3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 24 (Fin) – Better Late Than Never

The last two weeks of 3D Kanojo: Real Girl have been odd and honestly a little frustrating. First of all, with Iroha facing a potentially life-and/or-memory-threatening medical operation, Iroha and Hikari basically break up, saying their final goodbyes.

The question I had at the end was, why? Why is Iorha cutting Hikari loose now? Certainly not to spare him the pain of losing her! And why is Hikari okay with this, and not insisting on staying by her side so she doesn’t have to face this trial alone? Then, last week, without providing a satisfying answer to that question, the show simply moves on with a HUGE leap in time, after which we learn Iroha survived the operation, but her memories didn’t.

That’s all well and good, but when they broke up, neither Iroha nor Hikari knew with 100% certainty that this would be the case. Iroha could have emerged from the operation with her memories intact, allowing them to remain the loving couple they clearly wanted to be. More troubling is the possibility that even though she lost her memories post-op, she might be more likely to regain them with her lover present (another reason I questioned them breaking up when they did).

Alas, none of that happened. And that was a little strange! But hey, sometimes things don’t work out the way you expect. I’m sure Hikari is well versed in this concept early in the episode, as he ponders whether it’s time to finally forget about Iroha. Who would have thought that Iroha’s brother Chika of all people would be the one to actually make the right choice at the right time?

If he wanted, Iroha would move back to L.A. and live with him. He obviously adores her. But his love is not the kind that would deprive her of that which she needed most, just for his own benefit. So after six months of being a total dick to Hikari in high school, he pulls a 180 (seven years later, for some reason) and tells Iroha why she feels there’s a big hole in her heart she’s unable to fill: there’s a guy out there who knows and understands her better than he.

So Chika arranges for Hikari and Iroha to meet—something that should have happened ages ago, mind you—and Hikari is his usual self-flagellating self. While he’s happy beyond belief that she’s alive, he stops short of giving his name. He’s prepared to let her go all over again, content that she survived. But then Iroha sees the strap on his bag that matches hers, and she suddenly remembers Tsutsun.

Hikari was ready to let her go because he feels he didn’t deserve to have her remember him (always nailing himself to the cross, Hikari). There’s definitely a case to be made for why he didn’t fight harder to stay by her side…or even suggest it for that matter, but one can chalk that up to Hikari being a romantic naif. But that hopelessly kind side of him is what finally causes Iroha’s memories of him to surface.

Fast-forward to Takanashi and a very pregnant Ishino’s wedding, where we’re introduced to 25-year-old Itou (who’s not that different), but no Ayado (it’s as if she was written off the show!), and during which Hikari of all people accidentally catches the bouquet. That’s right about when Ishino discovers one of her wedding guests is none other than Iroha.

It goes without saying that she, Takanashi, and Itou are beyond elated to see her, and simply by reuniting with them, Iroha is able to remember bits and pieces of her old friends (which, again, if only she’d done this years ago her memories would already be back!)

At the reception, we finally learn that Ayado married someone else, and simply couldn’t make it to the wedding. After the reception, Hikari tells Iroha they should get together again sometime, even if she’s going back to L.A. That’s when Iroha tells him she’s remembered more—a lot more—about the person she was, and how she was once terrible.

At first, dating him was only about curiosity than actually caring about him, but that soon changed when she got to know him, and being with him changed her as well, for the better. She now remembers those six months with him were the happiest of her life. Hikari feels the same way, and if he ever found out she was alive again, he’d always hoped she’d fall in love with him again.

Hikari doesn’t want her to go back to Los Angeles after all, and so does something he should have done seven frikkin’ years ago, and what he needs to to do stay by her side: he tells her not to go back. As Iroha feels the same way, she wholeheartedly agrees.

Fast-forward to another wedding, this time, that of Iroha and Hikari. Ayado is there—with long hair! Everyone’s doing the opposite length of what they had in high school, apparently—and not only that, she’s recently divorced! Itou, in his eternal awkwardness, sees this as an immediate opportunity to ask her out to dinner!

Thankfully poor Ayado is spared having to respond when the bride and groom appear. Hikari’s family is there, and even Kaoru is blushing a bit while their folks are crying tears of joy, and Chika is there too, good sport that he is—heck, Hikari and Iroha owe their joyful reunion entirely to him not being a total dick for once.

I still shrug at the point of the seven-year gap, which in hindsight seemed only to inflate the drama of the lovers’ inevitable reunion, but it happened so fast it didn’t quite land. Also in hindsight, I appreciated the ambition that went into such a development.

Let’s say Hikari and Iroha didn’t break up, and Hikari stayed by her side throughout the operation and immediate recovery. I posit there’d still be plenty of drama to be mined from the period immediately following the surgery when Hikari would have to wait and see not only if Iroha would live, but would return to being the Iroha he knew and loved. That would have been a smaller-scale denouement, but still effective.

Still, had it stayed in their high-school years we wouldn’t have witnessed their wedding, or that of Ishino and Takanashi, or their little one, or see Itou ask the recently-divorced Ayado out on a date at a wedding! So I’m content to say MEDETASHI MEDETASHI.

 

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3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 23 – No Way But Forward

Hikari is, understandably, a wreck post-Goodbye to Iroha. He is indeed such a wreck that he stops caring about school—or anything else, for that matter—all together. Adding insult to injury is the fact everyone thinks Iroha simply dumped him before splitting town.

After a blow-up with Takanashi, Itou meets Hikari on the roof and gets the scoop—it’s not like Iroha swore him to secrecy about it. One by one his friends and family learn about Iroha’s illness, and can then not only sympathize with him far more, but curse themselves for initially being too hard on him.

