3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 11 – Just Trying to Help

With Hikari and Iroha’s problems behind them the focus turns to Itou and Ishino, both apparent victims of unrequited love (or in Ishino’s case, lust?) On Hikari’s suggestion, Itou works up the courage to ask Ayado out to a movie, without overtly labeling it a date, but her easy acceptance and lingering smile doesn’t set Itou at ease; quite the contrary.

Hikari watched Itou asking her out from the classroom, and starts to wonder if Ayado, the girl who just confessed to him, is the girl his first (and for a long time only) friend has come to like after years of saying 3D girls aren’t for him (a philosophy Hikari himself subscribed to until meeting Iroha).

As for Ishino, she sees everyone apparently pairing off and having fun, and is jelly. She’s also feeling legitimately lonely and undesirable due to Takanashi’s constant rejections, so when her objectively awful ex offers to hang out with her on the weekend, she not only accepts, but cuteifies herself up to the max. I honestly mistook Ishino for Iroha, so infrequently does she clean up thus.

Itou and Ayado’s movie date-not-date goes swimmingly, though Itou can scarely deride any enjoyment, so skittish and silent she is around the always bright and ebullient Ayado. Her enthusiasm and gratitude for being invited is all well and good, but the one thing Itou is afraid of revealing through further engaging her is the fact that she, the girl he’s come to like, doesn’t like him that way. So he keeps his feelings to himself.

The next day at school Ayado visits Hikari and Itou’s class to give Itou his ticket stub she accidentally took. Hikari, acting a lot like his mom acts toward him (proud of and excited for Itou), but one careless question has Ayado asking Hikari if he wants to see it, she’ll see it a second time.

That has the one-two punch of demonstrating to Itou that Ayado still has eyes for Hikari and devaluing their date by saying it could be so easily replicated. Mind you, neither were Ayado’s intentions, but if she still likes Hikari and has no idea how Itou feels, who can blame her?

Hikari tries to make things right with a “double date” picnic with him and Iroha and Itou and Ayado. He even grabs Iroha and runs off so the Itou can have some time alone with Ayado. When Iroha learns what he’s up to, she scolds him, because he’s taking romantic shortcuts.

That evening on the ride home, Hikari apologizes for being careless, and sees now how Itou needing so much help could make him feel pathetic. Hikari’s heart, as usual is in the right place: he just wants Itou to be happy, like he is, now that he knows how fortunate it feels not only to love someone, but to be loved by that same person.

As for Ishino, she’s stood up by her ex, but Takanashi happens to pass by, and as much of a cad as the guy is, he’s not about to walk past a crying Ishino, and takes her out for ramen.

While walking hand-in-hand, both hoping things work out for Itou and Ayado, Hikari and Iroha come across a very handsome young man in a red jacket whose immediate reaction upon seeing them holding hands is to cold-cock Iroha, breaking his glasses (and almost his jaw). It turns out not to be an ex of Iroha’s but her younger brother Chika.

Iroha is furious with Chika, but still lets herself get whisked away by him, despite the fact he just committed assault on her boyfriend. Chika’s a guy who makes judgments based on covers, and thought Hikari was a stalker and can’t understand why Iroha is dating him

Back home things get a little creepier when he caresses Iroha’s face. Possessive and possibly incestuous? Greeeaaaat. Looks like Hikari’s final trial of the show will be winning over this guy, or at least punching him back! That, and enduring the inevitable goodbye that was pre-loaded into his romance with Iroha when it began.

Kiznaiver – 09

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What started this spiraling closed loop of intense pain that took down six of the seven Kiznaivers, leaving them writhing in the rain? Kacchon left Chidori. He left her at a critical time; when she was oh-so-close to telling him her past love for him is still present.

Worse, Kacchon left her to go after Noriko, whom she always suspected was a rival but now has to deal with the devastating reality that he chose Noriko, not her. He did it without even knowing what it would do to Chidori.

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Yamada twists the knife by getting the other six Kiznaivers into an A/W room and playing a live feed of Kacchon’s talk with Noriko, as they discuss whether he likes her. He’s not sure, but he can’t stop thinking about her, and the little girl in the dream he has has become clearer since he was Kizna’d. He knows it’s her now.

It’s too much for Chidori to watch, and seeing her so hurt makes Tenga pained and angry. Nico, in turn, is pained and angry by Tenga’s concern for Chidori and not her. But both Tenga and Nico decide to go to that gym, Tenga hoping something can be done, Nico so she can “get hurt properly.”

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Some shit is going down in that gym. The closer Kacchon gets to Nori, the more memories come flowing to the surface; the names of the other child subjects—those who weren’t so lucky—combine with Noriko’s rhythmic ball-bouncing that is a kind of heartbeat to transport Kacchon to that time.

A second Kizna scar, on his chest, glows just like the one on Noriko’s neck. These two are connected; they always were; long before the other connections. As his dream promised, Kacchon wonders if he’s finally getting his pain back. In any case, he can’t stop holding Noriko.

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At this point, the others arrive, and it goes about as well as you’d expect. Chidori runs off; Tenga sucks it up and tells Kacchon to go after her; Nico runs off; Yuta tells Tenga to go after her; and Tenga learns for the first time Nico loves him. It’s a mess, and it’s wonderful how quickly a couple of initially cute love polygon vertices start to fray at the edges and become twisted into something far darker.

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Urushii can tell this isn’t going to end well, but Yamada insists the experiment continue, seemingly unconcerned with whether the subjects undergo full mental breaks. Thankfully, Urushii remembers a man’s weak spot and heads out.

She might be too late; the damage is done in the soupy, pounding rain tinged with industrial light; a striking venue for the things that transpire. At this point the Kizna scars turn blood red, and everyone can start hearing each others’ hearts. Chidori tells Kacchon to let go, but her heart wants him to hold her.

