Kino no Tabi – 02

Kino may be small, soft-spoken, and polite, but she’s also a powerful badass. As such, she knows that she must occasionally push herself as far as she can go, not only to explore her limits, but to keep her skills from getting rusty.

It’s with this in mind that Kino eagerly arrives at the “Coliseum county”, where newcomers must fight others, often to the death, in order to win their citizenship.

The eternal tournament could be called the ultimate diversion for a corrupt king trying to maintain his grasp on his little kingdom, which is rotting and falling apart at every turn. They don’t even keep the coliseum properly maintained.

All of this disrepair must be particularly distasteful to someone as obsessed with being on top her game as Kino, who is underestimated by each of her opponents but defeats them all with ease, without killing a single person.

The night before the final match, Kino tells Hermes to be near the arena so they can leave as soon as she’s done. Victory is never in doubt here, it’s only a matter of how Kino achieves it. Her finals opponent is a capable-looking fellow named Shizu, armed with a katana.

Kino lets Shizu get close enough to slash at her, but blocks his strike with guards hidden in her sleeves, and on his upswing, she trains a hidden pistol at Shizu, forcing him to concede defeat.

The crowd shouts “KILL! KILL! KILL!”, and Kino does kill…their king. Her question about spectators getting killed by stray bullets being of no consequence comes into play here, as does her homemade explosive round that explodes the king’s head, leaving no doubt that he’s gone.

As victor of the tournament, Kino gets to make a new rule for the games, and it’s this: everyone, not just newcomers, must fight each other to the death; the last person standing will be the new king. As she leaves on Hermes, the town starts tearing each other apart.

Shizu catches up with her by a lake and thanks her for killing his father; he was the prince who was cast out of the country and sought revenge, but Kino denied that revenge, taking care of the king herself. She also meets Shizu’s loyal talking dog Riku, whom I’d like to think whispered to Shizu that Kino’s a girl (her earlier “don’t call me boy” to the guards was another hint).

As for why Kino set the people of the town against one another and blew the whole thing up…I suppose a part of her didn’t like how they were exploiting misinformed newcomers looking for a verdant paradise, like the couple she and Hermes met on the road one day, and met just the woman another day (the man was killed in the tournament).

Now it’s a more fair, internalized system. Whether it makes the country a better or worse place is of little consequence; Kino is off to the next country.

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Tsurezure Children – 09

This show, and this episode in particular, is brimming with wrong assumptions made in the heads of the young and in love. Those assumptions make progress slower than it would be if they could only properly communicate with the ones they like.

But again, these are kids, and it’s their first love, so rookie mistakes are to be expected. It’s those tiny steps in the right direction that make me not only stay invested in all these various couples, but gives me hope that some day they’ll figure it out.

Sugawara and Takano’s eyes meet so many times, both wrongly assume they’re bothering one another…but a tiny bit of progress is made when Sugawara tells her he was, in fact, looking at her. Takano said she was looking at him too…now she just has to say it to the correct person, not Gouda!

Few couples got off to a worse start than Kanda and Takase, but neither likes the distance that has grown between them, and so they make up. That they both wrongly assume the best they can get out of the other is friendzoned is a concern, but they are talking to each other again. Progress!

I’m on record in older reviews of her work as saying Ogura Yui’s trademark syrupy-sweet voice sometimes sounds like nails on a chalkboard, but I’m enjoying her work as Kamine, who is the most aggressive of the characters this week.

Unfortunately the body language she exhibits while struggling with the fact she “blew” her first kiss with Gouda is being wrongly interpreted by Gouda as having gone too far in kissing her. Kamine tries to force the issue by pretending to fall asleep on his lap, but for her trouble, Gouda nods off for real and they nearly touch faces.

Finally Furuya is sick of dragging things out, and wants to properly, seriously give Minagawa an answer. But he wrongly assumes that all of her different kinds of “likes” she throws at him (kudos to Hana-Kana here) is all part of an extended teasing regimen, when in reality, teasing is what gives Minagawa the courage to say the things she does.

When she says that none of the ways she says she likes him are adequate, she has Furuya close his eyes and…well, does she kiss him? Sure looked like it to me, but then she had those fingers up. Minagawa thinks Furuya should know whether her lips met his…and she’s right! Lips and fingers don’t feel the same!

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Kamine and Gouda make more progress by learning that both are okay with the other being clingy and even a little possessive; everything in moderation. To that end, Kamine draws closer, cuddles, and holds hands with Gouda, who decides to surprise her by giving her her first kiss in the middle of which she unfortunately coughs.

