Fate / Zero – 15

I hope you’ll forgive me if this review doesn’t hold up to my usual vigorous editorial standards, as I must admit I am rather stunned—gobsmacked, you might say—by what I just witnessed, and whenever that happens, I tend to get a bit too florid in my language. Consider yourself warned.

That happens, at this magnitude, very rarely indeed. Of the episodes I consider almost perfect, I must count this among them. At this point in my viewing of Fate/Zero, if there was one and only one episode I had to show someone, it would be this one.

It’s a perfect encapsulation; an epic full-length motion picture, compressed into a scant third of an hour; the crystallization of the ultimate potential embedded in its run thus far. I shudder to think it could ever get better than this, but having seen this, I shouldn’t underestimate this show’s capacity for ever-expanding spectacle. And I won’t.

In case you forgot the events of this episode: Rider decides to trap Caster and his monster in his Reality Marble to buy the rest of the team time to figure out a way to defeat it. Righteousness ensues.

As Berserker and Archer continue dogfighting in their respective badass aircraft, Kariya’s swarm of bugs are harmlessly absorbed by Tokiomi’s magical barrier. As Kariya’s body breaks down, Tokiomi delivers “mercy” by setting him ablaze. The animation used to portray the burning Kariya looked like nothing else in the show so far and was hauntingly novel and chilling in its style and execution.

Once Rider transports the monster to his Reality Marble, Iri gets a call from Kiritsugu, but has Waver answer the phone. Kiritsugu tells Waver to tell Rider to drop the monster at a specific point of his choosing once the Marble prison fails. He also tells Lancer that Saber has the only weapon that can defeat the monster, but can’t use it due the wound made by Gáe Buidhe.

Possessed of that new information, Lancer’s next move is pure Chivalry: That monster cannot be allowed to terrorize innocent people. His spear is preventing the only weapon that can defeat it from being used. Ergo, Gáe Buidhe must be destroyed.

Saber’s claim that she bears the wound as a mark of pride, not as a burden, but Lancer knows she’s being way too nice, and does what a true Knight such as himself would do: snap the spear in half. Once he does, Saber immediately prepares her Noble Phantasm.

As Berserker destroys Archer’s aircraft, Kotomine Kirei approaches the barely-alive Kariya…and starts to heal him, cracking a smile as he does. It would seem the Kirei Rebellion against his father and Tokiomi has officially begun in earnest.

Berserker turns his attention (such as it is) to Saber and her newly-released weapon. It then falls to Lancer to transport onto Berserker’s jet and disable it, and even with just one spear, he gets the job done.

That leaves the area secure for Kiritsugu to launch a flare at the spot where Rider is to release the monster. After the sheer awesome lunacy of Rider’s chariot and Berserker and Archer’s aircraft, it is quite amusing indeed to see Kiritsugu in his unassuming little raft, likely fitted with the most efficient and durable engine that provides sufficient and not excessive power to get him into position.

Once Rider has the signal, the monster is released, and the other end of the grand stage given over to the King of Knights so she can shine.

Saber’s attack is singularly gorgeous in an episode of visually arresting imagery, but its beauty is only enhanced by the reactions of those watching it unfold, and the poetic words of Iri describing what the weapon is, and in doing so, describing who Arturia Pendragon truly is:

That sword is the embodiment of the sad, yet noble, dream of all soldiers, past, present, and future, who lie dying on the field of battle, clutched to their hearts with their last breath. She carries their will as her pride, bidding them to remain steadfast in their loyalty. Now, the undefeated king sings aloud, the name of the miracle she holds in her hand. It’s name is…Excalibur.

This is the unique, nigh divine power bestowed upon Saber in exchange for the tremendous burden she bears. And while Archer laughed at her devotion and Rider doubted her kingship, for all their power amassed across space and time, neither of them could do anything like what Saber does to this monster. This isn’t just Saber saving the city and the day; this is Saber dunking on her doubters. Suddenly they are the ones who look small, puny, and cowed.

As for poor crazy Caster, I daresay I almost feel sorry for the evil son of a bitch when he meets his all-too-beautiful end, which includes a vision of his beloved Jeanne (who does look a lot like Saber). Almost.

While Uryuu went out experiencing something he was looking for all his life and finally found, Caster too experiences a kind of quasi-redemptive epiphany at the very end. Both men end up essentially forsaking everything they had ever done in their miserable lives, condemning it as wasted time and effort in the face of the truths they face at the end.

As the monster Excalibur effortlessly cleaved clean in half dissipates into the night, Archer asks Rider if he’s still not convinced of Saber’s kingship. Rider acknowledges the power, but still feels its too much for one young woman; not so much a legend as a great tragedy. Rider and Archer also agree to duel one another soon…but not quite yet, as they want to recover from this battle and fight at full strength.

Finally, while Saber lost an unwanted admirer in Caster, she gained a new one tonight through her actions: Archer. Where Rider sees tragedy, Archer sees vivid beauty; something to which nothing in his vast treasury can compare. I’ll tell you what’s damn near beyond compare: this episode.

The last episode, in its efficient, businesslike way, laid out all of the various facets of the battle and set the conditions for victory, while also keeping expectations…reasonable. This episode took those facets and resolved them into a gorgeous jewel that shined with golden radiance, blasting through all expectations like Excalibur through a fortress-sized demon. The remaining ten episodes have their work cut out for them.

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Fate / Zero – 14

The Alliance to Destroy Caster’s Monster (ADCM) doesn’t net great results: Neither Saber, Rider or Lancer can cause any damage to Caster’s monster, as it possesses extraordinary regenerative abilities, like a flan that can reassemble itself faster than you can cut it up.

