Summertime Render – 06 – The Kobayakawas Were Dead to Begin With

Much of the episode’s first half takes place through the eyes of Nagumo Ryuunosuke, AKA Minakata Hizuru. When she watches Mio send herself and Shin into the sea, and wonders if this “Shin” is Ajiro Shinpei. She attends the funeral, meets old friends, and we learn she frequented the Kofune diner as a middle schooler, before Shinpei was taken in by Alan. She was also friends with Shiori’s mother Asako, whom she learns is a Shadow when her shadow moves to avoid Hizuru’s feet.

Hizuru can’t trust anyone on this island…anyone, that is, except Nezu, whom she seems to trust implicitly. Not only does she invert herself in his presence, she even cries. She uses Nezu as a sounding board, reporting that the entire Kobayakawa family has been killed and replaced by Shadows, and that Ushio drowned because a Shadow attacked her. There’s a Shadow that can make other Shadows, and it’s been busy. How Hizuru and Nezu intend to end its free reign remains to be seen.

That brings us to Shinpei, who tries to act normally, but still warns Shiori about Shadows, inviting the suspicion of her parents. In one of the creepier moments in an episode full of creepy moments (what with all the body-snatching) and ant creates and ant-sized hole as it crawls across Shiroi’s parents’ shadows. Then Alan gives Shinpei a note written in a seemingly indecipherable code…unless you happen to be a fan of Nagumi-sensei’s work.

We see Shadow Mio create a Shadow Alan, who tries to replace the real Alan when he goes to the bathroom. However, Hizuru is already waiting for it, and smashes Shadow Alan’s shadow with a sledgehammer, thus destroying it. But it’s a hollow victory; so many lives have been taken already, and so many more hang in the balance. Hizuru and Nezu wont’ be enough … especially if neither of them can travel through time.

Enter Shinpei, who cracks the code and calls the number for Hizuru’s second phone, which she gave to Nezu. Nezu makes sure Shinpei isn’t a Shadow by getting him to stand in a certain place, then shoots his shadow with his sniper rifle. Once that’s settled, he takes him to Hizuru, and Shinpei immediately asks for Nagumo-sensei’s autograph.

Of course, Hizuru knows for a fact that no one but Nezu knows that she’s Nagumi-sensei, which means the only way Shinpei knows is because he’s lived July 22nd before, likely multiple times. When she tells Shinpei this, he can’t help but tear up in relief: somebody knows and believeswhat’s happening to him. Someone who can help him save Mio and the island.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Summertime Render – 05 – Now She Rises

The bespectacled lady with the shotgun manages to save Shinpei’s life (and her own) not by shooting Shadow Mio, but by shooting her shadow, which is its true form. Shadow Mio glitches out, allowing the lady to set his broken arm, introduce herself as Nagumo Ryuunosuke—the same name as a novelist Shin reads—and deliver some exposition.

Basically, Nagumo lifts most of the mystery of how the shadows operate: they scan humans with light, absorb their information, and feed on human data. The two of them are only survived by staying out of sight, and can discern even a shadow that’s a really good actor by stepping on their shadow, which will cause said shadow to move on its own.

Nagumo was sent to this island to save Shinpei, and seems to be doing it out of obligation for her sister. But after what happens when the two ascend the steps to the shrine grounds, Shin might just wish Nagumo had let Shadow Mio kill him. The shadows have amassed and have made a mountain of corpses out of the festival goers. Shin arrives just in time to watch both Toki and Sou get stabbed in the back of the skull.

When Nagumo shoots Shadow Sou’s arms off before he can kill the real Mio (who was being shielded by the real Sou, which, after hearing his confession and rejecting him…goddamn) but the “lead” shadow, a four-armed humanoid made of black goo, instantly copies her form and her shotgun and shoots back. Nagumo avoids the killshot, but is still gravely wounded.

The lead shadow reaches out with a stretchy arm and restrains Shin, noticing that he bears the eye of the shadows’ “mother”, enabling him to control time. But while Shin possesses the power to reset the game here and now at the moment of his defeat, what if the boss (in this case, the lead shadow) is not only aware that there’s a reset button, but that it’s attached to a console he can simply cut the power to?

We learn that the pile of corpses, and indeed every living soul on the island that is gradually swallowed up by waves of black and blue ooze, are all an offering, a meal for the shadows’ mother, Haine. A scientist at the Hishigata Clinic observes what’s happening and concludes that Haine managed to awaken by devouring a thousand human lives. Something tells me that’s just an appetizer, as shadows can reach out into the water…

The bottom line is, everything is super fuckity-fuck-fucked in this go-around. It’s a wash; by far the worst of the bad endings Shin has experienced so far, and reminds me of the things-can-and-will-always-get-worse progression of Subaru’s loops in Re:Zero. But the option to reset still exists, in the form of the dying Nagumo’s last shotgun shell.

Ushio, who it’s clear is unique among shadows in not being evil or wanting any part of helping Haine rise, punches the lead shadow in the fact, giving Nagumo time to shoot Shin in the head. She promises to save him next time no matter what if he finds her and tells her his name.

