Violet Evergarden – 06

Violet Evergarden is not content to keep its titular character holed up at C.H. Postal, which I feel works to the show’s advantage. This episode in particular introduces Justitia Province, a fresh and fascinating new locale where she and 79 other Dolls have been summoned.

There, Violet takes an aerial tramway above the clouds to a vast observatory dramatically perched high atop a mountain. There, the 80dolls are paired off with 80 men from the Manuscript Department to undertake a massive effort to transcribe old books that are on their last legs.

It’s unlike any other mission Violet has undertaken, and one would think the impersonal nature of transcribing old books would not afford her the same insight into love and other human emotions as, say, writing letters for a client.

However, it’s all about who she meets there, and that’s Leon Stephanotis, whom we learn right at the outset harbors an inherent distrust for all Auto Memory Dolls, believing it “a profession full of women who hope to one day marry into money.”

While there may well be Dolls with that goal, it hardly seems proper to lump them all into one category, and Leon learns this firsthand immediately upon meeting Violet, who is, as we know, neither a normal Doll nor a normal woman.

Leon is fairly chilly to Violet, but the fact that Violet doesn’t react like he is throws him off. She doesn’t regard his conduct as particularly chilly, just efficient, and if there’s one quality one could be used to describe Violet, it’s efficient…when it comes to taking dictation, not sorting through her feelings for the Major.

The night after they do three day’s work of work in one, Leon asks why Violet is a Doll, and she says, simply, because “it is a role I can fulfill”, expressing her gratitude that she can do such a wonderful job, while questioning if she deserves it—no doubt the words of Gilbert’s brother weigh on her, even if she has nothing to apologize for.

When other scribes ask Violet whether it’s trying working with an annoying guy like Leon, who is a penniless orphan only there because of donations. Violet sets the lads straight by saying she’s not a person who has lived the kind of “proper life” they’re assuming; she’s also an orphan, never laid eyes on her parents, and only recently learned to read and write, further warning them that if one’s birth or upbringing is such an important requisite for being able to speak to someone, they should stay away from her.

Leon overhears her defense of him, but it was never meant to be a defense; just the facts. But regardless of her intentions, he’s all but smitten with her, and does what so many other scribes must be doing with their Doll partners: he asks her if she’ll join him for the comet viewing (a comet that appears only once every 200 or so years). She agrees without hesitation, and he’s so elated he tears his baguette clean in half.

That night, before the comet reaches its most beautiful position, Leon tells Violet the story of how his father once traveled the world collecting manuscripts but went missing. Rather than stay with him, his mother, who loved his father more than anything (certainly more than him, he figured) left to find her husband, and also never returned. If love makes people such “bumbling fools” they forget the well-being of their own children, he wants nothing to do with it.

When he asks how her story goes, she tells him about the one person who cared for her, and who she cares about more than anyone else. Leon gets her to understand that what she’s feeling in the Major’s absence is, indeed, loneliness. Leon tests her, asking what she’d do if she heard the Major was alive and in need of his aid in the middle of her job there at the observatory.

He assumes she’s upset he put her on the spot, but that’s not the kind of person Violet is. She’s upset because she’d have to find some way to apologize to him, meaning yes, she’d go just as his mother went, in order to find the person she, well, loved.

It feels like a kind of gentle rejection for Leon, who might’ve thought he had found the perfect woman for him. But quoting the first manuscript they transcribed together, “That parting is not a tragedy.”

Indeed, Leon is not sad when the job is complete and Violet heads home, because being with her even for this short time didn’t just subvert his expectations about Dolls. It made him rethink and alter the course of his very life.

As Violet departs on the aerial tram (making for some very nice camera angles) Leon resolves to tour the continent as she does and as his father did, collecting manuscripts. And perhaps they’ll even meet again somewhere, under a starry sky.

Or Leo my man, you could always keep in touch by, uh, writing to her from time to time. Why leave their next encounter to such small odds…unless the show intends to reunited them. We do have a lot of show left to go…fortunately.

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Violet Evergarden – 05

Violet must be making a name for herself with her unique yet compelling ghostwriting style, because her latest request comes from the royal family of Drossel, whose princess Charlotte is arranged to marry a prince of Flugel, a former enemy.

Violet must ghostwrite love letters to Prince Damian, on Charlotte’s behalf, which will be public and meant to “sell” the match to the two nations’ subjects. One could scarcely live two lives as differently as the coddled Charlotte and the tortured Violet, who are both around fourteen.

Still, Violet assures her client that she will accomplish her mission without fail. Her first love letter is well-written and has the desired effect among both the royal families, resulting in a favorable and just as well-written reply (no doubt from another Auto Memories Doll).

As such, the reply only frustrates Princess Charlotte (Nakajima Megumi), who is quick to emotion and tears, and knows the prince she only met once would never have written such a letter. Four years ago, she fled her “birthday” party, which was nothing but an endless parade of suitors.

The only one to go looking for her, and tell her it was okay to cry, was Prince Damian. When Violet hears of this, the genesis of true love between two people acting genuinely to one another without airs, she institutes a bold plan: let Charlotte write letters, by hand, from the heart, which Violet will refine as necessary.

A stirring correspondence between her and the prince ensues, captivating the public even more with their brutal honesty, modesty, and emotion. Violet assists, but the words are purely Charlotte’s, and once she gets into a rhythm, she has no trouble speaking her mind and voicing her concerns.

The replies she receives are similarly, refreshingly self-deprecating, suggesting the two are more alike than different, each finding the mantle of royalty—and even maturity—an ill fit.