Archer watches the battle imperiously from above in his extremely cool aircraft, and expresses his disgust at the “mongrels” futile flailing below. Tokiomi uses all the fancy submissive language he knows to try to get Archer to intervene and bring the monster down, but after four of his swords do no more than the other attacks (and are contaminated in the process), Archer declines to sacrifice any more.

As the monster nears the shore, more and more innocent bystanders bear witness, making this an unmitigated disaster for the Holy Grail War and its backers. A pair of JASDF F-15s join the battle, but have no idea what they’re in for.

One gets plucked out of the air by the monster’s tentacles, then eaten; the second is “commandeered” by the newly-arrived Berserker, who engages in a fantastically wild yet balletic dogfight with Archer—as if possessing a fighter jet wasn’t cool enough.

Berserker’s movements are extremely chaotic and unpredictable (as are his missiles), but Archer is able to counter every attack and stay a little bit ahead, glad that someone is entertaining him.

With their Servants fighting each other instead of the monster, Tokiomi and Kariya decide to have a duel of their own, which had to happen some time.

Kariya asks how Tokiomi can call himself a father for giving Sakura away to the Matous, but Tokiomi not only carries a clear conscience, he’s delighted, for the sake of his illustrious noble family, that both of his daughters have the opportunity to become great mages who find “The Root”; never mind that only one of them can. 

Kariya is sick and tired of future generations suffering due to the cruelty and brutality of mages, so he’ll kill them all. It’s Toosaka magic vs. Matou…bugs.

Finally we have Uryuu Ryuunosuke. Good-looking, cheerful kid; would make a fine protagonist if he wasn’t also a child serial killer. As he laughs and celebrates what her Servant is serving up for God, he leaves himself wide open for Kiritsugu’s sniper round.

But wouldn’t you know it, he’s not upset about being shot in the stomach, he’s delighted as well, lamenting that “what he was always looking for” was right under his nose this whole time, in his own guts. Alas, he had to die to find “it”, and only got to enjoy the realization for a few moments before Kiritsugu takes the headshot.

For all of the flash and impressiveness of the Servants’ and their Masters’ abilities, all it took to grab control of the situation was some stealth, a rifle, and a couple bullets…if only it were that easy. Caster and the monster don’t vanish immediately following Uryuu’s death; and as they’ll reach shore long before they do, there’s a real possibility they’ll be able to “feed” on the gathering crowds, sustaining physical form from the absorbed mana.

Uryuu may be gone, but to get rid of Caster’s monster, Kiritsugu knows they’ll need something only Saber has—an Anti-Fortress Noble Phantasm. The only problem is, she can’t use it with the wound Lancer gave her. In order to defeat the monster, it would seem she and Lancer must duel, and Lancer has to lose.

Sagrada Reset – 12

Last week was seemingly an indication that Sagrada Reset was content with a quiet end to its first cour, as it has an entire second cour with which to work. It slowed things way down to allow us to spend some more quality, non-perilous time with Haruki—as well as inside her head.

There was no indication in the episode that “Something Big” was looming in the shadows or lurking around the corner…that was just Mirai stalking Haruki. The question is, would the twelfth and final Spring episode of Reset maintain that casual tone, or would that Something Big turn up after all?

Ah…well…Something Big it is! Let’s get right to it, shall we?

The episode sure does, having more of a connection to the tenth than the eleventh with its Souma-heavy opening. Now that Kei has brought Souma back, he wants her to live a normal life as a normal girl…in the normal world. That is, he means to send her away from Sakurada. Only then, he believes, will her death disappear, both from the world and from her memories.

It is then Souma, not Haruki, who primarily drives Kei’s latest mission. That mission is a little nebulous at first, as we start off with that mission in progress. Sakuin has instructed Kei to investigate Katagiri Honoka, a girl who has been asleep for nine years, but whose ability has created a dream world in which she now resides.

Because it’s a dream world, and thus not “real”, Kei believes it’s the perfect “test facility” to experiment with his theory about sending Souma away. After all, there are no do-overs in the real world; in Katagiri’s world, he can simply wake up, Reset, and try something else the next time. And it just so happens Kei goes on a long date with Haruki on the day they reset.

Before starting off on this journey to the dream world, Kei receives an unexpected visitor, Nonoo, who was sent by Souma to make contact with…someone who may well be…another Souma. But before that, she, Kei and Haruki go to the hospital and fall asleep in a room adjacent to Katagiri’s. It’s notable that we never see her in the real world.

There’s a Wizard of Oz-like quality to the trio nodding off then awakening in another world…a world where left and right, east and west are reversed. Kei is actually the last to arrive, while Nonoo doesn’t appear to have come along for the ride. Along with Haruki, there’s a new person in the room: a girl who goes by Michiru, with a bluebird on her shoulder.

 

Ebulliently voiced by Uchida Maaya (this show has great casting), Michiru insists she’s Michiru and not Katagiri Honoka, and asks Kei and Haruki if there’s anything they wish they could have. She’ll contact “Chiruchiru” who will then grant that wish. It’s a case of Katagiri, a god of her own world, abdicated her power to a surrogate, so that she could feel the joy of having her dreams granted by a god.

The bureau doesn’t approve of the “fake” happiness such a “closed eden” provides, perhaps fearing its grip would cause people to lose their grip on reality. That certainly seems to be the case with Katagiri. After Kei and Haruki leave the hospital to explore this mirror image of the real world, they discover a wall of fog that surrounds this version of Sakurada, ostensibly preventing Kei from performing his experiment.

