Dororo – 09 – Not Letting The War Win

Dororo has never not known war, and it has taken everything from him but his life. But even that is threatened when he suddenly collapses with an apparent fever. Hyakkimaru has to carry him to find help, and eventually comes upon a kind priestess who takes them into the temple for Dororo to recover.

After a couple of lighthearted episodes—one in which the ghoul-of-the-week turns out to be not so bad, and one in which a boy and his big sis survive—the “party is over” this week, as we’re told the heart-wrenching tale of how Dororo became an orphan, and why he clings so close to Hyakkimaru and fears being left behind.

On two occasions, Dororo spots red spider lilies, which he hates, because they remind him of when his mama died in a field of them.

Dororo’s father Hibukuro was a big, strong leader of a band of brigands who unusually only targeted samurai, seeking retribution on those who destroyed their village. His mother Ojiya was his strong, kind wife. But it doesn’t take long to see that an age as cruel as the one in which they live wouldn’t allow such an arrangement to last for long.

Hibukuro is good at killing and good at bringing men to his side, but when his band gets strong enough, his right-hand man Itachi suggests they make a deal with a lord. It’s the smart, pragmatic move; one that has the best chance of ensuring the survival of his family. But neither of Dororo’s parents are willing to turn to the lords ever again…and young Dororo follows their lead.

Predictably, Itachi betrays them by making a deal with the samurai, who end up filling Hibukuro’s legs with arrows. Itachi takes the band for himself, leaving the wounded Hibukuro and his family to scavenge fields of the dead for scraps of food. Itachi and his treahery represented a natural element to this world, and Hibukuro and Ojiya simply lacked the pragmatism that would have enabled them to survive.

If he hadn’t betrayed them, Hibukuro’s stubbornness would have doomed him again anyway…and it does, when they happen upon another village the samurai are preparing to burn. One of them recognizes Hibukuro’s signature pole sword and seeks revenge for his fallen friends.

Hibukuro has an epic death by bear-hugging and impaling the man who impaled him, but the end result is that Ojiya and Dororo are now all on their own. You can see the moment Ojiya knows they’re somehow even more screwed than they were a minute ago, and their margin of survival henceforth is that much smaller.

It’s something of a miracle the samurai let Ojiya and Dororo go free, and we know from Dororo telling Mio that Ojiya never sold her body for money or food. But when she hears that samurai are handing out free soup, she gets in line, something she and her husband might not have done before things got so dire.

She’s even willing to cut in line, hold out her hands, and have the scalding soup poured in her hands (she has no bowl) so that Dororo can eat. And Itachi is there, in his fancy clothes, comfy with the lord, basically telling her “I told you so.” Dororo throws a rock at him—perhaps for the first time—but Itachi catches it easily.

When we see the mother and child walking slowly through a field of those damned red spider lilies (the show’s profound artistry on full display this week as usual), I knew that was going to be the end of Ojiya’s tether. She collapses from starvation, can’t get back up, and the life drains from her eyes as Dororo begs her not to, promising he won’t tell her he’s hungry anymore. It’s a brutal gut punch.

Time and time again, right until the moment of her death, Dororo’s mother told him not to let the war beat him, even though it claimed her and his father. When he recovers from his fever, we learn he had told the priestess this entire story. Thanks to her ministrations, he can keep going, keep fighting against the war that’s taken almost everything.

But as he continues his journey with Hyakkimaru, Dororo realizes when he smells his freshly-cleaned clothes that those clothes had to have been removed at some point. And the priestess told Hyakkimaru how difficult it must be to travel with “such a young girl.” That’s when I learned for the first time (I never watched the original show): Dororo is a girl.

The hints were there: her button-cute appearance, girlish eyelashes, and the fact she was voiced by a girl and not a boy. And surely it’s smart to dress as a guy and not a girl when you’re all alone in a cruel, merciless world like this. Now Hyakkimaru knows the truth, and I’m eager to see how that’ll change their dynamic as he continues to develop his voice.

Unfortunately, the days they still have to travel the lands together in search of ghouls and fortune may soon be interrupted by more huge developments: one of Daigo’s spies has informed him of a midwife who put a limbless infant in the river, and young warrior with prosthetic arms. Tahoumaru overhears as well. Soon, Hyakkimaru, the instrument of Daigo’s mounting misfortunes (due to the demons losing his parts one by one) will be the crosshairs of his father and younger brother.

And while Dororo is a capable fighter and thief, she’s far from invincible, as we’ve learned from the times Hyakkimaru has had to rescue her, including the first time he did. Like Hibukuro, the day may come when he’ll have to choose whether to fight those who have forsaken him, or focus on protecting Dororo. More limbs and senses, more problems…

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Domestic na Kanojo – 04 – This Is How It Should Be…Right?

Deciding they can’t just hole up at Natsuo’s friend’s house, Natsuo and Rui spend the better part of half this episode stalking Hina, but coming up with absolutely nothing. They even steal her phone while she’s in the bath so Rui can try to imitate her sister’s voice and break up with Shuu. It all fails. But then something fortuitous happens: Hina and Shuu come to them, at the very cafe where Natsuo’s friend works and where Natsuo and Rui are discussing their next steps.

Things accelerate quickly, as Natsuo comes right out and demands Shuu end it. Shuu is non-committal, and when he tells Hina he still needs more time before he can divorce his wife, Rui throws a glass of water in Shuu’s face and runs off. Natsuo catches up to her, to be a shoulder to cry on. This whole process of confronting Hina’s affair has definitely brought Natsuo and Rui closer together. Neither of them are happy with how things turned out, and both are in agreement that they want Shuu out of the picture.