Finally, the time comes for the prince and princess to reunite in the same moonlit garden where they met for the first and only other time. Damian, fully convinced by the letters that Charlotte will be a splendid match, offers his hand in marriage.

Through the power of the letters and the memory they shared (or perhaps the memory Violet told Cattleya to bring up on Damian’s behalf) the royal couple’s love became real, making their marriage not merely one of political expediency, but a strong and lasting bond that reflects the potential for the two nations to embrace each other in equal measure.

Charlotte, like every other “guest” character in VE so far, is quickly and wonderfully depicted, starting out as your prototypical spoiled princess but gradually revealing much more humanity, ironically thanks to the still very doll-like Violet. Her close bond to her maid Alberta was particularly poignant.

While Violet had to force a smile upon meeting Charlotte, her face bears a real one, without trying, on the beautiful day of Charlotte’s wedding, which neither she nor Damian’s doll Cattleya attend, as they must return to Leiden to tackle their next missions.

That smile is huge, because it means that through Violet’s interactions and education dealing with people whose emotions she must suss out in written form, is gradually rubbing off on her. She is learning how to be a person with feelings and desires of her own.

So it’s particularly troubling for someone from her past (Gilbert’s brother Dietfried, if I’m not mistaken) to appear, condemn her for the bloodshed she committed when she was nothing but a vicious weapon, and make her relive one of her many past slaughters.

It occurs to me that Violet Evergarden’s stoic, doll-like, emotionless demeanor was not something hastily achieved; it was the result of an entire life of fourteen years bereft of mercy, kindness, and love…until Gilbert. Now he’s gone, and someone who remembers what she once was and what she did, and threatens to tear down all her progress.

Yet this is also her first real test: Violet must not simply take Dietfried’s scorn and abuse lying down. Whatever she did, she had to do, because she was never given any other choice at that point in her life. Now that conditions have allowed her to claim a life all her own, it’s up to her to defend that life from those who’d drag her back into the shadows.

Mahoutsukai no Yome – 07

This week the sorcerer Renfred and his apprentice are cast in a slightly more sympathetic light, as they are operating under the command of the same ageless sorcerer who led Matthew to murder cats in an attempt to save Mina. Renfred puts keeping Alice safe over resisting the guy, and that seems like a good idea…provided keeping Alice safe is possible.

Meanwhile in the countryside, Chise continues to learn magic from Elias, and even helps out with potions and remedies…though her nightmare ward is brewed with too much magic, making it a sleeping agent. Elias provides Chise with a ring that will absorb some of her deep stores of magic, easing the strain on her body as long as she can remain calm.

Of course, Chise almost constantly finds herself in situations in which it is very difficult to stay calm: news of a “grim” or black dog on church grounds; a corpse that looks decidedly like it was mauled by said dog, and in the cemetery, a creepy multi-legged monster with a face like a fresh-shaven Guy Fawkes mask. She is saved by the black dog, who assumes a human form.

When the man transforms back into a dog and passes out, Chise heals and stays with him. When Alice shows up and demands Chise surrender the dog, Chise uses her failed nightmare ward to knock her out then tie her up.

When Alice comes to, she tells Chise she needs the black dog as “material” for making a chimera, citing these as the “weird brat” sorcerer’s orders. Elias emerges from Chise’s shadow, having gotten the gist of Renfred’s dilemma (along with the reason he lost an arm).

But just then, out of the blue, the weird brat shows up, and attempts to kill Alice. Chise shoves her out of the way and gets impaled by what looks like a spiked vine or giant mantis leg. In either case, it looks like the kind of wound that would be mortal if the person being impaled wasn’t the title of the show.

So yeah, Chise isn’t going to die anytime soon, but she’s certainly in bad shape, and the sight of her getting wounded sends Elias into a rage unlike any we’ve ever seen from him, perhaps revealing a form more indicative of who—or rather what—he truly is, which most certainly isn’t human.

Mahoutsukai no Yome – 06

After Chise succeeds in cleansing the corruption, Renfred withdraws. Chise asks Elias how long she has; Elias states three years if nothing changes, but he doesn’t expect nothing to change, and didn’t tell her because her dying so soon isn’t “part of his plans.”

Having so thoroughly exerted herself magically again, Chise passes out, and doesn’t wake up even two weeks later. Elias stashes her in the middle of a forest where her magic can regenerate faster, and Titania, Queen of the Faeries, Titania, emerges from the woods.

Titania is best described as having weird boobs that are drawn one way in one shot and another way in another; they seem to be contained by her bodice one moment, but are spilling out another. It’s a bit distracting, frankly. She also has a very irritating husband in the Faerie King Oberon.

Annoying though he may be, Oberon, along with his wife, seem to approve of Elias’ new human hatchling/mate, and Oberon restores all of Chise’s magic, allowing her to finally awaken.

Having restored Chise and heard that she’s fine with Elias, Oberon and Titania take their leave, inviting Elias and Chise to visit them for a banquet in their realm; an offer their Spriggan guard warns them not to redeem, nor does Elias intend to. He already had to stop faeries from luring Chise into their realm, after all.

After saying goodbye to Simon (who was banished from the encounter by the faeries and made to roam the forest until their business was concluded), Chise tells Elias how she wishes he bought her ten years ago, when Simon first started observing him.

Elias assures her they’ll be together more than ten years, and that his “experiment” to lengthen her lifespan will not fail; together, they’ll make it work. What role Christmas pudding plays in that venture, I don’t know. All I know is, while it had a few interesting moments, this episode felt a bit thin!

