Charlotte – 07

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Charlotte doesn’t hold any doors open, nor does it waste any time or pull any punches: Yuu survives the injuries incurred by the debris, but Ayumi is gone. And it’s only in that moment and in the days to come that Yuu realizes how much he took her presence, and her cooking, for granted. He thought he was taking care of her, but it wasn’t a one-way street, and Ayumi’s death leaves a yawning chasm in Yuu’s heart, a stinging sense of loss and helplessness that pervades this powerful but heartbreaking episode.

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Having failed to protect or “repay” his sister, Yuu surenders and shuts down. He tries to fill the hole with cup ramen and television, and either ignores or lashes out at anyone who tries to wrest him from his self-imposed punishment, from Misa and Jou to even Yumi, whom he once worshiped. Liking and pursuing her must feel like a sad joke compared to the situation he’s in now.

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Then sketchy men in black show up, and Yuu starts to think (perhaps not wrongly) the government is about to capture him. So he gets away, where he thinks the soaked kid can’t find him, and his “home” grows even smaller as he squats in an anime cafe eating pizza and mochi balls while continuing to escape from life by playing violent video games that he probably used to not care about in the least.

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When some roughs are using that video game too long Yuu takes the bait and starts playing games with them. One gang after another, no matter how strong or numerous or feared, falls before his body-swapping ability. He creates chaos among the group, and it’s in that chaos in which he’s able to work most effectively to defeat them. He’s using his skills not to help people, but to entertain himself.

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He learns “real life”, with real bodies and real blood, is more fun than the games. The hole he’s filled becomes infected and festers. He’s becoming a villain before our eyes, and the path he’s walking looks more and more like a one-way street. When he finds some drugs on one of his victims, he’s about to take things to the next level when Nao kicks them out of his hand, appearing out of nowhere. Where is Nao in all of this, I asked myself throughout Yuu’s self-destruction kick. Was she so guilty about how she handled the Ayumi case, or so upset about what became of Yuu, that she couldn’t face him?

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No, she was right there, by his side…the whole time. Last week’s cliffhanger kept open the possibility that supernatural powers would have some role to play in the story’s resolution, but magic couldn’t save Ayumi from her own power, nor could it save Yuu from drowning in grief and despair. But with her power, Nao could stay by his side, invisible only to him, with no time limit, and wait for him to get better. When it’s clear he won’t, she makes herself visible to him, in order to make him get better.

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And why? Not just because she feels partially responsible for Ayumi’s death, but because Yuu is, at the end of the day, someone she cares about, and if she can help it, she’s not going to let him destroy himself. So she makes a deal with him: if he has one bite of the food she makes for him, he’ll never see or hear form her again. At Joujirou’s house, she painstakingly recreates the same super-sweet omelette rice Ayumi always made for him. And he can’t have just one bite. He eats every bite, and agrees to come home.

It’s not words or actions that pull him out of deep waters of despair that are all to easy to slide into following the shock of a loss. It’s food; it’s a smell and a taste, and all of the better times and happy memories tied to them. It’s a reminder that he is still alive, and there are better ways to live, and better ways to fill the holes in your heart.

Brilliant portrait of a broken Yuu, and a equally brilliant scheme to save him by Nao. I’m still drying my eyes from the heavy emotions this episode so eloquently expressed.

10_magRABUJOI World Heritage List

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Charlotte – 06

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Ah, now that’s more like it. Just when I was hankering for Charlotte to mix up its ability user-of-the-week formula that was growing repetitive, it does just that in its midpoint episode. Things are different this week, as the ability user has a potentially extremely dangerous ability (called “Collapse” by Kumagami), and may not be a stranger, but Yuu’s own adorable little sister Ayumi, who had just suspiciously taken ill last week.

Yet with all the weight of these new adjustments to the formula, the show still finds apropraite moments of comedy, like the best way to exclude Joujirou from their trip to see Ayumi. Yuu is about to swap bodies with him so he can make him jump out the window, but Nao beats him to it by simply dropkicking him out the window. It isn’t the first time Yuu and Nao are of one mind on an issue, and it won’t be the last.