Ultimately, however, it’s up to Hina to make the choice. Shuu seems fine with the status quo being maintained indefinitely, where he’s with both women and doesn’t have to take responsibility one way or the other. The next morning, Rui’s eyes are puffy from crying all night, and doesn’t speak to Hina when she suggests they go shopping together for a birthday gift for their mom.

Natsuo, meanwhile, is off to visit his mother’s grave. We get a flashback to ten years ago: Natsuo was in first grade, and a crybaby. Worried about, well, worrying his mom once she passes away, he resolves not to cry, even at the funeral where it’s expected. He wishes she were still alive, and wonders how life would be if that were so.

Then he’s surprised to find Hina and Rui join him at the grave. They’ve come to formally introduce themselves to his mom and give offerings. Hina also informs Natsuo that she’s broken up with Shuu. Natsuo is delighted, and Rui is beaming. Hina even says she’s been thinking about doing it anyway due to Shuu’s half-year-long reluctance to leave his wife.

What stopped her from leaving him was her genuine love for him…but ultimately family came first. She couldn’t go on with Shuu knowing it made them so unhappy. The show seems to be taking Natsuo and Rui’s side in this instance, but will things really be that simple as Hina pulling the plug? And what of Shuu’s observation that Hina doesn’t seem to treat Natsuo like a kid? I forsee more potholes on the road of familial bliss. This is a drama, after all—not…some kind of…“constantly happy times-having” show…

Domestic na Kanojo – 03 – The Scary Realm of Adults

Natsuo visits his best friend at the cafe where he works, and describes the incident with Hina and her boyfriend last night. His friend diagnoses Natsuo as jealous, and he can relate. He observes women stuck in non-ideal or flat-out bad relationships at the cafe all the time, and jokingly(?) wishes they’d just break up and date him. Like the young “office lady” who is in an affair with a married man. His friend later spots that woman outside, and to Natsuo’s shock, it’s Hina.

Not only is Hina doing something morally questionable by sleeping with someone else’s husband, but she’s doing something contrary to Natsuo’s perfect ideal of her up to that point. Like catching her crying on the rooftop and then watching her drink herself to sleep, it’s another crack in that facade.

When he confronts her at home, she kindly tells him to stay out of her business, as she dwells within the world of adults where kids like him shouldn’t set foot, and that’s basically that. Then Natsuo kisses her, she shoves him back, slaps him, then kisses him back.

Before Natsuo knows it, he’s being pushed onto the bed by Hina, but she stops when she sees his eyes, which she immediately detects as those of a child. He may have thought his stolen kiss was bold and cool, but she can sense his fear now that she’s responded to it.

With that, she gets off of him and shows him the door. It may have been harsh, but Hina is right that her business is her own, and she gave him fair warning not to stray into it. Also, Natsuo initiated with the kiss. That being said, she doesn’t feel good about having but Natsuo in his place. Indeed, she feels like shit/

The next day Natsuo’s father finds a note from him saying he’s gone to his friend’s house for a couple days. Pops and his wife quickly assume it’s a move protesting the marriage, but Rui knows better why Natsuo left, and Hina’s not great at hiding from Rui that she knows as well.

Natsuo moulders away in his friend’s room, not even moving for the entirety of a cafe shift. But as luck would have it, Natsuo is looking out the window when Rui walks past, clearly looking for someone. They meet eyes and he meets her downstairs, and his friend’s mom invites them in.

Rui isn’t copying Natsuo, she’s simply “boycotting” Hina’s affair, much like Natsuo, if for different reasons. One reason they share is that they both had a higher idea of who Hina is, and she’s letting them down with her adultery, and if she wants her little sister and stepbrother in her life, she’ll have to make a difficult choice.

After a strategy session with Natsuo’s friend , he and Rui return to a dark house where their folks are considering signing divorce papers. Such is the result of Natsuo and Rui not telling their folks what’s actually troubling them; they make the most obvious assumption based on the little they’ve been given.

Natsuo and Rui reassure their folks they don’t oppose the marriage, but don’t tell them why they ran away from home. They’re back now, and willing to endure one more awkward day with Hina until they set their plan into motion. We’ll see if the show leans more toward their side, even as it’s offered little hints that explain, if not entirely justify, Hina’s behavior.

She likes this guy, wants to be with him, and wants to make it legit by having him divorce. She feels things neither Rui nor Natsuo have ever felt, and thus dismisses their concerns out of hand in addition to looking down on them as simple kids. I wonder if some compromise or middle ground can be found.

Musings:

  • Natsuo’s pal puts the pieces together pretty fast that Hina’s affair is what triggered Rui into sleeping with Natsuo. Rui doesn’t really mind Natsuo telling his friend, as he doesn’t attend their school.
  • I like how we get a little snapshot of Natsuo’s friend’s family life. Everyone wears glasses there, his mom is really nice, and his sister is eager to see him with a girlfriend.
  • That said, Natsuo’s friend’s boss at the cafe was…uh…something.
  • Speaking of parents, Natsuo’s pops and Rui’s mom really are kind and generous people who’d put their happiness aside for their kids’ sake.
  • Who else thought Hina was going to take it further after ripping Natsuo’s shirt open? Yikesy…

Domestic na Kanojo – 02 – Not So Strange After All

When Rui interrupts Natsuo’s kiss, she silently judges him as she roughly drags her sister to her bedroom. In retrospect, kissing an unconscious Hina definitely wasn’t his finest moment, even if it was a kiss meant to put a lid on his crush on her now that they’re step-siblings.