The last person to hear the truth is Hikari’s mother, who immediately delivers a swift dropkick to her firstborn. However much pain he’s in, Iroha’s in more, and his mom thinks she’d be even more sad if she knew what became of him.

Hikari fully agrees, and starts to shape up. He returns to school and studies night and day, much to the relief of his friends. When he learns he got into Tokyo U, he shows no emotion, leading the others to think he didn’t get in, and are there to support him. Turns out he did get in, but he hasn’t a clue where to go from here. Hearkening back to his last night with Iroha, Hikari remembers the final promise Iroha asks of him: “forget me.”

It’s a promise he hasn’t been able to keep, and more to the point doesn’t want to. But Iroha at the time is certain that someone as blessed as Hikari has been—with a loving family and dear friends—he’ll make so many happy new memories in the future, they’ll hardly be any for…his first love? Uhhhh…that’s wishful thinking right there, Iro-han! Still, there’s only one way, and it’s forward.

Fast-forward—seven frikkin’ years!—and Hikari is now 25 and a salaryman at a trading company on the rise. A number of female co-workers admire his combination of work ethic and humility and seem interested in him, but he always seems to dash off after work.

On this particular night, it’s to catch an anime, but not just any anime: one in which Itou did the mechanical design! He then gets a call from Takanashi inviting him out to drinks with “Arisa” and Itou in his usual Takanashi way that brooks no argument. Turns out there’s a good reason for that: Arisa and he announce that she’s going to have a baby.

Hikari, clearly far more comfortable in his 25-year-old skin, confidently picks up the check when he has to leave to fix a problem at work. His friends are impressed by how far he’s come; Takanashi even goes so far as to call him amazing!

And he has, especially when you consider the pain he carries from losing his first and only love. Ezomichi pays him the first visit in ages, but despite the pain in his heart—which he carries gladly rather than face an alternate past where he never met Iroha at all—there’s really no need for her to counsel him, and she vanishes—possibly to wherever poor Ayado ended up…the show has cut her out of the circle of friends! T_T

Someone who vanished seven years earlier, on the other hand, makes a semi-triumphant return to Japan, alive and well, which is wonderful to see. Unfortunately, in exchange for her life, she’s seemingly lost all of her memories, and can’t recall anything about the family home, neighborhood, or school.

Her brother chooses this place to profess his love for, and to promise he’ll be by her side no matter where she chooses to live out her re-charged life. Not picking up on anything worth staying for, Iroha says she’s fine returning to L.A. which for seven years has been far more of a home to her.

So, is that it? Are Hikari and Iroha going in different directions, never to cross paths again? Or will a chance encounter with him be the one thing that can rouse her memories, kinda like Your Name.?

Steins;Gate 0 – 11 – WWIII Averted…For Now

The shadowy guy whom Maho hired to analyze Makise’s laptop turns out to be…Daru, working out of the back room of a cosplay store. He still needs three days to complete his work, but after telling her the whole story about the time machine and the horrors the secrets within the computer may unleash, Rintarou manages to convince Maho to destroy it.

Before they can, the “wrong hands” in which it would be so dangerous arrive in force. Daru has an escape route worked out, but they’re still cornered in a dark alley and Maho is nabbed and has a knife placed against her throat. That they were able to find Daru’s hideout so soon, or were watching listening for just the right time to move in, is disconcerting, to say the least.

However, they must not have been listening in, because after some negotiations they’re willing to let Maho, and Daru walk away unharmed in exchange for the laptop. Rintarou briefly switches places with Maho as their hostage, but then another masked group arrives and opens fire, making sure the laptop is destroyed.

It’s doubtless a harrowing ordeal for Maho; she may have been held up along with the others at the lab, but no shots were fired. Here, had Rintarou not pushed her flat to the ground, she might’ve died. Back at the lab, she’s so out of it she doesn’t notice she’s clutching one remaining shard from the laptop in her hand so tightly it’s drawing blood.

Rintarou takes Maho to Feyris’ to clean up, but the trauma from the shootout has a more pronounced effect than she thought, and after all that tension, every muscle in her body goes limp, making her practically a helpless doll. And just as Rintarou once walked in on Kurisu, he ends up facing Maho just as her towel falls off. The universe is keen to make him suffer, but also to make him accidentally see his love interests in the nude.

That night, Maho asks Rintarou to stay by her bedside a little longer, and he happily obliges. Returning to her Mozart-Salieri narrative, after hearing from Rintarou about the possibility she might “disgrace the dead” by unlocking Kurisu’s laptop’s secrets, Maho admits to herself that it wasn’t just a matter of honoring her friend’s legacy, but trying to subconsciously exorcise the frustration she felt.

Not just frustration over not being able to achieve the things Kurisu did, mind you, but frustration over the mere fact she’s so concerned about her as a rival; Mozart, she says, never wasted a moment concerned with Salieri; he only made great music (and drank and gambled…it’s all in the movie).

Rintarou disputes the similarities between the two pairs of gifted people from vastly different times. He’s convinced that Maho loved Kurisu and would never disgrace her. It’s why she agreed to break the laptop, it’s why she shed tears and apologized, and it’s why she clutched the fragment so tightly.

It’s such a quiet, tender scene filled with mutual respect and affection, with Mamoru Miyano wonderfully modulating Rintarou’s voice to a caring hush, matching the vulnerability of Yahagi Sayuri’s Maho. Very nice work here.

After Rintarou and Maho’s lovely night together, she and Leskinen head back to America, but not before inviting him to Viktor Chrondria University whenever he can make it. So it’s not goodbye, merely see ya later for the couple. That probably makes both Leskinen and Amakurisu happy; Ama also fully intends to see and hear from Rintarou again, expressing Kurisu’s tsundere mode.

