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.

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Kino no Tabi – 11

This episode was both illuminating—due to the light it shed on Kino’s origin—and dark, because of the particulars of that origin. Our Kino, it turns out, isn’t the first Kino, nor is Hermes the first Hermes.

The original Kino was a traveler too, and when he visits the Country of Adults, he approaches the future Kino II, a girl of twelve whose original name we never learn, and the daughter of innkeepers.

The girl helps name the derelict motorrad Kino is fixing behind the inn, giving it Hermes, the name of one of Kino’s friends.

In the girl’s country, all children get “surgery” at the age of twelve to make them “proper adults” overnight, (evoking dark shades of FGM) whereupon they inherit the jobs of their parents, as is their one and only job in life. What about what she wants to do, like singing, which she’s really good at? Not allowed.

Her country has a very strict idea of what an adult is and when a child becomes one, and this girl is trapped. Kino is sympathetic, but his transitory nature means that whatever happens, it has nothing to do with him; he’ll be on his way to the next country after his three days are up.

Only Kino never leaves the Country of Adults, because the girl can’t stop pondering his words about adults being able to do things they enjoy, like traveling and being free. When she tells her parents, in the company of the preist and other townsfolk, that she doesn’t want the surgery, they explode at her with manic rage.

The girl’s father confronts Kino, but the priest pleads for peace. They ask that Kino take his leave, but when the father produces a knife with which ti kill his “defective” child, Kino leaps in the way and is stabbed to death before the girl’s eyes. Shocking. A voice familiar to us as Hermes urges the girl to get on and tells her how to ride him if she wants to live…which she does.

And so off she goes, like a bat out of hell. The Kino we know and love was born that day, named the new Kino by Hermes. In the present, Kino and Hermes find themselves in the same field of crimson flowers where she stopped to rest when old Kino’s blood still fresh on her cheek.

In a lovely transition from past to present, Yuuki Aoi treats us to her pipes with a stirring a capella performance. Free of her nightmarish home country of control and stifling of individuality, Kino is now free to be the adult she wants to be. Like Tifana and Photo, she came from a dark place, but now she glows with joie de vivre.

ShoBitch ShoDropped

ShoBitch was never great, or even good. It was merely okay, and watchable in a nothing-else-is-on kinda way.

But after an episode that was less watchable—due to the addition of a sheltered rich girl with views on courtship every bit as quirky as Akiho’s and her mom’s—I’ve decided to cut bait.

Unlike Aho Girl, this is a full-length show, and despite decent voice work from Yuuki Aoi, the repetitive humor and predictable MC reactions just aren’t enough to keep me interested or coming back.

To even out the author responsibilities to four apiece, I’ll be taking over 3-gatsu no Lion reviews. Expect little change, as both Preston and I love the show—not to mention she initially took over the first season from me in a similar balancing maneuver.

Carry on, all!

My Girlfriend Is ShoBitch – 03

Honestly, one of the worst things about ShoBitch is its title: it should actually be called Watashi no Kanojo wa Totemo Iidesu. (ほんとに私の彼女はとてもいいです。or My Girlfriend is Really Nice). Because Akiho is not a bitch! She just goes way beyond what is decent in normal daily conversation when it comes to analyzing her boyfriend’s sexual preferences.

Now we learn the reason she is the way she is: her mother Fuyumi gave her this “education.” Haruka learns this rather quickly upon meeting Akiho’s mom, while Akiho’s dad is essentially…Haruka, grown up. You can kinda see in his eyes that it’s been a lot of work living with Fuyumi, but the fact that every other aspect of her is perfect (like their daughter), he has no cause to complain.

In fact, Fuymi is almost too dutiful, to the point of making her husband feel like there’s no way he deserves someone so good. Then he remembers: not everyone could put up with all the innuendo…not to mention imbue their daughter with an almost identical attitude towards…that kinda stuff.

