Sing “Yesterday” for Me – 09 – Ginkgo Nuts

When Shinako returns to the Hayakawas’ kitchen, its a tactical retreat to familial comfort, and a means of stalling for time with the whole Rikuo angle. But she’s at least certain on one front: she loves Rou and her dad like family and never wants that to change. Rou apologizes for making things awkward with his advances. Like her with the Hayakawas, he’d rather she remain in his life than not, and to that end, suggests they celebrate Christmas together, like old times.

This episode is notable as being the first in which Rikuo and Haru never interact, but Rikuo is never not in her thoughts throughout. She rolls restlessly in bed, frustrated by her feelings for Rikuo, his apparent lack of interest in her, and her dwindling opportunities to see him due to his quitting the konbini. Still, she’s not ready to give up on him, and so the fact they never cross paths this week shouldn’t be an indication of Game Over.

That said, and as much as I like Haru, things are going so well between Rikuo and Shinako (even if he doesn’t think so) that he barely notices Haru’s absence. He and Shinako are thinking about college days at the same time, for crying out loud! In his case, it’s because Fukuda’s wife wants to see the photos Rikuo took of her new husband.

In Shinako’s case, because she spotted Gingko nuts at the grocery store, which she helped him pick on campus when he was hard up for cash. He doesn’t seem to remember, and Shinako seems pretty cross about it, but he still manages to halfheartedly invite her to Fukuda’s little Christmas get-together, which she must decline only due to previous obligations with Rou.

Shinako and Rou’s Christmas celebration turns out to be pretty staid, as the awkwardness is still very much there, especially since Rou’s dad is out of town and Rou insists on drawing her portrait. When he suggests she loosen her collar to look a little more “sexy”, she makes a quick exit…and good for her! I like her zero tolerance policy for Rou’s flirtations; she neither sees him that way nor wants to.

Since it’s only 20:00 when she leaves Rou’s, Shinako has a choice: go home and watch a movie, or go to Fukuda’s. Again, she makes the right choice in my opinion, as it’s clear she and Rikuo have something that should be cultivated, and it can’t be cultivated if they never hang out casually.

Rikuo, who is seemingly genetically incapable of being optimistic about anything regarding Shinako, is shocked she actually came. Maybe she’s shocked too, but her previous invitation, despite not amounting to anything, may have made her a bit bolder regarding Rikuo. Here’s hoping he can respond properly!

As for Haru, well, there’s no doubt she’s in rough shape, seeing as how there’s currently no way for her to bump into Rikuo anymore (and her crow left a feather behind that he found; the one and only moment he thinks about her). But hey, we’re only halfway through this saga, so it’s anyone’s game to win!

Vinland Saga – 14 – The Luck of the Wicked

I’ve seen much of the rest of the world. It is brutal and cruel and dark, Rome is the light. —Maximus, Gladiator

Forget about Thorfinn for a moment. He’s not the protagonist this week, Anne is. Anne is a young Englishwoman whose family is large, poor, and devoutly Christian. But even if Rome was once “the light”, it has long since fallen, while the world remains as brutal and cruel and dark as ever, if not more so.

Anne has a secret: she’s come into possession of a beautiful ring. We later learn she’s not sure how much it cost, because she didn’t buy it; she stole it from the market. By doing so, she broke one of the Ten Commandments, which her pious father has no doubt drilled into her means a one-way ticket to hell.

Anne understands she’s sinned on one level, because she keeps the ring hidden from her family in the hollow of a tree. But on another level entirely, she’s just so goddamn delighted to have this gorgeous ring! It seems to give her no end of pleasure. At present, her love for the ring overrides her fear of God’s judgment.

Two of Askeladd’s men, whose banter we’ve seen during various marches and battles, are trying to understand the drunk priest’s concept of “love.” Does the longstanding brotherly bond between the two constitute that kind of love? The priest doesn’t know.

Does whatever amount of silver would break that bond constitute that love? Is the priest’s own veneration of booze love? He wouldn’t call it that; needing booze due to addiction and loving it are far from the same thing.

Ultimately, the warriors can’t understand the priest’s words, but they can remember another “weirdo” who used to talk in strange, seemingly contradictory riddles. Thors said “a true warrior didn’t need a sword”. Thors may not have been Christian, but to the drunken priest who never met him, Thors may as well have been describing Jesus.

Still, most warriors in this cruel dark world still carry swords, like Askeladd. He’s a man like Askeladd, who would probably be the first to say he owes a lot amount of his success as a warrior and a commander to luck. Even all the skill and experience he has, he could not have gathered without luck.

But his luck seems to have hit a snag: the countryside has been beset by harsh wintry weather that threatens to kill his men long before he reaches his destination. Ragnar believes Askeladd’s luck has run out altogether, and that nothing he does will be able to change that.

But Askeladd isn’t out of luck; not really. If he were, they wouldn’t have encountered a village to plunder for food…Anne’s village.

When Anne’s large, devout Christian family sits around the table for a meager (but very much appreciated) repast, her father says the Lord’s Prayer as Grace, and explains to the younger children why it is important to say it, and to obey the Commandments. When the day of judgment comes—and father believes it will comes soon—the faithful and righteous will ascend to heaven, while the sinners will descend into hell.

This is enough to frighten the little ones, but when Anne quietly excuses herself from the table to “go pee,” it seems more out of discomfort than fear. Outside, as the cold winds and snow lash, she recovers her precious ring, puts it on her raw, rough hand, and revels in its beauty. And while she’s out by the tree, Bjorn bursts into her family’s house.

