Fruits Basket – 56 – “Eventually” Isn’t Good Enough

With Rin safe at Kazuma’s, she and Tooru finally get to reunite, and while Rin insists otherwise, Haru, Yuki, and Kazuma all agree they’re good friends. No one tells Tooru that Rin was being held at the cat’s place, which is where Kyou is destined to end up if the curse isn’t broken.

Tooru is paying her mom a visit at the graveyard with Uo and Hana, and Yuki offers to go too, but Kyou says he won’t be going and shuffles off. Shigure then pays Rin a visit and tells her Ren doesn’t know how to break the curse and was only using her.

He does this because he wants Rin to know the curse is going to break eventually anyway, citing the fact all of the Zodiac members are alive at the same time means they’re all in attendance for the final banquet. Tooru, whom Shigure didn’t know had arrived, overhears.

She asks Shigure what “eventually” means, becaue if it’s years or decades, it’s not good enough for her. It has to happen by next spring, or she’ll lose Kyou forever. Shigure then lets slip to Rin what Kureno already told Tooru: that the Rooster isn’t “one of them” anymore, and little by little, “tiny changes and catalysts” will build up and cause the curse to collapse altogether.

But he admits, at the present rate things are going, Kyou will probably still be locked up, and none of the other Zodiacs will do anything about it, because “that’s the Cat’s role.” Going Full Villain, Shigure twists the knife in Tooru, telling her that the Cat is the “other” creature for the others to exclude; that as monstrous as all of them are, they can say “at least I’m not him.”

This causes Tooru to shout out Shigure’s name, as he’s simply said too much, and she runs off, distraught. She doesn’t want him to say that she’s Kyou’ ticket out of the curse, because that would mean putting someone before her beloved mother. She’s already worried that she’s the last person carrying Kyouko in her memory, and if she were to fall for Kyou, even that would vanish.

When Kyou happens to run into her, a tearful Tooru exclaims that she “doesn’t know what to do”, to which he replies she should do nothing, and think carefully before acting. Until then, he says as he puts his hand on her head, it’s okay to keep crying. Tooru can’t help but cry, knowing already who she’ll let go of when the time comes—and it won’t be Kyou.

Kyou visits Kyouko’s grave separately, and encounters her father, who has a habit of calling Tooru Kyouko. It’s not that he’s getting old, but because he wanted to try to find a way to keep Kyouko alive for Tooru, and for himself. Gramps also tells Kyou that Tooru gets her overly polite way of speaking from her father. It was an affectation she adopted after her dad died and Kyouko fell into despair.

Once again, awful relatives come into play, and little Tooru overheard them saying she looks nothing like Katsuya and would offer “little comfort” for Kyouko. While they likely thought she was too small to understand, she understood them, and it became a complex.

Meanwhile, Tooru visits Rin at Kazuma’s while Kagura hides from her, unable to face the person she knows Kyou loves and yet won’t get together, causing Kagura to continue to waver. Kazuma just hopes Tooru loves Kyou for who he truly is, not out of pity or compassion, as the former cat’s companion merely feld bad for the poor wretch.

But Tooru makes clear: what she’s feeling is too “cruel and greedy” to be merely pity. A part of her is not only willing to set aside her mother, but ”
trick” Rin and the others into thinking she wants anything other than Kyou, who is the person most precious to her. Kagura runs into the room and slaps her, saying that such a confession is pointless if she doesn’t tell him!

As Kyou contemplates a younger Tooru deciding to become as close to her father as possible in order to save her mother, he recalls Kyouko asking him to check in on her periodically when she was working late. He encounters Tooru hanging laundry outside, and asks what her father looked like. While at first she says she talks politely like he did, she eventually admits that in spite of all the love he gave her when alive, she came considered him a bad guy for dying and almost taking mom away with him.

Like her grandfather calling her Kyouko, Tooru wanted to keep her mom alive. Watching her hide her loneliness and foolishly torture herself for such a reason tugged at Kyou’s heart, such that when she says she’s awful, he embraces her through the sheet. When she once again apologizes, he says it’s fine; she can say whatever she needs to and he won’t be disappointed. These are the words she needed to hear, and she draws closer to him, causing him to transform.

Later, Tooru decides to show Kyou a photo of her father, which she kept behind the photo of her mother. She’s about to take Kagura’s advice and confess to him, but looks down at the picture and sees that her mother has vanished, leaving only an empty sky. For a moment, Kyouko appears in spectral form behind Kyou, and Tooru reconsiders.

Then Kyou remembers something: Kyouko lying face down in the street in a pool of her life’s blood, bitterly saying “I’ll never forgive you.” This causes Kyou to suddenly freeze up, and Tooru is so concerned she drops her precious photo of her mom, causing the glass to shatter.

Had she simply not looked at the photo and confessed to Kyou, I really felt the confession might’ve broken the curse for him. But after he recalls that bloody Kyouko, it’s not only clear he’s not yet ready to accept that confession, but that he might believe he deserves the Cat’s fate due to whatever went down back then, thus tightening the bonds of the curse.

Jouran: The Princess of Snow and Blood – 02 – Nothing Else Is of Any Concern

Makoto meets with Jin on two matters: one is to be briefed on a mission to find the one within Nue who is feeding Kuchinawa assassination targets. The other is to ask about Sawa. Makoto responds to the latter by saying “it saddens me to report that she survived”.