Rintarou is also able to convince Suzuha that they’ve avoided a potentially WWIII-starting clash between America and Russia (the two powers he suspected he and Maho were caught between), though Suzu remains skeptical that they’ve eliminated the only cause of the war, only one of them. And she’s most likely right.

One of the last scenes is of Maho’s colleague Judy Reyes aboard a flight, hiding…something in her lap. Was she one of the masked people in black? Could it be salvageable remnants of the laptop? Whatever it is, it’s clear Rintarou’s work is far from done. Meanwhile Mayushii seems to harbor some conflicting feelings about Okarin leaving for America to join Leskinen, Maho, and the digital Kurisu.

Steins;Gate 0 – 10 – Kurisu’s Salieri

Amadeus is a fantastic movie with a good old-fashioned fatal flaw in its co-protagonist: caring too much. Salieri could hear God through Mozart’s music but not in his own, and it drove the guy mad, especially since he worked and prayed so hard, while everything seemed to come all to easily and naturally to Mozart (or at least it seemed that way to him).

I like how Steins;Gate 0 references that film, and the historical figures behind it, as a kind of loose parallel for Kurisu and Hiyajou Maho. Maho doesn’t claim to have anywhere near the obsession Salieri had, but can’t deny she’s always measured her life and accomplishments against her departed kohai.

She’s also a grinder, which explains how terrible a mess she makes at Feyris’ place (though she has a bodyguard in Kiryu contributing to the mess). When Mayushii is invited over, she brings “Sergeant Clean” Nae with her along with Daru to whip the place into shape.

Maho is asked to leave the apartment so they can clean more efficiency, and that’s when she’s able to present the newly-rebooted Amakurisu to Rintarou, who for his part is ready to “move forward” and regard her as a distinct AI and not Kurisu Reborn.

After that, Feyris hosts a sleepover with Maho and Kiryuu, and Maho learns Kiryuu is writing a novel, and also believes she’s “not special in any way” and imminently replaceable. Maho tells her none of that is true; that she shouldn’t belittle herself so easily; or compare herself to others and go through life feeling inferior and…oops, that’s exactly what she’s done with Kurisu. She backs off.

That night, Maho seems to resolve herself to moving forward, just as Rintarou said he wanted to do. They go on a date by any other name to Akiba, where she geeks out both on obscure computer parts (the district’s original function) and racing games (part of its newer identity). Rintarou even wins her an @channel plushie.

The fun day takes a turn for the solemn when Maho says it’s her intention to visit the Radio Building where Kurisu died, perhaps to find some kind of closure. Rintarou accompanies her, and when Maho laments that humans can move around the axes of space, they’re prisoners of time. If only we could move through time’s axes as well, she wonders, but Rintarou, speaking from experience, tells her they still wouldn’t be able to change anything.

Maho is no dummy, and can tell there are a lot of things about Rintarou and his relationship with Kurisu he’s not telling her. Even so, she can sense he’s somehow working to protect her (and Mayushii) and seeing him struggling alone makes her want to support him in some way. To that end, she informs him she has “Kurisu’s legacy”—her notebook, likely containing all of her time machine research. She doesn’t know the login password, so she hasn’t been able to access it yet, but has reached out to a “trusted” party to analyze it.

This news makes Rintarou turn white as a sheet and adopt his “extremely freaked out” face. He calls that notebook a Pandora’s Box that should never be opened, and could well lead to World War III. Considering her lab was ransacked and she was present for an attack by people they still haven’t identified, Rintarou’s words don’t seem to sound like the ravings of a madman to Maho. They shouldn’t—he knows what he’s talking about.

Darling in the FranXX – 05

Now that Hiro has shown he and Zero Two can make a difference in Strelizia, everything is just peachy on the Plantation, right? They can relax, celebrate their victory as Plantation 26 hooks up with theirs, and look forward to Hiro leading the way in the next Klaxosaur battle. Hiro and Zorome even bury the hatchet.

Well, not so fast. Hiro’s body is boiling. Gorou is concerned, but Hiro says he’s never felt better. On one level that might be true—he made a difference and has a chance to keep contributing—but on the basic physical level, he has to be suffering. And this is after two times in the cockpit with Two. “The next time is the third”, Nana ominously says. No stamen has ever made it to a fourth.

FranXX proves it can deliver an engaging episode without any flashy battles between the enemy and its titular sexy mecha. That’s because both the main players and the supporting roles are all very well-executed, if archetypal.

Ichigo in particular turns in a wonderfully-layered performance, due in no small part to the talents of newcomer seiyu and Hana-Kana sound-alike Ichinose Kana, as the squad leader watches her beloved Hiro snatched away from her by the haughty Zero Two.

Ichigo takes this in stride—she isn’t even the person she was a few episodes back, but just because she’s better able to prioritize her personal feelings with her duties (and asking that Gorou do the same) doesn’t mean those feelings aren’t there, seething beneath her cool surface.

Ichigo makes it plain to Zero Two that she won’t tolerate rule-breaking or offer special treatment, and takes Two’s “bossy” comment as a compliment. Meanwhile, Hiro continues to writhe in a pain he is hiding from everyone, and spots a spider on the bathroom light about to kill a moth; a not-so-subtle symbol of his current situation.

When Squad 13 meets Squad 26, we learn just how different and unusual our squad is, with its unique FranXX and nicknames for their parasites. 26 is All Business, but aren’t so cold they’ll crush Zorome’s dreams by telling him no children ever become adults in this business.

