Horimiya – 12 – The Mantis

This week it’s Christmas in Horimiyaland, and everyone is figuring out how—and with whom—they want to spend their holiday. It’s just too perfect that Yuki fell in love with Tooru having absolutely no clue that the boy’s family was freakin’ loaded. Money can’t buy you love! If anything, it intimidates a girl of more modest means like Yuki.

At a time when everyone needs Christmas cake, Izumi is scheduled to work through the holidays at the bakery, meaning he won’t be able to join Kyouko and her family. While she’s understanding—her boy’s fam gotta earn, nothing you can do about it—her dad, mom, and Souta are less forgiving. Never mind if it’s Kyouko’s the one technically dating him. They want Izumi!

Shuu and Sengoku were both convinced Tooru and Yuki were already an item, but by saying he only “recently” harbored a crush on Kyouko, Tooru he reveals he’s still in a transitory place: not yet far enough removed from the pain of not having those feelings returned, and thus not quite ready to look for love elsewhere. Compounding matters is that he likely considers Yuki his best mates.

Why else would he so helplessly waver when she asks if she can come to his place to play video games? Or sneak in the house like something elicit is afoot? Or so determined to keep the family’s statuesque personal assistant Yashiro’s nose out of his business? Like his other friends, Tooru likely doesn’t want Yashiro or his family to get the wrong idea in the present—even if it may well turn out to be the right idea in the future.

After they both calm down after tea and cake (from Izumi’s bakery!) and fire up the video games, Tooru lets slip that he’s “happy with the way things are.” And honestly, I really don’t see Yuki disagreeing with that. As they watch that loading screen, they both seem content and comfortable. No need to rush things.

There’s a bit of drama at school when Sengoku doesn’t immediately agree to spend Christmas with Remi at Remi’s, and for a very bizarre reason: her dad is into catching bugs and putting them in boxes. When it’s trifling things like this that come between lovers, you know it’s true love. Sengoku simply has to grow a pair. The bugs are DEAD, dude!

When Kyouko shows her parents her superlative marks (all A’s save gym and art…kinda the opposite of me!) her mom remarks how there will only be one more report card, and then she’ll graduate. As her parents bicker and Souta asks her to look at his marks, Kyouko gets lost in thought: What will her life be like after graduation?

But before that, it’s Christmas, and the episode doesn’t want to leave anyone out as it checks in on just about everyone, starting with a contact-wearing Yanagi and Yuki’s big sister, who have a cute little exchange by a big outdoor Christmas tree. Tanihara and his brother wrestle over a clear view of the TV.

In what is a promising development, Yuki and Tooru are hanging out together for Christmas. I’m rooting for you two tentative bastards….take all the time you need!

Motoko is studying hard even the night before Christmas, but Shuu makes sure she takes a fried chicken and cake break. Sakura urges Sengoku to stop being a goddamn wimp and go hang out with his adorable girlfriend on one of (if not the) most important nights for couples both potential and extant. On the latter front, Shindou asks his girlfriend to wait one more year for him to graduate, and she agrees.

The entire Hori residence—including Souta’s cute friend Yura—is united in their elation when Izumi stops by to drop off their cake. When he says he can’t stay, Kyouko is again understanding, but her family won’t let him leave without a hot drink, eventually stealing a whole hour of his shift at the bakery.

When they finally allow him to leave, Kyouko walks him home, despite not being dressed for the chilly night; she’s in slippers, for goodness sake! But there’s something she wants to say to Izumi, and mercifully it’s not to ask him to berate or hit her; that particular pothole on their relationship road seems to have smoothed out off-camera…and that’s fine.

No, Kyouko tells him the same thing he told her back when they first started going out: she still doesn’t know very much about him. But due in part to that and other factors, she wants to be with him even after they graduate. Izumi goes quite a few steps beyond agreeing, and proposes marriage! Whoa, boy! Immediately embarrassed by blurting out what is surely deep-seated but still premature desire, he shuffles off.

But Kyouko promises she’ll “make him happy”, something Izumi says is usually what the guy is supposed to say in such a situation—which ironically is the kind of cisnormative comment you’d expect from Kyouko! She insists she should be the one to say it, as she admits she’s self-centered and “only good at studying and chores” though she’s selling herself short.

These two lovable dorks then bow to each other, expressing how they’re looking forward to their future together. All I can really say to that is BAAAAAWWWW.

After the credits, we fast-forward to New Year’s, which Kyouko and Izumi are spending together at a festival. They get their fortunes, but they hardly matter, since they both agree that as long as the other person is smiling, it’s all gravy. They grab some amazake and reflect how they were the last people they saw at the end of the previous year and the first people they saw at the beginning of the new one.

Izumi wants every year to be like that. Izumi walks Kyouko home hand-in-hand, assuring her that they can and will indeed be together forever. And damnit, I believe him. And like them, I’m happy just seeing the two smiling together, shrugging off the anxiety around what would happen after high school, laying out their future, and sharing in the warmth, relief, and elation of knowing graduation will only be the end of their beginning.