In the interstitial plane between the previous loop and a new one, Ushio can now see and hear Ushio clearly. She embraces him from behind and warns him to be careful, for his ability to reset has a limit. Shin figures out what that is soon after resetting: his start point keeps moving further forward in time, locking what came before in stone.

In this loop he has three days, but if he fails too many times, he won’t have the time he needs to save everyone, if he can, and will eventually reset to a time after everything is fucked. Meanwhile, we learn Shadow Ushio (if that’s what she even is) washes up the same day he arrives, meaning she could theoretically go to her own funeral, Huck Finn-style.

Summertime Render – 04 – Ushio Deux

Last week Shinpei encountered Ushio on the beach, dramatically backlit by the festival fireworks. But it’s only this week that she says anything, and actually tackles Shinpei. Nagase Anna has such a refreshing voice that’s perfect for Ushio: crisp, clear, and full of exuberance.

Considering his previous encounters with doppelgangers of people he knows, Shin is understandably weary, as this Ushio must be a shadow. But she’s different from the others. For one thing, she’s not evil. For another, she doesn’t know she’s a shadow (or what a shadow is). As far as she’s concerned, she’s just Ushio. She wished for Shin to return, and he did, so she wastes no time confessing to him.

Shin still doesn’t fully trust this Ushio, but she’s talking and acting so much like Ushio, it’s a complete trip. When she runs off and joins the festival—still in her swimsuit—he chases her down, takes her to a quiet storage area and insists she stay put, lest someone see her and wig out. Incidentally, the only person we see spot her is Shadow Mio.

Shinpei gets back to the gang in time to join Tokiko in witnesseing Seidou totally crashing and burning in his sudden confession to Mio. Tokiko knows full well who Mio really loves, and that her brother is doomed to fail. Mio friendzones Seidou so fast his head spins.

That’s when he’s comforted…not by Shin or Toki, but but someone wearing a magical girl mask. Everyone instantly recognizes Ushio’s voice, and thus she’s found out even faster than Seidou was rejected by Mio. But when Mio sees Ushio, she naturally wigs out…because this Ushio is a monster…or is she?

For the moment, no; Ushio remains a compelling enigma: a shadow somehow gone wrong. When Shin first takes hold of her, I assumed he was going to scold her or lead her back to her hiding spot. But then he grabs her so hard it hurts her, and even causes her to bleed, and that’s when the shoe drops: this isn’t Shinpei.

But wait, when Shin returned, Mio said the code word and he gave the right response, right? Right; but as we see, Shin is jumped by Shadow Mio on his way back to his friends, and Shadow Shin updates his memories. Not only does he know his code with Mio, but now the shadows know he’s experiencing time loops. Shadow Shin’s solution to that? Don’t kill him…at least not until “everything is done”.

Shadow Mio obeys Shadow Shin, who heads to Shin’s friends. Regular Shin may be badly hurt, but even when Mio breaks his arm, he keeps trying to crawl to the real Mio to keep his promise to protect her. Shadow Mio is about to break his leg as well when her head is blown off by two shotgun blasts from none other than the woman on the Ferry.

The engaging mystery of “New Ushio” and her lived-in rapport with Shin combined with the added suspense and peril of the evil shadows and one hell of a switcheroo return Summertime Render to rare rating air.

Vanitas no Carte – 24 (Fin) – Je l’ai choisi pour me tuer.

Last week’s cliffhanger is promptly resolved, as Vanitas ends up on top of Noé, but just can’t quite kill him. His blade remains an inch from Noé’s throat, which may as well be a mile, for it is a distance Vanitas simply cannot move, despite having just hypnotized himself to kill all vampires.

Because Noé won’t drink Vanitas’ blood and Vanitas won’t kill Noé, Misha decides to use his book to zombify more random Parisians, but things go pear-shaped when the book seemingly overloads and starts to devour Misha himself. He’s like the kid who stole his dad’s car, and ends up putting it in a ditch.

The clear unsung hero of this whole ordeal is Dominique, whose strongest side is able to overcome Misha’s control over her weakest side. The one thing she’d never do is hurt Noé, which means she can’t let herself die, since that would hurt him deeply. With color returned to her life, Domi flashes her gorgeous ice magic powers and neutralizes the zombified people and is even able to briefly restrain Misha.

Vanitas draws nearer when Misha calls for his big brother, but it’s just a trick to lower Vanitas’ guard. Fortunately, Noé is faster than Misha, blocking his killing strike, breaking his prosthetic blade and slashing his face, sending the boy into a tantrum. That’s when daddy comes…or rather granddaddy.

Of course, this gramps isn’t Misha or Vanitas’ gramps, but Domi and Louis’—the former Marquid de Sade, AKA The Shapeless One, AKA the Comte de Saint Germain (who is, of course, a real dude from history…and also, judging from the eyes, might be Murr?!). He’s the one who saved Misha’s life and gave him both a metal arm and the idea he could bring his father back. He’s apparently not done with him, as he takes Misha away through a tear in reality.

