

But the more he wracks his brain trying to think of a proper wish, the more rationales he comes up with to render those wishes undesirable—living forever; remaining young forever; making everyone happy; gaining the ability to survey a thousand possibilities instead of a hundred—they all have their cons that leads to their dismissal.

He considers the wishes of the other, now-slain warriors, which is interesting because throughout his ninety-nine failed attempts to win, he manages to interact peacefully with each and every one of his eleven adversaries. In a way, that’s rather apropos, since at one point or another everyone has to deal with rats.

In one of those deleted possibilities, Tora tells him how her wish is to fight beside (or possibly against) Ushii; it’s a wish that’s actually granted in the timeline Nezumi ultimately goes with. Tora turned out to be my favorite of the twelve warriors, so it’s gratifying to hear that despite losing the competition, her wish was fulfilled and she died without regrets.

If there’s one thing this final episode makes clear, it’s that Nezumi’s ability is a curse, since he remembers everything that could have happened but didn’t. So the wish he ultimately comes up with—to be able to forget everything that’s happened, or might’ve happened—seems like the best way to go. After all, his memories of all those countless deleted possibilities hampered his ability to choose any other wish.

By the time he’s counted up to 99, he’s an exhausted fellow seemingly on the verge of mental breakdown. Being allowed to forget it all is a tremendous relief even his classmates notice when he’s happily dozing at his desk.

With a RABUJOI Score well under 7.5 and a MAL Score of barely 7, Juuni Taisen was never in danger of winning any “Anime of the Year” awards. Of the shows we haven’t dropped this Fall, it’s the lowest-rated.

The reason I stuck with JT was its efficient and reliable structure: twelve episodes, twelve characters, eleven all-but guaranteed deaths, and one winner. Many of those characters and their backstories were serviceable, particularly those of Niwatori, Sharyu, and Tora. The CGI-assisted combat was also a strong suit (though IMO there wasn’t enough of it).

I wish Ushii and Usagi had gotten proper backstories. The wish-granting ability of Duodecuple was way too broad. Nothing really came of the silly oligarch gambling angle. But Juuni Taisen was still a fun, if flawed, ride.

 

Kino no Tabi – 10

Kino is the kind of person who wants to go to the country where everyone else who’s been there says the locals were very rude and treated them like crap. So imagine her disappointment when the country turns out not to be full of assholes, but full of the kindest, most hospitable townsfolk you could ask for, including the sickeningly twee innkeeper trainee and tour guide, Sakura.

Kino takes in an outdoor play chronicling the people’s proud history of having found a haven after escaping oppression. She dons an apron during a barbecue (with Hermes ensuring she only grills; no seasoning). She even gets her persuader serviced by the local, er, persuadersmith, who performs the task for free.

The smith knows the gun as the kind one of Master’s students would use (even if Kino denies knowing her), and decides to gift her another gun, “The Woodsman”, a gun he once carried for protection while traveling, but has no more use of now that he’s too old and frail to travel. He’d rather it be put to good use.

By the time Sakura shows Kino the most beautiful spot in the city during a gorgeous sunset, Kino is completely charmed and no longer disappointed the people of the country aren’t rude jerks. Unfortunately, the three days she promised she’d stay are up, and the soldiers insist she leave immediately.

The town seemed so cloyingly nice I was almost constantly keeping my eyes peeled for little clues that might indicate what the “catch” with the place was, and I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Turns out the answer was staring me right in the face in the opening moments of the episode as Kino and Hermes neared the country: it is positioned at the foot not of a mountain, but a volcano.

The night Kino leaves, the volcano unleashes a pyroclastic flow that wipes out the country, killing everyone in it instantly. Even the normally stoic Kino is upset by this sudden, shocking development, especially when Hermes calmly explains there’s absolutely nothing she can do.

But Sakura and her mother did give Kino two packages, and in them are some mementos, along with a letter explaining that the country knew of their impending doom, had the choice to abandon their lands or stay and die, and chose the latter.

The reason they were so kind to Kino is that they knew she’d be their last guest, and wanted to try to repair the reputation as rude jerks they’d built up over the years. Turns out they weren’t rude or kind country so much as a Country of Self-Destructive Stubbornness.