Yuru Camp△ 2 – 03 – Top-Grade Eels and Feels

When Rin tells Nadeshiko she’ll be staying in Shizuoka for a couple extra nights due to the snow back home, Nadeshiko makes an alternate proposal: Rin could join her at her grandmother’s house on Lake Hamama. There’s are some lovely little moments of tension in between Nade’s offer, the alert sound on her phone, and the reveal of Rin’s reply: “Looking forward to it!”

The snow granted Rin two extra days to be all by herself if she wanted, but she choses to spend it with Nadeshiko, though first she books a surprisingly cheap campsite, spending New Year’s Day reading on the beach and then luxuriating in the bath.

At dusk, she quite accidentally stumbles upon a little local tradition where people gather to watch the sun setting directly into a torii gate near the Hamama-Ohashi Bridge. As Rin puts it, she got to see the sun rise and set on the year’s first day. Early in the morning, Sakura gets Nadeshiko up so she can make all the various train transfers to Sakume Station, where she’ll meet Rin.

After breaking camp, Rin heads to Kazanji in Nishi Ward to buy a gift of Strawberry buns, and soon learns that there’s a fanatical demand for them, as she ends up in yet another crush of people. Nadeshiko is at Sakume and greets her with a formal New Year’s Greeting, then shows her a gaggle of tame black-headed seagulls.

It’s a 20-minute walk to her grandma’s but Nadeshiko suggests they grab some lunch, further suggesting they have eel, a Hamama Lake specialty. Rin is down to just ¥1,920, so when she sees that the Top-Grade unagi Nadeshiko orders costs ¥4,000, she panics. Not to worry: Nadeshiko whips out a crisp ¥10,000 bill her dad gave her specifically to treat Rin to the good stuff, as thanks for how much she’s helped her out over the last half-year.

Rin doesn’t turn down the offer, but is perplexed when Nadeshiko, who decided to sit at the counter, turns away from watching the practiced chef kill and clean the live eels. Watching Rin’s reaction to tasting that eel, I’d say Nadeshiko’s tendency to make food look really good is rubbing off!

Upon arriving at Nadeshiko’s granny’s lakeside house, Rin also meets Nadeshiko’s childhood friend Toki Ayano, who comes off as a lot less energetic than Nadeshiko. In fact, she’s kind of a Lake Hayama Rin … or maybe Rin is a Yamanashi Ayano! There’s a natural bit of tension here as well, as it’s always a bit strange to meet your relatively new friend’s much older friend (or vice versa).

As expected, Rin ends up learning more about Nadeshiko from Ayano. Specifically, she was quite a bit chubbier in middle school, and her sister Sakura put her on a grueling exercise regime biking around Lake Hamana, and she slimmed down by her first year in high school. Now Rin understands why Nadeshiko had the strength and stamina to bike from Nanbucho to Lake Motosu the day they met.

Nadeshiko and Rin show her granny and Ayano more pics of camping, many of which are of food and eating, to which Nadeshiko declares eating outdoors to be the “best part” of camping. Rin doesn’t loudly agree, for a reason we learn later that night, but she does demonstrate her mini offertory box portable campfire grill by grilling mochi outside, and Ayano starts to get it. Also, Ayano has a moped too!

After an evening of watching TV while under the kotatsu, playing the Game of Life, Ayano has to head off to work at the konbini, agreeing to meet up with them at the observatory later. When the time to head there arrives, Nadeshiko wakes Rin up for once, and Rin, who hadn’t slept in a real bed for several nights, needs an extra few moments to shed the coziness.

Rin is initially worried about biking at night, but as Nadeshiko assures her, this area is like her back yard; she knows it like the back of her hand. Ayano is there to meet them at the observatory, and she and Nadeshiko points out all of the landmarks of Hamamatsu at night. Then she asks how Rin’s solo camping went, and she gets a very honest answer.

Going from Christmas Camping to soloing for New Year’s confirmed for her how different it feels when you’re camping alone. You see and hear and taste things you just won’t when you’re not alone, and you have nothing but time to contemplate things.

Rin describes soloing as “a way to appreciate loneliness”—which is a hell of a line! Nadeshiko notably doesn’t come right out and agree with Rin … and that’s okay! She and Rin can prefer different kinds of camping and enjoy occasionally camping together or with larger groups and still be good friends.

It may just be my imagination, but Yuru Camp seems to have upped its game a bit in the second season. Landscapes and backgrounds seem lusher and more detailed, as are the interactions and emotions it tackles, without beating you over the head with drama.

There’s a pervading realism to everything, from those little indefinable moments and feelings to a strong sense of geography and culture of the places the character inhabit. It’s also making me compile an ever longer (and harder to complete!) list of places to go and things to do next time I make it to Japan!

Yuru Camp△ 2 – 02 – Four Sunrises

Rin arrives at Iwata, and it’s everything a gal from a landlocked prefecture could hope for: crystal-clear skies and endless ocean. Riding her moped beside the sea feels great, until the cold and wind get to be too much. Fortunately her mom recommended a tea place, and who should be minding the store but the mountain climbing lady she met at the Yashajin Pass.