Mahoutsukai no Yome – 05

The sorcerer Renfred and his apprentice Alice turn out not to be of much concern, as their attempts to turn Chise against Elias fall on deaf ears. Not knowing from whence she came, they totally misunderstand how she feels: far from wanting to be freed, she wants to belong to Elias, the first person to ever call her family. Out of her shadow, Elias appears, and a whole mess of thorns push the sorshies back.

With that over with, Chise, Ariel, and the King of Cats proceed with the plan to cleanse the corruption, which is truly growing out of control. Chise makes contact with the miasma and enters the memory of the corruption, able to watch what unfolded, yet unseen by everyone there, as what she’s watching has already come to pass.

And as horrible and heartrending a story as it is, it hardly came as a surprise. Even before we see a desperate Matthew meet with a super-sketchy sorcerer, things unfolded super predictably: the sorcerer tells Matt the only way to save his beloved Mina is to slaughter cats and make a medicine from their blood and guts.

When Mina catches Matt slaughtering cats, it breaks her heart, but he and the sorcerer force the potion down her throat…and naturally, it doesn’t work. What I didn’t predict was that she’d explode, suddenly and awfully, right in his arms. Jeez.

The sorcerer shrugs it off, thanks Matt for helping him with some practical research, and is on his merry way. But Matt has a breakdown. Before he can slaughter more cats, believing he can still bring Mina back, the cats come for him, led by Mina’s pet, Tim.

Due to the combined horrendous circumstances of the deaths of Mina, Matthew, and the cats, all of them forgot how to return to the cycle of life and death; they are lost in between, and Mina tells Chise the only thing to be done is erase all their existences, lest they become consigned to an even deeper, darker void (harming the living world in the process).

Chise’s like nah-ah, Minal; I’m not erasing you. Instead, with the help of both Ariel and the King of Cats (on her ninth and final life), she guides Mina to where she belongs, with Matthew, allowing the two to happily pass on together and rejoin the natural cycle.

In the gorgeous meadow of blue flowers after they have passed on, Chise stands there, musing about how she was born without a place or purpose in life, but now she has a “perch”, thanks to Elias. As such, she’s less inclined to die soon…but being a Sleigh Beggy, how long does she truly have?

Mahoutsukai no Yome – 04

Before waking up with her head in Elias’ lap on a train “not meant for humans”, Chise has a dream about a sickly woman in bed, telling her cat how she wishes she could have one of its nine lives. From there, a messenger appears in the form of a cat. No wait; it’s just a regular cat…who can talk.

To be precise, Chise learns cats can converse with mages and other magically-inclined people, including her. Like people, they have countries, and their king, a female named Molly, has a task for Elias and Chise in Ulthar – a land where cats are loved and cared for by the humans living there.

There is a growing mass of “corruption” on an islet in the heart of the lake, which will soon wreak havoc on cat and human alike.

As soon as Molly tells the tale of a man who once tortured and killed scores of cats—who was ultimately killed by a whole mess of cats organized by the first Cat King—I began to suspect the source of the corruption had something to do with that cat-hater.

A suspicious hooded woman snatches Chise, carries her into the air, and drops her in the lake.

At the bottom of the lake Chise meets Mina, the sickly woman from her dream earlier. Mina’s husband Matthew turned into the corruption, with her at its core; she begs Chise to kill them both so they can be free.

Oh, and Matthew? He hates cats, and they hate him. HMMMMMM. He’s clearly hiding his dark inclination from Mina, who rarely leaves her bed and probably hardly ever leaves the house.

Chise wakes up in Elias’ arms (again), and he has another task for her: to don robes and perform a cleansing ritual with the help of Ariel; something he with his incompatible shadow concentration cannot do himself.

Chise starts to walk out to the corruption, with Mina’s plea ringing clearin her head, and worried about Elias losing faith in her if she fails. Then she’s suddenly captured again by the red-hooded woman. She’s joined by her master, the sorcerer Renfred, who doesn’t want the corruption cleansed.

Renfred also ridicules Elias (whom he refers to as Pilum Murialis) for “putting a collar” on Chise and using her as his “latest experiment”, without telling her the fate that awaits all Sleigh Beggys—early death.

Not that I blame Elias for taking it slow with Chise, but it now looks like a rift could form based not upon lies, but omission. Unless…as he grooms Chise he’s also looking for a way to prevent her from sharing the fate of her kind.

Mahoutsukai no Yome – 03

Turns out that while she was just plucked up by a dragon at last episode’s end, Chise is actually not in danger. She’s simply being brought to a dragon’s nest by its caretaker, Lindel. There, she learns more about dragons, meets both an ancient Uin and three playful hatchlings,  and ultimately experiences something few mages ever do: a dragon’s end-of-life return to the earth and transformation into a tree.

Lindel’s dragon unceremoniously spits Chise into a very cold deep lake, but she manages to get out on her own, and once Elias catches up with her (appearing out of her shadow, as badass mages do), he has a very nifty insta-dry spell that prevents hypothermia.

When she’s tasked with babysitting the lil’ dragons (who are extremely cute and childlike) curiosity draws her nearer to Nevin, the oldest extant dragon, who is old even for a dragon, and is very near death. While in contact with his brittle, flaking hide, he reads her memories; specifically her emotional downfall following the suicide of her parent.

Nevin uses this as an opportunity to enlighten Chise with dragons’ sense of death: they do not fear it, but live their lives to the fullest and pass on with gratitude and contentment, with no regrets. “It’s just nature”, Nevin says to Chise, who lost someone to unnatural means, long before their time. Chise is far from done processing that grief.