But hey, it’s a kiss, out in public, which is more than Kana and Chiaki can manage. They try to work through the problem through the excessive use of soccer metaphors, and even when Chiaki thinks he’s angered Kana to the point she won’t speak, she still offers him “stoppage time” in order to kiss her. Unfortunately, she moves her head at just the wrong moment, and all he gets is her nose; a second attempt is thwarted by onlookers.

Meanwhile, Masafumi and Ryouko are one of the most comfortable couples, and even have to go to the library because they’re fooling around too much at home. But Masa still likes to keep Ryouko on her toes, asking if it’s okay to touch her boobs. His persistence eventually bears fruit (no pun intended), but he doesn’t go through with the feeling-up; he just wanted her to know that he’s holding back.

Finally, Kazuko once again comes upon Shinichi, who is battered and bruised after a fight with…someone; possibly (but probably not) the “god of romance.” Kazuko wants dearly to be his, and he hers, even whipping out her own ultra-speed moves to counter his. Shinichi is definitely the weirdest of the guys we’ve seen, but he seems to have found someone just as weird.

Tsurezure Children – 07

Jun’s sister Hotaru becomes Yuki’s next victim of teasing when she swipes her brother’s phone and impersonates him. Yuki instantly knows it’s her, and dispenses swift justice in a string of texts suggesting not only have she and Jun slept together, but she’s pregnant. Don’t touch your older sibling’s stuff!

Takeru and Ayaka are enjoying a walk home together, but Ayaka would like to hear the words “I love you” come out of Takeru’s mouth, and by the time she finally gets him to understand (he’s quite dense), the words sound forced…even though they’re not.

Few couples have hit a rough patch as bad as Takase and Kanda after he accidentally called her shitty. Takase wants to make things right, but Kanda won’t talk to her. Enter Shinichi, who after staring intently at Takase while the two are taking a piss (don’t do that either, by the way!) gives him advice…or Takase thinks it’s advice; Shinichi is really just rambling about himself. In any case, here’s hoping Takase doesn’t make things worse!

Finally we check in on perhaps the most hopeless couple, mostly because Takano believes the slight pain in her chest and her wandering thoughts are the result of a fever and not love, and Sugawara still doesn’t have the slightest confidence in clearly expressing his feelings for her, since she’ll only twist them into something innocuous and non-romantic. Not sure how these two will be able to break through their issues.

Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 12 (Fin)

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Snow White with the Red Hair’s coda is titled “Goodbye to the Beginning”, and as expected, after the romantic fireworks of last week, Shirayuki and Zen merely settle into the new normal of being a couple. They don’t get married or live happily ever after, mind you; they simply enjoy the time they have alone together as much as they can, and still manage to have fun with other people around.

And because it’s “Open Castle Day” in Wistal, there are a lot of people around.

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That being the case, Shirayuki and Zen don’t flaunt their love around to the masses. Only a select few close to them know (Mitsuhide, Kiki, and Obi), and rather than make this their big coming-out party, the couple more or less lays low. Shirayuki even makes sure her hair is covered in public, lest she attract too much attention. As Zen says, there are still a lot of idiots out there.

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Even so, Shirayuki gets “captured” one last time: this time by a theater troupe whose leading lady has broken her foot and can’t take the stage. Shirayuki is swept into the role of understudy, and ironically has to dress up as a princess before the prince; perhaps a preview to the not-too-distant future when Zen makes an honest woman out of her.

Yet we also have one last sneering villain in the troupe leader, who wishes to expose Shirayuki’s red hair in order to increase buzz. Zen is having none of it, and crashes the stage as a masked knight to protect Shirayuki’s hair, as well as keep the stage prince from kissing her hand. That’s his hand to kiss!

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After that excitement, Shirayuki and Zen get a little more time together, and Shirayuki gets to tell him a bit about how her grandparents raised her to be strong and independent, yet she still wants to rely on Zen, as he relies on her. In a neat little role-reversal, it’s Shirayuki who kisses Zen’s hand as a gesture of commitment to sharing her future with him.

Then they go out to watch hundreds of lanterns get launched; a striking final image for a show that was equally striking in its unblinking earnestness and warmth in portraying the coming together of two hearts from very different backgrounds, in a fashion more realistic than fairy-tale. I shall miss Hayami Saori’s Shirayuki.