Yuru Camp seems to be running with the idea that Japan is just a big small town, where you’re always bumping into people you know by chance. I don’t mind, it’s fun! Rin goes to the upstairs café for a matcha tiramisu set, and suddenly wants to set up her tent right there.

Rin also visits the Mitsuki-Tenjin Shrine, but learns that Shippeitarou III passed away years ago, making Rin suddenly think about how short dogs’ lives are, even going so far as to text Ena her worries about Chikuma. Ena says she’ll be devastated when it happens, but it’s inevitable. All she can do is make sure her pup has as many good times as possible.

Rin switches gears from pondering mortality to getting a fire and dinner going. With no pine cones or twigs on the campground, Rin uses her knife to make a feather stick to start her fire, showing how there are plenty of tricks she still learning. After whipping up a duck soup nameko mushroom soba, she sends all of her pics to the gang, and Nadeshiko reports that it’s snowing back home.

After getting a few hours of sleep, Rin gets up to watch the first sunrise of the new year from Furude Beach, where many others are already gathered and a torii gate is set up for the event. Toba-sensei elects to drive Chiaki, Aoi, and Aoi’s little sister Akari to Mt. Minobu.

They take the ropeway, pray at the shrine, buy some dango, drink some amazuke, and find a good spot to watch the sun rise. In both locations, there’s a palpable electricity in the air, a sense of anticipation in the literal darkness before the dawn.

Then the sun rises in all her majesty, filling that darkness with blinding light and vivid colors. Rin aligns herself so the rising sun appears directly within the torii gate, as if a great spirit were emerging. Yuru Camp has previously displayed a gift for depicting sunrises and sunsets, but it really outdoes itself this time, showing us the same sunrise from multiple locations.

As the day goes on, Rin is looking forward to trying out Iwata’s local specialty pig’s foot curry, but is tempted by a food truck selling pizza and pot-au-feu, and decides to indulge. Chiaki gets Toba and the others to hurry off Mt. Minobu so they can try to catch a second sunrise in Fujikawa City fifty minutes after the first—and one that looks like a diamond rising over Fujiyama’s summit.

While Toba-sensei drifts her Suzuki Hustler up and around the mountain road with the skill of a rally driver, they arrive to find the sun already high above Fuji-san—Chiaki was off by a whole half-hour. The last to see a “sunrise” is Ena, once it’s already pretty high in the sky. Still, I’m sure she enjoyed the extra sleep!

While Rin is starting to think about preparing to check out, she gets a call from her mom: Yamanashi has frozen over in the night, making the roads home too dangerous to attempt, particularly on a moped. The new plan is for her grandpa to drive out in his van to get her and her bike. She just has to sit tight for two days. Considering she’s a short walk from the beach, there are far worse places to be “stuck!”

Yuru Camp△ 2 – 01 – The Power of Curry Cup Ramen

In its first season Shima Rin mentioned she first started camping in her first year of middle school. The second season opens by saying “You don’t have to take her word for it; we’ll show you!”

Rin’s passion for camping began when her grandfather mailed her a package containing camping gear. Then, as now, she was a voracious reader, but used to simply read in the front room of her family’s super-awesome house. She takes a long look outdoors and decides to figure out how the tent gramps gave her goes together.

Before long, the day has come for Rin’s very first camping trip, a day trip to—where else—Lake Motosu. Her dad, whom we see for the first time, drives her there and walks with her to the lakeside where she’ll set up camp on her own. He’ll be chilling in the lodge while she’s camping, in case she needs help. The striking view of Fuji-san fills Rin with awe.

That awe soon turns to frustration as Rin proves absolutely terrible at camping, but in her defense, it’s her first time, she’s only 11 or 12, and most everyone is crap at doing something the first time!

She bends one of the tent spikes when hitting it too hard with a rock. She doesn’t have a chair so her butt hurts. She tries to start a fire with no kindling and enormous branches. She ruins the pot in which she tried—and failed—to cook rice.

It’s cold, and she’s hungry, and she’s been so busy trying and failing things that she hasn’t able to read a single page of her OOPArts book! Then her mom gives her a call, and tells her she slipped some “emergency food” in her backpack: a cup of curry ramen. Aw, mom! Rin boils some water on the fire the camp admin helped her build, and she digs in.

She can’t recall curry cup ramen ever tasting so good, but when you’re enjoying nature’s majesty, once-ordinary foods just taste better. In a lovely little closing touch, Rin is admiring Fuji-san close up, and we cut to a sixth-grade Nadeshiko in her hometown, gazing happily at a much smaller Fuji-san.

Fast-forward to the present: with New Year’s fast approaching, Nadeshiko is working hard at a job perfectly suited to her energy levels: bicycle mail delivery. She finishes her route and has lunch with Ena, whom she shows the retro lantern she wants to buy. Then they get into a text exchange with Aoi, Chiaki, and Rin regarding their New Years plans.

Chiaki doesn’t get any time off, but everyone vows to bring back something for her, so she’s fine “holding the fort”. Rin will be soloing for New Year’s, preferably by the ocean, somewhere like Izu. Both her parents prefer that she chose a campsite that doesn’t involve heavy traffic, as she’s still a relatively new rider.

