Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 22

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Since Shirayuki’s visit to Tanbarun and Zen’s little excursion to rescue her from pirates, quite a lot of work has piled up at Wistal Castle. But this isn’t just a “Back-to-Work”, “Stay Busy to Keep from Getting Blue” episode: it brings up a crucial duty of Second Prince Zen Wisteria: he must, at some point, take a wife.

As Shirayuki’s herbalist work has piled up, so too have requests for marriage interviews from various highborn ladies from around the kingdom and beyond. Lord Haruka doesn’t give Zen the option to reject the process altogether, but he does give him some leeway: meeting with one potential wife will suffice…for now.

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From the list of suitable candidates, Zen chooses…Kiki. Turns out, she’s a count’s daughter. Zen, of course, can’t order her; he must make a heartfelt request to aid him in his stalling tactic. Because Kiki likes Zen and wants to do what she can for him and Shirayuki, she agrees, even though she hates dresses (since they make it hard to carry a sword).

And while Kiki’s name will be kept out of public discourse, it doesn’t take long for rumors to spread across the castle that Zen is meeting with somebody. Even Shirayuki hears this (unbeknownst to Zen), and no matter how hard she works, she can’t shake the uneasiness. Ryuu and Garack can see it practically emanating from her in waves.

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We already knew Kiki cleans up nice (her skin is even more “Snow White” than Shirayuki’s), but we didn’t know that she was in a dress when she and Mitsuhide met for the first time. Mitsu assumed she was a lady Zen was interested in, but the next time they met, she was sparring with Zen, and he mistook her for a “noble boy”.

The misunderstanding wouldn’t be cleared up right then and there, but Mitsu and Kiki would nevertheless spend five years having each other’s backs and protecting their prince. Obi can’t help but notice that seeing Kiki with another man—even if it’s Zen, and not a serious omiai—makes Mistu uneasy. Mitsu won’t go so far as to profess his love of Kiki, but he’s definitely glad they met, and the feeling is mutual.

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The interview doesn’t last long, and soon Zen is back to hittin’ the books, but when Obi lets slip that Shirayuki knows about the interview—but he didn’t inform her that it was with Kiki and just for show—Zen races to Shirayuki’s side to apologize and comfort her in one of their tender scenes.

Later that night, Izana informs Zen he’ll be taking a wife soon, which will make Zen next. The future of the kingdom rests on the choice he’ll make. Left unspoken throughout both this episode and the entire show, and yet always on my mind, is the fact Shirayuki is a commoner, with nary a drop of noble blood to her name, which would make any possible official arrangement with Zen extremely tricky at best and impossible at worst.

To my surprise and delight, Izana rekindles my desire to see the two lovebirds tie the knot in the end, by endorsing Zen’s decision and pledging his support as an ally, not an obstacle. He’s seen what Zen’s love for Shirayuki led him to do in her name, without tarnishing the royal family. He’s probably also weighing the immense cost of refusing him, but Zen has proven to him beyond doubt he’s serious about marrying Shirayuki and no one else.

Note, Izana doesn’t say it will be easy to convince everyone else—including their father the king—but this is a promising start to the fairy tale ending I desire.

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Oregairu 2 – 11

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Okay, so last week we weren’t quite witnessing an omiai, but rather a party for Yukino, with family and friends old and new assembled. But it still creates the rumor that she and Hayama Hayato are going out. And Hayama Hayato is supposed to be “Everyone’s”, in the way exceptionally handsome and talented school idols are.

Iroha knows such rumors could open the flood gates of girls “testing” Hayato for openings, as she most effectively demonstrates on Hikki. But Miura Yumiko is not amused. If Hayato is the King of the School, she’s the Queen, and while to a degree a king belongs to his subjects, Hayato is hers, and she wants to get to the bottom of this upsetting rumor.

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Only all they can get out of either subject of the rumor are unsatisfying answers. While the idea of these two going out feels ludicrous, it’s not like are privy to their every move, either. But let’s say they’re not and move on, because that’s what everyone is going to be doing soon, either to liberal arts or sciences.

Which one Hayama chooses could help everyone figure out what he’s going to do with himself, and who he’s going to do it with, but he volunteers no information to Hikki upon being asked. Turns out Everyone’s Hayama is No One’s Hayama.