Last week, Asahi prepared to stab Sawa in her sleep. When we see both next, the only thing Asahi is slicing is a daikon radish, and Sawa is very much un-stabbed. This week we learn more about Sawa and Asahi’s pasts, and … Spoilers: those pasts are dark and bloody. First up is Sawa, and if Black Widow has “red in her ledger”, Sawa’s got “blue in her diary.” Well, her mom’s diary.

We know how Sawa hid while her mother, father, and brother were slaughtered. But how did Sawa end up an assassin with Yue? Jin arrived at the ruins of her village as she was trying to bury the charred remains of her family. His mere presence there the morning after their deaths might’ve normally raised a red flag for Sawa, but the very light had gone out of her eyes.

It didn’t matter at the time if there was a chance Jin had something to do with the death of her family. He was offering her a chance at revenge, and that chance brought the light back to her eyes. Under his tutelage she became a graceful and efficient killing machine. Jin made a deal: he’d use her to make Nue stronger, and she’d use him to get her revenge.

Sawa puts the blank diary of dark memories away and joins Elena for their next mission: make contact with a Nue agent named “the Treasurer” and get her to safety. They identify her waiting tables at a restaurant by the fact she can memorize everyone’s orders and whisk her away, crossbowing and beheading the Kuchinawa gunmen along the way.

While Sawa escorts her through the tunnels, the Treasurer mentions how the shogunate is content to ignore the mounting opposition to their regime outside of Tokyo. She also knows a lot about Sawa, because she’s a memorization savant. Meanwhile, Makoto pays Asahi a visit at the bookstore, offering her a bottle of black pills that “kill in ten seconds.” , to use on the person who killed her parents.

That’s right: in the recent past while on a mission, Sawa murdered Sawa’s parents while she was in the next room under burning wreckage of the house they were in. Granted, Asahi’s mother was apparently dolling her up in order to serve her up to a pervert before Sawa arrived, but facts are facts.

When Asahi tried to stab Sawa in her sleep, Sawa woke up instantly (if she was even asleep) and stopped the knife, telling Asahi she needs to strike where she’ll do the most damage, and wait until she’s more vulnerable. When Asahi bursts into tears, Sawa is there to hug her. It’s a strange situation, but it’s true to Sawa’s code: she’s not about to be a hypocrite. If Asahi should exact her revenge by killing her before she can exact hers, so be it.

Sawa, now knowing of the Treasurer’s ability, decides threaten her into telling her everything she knows about the Karasumori village massacre. The Treasurer says how those responsible wanted to keep the Karasumori clan’s blue blood a secret, while Janome stole an imperfect variant of that blood’s power. But the Treasurer stops there, saying Yoshinobu doesn’t tolerate treason.

Her five-year old son is being held hostage; should she betray Yoshinobu, he will die. So Sawa offers to protect her and her son in exchange for the information she wants. When the Treasurer asks why Sawa would go so far for revenge, Sawa answers simply that her entire life is for revenge—just a stretch of borrowed time, in which she’ll either get the job done or die trying.

Sawa and the Treasurer exit the tunnel near a quiet dock where she can be smuggled to safety, but they are intercepted by Kuchinawa agents, along with a Changeling. Elena shows up, and she handles the agents while Sawa enters her blue blood trance and defeats the Changeling.

But when it’s time to put the Treasurer on the boat, Elena stabs her instead and lets her fall into the river, after telling her her son has already died. I’m a little fuzzy on the details, but either the Treasurer fed intel to Kuchinawa, or she and her intel-packed brain were simply too dangerous to be kept alive.

In any case, Sawa loses her best chance yet at learning about what happened at her village and who was responsible. I don’t think she’ll kill Elena or quit Nue, but she can’t be happy that her road to revenge just hit a detour. In any case, this was another dark, bloody, brooding episode of Jouran, packed with bursts of cool action and bookended by an OP and ED by RAISE A SUILEN that both absolutely slap.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Jujutsu Kaisen – 06 – Wax On, Wax Off

I wondered how long JK would dare go on insisting Yuuji was dead, but it turns out not long: he’s revived in the first seven minutes of this episode. Turns out he was being kept alive within Sukuna’s Innate Domain. In what is basically his mind, Sukuna lets Yuuji challenge him to a duel. If Yuuji wins, Sukuna will heal his heart without conditions.

If Sukuna wins, there will be conditions, like him being able to take over Yuuji’s body for a minute whenever he says “Extension”. One of those conditions is that upon waking up, Yuuji won’t remember what conditions he promised to. We never learn who won the duel, and Yuuji wakes up just seconds before Ieiri Shouko begins the autopsy.

Meanwhile in an unassuming Tokyo café, the sorcerer/priest guy whose name we learn is Getou continues his chat with the Curse Jougo. One of the waiters flees the café before shit goes down…and shit does go down, with Jougo sets everyone in the café on fire and leaves them to die horrible deaths…just ’cause he feels like it.

Getou estimates Jougo’s power to be equal to roughly eight or nine of Sukuna’s fingers, meaning at this point in time he’s presumably three times stronger than Sukuna!Yuuji. He also recommends the use of the special-grade cursed object, Prison Realm, to seal Gojou’s power away. Jougo takes Getou up on that.

After visiting the dead inmate’s mother and presenting her with his nametag as proof of death, Megumi joins Nobara and the upperclassmen on the school athletic field to train for close combat and other forms of battle neither of them are accustomed to. If nothing else, Maki, Inumaki and Panda seem to be doing a good job keeping the first-years too busy to be sad about Yuuji’s death.

