BokuBen – 05 – An Eventful Two Days in the Mountains

Ah, the mountains, where the weather can change on a dime…and compromising situations can come just as quickly! The whole class has arrived at a mountain retreat for two days of intensive study, but the thing Rizu seems to be studying more intensively than anything is Nariyuki’s face.

Rizu has probably never been in love, so isn’t sure what to do with the strange mix of emotions she feels whenever she looks at Nariyuki , and in the process of trying to figure them out, she just keeps starting.

In this high-stakes environment, even lending Nariyuki an eraser is an intense competition, with Fumino beating a hesitating Rizu, Nariyuki fumbling, and Uruka passing it to him under the desk—where her legs aren’t crossed. None of this is intentional, but that doesn’t change the fact it’s happening to Nariyuki .

Increasingly embarrassed over her reactions to his presence, Rizu lashes out and runs out for some air, breaking the rules. Once she’s calmed down, she starts collecting mountain udo as an apology, but is so into it she gets lost in the woods as a mountain rainstorm commences. When Sekijo Sawako asks Nariyuki where the hell Rizu is, he realizes she could still be out there.

Using flash cards she surreptitiously dropped, he manages to find her, just as she’s visualizing the mathematically highly unlikely possibility of him doing just that. The problem is, she’s on higher ground and has to come down. That results in her slipping and falling. As she falls, Nariyuki positions himself to catch her, and the their lips end up meeting. As his rice bowl cracks back home, Nariyuki wonders: was that his first kiss?

He gets neither clarity nor assurance from Rizu, who continues to avoid his face as they carry out their punishment for leaving school grounds: cleaning the girl’s bath. Unfortunately, Rizu neglected to hang the “cleaning in progress sign” on the door, so all the girls, including Fumino, Uruka, and Sawako, strip down and rush in before Rizu can stop them.

Rizu confidently declares she’ll take care of it, but immediately fails, is stripped down herself, and forced into a battle of endurance in the very sauna where Nariyuki went to hide. Uruka (surprisingly) is the first to give up, but Fumino’s in it for the long run. Meanwhile Nariyuki is past his limit…

He’s saved by an unlikely heroine: Sawako, who put together the fact that he and Rizu were cleaning the bath and he got caught in a situation not of his making. In exchange being in her debt, Sawako distracts the others so he can slip out.

But as he opens the door to complete his escape, Uruka is there, and the force of the door opening whips her towel clean off, revealing every bit of her non-tanned body. Fortunately for Nariyuki, Uruka is still so woozy from the sauna she assumes she was hallucinating the guy she’s into!

Rizu apologizes properly for putting Nariyuki in so much danger—to be caught peeping in the girls’ bath would probably torpedo his chances of VIP consideration—and they finally address the accidental kiss they both agree was not a real kiss, but an accident. When Rizu tries to ask if Nariyuki “saw anything” in the bath, he assures her his glasses were foggy, something another glasses-wearer might understand.

Back at school, Nariyuki is brought before Kirisu-sensei, Rizu and Fumino’s former tutor who the later described as “very…cold.” Indeed, Kirisu treats their meeting more like an FBI interrogation, and after he tells her he’s doing his best to improve their grades, she immediately brings up the incident of him accidentally kissing Rizu in the forest, something only he and Rizu should know about, but somehow she knows too!

Whether her motives involve ensuring Nariyuki fails to do what she failed to do with her cold methodology, are couched in some kind of repressed feelings for him (this is a harem rom-com), or she just wants Rizu and Fumino to give up on subjects contrary to their talents, Kurisu is poised to emerge as the single greatest threat to everyone else’s success and happiness.

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Fate/Extra Last Encore – 09 – The Emperor’s Soliloquy

The “film” the female Kishinami Hakuno shows her male counterpart is of her own quest with Saber as her Servant, and a more noble, loyal and true servant, no one could possibly have.

Like the current Hakuno, the female Hakuno learns that she’s neither wizard nor Master, but a “recreation of the data of someone who once existed”; an “NPC”. But Saber tells her that’s of no consequence, either to her value as an individual or her role as prospective victor of the Grail War.

It is in She-Hakuno’s moment of deepest despair and crisis of identity that Saber reveals her True Name: Nero Claudius, fifth emperor of the Roman Empire and one history condemns as a raving despot and dictator. Naturally, Nero herself has a more nuanced life story to tell, and that story is told through what appears to be the work of Ueda Hajime, a frequent collaborator with Shinbo Akiyuki who also animated all Monogatari EDs.

Saber makes no attempt to sugar-coat her tale or excuse the life she led, only to lay it all out to provide Hakuno with context in which to consider her sage advice. Nero loved strangers and commoners more than the royal family to which she belonged. She’s proud of bringing the Great Fire of Rome under control, but as her reign went on she became seen as a moody, unstable dictator.

The Senate could not depose her as long as she had the loyalty of the common people, but when push came to shove no one came to her aid when she was brought down, and she died alone, in despair, with the love of no one. Both in its flamboyantly unconventional presentation, themes of adoration and fall from grace, and truly epic scope, Saber’s story parallels that of the vampire later known as Oshino Shinobu in Monogatari.

And now that we finally have the whole picture of who Saber is, and was, we can appreciate just how much weight there is behind her words of encouragement, for both past and present Kishinami Hakunos. She is at peace with her demise, and will set her life ablaze for the sake of those who wish to believe she is beautiful. In other words, who will love her.

Whatever love she had in her lifetime—of family or people—was either nonexistent or fleeting, so it stands to reason she’s not picky about where she gets her love now. Both Hakunos may deem themselves pale imitations unworthy of having a Servant as excellent and wise and kind as Saber.

They are utterly mistaken for thinking that way. Saber doesn’t care from whom she gets her love. In fact, she would prefer if those people did not “mind every little thing” about themselves.

Call it the extension of her affinity in life for those deemed “less than” in the society in which she lived. Commoners. Bastards, cripples, and broken things. And yes, even NPCs who have been killing and hating for a millenium.

Saber’s been dead three millenia, but doesn’t let it get her down for a second. To her, Hakuno isn’t beholden to the person or people he was before. As far as she’s concerned, he’s is a new person, who deserves a fresh start without prejudice. But he has to take it.

Reinvigorated and healed thanks to the ministrations of Rani (or, at least, her ghost), Hakuno and Saber head back out. Saber faces off against Berserker once more.

After copying and countering his martial arts moves with Royal Privilege, she unleashes her Noble Phantasm: Kingdom of Heaven and Hell,  the Golden Theater of the Deranged, and Veil of Petals, ending Berseker without any difficulty. It’s a short but gorgeous battle.

That leaves Hakuno to deal with Julius, who no longer has any backup. Julius tries his usual spiel denigrating Hakuno for not being alive or having a wish or any business fighting him. This time, the words don’t hurt Hakuno. Saber has opened his eyes. Julius isn’t talking about him; those were other people, and he’s not interested in hearing about their pasts.

After a trippy zero-gravity battle in which the two Dead Faces fight in midair as their surroundings rotate and reorganize around them, Hakuno delivers a decisive blow. Yet even in his dying breath, Julius assures him that he’ll end up like him eventually.

Hakuno doesn’t worry about those words; he’s recommitted to being the best Master he can be for the best Servant one could ask for, who is waiting for him at the ladder to the sixth level.

Rani and Rin seem poised to remain behind having accomplished their shared goal of getting a “decent Master” to the sixth level. But citing the increased difficulty at that level, Rin changes her mind and follows the pair after all, while Rani vanishes in a cloud of digital code.

Thinking back on this episode, I’m astounded at how much it achieved in 25 scant minutes. It felt like a feature film, without ever feeling overstuffed, while cementing my undying love for this version of Saber, whose story was so vividly and painfully told. My head is still spinning. That was truly awesome.

Fate/Extra Last Encore – 08

The fourth level was apparently so uneventful the series skips it altogether, and we end up on the very rainy and somber fifth level, which takes the form of a enormous jumbled mass of skyscrapers. While the ladder to Level Six is in sight (and just an ordinary physical ladder) and there’s no Floor Master, there is a “homicidal maniac” lurking the floor; Julius Harwey, whom Rin remarks was defeated by Saber and her former master.

All of the hope Hakuno seemed to carry with him from the third floor seems to have faded away, and the more Saber discusses her former master (who was a girl), the harder Hakuno is on himself.

Saber, in another one of her warm, caring monologues, tells Hakuno not to worry about doing anything other than what he’s capable of.

True genius, Saber believes, lies not in one’s talents, but by their ability to bear the cruel truth that not everyone is equal; that everyone has their roles and weaknesses. Basically, she wants Hakuno to buck up and keep doing his best.

But once Julius shows up (with either a Berserker or Assassin Servant), Hakuno and Saber are quickly separated, and Saber needs an emergency save by Lancer-Rin. Saber leaves the Servant to Rin so she can return to Hakuno’s side.

Hakuno, meanwhile, is goaded into summoning his Dead Face, but learns that Julius is also a Dead Face…”unable to save anything or save anyone,” beings whose purposes were torn away long ago.

While taking what would be a fatal blow to the midsection were he actually a living human named Kishitani Hakuno, Hakuno enters a dreamlike state where he’s told exactly what he is: an amalgamation of the massive number of  dead, defeated, and failed souls bearing grudges…a mass of hatred brought about by SE.RA.PH.’s long decline.

He is told he ascends “only to kill”, and was born “only to die.” If Hakuno were to take these words at face value and do as Saber recommended, dying would seem to be the only thing he is capable of doing, so he should do that, no?

Regaining consciousness just as Saber and Rin arrive, the battle is lost almost as soon as it resumes, as Julius reveals his Servant kills with a single blow, and Saber received that blow. Hakuno crawls towards the apparently defeated Saber (Julius and the Servant only flee when a giant arm breaks up the battle that was). He’s sure that she’d have been able to win had he been a real Master…even if there aren’t any of those left.

He descends into darkness, accepting everything he was told in his dream about being born from hatred. He allows himself to think for a moment that he might have been Saber’s former Master reincarnated before dismissing it as folly. But he hears Saber’s encouraging voice once more, asking if he really wants to simply give up at this point.

A door appears, and Hakuno walks through it, into a classroom with projector running. Seated beside it is a girl wearing the same uniform as him, who asks him (in Ishikawa Yui’s voice) to take a seat…because “it’s starting.” Very intriguing.