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When the Service Club shows up to help Iroha rearrange a room, Yukino and Yui don’t only see how Iroha acts towards Hikky when she thinks they’re not behind him (they are), but the alumnai who show up to help include Haruno, who doesn’t know anything more about Hayama’s future plans.

Making Hikki walk her home (not a bad deal for Hikki, really), she shares in the growing frustration with not knowing the path Yukino and Hayama will choose. But she does know Hayama was hoping Hikki would ask him like he did.

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The next day there’s a marathon, and after we see Yui’s adorable “Ganbatte!” face, we see what Hikki planned with Saika: the tennis club holds the field back to let Hikki run alone side by side with Hayama. Hikki tries to capitalize on the emotionally vulnerable state of someone at the halfway point of a long trial to get more out of Hayato…and he succeeds!…sort of.

Faced with Hikki’s smug assertion Hayato has been using Yumiko as a shield against other girls, and telling him if his goal is to keep them away, he should choose the Sciences, Hayato tells Hikki he doesn’t like him, and they could never be friends, because as much as he’s tried to be equals with him, he can’t help but feel inferior to Hikki.

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Hayato may be able to find another gear and win the footrace, as the setting of high school is his wheelhouse, but he doesn’t think he’ll win the battle he wants to against Hikki. Not necessarily the battle for Yukino’s heart, but something more abstract: the battle to find “The Real Thing.” High School is ultimately just practice for such a thing.

In thanking only Iroha and Yumiko in his victory speech, Hayato quells the rumors about him and Yukino. Then Hikki heads to the nurse’s office to tend to his skinned knee, and Yukino is there, having forfeited her race. She insists on dressing his wound, which puts the two in direct contact and even within kissing distance at the perfect time of day, but understandably (and somewhat infuriatingly), neither can pull the trigger.

That’s not all bad though, because these two, plus Yui, are in a good place. And it seems all three will be going into Liberal Arts, so they’ll be together at least a bit longer.

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At the after-party, Hayato formally apologizes to Yukino for getting her mixed up in the rumors, and when he has him alone, Hikki declares he doesn’t much like Hayato, either, something hardly anyone’s ever said to his exalted face, and almost seems to make him happy.

But Hayama Hayato, the one with seemingly all the choices in the world, stalwartly refuses to choose anything, no matter who it may confound hurt, calling it his “self-satisfaction.” It’s a fence somebody like him, with his particular lot in life, has decided to continue standing on, and it’s hard to judge him for it.

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Nagato Yuki-chan no Shoushitsu – 08

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Nagato Yuki-chan took it easy this week. Like, really easy. Like, it just hung out in an onsen as the lit club simply relaxed. This was a very relaxed episode. Whether it was relaxing depends on your patience. I suppose it makes sense, though, as this rest marks the halfway point of the show’s rather unusual 16-episode run.

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One of the curiosities of this particular onsen is that its open-air bath is an omiai or matchmaking bath, with a small door that offers views between the men’s and women’s sides of the bath—that only the women can open (which is the way it should be!) This is different from the usual “guys try to sneak a look at the girls” angle.

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That being said, if you were itching to see Haruhi, Yuki, Asahina, Tsuruya and Mikuru in various states of tastefully covered-up nudity, you were in luck this week. From the tight closeups of the girls disrobing to Haruhi’s general (and very true-to-character) lack of modesty, the onsen fanservice was present and accounted for.

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Post-bath, pre-dinner activites? It had those too, from a table tennis tournament totally rigged by Haruhi, to a karaoke tournament she flakes out of when she suddenly gets bored, which happens the moment Kyon is about to sing. What’s mildly funny is that he’s so into it he doesn’t notice his friends have left him and he’s singing to some random woman cleaning the bath.

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Like previous episodes, this one was also not afraid to take long pauses of calm silence. Kyon successfully repels Haruhi and Koizumi and enjoys a good twenty seconds before deciding to go back to the baths, at the exact same time Yuki decides to do the same thing. Then Yuki opens the matchmaking window on a whim to find Kyon right there on the other side, perfectly framed in the heart-shaped hole in the frosted glass.