Rin settles on Iwata in Shizuoka, not least because it has another dog shrine like the one she visited on her impromptu solo trip—and this shrine features a living descendent of Shippeitaoru AKA Hayatarou. I wouldn’t pass up meeting a holy dog either! She loads her trusty moped up with her gear and sets off before the sun comes up, her mom sending her off.

While at a stop light, Rin hears someone calling her name from a konbini…It’s Nadeshiko, who is buying snacks before starting her early workday! Nadeshiko runs up to chat with Rin and gives her something to eat and stay warm once she’s at her campsite: a cup of curry ramen.

Not only is it the same kind Rin shared with Nadeshiko when they first met, but it’s the same kind Rin’s  mom packed for her on her first ever trip, and thus always had deep sentimental value. Emphasizing the two girls’ warm, sweet, enduring friendship no matter how apart they are…Yuru Camp 2 is off to a great start!

Adachi & Shimamura – 07 – Friendship Chocolate

Just before midnight, Adachi texts Shimamura and they exchange New Years greetings. Shimamura is lying in her kotatsu and is reminded of Adachi’s thighs, the mention of which make Adachi blush. Adachi continues her push-and-pull between contentment and longing.

Part of her is happy with what she has with Shimamura, and part of her desires…er, more. Shimamura can sense Adachi wants to take their friendship to “higher place”, but is worried she may not have the “wings” with which to follow.

Before long, it’s already February, and Shimamura has observed that Adachi is being shyer and more distant than usual, until one day when she works up the courage to ask Shimamura to hang out after school to buy some sweet snacks. With Valentines Day approaching fast, Adachi wants to make sure she and Shimamura can hang out on that day.

While Nagafuji gets the urge to “lift up” a Hawaii-tanned Hino as they relax together, Shimamura asks Adachi for advice on how she should proceed with her darkening hair. Dye it again? Let it grow out? Adachi is not sure, bu is happy to be asked. Her responses, sometimes interrupted by hiccups, continue to perplex Shimamura: what exactly does this girl want from this? From “us”?

For now, baby steps suffice, as Adachi gets Shimamura to agree to spend Valentines Day together. She also wants them to exchange chocolate like Nagafuji and Hino do, but it’s clear she wants it to be more than obligatory “friendship” chocolate. Shimamura comes to admire Adachi’s resolve to get her words out and express her wants, no matter how much she stumbles along the way.

Little by little, she’s adding color to Shimamura’s grey, empty world. I think that’s a good thing! But then there’s suddenly a new source of color and light in the form of Shimamura’s childhood friend Tarumi, as they encounter one another at Nagafuji’s family shop. Tarumi is quick to note Shimamura has grown into a beauty, and quick ask for number so they can catch up later.

Any way you slice it, this is probably bad news for Adachi. Even if Tarumi doesn’t turn out to be a romantic rival, she’s still competition for “best friend” status, with built-in history helping her case. I can just imagine how Adachi will feel after learning about Tarumi—jealous, lonely, defeated…IN DESPAIR! Hopefully she can shake those things off and fight the good fight.

Cardcaptor Sakura – 62 – Dreaming of Darkness

New Year has come, and Sakura gets gussied up in a lovely pink kimono even her brother has to admit looks good (for a kaiju!). She and her fam visit the Tsukimine Shrine for New Years greetings and prayers, but Yukito is a no-show; Touya later finds him slumped over in his house, simply unable to stay awake.

On the bright side, Sakura spots Tomoyo with her mom Sonomi, and both Daidoujis make sure Sakura’s beauty is recorded for posterity. On the darker side, Eriol is the one to dispense Sakura and Tomoyo’s fortunes, and while Tomoyo’s foretells great luck, Sakura’s is a lot stranger, saying she’ll “find truth in her dreams”.

Speaking of dreams, Syaoran gets one granted when Tomoyo urges Sakura to pay him a visit and some tea; he quietly thanks Tomoyo for the gesture. They get to taste Syaoran’s homemade peach pastries, and Sakura learns from Wei that until her, only family have called him by his first name…which of course makes Syaoran as pink as Sakura’s kimono.

Her fortune gives her pause, and Kero-chan is increasingly concerned that Yue isn’t getting enough magical power to keep from fading out of existence, but for now Sakura goes to sleep. There, she finds no rest, but is urged by an ominous voice to release her wand and then convert and use the Dream card.

It shows her a foretelling dream of darkness descending on Tomoeda from the Tsukimine shrine. Upon its gate stand three figures in silhouette: a winged leopard-like beast, a winged human figure with long hair, and a boy with a staff.

While she hasn’t quite put faces or names to those shadowy figures, she’s closer than ever to discovering the source of the town’s many recent magical disturbances, and as Kero-chan warns, the day will come when she’ll meet them at the shrine. It’s in the cards.

