Oresuki – 04 – Mending Fences

If the first three episodes didn’t make it plain, Oresuki does not beat around the bush. Joro’s name was just cleared last week, as Sun’s scheme to win Pansy by using Himawari and Cosmos was exposed, mostly thanks to Pansy herself. So it’s understandable for emotions to be too raw for any kind of swift reconciliation to take place anytime soon.

And yet, that’s just what happens, as Pansy tells Joro he can’t hide in the library with her forever avoiding the others. To use her words as a jumping-off point, any effort to justify not mending fences is wasted effort. Just get out there and mend ’em! So he does, and refreshingly, he doesn’t let newspaper editor Hanetachi “Asunaro” Hina spoil his first chance to make up with Himawari.

Himawari assumes Joro hates her and that no good can come from them being around each other, but after a chase, Joro follows Pansy’s advice and simply tells Himawari the truth: he wants to be friends with her again. That’s all she ever wanted too, and they’re both simultaneously relieved and surprised how easy it feels in hindsight.

Himawari accompanies Joro to the rooftop to attempt a reconciliation with Sun, but it initially goes south when Sun dismisses Joro’s indirect “challenge,” which is little more than excuse to study together. It’s only when Joro, and then Himawari, drop all pretense (and dispense with all pride) and simply shout about wanting to be friends again that Sun comes around.

On a clear role, Joro brings Himawari and Sun before Pansy, both so the latter can apologize for his brutish words, and so the four of them can arrange a study circle for midterms. (I wouldn’t have so quickly forgiven Sun for threatening to rape her, but hey, I’m not Pansy.)

But for some strange reason, Joro completely forgot about Cosmos—and while she’s been essentially stalking him the whole time as he made up with the others, to boot!

When he feels her evil purple aura behind him, Joro realizes his mistake and seeks her out on the steps. It turns out not only does Cosmos want to make up more than anything, she’s slaved over an elaborate script for the process, and won’t accept Joro’s offer until he does it in just the bizarre performative way with weird voices that she envisioned!

So! No sooner did Oresuki tear apart all of its wholesome initial friendships with the utmost gusto does it carefully piece them back together, and in an entertaining and believable way. Each of Joro’s make-up sessions felt true to the character he was making up with.

But the end of the episode doesn’t forget that Dark Joro is very much still a thing, and that these reconciliations has rekindled his desire to one day seduce one of these three of these beautiful girls. Little does he know someone other than Pansy is on to Dark Joro, and is ready to expose him as “King of the Scumbags” in a newspaper article.

The charming, Tsuguro dialect-having Asunaro seemed amiable enough in her interactions with Joro, but his line about her being a master of information gathering wasn’t a throwaway. She’s got mud to throw—mud that threatens both his newly-mended friendships and reputation at school in general…again.

P.S. Anime News Network’s Lynzee Loveridge has a nice write-up of the first three episodes, including more references to the characters’ names that offer insight to their personalities. I for one missed the fact that “joro” means “watering can”—how apropos!

O Maidens in Your Savage Season – 12 (Fin) – Using the Same Words on a Train with No Brakes

The girls might be referring to the hostage situation, but the real train with no brakes each one of them is on is adolescence. It’s a crazy chemical, biological train where bodies take off before minds are ready; where feelings are felt before the words to express them can be found.

The reaction of Tomita-sensei, the principal and vice principal to the girl’s act of rebellion couldn’t be any appropriate: they shrug and go back home, hoping things will cool off by morning, or in about a day or so. They’re not looking down on their students or mocking their seriousness.

Instead, all they have to do is remember when they were that age to know that in this case, anything they try to do or say in this situation can only make things worse. Better to let the crazy kids work things out; to find the brakes. Also, Tomita will be by in the morning with McDonalds breakfast! She’s an angel.

What Tomita also does is call Rika, the person for whom the girls kidnapped Yamagishi-sensei, and who arrives with Amagi by her side. But this isn’t just about Rika anymore; it’s about settling things among each other, so they don’t let Rika or Amagi in.

Rika contacts Izumi, who contacts Kazusa to tell her he’s coming. He sneaks in to find Niina tangled up on the floor with Momoko as Kazusa looks on. Niina thinks it the best time to confess her feelings to Izumi, but Momoko doesn’t accept Kazusa “giving her permission”, and she sure as hell doesn’t have hers.

Izumi somehow makes things far worse by declaring he’ll clearly state how he feels about both of them, then proceeding to say that he loves Kazusa but is sexually attracted to Niina, words so lacking in nuance and open to interpretation they end up satisfying no one.

No one, that is, except Niina, who we’ve known for a while now is too far removed from traditional “love” to value it as much as the pure physical attraction she can make better sense of, since she’s experienced it herself, most powerfully on the train when, as she says “he touched her.”

Those words also lack nuance and serve to stir the shit further, until Kazusa suggests they simply dispense with further words and make it a pure neolithic fight, like their pillow war at the bathhouse. Rika, who arrived with Amagi in time to castigate Izumi for his harsh and imprecise words, laments that her girls have been “driven mad by lust” but doesn’t think abandoning language is the answer.