Another note written by Sakura accompanies the seed she caught at a wedding (the last wedding in the country, and the couple was younger than usual because, well, they were out of time), stating that she wouldn’t need it. Sakura must’ve known of her fate after all, but like her parents and the rest of the adults, decided to stay and face her fate. Pretty heartbreaking stuff.

Kino no Tabi – 09

This week we get five stories in one, as Kino jumps from country to country and character to character in a what ends up a bit of a “beautiful world grab bag.” The first story is told from the perspective of two bandits, a student and an elder. The student wrongly assumes both Shizu’s party and Kino are appropriate “prey”, but the elder knows better from a look.

Cute and alone Kino may be, but if she’s alone, it’s because she’s capable of traveling alone, which means she can handle herself. Ditto Ti, holding her hand grenade, and Shizu, who may only be a swordsman but isn’t the type to be defeated by bullets alone. The elder learned a lot after wrongly believing Kino’s master and her apprentice were prey, but turned out to be “devils”.

A neat little outside look at Kino and Shizu. Next up: a country where people accrue “virtue points” to determine status based on good deeds. Points are deducted for crimes, but it’s a system in which it’s possible to accure enough points over a lifetime to exceed those that would be deducted for killing someone.

That’s the dilemma an old man Kino meets is facing, and indeed, he originally approached her with the intent to kill, which is why Kino never took her hand off her gun. The man laments his inabilty to kill anyone as a failure in life, for he’ll die wasting all the accrued points.

That was a bit silly and weird, but at least had a nice Kino moment of a seemingly nice guy turning out to be much darker. The third segment involves Kino’s visit to a “country of cooking” where a council of chefs begs her to cook a dish for them.

Hermes worries for the country, because apparently Kino’s cooking sucks (har har). However, the country buys into her super-spicy chicken, though another traveler comes along and makes a milder version that’s equally popular.

The fourth segment is the shortest, as Shizu, Tifana and Riku arrive in a city with giant statues people attach wishes to so they’ll come true. Ti decides to wish for “everyone’s wishes to come true”, which earns her many thanks and approving words from the folks around her. Of course, Ti only made that wish because she believes it’s all bullshit anyway.

Finally, Kino enters a country her master once mentioned as a place of “beautiful memories”, moreso than any other country. And yet, Kino was never able to get any actual info about the country out of her master. When Kino enters and seemingly immediately exits through the other gate, she learns why.

Upon entering the country, visitors must agree to have all of their memories of their stay wiped if they wish to stay. Kino agreed, which is why she remembers nothing. Hermes, whose memories weren’t wiped, nevertheless won’t tell Kino because he promised the country he wouldn’t and isn’t one to go back on his word.

All he can say is that she enjoyed herself, perhaps more than any other country they’ve visited. The details of that enjoyment, however, remain classified, though she was allowed to leave with a crude drawing of her posing with people she must’ve met there.

The end credits came a message from Kino’s original creator, Sigsawa Keiichi; an “anime afterword” consisting of words of encouragement for anyone seeking to make their dreams come true, as they apparently did for him. Well…good for him, and thanks for writing Kino so we could have this anime! It just seemed strange to get such a message when there’s still a quarter of a season left to watch…

Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 09

In a change of pace both neat and foreboding, Girls’ Last Tour ditches its usual cute OP in favor of giving us a couple more minutes of “Life.” Chito and Yuuri enter another vast, city-sized facility, and while they assume they’re the only ones Alive for miles around, the facility is still “alive” with a lowecase “a” due to the lights, fans, pumps, and other various machines still working, even after the civilization that built them fell.

They also find a fellow “living thing” in a single, solitary fish, the last fish in a facility that probably churned them out in the billions in its prime. That single fish is kept alive by the one maintenance robot still functioning, much like the robot in Castle in the Sky, many of its not-so-lucky robot colleagues were not so lucky. Last tank, last fish, last maintenance robot voiced by Kamiya Hiroshi (I think?), and two of the last girls…it’s like a last convention, complete with pool facilities.

Free spirit Yuuri is all too comfortable skinny dipping, but Chito keeps her skivvies on in the presence of the robot, even though his “empathy” is just sophisticated software. But being in the presence of such complex electronic and mechanical systems that still function have Chito and Yuuri constantly wondering what “life” really is. That’s driven home by an effective fast-paced montage of all of the various patterns of sound that emulate the functions of organic life forms.