Instead, Nevin allows Chise to share in his “last dream”, a vision of freedom, flight in a gorgeous vista that stretches on forever. When the vision ends, Chise returns to the normal world, and a tree quickly sprouts from the now passed-on Nevin. It’s a gorgeous, moving sequence, epic in scope, in which Chise takes a big step towards understanding her role in the world (and that she has a role).

I imagine Lindel (and probably Elias as well) are glad Chise was able to experience this, as she may well be of the final generation of mages, just as the little hatchlings may be the last generation of dragons. They tell Chise not to grieve Nevin’s loss, at it’s all part of the circle of life and all, but still, a kind, wise stranger was there a minute ago is now gone forever.

Her solace is that, as Nevin recommended, when she has need of a wand, she take the wood from the branches of the tree he became. That way, in a way, he’ll always be with her. But it will never be the same as when he was alive.

Mahoutsukai no Yome – 02

This week, Chise gets a better idea of what her new life will be like, though she still dreams about the awful life she used to lead; a life she was willing to discard because she didn’t think it had any value. Now people treat her gently and with respect.

Silky, Elias’ “landlady” cooks and cleans and provide Chise with clothes. After watching her mother commit suicide after telling Chise she shouldn’t have been born, this kind of care seems welcome.

Chise accompanies Elias to London—an up-to-date London that includes The Shard—and while there he swaps his “bony” face for a human one—a handsome one, at that.

Elias takes Chise to the shop of another mage, Angelica, who has some issues with how Elias procured his new apprentice, and is taken aback when a simple rookie mage test—turn a crystal into one’s favorite flower—nearly gets out of hand, with Chise transporting herself to a memory of her and her mom in a field of poppies.

Elias tells Angelica that Chise is a Sleigh Beggy, an individual for whom the miracles that comprise the practice of magic come far more frequently than they would for someone less attuned to magic. After seeing the crystalline growths that populated Angelica’s arm, I felt nervous about Chise’s feet upon creating a partial landscape of her memory from that crystal.

Angelica doesn’t blame Chise, though; she didn’t know Chise is a Sleigh Beggy—something Elias didn’t tell her because that’s a dangerous nugget of information in their line of work. But like Elias, Angelica can tell that, like her own daughter, Chise will make a fine mage one day; it’s just a matter of proper training. Chise and Elias head from London back to the countryside.

After meeting with the local priest, who more or less gives Elias and Chise his blessing and an offer of assistance, Chise and Elias head to Iceland, a a land of dragons—and Chise almost immediately gets kidnapped by one said dragon.

Again, this show makes me recall Akagami no Shirayuki-hime, whose redheaded heroine was kidnapped more than once and had to be rescued (though during captivity she helped facilitate that rescue). We’ll see if Chise manages to use her newfound magical powers to attempt escape from her captors, if it once again falls mostly to Elias to rescue her. At this early stage in her apprenticeship, I won’t hold it against her for needing a hand…especially against a dragonrider!

Made in Abyss – 13 (Fin)

Always cold and hungry yet full of longing to see the wonders of the Abyss, the still-human Nanachi was lured, along with a good deal of other disadvantaged children, to their doom by the dastardly White Whistle Bondrewd the Novel.

On the way down to the unreassuringly-named Sea of Corpses, Nanachi meets the ebullient Mitty. Weary at first, they hit it off almost immediately, buoyed by the exciting, life-changing adventure they’re about to undertake.

Did I say exciting and life-changing? I meant nightmarish and life-ruining/ending. One by one Bondrewd comes for the children until Nanachi and Mitty are the only ones left.

Neither has any idea what’s happening to the others until Bondrewd comes for Mitty, but not Nanachi, in the night. But Nanachi, now all alone, follows them, and sees and hears things she shouldn’t.

Bondrewd takes Nanachi’s disobedience as an auspicious event, and places them in a tube right beside a frightened, already-trapped Mitty, and calmly explains how the “experiment” is going to go down. The two descend to the Sixth Layer, where a horde of formerly-human things gather around their tubes.

Then the ascent begins, and all of the Curse is transferred to Mitty in a graphic, gruesome, and thoroughly upsetting sequence. Nanachi can only watch in the other tube, absolutely powerless to help. Mitty was Nanachi’s one and only true “treasure”, more important than any relic they might have found in the Abyss.

But, as we know, Mitty isn’t gone. Well, not totally. To Bondrewd’s delight, the double-dose of Sixth-Layer Curse not only took Mitty’s human form, but made it impossible for her to die. She is constantly disintegrating, regenerating…and suffering.

Nanachi flees Bondrewd’s clutches with Mitty (though it’s highly likely he lets them go) and eventually finds a place to live. But there is nothing Nanachi can do for Mitty. It’s not that they can’t put Mitty out of her misery due to emotional considerations…it simply isn’t possible.

Not until Reg and Riko came around. With his Incinerator, which Nanachi calls “Sparagmos”, or the “light that returns to the cardinal point”, Nanachi believes she can finally free Mitty’s long-suffering soul from what’s left of her body.

Reg asks for time to think it over, and worries that if he kills Mitty, Nanachi will feel they have no more reason to live, and might take their own life. Nanachi promises they won’t, and convinces Reg of the only right and proper course of action when they tell him that when they one day do die, Mitty will be left alone, suffering for all eternity.

After preparing a tasteful site for “sending off” Mitty, Nanachi only halts Reg from firing Incinerator for one last goodbye to her treasure, then tells him to do it. The ensuing inferno consumes every bit of Mitty until there’s nothing left. Just like that, she’s gone.

It’s ruinously sad, but I’ll admit, a HUGE relief her suffering is at an end. After all, her last words as a human to Nanachi in that tube were “kill me.” Hers was the kind of pure lasting suffering that’s hard to imagine or even comprehend, but I can grasp the catharsis, even if the hurt remains in the hearts of those who sent her off.

