Cardcaptor Sakura – 39 – A Kind Hand

Good Lord, what a unfathomably beautiful, heartrending episode is “Sakura’s Dizzy Fever Day”, which asks the question: “What if the Cardcaptor was out of commission?” Every episode Sakura seems to spring out of bed, kaiju-stomp down the stairs, and burst out the front door in her rollerblades, ready to conquer the day. But she’s still human, which means inevitably the day would come when she wakes up feeling like shit. It happens to us all!

Today is that day, and it’s also a dark, cloudy day; the kind of day almost nobody likes or can feel comfortable enduring. Even though there’s a bright clear sky above the clouds, the fact we lowly humans are trapped below them can feel claustrophobic and depressing. Sakura is literally and figuratively “under the weather.”

Sakura tries her darndest to power through it, because she’s Sakura, even convincing Touya to let her go to school despite his misgivings and the warmth of her forehead. She’s also worried her dad will skip out on an important archaeological trip, so makes him promise not to tell him she’s under the weather.

Sakura also has posters to make for school, and doesn’t want to inconvenience anyone by being absent. She doesn’t want to do anything that will cause trouble, overlooking the fact that the people who love her, from Touya and her dad to Tomoyo, will be far more troubled if her illness worsens.

When Mizuki-sensei feels Sakura’s head, she has Tomoyo escort her to the nurse’s office, where Syaoran and Meiling assure her that they will be fine with the poster work without her, and the only think Sakura needs to worry about is going home, resting, and getting better.

Due to his possessing a certain degree of magical power, Touya can “sense” a message from his former squeeze Kaho, who informs him that Sakura is indeed suffering from a fever. Before carrying Sakura home on his back (what a good big brother!) he asks Kaho why she “came back”; she simply tells him there’s something she has to do.

As Sakura’s head swims with fever, the clouds in the sky become increasingly thick and cyclonic, and Sakura senses a Clow Card, which Kero-chan identifies as Cloud. Despite being in absolutely no condition to go outside, let alone fly through the air in her jammies, Sakura answers the Call of the Cardcaptor, and Kero can’t keep her from her duty.

Despite her disregard for her health it’s hard to argue with Sakura here: Syaoran’s delusions aside, only she possesses the power to actually seal Clow Reed’s cards, and if left unchecked, Cloud will cover the entire town and become virtually un-sealable.

While she’s out on her mission, Sakura uses Mirror to create a double of herself to interact with Touya in her stead. But things quickly go pear-shaped as Cloud’s stiff gusts knock Sakura out of the air. Thankfully, she’s saved by a wind cushion summoned by Syaoran, who also sensed the card and came with Meiling in tow.

Both Syaoran and Meiling mostly put aside their rivalry with the Cardcaptor to exhibit concern for her well-being, and scold her for being so reckless. Certainly Syaoran (who is harboring a crush on Sakura) and yes, even Meiling don’t want Sakura to get sicker.

Back home, Touya pretty much instantly knows that the Sakura in bed is not the real Sakura, and tells the double as much. He also tells her he has “a vague idea” what Sakura is up to, but asks that the double not tell Sakura that he knows, since she’s (poorly) trying to keep it a secret.

Syaoran manages to use fire to shrink the cloud down to a managable size, but the feverish Sakura can barely stand as she attempts to seal the card. That’s when, in one of the many extremely poignant moments in this episode, Meiling serves as Sakura’s support, allowing her to seal Cloud. And while it flies into Syaoran’s hand, he gives it to her, acknowledging how much it took for her just to leave her bed.

Sakura returns to her room, and her double tucks her in before reverting to her card state. Touya returns to take her temperature, which has risen due to her overexertion, but then the ghost of their mother Nadeshiko arrives, placing the same “kind hand” Sakura dreamed about in the beginning.

Sakura and Touya’s dad comes home early, having also sensed something was amiss with Sakura, but Touya tells him about Nadeshiko and that there’s no cause for concern.

The next morning, Sakura is her usual chipper self, and when she wonders why her dad is back, he tells her he forgot something. The Kinomotos may be a family with a lot of supernatural stuff going on, but what truly endears me to each and every one of them is their basic decency, humanity, and unconditional love for one another, especially when one of them is in trouble or pain.

Like Touya, Tomoyo, Syaoran, her dad and mom, and everyone else who loves her, I felt so bad for Sakura and worried for her, even though I knew she’d eventually recover. Considering how kind and brave and filled with love Sakura herself is, it was unbearable to watch her suffer even for just one dark, cloudy day.

I didn’t just feel for Sakura; her dizzy fever day reminded me of similar days of my own when I felt like shit and didn’t want to stay home, but had to. We’ve all had those days. So it filled me with pure unfiltered joy to see her feeling so much better the next morning, after the clouds had parted.

Cardcaptor Sakura – 28 – (Almost) Shot Through the Heart

Sakura has already demonstrated that she’s a decent cook (though Touya teases otherwise), but one thing she has yet to master is deep-frying croquettes; specifically the exact manner of slipping them into the hot oil without splatter. It’s almost a phobia, like her aversion to ghost stories.

Her friend Naoko has a similar issue with the box jump, which happens to be what’s featured for P.E. class. But she has a secret weapon: an “enchanted card” called Jump that she bought from Maki’s plushie store Twin Bells. After buying the card Naoko aces the jump along with Sakura and Meiling.

When Sakura inspects her friends cards, she confirms they look a lot like Clow Cards with gaudier colors. That said, they’re not real Clow Cards, merely talismans that, combined with the hard work of the user, help bolster their confidence in any number of disciplines, from piano to cooking.

Upon visiting Maki’s shop, however, Sakura actually does sense the presence of a Clow Card, but cannot locate it. She and Tomoyo fly around town and track down both Naoko and Chiharu, but neither bought the Clow Card, leaving only one other customer that day: Meiling.

Meiling, you see, is on a particularly strong possessiveness kick, loudly proclaiming Syaoran to be her fiancee in front of Yukito and Touya during lunch and also insisting on feeding him her homemade bento. She also does a poor job throughout the episode of hiding the fact she’s purchased a card from Maki’s shop that she hopes will help with her romance.

The only problem is, instead of the non-Clow Love card, she accidentally ends up with a real and very dangerous Clow Card called Shot, believing she’ll shoot an arrow of love through Syaoran’s heart. In reality, Shot thinks she’s trying to shoot Syaoran to death. Its aim is initially lousy, but improves as the dodging Syaoran tires.

Meiling can only watch in horror as her fiancee is mercilessly hounded by Shot. Sakura keeps him safe for a time with Shield, but ends up using Mirror to reflect the Card’s shot back onto itself, stunning it long enough for her to seal it. And while Meiling considers Sakura a rival, that rival still helps Syaoran carry her when she’s weakened by the ordeal.

Sakura ends up finally mastering croquettes under her pops’ supervision, and the next day Meiling offers the Cook card as an olive branch. I do hope there aren’t too many more episodes in which Meiling’s love almost kills someone, but while it’s hardly a classic, this outing had its moments and charm in spades—as all CCS episodes tend to do.

Cardcaptor Sakura – 25 – Double Trouble

Sakura is grocery shopping for dinner, but once she’s bought everything she needs, she heads home…only for a second Sakura to appear, wearing a face that’s just…just wrong. It’s a sly smirk, an expression Sakura rarely wears. Kudos to the animators for making such a subtle change, and for the music to capture that strange otherness about her doppelganger.

Of course, Sakura doesn’t know there’s someone who looks just like her about to wreak havoc; she comes home to find Yukito cutting Touya’s hair. This is, by the way, an episode packed with so much Yukitouya shipping fuel you could circumnavigate the earth five times over!

As her doppel trashes retail displays (and her girlfriends, Syaoran and Meiling bear witness), Sakura is having a great day, having Yukito give her a trim, then helping him make dinner. I loved Meiling’s line about the possibility Sakura just suddenly decided to become a “bad girl”—even she doesn’t sound that confident about it!

At school, Sakura’s friends confront her about the girl they saw trashing stuff, but Sakura denies everything and they obviously believe her. Syaoran is ultimately saved by the school bell before he has to offer his two cents, but it’s clear he doubts the girl he saw was Sakura.

Desperate for answers, Sakura comes to Kero-chan, who teaches her how to do fortune telling with the Clow Cards. After arranging them just so and doing the special incantation, she determines the three cards she has that are closest to the card she seeks, and also senses that the card is after Touya.

Sure enough, the fake Sakura lures Touya into a wild goose chase for some unspoken missing item, while the real Sakura races to the area where she senses a Clow Card…only to lose the signal. Not sure where to search and becoming anxious about the possibility of her brother getting hurt, Sakura starts to lose heart. Thankfully, Syaoran arrives, having sensed a card himself.

The Clow Card Sakura ends up getting Touya to fall off a cliff and break his foot, but is surprised when he doesn’t give up, but tells her he’s determined to help her find what she’s looking for, if she would please stop impersonating his little sister! I assume he believes her to be a ghost who can’t ascend to heaven until she’s found that thing.

Thanks to Syaoran’s compass and Fly, he and Sakura find Touya, and Sakura confronts her double. When neither Windy or Watery work, Kero-chan concludes it’s a “special” card, which will only revert to its card state if it’s name is spoken.

Considering the three cards it was closest to are Watery, Shadow, and Illusion, and the fact the double starts mimicking her actions, Sakura deduces that her name is Mirror. Before being sealed, Mirror kisses the passed-out Touya and apologizes for the harm she caused.

Touya needs a cast and is laid up in bed for a while, but Sakura is dedicated to taking care of him, including cooking meals he ends up feeding to Yukito (more ship fuel, that). She apologizes to Touya, but when he asks what for she simply says never mind, just “sorry” all the same.

Mirror may have ended up being contrite for hurting Touya, but Sakura can’t rule out more unruly cards possibly hurting her family or friends, and she’s also weary of the “catastrophe” Kero brought up when she first became a Cardcaptor. He comforts her by saying that depending on the person it may not be a catastrophe at all, but privately he says it might be worse than the earth going “boom”.

In any case, Sakura resolves to collect all the cards before they can cause too much trouble…double or otherwise. The episode ends with a mysterious redheaded woman in sunglasses outside the Kinomoto residence…I wonder what she wants?

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 07 – The Broken Knight Repaired

Last week we saw Renly had run and hidden in a supply tent behind the lines, but as luck would have it that’s the very tent to which Ronie and Tiese take Kirito in order to keep him safe. Before they arrive, Renly is haunted by Administrator saying he’s always been “broken” due to his inability to master Perfect Weapon Control.

We learn the reason for that is that when sparring with a friend, he accidentally dealt a lethal blow to him after shattering his sword. But when a goblin too big for the girls to take on bursts into the tent, and he sees how strongly Kirito wants to protect them, Renly snaps out of his funk and kills the goblin with his sparrow blades.

He then makes his way back to the lines, killing every goblin he sees. until he’s faced with their chief, for whom his standard attacks won’t work. Again he remembers Kirito’s determination and uses Recollection to bind his two blades into one, cleaving the charging chief straight in half. Linel and Fizel, who fell back to rescue him, return to their unit, learning he’d managed to found his courage without them.

Elsewhere, the Dark Mages and Ogres are on the march, but 800 aerial minions are launched as air support. They all fly straight into a dense lattice of Bercouli’s time slashes, which he activates simultaneously, taking them all out. If last week was the Dark Territory making some inroads, this week was clearly the Human Empire pushing back.

That trend continues when Alice finally makes her move. She had generated a giant mirror filled with luminous elements harvested from the souls of the dead below. She’s saddened to learn that both human and dark territory forces have the exact same souls, rendering their entire conflict pointless in her mind. Nevertheless, this is a battle that has to be one.

To that end, she compresses the mirror sphere into a much smaller size, until the elements within reflect infinitely. Having scooped up all the souls, the charging dark mages aren’t able to fire off a single attack, and along with the ogres, are obliterated when Alice finally unleashes the destructive power built up within the sphere in a terrifying beam.

Alice gathered the spent lives of thousands in order to craft an attack to destroy still more thousands, all for the sake of one. To her, protecting Kirito is paramount, but as we know, it is she who is most important and in need of protecting, as she is Gabriel’s primary target.

Zoku Owarimonogatari – 06 (Fin) – Twenty Percent Interest

As is usually the case when involving Oshino Ougi, there’s a sinister aura to the “ghost classroom” where Koyomi finds her; like the last level of a game that may well end up kicking your ass because you’re under-leveled. That Ougi is wearing Koyomi’s boy’s uniform actually adds both to the sense of unique occasion and ominousness.

But if Monogatari has taught us anything, especially from the likes of Shinobu and Ononoki, it’s not to tell a book by its cover. This isn’t going to be a battleground, because Ougi isn’t Koyomi’s enemy. Ougi is Koyomi, and vice-versa. Case in point: the only reason their uniforms are swapped is because she thought it would be a funny prank.

Rather than a battle of fists or magic, this will be place where these two sides of Koyomi take the various pieces he’s collected in this mirror world and start to fit them together. Ougi starts with the easiest, most obvious, and yes, most cliched hypothesis: It was all a dream. Not just the mirror world, but all of Koyomi’s dealings with everyone thus far.

When Koyomi says if it was all a dream, he’ll consider it a happy one, wake up, stretch, and live out the day in a good mood. She withdraws this rather uninteresting theory relatively quickly, but answers him directly about being his double, not the Koyomi of the mirror world. She came to the world with him and helped him along the way, such as asking Black Hanekawa to save him.

She did this in part because Koyomi’s best interests are her best interests, but also because despite all her glaring and teasing, but because she is truly grateful to him for saving her from the darkness. That’s a tidy segue into the reflection rate of mirrors, with which Koyomi is already familiar thanks to Sodachi, who said that most mirrors only reflect 80 percent of the light.

The 20 percent that isn’t can be said to be absorbed, or erased, or executed. In any case, it goes into the darkness; into nothingness. Until that morning when Koyomi noticed his reflection had suddenly stopped moving. Koyomi didn’t pass through the mirror into a new world; he pulled a mirror world out of the mirror, saving the 20 percent of light that would have been lost—utilizing his innate mastery of all oddity qualities.

As has been established earlier, this world doesn’t really make sense as a reflection of Koyomi’s original world because the people in it aren’t mirror images, but other sides of who they fundamentally were, are, or could be. Here Koyomi learns why those other sides are what they are.

Gaen Izuko’s bitter memories created Gaen Tooe. Hanekawa’s regret about leaving town created her mini-me. Shinobu and Ononoki regained the humanity they lost. Koyomi’s regrets, and those of everyone else, that they either forgot or wanted to forget or pretend never existed, came back in this world. They gained their lost twenty percent back.

Ougi mentions that this isn’t something to be undone with the snap of fingers; Koyomi and everyone else actually experienced what it was like to regain that percentage, for good and ill, and will carry it with them from now on, even if they all revert back to the people they were before the mirror world was pulled out.

Perhaps most poignantly, the mirror world proved to Ougi—and any potential specialist who might place a target on her back—that there was value in Koyomi saving her from the darkness. That the darkness itself was wrong to think she had no reason to exist. In this mirror world, Ougi was Koyomi’s fail-safe. Without her, this story might’ve ended under the fist of the Rainy Devil.

In part as thanks for that, Ougi presents Koyomi with a zero-reflection, 100-percent absorption rate mirror, or a “slice of darkness” he’s to offer to Mayoi at the Shrine of the Polar Snake. There, at that focal point of the town, it will absorb the twenty percent of light he pulled out of the mirror, restoring the world to its previous state. But again, the “reminder” everyone got of that light—of their almost-forgotten regrets—will remain. With that, Ougi leaps out the window, her work there done.

Back home, Koyomi gets a knock at the door. It’s his girlfriend, Senjougahara Hitagi, trying out a new, adorable look that isn’t based on Hanekawa’s style. Her late arrival provides the perfect capper for a wonderful epilogue that explores how far Koyomi has come, and how he fears not knowing where to go from there.

He explains his last two days to Hitagi, about how after losing his title as high school student he looked in the mirror and summoned his regrets. Mind you, those myriad regrets weren’t all resolved to his or anyone’s satisfaction; they were simply remembered, faced, and acknowledged, which enables him to step towards the future a little more informed, so that he might hopefully avoid actions that will create more regrets.

In this regard, Hitagi’s total absence from the mirror world makes sense: Where she’s concerned, Koyomi has no regrets, and it’s reasonable to assume neither does she where he’s concerned. Koyomi creates a microcosm of his occasional hesitation when the two come to a crosswalk, where he used to stress about whether to lead with his right or left foot when the crossing light signals “go.”

Hitagi has a wonderfully Hitagi response to that: just plant both feet and take a leap, which is exactly what she does after taking Koyomi’s hand. Then Araragi Koyomi delivers a  stirring final monologue: “The long-continued story having come to its end, I remember my memories, leave my business unfinished, and leaving ample aftertaste and black space, towards the next story, we take a leap.”

Whew. It’s been quite a ride, leaping from one story, one oddity to the other over ten years and one hundred and three episodes containing many more individual chapters. I don’t think it’s a gross exaggeration to declare Monogatari, when taken as a whole, to be the most rich and satisfying collections of anime I’ve ever experienced.

It’s a series that has demanded time, patience, and at times, a certain twisted sense of humor, or tolerance for same. It’s downright bittersweet to think the book of Araragi & Co. has finally closed for good. But I’m glad I took the leap. Or should I say, a huge, joystick-pushing, lake-obliterating jump.

Zoku Owarimonogatari – 05 – A Clockwork Araragi

Koyomi finds himself face-to-face with Kanbaru’s late mother Gaen Tooe in all her glory, but unlike Princess Kiss-Shot, being in her presence too long doesn’t make him suicidal. It’s a rare thing indeed for Koyomi to converse in such an intimate setting with an adult woman—again, Shinobu excluded—a cougar, if you will, made more strange by the fact she’s not even alive on Koyomi’s side.

Her frisky teasing and facial features remind him of Kanbaru, but there’s a decided sharp edge to her, quite becoming of a mother who left a monkey’s paw to her daughter—which was really a part of herself she split off. I like her leitmotif, which includes a cello, like her contemporary, Kaiki Deishu.

Tooe’s first piece of advice to a very nervous and confused Koyomi trying to figure out what’s going on is this: “knowing and not knowing don’t matter.” As proof, she infers just about everything about Koyomi’s situation and the state of his world, even though she entered the bath knowing nothing.

Tooe also underscores the necessity of properly facing your other side, as she and Izuko did, and as Suruga will have to do one day (referencing Hanamonogatari, which chronologically takes place a month after Zoku). Face it and acknowledge it not as a rival or blood enemy, but a partner, be it light or dark.

She also tells Koyomi to tell Suruga when he sees her next that her mother told her “don’t be like me.” She then mysteriously vanishes, leaving nothing but scratch marks on Koyomi’s back reading “Naoetsu High.”

When Dr. Ononoki inspects Koyomi’s back when they meet back up, the marks are gone, but Koyomi still thinks his old high school should be his next destination. Ononoki decides they’ll split up; she’ll visit Shinobu again to see if she’ll say anything else she might’ve wanted to say to Koyomi but couldn’t due tot he time limit.

Then she’ll search for Black Hanekawa to try to learn why she saved Koyomi from the Rainy Devil. Both tasks are designed specifically so she can avoid accompanying Koyomi to Naoetsu High, suggesting that while Koyomi’s influence has changed her personality and viewpoint, there’s still an innate part of her that is of this world, which understands Koyomi ultimately has to figure this out on his own.

To blend in at Naoetsu, Koyomi heads home to change into his uniform, only to discover it’s a girl’s uniform. One that, when he puts it on, actually fits pretty well. It would seem, then, that Koyomi’s theory about his other side in this world being Ougi was correct; for one thing, Ougi’s uniform is very baggy, as if it was meant for someone with a larger build—like Koyomi.

As he cross dresses without hesitation and rides his bike to school once more, Koyomi is extrmely cognizant of the fact that while he may have influenced a bit here and there in this world, it’s already starting to influence him, changing him into Ougi, which would mean Araragi Koyomi as we know him would cease to exist.

Meanwhile, after a fruitless visit to Shinobu’s, Ononoki finds Hanekawa hanging out with Mayoi and Kuchinawa…only it’s not Black Hanekawa, it’s Mini Hanekawa. Mayoi explains Hanekawa has many other sides, including her younger self. They’re all toasting the approaching end of this story, wherein this entire alternate world is revealed as nothing but the “product of a grand misunderstanding.”

That end is imminent because Koyomi is drawing closer and closer to noticing and facing his other side, Oshino Ougi. Strolling down the corridors of his old school, it doesn’t take him long to figure out, as Tooe thought he would, which part of that school meant the most to him – the classroom isolated from time and space.

It’s here where he finds Ougi, who has been waiting a very long time for him to show up. If that first episode of Owarimonogatari was the beginning of the end, and Koyomi saving Ougi at the end of Ougi Dark the end of the end, we’ve finally reached the beginning of the end of the epilogue, where no doubt Koyomi will suss out why this world exists, why he’s here, and how to return home—where he may be between titles, but at least the Karens are tall and the Surugas aren’t homicidal.

Zoku Owarimonogatari – 04 – A Disaster Visited Upon a Fragile World

Meeting the Heart-Under-Blade of this world is not what Araragi expected. Before he knows it, he feels compelled not only to bend the knee, but admonish himself in his thoughts whenever he says anything to her, culminating in him getting suicidal thoughts. Turns out that’s what happens with anyone (other than Ononoki) in her presence; her glory is just too great for any mortal to behold.

But in their short time together, Shinobu tells him a great many things he hadn’t considered, like the very real possibility he’s not the “victim” of this incident, as he has thusfar assumed, but a negative influence on her world, throwing it and everyone inhabiting it out of balance. Basically, he has to return to his world, and is on the right path, but he won’t be able to do it alone; he’ll need aid.

When Ononoki lists all of the qualifications required for said aid, a part of me hoped Senjougahara Hitagi’s name would come up—perhaps she’s a specialist in this world?—but the answer is the most obvious: Ononoki herself.

After his encounter with Shinobu, Koyomi immediately starts to notice the so-far subtle effect his presence in this world is having on those closest to him, particularly Sodachi. But while Tsukihi is giving him a compulsory face wash, he spots the other Koyomi in the reflection of the water in the sink.

After contemplating the possibility his own home might be the gate back to his world, Ononoki brings up an alternative plan: simply learn to live here and let the world change him, rather than the other way around. Perhaps his influence is only negative because he’s fighting the reality of this place; “giving up”, so to speak, could reverse the direction of influence.

Koyomi tables this idea, as he’s not sure it’s even achievable – even if he outwardly goes along with everything, there’s still his subconscious to consider, not to mention he has too much to do in that world to leave it now.

So instead it’s off to Kanbaru’s. Ononoki is supremely confident she can hold the Rainy Devil off indefinitely, and certainly as long as Koyomi needs to do. When simply looking in the reflection of the cypress bath nets no result, he strips and takes a bath.

That’s when Kanbaru’s mother Gaen Tooe enters and demands to know who he is before she ends him. No empty threat, but between the Rainy Devil and Tooe, Koyomi’s Araragi Charm will hopefully be more effective on the latter.

Zoku Owarimonogatari – 03 – A Blurry Reflection

Having met nearly everyone in this “mirror world”, Koyomi takes stock of the different ways the people he knows have changed, and acknowledges that this is far from simply a matter of left becoming right, or even right becoming wrong.

Black Hanekawa is his Tsubasa’s alter ego. Rainy Devil’s hatred lurks within his Kanbaru. The happiness of her alternate dwells deep within his Sodachi. Kuchinawa is an inseparable part of Nadeko.

These seemingly different or opposite people are really much the people he knows as the people he knows, only in his world these are the sides hidden, suppressed, lurking beneath the everyday surface, for good and/or ill. As Mayoi has him consider where his alternate might be, he contemplates Oshino Ougi being in his world while he’s here.

But Mayoi also tells him to sleep on it, and take what opportunities might come. To Koyomi’s surprise, Sodachi is his bunkmate, and after lights-out offers some sleepy insight into mirrors—which typically only reflect about 80% of the light that hits them. The rest is absorbed, meaning the only way to truly see ourselves is to see a “blurry reflection”, something less than 100% the reverse of what you put into it.

That opportunity Mayoi mentioned might come comes in the form of Ononoki, but there’s something different about her, which is to say there’s something the same about the way she’s supposed to be. Her expressions and emotion and tone are all back to normal.

She reports that when she saw Koyomi’s reaction to her as she was (including not removing her “bottoms” as is supposedly his alternate’s dirty habit), she essentially rebooted and updated her personality—something among all the others she’s uniquely equipped to do.

Ononoki tells Koyomi she’s arranged to have the former Kiss-shot meet with him, and takes him on a journey to see her. I say journey when it’s more of a dazzling odyssey. As she lets the withering insults of her twisted personality fly freely, the surroundings of their trip to Shinobu fluctuate between dreamy hyper-realism to intricate 8-bit nostalgia.

Very few shows excel better at distracting you from long conversations with diverse dynamic visuals and eclectic music. This culminates in the most lavish setting yet: a classic Disney-style castle at the site where Koyomi expects the cram school to be; which he assumed might not have been destroyed by the Tiger like it was last Summer in his world.

As he and Ononoki let themselves into the magnificent edifice and walk through its vast moonlight-bathed halls, he contemplates what kind of person Shinobu might be. Did the other Koyomi never meet her bleeding to death in the subway, and never made a pact to save her life and made him a vampire? Is she Full-Power, Non-Former Kiss-shot and all the rest?

Well, once he enters her ethereal bedchamber, spots her silhouette, and hears her old-fashioned, polite salutations, it dawns on him: she’s not a vampire at all; she’s human. Judging from her castle, perhaps she still goes by the name Princess Rola?

Zoku Owarimonogatari – 02 – Relax and Enjoy

Koyomi knows the story of Kanbaru Suruga’s bath sometimes reflecting the image of the person you’ll end up with someday. He’s not sure that means he’ll be able to use it to return to his world or contact Shinobu, but he thought he’d give it a try—and meet a Suruga who might not be lewd, masochistic, or immodest.

Turns out she’s none of those things. Instead, she’s the Rainy Devil: pure rage, hatred, and pain. He can’t get anywhere near the bath, and is only rescued from the devil’s wrath by Mirror Tsubasa, who is simply Black Hanekawa. She warns him not to go back to the bath without a specialist, but that makes two consecutive friends of his who are the oddity versions of themselves in this world.

If Suruga’s Mirror self is a nightmare, Mirror Oikura Sodachi is a good dream, or rather a “good ending” version of the character, who moved in with the Araragi family when she was in grade school and is now something of a third sister to Koyomi, and thus extremely affectionate towards him. Still, as happy and blessed as she feels, a part of her can’t help but wonder…is it all a lie?

If you were to ask Mirror Nadeko, AKA Kuchinawa-san, the answer is no—and Koyomi gets to ask her, thanks to Big Sis Mayoi inviting her predecessor to the shrine to help him work through his predicament. Mayoi also tells Koyomi to loosen up and enjoy himself, and she starts imbibing bottle after bottle of sake.

Kuchinawa knows about mirrors; the root of the Japanese word for mirror is “serpent’s eye”, and mirrors were first used as a holy instrument, not to reflect an image, but to reflect its truth. Put simply, each and every person Koyomi has met so far is no less the real person as the ones he knows in his own world.

The mirror he finds himself in doesn’t just flip them left-to-right, but shows the other side of those people. That explains why Tsukihi is the same; she has no other sides. If this world is, as he previously considered, the product of an oddity that exists for a reason, perhaps the key to dealing with that oddity (if that’s what it is) is to be exposed to and accept these other sides as equally valid…

Zoku Owarimonogatari – 01 – Through the Loo(Koyomi)ng Glass

The long-awaited “epilogue” to Shinbou Akiyuki’s venerable Monogatari Series premiered in theaters last Fall. The movie can be cleanly split into six episodes. Here’s the RABUJOI review of the first, with more to come, on the 10-year anniversary of Bakemonogatari’s first episode. You can view a Big Board of the complete Monogatari anime saga in the order of when events occur here.—R.S.

It’s March 16, 2007 – just two days after the events of Owarimonogatari, and Araragi Koyomi has graduated from high school and has not yet been admitted to his college of choice. It’s a kind of purgatory he’s never experienced. From grade to middle to high school, he’d always known for sure what came next, whether he was a vampire or not. Now it’s all up in the air.

It’s not surprising for someone with such a murky view of the future to turn his gaze inward, thus undertaking a new adventure (or oddity): a mirror universe. Going into this movie (which I’ll be reviewing in six parts) I had no idea what to expect from these “bonus levels” or “lost levels,” but as a self-avowed Trekkie, exploring alternate realities is always a ton of fun and I’m glad to see Monogatari employ the device.

Aside from the familiar setting of his house being literally reversed, Koyomi starts to notice everyone’s a bit…alternate: Karen is short instead of tall; Tsukihi’s yukata is reversed; Yotsugi is extremely expressive. They’re all fun reflections the significance of which rely not only on the audience having pored over the previous ninety-seven episodes of Monogatari, but also having thoroughly enjoyed said poring, as I am on record as having done.

The most entertaining of alternate characters to date has to be Hachikuji Mayoi, the recently-installed town god whom Araragi visits to get some answers when Shinobu won’t respond to his summons. At first Mayoi doesn’t show when he presents an offering of aluminum 1-yen coins, two claps, and a prayer. But that’s because she’s stalking him.

Unlike the 10-year-old Mayoi who has been the victim of numerous Perverted Araragi Attacks™, Mirror Mayoi is 21; Koyomi’s senpai and onee-chan, and the hunter, not the hunted. Turnabout is certainly fair play, as Koyomi is the unconsenting recipient of wholly inappropriate verbal and physical manhandling. After her ambush, she helps him determine that the mirror world is a moment from his world that branched off, with some elements that have reversed and others that haven’t.

Drawing from the utilization of the temple’s torii as a time-portal back to 1995, Mayoi suggests that Koyomi attempt to return to his world by the same means. That means employing the unique talents of one former Kiss-shot Acerola-orion Heart-under-blade to open the gate for him, even though her being a vampire means she has no counterpart in the mirror universe.

He just needs a way to convey that idea to Shinobu, who may be back in her prime if they’re truly separated. He suddenly recalls the cypress bath in Kanbaru’s house as a potential means to contact her. As the start to a new mystery box out of which Koyomi must think and network his way, Zoku is a welcome new addition to the mythos. Voice actors, art, design, and particularly Haneoka Kei’s pulsing soundtrack are all in top form. I can’t wait to see where this bonus stage goes.

Goblin Slayer – 09 – Mirror, Mirror, Off the Wall, Save Us from the Rocks that Fall

The giant eyeball monster was protecting a magic mirror that serves as a gate to the goblin realm. With goblins streaming to their location from every direction (but the mirror that is) Goblin Slayer comes up with a plan to deal with them.

First, the way in is barricaded to slow them down. Then Dwarf and Elf help GS attack the goblins who come as the Lizardman and Priestess dismount the mirror from the wall and point it upward. They all huddle beneath it and the Dwarf brings the entire roof of the structure down.

The resulting damage flattens all of the remaining goblins, while the rubble falls harmlessly through the mirror gate. All in all, a neat little victory, but when he reports back to the Sword Maiden, GS deduces that she knew all about what was going on down there.

She confirms that the white alligator was her familiar and that the goblins beneath the city were allowed to roam not just because she feared being seen as weak or overreacting, but to demonstrate to the people how the goblins were a serious threat, owing to her own personal torment by their grubby hands.

The Sword Maiden carries trauma the GS will never be able to save her from, but he’s always been a highly practical man, and so he bids her farewell with the promise that if she needs more goblins slain for her, he will come when summoned. Until then, he’s headed back home to make ice cream.

You heard right: the man once known only for slaying goblins intends to do something other than slay dragons. Perhaps like those anime school clubs that do more than one thing, a name change is in order: Ice Cream-Making Goblin Slayer? Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue…

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – 22 (Fin) – A Duel that Never Happened

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card ends with some fireworks, danger, and a much-awaited reveal to Sakura that her new friend Akiho is the cloaked figure who has been haunting her for months—only for that reveal to be undone by Yuna D. Kaito’s time reversal magic, the use of which fatigues him.

It just underscores what a contemptuous cad Yuna D. Kaito is to not only make Akiho do these things, but not even have the courtesy to let her remember. Akiho has been in the “Clock Land” of her dreams so often, the lines between dreams and reality are starting to blur, as she feels she’s somehow being a bother to Sakura in real life.

One night, while reminiscing about meeting Kero-chan for the first time, and how she’s glad she met everyone she’s met on her Cardcaptor adventures, she’s interrupted in mid-thought by yet another waking dream, only this time Cloaky is really there, balanced on an electrical pole.

Sakura releases her staff, activates Flight, and flies out to meet the figure, but Kero is blocked from leaving the same window by some kind of magical boundary he can’t break even in Big Mode. It’s clear Cloaky wants this confrontation to be one-on-one.

What follows are the aforementioned fireworks, with Akiho sending a giant ball of broken glass (which Sakura destroys with Blaze), a curtain of flame (she dissipates with Aqua), and a barrage of glowing projectiles (she gathers up with Spiral). Then Cloaky re-seals Sakura’s staff and begins to draw her key towards her.

When Sakura tries to re-release an grab her key back, Akiho dumps out all of Sakura’s Clear Cards, and even deactivates Flight, sending her careening to the earth from hundreds of feet in the air. It’s the tightest of tight spots Sakura’s ever been in, and as she falls, the cloak is pulled back and she catches an unmistakable look at a very out-of-it Akiho.

That would’ve been a fine cliffhanger on which to end things, but if Yuna was going to swoop in and undo it all, I’m glad it happened now and not in the next season, lest I get my hopes up for too long that the reveal would stick.

While inspecting the frozen Akiho and Sakura, Momo is of the mind Akiho will simply think this was all a dream as usual (she’s been “sleep-acting” as Cloaky all this time, after all), but Sakura will remember, spuring Yuna to use more taboo time magic to undo the duel.

I can’t help but feel terrible for poor Akiho, who is little more than a tool doing Yuna’s bidding while he hangs back, observes, and intervenes when necessary. In the season that follows I’d love to see her somehow break free of his hold on her, though that would require an awareness of her situation she still doesn’t have.

As for Sakura, she has no recollection of her big fight with Cloaky and losing all her cards and nearly her life, and simply continues on with what she was saying to Kero-chan after he dried her hair: with all of the wonderful people she’s met by her side, she’s confident she’ll be just fine, come what may. After that close call, I can’t yet share her confidence.

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – 21 – Two New Keys to Victory?

In an extended opening act between Sakura’s brother and father, the two discuss her similarity to her mother Nadeshiko, both her smile and the “something mysterious” about her. Sakura’s husband left things he couldn’t sense to Nadeshiko and didn’t ask questions, even if it meant he felt left out. But unlike his dad, Touya has the power to aid Sakura, should that time arise…and it’s looking pretty likely that it is!

Meanwhile, Sakura’s grandfather gives her one of the two items her mother wished her to have: a jeweled key she always treasured. My first thought was that this could be the key she needs to focus her magical power in order to oppose Yuna D. Kaito. The second “item” turns out to be gramps’ villa itself, meaning not only does Sakura have a potential new tool in the key, but a base from which to draw power.

Eriol mentions to Yue and Kero that the mansion where Yuna and Akiho live was once torn down to build an amusement park, yet now the park is gone and the mansion is back; its location being a particularly strong base for magicial power. He also informs his associates that Yuna was excommunicated from the order that gave him the “D” title, ostensibly for stealing a magical relic.

Eriol has a lot of exposition this wek: confirming that it is Sakura herself who has summoned all of the cards she’s been securing. They represent various aspects of her power, and while that power is considerable, it is still chaotic, without focus, and most importantly, inadvertent on the part of their creator.

Perhaps sensing his enemies have conspired together long enough, Yuna launches an attack on Eriol, cutting off both magical and conventional communications between him, Yue, and Kero. Eriol manages to fight off the attack, cracking his staff in the process, but it exhausts him. Even he can’t go up against a “D”-class magician for long.

While Yuna’s watch is finally broken, he still has that stolen relic—I’m guessing the book—and doesn’t seem too perturbed about pushing Akiho has far as he can in order to get Sakura’s cards.

Sakura remains uneasy about recent events, but nevertheless blissfully unaware of the identity, nature, and scale of her enemy and his plans. Instead, while watching Syaoran and his reflection in the car window, she wishes she could look in a mirror and see the Sakura everyone else sees.

That wish casts a fog around her home, and when she and Syaoran arrive, it has flipped around; become a reflection of itself. While a little strange and unnerving, there’s no active physical threat; all Sakura has to do is release her staff and secure the card, somewhat unimaginatively called “Mirror.”

It’s her twentieth card, and it enables Sakura to “mirror” her Flight card, making a double which she affixes to Syaoran so they can fly around hand in hand. Of all the things she could have done, she did something to make her and Syaoran happy. Too much power will make its owner unhappy, and Sakura is certainly hella powerful at this stage, if still chaotic. But Syaoran embraces her in midair and promises her he won’t let her be unhappy.

I’m not sure what he, or Kero, Yue, Eriol, or Touya can actually do, considering it’s been implied Yuna is stronger than all of them, and Sakura is the only one who has a chance of defeating him. But first she has to be told that Yuna is even an enemy that needs defeating, right? He’s been operating in the shadows for far too long while she’s dilly-dallied about with her newfound powers and ancillary high school life.

If her boyfriend, brother, friends and allies are really serious about preserving her happiness, she needs to be told the truth, even if it makes her unhappy. She needs to know so she can prepare for what’s coming. Because you know what would make her even more unhappy? If they, or anyone else (say Akiho) gets hurt because Yuna successfully stole her cards and becomes an unstoppable force.