Fruits Basket – 50 (Second Season Fin) – Feather Brain

Despite all of the chaos and craziness of These Times, leave it to the trusty Fruits Basket’s second season to end one year to the day after the first season ended in 2019. And it doesn’t end with a whimper, but a one-two punch that will leave your pulverized heart slowly stewing in your stomach, even as the brightest rays of hope yet shine upon Tooru’s mission.

The opening images herald what’s to come. As soon as I saw a young, bewildered Kureno surrounded by floating feathers and a positively terrified Akito cowering behind him, I knew the big secret Shigure has known, and would be dying to reveal were it not up to Kureno himself later: Kureno is not a Zodiac member. He hasn’t been for years. His bond with Akito was severed; the curse lifted…only to be immediately replaced by a new curse of his own making.

To the part about his curse being lifted, it’s the best news yet that Tooru’s dream of lifting it for all isn’t pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking, but a reality waiting to be realized. Of course, Tooru doesn’t know anything about this at first, and nor does Rin: but the fact that Rin will remain in a room and talk with Tooru (but leave the moment Yuki shows up) may well foreshadow future collaboration between the two. I certainly hope so, anyway!

For now, Tooru is happy for a new year with Yuki and Shigure and oh yeah, Kyou, who doesn’t appear in this episode, since the exploration of his and Tooru’s failure to confess to one another is best left to a future season for it to be done justice. Instead, most of the episode is given over to the truth about Kureno, and how he’s always seemed “off” to both Shigure and Hatori.

Kureno manages to steal away from a sleeping Akito’s side deep into the night, and plays the Cinderella-ish DVD given to him by Tooru c/o Momiji Both of them pray he’ll watch it, and he does. The scene with Tooru and Kyou was so powerful I almost forgot Arisa also bore her whole damn heart in the play.

First she castigated Prince Kyou for not acting on his feelings when there are “people out there (like her and Kureno) who can’t see the ones they wish to see.” When Arisa cries out “I want to see him!” Kureno can’t help but reach out. But his image of a smiling Arisa in her work apron is juxtaposed by a hysterical younger Akito begging him “Don’t abandon me!” and the dimensions of Kureno’s own personal prison come into clear focus.

The moment Tooru returns home to Shigure’s, he sends her out on an errand to buy envelopes, knowing full well she’ll do it immediately and with a smile (this is Tooru, after all). He also knows it will take her past a certain park where Kureno is waiting. Before noticing him, Tooru approaches a flock of sparrows, who naturally aren’t afraid of her what with her gentle soul and calming aura.

Then Kureno approaches her, and the birds scatter. This confuses Tooru to no end since she’s seen rabbits, rats and cats naturally gather around Momiji, Yuki, and Kyou, respectively. Then the absolute kicker: Kureno draws Tooru into a hug…and nothing happens. He tells her plainly: he’s different. His curse is broken. He isn’t a member of the Zodiac.

It would have been one thing if his burgeoning love for Arisa had broken the curse, but it happened long before they met, and to this day Kureno couldn’t tell you exactly why. All he knows his how he felt when it happened. At first he was sad upon realizing he’d never fly again. But he also felt a happiness and a freedom and a sense of humanity he’d never felt before.

Even so, he says, upon returning the DVD, Tooru’s present “was for nothing”, as he doesn’t intent to see Arisa again, and will instead remain by Akito’s side as he has done. It seems like a firm declaration, but as he tries desperately to rationalize two simple insignificant meetings with Arisa as easily forgotten with time…he just can’t do it.

There’s no supernatural or spiritual bond keeping him by Akito’s side. It is more pity than love, along with years of trying to make it something it hadn’t been since the curse broke. Upon realizing their bond was broken Akito lost it, taking Kureno aside and threatening to kill anyone else who approached. And then she sobbed and begged and pleaded for him not to leave her. And Kureno, being younger than Tooru is now and not knowing any better, gave in.

Things are even more different now than they were then. Kureno resolved neither to go too far into the outside world nor seek anything there, but he’s fallen in love for the first time since the curse broke, since he “became human”, as he puts it. And as much as he may want to stay by Akito’s side, just as back then, something has happened that cannot be undone.

Kureno might have been able to deceive the other Zodiac members for a while, but I doubt he ever deceived Akito. And yet despite knowing the curse was broken, his staying probably signaled to Akito that their power still held sway, which turned out to be true, only if psychologically and not supernaturally.

As Tooru tries to comfort the long-tormented Kureno, he tells her without self-pity, hatred, or regret, that he made his choice to live only for “the one who cried until sobs racked their body. Weaker than anyone…more fragile than anyone. For the one…so afraid…for a sorrowful girl.”

Akito wakes up before Kureno returns, and notes that it’s the first time he’s left without permission. After ordering their attendants to find him, Akito takes a bath, and when their robe slips off in the mirror, it is finally officially confirmed that Akito is a woman. This had already been heavily implied, both in design, choice of seiyu (Sakamoto Maaya), and in other subtle ways. But that doesn’t lesson the impact of learning the truth explicitly.

