Fruits Basket – 35 (S2 10) – Squaring Off Against a God

Tooru can tell that both Yuki and Kyou have changed on this beach trip, and believes that they must have changed for the better. But what about her? They’re going home the day after tomorrow, and Tooru feels like she hasn’t been done enough self-improvement of her own. Yuki is content to finish the trip with the fun memory of fireworks on the beach.

Tooru happens to listen in as Kyou confides in Momiji. He now realizes why he and the other Zodiac members obey Akito without complaint or argument: for Tooru’s sake. By letting Akito have his way, they’re sparing her more of his ire. Momiji laments that they’ve been doing it “all wrong” due to their selfish desire to have it both ways. Tooru just wants to do more for them.

As for Akito’s ire, Tooru already has it, and it’s built up every day of his trip until he can even sense that Shigure has fallen under the “ugly girl’s” spell. When Kureno interrupts Akito’s ranting with a report from the main house, the two begin to depart, but Akito gives Kureno the slip after changing.

The next we see him, Akito is in the yard, and Momiji grudingly receives him. When Akito announces he’s there for Tooru, Momiji blocks his path, and pays for it with a vicious punch to the face that draws blood. That’s when Tooru who couldn’t sleep anyway and was out on a walk, puts her body between Akito and the thoroughly cowed Momiji. I can’t decide if it’s the bravest or the stupidest thing she’s ever done, but hey…why not both?

Akito holds back on neither the invasion of personal space, the gaslighting, or the plain ol’ acidic vitriol. He accuses Tooru of being “not a very nice person”—which would be laughable if he wasn’t so menacing—and proceeds to dictate how things are going to go: after high school graduaction, Kyou is going into confinement for the rest of his life, and the other Zodiac members will return to the estate with him for the rest of theirs.

Does Tooru give in to the finality and despair of these words, despite learning that Akito is not the rooster but the literal GOD of the Zodiac, and after receiving nasty gashes to the face? My friends, she does not. While it must no doubt be disconcerting to be told a future by someone with the power to make it a reality, Tooru is just as certain in her own commitment to prevent that future, because she doesn’t think it’s what the Zodiac members want.

As with Kyou and Yuki before him, meeting with Akito changed Tooru. She’s no longer uncertain about what to do, and it was Akito’s quintessential rottenness that finally solidified that plan. Tooru is going to protect them. She’ll protect their freedom to choose where to seek their happiness. Their freedom to move forward, not stay stagnant in some dusty estate at the whims of a loathsome wretch.

As Yuki tells Hatsu (who stopped both him and Kyou from interfering in the confrontation), it’s not easy to protect someone, let alone a whole group people with myriad problems in addition to the common one of Akito. But Tooru doesn’t care if it’s hard, or if it’s impossible and will result in Akito tearing her limb from limb.

She’s going to break that goddamn curse, and won’t hear a single syllable from anyone urging her to reconsider. Her arsenal will include light, love, kindness and hope…but will it be enough? And can she hope to fight effectively without reckoning with her own murky past and its constituent traumas? I don’t know, but I’m not about to bet against her!

Fruits Basket – 34 (S2 09) – A Too-Perfect Monster

Rin’s story is placed on hold as this episode is entirely given over to the fated rematch between Kyou and Akito. On the way in, Kyou castigates Yuki and the others for letting Tooru be all alone at the beach house, two which Yuki throws a “what about you?” back in his face. As much as they might hate Akito, obeying him is “how it’s supposed to be.” And yet how unusual is it for Akito to give the Cat another audience? Akito’s looking to head off any further intrusions from Tooru by appealing directly to Kyou.

For what it’s worth, Tooru is ecstatic that Kyou was finally invited in. Little does she know all Akito wants is to stamp out the beautiful thing she and Kyou have, and turn him against her. The visit goes about as well as you’d expect, considering how little experience Kyou has dealing with Akito. He tries his best to keep his temper in check, but Akito knows exactly how to push his buttons and make him erupt into a scattered emotional mess.

This is in sharp contrast to Yuki’s last couple meetings with Akito, in which he proved to himself that Akito’s taunts and mind games are of little utility. When Kyou’s eyes widen and he trembles as Akito’s proverbial tentacles surround and restrain him, it’s in large part because Akito is tapping into Kyou’s long-held guilt that his mother committed suicide because of him, and thus is undeserving of love, happiness, or hope.