The fact that evolution bred from rebirth and change is required for life is also explored, with the only other robot at the facility being responsible for constructing or deconstructing parts of the facility as its programming dictates. When that includes the aquarium where the last fish lives, Yuuri spearheads an effort to stop the giant ‘bot.

While there was an early running joke of Yuuri constantly saying they should just eat the damn fish, she gradually develops empathy for it, to the point she’s pulling some Mission Impossible-type shit to strap explosives to the giant robot, bringing it down.

In doing so, Yuuri may have saved the fish and its attendant for now, but without the giant robot the facility will no longer change or evolve. The last robot will cease functioning, the last fish will die, and one by one the last functioning systems in the facility will shut down, in time. And since everything is the last of its kind, that will be all she wrote; no more “life.”

It’s a stirringly bittersweet close, as Yuuri and Chito themselves serve as “mutations” in a system that looked poised to self-destruct anyway (when the giant robot destroyed the fish’s home) before continuing their tour. They mostly agree that “life” means something that has an end…which this episode does with a classic credit roll with a haunting new piece of music.

Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 08

Girls’ Last Tour starts with a somber tone, as Chito and Yuuri roll into what looks like a network of enormous filing cabinets that I immediately identified as graves. If they don’t contain remains, they do contain remnants of the lives of those whose names adorn them: a radio; a bit of cloth; a shell casing; a button.

Yuu brings these along thinking they might be able to use them for something, but Chi reprobates her: if these objects are removed, they lose the meaning they already carry: to remind people—in this case, Chi and Yuu—that they existed.

The only other witness to the memories contained within those endless graves is one of the tall, sidelong glancing stone idols Yuu likes so much (and believes somewhat resemble Chi). She takes photos of both the idol and Chi, in order to preserve both for posterity. Indeed, Yuu wouldn’t have remembered Kanazawa if he hadn’t given him the camera.

In the next segment, it’s finally time to ascend to a higher level. Thankfully, no rickety elevator is needed; there’s a spiral ramp they can ride the Kettenkrad up. The only problem is, the spiraling gets so repetitive, Chi gets dizzy, and Yuu has to snap her out of her trance before she drives the ‘krad right off the ledge.

They can bypass the sudden gap in the ramp by driving out to a metal ramp, but it’s a lot more rickety than the concrete surface inside, and the weight of the vehicle causes it to fail. Yuu has Chi hit the accelerator, and after a particularly harrowing few yards, they’re back inside, and the ramp they were just on plummets to the ground.

There’s no doubt it was a risky move, but the reward is that they are now on a higher level, just as night falls and a full moon rises. Yuuri, perhaps somewhat bewitched by said moon, picks up the nearest metal stick and starts trashing what looks like an abandoned office. That is, until in her excitement she whacks Chi on the head with that stick, and Chi tackles and disarms her.

Then the girls find several sealed bottles containing some kind of liquid. Chu reads the label as “Beeu”…or beer.

Yuu pops open a bottle, pours the “golden water” into a clear glass, and holds it up to the moon, thinking the moonlight is melting into it. She and Chi both take generous gulps of the stuff, and find that it agrees with them.

Before long, the stoic, dour, practical Chito dissolves into a fun-loving lush much more similar to her companion Yuu. She affectionately embraces Yuu, stretches her face, dances with her in the moonlight, and eats her hair.

The next morning, after celebrating in style (and violating laws that no longer exist since there’s no one around to enforce them), they begin exploring the new level. Chito has a nasty hangover, but Yuu unsurprisingly seems to be no worse for wear.

Houseki no Kuni – 07

Phos lies prostrate before the Amethyst twins as Rutile repairs them, but once they’re whole enough to speak, it’s the twins apologizing to Phos: they were overzealous in their efforts to show Phos how badass they are and let their guard down.

Phos doesn’t feel any better about freezing up, and runs off, both to try to outrun the shame, but also because that when circumstances necessitate an immediate retreat, Phos has to be able to do it. Phos’ legs lead to Cinnabar, whom Phos still doesn’t feel right speak to quite yet.