The day of Akiho and Haruka’s first date arrives, and Akiho predictably over-analyzes and over-prepares, to the point of deciding that 30 degrees is the ideal amount of head tilt to maximize her attractiveness to her man, which…yeah, Haruka doesn’t care about your head angle, especially when you’ve got such a cute outfit for the date!

Haruka runs into a bit of bad luck when across from him and Akiho is a real-life pervert with what looks like a blow-up doll-kinda thing(?), and Akiho takes comprehensive notes on both that and the movie they go to see, which is far raunchier than Haruka thought it would be.

That being said, Haruka, like Akiho’s father, is built for this kind of relationship, able to take any and all strange comments and requests, and only gently steer her back in the right direction of things veer off too far. Just being with her for the day made him happy, but that only makes Haruka feel bad for letting her research dominate the date.

Haruka says it’s no biggie; they can just go see the cherry blossoms on Sunday. The thought of another date so soon fills Akiho with joy, but she goes right back into her pattern of over-preparation, and she’s so anxious about the day she becomes sleep-deprived and even gets a fever.

After a trip to the (very inappropriate) nurse’s office and her mother picks her up, Akiho vows to get better for Sunday, and Haruka, not getting his hopes up, is shocked to discover on the day of their date her fever has disappeared. Let’s call it an efficient immune system, shall we?

Alas, most of the cherry blossoms already fell before they got there. Akiho is crestfallen, but again, Haruka reiterates that it’s no big deal (not a lot is  big deal to him, unless she’s on her knees before him in the school hall, speaking in a tone of voice that could be easily misinterpreted).

They can always come back next year, he tells her. Insinuating they’ll be together an entire year from now is awfully bold, but I don’t currently see anything getting in their way. I mean, look how happy Akiho is to hear that!

Speaking of ‘getting in the way’, I was glad none of the other girls in Haruka’s circle made an appearance this week; after the last episode I needed a break, and the show shines best when the lead couple is on screen. It was also neat to meet Akiho’s parents—It was essentially like looking into Akiho and Haruka’s future.

Sagrada Reset – 23

Kei is in the back of a Toyota Harrier with Urachi, with Tsushima driving and Tomoki riding shotgun; Ukawa, Murase, Sakagami and Oka Eri (I’ll say her whole name since everyone in the show always does) escape by bike (and Ukawa turning the road into a slot car track). Haruki is still at the Karaoke parlor with Sakuin and Kagaya, apparently outnumbered…but it’s all part of the plan.

I hope you don’t mind the calm, measured voice of Ishikawa Kaito, because you get a lot of it in this episode, and that’s saying something. He has an adversary with the opposite position to try to convince to his side, after all.

Kei is as persistent as he is righteous, laying out all of the alternative options to simply wiping out abilities, using the abilities of others to lighten the burden of his two “locked” parents—even transferring his father’s ability to a cat.

At the end of Kei’s spiel, Urachi is still not convinced, and Kei isn’t surprised…because Urachi isn’t the one he was trying to convince: it’s Kagaya, back at the parlor with Haruki, who heard the whole debate through Tomoki.

In light of everything that was said, Kagaya chooses to support Kei. Just like that, Urachi loses a vital team member of his crusade. He can no longer realistically carry out his plan without Kagaya’s support, so he essentially surrenders to Kei, handing him his notebook.

As for what occurs at the very end, with Souma passing thorough the boundaries of Sakurada in a train, suddenly having all her memories rush back, and lamenting that she’s “certain nothing was even” for Kei? Your guess is as good as mine. It would seem Urachi has been quite suddenly removed as an opponent, but perhaps the events of this episode were the easy part of Kei’s plan, with the true challenge coming in the finale.

Sagrada Reset – 17

Another week, another dense, intricate Sakurada Reset. Let’s wade in, shall we? First of all, Souma’s second voice message to Kei leads to another incident involving abilities – specifically, an entire supermarket breaks out in laughter, including Kei and Haruki, which is actually pretty momentous considering how subtly the two usually express emotion.