He listens to her heart, but that only makes things worse, since she knows he’s not doing it sincerely as with Noriko. Tenga, rather than go after a distraught Nico, starts beating the crap out of Kacchon. Nico and everyone else shows up, and the combined emotional pain starts coming in intolerable waves.

It’s even enough for Maki to reconsider getting any closer to anyone…and who can blame her, under such extreme, torturous circumstances? But what’s so sad is that Maki things this is what will always happen if people try to grow closer and closer.

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She forgets that they’re all young people, and what seems like world-ending emotional distress can be seen as frivolous to an adult, like, say, Yamada. How many teenagers have screamed through their parents’ hallway, before slamming the door to their room, something along the lines of “MY LIFE IS OVER”?

Even so…this situation looks pretty damn bad, no matter what your age. It’s interesting, though, that Kacchon outlasts everyone in staying upright. Is his pain lessened by the fact he’s also connected to Noriko, and has been already through something similar to this for years?

All I know is, our would-be friends came face-to-face with more secrets about who has feelings for who, things have gotten very weird and dark, and I would hope, with three episodes left, this is rock bottom. As to how things get better or how they’ll wear the wounds they sustained this week, I can only conjecture.

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Kiznaiver – 08

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The Kiznaivers have never been closer, even if they still tend to snipe at each other, they also all show up when Nico invites them to the mall to hang out take booth photos together (which is what regular friends do) even during a typhoon warning.

Back at Kizuna HQ, Yamada and Urushi are licking their chops at the opportunity to move the experiments to the next level, and the conditions are perfect, so they use the Gomorins to bring the team in.

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Before they do, the sight of an outdoor playcenter reminds Kacchon vividly of the time he was test subjects with Noriko. When Yamada nonchalantly explains more about the Kizuna Project and how they even went so far as to experiment on researchers’ and sponsors’ own children, it’s pretty clear what’s coming: some kind of epiphany between the currently frustrated Noriko and a Kacchon who is “disappointed” in her.

I must say, I’m not a big fan at all of Yamada or Urushi, who are way too laid back about the fact they essentially tortured children who had no say in the matter, not to mention all the adults who suffered from early experimentation. Morally speaking, the ends don’t usually justify the means…and they don’t even have any ends yet.

All they have are seven youths who have already demonstrated that they not only share each other’s physical pain, but also strong emotions, be they negative or positive. And Yamada and Urushi want to delve deeper into the positive by pairing everyone off. Again, it’s a bit icky, but they’re committed, as is Noriko, to ensuring the experiment is completed – regardless of how the subjects feel.

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The chart of Kiznaivers relationships reminded me of the character charts Zane used to spend way too much time making, but once they were complete really gave a concise picture of who liked whom (One instance that was at times a closed circle of one-sided relationships was Nagi no Asukara).

Here, Urushi lays out the obvious: Yuta likes Honoka; Honoka still likes Ruru; Nico likes Tenga; Tenga likes Chidori; Chidori likes Agata, and Hisomu likes pain. Noriko can figure out the last one for herself, to the surprise of the adults: Agata likes her.

She’s known for a while that he had strong emotions, but didn’t know they were romantic. Now, all of a sudden, the pieces are falling into place for her, and she heads to where the others are to “kickstart” the experiment.

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As Noriko purposefully makes her way, time runs out for Chidori to properly confess to Kacchon, despite the two being all alone for an extended period of time. Kacchon’s attention is turned elsewhere, quite suddenly, by a stronger sensation, and either the symbolic visualization or straight-up hallucination of his younger self and hi fellow test subjects leading him to where he needs to be.

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That precise time and place turns out to be crucial, as Kacchon arrives at the place just in time to save Noriko from being crushed by a falling statue just as she emerges from an abandoned metro station. Just like that, Noriko’s experiment has taken a huge step forward.

Why? Simply put, Kacchon has achieved a kind of “spidey-sense” vis-a-vis Noriko. Or rather, he’s always had it, and it has finally fully re-awakened. That explains the cryptic visions of the younger Noriko. It isn’t that her feelings reached him in time. She is a part of him and vice-versa.

To confirm, Noriko removes her choker to expose the Kizuna scar on her neck, glowing brighter and purer than any of the others’ wrist scars. That’s Kacchon in there, and that’s huge, as it not only progresses the experiment, ill-begotten as it was, but marks the loosening of a knot that had been festering in Kacchon’s heart for years. I for one am intrigued.

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Kiznaiver – 05

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Humans, particularly while young and coming into their own, need bonds, if for no other reason than to define their place in the world, and make them aware they’re not the only person who matters. Adolescence by and large, makes kids extremely arrogant, and that arrogance is manifested seven different ways among the Kiznaivers.

Let’s go ahead and add Sonozaki to the mix as an eighth teenager who internalizes the universe. The latest trial the actual adults have for the adults-in-training (which include Sonozaki) throws her for a loop. She isn’t at the mountain inn retreat out of duty, she’s there because Kacchon invited her.

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With another test looming in the background, the retreat still begins with a pleasant casualness and subtle excitement of the eight kids simulating a household for the first time. Divi-ing up the chores, getting to know  more about each other bit by bit; Tenga’s scheme to help the “emotionally heavy” Chidori; Maki and Yuta’s intriguing dance; Nico’s sidelong glances…the bonds are being enriched without the aid of shared mortal danger. It’s all very absorbing.

In fact, the first shared zap of physical pain doesn’t come until Sonozaki smacks Kacchon in the cheek while the two are keeping each other company alone in the dark. She’s not reubking him, just killing a mosquito, but Chidori sees what she wants to see (already suspecting Sonozaki is an interloper) and races off into the night in tears.