Phos’ state of incomplete development comes at a bad time for them; Winter has come, and with it the time when all gems hibernate until Spring—and sufficient sunlight for them to function—returns.

The only two who normally stay awake while the others sleep are Master Kongou, and the heretofore-unseen Antarcticite, voiced by Ise Mariya.

Antarcticite was unseen because they only become solid when the temperatures drop enough; when it’s warm, Antarcticite occupies a vat in their room, in a liquid state. “Antarc” also has a particular like of Kongou, and cherishes the time when they patrol together.

Then, while the two are hugging, Phos emerges from behind a wall. Unable to sleep, Phos requests to be allowed to stay up and train up in these harsher-than-usual conditions rather than waste them hibernating. Kongou agrees and partners Antarc with Phos.

Antarc is initially quite annoyed by this decision, but only because they remember Phos of yore, not the present Phos, willing and able to grow. When Phos tells Antarc of the desire to become better and more useful, Antarc takes a more patient tack.

Phos is particularly sluggish in the dim winter chill, but toughs it out until the two reach their destination: a field of eerily gorgeous and hazardous ice floes that let out blood-curdling screeches when grinding together.

Like Amethyst, Antarc is quick to demonstrate their duty to Phos: cleaving the surfacing ice floes with a saw in order to stop them from disturbing the hibernating Gems. Watching Antarc spring into action, balance a high heel atop the ice, then unleash a massive blow, is really something to behold.

The spectacle, and the utterly pristine whites, blues, purples and aquas of the frigid winterscape lend this episode a unique beauty, backed up by some of the most conspicuously excellent music of the show.

I’ve always liked “ice levels” as a kind of aesthetic palate-cleanser. Winter turns the Land of the Lustrous into another world, and it’s a glorious thing to see and hear. The stark beauty is nicely complemented and warmed up by the understated Phos-Antarc buddy comedy.

Antarc shows Phos all of the various duties they must perform; some menial, others herculean, and others downright weird, like making sure to put down the sleepwalking gems—and, occasionally, cover Master Kongou when he smashes into a wall—with blankets. Phos simply tries to keep up, but it’s a lot of work and has to be done with a minimum of energy due to the low sun.

Then, just as Phos is wondering whether they bit off more than they can chew and ponders the hopelessness of achieving their goals, the ice floes seem to call out, echoing the anxieties in Phos’ head. Kongou warns Phos to ignore the voices, giving Phos yet another challenge to overcome among all the others.

It ultimately proves too much. While out on patrol, Phos considers sawing off both arms so that they be replaced with a stronger ones, as Phos’ legs were. Phos stops themselves, but slips and falls into a frigid pool. Antarc pulls Phos out, but Phos is missing both forearms—and if they can’t be retrieved, many more memories.

Antarc has been shown to be proficient in making minor repairs, but this is a job for Rutile, who is hibernating. So yeah, we close another episode with Phos’ existence at another crossroads. Here I thought Phos would find a way to attach saws to their legs and use them to cleave the floes; now I just hope the Phos I know and love can get out of yet another spot.

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 07

During an exceedingly rare instance of Yukihira and the others actually being in class, new Totsuki boss Nakiri Azami gives another inaugural speech, this time laying out the nature of his “revolution.” And hey, it really is a revolution—a authoritarian one.

He immediately bans all groups, clubs, and research societies, then sets up a paramilitary organization called Central to enforce his strict culinary dogma. No more pockets of like-minded weirdos, and no more individual creativity. Azami and the Elite Ten will decide what is food and what is “animal feed.”

Azami believes that by eliminating the meritocracy and replacing the current system with his, Totsuki will be a more just and equal place, and a few low-level plebs can kinda dig it if it means they get to learn how the Elite Ten cook. But a lot of people are unhappy and unwilling to accept this.

Worse still, the banning of all autonomous entities in the school besides Central includes Polar Star Dormitory! I should have known such a warm and fluffy rendition of dorm life experienced by Erina was a bit of a danger flag, and now we see the beloved home and melting pot of the central core of the shows characters is in the crosshairs.

Many, including Souma, intend to challenge these edicts with Shokugekis, but Eizan buys off all the judges, who don’t even eat his challenger’s food before declaring Eizan the winner. It’s meant as a warning: challenge the new system, and you will be expelled.

Rather than break Souma’s spirit, Eizan only draws the redheaded kid’s ire. I’m not sure what Souma’s game plan will be, other than cooking chicken that smells so amazing even bought judges can’t help but eat and judge it, but Eizan has also arranged things so that in the three hours Souma is occupied with cooking in what could be another farce of a shokugeki, a band of delinquents is dispatched to evict Polar Star immediately.

I’m telling you, everything the good guys know and love has been turned on its head. #THISISNOTNORMAL. How in the heck are they going to get out of this awful mess?

Houseki no Kuni – 06

We meet Yellow Diamond and Zircon as they battle Lunarians. Zircon’s head is cleaved off, but Yellow performs repairs, letting Rutile rest. Yellow is the oldest of the gems, and one of the costs of being the oldest is that you’ve seen the most Gems taken to the moon.

The reason we haven’t met Ruby, Sapphire, Green Diamond or Pink Topaz? They’re all on the moon, and they were all former partners of Yellow. As such, Yellow doesn’t like or feel deserving of the respect and veneration given by the other Gems simply for knowing when to run.

Phos has incredible speed now, but can’t yet control it, leading to an amusing encounter with the also speedy Yellow, who thinks Phos is intentionally running away. Yellow catches Phos without harming them by grabbing the fabric of their robe.

Despite the lack of control, Phos still wants to join the fight against the Lunarians. Master Kongou asks why Phos is hell-bent on participating despite a thorough lack of fighting ability; Phos says out loud what all the other Gems think: Kongou has a special place in Phos’ heart. I believe it’s the first we’ve heard of the Gems loving their master.

Kongou agrees to let Phos join the battle. But as Phos can barely hold the lightest sword in the armory, a pairing with Amethyst is most suitable, since Amethyst is actually two twin Gems—#84 and #33—and they can handle themselves on the battlefield.

What Phos quickly learns is that 90% of patrolling is waiting around, doing nothing, and anticipating. Every little sound or movement in the sky, on the ground, or in the water, spooks Phos, who expects the Lunarians to pop up at any time.

The constant stress levels quickly exhaust Phos, who is sluggish at a most inopportune time: when the Lunarians suddenly pop up. I will never tire of their elaborate entrance from the sky, otherworldly beautiful, ethereal, and deeply unnerving in equal measure.

The Amethyst twins (voiced by Itou Kanae) seem to have things under control…at least initially, springing into action, tossing their sword sheaths and working in tandem to eliminate all of the Lunarian minions before cross-cutting the larger “leader” in the center of the cloud.

But the twins are just a bit cocky, and in showing Phos How It’s Done, they turn their backs on the Lunarians, who break out a new trick: Venus Fly Trap-like jaws with blue crystal teeth that may well be the remnants of the late Sapphire. Since Sapphire is harder than Amethyst, the twins are shattered to pieces.

Only the timely arrival of Bort, Dia, Yellow, and finally Master Kongou—who obliterates the Lunarian cloud with a flick of his hand in an impressive demonstration of his power—saves Phos. We see pieces of Amethyst being collected, so the twins are probably okay, but Bort is furious, and has questions, like why Phos sat by and did nothing, not even running away on those new legs to alert others.

In Phos’ defense, it was their very first battle, freezing up can happen, and even the Twins were caught off-guard by the Lunarian’s new weapon. But regardless, will Phos’ first battle also be the last?

3-gatsu no Lion – 27

As part of repaying his debt he feels he owes her, Rei wants to help Hina in anyway he can, and that means getting a new perspective on the matter of bullying. Hayashida-sensei misunderstands at first. Rei isn’t the one being bullied. Indeed, he proudly proclaims his hard-won and long-standing invisibility at school.

When he brings up Hina, then describes her personality in such great detail and then presents his passion and motivation on the matter (“my duty as a human being” and such) Hayashida starts thinking that there is someone Rei likes. Of course, Rei isn’t thinking that way at all; Hina is not just a dear friend, but close to family, and his lifesaver to boot.

Hayashida gives Rei some good advice, including to tread carefully and not make a big fuss at school, lest it just make things worse for the victim, but to instead listen very intently to her feelings on the matter; how she’d like the matter resolved.

You know Rei is super-serious about this endeavor because he has a back-up plan: if Hina has to change schools or get a private tutor, he means to support her, not just emotionally, but financially. To that end, Hayashida spots a stack of shogi tournaments into which Rei has entered, calculating all of the winnings he’ll amass, which makes him a bit worried.

Despite saying he (literally!) can’t afford to lose again, he does inevitably lose, and is so angry he wrangles an all-to-willing Nikaidou to strenuously train with him. Nikaidou thinks Rei finally has fire in his belly and is utilizing his Best Friend; Rei just wants money to repay Hina!

The next day, Rei helps Akari lug home a whole mess of groceries she got a big sale. When Rei tells Akari his weight, she hurries home to start cooking, and won’t hear of Rei leaving.

There’s something about Rei, perhaps in part his personality; and the experiences he’s had (the loss of loved ones being something they share), that has Kawamotos pour their hearts out at him. Akari feels she can talk to him, and criticizes herself for the job she’s done as surrogate mom to Hina, lamenting she’s “no good.”

Only nineteen herself when their mother died, Akari had barely lived any life before suddenly becoming a mother of two. She did her best, but in hindsight worries she instilled “ham-fisted” ideals into Hina, which led to her predicament with her friend and the bullies.

Akari admired Gramps simply praising Hina’s courage, but she hates the part of herself for wanting Hina to simply run away rather than do something that would cause her to be unhappy or alone. This is, of course, silly; Gramps has lived a long-ass life, of course he’s going to have more wisdom on these kinds of things. Akari is too hard on herself here.

Rei reassures Akari that just as Hina did nothing wrong in fighting the good fight, neither did Akari. After all, Akari raised the girl who saved Rei’s life; that makes Akari his savior too. Had Hina been raised not to be as kind as she is, or to think of herself before others, Rei might not even be there talking to her.

His honest words cheer Akari up, and she fixes a big ‘ol pot of curry for dinner. When Gramps returns from the theme park with Hina and Momo, he complains that Rei is there “again”, but he’s only joking around, and orders him to sit, eat, and stop making him feel like the bad guy.

While stepping back into the house, Hina hands him a cartoon cat phone strap that somewhat resembles him, as thanks for everything he’s done. Hina expects Rei to think it childish, but he tells her he’s moved, and thanks her. It’s such a nice, quiet, warm moment shared between two people who will hopefully be thanking each other for being there for one another for a good long time to come.

Houseki no Kuni – 05

When Phos can’t be found, Kongou musters the entire group to go perform a search. Diamond encourages Cinnabar to assist, but Cinnabar demurs. Meanwhile, Phos, weak and with smashed legs, is fished out of the sea by the Lunarians, who circle Phos like a bunch of ravenous customers at the local buffet.

Ventricosus would like to be on her way with her brother Aculeatus, but the Lunarians alter the deal, and basically tell Ventri to pray they don’t alter it any further. They want more Gems before handing over her brother. These guys are straight-up jerks, but it’s only fair that a betrayer get betrayed. When Ventri protests, they attack her, and Acule awakens and smashes them to bits, showing his admirabilis form (which Phos finds adorable) before taking humanoid form and assisting Ventri.

Acule is ready to continue using Phos as a bargaining chip to free their family members still imprisoned on the moon. But Ventri seeing a literally broken Phos who won’t even offer words of resistance (Phos is exhausted and immobile; why bother?) causes Ventri to have a change of heart.

Phos has forgiven Ventri after the betrayal, and Ventri sees it as an opportunity to not be like the Lunarians. She and her brother escape, and set Phos free. Just as Kongou prepares to send everyone under the sea to search for Phos, Phose washes ashore…right beside Cinnabar.

Phos apologizes for going another day without keeping the promise made to Cinnabar, and promises to try harder tomorrow. For some reason, rather than call out to Kongou and the others, Cinnabar sneaks into HQ and leaves Phos in the infirmary, to be found later by Rutile.

Kongou’s rage is something to behold, as every step he takes creates cracks in the building; all of the Gems scatter for shelter from his wrath. But while he calls Phos an insolent fool with a force that almost causes Phos to shatter, he then catches Phos before that actually happens—a nice moment of compassion from the master.

