Kaguya-sama: Love is War – 04 – Cat Ears, Banned Words, The First Text, French Invective

Citing that France is second only to Japan in cosplay popularity, Chika insists the StuCo welcome their new French exchange students while cosplaying. But when Kaguya and Miyuki put on cat ears, neither of them can resist smiling at the intolerable cuteness of the other.

Regardless, both don’t want the other knowing they find them cute, so they try to tough it out by grotesquely contorting their expressions in a futile effort to hide their mutual delight. To an outside observer like Chika, this looks like they’re glaring at each other with looks that could kill. Loser? Chika…for once!

The StuCo must organize a welcome party for the French, and two of them are needed to do all the necessary shopping, so Chika suggests the two losers of a “banned word” game will do the honors. This is a case of both Kaguya and Miyuki actually wanting to go shopping together, so it behooves them to let Chika win.

That suits Chika just fine, since she wants to win and pulls out all the stops to do so, demonstrating that while the Prez and Veep might look down on her as a second-rate intellect and airhead, she can more than handle herself in a banned-word game. She switches up her manner of speaking by rapping, and has the perfect words she knows Kaguya and Miyuki will readily say if properly stimulated: “love”, and “serious”, respectively.

With Kaguya and Miyuki both losing, their shopping date is set; they just have to agree when and where to meet, which requires one of them text the other for the first time. Kaguya’s maid (and audience surrogate) is somewhat exhausted by her charge’s beating around the bush (as are we all!) so she puts Kaguya in a corner by calling Miyuki then tossing the phone to her.

Miyuki’s extremely stern-sounding father answers, and eventually hands the phone over to his son, who is in the bathtub but doesn’t mind talking since his phone is waterproof. Once they’re talking, the tension fades away, but Kaguya makes the mistake of hanging up when Miyuki was in the middle of saying something else.

Kaguya curses herself while kicking in bed, but the result of her error is that Miyuki ends up being the one to text her first, telling her to stay warm and have a good night. Winner: Kaguya. Unfortunately, it pours so hard Shibuya Station floods, and the shopping trip is cancelled before it can begin. Still, Kaguya’s instinct to go regardless was correct: Miyuki was waiting for her, in the rain, by Hachiko…with his waterproof phone.

Thankfully, Miyuki doesn’t catch cold just in time for the French exchange students’ welcome party, so we get to watch him try to bluff about speaking French when he only skimmed a guidebook. Meanwhile, Kaguya merely pretended not to know French, only to turn around and speak fluently with one of the students. Even Chika, daughter of a diplomat, speaks French and other languages. Just full of surprises!

Little does Miyuki know the headmaster intended the party to be an important test to determine whether he’s truly worthy of leading the school. Betsy, the French StuCo veep and notoriously foul-mouthed master of verbal invective is sicced on Miyuki, and she proceeds to absolutely enrobe him in nasty French insults. Since Miyuki doesn’t speak a lick of French, it all bounces off!

The thing that isolated him ends up convincing the headmaster he does have what it takes, by enduring everything Betsy could through at him with placid “oui, ouis” in response. Even better, when Kaguya overhears Betsy, she comes to Miyuki’s defense, all while showing Betsy is no match for a properly scary Japanese high school girl.

Once the party has ended, Kaguya is ashamed of her nasty word-using, but Miyuki reminds her, he doesn’t speak French, so he didn’t hear any particulars of what she said. All he knows is she didn’t like how Betsy was talking to him, and fought on his behalf. For that, she has his gratitude. And so the episode closes with a win for both Kaguya and Miyuki.

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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…

Bloom Into You – 02 – Really Unfair

It’s not just Yuu; Nanami Touko IS pushy. It looks like she has been for a while. I don’t think she works at it, its just the way she is. Others may hold back or defer or concede, but she knows what she wants, she knows who she wants to help her get it, and as of the other day, she also knows who she loves, and it’s Yuu. If you can’t present a strong enough argument not to go along with her, you’ll get caught in her current by default.

Nanami choosing Yuu as her campaign manager has caused a rift in her longtime friendship with Saeki Sayaka. Nanami knew it would, but she did it anyway, and she presents a solid argument why: to reach out to and galvanize the first-year vote when no one else will. Nanami and Sayaka are always in sync on the volleyball court, but this is a lesson to Sayaka that at some point quite suddenly they weren’t, and that time has come.

Sayaka doesn’t fight it, and shows absolutely no outward aggression towards Yuu, save agreeing with Yuu’s assertion that Sayaka may well do a better job as Nanami’s manager. Sayaka isn’t blaming Yuu for this; she knows Yuu is as swept up as she is.

When Yuu finally brings up Nanami’s sunset confession, it’s at a railroad crossing. When the barriers come down and the train passes, Nanami steal’s Yuu’s first kiss, to make no mistake what kind of love she was talking about. Considering neither of them know much “what to do” following that kiss, it’s apparent Nanami may just as along for the ride as everyone in her orbit.

When Nanami asserts that she didn’t choose Yuu simply because she loves her, but still asks again to stand by her in the election as a friend, Yuu doesn’t have a problem with it. What she does have a problem with is that she feels she can’t properly respond to Nanami’s feelings, not matter how much she may want to.

During an interview and photo shoot with the school paper, Yuu suddenly takes Nanami’s hand in her’s, behind their backs where no one else csan see. She sees Nanami’s reaction, and is further frustrated: how can Nanami feel that “special feeling”, while Yuu feels nothing? What drew her to Nanami was the feeling they were similar in being unable to fall for anyone. That’s no longer the case. She feels left behind.

A meeting at a cafe to go over a speech provides Yuu with another opportunity to express how she can’t fall in love with Nanami, but the barista interrupts them with their coffee, and then Nanami steps in and speaks first: She knows what Yuu is going to say, and is willing to accept it. All she asks is that Yuu let her love her, not expecting anything in return.

Yuu thinks that’s weird, and it kinda is, but for someone like Nanami, who was like Yuu for so long—never knowing what that special feeling was like—finally feeling it made her that much more fulfilled. Yuu says fine, she doesn’t mind…but she doesn’t know why she said it, as she’s not even sure whether she really doesn’t mind.

For all of this, Yuu calls Nanami “unfair”, but that’s not really, well fair; it’s just that Nanami is a little older, and a lot can happen in the years between them. Yuu shouldn’t be measuring her own feelings against the older, wiser, more daring Nanami’s—that’s not being fair to herself. Nanami is a little older, a little wiser, and most importantly, a different person. It’s not a question of fairness for Yuu…it’s a question of patience.

Bloom Into You – 01 (First Impressions) – Waiting for Wings

Be it shoujo manga or song lyrics, Kaito Yuu has been trained to know what true love is supposed to feel like. That it’s a feeling so conspicuous and powerful and different from anything you’ve felt before, you’ll know it when you feel it, so just be patient and wait for it.

Now a first-year at high school, Kaito Yuu does not get run over by a truck, but ends up getting tricked into a position with the student council. On the way to the far-flung, isolate council office, Yuu encounters a confession in progress, followed by a prompt rejection.

The one doing the rejecting is second-year Nanami Touko, who also happens to be her senpai, and it isn’t her first, or even ninth, rejection. She always says she’ll never go out with anyone, because her heart never flutters when she hears them confess, be they boys or girls.

Yuu is in a similar situation. When her good guy friend from junior high confessed and asked her out, she expected that to be the moment she finally felt the same “blinding radiance” (or “sparkles”) she knows to look out for from her years of consuming conventional media.

But it wasn’t. He asked her out, and she felt…nothing at all. That was a month ago, and she’s been delaying her reply all that time. Now that she’s met someone with confession experience in Touko, Yuu decides she’ll try to ask for advice. She almost chickens out, but Touko can tell something’s on her mind, and Yuu is able to tell her.

Touko replies very wisely that there’s nothing wrong with Yuu not feeling anything special with her friend, nor should she feel like there’s a way she should be that she’s not being. When the guy rings as scheduled, Touko holds Yuu’s hand, giving her the courage to gently turn him down.

It goes so easily and is over so soon, Yuu wonders what took her so long and why she was torturing herself all that time. But Touko hasn’t let go of her hand yet. Unlike Yuu’s, Touko’s hand is trembling and clammy, and she’s blushing. The moment neither of them have ever experienced? Touko is suddenly experiencing that moment, right then and there.

She draws Yuu closer in and gazes into her eyes…but Yuu doesn’t understand what’s going on. At least, she doesn’t feel the same way as Touko at the same time. To be confronted with someone saying they’re “falling in love with you” immediately after turning someone else down must be a bit disorienting for Yuu, not to mention the fact they’re both girls, which Yuu isn’t quite sure how to handle.

Time passes, and nothing more happens between Touko and Yuu. But that afternoon is always weighing on Yuu’s mind, even as the whole council assembles to celebrate the impending transfer of power. Touko is running for president, and essentially asks Yuu to be her campaign manager. That means they’re going to be spending a lot more time together, often alone.

Bloom Into You is solid, straightforward shoujo romance. Yuu’s sparkly internal monologue about her ideal of love (how she thinks she’ll sprout wings and fly off) is beautifully illustrated, and Kotobuki Minako’s strong, assertive voice is a great choice for Touko (I don’t know much of Takada Yuuki, but she does fine work as Yuu). I’m in!

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – 16 – Meiling Out

From the word go, the airborne Sakura was one busy Cardcaptor this week, pushing Siege to its limit by covering the entire Daidouji estate, stopping the burrowing Card in its tracks, then securing it before it destroyed the mansion. Flight is so happy to work with Sakura, her wings carried her so quickly Kero-chan couldn’t keep up with his head camera.

After finishing tea with Daidouji’s mom, Sakura and Meiling go one way, while Akiho goes another, with the latter encountering Yuna D. waiting for her. When he lets slip something about Sakura’s father that he shouldn’t know, he whips out his pocket watch, stops time, then rewinds it to before he slipped up.

This leaves Akiho confused but totally oblivious to what just transpired. I shudder to think how many times he’s used this magic to get Akiho to collect information, then make her forget, to say nothing of the “dreams” in which she and Sakura appear. None of this is the conduct becoming someone you can trust!

While pondering the possibilities of a future Kaito/Sakura confrontation, Sakura and Meiling end up the targets of some kind of Card in the form of a martial arts-wielding killbot in Chinese dress, who comes at the girls with extreme prejudice.

Here, we get to see Meiling’s own martial arts in practice, as well as Sakura’s natural athleticism and agility. The two are able to defeat their attacker by coordinating their counterattacks to be mirror images of each other, crystallizing the bot and giving Sakura enough time to secure the second card of the week, “Struggle.” I for one am glad this card is now  on Sakura’s side!

After the battle and later that night, Sakura is overly worried about Meiling. While appreciative that Sakura cares about her so dearly, she reminds her what she said before the killbot attacked about “good people making her sad”, because some of those good people are looking out for others so much they don’t care about themselves.

Meiling things this applies to both Sakura and Syaoran, and thinks both of them need to take a step back and think of their own happiness—at least occasionally—and not in a “seeing other people happy makes me happy” kind of way. But one thing Sakura is certainly happy about is that she finally got to fight side-by-side with Meiling. And they kicked some killbot-card ass!

Before hopping on the plane back to Hong Kong, Meiling also warns Syaoran over the phone that whatever he knows or has planned that neither she nor Sakura (with whom she’s now on first-name terms) knows about, if he gets hurt, she knows who’ll be saddest, and if he makes Sakura sad, he’ll regret it. Bottom line: Don’t mess with Meiling.

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – 15 – A Phone Call, Daidouji Videos, and a Quake

After yet another ominous scene with Akiho, her (still motionless) rabbit, and Yuna D. Kaito reminding us that there’s Something Up With Those Three, we return to Sakura’s house where she’s braiding Meiling’s hair.

Talk turns to how Sakura’s dad has always cut her hair, Yukito cuts her brother’s and her brother cuts her father’s…but when Syaoran comes up, Sakura can’t mask her worry.

Meiling’s solution is to simply call him, and then hands the phone off so the two lovebirds can talk. Syaoran says he’s fine (or at least he says he is), so Sakura is able to continue her day without worrying about him.

That day consists of Sakura, Meiling, and Akiho meeting up to visit Tomoyo’s mansion, and are welcomed at the door by her mother,  who finished a bunch of phone calls early and cancelled her schedule just to be able to greet her beloved, adorable Sakura. Far from feeling hurt about this, Tomoyo is on the same page as her mom: Sakura IS adorable!

Tomoyo then drops a big surprise on Sakura: she’s invited them to try out her new super-deluxe home theater, where she proceeds to play the Nadeshiko festival play in which Sakura and Syaoran starred—another nice callback to older iterations of the series.

The chemistry between Sakura and Syaoran is apparent not just in their on-stage performance (which was interrupted by an earthquake) but behind-the-scenes footage of them learning their dance steps.

Sakura is mortified beyond belief by all this footage—she doesn’t like to be on display, despite her occupation—but Tomoyo is merciless, and Akiho and Meiling also get a kick out of all of the heartwarming film…as did I!

Sakura tries to get revenge by mentioning Tomoyo singing, and Tomoyo has no choice but to play it for Akiho, but their viewing party is suddenly interrupted…by another earthquake. Sakura hides behind a chair to release her staff, then puts Akiho, Tomoyo’s mom, and the house staff to sleep with Snooze lest too many learn her identity. With that, she uses Flight to sprout wings and survey shaky ground from a safe height.

Considering Akiho described exactly what happened last week as being a chapter from her white clock book, with Sakura in the role of “Alice”, it’s a good bet the next chapter involves an earthquake. We’ll have to wait until next week to learn how Alice manages to resolve the situation, as the episode ends on a bit of a cliffhanger.

Net-juu no Susume – 08

Sakurai Yuuta was adopted by a wealthy, elderly couple. When they passed away they left their sprawling home to him, but he moved somewhere more reasonably-sized, both because he couldn’t maintain it himself, and because the empty house only intensified his loneliness.

In MMOs, specifically KanterSG, he found the sweet spot where he could be alone without being lonely; where he could meet and interact with people without leaving his digs; where he could regain that feeling of family and mutual support.

And in KanterSG, he met Yuki, whom he strongly suspects to be Molly/Hayashi/Morioka, despite the perceived ridiculousness of such a coincidence. To find out for sure, he decides to rely on whether she remembers him as he was, by adopting the same look as his KanterSG character, Harth.

At first, it seems to Sakurai that he might be mistaken, as Yuki doesn’t seem to react to the name “Harth.” However, she actually has, she just needs a little nudge to start the memories flying, and that’s hearing him pronounce it. After logging out, Morioka calls Sakurai to ask if he ever knew a character named Yuki, giving Sakurai the opening he needs to say it was him.

The ensuing phone conversation is one of the most adorable—and best—things this show has ever done; the elation of both Sakurai and Morioka at the news they’ve always known each other positively radiates through the screen like warm rays of light. Morioka’s torrent of expressions and gestures are wonderful to behold.

Unfortunately, Sakurai’s phone dies before he can volunteer one more crucial nugget of info: that he’s not just Harth, but Lily as well.

Morioka and Sakurai bump into each other in the street, and act in that combination of awkward and giddy that you expect of two people who suddenly find themselves much closer. Sakurai offers his coat and a snack to a hungry Morioka, whose stomach-growling reminded him of the time they both ordered Christmas chicken at the convenience store.

When Morioka starts to go on about Lily, how much she reminds her of him, and how they should play FdM together as a trio sometime, Sakurai must tell her the truth, and he does: he’s Lily. Morioka’s reaction seems to be of surprise if not shock, but unfortunately we leave things right there.

How will Morioka feel about Sakurai having kept the truth from her for so long? Will she be mad at him, or, more likely, blame herself for not having figured it out, even though she was aware of the similarities? I don’t know, but I’m excited to find out, and glad the show and its couple got to move forward as much as they did here, with just two episodes remaining.

Fate / Zero – 15

I hope you’ll forgive me if this review doesn’t hold up to my usual vigorous editorial standards, as I must admit I am rather stunned—gobsmacked, you might say—by what I just witnessed, and whenever that happens, I tend to get a bit too florid in my language. Consider yourself warned.

That happens, at this magnitude, very rarely indeed. Of the episodes I consider almost perfect, I must count this among them. At this point in my viewing of Fate/Zero, if there was one and only one episode I had to show someone, it would be this one.

It’s a perfect encapsulation; an epic full-length motion picture, compressed into a scant third of an hour; the crystallization of the ultimate potential embedded in its run thus far. I shudder to think it could ever get better than this, but having seen this, I shouldn’t underestimate this show’s capacity for ever-expanding spectacle. And I won’t.

In case you forgot the events of this episode: Rider decides to trap Caster and his monster in his Reality Marble to buy the rest of the team time to figure out a way to defeat it. Righteousness ensues.

As Berserker and Archer continue dogfighting in their respective badass aircraft, Kariya’s swarm of bugs are harmlessly absorbed by Tokiomi’s magical barrier. As Kariya’s body breaks down, Tokiomi delivers “mercy” by setting him ablaze. The animation used to portray the burning Kariya looked like nothing else in the show so far and was hauntingly novel and chilling in its style and execution.

Once Rider transports the monster to his Reality Marble, Iri gets a call from Kiritsugu, but has Waver answer the phone. Kiritsugu tells Waver to tell Rider to drop the monster at a specific point of his choosing once the Marble prison fails. He also tells Lancer that Saber has the only weapon that can defeat the monster, but can’t use it due the wound made by Gáe Buidhe.

Possessed of that new information, Lancer’s next move is pure Chivalry: That monster cannot be allowed to terrorize innocent people. His spear is preventing the only weapon that can defeat it from being used. Ergo, Gáe Buidhe must be destroyed.

Saber’s claim that she bears the wound as a mark of pride, not as a burden, but Lancer knows she’s being way too nice, and does what a true Knight such as himself would do: snap the spear in half. Once he does, Saber immediately prepares her Noble Phantasm.

As Berserker destroys Archer’s aircraft, Kotomine Kirei approaches the barely-alive Kariya…and starts to heal him, cracking a smile as he does. It would seem the Kirei Rebellion against his father and Tokiomi has officially begun in earnest.

Berserker turns his attention (such as it is) to Saber and her newly-released weapon. It then falls to Lancer to transport onto Berserker’s jet and disable it, and even with just one spear, he gets the job done.

That leaves the area secure for Kiritsugu to launch a flare at the spot where Rider is to release the monster. After the sheer awesome lunacy of Rider’s chariot and Berserker and Archer’s aircraft, it is quite amusing indeed to see Kiritsugu in his unassuming little raft, likely fitted with the most efficient and durable engine that provides sufficient and not excessive power to get him into position.

Once Rider has the signal, the monster is released, and the other end of the grand stage given over to the King of Knights so she can shine.

Saber’s attack is singularly gorgeous in an episode of visually arresting imagery, but its beauty is only enhanced by the reactions of those watching it unfold, and the poetic words of Iri describing what the weapon is, and in doing so, describing who Arturia Pendragon truly is:

That sword is the embodiment of the sad, yet noble, dream of all soldiers, past, present, and future, who lie dying on the field of battle, clutched to their hearts with their last breath. She carries their will as her pride, bidding them to remain steadfast in their loyalty. Now, the undefeated king sings aloud, the name of the miracle she holds in her hand. It’s name is…Excalibur.

This is the unique, nigh divine power bestowed upon Saber in exchange for the tremendous burden she bears. And while Archer laughed at her devotion and Rider doubted her kingship, for all their power amassed across space and time, neither of them could do anything like what Saber does to this monster. This isn’t just Saber saving the city and the day; this is Saber dunking on her doubters. Suddenly they are the ones who look small, puny, and cowed.

As for poor crazy Caster, I daresay I almost feel sorry for the evil son of a bitch when he meets his all-too-beautiful end, which includes a vision of his beloved Jeanne (who does look a lot like Saber). Almost.

While Uryuu went out experiencing something he was looking for all his life and finally found, Caster too experiences a kind of quasi-redemptive epiphany at the very end. Both men end up essentially forsaking everything they had ever done in their miserable lives, condemning it as wasted time and effort in the face of the truths they face at the end.

As the monster Excalibur effortlessly cleaved clean in half dissipates into the night, Archer asks Rider if he’s still not convinced of Saber’s kingship. Rider acknowledges the power, but still feels its too much for one young woman; not so much a legend as a great tragedy. Rider and Archer also agree to duel one another soon…but not quite yet, as they want to recover from this battle and fight at full strength.

Finally, while Saber lost an unwanted admirer in Caster, she gained a new one tonight through her actions: Archer. Where Rider sees tragedy, Archer sees vivid beauty; something to which nothing in his vast treasury can compare. I’ll tell you what’s damn near beyond compare: this episode.

The last episode, in its efficient, businesslike way, laid out all of the various facets of the battle and set the conditions for victory, while also keeping expectations…reasonable. This episode took those facets and resolved them into a gorgeous jewel that shined with golden radiance, blasting through all expectations like Excalibur through a fortress-sized demon. The remaining ten episodes have their work cut out for them.

Durarara!!x2 Ketsu – 08 (32)

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While I acknowledge it contained some progress and a couple of Durarara!! firsts, this episode had a disappointingly incremental feel about it. Sure, virtually all Durarara!! episodes are incremental, but the better ones do a better job keeping me entertained and distracted enough to overlook the fact there is a dizzying number of players involved. It’s starting to get a little out of hand.

But let me get back to one of those firsts: Celty finally has her head back. In true Dullahan fashion, she doesn’t simply reattach it to her neck, but carry it in her arm. Her horse turns back into a horse, and she regains her original armor, but considering she has no idea who Izaya is when she sees him, it would seem her memories of Ikebukuro to date have been erased.

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If that’s true, that would be a real bummer, but in the meantime Izaya has a fight to the death with Shizuo to take care of, so Celty kinda just…slinks away from the episode. Back at Shinra’s, Kodata shows his face for the first time since the hit-and-run, and wants Erika and everyone else to stay indoors. Tom Tanaka, pissed that neither Shizuo or Varona showed up for their rounds, has some late night Russian sushi, unaware the streets outside are growing more dangerous for him by the minute.

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Nasujima, now some big-shot rogue Saika host, has turned dozens if not hundreds of citizens into Saika zombies, with which he intends to capture Tanaka and use him as a bargaining chip in his dealings with Shizuo. Shijima is with them to, though I’m not sure why.

Back at the construction site, Izaya briefly recalls what Shinra said to him about the benefits of getting along with Shizuo (he’s a tiger who will one day be an urban legend) rather than remaining adversaries (someone will get hurt or killed). Back in the present, Shizuo and Izaya are only circling each other. A big fight seems imminent, but it’s still just sputtering so far.

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Chikage decides the best way to get Masaomi and Mikado to meet is with the chat room and a little bit of theater. He interrupts Namie’s ranting to demand Mikado call Masaomi’s phone…or else. When Mikado calls, Chikage answers, and sets up a meeting to hand over his “hostage.” Mikado agrees, and sets a location very near and dear to him vis-a-vis the Dollars.

That other Durarara!! first? Mikado actually has a gun, given to him by Izumii when they met. I have no idea what he intends to do with it, but it’s clear he doesn’t have the slightest idea how to use it properly; though at the end of the day, point-and-shoot will suffice. Call it another step deeper down the dark inscrutable abyss for Mikado, albeit an incremental one.

Once guns start being shot, the results can quickly become something one can’t simply, as Tom puts it, “let slide.” When bullets fly, impasses and stalemates start to become irreversible conclusions. I’ll hope Mikado takes after the re-booted Celty, and keeps his head.

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Durarara!!x2 Ketsu – 07 (31)

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The item Mikado got from Aoba’s brother is not revealed; instead, Mikado is coy to Aoba about the content of their conversation, and then gets distracted by Namie’s meltdown in the Dollars chatroom, witnessed by the twins.

Namie isn’t about to forgive Mikado or let him have his perfect life without reminding him that he defeated her and messed up her life, but didn’t destroy her. Namie is just one of the “loose ends” Mikado will have to reckon with before he can reach his goals.

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As indicated by Anri’s eyes reddening, Kasane’s Saika slaves are out in force, blocking all the roads and alleys that lead to the area where she’s restraining Celty’s body. Shizuo, not one to break the law unless its necessary, dutifully rides past the barriers, but soon realizes that he has to break through to get to Celty. Meanwhile, Izaya has come out to observe Shizuo’s confrontation with Kasane from on high.

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I loved how calm and civil everything was. Sure, Shizuo crumbles a bit of wall and tosses it at Kasane’s associate, President Yagiri, but he and Kasane do not engage in any violence. Kasane merely restrains Shizuo, putting her hand on him. Whatever would have happened next is interrupted by the arrival of Varona with Celty’s head.

I also loved how Shizuo didn’t feel in the least betrayed by his junior, because, well, he wasn’t. He didn’t disallow her from taking other jobs on the side, but does recommend she chose more carefully in the future.

Shizuo appreciates that Kasane has business to conduct, but his friendship with Celty won’t allow them to treat her as a product or thing, even if that’s the best way to describe the state she’s in.

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Kasane also appreciates Shizuo’s personal investment in this situation, as well as Varona’s complicated relationship with Shizuo, and decides the best thing to do is retreat for now. Despite her best efforts, her plan ran into a hitch, and that hitch was Shizuo. Howver, Izaya isn’t content to leave things there, and drops “liquid on the litmus paper” in the form of a pile of steel beams on Shizuo. Varona pushes him out of harm’s way, but a beam falls on her leg

Now Shizuo wouldn’t have been hurt by those beams (he flicks the one off of Varona’s leg like a 2×4) but Varona acted to save him anyway, because until she’s able to destroy him under her very specific conditions (i.e. going all out), she doesn’t want him to die. Similarly, when Izaya drops an excavator on Shizuo, he catches it on his shoulder and flicks that away too, saving Varona for real.

Izaya has seen the human chemical reactions he wanted to see, and likely wants to see more tonight, but when he calls Shizuo to chat, all Shizuo says to him is “So long.” No listening to his drivel, no angry outburst, no tossing of the excavator back at him. Shizuo won’t let harming his junior pass. He’s coming for him.

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Durarara!!x2 Ketsu – 06 (30)

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This relatively spare (and almost entirely supernatural-free) episode focuses on the major players once more: Mikado, Masaomi, Anri, and Izaya, with Chikage narrating as he learns more about the state of things in Ikebukuro.

While much of that state can be attributed to Izaya, who has Chess, Shoji, Go, and Othello pieces scattered on his game board as he builds a house of tarot cards (a bit too much game imagery here, frankly) he’s correct in stating no one person is to blame, because everyone played little roles that added up.

At this point, he’s super-excited about Mikado’s state in particular, and interested in what he’ll do next, even if it means he himself becomes a pawn. He also wants this to be a humans-only game from here on out, which means taking Anri, Kasane, Celty and Shizuo out of this stage.

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Still, it’s Anri’s human side that shines in her first meeting with Mikajima Saki, which cam as a surprise to me, considering how long this show has gone on. Saki has come prepared for war if Anri was to express feelings for Masaomi. While she heard from her boyfriend that Mikado was crazy about Anri, she wanted to meet her one-on-one to get her own impression of her.

What she finds is a cute, charming, mild-mannered young lady who has convinced herself that she’s a parasite who neither knows how to love anyone nor believes she deserves to love or be loved. It’s a much more nuanced situation than Saki imagined. The reality is, she’s no more certain of what love is than Anri, but being a parasite (or a puppet, as she once was) doesn’t automatically disqualify them from love and happiness.

Mika decides to further explain her relationship with Masaomi by going into her past with him; to a time Anri wasn’t present for. Despite having made a promise to the guys that they’d reveal their respective secrets upon meeting again, Anri is intrigued and lets Mika proceed.

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Izaya’s efforts seem intended to pare down the players, especially limiting them to those who are only plain old flesh-and-blood humans. Mika’s efforts seem intended to enlighten her about the love triangle in which she’s been the fourth vertex for long enough.

And then Chikage, who is titularly “in for a penny, in for a pound”, breaks Masaomi’s dilemma down to brass tacks: He wants to see Mikado and save him (either by punching him or being punched, in the simplest possible terms). Blue Square is in the way, so Chikage will help Masaomi get close. If Mikado won’t answer a call from Masaomi’s phone, then Chikage will call him on his. Easy peasy, right?

…Perhaps not. Izumii Ran visits Mikado (much to Aoba’s consternation), they proceed to have a very civil conversation, Izumii gives Mikado some kind of “gift” hidden in his arm sling, and then leaves in the car of Awakusu’s Aozaki, activity that Aozaki’s rival Akabayashi learns about pretty quickly.

These are presumably the “grown-ups” Chikage is worried about getting tangled up with. His basic plan could work if he could just get two old estranged friends in the same room together to hash it out, but with an apparently important object now in Mikado’s possession that probably wasn’t given to him so he could pull out of his tailspin, it may already be too late for basics.

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Durarara!!x2 Ketsu – 05 (29)

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I misread Kasane’s intent last week: she didn’t come to Shinra’s intending to make a deal. Instead, she’s only implementing the next step in her comprehensive Celty research. She takes control of Shinra with a long kiss, plucks him out of his wheelchair and jumps out the window into the night.

Celty goes berserk, transforming into a big black ball of rage and gives chase just as Kasane intended. We see a lot of emotions going through the darkness of Celty’s mind, but the one that stands out the most is Shinra, Shinra, Shinra. And so her body moves instinctively to retrieve him.

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As Varona stands by a car with Celty’s head inside, Kasane leads Berserk Celty through the skies of Ikebukuro, periodically firing blades to slow her down. Meanwhile, Chikage accompanies Masaomi to his Yellow Scarves hideout after saving him from Izumii earlier in the day, putting their fight on hold for now.

Masaomi, for his part, is shocked to hear Izumii is fighting on Mikado’s behalf as a member of the Dollars, while Chikage wonders what version of the Dollars he’s encountered truly represents them.

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Kasane eventually meets up with Varona, who is this week’s narrator, and unlike everyone else running around this week has a lot of time to think about things. She admits she felt the euphoria that comes from gaining power when she stole the head; but it didn’t last long, and she realizes that it’s because her cover was blown instantly, and by Shizuo, no less.

Varona remains a deeply wounded and scarred young woman, but Ikebukuro and Shizuo have definitely had a profound – and I believe positive – effect on how she looks at the world and her role and values in it. She isn’t denying her feelings, only trying to figure out what they are and why she has them, and it all comes back to Shizuo and the peaceful daily life she enjoyed. She concludes it’s too late to go back now; that life is gone. But is it?

As chance would have it, after teaching some punk kids a lesson, Shizuo ends up with another bike on his shoulder when he encounters Celty’s horse. In the funniest and coolest scene of this entire Ketsu arc, the horse goes through various forms of transportation for Shizuo to ride it until settling on the bike, which he mounts and is then propelled at very un-bike-like speed.

While I’m unsure how interconnected Celty and her horse are, or whether they’re one and the same, it did seem like the horse was acting more reasonably than the mindless black ball of rage being messed with by Kasane. Whatever the case, it’s a given that the horse and Shizuo are on a direct course to the car with both Shinra and her head in it, which just so happens to be driven by his former adoptive protege.

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Durarara!!x2 Ketsu – 04 (28)

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Chikage’s confrontation with Masaomi and the Yellow Scarves looked like bad news, but he’s only there on behalf of himself, and wants to use them to smoke out the “purge” Dollars who hit Kodata. But because this is a meeting of gang leaders who don’t mind the occasional rumble, it comes to fisticuffs, and we see Masaomi in actual action for the first time in a long while.

I assumed he had some skill to be the leader of a color gang (even one as wishy-washy as the scarves), but I didn’t expect him to hold his own so well against Chikage (though he isn’t able to do any damage, he’s able to dodge his attacks well enough). Still, the “blood is thicker than water” title/theme applies here, as Chikage is loyal to Kodata through the bond they forged in righteous, honorable combat.

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The Saika family reunion continues, with Anri stating her reservations about manipulating people she holds dear with Saika as Haruna does. It comes down to them having different values. Kasane lays it out thusly: one can either entirely enslave their Saika or allow their Saika to entirely enslave them. Anri is trying to be nice to “both sides”, which Kasane believes is untenable.

Of course, she’s driven by the desire to acquire Saika from Anri, which would mean extracting her, but that can only happen if Anri truly doesn’t want Saika anymore. Anri still feels she owes Saika for saving her from her father, among other things. But Kasane remarks that Anri is too hard on herself for believing herself a parasite, or somehow not or less than human.

Letting go of Saika could perhaps mean returning to “normal” humanity in a biological sense, but she’ll always be one of the “family” by virture of her flesh, her blood, and her past. It’s a fascinating discussion between three very different personalities. Erika lightens the mood effectively both by inviting Kasane to a cosplay event and announcing Dotachin has come out of a coma and can see visitors tomorrow.

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Masaomi and Chikage’s duel continues, with Chikage ending up falling off the building when Masaomi bails out. Just then, Izumii Ran shows up with a gang of men and his mallet, looking to continue his revenge tour.

His taunts easily provoke Masaomi into attacking him, but a fierce punch to Izumii’s head only results in Masaomi breaking his hand. Will Chikage, who was just fighting Masaomi, get back up to that roof and help him stay alive against another superior opponent?

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Like Dotachin, Shizuo has been mostly an inert element this cour, as he’s in jail after a woman pressed charges against him for assault. An obvious Saika plant in the cell neighboring him wants him to tear up the joint so they can make off with the head in the commotion, in exchange for the charges against him being dropped.

However, this Saika plant seems to be too late with his proposal, as Shizuo is released without having to do anything after the woman drops the charges. No sooner is he free to go than some kind of rocket or missile hits the police van carrying Celty’s head. Varona of all people makes off with it, staring down Shizuo momentarily before zooming off on her bike. Shizuo assumes this is more of that wretched Izaya’s handiwork.

Prior to this to-do, around dusk, presumably after Haruna left Kasane and Anri, she is kidnapped by a Saika slave and brought to her former boyfriend Takashi, who has plans for her, none of them good.

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All the news of Celty’s head being out there, exposed to the world, causes her nightmares. She wakes up to find an understanding and supportive Shinra, who has spent the day trying to deal with the Yagiri siblings under control (mostly through sedation).

When Emilia says a girl with glasses is at the door, Shinra assumes it’s Anri, but it’s not; it’s Kasane, who is apparently not done wheeling and dealing. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if she was the one who hired/compelled Varona to snatch Celty’s head.

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