But what really pushes Kyou into the deep end from which he may never return is when Akito starts insulting Tooru as a fellow “monster”, an angel far too perfect to be normal or real. Kyou sets the record straight, telling Akito just how scared Tooru was when she saw his true form, yet still held onto his hand lest she lose him forever. Akito derides Tooru as a monster, while Kyou’s Shisho made him think of her as a little flower in the dirt.

No matter how many times one might trample that flower—that hope—it always blooms anew after periods of nurturing sun and rain. As we see in a flashback involving Lil’ Kyou meeting Kyouko, Tooru became that little flower for him.

In their previous meeting Akito and Kyou made a bet: if he defeated Yuki by graduation, Akito would stop calling him a monster and welcome him into the Zodiac. But if he failed, Akito would confine Kyou just as he did previous Cats. It’s a terrible bet; one Akito can far too easily rig in her favor by poisoning Kyou’s all-too-fragile mind. Just bring up the guilt about his mother, and he starts wondering why he was even kept alive this long.

And yet, when he reunites with Tooru on the beach, the little flower he loves so much he can’t let her get any more involved with him, he resolves to stay with her until “the end”, when he’ll go quietly into confinement and save her from being trampled.

Of course, there’s no way in hell Tooru would want him to do something like that for her sake or anyone else’s. And I predict the more we learn about what she’s keeping under the still-closed lids in her heart, the more we’ll find she harbors very similar guilt about the fate of her parents as Kyou does, which will only draw her closer to him as he plans for a gradual separation.

In any case, quietly making such choices without consulting her is just plain bad form and walking backwards by Kyou. Hopefully Tooru will learn about what he has planned for himself before it’s too late to change anything, and find a way to help reconcile the guilt over the past that continues to press upon both of them.

Fruits Basket – 32 (S2 07) – So Hard Because It’s So Simple

This week’s cold open features Akito, who has followed Shigure’s advice and arrived at the seaside, confronting Yuki and whispering something in his ear. While we can’t hear what hesays, Akito is likely using the exact same ammunition he’s used in the past—trying to cover Yuki in a hopeless pitch black, warning him any glimmers of happiness or warmth are mere delusions.

But there’s something different about Yuki here from previous confrontations with Akito, and the fact Yuki’s voiceover is all we here is key to that. First of all, he’s not having a goddamn panic attack, so that’s good! While Akito approaches and launches his attack, Yuki is testing a new “armor” he has developed as a result of “opening the lid”—the armor of his memory of saving Tooru.

When Momiji proposes a watermelon splitting contest, Tooru starts to bring up her mother, but stops herself, awkwardly saying “gumshoe” instead of “mom”. She doesn’t want to trouble people with stories of her mom when she knows nothing about their own.

Hiro, who learned that morning that his mom is pregnant, can now see the effect of his harsh words to her, while Kyou can again sense something off in Tooru, and suspects it’s Hiro’s fault.

While Momiji, Hiro and Kisa are napping, Kyou asks Tooru about it, and she in turn asks Kyou about his parents. As expected, there’s not much to say: his mom was killed in an “accident” (holding back that it was suicide) when he was very small and he and his biological dad are estranged.

Tooru then shares the details of her watermelon splitting contest with her mom. Neither of them had any aim to speak of, as her mom smashed both a flowerpot and Tooru’s dad’s shrine, but they still had a lot of fun, and the warmth and love of that memory brings a smile to Kyou’s face.

But amidst all these happy feels, you can’t help but wonder: what is missing from Tooru’s almost impossibly ideal childhood with her mom prior to her death? Why doesn’t she remember (or claims not to remember) anything about her dad, from whom she inherited not only her kindness but her very manner of speaking?

Akito, Kureno, and Hattori arrive, and arrangements are made for the Zodiac members to formally greet her at the annex. Before that, Akito spends some time by the ocean, with Kureno not far away. Yuki encounters them while on a walk, and we’ve now reached the events of the cold open.

Predictably, Akito fires shoots some lies Yuki’s way—telling him he’s “all alone as usual” and “such a lonely boy.” Akito’s idea of Yuki as an individual might as well be frozen in amber. That’s who Yuki was, and those barbs don’t cut nearly as deep as they once did, when Akito’s influence on him was stronger.

Shigure rounds up Momiji, Hatsu, Kisa and Hiro, and all of them are gloomy because none of them are in a particular hurry to meet with Akito, especially if it means leaving Tooru behind (not to mention Kyou, who never sees Akito). Momiji in particular seems at peace with the fact he’s “disliked” by Akito, but he can deal with that if he can continue having fun with Tooru.

Back at the beach house, Tooru is determined not to be glum, and stirs into action making pancakes with Kyou, who’s never had them before. Kyou can sense Akito’s reason for coming as putting a damper on their good times.

When Shigure arrives with the Zodiac members, he’s received by Akito, Kureno, and Hattori. Akito sends Kureno away without meeting with anyone (deeming it “unnecessary”) and proceeds to launch into a villainous rant, boasting about how she discouraged Yuki and laughing about his attempts to separate from her.

Shigure takes all this in stride, and is his usual polite self as Akito goes to receive the others. While Hattori isn’t pleased with Shigure’s methods (i.e. “scheming” and “shaking things up”) he lauds him for at least trying to do something to exact change.

I may not know exactly what Shigure is up to, but I do know that Akito is more a means and not an end to his plans. That Akito doesn’t seem aware he’s being manipulated seems to be working in Shigure’s favor.

While Yuki weathered his latest confrontation with Akito well, it still left him feeling as gloomy as everyone else who has dealings with the pale little shit this week. So it’s fortuitous that he and Tooru meet on the beach at dusk, just when he’s feeling his most alone.

Just then, there’s a beautiful meteor shower in the sky above them. They’re only visible to Yuki because he was able to survive dark clouds and pelting rain of Akito’s bitter mind games, which in turn was possible due to both his memory of and friendship with Tooru, twin totems in his efforts to cast away the darkness.

Akito tried so hard to make Yuki think he was useless, but when Yuki encountered Tooru and helped her out, it was the first time he felt needed. In that regard, she saved him just as much as he saved her, because it turned his world upside-down and let him dream of a better one, of which he’s now privileged to be a part.

Akito’s dark clouds never stood a chance against the dazzling showers of kindness, warmth and joy that Tooru so generously shares with him every day. They’re why he won’t lose to Akito. When Tooru asks why he looks sad, Yuki tenderly takes her shoulders, kisses her forehead, and tells her she’s “so dear” to him. So it’s official: Tooru is the Dear of the Zodiac!

Puns aside, Yuki compares Tooru to the sky: i.e. something he’ll never reach. It’s clear Kyou is making more progress with Tooru, and Yuki knows if he becomes bitter or possessive about it, he’s no better than Akito. Just as he’s liberated himself from Akito’s now-hollow lies an manipulations, he must move past the memory that helped him do so, and shrug off the comfy blanket that is Tooru in order to keep moving forward.

Happy Sugar Life – 02 – All Adults are Terrible

Are those bags of human remains Satou’s former classmates, Shio’s parents…or her former Aunt? Flashes back to her past seem to strongly suggest the emotional toll from that past is what molded her into what she is today, only clinging to normalcy with the knowledge there’ll be a cute Shio waiting for her at home…but how long will that remain the case?

It certainly feels so far like that aunt let her down after her parents died, and after having to deal with an awful adult in the cafe manager last week, this time Satou’s adult nemesis is a teacher at her school—one who the other girls fawn over for being “single and hot” but who is not only married with a kid, but gets off on the thrill of stalking girls.

This time, he stalked the wrong girl.

Satou pulls a personal alarm, and the teacher slinks away, and she’s able to get home to Shio and cancel out the adult’s bitterness with Shio’s almost overwhelming sweetness. The next morning Satou is at the gate of the teacher’s house, and his wife almost sees her unbuttoning her blouse.

Satou knows threatening an M like him will only get him excited, but she still does it to make it perfectly clear she won’t brook any more nonsense from him, especially comparing his version of love to hers. She also makes him dispose of her body part bags…which he also likes.

Meanwhile, we get some Shio day-in-the-life, where she tries to help out by cleaning but can’t grasp the need to plug in a vacuum, and has no idea how to cook. She also notices the locked door to Satou’s death room, and actually passes out when the outside balcony triggers a flashback of her own; perhaps to the time when Satou first snatched her.

Of course, it isn’t just adults who are awful on this show. Mitsuboshi, who starts work at Satou’s other cafe, may be a victim of an older woman (and the trauma makes him nauseous whenever another older woman touches him), but he privately reveals he’s a lolicon, with specific hots for Shio, who he knows from the missing posters Shio’s older brother has distributed.

Strange connections are made when Satou’s co-worker Shoko, then Mitsuboshi come across the brother getting beaten up by punks. The brother’s state of hygiene suggests his parents are dead and he’s all alone on the streets, desperate to find Shio. Mitsuboshi brings him to the cafe break room, where the brother starts muttering the same “marriage vows” she and Shio made.

All alone with the brother, who is a direct risk to her only recently-stabilized happy sugar life, Satou snaps into the mode she deems necessary to preserve and protect that life, and prepares to brain the brother with a crowbar. Does she end up killing him right there in her very public workspace?

Happy Sugar Life – 01 (First Impressions) – A Bittersweet Symphony

Sooooo, this is a show about a crazy person! She was once not crazy, but just kinda…there, sleeping around, feeling nothing. But then she felt something she never felt before: pure, true love. Interestingly, she felt it for a young girl, Chio, whom she keeps at an apartment she’s maintaining, and treats her like something between a daughter and a little sister.

Upon meeting her, Chio became Satou’s everything, so she now does anything and everything she can to ensure they can remain together and keep the lights on and their bellies full. And I mean anything.

She has to work in order to afford utilities, food, and the like, so Satou gets a job at a cafe run by an older (but still young) woman. When Satou becomes the toast of the town there due to her innate cuteness, and a waiter confesses and asks her out, her coworker snitches on her about rejecting him.

The manager then proceeds to make Satou’s life miserable, making her work overtime doing pointless tasks. But when she docks her pay, the very thing keeping Satou in her titular “happy sugar life” with Chio, Satou snaps, and fights back, proving she can be just as ruthless as those who wronged her.

Satou gets the manager to confess on video ranting about what she did to the rejected waiter (who is locked in her closet, naked and crying, the victim of sexual assault) but isn’t interested in justice, only blackmail and getting paid. The ordeal is a very bitter experience for her, but it all melts away to sweetness when she returns home to Chio.

The only problem is, their “home” is a house whose original occupants she murdered and still stores their hacked-up remains in a spare room, the bags drawn shut with, presumably, the hair ribbons of Satou’s victims. We also learn that Chio is a missing child, and that her older sister might be Satou’s only friend in the episode, whose body fat content she could calculate with creepy precision.

So it would seem her experience at the restaurant didn’t make her crazy; she was crazy long before that but was simply trying to keep it together. Obviously, it’s a bit difficult to root per se for a homicidal kidnapping monster, especially when her charge Chio is pretty much a cipher.

Chio may not be in immediate danger—she’s the one thing in the world Satou seems to actually value—but then again, Chio never once asks what’s going on, where her family is, or whether it’s okay if she can please go now. Does Satou love Chio enough to give her back to her real family, or is her love wholly dependent on possession? Hmmmm…

3-gatsu no Lion – 10

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Another week, another weak opponent with a sad story Rei must face, another dose of caustic venom from Kyoko. Remembering back to a Christmas where Kyoko’s dad gave him a shogi set instead of her, Rei admits he wants to hear the poison from Kyoko.

He must believe on some unconscious level that he deserves punishment for the pain he caused her. Kyoko is all too happy to oblige, but her shtick is getting a little old, and not just with me.

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Predictably, Rei defeats Mr. Yasui. It doesn’t even take that long. He can tell Yasui is trying his best to bring a victory home to his daughter on the last Christmas before his divorce. But Rei sees Yasui’s mistakes before he does.

That means he can see more moves ahead, which means Yasui never had a chance. Throughout the game, Rei feels like he’s walking on eggshells around the faintly alcohol-scented ol’ bastard, and doesn’t feel particularly good about dispatching him so easily.

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When Yasui slinks away without the bag containing a gift for his daughter, Rei tries to be a nice guy and gets the bag back to him. Yasui pretends it isn’t his at first, but Rei presses the issue and Yasui angrily snatches it away before continuing off, probably to get drunk.

All the while, I was thinking about how unwise it was for Rei to involve himself in the personal lives of the sadsack opponents he beats. They’re not your problem, dude. You gotta focus on winning matches so you can eat and pay the bills.

Turns out…he listened!

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WRONG, Trump, WRONG! Not everything is Rei’s fault! It’s his opponents’ faults they lost, because they weren’t good enough to beat him. He realizes there’s a “beast” inside of him, fighting for his survival, that will elicit no mercy once the battle has begun.

No matter how he became a shogi player, the fact of the matter is, he’s a Shogi Player, and a damn good one. He’s sick of feeling like shit for beating people…and allowing Kyoko to keep that river of shit flowing. Could this be a turning point?

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3-gatsu no Lion – 09

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Rei isn’t feeling great about having to bring down a guy who’s been playing more than twice as long as he’s been alive, and that feeling doesn’t improve when he spots his opponent, Matsunaga, praying at a local shrine and acting very erratic.

The old man’s inscrutability translates to his shogi game, which Rei can’t quite suss out, even to the point he wonders if Matsunaga is placing pieces randomly. He also starts to doubt if his opponent’s stress is real or all an act. Neither can we; his opaqueness makes for some entertaining human observation.

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When the match is over, and Rei wins, Matsunaga nearly falls down some stairs (the same stairs Rei was going to use to sneak away), and ends up treating the old man to a sumptuous feast and more than he can drink. Turns out Rei is a nice guy like Kyouko said, because he doesn’t leave the man’s side as long as he’s not certain he’ll be okay.

But he will be okay. The liquor greases the hinges of the door to Matsunaga’s heart, and he opens up to us and Rei. Rei may not be able to fathom forty years of shogi, but hearing the old man speak of the addictive elation of victory despite the bitterness of defeat (and he’s suffered a lot more defeats than Rei), he’s able to finally relate. Those are the same things he feels.

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Even if Rei claims to hate shogi, and Matsunaga can’t answer the question of whether he likes it, the fact of the matter is, they are both shogi players. So when Kyouko calls to gloat over Rei having to “strangle an old dog”, Rei proudly announces that Matsunaga will, in fact, not be retiring from shogi after all.

Rather than serve as a young, beautiful grim reaper for the old man, Rei, their match, and the night that followed, made him reconsider quitting the game, even after Rei beat him (that, and he really doesn’t want to do house chores).

I honestly didn’t know what to expect from Matsunaga this week, as I’m sure Rei didn’t. But I was pleasantly surprised by the swiftness with which his character was fleshed out. This week was a sprawling profile of the guy, from his knowledge of Fukushima history to the drive to play not snuffed out by Rei. Sorry Kyouko – no win for you!

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3-gatsu no Lion – 08

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3GL doesn’t conform to the usual one-twentyish-minute-episode per week, usually splitting into two or more parts. Never has the transition between two segments been as dramatic as this week, but it works in the show’s favor: Nikaidou’s teaching sessions and all the cat stuff was cute, but was also getting kinda old. I will say that it was nice of Nikaidou to buy Rei a sofa bed. That apartment needs more stuff in it!

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The hook for the much darker and emotionally dense second segment is beautifully illustrated when Rei recalls seeing a bolt of lightning in a clear blue sky: the harbinger of a storm. It’s one of his most powerful memories, and it appears – in a sense – at his doorstep when he comes home one night in the form of his estranged (I guess?) adoptive sister, Kouda Kyouko.

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From the moment we see this present-day, all-grown-up Kyouko, it’s clear the camera is a stand-in for Rei’s gaze. The camera loves Kyouko. Her piercing eyes, her golden locks, her painted toes – it’s all lovingly, enthusiastically captured, and evokes quite a bit of thought about what’s going on beneath the surface of this human bolt of lightning.

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What’s certain is that for all her talk of not knowing Rei very well, she does know one thing perhaps no one else does: she knows he doesn’t love shogi, or at least his relationship to shogi isn’t a simple as love or hate. I loved the ambiguity of Kyouko’s visit – at times she seems almost half-nice – before saying something she knows full well will upset her adoptive little brother.

Some scenes, out of context, make it appear like Rei and Kyouko might be involved in that way; which wouldn’t be a first, considering one of Rei’s darker memories has her on top of him. But the segment unfolds like a fantastic, seductive two-person play, brimming with atmosphere, tension, and malice, it wrapped around me like that overly-fluffy futon. The soundtrack that accompanied it was fantastic.

Kyouko saves her sharpest dagger for the morning, as walks out the door, warning Rei that the match he probably has to win will be against an elderly player who will be demoted and retire if he loses. Kyouko is the bolt that brings pounding rain to Rei’s life. Rei’s better at shogi, but she’s better at mind games. And yet…I don’t loathe, or even dislike her.

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