Of course, no one knows Yuuji is alive except for Gojou, Ijichi, and Ieiri, and Gojou intends to keep it that way. He’ll train Yuuji in how to maintain cursed energy levels in preparation for the Kyoto Exchange Event, but won’t reveal that he’s still alive until he makes his appearance there. That’s not just for dramatic effect; it’s so those who “tactfully” arranged for Yuuji’s death at the detention center, including the Jujutsu brass, can’t target him again before he’s ready.

And ready is what Gojou intends to make Yuuji. Using the innovative method of spending all of his waking hours watching movies while accompanied by one of the principal’s cursed dolls, who will punch the shit out of him if he doesn’t maintain a constant stream of cursed energy—not too high or too low. Being able to maintain that stream even under duress is key for someone like Yuuji who, at least for now, doesn’t have any cursed techniques.

Gojou leaves Yuuji in his isolated bunker to train up, but in the middle of his ride home he tells Ijichi to stop and he gets out of the car. Not long thereafter he’s ambushed by Jougo, who knows he needs Gojou out of the picture if the grand plan of replacing humans as the dominant species on earth is to come to fruition.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Attack on Titan – 64 – Parting Ways with False Honor

Back when Reiner was with Bertholdt and Annie on Paradis, a man they met prefaced his eventual suicide-by-hanging by telling them a story. The three wondered if the man did so seeking forgiveness—which Annie felt they had no right to give after losing Marcel—or merely wanted to be judged.

Now in the present day, face-to-face with Eren Yeager for the first time in four years, it’s Reiner who wants to be judged, and as someone who witnessed his crimes firsthand in Paradis—not the propaganda Marley peddles—Eren is uniquely suited to do so.

Still, as he urges Reiner to sit down and listen to Tybur’s speech with him, he also insists Falco stay put and listen, both to the speech and to his and Reiner’s concurrent chat. Meanwhile, Porco and Pieck are told to accompany an escort for an undisclosed matter.

Tybur really went all out with the theatrical production, as his speech begins with the story the entirety of the assembled crowd already knows: how the Eldians conquered the world a hundred years ago and then turned on their own people, and how Helos and the Tyburs fought together to free the world of the Eldian hegemony.

Porco and Pieck’s escort is a non-Eldian and doesn’t wish to speak with them en route, but Pieck runs into other non-Eldians who are members of the Panzer division, i.e. soldiers whose lives depend on the Cart Titan over all other groups and thus have a soft spot in their heart for her, even though she’s an Eldian.

Pieck can’t help but think she’s seen the anti-Eldian escort before—perhaps on Paradis?—but she and Porco are led into a house and fall down a trap door into a narrow well in which they cannot transform. Clearly someone wanted them out of the way…but who?

Willy’s speech takes a sudden turn when he reveals that the story of Helps and Tybur saving Marley was nothing but a lie crafted by the Eldian King Fritz, whose plan was to flee to Paradis with as many Titans as possible and stay there, neither attacking nor being attacked by any force. We learn the tripartite walls themselves are composed of countless Colossal Titans and built with the power of the Founding Titan.

Fritz intended to fully enforce the renouncement of war with those walls and never emerge from them. We learned that he inspired the generations that came after to follow suit. But then Eren came into possession of the Founding Titan, and Fritz’s dynasty fell (when Historia rose to power). Thus even though the King had saved Marley by allowing himself to be their most hated enemy, that King’s legacy can no longer be relied on.

The Founding Titan has the ability to convert the walls back into an army of Colossal Titans who would then go on to literally trample the world. If Eren didn’t know this before, he knows it now. As his leg regenerates Falco realizes he was duped into delivering mail to Eren’s allies—who I’m guessing trapped Porco and Pieck in the well.

As they listen to Tybur, Eren asks Reiner why the walls were breached and why his mom was eaten, and Reiner, nearly mad by now with grief, replies that it was because he fucked up. The others were willing to abort the mission when Marcel died, but Reiner wanted them to press on. He doesn’t want to be forgiven for what ended up happening, he wants to be judged and executed by Eren, one of his first victims.

But Eren isn’t here to judge Reiner, any more than he’s here to judge Falco, or Porco and Pieck, or Colt, Gabi, Zofia, or Udo. They were all just kids, after all, told just like he and his friends were told that The Other Side were evil demons, when in reality both sides were mostly just regular people. Those responsible for the atrocities in Marley and elsewhere were long gone, though they were still ruled by their descendants.

So no, Eren won’t blame or judge brainwashed kids past or present for the state of his family, people, or homeland. What he will do is put the blame squarely where it belongs: on Willy Tybur, who seems to successfully unite his diverse audience into joining forces to defeat the demons across the sea once and for all. But his big shining moment is stolen by Eren, who transforms into a Titan and bursts out of the building nearest the stage.

A new war has been declared, and it seems that Tybur specifically chose the Internment Zone as its first battlefield, luring leaders from all over the world there in order to witness the ensuing carnage the Titans can cause, perhaps hoping they’ll return and sway their people into joining his cause. In seeking judgment of Tybur, Eren may have played right into his hands…

Hamefura – 07 – A Dream of Long Ago

Sasaki Atsuko was a shy, quiet transfer student who suddenly found herself under a girl who’ fallen on her from a tree. We never learn this tree climber’s real name or see her eyes, but it’s the one who is reincarnated as Catarina. Atsuko introduces her to Fortune Lover, while she becomes Atsuko’s first real friend.