Things thankfully take a lighter turn when Reg awakens to find Riko is also awake, and starting her rehabilitation. Riko takes an instant liking to the cute and fuzzy Nanachi, and both Nanachi and Reg appreciate Riko’s far superior culinary skills.

After going through that emotional, visceral ringer, It’s awfully nice to see Riko back to normal. Then she asks if there wasn’t someone else there besides the three of them, and recalls a dream that made her think that.

The creepy dream we saw part of last week is put into context thanks to Riko. She is consumed by a kind of skin (representing her deep illness) and can only cry and panic, but when she sees that terrified, crying eye—Mitty’s eye in the waking world—she calms down, stares back, and tries to comfort her.

Then, after Reg sends Mitty off, Riko perceives it as Mitty (or rather, her soul) being restored to its human form before passing on. Then Riko realizes she needs to “get going”, and follows the light back to consciousness and out of her wounded stupor.

Upon hearing this “dream”, which was likely something more significant, Nanachi looks grateful that someone saw their treasure in the moment she finally achieved her freedom.

Nanachi takes Riko and Reg to a kind of healing hot spring, and enjoys watching Reg squirm as Riko proceeds to have no qualms whatsoever about bathing with him naked, all while quietly asking Mitty to wait “a little longer,” which could either be interpreted as Nanachi planning to take her life and join Mitty soon, or not until after she’s lived a life that now includes two new potential “treasures” in Reg and Riko.

After removing the mushrooms from her arm (another highly painful, unpleasant ordeal), Riko eventually regains the ability to lift her arm and even move her thumb. Reg blames his crappy amputation attempt for the state of her arm, but Riko doesn’t blame him; she asked him to do it, after all. She also heared from Nanachi how tearfully and desperately Reg tried to save her, and thanks him for that, regarding her nasty scar as “precious proof” he protected her.

Riko, like Reg before her, asks Nanachi if they’ll join them as they continue their journey further down the Abyss, and Nanachi agrees. The credits then roll over a lovely montage: Riko ties her backpack to a balloon and releases it, and they prepare for their journey as it makes its harrowing ascent past all the layers they’d passed, even requiring Marulk to free it from a branch and repair it.

It eventually reaches Nat, who looks shocked and elated to finally possess evidence of Riko and Reg’s progress. Having completed their preparations (and the construction of a big, sturdy new backpack), the new party of Riko, Reg, and Nanachi leave Nanachi’s cozy house behind, in search of trying to satisfy that most unstoppable longing for the unknown.

Meanwhile, in Bondrewd the Novel’s lab, he notices one of dozens of lights has gone out; a light signifying Mitty’s life. He is proud of and grateful to Nanachi for having finally gotten it done, as if letting them escape was yet another experiment. And he’s eager to meet her again. Ouzen was right; she’s kind and pleasant compared to this evil bastard.

And there we are; that’s a wrap! At least until a second season comes along. While I can assure you there are very few shows I’d want to jump into the second season of immediately, and this is one of them, I think a good long rest is in order, to recover from the emotional wounds it left in this final, epic, horrendously devastating yet still somehow hopeful, and achingly beautiful finale. I want to believe Riko’s mom is waiting for her. I have to.

Made in Abyss – 12

This week, while waiting for Riko to heal, Nanachi teaches Reg the “true nature” of the abyss, calling it, essentially, a physical, if invisible, trap of barbs that are easy to descend through but quite difficult to ascend. The Abyss itself is both something that doesn’t want anything going in, but also won’t let anything that does get in get out easily, or without exacting a toll.

That toll would seem to extend all the way tot he surface, where lil’ Kiyui (Kiwi) has come down with an awful fever; a growing trend that is claiming lives. When Girou (Gilo) takes him off the island onto one of the ships of the “Caravan Fleet” docked there, he recovers immediately, without any medical treatment.

It would seem that all that was needed was to get further away from the Abyss.

And yet Riko, like her mother Lyza, her mentor Ouzen, and Nanachi and Mitty, couldn’t help but get closer and closer. The longing to reach thebottom of the netherworld and discover its secrets is far more agonizing than any trap, predator, poison, or curse. It’s a curse in and of itself; an infinitely seductive world beneath the surface, simultaneously beckoning and warning.

Good News: Mitty isn’t trying to eat Riko, she’s merely being friendly, and as Nanachi says, uncharacteristically “emotional” toward a visitor (though it’s doubtful they have many other visitors). She also points out Mitty was once a girl like Riko, then demonstrates to Reg how terrible her cooking ability is, prompting Reg to commit to cooking for RIko once she wakes up.

Meanwhile, Nanachi uses a thin, transparent “fog weave” to very effectively demonstrate the physical qualities of the Curse of Abyss; how it morphs to take the shape of whatever it covers, and the consequences of recklessly bursting through it.

Back in the hut, we’re “treated” to one of the more disturbing sequences in the show: Riko, covered in a fleshy film of her own, sits in the pitch black darkness but for a hole, through which Mitty’s eye peers. Riko peers back, and hears not the cooing and moaning of the present Mitty, but the more lucid cries of the girl Mitty once was. Chilling.

Continuing her lessons, Nanachi places a device in Reg’s helmet so she can communicate with him in real time from afar as he responds to a call for help from a Black Whistle, who then bristles when he sees a mere child has answered and begs him to flee.

Of course, Reg isn’t an ordinary kid, and he has a score to settle with this particular piercer, so with Nanachi’s aid he reaches out and grabs the curse, (which the piercer uses to predict the future with its red “nose”) and fires Incinerator at point-blank range, forcing the beast to shed 80% of its quills and withdraw.