Immediately upon Tooru learning Akito is a girl, the second season ends, having answered so many questions and yet left us with so many more about what’s to come. Will Tooru (and Rin, and other allies) succeed in her quest to lift the curse for all? Will she even continue the quest, knowing how much pain it will cause Akito to take her remaining Zodiac members away? Will Tooru ever allow herself to love someone more than her mother? Will Kureno and Arisa meet again? Will Akito escalate her grudge against Tooru?

Lots to ponder, for sure. And that’s even before we get into how we’re supposed to feel about Akito, who regardless of gender has been a pretty consistently selfish, cruel, dispicable character from the start. It goes without saying she’d have a tragic past of her own to match her myriad psychological issues, and while I can empathize, goddamn is it hard to sympathize, when weighing the suffering she’s caused the others.

For all of that food for thought, and yearning for the next season, and the expert direction and framing and pitch-perfect music throughout, I found this one of the best episodes of Fruits Basket yet, which at this point is saying something, and it will be very very hard to wait for what’s next.

P.S. Additional food for thought: the reason Akito cherishes Kureno so much is because he is there by his own free will, and not due to any binding curse, something I hadn’t considered until we learned he’s no longer a Zodiac member. Ultimately this is the way all her companions should be: there by choice and not force. Of course, she’d have to be much nicer to them…

Want to read more? Read Crow’s thoughts here.

Fruits Basket – 49 – Wishing for Change

When Kakeru brings up ranger colors, Yuki surprises Machi by asking her what her favorite color is. No one has ever asked her that, and she doesn’t know anyway. She gets up to leave when Miki organizes a lunch meetup, but Yuki doesn’t let her slip away wordlessly, giving the cell phone-less Machi a written note of the time and place of the lunch.

Nobody ever paid any attention to Kuragi Machi. She passes through people and places as if she is invisible. She has no favorite color or preferred restaurant. She calls herself dull, a void, and a defective doll. Her apartment is a mess, because why bother keeping it clean if no one ever visits? She’s watched Yuki and how he’s changed, but can’t see if or how she can do the same.

Still, she took the simple maple leaf Yuki gave her and made it into a lovely bookmark, and possibly also a talisman; a reminder that change is not just possible, but necessary. Just as she’s wondering if her existence is necessary, Yuki answers that question by flagging her down; in her half-asleep stupor she happened to end up at the meeting spot for an even she had no intention of attending.

I’d been hoping for more Machi material, and this week we get lots. Despite her claims of dullness I find her a fascinating example of a non-Souma with Souma-like baggage, and thus an intriguing potential partner for Yuki, whom we’ve learned never had particularly romantic feelings for Tooru. Her problems are also an opportunity for Yuki to pay forward the progress he himself has made.

New Year’s is here, and there too are changes from last year. Yuki will be attending in addition to Shigure, so Tooru and Kyou will spend the holiday at Kazuma’s house, where Tooru is perhaps overly excited to learn that Isuzu is staying as well as she continues her recovery. Unfortunately Rin isn’t in the mood for Tooru’s exuberance.

Considering the line they independently drew between themselves, I’m not surprised Tooru and Kyou are fine with not spending New Years alone together—even though that delays the inevitable. That said, it’s still a hoot to watch them interact, with Tooru playfully hitting of Kyou with the pompom of her new scarf easily making the list of Top 10 Most Adorable Things Tooru Has Ever Done.

Meanwhile the banquet appears to be going off without a hitch. After Hatori performs a dance we sadly don’t get to see and Ayame entertains the others with his magnetic personality, Akito and Yuki seem on the cusp of a détente, with Akito deigning to forgive Yuki his past insolence now that he’s here.

But Yuki, as bold in front of Akito as we’ve ever seen him, deigns to forgive him as well, then goes on about how he’s done blaming others for his problems, and has resolved to be more aware of his flaws and areas in his life which he can improve. Yuki is essentially talking about change, which is anathema eternal Zodiac god like Akito.

Akito likes Yuki the way he is—or rather the way he thinks he is, which is in reality no longer the way he was. Yuki isn’t back because he was cowed or came to his senses or is admitting he was wrong; he’s back as a simple courtesy, which must feel patronizing to Akito. So Akito breaks a ceramic pot across Yuki’s face, and just like that, Yuki’s past and future absences from the banquet are handily justified.

It’s not a severe laceration—just a small cut on the scalp—but if anyone from Prince Yuki had seen their beloved Yuki’s beautiful face thus marred I’m not certain Akito would have made it out of the room in one piece! To Yuki, it was probably worth it to say something to Akito that in a perfect world all Zodiacs would be able to say to Akito: It is YOU who is a useless piece of shit who should just disappear. Mind you Yuki doesn’t actually say this; but it’s implied!

When Hatori cleans up the cut, Yuki also makes sure to apologize to him for blaming him for erasing the memories of his childhood friends. He now knows better, and that Hatori too was young and had to obey Akito. Hatori tells him, quite rightly, that there’s nothing to apologize for.

Tooru and Kyou actually end up alone together anyway, as Kazuma steps out and Rin has an early night. Hatsu stops by, but to be with Rin. Explaining Shisho’s mention of Kyou and Rin’s propensity to stare each other down as kids, Kyou tells Tooru that he felt like he stole Shisho from him, and so came to not like her.

