Charlotte – 08

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Charlotte follows its best episode (and one of the best episodes of the Summer) with another powerful outing, though not quite packing the same punch. It has Yuu returning to school and to the routines he had abandoned after Ayumi’s death. It’s all here, from Joujirou’s fanboying and bleeding, Yusarin’s spells and music videos, Tomori’s standoffishness and drop-kicking.

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But just when Yuu (and I) think the wet guy is going to show up with the next ability user, Tomori says he’s not coming. Instead, she has a second ticket to a ZHIEND show tomorrow, and wants one of them to go with her. Citing their honest ignorance of and disinterest in post-rock (look it up on Wikipedia), the process of elimination makes Yuu Nao’s “date,” and when she says it’s nice to have a breather now and then, he agrees and accepts.

Later that day while walking home, he bumps into a fuchsia-haired blind woman who mixes English in with her bizarre accent and is on a quest for “modern-yaki.”

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Yuu takes her to a okonomiyaki joint for some hiroshima-yaki instead, and learns that she’s none other than Sala Shane, the lead vocalist for ZHIEND. Not only that, Sala is a remarkably down-to-earth person who picks up instantly on Yuu’s still-raw wounds of grief, and decides to spend the whole day with him.

Yuu calls Nao to join them, but she seems utterly disinterested, which I took to mean she might have somehow arranged this, because the fact of the matter is Yuu benefits from hanging out with Sala, even as he still reflexively pulls out his phone to tell Ayumi he won’t be home for dinner.

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Sala once had the use of her eyes, and was once far bigger and more popular than she is now with her “dull” little post-rock band. But when things got out of hand with the fame and the money and the way the people around her changed, she gave it all up, making a deal with God to take her sight in exchange for a smaller, more peaceful life.

I couldn’t help but notice the similarity of her sitting in a dark, trash-filled house with nothing but the light of the TV to similar sights of Yuu in the same position. She remarks that the day may come when he too has to make a deal with God, and tells him to “handle it well” when it does.

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We learn where Yuu is taking Sala when we see the rest of his phone call with Nao, in which he tells her he’s bringing Sala to her brother’s hospital, betting she might be able to help bring part of him back from the fog. Where Nao almost seemed annoyed earlier in the call that she’d jump at the chance to see her heroine (in stark contrast to Joujirou, who worships the dirt beneath Yusa’s feet), here she expresses gratitude as the sun sets before her.

The highlight of the episode is Sala’s stirring solo a capella performance to an audience of Yuu and Kazuki. Sala is old enough that she would no longer have a power, and yet there she is, soothing the soul of a fellow adult, as someone who still has their power listens intently.

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Kazuki does come back; Yuu wins his bet, at least for now. Nao rushes to her brother’s side, then calls Yuu back to thank him from the bottom of her heart. Yuu doesn’t need Sala’s other heightened senses to detect Nao’s sincerity.

As for Yuu, he takes what Sala said to heart about him knowing good people, which have changed him without him knowing it. Last week, Nao straight-up saved him from falling off a cliff of despair. This week, without even thinking about it, Yuu repaid Nao’s kindness by helping her brother. Thanks to his experiences in these first days back in the post-Ayumi world, Yuu can see the light, and himself, and is happy with what he sees.

But he still gets nostalgic when he hears ZHIEND. Will he reach another breakthrough at the concert with Nao?

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Charlotte – 07

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Charlotte doesn’t hold any doors open, nor does it waste any time or pull any punches: Yuu survives the injuries incurred by the debris, but Ayumi is gone. And it’s only in that moment and in the days to come that Yuu realizes how much he took her presence, and her cooking, for granted. He thought he was taking care of her, but it wasn’t a one-way street, and Ayumi’s death leaves a yawning chasm in Yuu’s heart, a stinging sense of loss and helplessness that pervades this powerful but heartbreaking episode.

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Having failed to protect or “repay” his sister, Yuu surenders and shuts down. He tries to fill the hole with cup ramen and television, and either ignores or lashes out at anyone who tries to wrest him from his self-imposed punishment, from Misa and Jou to even Yumi, whom he once worshiped. Liking and pursuing her must feel like a sad joke compared to the situation he’s in now.

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Then sketchy men in black show up, and Yuu starts to think (perhaps not wrongly) the government is about to capture him. So he gets away, where he thinks the soaked kid can’t find him, and his “home” grows even smaller as he squats in an anime cafe eating pizza and mochi balls while continuing to escape from life by playing violent video games that he probably used to not care about in the least.

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When some roughs are using that video game too long Yuu takes the bait and starts playing games with them. One gang after another, no matter how strong or numerous or feared, falls before his body-swapping ability. He creates chaos among the group, and it’s in that chaos in which he’s able to work most effectively to defeat them. He’s using his skills not to help people, but to entertain himself.

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He learns “real life”, with real bodies and real blood, is more fun than the games. The hole he’s filled becomes infected and festers. He’s becoming a villain before our eyes, and the path he’s walking looks more and more like a one-way street. When he finds some drugs on one of his victims, he’s about to take things to the next level when Nao kicks them out of his hand, appearing out of nowhere. Where is Nao in all of this, I asked myself throughout Yuu’s self-destruction kick. Was she so guilty about how she handled the Ayumi case, or so upset about what became of Yuu, that she couldn’t face him?