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A little more random peripheral comedy is found on their trip to the store prior to visiting Ayumi, in which Yuu’s practical purchases are augmented by Nao’s procurement of stewed mushrooms (apparently an excellent topping for porridge…Zane?) and most amusingly, a $20 tin of cookies Yuu has never seen removed from its dusty shelf, let alone purchased.

Yuu enters before Nao and Yusa, and finds a group of Ayumi’s classmates already there: the cornflower blue-haired and well-spoken class rep Nomura; the boy Ayumi rejected, Oikawa, and the gloomy, taciturn Konishi, who gives Yuu the evil eye on her way out. That look set off warning bells that she, not Ayumi, could be the Collapse user.

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While Ayumi’s nose predictably becomes a nose fountain even upon her first glance of a heavily-disguised Yusarin, far more heartening was her attitude towards Yuu and Nao. The two are constantly fervently denying her suspicions they’re dating, or her assertions they make a good couple, even as they proceed to work well as a couple. Methinks they doth protest too much, and out of the mouth of babes (well, middle schoolers) comes the truth that they really are gelling nicely.

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Yuu even heeds Nao’s suggestion Ayumi stay home an extra day even if she’s feeling better. But Ayumi is sick of being cooped up, and sneaks out of the condo complex and into school. There, she interacts with all the classmates who visited her, only now Oikawa is exerting more pressure for her to go out with him (What a creep!), forcing Nomura to swoop in and hold him back (Good for her!), and finally Konishi coming at her with a clicking utility knife (Yikes!)

Before she brandished that knife, I was still considering the possibility Konishi would use Collapse against Ayumi for stealing Oikawa from her. But once it appeared, it looked more likely that Collapse was Ayumi’s power after all, to use as a last-ditch defensive measure.

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Once Yuu and the others learn Ayumi is at school, they rush there with speed. I found it notable that Joujirou’s ability was not utilized, though perhaps they felt adding more chaos to an already chaotic situation wasn’t the best course. (Yuu and Joujirou were also delayed by pasta, of all things!)

The result of that choice is that they’re too late, and Ayumi’s ability involuntarily manifests before Konishi cuts her. Everything beneath her—concrete, steel, glass, everything—crumbles to bits. She’s saved from Konishi, but falls victim to her own ability by being apparently crushed beneath the debris it created.

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In a sudden state of panic and intensity we had yet to see in Yuu, he clambers to the debris pile that was once a corner of the middle school and starts desperately digging for his sister. In the process, an orange-haired girl who earlier flashed an ID to school security laments she too was too late (I gather she’s part of a team other than Nao’s charged with stopping ability users).

Then a concrete pillar falls on Yuu, and the scene cuts to black and the credits roll to a gorgeous, ethereal new ending theme that sounds like a lament, and an end to everything that’s come before. After those credits, we encounter Kumagami standing in the rain over debris stained with blood. This raises far more questions than it answers, to my considerable intrigue.

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Charlotte – 05

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This week’s Charlotte begins with a rather unpleasant scene of Nao being dragged out of class and beaten behind the school by a mob of other girls. Yuu follows but doesn’t interfere, but what’s unclear is whether Nao is disappointed or glad about it. He presumes it’s what she gets for messing with people with her invisibility. He knows what it’s like to bear misdeeds; he’s perpetrated plenty of his own with his body-swapping.

And yet, while Yuu doesn’t play the role of the shining knight swooping in to save Nao from her tormentors, with or without his ability, Yusa and Joujirou both agree they’re “not an unpleasant couple to be around” due to their natural chemistry and spouse-like interactions. If they didn’t care about each other one way or another, they wouldn’t fight; that kinda thing.

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Nao believes the Council’s next target is up in the mountains near the city practicing his flying ability (the downside to the power is never mentioned). The best way she believes to do that is to set up camp and stake the place out indefinitely until they either spot him or he comes to them.