Reg calmly asks the stunned Black Whistle to relay a message to Girou up at the Belchero Orphanage: “They are continuing their adventure.”

Even being almost killed won’t sate Riko’s longing to continue, and Reg knows that, so whenever she wakes up and is well and strong enough to do so, they’ll resume their descent. Reg, grateful for all of Nanachi’s help, asks if she’ll accompany him and Riko on their journey.

It’s not that Nanachi outright refuses their offer, but has a request of her own that is more pressing: she asks if Reg will kill Mitty for her. We heard through Riko the misery Mitty lives in each and every moment; almost gone but not gone enough for it to not matter.

Barring some kind of miracle that could save her, killing Mitty would seem to be a mercy; it’s just that after what happened with them and Bondrewed, Nanachi hasn’t been able to herself do what she know needed to be done. She hopes there’s enough emotional separation for Reg to do it instead.

Made in Abyss – 11

Thanks to the careful ministrations of Nanachi the Hollow, Riko’s arm is stabilized and she’d given another 12 or so hours of life to play with.

Turns out Nanachi had been shadowing her and Reg since they reached the Fourth Layer, but only revealed herself out of pity for Reg, who mewled like a “lost little kid” when Riko went blue.

She warns Reg Riko is far from out of the woods: to save her life, he’ll have to go back out into the Goblet to collect a number of items within those 12 hours.

Then another sound comes from the tent, and Nanachi introduces Reg to OH GAAAAAAAH JESUS CHRIST WHAT THE HELL IS THAT … THAT THING? Honestly, after the “meat” Ozen brought back to life and last week’s gruesome ordeal, you’d think I’d be more desensitized to the horrors of the Abyss, but “Mitty” provides another, well, layer of darkness and dread.

Nanachi makes it clear that Mitty in her current form (which is barely a form at all) is nearer to the rule, not the exception, where Hollows are concerned. Both Nanachi and Mitty ascended from the Sixth Layer. Both were changed irrevocably, but only Nanachi maintained her humanoid form and mental faculties – an “exception among exceptions.”

Mitty is…well, hollow. For most humans who undergo such a transformation, death by their comrades usually follows, but not in this case. Nanachi not only hasn’t put Mitty out of her misery, but keeps her around like a kind of pet.

Perhaps it’s an act of penance. In some flashes of the past we see what is probably a pre-ascent Mitty—a girl with eyes the same reddish hue as the eye of post-ascent Mitty—and a younger, post-ascent Nanachi being praised by the White Whistle Bondrewd the Novel, who is happy “the experiment” was a success. Perhaps Nanachi and Mitty were the subjects of that experiment, and only Nanachi survived (relatively) intact.

Reg collects all the items on Nanachi’s list without too much difficulty, only to learn that just one of those items—the purple mushrooms that grow on shroombears—was necessary to save Riko; the other things were merely for Nanachi to eat. But Nanachi makes a good point: she cannot forage for food while tending Riko, so someone had to.

Reg is also instructed to wash Riko’s soiled clothes at a nearby riverbank behind Nanachi’s hut. The utterly gorgeous verdant landscape he beholds is peppered with graves, somewhat souring the awe with melancholy.

But Reg starts seeing things – the field of flowers of fortitude, Blaze Reap marking a grave – and also hears his own voice speaking to Lyza. He wonders if he buried Lyza, but remembers Ozen said “no one was buried” there.

The thing is, “no one” could be construed as “nothing human”—i.e., a hollow—but when back in the tent, what’s left of Mitty suddenly approaches a sleeping Riko. Does this behavior suggest that Riko’s presence is somehow drawing out the humanity in Mitty, like the mushrooms are drawing out the piercer’s poison? Does Mitty recognize Lyza’s daughter?

Kimi no Na wa. (Your Name.)

Simply diving into a review immediately after watching a film as devastatingly gorgeous and emotionally affecting as Kimi no Na wa is probably not a great idea, but this is an anime review blog, so here goes.

Kimi no Na wa isn’t just a charming body-swap rom-com, or a time-travelling odyssey, or a disaster prevention caper, or a tale of impossibly cruel temporal and physical distance between two soul mates, or a reflection on the fragility and impermanence of everything from memories to cities, or a tissue-depleting tearjerker.

It’s all of those things and more. And it’s also one of, if not the best, movies I’ve ever seen, anime or otherwise.

After a cryptic prologue, Kimi no Na wa starts out modestly: Miyamizu Mitsuha, Shinto shrine maiden and daughter of a mayor, has grown restless in her small town world, so one night, shouts out tot he night that she wants to be reborn as a boy in Tokyo.

This, mind you, happens after an odd incident in which Mitsuha essentially lost a day, during which all her family and friends say she was acting very strange and non-Mitsuha-y…like a different person.

That’s because she was. She and a boy from Tokyo, Tachibana Taki, randomly swap bodies every so often when they’re dreaming. As such, they end up in the middle of their couldn’t-be-any-different lives; the only similarity being that both of them yearn for more.

Despite just meeting these characters, watching Mitsuha and Taki stumble through each other’s lives is immensely fun. And because this is a Shinkai film, that enjoyment is augmented by the master director’s preternatural visual sumptuousness and realism. Every frame of Mitsuha’s town and the grand vastness of Tokyo is so full of detail I found myself wanting to linger in all of them.

As the body-swapping continues, the two decide to lay down “ground rules” when in one another’s bodies—albeit rules both either bend or break with impunity—and make intricate reports in one another’s phone diaries detailing their activities during the swaps.

Interestingly, Mitsuha makes more progress with Taki’s restaurant co-worker crush Okudera than Taki (she like’s Taki’s “feminine side”), while the more assertive Taki proves more popular with boys and girls when Taki’s in her body.

Taki happens to be in Mitsuha’s body when her grandmother and sister Yotsuha make the long, epic trek from their home to the resting place of the “body” of their Shinto shrine’s god, an otherworldly place in more ways than one, to make an offering of kuchikamisake (sake made from saliva-fermented rice).

While the three admire the sunset, Mitsuha’s granny takes a good look at her and asks if he, Taki, is dreaming. Just then he wakes up back in his own body to learn Mitsuha has arranged a date with him and Okudera—one she genuinely wanted to attend.

Okudera seems to notice the change in Taki from the one Mitsuha inhabited; she can tell his mind is elsewhere, and even presumes he’s come to like someone else. Taki tries to call that someone else on his phone, but he gets an automated message.

Then, just like that, the body-swapping stops.

After having cut her hair, her red ribbon gone, Mitsuha attends the Autumn Festival with her friends Sayaka and Teshi. They’re treated to a glorious display in the night sky, as the comet Tiamat makes its once-every-1,200-years visit.

Taki decides if he can’t visit Mitsuha’s world in his dreams anymore, he’ll simply have to visit Mitsuha. Only problem is, he doesn’t know exactly what village she lives in. Okudera and one of his high school friends, who are worried about him, decide to tag along on his wild goose chase.

After a day of fruitless searching, Taki’s about to throw in the towel, when one of the proprietors of a restaurant notices his detailed sketch of Mitsuha’s town, recognizing it instantly as Itomori. Itomori…a town made famous when it was utterly destroyed three years ago by a meteor created from a fragment of the comet that fell to earth.

The grim reality that Taki and Mitsuha’s worlds were not in the same timeline is a horrendous gut punch, as is the bleak scenery of the site of the former town. Every lovingly-depicted detail of the town, and all of its unique culture, were blasted into oblivion.

Taki is incredulous (and freaked out), checking his phone for Mitsuha’s reports, but they disappear one by one, like the details of a dream slipping away from one’s memory. Later, Taki checks the register of 500 people who lost their lives in the disaster, and the punches only grow deeper: among the lost are Teshi, Sayaka…and Miyamizu Mitsuha.

After the initial levity of the body-swapping, this realization was a bitter pill to swallow, but would ultimately elevate the film to something far more epic and profound, especially when Taki doesn’t give up trying to somehow go back to the past, get back into Mitsuha’s body, and prevent all those people from getting killed, including her.

The thing that reminds him is the braided cord ribbon around his wrist, given to him at some point in the past by someone he doesn’t remember. He returns to the site where the offering was made to the shrine’s god, drinks the sake made by Mitsuha, stumbles and falls on his back, and sees a depiction of a meteor shower drawn on the cave ceiling.

I haven’t provided stills of the sequence that follows, but suffice it to say it looked and felt different from anything we’d seen and heard prior in the film, and evoked emotion on the same level as the famous flashback in Pixar’s Up. If you can stay dry-eyed during this sequence, good for you; consider a career being a Vulcan.

Taki then wakes up, miraculously back in Mitsuha’s body, and sets to work. The same hustle we saw in Taki’s restaurant job is put to a far more important end: preventing a horrific disaster. The town itself may be doomed—there’s no stopping that comet—but the people don’t have to be.

Convincing anyone that “we’re all going to die unless” is a tall order, but Taki doesn’t waver, formulating a plan with Teshi and Sayaka, and even trying (in vain) to convince Mitsuha’s father, the mayor, to evacuate.

While the stakes couldn’t be higher and the potential devastation still clear in the mind, it’s good to see some fun return. Sayaka’s “we have to save the town” to the shopkeep is a keeper.

Meanwhile, Mitsuha wakes up in the cave in Taki’s body, and is horrified by the results of the meteor strike. She recalls her quick day trip to Tokyo, when she encountered Taki on a subway train, but he didn’t remember her, because it would be three more years before their first swap.

Even so, he can’t help but ask her her name, and she gives it to him, as well as something to remember her by later: her hair ribbon, which he would keep around his wrist from that point on.

Both Taki-as-Mitsuha and Mitsuha-as-Taki finally meet face-to-face, in their proper bodies, thanks to the mysterious power of kataware-doki or twilight. It’s a gloriously-staged, momentous, and hugely gratifying moment…

…But it’s all too brief. Taki is able to write on Mitsuha’s hand, but she only gets one stoke on his when twilight ends, and Taki finds himself back in his body, in his time, still staring down that awful crater where Itomori used to be. And again, like a dream, the more moments pass, the harder it gets for him to remember her.

Back on the night of the Autumn Festival, Mitsuha, back in her time and body, takes over Taki’s evacuation plan. Teshi blows up a power substation with contractor explosives and hacks the town-wide broadcast system, and Sayaka sounds the evacuation. The townsfolk are mostly confused, however, and before long Sayaka is apprehended by authorities, who tell everyone to stay where they are, and Teshi is nabbed by his dad.

With her team out of commission, it’s all up to Mitsuha, who races to her father to make a final plea. On the way, she gets tripped up and takes a nasty spill. In the same timeline, a three-years-younger Taki, her ribbon around his wrist, watches the impossibly gorgeous display in the Tokyo sky as the comet breaks up. Mitsuha looks at her hand and finds that Taki didn’t write his name: he wrote “I love you.”

The meteor falls and unleashes a vast swath of destruction across the landscape, not sparing the horrors of seeing Itomori wiped off the face of the earth—another gut punch. Game Over, too, it would seem. After spending a cold lonely night up atop the former site of the town, he returns to Tokyo and moves on with his life, gradually forgetting all about Mitsuha, but still feeling for all the world like he should be remembering something, that he should be looking for someplace or someone.

Bit by bit, those unknowns start to appear before him; a grown Sayaka and Teshi in a Starbucks; a  passing woman with a red ribbon in her hair that makes him pause, just as his walking by makes her pause. But alas, it’s another missed connection; another classic Shinkai move: they may be on the same bridge in Shinjuku, but the distance between them in time and memory remains formidable.

Mitsuha goes job-hunting, enduring one failed interview after another, getting negative feedback about his suit from everyone, including Okudera, now married and hopeful Taki will one day find happiness.

While giving his spiel about why he wants to be an architect, he waxes poetic about building landscapes that leave heartwarming memories, since you’ll never know when such a landscape will suddenly not be there.

A sequence of Winter scenes of Tokyo flash by, and in light of what happened to Itomori quite by chance, that sequence makes a powerful and solemn statement: this is Tokyo, it is massive and complex and full of structures and people and culture found nowhere else in the world, but it is not permanent.

Nothing built by men can stand against the forces of nature and the heavens. All we can do is live among, appreciate, and preseve our works while we can. We’re only human, after all.

And yet, for all that harsh celestial certainty, there is one other thing that isn’t permanent in this film: Taki and Mitsuha’s separation. Eventually, the two find each other through the windows of separate trains, and race to a spot where they experience that odd feeling of knowing each other, while also being reasonably certain they’re strangers.

Taki almost walks away, but turns back and asks if they’ve met before. Mitsuha feels the exact same way, and as tears fill their eyes, they ask for each others names. Hey, what do you know, a happy ending that feels earned! And a meteor doesn’t fall on Tokyo, which is a huge bonus.

Last August this film was released, and gradually I started to hear rumblings of its quality, and of how it could very well be Shinkai’s Magnum Opus. I went in expecting a lot, and was not disappointed; if anything, I was bowled over by just how good this was.

Many millions of words have been written about Kimi no Na wa long before I finally gave it a watch, but I nevertheless submit this modest, ill-organized collection words and thoughts as a humble tribute to the greatness I’ve just witnessed. I’ll be seeing it again soon.

And if for some reason you haven’t seen it yourself…what are you doing reading this drivel? Find it and watch it at your nearest convenience. You’ll laugh; you’ll cry; you’ll pump your fist in elation.

Kakegurui – 02

Yumeko considers Ryouta a friend—even to the point of first-name terms—but he doesn’t seem like her romantic interest. At the moment, that seems to be gambling itself, with only the highest of risks giving her any kind of pleasure. But the OP strongly suggests a very close relationship to come with the yuki-onna-looking student council president, Momobari Kirari.

In a bit of necessary exposition, Ryouta tells Yumeko that ever since Mombari rose to power (winning her position from the predecessor with gambling, natch) the bullying of the “livestock”—the 100 or so students with the least luck and hence most debt—has intensified exponentially. Thanks to Yumeko’s gift, Ryouta is no longer a “Fido”, but after her defeat Mary is a “Lassie”, and doesn’t take to it well.

But Yumeko has little time to concern herself with those she’s already beaten; she seeks a stronger opponent, and this week they come to her: the youngest member of the council, first-year Sumeragi Itsuki, daughter of a multi-billion-yen toy company CEO.

Itsuki challenges Yumeko to a game of “Double Card Memory” involving two freshly-opened decks of cards provided by Itsuki and—as I figured—also manufactured by her dad’s company so that she can cheat people.

For the second straight week, it would appear that those at the top of the pile at Hyakkaou Academy aren’t there by playing by the rules or even being exceptionally lucky—it’s more a matter of creating a way to make your own luck.

In the case of Sumeragi Itsuki, she uses a tiny part of the back-of-card design to let her know which deck is which on the table. Once she beats Yumeko in the first match—winning the 20 million she fronted Yumeko—Yumeko tearfully begs her for a rematch, even agreeing to go along with what Itsuki wants Yumeko to front: her fingernails and toenails, which Itsuki obsessively collects and decorates. Ew!

Unfortunately for the freshman, Yumeko not only has exceptional memory, but saw through her trump, and never gives her an opportunity to flip a single card in the rematch. It’s only when Itsuka goes a bit mad that Yumeko gladly joins in the madness. And when she recommends Itsuka wager her nails, it reduces her opponent to big soppy tears.

Yumeko responds to the shameless display with disgust; after a second “gamblinggasm”, Yumeko has been made officially “bored” by the simpering Itsuka. On to the next victi-er, opponent.

President Momobari quickly hears of Sumeragi’s defeat and Yumeko’s quick rise, and instructs the rest of the (very eccentric) student council to start “meddling in her affairs,” clearly intrigued by this newcomer and eager to test the limits of her prowess—if they indeed exist!

Ryouta accompanies Yumeko to the after-hours games at the traditional culture research club, and come upon yet another pathetic scene: Saotome Mary digging her debt-hole over 49 million yen deeper. I wonder if this will be an ongoing thing with Mary losing more and more, or if Yumeko will find it in her heart to save her first victim the same way she saved Ryouta, who was only ever nice to her.

In any case, I’m enjoying the friendliness and politeness with which students challenge one another, a facade which gradually devolves into face-contorting madness, over-the-top posturing and yelling, and the aforementioned “gamblinggasms.” Kakegurui can be thick on the explaining, but is generally just flat-out fun.