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I knew informal assigning of individual original deadly sins to the Kiznaivers was a risky (and not entirely necessary move), but it’s interesting to see the very complex emotions on display between Maki (AKA “firewood”) and Yuta as they share a scene in the kitchen.

Yuta is surprised Maki makes good omelette rice for him, as if feeling sorry that he’s hungry (his dietary restrictions kept him from having dinner with the others). He sparks a conversation about how he got fat, then invites her to share something about herself.

Maki, who I labeled as “pride”, seems reluctant, committed, even, to avoiding showing her true self to anyone. Yuta has seen reason to doubt her stuck-up facade (like the fact she made him dinner), and takes the bait when she asks him if he likes her chest.

“Chest”, though, is only her metaphor for the thing no one normally sees, and if it was seen, could change one’s feelings about the person completely. Maki is haunted and tormented by a ghost from the past in her private moments. That’s what she’s still trying to hide, but now that she’s a Kiznaiver, that may no longer be feasible.

It’s not the first think Maki and Yuta say to each other that means more than one thing. Maki takes things in a more explicitly amorous direction, saying things like “not caring if she breaks”, using the term from the ghost’s voice. Yuta thinks she’s only talking about masochism and sex, but after she jumps him (and inadvertently makes him admit he’s still a virgin), their liaison is interrupted by Yamada, their teacher.

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Yamada and Urushibara arrive (not informing the Kiznaivers that they brought Kacchon’s Kizuna’d bullies with them) and another high-stress test begins: a purported Test of Bravery so common to these kinds of inn/camping retreat episodes. One bully bashes in the room with a chainsaw, the other weild an axe and corners Chidori in a cabin.

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Fueled by fear and adrenaline, the six Kizzys other than Chidori rush out into the night and find their own graves, but when Nico hits a Gomorin and it goes down easily, they calm down a little, confident they can do this.

I loved Hisomu’s contrasting  looks throughout this ordeal; delighted rather than terrified by the sight of the graves and wielding a bucket and ladle instead of weapons. Maki’s outrage at Yuta talking big while cowering behind her was also a nice touch. This couple’s been through a lot tonight.

But the central figures of this test, not surprisingly, are Chidori and Kacchon. When Bully #1 is zapped by Nico’s blow, Bully #2 (#1’s childhood friend) is unmasked as well before Chidori, and collapses in a pile of woe-is-me, why-must-I-be-the-only-one-suffering tirade that hits very close to home for Chidori.

Hearing her own problems expressed almost verbatim from another has an immensely powerful effect. Chidori takes after the bully and lays it all bare: if the bully wants to die, he’d better give Kacchon his money back first.

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For the first time, Kacchon realizes the emotional pain of the all the bullying he endured expanded to Chidori. He only now knows the pain he endured and pretended didn’t exist at all was also hurting her because now their emotional pain is being shared as well. Not just between these two, but all seven Kizzys.

Now that he knows the error of his selfish ways, when Kacchon finds Chidori (in the middle of her tirade when she brings up how Sonozaki is also adding to her pain with her interloping), he demands the money back. He takes the stand Chidori always wanted him to take on his own. Now Kacchon gets her a little more.

What’s interesting is how connected Chidori and Kacchon truly have been for so long, not to mention Maki and Yuta (through their secrets); the Kizuna System is merely a catalyst to help them break through their inner shells and come to terms with the fact that everyone has their problems, everyone suffers, and knowing of each others’ pain and sharing in it, and being able to move past it (or make use of it) is a crucial element of life.

Those worried about a Tenga-Chidori thing can probably breathe easy for now, if Kacchon and Chidori’s closing scene together is any indication. And now it’s clear getting through the summer is another metaphor; for getting through adolescence.

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Hai to Gensou no Grimgar – 12 (Fin)

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I’d gone on record stating that Grimgar could have ended at eight episodes and I would have been perfectly content, and whatever Grimgar did in its final four weeks, it wasn’t going to mar from that first eight. I likened it to having four “bonus” episodes.

How gratifying, then, that the Cyrene Mine arc, while necessarily more rushed than the Goblin arc, turned out to be pretty damn good anyway, both by expanding on what the first eight had established and showing us a few new sides of our six party members.

When we left off last week, Haru made the sensible decision not to squander Ranta’s staying behind by attempting to rescue them in their current state. Ranta, for his part, doesn’t expect anyone to come, and ends up making some surprising allies in the livestock he mocked before.

He also summons a demon, Zodiark, who isn’t so much an ally as something annoying enough to ground him in the task at hand; the demon is constantly telling him to die-die-die, and Ranta isn’t about to accommodate it.

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Meanwhile, there’s well, not dissension in the ranks, as Haru wants to go back to save Ranta, merely an argument for why to go back, from the person he least expected: Yume. Mind you, we’ve known for some time Yume and Ranta have been a bit of an item—more “charm-irritate” than “love-hate”, but to see Yume break down when she thinks about how scared she’d be in Ranta’s position, it’s more than enough to convince everyone to make a U-turn.

This isn’t bad leadership by Haru, who is determined to keep everyone alive; it’s merely good fellowship by everyone. They don’t think it’s suicide to try to save him.

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Of course, while Ranta does pretty well for himself all alone, it is good his comrades return to him, because he can’t stay a step ahead of the kobolds forever. I like how not two minutes after lamenting how he never groped Yume’s boobs (guys still a piece of work!) that girl, who’d surely come to miss being called a flat-chest by him, is the one who puts an arrow in Death Spots’ eye for Ranta’s sake.

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It’s also nice to be shown yet again how strong a unit everyone has become, with Mary doing some offensive work, Moguzo being his usual steamroller, and Shihoru laying epic waste with her magic, even twirling her staff and flashing a dark look. Haru’s also as quick and precise as ever, killing two kobolds with a minimum of wasted movement.