Of course, to be reincarnated, one has to die, and Atsuko’s friend falls victim to that most common of anime deaths, the car accident (I swear they should ban motor vehicles in Anime Japan!) For such a brief sequence, it packs an emotional wallup…especially when Sophia wakes up; it was all a sad dream. She rushes to the arms of Catarina. So Sophia is totally the reincarnated Acchan…right?

That day Catarina & Co. are split into two teams for the practical portion of their exams, which consists of a dungeon quest in some ancient ruins. It’s an atmospheric new setting and a prime venue for some Bakarina antics, but thanks to her cultivating such strong bonds with her more magically-inclined companions, every booby trap she sets off is successfully defended—with nice displays of magic by Gerald and Keith. One of those traps—a collapsing floor—even borrows it’s sound effect from Castle in the Sky!

Well, almost every trap. Catarina falls down a suddenly-opened hole in the wall and becomes isolated. She quickly becomes primarily concerned with securing food, but ends up harvesting what look for all the world like highly poisonous mushrooms. As her inner council freaks out over the prospect of her dying in a glorified sidequest, the Ascart siblings use their wind magic to track her voice—wisely assuming she’ll be using it!

Bakarina uses a suspiciously key-to-the-exam green crystal to cut the mushrooms growing from a yawning chasm, into which she immediately almost falls before Sophia grabs her hand. Suddenly, a gust of wind lifts them both up to safety, coming from a figure made of shadow who’d been following Catarina this whole time. Maria notably notices it too.

All’s well that ends well and the exam is passed thanks to Catarina finding the crystal…but whither the shadow? Someone else from Catarina’s life, who has yet to fully reincarnate as a character in the otome? Will Sophia continue to regain memories of the real world through her dreams? With no more roots headed to doom, Hamefura has gained a new layer of metaphysical mystery, and I’m here for it!

Sing “Yesterday” for Me – 07 – Video Games

Rikuo! Taking Haru Out! For DINNER! To celebrate his new job at a photography studio! Not just dismissing her as a convenience store clerk groupie in the alley, but treating her like…well, a lady! Hell, if I was Haru, I’d order a couple beers too, in hopes the universe wouldn’t card me.

With a third of the show in the books, we’re officially done with the introductions of the characters and their issues. The pieces are all arranged; all past and present love intersts accounted for…it’s officially time to play the game. And, well…as much as I love her, I fear it may be the beginning of Game Over for Haru…despite Rikuo’s newfound manners.

If Rikuo taking Haru out is meant to be both an olive branch after the business with his ex-girlfriend and a sign he’s finally taking her feelings seriously, an impatient Rou has decided to undermine Haru’s progress by essentially pushing Shinako closer to Rikuo.

Shinako has never had anything like boyfriend, but she knows she has no interest in Rou. She loved Yuu, but even that wasn’t necessarily romantic love. She loves Rou too, but as family member. Rou is simply barking up the wrong tree. He can wait and hope and try a “change of attitude” all he wants; Shinako ain’t interested!

It’s Rikuo Shinako goes to for council, wondering what she could or should be doing regarding Rou. Ironically, she states her believe Rou is “falling for an illusion”, while Haru has stated that all romantic love is is illusion (all while being hopelessly vulnerable to it all the same).

Rikuo’s advice doesn’t come from a place of moral superiority or jealousy or even lingering bitterness from being previously rejected by Shinako. He simply reminds Shinako that Rou isn’t a little kid anymore, that he knows life doesn’t always go the way you want, and if he wants to stress himself out, she should let him.

In not so many words, and regardless of whether it’s intentional, Rikuo is telling Shinako not to try to spare Rou the full force of Life Not Going Your Way. For whom does life always go right anyway? Rou has decided he’s rapidly approaching adulthood, and wants nothing else but to “catch up” to Shinako.

So Shinako tells him: she’s watching him; watching who he’ll become. It’s not a forceful rejection, but it still mostly sounds like one to Rou, who as Rikuo said is world-weary enough to read between the lines. Even so, it’s too gentle a gesture on Shinako’s part—as we’ll find out later.

Rikuo’s friend Fukuda visits him, and is happy to hear his progress in pursuing his interest in photography professionally. He even gives Rikuo a major boost by hiring him to photograph his upcoming nuptuals. Rikuo discusses it with a supervisor at lunch, and then after work, Haru is waiting outside the studio.

Haru wants to be someone Rikuo can confide his problems in and seek advice and help. At first Rikuo is dubious, but eventually comes out and remarks how it almost feels like the “universe is nagging” him, asking “what do you want to become?” after a period of not asking, and him not caring or trying. It’s kind of stressful, but Haru tells him to keep stressing out…”it’s how everyone gets to be who they are.” She’s such a gift…

Haru doesn’t realize the universe isn’t just nagging Rikuo about his career or calling. Fukuda knows how terrible Shinako is at dating and romance, and all but assures Rikuo that he can’t assume she’ll make the next move.

Fukuda’s wedding comes, and Rikuo snaps photos…including candids of Shinako, who was also invited after all. He tries to take both Fukuda and Haru’s advice, but chickens out at the last moment, using the need to return his boss’ camera to take his leave.

His hesitation doesn’t really matter, as without trying Rou once again causes memories of Yuu to surface in Shinako. She tries to leave his place, but he can sense the tears welling in her face before he sees it, and follows her as she flees. When he bared his arm in front of her, it looked just like Yuu when he’d receive shots. Shinako never looked away from Yuu’s arm, thinking if he was being so strong, she’d have to be strong too.