As for Souma, she shows up in the hospital to read Chiruchiru’s future, which looks the same as always. “Michiru” never changes (this is an Eden, after all). Chiruchiru voices his frustration with the apparent pointlessness of his efforts, but Souma tells him they’ll be rewarded—but it’s up to Kei, not her.

Kei and Haruki encounter Ukawa, sent by the bureau for an initial report, who states ominously that, depending on the circumstances, she’s supposed to “crush” the dream world. While having dinner with Haruki in a restaurant the reverse of the one in the real world (like everything else), Kei gets a call from Chiruchiru, warning them not to go out at night.

Since they’re already out, Chiruchiru teleports them to Kei’s bedroom. Kei manages to get him to answer two questions: the white wall is an “isolated birdcage” for the “blue bird”, and Michiru is definitely Katagiri Honoka, only she’s forgotten that fact.

With that, Kei and Haruki start yawning and rubbing their eyes, meaning it’s getting to be time to wake up in the real world. After Kei frets a bit over the proper sleeping arrangements (he offers Haruki the bed and takes the floor, but Haruki wants to be on the floor too), Haruki dozes off before him, just as she did in the real world.

But she’s not asleep long, as a tremendous racket emanates from outside. Kei watches with quiet awe as a colossal, grotesque, slimy monster emerges from the white wall and starts wreaking havoc in the town. A suddenly awake Haruki calls the monster a monster, which appears at night to “destroy the world”.

Reset’s second cour starts off an episode early, with style…and in Top Bizarro form. With an ability user apparently trapped in such a world, does it fall to Kei to free her and restore the memory of who she was, even if it means destroying the Eden she created? Is Chiruchiru the monster? How will this mission further his desire to “finish saving” Souma?

It seems we’ve got three more episodes of this arc to sort through it all. I don’t doubt things will get stranger before they get…less strange.

Alice to Zouroku – 05

(In an attempt to balance our workloads, I’ve taken over Alice to Zouroku reviewing duties from Preston.)

In this episode apparently brought to you by SNICKERS® (You’re not you when you’re hungry. Eat a SNICKERS®.) Minnie C doesn’t easily give up her captives, so she and Ichijou Shizuku enter a long, sustained battle full of CGI effects that holds together reasonably well, considering the show itself has never striven for ufotable-level precision.

Minnie C puts on a good fight, but Shizuku eventually wears her down due to her superior power: the ability to summon any number of 666 weapons and 13 grimoires from a magical storeroom derived from an anime she used to watch.

That’s not as satisfying a powers-origin story as, say, Minnie C, but the major difference is that Shizuku is fighting for others, while Minnie is only fighting for herself, angry at the world for taking away her darling. When she runs out of energy and Shizuku stands triumphantly over her, I really feel for Minnie C when she apologizes to her husband for continuing to be alive, because she’s completely wrong: her husband wants her to live. That means finding another reason for living beyond being with him.

Meanwhile, the now-freed (and largely static during the battle) Alice celebrates and underscores her and Zouroku’s new freedom by floating with him high up into the sky, something he’s fine with after being cooped up on that container ship so long. He’s also fine that Alice is accepting of his and Sanae’s love and invitation to join their family, no matter what kind of being she truly is.

Minnie C is shipped back to the states, and the organization that employed her and the other ability-users and pursued is dismantled by the police. Alice takes to the granddaughter role with gusto, further charming her new big sister Sanae, who has no end of plans to use Alice’s newly-restored energy to have “fun”, a concept once foreign to Alice.

Shizuku and Ryuu rest easy, knowing all’s well that ends well. Ryuu almost seems to want to will the next crisis into being by wishing another “incident” would come along, but until then, it’s nice to see Alice, Zouroku, and Sanae simply having a normal dinner on a normal night, in the normal lives they hope to maintain even after all that’s come to light.

In fact, this could be the finale to a five-part miniseries, as it leaves me wondering what the show has lined up next.

Alice to Zouroku – 04

Nearly the entirety of this episode is spent in the cramped dark interior of a Hummer in which Minnie C continues to restrain Sana and lectures her about the fact that she’s not human, but rather a random but extremely powerful phenomenon that’s taken the form of a little girl.

Their scenes feel numerous and repetitive, until Sana meets someone who looks like her older self in her subconscious, then musters the energy to transport Zouroku into the car with her and Minnie C.

This occurs after Zouroku makes it clear he not only wants Sana back, but wants to make her a part of his and Sanae’s family. Sanae concurs, but hopes in the future her gramps will be more open and communicative with her and Sana.

When Zouroku is in the Hummer, he wastes no time lecturing Minnie C, who is unquestionably up to some of the “crooked stuff” he hates so much. Minnie can justify her beastly actions all she likes; as far as Zouroku is concerned, Sana is a little girl who doesn’t deserve this treatment…even if she isn’t really a little girl (and the jury is very much still out on that).

When Minnie starts shooting her service pistol, Sana tries to surrender, but Zouroku won’t let her call herself a monster or a waste of time. It’s his choice what he gets himself into, and now that he’s into this, he’s committed to her well-being.

That being said, neither Sana nor Zouroku have the power to oppose Minnie C, which is why seeing Ichijou Shizuku arrive at the scene to rescue them is necessary.

Her appearence in her suit left me doubting she was the same “cosplaying” girl who saved Sana from Minnie in the first ep, but now at least we know she’s a “Cabinet Information Research Office Secret Service agent”, and Ryuu and her superiors are well aware of her abilities.