Parasites purpose is to fight until they die or can’t fight anymore; growing up and procreating, it would seem, is for other people. They’re not fighting for their future, but for a future for mankind they’ll never see. Hiro seems to understand this more than anyone, as he’s willing to keep partnering with Two even as a bizarre and intensely painful blue growth spreads across his chest.


Gorou eventually discovers Hiro’s secret, but Hiro makes him keep it a secret, out of deference to their friendship and because Gorou doesn’t want to be the one to deliver the news that will ground Hiro and rob him of his chance to make a difference.

There’s also the fact that Strelizia is a big part of Hachi and Nana’s battle plan for the impending surge of Klaxosaurs descending upon the kissing Plantations, and they cannot guarantee the success of the mission (i.e., their survival) if Hiro and Zero don’t sortie.

When Squad 26’s leader hears that Strelizia will join the battle, he shows the most emotion he has up to that point, condemning Two for not caring about her allies and blaming her for the death of his former partner.

Two isn’t apologetic; she doesn’t even recall the battle that changed this guy’s life, and says “weaklings die”. But when he draws closer in anger Hiro blocks him, assuring him he’ll keep Two under control.

That night, Ichigo goes off with Two to warn her not to push Hiro too far. This is beyond jealousy; Ichigo doesn’t want to lose Hiro, no matter what, but Two cannot guarantee anything. Things turn nasty when Ichigo accuses her of wanting to “suck Hiro dry” and discard him.

Two states that if he dies its because he didn’t have anything going for him, she slaps her and calls her inhuman. Two, with her headband knocked off her horns, glares at Ichigo with glowing red eyes and asks what Ichigo and the others even think “human” is.

Gorou, who couldn’t sleep (Hiro groaning in pain in the opposite bunk), observed Ichigo and Two’s exchange, and Ichigo bursts into tears, lamenting how much of a mess her mind is, and not wanting to feel the way she does. Faced with his partner getting so upset about another guy, Gorou seems to feel something similarly undesirable.

Ichigo and Gorou would seem to be in the worst possible emotional state prior to the biggest and most hazardous battle of their lives (it might claim a parasite or two from Squad 13 before it’s over), but Hiro and Zero Two are an island of tranquility, standing by the pond where they met.

Two knows about the growth and the pain Hiro is enduring, and gives him one last chance to back out from darlinghood. Hiro immediately and firmly declines. He said he’d fly with her. It’s what he wants. And he’ll do it as long as he’s able and allowed (or even if he’s disallowed, as he was last week). He knows the wings he’s been given may snap any day, but his place is in the sky.

Darling in the FranXX – 04

Mitsuru is alive, but he’ll never go near a cockpit with Zero Two again; it’s as if he knows he’d never survive. Despite this, and to Ichigo’s frustration, Hiro remains resolved to pilot with Two again if it means he’ll be able to be useful. Meanwhile, Two gets a scolding but ends up coldly writing off the other FranXX as weaklings who will die soon anyway.

Ichigo decides not to fight Hiro on the issue, and rather steels herself for that eventuality. As Hiro trains alone, she manages to get the rest of the team behind her, asserting her leadership role by reminding them of the stakes and how every day could be their last until they all get it together. She also encourages Ikuno to help Mitsuru, who like the rest of them surely doesn’t want to fail again.

Paying him back from the first episode, Zero Two walks in on Hiro bathing and makes another offer for them to run away together, just them and Strelizia against the world. When she senses his hesitation and fear, her mood darkens, and she asks him whether he thinks she’s just a pilot-killing monster like everyone else.

When a Klaxosaur worm appears during a docking procedure, Ichigo’s team sorties, and quickly brings the worm down, but wthout knowing where the core is, it comes back to life and is joined by a second enemy. Just like last week Ichigo’s team seems in over their head; but Nana refuses to allow Zero Two and Hiro to sortie; “Papa’s” orders.

Eventually, Zero Two and Strelizia’s transport lands at the Plantation, and she’s ordered to go with her “escort team” back to the front lines, without Hiro. When she bristles, they train their guns on her, and she says a sad “would’ve been nice” bye-bye to Hiro, filling him with regret and shame for his inaction.

He tries to right this by chasing after Zero Two and yelling through a security barrier, acknowledging his fear then and now, telling her he doesn’t think she’s a monster, and that what he wants most isn’t to pilot a FranXX, but to ride with her again.

With those words from Hiro, Zero Two shakes off her guards, rushes to Hiro’s side, and takes him through the barriers and all the way into Strelizia. Once there, Hiro wonders if he’ll really be able to pilot her again, and Two promises him that he—that they—absolutely can, and will.

When Strelizia enters the battlefield, Ichigo keeps her cool and continues to give the orders, telling Hiro and Two to go after one worm while she and the others tackle the second. It eventually becomes clear the two are really seperate ends of the same single worm, and when Ichigo & Co. end up in trouble again, Strelizia hurries to their rescue, slashing the worm in half and shattering it’s core—but not before showing Ichigo (whose face is repeated in Delphinium) a very smug face.

I was hoping, for once, that instead of moping about not being useful for yet another episode, Hiro would finally be allowed to show he could be useful again. And I got that, so I’m satisfied, even if it happened rather easily, and with likely consequences on the way.

At the same time, the pair has kinda backed their superiors into a corner: Zero Two needs a stamen who won’t die after three sorties, and Hiro is mostly fine after two and may well do fine in a third. They can’t very well put the welfare of civilization above nailing him to the wall for his disobedience.

Just Because! – 05

It’s a new year and a new semester; the last for all of our main characters (save Komiya). So why is everyone so bent out of shape (save Komiya)? Well, the events of last weeK—Natsume and Izumi having a fight and leaving on bad terms, and Morikawa shooting Souma down—had lasting repercussions.