The only adult in the room, Yamagishi, free of his binds, suggests that they combine some kind of “fight” with language: color tag. By having those who aren’t “it” look for a color the person who is “it” describes in a very personal way, it will enable them to reach beyond mere words to find the thoughts and feelings behind them.

Momoko fails to find Hitoha’s “gray sigh,” but when she just blurts out “peach-colored Momoko” despite not knowing what it is at the time, Niina still runs at full speed to find it.  Niina wants to understand Momoko’s feelings so they can continue being friends. Happy that Niina feels that way, she embraces Niina, declaring she is now “it.”

Niina tells the others to find the “Blues of our youth,” which leads Kazusa to a dark hall, where she thinks about how she’s felt like she’s been lost in that darkness ever since Niina fist mentioned sex during club, confused about romance, sexual desire, and everything in between. But once her eyes adjust and the moon peeks out of the clouds, she and the hallway are bathed in blue light—the blues of their youth.

Izumi ends up right there with Kazusa, and manages to use the opportunity to put how he’s feeling into better, more useful words. To Kazusa’s dawning realization and delight, he’s finally using the same words she would use to describe how she feels. Now they both have a useful tool to fall back on if they ever get anxious in the future. Neither of them are experts on what they’re headed into, but they’re speaking the same language, so they won’t be walking that path alone.

On the other fronts, in addition to Niina and Momoko making up, Hitoha notes Milo-sensei’s dedication to the advisor role even in such an unusual situation. When he plays the “you’re nothing if not entertaining” card on her, she proudly warns him not to “attempt to satisfy me with half-hearted platitudes,” as that isn’t entertaining.

Finally, with things calming down around them, things aren’t as bad as Mom-Mode Rika initially feared. She’s more concerned about Amagi’s experience kissing other girls. But Amagi isn’t that experienced after all, as he’s never kissed anyone on the forehead before, as he does with Rika, and which he states makes his heart race more than any past kiss. Dawwww.

The other girls find them before they’re able to start making out, and Amagi, Izumi, and Milo are all dismissed so the five girls can finish working things out without further interruption from members of the opposite sex.

Their group catharsis takes the form of a massive poster and banner-painting project that leaves the facade of the school plastered in revolutionary slogans and the girls sleeping in their clubroom, spattered in paint of all colors.

Those literal colors represent the proverbial colors that color the blank white canvas of youth as one goes through one’s savage season. To be so colored is no curse, nor anything of which anyone need be ashamed. They are necessary and inevitable—as much as a train with no brakes will, after enough distance with the throttle pulled back, eventually slow down and become more manageable.

After some time passes, it seems all of these young women are managing fine with the bevy of new colors that have been splashed across their canvases. Jujou sends Rika a photo of her, her boyfriend, and their new baby, aged two months. Rika is on a date with Amagi. Hitoha is working on a performance for Milo and Tomita’s wedding. Niina and Momoko are hanging out and having fun.

And Kazusa and Izumi are holding hands, in public while taking a train together. In a marvelous callback to an earlier episode when their train enters a tunnel, she thinks to herself with a placid smile, “It fit.”

O Maidens satisfied my desire for a candid and genuine teen romantic drama that didn’t rely on cliches and didn’t hold back. It was packed with richly-rendered, distinctive, and ultimately lovable characters, and didn’t hesitate to put them—and us—through the wringer, but also didn’t keep us or them in that wringer, and balanced drama and comedy with aplomb. It looked great, too.

Finally, while that ship was built on stormy seas, it managed to sail the ship I wanted! It would have been a dealbreaker if it hadn’t, but that makes all the difference between simply liking or admiring a show, and actually loving it. O Maidens just…fit.

Domestic na Kanojo – 04 – This Is How It Should Be…Right?

Deciding they can’t just hole up at Natsuo’s friend’s house, Natsuo and Rui spend the better part of half this episode stalking Hina, but coming up with absolutely nothing. They even steal her phone while she’s in the bath so Rui can try to imitate her sister’s voice and break up with Shuu. It all fails. But then something fortuitous happens: Hina and Shuu come to them, at the very cafe where Natsuo’s friend works and where Natsuo and Rui are discussing their next steps.

Things accelerate quickly, as Natsuo comes right out and demands Shuu end it. Shuu is non-committal, and when he tells Hina he still needs more time before he can divorce his wife, Rui throws a glass of water in Shuu’s face and runs off. Natsuo catches up to her, to be a shoulder to cry on. This whole process of confronting Hina’s affair has definitely brought Natsuo and Rui closer together. Neither of them are happy with how things turned out, and both are in agreement that they want Shuu out of the picture.

Ultimately, however, it’s up to Hina to make the choice. Shuu seems fine with the status quo being maintained indefinitely, where he’s with both women and doesn’t have to take responsibility one way or the other. The next morning, Rui’s eyes are puffy from crying all night, and doesn’t speak to Hina when she suggests they go shopping together for a birthday gift for their mom.

Natsuo, meanwhile, is off to visit his mother’s grave. We get a flashback to ten years ago: Natsuo was in first grade, and a crybaby. Worried about, well, worrying his mom once she passes away, he resolves not to cry, even at the funeral where it’s expected. He wishes she were still alive, and wonders how life would be if that were so.