As for Tooru’s New Year’s wish (which Kyou asks her for before he tells her his), while last year she wished for Kyou and Yuki to get along (and by their standards, they pretty much do now) this year her wish is arguably more ambitious: for the curse to be broken and happiness to come.

Against a Zodiac system that has endured for centuries without change, Tooru is wishing for change…for revolution. And by golly, if anyone can move the gods in the heavens to grant that wish, it’s Tooru. If they don’t, they can expect no quarter in the scarf pompom-thrashing to come!

Want to read more about episode 49? Check out Crow’s review here!

How Heavy are the Dumbbells You Lift? – 11 – Bridge Over Troubled Ratings

After a string of ten straight solid “8” episodes, the eleventh came off as somewhat sparse. As the teachers celebrate New Years Eve by drinking at home, the girls head to the Shrine of the Muscle God, which has a truly epic staircase for training purposes and is also maintained by none other than Machio.

After watching the sun come up and descending from the shrine, the girls still have enough energy to train. Gina suggests they use the equipment at a local park, but to her horror (and my surprise) most of the equipment on which to train has been removed from most parks in Japan, so they do a number of isometric exercises that require nothing but their own bodies. Handy if you’re training (as I plan to do upon completion of this show) but lacking in excitement.

Gina tries to spice things up by registering the group for a live TV talent show (directed by Deire Kutarou, from the idol competition) but the sum total of their performance is some poses and a perfectly-executed “Wrestler’s Bridge” from a masked Satomi. Deire is surprised to find the girls boosted his show to second-best in the time slot, and the producer and president want to see more of them.

Jason shows up and takes Deire aside to propose a “Nikunoshima Tour,” whatever that is, which will be covered in the twelfth and final episode. But I couldn’t help but feel like this was the weakest of the Dumbbell outings so far; unlike the others it felt more meandering, even listless, like it was running out of gas. Hopefully the finale can restore the lost momentum and bring things to a satisfying close.

Fruits Basket – 08 – All is Quiet on New Year’s Day

Everyone has somewhere to be for the New Year’s holiday…everyone but Tooru, whose parents are dead and whose remaining family is off to Hawaii. Yet no matter how hard Uo and Hana try to invite them to their places, she insists she’ll be fine, and that they should spend the time with their families.

After reveling in winter cleaning with the Soumas, Tooru learns the three are headed to the main house for the big banquet and other festivities. Tooru, not being a Souma, is not invited, but she’s content to hold the fort at Shigure’s house, even though it will mean ringing in the new year all alone.

Despite her insistence she’ll be fine, Yuki and Kyou are uneasy the whole time they’re en route to the main house. They know her well enough (it’s been four months) to know she can be a bit of a space cadet, and is prone to accidents. What if she gets hurt and no one is there to help her?

Shigure finds the two young lads’ worrying about her like their baby chick to be most entertaining, and so stirs the pot by saying there’s a burglar in their neighborhood who has yet to be caught. The final straw is when they run into Saki, who very simply and concisely asks them to consider how she’s feeling all alone at their house for New Years; to put themselves in her shoes, knowing both what she’s been through.

Yuki and Kyou bump heads rushing back home to her, cursing themselves for not realizing they accepted Tooru’s polite insistence far too easily. Saying you’re fine being alone and being fine alone are not the same thing, even with Tooru. Their suspicions are confirmed when they arrive to find her holding her mother’s portrait and crying while listening to Enka music on the telly.

Wondering what the heck happened, an exhausted Yuki and Kyou collapse to the floor and say, simply, “I’m home”…and Tooru tears right back up, only they’re tears of joy. Despite always smiling on the outside, Tooru is not always happy and cheerful on the inside; the lads were right not to leave her alone on the holiday; she’s happiest when she’s with people she cares about.

Shigure meets with Hatori, Hatsuhare, and Momiji, informing them Yuki and Kyou have skipped. Hatsuhare can understand, as he himself contemplates running from things he’d rather not engage in. But Shigure tells him this wasn’t about running away from Akito (in Yuki’s case) or Kagura (in Kyou’s); not this time.

Instead, it was about running to someone, someone both in greater need and more deserving of their presence. That’s hammered home when Shigure checks in on a morose Akito. Shigure is actually glad to see the family head reaping what he sowed. Shigure is the one harboring Yuki and Kyou during their self-exile, after all; it makes sense he’d be on their side with this…situation.

Meanwhile, by spending New Years with Tooru, keeping her company, sharing mochi (and chewing carefully!), and finally climbing up the roof together to watch the gorgeous first sun rise out of the horizon, the guilt Yuki and Kyou initially felt about abandoning their formal family obligations eventually melts away.

No, Yuki and Kyou needed Tooru every bit as much as Tooru needed them. Far from being a night they’ll regret, it turns out to be a night—and morning—the three of them won’t soon forget. They get to see Tooru smile without a hint of weariness hidden behind it as she looks forward to another year with two of the four people (along with Uo and Saki) most important in her life; her real family.