After that, the opening theme plays as an insert, and Noé awakens in bed to a cheerful Amelia informing him everybody’s safe and sound, and Vanitas is, of course, perched up on the roof. Noé goes up to meet him, and the two are soon joined by Misha and his metal dog. Vanitas says he, not Misha, was responsible for Luna’s death, and it was a mercy killing, for Luna was about to go completely out of control.

When Misha reaches a hand out to once again ask Vanitas to join him in trying to bring Luna back, Vanitas declines. He doesn’t care if using the books is slowly changing them into “something not human”; if he’s going to be killed, he chooses Noé to be the one to do it.

Misha makes sure to tell the two that Domi didn’t kill anyone—Domi is kind, and Misha likes kind people and thus doesn’t want her unjustly punished for her actions at the fair. Then he bounds off on his metal dog, leaving Vanitas, Noé, and the morning sun peaking through the Parisian clouds.

Vanitas is eager to investigate what Saint Germain is up to, but other than that it’s business as usual, with him continuing to serve as a doctor curing vampires of their curses. But while he’d performed these duties for years without anyone by his side (save those dhampirs from whom he’s kept a certain distance), now he has Noé, Jeanne, Domi, and others willing to help him help others…and keep him alive.

While it didn’t hit quite as hard for me as the conclusion of the previous Chloé d’Apchier arc, this was still a strong finale that helped Vanitas take a step out of his dark past and into a more hopeful future, while galvanizing his bonds with those who wish to share in that future. And there seems to be plenty of potential story material for a third season if Bones so desires.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vanitas no Carte – 23 – La Liberté de la Solitude

We’re into Unstoppable Force vs. Unmovable Object territory, with seemingly no good outcome that can emerge from Vanitas and Noé fighting. If Vanitas gets through Noé and harms Misha, Domi will jump to her death. But Vanitas doesn’t care. Neither Noé nor Misha have the whole story, and Vanitas is resolved to keep it that way—Noé and Domi’s lives are expendable to him.

This enrages Noé, but it doesn’t take long to figure out that Vanitas is intentionally provoking him to throw him off and force him to use too much of his strength. After all, he can’t get Vanitas’ memories from his blood if Vanitas is dead. The last thing Noé wants is to kill Vanitas, but he can’t lose Domi, either. It’s just a shitty situation all around…Thanks OMisha!

Vanitas’ little brother also tells Noé that Vanitas has hypnotized himself for one purpose: killing anyone who tries to suck his blood. Whatever genuine feelings of friendship or love for anyone or anything have been temporarily taken out of the equation, which combined with his considerable Chasseur skills (not to mention the freaking Book of Vanitas) make him extremely dangerous.

Unfortunately, it also saps his agency. This isn’t the Vanitas we know doing and saying these things: he’s basically in Fail-Safe Mode; his will and ego replaced by a rigid set of directives. He did to himself what Misha did to Domi, but Inner Domi throws a little wrench in Misha’s machinations by jumping without him telling her to, in hopes taking herself out of the equation will keep Noé from getting hurt.

Physical harm aside, nothing would hurt Noé more than losing her, but fortunately she’s unable to follow through on her suicide attempt, as Jeanne arrives and snatches her out of the air. She isn’t quite sure what’s going on, but her orders from Luca are to keep Domi safe, and she’s going to do that. Even if Misha is able to nullify her main weapon and Domi is still under his spell, Jeanne’s intervention allows Noé to focus on Vanitas.

Vanitas may go on about how Noé knows nothing about him, and that might’ve been true when they first met, but Noé is confident he’s been with Vanitas long enough to know what kind of person he is. For instance, he knows Vanitas considers solitude to be freedom, which is why he vows never to set Vanitas free.

That seems to break the hypnotic hold Vanitas placed on himself, but the episode ends abruptly without revealing the result of their fall. I understand having to save something for the finale, but it felt less like a cliffhanger and more like the episode just…stopped. That said, the second half should be something.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vanitas no Carte – 22 – Période Bleue

And so we descend into the heretofore untold story of Vanitas, AKA Number 69. He’d already been one of Dr. Moreau’s child experiments/torture victims when poor little Misha arrived. But rather than keep his head down and endure Misha’s screams, he volunteered to undergo the procedure in Misha’s place. Moreau, the quintessential mad scientist, is moved by his gesture.

So is Misha, who is pretty well-adjusted for someone who had already endured untold sexual assaults by his mother’s wealthier clients. Despite his aloof demeanor, Vanitas becomes a reluctant protective big brother to Misha. In a first act full of darkness and unspeakable cruelty and evil, it was nice to see these two children could find a moment’s warm relief under their dingy blanket.

I’ve long not been a fan of Moreau for always looking like the extra-stylized/simplified/cartoony version that other characters sometimes slip into for moments of levity. But after watching him this week do the things he does with a smile, it absolutely adds to the terror surrounding the character. He is an unhinged Mad Hatter with a Cheshire Cat grin. To his eyes, this grim, brutal world is a magical paradise of innovation.

