Hanebado! – 06 – Not Just One More Match

Prelims are upon us this week, and it’s Izumi Riko’s turn to be angsty. It’s her last year and last prelims, and she wants to win. The only problem is, her first opponent is her childhood friend Nozomi, who also happens to be one of last year’s final four. Riko is not confident she can hang with the likes of Nozomi, and even though Nagisa tries her best to fire her up, Riko ends up frustrated and the two part ways for the evening on a bad note.

The day of the matches arrives, and Riko and Nozomi are cordial but cool, as imminent opponents must be. The team rocks their slick new one-piece uniforms, and Riko’s four cute siblings are in attendance, but she still manages to stink up the joint in the first half of the first set overwhelmed by her own lack of confidence as well as Nozomi’s unbeatable aura.

When the interval comes, Riko knows she has to do something…so she goes over the shots of the match so far, analyzes them, and finds that Nozomi is avoiding her backhand. Riko goes on the offensive and gets a point or two before Nozomi re-adjusts. It’s a beautifully-animated, fast-paced story told through the smooth, graceful, yet powerful motions of the players; a chess match of adjustments and counter-adjustments.

Riko still loses, but she makes Nozomi work for her win, going against her opponent’s strict coache’s insistence she conserve her stamina. It was just another match for Nozomi; a stepping stone to the next round. But for Riko, it was the match; the only match left in her high school career. And as her coach directed, she had fun out there.

Whither Ayano? Well, for most of the episode she seems to be putting up a strong front of Everything’s Okay, and may even believe she’s past worrying about her mother or Connie. But these prelims are uniquely equipped to not let Ayano escape her troubles so easily. Not only is she facing Serigaya Kaoruko in the next round, but her mother will be in attendance to watch their rematch. That should be interesting…

Hanebado! – 05 – The Discarded Daughter

Ayano lived her childhood absolutely idolizing her mother and soaking up every bit of badminton know-how she could. Other than Elena, there was virtually no one else in her life she cared about. In other words, her mom was her family…until she took off, and Ayano has felt alone ever since (sorry, Elena).

Or, at least she had felt alone. Now that she’s been welcomed and embraced by her team, she feels like she can keep playing with their support. Riko offers as much at the end of their first game which they lost to Connie, 21-12. Kentarou resets the defense so Ayano has the run of the back 2/3rds of the court for the second game.

By throwing her out of the frying pan and into the fire, Ayano eventually picks up her game, returning shots that she’d previously let drop. Her sly persistence starts to frustrate Connie, who in turn steps up her game, and all of a sudden their respective teammates are treated to one hell of a grudge match, with neither Ayano nor Connie believing defeat to be an option.

Connie draws from her own childhood, which looks as lonely as Ayano’s post-mom time, while Ayano gets all Sadako-y like she did when she beat Nagisa in the nationals. The two competitors are so focused on each other, Connie ends up getting a cramp in her leg, and her partner leaps in to score the winning point, catching Ayano and Connie alike off guard and leading them to declare the result of the match corrupted.

Both go off skulking, only to be picked back up by the very people she felt were unnecessary (in Connie’s case) or the people whom she felt she’d let down (in Ayano’s). Sora, who’d been pretty quiet up to this point, confesses that she hated Ayano for seeming not to care despite being so talented, but has revised her feelings about her after seeing how far she went in that match. The two girls end up spending the evening having fun with their teammates.

The next morning when both teams are set to return home, Ayano confronts Connie, who tells her what I (and probably everyone else watching) had suspected last week: Connie is the girl Ayano’s mother replaced her with as daughter. Connie’s goal is to prove to her “mama” that she’s the better player by beating Ayano.

As I mentioned last week, one would assume the question of “who is best” had already long been settled by the fact Ayano’s mother f-ing abandoned her biological daughter for Connie. I guess Connie just isn’t satisfied with her mom’s decision, but wants to be sure she’s better than Ayano. As for Ayano, on the bus ride home she breaks out her crazy face once more, declaring that she “doesn’t need” her mother any more.

While that’s a depressing sentiment, somewhat creepily delivered, I can hardly blame her for wanting to give up on the person who gave up on her. But I still feel there’s a reconciliation story brewing here. Simply stating she’s done seeking her mom’s approval doesn’t magically make it so…right?

Hanebado! – 04 – A New Challenger Approaches

After her playground epiphany, Ayano joins the badminton club, and before she knows it she’s on a bus with the rest of the club to a summer practice facility. While on the ride, the classically alone Ayano has her hair tended to by Yu, resulting in a photo and a warm feeling of belonging; of finally not being alone, but part of something bigger: a team.

But wouldn’t you know it, the facility is already occupied by another badminton team, and not just any team, but the “FreGirls” of Frederica, one of the country’s top teams. One of their players wanted very much to play Ayano’s school. Ayano heads out to a konbini to buy water, but ends up lost thanks to Nagisa’s kiddy, nigh worthless map.

While lost, she meets a foreigner who’s also lost: a blonde from Denmark who offers her a lolly when they make progress with the map.

Things are going swimmingly until the foreigner learns the identity of the cute little girl she’s walked with. The moment she hears the name “Hanesaki” she freezes and drops her change, then accuses Ayano of playing mind games with her by “pretending to be friendly.”

The next they meet, the tall blonde, Connie C, is one half of Ayano and Riko’s doubles opponents, and promises to show her how “meaningless” Ayano’s “team” is. She warns her partner not to interfere and let her play alone. Clearly, what she really wants is a one-on-one match against Ayano.

When her partner does interfere, Connie quits in a huff, letting the other girl struggle alone in a two-on-one match until she basically taps out. Connie doesn’t believe in teams, after all; she’s a team of one, and gets what she wants. As for why her captain and coach do nothing to stop her selfish behavior, who knows?

Connie takes over, effortlessly turning a 10-3 deficit into an 11-10 lead with mammoth vertical leaps and a smash that even the guys doubt they could return. Neither Ayano or Izumi can do anything. It’s Serigaya Kaoruko all over again.

Only…it’s actually worse than Kaoruko. “Connie C” Is Connie Christensen, a Danish prodigy who has already won the world championship in her age group. In every physical measure pertinent to badminton, she’s Ayano’s superior, and wants to make it clear she’s superior in every other aspect of the game as well. Tachibana knows her, and doubts Ayano will be able to hang.

Connie is also the blonde girl in the magazine article in which Ayano learned her mother had basically replaced her as daughter, which makes this even more fucked up. Connie even ties back her hair the same way as Ayano’s mother, adding insult to injury.

Apparently not satisfied with everything she’s already taken from Ayano, Connie now seems to want to crush Ayano’s spirit, such that even being in a fun high school team won’t give her joy or relief. That said, she relied on an awful lot of coincidences to end up in the match. Among them:

  • She knew Ayano had joined the badminton club, even when Ayano herself wasn’t sure until very recently;
  • Her school’s team ended up at the same facility as Ayano’s club;
  • Ayano ended up going out for water, and ended up meeting Connie first;
  • They ended up playing against each other.

Coincidences aside, one has to wonder what Connie’s true motive is, and why she is so intent on psychologically crippling a stranger. I mean, isn’t the fact that Ayano’s mom abandoned Ayano for Connie enough proof for Connie that’s she’s better? Did she really travel all the way to Japan just to beat someone who had already ‘lost” to her? Apparently! And that makes Connie a garbage person…until further notice.

3-gatsu no Lion – 26

As Hina cries in her big sister’s lap, Rei catches us up on the reason for her tears, as well as her missing shoe. It’s a harrowing, all-too familiar and common story: some girls in her class with nothing better to do started bullying her longtime friend Chiho. While everyone ignored it or pretended nothing was happening (even the teacher), Hina, like a Fire Sister, kept talking and eating with Chiho.

Eventually, the bullying got so bad Chiho stopped coming to school, and her mother decided they’d move to where her father works, pulling her out of school. When the girls who started all this make light of that in gym class, Hina pounces on their queen bee in vicious rage, to no avail.

Now Hina is the target of their bullying, and she’s terrified of going back to school and being alone, just as she’s distressed that she couldn’t do anything for Chiho. After scaring Momo with her crying, Hina runs out into the night, and Rei very slowly chases her (what can you say; kid’s not an athlete).

Rei makes no bones about it: Hina is the reason he’s above water; she is his lifesaver; and after gently taking her hand, he promises he’ll always stay with her, no matter what. After all, for all the distress and pain it’s caused her, Hina is quite correct that she did absolutely nothing wrong in trying to defend Chiho. That it was beyond her ability to stop the bullying, or that she’s the new target, does not change that simple fact that she’s a good person.

Fully appreciative of her fragile state and need to not be alone, Rei spends the day with her at the libarary where they look at books, something he’s been doing a long time and the reason he’s so good at shogi at his age.

While she’s looking at Japanese sweets books, Rei is looking for the name of the “ladybug bush” of his dark earlier years: “Silverthorn.” He also finds the scientific name of the Asian Ladybug that populated those bushes, and Hina notices the kanji for that name also means “heavenly path.”

Rei takes her to the bush and places a ladybug on her hand, and it climbs as high as it can before flying off toward the sun, demonstrating why, long ago, people gave the bug that name.

As the beetle flies heavenward, Rei would wish nothing more than to unleash hell upon those who have done this to Hina; but just as she walks the heavenly (i.e. just and rightous) path, he knows so must he. Tearing those bullies limb from limb won’t solve anything, and probably onlu make things worse for Hina.

Evening arrives, and Rei escorts Hina home, where Akari and Momo are waiting for them and invite Rei to join them for a sumptuous dinner consisting of all of Hina’s favorite foods. Their Gramps is there too, and gravely asks Hina to sit down and listen.

Akari told him everything that happened…and he praises her heartily for what she did. He knows from the papers how serious bullying can be, so he has nothing but joy and pride in knowing Hina would go to bat for her friend despite the dangers involved; something most adults wouldn’t do. He echos her own earlier words that she did nothing wrong, and should be proud of herself.

Now, I watched his monologue in a very dusty room, so you can imagine I needed a lot of Kleenex nearby, just as the Kawamoto sisters did. Both Gramps’ words of encouragement and Akari’s meal were things they knew they could do for Hina. Rei wracks his brain over what he can do, but simply being there for her, by her side, and assuring her he’ll never leave it, is already enough.

3-gatsu no Lion – 25

After Matsumoto and Smith mess around with the towering Kumakura’s huge shoes, we see a shogi den settled down for lunch in June…when I guess it’s to hot to eat outside? As he munches on his healthy yet high-class meal, Nikaidou rants about how Rei must get to the finals of the Newcomer Tournament so they can face one another, then proceeds to analyze Rei in a manner that’s far too accurate for Rei’s taste.

When Nikaidou tells him it stands to reason he’d know his deepest depths like no one else, because they’re not just rivals but best friends, Rei, a paragon of stoicism to that point, freaks out and books it out of the room. “Leave him be,” an older player says, “it’s funnier that way.” And to a geezer like him who was one, teenagers are funny, with their needless emotional outbursts and poor organization of priorities.

But what I took out of the first half of “June” is that Hey, Rei is his Nikaidou and Nikaidou is Rei’s. Rei has a friend. Not the only one, either! That fact might embarrass him, but that’s progress, and it took a lot for him to get to that point.

In the second half of “June” we get a welcome cut to the Kawamoto residence, where Grampa makes his first appearance this season (his love of and fawning over Momo will never get old, because let’s face it, Momo deserves all the love). He’s holding a brainstorming session for new sweets after the success of the last one.

When Momo is asked what goes in the water, she first says “duck”, but a duck on top of an agar sweet could easily fall off, while a duck encased in that agar would look like a dead one. Then Momo suggests a sandal, recalling a time she lost one while Akari was walking with her near the water. Gramps instantly declares her a genius and a prodigy.

But there’s something off about this scene: Hinata. She doesn’t say a word, and has her head down as she scribbles into a notebook. At bathtime, Akari finds her sitting alone on the stoop, and when asks what’s wrong, Hina says “nothing” and shows her sister a smile that’s probably forced, because it’s gone again when she’s alone in the bath, looking up at the moon.

So what’s up with Hina? I can guess, considering she’s entering adolescence, but little did I know the next segment would serve as a dark preface to that question’s answer. In the present day Rei notices a plant with the same leaves as a “ladybug bush” he noticed when he was a little kid being teased, bullied, and ostracized at school.

As we know, Rei chose shogi to please his stepfather, willing to endure the hate from the man’s biological children because he had no choice. Now we know to the extent Rei, Shogi Prodigy is not the product of a nature or nurture, but pure, elemental survival.

Rei had no safe haven from the hatred of classmates or stepsiblings. He made himself more invisible and indifferent to prevent escalation at school, but trying to ingratiate himself with his stepparents and not feel like a burden only intensified his siblings’ resentment towards him.

As much as Kyouko’s been humanized in the present, the villainous version reappears in these flashbacks, as someone who couldn’t give a shit Rei’s problems, either the loss of his family or the continued abuse he faces at school. He’s a creepy eyesore to her. No wonder it’s still hard for him to talk to her today!

Shogi wasn’t a dream or aspiration, it was a life raft. Instead of reacting to the horrible things in his life, he buried his nose in shogi books, studied feverishly, and played like his life depended on it, because he thought it did. A perfect and devastating visual is of him desperately treading water in a dark sea, with nothing to cling to but a floating shogi board.

Things are much better for Rei now; he has friends, a surrogate family that loves him unconditionally, and even a place to hang out at school—but though he still carries wounds and scars that may never heal. More importantly to the closing act, a product of his ordeal is that he can spot the warning signs of others enduring the same from a mile away, as he instantly does when Hina enters the room.

She’s missing her left shoe (in a weird, prophetic echo of the shoe Momo suggested for the dessert), the sock is filthy, and her face is a raw mess of tears. For the show to so quickly and concisely reassert all the crap Rei had to go through, only to visit it upon one of the kindlest, gentlest souls in the show in Hina, is almost too much to bear, especially when the episode ends before we’re able to learn the details or see her be comforted.

I guess the details don’t matter; it would seem she’s now going through the same thing Rei did. I can only hope that if she cannot find a solution at school, at least going home won’t just add to her shit sandwich. Unlike Rei, who only had shogi, she has Rei, Akari, Momo, and Gramps. Being a teenager is usually terrible for everyone, but it’s still worse for some than others.

Knight’s & Magic – 04

With Telestale development hampered by a mana-leakage problem, Eru stays sharp by pivoting to other projects, like his Silhouette Gear. In a backyard presumably owned by someone they know, Eru demonstrates the mobility potential of a Gear armed with a grappling hook, as well as the destructive power of the siege weapon attachment, which blows holes in a perfectly good wall for no good reason! Eru even all but admits to Addy that he just came up with these improvements for fun, not for a specific purpose.

Addy and Kid decide to inform their father of Eru’s rapid progress, and word gets to Marquis Dixgard, who sends his knights of the Order of the Scarlet Rabbit to escort Eru and the new units to Fort Casadesus for evaluation. On the way, they’re attacked by Giant wormlike Demon Beasts, but Eru makes quick work of them between all the gadgets he has on his person and the Telestale Knight Runners.

Eru ends up staying behind with the Marquis, who seems like an imperious, possibly dangerous figure. And while he’s suspicious about whether Eru is really a little kid (and he’s right, he’s not, at least not mentally), Marquis is eventually convinced beyond all doubt that Eru is merely an extremely talented and driven young man with a thirst for constant improvement in technology. Dixgard can relate: he used to be like Eru…he just never soared as high.

Not only that, but Eru doesn’t seem angry in the least that the Marquis is taking over the project; after all, Telestale is only one of many ambitious projects Eru has lined up in the future. Whether he completes those projects unfettered by outside forces remains to be seen, as we see the Order of the Bronze Fang on the margins of this episode, and their purple-cloaked female leader is itching to start a war, armed with special Silhouette Knights of her own.

Knight’s & Magic – 03

After defeating a Behemoth almost entirely on his own, the King can’t just not acknowledge Ernesti, so he grants him and his gramps an audience to thank him and ask if there’s any reward he would like. Since Ernesti has the mind of an adult (and a mecha otaku to boot) he asks for the one thing only the King can grant: the secret to creating the Ether Reactor, the heart of a Silhouette Knight.

To everyone’s surprise, the king grants Eru’s wish, but first he must prove himself worthy of such knowledge by building everything around that Ether Reactor before learning how to build it. Eru accepts the challenge with relish, calling such work his “hobby” to the bemusement of all.

From there, Eru works with the Dwarf mechanics and engineers, knight Runners, and his friends and comrades to develop improvements to the Silhouette Knights, including a second set of arms to wield energy staves and a new kind of muscle construction that will make the knights stronger.

Things accelerate fast when he comes up with the design for a smaller “personal” mech he dubs Silhouette Gear, which Addy and Kid get the hang of almost too fast, eager to shoulder some of the burdens their friend is taking on.

Another who gets into the spirit of this inventive binge is Dietrich, who is determined to make amends for his cowardice, which Eru and others have kept largely a secret; now he’s working hard to be strong enough notto run away from a threat next time.

Helvi pilots the newly-redesigned SilKnight that Eru was instrumental in developing, in a suite of tests including a mock battle with the school’s Runner ace Edgar in an unmodified Knight. Helvi only loses because she runs out of mana, but it’s a great first step towards Eru’s goal of learning the secrets of the Ether Reactor.

Notably, there aren’t really any “threats” this week, nor even any technological setbacks that frustrate Eru or slow him down in any way. But trouble looms as there’s a mole within the development team feeding info to a seedier group of people. Eru didn’t really run into any significant problems this week, but it looks like that may change in the near future.

Knight’s & Magic – 02

Last week’s K&M was conspicuous in its lack of serious mortal peril, but this week brought the danger from the beginning, as a “Division-Class” Demon Beast (called a “Behemoth” but really more of an Adamantoise) rampages on a fort protecting the capital and several knight runners end up squashed and/or smashed to death.

As that same beast nears the forest where the students are training, Sefania and Addy fight over Eru until the order to get the hell out of dodge is given…only Eru doesn’t leave with the others. Instead, he sees one of the runners protecting them running away. It’s Dietrich, a pilot who saw his comrade get hit by the Behemoth’s breath and simply lost his nerve and turned tail.

Eru helps himself to Dietrich’s cockpit, using his dual gunblades to customize the robot to his smaller frame in a nifty bit of MacGyver-like innovation rife with less-nifty technobabble. Bottom line, Eru is able to increase the robot’s speed, agility, and strength, and with the aid of reinforcements, is able to bring the beast down by sending a pulse of lightning through its eye, leading to a monster aneurysm and Game Over for Mr. Behemoth.

Dietrich’s comrades lament his death and sacrifice and curse themselves for thinking ill of him for running…until Eru emerges with an unconscious Dietrich. I’m sure Eru won’t tell them he’s the one who brought the robot back into the fight, while when the cards were down, Dietrich was a coward. But whatever comes out of it, word of a child outperforming all the other knight runners gets to the king, and he wishes to meet Eru ASAP.

This K&M was fun in its execution of the boss battle, but there was no getting around the fact it was a rehash of the first episode’s “Eru Is Good At Everything And Everybody Loves Him”, and it felt smaller and less sprawling than the first, which covered several years. Maybe Eru’s dealings with the kings and/or the knight runner elite will provide some challenge for him, but as he never struggled that mightily against a damn Behemoth, I’m not holding my breath!


Knight’s & Magic – 01 (First Impressions)

First, let’s get one thing out of the way: the title of this show is stupid. What’s with the apostrophe? That doesn’t belong there, before an ampersand! That aside, even if it were Knights & Magic, that’s still a painfully generic title, which does an otherwise fun and inventive show no favors.

Yes, it’s true: aside from the awful title and the oft-overused “killed in real world, reincarnated in the fantasy world” trope, K&M turns in a damned entertaining and absorbing first episode, covering no less than three different timelines in the life of one Ernesti Echevarria, a very pretty, short-statured boy who happens to have the soul and intellect of an elite video game programmer…and mecha otaku.

In “Eru’s” new world, magic works a lot like programming, so he’s a wiz who not only quickly rises in the ranks of the youth in magical training, but spreads the wealth around. Quickly befriending twins Ady and Kid Olter, he teaches them magic and they get quite good at it.

He also befriends a dwarf, Baston, whose father makes him a gunblade with which he basically tests out of the fundamentals class so he can be in the more advanced silhouette knight design course. Eru is a kid who’s going places, but he’s a very modest, decent sort of kid without a shred of arrogance, as so far, hes able to back up his words with action every time.

Three-quarters in, and it seems K&M‘s only casualty will be a dead horse at the hands of Demon Beasts, but Eru & Co. get their first taste of combat, with him and the twins helping to save their older (and legitimate) sister Stefania from a suspiciously huge horde of the beasts, while and even larger boss-level monster looms for next week.

Just as Eru gets his first taste of magical combat in which he’s the combatant, rather than someone being protected, we get a decent first taste of K&M, it’s world, its workings, and a surprisingly likable core cast (including Takahashi Rie’s voicing of Eru).

It did seem like an odd choice to have so much voiceover narration in the epsiode, and to only show Kurata “inside the head” of Eru just once. However, the real world prologue does serve a purpose in that the reincarnated protagonist possesses gifts and perspective neither a boy nor anyone in his new world would otherwise have.

Overall, a pleasant, upbeat, and attractive first outing. I’ll be back!

3-gatsu no Lion – 07

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And endless succession of episodes in which Rei wanders around alone with the wind in his face, wallowing in despair and self-pity over everything he’s been through and all the choices he’s made, was going to get old fast. That would be too dark and brooding, and keep us at a distance.

I wanted in, so to speak, and I got in, thanks in part to a jauntier, more playful week of 3GL, and in part to Hina’s crush Takahashi. While Rei is initially intimidated, Takahashi is actually a great admirer of Rei, and comes to him for serious advice about where to steer his life.

That Takahashi essentially comes out of nowhere to have such a profound effect on Rei and how he looks at the world is of no consequence. I like how a childhood friend of Hina, whom Rei often looks to for comfort, peace, and perspective, is inadvertently responsible for showing Rei “the light.”

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Takahashi’s seriousness, forceful determination, and earnest attentiveness to any and all Rei has to say, gets Rei to open up despite himself, breaking through a barrier he’d never crossed before, letting someone in to his inner thoughts and doubts, and receiving gratitude and further admiration in return.

Even when Takahashi, invited to dinner (much to Hina’s exasperation; however she delivers a sumptuous repast), shows Rei a video of his loss in shogi (a video that exposes Rei’s “secret”/omission to the younger sisters that he and Nikaido are pros), Takahashi does it not out of malice, but to hear from the person who made the move why he made it, and what he thinks about such a move now.

Even when Rei says it was a bad move, and Nikaido almost seems to come through the TV and yell at him directly, over and over, that he needs to “take better care of his shogi and himself”, Takahashi doesn’t dismiss his father and grandfather’s assertion the move wasn’t bad, but was even “aggressive and manly,” qualities Takahashi can relate to on the road to a baseball career; a road that requires similarly bold moves.

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Nikaido’s on-video obnoxious commentary gets Rei so riled up he raises his voice for the first time, yelling at the TV as if Nikaido was there. Rei is amazed to find Hina smiling wider than ever at his outburst, as if it was a privilege to witness. And maybe it was: seeing him display so much passion, even to protest his “best friend” saying far too much to the camera, spurs Hina to ask Rei to teach her how to play shogi.

That’s when Nikaido actually comes out of the TV and appears in person at the Kawamoto household to add some humor and humanity to Rei’s stiff explanation of the game. He even presents a book he presumably wrote and illustrated in which all the shogi pieces are realized as cats, charming not only Hina but Momo too (who already regards Nikaido AKA Bodoro as a kind of demigod).

Rei has finally tasted what it’s like not only to have his thoughts and feelings listened to and validated, but what it’s like to lose it in front of people he cares about, and to share his amassed wisdom to an eager audience. All in all, its a pretty good week for the kid. Here’s hoping he keeps it going.

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3-gatsu no Lion – 06

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We continue an in-depth journey and the running self-commentary of Rei’s life, including the recent slump that has kept him from advancing, even though as one of five players ever to become pros in middle school, he’s expected to become a master like the other four at some point.

Because Rei is still so young, his childhood was disrupted by such tragedy and trauma, the bad times always seemed to overshadow the good, and his “stepsister” Kyouko dug into him so deeply with hurtful words that sounded like the truth, Rei is left unable to process why he’s so unhappy and unable to move forward in life.

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Shogi, so far, hasn’t been the answer. Sure, he threw himself into it with all he had and has been celebrated as a prodigy, but when he’s not playing or training, he has a tendency to shut down. He doesn’t have friends (who aren’t also shogi players).

He barely goes to school, and keeps to himself when he does (I can’t recall even seeing one of his classmates). He admires master Touji Souya, who despite being as old as his teacher still has the face of a teenager; as if his distinguished, decorated career has caused time to stop.

Touji is the titular “God Child”, but I wonder if Rei looks up at him as an ideal to follow, or something he can never attain. Then again, he doesn’t know of Touji delved into shogi not out of love, but out of necessity, as he did. Maybe time stopping isn’t a good thing.

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After nearly a whole episode of navel-gazing and listing all of his problems, Rei and we get a welcome respite, as he runs into Hina in town and treats her to a McDonalds shake. It doesn’t take long for the kind and lovable Hina to notice Rei is feeling gloomy, and invites him to dinner back home.

Hina makes Rei feel ashamed and pathetic for worrying so much about his own issues when Hina is sitting there, a middle schooler worrying about a high schooler, putting his feelings before her own (then crashing and burning when her crush the baseball ace shows up).

If Rei’s going to move—if he wants to move—in life, hanging out more with the Kawamotos seems the way to go.

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Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu – 11

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Re:Zero continues to dominate our Spring schedule, blasting ahead of the field and lapping it numerous times with its awesom-nitude. Last week set things up for another potential heartbreaking reset, but instead there was no death nor Return by Death; only victory and sweet sweet closure.

It begins, surprisingly enough, with the origin story of Ram and Rem. We’e only known the relatively inept-at-everything Ram, but she was once a demon prodigy, despite only having one horn. Indeed, a display of her power kept her and Rem from being killed in the cradle. All Rem could do was try to be content in standing behind her sister as she dazzled everyone with her talents.

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But one day, when their house was attacked and their parents killed, she lost her horn while protecting Rem. This Rem-centric flashback makes a point of showing the tiniest of smiles of relief on Rem’s face when that damn horn, which had caused her so much grief and self-hatred to that point in her life, finally broke.

And yet, back in the present, Rem has never forgiven herself for smiling, or for envying her sister, or for putting her in the position of having to protect her at the cost of her horn. The “inept, less-than” Ram is a product of Rem’s weakness and worthlessness, and she’s been trying to make up for that ever since, including going after the Mabeasts alone.

Upon coming to, her first reaction is distress that Ram and Subie are there, rejecting her whole notion of sacrificing herself for them. But they can’t change the fact they’re there, here and now, and aren’t going to abandon her.

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Instead, Subie promises he has a plan for the mabeast boss, and sends Rem away on Ram’s back to safety. Rem, however, can’t help but call back to Subaru, which just so happens to imbue him with the courage and confidence to pull off his trump card: a Shamac spell that gives him the opening he needs to stick his broken sword in the mabeast’s throat.

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Unfortunately, that’s not enough to kill it, but just before he passes out from using all his mana, Roswaal arrives to mop up, grateful his subordinates were able to hold their own as long as they did, and all too happy to help.

Rem pounces on Subaru, happy beyond words he’s still alive, and though he passes out and wakes up in his bedchamber, the curse is lifted, so he didn’t die and the same timeline continues on, much to my delight.

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He wakes with Rem’s hand in his, and he then must endure an extended monologue filled with self-loathing and inadequacies stemming all the way back to when Rem and Ram were newborns about to be killed. Even then Ram saved them while she just lay there.

Obviously, Rem is being far too harsh on herself, undermining the wonderful, powerful individual she became by her own efforts, and far too quick to dwell on the past. Subaru tells her she should focus more on the future, value herself more as others like him do, and smile and laugh that life turned out as well as it did. And Rem eventually lets herself laugh, tears in her eyes. BAWWWW.

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With all the talk of leaning on one another, this sure looks like the start of a Subie x Rem romantic arc, but the next time we see Subie, he’s asking Emilia on a date like he did before, and again she accepts, even with her fuzzy concept of what a date is. So I guess Subie’s primary love interest remains his EMF.

As for Ram, now far less than she once was, but at peace with it, we see that her sessions sitting in Roswaal’s lap are so he can restore her mana. Since Roswaal brought her and her sister into his home, Ram has always been utterly devoted to him, and he makes it clear that he may be away for a while, so she must continue to take care of her little sister and Subaru in his stead.

I don’t know what tragedy might befall our friends next (and I’m sure they’re in for more trouble), I’m glad for an ending without a taste of what’s to come, that I may simply revel in the progress that Subaru has made. He and Rem have come so far, but the evolution of their friendship couldn’t have happened more naturally, as if it was always meant to be this nice. Also, hopefully Subaru will get to actually go on a date with Emilia!

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Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 07

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Kaori loses her violin competition. Tsubaki loses her softball game. Even the chick-magnet-“nice jock” Ryouta loses his soccer game. None of the three are happy about it. After all, they gave it everything they had and still came up short. It wasn’t the first time they lost, and it won’t be the last. But, hey, it would be nice if someone in the quartet achieved victory, which the other three could relish vicariously. The only someone that can be at this point…is Kousei.

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Kousei isn’t certain that he can win. It doesn’t help that there’s a pushy cat with a familiar voice in his mind’s eye asking him deep questions like “Who are you?” and “Where are you?” and when Kousei doesn’t have an answer, is all like “See? You suck.” Still, Kousei studies the music and practices tirelessly, getting so immersed he skips meals and collapses in P.E.

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After being supplied with ample egg sandwiches by Tsubaki, Kousei is visited in the infirmary by Kaori. As they walk home, they come upon a stray black cat not unlike the one in his mind. For he once had a cat, Chelsea. One day the cat scratched his hand, He stood there in his mother’s shadow as she took Chelsea away and abandoned her, which was the pragmatic but hardly humane thing to do, for either the cat or Kousei.

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Kousei’s doubts about who he is and why anything matters is put to rest by Kaori, his dazzling sun, who tells him to relax; she knows who he is…he’s Arima Fucking Kousei. She also tosses out an apt quote from Charlie Brown of all people, then joins her delicate hand with his knobby pianist’s, and notes how she can feel just how much that hand is itching to play piano. That hand was frikkin’ born to play the piano…as was the boy it’s attached to. That’s who he is.

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Whoa there, Kaori. You don’t want to be telescoping your spine!

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The day of the competition arrives, and the four arrive at the fancy glass concert venue. Little does Kousei know he’s walking into an ambush: Aiza Takeshi (Kaji Yuki) and Igawa Emi (the excellent Hayami Saori) are there for blood, and we learn why as the episode gives us more of their story.

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For more than two years, Takeshi and Emi have worked to become better pianists, motivated, if you will, by Kousei. It isn’t quite right to call them rivals as Kousei wasn’t even aware of their existence at the time. A human metronome has no use for human relationships, after all. And even though Takeshi and Emi somewhat pitied Kousei, the fact remains they felt scorned and are now seeking revenge.

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As the other three settle into their seats, Kaori remarks about how Kousei’s fame is more of an infamy. Playing a piece exactly the way it was written is a skill to envy, but that was all Kousei did, and it was, to Kaori and many others, a dead end. Kousei had and has the skill to take the music further, but didn’t. Instead, he arrived at the competitions, beat the everloving stuffing out of everyone, and left without a word or a glance at the results. Why look at the results? There’s no way he’d ever not win!

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One look at Kousei from Emi, and Kousei’s somewhat guilty confession he doesn’t quite remember her or Aiza, convinces her that “he hasn’t changed a bit”, and she’s resolved to destroy him. But having been around him and witnessed his past and present suffering, we know he has changed. He’s not someone who’s sure to win, for one thing, but he’s also not someone to put in a soulless, non-resonant performance. Not after seeing Kaori play.

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Also, he seemed to be too far under his mother’s heel to worry about human emotions like fear, but now he has fear in spades and feels it, because everyone is scared to take that stage (or that diamond, or that pitch), and lose. Just like Takeshi, who wretches in the bathroom prior to his turn even though he won last year. Last year means nothing to him; he’ll prove he deserved to win last year by beating Kousei this year.

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I’ll be honest: the music I heard Kousei playing in the practice room probably isn’t going to cut it against the likes of Takeshi and Emi, and it seems a little early in this 22-episode run to give Kousei a legitimate win…but who knows? Maybe Kousei won’t embarrass himself! This episode ends on a freeze-frame of Takeshi about to hit the ivories; so…To Be Continued.

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