Rou takes this opportunity to wrap his arms around Shinako’s, but her impulse isn’t to sink into that embrace, but to ask—clearly and more than once—for him to let her go. Rou being “the only one who knows how important” his bro was to her isn’t the secret weapon he thinks it is. It is, in fact, anathema, as Rou is a constant reminder of that which Shinako knows she has to move past.

Shinako knows she’s being selfish and presumptuous, but waits for Rikuo anyway. After a calming soft drink at a family restaurant, he walks her home, but she’s frustrated that all they’re talking about is her and Rou, when the thing she can’t deal with she really wants to talk about goes unsaid. She proceeds to explain why she initially rejected him, citing an inability to forget Yuu and a fear of being alone.

Rikuo then reiterates that he was willing to wait for her, to which she replies that maybe she was waiting too. Maybe she can’t move on until somebody—somebody not Rou—pulls her. When they’re briefly interrupted by her neighbor, Rikuo suggests they find a place to talk more in private.

Then Shinako invites him into her apartment…“although it’s messy.” You got THAT right, Ako-chan!

P.S. There’s a new ED for Yesterday this week (with a new song by Sayuri) depicting an arcade game featuring an 8-bit Haru and her crow flying around town defeating enemies and launching relentless love attacks at Rikuo. It ends with Game Over, as Rikuo walks off-screen with Shinako while poor Haru is surrounded and pelted by foes. Yikes!

Sing “Yesterday” for Me – 06 – The Great Destroyer

“Why are you enjoying this so much?”
“Because it’s not my problem.”
—Rikuo and Kinoshita on why I love this show

Just as things were attaining a semblance of balance, enter Yuzuhara Chika, Rikuo’s high school ex-girlfriend, her hair now kissed by bottled fire and voiced by the often fiery Kitamura Eri. She’s behind on rent and happened to be passing by, and asks if she can crash at Rikuo’s until she’s back on her feet financially.

That’s right, YwU is not quite done introducing new characters at the expense of the core trio. That’s probably in part due to the fact we’re now only a third through an 18-episode series, not halfway through a 12-parter.

Kinoshita warns Rikuo that Chika is a serial destroyer of bands due to her penchant for ginning up relationshop drama among the members. There’s every indication Chika came to Rikuo because she tends to use usable people and he’s an easy mark, but she proves to be a model freeloader, cooking, cleaning, welcoming him home, all things he’s used to doing alone.

One day while readying dinner, Chika mistakes Rikuo collapsing from fever for a sexual advance, and her eyes narrow as she consents…only Rikuo isn’t propositioning, he’s ill. And so the time arrives when Rikuo is in need of being nursed back to health, and Haru is nowhere to be found, because Rikuo hasn’t told her about Chika.

When they find out from Kinoshita that Rikuo is sick, it’s because Minako accidentally wandered to the konbini after drinking with her friends (who wouldn’t leave her alone about not ever being in a relationship) while Haru is already loitering there.

Whether due to her guilt about him “setting up her wires—i.e. relying on him when it’s convenient—or because she’s knocked back a few, or both, she accompanies Haru, and they share in the utter shock of a third pretty woman at Rikuo’s apartment that late at night.

Haru is NOT okay with this—Rikuo is as good as a cheater in her book—but while Minako is also upset, she says she only has herself to blame for rejecting him. Hearts are fickle, and expecting Rikuo to keep standing still and waiting for her wasn’t realistic.

After being confronted by a steamed Haru (and saying precisely the right thing to have a milk crate thrown in his face), Rikuo stops by Minako, but the sight of her expression…frightens him (in a nice touch, we never see the face he sees). Minako is angry too.

During another homemade meal, Chika and Rikuo talk more about why things ended and who they are. Chika plays the piano for a living and was always good at it, but at first it was because she was forced to play. She’s always wanted to be liked, and saying no can make people not like you, even if she’s never fallen in love or been “deeply invested” in anything. Sound familiar?

She also breaks it to Rikuo that telling him he didn’t understand her was just an excuse she gave to break up with him so she could date a new guy she liked more. “Understanding” her more, then or now, wouldn’t have made any difference, so there’s nothing for him to regret regarding that. I’m not sure if he should feel better or worse about that!

Minako stops by Rikuo’s again, and Chika finally clears the air, assuring her that she simply asked for help from a guy she knew would help, and doesn’t want “things to get ruined” because of her (again, allegedly). Yet again, Minako feels bad, because she’s not actually Rikuo’s girlfriend, as Chika initially assumes.

Chika dated Rikuo for just four months in high school, but Minako straight up turned him down! I’m sure her relief Chika is not interested is mixed with guilt that she has some kind of claim on Rikuo. But, well, she clearly does, doesn’t she? She never dismissed Haru’s declaration of war, and Chika’s sudden appearance on the battlefield put things in perspective.

I can harp on precious little time spent on the Haru/Minako/Rikuo triangle so that a new player could take the stage, but honestly I found Chika’s brutal honesty with her feelings and motivations refreshing, right up to her polite goodbye-and-thanks note, prompting one more charge of selfishness from Rikuo.

She came and went like a storm, but before she left she looked out into the sunset while smoking on the balcony (in a beautifully drawn and lit scene), with what seemed to be an internal debate in her head.

Should she stay, keep enjoying cooking and eating with the nice guy she once dated at the risk of blowing something up that was there before? Or should she leave, and later on look back fondly on those few days when she played house with an old flame? She chose to leave, but I wouldn’t mind if she wasn’t gone for good.