I also felt a deep pressure in my stomach watching the “ordinary” human researchers doing Moreau’s bidding without emotion. You get the feeling they’re not under any duress (i.e. Moreau keeping their families hostage) but simply doing their jobs and following orders like good proto-Nazis. Moreau is outwardly mad, but they must be too to be able to do what they do to Vanitas and Misha.

Fortunately, they receive swift justice when Moreau’s procedure to convert the boys into “quasi-members” of the Blue Moon Clan so he can open the two Books of Vanitas. The resulting explosions kill everyone and leave Moreau crippled, and the mysterious black-skinned, white-haired vampire who claims responsibility for the chaos is primed to leave…until Misha begs them to take them with them…and when given the choice, Vanitas agrees to go with them too.

When the mysterious person introduces themselves as the Vampire of the Blue Moon, Vanitas’ chasseur training kicks in, asking them what they’re doing. They simply reply that they are helping them, since they asked for help. All of the exhaustion and the stress of the procedure catches up to Vanitas, and he passes out.

He comes to in a comfy bed of one of the vampire’s human acquaintances. When Vanitas asks how that’s possible, the vamp makes it clear that the more occult-aligned folks have always preferred consorting with vampires than the church. When the vamp asks Vanitas why he was calling out for his mother, he tells the story of what happened to his parents.

He was the bastard child of a successful doctor who abandoned his old family for his mother, a performer at some kind of traveling show. He says his mother died giving birth to him, and when vampires attacked, his father died protecting him. When the church and then Moreau took him in, he learned that humans were far more terrifying monsters than the vampires he’d spent his life loathing.

More importantly to understanding Vanitas’ character through all that tragedy and pain is the fact that he never tried to escape Moreau’s clutches for the same reason he tried to protect Misha: because he didn’t want someone else to experience that pain and trauma in his place. He is, as the vampire says, “a truly kind child”.

And yet even in the present Vanitas believes he’s no one who should be loved. In this act, we see the vampire who will later be known as Luna, Vanitas, and Misha becoming a family. We learn that Vanitas soon surpassed cooking and cleaning skills, while they made sure Vanitas and Misha got both an education and the opportunity to be boys and have fun.

But Luna knew that it couldn’t last like this for long, as both Vanitas and Misha would one day succumb to the strains against the natural world caused by Moreau’s experiments on them. So they offered their adoptive sons a choice: die as humans when the time comes (which could be in days or years), or become official members of the Blue Moon Clan when Luna turns them.

We know that Vanitas chose to live his remaining days as a vampire, even if it meant dying tomorrow. This, despite saying humans are the ultimate monsters. It’s as if he knows he could only right the wrongs of humanity by remaining a human as he began his crusade of healing curse-bearers, thus bearing his own self-imposed curse, a product of his deep-seated kindness.

As for Misha…whether he is still human or not isn’t as important as what he’s after, and how he’s willing to hurt Vanitas to get it. Misha’s already done far more than Vanitas would typically forgive, sharing memories of their past with Noé. Noe and Vanitas’ relationship has been irrevocably altered. How will Vanitas respond to these actions by his long-lost kid brother?

86 – 22 – Somewhere Left to Go

Remember 86? The show left us hanging, but it’s finally back to give us a conclusion. Shin succeeds in defeating Kiri, but is knocked out by the blast of Morpho’s self-destruct. He dreams of those who died before him, from his brother to his fellow Eighty-Six who thank him one by one.

I don’t think Shin’s interested in thanks, or for the gratitude of scores of people who died before him. Rather, he’s tired of being the one to survive; for everyone to fight till the end, only for their ends to come before his. This is someone who never thought of the future because the only future he could see was one of soul-crushing solitude.

But when the Legion flak fly away en masse, revealing a vivid bed of funereal higanbana, a solitary female soldier appears and makes contact. We know it’s Lena, but since Shin has never actually seen her, he’s not sure at first. The two exchange cordial words as Lena draws closer, teasing the long-awaited in-person meeting between these two seeming soulmates…

That said, a part of me prepared for the possibility Shin and Lena actually wouldn’t actually come face-to-face, despite being so close…and being kind of oddly okay with that, despite how cruel it felt. Seeing Lena alive and well, in the flesh, and unwilling to run from the war restores Shin from his doldrums. Seeing her hold Theo’s drawing of her as a pig and a photo of Spearhead in her hands, and hearing her say she wants to catch up to him, brings a rare smile to his face.

We learn that Lena is the commander of what’s left of San Magnolia’s forces, which isn’t surprising at all considering she was one of the only soldiers who took her job (and the threat of the Legion) seriously. We also learn that the Giad Federacy will be assisting San Magnolia with rescue efforts.

Shin expected his trip would be a one-way variety, while he would be the last person standing against the overwhelming might of the Legion. And yet here we are, Morpho gone, the Federacy still intact, and, to his delight, Kurena, Raiden, Anju and Theo are still alive, as are Frederica and Wenzel. In Frederica’s case, it was Kiri who protected her from his own explosion.

When the Spearhead gang is back together in the briefing room, everyone is eager to hear Shin describe what the Major looked like. He lies and says he couldn’t see her, but it’s clear to them Lena has grown quite a bit, and that Shin always had a soft spot for her.

More importantly, the universe decided to cut Shin a break for once. Be it Lena or his Spearhead colleagues, those he thought dead weren’t dead after all, but fought and survived. Lena, not knowing she was talking to the Reaper, said that’s something to be proud of…and for the first time in his life, Shin was.

Vanitas no Carte – 21 – Jetez un Coup d’oeil sous la Peau

This week segues nicely from the parting reveal of Domi as the culprit in the latest vampire attacks to the heartbreakingly tragic past events involving her, Louis, and Noé, this time from her perspective. In the aftermath of the bloodbath that claimed both Mina and Louis, Domi weeps at Noé’s bedside, blaming herself for involving Noé in trying to save Mina. Her sister Veronica lives up to the family name, pretending she never had a brother, and revealing that Domi and Louis were twins.

Veronica further twists the blade by saying the twin chosen to live was made on a whim, and thus wonders whether the right (i.e. more useful) twin was spared. Noé comes to and mistakes Domi for Louis, inadvertently compounding her belief that everyone would’ve preferred if she had died instead of Louis. She cut off all her hair and started dressing like Louis, trying to be what everyone wanted. Seeing her in this sorry state, Noé vowed to protect her at all costs from the darkness of their past.

Unfortunately, that past has re-surfaced thanks to the cheerful and mysterious white-haired lad, who introduces himself as Mikhail when Domi is out searching for Jeanne (presumably while Jeanne and the others were in Gévaudan, though I may not be right about that). Mikhail seems uniquely suited to bring out the pain in others, and uses it to take control of Domi.

Noé receives a note from Mikhail and arrives at the grounds of this world’s 1889 Exposition Universelle after dark, and finds Mikhail in front of a carousel and Domi standing atop a Ferris Wheel—two machines invented to imbue their riders with fun and joy. A third machine: a metal dog automaton, guards Mikhail, and he whips out his version of Vanitas’ book. Mikhail says if anyone harms him, Domi will jump, and introduces himself as Vanitas’ little brother, AKA Number 71.

Mikhail is here for one thing: Vanitas’ memories. He used Domi as bait to bring Noé to him, and will now use Noé to drink Vanitas’ blood and thereby gain those memories, including learning why Vanitas killed “father that day”. That Vanitas killed his dad comes as a shock to Noé; Mikhail can tell and concludes that even after all this time Noé must not know a damn thing about Vanitas. That’s hard to argue: it could be everything Noé knows is simply what Vanitas wants him to know.

Mikhail remedies that by pulling his shirt down (revealing the same spreading blue  malady that affects Vanitas) and offering his own blood for Noé to drink, making it a demand when Noé hesitates. When Jeanne learns Domi hasn’t been seen in three days she rushes to find her, but by then Noé’s fangs are already in Mikhail.

We flash back to Mikhail’s past, when she was in custody after her mother, a prostitute was found dead. Mikhail’s mom presented him as a girl and offered him to her best customers. He runs into a badly-wounded but still chipper Roland, who tells Mikhail he has a new home from this day. Roland is called away by Olivier, and Mikhail is suddenly grabbed and chloroformed.

When he comes to, he finds himself before the Marquiss Machina, and a boy he calls “Number 69″—a young Vanitas. Thus begins Noé’s long-awaited journey into his best friend’s murky past…but will they still be friends when Noé returns from that god-forsaken place? I see now why last week was so pleasant and lighthearted—it was a momentary breather the torrent of sadistic dread dished out in spades by this episode…and it’s only the beginning.

Akebi’s Sailor Uniform – 09 – Pipe Organ of Light

After a string of episodes in which new classmates were introduced, it’s nice to get back to the “core four” of Akebi, Erika, Usagihara, and Koujo, as they meet up on the weekend for a trip to the mall for festival supplies. After getting a haircut from her mom, Akebi actually encounters Koujo on the bus, but Koujo is so absorbed in her book, Akebi doesn’t disturb her, resulting in a beautiful, silent little scene of a bus ride through the gorgeous landscape.

When the four meet up, they all praise each other’s street attire, which is very appropriate for their respective characters: Akebi’s practical tee, slacks, and sturdy sandals; Usagihara with a flowing skirt, pink nails and classy braid; Erika in a very smart, mature blouse, tiny purse, and heels; and Koujo in a super-comfy overalls with huge pockets. A look at the directory is vetoed by Akebi, who says she’ll be their guide.

A number of non-festival-supply-related detours ensues as she gives them a tour of the places in the mall she goes to most—and, this is key, has gone to the most. Akebi has been coming here since she was little, and has a lot of fond memories of shopping with her mom and sister then meeting up with their dad if he was off work. When Usagihara recognizes clothes and accessory chains Akebi never visited, she gains a whole new appreciation for the place.

Everyone gets something out of the mall. The gang follow Kojou’s lead as she’s drawn to a bookstore, and Erika happens to pick out the very book Kojou had just finished on the bus, and offers to lend Erika her copy. Akebi also comments on Kojou’s pressed flower bookmark, which her mom made for her. At lunch, Erika, new to malls, experiences her first fast food hamburger, and her friends get a kick out of how happy she looks eating it.

But when the four are about to leave the mall, Kojou notices the bookmark her mom made her is missing. Since it’s a good luck charm to her, and she has nice friends, the four comb the mall, but come up with nothing. It’s not at the lost and found, nor did it turn up at the depot. Kojou, clearly upset about losing it, nevertheless suggests they head out anyway, as the bus will be there soon.

As luck would have it, somebody found her bookmark by the exit, and tied a red balloon to it, which Akebi spots through the windows of the exit. I breathed a sigh of relief with Kojou, but then the balloon slips out of her hand, and since it’s full of helium, starts to rise into the sky. Kojou’s past memories of the bookmark flash before us. Fortunately, the balloon gets snagged on a tree, but it’s out of reach…or is it?

I half expected Akebi to climb the tree like a lemur and grab it for Kojou, but instead, offers her shoulders as a boost. Kojou says she couldn’t possibly. Usagihara suggests they get all get into mock cavalry formation, but Kojou still needs a few more inches of height. That’s when Akebi suggests they hoise her up by her leg so she can jump up and reach it. Kojou is successful, and for a tick fears she’ll fall to the ground…but Akebi’s got her.

When it starts to rain, three of the girls seek shelter, as the bus stop’s a ways away. But Akebi simply dances in the rain, and her energy and joy compels the others to join her in racing to the bus stop together, wet clothes be damned. They laugh as they run through pink, purple, and blue hydrangeas, Akebi leading the way with her red balloon.

The rain suddenly stops when they reach the bus stop shelter; it was only a passing shower. But the rain causes crepuscular rays, of the same kind Akebi saw a pretty photo of at the bookstore, and which are also called “a pipe organ of light” by a famous writer. The rays might as well be pure love descending from the heavens.

This just might’ve been the loveliest, most life-affirming and heartwarming shopping trip episode I’ve ever seen, and by far the most dramatic lost bookmark dilemma! But it’s also the longest and best sustained interaction between these four and only these four girls. The simplified cast of the episode allows all four to shine.

We’re even given the possibility that Kojou, inspired by her friend of bottomless energy, optimism, and love, might just end up being the writer of Akebi’s Sailor Uniform! This outing was peak comfy slice-of-life/friendship/youth anime, and made me yearn for the days I was actually in awe of the fancier malls of my own youth.

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – S2 08 – The Rice Harvest

The Gourmet Guild starts this episode out split up, each member on a different errand or with a different plan for the day. Kokkoro heads into town to mail a large stack of letters when she encounters Suzuna and Misaki, two students at Lucent Academy with exceedingly bad grades. When bandits steal the guild’s treasure—and the letters—Kokkoro teams up with the busily-costumed kids to tack them down.

With help from Kokkoro’s faerie friends, locating the bandits’ hideout is no problem; the issue is getting their letters back without being detected. Misaki decides that detection is the whole point, and proceeds to attempt to use her “mature feminine pheromones” to distract the bandits. But once she starts pole-dancing on her staff, they lock her up as a little kid who is “messed up in the head.”

Meanwhile, Yuuki is wandering the capital, wondering why he forgot his old companions and couldn’t protect them. Labyrista bumps into him and provides an ear to listen, as well as some advice: he has a group of friends and companions now; he should just focus on them. Yuuki vows he won’t let Pecorine, Kokkoro, or Karyl come to harm this time. Across the city, in the palace, Karyl inadvertently snoops on Kaiser bathing.

As for Pecorine, she’s been harvesting rice all day in between catnaps, but spots “Princess Eustiana” in the field, worried that if the others know her true identity, they’ll forget her and everything about her, and she’ll lose everything all over again. She wakes up in tears.

Kokkoro and Suzuna manage to free Misaki, but not before getting spotted y the bandits, who chase them through the forest. Thankfully, the kids’ teacher Io-sensei saw the large cloud of smoke Kokkoro used and brings the city guard, led by Tomo, to arrest the bandits and recover both the treasure and the letters. But when it comes time to mail their letters of recommendation to another school, Suzuna and Misaki rip them up instead, choosing to stick with Io-sensei.

While surely unsettled by her dream, Pecorine is soon joined by Yuuki and then Karyl, who are back home and ready to pitch in. Their arrival means more to Peco than they know, considering how troubled she was, and the work goes that much faster…although there’s still a lot of rice to harvest. That’s where the purpose of Kokkoro’s many letters comes into focus.