This episode felt like it dragged the rescue out, and as a result, it was very monologue-heavy. Also, Ryuu’s assurances everything would be fine (which they turned out to be) kinda sapped the tension. I’m glad Sana and Z were rescued, and have a powerful ally who knows how to properly use her powers.

Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu – 25 (Fin)

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This was an episode full of tying up loose ends, the most important of which being Subaru presenting himself before Emilia a better and more useful man than the last time he saw her. He even gets to be a badass action hero! But as a loose-ends episode, it works very nicely, even if it’s not perfect, and leaves a lot hanging in the air (likely for another season, but not anytime soon).

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The first loose end is Betelgeuse, who very annoyingly won’t go down much of the first act. I was pleased Subaru used the Witche’s curse to expel Betelgeuse from his head so Julius could finish him, especially since we got a good look at the Satella herself. She does look a lot like Emilia…if Emilia were all black with a purple outline and glowing eyes!

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I rolled my eyes a little when moments after defeating Betelgeuse, Juli and Subie get a call from Felis another problem fresh out of the blue: an unaccounted-for sack full of fire stones.

There wasn’t any doubt that sack would be stashed in the wagon Emilia and the village children just happen to be riding in, nor was there the slightest chance, even in an often sadistic show like this, that this latest particular bomb would go off.

When Subie and Otto are acting like a comedy duo in a wagon Otto has nitrous’d with his magic in the last episode, it’s reasonable to assume things will work out.

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The whole rescue attempt felt like an excuse for Subaru to confront Emilia as the one who led the army, something she only just learned about from some snot-nosed kids who don’t know how to keep their damn mouths shut. Betelgeuse’s extended demise further delayed the inevitable reunion, and by the time Betel had become a Ghibli Goop Monster with his head on fire, I had long since had my fill of the manic bastard.

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But the how of how Subaru came to triumphantly reunite with Emilia didn’t mar the fact that this episode took great strides to repair what had been an estranged relationship not just between these two, but between myself, representing the non-manga-reading audience, and Emilia. Takahashi Rie does a great job reintroducing Emilia-tan to us, as she gets to express a good number of powerful emotions during the final ordeal.

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Subaru basically gets to make the perfect series of gestures to reunite with Emilia, swooping in, grabbing the bomb, and running off to get it away, but not before telling Emilia he loves her. After smashing the whales, the giant fallen tree is the gift that keeps giving, as its trunk largely shields Subaru from the blast he’s still pretty close to when the stones detonate.

It is here when Emilia, still processing everything Subaru has done for her these last few days/weeks, completely unbidden, springs into action, rushing into the danger, desperate to find Subaru alive and alright. And perhaps because the show is finally done torturing us, he is!

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From there, there’s no long, sprawling epilogue, showing what becomes of who. Just a simple scene of Subaru lying on Emilia’s lap, the two of them overjoyed to be together again.

The way Subaru describes it, Emilia is made happy for the first time by the prospect of “special treatment.” This can’t quite match the Rem Confession episode in emotional power, but it comes darned close with much less time to work with.

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I also appreciated that Emilia doesn’t have an instant reply to Subaru’s confession. It’s all well and good to say “I love you too”, but loving and being loved are so new to her it’s going to take time. Time Subaru assures her she has.

Subaru doesn’t wake up back in front of that convenience store, but merely admires Emilia’s tearful, radiant smile, as the episode fades to white and we’re treated to an extended mix of the original ED.

All in all, an imperfect but still solid and satisfying, and entertaining finale. If a second season comes along one day, I’ll surely be tuning in. If not, it was a fun ride. Often stressful, enraging, and heartbreaking…but also fun.

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Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu – 18

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In which Subaru truly does return to “Zero”, and this show continues to surprise

Other than a thorough and devastating dressing-down by MegaPuck (during which time Subie slowly freezes solid and shatters) and another Return by Death, this episode consists exclusively of one conversation between Subaru and Rem, presented only with intermittent flashes from the past.

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lot is covered, with a great deal of emotion flying around. It takes a great deal of attention to sit through and absorb, but if you like Subaru (or are at least rooting for him) and you like Rem, you probably liked this episode a lot, I for one was riveted.

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There’s also a good deal of rejection in their long, sprawling discussion, which takes place in a very pretty part of the city with a lovely view, on a clear, crisp day. First, Rem rejects Subaru’s desperate plan to run away together, because it would mean giving up on the Subaru she fell in love with.

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Rem can’t possibly know how much Subaru has been through already, and how he finally decided to give up after much suffering. But damn it all if I don’t get soppy-eyed as she beautifully describes the perfectly fine future they’d have together if she went with him. But again, she’s not ready to give up on him, even if he’s given up on himself.

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Initially in the talk, I was on Subaru’s side, because I was right there with him when Rem, Ram, and Emilia died again and again, often in awful, horrifying ways. Like him, I’m from the real world, where I, unfortunately, am not a hero. If I ended up in a fantasy-RPG-style world like he did, I might think for a time, that I had suddenly become one.

But Subaru learned the hard way that he is, as Puck put it, useless. That every time he’s talked big, he’s come up short in the quest to save everyone. It’s hard to argue, considering this is the most persistent impasse he’s come to, which has led to the darkest places…and there’s only so much a dumb do-nothing kid from the modern world can take, right?