Neither Izumi nor Souma want to go to school, and who can blame them? But now that Izumi and Natsume had time to cool down, both realize the error of their ways and wish to apologize to one another, because they really do care about each other. If anything, the fight demonstrated to both of them that they cared more than they knew.

Unfortunately, the reconciliation isn’t prompt; Natsume finally finds Izumi (who studies by himself in his own room…?), but Komiya is already there, monopolizing him, so Natsume bails with Morikawa and Noriko, and she ends up telling them what transpired with Izumi, and how she wants to fix it.

Morikawa also wants to fix things with Souma. Even if her rejection would ultimately stand (nothing’s 100% certain), in hindsight she believes she brought the hammer down too hard; it was her first confession, and one could say she panicked. It’s not that she dislikes Souma, she just doesn’t think she knows him well enough to start dating.

Natsume, putting Morikawa’s feelings ahead of her own in this matter, encourages her to talk it out with Souma; he’ll probably be happy for increased dialogue, and come to understand Morikawa’s position as more nuanced than “you’re trash.”

It’s not just Morikawa’s rejection that has Souma down in the dumps. This is his last semester, then it’s off to the factory, where he thinks he won’t be able to have fun anymore. A senpai invites him to a factory baseball game, and he’s shocked to see how into it the old fogies are.

Thanks to Izumi being in the right place at the right time, he’s able to produce the glove Souma tossed in the dumpster (the incorrect dumpster, mind you!), and Souma immediately makes an impact on the game that endears him to his future comrades.

On his way home, Souma runs into his mom, also on her way home. We see that Souma has been looked after by his grandparents, as his mom is really frikkin’ busy at work. But in a really sweet scene between the two, she tells him it’s worth it.

In a day’s time, Souma is feeling much better about himself, life, and the future…and that’s before Morikawa reaches out to him so they can talk more.

Having given Morikawa advice that talking things out properly is best, Natsume can’t very well not practice what she preaches! In a particularly romcom-ish coincidence, she and Izumi encounter each other at the monorail stop, and have the whole train to themselves.

Natsume tries to break the ice by joking about what book he bought (he says it’s manga, but it’s really a college prep book), but it backfires, so she says sorry, and then says she’s sorry about the other night as well. Izumi, in turn, apologizes back.

And while she says it’s not because of him or anything, she’s going to make a concerted effort to make her feelings clear to Souma, and face whatever’s to come after that. However, they part ways before it’s clear to Natsume why Izumi said what he said, nor is it clear to Izumi if Natsume realized how he actually felt about her.

There’s still lots of work to do…but everyone’s either talking again or about to talk again, so there’s hope that more will become clear in time.

Shoukoku no Altair – 01 (First Impressions)

Take away the exotic setting and lush costumes, and Shoukoku no Altair is the very common story of an overachieving young man determined to move forward, be useful, and protect his country, after enduring tragedy earlier in life in which he wasn’t able to save his family.

Fortunately, Altair does have an exotic setting, lush costumes, and a very decent soundtrack to boot. And so we have ourselves a show that isn’t all that original in storytelling but is able to just sail by on competent, often stylish execution.

Newly-appointed Pasha Tughril Mahmut is the youngest Pasha ever, but never comes off as arrogant or petulant, even when a comrade accuses him of having a “tantrum.” Rather, I liken him to Tintin: young, courageous, resourceful, cunning…and yes, a bit dull. He has a strong sense of justice and is always ready to shut naysayers down…but has no idea what to do with women.

One of his mentors, Pasha Halil, sees a great future for Mahmut, so when the Balt-Rheim Empire accuses their homeland Turkyie of assassinating their prime minister, Halil chooses to be the sacrifice they demand.

War claimed many lives twelve years ago, as we see in a heart-wrenching, well-directed flashback in which a young Mahmut struggles in vain to save a woman I presume is his mother. From that point on, he swore always to do whatever he could, never standing still.

So Mahmut does what Tintin would do: investigate the incident and find the real truth, which is that the arrows used to kill the minister were of Balt-Rhein design. He joins up with with Halil, who believes the Empire as a whole does not want war, just an isolated element.

Thanks in part to a clever use of mutton stew and the local eagles, the pashas weather an attempted ambush, capture the conspirator’s men, and bring them and the false arrows before the Emperor himself.

War is staved off—for now, but the minister who conspired to start it was not tried or even named for his role, meaning this is only the beginning of Pasha Mahmut’s duty. With only THE REFLECTION left to air on my Summer list and my interest in Apocrypha fading fast, Altair is just interesting enough for another look or two.

Saekano 2 – 11 (Fin)

Megumi and Tomoya go on a date, not just because it seems like the thing to do after the rest of the harem has cleared out, but to cheer one another up. It’s clear it’s not a one-sided case of Megumi cheering Tomoya up from the look of a soundless flashback in which she reacts dramatically to Eriri’s news she’s moving on from the group.

Megumi also seems to take great joy in shopping for clothes and shoes with Tomoya around. Even if he has no fashion sense or money to speak of, his company is appreciated and their instincts—like the one to hold hands in the crowded section—are often in sync.

By the end of the trip, Tomoya is feeling much better, as is Megumi, and the former makes sure they stop by a hat store so he can get her the same white hat she was wearing when he first envisioned her as his main heroine, as thanks both for her company and for getting him glasses last time.

Megumi is touched by the gesture, and when they return to that fateful hill, she tells Tomoya “she’s not giving up”. It strikes me as having dual meaning, as she intends to move forward with the doujin group even without Eriri and Utaha…and intends to make Tomoya fall completely for her.