That night, Hitsuchi calls just when Kei is about to call him, asking him for a head shot of Souma Sumire. He also tells Kei about about the Bureau’s current fear of every ability user in Sakurada using their abilities simultaneously.

Kei then remembers what he read in Manuscript 407, which is about the events of 40 years ago when the Bureau was first founded by the only three ability users who were aware of their abilities. Two were a married couple; the husband could “take something” from the entire world at once, and the wife could “retain” something. The third would later be known as the Nameless Witch.

Because of the husband, none of the people in Sakurada know of their abilities, but when he dies, the “spell will be broken”, and there will be chaos. So the Witch proposes they work together to expand the boundary of the wife’s ability (which negates memory loss the husband is causing worldwide), so that when the husband does die, people will know about abilities and they’ll be in a position to keep them under control; thus the Bureau was born.

Back in the present, Hitsuchi eventually sends Kei info on the ability users involved in the last two incidents, then calls Kei to report that after seeing Souma’s photo, he remembered certain things about two years ago. before Souma died, she went to Hitsuchi, who she used to borrow the ability of Tomoki to create voice messages without Tomoki remembering what he did. The messages, then, are from the Souma of the past, before she died.

Traveling with Sakuin, Souma engages with the human lie detector in non-superficial conversation, asking her opinion on the Bureau. Sakuin believes the Bureau’s foundation has started to crumble, even going so far as to call her boss Urachi a “monster” that nothing can be done about. Urachi’s plan is to eliminate information on abilities from the town, which would, after all turn Souma back into a “normal student,” which is her intent.

Despite knowing Urachi’s methods may not be the most moral, Sakuin is of the mind that abilities are “unnecessary,” but as she lacks the means to remove them from the town, she leaves it in Urachi’s hands. As for Kei, all the remembering of information—including the realizaiton Souma may have died for him—has led to him having a rough time; something Haruki can sense when he visits her house.

Why does he visit her house? No, not for a booty call…Souma’s third voice message instructs him to deliver a copy of his favorite book to Haruki. We don’t learn what that book is, nor does Haruki (he left it in her mailbox to look at later), but when Kei opens up about his problems to her, Haruki is heartened. She suggests he rests, but there’s more he needs to do, and Haruki isn’t about to stop him that.

That ‘something more to do’ apparently involves returning to Haruki’s dreamworld, where he finds both Michiru and Chiruchiru “locked” by Urachi’s underling. According to a blue bird Chiruchiru created to tell Kei what happened, the Bureau entered the dream world and locked Michiru, Chiruchiru, and the world’s Souma.

The bird implores Kei to help Michiru escape the lock, and also gives him the name of his “nemesis”, which he hadn’t known was Urachi until just then. It’s a name he knows, because two of the three founders, the husband and wife, had the same name, making Masamune their son.

After his parents basically kicked the abilities can down the road, Masamune is looking for a permanent fix, and seems to be getting closer. It remains to be seen if he’ll succeed, or what succeeding will mean for Kei, Haruki, Souma, and everyone else in Sakurada.

Tsuki ga Kirei – 12 (Fin)

Going into the finale, I held out a glimmer of hope that Kotarou would be able eke out a high enough score to get into Akane’s school, and even if he wasn’t accepted, they’d figure something out.

Well, the finale wastes no time giving us the answer, dropping the news that Kotarou was not accepted in the first minute. It’s a crushing blow, especially knowing how many “first loves” like this are ended by long distance.

Still, if he had passed and been able to attend high school with Akane, where would the drama be? Kotarou’s mentor tells him that nothing an author goes through is for naught; one could say the same of lovers.

One person who hopes long distance will change things is Akane’s sister, who reasonably asks Akane if she’ll take the move as an opportunity to break up with Kotarou and turn the page rather than endure the pain of the distance. Akane is adamant that that’s not what she wants…and that her sister is a jerk.

Another is Chinatsu, who is ecstatic when Kotarou is accepted to the municipal school and takes it to mean fate has worked out in her favor. She decides the time is right to confess to Kotarou; to tell him she’s always like him, and ask if she’s good enough.