The next day at school, a late, bed-headed Natsuo learns that Rui has transferred to his school, and she’s immediately the talk of the school due to her being cute. Natsuo isn’t clear enough with his words, and gets Rui to think he wants them to act like strangers.

But the mere fact they went off into the courtyard together to have a private chat is suspicious enough to Natsuo’s classmates, who are well aware both he and Rui snuck out of the mixer together. When he meets with Hina, she asks if she kissed him while she was drunk last night, and apologizes in advance if she’s too “relaxed” at home again.

Rui was surrounded by girls in the morning, but by afternoon she’s all alone; Natsuo knows something’s up and has a pretty good idea: Rui is socially awkward, standoffish and fairly tactless. It’s as difficult for her to make and keep friends as it is easy for her big sister.

Natsuo offers to help her by pretending to be a (girl) classmate, and Rui is still her usual self-defeatingly honest self, but the two end up engaged in a dialogue that soon captures the attention of the entire class, who think some kind of skit is going on. Suddenly, Rui doesn’t seem so hard to approach, now that they know who they’re dealing with.

That night, a nude Natsuo predictably walks in on Rui in the bath, but thank goodness for once it doesn’t result in a blood-curdling scream and/or punch. As Rui quite logically points out, there’s nothing he or she haven’t seen before (interesting considering she once said to “forget” their tryst ever happened).

Rather than send him out, Rui calmly invites him in, and it’s Natsuo who hesitates. First of all, she wants to thank him for giving her a helping hand in breaking the ice with her class. But she’s also curious about why he tried to kiss Hina.

At first she dismissed him as an indiscriminate womanizer, but spending the day at school changed her mind about that. So instead, she wonders if he was merely trying to cheer her up in light of her recent boyfriend troubles.

Obviously, Natsuo doesn’t know about Hina’s boyfriend troubles. After the three step-siblings have dinner alone together when their newlywed folks go out for dinner (with Rui emerging as the best cook of the sisters by far), Natsuo brings up the subject, and Hina just as quickly deflects.

In a spot of bad timing, her boyfriend Shuu calls and she goes out to the front of the house to talk to him, insisting Natsuo not go outside with her. Nearly a half-hour later she rushes in, shaking and clearly upset, but still refuses to admit to Natsuo that she’s hurting.

Then there’s a knock at the door and the doorbell rings repeatedly, and both Hina and Natsuo assume its Shuu. Rui ends up the one to get the door, and it’s just their folks, a little tipsy from celebrating their marriage becoming official.

In his first days as stepbrother to both Rui and Hina, Natsuo is already trying to help them with their troubles. Rui will probably be fine with making friends in class, but Hina’s problems will be tougher to tackle, especially since she’s so reluctant to be helped (and she’s well within her rights, as an adult, to not want to seek help from a kid).

Regardless of whether he can help Hina, the fact is Natsuo’s new family and living situation is not nearly as crazy as the initial premise indicated. Whatever he may have done with Rui in the past, and however he feels about Hina, a new and powerful element has been introduced to his relationships with both: he’s unconditionally there for them, and doubtless they’re there for him.

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka – 01 (First Impressions) – Voice of Destiny

Three years ago the Disas invaded Earth, but thanks to a treaty with the Spirit Realm, nine select human girls were transformed into Magical Girls. Four were killed defeating the Disas, and five remained…and went their separate ways.

The ostensible leader of the Magical Girls, one Ootorii Asuka, lives her life as a normal high school student, though whenever she sees any kind of animal mascot, she thinks back to the bad old days. Magical trappings aside, Asuka is a traumatized combat veteran trying to move on from the horrors she experienced.

But at school, she’s the cool mysterious transfer student. She stands out by dint of her physique and apparent aloofness. And when her classmates are accosted in the street, she rushes to their aid…and has to remember not to kill the guy.

The beneficiaries of small act of heroism, Nozomi and Sayoko, thank Asuka and announce their intention to befriend her. Nozomi wants her to join track since she’s in great shape; Sayoko wants her to join the lit club because she sees her reading.

But while Sayoko reads because she loves it, Asuka does it to escape; to keep her mind busy so it doesn’t go back to those bad old times of blood, sweat, and tears. When her guardian Iizuka arrives to tell her about a new squad being assembled, she passes on his offer without hesitation.

Back when she was in middle school, she came home to find two Disas had already killed her parents and were prepared to “give them back” to her one piece at a time, which is why Iizuka ended up her guardian.

Her takeaway was that while she fought to save the world, those around her suffered and died. Now that she has two new adorable friends, she doesn’t want history to repeat itself. Of course, Asuka she puts it, despite all the effort she’s put in to escape her past, battles keep finding her, because “a Magical Girl’s battle never ends”.

Whether it was a minor incident like the asshole who shoved Nozomi (who dared to call him out on his assholery), or an escaped terrorist leader and his kill squad with Sayoko in the crossfire, when duty calls, she’ll always answer. Once a Magical Girl, always a Magical Girl.

While Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka is almost painfully straightforward in its premise, the Disas are super goofy-looking, and the show lacks anything resembling originality, I found Asuka’s emotionally-wounded vet profile resonant, and the show is crisply designed and animated and accompanied by a cool Square Enix JRPG-style soundtrack.