Then he’s surprised to find Hina and Rui join him at the grave. They’ve come to formally introduce themselves to his mom and give offerings. Hina also informs Natsuo that she’s broken up with Shuu. Natsuo is delighted, and Rui is beaming. Hina even says she’s been thinking about doing it anyway due to Shuu’s half-year-long reluctance to leave his wife.

What stopped her from leaving him was her genuine love for him…but ultimately family came first. She couldn’t go on with Shuu knowing it made them so unhappy. The show seems to be taking Natsuo and Rui’s side in this instance, but will things really be that simple as Hina pulling the plug? And what of Shuu’s observation that Hina doesn’t seem to treat Natsuo like a kid? I forsee more potholes on the road of familial bliss. This is a drama, after all—not…some kind of…“constantly happy times-having” show…

Hanebado! – 13 (Fin) – The Other Side of the Net

Hanebado! seemed to take a bit of a nosedive in critical reception as it progressed, with most of the criticism centering on writing perceived as poor and character reactions and attitudes that were too often over-the-top or unrealistic.

Frankly, neither of these things ever bothered me, because the primary draw for me was always watching two players slap the shit out of a birdie (or shuttlecock, if you’re not into the whole brevity thing). Ayano and Nagisa close out their match, and the show, doing just that.

As such, the animation of the match and of the character’s reactions grows ever more dramatic and stylized throughout the roller coaster of an episode. Ayano crawls all the way back, and Nagisa and her knee seem poised to crumble before the might of her opponent’s honed talent.

Coach Tachibana looks ready to pounce at any moment should Nagisa desire to end the match to possibly preserve her career; to lose to live to fight another day. But she doesn’t give up, nor does she let her knee stop her from hanging in there against Ayano.

After several end-of-match deuces (ties), it gets to the point that even Ayano’s body starts to give out. Indeed, when Nagisa’s winning point is scored, securing the narrowest of victories, Ayano’s racket flies right out of her hand and hits one of the net posts.

Once Nagisa realizes she’s won, she bursts into tears right there on the court, while an exhausted Ayano is helped off by her senpais, and takes that opportunity to thank them for supporting her, something that catches them off guard, since she was such an unapologetic bitch to them not too long ago!

Even though Ayano lost, she doesn’t feel like she’s going to be abandoned, nor that it’s the end of the world. Rather, both she and Nagisa realized during the match that they both love and play badminton because it’s fun; and it’s never more fun than when you’re playing such a close match against someone on or around your level.

Ayano and Nagisa might just represent the two peaks of their respective corners (talent and hard work), though it’s also clear that Nagisa has plenty of talent (otherwise she wouldn’t have beaten Ayano, period), while Ayano works plenty hard (otherwise she wouldn’t have had the stamina to almost knock Nagisa off).

Ayano also confronts her mother and states that she hated her, past-tense, because she thought she was abandoned for not having any talent. Uchika repeats her offer to bring Ayano back with her to Denmark, but Ayano wishes to remain in Japan, where she intends to keep playing and keep getting better. Uchika is impressed and moved by her daughter’s words.

As friends Riko and Nagisa share a post-victory moment of friendship, Ayano also takes the time to thank her friend Erena for always standing by her side, as well as for persuading her to get back into badminton.

When Ayano and Nagisa next meet, the latter is being told to take things easy, what with her patellar tendinitis. But Ayano immediately challenges her to a match. She quickly switches back to “Evil Ayanon”, but not out of straight-up malice; her intention to inspire Nagisa, not provoke her.

It’s also a way of acknowledging Nagisa’s skill; trash talk aside, Ayano wouldn’t play someone she believed wasn’t worth playing. And so the two arrange to practice together more and more in preparation for the inter-high tournament. After all, the person on the other side of the net is a “reflection of themselves”. Beat that, and they can beat anyone.

Little Witch Academia – 24

Show of (virtual) hands (that I can’t see because they’re virtual):

Who kinda knew going in that Naruto Palpatine Croix would ultimately succeed in activating her “Noir Rod”, only to find the world reconstruction magic she sought so vehemently would still not available to her, and that the technology she had developed would overload from all the bad soccer vibes and turn on her, requiring Chariot—who spent the first part of the episode fighting her—as the only person who can rescue Croix, and does so, because, well, she’s a good guy?

I mean, it all pretty much unfolded how I expected. Did it look great? Well, it’s Trigger on Red Bull: it’s usually gonna look gangbusters. But was it a great episode? I gotta say…no. It was merely good.

And lets start with the good. Obviously, the visuals stood out, as everything got crazy in a hurry. Watching Chariot fighting while keeping her emotions (which Croix can use against her) in check was also fun. Heck, it was also kinda fun to see Croix succeed (if only temporarily).

You really get the sense her unending quest to gain the Triskelion (and her long-standing resentment she wasn’t chosen by the ‘Rod) slowly twisted her until she became the supervillain she is today. And Chariot knows she shares some blame for the creation of the monster Croix has become, for the reasons laid out last week.

But in its quest to put on a big, bad, exciting Trigger Brand Dramatic Climax™, the beats just feel too familiar. “Borrowing” the Star Wars lightsaber, then escalating the battle to near-Kill la Kill or Gurren Lagann levels of lunacy, only invites comparison to those better Trigger works—a comparison that doesn’t favor LWA.

