Engage Kiss – 13 (Fin) – Bless This Mess

Shuu, Ayano and Sharon are fighting as a cohesive unit, but against Kanna the best they can do is maintain a stalemate. Enter Tabula Rasa Kisara, who despite having no memories decides on her own not to let what seem like nice people die in a battle with a not-so-nice person.

The addition of Kisara to the battle definitely gives Team Shuu an edge as Kanna starts to flounder a bit, but then she summons three powerful demons, which means all of the other demon hunting contractors spring into action, for the city that’s the only home they have, for honor and glory, and money too.

When even Kisara can’t quite get to Kanna’s heart to seal her, Shuu lends her power in the form of a kiss. Turns out their old contract terms work just fine, and the newly re-Hot Topic’d Kisara has a stiff second wind at her back. She keeps Kanna occupied enough for Shuu to fire his demonic bullet. Asmodeus flees from Kanna, and Kisara carves her into ribbons, sending her back to whence she came.

In the aftermath, while some demons made it to the city, there were no civilian casualties, so the contractors call it a victory. Sharon admits the Abbey will still be coming for Kisara, but at least today, Sharon won’t be the one to kill her. Wondering where a demon girl fits in a human world, Kisara gets a supportive hug from Ayano.

The Hachisukas continue their sibling rivalry for control of the city—and international coverup to maintain their autonomy. Sharon makes a joke to Ayano about spending the night with Shuu before boating off to face inquisition. Shuu visits his parents’ grave and promises his work isn’t done, but he’ll do it the right way this time.

As for Kisara, she wants Shuu to teach her all the memories she lost, which apparently includes fulfilling the role of his girlfriend. Things are about to get hot and heavy in his apartment when the lights come on to reveal Kanna gobbling up all the food in the place. While the authorities kept her restrained in the bowels of city hall, this is only the latest of several escapes.

Those escapes result not in her unleashing demons on the city or causing any damage, but inserting herself back into Shuu’s home and life and voicing her disapproval of Kisara. Now Kisara has in Kanna what Ayano has in her: a younger rival for Shuu’s attention.

With Kisara, Ayano, and now Kanna all pointing weapons at him and asking whose side he’s on, Shuu’s in the messiest mess yet. And frankly, that’s the best way for this series to end: never taking itself too seriously and gleefully embracing the mess.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Engage Kiss – 12 – Atomic Tantrum

Kanna awakens from her brief nap at the crack of dawn and announces her intentions by attacking Bayron City’s airport. The airport is virtually abandoned, and the Hachisukas order everyone within a several-mile radius to evacuate, but since all that happens off-camera the stakes are localized to Shuu and the women in his life: Ayano, Sharon, Kisara, and of course Kanna.

Kisara is a complete amnesiac after severing her contract, having even given Shuu her memories from before they met. He calls her an idiot, but he won’t listen to the Kisara before the memory transfer, who told him to run and save himself. After all she’s done for him, she’s going to protect her this time, sealing that promise with a kiss on her forehead.

Sharon pulls up in her motorcycle to say goodbye to Ayano, since a church battleship is on its way and it won’t be sparing Kanna’s life, so they’ll be enemies next time they meet. However, between Sharon getting a call and Shuu receiving a new delivery, a plan is afoot.

For now, AAA and Ayano throw everything they’ve got at the approaching Kanna, who seemingly starts to target Ayano personally. She almost blasts her into oblivion from point-blank range, but Ayano is saved at the last second by Shuu swooping in to princess carry her away on his Eureka Seven-style hoverboard; the next-minute delivery he charged to Mikhail.

Shuu confirms to Ayano that all his memories are back and more by scolding her for seducing him when she knew Kisara would take those memories. But while Ayano is embarrassed, she’s also clearly elated that the Shuu she knows and loves is back and of sound mind.

As for why Kanna is targeting her, Shuu says he and Kanna have been connected through dreams throughout these twelve years, so she’s had to witness all of his romantic exploits without being able to affect them. As a result, she’s still three years old emotionally and scarred by those dreams. Since Sharon is also a target, she decides to come back and fight alongside Shuu and Ayano since Shuu called and apologized for forgetting her.

Flanked by Ayano and her bazooka and Sharon and her mech suit, Shuu flies up to meet Kanna and tries to play things softly at first, trying to appeal to her brotherly love and actually getting her to stop dead in her tracks. Shuu declares to her that he’s going to save her without losing anything—not his memories, and not any of the other people he loves.

Since saving her involves sealing her, Kanna can’t have that, and fights back. Shuu, Ayano, and Sharon make a great team and the battle looks great, but at the end of the day she’s still an S-Class demon, and none of them are.

Not only that, she’s clearly trying to kill them, while Shuu is determined not to kill her. When he’s about to deal a crucial blow with Kisara’s sword, Kanna shrewdly breaks out the waterworks, which causes Shuu to hesitate for a moment. That’s all she needs to blast him into the tarmac.

This happens just as Kisara arrives on the scene with a slight limp, but after how Shuu treated her in her hospital bed, not to mention the note on her hand written by her past self that says “Believe in him and fight together”, it looks like she’s ready to contribute if she can. She may not have any memories, but she’s still a demon.