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She apologizes, he tells her she doesn’t have to, and invites her to open it again—it’s for conversation, not peeping, after all—but the sound of the others spooks her. Nevertheless, the two have a good relaxed laugh on their respective sides, and the requisite Yuki x Kyon Moment is achieved, though Yuki once again fails to confess her feelings.

If nothing else, this episode made me want to take a long, hot, possibly herb-infused bath, followed by a brief spell in the sauna, a cold fruit milk, and a multi-course Japanese meal. Sounds heavenly.

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Sword Art Online II – 18

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We start in a warm and familiar log cabin in the forest on a cold and snowy night…

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Perhaps well aware its audience would only tolerate so many recaps, SAO II wisely avoided a re-telling of what was a brief, self-contained Excaliber arc. What we got instead was still lightweight enough to make Colin Chapman blush, but rather than a random, partially-baked, pulled-out-of-its-ass Norse-loaf, both distinct halves of this episode were steeped in the SAO we’ve lived through and emotionally resonates the most for us. It was a warm, cozy episode.

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Full-size Human Yui > Tinkerbell Yui. There, I said it.

God, I almost forgot Yui was once normal-sized! Yes, we go all the way back to the halcyon time of almost perfect contentment on Aincrad’s 22nd Floor, a log cabin in the forest where Kirito and Asuna fell in love and built a home and family. Unlike Kirito, Asuna didn’t really like her home and family in the real world, so when they lost their cabin, it was like losing the only home where she’d ever been happy.

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So when Egil notifies Kirito and Asuna that the 21st through 30th floors of New Aincrad are open for exploration and clearing in ALO, they jump at the chance to find and reclaim that home. Their friends and family help out, and unlike the Jotenheimr arc, there’s an actual important purpose to their fighting that I care about. The boss on Floor 21 puts up a fight (on Christmas Eve!), but with their usual excellent teamwork the party brings it down and advance to the next level.

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Asuna’s well-earned jubilation at returning to Floor 22 to find their cabin just as they left it, and Yui returning to her normal size after they press they “Buy” button together…I’m not gonna lie, I got a little glassy-eyed myself. It’s a beautiful little moment; filled with joy. And now we know why in the episode’s cold open the gang was in that cabin!

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The timing couldn’t have been better for Asuna, either. As the daughter of a super -rich aristocratic family in Kyoto, her family subjects her to meet-and-greets and omiais with sketchy rich douchebags. There isn’t any indication she’s being forced into anything, but it’s clear ALO isn’t just an idle escape; it’s where she finds strength and control over her life. There, she has a family in Kirito and Yui and the rest of the gang. But still, you’d think her folks would let her choose for herself after she came so close to being freaking coma-raped last season.

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It’s at her home in the cabin in the woods where she’s having a study sleepover session with Kirito, Yui, Sugu, Liz, and Silica, where she learns of Zekken, a mysterious but singularly powerful dueler offering a unique eleven-hit combo sword skill that matches her preferred setup to the one who beats him (or her; they’re continually referred to without gender).

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Liz, Sugu, and even Kirito have already gone up against Zekken and lost, so it would seem to fall to Asuna to get the job done and win that skill for herself. That’s a good thing, as it would be nice to have Asuna front and center kicking ass again, as we’ve only seen the slightest tastes of her in action thus far this season.

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When Asuna is shocked Kirito couldn’t beat Zekken, Liz has a very good theory for why he lost. Sugu remarks that Kirito wasn’t slacking off, but nor did he dual-wield. As Liz puts it, Kirito will probably only ever fight with everything he’s got if the game is no longer a game, such as it was in the days of SAO and when he was fighting to free Asuna. It’s a nice bit of analysis from Liz, another one we hear far too little from.

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No green-bobbed Slylph Asuna? BOOOO!

Just kidding, Blue Asuna will do just fine for the upcoming fight. A new ending sequence prominently shows a girl who somewhat resembles Asuna but isn’t Yui or anyone we’ve met before, and furthermore matches Zekken’s general color scheme. Combined with the way the gang talked about Zekken without specific gender articles, this girl is probably Zekken herself. I for one am excited to see where this new Asuna-centric arc takes us.

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And now, your SAO II Moment of Zen:saoii18mz