Steins;Gate 0 – 06 – New Year, Same Old Problems

“Kana” is definitely Shiina Kagari—even if the Oopa were a copy, there are certain things (the sound of her name, words from her future adoptvie mother) that give her an odd sense of nostalgia. And Suzu would recognize the girl who pulled a gun on her a mile away.

Okabe contacts Kiryuu to tell her Kagari has been found, but to request she continue investigating the group that was after her. After Kiryuu hangs up, we get our first sense that something is going to come to a head this week.

Little did I know when watching her teasing Maho that Judy Reyes of all people could also be involved.

It’s New Years, so the whole gang goes to the shrine, both to pray and give offerings and see Mayushii, Rukako, and Feyris in shrine maiden garb.

Everyone has lots of fun, but Judy shows up with Leskinen to say a quick ‘Hi’, while turning to leave she spots Kagari and gives her one hell of a sidelong glance.

There are more foreboding doings as Tennouji acts particularly shifty and a man in black lurks behind a wall, all while Mayushii & Co. bring the party to the lab and continue enjoying themselves.

Maho is among those having a good time, but gets a sudden video call from Amadeus, and answers the phone without leaving the room. Before long she’s surrounded by everyone curious about who her caller is, and Maho has no choice but to reveal the AI with Kurisu’s memories to them.

She apologizes to Okabe as the others talk with Amakurisu, but Okabe isn’t mad; he knows he has to start thinking of Kurisu, Amadeus, and Kagari as three distinct individual entities. He also needs to keep protecting the world Kurisu sacrificed herself to protect, no matter how much it might hurt or how easy it is to look back.

Unfortunately, Okabe is caught quite off guard when an armed gang once again infiltrates the lab and points their guns at Mayushii, Kagari, and the other guests. Suzuha is also caught off-guard, so it’s not like Okabe was alone in being lulled into a false sense of security. They weren’t direct witnesses to all of the strange things going on on the periphery of this episode like we did, after all.

When Kiryuu’s SERN assault team raided the lab back in the first season’s twelfth episode, it marked the official end of “fun and games.” That moment arrives six episodes earlier in S;G 0, and it also has the burden of trying to top that devastating, show-defining moment. Suffice it to say the ending of this episode wasn’t nearly as shocking, for the simple reason that we’ve seen it before.

History would seem to be repeating itself, and his loved ones apparently aren’t safe even here, in this Kurisu-less World Line. Then again, Mayushii wasn’t shot…yet. Perhaps, like Kagari and Kurisu, events only resemble what happened before, but may in reality be something completely different. But whatever that ends up being, it probably won’t be pleasant.

Takunomi. – 11 – Hot Pot, Hot Sake

Michiru is full of energy and kitted out in full yukata as all four housemates visit a shrine to pray for a prosperous New Year. Since everyone else is in modern garb, Michiru can’t keep up and get lost in the crowd, missing a chance to drink some traditional amazake with the others.

She also gets pretty cold with no coat, so when they get home Kae whips up the perfect meal for a cold day off: hot pot. Nao provides the booze-of-the-week: a special sake called Daishichi Junmai Kimoto, especially well-suited to be enjoyed hot (but also great cold). One thing I didn’t know: how quickly you heat it and the specific temperature results in different flavors being released.

Nao heats it up to “Atsukan” packs a rich punch that goes perfectly with the hot pot proteins, vegetables, and broth. The combination of hot food and hot sake quickly make Michiru very relaxed, changing into her PJ’s and cuddling up to Nao like she’s back home—where she was the talk of the town for her big city exploits.

Takunomi. – 10

It’s the end of the year, and Kae is going to Okinawa with a colleague, reminding Nao of the time they went together so Kae could get over a heartbreak (both have embarrassing pics of one another from that trip). Nao is too busy at work to go, and eventually becomes burnt out, so Kae, with Michiru and Makoto’s help, arranges a way restore Nao’s spirits.

That results in an Okinawan-themed dinner and drinking party, which immediately cheers Nao up. Okinawa is a relatively small island, so it stands to reason they use every possible bit of the pig in their cuisine.

In a neat fact not mentioned in the ep, some of the pork Nao and Kae ate when they went was likely descended from the pigs shipped to the island by Japanese Americans in Hawaii after WWII to help deal with the food shortage.

The perfect beer to wash down the rich, fatty pork is Orion beer, which like all beers brewed for tropical locals, has a light, clean, refreshing taste, a sensation that comes through in the precise animation of the characters drinking.

Makoto managed to find Orion beer at a store a little further out of the way, prompting Nao to embrace her sister, pronounce her love, and beg her to never find a man so they can be together forever (Makoto is understandably noncommittal).

The quartet also remarks how they’ve been together a whole half-year, and it’s been so much fun they should all go to Okinawa together next year.

As it is, Michiru is headed home to spend New Year’s with her mom, but due to all the Okinawan celebrating, she oversleeps and nearly misses her flight; another reminder that part of mastering drinking is making sure you can meet your scheduling obligations afterwards. Still, lots of good food, beer, and fellowship this week.