And she’s just…not. Everything worked out in her favor except the most important thing: that Kotarou is able to return her feelings. He’s not. She accepts the loss (again) and tries to look forward to the next year with Kotarou as just a friend.

Chinatsu tells Akane about her confession attempt, but Kotarou doesn’t, which makes their last date together before her move more fraught. When Kotarou tells her all the ways HE will make this work—getting a job to afford train fare to Chiba as many times a week as he can manage—she becomes overwhelmed by the burden she believes she’s putting on him.

This is another case of these two being in uncharted territory with no map compass, or experience. Kotarou’s a great guy who loves Akane, but she needs more than for him to say HE’s got this; she has to be a participant in making their relationship survive, and because she’s anxious by nature (doubly so when it comes to him), his unceasing niceness actually works against him as she becomes overwhelmed, cries, kisses him, and runs off.

That meeting on the river is the last time they see each other…before the move, but Kotarou decides to take the advice of friends and start writing as a way to process his feelings. He posts the stories of his first tender love to an online board, where they resonate because everyone has been there, and many even wish they could go back to a time when love was so simple.

Ironically, he’s posting these stories at the end of those simple times. From here on out, things will get more complicated by all of the things in life that interfere or threaten what we want most: to simply be with the person we love.

Yet even though he’s too late to say goodbye to Akane in person either at her now-vacant house or at the train station, Kotarou’s feelings, and the fact they’ll never change, manage to get through to her, and they’re the same feelings she has for him: a deep, warm love that is poised to endure the challenges of growing into adulthood.

And so ends the first stage of the romance between Kotarou and Akane. It turns out not to be fleeting, as thanks to the magic of LINE they stay in touch almost constantly, and also meet up quite a bit once Kotarou makes enough money.

As the credits roll, we see the couple enjoying more firsts like movie night alone (with the parents coming home too early); their first trip together alone; missing out on chatting when Akane gets home too late; Kotarou having drinks with Akane’s parents; Akane being fitted for a wedding dress.

It may seem like jumping ahead, but Tsuki ga Kirei isn’t about these moments and days and nights years…it was the story of how these two found each other, fell in love, and never stopped loving. It was a foundation, and it was a damned strong one.

By the end, after the challenges of long distance and high school and entering the workplace and more hard work and more distance, Kotarou and Akane come out of it wonderfully, get married, and have a child.

It’s the happy ending I hoped for, but with the added bonus of having been earned due to the challenges endured and sacrifices made. And brothers and sisters, if any of you came out of this episode—and that beautiful closing montage in particular—with totally dry eyes, you may want to check your pulse!

Tsuki ga Kirei – 11

Sooo…this episode was just about perfect, which doesn’t really surprise me at this point. Kotarou and Akane are on splendid terms, so Kotarou faces two new conflicts this week, which prove more complex and challenging than winning Akane’s heart. Gaining the approval of his parents, and being accepted into Koumei.

We know Akane’s grades are great and her family is the reason she’s changing schools, so there’s not much tension on her end; just whether or not Kotarou will like her hand-knit scarf (which…DUH of course he will).  So instead we delve deep into Kotarou’s small, quiet family, and navigate the treacherous waters with him.

Like Kotarou and Akane’s romance, Kotarou’s problems with his folks are portrayed with a heightened sense of realism and equilibrium. His mom may sound worse than nails on a chalkboard when nagging Kotarou, but she’s only nagging because she cares so fiercely about her son’s future.

That being said, I don’t decry Kotarou pushing back against the path she’s already laid out in her head for him. It is HIS future, after all. But just as Kotarou was initially so bad at communicating his feelings (or anything else) with Akane, he’s equally bad at explaining why he’s so hellbent on attending Koumei.

Hell, he never even seems to try, which works against him early on as his mother quickly dismisses his intention to follow a “girl he likes” as teenage caprice. We know better—Kotarou near-as-makes-no-difference loves Akane, and she loves him, but his folks have no choice but to work with the information they have, which is scanty.