The idea of Magical Girls moving on to more conventional military operations after the Magical enemy has gone is also intriguing, as Asuka is not alone and we’ll soon see what became of the other four of the Magical Five. Both the bloody action and the lighter school life scenes are executed with aplomb. Definitely entertaining enough to stick with for now.

Bloom Into You – 10 – Holding Back

Koyomi’s script is complete, but she’s loath to hand it over to Yuu, since it’s her first. After taking possession, Yuu makes copies and gives one to Touko, who will play the main role of a woman with amnesia being told what kind of person she is by a friend, a family member, and a lover.

The only problem is they have three completely different ideas about who she is, creating a conundrum. After last week’s shed-anigans, Yuu breaks off from Touko to walk home with her friends, leading Touko to wonder if she’s being avoided because took things too far.

Touko also finds it pretty scary how Koyomi was able to craft a role that fits her so well: that of the “empty girl.” As for the other roles, Yuu plays her nurse, Maki her younger brother, and Doujima her friend. Sayaka plays her lover, which was designed to be a girl—another element of the play inadvertently drawn from life.

Touko also uses the student council meeting to announce a three-day, two-night study camp during the approaching summer break, at the school lodge designated for such things. While Touko is tutoring Yuu over donuts, she admits she’s considered “holding back” a little more, and not just due to the fact they’ll be sleeping in the same room in the lodge.

It’s that Touko doesn’t want Yuu to come to hate her. Yuu tells her she doesn’t have to worry about, but is also happy she worried. She later calls Touko by her name (with a -senpai added on), but apparently too quietly for Touko to hear. Touko also eats the donut Yuu wanted, once more showing how she has all the initiative in their relationship.

Yuu seems to want to initiate something—anything—but just can’t; not due to lack of enthusiasm for spending time with Touko. It’s almost like she’s afraid to lose the excuse of always being led around by the nose or taken advantage of. Not to mention, what if she proposes something to Touko and it’s rejected? Or perhaps more frightening, what if it’s accepted?

Much to Yuu’s surprise, Touko makes good on her promise to take things down a notch, by not calling or even texting Yuu the first days of Summer break. Yuu instead keeps busy by playing video games, minding the store, and one day, hanging out with her middle school friend and former softball teammate Natsuki. That Yuu isn’t hanging out with Touko irks Yuu’s late-to-rise sister Rei, who finds such a situation to be “dull”, even if their mother is oblivious.

Yuu may think she hasn’t changed, but all it takes is a day with her for Natsuki to conclude otherwise. Specifically, she always admired and sometimes envied Yuu’s ability to tolerate any situation or hardship—i.e. not crying after a tough loss. But after hearing Yuu go on so much about her senpai in the student council, Natsuki can tell she’s finally become “invested” in something, or rather someone.

Natsuki considered asking Yuu to join her at her high school and join the softball team there…and knew Yuu would say yes, but decided against it. While she misses Yuu, she’s glad her “hands are full” with something. Of course, Yuu doesn’t necessarily take Natsuki’s insights to heart, but that doesn’t mean they’re not spot on!

Shift to Touko, having a quiet dinner with her family, talking about her impending study camp for the play. Her father, unbidden to anyone, tells her “she doesn’t have to do this,” referring to putting on a play like her sister did. Touko quickly excuses herself—she’s doing what she wants to do, not what she thinks she needs to.

One thing she needs after that exchange is to hear Yuu’s voice, so after starting and cancelling various texts and staring at her phone, she finally closes her eyes and hits “call”…and Yuu answers. They talk about their days, and as they do, Touko says she knows, deep down, Yuu “doesn’t really care” about what’s going on with her, which couldn’t be less true.

Yuu may sound “indifferent” over the phone, but her body language on her bed—alert, smiling, hugging a pillow, playfully peddling her feet—tells a different story. Touko may not know it, but Yuu isn’t just a nurse dispassionately looking out for her. She’s invested. Her happiness is starting to tie into Touko’s. She appreciates Touko holding back, but doesn’t want her to do so too much.

Which is what makes the post-credit sequence with Touko so goshdarn heartbreaking. Book-ending a cold open in which Touko mentioned she was having “dreams of the past”, in what Sayaka says is simply Touko “dreaming about herself in the midst of remembering something.”

In this case, Touko dreams of hanging out with her big sister on the couch. Their mother asks one of them to go out to buy more tea; they play rock-paper-scissors and her sister loses, so she goes out…and never comes back. Touko nods off while awaiting her return, but wakes up to the chilling sound of sirens.

Then she wakes up in real life, pulls out a photo of her family with her sister, and voices again, out loud, her resolve to become her sister. There’s no “like” in there—she’s talking complete transformation with nothing remaining of whoever Nanami Touko was before her sister’s death. Assuming it’s even possible (or appropriate) for someone to dissuade Touko from such a goal, Yuu certainly has her work cut out for her. Hell, it sure left me in tears…

Bunny Girl Senpai – 10 – Damn You, You’re Too Awesome!!

Nodoka prepares for the second day of commercial filming by watching DVDs of her sister in action, including a horror movie, which seems apt; body-swapping carries its own kind of horror, and she’s essentially wearing her big sister’s skin!

The prospect of screwing up similarly fills Nodoka with dread, but after twelve takes she does eventually get the job done.  When Mai calls her, she gives the phone to Sakuta, still not ready to talk to the person she’s made out to be her nemesis. But Mai tells Sakuta to congratulate her nonetheless; it can’t be easy to do your big sister’s job…especially if you come into it not believing you can do it from the start.