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Once Ranta is safe and the party is away, they take a breather for Mary to heal Ranta, who in his elation at being saved and reunited, lets slip that he wanted to see everyone again.

He partially mentions feeling something in his chest, which Yume picks up and runs with, leaving Ranta no choice but to unleash a few more “flat-chest” remarks, spurring a bickering fest between the two until Mary (to whom Ranta’s always been submissive) lays down the law.

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Both Mary and Shihoru are low on magic (I’m glad MP isn’t unlimited in this show), but Death Spots doesn’t care what condition they’re in, he’s going to keep coming.

Haru knows this, and even if they run, he could catch them, so he makes an executive decision to take the big guy on himself, giving the others time to escape, putting Ranta in charge.

When he successfully spiders the kobold king off a cliff, a panicked Mary starts to climb down in a rush to help him, but Ranta stops her (though Mary reallydoesn’t want to be stopped), then warning Haru he’d better not die.

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What follows is an encapsulation of the show and the overall struggle of Haru and the others. Grimgar, like his duel with Spots, is a battle of life and death.

As long as he’s still alive, victory is in sight, so he won’t give up on trying to stay alive until he’s dead. I know, that all seems kind of obvious, but whatever!

Time slows to a crawl for Haru, who follows a stream of light with his dagger until it finds Spots’ weak spot: his other eye.

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After beating Spots, Haru blacks out and collapses, but he does not die with him. Instead, he wakes up to an upbeat Mary humming to herself, then leaning in close when welcoming him back.

Everyone else is in good spirits, with Moguzo making lunch, Ranta counting the cash they made for beating the giant kobold, and planning to take his sword to a blacksmith to forge it into something more useful than a trophy.

Later, Mary puts Haru’s repaired dog tags back on him, and the weight of them make him feel like at home, which is where he now knows he is. “About time,” says Mary.

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While celebrating at the tavern, Renji approaches Haru once more—to apologize. Instead, Haru, who is grateful for Renji giving him the nudge he needed, thanks him. He and Renji exchange looks of mutual respect before Ranta orders a round for the house.

Afterwards Haru visits Manato’s grave (another hauntingly beautiful, quiet scene, to ask him if being a leader was hard. Manato throws the question back at Haru, then tells him he’s grown.

He’s not the Haruhiro from the beginning of the show…but then again no one is who they were at the beginning. For one thing, they’re to a person, far more badass now. They’re also a family now.

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Notably absent is any kind of explanation for how any of the party members arrived in Grimgar, nor any exploration of the lives they led or the shadows of memories from that other world they still carry. And let me be clear: I was totally okay with this. 

I felt there was a possibility those things would be addressed in the finale, even if it wasn’t very likely, but I’m glad they weren’t (seeing the world almost “pause” when Haru faced Spots was a close call though).  Frankly, I like the mystery; not all questions need to be answered. Not for us, and not for Haru and his comrades, either.

As the days go on and he keeps living and surviving and creating new memories with his friends, his family, he feels more and more comfortable in the world and life he’s in, and less and less concerned with the one he’s originally from.

Whatever he forgot, from that life isn’t as important as the fact he’s in this life now, with these people, in this world, and he doesn’t want to forget any of it.

A lovely ending to a visually and emotionally beautiful show with a deft touch. It marched to its own beat and demonstrated that there were still many promising veins to explore in the “Lost in a Fantasy RPG” mine.

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GATE – 24 (Fin)

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Rescuing Pina and the Emperor from Zolzal felt like a couple of loose ends to tie up, since there was never any doubt about Itami, reunited with his original Recon Team and his girls, were going to be successful. This, the final episode, seems to understand this, and doesn’t draw out the rescue needlessly, but has fun with the relative ease of the operation.

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Basically, Itami has Rory, Lelei, Tuka, Yao, and his team, which makes him all but invincible. All he has to do is talk when they enter the throne room. Zolzal sics a particularly ill-fated ogre on them, but Rory and Lelei dispatch it with ease—did Zolzal forget these guys brought down a Fire Dragon? 

His meager guards, who don’t particularly want to mistreat Pina or fight Rory the Reaper, are absolutely no match. Zolzal doesn’t try going out in a blaze of glory—he’s too much of a coward. Itami plays with his fear by adding paranoia to his problems: pointing a sniper at him, telling him he’ll be watched from now on.

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The conditions Itami gives him for not getting a bullet in the head are simple and non-negotiable: Pina goes with him; the emperor too; and Lelei’s assassins are called off. All Zolzal can do is accept, bitter as he is, he’s powerless here, and it’s particularly satisfying to watch (though I was kinda hoping he’d resist a little more so Kuribayashi could have at him).

After that, all Itami & Co. have to do is get out of the palace and city walls before they’re all closed, and this too proves not very difficult, thanks to the speed of their vehicles and a helping hand from a friend with a LAV, a bazooka, and a mined entrance that blows behind them, taking out all horsebound pursuers. Mission Complete.

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Pina, who clearly likes her shining knight Itami but isn’t too overt about it (note how she got self-conscious about her skimpy burlap shift when he showed up), but she also has bigger matters than romance. Her father wakes up, not the worse for wear, and declares her crown princess, giving her the mandate to steer the empire where she will, whether towards peace or to civil war with her brother.

It would have been nice if Itami’s crew had, you know, captured the leader of a potential resistance against the legitimate government, but they leave Zolzal alone, which was the one problem I had with the operation, considering how easily they could have taken him into custody/killed him.

But that’s no big deal; whatever he scrounges up won’t be any more of a match against the SDF-backed pro-peace faction than the Special Region ever was against the might of the modern Japanese military.