Rather than hearing it from him, Kotarou’s mother comes to gather more information on her own, as she watches her son furiously studying late into the night. She can tell he’s working hard for something he believes in, so obviously she’s not going to come in and crush his dreams by forcing him into a municipal school. Instead, she adopts a wait-and-see approach, putting her faith in her son by letting him hold the keys to his future.

The constant studying wears Kotarou down, and his mock exams are, uh, nothing special, so it’s great to see Akane spearhead a Christmas meetup that serves as a much-needed break for both of them, as well as an opportunity to exchange presents.

It’s lovely to watch the couple so comfortable and warm around each other, especially the lack of hesitation when they lean in for another kiss. You really get the feeling, both here and after all we’ve seen, that this isn’t mere puppy love; these kids have a future together…even if they don’t end up in the same school.

One night, Kotarou’s father lays it out: they’ll let him apply for Koumei, but if he fails, he’s going to a public school. Kotarou accepts the fair conditions, then stands slack-jawed when his dad tells him when his homeroom teacher told his mom Koumei wasn’t a realistic choice for Kotarou, she fought back, leading to an awesome thunderbolt of a quintessential Dad Line: “She can be naggy, but…Well, there you have it.”

Sure enough, when heading downstairs at 1 am for a snack, Kotarou finds his mother there, making some fresh onigiri; forming the balls with love, care, and gentleness before heading off to bed. His mom is no longer an impediment to his dreams of attending school with Akane. She never was. She saw the effort he was putting in, and decided to support and even fight for him.

The morning of his big, decisive exam—the last true impediment to his happiness (though not really since as I said their love seems likely to endure the lengthy but non-permanent distance)—both Kotarou’s mom and dad are up to make sure he has everything he needs, to wish him luck, and to see him off. And Kotarou does something he hadn’t done all episode, but sorely needed to do: he thanks his mom.

These family interactions are so understated and relatable, and really form a nice little arc within the episode as understanding is achieved between the parties and the conflict is revealed only as a measure of concern. Kotarou puts in the work to assure them they needn’t worry, and they show him that they are and always will be on his side.

Now he just needs to pass that goddamn exam!

Rokudenashi Majutsu Koushi to Akashic Records – 04

After its best episode yet, I wasn’t under any assumptions that the show would keep getting better and better, but last week is followed up by a solid, satisfying outing that explores the new status quo among the class now that Glenn is actually giving a shit; this is something that couldn’t be explored last week because of the far more pressing terrorism.

It’s Magical Competition time, and the games will be performed before the queen herself (and Rumia’s biological mother) Alicia VII, but Class 2 is unenthusiastic. Glenn assures them he’s after nothing less than Victory, and appoints those he believes are the best in the individual fields the various events focus upon.

Because the whole class is involved, and Glenn is so confident, everyone becomes engaged and motivated, and Sistine becomes his very active advocate of his strategy. Only Rumia and we know the truth: Glenn actually would have preferred to use only his best students for all the events.

But he can’t go back now; he’s in too deep. I appreciate that he’s bearing the discomfort that comes with knowing he’s dug himself in a big hole, but is willing to stick it out for the good of his students. In fact, he doubles down by entering a bet with Class 1’s instructor Halley involving three whole months of salary…and the bastard is already hungry!

The competition prep is punctuated nicely by a B-plot involving Queen Alicia’s guilt over abandoning Rumia (even if it was for her own good), as well as a glimpse of family life with the Fibels. For her part, Fibel considers Sisti’s parents her mom and dad, and Sisti her sister, so that’s all there is to it.

We later learn on the day of the competition that Celica is an old friend of Alicia’s, meaning not only does the queen tolerate her familiar manner, but she also trusts Celica’s faith in Glenn. That trust is validated when Class 2 goes on to place in all the events thus far, surprising everyone, including themselves and Glenn.