As for little sisters, Kaede has seen enough pretty girls pass through the doors of their apartment to start thinking like someone who knows that at some point they have to start going outside again. Putting on her school uniform is a small but meaningful first step on that path, and it’s good to see she’s not just some static mascot of a character. Like Futaba, her own story has been subtly maintained.

Nodoka’s personal horror movie inludes a banshee of a mother who confronts “Mai” to cease harboring her daughter; Nodoka-as-Mai truthfully replies that she’s doing no such thing (since she’s at Sakuta’s…but she wisely leaves him out of the equation).

Mai gives Sakuta and Nodoka tickets to her latest gig in Nodoka’s body, but before that Sakuta has a rare meeting with his Dad. When Kaede became a shut-in, their mother apparently had some kind of breakdown of her own (it’s kept pretty vague). It was serious enough for their father to have to basically choose between continuing to live with his kids, or taking care of their mother full-time and trusting that Sakuta will be able to take care of himself and Kaede.

While at a family restaurant (fitting), Sakuta gleans fresh insight into his Dad; specifically how completely frazzled clueless he was upon his son’s birth. Sakuta says “all of the above” in response to Nodoka’s choices of “love, hate, piss you off, are annoying” as how he feels about his parents. Clearly a part of him has concluded that if he’s able to run a household with his little sister and solve cases involving one girl after another, he can’t really rag on his folks that much.

As for the Sweet Bullet gig, Mai-as-Nodoka is flawlesss, a testament to her consummate professionalism, attention to detail. Hell, she even saves the group leader’s ass when she trips by catching her mic and continuing to sing her part without missing a beat. Her performance is rewarded by the announcement she’ll be singling lead for the next song they release.

Nodoka and Sakuta watch, utterly enthralled. After the concert, Nodoka’s mom is among those who “high-fives” Mai-as-Nodoka, and she smiles, tears up, and congratulates her, things she never did to Nodoka-as-Nodoka. Nodoka demands to go to the beach, and starts striding into the sea, believing she isn’t needed by anyone anymore.

Sakuta stops her, and assures her that’s not the case: if anything happened to her, Mai would be sad, and Sakuta can’t have that. Nodoka doubts him, but he assures her it’s true, and furthermore knows it’s true, especially after looking into the forbidden cabinet at Mai’s place.

He shows Nodoka the box in that cabinet, which contains every single letter Nodoka wrote to her big sis, from before they knew they were sisters. Mai’s always treasured them because they gave her courage and strength knowing someone specific (as opposed to the other faceless masses) was cheering her on.

It was thanks to Nodoka that Mai even started enjoying her work. Mai appears (it is her apartment they’re in) to thank her sister. Nodoka comes back with a tirade about how it’s “too late” since Mai managed to get her mother to smile and approve, and get her own lead singing gig before her.

In response Mai slaps not Nodoka, but Sakuta (since Mai has a shoot tomorrow  and she doesn’t want to risk marring her face). She describes how Nodoka’s Mom’s hands were trembling when she held hers; how she could tell her mom was uneasy about whether her daughter was truly happy; seeing her perform so well all but confirmed she was.

Nodoka asks why her Mom never said anything, but unlike, say, Sakuta’s Dad at the restaurant, parents are always loath to tell their kids how uneasy they feel about raising them, and about whether they’re doing it right. Mai’s solution for Nodoka, as the sisters embrace, is to make her mother happy doing something she wants to do, not just what she’s told. To show that she can stand on her own, without direction, and shine. Seto Asami does a tremendous job voicing Nodoka through Mai in the emotionally cathartic scene.

The sisters now sufficiently made up, their bodies switch back to normal like the snapping of a soap bubble, before Sakuta’s eyes. Later, Futaba posits that Nodoka’s believed need to “be like her big sister” resulted in the swap (possibly through a variant of quantum teleportation), while Mai changed her appearance to Nodoka, out of momentary jealousy.

As for Sakuta, he’s just happy he can be lovey-dovey with the real Mai. But two new obstacles threaten that desire. One, Nodoka moves in with Mai (she got in another fight with her Mom, but hey—that’s what family does sometimes; it’s not the end of their relationship, she just wanted a change—and the little matter of Nodoka-as-Mai being photographed with Sakuta by her side by a photographer. Now there’s buzz out there that Mai Has A Boyfriendsomething Mai calls a “slight problem.”

But I agree with her assessment; it’s not as huge an emergency as a bout of Adolescence Syndrome (the next case of which looks to finally focus on Kaede next week), nor a rift between sisters that was just amicably closed. She and Sakuta are a strong, dependable, shrewd couple. They’ll get through it!

Tada-kun wa Koi wo Shinai – 05 – A Good Meal, a Nice Bath, and an Unexpected Guest

The first minutes of this episode of Tada-kun are, in a word, heartbreaking. A grown Mitsuyoshi and Yui pray at their parents’ grave with their gramps, and we’re taken back to the rainy day their dad suddenly has to hop on a flight, and their mom drives him to the airport.

As they pull away, his dad pokes his head out the window and snaps a picture of his kids. Mitsuyoshi is sullen. Yui is cheerful. It turns out to be the last picture their dad took; he and their mom were killed in an accident, and would never return.

Back in the present, Kaoru blasts into the Tadas’ cafe to announce the “Tenth Annual Ijuuin Kaoru Show” is on, and it’s live. This year, all are welcome, from Hajime, Hinako and Yamashita Dog, to newcomers Teresa and Alec. Kaoru asks them all to sit back while he utilizes his not inconsiderable culinary skillz to prepare all their favorite dishes.

When Mitsuyoshi and Teresa are tasked with putting some food away in the fridge in the upstairs apartment, she’s drawn to that last photo Mitsuyoshi’s dad took, and when he explains the context, she remembers when she fell in the drink and was saved by Alec around the same time Mitsu and Yui lost their folks. She considers both times when they decided they had to try to become stronger; in her case for Alec’s sake; in his case for Yui’s.

The exchange is interrupted when Kaoru announces he’s completed everyone’s dishes and it’s time to dig in. Everyone agrees Kaoru (who comes from a restaurant family) is damn good at cooking, even if, in Alec’s case, she doesn’t outwardly say it. Instead, she merely polishes of every last bit of her katsu bowl and asks for seconds.

The Kaoru Show continues after dinner with a trip to a bathhouse he’s rented out for the evening (he’s a young man of means, after all), and the two genders split off to their respective sides of the bath. Since they’re in the bath, there is talk of boob size on both sides, as well as Yui thinking out loud that Teresa would be a great girlfriend for her big brother. Alec says Teresa already has one, only to dismiss it as a “joke.”

Over on the boys’ side, Yamashita pines for an “older girl” presumed to be Hinako, while Hajime overheats and slips on a bowl, nearly cracking his skull. When the two groups reunite, Hinako is right there by Hajime’s side to help him, for which he’s grateful, even if he told his friends in the bath that his getting romantically involved with her would never happen (likely because he’s still mostly convinced Hinako and HINA are different people).

After the bathhouse, the Tenth Annual Ijuuin Kaoru Show comes to a close, and we learn about it’s raison d’etre: ten years ago, when Mitsuyoshi lost his folks, Kaoru, who was his classmate but never got along with him before, took pity on Mitsuyoshi, and made cheering him up at any cost his life’s work from that point on.

In other words, or more accurately in Alec’s words, Kaoru is a “pest”, but “has some good points too”, one of them being he can always be relied on to cheer you up when you’re feeling low. He’s never failed to do so with Mitsuyoshi (and Yui!) for a decade and counting.

After everyone goes their seperate ways and the credits roll, we move on to an entirely new development: the arrival of Teresa’s apparent fiancee/suitor/betrothed, Charles, who not only can stop Alec’s attacks with one hand, but confirms that Teresa is not only a princess of “Larsenberg” (maybe not Luxembourg?), but its future queen.

That makes things a bit more complicated for her and Mitsuyoshi, now doesn’t it?

Kokkoku – 06

Damn, this was going to be my “last chance” episode that would decide whether I would drop Kokkoku, and what do you know, the story finally shows some signs of life! Granted, it does so in an episode full of death, starting with the guy Tsubasa is fighting. Tsubasa basically suffocates him as he struggles.

It’s an ugly, nasty business that makes Tsubasa, who can’t find Makoto after killing someone, start to despair. Thankfully Juri, Gramps and Takafumi encounter him before he turns into a Handler, and Juri’s expulsion of the jellyfish/specter stops the transformation.

So Tsubasa is fine, but now Stalled. Then Majima appears, saying she has the kid (who is with the crotchety guy who amusingly hates kids) and wants to deal. When Juri hears Majima’s terms, she wonders why she didn’t just come and talk to them rather than causing so much chaos.

Majima doesn’t have a good reason, beyond perhaps wanting at the time to give the Yukawas a taste of revenge for what they did to her family. Juri will help her try to retrieve her family, but she won’t forgive her for doing things the way she did.

Majima’s plan is to summon three Heralds, but she can’t summon the necessary murderous intent to do so. The summoning falls to Takafumi, who is just experimenting whether he can do so on a whim, and can. Talk about coming through with a hidden power in the clutch!

In any case, the Herald/Handler appears, and Gramps works overtime transporting himself and Takafumi out of its deadly reach, while Juri jumps onto it from above and begins expelling the three jellyfish within the body.

This makes for decent, novel action, with parts of the Handler sloughing off into clouds of wood, sand, and dust, but those clouds eventually freezing along with the rest of Stasis.

Unfortunately, while Juri released the jellyfish from Majima’s parents and brother, she can’t bring them back to life; only their semi-mummified bodies remain. Majima solemnly takes them into her arms and dusts off their faces.

So what’s next for this bunch of misfits? Will Majima honor the agreement and return Makoto? What about Sugawa? And how many underlings could possibly still be running around to serve him?

Kokkoku – 05

At last we see Majima Shouko’s side of the story of the time she and Juri last crossed paths. She was riding in a car with her mother, father, and brother (the latter two being violent dicks) when the Yukawas activate Stasis.

Overwhelmed by despair at their sudden predicament, one by one her family is surrounded by tentacles and dust and floats away, leaving her alone. She finally meets another moving soul in young Juri, who is so upset about her dog dying she expels Shouko on sight.

Juri’s goal, which is different from Sagawa’s, is to retrieve her family from Stasis, if she can. She believes Juri’s ability may be the only way to do that, and manages to get one of Sagawa’s men to side with her in exchange for sex at a later date. Suddenly Juri teleports in and expels that guy, leaving Shouko with just one guy.

There’s a fleeting opportunity for Shouko and Juri to talk, woman to woman, but it doesn’t happen, because there’s no trust on either side. So Shouko and the eye-spot dude go to Sagawa, who again uses a sacrifice in order to summon not one or two but three separate Heralds, which Shouko believes to be her lost family members.

Shouko seems to refine her goal on the spot to simply recover her family’s bones, not get them back alive, which while noble, is simply not as pressing or compelling as the situation of the Yukawa’s, who are all still alive and haven’t given in to despair.