As for Tyuule, we see she’s not crazy after all; just unfulfilled. She suffered and schemed so mightily and actually got the empire to fracture, and yet tears fall from her face. I guess it wasn’t quite worth it.

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With that, we have a nice little crowning ceremony for Pina, after which all of the various guys show off their new girlfriends / lovers / caretakers / fiancees, to Kuribayashi’s shock and Shandy’s envy.

Itami doesn’t attend that ceremony, because he’s done enough, and now he just wants to go to the doujinshi convention in Tokyo, putting his hobby ahead of his work as usual. I like how he places equal importance on his affairs in otakudom than he did with all the various adventures in the Special Region.

But it isn’t long before his three girls track him down, all with their own Tokyo plans for him. The masses notice these idols and crowd around them in adoration, and a cop sneaks them off in his squad car, even though Itami doesn’t want to leave the convention.

And there you have it, a usually lush and diverting story of our world connected to another one, where the JSDF fought, and fought well.

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Hai to Gensou no Grimgar – 11

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Hey, I’m back from visiting a Mayan pyramid during the equinox to watch Hai’s penultimate episode of the Spring, which begins with a beautifully-rendered flashback-slash -dream in which Mary is suddenly awakened by one of her fellow party members, before heading into the mines that will claim three of them.

It’s no accident that this scene is highly reminiscent of several similar scenes of her present party shooting the breeze during their downtime. When she’s awakened from this happy, mundane memory by Haru, and with “Death Spots” stalking them, it’s definitely not downtime.

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Since Mary’s the one with mine experience, even the ostensible party leader Haru must rely on her to show them a way out of their predicament—which is why more and more she and Haru have looked something like co-leaders. To her credit, she doesn’t let her fear or guilt overcome her, and leads everyone into the mines’ fifth level, where the kobolds do a lot of metal smelting.

After a successful and nifty stealth attack, they continue into a former temple of Luminaris, who just so happens to be the saint whose power Mary draws from for her new Dispel skill. The reason she acquired that particular spell is revealed here, as this was the site of her three comrades’ demise.

The thing is, they’ve become zombies, something that came as such a creepy shock that not only does Ranta draw back in fright, but in her moment of fear Yume embraces him tightly, something Ranta does not complain about!

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That aside, it’s Mary’s solemn duty to exorcise her three friends so that they can be freed from their wretched existence as shambling ghouls; quite similar to the way FFX’s Yuna sends fiends. The only problem is, Dispel is a very close range spell; she has to be right up in someone’s personal space to pull it off.

The problem is, while they may look like the dessicated corpses of her friends, they aren’t her friends anymore, and they attack the party with the same ferocity as the kobolds would. And this is where this episode becomes about more than just the party helping Mary; Mary is also helping the party.

This is their first fight against opponents who are neither goblins nor kobolds. They may be zombies, but they’ve retained all the skills of the humans they used to be, and they’re tough.

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Moguzo has trouble with the more acrobatic zombie tank; Ranta’s theif opponent can fight him off indefinitely; and the mage’s spells outclass Shihoru, who quickly runs low on magic, but thankfully doesn’t become a sitting duck, because Haru observes everyone long enough to determine the proper way to deal with the zombies, who at the end of the day are outnumbered 2-1.

First, Haru backs up Mary as she goes to the front to deal with the mage, punching through her firewall and performing the spell. She briefly reverts to the girl Mary knew before crumbling into a pile of ash. Then Haru gives Ranta an opening to lop off the theif’s leg, whereupon Mary comes from behind and performs the spell on him.

Finally, after Yume’s arrow bounces off the tank’s armor, Haru pounces on him and exposes his arm for Moguzo to hack off with all his might, cutting so close he takes some of Haru’s hair with it. Mary performs the spell and poof, job done. Weight lifted. Did I mention that the combat in this episode rocked? Well, it did.

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Mary is relieved, and thanks her new party profusely for their help, but they’re all thankful too. They never got to meet her friends, but they did learn how those friends could fight, and it helped them identify the shortcomings they all still have, whether it’s Shihoru’s lack of offensive magic, to Ranta’s lack of a sufficiently cool finishing move.

What had been a harrowing battle, then, becomes another great scene of downtime where everyone is just sharing a little more about themselves and bouncing off each other, enjoying each other’s company in various ways. It also demonstrates how good this show is at slowing things down and giving episodes room to breathe. It makes the moment the casual rest scene is blown up by the raging Giant Kobold all the more impacting.

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Death Spots is smarter than he looks, or at least a far more determined hunter than the party gave him credit for, but out of respect for his formidableness, Haru’s order to the party is to simply GTFO, briefly tangling with the boss to give his people a head start.

Ranta relieves him when the Kobold sends waves of subordinates after them, and after Moguzo uncharacteristically grabs Shihoru when everyone has to jump a great distance, Ranta offers her a hand up.

Finally, after the Kobold simply decides to start bringing the wooden scaffolding the party is using down, Haru nearly falls to his highly-possible death, but his Manato-ing is prevented by—Ranta, who tells Haru that the leader can’t die.

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The annoying selfish contrarian isn’t really redeeming himself by staying behind and fighting so that Haru and the others can get away, because he has nothing to redeem. This is who Ranta always was, the situation just never called for this particular brand of desperate heroics.

And I daresay Ranta is every bit as cool as he thinks he is at episode’s end, never letting the Kobolds see him sweat (though he does condemn their crossbow bolts as unsporting!).

Furthermore, both Mary’s and Manato’s experiences help inform Haru’s decision to not send the party back down to try to rescue Ranta. That’s not what he wants, and it’s not what’s best for the party.