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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 11

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I was hoping something substantial would come of Zen’s stolen kiss in the watchtower last week (God, that just sounds romantic), rather than serving as a tease. I was hoping that kiss would start something that couldn’t be undone. This week, AnS’s penultimate episode, confirmed those hopes and then some with the loveliest, most upliftingly romantic outing of the show, that looked every bit as good as it felt to watch.

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It starts off with a speechless, stunned Shirayuki. Zen’s warm words of concern and his kiss have lit a fire in her heart, one that burns with a brightness and heat she didn’t know was possible. She’s got it so bad, she finds it difficult to even look at Zen, which obviously causes him to worry. Fortunately for both, Zen must off to Kihal’s island to negotiate a deal for the messenger birds. As Zen’s absence makes her heart only grow fonder, Shirayuki has at least a little time to process her feelings and figure out how to form a proper response.

While away, Zen shows the island elder’s he’s not a shitstain like their Viscount and impresses some kids, but while Kihal seemed especially nervous to travel with Zen, the two are never alone, dashing any possibility of a side-romance. As for Obi, he not only takes up an interest in Shirayuki’s herbalism, but also wants to help sooth her heart, which he suspects is troubled by something Zen said or did.

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He’s about to take her hand to comfort her when Zen re-appears, saying he’s right on schedule but still shocking both Shirayuki and me with the promptness of his return, just when Shirayuki was seeking someplace to think in solitude. Obi gives her one last assist by urging her to run into the forest. It turns out to be an assist for Zen as well, as he’s able to follow her into the forest to talk.

Once he actually gets her to stop running and look in his general direction, they simply walk around, enjoying the forest breezes, and end up in the same spot Zen once hung out with Atri; a place he’s been uneasy returning to since, but feels totally at ease thanks to Shirayuki’s presence.

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The opportunity for Shirayuki to tell Zen how she feels is here, and she doesn’t waste it. She tells him she loves him in addition to him being very dear to him and wanting to be his strength; her concern is whether it’s really alright to feel that way and look that way at Zen, to which the answer is obvious, since we’re in Zen’s head as much as we’re in hers.

Just as he lit a fire in her heart, she did the same to him, and he finally knows that there is someone out there who truly needs him, and doesn’t just go along with his wishes because he’s the prince.

The lighting, the music, the close-ups, and the gentle, precise animation as the two lovers draw closer together and finally kiss again, making official what had been an informal truth for some time; it’s all superb. As for Hayami Saori, it’s her best scene since Hatoko’s Rant in InoBato, though truly, she’s been on a roll all Summer with her work as Shirayuki.

I also appreciate that the mutual confession is now taken care of with an episode to spare, in order to bask in the afterglow, so to speak. Hopefully, Shirayuki can avoid getting kidnapped one last time!

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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 10

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Shirayuki is finally herself again after recovering from Garack’s liquor prank, and by chance meets another beautiful young woman who, like herself, is committed to walk a path of her own choosing. This woman, Kihal Toghrul, has come to Wistal to ask Zen to weigh in on preserving a bird unique to her island’s culture which her new lord has decided to hunt for its gorgeous plumage.

Kihal, jaded by her dealings with Lord Brecker (a bit of a smirking dick), doesn’t think she’ll get anywhere with Zen, and indeed, Zen’s hands are tied as far as curtailing a lord’s activities on his own lands. However, Shirayuki backs Kihal up by mentioning the bird’s possible value to Clarines, with its potential to deliver messages faster than by horse.

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A test is set up, which is almost immediately corrupted by Brecker, who tries to strike a deal in which he’ll support Shirayuki in secret if she helps kill the test, and locks her up in a room when she refuses. Brecker spews the typical “status is everything” monologue that Shirayuki’s heard before. Not one to take lip from old assholes, Shirayuki puts Brecker in his place before leaping out the window to the lake below to recover the bell Brecker tossed away.

The bird points out the location of the bell to Shirayuki, who grabs it and sends the bird back right on time for the test to be a success. It would have been even more successful were it not for Brecker’s callous meddling, which gets him arrested. (I’d point out Obi was pretty dang hands-off as her bodyguard this week, leaving her alone with Brecker and all).

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When Zen rides to the watchtower and hears everything that happened from a guard, he races to the room where Shirayuki is resting and drying off. The arm injury she sustained from diving into the lake almost brings him to tears, and when she assures him she would never have hid it from him, he finally reaches a breaking point that was a long time coming, and kisses her; not on the hand or the forehead, but on the lips.