I’m pleased that Shuu is now in such an optimistic place with all his memories back that he no longer wants to throw anything away in a lonely struggle to save his sister. With Ayano, Sharon, some form of Kisara, and presumably those other contractors who feel bad about sitting out the fight so far, Kanna is now the lonely one backed into a corner, and he’s got a fighting chance to get her back with minimal loss…assuming he survived that last blow, of course.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Fabiniku – 05 – Ch(armor)ed

Lucius, perhaps sensing that Jinguugi and Tachibana might be useful, has them accompany her and the captive Schwartz to defeat a “Living Armor”. On the way, Lucius admits even he is not immune to “Audrey’s” charms, and feels compelled to give her a candy.

The peculiar thing about the Living Armor, which introduces itself as “Vizzd The Incomparably Skilled”, doesn’t so much kill its victims as…steal their clothes. Schwartz runs in headfirst and is the first to be disrobed, followed by Lucius, who is revealed to be a woman—which wasn’t really a surprise.

When Tachibana gives Lucius her pink dress to cover up, she reveals her slip, setting Jinguugi off. When he puts his jacket on her, the Charmed status only increases—such is the power of the “boyfriend shirt” effect. This leads to the two bickering about their “preferences” while Vizzd can get neither a word nor a blow in edgewise.

Jinguugi’s Charmed status and increasing irritability results in him making quick work of the Living Armor, revealing that Vizzd is really a small girl aligned with the Demon Lord was piloting from within. Lucius takes her to the station an interrogates her, but Vizzd is rescued in the middle of the night by a fellow Demon Lord underling, Kalm.

The next morning, Schwartz is hoping to get a peak at Tachibana in her bedclothes (which, dude), only to discover Jinguugi’s “Door to Tachibana’s old apartment” skill. Schwartz notes how much it seems to be a place where a guy lives, which is the perfect opportunity for Tachibana to reveal that she was once a 32-year-old male salaryman.

Schwartz is crestfallen, but Tachibana shows off her effortless ability to make friends—an ability Jinguugi has always been both envious of and perplexed by. Turns out Schwartz didn’t even know he could bring up a menu with his stats and skills. He seemingly activates one when a massive purple mouth-like opening forms in the sky above them…or could the color be a hint that this is that Kalm lady?

Fabiniku – 04 – The Black Swordsman

After much walking and much complaining by Tachibana, she and Jinguuji arrive in the first decent-sized town in this new world. Jinguuji doesn’t want to cause another incident like the one in the village where every man basically went nuts over Tachibana’s Unparalleled Beauty, so he hides it in the most inelegant way: a brown paper bag.

The Browns Fan look does keep men from becoming enthralled, but Tachibana does not like it. She wants Jinguuji to buy her a sword, so she takes off the bag to persuade him, and very nearly does. When the weapons store owner presents a golden hair ornament that will divert everyone’s gaze from its wearer, Tachibana tries to haggle the price with her beauty. This leads to more chaos, and to Jinguuji having to toss Tachibana into the apartment for her own safety and that of the people she instantly bewitches.

Back in the wilderness, she proposes staying in the apartment while Jinguuji does all the long-distance walking, but reconsiders this arrangement when heasks her what would happen if she was in the apartment when he died. The solution is that Jinguuji simply spent most of their gold on the dang crown, which Tachibana loves. As she walks through town, no bag on her head and enthralling no one, she notices how everyone is instead focused on her handsome companion.

The fact that Jinguuji is also wearing a Japanese business suit attracts one person in particular…Kirito! Well, he claims his name is Schwartz von Lichtenstein Lohengramm, but he’s actually a fellow Japanese guy who was summoned there by a goddess (not the same goddess who summoned Jinguuji and Tachibana, mind you). He assumes to have met a fellow “hero” in Jinguuji, but Jinguuji isn’t interested in the guy, who is clearly an otaku.

Schwartz also picks up a weird vibe from Jinguuji and Tachibana as they bicker, first thinking of them as a couple, then wondering if they’re a father-daughter pair, but the daughter has developed feelings for her dad which…the kid clearly reads a lot of light novels, okay?

Schwartz gets it into his head that he need s to prove that he’s a hero to these two, so he whips out his holy sword Gram and launches an attack at Jinguuji. We learn from his inner dialogue that the attack was much stronger than he expected, and that he hasn’t quite mastered his sword. This affords Jinguuji another chance to demonstrate his catlike reflexes when it comes to getting Tachibana out of harms way.

It also results in Schwartz being arrested by Lucius, an officer of the town watch, for destruction of property, with Jinguuji and Tachibana also brought in for questioning. Lucius’ boss gives Schwartz a chance to prove he’s a genuine hero summoned by a goddess by giving him a mission-based quest like one gets in RPGs. It looks like Jinguuji and Tachibana will also get roped into the mission to subjugate a “living armor” that collects magic items. Should be fun!

My Senpai is Annoying – 12 (Fin) – All Grow’d Up

The Fall’s cutest, sweetest, most life-affirming series ends on a suitably cute, sweet, life-affirming episode all about Futaba and Takeda. With Sakurai and Nakama’s relationship status in a good place, it made sence to focus on the main couple, who have been a lot more on the fence about where they stand despite their obvious chemistry and mutual affection.