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Subaru tries, with the same passion he ranted at Emilia, to drill into Rem’s head all the ways he is a complete and utter failure of a living thing. But she simply doesn’t buy it. She comes back with all of the reasons she loves him, and describes in detail how she felt when he rescued her from herself. Not only did she fall in love with him then, but he restarted a clock that stopped for her when her village burned. He is her hero.

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Rather than run away from everything, she’s going to stay right where she is, and so is Subaru. Whatever troubles they have, they’ll figure it out together; support each other; make up for each other’s weaknesses. Do what they’ve done up to this point. Rem makes her love for him plain as the blue sky above them.

So when Subaru rejects her because he still loves Emilia, it stings quite a bit, but for Rem, better to have a Subaru around than not, whether he loves her the same way back or not.

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So when Subaru puts forth his plan to move forward and try to save Emilia and asks for Rem’s help, Rem humbly accepts, but makes sure to tell him how cruel it is to ask such a thing of someone you’ve just rejected. Subaru, in turn, reminds her she rejected his running-away plan first. Touché!

They both have a good laugh – it’s been a long, exhausting talk, but look at what it has wrought! Subaru, who had been brought so low, he was starting to think—like me and Franklin—that he really was immensely over-his-head with this whole hero thing.

He had bags under his eyes, he was utterly done with everything. And now he’s back in the game, in far higher spirits, and even smiling and laughing. Quite the transition in one talk!

Time will tell if Subaru is simply grasping one last time onto the hope of one (Rem) who is, at the end of the day, ignorant to his past failed attempts, and doesn’t understand just how weak and ineffectual he is.

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Is this a glass-half-empty or a glass-half-full show? I’m still not sure, but it’s a half-full episode, which rejects what I’ve been thinking throughout this second half: that Subaru simply can’t cut it in this world, as much as he and I and Rem may want him to.

I’m looking forward to seeing what, exactly, returning to “zero” means for Subaru, and if somehow all the insights he and Rem gleaned from this long heart-to-heart will help them. Until then, this was a powerful episode, despite not much physically happening.

What did happen was Kobayashi Yuusuke and Minase Inori delivered some powerhouse performances that really drew me in and restored my faith in the possibility of a happy (or at least happier) ending. Mind you, Re:Zero may just be setting us up for more dark times made darker by the fact everything said here may end up being lost. But I hope not!

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Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu – 17

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While Subaru managed to avoid the infamous white whale in previous lives in which he failed to save anyone, this week his luck really runs out.

There’s no escape from the whale, but all Rem can think of is to try to draw it away, an action that will likely result in her death but has a chance of saving Subie, along with Otto.

Of course, Subaru doesn’t want Rem to go, but she overrules his objection with a chop to the neck and jumps out of the wagon. That’s when things get weird…er.

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Not moments after they were talking about Rem, Otto acts as if he’s never heard of her before; as if the whale swallowed up not just Rem but everyone’s memory of her…except Subie’s, natch. Yet another reason for people to think he’s gone off his rocker…and he has.

No one of Subaru’s background would be expected to endure the repeated suffering and death of those he loves with such frequency and still have a chance of retaining one’s mental faculties.

Once Otto suspects the whale is after Subie, he shoves him off the wagon. An injured Subaru manages to find a ground dragon that takes him to the village where his kid friends are there to greet him, alive and well.

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So this time he made it to the mansion in time, but the situation is worse than Rem being dead, because no one, even Ram, has ever heard of her. The episode is ruthless in showing a momentary glimpse of a maid with blue hair until it’s revealed to be the twin not in love with Subie.

Rem aside, there is nothing Subaru can do to stop the massacre that’s about to happen. Emilia is more than patient (and still very concerned) about Subie, but all he can manage is to rave to her about how no one will be saved, and if she justs comes with him everything will work out.

Subie even attempts to tell Emilia about Return by Death, threat of having his heart squished be damned. Only this time the demonic hands don’t close around his heart when he says the words: they close around Emi’s, killing her in his arms.

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He awakes to a blood-colored night, where Beatrice is there, preparing to defend the mansion. Unwilling to kill Subie as he demands, she teleports him to the forest, so that he can find his own death, out of her sight. Pretty grim.

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Of course, once back in that damn forest, it doesn’t take long for Betelgeuse to show up with his cultist pals. He uses the same “unseen hands” that killed Emilia to separate him from her and threaten to tear her corpse apart, but a shower of ice daggers stays his unseen hands.

It’s the signature attack of a giant Puck, who, now that I see him in silhouette, was the beast that beheaded Subaru in episode 15, calling Emilia his daughter and asking Betelgeuse what he thinks he’s doing.

If you asked me back in the first half of the show if Emilia’s adorable little animate Beany Baby of a familiar would end up playing a role like this, I’d have said you were crazy. But we live in crazy, messed-up Re:Zero times.

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Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu – 16

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In an episode that doesn’t really come close to last week in terms of emotional or visceral impact, Subaru manages to stay alive the whole time. The beatings Subaru receives this week are more intellectual than physical (though he gets beaten up physically too), as he is outwitted, embarrassed, and enraged by each of Emilia’s rivals.

First up, the ever-calculating, ever-level-headed Crusch. Subaru asks her for military aid against the impending Witch’s Cult raid on Mathers’ domain, but Subaru is not able to convince her that it’s in her best interest to help, or offer anything she won’t profit from anyway if Emilia were wiped out.

She never once loses her composure as Subaru fumes and bites his lip bloody, ultimately resorting to begging. Crusch simply sees right through him, that there’s more to what he wants than what he’s saying, though as we know, there are things Subie simply can’t say that has nothing to do with pride or loyalty.

