Fruits Basket – 17 – Paying It Forward

Uotani Arisa was a broken and rudderless teen, subsumed by dirt and blood from pointless beatings; lost in the darkness. Things were briefly made worse when her idol Kyouko turned out to be the “lame” doting mom of the even lamer and impossibly sweet Tooru.

And yet, when Arisa is alone and on the run from more beating than she can take in a day, who does she barrel into once more but that sweet and polite Tooru, who immediately senses her friend is in danger, grabs her by the arm, and runs.

At Tooru’s apartment, Arisa finds herself back in an atmosphere of warmth, tranquility and love that is so foreign to her it’s uncomfortable. She figures her dirty delinquent self wouldn’t change even if she had such an atmosphere at her home, with her dad. Nevertheless, she’s jealous of it, and she wants it.

Tooru Kyouko are more than willing to share it with her, and to soothe her crushing loneliness that has been the core of her struggles in life so far. Back in the present, we see that Arisa is no longer lonely, and loves Tooru and Saki very much. That’s when the three young delinquent wannabes finally confront Arisa, but she ignores them as if they were mere gnats.

While her story about how she became besties with Tooru is complete, there remains the rest of her story: how she became the strong, beautiful, wonderful person she is. It’s a story she doesn’t tell the Souma boys, but is generous enough to share with us.

Hanging out with Tooru and Kyouko is a positive force for change in Arisa, but that change doesn’t come as quickly or easily as removing the stems peas. She may have returned to school and studies with Tooru, but her teachers assume she’s bullying her, while her gang takes none to kindly to her efforts to go straight.

Other students are weirded out by Tooru hanging out with Arisa all the time, and rumors spread about Tooru actually being a delinquent beneath a goody-goody facade. To Arisa’s relief and joy, Tooru pays such rumblings absolutely no mind. She’s going to make an extra muffin for her dear friend Uo-chan, no matter what anyone says.

But while the bond of friendship between Tooru and Arisa can’t be easily broken, the same doesn’t go for Arisa’s bones. While in the present she credits Kyouko and Tooru with saving her, it’s not like Arisa did nothing to help her own cause, and while she might not have known it at the time, going back to her gang to tell them she’s out and facing the consequences was actually the first step towards saving herself.

Thanks to her older gangmate Akimoto, Kyouko learns of the horrible beating Arisa’s doomed to receive if no one intervenes, so the Crimson Butterfly dons her duster for one last rodeo, intervening in the fight, extracting the battered Arisa, and carrying her back to her place on piggyback.

As Arisa demeans and insults her idiotic self for not realizing sooner she was on the wrong path, Kyouko offers some sage life advice, having experience quite a bit of that life herself. She tells Arisa that sometimes you need to hit rock bottom to realize you want to change; and that neither the light nor purity of life she seeks would be possible without the presence of darkness and dirt from which she emerged.

Arisa didn’t understand the feelings she bore until she got hurt exploring them, but now that she’s come out the other side, she knows with the clarity of a mountain lake what she wants to do: to become a strong, beautiful, wonderful best friend in whom Tooru can take pride.

So Arisa abandons her delinquent past to become just that, and eventually she and Tooru befriend Saki as well. And while she is utterly devastated when Kyouko suddenly dies, she’s also eternally grateful for the things Kyouko gave her and the things she left behind, with which she can not only continue to be a better person with a kinder soul, but pay the love and kindness and wisdom she received to others.

That means not simply socking the redheaded delinquent punk (Ishi-chan) who keeps bothering her, but offering her words of advice she wished she’d received earlier: Stop acting out while you still can, before something serious happens. If you need someone to scold you, I’ll do it anytime.

Ishi is immediately smitten by Arisa’s blend of warmth and coolness, and her two friends fall in line, becoming fans of Uotani Arisa on the spot. After the credits, Ishi not only cosplays as Arisa, but wears the exact same outfit Arisa wore the day they met! Needless to say, this is exceedingly cute and heartwarming.

Just like Arisa idolizing someone like Kyouko instead of a less savory gang member, it’s almost as if the universe is looking out for these three still very young kids who have a lot of life yet to live before giving up.