Futaba’s growth as a salesperson, which she largely attributes to her senpai’s care and guidance, results not only in her scoring a good deal, but gives Takeda the confidence to send her off on a solo presentation that she then nails. This allows him to score a company-saving deal, and he’s soon surrounded by impressed ladies who want to throw a drinking party for him.

Not really in a hurry to watch other women fawn over her senpai, Futaba still insists Takeda join them at the party while excusing herself. With everyone else off doing something, Futaba ends up going to the usual izakaya alone. She immediately realizes it’s not nearly as fun there without Takeda, which…girl I’m sure if you asked him out so it was just the two of you, he’d have agreed in a heartbeat!

As the draft beer flows, Futaba reminisces on her first day at the office when she was a green(-haired) rookie. She immediately makes it clear to Sakurai that she’s not some doll to fawn over, while Takeda buys her a can of soup but then mistakes her for a junior high student, making their introduction as senpai and kohai thoroughly awkward.

Still, Futaba marvels at how far the two of them have come. She probably loathed the man who thought she was a little kid, but now that she knows Takeda and he’s helped her so much, that’s not the case anymore. Color me 100% un-shocked that Takeda blew off his own party as soon as he could to join Futaba, and just in time to keep a drunk salaryman from pawing her.

While a pretty dense fellow, Takeda has never been one to mince words or obfuscate about his general feelings towards Futaba. And yet he’s certainly not one to realize his feelings are romantic, nor is he bold enough to come right out and say that. What he can say, and Futaba can easily accept (with no small amount of blushing) is that he knows drinking with her is a lot more fun than drinking with anyone else.

He takes this a step further on their walk to the train station, after both he and Futaba have had a little too much beer. Nevertheless, it’s the perfect amount for him to be able to say that no matter who Futaba “ends up with” (in a general sense), he promises to always be there to protect her “until then”. Mind you, I’m sure both he and Futaba would be just find if that “someone” ends up being him!

After that lovely little nightttime scene and the credits, we get one more cute scenario—the famous Umbrella Walk. Futaba forgot hers, but Takeda’s is more than wide enough to accommodate her beside him. When she gets self-conscious and moseys over to the end, he draws her closer with his beefy hand. She freaks out, and calls her senpai annoying, but in truth there’s no one she’d rather be with under an umbrella.

The Duke of Death and His Maid – 08 – Beauty and the Grouch

This week’s first segment introduces us to Bocchan’s younger brother Walter, and…he’s a lot. First and foremost, he’s a bit of an arrogant prick, already measuring the drapes for his ascension to head of the family. He’s also got a complex about being called the secondborn son…even though that’s what he is. His goofy antics and physical comedy aside, Walter is not a good guy. At least Viola visits her big brother and treats him like a person!

While her official stance is neutral, I imagine Viola prefers Bocchan to Walter, and hopes he’ll break the curse. During her latest visit, she meets Caph, initially assumes she’s a burglar (not a bad instinct!) and attempts to tackle her, only to bounce off her bust. Then she sits on Caph and ties her up by the fire, which is the scene Rob walks in on, much to Viola’s dismay.

While Viola is charming, cute and fun to watch, the real meat of the episode comes in the final extended segment, during which both Bocchan and Alice play a game of chess during a snowy winter night and reminisce about a similar night years ago, when Alice was appointed Bocchan’s maid. Bocchan was in a much darker, more nihilistic emotional place then, and his first instincts were to dismiss Alice and suspect she’s laughing at him on the inside.

This is because, no doubt due in part to the trauma of suffering the witch’s curse, he doesn’t remember Alice. He certainly isn’t aware of just how momentous him taking her hand and helping her off the ground meant to her at that difficult time in her life. That’s right: the kid who now kills anything he touches once essentially saved Alice’s life…with his touch.

No matter how many insults Bocchan flings Alice’s way or derides her mere presence, or tells her he flat out hates her, Alice does not bend, at least not in front of him; we see a rare moment of her vulnerability after he leaves his room and sighs. When he gives her an ultimatum of cleaning his rock starred-up room in three days or she’s fired, she does it in one night, even though she cuts up her fingers picking up shards of glass.

When Bocchan sees Alice isn’t leaving, he decides to leave instead, trudging out into a winter storm until he’s lost and freezing. It’s then that he decides it would be better to just die than continue living the joke of a life he’s endured thus far, unable to touch or be touched.

But it’s while lying in the snow that he finally remembers who Alice was. That’s when Alice arrives to help him up the way he helped her up years ago. The only difference is there’s an umbrella between their hands this time. Alice fell for Bocchan that day, and never stopped falling for him since.

The Witch told Bocchan “No one shall love you, and you shall love no one. You will live a life of misery.” But that’s no longer true once the two come in from the cold and warm themselves by the fire. Alice does love and care for Bocchan, then and always, and Bocchan soon comes to love her right back as the misery in his life gives way to that love and the joy it brings.

Could it be that ever since that snowy night, the witch’s curse has been broken all this time, except that he can only touch Alice? If Bocchan can touch Alice, could it be long before he can safely touch Viola, or Rob, or Caph and Zain, or Walter…or even his mother? Maybe it will all come down to loving and being loved. We shall see in the final third of Duke of Death and His Maid

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Duke of Death and His Maid – 07 – Suspension Bridge Effect

Not about to be discouraged by Daleth’s insistence they give up, Alice spends much of the episode trying to find alternative methods of lifting Bocchan’s curse. She begins by procuring a second-hand witch’s cauldron complete with a book containing recipes for curse-lifting brews. Unfortunately it’s unsuccessful, but it as worth a try.

In the next segment, Alice finds some odd sheet music from a composer named MacFarlane (not Seth) who wrote the music in white ink on black paper because it looked cool, which also makes it hard to read. That said, it’s believed if you play his piece perfectly it can lift a curse, so Bocchan does just that, powering through both the distracting ghost of MacFarlane and Alice’s usual flirting. Turns out the curse that is lifted is…the curse of MacFarlane’s ghost.

When Bocchan accidentally breaks a flowerpot, he runs and hides from the wrath of Rob, and Alice tags along. While he started out the segment wanting to create the “suspension bridge effect” in her by scaring her and causing her heart to race, the fact of the matter is there’s no need to scare her. Alice’s heart is always racing when Bocchan is around, racing all the faster the closer in proximity they are. She’s long since established she’s not scared of dying, she just loves the guy.

The final sequence, which takes place after the credits, involves Bocchan and Alice sharing an Alice in Wonderland-themed dream in which they must secure the White Rabbit in order to exact a wish from Alice (the book version).

Their mission is derailed by the fact they can touch one another in the dream, with Bocchan waking up just before committing to kissing his Alice. The book Alice is mad for them totally slacking off, but Bocchan is content to fall back asleep, hoping to pick up his dream with Alice where he left off.

The Duke of Death and His Maid – 06 – Knight in a Top Hat

By introducing the overgrown conservatory this week the show finally acknowledges that it’s hella hard to maintain a vast mansion with just two servants, one of whom has a bad back! But should Bocchan never lift his curse and his younger brother becomes the head of the family, he always has a lucrative future in landscaping, as his curse becomes an effective brush-clearing blessing.

After losing himself a bit in the satisfaction of clearing away all the excess greenery, Bocchan checks in on Alice to find her admiring some purple flowers. Rather than wither them, he manages to dry them and make a charming garland headpiece for Alice, who promises to treasure it along with the rose he gave her. If you can’t touch the one you love, at least make yourself useful!

One night, Bocchan can’t sleep and hears Alice call out. He inadvertently catches her naked, and she puts on a towel reports that a black cat has run off with her dressing gown. Bocchan gallantly offers to track down the cat and retrieve the gown, but Alice accompanies him. I mean, I know Bocchan wasn’t going to accidentally murder the cat, but there’s still that edge to his interactions, especially with animals that move unpredictably.

With Alice donning Bocchan’s coat so she won’t catch a chill (and absolutely loving the opportunity to smell his scent), the two eventually find the cat, and discover the gown is not in recoverable shape. Since the cat took it to make a warm nest for her litter of kittens, neither Alice nor Bocchan feel that bad about letting the gown go. As Alice demonstrated earlier in the episode, she has a pretty extensive wardrobe.

After these two cute little “home” segments during which Alice and Bocchan putter around the mansion, we get to the meat of the episode: the long-awaited Witches’ Sabbath. Caph and Zain arrive, repurpose a mirror in a storeroom into a portal to the meeting spot, and give Bocchan and Alice robes that will mask their scent so the witches won’t, ya know, murder them or feed them to their carnivorous plant.

As soon as they arrive, Bocchan is on edge; while there are some witches with human form (and who are dressed like they’re ready for the club/beach/beach club) there are many more witches who appear to Bocchan to be nothing but monsters. While the sheltered Bocchan shouldn’t be judging books by their covers, since he’s been judged by his curse for most of his life I suppose it’s easy for the pot to call the kettle black.

The witches’ leader, Daleth, runs the Sabbath like high school homeroom, with the stand-and-bow, roll call, and mundane announcements. It’s actually pretty funny how laid back it all this, especially considering how wound-up Bocchan got; he intended to bring along a suitcase full of weapons, but Caph burned it to ash.

Alice actually already crossed paths with the skull-masked Daleth when she and Bocchan went on their little town date, and Daleth recognizes her too, seeing right past her and Bocchan’s frankly half-assed disguises. She also happens to know—and hate the fucking guts of—the witch who gave Bocchan his curse. The bad news? That witch is dead, and even Daleth has no idea how to lift the curse.

She recommends Bocchan give up now rather than later for his sake. When he protests, she deems the conversation over, then covers her withdrawal by burning away Bocchan’s robe. With his human stench exposed, the witches chase him en masse.

When the club/beach chicks sic their carnivorous plant on Alice, Bocchan need only touch one of the tendrils to kil the whole damn thing. Still, Alice does not understate the fact that Bocchan risked his life to save hers, doubtless causing her love for him to only grow.

Bocchan, Alice, Caph, and Zain make it back to their mirror portal, which closes before any of the witches can press their pursuit. After a short stint in a most magical and whimsical land, they’re back in the relative normalcy of Bocchan’s huge mansion. Bocchan isn’t about to let himself be discouraged by Daleth’s words, and continuing to believe there is a way to break the curse is crucial to breaking it.

As for Caph and Zain, he thanks them profusely for all of their help. Caph again explains that seeing him go all out inspired her to take a chance with a human, and she didn’t regret it. She assures him that the next time she and Zain return to his mansion, it will be as friends, not merely magical facilitators. As for the curse, well…who’s to say it’ll take a witch to break it?

The aquatope on white sand – 03 – First penguin

“Time not important. Only life important.”—Mondoshawan Caretaker, The Fifth Element

Before waking up for another busy day juggling school and thre directorship, Kukuru dreams of when her parents took her to the Gama Gama and she got to name her first penguin, Choko. He’s still with the aquarium fifteen years later, and was the first one in line when Fuuka’s doomed feeding session. Fortunately, she’s a lot better at feeding Choko here.

Besides being a surpassingly good boy, Choko, like the aquarium, is one of the ways Kukuru connects to her folks, who passed away not long after the aquarium visit in her dream. Fuuka learns this from Kukuru’s childhood friend Kai, who genuinely respects how hard Kukuru is working and wants to help in any way he can. Like Choko, Kai is also a good boy.

When Kukuru notices sores on Choko’s legs, she uses her authority as summer director to summon the vet Takeshita (Hanazawa Kana), who is on maternity leave and very pregnant, but also happy to stop by and examine the penguins.

But then, while at the aquarium, her water breaks. Kukuru initially panics, but when Kuuya addresses her by her position as acting director she slaps her cheeks, gets a grip, and makes Takeshita comfortable until a car (Karin’s) can arrive to take her to the maternity home.

While Kukuru and Fuuka are tending to her, Takeshita has a dream, not that dissimilar from the one Fuuka had that led her to want to get a job there. After Kukuru repeats what Takeshita once told her—that Gama Gama is a place where all life is protected, both aquatic and human—the aquarium seems to envelop the vet in its tranquil, watery bosom.

She sees the deity Kujimunaa playing with the image of her about-to-be-born son, who then swims down to hug her and tell her she’s about to meet him. It’s just such a moving, beautiful, and heart-swelling scene; one that demonstrates the true power behind what Kukuru is desperately trying to protect.

In this regard, Kukuru is like Choko: the “First Penguin” to dive into uncertain waters and have a positive effect on those around them. Those who either love the aquarium, or Kukuru, or both can’t help but want to give their all in trying to help Kukuru rescue Gama Gama.

And when Kuuya points out that the penguin keychain that catches Fuuka’s eye in the gift shop was made by Kukuru, she buys one for herself. After the two visit Takeshita and her healthy baby boy, Kukuru notices Fuuka has one of her keychains, it cheers her up after the bittersweet visit when the presence of a new mother in Takeshita reminded Kukuru that hers is gone.

Kukuru’s visit to Takeshita was also instructive, as she learned more about the “maternity handbooks” she found. They’re given to expectant mothers, meaning the ones Kukuru found were her mother’s. One bore her name, but the other was blank. I’m still not sure where this thread is going, as Kukuru confirms she’s never been pregnant, but the theme of maternity is certainly a rare and intriguing one for a slice of life anime.

Fruits Basket – 54 – Coming Home

After a cryptic cold open in which Akito shows Kureno a black box presumably containing her father’s remains, we shift to Yuki asking Hatsuharu about Rin. Haru doesn’t know any of the details, but was unaware Rin had become close with Tooru, and gleams with pride. He tells Yuki to thank Tooru, and “if it all goes wrong”, to comfort her.

Kisa and Hiro, who are both taller now, head to Hiro’s house so Kisa can meet lil’ Hinata. Hiro admits that whenever he sees Hinata, he thinks of how stupid he is to always be wrapped up in his vanity and fear. He wants to be a brother who can protect her. That’s why even when he bumps into Haru to ruin the mood, Hiro is intent on apologizing to Kisa, since it was his fault Akito hit her.

He tells Haru that Akito pushed Rin off the balcony, but Akito and Rin both told him to keep his mouth shut. He also knows Rin is trying to break the Zodiac curse, which is why she left Haru—to shield him from whatever consequences she’d face. And as Haru tells these truths to lighten his heart, Kureno spots a maid delivering food to the Cat’s cottage, demands the key, and discovers a starving Rin imprisoned there.

The lovely, innocent exchange between Hiro and Kisa is a preemptive balm for the harsh events that follow in this episode. This is an episode full of beautiful and terrible moments. As soon as he takes his leave of Hiro and Kisa, Haru becomes Dark Haru, and storms right into Akito’s rooms to confront him*—decorum be damned.

*While we, Kureno, Shigure, and Tooru know the truth about Akito’s biological sex, Haru is one of the Zodiac members still in the dark, hence the male pronouns I use for Akito when interacting with Haru.

We’re reminded how scary Hatsuharu can be when he’s pissed off, and he has every right to be, especially when Akito denies he pushed Rin off the balcony and pretends not to know where she is now. Haru is about to get violent with him when Kureno comes in and tells Haru that Rin is in the hospital under Hatori’s care.

Then Kureno scolds Akito for doing something so monstrously cruel. He may have vowed to remain by her side forever, but he didn’t say anything about standing by and letting her pull this kind of shit. For all the shading we’ve gotten into Akito’s own background and trauma, she continues to sabotage any chance of sympathy by being so goddamn villainous.

When Akito’s demeanor changes and he tries to play the victim of Kureno’s betrayal, Haru violently grabs him, but Akito is ready with the gaslighting, saying it’s Haru’s fault Rin is suffering; he dug her grave when he decided to fall in love with her, knowing full well how Akito would react.

Akito tries to turn Haru’s love for Rin against him, into a defect that rendered him worthless when he felt Rin needed him most. And it works—at least at first, as Haru punches the wall instead of Akito, and warns him not to say anything else lest he kill him and then himself.

As he storms off, Kureno urges him never to return there, but instead to go to the hospital to see Rin, who surely wants to see him more than anything. While she was malnourished and barely conscious when Kureno found her, Rin’s first word was “Haru.” Upon hearing that, the rope representing the curse binding Haru with Akito begins to fray.

Rin, meanwhile, ends up escaping from her hospital room, as is her habit, lamenting that she has “no home to go to” anymore. She wanders the streets barefoot and frail, remembering how she ended up in the cat prison in the first place. While sneaking around the Souma compound, Rin was caught by Ren, who agreed to tell her the secret to breaking the curse if she retrieved a “treasure” from Akito’s room: the box Akito called “father.”

Rin is caught red-handed by Akito, her hair is roughly snipped off, and she’s thrown into the Cat’s cottage to rot. As for Ren? She never knew the cure to the curse, and was only using Rin, whom she always dispised. Last week didn’t show us a short-haired Rin; it was Akito with those scissors. Akito warns Rin to go into exile or Haru will lose his eyesight. Rin decides to stay in the prison and waste away, deeming herself “no good” for failing to find the secret to Haru’s happiness—i.e. the cure for the curse.

In her delirious state Rin believes she’s still imprisoned, and wishes that if she’s going to die, that at least her final dream will be of her beloved Haru, spoiling her with his kindness. She gets her wish, except that it’s not a dream: he finally found her collapsed on the sidewalk. Haru was always Rin’s true home—and vice versa—so when she “returns” from her long journey, it’s only appropriate that he say “Welcome Home.” He needs her to come home to him, or it’ll be too lonely to bear.

He scoops her up (she can’t weigh more than 90 pounds). She protests, saying she can walk on her own, but he refuses to let her go, not when he came so close to losing her! When he saw her on the ground years ago, he did nothing, but now he’s older, and wiser, and stronger, and loves her so much more, so no matter how many times she needs to be carried, it would never be a burden for him.

As two random elementary school kids gawk at the powerful, adorable romantic scene unfolding before them, Rin says “I’m home”, and she and Haru embrace tightly as one, her long journey finally at an end. Thank God. Not Akito though…a better god!

RABUJOI WORLD HERITAGE LIST

SSSS.Dynazenon – 04 – Dyna Dizzy Fever Day

Wrested from her previously stagnant state by her new Dyna-duties and co-pilot comrades, Yume commences her investigation into her sister Kano in earnest. She meets with a member of the chorus club during Dyna-training, and Yomogi is distracted because he’s developed a little thing for her.

His boss Inamoto teases him about it, while that same Inamoto reaches out to Koyomi for dinner. Yume and Mei lie on the Karaoke couches cheek to cheek, posed like stylish Monogatari characters but simply living their ordinary lives and basking in their deep friendship. I like how we see parts of Yume with Mei we see nowhere else. But Mei can tell Yume has changed, and wants to know what caused it.

Compounding Yomogi’s sudden heartsickness is a steadily developing cold, as well as one of the Eugenicists—the pretty boy Shizumu—enrolled in their class as an “exchange student” and is give the seat right behind Yume. However, like Juuga, he’s not looking for a fight; rather trying to get a read on Gauma’s new co-pilots. Gauma attacks Shizumu on school campus, which gets him fired from his job.

The next day, Cardcaptor Sakura Yomogi’s fever worsens and his mom deems him unfit for school. When he doesn’t show for training, Gauma sends Yume to check on him, unwittingly bestowing upon Yomogi a great gift: having the girl he likes visit him when he’s sick. A warm, cozy, earnest little scene between Yomogi and Yume follows, in which Yomogi realizes he doesn’t know Yume that well at all, but wants to.

Meanwhile, the sole female Eugenicist Mujina takes command of a new Kaiju with a very Kaiju-power: it can change objects from three to two dimensions, rendering them inert in the three-dimensional world. I like to think there’s a little symbolic parallel between that ability and Yomogi’s skin-deep understanding of Yume, but there’s a more pressing matter: Dynazenon can’t combine without Soldier.

Yume takes Yomogi’s Soldier toy and joins Gauma and Koyomi in battle. Unbeknownst to Koyomi, Chise stowed away his Striker, and when Yume arrives she volunteers to pilot Soldier. All the while the ill Yomogi looks left out and lonely, especially knowing Yume will be meeting with another chorus club member…this time a guy.

Chise’s avid video game skills serve her well at first, but she’s soon overwhelmed as she just doesn’t have the same rapport with Soldier as Yomogi, who calls Yume to get a progress report. Things aren’t good, so Yume has to fly back to Yomogi and pick him up, fever and all. Even if he feels like shit physically, he’s gotta feel good she came back for him.

Yomogi, all coughs, sniffles, and sneezes, joins the others and they combine into Dragon Dynazenon to soften the kaiju up, then upgrades to Super Dragon Dyna Rex for the coup-de-grace. It’s another loss for the Eugenicists, but other than Onija none of them are that miffed about it, probably because they gained more info on Dynazenon.

Chise apologizes to Yomogi and promises to train to become a better backup Soldier pilot, which Yomogi says isn’t necessary. I’d honestly wondered why Chise alone didn’t have a Dyna-toy to pilot, and I’m still not quite sure she’s not hiding something big. But while it’s fun to theorize on what twists are yet to come, it’s honestly just as good to watch Yomogi and Yume’s delicate dance as it unfolds onscreen.

While Yume is giving him a ride home in Wing, Yomogi asks if he can come with her when she meets the chorus guy. Notably she doesn’t respond by asking why he’d want to, but says “sure” first, then asks “but why”. Yomogi says it’s because we wants to know more about her, but unfortunately she sneezes just as he’s saying it, and he’s too bashful to repeat it.

Sure enough, Yume is absent for the next Dyna-training session, as she’s caught Yomogi’s cold, and we’re treated to a parting sight of her curled up under thick covers, her face surrounded by all manner of stuffed animals. As crazy and otherworldly as the Dyna/Kaiju battles get, SSSS always returns to the familiar and relatable realism of the characters and the lived-in places they inhabit. It continues to be an irresistible combination, impeccably produced by Trigger.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

SSSS.Dynazenon – 03 – Helping People In Need

Onija, the fiery member of the Eugenicists, gets into a yelling match with Gauma, calling him a traitor and ready to kill him. The only problem, as the level-headed Juuga (a calm Kamiya Hiroshi) points out, is they have no kaiju with which to fight Dynazenon, so they’d better just split for now. But it’s clear there’s bad blood between them, and Gauma’s human co-pilots want to know what led to the rift.

In the meantime, Yomogi attempts to practice in his Dyna Soldier, and then he and Yume actually hang out during school. Specifically, they go to the chorus club advisor asking about her sister Kano, who she tells Yomogi died five years ago, just before the first recital she ever invited her to.

Yume and her sister didn’t speak much. Koyomi then runs into a classmate from middle school he once watched breaking school windows; now she’s married…and Yomogi’s boss, who gives him her contact info. Little by little, we’re being presented with bits and pieces of the Dyna-pilots’ pasts. Do their connections to each other predate their current collab?

Perhaps most mysterious is what is up with Gauma and the Eugenicists. Juuga takes the step of meeting with Yomogi after school—not to threaten, like his hotheaded comrade, but to answer what questions he can. Yomogi learns that Gauma was someone Juuga and the others looked up to 5,000 years ago, but at some point Gauma betrayed them and they all died.

Now they’ve revived…for some reason. As for how and why Gauma betrayed his kohais, he’s tight-lipped as the co-pilots visit him under the bridge, eating tiny river crabs. The next day, a new kaiju appears, and Onija uses the Vulcan Salute to activate it.

When the Dyna-pilots learn of the new kaiju sighting, they all answer the call, but remain frustrated with Gauma’s silence. When it’s clear they won’t be able to defeat Onija’s explosive-lobbing kaiju without combining, they insist he give them something so they can trust him enough to combine.

Gauma gives in, telling them he wants to meet someone, and believes he was given the power to operate Dynazenon so that he could find that person in this era. When he affirms that this “someone” is a woman, everyone understands, and are sufficiently satisfied that the combination can proceed.

The combined Dynazenon grabs the kaiju and launches it into space, where its explosion attacks won’t work in a vacuum (while proving that this world has significant differences from Akane’s “world” in Gridman). Dynazenon launches all its weapons, which apparently work just fine in space. The kaiju is blasted to pieces, one of which gets through the atmosphere and knocks Onija off his electrical pylon. But while it sure looked like he was killed, he’s actually fine.

“Kaiju defy common sense,” says Gauma. They make the impossible possible. All the pilots need to confirm this is the fact they’re floating in space. But to Yume, it means something more. If the person Gauma wants to meet revived, maybe her sister can be revived too?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

SSSS.Dynazenon – 02 – What Are We Now?

The first of many wonderful decisions made in this exquisitely directed and impeccably detailed second episode is that we catch a second look at the end of last week’s kaiju battle from Yomogi’s POV. It’s great to see this confused ordinary kid simply along for the ride as Dynazenon leaps, flies, and takes its opponent down.

After that, the dino-mecha vanishes, or rather reverts to its resting form of four toys distributed among the three new co-pilots by Gauma. When Yomogi says he didn’t even do anything, Gauma says it’s possibly Dynazenon recognized his innate aptitude.

Then immediately goes back to what he was doing before the attack: castigating Yume for standing Yomogi up, leading Yomogi to ask for calm. Gauma goes on to say a group called the Kaiju Eugenicists controlled the kaiju, and they’ll be back, so the group has to train. Everyone agrees to meet up tomorrow…even Yume.

The next day at school and in Koyomi’s room, everything seemingly reverts back to normal, except for the compression of classes due to the kaiju attack. Yomogi’s friends want him to hang, but he has work. Chise points out to Koyomi that if he’s a robot co-pilot then that means he’s technically employed.

After school Yume gets a piggyback ride from her best friend Mei on a grassy hill near the flood gate. We’ve never seen her so outwardly joyful, laughing until she’s out of breath before heading to training session, this time keeping her word. Mei, a photog, notices this sudden change in Yume’s attitude and snaps some gorgeous candid shots of her as she parts.