This is Zen acting on how he feels, and Shirayuki made it possible. This particular act was private, but whether it was a passionate impulse or a premeditated act of conviction, there’s no going back now. At least, I hope it isn’t laughed off, because I’m eager to see what happens if and when their relationship goes beyond mere friendship and mutual respect and into the realm of the romantic.

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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 09

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This week Shirayuki is still drunk, but also conscious enough to start wandering around on a mission. Of what sort remains a mystery until Obi figures it out (after swatting the Clarines equivalent of a paparazzo): her drunkenness has brought her guilt over Zen’s punishment at Laxdo drives her to want to ride there; only problem is, she can’t ride a horse.

Zen offers to take her, but qualifies that he’s just recently back from there, and produces the proof: some rare herbs that only grow in snow, and a detailed journal of the health of the garrison, both prepared by Shuka, the fortress’ herbalist-in-training. It’s enough to appease and please Shirayuki, though she wouldn’t have gotten far anyway, as she passes out again.

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Since this show has trained us to expect a flashback whenever Shirayuki passes out, we get a brief continuation of Mitsuhide’s recalling of the tragic events with Zen and Atri. Turns out Zen thought something was off about Atri too, but wanted to believe that gut feeling was overly suspicious. Losing Atri and being wrong shook Zen to the core, but it was ‘Hide who told him nobody will ever get close to a prince who prioritizes his suspicions. Essentially, Zen wasn’t wrong, or unprincely, to hope he was wrong about Atri. He was just wrong to have no backup plan.

I think that’s why in the present Zen keeps Atri’s arrowhead in a prominent spot in his desk drawer, which Hide spots, triggering the flashback. Since Atri has no grave, it’s a memorial, but also a reminder to take extra care in vetting those he’d allow close to him. It’s what he believes he’s achieved with Obi, which is why he presents him with a royal ID and the official role of royal messenger, though he’s still expected to keep an eye on Shirayuki whenever Zen can’t spare one.

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Obi purports to be like us, merely observers, not participants, in the goings-on within Wistal Castle. However, Zen seems to be welcoming him into the same tight-knit fold already consisting of Mitsuhide and Kiki (whose story we have yet to hear, unless I forgot about it :P). The episode ends with a wonderful atmosphere of everything being right in the world, with the stars shining down, Shirayuki peacefully sleeping it off, Zen and Obi drinking together, and Hide and Kiki sparring.

And that’s all fine and dandy…except that this episode also felt a bit too stagnant; that we’re going over and over the same themes about Zen finding the right balance of warmth and authority, and surrounding himself with those he trusts. He mentions a path he’s on, similar to how Shirayuki puts it; and indeed, she’s on that path, as well as all his trusted friends and attendants. Rather than talking about it more, why not let’s get back on that path and continue down that path, shall we?

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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 08

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Raj is back home and Shirayuki’s place in the castle is secure, but now half of Wistal is convinced she’s actually Zen’s fiancee, for better or worse, so Zen assigns Obi, recently returned from a no-supervision trip to test his trustworthiness, to guard her. The two have had a prickly history together, but end up getting along. The problem is, the Chief herbalist tries to pull a prank on them, unaware of just how much Shirayuki can’t handle her liquor.

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With Shirayuki thus knocked out, the rest of the episode is given over to the story of how Mitsuhide was assigned to Zen, just as Obi was assigned to Shirayuki. Mitsu struggled to connect to the young prince, who said he had to maintain distance to maintain authority, like his brother Izana (who ordered Mitsu to guard him), yet has an increasingly suspicious secret friend and brother-like figure in the archer guard Atri.

Like me, Mitsu was almost instantly weary of Atri, him because of his instincts, me because of all the shots of him making an arrowhead and squinting forebodingly into the camera. The last straw is when Atri says he’s switching to the night shift and would like it if Zen came out to see him then. Zen was obviously very naive around this time.

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Fortunately Izana assigned Mitsu to him when he did, because both of them are able to stop Atri’s associates, disgruntled rebels from Lido, from capturing or hurting Zen; Mitsu even manages to slice Atri’s arrow in two while it’s in flight, which is almost incredulously badass.

The naive Zen largely died that night when Atri, someone he thought was his friend turned on him, having waited for his opportunity the whole time. Even so, Zen mourns Atri’s death, and Atri remarks that it might have been better if Zen wasn’t a prince, otherwise they wouldn’t be in such a situation and could have been friends.