Haru’s deep affection for all of his comrades (even Ranta) can be a fatal weakness in a leader, but here he makes the right decision for the right reasons, and the rest of the party concurs with it. We’ll see how it pans out.

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Hai to Gensou no Grimgar – 10

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Haru’s party takes to the mines, and their skills and teamwork shine in their efficient dispatching of the first level’s lesser kobolds, which aren’t really much tougher than gobs. Sure, Ranta spends a bit too long fighting one-on-one without asking for help, which irks Haru, but so far so good!

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Actually, as they trek deeper into the mines, Ranta goes off about how he’s a badass dark knight who doesn’t subscribe to ideals or morals they way everyone else does, because at the end of the day no one can escape death’s cold embrace, or something. Like most Rantaness, it’s irritating, butnot harmful to the party.

Still, Haru simply doesn’t like it. The lack of respect for the dead kobolds, all the talk about being amoral and beholden to no one, saying it’s lame when they back out of the mine after a good day’s hunting. Ranta is a skilled warrior, Haru can’t deny; but he remains as bad a team member as ever.

It doesn’t help Ranta that everyone else is “on board” the way Haru is; considering the party to be more than just a collection of soldiers doing their jobs, but a family of people who care about each other. Ranta doesn’t seem to care, or at least is always talking about how he doesn’t.

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As leader, Haru knows he has to at least try to address this, as much for himself as anything. He thinks Manato would have similarly tried to do something as the leader, though he doesn’t know what. In fact, he remembers Manato didn’t seem to like Ranta much either.

In his one-on-one talk with Ranta that night, he learns Ranta went to the trouble to take a kobold on alone because he’s preparing for the very real possibility he’ll have to, say if the rest of the party is injured or busy with other foes. It’s a smart move, but he did it without saying anything. “Doing things his way” means not communicating, just acting.

Haru wants to communicate, but isn’t able to get remotely all of what he wants to say out, so it’s almost irrelevant. Ranta also says the “I’m not here to make friends” speech to Haru, which has got to hurt because Haru has been operating under the assumption that they are all friends.

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Not to mention just because Ranta says he doesn’t want to be “pretend friends” with the party, doesn’t mean that he isn’t friends. After all, they consider him more than just a party comrade, and Ranta is well-known for saying overly-harsh things he may not mean.

I liked the contrast between Ranta stalking off and Haru waking up under a blanket provided by Yume, who then practice knife-throwing. His exchange with Yume—and their exchange with Moguzo—is the day to Ranta’s night. But maybe, Haru thinks, there’s simply no way around that.

The clash with Ranta is nothing particularly new, but it’s at least not the whole story: there’s also the fact that Mary is doing pretty well in the mines despite her past trauma there, and Haru is thankful that everyone (save Ranta) has learned valuable new skills in order to help each other out.

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Before long, they’re able to reach the lower levels of the mines, where they’re surprised to find subterranean crops and livestock. Here, Haru executes his plan going forward with Ranta in miniature: when Ranta points his sword at a rat mole-like animal, Haru backs off, accepting Ranta’s line of thinking, and moves on.

Confronting him on every little thing or trying to bend him to his way of thinking is a waste of time, effort, and focus. Better to let him be who he is. Haru has to realize he’s not a bad leader just because one of this comrades isn’t the best fit.

Of course, Ranta’s carelessness with his surroundings end up sounding the alarm for the kobolds, and the same giant kobold that Mary’s team failed to defeat makes its appearance.

As Mary goes through any number of emotions—shock, fear, guilt, regret, panic—I was hoping Haru’s hand would come down on her shoulder to calm her. It doesn’t, but that doesn’t mean Mary’s alone in this.

Considering they haven’t gone over how to tackle a beast like that yet, I’d think retreat would be the best option, though that might not be possible now. But if the party sticks together, and Mary watches her magic level, things can and will be different.

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Hai to Gensou no Grimgar – 09

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This week wasn’t under any illusions about what it was: a day off, slowing the life of Haruhiro and his party to a crawl as they all take to the day in different ways. Ranta is off early to fish; Moguzo makes breakfast like he always does, and plans to see to his armor and sword maintenance; Shihoru feeds the birds (like Manato used to do); Yume sleeps in.

Haru is a little restless. After all that fighting and action and the routine they had established, he’s not sure what to do with this sudden glut of free time. So he visits Mary, who he finds resplendent on the balcony of the women’s lodgings, where men are okay to be.

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Mary recommends if the party members move out of the ratty default volunteer lodgings, the girls should come live with her. It’s hard to argue; it’s a sweet place. But she still thinks fondly of the old lodgings as the place where she started out with her previous party.

While waiting for a bite in the river, Ranta spots a figure on the cliff face: Yume is mountain climbing. Is this a skill she picked up as part of her hunting job, or is this a relfection of a hobby she had in her previous life? Regardless, Ranta looks spellbound, and along with Haru’s newfound comfiness with Mary is more evidence of how the couples would pair off.

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After wordlessly admiring the sun setting into the sea, Mary and Haru join the rest of the party at Sherry’s Tavern to plan their next move. Demuro is out for various reasons, and Haru is worried too much of the same thing could breed boredom and carelessness.

He’s thinking like a volunteer soldier: don’t get too comfortable, don’t get soft; find new challenges and become stronger. However, the place that comes to mind as a suitable new hunting grounds is the Cyrene Mine, and the mere mention of the place gets Mary upset to the point she has to leave.

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Whereas many times before he would have let her go, Haru is now in the habit of following Mary, not letting her think she’s alone in anything. When he comes, she’s clearly glad, but worries she’s become a burden to the party. Like Haru with the place where Manato was killed, a part of Mary wants to forget the mines ever existed.