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Next up, Priscilla. Surely she remembers him saving her in that alley, right? Nope. Priscilla doesn’t even pretend to treat Subie with the slightest whiff of respect, offering to help if he’ll kiss her feet, but quite unlike Crusch, loses her cool completely when he actually tries to do so.

Just as he only managed to convince Crusch that he’s, at best, mad as a hatter, he only manages to convince Pris that he’s a detestable pig who will do anything, no matter how debasing, to get what he wants.

Priscilla is disgusted even to be in his presence, and extends her disgust to Emilia’s whole camp. And she’s clearly deeply disappointed; doubtless a part of her wondered if he wasn’t quite as “insignificant” as he seemed; alas.

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o-for-2…will the third time be the charm? Subie didn’t even bother going to Anastasia Hoshin until they bumped into each other in the street. But while Ana seems a lot friendlier on the outside, she’s only playing games with poor Subaru, dangling something he needs (and a trifle at that; a carriage) in order to pump him for info on who Crusch has been meeting with.

Like a common schoolyard bully, the haughty Anastasia drops her mic and walks out of the tavern, taking her private army with her, utterly assured that Subaru is incapable of doing anything, giving him a curt lesson on being prepared for negotiations, and warning him that the things he does “won’t ever go away,” which hits particularly close for the respawning Subaru who has now struck out on securing an army to protect Emilia.

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Chance smiles upon him one more time, however, as he runs into Otto and a convoy of merchants carrying large amounts of oil. Oil that, I’m sure Subaru is thinking, could be repurposed as some kind of weapon against the cult. Getting back to his old resourceful self, he also hires the merchants to help him evacuate Mathers’ domain. It’s a far more modest and improvised plan, but it’s the best plan he has, and time is a wastin’.

Naturally, even this plan runs into a snag, when a carriage he believed was right alongside his turned out never to exist, and a gigantic beast (probably the fog-making white whale Rem mentioned in episode 14) appears in its place, staring its huge eye right in his face as he shines his phone flashlight at it, and then letting out a monstrous roar…

…And that’s where we leave things: wondering if that beast will send him back to the apple merchant’s stall (erasing all those unpleasant failed negotiations in the process), or if he manages to make use of that oil to progress his hasty, threadbare plans.

As Priscilla said, Subie “hasn’t thought this through.” True, but after a few more failed plans, absorbed blows, and lessons learned, perhaps he eventually will. OR perhaps he’ll simply keep suffering and dying shortly after watching those closest to him do the same, growing more and more insane from the trauma.

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Whatever the case, he’s certainly come a long damn way…

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P.S. Lovely new ED…and quite a departure from last week’s “Headless Subie and dead twisted Rem being buried in the snow as blood red credits roll”

Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu – 15

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I honestly didn’t think a second cour episode of Re:Zero could match the cinematic majesty of episode 7, but, well…here we are, eight episodes later, and this show is still topping itself. My expectations for the finale have now risen to unreasonable highs. But never mind that; we’ve got a long, long way to go, as does Natsuki Subaru.

Subaru doesn’t choose to commit suicide. He does die and Return by Death; but not by his choosing. He is slain in the most nightmarish way imaginable, having his fingers and leg cleaved off before freezing solid and cracking. Jeez, this show is rough on ol’ Subaru.

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Surprisingly, he respawns not in a bed, but at the vender’s cart, where he was with Rem seemingly an eternity ago (but in reality, early in last week’s episode). It isn’t long before he’s in a bed, however, as he’s so traumatized by what he witnessed and experienced in his last life, he is still in shock and barely able to speak.

Felis can’t do anything about his mental condition, so Crusch lets Rem take him home to Roswaal’s manor, hopeful being with Emilia and Ram will help him recover. Crusch also asks why Rem is so devoted to Subaru, and she responds “because he’s special.”

Once again, they fail to reach manor without incident, even though it’s Rem and not Subie’s choice to head there.

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The hooded baddies—witch cultists—ambush the cart, bloody a furious Rem, and take Subie captive.

Subie wakes up in chains, still unable to speak, and comes face to face with the grotesque and thoroughly insane Betelgeuse, who would be a goofy character for Re:Zero if we didn’t already have his less evil counterpart, Roswaal.

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Oh, and if this guy wasn’t fucking threatening and terrifying as all Hell, and merely a subordinate to “The Gospel”, and presumably, The Witch. Betel is a high priest of “sloth”, and initially calls Subie “pride” (perhaps why the cultists bowed to him last week?), and while his plans for Subie aren’t precisely clear, he’s intent on finding and killing Rem as soon as possible.

Rem all but grants his wish by busting into their cavern hideout, hopelessly outnumbered and surrounded. For all her power and combat ability and heartfelt desire to save her beloved Subaru, she’s still quite messed up from the initial ambush, and when she gets too close, Betel strings her up in mid air and breaks all the bones in her body, then twists her extremities in the opposite direction just two twist the proverbial knife.

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Betel heads off to prepare for “The Ordeal”, but Rem is amazingly still alive enough to scoot towards Subaru and free him from his chains, and from what is certainly to be more horrible torment at the hands of that monster and his master.

She tells him to live, and that she loves him, then passes away in his arms. While Rem has died before, as has Subaru, I just wasn’t prepared for this. She was found dead suddenly last week, but here the death is drawn out, as is Subaru’s apparent helplessness.

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Not sure what else to do, and still clearly foggy from his multiple ordeals, Subie continues his trek to Roswaal’s manor with Rem’s body in his arms. Again, he finds signs of a massacre, dead villagers, children, and Ram.

