Cardcaptor Sakura – 21 – On Your Marks

I tellya, if Sakura doesn’t start taking her rival seriously, this could soon turn into The Meiling and Syaoran Show! In all seriousness, since arriving Meiling has done all she can to take over Sakura’s spotlight. Despite the fact Sakura isn’t actually trying to compete with her for anything (or anyone), Meiling is committed to beating Sakura at every turn–even a 2.5k when all the races she’s ever run were sprints.

It’s all too apropos that “reserving your energy” is a foreign concept to Meiling; it takes both Syaoran and Wei to convince her that she needed go all-out at the beginning of the race, and she should focus more on her breathing. Going for a run after a big meal is also a bad move, but Meiling is determined to cross that finish line 1-2 with Syaoran, so she’ll weather any stomach cramps or other hardships.

When the day of the race arrives, Tomoyo injures her foot, but that just means she gets to record Sakura running. She even employs Kero-chan as an aerial spotter. Meiling shows off how much she’s learned by keeping pace with both Syaoran and Sakura—who are both motivated by the fact Yukito is watching them run with Touya.

But as the race progresses, the theme song transitions to more ominous music, indicating something’s not quite right. Sakura, Syaoran and Meiling cross Tomoyo twice…in the same direction. As Sakura notes that the tree-lined road seems longer than usual, Meiling trips and hurts her ankle. No matter how far they run they can’t seem to get to the finish line. That means a Clow Card is in play, and sure enough Kero-chan identifies Loop as the culprit.

Once Sakura literally stumbles on the seam between “real” space and the loop’s spacial distortion, she and Syaoran each produce swords with which to cut said loop, which takes the form of a red ribbon. Sakura seals the card, and despite Meiling’s insistence Syaoran cut it first, it passes into Sakura’s possession. Syaoran finally relents and carries Meiling on his back across the finish line, thus achieving the spirit if not the letter of her dream.

Cardcaptor Sakura – 10 – Flowers and Family

It’s Sports Day, which means it’s truly Sakura’s time to shine. She wows classmates and parents alike with her running speed, and while she accidentally lets a baton land on her head, she looks positively adorable while doing so.

When the time comes for the obstacle course race, Sakura and Syaoran find themselves beside each other in the starting blocks, and both are equally excited that Yukito is cheering them on. But while Sakura stays focused on winning, Syaoran looks over at Yukito one too many times and trips over his feet, letting Sakura win.

No sore winner, Sakura invites Syaoran to join her, Tomoyo, Touya, and Yukito for lunch, and Syaoran accepts when he hears Yukito is there and then marvels at the amount of food the kid can put away. Then Sakura’s dad arrives, as does Tomoyo’s mother Sonomi, who was his wife Nadeshiko’s cousin and protector.

She’s never forgiven him for stealing her away and then allowing her two die so young (sadly she was in the 27 Club). When Sonomi demands to know why he’s so cool about it, he tells her he promised his wife not to cry. Instead, he’s raised two great kids in an environment of love and happiness.

Even so, Sonomi won’t pass up another opportunity to challenge Sakura’s dad, so they both enter the parent’s 100m race. But as he’s mopping the floor with her, what had been a light dusting of flower petals becomes a veritable torrent, forming an increasingly thick carpet in the school’s main quad. Sakura and Syaoran simultaneously suspect a Clow Card, but the latter can’t leave the medical station in case there are injured.

Thankfully, this is not the toughest Clow Card. Sakura and Tomoyo learn from Kero-chan via Daidouji-brand cell phone that Flower is a fun-loving but gentle card who tends to show up around celebrations or other fun events, like sports days. When Sakura first approaches her, Flower pulls her into a joyful dance, but Sakura is eventually able to return her to card form before everyone in the quad is completely buried.

Sakura immediately puts Flower into use by giving both her father and Sonomi, who were in the midst of a quarrel, nadeshiko flowers. Nadeshiko Yamato is a Japanese term meaning “the epitome of pure, feminine beauty”; a floral metaphor for the ideal woman, whom Nadeshiko clearly was. Even Tomoyo’s long hair is a tribute to Nadeshiko’s flowing locks.

The two adults end up bonding over their shared love of her, while Sakura and Tomoyo profess their love for each other in turn. It’s all so wonderfully warm and fuzzy, there were moments I thought my heart might burst! Brimming with beautiful moments between family and friends, this was one of the most purely joyful CCS episodes yet.

Appare-Ranman! – 03 – Taking Flight

Thanks to Dylan, Kosame and the native boy Hototo are saved. Appare repays him by promising he’ll be in the car ahead of him one day, to which Dylan says bring it on. Appare makes a lot of promises to a lot of  people, but considering how far he’s come on his ingenuity, he’s yet to make a claim he can’t back up. Kosame is learning that he’s not as crazy as he looks.

As for Hototo, he’s on a quest of vengeance, aiming to find the man who killed his father. In him Appare sees someone with knowledge of the terrain to the east, which will be part of the race. Like Appare and Kosame, Hototo has nowhere else to go, so he accepts their hospitality.

Their ability to offer Hototo a place to stay is disrupted when the young, rich BNW scion Al Lyon arrives in town with his kind Chaperone Sofia (Orisaka Fumiko…RUKIA!) and buys all the storehouses from the sea captain, including Appare and Kosame’s.

Al says he needs all of the space he’s bought, so Appare suggests they race in their respective machines in 10 days. If Al wins, he’ll get Kosame’s prized swords—which you’ll remember he can’t draw when he’s in a pinch. If Appare wins, they get the storehouse.

Appare knows he doesn’t need to build a machine that will beat Al’s sleek BNW in every aspect of performance. Al let him choose the course, so all he has to build is something that will achieve the objective of the race, no more or less. It can crumble to dust immediately after, as long as they win.

Grateful that he was able to repair her company’s car, Xialian gives Appare access to spare parts, which he picks up in his hastily-built Segway-like self-balancing scooter. Still, Xialian hasn’t driven since the incident, her team has no intention of entering, and she is certain Appare can’t beat BNW.

The day of the race in the dusty, rugged outskirts of L.A. finally comes. Appare and Kosame arrive a bit late in an ungainly (and above all very slow looking) contraption, fueling the fires of doubt in Xialian. Al is certain he’s got this, and amends the deal once more: he gets the swords, the Segway, and the car.

Al gets off to a quick lead with his straight-line speed, but has to go around a cliff that Appare’s car can leap over. Still, Al is closer to the finish when Appare has Kosame pull a lever that launches half of the car—and Kosame—ahead of Al. All Kosame has to do is run to the tree and touch it before Al, which he does. Notably, while racing Appare’s personality changes completely, to something more in line with his appearance.

Impressed by the win and acknowledging his complacency, Al takes the loss in stride, giving Appare his car and use of the storeroom to his heart’s content. Appare in turn is a good winner, and offers Al the Segway so he doesn’t have to walk home. Al refuses, but Sofia accepts, and you can’t blame her—that’s a long walk in a stuffy dress!

The win over Al lends further credibility to Appare’s capability, along with stability, as losing use of their garage is no longer a possibility. He must now set to work on a much more complex machine that will endure over the myriad terrains and conditions America will throw at them. He may have also convinced Xialian not to give up on her own dream to race.

With that, our three-part intro to Appare-Ranman! is complete, and we’ll have to wait a while for the rest of the story. It’s looking like other drivers will be more traditional good-natured rivals, while all of them will share a common enemy: a steam baron intent on squashing the automobile in its infancy to continue his hegemony.

Whatever the case, it’s a well-made, entertaining show and I’ll be looking forward to its return!

Appare-Ranman! – 02 – Even if the World Won’t Allow It

Note: Due to covid-19 the broadcasts of Appare-Ranman after the third episode have been delayed indefinitely. We’ll be reviewing future episodes if and when they become available.

It dawns on Kosame that returning to Japan (something he’d very much like to do) is no easy matter, and could take as much as “ten years of toil” to manage. Fortunately, his fighting skills are readily street-applicable skill than Appare—his fighting skills—and Appare puts him to work showing them off.

Then Appare picks up a flyer for the Trans-America Wild Race and stumbles upon the speedway where state-of-the-art driving machines are pitted against one another. While drivers like Dylan enjoy celebrity status, “the cars are the stars” here. It dawns on Appare he’s exactly where he needs to be: in a position to do something people say can’t be done. He’s going to enter the race and he’s going to win it.

A win will net him a cool 1.51 million dollars—them, if Kosame sticks by his side in this crazy venture. As they sit in an anachronisitc Art Deco diner(!) the samurai can’t deny that his share of the purse could solve many of his problems—his fiancee won’t wait ten years!—but he’s still skeptical, and rightfully so. Appare may have a dream, but they both just got there, and barely earn enough at the moment for food. They’re staying in a storeroom for free, and have no budget for a race car, let alone one that can beat the big manufacturers.

But absent a viable alternative (and fearful of FOMO), Kosame follows Appare, who breaks into the racetrack that night to check out the machinery. There they encounter Jing Xialian is already racing there, and almost accidentally runs a fearless Appare over. She damages the car—whih isn’t strictly hers—and when Kosame approaches her she exhibits her own martial arts prowess. In an effort to de-escalate, Kosame lets himself get hit by her kick.

As he recovers in the garage, Appare and Kosame learn more of Xialian’s story: she’s always loved cars and racing and joined the team as a chore girl. She’s good enough to race herself, but due to the sexism of the time she’s told she can’t be, and has come to believe it. Someone like Appare is clearly a good influence, as he doesn’t let the world tell him his limits, and doesn’t see why she should either. If you can do it, do it; don’t worry about the world’s rules. It’s hard to argue with him considering how far that attitude has gotten him so far.

Xialian’s story is not a particularly original one, but she’s another fun, colorful character I’m compelled to root for, even if she becomes Appare’s competitor in the race. Then there’s the celebrity driver Dylan, who saves Appare and Kosame when the latter is trying to help a young Native American kid from a group of racists. Notably, Kosame cannot physically draw his katana due to PTSD from a bloody incident in his past, so he needs the save. Dylan may well only be intervening because his peace is being disturbed.

There’s a lot of disbelief to suspend in Appare-Ranman from the total lack of language barriers, to the anything-goes dress code and futuristic technology/architecture. But once you let all that go, it’s a tremendously entertaining ride that’s just getting started. It’s just a shame we won’t be able to see much more of it due to delays. I just know I’ll definitely be tuned in when it returns.

 

Appare-Ranman! – 01 (First Impressions) – Across the Sea, Beyond the Sky

P.A. Works’ latest anime original focuses on the brilliant but eccentric engineer and inventor Sorano Appare, and Isshiki Kosame, his reluctant, timid samurai companion. We begin in Los Angeles as the two, along with a cute little assistant, are about to embark on an epic “Trans-America Wild Race” with an eclectic bunch of equally eccentric drivers from all over the world. It’s packed with anachronisms, but the spirit of adventure and getting movin’ is strong with this opening scene.

From there, AR! rewinds to a year ago in Japan, when Appare was in prison for crashing a steam-powered vehicle into the prized garden of the local lord. The lord appoints Kosame Appare’s “overseer”, assuming Appare survives a stay in the jail cell where major criminals are kept.

But it’s clear no simple cell lock can hold Appare, any more than his stodgy family business or his status as second son can keep him from setting out to find out how far his dreams and considerable technical skill can take him.

Kosame doesn’t realize how much bigger this is until it’s too late, as Appare escapes in his custom-made mini-steamship docked in a secret berth. Appare’s sister, who it seems is closest and most understanding of him among his family members, manages to bid him farewell with a good luck charm.

As for Kosame, the lord’s threat that he’ll share Appare’s fate should things go south, sticks by Appare, even though their little shakedown cruise takes them out to the open sea, with neither food nor water. It’s apparent Appare will need someone whose head isn’t always either in a mess of gears or up in the clouds if he’s going to survive his self-imposed journey.

When the ship runs out of fuel and the sea becalmed, Appare has time to finally explain to Kosame what he’s trying to do. It’s clearly around the turn of the century, when the steam engine have revolutionized industry and transport and Japan has been opened to the technologically-superior West.

Ever since first seeing steamships when he was four, Appare has never stopped absorbing the math and technical know-how needed to built devices of his own. He’s been tinkering for fifteen years, his own dreams fueled by the stories of Jules Verne which, as we know, would eventually become reality. Appare isn’t going to be left out. If anyone’s reaching the other side of the moon, he’s determined to be the first!

But first things first: surviving their current predicament. The ship is in need of repairs and fuel, but they’re getting nowhere fast, until Appare’s sister’s good luck charm pays dividends in the form of a passing American steamship. Even luckier, it’s captained and crewed by what seem to be kind, decent folk who are happy to tow Appare’s ship and even rap with him on some engineering problems.

I guess it’s time to talk about one of the most glaring problems with AR!, which is Appare’s look. I understand they wanted to give him a distinctive, eccentric look to match his personality and contrast sharply with the drab aesthetic of Koname everyone else, but IMO they went a bit too far; a 7 or 8 would have done fine, but they took things up to 11 or 12. Fortunately, he sounds far less crazy-goofy than he looks.

Also, that’s not a major problem here, and as more of those eccentric (and suitably weird-lookin’ for the timeline) racers appear, it will be less of a problem. Suffice it to say, Appare is Modernity Incarnate, while Kosame represents the old fashioned past being dragged along kicking and screaming. When they finally arrive at the port of Los Angeles bursting with technology and activity, it’s clear which of the two are now firmly in their element.

Appare-Ranman! starts strong and has a lot of potential for greatness, what with the odd couple, transcontinental road trip, and race-with-huge-reward stakes dynamics. Appare’s zany look is tempered by seiyu Hanae Natsuki, while Yamashita Seiichirou livens up a samurai who is clearly not your usual stoic warrior (though I wouldn’t quite call him a “coward” as the promotional synopsis did).

Evan Call (Violet Evergarden) classes up the joint with the score, and the animation quality you’d expect of P.A.’s better Works is present. Considering how sedentary most of us will be for the remainder of this year, I’m excited to live vicariously through the show’s enterprising, trailblazing characters as they embark on the adventure of their lives.

Kandagawa Jet Girls – 02

Why not devote 12+ minutes of airtime to Rin and Misa’s first jet ski race? Why not break the fourth wall nearly as often as the commentator’s and exposition break the momentum of said race? Why not swap awkwardly between hand drawn and 3D rendered versions of the girls while they race? Why not follow the race with balloon-bewbs!, more exposition, and some fat shaming?

Because boring, boring, boring, awkward, boring, boring, awkward? (in that order)

Well… that didn’t take long did it? Where last week featured many puzzling design choices, which worked to elevate the material from slop to creepy psychodrama, this week couldn’t reach ‘slop.’ If you are earnestly excited by the made up rules to a water-gun shooting + jet ski racing sports anime, I guess you got something from it. Otherwise, not so much.

Kandagawa Jet Girls – 01 (First Impressions)

Rin is surrounded by a warmth as adults chat aimlessly and give us a glimpse of their family-like fishing community. Their world buzzes with detail but stands motionless. Not even a ripple ebbs near the boats docked at port. Not until Rin’s mother is announced as Jet Girl World Champion! As she speaks into without a sound, we zoom in close to her exposed chest and watch her gently wrest a hand above her heart. Rin mirrors this while dry-humping an oversized dolphin plushie beneath her.

Now grown up, teen-Rin saddles a jet ski, buffeted by sports graphics and announcer narration. A delicate smile dances on her lips and a yellow wetsuit like her mother’s hugs her ample curves. There is joy in her and her partner’s face as they ride from wave into the air, rising to the upbeat throb of the opening theme music.

Teen-Rin now sits in darkness before a picture of her trophy-holding mother at the family shrine. Rain and stillness hang like death in the air.

Elsewhere in the dark, a phone alarm wakes another girl. The emptily-chirping phone lays loose in her sleepless hand. Her eyes do not hide her depression. Her student’s room describes an empty life to us in clean but heartless stills. Pens not quite neatly arranged beside a pad on her desk. A simple mug holds her plain tooth brush by the window.

The girl strips for us and her young breasts bounce with natural weight, as if rejecting their sexual impact. The scene is almost silent, broken only by her sliding door sticking in it’s track. It fights to keep her inside before letting her pass. Misa Aoi is written on the name plaque as the hooded girl marches passed.

Rin now sits by her father at the docks, sharing empty chatter about moving to Tokyo for school and part time jobs. He stands there and does not look at her, nor do either turn to face us. We do not see his face. While the setting and color and coldness match, it becomes clear the girls live far apart.

A steam boats horn blares and music returns. In the distance, Rin now faces us waving. Briefly we come close to her smiling face, and as briefly see the smile slacken, her inner shadow cast long by the rising sun.

Misa dons VR Goggles and we see a machine’s hydraulics flex with her weight. We see a simulation through her eyes, and we see her eyes too, each we see tightly framed. Virtual water splashes but Misa never leaves the dirty wooden room. Nor do we see Misa’s projection into  the simulation. She can not see herself there. She curses, feeling the representation is lacking, and hurts her leg in anger.

Rin returns, eyes wide and balled fists held together in surprise. Pair after hyper-sexualized pair, Rin encounters stylish Tokyo girls in love with each other. A foreign couple offers sepuku. Another, selfies. Later, she is mugged by a plain man, who is ultimately tripped by Misa a short chase later.

As Misa stands, Rin’s eyes trace shapely legs, lingering on the dress shirt,  and distant eyes. Rin’s hand returns to her heart, where it hasn’t been since her mother won the championship. Judging from the shrine photo, perhaps moments before she died. Rin exhales and blushes with glistening eyes and lust. Delicate piano keys finger a short rise. Unable to contain her excitement, Rin unzips her duffle bag and her dolphin plushie erupts forth like a skyward facing erection.

Later still, the girls become roommates. Rin attempts to make Misa touch her breasts before leaning in to smell Misa’s neck. She can smell Misa on their bunk bed. Misa violently pushes her away, disturbed but their name plaques now hang together. Rin’s childish mug and personal items sit next to Misa’s on the walls and desk.

The creeper factor runs thick with deceptive charming, as if Misa’s alarm over a sexual predator and stalker could be gently batted away by Rin’s playful grin, poking and chest rubbing. Misa eventually cowers behind a wall to hide, while Rin chats-up another student. The conversation is yet again inane, but introduces Rin’s Jet Ski experience within range for Misa to hear.

The episode culminates in a race against a river side mean girls, during which most of the sexual themes and azure colors are repeated with gusto. Misa is anally penetrated by rifle fire. Tears flow from her eyes. Her clothes detach and fall away.

Point of view impacts storytelling. Not only who’s point of view, but how they see (what angle, the framing, what they focus on) feed us details about their character and the world overall. In KJG’s case, we mostly share Rin’s point of view but the contrast of what that view shows us, and how people see Rin (a smiling happy girl played straight), creates a deeply unsettling juxtaposition.

What makes any of this interesting is that Rin is not simply a ‘flip’ on a male anime creeper. Where most anime and manga would use creeper icons and conventional expressions like drool and ‘that elbows bent arms up wiggle gesture’ to convey Rin’s desires to the audience, KJG does not. Rin’s expression is played straight. In part, this hides her inner feelings from the other cast members as well, which in turn makes her feel dangerous because we, the viewers, are the only ones who can see more is going on with Rin underneath the surface.

KJG sprinkles other weirdness like suicide, the cheapening of Japanese cultural icons, and untreated (and socially ignored) depression. None of these are pushed to the forefront as much as the sexuality but the sexuality is obviously more the point: if you don’t think about how KJG presents itself, you could be forgiven assuming it was just cheap smut.

what the **** did I just watch? (twice)

Fruits Basket – 09 – Poker on a Cold Day

After seeing a bit of him last week, we’re formally introduced to another new Souma, Haruhatsu, who seems cool to some passing ladies until he gets on his deeply uncool bike with his uncool shades, clearly on some kind of mission.

Winter break is over, and Tooru has settled back into a fun daily life with the Soumas, though Yuki and Kyou remain stubbornly incapable of getting along. As it’s wintertime, Yuki also feels a cold coming on.

Despite this, Yuki doesn’t back down from Kyou’s challenge to beat him in the endurance race on the first day of the third term. Sure enough, the two blast ahead of all the other boys. Meanwhile, Uo skips entirely while Saki dramatically quits after one step and plays cards the rest of the time, to the annoyance of the teacher.

Kyou is literally tripped up by Haruhatsu, who wanted to fight Kyou on New Year’s but wasn’t able because Kyou skipped the family festivities. Now it’s go time…and Kyou isn’t one to back down from a fight.

Their mutual competitive spirit results in the emergence of “Dark Haru”, Haruhatsu’s other, more manic side, like Kagura only worse. Haru reiterates his undying love for Yuki while fighting Kyou like they’re in some kind fo martial arts movie.

Yuki notes that the two trained together when they were younger, and are both equally passionate about it. Tooru suspects Yuki loves martial arts too, but when he recalls a memory of watching the other two sparring and having his eyes suddenly covered by Akito, he faints.

The fight is called, and Haru decides the best way to get Yuki home is to carry him on his back in animal form, which is that of the Ox (though technically a cow).

When it’s just Haru and Tooru, he tells her the story of how he was always angry and losing his temper, and hated Yuki’s guts because of the “rat who rode the ox’s back” legend, and also because everyone always called him stupid and an idiot, for which he also blamed Yuki.

That all changed when he finally met him, and Yuki told him he wasn’t stupid; not really. He fell for him right then and there. With that, Yuki wakes up, not the worse for wear.

Haru suspects Tooru has had a “lightening” effect on the once standoffish Yuki and Kyou, and proves there’s something between Yuki and Tooru when he has the latter call the former by his given name and he immediately transforms into a rat.

Meanwhile, Saki has drawn a crowd to play poker by the school gates, but beats everyone running away (not literally though, as Saki isn’t fond of running). As a result of playing cards outside all afternoon in the cold, Kyou and Shigure also get colds. But Tooru is all too happy to take care of them!

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 05 – Lute Grand Prix

We haven’t yet seen Queen Melromarc, as she’s currently in another castle, but it’s clear she’s staying on top of things, as evidenced by the detailed report given by one of her ninja (for lack of a better word).  That report also confirms that Malty has been putting her father up to some actions of which the Queen is not a fan. Say, continuing to treat the Shield Hero like garbage based on Malty’s false accusations of rape.

The King tries to cheat Naofumi out of his 500 silver-piece Wave reward (only an eighth of the Spear Hero’s take) by charging him for removing Raphtalia’s slave crest. Once again Amaki and Kawasumi come to Naofumi’s defense—or at least the side of justice and fairness. Thanks to their protests, Naofumi gets his 500 pieces and, at Raph’s urging, peaces out.

Their first errand upon leaving the palace is for Raphtalia to get a tattoo have her slave crest re-activated, at her request, as a symbol of his faith in her. One would think if he had faith he wouldn’t need a real crest, but Raphtalia is insistent. Naofumi also buys a gatcha-style lottery egg, from which either a filolial (chocobo) chick hatches.

Naofumi also learns that some of the merchants in the capital had connections to Lute Village, and even if they’re still on the fence with him as a person, they can’t deny he saved their loved ones. Their personal honor demands they reward him, whether it’s with a book on advanced medicines (which he can’t yet read) or a magical grimoire (which the mage warns will be tough to learn).

The filolial chick, whom Naofumi somewhat unimaginatively names “Filo”, eats ravenously and quickly grows to full size within two days, enabling him to ride her. They travel to Lute Village, and not soon thereafter Malty and Motoyasu also arrive.

Malty is clearly in control here as she reads a royal decree that anyone who enters or exits the village will have to pay an exorbitant amount (equal to 100 nights at the inn, food included). Naofumi is there to make a stink about it, but Malty wants her tax, and Motoyasu isn’t about to deny her.

Who does swoop in to deny her, however, are her mother’s ninja. They deliver a scroll to Malty that pisses her off when she reads it, and takes it out on Naofumi by challenging him to a race: her Motoyasu’s dragon vs. Naofumi’s filolial.

Motoyasu mocks Filo right up until Filo kicks his balls halfway to the next kingdom. Filo looks supremely confident she can beat the dragon, so all that remains is to what extent Malty will try to hamper that victory by cheating.

And once the race starts, boy does she ever cheat. Her soldiers cast magical spells that benefit Motoyasu and his slow-ass dragon three times, and Flio still manages to win by a beak. I gotta say, I’m quickly growing weary of Malty’s shtick: all she needs is a mustache to twirl.

Thankfully, Malty is taken down a peg or two this week, both when the other two heroes help Naofumi, and when the Queen’s ninja confirm that she and her men cheated. Her comeback is that “We’ll leave for now, but this isn’t over!” Groan. Naofumi needs better antagonists, or for the existing ones to find a new tune.

As for Filo, she balloons in size right after the race. Rather than have rumors spread of taking Lute’s rebuilding funds, Naofumi accepts an old wagon as a reward—a wagon that Raphtalia has trouble riding in without getting motion sickness. They rest beside a tree for the night, but when morning comes it brings with it a surprise: Filo has transformed into a human—a loli, no less—who is, predictably, hungry. And then there were three.

Aho Girl – 10

First up, Eimura again demonstrates that she’s the Worst Gal Ever by the fact she hasn’t had her ears pierced yet, and makes a tremendously dramatic meal over the fact that she’s about to.

Enter our Aho Girl, who at first has no idea why Eimura wants to pierce her ears, then lays out in great detail the very worst-case scenario, before offering her hands to steady Eimura’s. She manages to pierce one ear…I think? But Eimura decides to postpone the piercing of the other one indefinitely.

The next segment is Aho Girl in top form, as Yoshiko takes Dog for a ride and ends up in a manga-style race on a mountain road with a super-competitive motorcyclist who ends up lost in their dust. His serious commentary of the race is hilarious and the art is fantastic in its starkness and illusion of motion.

Yoshiko has both feet on the ground, in a sandbox, in the next segment, where she bothers the little kids again, this time by playing dolls with them. Yoshiko betrays her older years by making things between “Michael” and “Micca” get way too dark and real, but the girl runs with it and has Michael come back to life and live happily ever after, further baffling the lads.

Finally, Fuuki tries to get closer to A-kun by befriending his lil’ sister Ruri, who is upset over having scored another zero on a test (further indicating Yoshiko’s influence on her). Fuuki is thwarted by Yoshiko’s mom Yoshie, who obviously has the inside track, having known Ruri and A-kun for years.

Before long, Ruri completely fades away in the midst of an increasingly heated battle between Yoshie and Fuuki, in which Yoshie unhooks Fuuki’s bra, then steals her panties to show Ruri that she’s a pervert; when Fuuki tries and fails to steal Yoshie’s panties, she ends up stealing Ruri’s, so quickly neither Ruri nor Yoshie noticed, and puts them on herself before Yoshie can expose her to Ruri.

It’s a very, er, wrong sequence, but in the end, Yoshie is humbled and decides she needs more “training”, giving their ridiculous exchange the air of a sincere martial arts duel. I sincerely hope another round is in the cards!

Dagashi Kashi – 04

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Rather than explore a combination of various confections, Dagashi Kashi focuses on only two this week; and one at a time. First is fugashi, the brown sugar-coated wheat gluten snack for which there are countless varieties. Hotaru decides she and Kokonotsu will do a blind taste test.

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What with the blindfolds and the bound hands and the stuffing of cylindrical things down each others’ gullets, the exercise definitely has a suggestive, kinky quality to is, as Kokonotsu points out in his thoughts early on, but that’s tempered by the fact Hotaru is so darned innocent and oblivious and purely interested in the candy and the competition.

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The second part is dedicated solely to Glico, a little box containing caramels that will each provide enough energy to run 300 meters. When Kokonotsu leaves his sketchbook at Saya and Tou’s cafe (containing an incriminating sketch of Saya that Tou edited to point out her slight chest) Hotaru suggests they use the caramels to fuel the 1,500m run to retrieve the book.

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Nothing kinky about this segment, but like the fugashi competition, the proceedings grow very dramatic as they progress, with Hotaru and Koko performing great feats of athleticism while crunching the nitty-gritty numbers. However, they eventually tire, and Koko remembers Glicos only come four to a box, leaving him one short of the cafe.

Hotaru gives him her last one and demands he leave her behind to accomplish his goal. He reaches the cafe, but unfortunately, it’s too late; Saya sees the sketch, and no amount of explanation will quell her rage.

Poor Coconuts…never any luck! Were it not for Tou’s “adjustments”, Saya would have likely been moved by the portrait. Then again, a gorgeous rich girl constantly wants to hang out and do stuff with him, so maybe he’s not so unlucky after all…

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Boku dake ga Inai Machi – 03

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We bear witness to some truly dark, viscerally awful events in this episode from which my heart is still hurting, but also glimmers of brightness, joy, and hope, even as a vice seems to close around an unwitting Satoru. He may be 29 in a 10-year-old’s body, but there’s still so much he doesn’t know about Kayo’s disappearance, those glimmers can’t quite cut through the gloom of his predicament, especially considering this could be it; his last chance.

He will have to do his absolute best in order to save Kayo, something he does not do when he intentionally slows and lets his athletically-superior classmate beat him in a skating race, repeating the same mistake he made the first time he lived in this time. Everyone who worships the other kid just assumes it was a close race, but had Satoru won, they would have accused him of cheating, so he took the easy way out.

This, after promising to Kayo (doing her best to cheer for him, in her way), that he’d do his best. Afterwards, when he asks what Kayo’s birthday is, she accuses him of lying to her…which he did. And Satoru must think at this time: if he repeated the skiing mistake, what else would he repeat that would doom Kayo a second time? The variables are seemingly endless.

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However, the possibilities do thankfully narrow considerably for Satoru. Kayo’s body wasn’t discovered until Spring, but she hadn’t turned 11 when she disappeared. He’s determined the day she disappears is between March 1st and her birthday, and learns her birthday is the same as his: March 2. He has eleven days to save her. Will it be enough?

He learns, by the way, by checking the ledger of his teacher, Yashiro Gaku, one of the first people other than Kayo’s mother whom I suspected of being responsible for Kayo’s disappearance. This is due to Satoru’s observation that he’s a sharp, observant guy, but also because the camera lingers on him suspiciously.

Satoru learns more about Yuuki (whom he’d also save from Death Row if he stops the kidnappings), both good and bad. Turns out he wasn’t just some unemployed kid; he worked early hours at his dad’s bento store. He also has porn, which embarasses the 10-year-old in Satoru (who seems to take over a little more while he’s hanging out with Yuuki). But having a porn stash is normal; it certainly doesn’t make Yuuki a bad person, and it’s far from evidence he’s a murderer.

But Satoru, and I, for that matter, simply was not ready for the horror of discovering a skimpily-clad Kayo laying in a shed, exposed to the elements, covered with marks from a truly vicious beating from her nightmare of a mother.

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Forget 10-year-olds; this is hard for anyone of any age with any morals to witness and allow to stand. And yet, Satoru’s body betrays him. Were he 29, he could scoop Kayo away right there and then, take her to the police and tell them what he found. But he’s a puny little kid, and the mother tosses him aside like a ragdoll. Satoru can’t do anything right now, and it sickens him.

Back “home”, Kayo’s mom proceeds to shove Kayo’s head in icy water so the swelling of the wounds will go down in time for school. There’s both desperation and cold, evil calculation in the mother’s methods; perhaps she went further than she usually does with Kayo. The “man” watching TV in the living room, rather than act like an actual man and stop this, warns Kayo’s mother to save some ice for his booze. Truly disgusting people. Kayo is in hell.

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And yet, the marks and swelling is all covered up (as much as can be, anyway) the next day. Kayo is late, but she comes to school. Most of her classmates don’t notice the marks because they’re not really looking at her. But Satoru’s gaze goes straight to the welt on her neck.

When lunch money is misplaced, one girl, Misato, immediately accuses Kayo, because she’s “poor and hungry” all the time. Kayo’s mom may be a dispicable brute and a coward, but Misato is like a larval version, attacking with caustic words that spread across the class.

Satoru isn’t having it. He shuts Misato, making her cry (oh, boo-freakin’-who–brat!), but also restores Kayo’s faith in him. Satoru was able to do something (unlike before with her mom) and he did it, without worrying about how it would cause trouble for him.

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Satoru later speaks to Yashiro-sensei, who shares his concern for Kayo’s well-being, and may now have the evidence needed to have her removed from the danger by social services. During their talk, Old Satoru thinks out loud with his 10-year-old voice, talking beyond his years, but Yashiro doesn’t seem to think anything of it, instead agreeing that up to this point social services have been incompetent.

Also, Kayo’s mom is ruthlessly meticulous when it comes to hiding the abuse and not being around when they come to inspect the home). This is one of those glimmers of hope, but not knowing if Yashiro is hiding his true colors, they’re just that; glimmers. Besides, even if Yashiro is a saint, he won’t act to save Kayo as fast as Satoru knows she has to be saved.

Made up after he defended her in class (her memory about Misato’s stupid mechanical pencil was great, as well as underlying how terribly petty kids can be), Satoru invites Kayo to join him in the mountains to see a “Christmas tree”, after she also mentioned how she once went to Misato’s house for a Christmas party and saw a great big and beautiful one; obviously, there are no holidays in Kayo’s home; only blood and despair.

Satoru lets her forget about her everyday hell for just a little while, and when a pair of red foxes circle them numerous times, it almost seemed like part of the universe was placing some kind of protection on them. As for the real icicle-decorated tree, it’s not technically a real Christmas tree (leading Kayo to use her catchphrase “are you stupid?”), the grand sight of it does produce her first big smile of the show; a rare moment of pure joy that’s wonderful to behold. Kayo really needed this, and so did I.

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Unfortunately, there’s another part of the universe that has it in for Kayo and Satoru, as it’s all but confirmed that Yashiro may be up to no good, as the final shot of the episode features a camera looking through a murky window at Yashiro with his back turned to us, backed by a foreboding musical stab.

But it might be worse than I thought: Kenya is also there, with his black turtleneck; his eyes covered in shadow, and what looks like a smirk on his face. Old Satoru did say Kenya acted beyond his years. Could he and the similarly sharp, observant Yashiro be behind the kidnappings, and like Kayo’s mother, escaped justice in the original timeline? I know, I’m assuming the worst, but the episode isn’t making it easy not to.

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