Rascal Does Not Dream of a Dreaming Girl (Bunny Girl-Senpai Movie) – Heart of the Matter

From June 2019 (a much simpler time) comes the continuation of the Bunny Girl-Senpai anime, the broadcast of which ended without answering key questions about the nature of Sakuta’s first crush, Makinohara Shouko (Minase Inori). Don’t bother watching this movie without having seen the anime, my reviews for which you can read here.

Our titular Rascal Sakuta is actually doing fine with Mai as his busy actress/model girlfriend Mai. But one day a college-aged version of Shouko arrives at Sakuta’s apartment, ready to move in with the man she loves. Anxiety about the future from a much younger Shouko from the fourth grade led to her Adolescence Syndrome that created her future self in the present.

The younger Shouko reveals to Sakuta and Mai that she’s been in and out of the hospital all her life with a bum ticker; she wasn’t even expected to survive past middle school, hence her anxiety. The older Shouko was created to live out all of the plans her younger self couldn’t write down in that elementary school “future plans” exercise.

Those plans include not only graduating middle and high school and being admitted to college, but meeting the boy of her dreams, confess to him, and eventually marry him. For all those things to happen, Shouko needed a heart transplant, and while she’s doing a “trial run” wedding at a venue in a gown, Sakuta notices a scar on her chest and realizes it was he who gave her that new heart.

According to Rio, Shouko’s will was likely split between one who was resigned to dying young and one who sought to continue her life. Now the future Shouko tells Sakuta about a car accident that will claim his life and allow his heart to be donated to her. She gives him the choice between spending Christmas Eve with her or with Mai.

The wounds on Sakuta’s chest are the result of the contradiction of his heart being both in his chest and in that of the older Shouko. Now that Sakuta knows one version of his future and the doom that befalls him, it means he can act to change it. Preventing his accident spells doom for Shouko, but letting the accident happen means leaving Mai all alone.

Sakuta is desperate to try to have his cake and eat it to, but the bottom line is he simply can’t. And while it’s a tough choice, it’s not an impossible one. He visits the younger Shouko in the hospital to tell her that the both of them have done all they can.

For her part, Mai wants Sakuta to choose a future with her, and follow the older Shouko’s instructions to celebrate Christmas Eve at home where it’s safe. She even tries to lead him on a train journey to take them as far away as possible from a situation where she’d lose him, urging him to share the pain of choosing to live on with his girlfriend.

After paying young Shouko one last visit (she’s in the ICU), Sakuta has a change of heart, especially when he realizes Shouko knew he’d pick Mai. He rushes to meet with Shouko instead, and is almost run over by a van, but he’s saved by Mai, who dies in his place. This is a lot of story to keep track of, but it all unfolds relatively organically, and it’s all appropriately heartrending to behold.

Sakuta lives out a few more days after this Bad Ending partly in a numb daze, partly wracked in grief. His chest wounds are gone, which means Shouko never got his heart, and seemingly the entire region mourns the loss of the famous actress who was taken from them far too soon.

Sakuta wanders off, asking someone, anyone to save Mai, to not let things end this way. Then he’s approached…by Shouko. He may not have given her his heart, but she received Mai’s in secret and survived. Now she’s come to help him visualize the time they’re in as the future so he can travel back to the present and save Mai himself.

Sakuta falls asleep in a bed in the school infirmary and wakes up on Christmas Eve. He manages to find someone who can see and hear him (Koga Tomoe, who had a dream about him needing her in just such an occasion) and then reunites with Mai, the loss of whom is still so raw and fresh that he loses it upon seeing her.

Sakuta tells his past self that there’s nothing he can do for Shouko and that any attempt will cost Mai’s life, but as Sakuta is a stubborn ass, he doesn’t initially hear him. Meanwhile Mai tells him she was resolved to rescue him all along, and knows the other Sakuta would never save himself if it robbed Shouko of her future.

When the fateful moment at the icy intersection occurs this time, Sakuta is rescued by his future self (wearing a bunny mascot suit so his self won’t recognize him and cause a paradox). The future Sakuta then vanishes, merged with the present Sakuta…and Shouko vanishes as well. He then returns to a relieved Mai’s side.

Sacrificing Shouko still doesn’t sit right with Sakuta, however, so he and Mai agree to try to do what they can to help her, starting by visiting her in the ICU where she’s near death. But young Shouko tells Sakuta not to worry about her anymore; she’s seen everything that’s happened in her dreams, and intends to create a future where he and Mai won’t have the painful memories of her.

All the way back in the fourth grade, Shouko manages to fill out her future plans, resulting in a future where Sakuta and Mai indeed do not remember her, and seem to be far more at peace for it. They visit a shrine for the new year, and Sakuta prayed for less weird things to happen to him…a bit ironic considering that’s how he met Mai!

All the same, while discussing a movie in which Mai stars in a role identical to Shouko’s near the beach where Sakuta once dreamed of his first crush, he and Mai spot a girl running along the sand with her parents. It’s a young Shouko, alive and in good health. Suddenly memories of Shouko flood back into Sakuta’s head and he calls out her name…and she calls out his.

Dreaming Girl’s ninety minutes equate to five new episodes and a final arc that ties all of the anime’s storylines togethers. It’s a satisfying conclusion to as well as a dramatic elevation of the TV show; an emotional roller coaster that knows just which ways to twist and turn for maximum heart-wrenching. And it’s absolutely essential viewing for any Bunny Girl fan.

Somali and the Forest Spirit – 05 – Sun of the Harpy

With Somali fully recovered, she and Golem bid farewell to their kind shurigara hosts and continue their journey. Upon arriving in Winecup Village, dramatically nested in the caldera of an extinct volcano, they meet a very similar pair of travelers: the harpy Uzoi and her guardian Haitora.

Like Golem, Haitora is dying, but he’s a human in disguise like Somali. Uzoi is not only aware Haitora is dying, but the purpose of their journey is to seek a cure for his illness. Finally, someone has finally sniffed out Somali: Due to her heightened harpy senses, Uzoi can tell from Somali’s smell she’s no minotaur.

After a brief clash over last serving of sweet corn ice cream, Uzoi enthusiastically offers free passage through the desert on their wagon if Golem and Somali assist with loading their baggage. They take her up on her offer, but later that evening, Uzoi reveals her ulterior motive to Haitora.

This is the first important scene in painting Uzoi as more than a malicious villain. The clock is ticking on the one and seemingly only other person in her life, for whom she clearly harbors deep affection. She’s run out of time and options, and may never come across another human again.

While she’s willing to do whatever it takes to save Haitora, it’s clear throughout their ensuing desert journey that Uzoi is conflicted and not at all happy about what she believes must be done. She and Somali quickly form a sororal bond, that between an older and younger sister.

All the while, both Uzoi and Haitora shift in their seats, knowing they’re on the cusp of doing something terrible to good people for selfish reasons. Hayami Saori’s kind, soothing, gentle voice is the perfect choice for the conflicted Uzoi. Whenever Haitora tries to dissuade Uzoi from carrying out her plan, he suffers a coughing fit, underscoring the urgency of their plight.

When the four seek shelter in a cave full of flowing crystals and light-bearing torchbugs, Uzoi makes her move, going off with Somali to fetch water, pouncing on her, and spreading her wings to reveal her full harpy form. She feels bad about killing Somali so her blood can save Haitora, but she’s still going to do it.

That is, unless Golem can stop her in time. Haitora finally speaks up to Golem about his human status, and begs him to help him stop the misguided Uzoi. Haitora wants no part of making someone so young suffer and die so he can live a little longer. Like Golem, he’s struggling to prepare Uzoi for a life without him, which to both her and Somali must seem as unthinkable as living without the sun.

Somali and the Forest Spirit – 04 – Despair, Deferred

In what seems to be a recurring practice of presenting then defusing potential threats to Somali, the wolfman turns out to be good people. He is Muthrica, one of the force that patrols the vast underground, and whom Kikila calls “shishou.” 

As we’ve seen, the underground is no place for children, but that hasn’t stopped Kikila from making regular trips and getting caught roughly half the time by Muthrica.

Despite his gruff appearance and manner, Muthrica can sense how desperate Somali is to have a wish granted, so he guides her and Kiki to a tree where she’ll be able to harvest a bloom that will survive the trip back to the surface. In the process, a giant “tsuchilizard” confronts her.

Kiki protects her with his body, but when Somali explains her reason for needing the flower—so she can continue being with her dad—the lizard, being a parent of two offspring itself, understands, and trudges off.

They make it all the way back to the restaurant with the flower intact, but as it is after dark, Golem has nothing for Somali but scolding. Somali drops the flower on the ground and runs off to her room in tears.

Later, both Muthrica and Kokilia gently admonish the Golem for being so strict and inflexible, rather than hearing the reason Somali didn’t follow his orders to the letter. It’s good to hear them both saying what I was thinking last week—he just needs to learn to lay off sometimes!

Then, Kikila finds Somali has collapsed from a fever. In as much of a panic as a Golem can be, Golem spends all of his amassed pay on a rare medicine that “works on all clans”, unwilling to betray her true species to the apothecary.

He and Kikila then stay with her as she slowly recovers, and Kokilia gives him some advice as a parent to know when you’ve instilled too much fear, when to take your child in your arms and apologize, and to make sure they know they’re loved and wanted.

When Somali awakes in slightly better shape, Golem, who regrets pushing her so hard to exhaustion then piling emotional distress on top of that, and does indeed apologize. He also does something he may not have done even a few days ago, before he received advice from other parents: he makes a promise to Somali to be with her forever.

As a Golem entering his final days, keeping such a promise may well be impossible. But Golem understands that now is not the time to say that to her. Somali’s emotional health must be looked after in the here and now, and that means postponing hard truths.

In the scenario that Golem does die, hopefully Somali will keep living, growing, and learning about mortality, both her dad’s and her own. What seemed like broken promise at the time may prove not to be, as long as the memory of him remains in her heart.

Or heck, maybe the superstition proves to be true, and Golem’s life is extended. In any case, postponing her despair even a little bit longer is worth everything.

P.S. Yoshimata Ryou’s epic fantasy score is on point, particularly when Somali locates the tree from which she plucks her flower. It called to mind the theme to the Sacred City of Aquios in Star Ocean: Till the End of Time—Not a bad track to be reminded of!

Somali and the Forest Spirit – 03 – When Their Journey is Over

It’s clear Golem has been made more human by having Somali around. Heck, he only got her near the very end of his millenium-long life, meaning he’s already been bestowed the limited mortality of a human. He’s been good at keeping her safe and her true identity hidden, but he still has a long way to go when it comes to maintaining her emotional welfare.

This is evidenced by the sudden speed and urgency of their journey, which leads to the gorgeous, fantastical Anthole City. Golem learns the meager loot he carries fetches only a modest price. To keep Somali fed and to gather the supplies needed to continue the journey, he needs more money.

He finds a source when Kokilila, the owner of a cafe, needs a waiter. Golem institutes a strict agreement with Somali: she’s to stay within the cafe, under his supervision, at all times while he’s working. Even with Kokilila’s son Kikila as a fluffy playmate, she gradually grows bored and restless (as does Kikila).

However, for Golem the need to make as much money as possible overrides Somali’s need for recreation stimulation. He knows it’s not ideal for her to be cooped up in the cafe all day, but as he doesn’t trust anyone else to watch her and isn’t certain others will be okay at all with the fact she’s a human, there’s no choice.

Even when Golem isn’t working, his tendency to count his earnings is not lost on Somali either, and absent any explanation for her dad’s haste, she begins to believe he wants to end their journey and part ways with her as soon as possible. Sure, it might well trouble her more to learn he’ll be dead in less than two years, but at least she’d know it wasn’t because he didn’t want her around.

Because that’s what she gleans from his behavior, when Golem finally allows her to join Kikila on a simple errand, Somali grasps onto the city legend about yozame flowers and their ability to grant a wish. That leads the two kids (and fast friends finally sprung from their cafe prison by their guardians) to the city’s majestic but perilous subterranean caverns.

Of course, the moment Somali left Golem’s supervision, a knot formed in my stomach. This early in the show I’m still not sure how far it will stray to the dark side and present situations in which Somali is in true peril (like, say, Abyss, which was merciless to its young characters). We get a slightly clearer picture here, as Somali’s innocent plucking of a flower awakens an toothed eyeball mushroom monster.

She is rescued from said monster not by Golem or Kikila—who let us just say truly failed in his mission to keep her safe—but by a big, gruff, crossbow-wielding wolf-man who may be able to tell she’s a human from her smell. He could even be a member of the clan that originally put her in chains before she got separated and found by Golem.

In any case, Somali is now in serious danger. I just hope Kikila can keep the wolf at bay until Golem can find them.

Somali and the Forest Spirit – 02 – An Unusual Golem, A Contented Child

While chasing a horned rabbit who stole her mushrooms, Somali falls and skins her knee. Golem is low on medicine, but they’re fortunate to have caught the attention of Shizuno, a Dwarf Oni healer who is happy to dispense first aid. Two neat points: Golem can converse with any animal or plant, while the black-eyed Shizuno is depicted as kind and friendly despite being a “demon”.

Shizuno even invites Golem and Somali to his house in the forest (I want to go to there) where they meet his assistant and skilled baker Yabashira. Indulging a curious request from Shizuno, Golem agrees to part with a small piece of his crumbling “skin” in exchange for lessons on how to make medicines.

Somali, meanwhile, keeps busy helping Yabashira with daily chores; to the assistant’s surprised. This can-do attitude has a darker side. When we first saw Somali she was in chains; perhaps humankind are more servile in this particular world.

Still, Somali’s love for Golem is plain to see for Yabashira, while Golem basically decribes to Shizuno a similar affection, as he never wants to see her in pain again. Not addressed? Whether either of the oni would change their tune if they knew Somali wasn’t really a minotaur child.

That could be tough, following the revelation that explains Golem’s deterioration: he has precisely one year and 112 days left before his life functions cease. His goal is to return Somali to her parents within that time frame, but with no leads whatsoever—and the high likelihood her parents are dead—that is a tall, probably impossible task.

Thankfully, he hasn’t told Somali about this, and Shizuno and Yabashira both admit that she seems pretty content without her parents whom she most likely never knew. With that in mind, they likely see Golem’s frantic journey to be a futile one that will only take time away from the two of them enjoying what time they have left.

Still, it’s Golem’s journey to make, and Somali will follow no matter where he takes them. She’s almost certainly too young to be taught everything needed to survive in just a year and change, so we’ll see whether he makes any progress tracking down her folks, for if he devises a Plan B, such as leaving her with trustworthy friend like Shizuno.

Somali and the Forest Spirit – 01 (First Impressions) – Back to Fantasy Basics Done Right

Golem, Guardian of the Forest, never once doubted his purpose in life: to observe and protect the natural processes of the forest with a minimal of interference. Enter Somali, a human girl in chains he encounters. Suddenly, the parameters of his purpose have changed dramatically, and lacking emotions, he isn’t quite sure why.

What if, a fantasy anime didn’t start with a guy being transported from Japan to a new world? Or if, humans weren’t in charge, and monsters and demi-humans weren’t an oppressed minority? Somali and the Forest Spirit provides a welcome return to classic meat-and-potatoes fantasy slice-of-life, in the best traditions of Studio Ghibli—not to mention Disney.

The premise couldn’t be more elegant: Stoic Golem meets Exuberant Kid. While he teaches her how to live, she teaches him how to feel. But the fact said kid is a human is a big deal in this world. There was a legendary war between humanity and monsters, and the monsters won. Humans became a source of food, then curiosity before all but dying out.

Somali, therefore, is endangered in more ways than one. The sense of dread and imminent danger of revealing her lack of horns (sewed into her hood), as well as when Somali strays from Golem to follow a not-quite cat, brings a nice sharp-but-not-too-sharp edge to the proceedings. So does the fact the Golem’s arm is damanged; he may not be able to protect her from everything.

Still, while there are certainly dangers in store (though they may or may not reach the level of Made in Abyss craziness), the heart of Somali is the never unhumorous repartee between the two leads. Somali talks, well, like a kid should talk (Minase Inori is right in her wheelhouse), while Golem is much more verbose and robotic, as one would expect from a Golem.

With rich and lovely visuals, an appropriately otherworldly yet conventionally-orchestrated soundtrack, a strong central duo with fun dialogue, and just the right amount of inherent danger, Somali and the Forest Spirit checks all the boxes for a MagicalChurlSukui-Approved anime. Onward!

No Guns Life – 11 – An Arm Poorer, A Case Richer

Juuzou enters his office to find the Hands/GunSlave duo of Pepper and Seven, (perhaps not coincidentally named after sodas). Minase Inori does a baddie for once, giving Pepper a sultry, irreverent voice that actually sounds quite close to Mary’s Numakura Manami.

Pepper has a simple request: for Juuzou to let her kill him and his handler, whoever they are. Obviously, Juuzou has no intention of taking this”job.”

Seven may seem younger and less experienced than Juuzou, but he’s faster, and manages to shear off Juuzou’s left arm. Unfortunately, Pepper didn’t bother researching her target and his associates very carefully, or she’d know by now that Tetsuro is able to stop any Extended in its tracks with his Harmony (though doing so causes great strain to his sub-brain).

Pepper doesn’t want anything to do with Tetsuro, and so withdraws with Seven, and the fight ends in a stalemate—though not before licking Juuzou’s face and calling dibs (to Mary’s outrage).

While Tetsuro wallows in guilt and regret for starting all of this, Juuzou is confused and suspicious about why Berühren is suddenly targeting him and quietly dropped their search for the kid.

Whatever Berühren’s reasons (if any) for continuing to antagonize Juuzou, Mary invites a new client, who takes the two of them to a mansion where a kid is being “haunted” by some kind of Extended “ghost.” The episode ends just when they arrive at the gates of the mansion, so this felt more like a bridge between two unresolved stories than a standalone episode in its own right.

Astra Lost in Space – 07 – Accepting Hopelessness

When the unsubtle episode title “PAST” appeared in the corner of the screen, and Charce was forced to bring up his own dark (and monochromatic) past, it felt like here we go, another episode that sticks to the formula of revealing a character’s backstory in order to eventually strengthen their bond with the rest of the crew.

Now, that did happen, but it didn’t take the whole episode; just five minutes. That wasn’t a lot, but Charce didn’t mince words: he’s from the only part of Mars where a (technologically stunted) kingdom was allowed to exist, he was part of a noble family, and befriended a commoner girl, who was accidentally shoved off a high wall when police caught her in restricted territory.

She didn’t die, but one day her family up and left, and Charce wasn’t far behind, leaving the noble Luddite life behind. But he never found her again. It’s for this reason, and the fact he’d just transferred into the class before space camp, that he gave off a suspicious aura. But when they learn how tragic his past was, the crew surrounds him with empathy and affection.

Strangely, the girl, Seira, sure sounded like she was voiced by Minase Inori, who also voices Aries, whom Charce remarks is “just like” Seira. Cold Aries be Seira, her lost memories of Vixia and Charce a result of her fall? Just something to chew on.

But as I said, the repeating structure of the last few episodes was completed in the first five minutes. From there, we move on to the arrival at the newest planet, Icriss, which despite the singing of the school choir members does not spin, or rather has a rotation that’s precisely in line with its orbit. One side is perpetually baked in the sun, the other frozen in the darkness.

The only safe zone where there’s water, life, and food is the narrow belt between the zones. They descend through the atmosphere and encounter a bizarre jungle of immense plants and menagerie of equally gigantic animals, with some plants preying on the animals through use of electrical charges. One of those plants reaches out and grabs the Astra. That’s when things start to get bad.

With a series of evasive maneuvers, Zack is able to wrest free from the sinewy grip of the plant…thing…but the Astra takes damage. Zack loses attitude and decel control, and the ship will no longer yaw to port. He tries to ease the ship down but a gust of wind shoves it into some canyon rock, and the ship crashes and shuts down. That’s when things get worse.

Zack’s damage report is pretty dire. The Astra can move a bit, and is still capable of supporting life, but with a key reactor destroyed and no dock or parts or skilled engineers to repair it, they will never be able to return to space, much less attain FTL speed. He thus declares their voyage over. Their only course now is to find a way to live out their lives on Icriss.

As Kanata mentions while they’re still airborne, there were simply “too many things” that went wrong to end their journey, and they were unbelievably lucky to survive as long and travel as far as they did. But being commended for their achievements thus far is of no solace whatsoever. Quitterie, true to her character, has the most trouble accepting that where they are is where they’ll stay, barring extremely unlikely possibilities.

Zack is the opposite, calming down even more in the face of Quitterie’s panic, and it takes him time to drop the Vulcan stoicism and simply comfort someone who needs more time to process everything. Kanata, noted tough son-of-a-bitch, doesn’t claim not to be ready, but as the captain he recognizes he needs to give the appearance of being ready to move forward without hesitation. For her part, Aries is fine with waiting things out there, as long as Kanata he’s around.

Then, the game changes again, when Funi finds a second wreck, of a ship nearly identical to the Astra. Kanata, Zack, and Ulgar board her, and learn that she’s not spaceworthy anymore—though she could still have viable parts the Astra needs. While there’s no sign of any crew, there’s a message reading “Help me” on the monitor, and Zack realizes there’s probably someone in the ship’s single hibernation chamber.

Just before, he was suggesting to Quitterie if she really can’t accept living on Icriss, she could enter the Astra’s chamber and wait there in deep freeze for however many years, decades, or centuries it would take for someone to find and rescue her. Quitterie refused, but here it is, that very scenario playing out on the other ship, only it “only” took twelve years for someone to find them. The chamber’s occupant is awakened and revealed to be a beautiful blonde woman with pale blue eyes. And that is unfortunately when the credits roll.

Suffice it to say, this is exactly what Astra needed: something to shatter the status quo in a big way. Real peril and the toughest problem yet. While before there always seemed to be a way to science a solution and continue the journey, now in every instance it seems to be closing the door. Despite their smarts, talent, and moxie, the inexperience of the crew, even Zack, was exposed in a big way.

Still, I seriously doubt they’ll spend the rest of the show on Icriss, so between the second ship and its no-longer-sleeping beauty, there’s still plenty of hope to go around.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 02

Mari’s seething wanderlust, as well as her determination not to waste what’s left of her high school youth, makes her extra susceptible to Shirase’s Antarctic plans. When Shirase tells her to get a part-time job at once, Mari is looking for ’em (interestingly, both of them come across the same sketchy job offer for “hospitality” work with guys).

Megumi thus plays the crucial role of managing Mari’s expectations. The expedition Shirase wants to join is in dire financial straits. The safety of those who join it is not guaranteed. They’re not simply going to let high school kids join them just because they really really want to.

When Megumi’s pragmatism slips into Mari’s interactions with Shirase, Shirase can smell the doubt and hesitation, and snaps at Mari, storming off. But Mari doesn’t doubt Shirase, and she does want to do it…she just wants to do it right. As Mari forlornly walks alone, it isn’t long before Shirase returns, realizing she was too harsh, but assuring Mari she does have a plan in place.

That same evening, Mari has a part-time job, at the local convenience store. There, she meets fellow 16-year-old Miyake Hinata (Iguchi Yuka, doing her Araragi Tsukihi voice), who shows an eager Mari the ropes.

The subject of The Trip comes up, and Hinata wants IN. Thankfully, Shirase isn’t particular about who else comes along, and so now the two are three. And while Hinata’s decision to join them seems abrupt (and it kinda is regardless), she’s a person who’s never liked blending in with the crowd, which is why she bypassed high school and is working towards college.

Her time working at the konbini also made her good at observing people, like the students of Mari and Shirase’s school, including the two of them. She always saw something different about them; something she calls “honesty”. Genuine-ness, earnesty, whatever you call it, she knew they were special, and wanted to be a part of what their noble undertaking.

Next stop: Shinjuku, and these three girls from Gunma stick out like a sore thumb-ma (sorry, that was really lame). The intense sights and sounds of the big city make all three a little crazy, but nobody more than Shirase, who reveals that her grand plan was to crash the Antarctic expedition meet-up (in Kabukicho of all places) by…seducing the guys.

The moment Shirase points her head up and tries to act like a “college student” like it’s no big deal, she’s immediately picked up by a guy, and becomes understandably flustered. She’s also adamant that she can’t be the one who attempts the seduction of the expedition team, because they know her.

So Shirase and Hinata shove Mari out, and her old-fashioned sexy pose utterly fails, they shove Shirase out. The people who know her spot her, and the chase is on. Why do the girls run? I’m not sure, but neither are they. Well, Shirase knows, because this isn’t the first time she’s tried to join the expedition.

But despite the fact Shirase’s plan is crumbling before our very eyes, the fact of the matter is that she, Mari, and Hinata are having a hell of a lot of fun running around Shinjuku…Youth In Motion. Unfortunately, none of the three (even Hinata, good in short-distance sprinting) can beat the stamina of their pursuers.

I love how I was just as taken in by the legitimacy and precision of her plan as Mari and Hinata, even with Megumi offering early words of caution. And yet, even with the adults here telling Shirase “this isn’t happening”, even when they refuse her part-time Antarctica fund…even if what she’s doing amounts to chasing her mother’s ghost, I’m still on Shirase’s side.

She has to go to Antarctica. She can’t not. What kind of show would this be if she failed? It’s just, she’s gone about it the wrong way. Seduction and bribes won’t be effective, but maybe something—or someone else will be. Someone like, say, the daughter of the wealthy-looking woman who was with the expedition team.

That girl happens to be on the same train as the other three girls, two of which—Hinata and Mari—vote to relieve Shirase of her leadership role. It’s for her own good. She’s been trying and failing to get on that ship her way for the better part of three years. Now it’s time to see if others have more luck.

Gorgeous, charming, emotionally satisfying, and brimming with the energy of determined youth, and the anticipation of adventure writ both small (Shinjuku) and large (further south), Yorimoi is a no-brainer Winter keeper.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 01 (First Impressions)

Tamaki Mari (voiced by a nicely toned-down Minase Inori) is restless. It’s her second year of high school and she hasn’t done anything to celebrate her youth. She sleeps in too late and keeps a messy room. One day, she decides no more—she’ll skip school, change out of her uni at the train station, go on a trip without a plan.

But the same thing befalls her that always befalls her when attempting to undertake bold endeavors: she chickens out at the last second, blaming the rain for squashing her Tokyo trip, along with the possibility of planes crashing or trains exploding.

In reality, the culprit was a simple and understandable fear of facing the unknown alone; fear of leaving one’s comfort zone and not being able to return. Her classmate and friend Megumi (Kanemoto Hisako) doesn’t think it’s necessarily a bad trait to have, but Mari hates that part of herself. She feels it’s stifling her youth.

Then something strange and auspicious and wonderful is set into motion when Mari sees a beautiful raven-haired girl wearing her school uniform running past her on the train platform. In her haste, the girl drops something: an envelope containing ONE MILLION YEN (about $8800).

The next day, Mari tells Megumi about the giant wad of cash and enlists her aid in locating the raven-haired maiden with the memorable conditioner. Mari spots her entering the bathroom, stuffing herself into a stall, bashing its walls, and quietly sobbing “one million…one million.”

When the girl (voiced by Hanazawa Kana) opens the stall door, Mari presents her with the cash, and after momentary suspicion, the girl has a paroxysm of relief and gratitude, embracing Mari like an old friend. Finding the cash was chance.

Returning every last Fukuzawa to their rightful owner was a choice, and it was the right one, for this strange, expressive girl, who Mari learns is named Kobuchizawa Shirase, is using the cash to do what Mari longs to do: go on a journey.

Shirase’s destination? Antarctica, to find her mother who went missing there after an expedition. Every single peer and adult to hears of her plans all believe the same thing: she’s off her rocker. She spends all non-school time working part-time and saving money instead of having fun with friends.

You could say Shirase is deferring her youth to a later time and a more incredible place (i.e. Antarctica). But girls at school call her “Antarctica”, and some even try to bully her into lending them some of her hard-earned savings.

Enter Mari, who saves Shirase from the bullies and offers her encouragement and excitement over the journey she’s about to undertake, and wants to help in any way she can. Shirase comes right out with it, asking Mari if she’d like to come along.

Mari very much wants to, and prepares to meet up with her at the station, where a train will take them to the icebreaker that will eventually take them to Antarctica, the titular “place further than the universe”, 14,000 km from Japan and the universe Mari knows.

This time, Mari doesn’t chicken out at the last second, and Shirase’s look of elation tells you everything you need to know about how many who claimed to support her backed out at the last second, as Mari was once wont to do. But Mari is committed, inspired as she is by the sheer audacity and dedication Shirase has exhibited. Very soon, they’ll be off, and from the look of the OP, they’ll be joined by two others.

This show was a pleasant surprise for me; I knew nothing but the one-sentence synopsis on MAL when checking it out…that and the fact it was a Madhouse show and that it’s absolutely stacked with voice talent.

Throughout the episode there’s the feeling of a great wave of adventure about to crest, or as Mari puts it, an isolated pool of seawater suddenly breaching and bursting forth, like her youth. As soon as we see the ship, things start to feel real.

Not only that, but both Mari and Shirase exhibit an infectious exuberance that really comes through in their diverse facial expressions and the always-welcome vocal chords of Hanazawa and Minase. I’m looking forward to watching their adventure unfold!

Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 12 (Fin)

Aboard the derelict sub, the girls find a clean boat, chocolate…and a kind of patchwork history of everybody and everything that came before them, thanks to the camera auto-syncing with the monitors on the bridge. In addition to all the pictures they took, and those Hanakawa took before them, the camera is a veritable cornucopia of visual (and audiovisual) information.

The content ranges from simple images of life and death, to the reports of a school robotic research club, to news reports of a worsening geopolitical situation that leads to large-scale war and genocide. On the whole, though, Chito and Yuuri feel less lonely, now that they were able to watch how others lived.

Suddenly processing more information than they ever had before proves exhausting for the girls, who fall asleep under the consoles and dream of their escape from their town.

When Chito wakes, she’s too late to do anything about Yuuri getting swallowed up by a giant version of Cut. Chito suspects Cut might’ve been some kind of lure used by the bigger ones, but Cut’s body language suggests that’s not the case.

Chito runs through the submarine, desperate to find her one and only companion, and eventually emerges from the conning tower to find the Big Cut isn’t interested in eating living humans, and spits Yuuri out. It then transforms to reveal it’s a kind of semi-sentient mushroom.

The mushroom has a mix of good and bad news…though I guess it’s mostly bad for humanity. They are systematically ridding the earth of toxins leftover from the human population after it destroyed itself with war. Yuuri and Chito are the last two humans left, by the mushrooms’ reckoning.

All machinery will shut down around them, and after they’ve passed away, the world will enter a period of rest and inactivity, as the mushrooms hibernate. With that all said, mushrooms emerge from the nuclear missile tubes of the sub and they all ascend into the sky, likely to start “cleaning” the higher levels.

There’s not much for Chito and Yuuri to do but continue on their tour, with the goal of reaching the highest level. Even with their companion/pet Cut gone off with its brethren, Chito and Yuuri aren’t lonely, nor do they care if the world ends, because they have one another.

As with so much relating to this show, it’s simultaneously a deeply bittersweet ending, conveying the lesson to not be troubled by things life you can’t control (like the ending of the world) and take comfort in those you can—like who you choose to spend your days with.

Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 11

In “CULTURE”, as Yuu feeds the “cut” bullets of increasing size, the girls roll into an armory, but Chito is far less interested in the tanks than a book lying on the ground. Titled “War and Human Civilization”, it’s written in English, which means even Chito can’t read it, calling them “letters from an old, far-off place.”

Considering the state of civilization in this show, that would seem to be something of an understatement. We build taller and taller buildings; Saudi Arabia is building one that will be 1km tall when finished. But we’re a long way from stacking cities on top of other cities like so many pizza boxes.

The book and its language, like the elaborate giant whirligig, are elements of human culture that should be preserved and understood if lessons are going to be learned by future generations.

It’s all well and good to feed an animal bullets, but to possess a book about how and why that animal can eat bullets—or detect where radio waves are originating—is even better.

Lessons of being mortally injured by falling objects or stray bullets led to the development of helmets, and in “DESTRUCTION” Chito gets and object lesson on why they still wear them even though there’s no one else around: their environment can be extremely hazardous at the drop of a hat…or bolt.

That bolt is the vanguard of a hail of shards of metal and machinery, as a gargantuan robot that could be a flesh-less warrior from the Seven Days of Fire plummets into a heap. The girls explore, and the cut shapes its body into a key of sorts to activate the robot. Yuu activates the first lever she sees, and a cruise missile is launched and detonates a few thousand feet away.

She presses another button, and the robot emits a laser beam that causes even greater destruction and widespread fires just off in the distance. Yuu starts laughing uncontrollably, saying it’s “fun”, but Chito gives her a closed-fist punch, telling her that nothing about this is funny. Yuu apologizes.

If they didn’t before, a first-hand demonstration of the destructive capabilities of civilization helps the girls to understand a little better why so much of the world is abandoned and in tatters. And yet there’s stuff all over the city and its environs that is still on, long after humans disappeared.

In “THE PAST”, Using their new pet as a guide, Chito and Yuri traverse a forest of windmills in, and come across a nuclear submarine. Again the animal creates a key out of its body, granting them access. The submarine may be beached, but it’s in working order, to the girls’ amazement.

It’s nuclear reactor seems to still be generating power (though I worry about radiation), while the girls traverse another forest within the sub on foot: a forest of what look like ICBMs.

Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 10

This week, the girls find a train, a radio signal, and a furry companion. As usual, they are absolutely dwarfed just by the vertical scale of the train, to say nothing of its length. Judging by the number of “robot corpses” strewn across its interior, it seems the design had to accommodate robots far bigger than humans.

After Yuuri experiences the boredom of waiting for the train to reach the destination, she and Chito do what I do when possible—head to the front. Yuuri points out that they’re going faster than usual because they’re moving on a moving train. It starts a fun discussion about the rotation of the earth and relative speed.

If there’s a commonality to these little talks it’s that it reveals both that Chito is very bright and just doesn’t have all the words needed to describe the scientific principles she understands, and Yuuri, while perhaps less bright, nonetheless comes to some perceptive conclusions of her own, despite having even less vocabulary than Chito.

At the end of the line they alight from the train and continue through another vast expanse of infrastructure. For a moment, Yuuri picks up something on the radio: what sounded like a sad song.

They look for a way to ascend to where the waves will be stronger, and happen to stop right on an ascending platform…only it either needs maintenance or wasn’t meant to convey humans and kettenkrads, because it moves extremely fast and stops on a dime.

That leads to a great bit of physical comedy as the girls and rig keep moving even when the platform stops; naturally, Yuuri lands on her feet. They’re met at the top by an eerily red sunset and a much clearer and more consistent transmission of the song, which is indeed sad, albeit very beautiful and moving in general, especially combined with the sad sunset.

I especially liked when the graininess of the radio feed gave way to a clear, crisp performance of the song. I just wished they could’ve tuned the radio to something more upbeat; they could’ve used some cheer after that last song.

When they come upon a massive hole—with another massive hole in the level above—Yuuri wonders if it was caused by the battle all the broken weaponry around them was used for. Chito surmises the hole predates the weapons, and that the hole was more recently merely a venue for a later battle. In any case, the image of a tank being repurposed as a fountain by nature and gravity is a sight to behold, especially when Yuuri literally soaks her head.

In what looks like a rocket tube, Yuuri finds a strange creature that neither she nor Chito can quite place, and so settle on “cat.” While they don’t mention it themselves, it very much also resembles those tall white idols they’ve encountered here and there. When the animal makes noise, the radio seems to translate it, even though the animal only seems to be repeating the girls with slight variation.

While the end of the train line and the sunset provided suitable ending points for the first and second vignettes, the third looks poised to continue, as the “cat” follows the girls, who decide to keep it with them for now. As Chito puts it, they’re always throwing things away or using them up, it’s nice to add something for a change.