Tomoya agrees they should move forward, but when his laughter turns to tears of loss, she reaches out to embrace him, only to then pulls back.

Now sufficiently cheered up, cried out, and ready to move forward, Tomoya takes it upon himself to see Eriri and Utaha off, surprising them both on the platform of their train to Osaka. Their looks say it all; Eriri in particular can’t believe he’ll forgive them.

But it’s not about forgiveness at all for Tomoya; it’s about wishing his two dear and wonderfully talented friends good luck on their exciting new venture. And I don’t think he’s putting on airs—one doesn’t turn down something like Fields Chronicle, and he thinks their “god-tier” talent can make it the best ever.

This sendoff, complete with a Megumi phone call with the same positive, concilatory intent, is enough to bring Eriri, Tomoya, and even Utaha to tears. It’s a bittersweet moment, one perhaps made a bit more silly when after Eriri removes Tomoya’s glasses, intending to keep them, then leans in to kiss, it’s Utaha who steals a big, long smooth with Tomoya, and Eriri is forced to whip out her twintails for the first time in a long while. They also miss their train in the excitement.

But no matter; they’re on their way. Post-credits, Tomoya and Megumi are both on first name terms, now seniors in school, chattering away with their usual excellent chemistry and bonhomie. Then, to their surprise, Hashima Izumi appears, a recent transfer, and Tomoya understands Iori’s words about sending his sister to a place where her talents can be put to best use.

Will Izumi be the artist for Tomoya and Megumi’s game? Perhaps, but it’s a certainty that Michiru will score the music once again. Hey, remember Michiru? The show makes sure to let us know it’s in on the joke regarding her absence for the back half of the season (which, frankly, was fine).

But notably, Michiru is conversing with Eriri and Utaha, who are watching Tomoya from afar. Eriri is still enrolled in the school, but the graduated Utaha is there because “it’s a free country.” The more things change, the more they stay the same!

Saekano 2 – 10

It’s very rare indeed for an episode to come around that gives you everything you wanted; everything you held out hope would come to pass but didn’t dare expect. And yet, well, here we are.

The completion of Cherry Blessing was an arc closure at an odd time in the run of a season, but the groundwork that was laid thereafter pays off wonderfully here, as Kashiwagi Eri decides to Take Her Talents to Rouge Beach, thus enabling Kasumi Utako to come along for the ride.

We start in the aftermath of that hellish meeting with Akane, still shaken from the abuse they were forced to endure. Utaha is no less honest and upfront as Akane was: she’s steaming mad that she’s being treated as an afterthought; a James Jones, if you will.

But as much as she hates Akane for doing so, she still agrees with the producer that Eriri is many years too early and too green to presume she’s “in a slump.” If Eriri agrees to do Fields Chronicle, Utaha will strive to crush her, even as they collaborate.

Of course she does. Competition, even outside one’s own field, drives a creative like Utaha. She wouldn’t be who she is if she didn’t treat Eriri as a rival; and when such a massive job comes around such as this, her’s is the name she’ll want spoken first in praise of the game.

Eriri laments that Utaha is dumping such a huge decision on her alone, but Utaha points out she’s not the one doing the dumping; that’s Akane. Utaha never had a choice. But if Eriri says yes, she’ll work with her, and not just because she’ll be able to as part of the deal with Akane, but because she believes the two of them can move forward together.

Not long thereafter, Eriri calls Utaha out of the blue, inviting her to join her back at school, where Eriri announces she’s defeated her slump and has her drawing touch back.

She forgot to bring the sketches to prove it to a giddy, over-the-moon Utaha (who curses Eriri for being so damn useless), but Eriri doesn’t need them, and instead proves it by sketching then coloring a gorgeous portrait right before a stunned Utaha.

She is indeed back, and Eriri responds to Utaha’s approval with smiles and laughter, but those turn to bitter tears when Eriri thinks of the reason she can draw again. As much as she wanted it to be because Tomoya wanted her and because of his support and love, she can draw again because of the less-than two minutes Akane spent insulting her.

Akane’s tirade did what it was meant to do, whether Akane meant to do it or not: Rattle Eriri’s cage; rattle it until the latch slips loose and Kashiwagi Eri can be fully released from behind the iron bars of Tomoya’s safe, comfortable doujin group.

That place is no longer conducive to the creative growth required for Eriri to be as amazing as she can be—and as Tomoya said she could be. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but Eriri does so, and Utaha offers a comforting hug in the process. You heard right: Eriri and Utaha hug. 

In return for her empathy, Eriri warns Utaha not to let Akane look down on her. Utaha had seemed thus far to be taking Akane’s words as gospel because she’s so experienced and successful, but Eriri, staunch Kasumi Utako fan, offers a different view: Akane “isn’t anything special” if she would so blithely underestimate Utaha’s talent.

That, in turn, elicits tears from Utaha, but she wipes them before bumping fists with Eriri, the first step on their new and exciting journey that is almost asssured to make them a part of video game history.

That leaves Tomoya Aki, whom I half-expected to blow his top and throw some kind of temper tantrum at the news that not only would Utaha be backing out of his group, but Eriri would too, thus “betraying” him for the second time in their long years together.

But I found that such a half-prediction was selling Tomoya short. He’s certainly not elated by the (off-camera) defections, but he’s a big boy, and he’ll get over it. I was pleased with how mature he acted, while Hashima Iori, who left rouge en rouge with Izumi for, presumably, the same reason Eriri and Utaha left Blessing (to grow), urges Tomoya not to quit game developing and creating just because he lost his two “golden geese.”

And I totally get why: Eriri and Utaha were just as much training wheels as geese; he’ll now have to test his producer mettle other people; creatives who may not be as hugely talented, and people who won’t be lured into working for him by the feelings they harbor for him!

But there’s another reason Tomoya will be just fine: his harem has been shattered, and with it all the myriad routes he could have chosen to take. Now there is one route, and it leads him up the same sakura-scattered hill, where a familiar figure seems to be waiting for him…

That figure is, naturally, Kato Megumi, the girl who is best suited for Tomoya, and always was; a girl he won’t be stifling creatively, because they work so well together. She’s returned to the short hair that first inspired Tomoya into making a video game about a nice, astonishingly ordinary, “boring” girl.

Tomoya, in turn, drew Eriri and Utaha into his orbit. Normal as she may sound and appear, without Megumi there’s no Blessing Software, no Cherry Blessing, and no Fields Chronicle offer. She was their heroine, the heroine, and now he’s his. And like any good heroine, she makes the first move, suggesting they go out on a date at once.

Sounds good to me! Well done, show: Satisfying resolutions, character growth, and so many feels.

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 50 (Fin)

Once the tunnel digging is complete, everyone falls back except for Akihiro and Mika, who stand their ground and continue to buy time for their family. And while Tekkadan’s two toughest pilots put up a hell of a fight, even initially surviving a direct Dainsleif attack from orbit, they’re sufficiently softened up to allow Julieta and Iok to go in for the kill.

Akihiro gets Iok in his giant binders and crushes him, but he in turn is killed by Iok’s subordinates. Julieta, who has vowed to remain human while being as ruthless as Rustal needs her to be, beheads the bestial Barbatos Lupus Rex and raises it in triumph before her elated comrades. It is over. Mika, Akihiro are dead, and so is Tekkadan.

But life goes on, and those who survived thanks to their fallen brothers continue to follow Orga’s final order to keep moving forward. And what to you know, things end up working out both for Gjallarhorn (which reforms from within to a more democratic system under Rustal) and Mars (which gains nominal independence from Earth, as a new union under the chairmanship of Kudelia).

Kudelia and Rustal work together to end the practice of turning destitute orphans into human debris once and for all. Even without the main actors who set the stage alive to see it, and very few people remember who they even were, a measure of their ideals were realized anyway. Atra’s powerful monologue about how one doesn’t notice a flower blooming by the side of the road really drove that point home.

It helps that the “bad guys” who “won” are interesting and likable enough that years after they brutally took Orga, Mika, Macky and Tekkadan down, it’s still satisfying to see Gaelio returning to his old “frivolous” self, only now far more wiser, while Julieta has steady-competenced herself to being the likely successor to Rustal for leadership of Gjallarhorn.

Meanwhile, some survivors, among them Ride, can’t move forward without taking revenge, as he does when he assassinates Nobliss Gordon while he’s sitting on the toilet.

As for Kudelia? She’s overjoyed to learn Merribit and Yukinojou are expecting their second child soon, but can’t go out drinking with Chad and the guys. She heads home to the Sakura Farm, where an older, taller, and very badass Atra is waiting with their kid, with the unmistakable blue eyes and vacant expression of Mikazuki. The kid’s name is, naturally, Mikazuki, and unlike his father, he’ll have a childhood full of love and kindness, not desperation, and violence.

While chatting with Gaelio, Julieta admits the fighters of Tekkadan weren’t devils; she knew that the moment she saw an unconscious Mika when his cockpit cover sheared off. They were, in fact, the most human of us all, belonging on the battlefield for no other reason than to keep living and fighting. So it’s fortunate that there’s civilization to filter out some of our raw, instinctual humanity.

Thanks to the sacrifices of Tekkadan, McGillis and their allies, that civilization has been improved and made available to the next generation of youth, so maybe there won’t be a need for another Tekkadan ever again.

And that’ll do it. Whether you just checked in this week or have been following them since the very beginning, thanks as always for reading my reviews of what I believe to be one of, if not the best Gundam yet. It was a fantastic ride, and the franchise will be hard-pressed to surpass the greatness it achieved in these fifty episodes. But if they make a (non-SD) attempt down the road, I’ll be there to review it.

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 49

Orga is dead, but he succeeded in giving Tekkadan one last chance to survive. Eugene and Mika agree (without saying anything) that Orga’s orders to not stop and keep moving forward stand. The way Mika works, he doesn’t need Orga around to tell him what to do; his final words were broad enough to last Mika the rest of his days—which hopefully aren’t too few.

While some Tekkadan members are thirsty for blood and revenge (unaware it was Gordon’s men, not Gjallarhorn, who gunned him down), but in a rare instance of Mika gathering everyone ’round, he stands atop Barbatos and informs/warns everyone of the consequences of getting in the way of Orga’s orders. Eugene flashes a downward gaze, realizing he could never hold a candle to Mika’s charisma any more than Orga’s. But everyone’s roles are clear. All that’s left is to execute Orga’s orders.

When Rustal is informed of Orga’s death in a convo with Gordon, a healed Julieta is present to hear it. She laments that Tekkadan must fight in such a desperate fight after being used by so many “shady adults.” Rustal reminds her that he’s one of those adults; she understands, but perhaps she’s just as trapped as Tekkadan. Meanwhile we see two of the best adults in the series, Yukinojou and Merribit, saying a tearful goodbye.

Cut to the shadiest but also one of the toughest and wiliest adults of the series, Todo, who we learn arranged a shuttle for McGillis so he could rejoin his flagship, which he quickly evacuates. The final stage of his battle will be fought alone, for he believes it will give him the most freedom.