He doesn’t get anywhere near the front door before a colossal dark beast with glowing yellow eyes orders him to “sleep now, like my daughter.” Subaru’s head pops of with a splash of blood…and the blood-red credits start to roll as he’s buried by the snow. There’s no merciful fade to black. The camera doesn’t budge. The stirring, soaring, relentlessly tragic score blares.

By God…that was one of the darkest, cruelest, most hopeless endings I’ve ever seen. But this is Re:Zero, where endings usually lead to new beginnings. Still, it still felt like everything was over and there would be no victory, ever. 

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Sure enough, Subie respawns with Rem at the vendor’s. He’s not catatonic this time. He embraces Rem; alive again; in love with him. The vendor tells them to take a hike and stop scaring customers with their PDA.

Subaru takes Rem’s hand like he never intends to let go of it again, and she’s all to happy to hold his as they walk peacefully, quietly down the street.

But Subaru’s smile slowly vanishes as the camera pans up to his face. It’s a beautiful day, but there’s a storm brewing in his eyes. They’re not the dead eyes of defeat. They’re the fanatical eyes of a demon, and Betelgeuse is his prey.

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Rewrite – 01 (First Impressions)

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Rewrite is a sprawling adventure with a little bit of everything in its hour-long premiere. MC Tennouji Kotarou jumps from fantastical dreams, and being bitten by a “ghost” in his bed every night, to gradually stocking his harem group of female friends at the fancy academy he attends in real life.

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The show often suprises with its transitions from the supernatural to the mundane, often merging the two visually, as when Kotarou locates a dozing Kotori under a tree (he meets a lot of girls around trees).

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Rewrite wastes none of its hour introducing a bevy of characters, from Kotarou’s fellow outcasts in class, the “delinquent” Yoshiro and his childhood friend Kotori, to the literally fiery class rep Konohana and the cherry pantsu-wearing, super-strong transfer student Ootori Chihaya.

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It’s a lot of people to keep track of, but I wasn’t overwhelmed, as their designs and personalities were distinctive enough to tell them apart. That being said, Lucia and Nakatsu seemed extraneous to this first episode, while the newspaper girl losing a piece of paper that leads to Kotarou learning about the “Academy Witch” was a little forced. But the Witch’s almost Howl’s Moving Castle-style sumptuous, comfortable office. She’s just nowhere to be found, which is kind of the point.

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If Kotarou wants something done about his nightly bitings, he has to find the Witch, but she makes him work for it, communicating through curt notes, including one saying he’ll be dead in two days.

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Another extraneous scene is the one in which Kotarou takes Ootori on a bike tour of the city, which is pleasant enough, but Ootori’s initial aggression towards him seems to fade away too quickly into an all-too-pliant potential love interest; one of several introduced.

It’s as if he initially chose the wrong options of speaking to her, but managed to climb out of the hole he dug. I won’t deny the tour of the eco-city was pretty, though.

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That night, things get considerably less pleasant and pliant for Kotarou, as he jumps through several hoops in hopes of meeting the Witch. Instead, he gets chased through the halls by weird creatures, the ghost girl who’s been biting him steals his (Key Brand) coffee, and he gets trapped in a stony void with two pixies named Pani and Gil.

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He and the pixies then accidentally wake up a giant crab monster (in just the place Kotarou expects to find the boss), but the silver-haired ghost girl comes to the rescue. Well, she doesn’t so much rescue Kotarou as level an immense and outsized portion of magic-based wrath upon the crab that spilled her delicious stolen coffee. Her cool-headed battle with magic shields and weaponized ribbons was pretty fun to watch.

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Hilariously, Kotarou falls a great distance and lands…on the floor of the school, everything back to normal, with a Colonel Sanders mannequin smiling down on him. Upon delivering the mannequin to the Occult Club office, he finally meets the Academy Witch, Senri Akane, in person. And it looks like she’s got plans for the kid.

Oh yeah, dreams, hallucinations, and illusory spells aside, Kotarou himself is “gifted” supernaturally, though we only see small hints of it in his ability to leap great distances and in preparing (but never unleashing) a skill he calls “accelerating.”

No doubt we’ll see more of his abilities now that he’s met the Academy Witch, who ask him the question of whether he wants to change himself or change the world.

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Ushio to Tora – 17

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The temple elders are visited by a beautiful ghost, Jiemei (voiced by Hanazawa Kana) who reports that Ushio’s body has been overthrown by the Beast Spear, making him a true beast. The only way to save him involves his dad, the Kouhamei Sect, the comb that his mother gave him…and none other than all of the girls he’s saved on the way to Asahikawa.

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One by one, to my increasing delight, Jiemei pays a visit to those girls: Yuu, Saya, Reiko, Mayuko, and Asako. And when they hear their Ushio is in trouble, they don’t ask about the danger, or why a green ghost goddess is talking to them: they drop what they’re doing and GO. I should have known this was coming: after spending most of last season saving these girls, the time would come when they’d be able to return the favor.

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And let me just say, it’s a delight to anyone who’s been following the show closely and enjoying it to behold this episode assembling the “Dream Team.” Ushio is in rough shape, and it wouldn’t be as satisfying if some new priest or shaman or youkai stepped in to save him with some kind of miracle spell or ritual.

Ushio’s soul is under siege, and these girls who touched that soul are the best chance to break that siege. Naturally, Haniwa, Jun, Satoru, and Nagare are also on board. And let’s not forget Tora, who wants to restore Ushio to his human state so he can eat him…and because, c’mon, the big lug loves the guy.

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To save Ushio, the girls have to comb his hair with the heirloom comb, but the comb is on his person. Enter Izuna, the fleet green jackal-weasel-fox thingy who fights through Beast-Ushio’s black tendrils and snatches the comb up. Easy part over. As Ushio’s dad and the sect members prepare for an approaching Ushio (followed closely by a massive horde of hiyou), the girls introduce themselves.

The sudden melding of these girls’ personalities and histories with Ushio is exceedingly fun to watch, especially how Mayuko tries to kid around with Asako’s feelings, only for it to get more serious when Yuu reacts to Asako’s usual defense mechanism of running down Ushio and claiming not to care about him. Yuu calls her the hell out, causing Asako to cry and admit the truth: she’d have come running earlier had she known what was going on.

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Once Ushio arrives, Reiko is the first to volunteer to go at him with the comb. He tries to shove her aside, but she successfully gets the comb in his hair, tearing off a big lock. But once she’s done, Ushio is racing straight at the other girls. Saya trips trying to run, but Asako puts her body between her and Ushio. When the injured Asako thanks God no one else got hurt, Yuu realizes she was harsh on Ushio’s childhood friend. She’s the real deal.

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Hinowa manages to trap Ushio in a magic barrier, something Saya is able to punch through due to her status as a white-haired woman. Like Reiko, Ushio saved Saya from a life of despair and servitude, so she’s no less committed to freeing Ushio from his demonic prison.

She gets a lock off too, but Hinowa’s barrier breaks, leaving the next girl, Mayuko, exposed to Ushio’s wrath. That’s when ZZZZAP, Tora unleashes a lightning storm that half-destroys the bridge, saving his “future food” Mayuko along with Saya. Everything happens bang-bang-bang in this episode, and even when it doesn’t, the scenes are full of great character interaction.

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Like Asako and Yuu, Hinowa and Jun quickly get over their mutual animosity when the latter saves the former by helping her maintain the barrier on Ushio. While they’re not part of the group of girls who must comb Ushio’s hair, there’s no doubt Ushio saved Jun from a life of despair by saving her bro, while Hinowa can’t help but respect him, considering how many others are willing to put their lives on the line for him.

Yuu’s up next (Asako will probably be the last, for dramatic purposes and all), and she too is steeled by witnessing the love and devotion of the others. They may have been saved in different ways, but they were all saved by the same goofy, hard-headed, kind, selfless guy. And they’re going to get him back.

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Ushio to Tora – 16

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As expected, Satoru is saved from falling to his death by Ushio’s spear, but despite Jun temporarily getting through to him, his body and mind remain possessed by the Hiyou. Watching Jun shed more tears for her all-but-doomed brother, Ushio can’t sit back or get on with his own business. Not while a girl is crying. He’s going in!

To aid Ushio on his foolhardy, extremely dangerous and possibly soul-rending mission into Satoru’s body, the Elder of Ungaikyou lends the services of a youkai used to such trips, the fuzzy green Izuna. He may be tiny, but he makes an immediate impact, as new characters on UtT tend to do.

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This then becomes a Very Special Magic School Busstyle journey into the body, with Ushio, Tora, and Izuna being shrunk down to the size of microbes, travelling between bones, muscles, and organs to battle Satoru’s Hiyou infestation as Jun, Nagare and the others hold him down.

The concept’s more than a little silly, but I appreciate the audacity nonetheless, as well as the dual perspectives on the battle. Also, the more Ushio battles, the more of his soul the Beast Spear takes, and that spear is probably playing for keeps.

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When the trio nears Satoru’s brain, they meet the Hiyou boss, Chibakama, who then gives Ushio a glimpse of what his boss Hakumen no Mono looks like in order to frazzle the kid further.

Ushio initially says he has nothing against Hakumen personally, but that’s only because he knows so little about him. In reality, Hakumen is all but pure evil; the manifestation of the world’s hatred. He’s not just Ushio’s enemy, but the enemy of all living things and monsters alike.

Izuna sacrifices his body to stop Chibakama from killing Ushio, in doing so taking a selfless page from the Beast Spear wielder himself. Meanwhile, Tora sets up a plan to rid Satoru of Chibakama once and for all; a plan that requires Jun to disrobe and summon her anti-youkai power in the nearby river. Alright then!

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Using Satoru’s eyes as a conduit between the world within and without him, Satoru shoots all her power at Chibakama, being held in front of the eye by Izuna, who fully intends to die with him.

Ushio doesn’t let that happen. Instead, he tells the spear it can take the rest of his soul if it means he can stop others from dying for his sake. The combined power of Jun and Ushio petrify and destroy Chibakama, and Satoru wakes up himself.

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When he hears the person he admits he was jealous of (thus allowing the Hiyou into his body), he cries tears both of guilt and gratitude for his still-absent saviour, and wouldn’t you know it, inside one of those tears is Ushio, Tora, and Izuna! Again, very goofy, but the show sells the shit out of everything it lays out.

Jun then finally gets to thank her bro, only to learn he knew she was grateful anyway, and had been thanking him by accepting him, loving him, and staying by his side, even when he falls. As for Ushio, he’s glad he stopped another girl from crying tears of despair…but he should probably revise his goals to allow tears of relief, gratitude, and happiness.

Oh, and then there’s the matter of the Beast Spear transforming him into a grotesque, inhuman beast with demonic crystal eyes. No good deed goes unpunished!

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