Kokkoro arrives with dozens of friends in tow—a veritable who’s-who of PriConne characters, answering Kokkoro’s call to lend a hand (or hoof). The harvest is thus finished in no time, and a grand feast is prepared that everyone shares in, celebrating both a job well done and their friendship.

Pecorinehas a seat under a tree with Kokkoro, and sees the “ghost” of Princess Eustiana again, only she simply smiles at Peco, and Peco smiles back. She tells Kokkoro (who couldn’t see the ghost) that after losing everything she never thought she’d have a meal like this with everyone again, but is so happy she can, she starts to shed tears of joy in between bites of her onigiri.

Kokkoro can’t help but follow suit, and Peco tells her that she’s finally ready to tell Karyl and Yuuki who she really is—the true crown princess of Landosol. From seemingly innocuous errands, we arrive at the cusp of a major declaration.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – S2 07 – Foggy Memories

On their way to the tavern for a meal after tending some fields for a job, the Gourmet Guild encounter Ayane and Kurumi, who live at Sarens orphanage. Kurumi is extremely cute and shy, while Ayane carries around a staff with a seemingly sentient bear named Pikuchi on the end of it (though Karyl suspects ventriloquism).

The Serendia girls join the guild, but they soon encounter Chika of Carmina looking very much the worse for wear. Kokkoro heals her in the tavern, but she seems to have lost her memories and forgotten who she is. This tracks with the cold open of her running through the forest from what sounds like a laughing spirit, cursing herself for unsealing it.

Chaos reigns in the tavern when Kurumi’s memories are manipulated, turning her into a girlfriend who slaps the shit out of Charlie and demands he leave his (nonexistent) wife. Then Chika’s memories change again, and she starts to exhibit animal-like behaviors like licking and biting. But she also saves Ayane from getting hit by an errant bottle.

This clues Ayane in to the fact that somehow her beary good friend Pikuchi is inhabiting Chika, and helps the real Chika to surface so she can explain what’s going on. Her, Ayane, and the tavern owner’s strange behavior is due to memory manipulation by Foggy, the great trickster spirit of memories. Chika was trying to help Yuuki get his memories back, but instead all this happens.

Peco and Karyl are dispatched to the spring where Foggy’s seal lies; on the way Karyl twists her ankle, but Peco is happy to carry her the rest of the way. Its nice in the midst of an episode packed with so many characters that these two get a little alone time; their first since the two found themselves at the bottom of that pile of golem wreckage. As Karyl picks burrs out of Peco’s locks, Peco likens her to a big sister, with Kokkoro as their mom and Yuuki as their litle bro.

A helpful bird points them to the location of Foggy’s seal, and soon they’re back in town, revealing Foggy’s true form. When Peco slices Foggy in to, it splits into four Foggys, but Chika, who is herself again, sings her signature song of spirits, and Nozomi backs her up in taking care of the trickster spirit.

Before that happens, however, Foogy launches an attack at Peco, whose Princess Strike split it into four. When Yuuki shields her, he’s hit by a sudden rush of memories of a previous life he shared with a totally different family-like guild, led by a girl named Yui. The five-person party is preparing to go to the Sol Tower. Just the latest chapter in Yuuki’s mysterious and complex backstory.

With Foggy dealt with and everyone back to normal, Ayane and Kurumi set up a lemonade wagon, treating their new friends and local kids alike and showing that Saren really is the best orphanage mama. That said, it was some kind of tawdry romance novel Kurumi found at Saren’s orphanage that was the source of her switched out memories, so…maybe hide those from the kids!

As everyone enjoys their lemonade, Yuuki keeps looking up at the Sol Tower that looms high in the sky over Landosol, as if looking at it long enough may help him to remember more of that life. Kokkoro, who’s always been most attuned to Yuuki’s behavior, can sense something’s wrong, but even Yuuki probably couldn’t tell her exactly what. Perhaps more answers will come in time, but even if they don’t, there’s plenty to love about the family he has here and now.

Vanitas no Carte – 17 – Voler Trop Près du Soleil

With her fully operational Alteration Engine, Chloé is able to give Naenia a physical form…so she can choke the bitch out for what she did to her beloved Jean-Jacques. As she says, she’s a terribly jealous woman, to the point she’ll change the rules of space and time just so she can get her hands around a solid neck of the non-corporeal devil dwelling on her shoulder for so long.

Naturally, this backfires, when Chloé, in her desperate desire to uncover who Naenia truly is, ends up awakening Naenia’s memories of who she is: the first vampire of the crimson moon, Queen Faustina. The tables are suddenly turned, as Chloé is overpowered, the Beast tamed, her Engine stalled, and her castle and the lands around it shattering into shards floating in a purple void.

In the midst of this chaos, Vanitas falls, and Noé leaps after him, something Jeanne didn’t do when Chloé leapt off the cliff. Naenia’s voice tells him he’ll “never reach” Vanitas and that there’s no hope, but Noé does his best to ignore it, and ends up beside Vanitas once more. They’re soon joined by Roland, who comes out of nowhere with other Chasseurs to protect the unwitting townsfolk.