Contrast that with his wife Almiria, who towers over her towering father in proclaiming she will stand with her husband, and that they’ll bear their sins together…just so long as he returns home safe. She wears the mantle—or, if you will, shackles—that bind her with Macky with pride and nobility. All I can say is…Poor Almiria.

Meanwhile, true to McGillis’ style, he puts on a hell of a show, ramming his flagship into one of Rustal’s ship (unfortunately, not the ship Rustal is on), bursts out of the wreckage with Bael, and starts menacingly hacking away at the fleet, one ship and suit and pilot at a time. He’s slowed down by Gaelio, whom he warns he’ll truly kill this time if he impedes him. But Gaelio is intent on showing his former friend and comrade that being alone isn’t freedom, it’s a death trap.

Gaelio has what’s left of Ein by his side, and Carta in his heart. When he delivers a coup-de-grace to Bael, McGillis bails out and boards Rustal’s flagship, bleeding out from a shrapnel wound. He’s met in a corridor by the masked Gaelio, but he removes his mask and insists McGillis really look at him. McGillis demurs almost to the last, telling him that as wonderful as it was having him and Carta in his life, being with them clouded his resolve.

That might be Macky’s fatal flaw: his inability to trust even those closest to him (or as close as he ever let anyone get to him). Just think if he had confided in his friends, and instead of tattling, they joined him? McGillis’ plan to reform Gjallarhorn would have been bolstered by his friends’ family fleets. Instead, he treated them like parts of the system he had to destroy, but only led to him isolating himself into a checkmate.

What’s worst of all is that it’s plain he never entirely gave up his friendships. Gaelio can see this in Macky’s face and words, and killing him gives him no joy. Gaelio says Farewell, but as is the case with so many supposed death scenes (including…Gaelio’s), it’s not 100% certain Macky will succumb to his wounds.

One thing is for certain: McGillis Fareed has lost. His crusade to wrest control of and reform Gjallarhorn has failed spectacularly. In his wake he leaves hundreds of his loyal officers and men, as well as the orphans of Tekkadan, whose only slim hope now is to scurry under ancient tunnels and trade their identities for their lives.

Even that is not so easily done. Mika, Eugene, Akihiro, Dante, and Hush buy the tunnel-diggers time, but Hush seems to buy it, fighting hard until the end, and it seems like the best the rest can manage is be “ground to dust” as slowly as possible by the seemingly endless Gjallarhorn onslaught.

We can only hope Mika’s words of reaching the place Orga was headed is a place of the living; a place where they belong and won’t have to fight; and that his words won’t end up ringing as hollow as Macky’s.

Kuzu no Honkai – 09

When this week’s Scum’s Wish starts, Hanabi is alone, and wants to die. When it ends, she still feels alone, but realizes she isn’t, and doesn’t want to die. But first thing’s first: Both Narumi and Mugi reject her on the same day (poor girl!) a trip to a forest getaway with Ecchan is a welcome distraction. Any time her mind is busy is better than not.

Ecchan is looking forward to having Hanabi all to herself, but they find her cousin Atsuya is at the cabin. Atsuya feels like an interloper the whole time, but he’s not just there to mark his territory. In his opinion, Hanabi is a dead end for Ecchan: she’ll never get her to feel how she feels about her. And he doesn’t want Hanabi continuing to string her along.

But this trip was never about “making Hanabi hers”, but about saying goodbye for good. Atsuya in the next room or no, Ecchan still gets one last night of bliss with Hanabi. But after that, she vows to be alone. Hanabi wakes up early, and on a walk with Atsuya he tells her Ecchan can’t be used as a replacement.

After they spend one last day out on the town, as the couple Ecchan had at some point hoped they could be, Ecchan expresses her pride in Hanabi for “going for it” with Kanai-sensei, even though she knew how much the rejection would hurt. She did, in effect, what Ecchan had already done, only Hanabi has been “too nice” to reject her, so she has to break it off herself.

With a heartfelt, genuine display of affection and an intense desire to keep knowing Ecchan and learning more about her, Hanabi manages to secure consideration that Ecchan may come back to her, but it may take a long time. Forgetting how to love someone after loving them for so long, takes time, if it happens at all.

Now down Narumi, Mugi, and Ecchan, Hanabi returns to school in a haze of loneliness and despair. She wouldn’t be out of place in Zetsubou-sensei‘s class. Neko spots her looking forlorn and at first appears eager to gloat about how now, finally, Hanabi is getting her comeuppance; a taste of the bitter medicine Neko’s been tasting for years.

But doesn’t gloat; not really. She also has an earnest nugget of recently-earned wisdom to deliver: being rejected is a kind of liberation. Once one starts doing things for themselves—even something as small as buying and wolfing down a danish—you can start to feel better. And having heard these words from Neko, Hanabi realizes she isn’t alone. Her pain isn’t unique, and it’s not implacable.

The episode closes with Akane at Mugi’s for a “teacher home meeting”, only with the parents not home, it’s actually a booty call. And despite Mugi’s clear discomfort with the premise, she is very insistent that he acknowledge that it is an official teacher meeting, and that he call her “teacher.” Yikes.

On the one hand, Mugi is getting something he’s wanted for years. But there’s no indication he’s succeeding in “changing” her as he vowed to do last week. Instead, he seems to be falling deeper under her control, with no discernible way out as of yet. Hanabi thinks Mugi’s being “tricked.” Akane (at least the one in her head) agrees, but adds that he wants to be tricked; that all men do.

Maybe Mugi will go on like this, content with what he has. Or maybe, in time, he’ll come to see the real Akane as nothing but a replacement for the Akane of his dreams…and that he can’t go on like this.