I believe a non-trivial amount of their success is thanks to the confidence Glenn instilled in them all, backed up by Sistine and Rumia, which allows them to focus and maximize the skills they need to harness. It’s also great to see Glenn put Rumia in the Mental Defense event, knowing full well from the past couple episodes how tough she is (more than Sisti, to be sure).

When Glenn sees Rumia’s badass Class 5 competition, Jaill, he starts to sweat a little, especially when the instructor in the even turns out to be a real perv. But to Jaill’s credit, he’s not an overly aggressive or disrespectful opponent; he simply believes he’s the best and Rumia is as frail as she looks.

He’s mistaken, and the revelation that he ends up unconscious while standing while Rumia is still awake to take the win was another great surprise. Competition episodes can be a bore, but this one excelled by leaning on its characters and their relationships. It was a lot of fun.

ACCA: 13-ku Kansatsu-ka – 08

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ACCA had been teasing us for a while now about who exactly Jean and Lotta are, and last week finally answered that question: they are a prince and princess.

This week gives us more of what I yearned for—specifics—by taking us back 33 years, to when King Falke’s daughter Princess Schnee leaves the royal family and renounces her titles so that she can spread her wings and be, in her view, of more use to the nation, by traveling and learning more about it.

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The four people who arrange Schnee’s “detatchment” from the family (complete with faked death) are the king, Privy Council President Qualm, Schnee, and her loyal aide Abend, who looks a lot like a young Grossular.

The twist is that Abend isn’t the one Schnee falls for: he fades into the shadows and receives reports and photos from Niino’s father, which he then relays to Qualm, who relays them to the king.

Everybody seems to win in this arrangement: Schnee gets to live her life (and fall in love with a commoner, resulting in the birth of Jean and Lotta) out in the world, the king never had to “clip her wings”, and the president rids the royal family of a member who he deemed might’ve caused undue, possibly republican (small r) disruption to the crown.

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After she’s ensconced in Bodan and starts a family, Schnee and her kids are largely on the margins, Abend disappears altogether, and Niino and his dad are front-and-center. Niino’s dad is fiercely loyal to Abend, who in turn is fiercely loyal to Qualm and Falke.

He takes his duty to keep an eye on Schnee and her fam very seriously, but because it is essentially his life, he also takes the time to enjoy it, and imbues that sense of duty, and sense of enjoying one’s duty, into his trusty son. That, and we see where Niino got his sweet tooth.

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The idea is that King Falke was perfectly fine with his daughter leaving the palace, as long as tabs were kept on her. It doesn’t seem like he intended for Schnee and her issue to be some kind of “backup plan” in case his younger daughter’s issue (Schwan) wasn’t up to snuff.

When Jean enters high school, Niino’s dad sends him there to befriend him…even though Niino is ten years older (chalk it up to good genes). Niino also joins the photography club and makes use of the camera given to him by “Master” (Abend). It’s clear both Abend and Niino’s dad are grooming him for the role of Jean and Lotta’s next “royal observer.”

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When tragedy strikes, it isn’t just Schnee and Jean and Lotta’s father who perish, but Niino’s father, who was traveling with them, as well. Just like that, the torch has been passed. The episode then fast-forwards back to the present, where Niino is telling the adult Jean all of this, and Jean is trying to process it.

Jean doesn’t care about whether he’s eligible to the throne (technically he isn’t); he just remembers how Niino cheered him up back in high school after his parents died, and how that helped him be strong for his little sister, who looks more and more like their gorgeous mother by the day.

The end credits play as they always have, but finally in context: the woman isn’t Lotta, but Schnee, barefoot, plainly clothed, and free from the isolation of the royal palace. She gave up everything, but gained freedom and the run of the whole nation, both for her and her children.

Now that Jean (though, notably, not Lotta) knows the truth, what will he do now?

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ACCA: 13-ku Kansatsu-ka – 07

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All the clues and hints have been laid out, ready to be taken and fitted together to get the larger picture around Jean Otus, who for a protagonist halfway into a show remains either deliciously inscrutable or, as Franklin has said, exactly as vapid as his surface indicates.

Mind you, the larger picture of Jean and his sister Lotta only seem to be part of a yet larger picture, one that both Grossular, Niino, and his second mystery contact would seem to know about.

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For the whole run of the show, I’d been trusting my instincts, which told me Lotta was important. Why else would the King and prince be so naturally drawn to her, and why else would someone who looks an awful like her be the dancer in the end credits?

The blonde hair; the blue eyes, the affinity for sweets and the royal district of Dowa, and of couse, all the swirlings of a coup—all of it points to Lotta and Jean Otus being themselves royalty. The flashback threw me off the scent, but their parents who died on the train were the second princess and her guard Abend.

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That, as Mauve reports to Jean in her home district of Korore (which is both a strong matriarchy and a chocolate superpower) makes Jean Otus first in the line of succession for the throne of Dowa.

It also explains a great many things about how people have been treating him all this time. Naturally, Jean, who “never asks questions about himself” but merely carries on, didn’t have a clue.

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While this revelation is delivered the same way any information is—in a suble, natural, understated fashion—it still raises the stakes considerably. Even if Jean doesn’t care about his lineage and won’t get in Prince Schwan’s way, Schwan is still gunning for him, big-time.

Assumptions and suspicions will play a larger role than Jean’s actual intent or desires. Jean and Schwan are opposites when it comes to how much they care about how they’re regarded by others. And then there’s the fact that Prince Schwan has (probably) never left Dowa, but Jean has traveled all across the nation, never knowing it was, in effect, a royal tour.

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Now that Jean knows one more thing Niino knows, their relationship doesn’t seem to change much. Jean still relies on him to tell him the specific bakery where he can get snowballs Lotta requested (which happens to be where the King himself stops by for some sweets), or the best chocolatier in Korore.

But while the mystery of Jean and Lotta may be solved, the bigger mystery is what comes next. What will Jean do with this information, once it inevitably gets out? Who will be on his side, and who (presumably anti-ACCA parties) will support the more malleable Schwan?

Things are finally starting to heat up in Dowa…and I’m not talking about the warmth of fresh-baked pastries.

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ACCA: 13-ku Kansatsu-ka – 06

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If it were one of many other slow-burn shows, I might be itching for something to happen already near the show’s midpoint (assuming this only gets 13 eps – I may be wrong), even to the point of starting to hand out 7’s for lack of forward momentum.

And yet, ACCA continues to avoid such scrutiny with its unassuming, calm, quiet competence, all but unique this Winter as a show all about stopping to smell the roses…or freshly-baked bread.

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One of the most eventful things to happen happens right at the start, where Jean not only goes up to Grossular, but tells him he knows he’s being followed, denies any involvement in a coup, and expresses his certainty Gross isn’t involved either. Grossular, after all, was the ACCA officer in Rokkusu who made things right when a horrific train accident claimed, among many others, Jean and Lotta’s parents.

Jean meets Mauve at the bakery, but claims to have “nothing of note” to report to her. If he’s trying to stay in the director-general’s good graces, he could have at least told her about the attempted coup in Suitsu. I’d say that was pretty “of note.” Mauve immediately starts to doubt Jean’s usefulness…and loyalty.

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Things largely quiet down from there, as both the show, the nation of Dowa, and most of its inhabitants kick back and enjoy a New Year’s shindig in Jean and Lotta’s apartment building.

We learn about the businessmen Jean seems to help out during his auditing duties, and Lotta receives a cake from Rail, only for Owl to give her another cake minutes later.

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People seem drawn to Lotta, but there’s still no indication she’s anyone super-special…yet (the flashbacks also seem to eliminate some possibilities in that arena).

Officers note that the start of ACCA’s hundredth year in operation isn’t all that different from the start of previous years. Mauve has a pretty standard speech at an all-hands, and that’s pretty much it.

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Something notable does happen: Grossular joins the other four Top 5 officers in their common room, to ask Lilium why he leaked Crow to Jean. Lilium wanted Jean “to do something,” and while Gross may be right that such an action was reckless, Lilium does seem to win the argument by calling for a meeting of the five to discuss what Gross knows and how they’ll proceed together, no longer unilaterally. He gets that meeting; it should be a good one.

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Jean then heads to Hare, the tropical district where the ACCA uniforms are short-sleeved and informal and the district inhabitants live the longest lives in the nation, and live life with gusto accordingly.

After striking out with Mauve last time, Jean redoubles his efforts to get something, anything out of Hare’s chiefs. Yet, when he goes to meet Mauve at the bakery, she’s not there. Is it too late?

After Hare (one of Jean’s shorter audits), Jean heads to Dowa again, this time for an audit. Prince Schwan continues to try to force his grandfather’s hand in subtle ways like hanging his portrait in a place he spends lots of sittin’ time. Perhaps Jean will get more juicy info in Dowa.

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Sousei no Onmyouji – 29

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Whew…I knew we were going to get some answers and stuff was going to go down once Rokuro, Benio, and Sae arrived in Kyoto…I just didn’t know we’d get those answers and everything would go down so quickly. The episode even teases the possibility of a “rest episode” in which Sae and her two de facto parents soak in the city and its many choice ohagi spots.

Then Arima calls them and tells them to get over to Exorcist Union HQ pronto. Rokuro and Benio have to put their plans for fun on hold, but they promise Sae they can go wherever she wants…once the Dragon Spot problem is taken care of. This promise, and the lingering long shot of the three in near silhouette against the river, felt like pretty strong death flags for Lil’ Sae.

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As Roku, Benio, and Sae head for HQ, Arima finds himself ambushed by Kuranashi, and we finally get to see what Arima is made of when he dodges the initial strike, then sends fire and ice summons after Kuranashi when he tries to flee to Magano. Kuranashi, whom we learn for the first time is a Basara…and the most interesting one since Kamui, to boot.

A furious, top-level duel ensues, highlighting SnO’s strengths: hard-hitting action with an above-average score and sound design that really makes blows and magical effects pop. We also see just how wet behind the ears our Twin Stars are, considering all the incantations they have to do in order to launch attacks. Here, Arima exorcises lesser Kegare with a look or a thought; I bet he just said “Begone” for effect.

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But then something happens I did not expect: Arima falls into Kuranashi’s trap, something called a “seman” that drains all of his spell power, which is then absorbed by Kuranashi. As Arima slowly descends into his apparent demise (though I doubt we’ve seen the last of him), he wears a defiant grin: Merely getting rid of him won’t give Kuranashi what he wants (to cover the world in darkness). This is his faith in the Twin Stars talking, for as he says, stars shine brightest in the darkest darkness.

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Of course, Arima’s faith doesn’t automatically mean Rokuro and Benio are ready to deliver the world’s salvation, as the most important answer to this cour so far is finally answered: Who or what is Sae? Turns out, she is a broken-off branch of the legendary tree Ame-no-Mihashira, the tree that forms the barrier between Magano and the real world. The dragon spots were caused when she was broken off by Kuranashi.

In the Miyazaki-esque deep core of HQ, Subaru and Tatara are there to explain all this too Rokuro and Benio, and to tell them that the only way to stop the Dragon Spots, and by extention save the world, is for the branch to return to the tree; for Sae to cease being a person.

It’s a hard pill to swallow, and the Twin Stars’ initial shock and denial is replaced by knowing, as Sae has demonstrated time and time again she’s no mere lost girl. Now, it would seem, the fate of the world depends on whether they’re willing to say goodbye to someone they’d come to see as their own child—’pre-Miko’, if you will, bringing the couple that much closer together.

It looks pretty likely Sae is not long for this world in her human form. But who knows? Maybe restoring the branch isn’t the only way. Whatever decision the Twin Stars come to, they’ll have to come to it fast, as the largest Dragon Spot yet opens over Kyoto. What will they do?

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