Juri and Gramps manage to rescue Takafumi, despite his resisting when they come to get them (Sagawa apparently set him up outside like bait with a big tin of chocolate). The bickering Yukawas are immediately surrounded, and Gramps teleports them away, but it’s going to be another chase. Yippee.

Finally, Tsubasa and Makoto make it home, but their tail gets there first and takes the note Juri left for her brother. Thankfully, Tsubasa can sense something isn’t right just in timeto save Makoto from getting stabbed.

Somebody ends up stabbed in the end, but as the fabric the knife goes through is the color of the towel Tsubasa was using as a shield, we don’t know who yet.

While it’s good to know more about Shouko’s motivations, things continue to move at a snail’s pace, while the cat-and-mouse game through the drab, lifeless Stasis has long since grown stale.

Violet Evergarden – 04

Violet Evergarden delivers yet another bravura character study, this time with a focus on Iris, the young, feisty, but not-yet-distinguished Memoir Doll. She’s so excited to get her first personal request—from her hometown of Kazaly, no less—she overdoes it, and ends up spraining her arm falling down some stairs.

That means the ghostwriter will need someone to ghostwrite for her—a ghostghostwriter, if you will—and newly-certified doll Violet accompanies her for that task. During a conversation on the train, Iris is miffed by Violet’s assessment of her hometown as lacking in valuable resources.

But what she doesn’t get about Violet in that moment is that she doesn’t have a mean or even passive-aggressive bone in her body. Violet actually considers Kazaly’s resource dearth a good thing, because it meant warring factions didn’t destroy it fighting over resources.

When Iris agrees that it’s good no one in her town was hurt, she then apologizes to Violet, who was hurt. Violet doesn’t see the distinction between Iris apologizing for what happened to her, and apologizing for being insensitive with her words.

Upon arriving in Kazaly, Iris is approached not by her client, but by her loving parents; her mother sent the request under a false name in order to lure Iris home. Her parents’ true intention to throw a birthday party, with many single young men invited, in hopes she’ll return home, get married, and settle down. Thus, Violet, on behalf of Iris, will type up invitations.

Among the invitees is Emmon Snow, whom Iris asks Violet not to invite. But the day of the party, Emmon shows up and offers his salutations, which throws Iris into a rage. She runs into the house and away from the party.

Violet is confused by Iris’ “change of condition”, so Iris spells it out: Emmon rejected her already. When Violet immediately relays this information to Iris’ parents, and Iris’ mother tells her they’ll find another, better match for her, Iris is furious at Violet for being completely incapable of understanding peoples’ feelings.

Then Violet issues an apology that’s as thorough and revealing as it is heartbreaking:

I’m sorry. I thought I’d come to understand them a little, but people’s emotions are extremely complicated and delicate. Not everyone puts all of their feelings into words. People can be contrary, or at times, untruthful. I can’t decipher them accurately. It’s proving all too difficult for me. I’m truly sorry.

Iris’ attitude towards Violet softens considerably, once she realizes the difficulties Violet faces and battles without complaint.

And despite Violet having parroted almost everything Iris has said to her, Iris opens up even more, giving her the details of her confession to Emmon and his subsequent, devastating FriendZone-ing. The words that “activate” Violet are “I love you.”

The way Iris used them, she deduces that it must take a great deal of courage to say them to someone, and she wonders if the Major felt the same way. Iris, in turn, learns that the Major Violet speaks of was the first person in her life to show her love. Then Violet suggests she help Iris write a letter to her parents, to tell them how she truly feels.

While last week’s letter from a sister to her troubled brother was so short and sweet it could have been a fluke, this week’s letter is no fluke. Violet strikes a balance of cold, straightforward facts and warm, resonant sentiments.

In the letter, Iris properly expresses her desire to return to the city and continue on the path she set out for herself. She is grateful to her parents for their love, and sorry for causing them to worry, but hopes they’ll give her more time and watch over her.

Iris narrates the letter, which is to say Tomatsu Haruka does, and she absolutely knocks it out of the park. By the time her parents finish reading it, they’re near tears; as am I. On the train ride home, Iris assures Violet it was a fine letter, and that her feelings reached those she loves.

Iris is given a bouquet before leaving: one of irises, which were in full bloom when she was born and which are in full bloom when they depart back to Leiden. When Iris tells Violet how her parents named her, she remembers the Major doing the same thing with her.

Gilbert spotted a solitary yet stalwart violet off in the distance, lit up by the sun, and decides that’s what his new charge will be called. It’s his hope she “won’t be a tool, but a person worthy of that name,” yet another episode-ending title drop that gave me all the feels.

P.S. On a lighter note: with the number of close-ups of feet, particularly Iris’, one could be forgiven for thinking this episode was guest-directed by Quentin Tarantino, well-known as one of Hollywood’s foremost foot enthusiasts.

Violet Evergarden – 03

Violet attends Auto Memoir Doll Class, sternly instructed by Mrs. Rhodanthe. Violet treats it like military training, and without trying impresses the whole class with her two hundred words-per-minute typing speed, earns top marks for grammar and vocabulary. So far, so good.

Her desk neighbor Luculia (whose seiyu I can’t quite place…Yuuki Aoi, perhaps?) takes an interest in the “doll-like girl with a soldier’s demeanor.” When the time comes to ghostwrite letters to one another, Violet’s letter to Claudia sounds like a dry report, while Violet utterly fails to parse out the feelings Luculia expresses, resulting in another tactless letter full of potential misunderstandings, which the instructor soundly rejects. Technical proficiency will only get you so far in this class.