In the process of camping the group participates in typical group-bonding activites that take place during camping, like starting a fire, roasting corn, meat, and vegetables, playing video games, and stargazing. The latter is something only Nao and Yuu do, with the latter finding her alone listening to a group called ZHIEND, whose lead vocalist and composer is blind.

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In another indication Yuu and Nao are a somewhat fated couple, he gets the same feeling from the quiet music as she does: that of being in a vast, gorgeous, lonely open space. She even gifts him her music player, excited as she is to find a fellow fan. The music makes Yuu remember the face of girl who looks a lot like a younger Ayumi but who he doesn’t know, but he’s woken from the dream when it’s his turn to keep watch.

On the second night of the camping stakeout, Yuu and Jou bathe in the river, where Jou tells Yuu it’s best if he set romantic plans aside until two years from now, when they’ll lose their abilities. It makes me wonder if this show will let us see that future and how it changes these classmates and colleagues who are gradually becoming friends.

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It really is a journey-not-destination kind of episode, as the flying kid mission is wrapped up extremely easily. Yuu swaps bodies with him and ends up several thousand feet above the ground (an awesome sight, to be sure), and when he comes down softly but slightly banged up, less than a minute of convincing from Nao persuades the guy to stop using his ability.

Back home, there isn’t much pizza sauce left, and so Yuu gets his first tolerable meal frmo Ayumi in a long time. He also manages to convince her not to put it in everything, finally. But then Ayu starts coughing, and her temperature is 37.8, prompting Yuu to get her under a futon. Hopefully Ayumi doesn’t get sicker as a prelude to the awakening of her own power; but I’ll admit that’s not outside the realm of possibility.

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Charlotte – 04

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I don’t dislike baseball, and while I probably wouldn’t watch an anime exclusively devoted to it, I do enjoy the occasional baseball episode (it was one of my favorite DS9 episodes, simply because it’s so fun and feel-good).

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This week’s Charlotte was one of those, and it turned out a lot like “Take Me Out to the Holosuite”, which featured a ragtag team of Sisko’s crew (many of whom never played baseball) against a superior team—or in the case of Charlotte, a team with an ace who uses telekinesis to pitch perfect games.

They’re not just playing for pride, either: Nao gets the pitcher to agree never to use his power again if they lose; warning him that to do so would invite unwanted attention and ultimately capture by evil scientists. She also points out that he’ll lose the power, and thus any change of getting to the Bigs, once he grows up, but he seems undeterred.

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The game that unfolds is a bit of a circus, what with new Hoshinoumi transfer student Yusarin transforming into Mika, who has above-average athleticism baseball “game sense”, but is limited by Yusa’s weaker, slower body. Joujirou is predictably an asset in getting to first in record speed, but Nao has to record his at-bat with a high-speed camera to prove to the ump via instant replay that he was indeed safe. And, of course, Yuu switches bodies with an opposing batter while manning first base, with his repeated fainting confusing the ump to no end.

Finally, Nao calls upon Yuu in the most important at-bat; one in which a base hit will give them the win. Unlike his usual M.O. of sneaking around and swapping bodies, Yuu must face something head-on. He goes down 0-2 quickly, but realizing the gravity of his position, he valiantly fouls off pitches until the pitcher tries a new angle that results in a passed ball, scoring the two runs they need to win the game and the bet.

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This week’s challenge for the Student Council turns out to be a little more interesting than the one-dimensional producer targeting Yusarin, because the pitcher wasn’t cheating for personal gain; he wanted to take his team as far as he could because he wanted his friend, the catcher, who has excellent natural ability without the use of powers, to be noticed by scouts. Nao respects the guy’s selfless motives, but tells him there are other ways to do that; ways that won’t get him locked up and experimented on.

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Perhaps Yuu also learned the benefits of facing problems head on, which would serve him well in the unending battle to get his sister to stop putting pizza sauce in his meals. This is getting pretty ridiculous: I know he doesn’t want to hurt her feelings, but if he really doesn’t want pizza sauce in everything, he needs to confront her directly and tell her to please stop. I’m sure he could figure out a way to do it tactfully. Or better yet, have Yusa tell her for him! But not Mika. She’d probably spit in the food. ;)

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