But she also wants to move forward and face the mines, for herself and for the party. She just doesn’t think she can do it alone. If she had help from others, she might be able to do it. And she wants it to be him and the others. When she says she’s just causing trouble, Haru actually starts tearing up, though not, he thinks, because he’s sad.

Rather, he’s happy Mary wants the same thing he does, and she’s only mistaken if she thinks it’s not possible. When he brushes the tears away and says he feels stupid, Mary tells him he’s “fine just like that,” and thanks him for his support. Sorry shippers, no hug or kiss.

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The bulk of Haru’s physical contact this week, rather, comes from his master, Barbara, who beats the hell out of him in order to teach him her Spider technique. In the process of all the wrestling (and while sitting on him even as he takes a breather), Barb tells him to make one of the girls in his party his, preferably all of them.

Haru changes the subject to his ability to see enemies’ weak spots, and perhaps out of frustration from his inability to candidly talk about love, she goes at him even harder. Presumably some time passes and he masters the Spider skill, because the next we see the whole party in the mountains, poised to enter the Cyrene Mine.

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Norn9: Norn + Nonet – 03

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Norn9 continues to hook me with its gorgeous aesthetic, but man, it’s men are jerks! Well, around half of them are; the others are twerps. I think the only guys still unmarked by assholishness are Heishi and Masamune. Mikoto and Sakuya have some kind of past with each other, but I don’t see how she’s been able to stand most of the rest. Poor Koharu is entirely at the mercy Kakeru’s whims; he can joke and mess around with her all he likes, but when she so much as tries to rub dirt off his ear, he slaps her away as if rebuking his chattel. Jerk!

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Even lunch has to devolve into a childish confrontation, when Nanami gets lambasted for her apparently subpar shiruken onigiri. Akito puts her hands on her and tells her she’s so quick to toss her food, she shouldn’t make it to begin with. He at least shows a little heart by no throwing the food out after taking it from her, but still…Jerk!

Oh, and there’s Future Boy, who’s apparently a big smartypants, who is poring through the ship’s library trying to learn as much as possible about in order to get back to Tokyo. However, when he sees a glowing ethereal girl, he gets a strange nostalgic feeling, complete with a flash of her embracing him somewhere.

Okay, Future Boy isn’t really a jerk, but as curious as his predicament is, the show was overstuffed with characters before he showed up.

Kakeru finally apologizes to Koharu for slapping her hand away from his ear, and offers an explanation: it’s all he has left of his father, who was murdered. Work on not being a jerk, Kakeru.

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This somewhat disjointed episode ends with another confrontation with Akito, being a total jerk to Nanami, whom he believe suspects him of being the “inside perpetrator.” The entire reasons he thinks she partnered with him was so that she could one day turn him in to The World and be rewarded. But he, in his jerkishness, is mistaken about that.

Nanami, in fact, is aware Akito has no special ability, but is willing to protect him. To his protests and veiled threats she responds by demanding he kill her here and now rather than draw it out any longer; but he doesn’t want to kill her.

Even when a gust of wind and the whimsical lack of railings on the Norn almost sends Nanami plummeting to her death, Akito can’t help but grab her hand, even when she gives up. It’s clear then; Nanami intends for them to live together or die together. Maybe he’ll be less of a jerk to her?

Sorry for the flippantness…but I decided to watch one more episode, which demonstrated that this show has the ability to both pull me in with its pretty world and intriguing personal mysteries, and push me away with some of its more erratic and/or abrasive characters.

I’m think I’m going to let the latter motion win out and stay pushed away from Norn9. It’s probably for the best.

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Norn9: Norn + Nonet – 02

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Last week’s episode-ending bang came from an attacking ship from the outside. One of its two crew members boards the Norn, testing Mikoto’s defensive powers and warning her that she and the other ten are the true “disaster.”

So begins an episode full of mysteries big and small, most of which remain too obscure to really care about. Rather than feeling all that enticed, I felt a bit left out as the episode kinda did its own thing, darting from one activity to another.

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It actually reminded me of playing a game with lots of long cutscenes, which while very technically impressive and pretty, are still cutscenes, meaning I’m waiting to get back control of the game.

Seeing Koharu’s powers in action was pretty righteous, but was undercut by the just-along-for-the-ride, autopilot feeling emanating from the rest of the episode.

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With the attackers repelled, the second half of the episode focuses on who their foe was and what they want. It is believed someone was “working on the inside”, so everyone suspects everyone else, and gets paired up so they can keep an eye on/out for one another.

In two of the three cases of guy-girl pair-ups, it is implied the guy and girl have some kind of unpleasant past that drew them apart, but everyone’s very tight-lipped on what those pasts entailed, only that they were painful in some way.

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Naturally, Koharu gets paired up with Kakeru, and they set to work replanting the orchard she accidentally incinerated, her love for him growing with each planted sapling and descending sakura petal. He even has a little fun with her isolated upbringing by joking that they must sleep and bathe together…ribbing that was more awkward than witty.

Then, one morning, while Koharu is watering her garden, some snot-nosed kid from 2016 shows up, having no idea how he got there. We saw him earlier in the embrace of a mysterious woman in a big pretty blue chamber, perhaps the core of Norn; now he’s out and very confused.

I know how he feels! This episode was a random jumble of strange events, mysteries, and clashing tones, resulting in a kind of indifferent shrug…and I’m only now mentioning the bevy of miniature duck slaves who serve the Norners their meals! My resulting impression was…a lot more ambiguous than last week. Ethereal scenery alone will not save this show!

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Ore Monogatari!! – 22

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YAY! It’s Suna and Yukika’s time to shine! It’s their turn for falling into love and floating around on a cloud like Takeo and Yamato! It’s time for Yukika to create a new PURAIMUTAIMU to replace the one from Kindergarten! They go to the zoo with the show’s lead couple, and both seem to enjoy themselves. We’re headed towards a foregone conclusion, right?!