Obi gives Shirayuki the same line (which Mitsuhide overhears, leading to this flashback), but Shirayuki warns Obi not to talk like that, lest she take it as an insult. Zen is a prince, she’s an apprentice herbalist (who later accidentally gets toasted). On the path she’s traveling, she’s accepted all these things, and like a good politician, isnt’ about entertaining theoreticals.

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Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata – 09

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At some point after Eriri ran off, Tomoya returned home, went to bed, and dreamt a painful memory. While he was asleep, Kato, concerned that the circle was in trouble, called Utaha, who came running and then let herself into Tomoya’s bed.

Utaha’s excuse for why she’s there—that she had zero screen time in the last episode—is one of the more brazen punches through of the fourth wall since the prologue, and I laughed.

That would only be the first taste of an episode that was a veritable buffet of witty banter, much of it courtesy of Utaha, who does seem to be making up for her absence last week.

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That absence actually served two purposes, to my mind: it made the heart grow fonder for Utaha, and also gave Eriri the space and isolation she needed for her current falling-out with Tomoya to resonate properly.

Utaha knows about the falling-out, and she’s here to help. More specifically, she’s here to slap Tomoya out of his wimpy indecisive protagonist mode and set making up with Eriri his top priority, over all other considerations, including her own pursuit of his heart.

Make no mistake, Utaha is not about to lose to Eriri—or Kato, for that matter, whose sudden regular presence in Tomoya’s house irks he. But she’s also not about to let the circle fall apart over a squabble that can be easily fixed (from her perspective, not Tomoya’s).

Plus, if her main rival in love were to forfeit so easily, it reflects badly on her…not to mention be less fun!

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Speaking of Kato, she doesn’t get a lot of time this week, but what time she does get feels significant. Kato has stealthily all but moved in and made herself quite comfortable as a steady “spouse” figure for Tomoya.

Utaha wouldn’t even be there if it wasn’t for Kato, and Kato summoned her knowing she’d know better how to deal with both Tomoya and Eriri in their current state. Tomoya thanks her for that, and more, and Kato can’t help but blush a tiny bit in response.

This show has a knack for making me want to route for Tomoya and…whichever girl he happens to be interacting with at any given moment, in part because they interact with him in such unique ways.

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The increasingly wife-ish Kato and seductress-ish Utaha have been the best so far, but Eriri has proven she’s no slouch in these past two episodes. Unlike the other two (and the acolyte-ish, “hidden savior” Izumi), Eriri can claim she was Tomoya’s first.

As plans are made to win her back, capitalizing on the fact (which Utaha is well aware of) that she is a hopeless romantic waiting for a prince to ride in and sweep her off her feet, Eriri acts very much like the wounded princess in the tower.

Utaha is also quite right that she isn’t able to draw in this state. Heck, she can’t sleep and can barely dress herself for her parents’ fireworks soiree either.

You can really feel her pain and paralysis of the results of Tomoya’s harsh words. Little does she know he and her nemeses are plotting the lifting of those clouds.

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In a very goofy but also very adorable romantic gesture, Tomoya dresses up like Eriri’s favorite player from the game and re-enacts a scene from Rhapsody that moved them both to tears years ago.

Tomoya is on his best behavior as per Utaha’s instructions as he admits he could die of embarrassment, but refuses to die until he’s made up with her. It works, and he’s able to coax Eriri off her balcony.

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Hearing Utaha, Tomoya, and Kato plan this stunt in voiceover as it’s happening in real time was a shade disorienting at first, because we weren’t sure if this was simply an idealized dramatization we were witnessing, but it’s soon clear this is no simulation.

Despite that initial doubt that the scene was real, I still enjoyed the VO, because they were approaching this the way you’d expect members of a fledgling dating sim—members with little real-life romantic experience—to approach it: like a dating sim. It’s also more deliciously meta this way.

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Tomoya and Eriri visit their old elementary school to find a new building that wasn’t there when they attended, ruining what had been a pleasant night of nostalgia thus far. Eriri rememebers why she’s mad and demands an apology. Utaha pressed Tomoya to use every childhood friend advantage at his disposal to raise Eriri’s flags, but he cannot abide Eriri’s righteousness, and goes off script.

The fireworks are soon drowned out by increasingly heated exchanges of verbal volleys. Tomoya tells Eriri she has no right to be made about not being “picked”, because it was she who abandoned him when rumors started to surface about the two of them way back in grade school.

Eriri fires back that she felt just as much pain as he did when she did that, and that she dedicated herself to her craft to get back at those who broke them apart. But that doesn’t excuse the fact that she ran away.