Yomogi, who’d classically be the one most “into” this new kaiju-punching mecha scenario, has to work instead, missing the first training session. When his manager what happened on his date, he says “way too much” happened, though none of it “erotically”. He then goes home for a soak and is shocked when Gauma comes in to join him in a far-too-cramped tub.

There’s a lovely juxtaposition between Yomogi and Gauma’s bath and Yume’s. Yomogi was thinking about what having “aptitude” for Dynazenon means, while Yume is thinking about apologizing to Yomogi. Her parents are arguing on the other side of Yume’s bathroom door, one instance of many of Dynazenon’s elite sound design.

From the tinny sound of voices on radio or TV, voices muffled through walls, far away, close up, outside and on the train, we hear voices in Dynazenon just like we do in real life. Also adding to the immersive realism are the extremely lived-in interiors. Like Gauma, we feel like an honored guest in the cozy, realistically cluttered home Yomogi shares with his mom and aging granny.

It’s also clear from this scene why Yomogi is working so much he’s missing all of Gauma’s training sessions: with no siblings or father, now that he’s old enough to work he wants to help support his family as much as he can. As odd as Gauma is, he still seems to get this, and isn’t hard on Yomogi’s choice to skip training for work.

But as we’re introduced to four suspicious figures near a wrecked station, he won’t be able to ignore his Dyna-duties for long. Yume tracks him down and decides to give him a one-on-one lesson on how to access his Dyna-vehicle. She starts by accessing hers: the aerial Dyna Wing, and he accesses Dyna Soldier. Then she merges with him, giving his robot the ability to fly and giving her robot arms and legs with which to fight.

The two combine quickly and without any fanfare, but it still feels like an intimate act, and it was foreshadowed by Yume piggyback riding on Mei’s back. Now she’s piggybacking on Yomogi, and their maiden flight together results in a very sweet and simple conciliatory talk from 40,000 feet travelling at mach 0.8.

Yume is sorry, and Yomogi isn’t mad. Yomogi asked “What are we now?”, referring to their combined Wing/Soldier form. But you could just as easily answer that “what they are now” … is friends. They were able to bridge the distance between them and start fresh…all thanks to robots.

In a very slick transition, their combined “Dyna Wing Soldier” flies behind a building as the camera pans down, and once we’re at ground level we see Yume and Yomogi walking together. They visit the collateral damage the kaiju battle caused, which distresses Yomogi, but Yume assures him it would have been far worse had they not fought and defeated the kaiju. In light of the mess they made, Yomogi wonders if they should hand off their Dyna duties to someone else—perhaps someone older or more experience.

Yume’s response is instructive: If you always go by the book, there are things you can’t protect. On the train home, Yume opens up to him about how her sister died, in an accident, at the flood gate where she spends so much time. It’s another momentous moment presented with sublime mundaneness. Kudos again to the sound design, as you can hear her voice bouncing off the metal walls of the train.

Just like that, smash cut to the kaiju of the week – initially so unassuming, taking up a tiny portion of the frame as it lurks under an overpass. Then Yuuga, one of the four too-cool-for-school “Bad Guy” kaiju users in marching band uniforms (a Trigger trademark) is chosen by the others to take command, and the kaiju grows to immense size.

The psychedelic kaiju starts leveling city blocks when Dynazenon arrives, just as Yuuga & Co. predicted. Only as expected, this second kaiju is a lot trickier than the first. One can’t just punch it, because it can freakin’ teleport. Yuuga uses this ability to great effect by kicking the shit out of the comparatively sluggish Dynazenon while dodging all it’s counterattacks.

Gauma decides to audible “Disperse!”, and the four Dyna parts split, giving their opponent four targets. The only problem is, without any training Yomogi has no idea how to move his Soldier Dyna on its own, and as he wrestles with the controls his sitting duck Dyna’s arms flail around comically. If that wasn’t enough, his manager calls him from work, a fun instance of his normal life interrupting his new kaiju-bustin’ one.

When the enemy kaiju accelerates its destructo-beams and buildings start to crumble, Yomogi spots a bus full of innocent people in harm’s way, and realizes that whether he’s confident in his abilities or not, he wants to protect them. Yume suggests they do what they did before and piggyback into Dyna Soldier, and with Yume’s added agility is able to destroy the fragile wings the kaiju was using to teleport.

After that, he and Yume launch the kaiju high into the sky, where Gauma is able to finish it off with his Dyna Launcher Burst Missile. Team Dynazenon is now 2-for-2, with Dyna-teamwork making the Dyna-dream work. As they exit their robots and bask in their latest victory, Yomogi asks if Yume was close to her sister. She says they didn’t get along well, but admits that now she’s not so sure anymore.

Just as their regular lives are portrayed so simply and realistically with both sights and sounds, there’s a similar realism to the feelings Yume and Yomogi expressed here. There’s nothing over-the-top or melodramatic about their exchanges. Instead, they’re becoming closer little by little, at their own pace.

Unfortunately the pace of battles is likely to heat up, as the enemy kaiju users Gauma identifies as the “Kaiju Eugenicists” are steaming over their latest defeat. Our ragtag gang of good-hearted souls want to keep protecting what they can, they’ll need to step up their Dyna-battle game, ’cause these drum majors look serious, and the gloves are coming off.

%d bloggers like this: