Musaigen no Phantom World – 07

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Aaaaaand I think I’ve about had my fill of Phantom World! It’s a show with lush visuals beyond reproach that for some reason seems intent on out-twee-ing and out-moe-ing itself with each passing week. This week, which opens with the seventeen-millionth adoption of Schrodinger’s Cat in an anime (and presented as if it’s being used for the first time), and devolves from there, was the breaking point.

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When the kitten of one of Kurumi’s friends goes missing, everyone at school starts acting like, then slowly transforming into, cats. Due to Haruhiko’s pre-OP explanation, we knew this was what was happening, but it still takes the crew, including Haruhiko himself, one entire half of the episode to figure it out.

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Look, the sight of a whole school of students curling up and napping, or Mai and Reina stretching like felines, or getting excited by fish or toys is cute and all, but there isn’t any substance to any of it. It’s just pure eye candy, and the characters are just along for the ride. I frankly just couldn’t roll with it this time.

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Their investigations, if you want to call it that, lead them to a bizarrely abandoned mansion near the school (why?) and the gang ends up hopelessly lost, their senses inundated with confusingly trippy scenes. These visuals would be a lot more engaging if there was anything profound behind them, but it seems the artists just wanted to draw cool stuff, and stuffed it all into this episode with a cat theme slapped on.

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They finally determine the entire mansion is a giant cat-house phantom, which is manifested in a form lifted straight out of Howl’s Moving Castle. How does the lost and quickly catifying group overcome this phantom? All too easily and neatly, unfortunately. Kurumi literally meows at it to give up the kitten in drew in, and the phantom just kinda vanishes, apparently satisfied…for some reason. It sure went through a lot of trouble only to fold like a cheap catsuit!

This was a mansion owned by a wealthy couple that loved cats, and after they died, you expect me to believe their valuable property was simply left to rot? Why wasn’t the building inherited by someone, or fall into public trust or something? How is it they’re able to clean the place up so quickly, when it had sat abandoned and dilapidated for years? You expect me to believe some mops and elbow grease will fix the foundation, wiring, plumbing, etc.?

You see, I’m so disenchanted with this show, I’m resorting to bestowing unfairly lofty expectations of practical logic on it. Definitely time to say so long and thanks for all the fish.

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Musaigen no Phantom World – 06

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Like Reina’s phantom-created illusory ideal world, this week takes place predominantly takes place in a world other than the one in which are characters usually spend time. It’s not nearly as trippy, despite the Alice & Wonderland aesthetic of the inside of Kurumi’s head.

It’s “cuter” too, and I don’t mean that in a good way. It’s very nearly too precious; too overt in its efforts to melt our hearts. Then again, this episode’s heroine is only in the fourth grade, so the more childish innocent milieu is understandable.

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Setting aside issues of why a fourth grader needs to fight beside high schoolers, the fact is Kurumi is so painfully shy and introverted and dependent on the constant presence of her “security blanket” Albrecht, when Haruhiko simply trying to keep her from falling in the street triggers a phenomenon that sends bother him and her into the depths of her mind.

There are bears everywhere because the word “bear” is present in nearly every aspect of her life, and she’s also recently read a fairy tale. Here, Albrecht is an amplified version of what he is in real life: a protector. A literal knight who walks and talks rather than a symbolic shield in her arms. With, as Ruru says, a damn smooth voice!

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Her fears are manifested in a rival clan that seeks to gain dominion over her, but when Albrecht is wounded by the clan’s archer, she must choose to either continue relying on him, which may lead to his demise, or start to stand on her own and protect him for a change.

It’s a pretty obvious choice, considering Kurumi feels indebted to Albrecht for being her bear for virtually the entirety of her life. Keeping him close, she slowly learned how to talk to others and make friends, but when the opportunity arises here to take one big next step towards facing her fears and fighting them alone, she takes it.

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When the rival clan leader (also a bear) shows up in a great big mecha, Kurumi’s rake necklace grows into a weapon she can wield, while she undergoes a classic Sailor Moon-esque transformation into a magical girl.

There’s no escaping the fact that this is all pretty derivative, but the design and animation is solid as always, and Kuno Misaki, who is one of the seiyus specializing in voicing young kids, turns in a decent enough performance.

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Kurumi fights, Kurumi wins, and Kurumi and Haruhiko exit her head and end up back in that crosswalk. Kurumi accompanies Haruhiko in joining Mai, Reina, and Koito (largely out of the picture this week), who are about to go on a phantom hunt. Haruhiko worries that Kurumi is exhausted from her ordeal, but she insists on coming, confident she can hold her own with them.

Like most of MPW, this episode is best described as generally pleasant, often adorable, occasionally chuckle-worthy…but ultimately unexceptional. I’m loath to drop now that the team has finally been fully assembled (and each girl given a focus episode, with Reina’s being the best).

But I’m under no illusions that this is a guilty pleasure. A very pretty show that’s not much deeper than the puddles on that crosswalk.

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Musaigen no Phantom World – 05

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This week focuses on MPW’s member of the team who isn’t really a member yet, the aloof, distant Minase Koito. We learn she gained her powers at a young age, and at the cost of never being close to friends or family ever again. A chimera-like beast who loves preying on animals is the phantom that first awakened her powers, and she wants payback. Only she has two problems: she can’t take the phantom on alone, and Haruhiko won’t leave her alone.

It starts with one of Haruhiko’s friends saying something mean about Koito with Koito right behind him. Haruhiko means to apologize, but ends up caught up in the fight with the phantom. Koito saves Haruhiko from the brunt of its attack, but gets a face full of voice-nullifying gas, and without her voice, Koito can’t do squat.

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The episode is basically a progression of Koito realizing again and again that the phantom is too much for her to take on alone, as Haruhiko, Mai, Reina, and newcomer Kumamakura Kurumi (the girl who was observing the group from afar last week). Turns out Kurumi’s teddy bear Albrecht can balloon into a huge golem who fights for her

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Koito doesn’t take kindly to having her personal affairs intruded upon by meddlers like Haruhiko and Mai, but Haruhiko, feeling responsible for her voice getting damaged, can’t help but stay near her side as she tries in vain to take out the phantom. Mai, meanwhile, is very obviously miffed by Haruhiko’s sudden obsession with Koito, a classic childhood friend reaction.

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Koito’s voice heals enough for her to go at the phantom one more time, but it isn’t long before it breaks out the gas and she finds herself in a tough spot. But thanks to Ruru, Haruhiko was able to locate her. He summons Marchosias to distract the phantom while Kurumi uses Albrecht to pummel him into submission.

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From there, it becomes a group affair, with Reina healing Koito, Mai employing her elemental magic, and Haruhiko sketch-sealing the phantom. Himeno-sensei then notes that the phantom isn’t the same one that awakened Koito’s powers years ago after all; Koito was chasing after the wrong phantom.

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After Haruhiko & Co. went the extra mile for her sake without claiming the quarry she meant to claim, Koito can’t help but ask Himeno for Haruhiko’s address so she can wait outside his place as he waited outside hers, in order to apologize and thank him for his help. Which for someone as introverted as Koito, is real progress.

This episode got repetitive at times – Koito faces off against the phantom; loses; gets bailed out; then protests the others’ interference – but it was a decent enough fleshing out of the heretofore least fleshed-out member of the team…aside from Kurumi, who seems to exist in the show for “cuteness (as opposed to comic) relief.”

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Musaigen no Phantom World – 04

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It’s very appropriate that this week’s episode of Phantom World begins with a binge session at a restaurant, as it’s Restaurant Week here and I just got back from stuffing myself. The episode then transforms into an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord of whimsy focused on the show’s resident eating champion, Izumi Reina.

After dinner, she splits from Haru and Mai and ends up boarding a very unusual bus that takes her…somewhere. Our first go-round with the process is very mysterious, because one minute she’s boarding the bus, the next, she’s outside the front gate of her house. The next morning, Koito (Hi Koito!) confesses to witnessing the whole thing, determining that Reina is possessed by a phantom.

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That assertion proves very true when Haruhiko boards the bus with Reina next time. She’s totally out of it, as if hypnotized, but he’s lucid as the bus transports them, in a sequence that (not accidentally) owes much to the train journey in Spirited Away, to another place; an idealized storybook home complete with adorable bunny caricatures of Reina’s parents (who are a lot stricter in real life.)

As is usually the case in scenarios such as this, eating the food is a bad idea, but Haruhiko realizes this too late, and grows his own bunny ears and a pastel texture to his character design that indicates he’s been “taken” by this place. He acts out Reina’s fantasy as his big brother, until the fantasy breaks and the two are back at the front of her real house, with her real father wanting to know who Haruhiko is. Reina sends him home, promising to explain everything later.

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Turns out Mai reminds Reina very strongly of her real big sister, who got tired of their parent’s tightassery and flew the coop. So after Haruhiko fails miserably in trying to sketch-seal the bus the next time (he’s still under the phantoms’ influence), Mai and Ruru board with Haruhiko and Reina, and end up in the fantasy world with them. Ruru, who is unaffected by the food, ends up accidentally gives Mai a taste, thus bewitching her too.

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It’s not until Haruhiko goes to the bathroom of all things, that he snaps out of it; I imagined the food he ate was the cause of the hypnosis, and when he shat it out, the effects dissipated. He refers to the bathroom as a portal between the real and unreal, or some such. In any case, he takes a chance and ends up successfully snapping Reina out of it by hugging her, a gesture that always elicits a reaction in the form of a martial arts throw.

Once she’s lucid, watching the still-bewitched Mai interact with her “phantom parents” Reina realizes the phantoms fed on her desire for her family to be whole again, creating a world where she could live happily ever after even without that sister.

When the phantoms tell her to make a choice, Haruhiko beseeches her to stay in the world in which she belongs, so she can be there if and when her sister returns home. Reina chooses to reject the phantom world and stay strong beside her senpais. All in all, a very lush, atmospheric episode with heavy Ghibli influence, which taught us a little more about Reina. Though we still don’t know where all that food she eats goes…

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Musaigen no Phantom World – 03

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This was another beautifully rendered KyoAni episode bursting with wonderful character details and kickass action that make a rewatch a must to catch what one might’ve missed. But it did hamper itself somewhat with its overarching theme of memory and all the absurd (and boring) technobabble required to push out an episodic plotline.