Speaking of Jeanne, the final act of the episode centers exclusively on her journey from vampire whose loving parents were beheaded as traitors to her conversion into a Bourreau—an unthinking, unfeeling tool. The only problem is, when sent to kill Chloé those thought sand feelings all flood back. When she fails, she’s sent into a long slumber until “the war ends and all can live in peace”.

Jeanne laments that all she can do now is her duty as a bourreau, finishing what she couldn’t finish by offing Chloé. But awakening her from her forced stoic trance is Vanitas, who stands before her and says it’s not too late, either to save Chloé or herself. By restoring Faustina’s body Chloé rent the very fabric of the world. Now it falls to others to try to piece that world back together.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – S2 05 – The Princess Is in THIS Castle

I dove into into PriConne’s second season expecting a feast for the eyes as well as for the heart with its lovely slice-of-life lighthearted comedy with a formidable budget. What I was not prepared for was the sheer scope and scale of this season. We’re only five episodes in, but this could have been a penultimate episode or even a season finale!

Peco has been teleported to Landosol by the big bad—whose name I don’t believe has crossed anyone’s lips thus far, but is known as Kaiser Insight—to be “assessed”. Peco is defiant and doesn’t show fear, but the bottom line is Kaiser took everything from her, and has been letting her soul “ripen” to maximum despair.

While that happens, the battle continues without Peco, and Kasumi and Yuuki discover that the Shadows and the golem are headed in Kiiri’s direction. After saving her, Kiiri is gung-ho about being Kasui’s assistant; one on the fast track to being a fellow great detective.

While the others stand by as the shadow army pivots, Karyl stands atop a bluff, knowing full well what just happened: Kaiser teleported Peco away. There’s so much emotion in this little scene, as Karyl struggles with worry over Peco and guilt over the means by which she’s been taken. It’s not like she could have crossed Kaiser, but she still feels awful about doing it.

Kasumi, Yuuki and Kokkoro quickly come up with a plan to use Kiiri as a lure so the golem and army will end up in a lake to be defeated. Kokkoro even has the leaf glider she can now conjure all gassed up, but they hit a sudden and heartbreaking snag: Kiiri, a copy of Kasumi without a soul of her own and thus an anomaly, is erased by the self-correcting systems of the world.

I have to hand it to PriConne, which is no stranger to quickly introducing characters, but it was able to wring a lot more pathos out of me than I’d have thought with the death scene of a character who had just been introduced last week. Now I know why they didn’t cast Minase Inori as Yuni the scholar; instead she does yoeman’s work as both Kasumi and Kiiri.

Kiiri’s erasure from the world leads to Yuuki remembering a previous life he lived with Peco, Karyl and Kokkoro, before being killed in battle protecting Peco. At that point he is sent…somewhere where Ames and Labyrista give him a choice: return to the hopeless battle from whence he came, or “cast his eyes downward and start anew”, re-building his bonds from scratch.

It’s at this point when I remind readers I’ve never played the source game and have no idea how much of this expansive story comes from that and how much is original, or even how deep it goes. Yet I don’t really mind that sometimes I’m lost, because it just means I have to use my brain to fill in the blanks. With a show that looks this good with characters this lovable, that’s not a chore at all.

You could say Yuuki and Peco have experienced similar fates: both lost everything, but are absolutely defiant and determined to get it all back. Kaiser thinks she’s won when she gets Peco to make a despairing face over the prospect of being forgotten again. But it will take a hell of a lot more hardship and despair for Peco to give up.

Obliterating the gaggle of Shadows Kaiser sicced on her, Peco invites Kaiser to share a meal so she can understand her better. Kaiser declines, but Peco reminds her she’s no longer just Princess Eustania of Landosol; she’s also Pecorine of the Gourmet Guild. Kaiser concludes that Peco still isn’t quite “ripe” enough and teleports her back to the battle…but not before vowing to take everything Peco has left.

Back on the scene and falling from the sky, everyone revels in Peco’s return, and Yuuki powers her up so she can deliver the mother of all Princess Strikes, defeating the golem and the army in one beautifully-animated explosion that really packs a punch. It’s Gurren Lagann-level coup-de-grace, and it reminds us just how determined and capable Peco is of following through on her promise to get everything that’s been taken from her back.

Once the dust clears, the search for Peco among the golem rubble and rent earth commences. It’s very fitting that the first one to spot her is Karyl, who cannot hide the fact that her worrying about Peco brought tears to her eyes. When Peco sees those tears, she gets emotional too, and simply says “I’m home” and “I’m starving.”

Some rubble gives way, and Karyl slides right into Peco’s waiting embrace. She calls Peco a dummy like usual, but also says “welcome home.” She’s not talking about their cozy cottage, either: for Karyl, home is wherever the people you love happen to be. Kaiser may have sworn to destroy that home, but as long as the Gourmet Guild are together—and flanked by all manner of colorful allies—she’ll have a hard time fulfilling that pledge.

%d bloggers like this: