DanMachi III – 11 – Don’t Speak

Welf and Mikoto manage to successfully stall Gareth with a last-minute assist from Tsubaki, ordered by Hephaistos to assist Hestia Familia. Wiene manages to give Tiona the slip, but the chase continues. In the process, the Amazoness witnesses Wiene save a demi child from a crumbling bridge.

When she corners her again, Tiona can’t go through with killing her, and lets her go, now sensing what it is Argonaut-kun saw in her, and acknowledging she’s more than just another monster.

Wiene reunites with Bell and Haruhime, but it’s not long before they’re confronted by Bete. Again asserting her newfound confidence and strength, Haruhime stalls Bete to allow the others to flee, then uses Uchide no Kozuchi to summon a leveled-up Aisha.

Haruhime may not be that good in an offensive battle, but those who love her like Aisha consider her battles to be their battles, and gladly fight in her place. Even though Aisha loses and doesn’t feel particularly cool about it, the fact is, she is extremely cool, while Bete’s just a hotheaded dork.

That brings us to the titular Decisive Battle, in which Bell and Ais dance once more, only this time with blades instead of eveningwear. As Finn expected, Ais isn’t prepared to make any distinction between Wiene and Monsters Who Make People Cry based on what she’s seen. Wiene went berserk before, she could do so again, and she can’t allow it.

That said, she is surprised that Bell is able to hold his own in their initial scuffle, such that she dispenses with holding back for the sake of their unique bond, and takes things up a notch. Bell can’t keep up, so he spams Firebolt at the stone arch above them and uses the debris cloud as cover to escape.

Finding the barred gate to a secret passage where he once stood up for Hestia, Bell has Wiene go through to meet up with the other Xenos, promising he’ll be right behind her. Round 2 with Ais commences, and Ais is not playing around. Her only accomodation to Bell is to warn him that she is going to cut him and it will hurt, a lot.

If she were to spill Bell’s blood, I doubt things would ever be the same between them—maybe they won’t be anyway—but thankfully Wiene sensed Bell was only lying to protect her (again) and comes back to put herself between Ais and Bell. Ais is shocked to hear her speak and express emotion—specifically concern for Bell.

It’s an inconvenient truth she’d rather not deal with. Things were easier when she thought Wiene was just a monster; now it will hurt her to kill her, but she’ll still kill her, because she has “deadly claws” and a “terrifying wing”. Wiene responds to that by literally tearing off the monstrous parts of her (not her jewel, that would kill her).

Wiene tearfully assures Ais that she ever loses herself again she’ll disappear “like she’s supposed to”, but she doesn’t want to go back to being in the “pitch black”. Bell saved her, and she wants to stay with him. Having witnessed Wiene act not like a monster at all, Ais concludes she can no longer kill her. She tosses Bell a potion and lets them go.

Bell and a healed Wiene meet up with Haruhime, Lili, and some Xenos who got separated from the main group, and Bell and Wiene say goodbye one more time. This time Wiene tells him she won’t cry while they’re apart because she doesn’t want him or the Familia to worry about her. Haruhime suggests Wiene and Bell pinky swear that they’ll meet again.

Unfortunately, that might not happen, as throughout this whole operation, the trickster Hermes was playing the good guys like a fiddle. The main Xenos group encounter a dead end that wasn’t on Daedalus’ map, and Hermes arrives with Asfi to confess he faked the map to corner them. He condemns the Xenos as “heretical” and politely asks them to die. As expected, he has his own personal agenda, and he’s making his move.

Fruits Basket – 50 (Second Season Fin) – Feather Brain

Despite all of the chaos and craziness of These Times, leave it to the trusty Fruits Basket’s second season to end one year to the day after the first season ended in 2019. And it doesn’t end with a whimper, but a one-two punch that will leave your pulverized heart slowly stewing in your stomach, even as the brightest rays of hope yet shine upon Tooru’s mission.

The opening images herald what’s to come. As soon as I saw a young, bewildered Kureno surrounded by floating feathers and a positively terrified Akito cowering behind him, I knew the big secret Shigure has known, and would be dying to reveal were it not up to Kureno himself later: Kureno is not a Zodiac member. He hasn’t been for years. His bond with Akito was severed; the curse lifted…only to be immediately replaced by a new curse of his own making.

To the part about his curse being lifted, it’s the best news yet that Tooru’s dream of lifting it for all isn’t pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking, but a reality waiting to be realized. Of course, Tooru doesn’t know anything about this at first, and nor does Rin: but the fact that Rin will remain in a room and talk with Tooru (but leave the moment Yuki shows up) may well foreshadow future collaboration between the two. I certainly hope so, anyway!

For now, Tooru is happy for a new year with Yuki and Shigure and oh yeah, Kyou, who doesn’t appear in this episode, since the exploration of his and Tooru’s failure to confess to one another is best left to a future season for it to be done justice. Instead, most of the episode is given over to the truth about Kureno, and how he’s always seemed “off” to both Shigure and Hatori.

Kureno manages to steal away from a sleeping Akito’s side deep into the night, and plays the Cinderella-ish DVD given to him by Tooru c/o Momiji Both of them pray he’ll watch it, and he does. The scene with Tooru and Kyou was so powerful I almost forgot Arisa also bore her whole damn heart in the play.

First she castigated Prince Kyou for not acting on his feelings when there are “people out there (like her and Kureno) who can’t see the ones they wish to see.” When Arisa cries out “I want to see him!” Kureno can’t help but reach out. But his image of a smiling Arisa in her work apron is juxtaposed by a hysterical younger Akito begging him “Don’t abandon me!” and the dimensions of Kureno’s own personal prison come into clear focus.

The moment Tooru returns home to Shigure’s, he sends her out on an errand to buy envelopes, knowing full well she’ll do it immediately and with a smile (this is Tooru, after all). He also knows it will take her past a certain park where Kureno is waiting. Before noticing him, Tooru approaches a flock of sparrows, who naturally aren’t afraid of her what with her gentle soul and calming aura.

Then Kureno approaches her, and the birds scatter. This confuses Tooru to no end since she’s seen rabbits, rats and cats naturally gather around Momiji, Yuki, and Kyou, respectively. Then the absolute kicker: Kureno draws Tooru into a hug…and nothing happens. He tells her plainly: he’s different. His curse is broken. He isn’t a member of the Zodiac.

It would have been one thing if his burgeoning love for Arisa had broken the curse, but it happened long before they met, and to this day Kureno couldn’t tell you exactly why. All he knows his how he felt when it happened. At first he was sad upon realizing he’d never fly again. But he also felt a happiness and a freedom and a sense of humanity he’d never felt before.

Even so, he says, upon returning the DVD, Tooru’s present “was for nothing”, as he doesn’t intent to see Arisa again, and will instead remain by Akito’s side as he has done. It seems like a firm declaration, but as he tries desperately to rationalize two simple insignificant meetings with Arisa as easily forgotten with time…he just can’t do it.

There’s no supernatural or spiritual bond keeping him by Akito’s side. It is more pity than love, along with years of trying to make it something it hadn’t been since the curse broke. Upon realizing their bond was broken Akito lost it, taking Kureno aside and threatening to kill anyone else who approached. And then she sobbed and begged and pleaded for him not to leave her. And Kureno, being younger than Tooru is now and not knowing any better, gave in.

Things are even more different now than they were then. Kureno resolved neither to go too far into the outside world nor seek anything there, but he’s fallen in love for the first time since the curse broke, since he “became human”, as he puts it. And as much as he may want to stay by Akito’s side, just as back then, something has happened that cannot be undone.

Kureno might have been able to deceive the other Zodiac members for a while, but I doubt he ever deceived Akito. And yet despite knowing the curse was broken, his staying probably signaled to Akito that their power still held sway, which turned out to be true, only if psychologically and not supernaturally.

As Tooru tries to comfort the long-tormented Kureno, he tells her without self-pity, hatred, or regret, that he made his choice to live only for “the one who cried until sobs racked their body. Weaker than anyone…more fragile than anyone. For the one…so afraid…for a sorrowful girl.”

Akito wakes up before Kureno returns, and notes that it’s the first time he’s left without permission. After ordering their attendants to find him, Akito takes a bath, and when their robe slips off in the mirror, it is finally officially confirmed that Akito is a woman. This had already been heavily implied, both in design, choice of seiyu (Sakamoto Maaya), and in other subtle ways. But that doesn’t lesson the impact of learning the truth explicitly.

Immediately upon Tooru learning Akito is a girl, the second season ends, having answered so many questions and yet left us with so many more about what’s to come. Will Tooru (and Rin, and other allies) succeed in her quest to lift the curse for all? Will she even continue the quest, knowing how much pain it will cause Akito to take her remaining Zodiac members away? Will Tooru ever allow herself to love someone more than her mother? Will Kureno and Arisa meet again? Will Akito escalate her grudge against Tooru?

Lots to ponder, for sure. And that’s even before we get into how we’re supposed to feel about Akito, who regardless of gender has been a pretty consistently selfish, cruel, dispicable character from the start. It goes without saying she’d have a tragic past of her own to match her myriad psychological issues, and while I can empathize, goddamn is it hard to sympathize, when weighing the suffering she’s caused the others.

For all of that food for thought, and yearning for the next season, and the expert direction and framing and pitch-perfect music throughout, I found this one of the best episodes of Fruits Basket yet, which at this point is saying something, and it will be very very hard to wait for what’s next.

P.S. Additional food for thought: the reason Akito cherishes Kureno so much is because he is there by his own free will, and not due to any binding curse, something I hadn’t considered until we learned he’s no longer a Zodiac member. Ultimately this is the way all her companions should be: there by choice and not force. Of course, she’d have to be much nicer to them…

Want to read more? Read Crow’s thoughts here.

Fruits Basket – 36 (S2 11) – Don’t Pity Me

While their beach vacation had its good times and bad, it must feel good regardless when Shigure, Yuki, Kyou and Tooru arrive home. Their return is only marred by the unexpected presence of Ayame, who was housesitting came in the unlocked back door and made himself at home.

Ayame sets Yuki off a bit (though not as earlier visits might) which in turn leads to Yuki and Kyou fighting. But Tooru separates herself from the bickering to make a phone call.

Since she’s now resolved to break the curse, Tooru needs to gather information, so she starts by visiting Kazuma (in secret!) and telling him what Akito told her. He’s frank in warning her that Kyou’s confinement and the Zodiac members returning to the estate is without doubt one “potential future”—though he for one won’t let it happen without “resistance.”

Akito and the Zodiac members exist in a “world” impenetrable to outsiders, and the bond of their very blood may be the curse. Tooru thinks of bonds as precious things, but she’ll break them if she must. Kazuma urges Tooru to continuing being who she is and smiling around the Soumas as much as possible. Because when she does, “the world feels gentler” and the curse a bit less heavy.

Tooru leaves, runs briefly into Rin (hostile as always) who is also seeking Kazuma’s counsel. Then gears then shift to what was for me a long-awaited reunion of Kyou and Kagura.

In past encounters Kyou was a very different person, and Kagura knows he’s changed when the usual things she says that would Kyou him to yell at her are dealt with far differently. Kyou tells her he has something to say, but before she’ll hear him, she wants to go on one last date.

Kagura’s thoughts linger on their first encounter, when Kyou was a lonely boy drawing fried eggs in the dirt. Before she met him, Kagura thought she was being a burden to her family, but Kyou showed her that there are people truly suffering and deserving of pity; what true misfortune was In doing so, she was looking down at Kyou to build herself up, and while she’d come to feel awful about it, she kept doing it for years.

Then the incident occurred where she removed his rosary, saw his true form, and ran away screaming. Kyou was punished by not being allowed out as much, and Kagura decided the only way to purify her selfish, “unclean” self was to rationalize her feelings for him into unconditional love and devotion. Through all her dealings with him, she never thought about Kyou’s feelings, only her own.

Kyou’s reaction to all this is to tell Kagura was he’d meant to tell her the other day: he’s not in love with her, and he never will be. It’s a devastating hammerfall, but one he needed to say as much as Kagura needed to hear it, for it to be real. But Kyou makes clear it’s not because of her looking down on him, and that her hanging out with him in the past really did make him happy. She was, for a time, the provider of light and hope that Tooru is for him today.

Before going their separate ways, Kagura turns and declares her love for him over and over again until there are tears in her eyes, and Kyou again surprises her not by ignoring her or yelling, but tenderly embracing her and letting her cry into his chest until the tears have fully dried. When she comes home and her mother sees her puffy-eyed, Kagura rejects her pity.

Kagura accepts that it was time to hear what Kyou said, and to reflect on how selfish she’d been to that point. She’ll own that, and won’t share it with anyone; not her mother, and surely not Akito. Same with the gentle warmth and kindness of Kyou holding her until she’d cried it out. It’s all hers to cherish, and to one day move beyond.

Both Kazuma and Kagura (not to mention Ayame) represent people Tooru may be able to rely on as allies in her fight to save Kyou from confinement, though in Kagura’s case her blood bond could limit how much she can defy Akito (it remains to be seen where Rin stands). Even if Tooru has to do most of the bond-breaking and curse-lifting herself, she’ll need any and all the assistance she can get.

Read Crow’s write-up of episode 11 here.

Fruits Basket – 24 – The Rosary

When Kyou’s mother committed suicide, everyone blamed him because he was cursed with the Cat spirit; everyone but Souma Kazuma, who took him under his wing and trained him without judgment. It was Kazuma’s grandfather, after all, who carried the spirit before Kyou, so even though he himself didn’t know what it was like, he was close to someone that did, and had empathy for them both.

Now Kazuma is back, and while he doesn’t show it around the others, Kyou is elated. He assumes he’s to go back to living with his shishou and continue his training. But Kazuma is there for something else. He’s seen Kyou with Tooru, and believes it’s time to tell her the truth about what Kyou is, even if Kyou would prefer to keep running away from that truth.

Kazuma doesn’t see much point in dragging things out. After informing Tooru, he takes Kyou’s arm and removes the rosary of red and white beads that never leaves his arm. Once it’s off, his true form is revealed, and it’s a truly terrifying, monstrous form with a smell to match. Throughout the transformation, Kyou recalls how Akito reacted (how you’d expect Akito to react—with utter disgust and rejection).

He expects the same reaction from Tooru, and while she’s initially frozen in shock, and later nauseous from the sight and smell of him, she still dutifully chases after him, completely forgetting that she just got over a cold!

Assuming she’s only there to have pity on him and offer hollow comfort, both things he’s sick to death of, he tosses her aside, hoping to hurt her enough so she’ll never forgive him. This strategy fails, of course, because we’re talking about Tooru here.

Kyou is weary of Tooru’s comfort (the “lukewarm bath” in which he’d gotten too pruny) because that’s what he got from his late mother: she gave him the rosary, checked his arm dozens of times a day to make sure he was wearing it, and wouldn’t let him outside. He could never trust or accept the love she insisted she had for him because she worked so tirelessly to hide his true form, sweeping it under the rug like it didn’t exist.

Even though his mother told him all the time that she’d die for him, that wasn’t what Kyou needed, or needs. What he needs, and what Tooru ultimately provides, is not an assurance she’ll die for him, but that she’ll live life with him. She doesn’t claim to have all the answers, but she won’t look away or turn away from him, even in his true form.

Tooru fears Kyou never returning to Shigure’s house more than the reality of his true form, so she takes hold of his misshapen limb and doesn’t let go, until he transforms back into human form, and then into his cute Zodiac cat form, and they return to the house together triumphant and to Kazuma’s relief.

In this regard, Tooru has emerged as his new proverbial rosary; one that doesn’t hide what he is but accepts it and is committed to living with him anyway. And however dark the future gets, he’s able to move past his dark past because she’ll be right there facing that future beside him.

Ushio to Tora – 39 (Fin)

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No more dancing around the matter at hand: this is the final week of Ushio to Tora (for the forseeable future), so if Hakumen’s going down, Hakumen’s going down today. And I couldn’t be happier; frankly, I’d gotten a bit tired of its raspy, evil voice-of-many-voices.

The souls of the recently deceased like Hyou and Nagare aid Ushio against a Hakumen who has been exposed as jealous and terrified; a Hakumen that never wanted the existance it got, but couldn’t escape, and so became more and more twisted.

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Ushio’s parent’s also finally unite, but at the end of the day, all the amassed allies of Ushio can only do so much; it’s Ushio and Tora and the Beast Spear that must defeat Hakumen once and for all.

In a last-ditch effort to kill them without fear, Hakumen gouges out its own eyes and goes by the smell of the spear. Tora counters this by stabbing himself with the spear, hiding its scent long enough to disorient Hakumen. Ushio and Tora go in for the kill, drive the spear through Hakumen’s skull, and end it.

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Hakumen goes out not cursing the victors, but wishing someone, just one person, could say its name—it’s real name, which we never learn—in a soft, quiet voice, as something other than the wretched monster it was throughout its existence.

Not long after Hakumen evaporates into the either, Tora, whose spear wound was mortal, also passes away before Ushio’s eyes, content that he already “ate” Ushio and he’s full now.

Put another way, Ushio filled Tora’s once empty, black heart (which had been thoroughly wrung out in his past life) with experiences and people Tora cared about and fought to protect. Now it’s time to go home to his family, who is no doubt waiting for him. Tora’s death was a surprise, but a welcome and noble one.

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When it becomes Ushio’s turn to pay the piper and become the next Tora, the souls of Jiemei and Giryou bail him out by leaving the Beast Spear (which shatters into dust) and entering his body to keep him from transforming into a beast.

Back to being a human, he falls from the sky, and his dad catches him as Mayuko watches. But Tora isn’t coming down; she never got to change him back to a human. Ushio got a happy ending, but Mayuko most assuredly did not. What did she do to deserve such a raw deal?

Oh, and Saya has to say goodbye to Omamori, who goes in her place in order to close the gate from the inside. It’s the right move; like Tora, Omamori has lived far longer than her friend, and so it’s only natural she be the one to go. Ushio and Saya have their whole lives ahead of them.

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With that, there’s even more loss, as the bulk of monsters turn to stone in order to prop up a sinking Japan—not purely for the humans’ sake, mind you, but because they love the country too. Thanks, youkai! Also, some like Kagari and Raishin remain behind so the humans aren’t lonely. How thoughtful!

Of the life that stretches far ahead for our young protagonists thanks to their efforts and the sacrifices of those dear to them, we see precious little, which keeps a good finale from being a great one. I liked how Kirio wants to step in to fill the void in Mayuko’s heart, but Ushio and Asako didn’t meet until the end credits, and only then wordlessly as they walk to school with the other two.

While I can’t help but feel a little disappointed by the lack of quality Ushio x Asako time at the end, the fact remains this was a tight and often moving finale. Things got a little heavy in the home stretch, but Ushio to Tora was worth the watch.

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