Because they chose the right woman to idolize, just as she did. And perhaps, one day, when they’re better people, they’ll pay Arisa’s wisdom and kindness forward, and help others become better too. Along with Tooru—essentially a demigoddess of love and kindness—this is the enduring gift Kyouko left behind, and why she’ll never really be gone.

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O Maidens in Your Savage Season – 01 (First Impressions) – Crazy Train

Onodera Kazusa is an almost aggressively normal high school girl. She doesn’t really stand out anywhere, and is part of a literature club whose members include both a budding author, a glasses-wearing prudish type, and a serene senpai who is perfectly comfortable reciting very steamy sex scenes in the book they’re all reading.

Kazusa has a best friend in fellow lit club member Sudou Momoko, and she has a childhood friend in the train-loving Norimoto Izumi. She and Momoko are each other’s main source of verbal and emotional support in these trying adolescent times. She and Izumi were once as close as brother and sister, but have drawn further apart due to his increasing popularity—particularly with other girls.

Kazusa is voiced by relative newcomer Kono Hiyori, who does a splendid job modulating her voice for Kazusa’s vulnerable and frustrated inner monologues. It also helps that she closely resembles Shizuku from Whisper of the Heart, a rare Ghibli film grounded in contemporary life and one of my favorite anime works.

It helps because Shizuku never strayed past the “pure and innocent” phase of her romance with Seiji; the film ended (spoilers!) with her suddenly proposing marriage after they bike up the highest points in West Tokyo and watch the sun rise on the city. It’s beautiful, and it marks a major milestone in their trudge toward adulthood…but it’s incomplete.

O Maidens in Your Savage Season (written by the great Okada Mari) is not incomplete. It reveals all of the insecurities and worries and downright dilemmas far beyond simply developing feelings for someone and being frustrated by one’s comparative lack of accomplishment. By the end, we have a nearly complete picture of who Kazusa is (just a kid), what she is gradually becoming mentally and physically (an adult) and how she feels about that (not so great so far!)

When Kazusa’s mom—whom she says many describe as “child-like” even though she’s most definitely not a virgin due to Kazusa’s existence—asks her to take some food to Izumi’s next door, the comfort of their familiarity is evident, but so is a growing awkwardness punctuated when Izumi asks if he should talk to her around other people.

Kazusa’s wishy-washy reply (depends on who and where) doesn’t help matters. Talking about their issues clearly would be optimal, but again…these are kids. She’s aware enough to know she didn’t handle her interaction with Izumi in a satisfying way, leaving so much up in the air and unclear, but she doesn’t yet possess the tools to do so, hence her frustration and very Shizuku-like private mope on Izumi’s front stoop.

Back in lit club, Sugawara Niina, with her confident stride, ever-calm tone, and shorter skirt, all indicate she’s more mature than the other four members. To put it far more harshly, some boys consider her a diamond atop a pile of dung. But when a story with the premise of “doing something before you die” comes up, she blurts out “have sex,” because as mature as she looks and sounds, she’s still a virgin—still in the bubble with the rest of them. Despite all the classy smut they’ve read, it’s still a totally unknown world.

But her stated desire to have sex before death brings that subject too the forefront, like poking at the bubble until it bursts. Now sex is the first thing on the minds of the four other girls, from Rika (glasses) telling some gals to shut up about sex and being verbally abused by some classmates and then complimented by another; to Kazusa overhearing two of the girls who like Izumi talk very openly about wanting to take his virginity.

The more Kazusa hears about Izumi and sex, the more those two seem like something possible and thus terrifying—a far cry from the little boy with which she used to run around, fall over, and wade in the kiddy pool. The boy who’s crazy about trains. With the bubble of obliviousness popped by Niina, Kazusa finds herself on the deep end, her surroundings growing darker and more morose. But she has to kick and swim and breathe, or she’ll drown.

Things already feel like they’re starting to spiral out of all control for Kazusa, who asserts that she doesn’t like this and isn’t ready for it at all, but she has no idea what’s coming down the track to knock her off the rails of innocence for good, where she was once only teetering and threatening to fall. In an absolutely stunning sequence that plays like, well, a train wreck, Kazusa hears music inside Izumi’s, and so enters through the unlocked front door.

She makes her way up the stairs to Izumi’s room, where the door is cracked but not closed, and lets herself in without knocking. Izumi is inside, his pants down and his feet on the desk, masturbating to porn on the internet. The director lets the two just sit there in the moment of horror, completely silent but for the (likely fake) orgasmic screams of the woman on the laptop. Izumi gives a half-hearted “Hey,” then asks if she’ll keep this a secret. Pretty smooth, considering one of every guy’s worst nightmares just came true.

Kazusa…snaps. She bolts out of the house screaming and just…keeps running and screaming (the action animation is superb) through a market district. Naturally, every food sign is a double entendre, lending credence to her lament that there’s just too much god damn sex in the world.

Worse, her pure, innocent Izumi has changed forever. The boy is dead; a man has taken his place. The last time he saw her penis it was tiny and harmless. Now, not so much. As she stops on a bridge over a train track to catch her breath, she tearfully declares out loud that “that won’t fit in there!” Then, in a moment perhaps almost too on the nose but also pretty damn effective, a train passes beneath her, lining right up between her legs, and enters a very tight tunnel. “It fit,” she says, relieved, but she soon collapses back into a heap of adolescent frustration.

O Maidens is a refreshingly bold, sincere, brutally frank depiction of sexual awakening and its maaaany pitfalls. So far the experience is largely horrifying, terrifying, and overwhelming for Kazusa, and it’s sure to continue to be so. But the show balances the drama and comedy, never letting you forget these are human beings with human being minds and parts, all of which are in a state of open rebellion, but all of which are also very complicated.

The stakes for Kazusa and her friends are far higher than looking fit in a bikini for the summer. This is for all the marbles. All we as viewers can do is ball our fists and hope she hangs on for dear life to this train ride that can’t be stopped, until the ride becomes at least little smoother, if not joyful. I’ll be in the cafe car, quietly cheering on these maidens in their savage season.

Sagrada Reset – 05

If you’d have told me prior to this week’s episode that we’d not only go back to Asai and Haruki’s first job as high school service club members, but that that first job would involve a student stuck in the reflection of a marble, I’d have thought you were off your rocker. But that’s Sagrada Reset for you: full of surprises and unapologetically weird in its execution of those surprises.

The non-Patema, yet still Inverted Sera Sawako serves as a fresh lens from which to view our lead couple, and she’s candid in her assessment, as you can see above. But she doesn’t think that’s a bad thing, just as she’s not particularly panicking about being stuck in a marble’s reflection, despite the inconveniences.

She even inadvertently gets Haruki to start using the same vocal patterns as Asai, which Sera finds even weirder, while Asai can see the upside, but would rather Haruki spoke like Haruki, which was a clever (if oh-so-subtle for a non-Japanese speaker) bit of voice acting by Hanazawa Kana.

As this is the first job, it’s not a particularly difficult one, and certainly less bloody than the one involving Murase later on. They only need one reset, and even though Tsushima tells Asai to reset immediately, the fact they were to meet with Sera-in-the-Marble (during an expensed meal) tells Asai that Tsushima is hoping the duo will do more, and they do.

That includes contacting Sera’s middle school friends and learning her unwanted nickname from then was “Student Monitor” due to her perfect attendance and penchant for warning students who broke the rules. It all stems from a conversation she had with her elementary school teacher about the “pure object” within her that lets her see only pure things.

Sera’s ability is to transport her consciousness into the reflection of something pure, but Asai surmises the ability only activates when she desires to do something impure—like not worry about being late for the opening ceremony. In exercising her right, nay, responsibility as a youngster to be irresponsible at times, she literally and figuratively ends up in an stange, inverted new world, and she doesn’t really like it.

Asai also picks up on the fact that despite the strife it may have caused her, Sera wants to stay true to herself, and continue to have that impossibly “pure object” exist within her. In that regard, her foray into the marble is almost a punishment for not being true to herself.

When Asai tells Haruki to reset, it’s at the very last moment, once he has all he needs to resolve Sera’s predicament. The next time she spots a marble in the street, Asai beats her to it, so she’s not late for her bus, and arrives at the ceremony on time.

Still, she heads to the field instead of the auditorium so she can eat a   lollipop, which she assumed was against the rules (causing tears to well up), only to learn from Asai that it isn’t (since they’re technically between classes).

Asai isn’t 100% sure Sera will never end up in a reflection of something again, but he and Haruki did as much as they could, and she’s out of the marble, so it’s first mission accomplished. And just to bring it all together, as the cold open showed, the one to lead Murase upon her introduction to her class in September is none other than Sera Sawako; both of them beneficiaries of Asai and Haruki’s services.

Subete ga F ni Naru: The Perfect Insider – 06

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With five episodes behind us and five ahead, we’ve reached the middle of Subete ga F, and it’s predictably a crossroads of a kind. Last week ended with a disagreement between Saikawa-sensei and Moe, as well as the introduction of a knife and Shiki likely bringing Shindo into her plan to murder her parents.

Saikawa and Moe have had access to numerous clues, but haven’t solved anything yet, so they return to the campsite, if anything just to get some distance from all the messed-up shit they experienced at the lab.

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Alone on the beach, Saikawa goes over what they’ve learned so far, while Moe does the same in front of her educational colleagues, who wrongly assumed from her demeanor that she confessed and Saikawa rejected her.

She drowns her frustrations in non-alcoholic beer, but somehow, amusingly, gets drunk anyway. Some “non-alcoholic” beer can still be 1% ABV or more, but the can says 0.00%, so I don’t think that’s the case here? As for the can, it seems to be a cross between Sapporo (with the red star) and Kirin Free (white and green can). In any case, Moe is apparently a mean drunk.

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Things get seedier on Saikawa’s end when Yamane offers him a bribe to be a party to conspiracy. They have a big NASA contract coming up, and the police discovering Magata would ruin over a year of work. Saikawa is disgusted, and returns to the other campers.

Later that night, after Moe’s slept off the NAB, she and Saikawa have a nice moment where Saikawa lights a sparkler and talks about how he used to fear fireworks and not comprehend how people could enjoy doing something he perceived as so dangerous.

That’s enough for Moe to deduce that Saikawa’s not leaving the island after all, which means neither is she. She doesn’t care how dangerous it is, she wants answers. She’s close to this, after all. And as long as Saikawa is by her side, she believes she’ll be fine. They go to Yamane and agree to stay quiet for a week if he gives them unfettered access to the lab.

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United by their desire to see this through to the end and discover the truth for themselves, they restart their investigation with a full head of steam. Saikawa believes the killer wrote the three messages on the computer.

Moe discovers a change of elevator positions during the emergence of Magata’s body on the cart. Saikawa observes that all the encyclopedias on Magata’s bookshelf only go up to fifteen, the number of years she lived there. Is “fifteen” the “F” that one message said “everything becomes”?

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Then the final kicker: we watch how the murder of Shiki’s parents goes down. When Shindo hesitates, she takes the knife she gave him and stabs her mother herself. He grabs her from behind, and they essentially plunge the knife into her father together, getting blood all over her and the doll in the process. She spares her aunt, who witnessed everything, and she looks extremely satisfied with how everything went down.

So there we have it: we now know how Shiki killed her parents, and maybe one of the reasons why as well (to free Shindo from the shame of their becoming lovers). It’s yet to be determined how much the details of this incident informs how and why Shiki and Shindo themselves were murdered, but as Moe—who like Shiki, is into an older man—said: Shiki seemed “overcome” by death.

But did she really go “mad” as a result of that? What is “madness” to someone with such a towering intellect? In the second half to come, I imagine we’ll find out; and hopefully it will be an elegant unveiling.

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Subete ga F ni Naru: The Perfect Insider – 05

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It was probably present before, but this week more than others I noticed the common theme between the two “couples” in Subete ga F: Shiki and Shindo in the past; Saikawa and Moe in the present. In both cases, the men are unfulfilled, wanting more freedom but being tied down; fearing the very freedom they crave because of what it might cost.

And by the end of the episode both couples arrive at a turning point, as well as a philosophical impasse of sorts. The apparent murder case, so prominent last week, takes a back seat to how being in the Land of Magata Shiki is affecting Saikawa and Moe, even as they act out a very similar scenario to that of the now-dead couple.

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Suffering vivid dreams of the day her own parents died, Moe ends up pumping Shindo’s still-in-shock widow for information. Losing her husband has left her untethered, floating free; but she doesn’t know what to do with herself, so she bakes too many cookies and is happy to tell Moe whatever she wants to hear about the day Shiki’s parents were killed.

But no matter how many details Moe learns, she comes no closer to understanding Shiki or her crimes, to say nothing of accepting them. It’s when she confers with Saikawa that a rift starts to form between them: the playful flirting replaced by increasingly harsh debate over who and what Shiki was.

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Bright as she is, Moe wears her heart on her sleeve and owns herself. She doesn’t feel “tied down” by having one personality she settled on as she grew and matured as a human. Saikawa, however, feels more trapped, both by his job and by the decision most all people make when they grow up to eliminate the contradictions and choose one personality with which to interact with the world…and fit in.

He admires Shiki for never doing that even as she grew up; he even believes she was fulfilling more of her potential as a human than he or Moe or hardly anyone else. He even goes so far as to call her “pure”, which considering her murders and fooling around with her uncle, would sound strange to anyone with conventional ideas of love and ethics…ideas Moe happens to have.

To Moe, when Saikawa starts waxing poetic about Shiki, even though he’s making no direct judgments on her, she feels rejected; it’s as simple as the guy she likes liking another girl more than her. But Moe does have one variable in her favor Shiki lacks: she’s still alive.

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The bookend-ing of flashbacks completes with Shiki purchasing a survival knife for Shindo, calling it “a tool to free oneself.” That could mean many things. Shiki’s parents clearly are unaware of the affair she and her uncle are engaged in. “Freeing oneself,” in that case, would mean making sure that affair stayed secret. Cutting the ropes that tie you down, to be with Shiki, the one who glides over all.

That knife could be the weapon that killed Shiki’s parents, and the doll in the room is Machiru, one of the personalities she carries. By gifting him the knife, Shiki is also forcing Shindo’s hand one way or another; asserting her authority over all these adults in her life by the primacy of her intellect, not things like familial bonds dictate who’s in charge.

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Ore Monogatari!! – 05 (Tardy)

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Ho boy: no sooner do I agree with Suna’s assessment that soul mates Takeo and Yamato could potentially grow old and wrinkled, we’re treated to a splash of cold water. On the one hand, I was a little disappointed the show turned back to the issue of poor communication and incorrect assumptions within the couple, but then I remembered: Takeo and Yamato are only a couple now thanks to Suna’s direct measures.

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That means Takeo’s inherent denseness hasn’t gone away, and it was only a matter of time before that denseness led to some kind bump in the road. And while I may be proven wrong in the very next episode, I’m willing to bet the “truth” Yamato is so desperately trying to but can’t communicate to Takeo has to do with his opinions about the kind of person she is.

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Takeo is the guy who puts his body on the line to help others, like saving a boy who fell into a river, almost every day, only for Suna, if he’s around, to get thanked. It’s perfectly reasonable then, for him to have a skewed perspective of the first and so far only girl he likes who likes him back.

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He also turns a lot of the societal discomfort with his immense size on himself with regards to physical contact with Yamato. When he bumps her on the train, it’s an accident, but one of his classmates saw it as a perfect opportunity to kiss a girl. When he touches her head, it’s to trap a ladybug.

Then, on a romantic, starlit walk, he makes it clear to her he “won’t lay a hair on her head until she’s grown up,” convinced she’s a good and pure girl. Heck, he’s even bringing Suna along on their dates because he’s worried he makes her nervous when they’re alone, which we know isn’t the case.

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It’s nice to finally get a peek at Yamato’s life when Takeo’s not around. It’s kind of lonely and sad seeing her all alone in that big dark house, trying to find the right words to text before sending another text that’s all bubbly and girly and promising of baked goods. She then sets to work baking, but doesn’t seem to be enjoying it in the slightest. It looks like she’s doing chores.

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When Suna’s big sister Ai returns home, we learn that she’d always carried a flame for the big galoot, and is not so much shocked as dejected that another girl got to him first. She also immediately suspects this girl sight unseen, because she finds it hard to believe anyone other than her would find Takeo boyfriend material…especially at first sight (though Suna doesn’t mention Takeo saved her).

When she arranges to meet Takeo and Yamato, she notices immediately that Yamato is hiding something, assuming all the worst things. And you know what? There are moments when we’re almost convinced something is up with Yamato, and she’s scared of breaking the big guy’s heart.

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Ai further inserts herself into Takeo’s affairs by offering to talk to Yamato on his behalf, believing it will be easier to talk woman-to-woman. Takeo, creepily perusing a teen-girl magazine to “learn how girls think” at the time, clearly needs all the help he can get. I’m not going to subscribe to Ai’s theories about infidelity—she’s demonstrated beyond all doubt that she really likes Takeo—but I am hoping Ai can get to the bottom of her troubles.

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As for my theory, I think Yamato doesn’t like how Takeo is so quick to call her a good and pure girl. I think she was hurt by all those good moments for leaning in for a kiss Takeo failed to capitalize on. I think she’s frustrated that he’s painting a not altogether accurate picture of who she is (remember, they haven’t known each other that long) She’s perpetuating that persona, and it’s wearing on her.

She wants to set him straight and tell him she wants more intimacy, not less, but can’t find the right words, and is worried he’ll reject her “impure” self. So the problem rattles around her head and keeps her up at night, sitting alone in the dark hugging a pillow.

But I for one think she’s worrying needlessly. All Takeo wants is for her to not be in knots, and I believe him when he says whatever she has to say to him, he’ll accept it. If my theory is correct—that Yamato wants to get closer—he’ll most likely be overjoyed.

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Nobunaga the Fool – 08

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This week Jeanne/Ranmaru draws “Ace of Wands” signifying the start of a “great journey of dreams and ideals” on which the wand serves both as a weapon, a guide, and a beacon. After seeing a vision of what might come to pass (Nobunaga getting skewered dead by Caesar), drawing this card places the ball squarely in Ranmaru’s hands, and she’s forced to act to change Nobu’s fate. She does so, and Nobu becomes the wand in the card, serving those three purposes. But ultimately it only happens because, Ranmaru steps off of the sideline and does something, for which we’re relieved and intrigued.

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This episode is also all about the regalia. We also knew they were important in the grand scheme of things, but da Vinci further underlines their value: whomever controls and masters them, controls the world. Since that’s Nobu’s goal in a nutshell, his next move after defeating Shingen is clear as crystal: get back the wind regalia Caesar stole. His advisers look ready to bristle at his call to table the investigation of Nobukatsu’s murder, but Himiko makes a surprise appearance—frail but alive and kicking—to support her husband’s call to look outward and move forward. This inspires Ranmaru to a degree, and she’s inspired further when she sees Ichihime’s inner strength, her unswerving faith in her brother, and her plea for Ranmaru to also have faith.

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It’s a good time to be behind Nobunaga, who has changed after fighting and defeating an honorable and worthy adversary in Lord Shingen, but also after almost losing Himiko. He is quicker to acknowledge not only her existence, but her contribution to his rise as his partner. It’s not lovey-dovey as Himiko would probably like, but it’s a start. He is also far more receptive to alternative opinions on how they should go about defeating Caesar. He’s a crafty Western bastard after all; even Nobu admits force won’t be enough. Nobunaga plenty strong on his own, but taking full advantage of the efforts of everyone around him—Himiko, Mitsuhide, da Vinci, Monkey, and Ranmaru—he augments his strength exponentially, and with it his odds of victory.

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Caesar still bears the look and aura of a formidable warrior and legitimate challenge to Nobu, but only for a time. He starts to look considerably less invincible when he learns that wwah-wwah, he can’t actually use the wind regalia he stole; it was entrusted by its former master to Nobu, and only Nobu will it answer. Caesar doesn’t expect that setback, nor does he prepare for the possibility Nobu will employ Western-style trickery in the battle. But his most egregious oversight was Ranmaru (though who can blame him considering how little she’s done in the last few episodes). She jumps into the middle of battle just as her vision is about to come true, and changes the future by activating the regalia of purity she’s been wearing all along but only recently realized its import. She’s decided henceforth to put her life on the line to support him.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)