The club’s next target is a phantom blocking a bridge, but when Mai, Haruhiko and Reina arrive, they find there are two phantoms, and they’ve both been waiting for Mai. She might’ve been able to take one by herself, but against the two she’s overwhelmed and she has to beat a hasty retreat facilitated by Haruhiko’s use of Marchosias to distract the phants.

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Realizing they’ll need more physical skill and strength against the dual warrior princesses, Mai quickly set sup a martial arts training regimen for Reina and Haruhiko. Everyone even deesses up in Chinese-style outfits for no reason other than it looks cool (gym uniforms could certainly have sufficed, right?).

But it doesn’t go so well; Haruhiko is hopeless, and while Reina is good at self-defense (throwing Haru for the third time in three episodes as a result of sudden too-close-for-comfort contact), Mai is loath to allow a young pretty girl get messed up in what could be a brutal fight. No, she’d rather keep trying with the more malleable Haru, whom she cares less about if he gets messed up.

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Then the rather bizarre idea of Haruhiko somehow copying Mai’s procedural memories of martial arts in order to assist her in the fight. Their teacher Himeno-sensei believes it’s possible due to Haruhiko’s ability to access the metaphysical world in order to summon phantoms.

There’s all kinds of talk about a collective consciousness where all human memory exists in the same metaphysical plane, like some kind of human cloud storage. Ok, fine…but then Himeno “makes” Haruhiko and Mai go on a friggin’ date around places where she has strong memories, to try to synch up his memories with hers.

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Don’t get me wrong; it’s a cute, lovely date, but there isn’t the slightest bit of romantic chemistry between Mai and Haru, giving the proceedings, prettily-rendered they may be (the music is nice too), a somewhat sterile feeling; that these are just motions they’re going through. More interesting is the fact Reina seems pissed whenever Mai and Haru are getting along (and she eats a lot to try to distract herself), but that’s only a bit part of what’s going on.

Eventually, they return to the river and the bridge where they first met the twin warrior princesses, and it dawns on us—well before Mai or even Haruhiko—that the two girls she met at that same spot ten years ago and made instant friends with were actually the princesses. In the rematch, Mai holds her own while Haru goes down instantly. The combat animation, as is to be expected, is top-notch, by the way.

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When Mai gets blasted and Haru rushes to catch her, he twists his ankle, and their two heads bang together, and that’s how he ends up accessing their minds. Excuse me, but WAT? I know this is fantasy, but Mai and Haru having a shared meta-conscious experience wherein Haru is able to perceive her memories as bubbles in a sea? Pretty, and fun, but awfully ridiculous, too.

Less absurd, however, is what he discovers: Mai’s memories of being a quiet, shy little girl are false. In fact, when she met these two girls, she beat the crap out of them, laughing all the way. That led them to train for ten years in order to beat her when she eventually returned to the bridge. The idea that we remember things the way we want—to fit our idea of ourselves, and accurate memories morph into fictions over long stretches of time—is a relatable one.

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Now back to the fantasy silliness. Haru gains Mai’s martial arts skills, but doesn’t have the strength or stamina to keep it up for more than a couple of minutes (this is actually pretty hilarious) Then he uses her five-element power (which was also copied over to him), and the two perform the same finishing move as her favorite movie as a kid, which they watched the re-release of during their date. Yelling, lightning, Itano Circus, victory.

The phantom princesses aren’t defeated for good, but they accept Mai is still stronger than them, for now. They promise they’ll be back when they’re stronger. But the bridge harassment will likely stop so I guess it’s a win for Group E.

What about Minase Koito, you say? Who knows? She wasn’t in this at all. Instead, there was a little girl with a teddy bear voiced by Kuno Misaki stalking and watching the group the whole time, with deep admiration. I’d wager it won’t be long before she formally meets them, and she seems eager to become closer to the group, just as Reina yearns to one day be as close to Mai and Haru as they are to each other.

But more than previous episodes, the characters seemed to be edged out by an overabundance of plot and metaphysical mumbo-jumbo. Lots of sugar and spice, but too little solid nutrition.

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Musaigen no Phantom World – 02

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Some concerns going into week two included “can the show keep me engaged in its elaborate magical mechanics?”; “can Ruru’s schtick be consistently better than silent beats it replaces?”; and “is this a lovely show that’s simply trying too hard, riding the coattails of superior past KyoAni work?” Those concerns were somewhat allayed in an episode that built on the strengths of its first outing.

Haruhiko, Reina, and Mai demonstrate solid teamwork that exploits each of their skills, and this time there’s a fourth potential member added to the mix in Minase Koito. She’s talented, and she’s been talented for a long time, but her teacher wants her to learn how to work with others.

When Minase gives the others the cold shoulder and beats them to their job at an abandoned factory, she learns pretty quickly that going it alone is not always the optimal route.

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To whit, her sound-based attacks on the phantoms are cancelled out in the same way her headphones cancel out noise. To incapacitate the phantoms, the good old-fashioned brawn of Mai is needed. Haruhiko is the one to determine what’s stopping Minase’s attack, and directs Mai to smash it.

That leaves Minase free to use her shout to take out the multipliers, Reina to swallow them, Kirby-style, and Haruhiko to seal the sound-cancelling robot by sketching it in his new sketchbook. Not a bad days work…only it doesn’t have the effect of Minase changing her tune and deciding to join their team, nor should she. She levels modest praise on the others’ efforts (ignoring Haruhiko’s entirely) and slinks off, aloof as ever.

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The battle left Mai and Reina’s uniforms filthy, which leads to them showering at Haruhiko’s, but the show doesn’t go down the easy road of having Haruhiko intentionally or accidentally peeping on them.

In fact, the whole scene at his house (the impressive library in which is the source of all his trivial knowledge) was surprisingly innocuous, for what I perceived to be a gift-wrapped harem scenario. Oh, but wasn’t the little sight gag of Ruru sitting among Haruhiko’s figurines just perfect?

Even the next day, with Mai and Reina doing stretches in their bloomers in front of Haruhiko, he’s not sketching them, but a phantom he wishes to summon. He’s only accused of being a creeper when he reacts inappropriately to their next job, which will be at an all-girl’s dorm.

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This dorm, which is ridiculously pink and fuchsia, and its inhabitants are being harassed by a peeping phantom UFO with a camera. They stake out the place, but realize it won’t come until it has something to see, so Mai and Reina kick Haru out and change. Sure enough, the UFO arrives, but it proves a handful, dodging all of Mai’s swipes and stabs and scoring lots of juicy pics in the process.

Haruhiko, meanwhile, is in the catch-22 of his services as a member of the team being required, but the girls being embarrased about being just in towels, which turn out not to be Chekhov’s Towels as they never come off. I loved the physicality and architecture of the sequence, in which he’s constantly going out the window and back up the stairs and into the fray.

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He even uses blood from an inadvertent attack by Reina (for getting tangled up in too exciting a position for him) to summon his phantom, Marchosias. Again the show has a little fun with our expectations, as despite all of Haruhiko’s past accurate sketches of their phantom foes, Marchy turns out to be a fluffy little puppy with wings (that transition from flame-wreathed demon to pink skull cloud to pup was wonderful).

Marchy help—a little, I guess—in rounding up the voyeuristic lil’ stinker, and Reina gobbles him up. The show’s theretofore restraint with amorous material pays off and heightens the sense of surprise when Reina decides to suck on Haruhiko’s finger…and not because she knows her saliva has healing properties, but because she just felt like it.

As for Minase, she peeks her head in, but again claims to be #notimpressed with the team. Sure, they’re not the most professional and efficient, but they get the job done and entertain in the process. If she joined them, a good team might become great. One wonders what will end up swaying her, but I’m glad the show’s not rushing her initiation. Then there’s that strange device Ruru found…

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Musaigen no Phantom World – 01 (First Impressions)

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The Winter 2015 season gets off to a whimsical, colorful start with Musaigen no Phantom World, the first episode of which called to mind everything from Haruhi Suzumiya and Charlotte to Chu2Koi and Amaburi. So immediately, then, we have a bit of an issue: this show reminds me of a lot of good shit.

The challenge then, will be to differentiate itself and make its case as a show worth watching for more than the trademarked lovely KyoAni eye candy (though I’ll admit, on Hump Day that might be sufficient anyway). And amidst its familiar setting, themes, character types, animation and dialolgue styles, MPW’s first episode still managed to distinguish itself.

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First, it makes a point to play off our expectations vis-a-vis fanservice. Atletic, busty female lead Kawakami Mai is more concerned with getting the job done than showing a little skin here and there. Shy, impressionable first-year Izumi Reina‘s boob looks ripe for grabbing, but male lead Ichijo Haruhiko manages to course-correct just in time, but thanks to “aid” from his pixie sidekick Ruru, still ends up in a bad position. Finally, Mai has a practical reason for bouncing her boobs up and down: it’s the only way to succeed in a limbo contest.

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Second, all three characters have their positive qualities. Ruru is adorable, obv., but she’s also quite savvy, serving as both a foil and an ally in Haruhiko’s exploits. Mai’s can-do attitude and fighting spirit is tempered by the need to occasionally sigh over dire financial straits (while scolding Haruhiko for sighing along with her). Reina, also frikkin’ cute as all get-out, also sucks stuff up like Kirby, which was very unexpected.

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The phantom-hunting team also gels quickly but believably. All three are competent in very specialized areas, but if one of the three wasn’t present for the utility pole phantom limbo-off, they would not have been able to achieve victory. Haruhiko’s freakish book smarts let the group know what they’re dealing with, Mai’s freakish athleticism appeases the phantoms, and then Reina eats ’em up. Even Reina is sold enough on how good a team the trio makes that she casts aside her initial uncertainty about joining.

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With such good chemistry coming off this trio, one wonders what MPW has in store for the fourth, a rose-haired, perpetually headphones-donning girl who looks like a lone wolf uninterested in teamwork.

So yes, I’m sufficiently charmed by MPW to keep going with it. There was a bit of an infodump rather inelegantly thrown in, and it looks no better or worse than the shows I listed up top, but there’s plenty to like and plenty to tune in to learn.

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Noragami Aragoto – 13 (Fin)

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Noragami Aragoto doesn’t pick up right when Ebisu is about to be blasted by a pacification ring; instead, it skips to Yato escorting a young man to the Olive Tavern. It doesn’t take long to realize the boy is the reincarnated Ebisu, which means the adult Ebisu he knew and befriended in the underworld was executed.

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Yato is clearly sick about this whole situation, and Yukine and Hiyori stay on the periphery pondering what they should do as he himself wonders how he can change; how he can cease being a heartless war god now that he has a heart, and follow Ebisu’s example of working to protect and save people, and becoming a god people want to remember and have faith in for things other than contract killing.

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By the end, Yato, perhaps without knowing it, changed Ebisu. Once, he had no qualms about dying over and over, because his shrine maidens would always tell him he’d reincarnate every time without fail, and so should never fear death. In fact, due to his lives’ work, Ebisu kinda had to die a bunch of times in order to make progress researching phantoms and acquiring the locution brush. Needing to break eggs to make an omelette, so to speak.

But by the time that last ring blasted him, Ebisu didn’t want to die and be reborn again. He wanted to live and stay in the world as he was. It was, in fact, his dying wish, and the reason Yato is so beside himself; Ebisu, who told him he’d make a great god who could make people happy, managed to change himself at the end from what he always was.

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Now that Ebisu is back, but with close to no specific memories of his past self, it falls to his overseer to raise him back up into a useful member of god-society. And if that overseer has his way, this Ebisu will never see or touch the locution brush again. Yet when Bishamon and the other gods who assisted him hear of his noble ventures for the first time, they don’t necessarily agree that Ebisu should be stopped; in fact, it wouldn’t be what the past Ebisu or Ebisus wanted: for his reincarnations to carry on his work until he makes a breakthrough.

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Back freeloading at Kofuku and Daikoku’s, a restless Yato takes Yukino to a secluded lake, where he asks his exemplar, heart firmly on sleeve, to help him change: from a god of war and calamity to a god of fortune and happiness; the god Ebisu saw in him.

Hiiro appears on queue to dissuade Yato, dismiss Yukine, and drag her brother back to their father to be “praised”; thus continuing the same cycle of death and soft smiles that’s been going on for centuries. She also points out that the plan to use Ebisu as a scapegoat to allay suspicion from their father, who also works with phantoms, worked like a charm.

But no more. With Yukine beside him for strength, Yato overcomes all the warm memories of him and his sister, and does what is necessary to truly change: release her as his regalia for good. When he does so, Hiiro’s smile changes to one of shock, disbelief, and even despair. But that’s not surprising: Hiiro has never changed, and may never change. It does, however, make me wonder if she could change, once enough centuries have passed.

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Now officially free of Hiiro, Yato turns to Yukine to be his guide on his new path to becoming a less calamitous god, something he has no idea how to do since he’s “only good at killing.” But he’s wrong, and Yukine tells him there’s very little he needs to do that he hasn’t been doing already.

Really, getting rid of the temptation of Hiiro and his dark past was the most important step. He already makes people happy, like Yukine and Hiyori, who has faith that together Yato and Yukine can slay disaster before it strikes. And no, she doesn’t ask to have her tail fixed, nor does Yato offer it. She seems content with being the way she is for now.

The happy ending is only marred by the revelation that Fujisaki, the handsome young man who got along so well with Hiyori, is, in fact, Yato’s father. He joins his classmate, who cannot see the large retinue of phantoms by his side, along with Hiiro. Maybe she’s not going to change anytime soon after all.

As for his dad, it doesn’t look like he’s given up on bringing Yato back into the fold. No doubt many of the disasters thrown Yato’s way will be of his father and sisters’ making. He must be ever-vigilant. But as Kofuku says, with Yukine and Hiyori by his side, he’ll be fine.

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Noragami Aragoto – 12

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The drastic measure Ebisu ominously suggests turns out to be a variant of a soul call, which is basically ‘Yeah, just YELL HIS NAME REALLY LOUDLY down the vent’, and Yato will come back. I know, it’s a little more spiritually involved than that, but I was still amused by how simple the approach turned out to be…or rather would have been, had Hiyori actually known Yato’s real name.

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She summons back a confused Bishamon without any trouble, but Yato dosn’t come no matter how hard she calls it. That casts doubt on the fact Yato is his name at all, which hurts Yukine deeply if true. Nonetheless, as Bishamon and Ebisu fight off the Heavens’ Punishers who have come to take Ebisu away, and Kofuku keeps the vent open, Hiyori keeps calling.

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She keeps calling Yato not just because she desperately wants him back, but because she doesn’t want it to be true that he kept his name from her; not after she saw how happy and tearful he became when he saw it carved on the shrine she made for him. They’ve come too goddamn far for him to still be hiding basic stuff like his name…right?!

But then, Hiyori concentrates on the structure of Yato as she carved it, and focusing on two  crossed strokes forming a kind of offset plus, and calls out a different name: Yaboku, which does the trick. Yato apparates right on top of Hiyori, but she’s so happy he’s back she overlooks the closeness. Nay, in situations like this (and when Yukine underwent ablution), this is when the family comes in for a big warm hug.

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So hurrah!, Yato is back safe and sound. But notsofast; there’s still those Heavens’ Punishers to deal with, what with their biker gang name and Mortal Kombat-esque dragon regalia Kiun, which they summon when their arrows fail to pierce Ebisu and Bishamons defenses.

To deal with Kiun, Bishamon puts faith in her exemplar Kazuma to work his blessed vessel magic to power up her whip Kinuha, and he doesn’t disappoint in asserting his dominance, in a nice bit of visual trickery, Kazuma reaches out to the lightning dragon high in the sky, and suddenly grabs it as if it were tiny and within reach.

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Yukine isn’t quite ready to forgive Yato for hiding his name, going into the underworld, and getting beaten up without telling him or Hiyori anything. Still, the Heavens’ Punishers have a lot of tricks up their sleeve, and contingency plans for their contingency plans, so it has to wait. Or rather, the making-up has to happen immediately, as Yato requires Sekki at full power to repel the nuke-like projectile launched from the Punishers’ Purification Ring.

Sekki does just that, and with authority, and Ebisu, who after being reamed by Yato, actually wants to keep living, is appreciative. He’s appreciative of all his fellow gods’ efforts, as well as their regalia and human. But it may not be enough against the forces of the heavens. Another ring appears beneath his feet, and before the credits roll, Ebisu is swallowed up by white light.

Will it be blocked again? If so, by whom; Yato? Bishamon? A god who has yet to appear in this battle? If not, will it be the end of Ebisu? How will the gang deal with the loss of the one person they all worked together so hard to keep alive? Heck, I can answer that last one: They’ll feel like shit! So here’s hoping something—a miracle, perhaps—happens to prevent that. Because you know what? I like Ebisu.

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Noragami Aragoto – 11

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Of all the things to go down once Hiyori and Yukine arrived at the entrance to the underworld, I did not expect for Yato’s mercy to bite him in the ass, but that’s almost what happens, as Kugaha tries to capture Hiyori and kill Yukine. Kugaha tries to weaken Yato’s newly-minted exemplar by bringing up Hiiro and the fact he went to the underworld with her instead of him.

This works, but only briefly, as Hiyori grabs Yukine and counteracts Kugaha’s negative words by telling him how much Yato means to him, and to have faith in him. Yukine manages to fire off a borderline that shatters Kugaha’s and slams him against a tree, and well…that’s the last we see of him!

Then again, perhaps his being there wasn’t a mere coincidence: if he’s to be believed, Kugaha seems to have been keeping track of Yato’s movements and actions all along, and while Yukine is able to neutralize him here, I’m sure he’ll still want to confront Yato.

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Of course, after this week that may not be such a good idea, because his former master Bishamon ultimately decides to go all-in on rescuing Yato. Before that, we see Yato’s in a bad way, falling back into those damned caverns. As Hiiro tenderly treats his foot, Yato starts to lose hope, matching Hiiro’s sentiment that this being the end for them isn’t so bad if they’re together.

It’s clear Hiiro is far more than a temptress to the “dark side” for Yato. They were, and remain, family. But he shakes off thoughts of giving up; not while Yukine and Hiyori are still up there.

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Hiyori and Yukine bump into Bishamon and Kazuma (she’s also wearing Aiha as armor and another regalia as a whip; prepped for battle), Kofuku and Daikoku arrive, and options are weighed. Hiyori absolutely can’t go into the vent (which quickly closes anyway), while Yukine can’t go without disguising himself as someone else’s regalia, in effect becoming a Nora.

Bishamon makes the decision for him: she’s going to go down with Kazuma, Aiha, and the other girl, and save Yato herself. Kofuku opens a fresh vent and down they go.

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She’s not just doing it for Yukine and Hiyori’s sake, but because she owes Yato. She actually owes him twice over, first when her Ma clan of regalias almost killed her, and again when dealing with Kugaha. She admits she hated Yato in order to move forward, and you could even call that a third debt. Regardless, she intends to repay them, which means saving Yato from Izanami here.

Even Bishamon and some of her top regalia struggle against the mighty Izanami, but they’re not trying to defeat her, just grab Yato and escape, so they have a chance. Of course, they’ll also need a way out, but Kofuku’s vents keep closing too fast. Enter Ebisu, who comes to and says there’s a way to open a gate to the underworld, but it will require someone from the Near Shore…namely Hiyori.

That’s pretty foreboding, but you know what? In keeping with the theme of having faith, be it Yukine in Yato or Yato in Yukine and Hiyori, I’ll have faith she’ll be alright, and things will work out fine.

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Noragami Aragoto – 10

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Answers to our questions last week come quickly. Will that kiss really work? No, it didn’t; Hiyori doesn’t seem to have any interest in Fujisaki. Will Hiyori become even more troubled by her inability to remember? Yes, most definitely. She rubs at her lips until they’re red, and she walks around with a cloud over her head. Will someone be able to jog her memory before it’s too late? Thankfully, yes, albeit accidentally.

When Yukine first approaches her, she can’t see him, which is bad, but his voice and his smell bring all the memories of him and Yato rushing back. Simply beside herself with relief, Hiyori embraces Yukine tight enough and long enough to make his nose bleed. Who can blame her? She never wants to come close to losing him or Yato again.

She was in a kind of hell, one she’d experienced before, but was so sure—arrogantly so, she believes in hindsight—she’d never experience it again. Now she knows: she’s not immune to forgetting; she must be vigilant in remembering. But first thing’s first: Find Yato.

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Down in the underworld, Izanami has caught up with the fleeing Yato and Ebisu, and sends legions of naked blue beldams to drag the men back to her so she can play with them for all eternity. Hiiro acts independently by shoving one of Ebisu’s regalia into the beldams to distract them and save her master and Ebisu, who are all she cares about.

But when Yato learns Ebisu retrieved the ablution brush not for his own selfish reasons, but for the sake of protecting humanity by controlling phantoms, it changes Yato’s entire perspective of his charge—and mine as well.

With Bishamon and Kofuku also still away, Yukine joins forces with their exemplars Kazuma and Daikoku to seek out Yato. They ask Tsuyu—who isn’t a regalia but the spirit of a plum tree who serves Tenjin—to speak to the trees, and she finds one that saw two men matching the description of Yato and Ebisu entering the underworld. Hiyori hears this too; now she knows where to go.

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Meanwhile, in Takamagahara, the six other gods of fortune along with Bishamon are being held captive by High Sentinal Oshi, who tells them that by “interrogating” several of Ebisu’s regalia (many of whom turned out to be Noras), they’ve determined he’s the conjurer they’re looking for, and will seek to execute him for his crimes.

That doesn’t play so well for Okuninushi, who shows the adamant, haughty Oshi one of his more terrifying forms. But before any god or sentinal blood is shed, Kazuma arrives with Kuraha, restrains Oshi, and frees Bishamon, who make a beeline to the underworld to retrieve Yato and Ebisu.

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Even though Yato is still missing, Hiyori is clearly in far higher spirits now that she’s remembered him and Yukine. Yukine remains weary, mostly because he doesn’t want Hiyori to get involved in anything hazardous. Her scrape with the whole Bishamon business was a close enough shave for him. But Hiyori tells him she needs to find Yato and hear his story face-to-face, so Yukine agrees to let her accompany him.

It doesn’t really matter who shows up to the underworld first, as long as someone gets there fast; Izanami and her harem is proving too much for Yato and Ebisu, and all the exits are sealed with powerful-looking magic. Ebisu remembers his childhood—a childhood he’s had often because he dies and reincarnates so much. He’s a popular, well-known god with many shrines and books and oral histories about him. So if someone has to stay down there with Izanami and die, it should be him.

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Yato disputes that logic, much to the chagrin of Hiiro. Now that he can see Ebisu’s formidable will, which causes him to press forward in his purpose no matter how many times he dies, and he wants to be a god worthy of that kind of respect; worthy of Hiyori. This is how great and immortal gods are forged, he believes; not by simply going with the flow and doing whatever his father and Hiiro tell him to do.

This time he makes his stand, and convinces Ebisu to use the brush to punch a vent into the very fabric of the underworld with phantoms. Suddenly, something that was a big no-no in past episodes is crucial to their survival; the ramifications can be dealt with later.

Even though Yato gets snagged by Izanuma and pulled back down into the abyss, with a huge host of gods, regalia, and Hiyori about to descend on the underworld in quick succession, his number is far from up…especially if Ebisu, who escaped, tells the others of Yato’s selflessness.

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Noragami Aragoto – 09

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Because Yato is in a charitable mood and possibly harbors guilt for the things he did with her, he goes along with Hiiro’s idea to go into the underworld to rescue a conjurer, despite the fact he could very easily get trapped down there by it’s queen, Izanami. When that conjurer turns out to be Ebisu (who is absent for the latest colloquy, correctly suspected, and for whom an arrest warrant is issued), suddenly Yato’s personal dilemma is intertwined with the overarching threat of Ebisu.

For a supposed Big Bad, it’s surprising how casual Yato and Ebisu are when they meet. Perhaps it’s because Yato trusts a far more famous god, or because hasn’t always been the most scrupulous fellow himself (as his continued entanglement with Nora attests) but he doesn’t really protest Ebisu’s use of Masked Ones as “phantom regalias”. In fact, we get a lot of Ebisu’s silly, eccentric side, rather than any goofy evil face-twisting. It’s a nice change of pace; I like it.

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While Yato, Hiiro, and Ebisu tread deeper into the underworld, Hiyori is snagged by her high school friend into a triple date at Amagi Brilliant Park some Capybara-themed park. Notably, Tenjin stops Tomone (curious about where Yato went off to) from getting Hiyori’s attention in the street; it’s been established Tenjin wants Hiyori to stop hanging out with gods an regalias and live a normal living high school girl’s life.

Now it looks like that might be happening. We don’t know her friends that well, but their meeting up and pairing off at the park is very well done. It’s amusing to see the girl who arranged everything ended up pairing up with a different guy, leaving the handsome, well-spoken Fujisaki (who caught her from falling last week) to Hiyori, and the two have instant chemistry, courteously apologizing to each other for putting one another out.

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When Yato and Ebisu encounter Izanami, everything seems arranged to keep them by her side. She takes the form of people they care about—a very forward Hiyori, in Yato’s case—and she constantly offers food, drink, friendship; all of which will keep them stuck in the underworld as her “friend” forever. Hiiro actually does Yato a solid by protecting him from “Hiyori’s” kiss; let it be said that Yato and Hiiro really do make a good team; it’s just that being in that team puts serious strain on Yato’s newer relationships in the living world.

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Yukine, for his part, has very little to do this week, but he continues to train and become stronger in body and mind under Kazuma’s wing. Kazuma notes that Yukine is also trying to remain strong for Yato’s sake, even though he’s worried about him.

He should be, it would seem: when Izanami says she’ll only give them the brush if one of them stays behind, Ebisu picks Yato to stay with the logic that he’s the more famous god with a lot more at stake. Obviously, Yato takes exception to this—he has as much a right to exist as Ebisu, regardless of his past—so they fight.

But it all turns out to be an elaborate distraction. When Ebisu “beats” Yato by snatching Hiiro from him (she once served him as well, taking the form of a pistol), Izanami celebrates the fact Yato will be her friend. But then Ebisu uses his little masked phantom bat to snatch the brush, and he and Yato high-tail it together as Izanami fumes.

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As they flee, Yato thinks only of getting back to the near shore and to Yukine and Hiyori, whom he cares for so much. Surely this is the end of his dealings with Hiiro, right? He’ll pop back at an awkward time during the date and Hiyori will be embarassed but relieved and happy at the same time, right? Right?

Well…no. As the date progresses, Hiyori continually remembers someone who’s name and face she can’t place, and it starts to eat at her, until it’s clear to her date Fujisaki that something is very wrong. But Fujisaki reads her demeanor as something that can be remedied by taking her hand and kissing her in front of the hugely-romantic fireworks parade.

His instinct isn’t wrong, nor could he possibly be aware that by being kind and charming and comforting to Hiyori all but snaps the thread connecting her to Yato. Who was the one she wanted to take to the park so badly? Wait…she’s at the park with someone now. Does it matter? 

This is what Tenjin – and Hiiro – wanted. Will that kiss really work, or will Hiyori become even more troubled by her inability to remember? Will someone be able to jog her memory before it’s too late?

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Noragami Aragoto – 08

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As a fully committed Ebisu creates more masked ones, Yato continues to bask in the elation of finally having a real shrine to call his own, along with all the honors and privileges that come with it, from official registration to a plot of land and admittance to Takamagahara. He also wastes no time lavishing an excessive amount of attention on Hiyori, who probably didn’t realize when she made it how big a deal a little shrine could be for a god who had never had one.

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That importance is driven home when Hiyori encounters Manabu at school (the bullied kid who appeared in last season’s episode 8), but he only thanks her, he doesn’t remember anyone named Yato. Gods are created from the wishes of humans. No wishes, no gods. Meanwhile, Yukine takes advantage of his new resident status to look up Kazuma and beg him to help him become a better exemplar to Yato.

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Because as annoying as Yato has been, Yukine and Hiyori both are glad to see him so happy. He’s so happy, he doesn’t even know what to do, because as he says while drunk in a rare glimpse into his deep past, his “father” told him he’d never need a shrine. This is because Yato is a god of calamity. His clients would never be long-lasting, but due to human nature, there would always be clients for his kind of services.

With his blessed vessel and shrine and Hiyori, Yato wants to leave that past behind and hold tight to these new gifts, and even arranges to release Nora AKA Hiiro, believing he no longer needs her, and since she has many other masters, she doesn’t need him either. But Hiiro reminds Yato that he made her a Nora, then sics her phantom dogs on him to demonstrate how much he needs her to continue existing.

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From there, Nora pulls him off the wagon altogether and back into the life they used to lead, with her as the sharp sword of not-always-righteous retribution. Yato sinks back into the rut all too easily, like a drug he thought he kicked. Because as long as he’s fulfilling the dark assignments of the damned, he continues to exist. It was instilled in him long ago that he needed Nora for that.

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In this way, a full month passes during which neither Yukine nor Hiyori see or hear from Yato. Hiyori goes to Tenjin asking if he’s seen him, and Tenjin reiterates his concern that she’s gotten caught up in too much god stuff and needs to spend more time enjoying her adolescence. Almost on cue, as she’s worrying about whether Yato’s continued absense will cause her to eventually forget him, she trips on a flight of stairs and a strapping young lad catches her.

And as Ebisu recovers from a bad reaction to his latest masked creation and Bishamon and Okuninushi are apparently ambushed in a parking garage, Yato is off in some house with Nora, playing out the same old destructive patterns. Only thoughts of Hiyori bring him out of his complacent trance and he demands he be allowed to leave. The door opens, Nora appeals to their “father”, who gives them one more job before letting him go: rescuing a conjurer from the underworld.

Something tells me neither Nora nor this father figure are anyone Yato can trust, but at the same time, they were and continue to be a part of him, and his perceived obligation to them isn’t something easily cast aside, no matter how much progress he’s made reforming himself. Even for a god, old habits die hard.

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