Askeladd still has luck, but it isn’t perfect, and isn’t without cost. When he learns there’s only enough food in the village for fifty villagers to last the winter, the choice is plain: either he and his men starve, or they kill the villagers and take their food. He decides on the latter, making use of what luck he was given.

The villagers—men, women and children—are rounded up and slaughtered. Anne survives that slaughter, because she’s hiding behind a tree. You could say she was lucky, at least in terms of being able to stay alive, in spite of the fact she broke one of God’s commandments. If she hadn’t stolen the ring, or gone out to admire it, she’d have met her family’s fate.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God—Matthew 5:8

Was Anne’s father’s heart pure? Her mother’s? The hearts of her younger siblings and other relations? Did they ascend to heaven upon being murdered, leaving her alone in the cruel dark world below? Was her luck merely a curse, keeping her bound to cruelty and darkness her family will no longer have to endure?

Anne wanders off, neither spotted nor followed by Askeladd’s men, and the winter storm passes. She reaches a spot where the crescent moon looms large. She asks God if her family made it to heaven, but declares that she’s “elated” not to be sent there herself.

Shocked to have witnessed what Askeladd and his men did without fearing God’s punishment in the slightest (since, of course, they believe in entirely different gods), she’s as elated in that moment staring at the moon as she was when she stole the ring.

Maybe she sees in those wicked men, and in her own wickedness, a different kind of purity—of a kind she can’t quite describe, but which bestowed upon those wicked men the luck to find food, and upon her the luck to survive at least one more harsh winter night.

Lord El-Melloi II Case Files – 05 – The Wild Hunt

When attempts to contact the recently deceased Waletta fail, Adashino swiftly declares Wills as the culprit, since he stood to gain the most from her death. Lord El-Melloi II contents—quite reasonably—that in the world of mages, it doesn’t matter who does something or how, because both of those things can be controlled via magecraft. Rather, it’s the why that matters most.

Since the storm has not ended the original agreement is still in place; Adashino will allow Lord El-Melloi to continue his investigations. He hires Shishigou Kairi to assist him, but as Kairi and Gray collect reference materials, they are attacked by a Black Dog—the final form of the lightning outside—that punches right through Adashino’s Bounded Field.

This incident not only confirms the “murder weapons” used in the string of killings, but piques Shishigou’s interest in Gray, and why the Black Dog seemed to fear her Mystic Code. With her okay, El-Melloi explains that the code is Rhongomyniad, the spear of King Arthur (Arturia), disguised and sealed by both Add and its scythe form. He calls Gray “a portrait of King Arthur created by a certain family.”

The Arthur connection confirms it for Kairi and El-Melloi: the storm of lightning, wind, and spirits surrounding the workshop is the legendary Wild Hunt, once led by Arthur, but which led to defeat and his departure to Avalon. El-Melloi bids that the others indulge him in carrying out a ritual to test his new hypothosis.

Using Wills Mystic Eyes (with Reines’ as a catalyst), El-Melloi is able to summon a fairy in the flesh—the same one that has been appearing before Wills as if to warn of an impending death. The fairy can speak, and admits that she herself killed Trevor as punishment for essentially disrupting the balance between worlds for his own selfish desire to build an army of “false fairies” (i.e. Black Dogs) that he can command.

Now El-Melloi has the “why” as well as the ultimate means: the Marburry Workshop itself being the murder weapon with its ability to summon the murderous Black Dogs.

In his shortsightedness, El-Melloi’s demonstrative ritual ended up activating that weapon, sending an entire army of Black Dogs (led by one large boss-sized one) at the mansion. Adashino stays inside to protect Reines while the others head out to meet the dogs of war in glorious battle.

And I have to say, despite it being a bit dark, it’s quite a battle to behold. Wills shows his prowess with mystic daggers, Kairi has a mystical shotgun, and even El-Melloi pops off a few magical bullets, if you will. But obviously the battle’s MVP was always going to be Gray, taking care of business with her scythe and saving El-Melloi from a premature end.

Ultimately Gray must rescind the second seal and unleash the true power of Rhongomyniad in order to defeat the boss. It’s a hauntingly beautiful sequence, as her “Lance that Shines to the Ends of the World” not only obliterates the boss but blasts away the storm clouds as well. Gray may only be a “portrait” (her name perhaps a reference to Dorian as well as her main color) but she can still bring it when called upon.

What her attack does not do is close the gate to the fairy realm from which the Black Dogs first emerged. To do that, Wills decides to do something he always suspected he’d had to do: walk through the gate himself. El-Melloi begs him not to go as it would be a one-way journey, but Wills is prepared, and knows that not only will he not really “die”, but that his father and Waletta are waiting for him there.

With the gate—and case—closed (and El-Melloi’s favor to Sophia-Ri fulfilled), all that’s left is to head back to London. But before parting ways, Adashino hands the lord some material she found in the aftermath relating to the origin of Wills’ Mystic Eyes, with which he wasn’t born as El-Melloi assumed. They were acquired via Rail Zeppelin, a legendary phantom train that buys and sells the eyes.

With part of the lengthy show title now in play things look to only get more interesting as Lord El-Melloi’s case files continue to flow. Meanwhile, before parting with Gray Kairi tells her to keep a close eye on El-Melloi, since he senses the former Waver to still have a strong connection to his now-dead servant. Since connections to the dead only draw people backwards into the past, it’s on Gray to ensure El-Melloi resists that pull and keeps moving forward.