Sing “Yesterday” for Me – 05 – Miss Never Number One

Rikuo ends up at a new part-time job at a photography gallery, only to encounter co-worker Minato Kouichi, who was in the same third-year class as Haru before she dropped out. He joins them for lunch and exhibits how pretentious he is about photography. Rikuo takes an instant dislike to him.

That leads to yet another coincidence in which Minato is walking Haru home at the same time Rikuo is walking a slightly tipsy Shinako home. Both Haru and Rikuo are irritated by what they see. Shinako tells Rikuo that she’s done walking in circles, while Minato not to subtly hints that he had a crush in Haru in high school, only for her to be completely oblivious.

Minato visits Haru as often at the bar at least as often as Haru visits Rikuo, and eventually asks if she’ll spend a day with him. He formally asks her out, and while she replies with a rant about how much of an asshole Rikuo is, she’s not ready to give up on him, even if she’s “just the backup”, or she’d be lying to herself. Minato expected a rejection, and reveals he dropped out of college to pursue a life of freelance photojournalism.

When Haru says of her pet crow “I kept feeding him, and he got attached to me,” I couldn’t help but notice how similar that is to her approach with Rikuo, intentional or not. Rikuo so often comes off as irritated or annoyed with her (or is so often spotted with Shinako after dark), Haru’s adopted the misconception that he doesn’t care how she feels.

In reality, her reliable and persistent “feeding” of her charming personality to him has made him attached to her, to the extent he’s jealous when he sees her with Minato and even gets into an artistic competition with him. It’s fitting that while Rikuo loses, it’s because Minato’s photo was simply more compelling.

The photo depicts Haru in high school, which stands in contrast to Minato’s earlier screed against portraiture as the photographer forcing his feelings on the viewer. Sure enough, Minato’s affection for the subject suffuses the image, and even Rikuo can’t resist the portrait’s candid beauty and longing. It’s a Haru Rikuo had never seen before, and can never unsee.

One could also look at this photo as a portent for Haru’s eventual dropping out. She looks restless, and her gaze is pointed elsewhere—somewhere more painful yet more rewarding, scarier yet inevitable: adulthood and independence.

Sing “Yesterday” for Me – 04 – His Lingering Shadow

After three episodes Hayakawa Rou is by far the weakest of the characters, but only because all we’ve known is that Shinako loved his late older brother Yuu, and Rou loves Shinako. She tries to be a good big sis to Rou by cooking him meals, but she can’t give him the one thing he wants from her most. In his frustration, he blames it not necessarily on his faults as a person, but because she can’t let go of a dead guy.

This week we learn why Rou is the way he is. This goes a long way towards making his character more sympathetic—even if he remains the least interesting of the four leads. Since Yuu was always the center of not just Shinako’s but everyone’s attention, Rou had to seek attention elsewhere: by being “the kid who can draw” in his class. Only now he’s in a tougher class in which everyone is that person.

Hell, I was that person in high school, then went to art college and got a rude awakening. It’s an understandable hit to the ego of someone who’d taken for granted one’s superiority in a smaller pool. Still, Rou worked hard to be as good at art as he is, so he’s going to rely on that work ethic to pull him through this phase.

One thing he wants to avoid at all costs is ending up like Rikuo, whom he still can’t believe Shinako even gave the time of day to. Worse, he learns of Haru and Rikuo’s “deal” rudely labeling her a “backup” when the two meet in context at the konbini. Kinoshita insists Rikuo help out in the back, so it falls to Rou to walk the young lady home.

Haru, who it must be said still sees love as in illusion, wonders what Shinako is doing so differently that she is so beloved by both Rou and Rikuo. Ruo rebuts by pointing out how not interested in him that way Shinako really is, but Haru doesn’t want Rou discouraged.

If Rou were to find a way to win Shinako’s heart, that frees Rikuo up for Haru, so she’s firmly on team Rou X Shinako, so gives him a supportive back on the back and runs off with her pet crow, which leads Rou to call her a weirdo.

Rou returns to find his dad and Shinako have already returned to Hanazawa. Once there, his dad informs Shinako that he’ll be renting out the house where they lived with Yuu, and presents her with a box of Yuu’s assembled belongings. In the room where she tended to him until the day he died, Shinako breaks down when she finds the eraser he lent her the first day they met, with the message “baka” concealed by its sleeve.

Outside cheery blossoms glow and she catches a glimpse of Yuu as a student, and she transforms into her younger self to approach him, only for him to disappear behind the tree. In a heartwrenching scene Shinako weeps bitter tears of loss, the shadow of Yuu still looming. It may be “okay to forget” as Yuu and Rou’s dad puts it, but Shinako can probably never fully erase Yuu’s shadow—nor would she want to.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 23 – No Puppet, You’re The Puppet

This is a thrilling powerhouse of an episode, but it starts out a little slow, with over seven minutes of this:

Admin: [Describes in detail horrible things she’s done]
Cardinal: How dare you!
Admin: [Chortles]

Mind you, there are far worse things than listening to Sakamoto Maaya describe her evil plan and chortle. She gives Admin an extra dimension of imperious ethereal swagger.

Once the two pontifexes are done talking, Cardinal decides the only thing she can do is surrender: offer her life—and the guarantee she won’t resist and take potentially half of Admin’s life—in exchange for the three “youngsters.”

Admin agrees, though doesn’t exactly hide the fact that she still plans to sacrifice fully half of Underworld’s humans (40,000 of them) to complete the final version of her sword golem with which she’ll defeat the enemies of the Dark Territory, as well as the real world.