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No, she was right there, by his side…the whole time. Last week’s cliffhanger kept open the possibility that supernatural powers would have some role to play in the story’s resolution, but magic couldn’t save Ayumi from her own power, nor could it save Yuu from drowning in grief and despair. But with her power, Nao could stay by his side, invisible only to him, with no time limit, and wait for him to get better. When it’s clear he won’t, she makes herself visible to him, in order to make him get better.

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And why? Not just because she feels partially responsible for Ayumi’s death, but because Yuu is, at the end of the day, someone she cares about, and if she can help it, she’s not going to let him destroy himself. So she makes a deal with him: if he has one bite of the food she makes for him, he’ll never see or hear form her again. At Joujirou’s house, she painstakingly recreates the same super-sweet omelette rice Ayumi always made for him. And he can’t have just one bite. He eats every bite, and agrees to come home.

It’s not words or actions that pull him out of deep waters of despair that are all to easy to slide into following the shock of a loss. It’s food; it’s a smell and a taste, and all of the better times and happy memories tied to them. It’s a reminder that he is still alive, and there are better ways to live, and better ways to fill the holes in your heart.

Brilliant portrait of a broken Yuu, and a equally brilliant scheme to save him by Nao. I’m still drying my eyes from the heavy emotions this episode so eloquently expressed.

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Charlotte – 06

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Ah, now that’s more like it. Just when I was hankering for Charlotte to mix up its ability user-of-the-week formula that was growing repetitive, it does just that in its midpoint episode. Things are different this week, as the ability user has a potentially extremely dangerous ability (called “Collapse” by Kumagami), and may not be a stranger, but Yuu’s own adorable little sister Ayumi, who had just suspiciously taken ill last week.

Yet with all the weight of these new adjustments to the formula, the show still finds apropraite moments of comedy, like the best way to exclude Joujirou from their trip to see Ayumi. Yuu is about to swap bodies with him so he can make him jump out the window, but Nao beats him to it by simply dropkicking him out the window. It isn’t the first time Yuu and Nao are of one mind on an issue, and it won’t be the last.

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A little more random peripheral comedy is found on their trip to the store prior to visiting Ayumi, in which Yuu’s practical purchases are augmented by Nao’s procurement of stewed mushrooms (apparently an excellent topping for porridge…Zane?) and most amusingly, a $20 tin of cookies Yuu has never seen removed from its dusty shelf, let alone purchased.

Yuu enters before Nao and Yusa, and finds a group of Ayumi’s classmates already there: the cornflower blue-haired and well-spoken class rep Nomura; the boy Ayumi rejected, Oikawa, and the gloomy, taciturn Konishi, who gives Yuu the evil eye on her way out. That look set off warning bells that she, not Ayumi, could be the Collapse user.

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While Ayumi’s nose predictably becomes a nose fountain even upon her first glance of a heavily-disguised Yusarin, far more heartening was her attitude towards Yuu and Nao. The two are constantly fervently denying her suspicions they’re dating, or her assertions they make a good couple, even as they proceed to work well as a couple. Methinks they doth protest too much, and out of the mouth of babes (well, middle schoolers) comes the truth that they really are gelling nicely.

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Yuu even heeds Nao’s suggestion Ayumi stay home an extra day even if she’s feeling better. But Ayumi is sick of being cooped up, and sneaks out of the condo complex and into school. There, she interacts with all the classmates who visited her, only now Oikawa is exerting more pressure for her to go out with him (What a creep!), forcing Nomura to swoop in and hold him back (Good for her!), and finally Konishi coming at her with a clicking utility knife (Yikes!)

Before she brandished that knife, I was still considering the possibility Konishi would use Collapse against Ayumi for stealing Oikawa from her. But once it appeared, it looked more likely that Collapse was Ayumi’s power after all, to use as a last-ditch defensive measure.

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Once Yuu and the others learn Ayumi is at school, they rush there with speed. I found it notable that Joujirou’s ability was not utilized, though perhaps they felt adding more chaos to an already chaotic situation wasn’t the best course. (Yuu and Joujirou were also delayed by pasta, of all things!)

The result of that choice is that they’re too late, and Ayumi’s ability involuntarily manifests before Konishi cuts her. Everything beneath her—concrete, steel, glass, everything—crumbles to bits. She’s saved from Konishi, but falls victim to her own ability by being apparently crushed beneath the debris it created.

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In a sudden state of panic and intensity we had yet to see in Yuu, he clambers to the debris pile that was once a corner of the middle school and starts desperately digging for his sister. In the process, an orange-haired girl who earlier flashed an ID to school security laments she too was too late (I gather she’s part of a team other than Nao’s charged with stopping ability users).

Then a concrete pillar falls on Yuu, and the scene cuts to black and the credits roll to a gorgeous, ethereal new ending theme that sounds like a lament, and an end to everything that’s come before. After those credits, we encounter Kumagami standing in the rain over debris stained with blood. This raises far more questions than it answers, to my considerable intrigue.

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