Tomoya also refuses to flatter Eriri by telling her what she wants to hear, contrary to his supposed role as charming, accommodating prince. He doubles down, telling her flat out that her Comiket work wasn’t as good as Izumi’s, and challenges her to dig deeper and become even greater.

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The two don’t totally make up by the end (a fact for which I’m thankful; no neat tidy bows here), but a path forward is forged in the midst of all the fireworks and yelling. Tomoya’s tough love is able to shake Eriri out of her stasis, and she re-commits to making herself Tomoya’s #1, rather than simply expect to be #1 and whining when she discovers she isn’t.

To that end, she gets back to work in the circle; but not before having Iori deliver a double-sided illustration to Izumi: one an autograph from Kashiwagi Eri; the other a declaration of war by Eriri Spencer Sawamura.

And lest we forget who’s actually Tomoya’s #1, at least at the moment (even if he doesn’t quite see it that way) he finally gives the circle a name: Blessing Software. Blessing translates to 恵み, or Megumi, as in Kato Megumi. Nice touch!

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GARO: Honoo no Kokuin – 21

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Leon has to duel his shitty dad this week, but he holds his own, as he’s no longer a whiny brat consumed by anger and revenge. He wants to protect people, which is why he just can’t understand why his dad is protecting Mendoza, who has only ever preyed on the weak to increase his own power.

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Herman isn’t saying nothin’, he seems more concerned with whether Leon can actually stay with him in a fight. He tries to push Leon’s buttons, but Leon hangs in there. Their fight moves to the roof of the palace, where Garm in bird form helpfully flutters over them, providing exposition. Basically, the body that governs Makai Knights and Alchemists has decided to let Mendoza release that giant legendary horror after all, since it will eat a great many other horrors, and likely destroy an in-over-his-head Mendoza along with them.

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It’s a sacrifice a few to save many plan, the kind of “tough decisions” Herman says Makai Knights must make. But Leon isn’t having it. He dons his armor and presses his attack (the two wisely travel far from the city to avoid too much collateral damage). He won’t let Garm’s kind sacrifice Santa Bard, a city full of people he and his brother have sworn to protect. He won’t let one person be killed to save another. It’s arguably an even tougher stance than that of his dad, who, at least on the surface, seems to be hiding behind his orders.

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Leon’s frustration with his dad’s position is made clearer in a flashback when the two were traveling from town to town, with Herman taking out local horrors and training Leon, whose present belief that every single person must be protected at the cost of a knights life, was instilled in him by his dad, after Leon tried to save him.

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But his dad also makes it clear that he and Leon are only brief participants in a war that will never end. The swords they drop when they fall will be picked up with others.

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In other words, there’s a long game here, and mortal knights cannot expect to save everyone and everything in their lifetimes. There are hard choices and compromises to be made that might clash with their otherwise rigid ideals, like capitalizing on the opportunity to destroy a vast number of horrors by letting Mendoza do what he wants.

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Leon can’t accept the sacrifice of a few now to save many later. Neither can Alphonso, the leader of the people in the epicenter of Mendoza’s plot. Ema also seems to have the brothers’ backs. But what can they do against the might of every other Makai Knight and Alchemist who has fallen in line? Evacuating the city and killing Mendoza would be a start.

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GARO: Honoo no Kokuin – 20

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First of all, I enjoyed how subtly the fact Leon and Ema have slept together is treated this week. They don’t even interact all that differently, as they’ve always been a pair that bickered. Prince Alfie, who invites them to the palace to discuss Mendoza, is content not to pry, but does notice Ema’s new hairstyle.

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And good for Alfie, he also at least somewhat suspects Octavia, because not only does she look really really suspicious with that look of constant guilt and worry on her face, but because he saw her sneaking around the church late at night. Now, Alfie isn’t the sharpest tack on the board, but Octavia seemed due for some kind of slip-up this week, so I gave it even odds she’d be found out…whatever it is she’s actually up to.

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Alfie, Leon, and Ema use a neat trick by hiding the sound of a horror-detecting bell by rining a regular bell to bring in wine for the King, who is still bedridden but on the mend. It at least determines Octavia isn’t a horror, but it isn’t the end of Alfie’s suspicions.

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But that’s all he has to that point: suspicions, because Octavia has proven very adept at staying out of trouble, even as she smuggles food to master Mendoza, who faked his death after all, but his body seems to have paid a price; it’s aged and frail. Still, he’s the same old Mendoza, confident no matter how much snooping around those punk kids do, they won’t be able to stop him.

Considering the Garm has Herman serving Mendoza in capacity, it’s hard to argue with him; the only question is what is he up to? Is he making another play at the throne, or does he have further villainy in store for the world? Whatever the case Octavia will do anything to serve him, including give up her life.

Not so fast, Mendoza says: he doesn’t want her to be in a hurry to die for him, because that would trouble him. These are truly two trod-upon hearts warped by loneliness and despair into kindred creatures raging against the world and the god that forsook them both. Their designs may be dark and twisted (we’ll see, won’t we?), but one has to appreciate the mutual devotion on display here.

At the same time, the fact they’re up to good always keeps the idea allive in my mind that while he says he’ll never toss her aside, he may still do just that when he no longer needs her.

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The show had us for a second, too, when Stakeout Alfie confronts the cloaked figure who emerges from the secret underground passage…but it’s only Laura, a young maid serving under Octavia, gathering purer water for the King. It’s an innocent enough reason to be down there, but there’s a hint of recitation in Larua’s explanations, as if Octavia were using her as a decoy to throw Alfie off her trail. Laura also teases a potential love interest for Alfie, who is the only guy in the main cast who hasn’t yet had any.

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Still, the trio continue their investiagtion, springing a thread trap that Octavia, bouyed by a premature sense of security, snags, throwing her into Survival Mode. As I said, Leon and Alfie aren’t tactical geniuses, but Ema is, and Octavia was due for a slip up. What I didn’t expect was how expertly she’d pull out of her nosedive not only totally above suspicion, but with the King and Alfie’s warm regard for her courage and devotion. In other words, in a stronger position than ever.

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That tenacity was born of her upbringing. The other members of her family were devout worshippers who believed God would save them from anything as long as they prayed; even if they didn’t pray, as Octavia’s Laura-like little sister remarks. But unquestioned faith in God can be a tricky thing if things don’t go well in life, which they don’t for the skeptic Octavia.

For all their prayers, a pack of wolves devours her family in front of her and none of her fellow villagers lift a finger to stop the slaughter. From that point on, Octavia was officially through with whatever God her doomed family believed in, and put her faith and her life in her savior Mendoza’s hands. He hasn’t let her down yet.

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And he continues not to when he presents her with a talisman she should use when she’s in trouble. While on the run from Ema’s trap, she activates it, summoning a horror beast that obeys her every command, spoken or thought. She has the beast consume Laura, who was by the dozing King’s bedside (Yikes…R.I.P. Laura ;_; ), then rouses the King, warns him that Laura turned into the beast, and has the beast attack her for good measure, biting off the right leg Ema’s string is connected to.

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When Alfie, Leon, and Ema arrives, it is plain to see that Octavia is valiantly protecting the King with her own life. It’s a phenomenal ploy by Octavia, and it shows that behind that worried face, she possesses great stores of courage and faith in her Mendoza, all of which is rewarded when the knights she hates so much turn their suspicious gaze away from her.

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It’s not as if Octavia wanted to get attacked by her own horror beast and lose her right leg, but she did what she had to do to stay in the game and, as Mendoza bid her, stay alive at all costs. The last thing she wants to do now is die, not only disobeying her master but making him grieve for her. Like I said, they have a great dynamic, not so much the one-sided manipulation it looked liked in the past.

With Octavia cleared, the case remains open for the Scooby Gang, but Herman suddenly arrives to curtail their sniffing around. Leon doesn’t take kindly to this interference, and he and his shitty dad draw their swords to do what knights do in such situations: fight it out. There’s still every indication Herman is simply obeying orders, but one also senses a glimmer of pride in his calmer, more mature, more badass son.

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GARO: Honoo no Kokuin – 19

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The amount we didn’t know about Ema Guzman had always outweighed what we did, and while that made her more cool and mysterious, it also kept her at arm’s length. Whenever she’s darted into Leon’s story, she’s made an impact, but she’s never been on screen long enough. That injustice is corrected this week…and then some.

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All the while Leon and Herman and Alfie have been through a diverse array of adventures, Ema’s basically been on the same single mission: she’s hunting for a powerful horror named Luciano Guzman. When Garm tells Leon Ema is going to die, Leon goes after her, which is a good move, because had he not intervened, she may well have died. Not because she’s too weak to defeat Luciano, but because she doesn’t particularly care if she dies.

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That’s because Luciano was once a man, a fellow Makai Alchemist, and her beloved lover and husband. As a pair they were unstoppable, but Luciano wanted more than to just hunt horrors; he wanted to save them. When not out fighting, he was in his lab, working furiously to find the spell that could prevent humans from turning, or turning them back, but got nowhere. The pain of his powerlessness eventually overcame him one night, when he sprouts giant black wings and disappears into the night…

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…Leaving poor Ema crushed by the wreckage in his wake. More than anything, she wants to take out the horror who did this to him, put him out of his misery, but the Makai knights she worked beside wouldn’t let her, only to end up slaughtered. She deems ending Luciano as her right and duty, and no one else’s.

Leon trades Zaruba’s knowledge of Luciano’s whereabouts for this story. Little does Ema know that, as it did for me, that story only made him care about her more and want to protect her, both from Luciano and her own obsession to destroy him even at the cost of her life.

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She doesn’t dare show a softer side to Leon, but privately, after sewing up her own abdominal wound (this chick is seriously badass), she seems intrigued, flattered, and a little impressed with Leon’s words. She caught a glimpse of him with Lara, but she still regarded him as naught but a boy, untouched and untested by the true horrors of the world. And we know that’s not true. Leon is no longer a clueless whelp. Now he has the strength of body and conviction to back up his big words.

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The night of the final showdown with Luciano commences, and to my surprise, it’s a thrilling aerial battle, calling to mind Last Exile or Pilot’s Love Song. Familiar vibes aside, Ema’s elegant system of gliders she hops to using thread and hooks, and the sleek alien stealth fighter design of Luciano’s horror form, are all very creative touches.

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The fact the battle weaves between cloud systems and is lit by the full moon gives it that much more of a dramatic, artistic flair. Ema has always been an acrobatic fighter, so it stands to reason when she gets really serious she takes to the sky itself. Especially when Luci opens up a barrage of red particle weapons at her, this is mostly just immensely fun stuff to watch.

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And Just as Garm foresaw, Ema does end up in a position where she really should have died. Using a spell of her own, she’s able to awaken a part of Luciano that still loves her, and he catches her before she’s impaled on a church spire. But he’s still a horror, and Ema doesn’t possess the ability to change him all the way back, any more than he did, so as he prepares to eat her, she’s ready with a giant sword made out of her thread. With the only thing keeping her suspended over that spire, killing him means her death too…if it weren’t for Leon, that is.

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A younger, less seasoned-by-life Leon would have surely tried to put an end to the fight before it began, but especially after hearing her story, he holds back until it’s over, only swooping in to save her after Luciano is gone. He does it because Ema is a friend, and she is someone he can protect, so he does. 

But his actions means more to Ema than he knows. She was willing to give up on her own life to release Luciano, he wasn’t. All of Ema’s disdain for Makai Knights was borne from the way they’d always swoop in like scavengers while undervaluing what she and Luciano did, and more importantly, when those same knights detained her, preventing her from taking care of Luciano a long time ago.

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But Leon is proof that not every Makai Knight is necessarily a shithead. He tends to her wounds and comforts her. In every encounter, including the early ones this week, Ema had mockingly referred to Leon as a boy, but suddenly, in that dimly lit room she realizes he’s no longer that boy in her head, but a man; the first man she could truly let her guard down and trust in a long time.

It’s a huge epiphany for her, which is why I don’t remotely begrudge her going in for a kiss. This new matured Leon proves her instincts were right by neither blushing or recoiling but kissing her right back, even taking things further, the risk of wounds opening be damned. It’s a very sexy scene,  and a great note to close on…and it’s earned.

For so long on this show Ema stood apart, out on the periphery, with us not knowing exactly what she was after or why. Now we not only know what she wanted to do; but she did it. Leon saved her, finding someone new to protect in the process. Now they’re standing a lot closer together, and the show is all the better for it. The question now is, do the two go separate ways the next day, or stick together for a time?

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Stray Observations:

  • With Lara, Ximena, and now Ema, we are officially in Garo’s Feminist Period. Seriously, it’s loaded with badass women.
  • On that note, let’s not forget Octavia, who’s still lurking in Alfie’s palace. Wonder if she’ll get a fleshing out.
  • I’ll admit, there were a couple poorly-drawn moments, but the episode more than makes up for it with that dogfight along with its usual stylishness.
  • Ema’s thief’s outfit in the flashback reminded me of FFXIII’s Lightning’s Ignition garb.
  • Ema kinda has to tell Leon about Luciano, since Zaruba is in a particularly chatty mood this week. “I’d rather say it myself than have a ring blab about it!” I LOL’d.