Then she has fun taking several hundred dark lightning potshots at Cardinal. She’s been waiting 200 years to get rid of her, and is clearly savoring the moment. Cardinal warns the others not to interfere—they’re not powerful enough to make a difference anyway—and instead puts all her hope in Admin’s assurances they won’t be harmed.

Something awakens in Eugeo, and suddenly he realizes what he was always meant to do, now that he’s in the time and place to do it. He asks Cardinal to use her remaining power to transform him into a sword, just as Admin turned hundreds of humans into parts of the golem.

The process isn’t exactly quick, and Admin attempts to disrupt it, but Alice is able to block her attacks just long enough for the transformation to complete, and Eugeo becomes a self-moving sword.

The sword wastes no time destroying the sword golem by hitting its weak spot, blowing it to pieces in a tremendous explosion. But Admin is #NotImpressed, and relishes the opportunity to put this “brat” in his place with her superior weapon authority.

Ultimately, Eugeo simply doesn’t have enough to take a suddenly very serious Admin down, and while he does relieve her of her left arm, it comes at the cost of being split in two. The split sword revert back into human form, and Eugeo lies lifeless in a pool of blood.

Admin then describes Eugeo’s mistakes that led to his defeat, then turns to Kirito, expressing her hope they’ll meet again in the real world after she kills him here (she’s apparently unaware he’s only alive here; he’s still in a coma out there).

Having lost Cardinal and Eugeo in quick succession, Kirito is feeling defeated and unable to do anything, but like Yuuki and others in Kirito’s past, Alice steps between him and his death, willing to sacrifice herself so he can live on and complete the mission.

This time, Kirito steps back in front of his protector, parries Admin’s strike, and pushes her back. Alice, totally out of gas, passes out, leaving it a duel between the one-armed Admin and Kirito, for the very soul of the Underworld.

Admin would say he and Eugeo were only puppets for Cardinal, and Kirito continues to serve as a puppet for the good of the masses she sees only as resources, in reality Admin has herself long been a puppet of her own greed and lust for power.

Those traits define her and drive her totally, and they will destroy her, once they butt up against the amassed love and resolve of her foes. The hours of her reign appear to be numbered, but she’s not going down without (another) hell of a fight.

The Promised Neverland – 11 – All Or Nothing, Now Or Never

It’s heartening to learn neither Ray nor Emma had ever truly given up on escaping, but they’re out of time, so they have to implement whatever plan they have immediately. The key is to distract and misdirect Mama so all of the kids can escape, and the best way to do that is by setting the house on fire.

But Ray knows that won’t be enough, which is why he’s been planning and working his ass off to be the most valuable pieces of meat Mama has ever raised. He’ll set himself on fire so that Mama will stay fixed on trying to save him. And while he brooks no argument from Emma, we never see him actually drop the match into the fire.

Nevertheless, Mama comes out of her office smelling burnt flesh, and finds Emma kneeling before the conflagration in the dining hall, telling her Ray’s in there. She orders an evacuation while she desperately tries to save what she can of her great prize.

She also urges Emma to get out of there, but when she turns around, Emma is already gone. When she tracks her with her watch, she discovers Emma has cut off the ear containing her tracking device. She’s off the grid, and has a huge head start.

When she meets up with the others, Ray is with them, to our surprise. Turns out Emma caught the lit match in her bare hands before it could fall on the oil. She has an alternate plan for Ray that doesn’t require his sacrifice. It’s a plan Norman gave to her, and which she distributed to everyone else bit by bit.

Norman told Emma exactly what Ray would do and how to stop him, including with a pile of meats and human hair that will smell like someone burning. The whole time Emma appeared to have lost all hope and was being comforted by the little ones, she was actually muttering to them the plan that will spring them.

When Emma reaches the wall with the others and prepares to climb, the specter of a smiling Norman pats her on the back, urging her to keep going. But Ray senses somebody is missing…and somebody is. Mama manages to escape the burning house with her radio but nothing else, but she’s determined to retrieve her beloved Emma and Ray. To her surprise, she still has a hostage—with which to lure one or both of them back—in little Phil.

After so much preparation and time-biding, the escape is finally on, and there is no going back, as the home where they used to live has been destroyed. But if I know Emma, she’s not about to leave anyone behind, and that could well lead to her ruin.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 22 – Boy From The Other Side

Chudelkin and his fire demon don’t last long, thanks to Alice distracting the latter with her flowers while Kirito skewers the former—a sitting-duck—while also briefly donning his black suit from SAO. Administrator doesn’t lift a finger to help her loyal Senator. It was up to him to beat the rebels, and he failed. She has no further use for him.

Kirito’s momentary change of clothing proves something to Administrator she’d suspected something was up with him beyong his “unregistered unit” status. Now she knows, and he confirms, that he’s really a human “from the other side.”

When Alice gets to have her say, she ask her former Pontifex why she couldn’t trust the loyalty of her knights without tearing them away from their families and wiping their memories. But everything Administrator—what Quinella—has done thus far offers the only answer Alice needs, even if she doesn’t like it: Quinella doesn’t care about anyone but Quinella.

She doesn’t care about the freedom and happiness of her people. She doesn’t care about her knights beyond their loyalty and ability to defeat her remaining enemies. If they ever start to voice concerns, as Bercouli, Fanatio, and now Alice have done, she’ll simply re-synthesize them, wiping away that much more of their original selves that had managed to surface.

Things get more intriguing when Kirito questions the value of having absolute control over one world when the human creators of that world who dwell on the other side have ultimate authority, able to erase everyone and everything with the tap of a key.