He’ll have Rutile do whatever can be done to repair Phos, then hear a report tomorrow. He also summarily cancels Phos’ encyclopedia-writing assignment, leaving Phos once more without a job.

Phos washed ashore with two spikes from Acule’s shell, and Rutile notes they contain agate, which is more than twice as hard as Phos’ structure. Rutile manages to craft new legs for Phos, which have a distinctive iridescent black-and-white striped pattern (pretty cool-looking), but upon standing up, Phos finds the legs useless. Phos has also lost a good deal of memories—including those of Jade—as a result of the loss of the original pair of legs.

As the others leave one by one to attend to their other duties (which will be harder to attend to after that exhausting search), Phos laments being worse off than before all of this started and sulks in the grass, but after thinking of Cinnabar (who is in a worse situation than Phos anyway you look at it), Phos suddenly jumps up and finds that not only do the legs work, but Phos is now unbelievably fast.

Perhaps Phos’ latest brush with destruction has now produced a better situation, and those new legs will give Phos new hope of being useful to Cinnabar, Kongou, and the others.

3-gatsu no Lion – 26

As Hina cries in her big sister’s lap, Rei catches us up on the reason for her tears, as well as her missing shoe. It’s a harrowing, all-too familiar and common story: some girls in her class with nothing better to do started bullying her longtime friend Chiho. While everyone ignored it or pretended nothing was happening (even the teacher), Hina, like a Fire Sister, kept talking and eating with Chiho.

Eventually, the bullying got so bad Chiho stopped coming to school, and her mother decided they’d move to where her father works, pulling her out of school. When the girls who started all this make light of that in gym class, Hina pounces on their queen bee in vicious rage, to no avail.

Now Hina is the target of their bullying, and she’s terrified of going back to school and being alone, just as she’s distressed that she couldn’t do anything for Chiho. After scaring Momo with her crying, Hina runs out into the night, and Rei very slowly chases her (what can you say; kid’s not an athlete).

Rei makes no bones about it: Hina is the reason he’s above water; she is his lifesaver; and after gently taking her hand, he promises he’ll always stay with her, no matter what. After all, for all the distress and pain it’s caused her, Hina is quite correct that she did absolutely nothing wrong in trying to defend Chiho. That it was beyond her ability to stop the bullying, or that she’s the new target, does not change that simple fact that she’s a good person.

Fully appreciative of her fragile state and need to not be alone, Rei spends the day with her at the libarary where they look at books, something he’s been doing a long time and the reason he’s so good at shogi at his age.

While she’s looking at Japanese sweets books, Rei is looking for the name of the “ladybug bush” of his dark earlier years: “Silverthorn.” He also finds the scientific name of the Asian Ladybug that populated those bushes, and Hina notices the kanji for that name also means “heavenly path.”

Rei takes her to the bush and places a ladybug on her hand, and it climbs as high as it can before flying off toward the sun, demonstrating why, long ago, people gave the bug that name.

As the beetle flies heavenward, Rei would wish nothing more than to unleash hell upon those who have done this to Hina; but just as she walks the heavenly (i.e. just and rightous) path, he knows so must he. Tearing those bullies limb from limb won’t solve anything, and probably onlu make things worse for Hina.

Evening arrives, and Rei escorts Hina home, where Akari and Momo are waiting for them and invite Rei to join them for a sumptuous dinner consisting of all of Hina’s favorite foods. Their Gramps is there too, and gravely asks Hina to sit down and listen.

Akari told him everything that happened…and he praises her heartily for what she did. He knows from the papers how serious bullying can be, so he has nothing but joy and pride in knowing Hina would go to bat for her friend despite the dangers involved; something most adults wouldn’t do. He echos her own earlier words that she did nothing wrong, and should be proud of herself.

Now, I watched his monologue in a very dusty room, so you can imagine I needed a lot of Kleenex nearby, just as the Kawamoto sisters did. Both Gramps’ words of encouragement and Akari’s meal were things they knew they could do for Hina. Rei wracks his brain over what he can do, but simply being there for her, by her side, and assuring her he’ll never leave it, is already enough.