Well…not so fast, there.

Yes, they do have a good time at the zoo; initially Yukika talk to Suna or even be too close to him without becoming paralyzed, but when the other couple encourages her to make some memories, she pipes up, gets them into an animal trivia competition, and singlehandedly wins it, but only because they were counted as a couple when Suna takes her hand. It all looks very fun and pleasant and awkward in all the ways first dates can be.

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But the problem isn’t whether they had fun; it’s a matter of magnitude. Suna had a nice enough time; he didn’t not enjoy himself. But from Yukika’s perspective, it was categorically THE HAPPIEST DAY OF HER LIFE. It’s the same with how they feel about each other: Suna doesn’t dislike Yukika, but Suna is the love of Yukika’s life and has been for most of her conscious life.

She’s placed him on so high a pedestal that his comparative wishy-washiness actually ends up hurting her. Last week I entertained the possibility Suna actually liked Yukika, but she didn’t let him finish his sentence, but in the absense of further evidence, we have to conclude he doesn’t like her enough. As much as we may want it to work out, and for Suna to finally start dating a nice girl, it’s just not going to work.

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Soon Yukika becomes unable to continue working towards something she can’t imagine ever working out, due to that magnitude problem, and resolves to cut herself off from not only Suna, but Takeo and Yamato, cold turkey. This is an obvious overreaction,but an understandable one considering where she’s coming from socially (there’s a reason she’s so good at zoo trivia; she spends much of her time reading). What I like is that Takeo and Yamato don’t try to force the issue or over-meddle, they just give Yukika the opportunity to reassess her next move.

In the end, she too thinks severing all ties with the three others would be too sad, and Suna meets with her to give her a gift for her ten years of chocolates, and they reach a kind of closure, agreeing to remain friends. I appreciate the show didn’t try to hard to force Suna into what in hindsight was a pretty long-shot relationship. Suna is, despite his forelorn appearance and lack of girlfriend, actually a pretty content fellow, and it would take a much more powerful romantic spark than the one Yukika was capable of mustering to convince him to leave that place of contentment and try something new.

And so it is with a sense of logical resignation we consign Yukika to Ore Monogatari!!’s roster of “Losers”, joining Saijou and Ai and underlining that sometimes even when conditions are right things don’t always work out as perfectly as they did for our lead couple.

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Ore Monogatari!! – 21

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For White Day, Takeo gives Yamato cookies he baked. You heard that right: gives her cookies he baked. And while he’s his own toughest critic on said cookies, the fact that they even exist bowls Yamato over; she declares them too precious to eat—and meaning it—but still takes a bite and is delighted with them. Finally, Takeo gets to experience what she’s been able to since they met: watch someone he loves enjoying something he made.

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The Valentines/White Day proceedings were an effective and logical segue to the next arc, “Find Love For Suna.” Turns out there was no one to find; someone was watching him and circling him from afar all along, becoming a little bolder every year, especially after Valentines, and possibly borne out of the knowledge she’s running out of school years to follow Suna. This girl, Amami Yukika comes close enough that she enters Takeo’s keen “follower radar”, misjudging her as someone with malevolent intentions, then rescuing her letter from the river.

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If any show can make a stalker girl sympathetic, it’s Ore Monogatari!!, as well as the talented voice of Kayano Ai, who gives Amami the right blend of delicate femininity and forthright determination. Judging from Suna’s photo album, Amami has literally been in the background of Suna and Takeo’s lives since kindergarten when she fell for him when him after he saved her from a thrown dodgeball. The trouble is, she hasn’t made any moves to get him to acknowledge her (all her Valentines letters were anonymous), so she hasn’t been acknowledged.

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“Takeo Cupid” wants to help in any way he can, but he also realizes it’s Amami who will have to do the heavy lifting like, you know, talking to Suna. All she really needs is a push…or rather, several pushes, as she’s so overwhelmed by suddenly being in the foreground with Suna (rather than watching him from afar) it’s hard to breathe, let alone talk. Still, when he not only refers to her by name but the fact he’s known of her existence since kindergarten, she confesses her love to him right there in the street, with Takeo looking on. Then she runs.

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This is where a second nudge by Takeo is needed. He brings her back to Suna (who almost seemed to be waiting for them), where she tells him she wants him to watch her and learn more about her before he gives her his response. I thought this was overly cautious on her part, since it wasn’t completely outside the realm of possibility he’d say “sure, let’s go out.” Suna isn’t opposed to going out with girls, just girls who talk shit about Takeo.

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They exchange cell numbers, and an initial bond is formed, to my relief. But Amami needs a couple more nudges, as she finds it hard to break out of her usual routine of stalking-kinda-not-stalking. Takeo sends Suna off to walk her home, but she still can’t talk, so Takeo then brings in Yamato for a female perspective on the thing. She shares her experience having difficulty making moves toward a relationship, but as we’ve seen the benefits of making those moves have been more than worth the stress involved.

Ultimately, they determine the best way forward is for Amami, Suna, Takeo and Yamato to do a double date, in this case to the zoo, which Suna promptly agrees to. Takeo tells him he doesn’t have to, but Suna knows that, and wouldn’t say he’s going if he didn’t want to. That doesn’t mean he’s going to say straight-up “Yes, I want to go on a double date with Amami to see if it will work out because she seems like a genuinely good person and possibly a good match as well.”

Even if asked directly, he won’t answer that directly, but the seeming lack of enthusiasm can’t be taken as an actual lack of it. I imagine he’s just as interested to see where this goes as Takeo, Yamato…and me. Lord knows Suna has demonstrated throughout the show that he deserves a good woman, and not just because he’s good-looking.

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