Still, Luculia, while walking partway home with Violet, decides to show her her favorite view of the city, from the clock tower. This induces a vivid flashback for Violet, remembering Major Gilbert telling her how he wished for her to see that very view.

This reinforces the notion that the only way Violet will make any progress—either as a Memoir Doll in touch with her clients’ feelings or a woman in touch with her own—is through external interactions with her fellow townfolk, like Luculia, which bring out her internal emotions. Seeing the view the Major wanted her to see is a step in the right direction.

At first, Luculia chose her brother as the recipient of her letter, but switched to her parents, and we get a glimpse of why: her brother is a raucous drunk and a layabout, and not really available to hear what Luculia might want to say, even if she found the words to say. Watching her eat dinner alone in the dark as he snored beside her was sad beyond words.

When the Doll class concludes, Violet is not among the nine who graduated, though Luculia does pass. Violet reports her failure to Claudia, who tells her not to feel so bad, since graduation isn’t a requisite of being a Doll. But Violet isn’t satisfied. She doesn’t see how she serve any purpose as a doll if she can’t do what the instructor said: draw out the true feelings the client wishes to express.

Violet returns to the school, perhaps for further guidance, but to her surprise is met by Luculia, who offers to ghostwrite her a letter about the person she kept mentioning at the end of her previous ones: the Major. This leads to Violet telling Luculia why she wanted to be a Doll in the first place (to understand what “I love you” meant).

Whether Luculia took “the Major’s last words to me” to mean the Major is dead or not, she proceeds to pour her heart out about her own situation. Her parents, whom she had Violet ghostwrite letters to, were killed in the war, and her brother, who was in the army but never saw battle, blames himself for not being able to defend the city where their parents died.

Here I thought he was tortured by the things he had to do in the heat of battle—this world’s equivalent of PTSD. But it’s the regret over not being able to do anything that took root in his heart that has been eating away at him ever since.

Watching him get into a pointless fight and getting badly beaten as Luculia expressed her feelings made for some singularly powerful drama, aided in no small part by Evan Call’s sumptuous score, which never strays into melodrama.

Violet hears Luculia’s words, and after Luculia leaves, takes up the typewriter once more. The next time we see her, she’s blocking a drunken, supine brother’s crutch with one arm, and delivering him a ghostwritten letter with the other. He had been lying there remembering better times, when he and Luculia would climb to the top of the clock tower to enjoy the view. It’s clear even here, at rock bottom, that he loves his sister very much.

The letter is oh-so-brief: I’m glad you’re here for me. Thank you for everything. They’re the words Luculia wanted to say but couldn’t, and they’re the words her brother needed to hear but weren’t being said. Words of forgiveness, gratitude, and love.

The next day, Luculia takes Violet back to the school once more. Luculia and her brother are on the road to rebuilding a relationship, thanks to the letter. Rhodanthe presents Violet with a brooch signifying her status as a graduate of the class, in hopes she’ll become an exemplary Memoir Doll.

This time Violet listened and understood the words being spoken, and took from them the feelings that needed to be expressed, without the need for paragraphs of flowery language. All she needed was a strong inspiration—almost a muse—and found one in Luculia.

We’ll see how this breakthrough translates to being able to successfully convey the feelings of people other than her new friend. But for now, Violet has achieved a hard-earned and well-deserved victory.

Mahoutsukai no Yome – 12

As a restless Elias lounges around the house, lacking the energy to do anything even though there are things to be done, Chise completes her wand (an exhausting process) and basically “contracts” with it by sharing a bond of fate with Nevin, source of the wand’s wood.

She and Nevin meet in a nebulous space between the worlds of the living and dead. There, Nevin hears Chise out, then gets her to address her appalling lack of self-worth and confidence, believing as she has since her mother discarded her that she is readily disposable.

But rather than curse the parents who messed their kid up so much, Nevin thanks them for everything they did, because that string of actions and inactions led Chise to him, and she allowed him to fly again in his last moments.

Nevin also asks Chise to consider everything she’s done and the people she’s met and saved. If a savior such as Chise believes herself of so little value, that reflects poorly on the value of those she saved.

Having concluded her talk with Nevin, Chise returns to the regular world, and wishes to head back home so she can say the things she needs to say to Elias. Can I just say how it feels like she gives us this spiel about wanting to say things left unsaid in every episode, and yet it never happens.

This episode is no exception, though I can forgive it for using the conceit of Chise simply running out of energy, because she did, after all, use her wand to fly home by herself, utilizing fire faeries to transform herself into an elegant phoenix.

Visual similarities to Ghibli films notwithstanding, Phoenix-Chise’s extended journey through the sky was a high point of the episode, with Chise relying on her own power and embracing both the freedom her new wand allows her and the more advanced magic she, a sleigh beggy, can pull off with ease.

The trip knocks her out, and she has a dream involving her parents unlike any other she’d had before: a dream in which her mother isn’t crying or angry, but rather happy and smiling, even at Chise.

We see a glimpse of her life that she had forgotten, as it had likely been buried under years of emotional trauma. Her mom, pregnant with her little sister, and her dad, enjoying a lovely sunny day.

That’s the day that awaits Chise back home in the waking world, albeit with a sky full of floating sheep insects waiting to be shorn. After a bath and breakfast, Chise slips back into the warm comfort of her life as an ancient mage’s apprentice. Realizing the “bride” part, however, will require more time.