Quinella puts it to Kirito: Does HE only live to please his higher authorities, those who created the human world, out of fear they’ll reset it? She won’t pander to those “gods of creation.” She won’t kneel, beg, or grovel. If they want to punish her by eliminating her existence, FINE.

Until then, she’ll keep perfecting herself and remaking the world she rules as she likes, and that means eliminating threats to her control. To that end, she uses a Release Recollection spell and uses Perfect Weapon Control to merge thirty individual weapons into one extremely dangerous-looking sword golem.

Within a minute, both Alice and Kirito are lying in pools of their own blood; their strikes parried and countered with vicious, one-strike critical hits. Eugeo prepares a final stand, but Charlotte pops out of Kirito’s coat, blows up to enormous size, and gives Eugeo the few moments he needs to thrust the dagger into a floating platform.

The dagger activates a column of light; within that light a door appears, and through that door walks Cardinal, sending the sword golem flying with a quick burst of offensive energy. She quickly heals Alice and Kirito, who introduces her as a friend. Charlotte, unfortunately, can’t be revived, and Cardinal takes a moment to mourn her trusty aide, before turning her gaze at the “hollow fool,” Administrator.

Hollow though she may be, her philosophy of validating her existence through total control (rather than through meaningful, equitable relationships with others) comes through as a tragic flaw in her character. She’s lived so long amassing so much power, the only part of her left that’s human is the worst part; the part devalues and forsakes all the other souls in her world—and it’s looking increasingly likely that will be her undoing. Quinella may be our arch-villain, but I still sympathize with how her life turned out.

I daresay this episode did a better job fleshing her out than her flashback ep, since this was all about who she is today, in person, and not who she was from Cardinal’s perspective. I like how her awareness of the human world gives her a chip on her shoulder and innate drive to disobey, and I’d wonder what else she has up her sleeve…if only she had sleeves.

The Promised Neverland – 10 – Never Give Up, Never Surrender

With the bombshell discovery of the cliff last week, it looked like checkmate for the kids, and especially Norman, who after all was going to be shipped out the next day. That schedule is not changed, and Norman accepts his fate, much to the despair of Emma and Ray.

Norman offers them a ray of hope by noting that the complex of farms or “plants” form a hexagon, one side of which is the HQ where there’s a bridge across the cliff. But he won’t be joining them, and his mind won’t be changed. That doesn’t stop the other two from trying.

While packing for his “departure”, Norman puts only one item in his suitcase: the string telephone Ray helped Emma make years ago so she could communicate with Norman when he was sick and quarantined. Mind you, his being sick never kept Emma away, and Mama had to shoo her off more than once.

In a microcosm of the trio’s dynamic in the present, Ray’s technical know-how and Emma’s stubborn refusal to give up leads to the two ensuring Norman isn’t lonely. Norman isn’t just a friend, he’s family. Emma and Ray love the hell out of the guy. But this time there’s no string long enough to reach where he’s going.

The scene of Norman’s goodbyes is…is rough. All of the other kids are either in tears or just barely holding back, but no one is suffering his impending departure more than Emma, and she makes no attempt to hide that suffering, or to pretend she’s not going to do everything she can to stop Norman from leaving, including trying to slip him the tracking device breaker.

It takes the most explicit death threat from Mama yet (delivered chillingly quietly so only Emma can hear) for Emma to calm down and accept Norman leaving. Before they part, Norman hands her back the tracker breaker and tells her not to give up. As for Ray, he’s not even there; Norman has to come to him, and even then, Ray says nothing. They only share a parting look.

Norman and Mama’s solemn walk to the gate is another standout scene, steeped with doom, but also an odd kind of peace. Mama seems to hold Norman in genuine esteem, as the two seem to have an understanding that Emma and Ray will be treated well until the “end of the time that was decided.”

He momentarily throws Mama off when he asks her if she’s happy, but she replies that she is because she met someone like him. They reach the gate, and Mama directs him to enter a well-lit room to wait…and that’s the last we see of him. Who knows what he saw, or if it was the last thing he saw. Maybe Mama has bigger plans for him than mere food?

Emma and Ray are gutted by Norman’s loss. The three of them were inseparable, almost symbiotic, but Norman was their center; their heart; the bridge between them. The two of them don’t seem able to continue on, even with support from Don and Gilda. Ray tells them he’s “tired” and doesn’t care anymore; they can do what they like, but he’s resigned to dying there.

Emma was then the last of the trio to hold out hope and not give up, but she’s too overcome by grief to accomplish anything. Both the little kids and Mama take note of her constantly morose state, and Mama visits her in her dorm to urge her to give up, and life will be much easier. She even offers Emma a path that will allow her to become the next Mama of the house, rather than be shipped away.

Of course, Emma is never going to go back on what she promised Norman, no matter how many perks she offers (or bones she breaks). So Mama tells her fine, keep dreaming of the impossible, “writhe in agony”, and be damned.

Time passes, and the eve of Ray’s shipment date arrives. Emma wakes up and finds him singing to himself in the chapel. It’s there where both of them reveal that at least part of the way they’ve been acting around Mama, Gilda, Don, and the little ones was merely a performance; a means of lulling Mama into thinking they really did give up.

But they haven’t, as the fire in their eyes at the end of the episode proves. They seem as determined as ever, and thanks to Norman’s reconnoitering of the wall, a path to escape remains. What a fool I was to believe it was time to give up when they hadn’t; to doubt the strength of their spirit and defiance!

Mama, the demons, the system has taken so much away from these kids. It’s time to take something back from them for a change. I am here for it.