I know it sounds ungrateful or even hypocritical to accuse LWA of going too far with the weird, wild special effects, but it’s somewhat disheartening to see characters who felt so big when we heard their stories earlier, scaled down to the size of ants before all the great big crazy stuff going on.

That’s why I appreciated Akko & Co. arriving at the scene where Chariot was desperately trying to save Croix from her self-made mess. After taking out the Noir Rod with a Shiny Arrow, it’s just Chariot and a forgiving Akko excited and elated to finally be meeting her lifelong idol.

Not only that, her dream has come true, she thanks everyone who helped her get here, and she’s hopeful Chariot will continue to teach her how to be a great witch.

With that, the Shiny Rod indicates the Final Word is ready to be unsealed, granting Akko the power to transform the dark and dreary surroundings into gorgeous, colorful scenery – the “world transformation magic” Croix could not access, seems to be available to Akko.

We’ll see the extent to which that magic will be able to stop the ICBM of negative emotional energy that has launched as a result of civil unrest hitting an untenable fever pitch. Andrew finds himself in the halls of power, among people who want to use war to their advantage.

From the look of that alert on Croix’s phone, the menacing missile soaring high in the sky, and a red-hot steaming populace, we’re probably in for a Trigger-brand Finale of Exponential Escalation™.  Here’s hoping it doesn’t totally eclipse all the little witches.

Sagrada Reset – 02

Just when Asai determines Mari is the result of her mother’s ability to create a clone of her never-born daughter, an agent of the “Bureau” (or “Kanrikyoku”), Tsushima, arrives to take her away.

The father left town, and now the mother will do the same, leaving the virtual Mari a virtual orphan. That doesn’t sit right with Asai, so he has Haruki reset, and the formulation of a plan commences.

It’s actually pretty impressive how quickly and efficiently Asai directs the service he and Haruki are likely going to be providing throughout the run of the show: “erasing tears” by resetting and fixing the cause of those tears.

Their classmates assist with their own abilities, but when the one who allows Asai to share his memories with Haruki bristles at the prospect of defying the Bureau, Asai cuts himself with a broken ramune bottle until Tsushima gives permission.

Everything works out perfectly: Asai, with the help of the rest of the group, is able to show Mari’s mother the error of her ways; to stay and continue raising the girl who may not technically be her real daughter, but loves her nonetheless.

With Haruki and his classmates’ combined powers, Asai has gained the power to “erase sadness.” In the process, he’s also managed to awaken some feelings in Haruki, though the road is long.

He discusses this in great detail with Souma Sumire, who is a tough nut to crack: you get the feeling she’s glad Asai may have found his calling, but a part of her also regrets bringing him and Haruki closer together.

Mind you, the relationship between Asai and Haruki doesn’t become a romance overnight. After all, Haruki has only gained back a small portion of the full spectrum of emotions most humans carry and experience. She cuts her hair at his suggestion, but also confuses trust with love. Asai proves it when they kiss and there’s no spark.

Then he undoes the premature kiss by asking her to reset. After seeing what they managed to accomplish with Mari and her mother, Haruki believes following Asai’s lead is her “zeroth rule”, so she complies.

But in the period between Haruki’s Save Point and her Reset, Souma Sumire falls from the bridge, into the river, and dies, as we witnessed at the end of last week’s episode. Seeing her wearing the dress and holding the red umbrella rendered her a dead girl walking, and gave her last conversation with Asai far more significance than he could comprehend at the time.

When Haruki finds Asai quietly mourning on the rooftop, she demands he instruct her to reset…unaware she just did, and it’s too late. When she sees Asai crying, she can’t help but do the same. She’s following his lead, but also realizing that this is what the two of them have to stop from happening to others at all costs.

There’s a huge jump of two years to when Asai and Haruki, now high schoolers, are recruited by Tsushima into a Bureau-sanctioned “Service Club”, where they can erase sadness in an official (and supervised) capacity.

It’s a pretty jarring time leap, to be honest, but it means the first two episodes were always meant to be a prologue in which the pairing of Asai and Haruki was made and their shared calling revealed. Now the real work begins: both the sadness-erasure work, and the emotional-awakening-of-Haruki work.

Hibike! Euphonium 2 – 11

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All we needed was the slightest look from Reina to know, with relative confidence what was amiss and why: Thanks to Hashimoto, Reina learns that Kumiko knew about Taki’s wife before she did, and she’s angry Kumiko never told her.

Whether Kumiko was busy with Asuka and the other girls, and was going to eventually tell Reina, we’ll never know. But we do know that Kumiko hesitated as long as she did because she didn’t want to hurt Reina.

During Reina’s suitably elaborate procedure for confronting Kumiko – by going to the summit of the mountain that seems to accentuate Reina’s beauty – Reina yells at the top of her lungs, asks Kumiko why, and gets the answer she already knew.

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Reina turns out not to be that mad at Kumiko after all, but at herself: at the weakness she exhibits upon hearing this news; the fact she didn’t know. Her armor has cracked just as the Nationals approach, and while she can say she’s going to “forget about it” until they’re over, it’s likely she’s not 100% sure she can follow through.

Kumiko, for her part, tells her she’s still rooting for her, making sure Reina hears that Taki isn’t married anymore, even if it’s hard both to say and hear. She’s almost making up for not telling her to begin with.

It’s another wonderful scene between the two friends, and a very welcome one after Reina’s presence had dwindled in recent eps. Both the animation and the voice performances soar.

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In a quick flashback, we see a young Reina first lay eyes on Taki and fall for him right then and there. She quickly finds how hard it is to follow through, having an elaborate, warm daydream in which Taki compliments her playing and gives her a piece just for her to play.

She’s ripped from her reverie by the real Taki-sensei calling her playing “weak.” She needs to get it together. But how?

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Reina finds a way. While delivering the practice room key back to Taki at the end of the day with Kumiko, Reina asks him about his wife. Not about where she went to school or who she knew, but what she was like.

Taki opens up to her, and confirms what Reina had suspected, but wasn’t ready to face until now, when her playing is being effected by the doubt. There is not doubt; Taki still loves his wife, and he very likely became their director for his wife’s sake. He wants to go to the Nationals and win Gold for her sake.

And so, we see both Reina and Taki at their most vulnerable and emotional this week. I guess Christmas came early!

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Having gotten all the answers and confirmations she needed for the time being, Reina returns to normal, and starts playing the way she and everyone else have come to expect. Niiyama gives her the location of Taki’s wife’s grave, where takes Kumiko and prays.

That flashback was the beginning of Reina wishing time would move faster for her, so she could catch up to Taki. But now she has another goal to set her sights on, something that she wouldn’t have been able to accomplish if she was his age: She’s going to help Taki win Gold.

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Hibike! Euphonium 2 – 10

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It’s no coincidence Mamiko spends most of a scene scrubbing a pot she burned trying to make dinner. Mamiko wants to make up, not just with her parents, but with her sister as well. She’s scrubbing all the grease and grime that had amassed so that a new pot of soup can be made – a fresh start, without forgetting about what was said or what choices she made in the past.

As Kumiko volunteers to cook in her stead as she scrubs (she’s clearly the better cook of the two), Mamiko lays it all out candidly: how she thought going along with whatever her parents wanted was the adult thing to do, even though she wasn’t an adult at the time; how she resented Kumiko for being able to have fun with band; how she now regrets the choices she made, but is now ready to live her own life, hoping to avoid similar mistakes in the future.

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Kumiko always assumed her folks let her do as she pleased because they’d given up on her, because she had no promise. Mamiko doesn’t believe that; she just felt, as many older kids do, that her parents were taking a different approach with the younger kid; it’s what parents do. And before going to her room for a nap, Mamiko tells Kumiko to live her life too: be a kid when she’s a kid and an adult when she’s an adult; don’t be left with any regrets; learn from your suddenly awesome big sis.

While other friend-reconciling or concert-heavy episodes packed emotional and at times visceral punches, this may be my favorite episode of Euph2, because it’s the most personal one for Kumiko. She reacts to Mamiko’s news of leaving home with a stoic face, but on the train the next day, she suddenly bursts into tears. She is sad her sister is going, even if it’s what her sister wants…and probably needs.

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The episode brilliantly presents Mamiko as a parallel to Asuka, a connection I never really though about, but which makes perfect sense. I love how it’s Kumiko’s sister who provides a timely assist in terms of giving her a usable angle to go after an exceedingly stubborn Asuka.

Asuka is doing almost exactly what Mamiko did at her age, and while Kumiko didn’t do anything about that at the time – indeed, she didn’t even know what was going on, except that her sister was drifting away – she’ll be damned if she’s going to stand by and let Asuka go through with it unchallenged.

Challenge her Kumiko does, and Asuka, at least initially, is ready. She peppers Kumiko’s assertions with doubts like an expert debater. She keeps the focus on Kumiko’s argument rather than her problem, and even gets personal with Kumiko in a not-very-nice way, regarding her typical method of dealing with people.

She questions how someone like Kumiko, who herself tries to avoid hurting or getting hurt; who is “wishy washy” and keeps a safe distance; can expect people to tell her what they really feel, not just about Asuka coming back, but about anything.

 

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Kumiko is disheartened and temporarily stopped in her tracks, but the power of Mamiko’s words ring in her head and mix with Asuka’s euphonium, and Kumiko gets her second wind. Her voice rises in intensisty, tears stream from her cheeks as she confronts the heart of the matter.

She knows Asuka wants her father to hear her at the Nationals, and so does Kumiko herself. And she reminds Asuka that neither of them are adults yet, just high schoolers; and pretending to know everything and think “sucking it up and dealing” is the best course just isn’t right.

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Kumiko delivers an argument even Asuka didn’t quite expect, and moreso, delivers it with an honest passion Asuka can’t help but admire. Kumiko hurt her here, and let herself get hurt in return. The little blush on Asuka’s face is proof that that matters.

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Of course, Kumiko didn’t know if it would work when Asuka is suddenly called away. So when Asuka shows up the next day for band practice, Kumiko is gobsmacked. Many other band members tear up at her return.

And why? Well, Asuka proved she actually is special, at least when it comes to academics, scoring high enough in mock exams to have ammunition against her mom’s assertion she can’t succeed if she stays in band. Asuka takes her place beside Kumiko, and they prepare to practice.

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Asuka isn’t the only one Kumiko is surprised to see: Reina is also there. With everything that’s been going on with Mamiko and Asuka, Kumiko admits she’s kinda let Reina fall by the wayside.

By the look of Reina, I’d guess she’s either pissed off at the lack of Kumiko’s attention (doubtful) or has put the pieces together regarding Taki-sensei and his late wife, knows Kumiko knows, and is angry she didn’t tell her.

It’s almost as if the show intentionally made Reina and Kumiko such wonderful BFFs to this point so that when they hit a bump in the road, which seems to be the case here, it would have that much more impact. Of course, I’m just theorizing at some point. Gotta hear the next piece.

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ReLIFE – 10

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Both gifted and cursed by immense natural athletic talent that made her peers resent her and take her for granted, Honoka turned down all the powerhouses and sought refuge at Aoba High, a prep school not too serious about sports, where no one knew who she was.

But when she tried out for the team, someone knew who she was, and was angry she didn’t give it her all. She makes Honoka spike a ball at her as hard as she can, knocking her down, but she gets up laughing, her suspicions confirmed. Her name is Kariu Rena, and she wants to play volleyball with Honoka.

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For three years they played and had fun, but one thing that goes unmentioned is that the rift caused by her ankle injury wasn’t helped by the fact she never really caught up to Honoka’s level, and trying to stand beside her on a still-tender ankle felt impossible.

So Kariu said some very mean things and retired from the team, two actions she felt she could not undo, no matter how much she wanted to. She didn’t realize just how genuinely worried her friends were, and how they’d let her undo whatever she said or did if she’d just…play and be friends with Honoka again. It’s what everyone wants.

Hishiro’s role in the talk with Honoka is masterful, chronicling all the times she transferred and introduced herself with less and less enthusiasm, “giving up on knowing people” as her heart gradually numbed. The bond between Kariu and Honoka makes her jealous. She won’t let it crumble needlessly.

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Kariu is caught listening in on Honoka, and maintains her stubborn iron guard. Oga remains to assure Honoka she didn’t mean the things she said (again), and Honoka is in agreement. Kaizaki, basically acting as Hishiro’s backup thus far, surveys his friends and Honokas; they’re all of the same mind. They give Kariu time and space, trusting her to show up for the tournament.

When she doesn’t, Hishiro is pissed, and vows to drag Kariu there if she has to. Yoake helplfully provides Kaizaki with Kariu’s address. An points out to Yoake that he’s getting more involved these days, because he likes how things are changing. So does she. Kaizaki & Friends exploits are changing them too.

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Hishiro almost makes the rookie mistake of stating her name after ringing Kariu’s bell. Kaizaki shushes her and pretends to be a delivery man, Kariu answers the door, and they barge in. She’s in her tracksuit, with her uniform on underneath. It would appear their trust in her was not misplaced, only their confidence in her ability take the step of going to the tournament on her own. She’s still stuck at home.

Kariu calls Hishiro dense, that she can’t possibly understand how she feels, but Hishiro doesn’t care. Kariu’s her friend; she’s allowed to be worried about her. She’s come to fulfill her own selfish desire: to make Kariu play with Honoka again. She takes Kariu’s head in her hands and ask her what her selfish desire is.

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Turns out, it’s the same thing; Kariu was just afraid it was too late to achieve, but it wasn’t. All their selfish desires align. All that’s left is to act. Kariu accompanies Hishiro and Kaizaki back to school. Kariu enters the gym, and the match. Honoka stops looking, as Hishiro puts it, “ugly” and “dead.” They play, and have fun, like they’ve played for three years.

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They also lose, and are eliminated, and are officially done with high school volleyball for good. But as they both share a good cry behind the gym (with Hishiro sitting between them, a choice she initially regrets), Honoka makes it clear that winning without Kariu would not have been fun or made her happy. Losing is fine if it means she has Kariu back. And Kariu points out they can still play volleyball in college. Duh!

They exchange apologies before turning their gratitude and affection on Hishiro, who couldn’t be happier herself. She’d only just become friends with these two, and she was going to be damned if she was going to let their bond crumble. So she worked her butt off and it paid off marvelously, to the joy and relief of all. Stellar stuff.

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Noragami Aragoto – 06

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Usually a bad guy just wants more power, for reasons. But once Kugaha truly gets into why he wanted to “start over” with Bishamon, it wasn’t just to become her new exemplar. He truly believed this was what needed to be done. Bishamon had, after all, forsaken her war god legacy and horded “worthless” regalia, dragged them into her centuries-old grudge against Yato (based on a misunderstanding no less), and got them and herself corrupted.

But in his “selfless crusade” to rid the universe of this “selfish, detestable” Bishamon, he forgot one thing: his place, in the order of things. As Yato remarks when he diagnoses Kugaha’s plan as an elaborate cry for mommy’s attention, gods can do no wrong. They are above the morals of humans, Kugaha included. Her will reflects the will of the universe, and cannot be questioned just because Kugaha doesn’t like it.

More importantly, Kugaha deeply underestimated Yato’s power, especially now that Sekki is two swords, sharper than ever, and no longer conflicted about using deadly force. When Kugaha plays his trump card: his skeletal dragon phantom, Yato and Yukine dispatch it with ease.

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Yato prepares to dispatch Kugaha as well, but Bishamon stands up and shields him, refusing to let Yato touch her treasured regalia. Never again, it seems. The War God who had escalated matters so far so recently is the voice of peace here, recalling how she and Kazuma first met Kugaha, and how he became a valued member of her family. Her words and her apologies cut Kugaha to the quick; I might have even detected a glimmer of shame.

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But once word comes that another dragon Kugaha loosed in the mansion is responsible for killing so many of her regalia, Bishamon knows what must be done; she’s just more merciful than Yato would have been, releasing and exiling him rather than taking his life outright. It’s an act that doesn’t forgive what he did, but acknowledges he believed he was doing right by her as well as himself. But he’s not a god, and he wasn’t right.

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Yato, Hiyori and Yukine then fade out to let Bishamon deal with the second phantom, which carries the lost and still-vocal souls of her regalia. She arrives in the nick of time to save the group of survivors, calls the name of the oldest, a rusty swordstick (in a return to her humble roots), and brings the monster down as her lost children cry out for her.

This is the war Bishamon fights. Not some glorious bout on a barren hill that will be recorded in the annals of history, like Kugaha might have wanted. Instead, Bishamon is constantly fighting a war against neglect and cruelty of the near shore. She adopts those who had nowhere else to go because no one else will, and because she alone has the strength to bear so many.

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When the Ma clan was wiped out, Bishamon lost a battle, but not the war, as she and Kurama started over not by killing herself and resurrecting, but taking the ruins of what remained form her defeat and turning it into a fresh victory, her current Ha clan. And standing beside her during that resurgent win was her trusty exemplar Kurama.

When Kurama awakes to find a healed Bishamon smiling over her, he is ashamed for twice disgracing her, and asks her to release him. But like Kugaha, he’s wrong, and Bishamon can do no wrong. She still needs him in the ongoing war to help as many lost ones as she can. It’s a neverending war, but she is timeless.

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And one reason she needs him so badly is because she is unaccustomed to not holding in the manifest pain of her regalia. This is something she’ll work on no longer doing, so something like Kugaha never happens again. To that end, she’s begun an exchange journal with her regalia that she asks Kurama to add to, after she lifts his exile and asks him to return to being her exemplar. And if the War God can forgive him, it would be the highest insolence to not forgive himself.

This was a gorgeous and moving conclusion to the Kugaha vs. Bishamon arc. It managed to give Kugaha a little more dimension before shipping him off, and succeeded in bringing Bishamon and her family to the forefront as a larger-scale analog to Yato’s little but loving family. And it just may have ended Bishamon’s grudge, which dates back to the show’s last season, which is huge, because maybe henceforth she and Yato can interact civilly!

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Gatchaman Crowds Insight – 11

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As ‘Lil Gel-san chills at Gatcha HQ with Sugayama, the reunited Gatchamen do battle with the Kuu-sama…to no avail. While easy to defeat, the damn things keep coming, which makes sense, as they’re the granular embodiment of the collective atmosphere. Hajime stops fighting and determines they’ll need to try different tactics to get rid of it. But first, she and several other Gatchamen go on the Milione Show to receive the public’s blessing via smartphone vote. (OD also gets to meet his knockoff, DD).

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As soon as the public votes 84% to leave things to the Gatchamen, the Kuu-sama immediately cease their attacks and aggressive, and switch to fawning admiration for the Gatchamen. Such is the shifted mood of the people. But they’re still hanging around, to which Berg-Katze and Suzuki independently agree the only answer is to kill Gelsadra. So the Gatchamen deploy and start fighting him head-on.

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As we saw in his battle against Joe, Gel is one tough customer, but against the concerted forces of the Gatchamen he is eventually worn down. Only they’re not interested merely in wearing him down. In fact, the G-men make it a point to pummel Gel-san as mercilessly as possible, all while the public watches on streaming media. The Kuu-sama celebrate Gel-san’s imminent defeat, but then…the atmosphere starts to change again.

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People start to pity Gel-san’s treatment, and believe the G-men might be going a bit too far in taking him out. These peoples’ Kuu-samas pop like balloons one by one. Tsubasa tries to stop Sugane from a coup-de-grace, but after all the other assembled G-men salute, he fires off his attack anyway, which teleports through Tsubasa and slices Gel-san in half. Curiously absent in all of this is Hajime.

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The reason for her absence becomes clear a short time later, once the atmosphere has calmed and peace returned to the nation: she wasn’t absent. Utsutsu borrows the life force of her fellow G-men to heal a Sleeping Beauty-esque Hajime, while Tsubasa goes on the air to apologize to the people for deceiving them: Gel-san isn’t dead. They managed to get around the fact that only killing him could calm the atmosphere by “killing” a fake Gel-san, who Hajime posed as for the purposes of the operation.

Hajime understood that the atmosphere everyone had a hand in creating was far tougher opponent than Gel-san or the Kuu-sama, and defeating it would require more than brawn. They needed to convince the people that they were delivering swift and terrible justice to their fallen alien prime minister, and only when he was in smoldering pieces did they start to find such justice distasteful and prefer to move on to other things. I for one just hope Hajime didn’t have to pay for this victory with her own life.

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Gatchaman Crowds Insight – 09

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Considering episode 8 ended with a guy being eaten (or absorbed) by a Kuu-sama, and episode 10 started with the public reaction, I didn’t realize I had skipped an entire episode by accident until I was already through it. I also noted how quickly the plot progressed, leaving me to think the episode I missed was probably superfluous anyway. Boy, was I wrong!

This week, among many other things I missed out on, Hajime diagnoses Tsubasa’s problem: her resolve to run forward with everything she’s got can be both a strength and a liability. Like Tsubasa, I found out that it’s okay to stop and even go back to ensure you’re on the right path, not a path of convenience and expediency.

As a result of going back, I found episode 9 did more than simply fill in a few blanks; it further enriched the episode 10 I accidentally skipped to—itself a great episode.

For instance: I learned what led to Tsubasa no longer being by Gelsadra’s side, but returning home to Nagaoka. The public didn’t immediately react to the Kuu-sama’s “feedings” negatively; most people welcomed them being a “hammer of justice” as they punished those who committed crimes, be they petty or serious.

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Tsubasa can’t be on board with this, because she’s not a weird alien who uses cold logic to solve everything. She doesn’t see the point of becoming one if those who are hesitant are forced under pain of devouring. Paiman also condemns the acts of the Kuu-sama and hastily announces the Gatchamen will move to detain Prime Minister Gel-san, who is definitely somehow connected.

Paiman’s plan backfires, because he chooses a course of action before fully understanding what he’s up against: the Kuu-sama aren’t minions doing Gel-san’s bidding; they’re a side-effect of his weird-alien methods to unite everyone at any cost. They are of the people, not Gel-san, and as long as the pervading public opinion is of acceptance and contentment with Gel-san’s “regime”, both the Kuu-sama and the majority of the public will condemn the Gatchamen for attempting to disrupt the flow.

Hardcore supporters thus throw stuff at Paiman when he comes to arrest Gel-san; parents take their kids out of his day-care; Sugane’s harem dumps him. The Gatchamen find themselves unpopular; an eyesore to either be spurned, ignored, or, if they persist in their intervention, dealt with.

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The team regroups at HQ, where Hajime decodes Berg-Katze’s riddle: “everyone’s favorite thing that goes in easy but is difficult to get out” is a pervading atmosphere. Sugane says he’s had a lot of fun going with the flow, and wonders if it’s really that bad. And it isn’t, until you suddenly find yourself outside of it.

Hajime seems to take great pride out of being an outsider, whether you’re talking Gatchaman, alien vessel, or general space cadet. Even her hand gestures are subversive, sticking with the scissor fingers while everyone else puts their fingers together for the Ge-ru-ru Salute.

While trying to visit another fellow outsider in Rui, he doesn’t answer the door or his phone. His AI X-san, has to answer for him, worried about its master. At this point Hajime is accosted by numerous Kuu-sama, who are clearly telling not asking, that they become one. In her usual nonchalant-yet-badass tone, Hajime says “Yeah, I’d rather not,” successfully dodging the tongues.

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Then there’s the sustained action setpiece of this episode: the fight between Joe, who blames himself for Gel-san getting elected, and Gel-san, who doesn’t understand what Joe’s problem is, only that any attack directed at him will be countered in kind, and then some.

Joe is perhaps a bit foolhardy, but who would have thought Gel-san would be so adept at combat, be it dodging bullets on the ground or matching fire with wind up in the stratosphere. It’s a beautiful battle, all the more interesting because of Joe’s inability to gt through to Gel-san not because Gel’s bad or evil, but merely fundamentally wired differently as a living being.

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Back to Tsubasa. Feeling like the bottom’s fallen out of her world, she wanders an increasingly bleak city with ominously gathering clouds and scene after scene of independent-minded folk being bullied into going with the flow, and devoured if they don’t. The Kuu-sama even come after her. It’s all like some terrible nightmare, but then there’s a hand on her shoulder—it’s Hajime’s with an umbrella. And Hajime isn’t there to judge or say I told you so. She’s there to help and support her friend.

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Speaking of friends, Sugane cannot heed Joe’s warning to stay out of the fight, protecting Joe from Gel’s giant shiruken-like weapons, but getting stabbed in the back himself. Like Paiman with his premature arrest attempt, Jou’s attack only made things worse. Meanwhile, after a pep talk from Hajime (she’s all over the place wryly supporting people this episode!) X-san reaches out to Rui’s nemesis Suzuki Rizumu to try to rattle his cage. Rui is nearly catatonic in his bliss, sucking his thumb like the ape Suzuki warned him everyone would become in Gel-san’s world.

But it does rouse Suzuki to action, and he gets out of prison thanks to a VAPE member who is a guard, in order to “change the atmosphere.” Having gotten her Gatchabook back from Hajime, Tsubasa heads home, for a similar change of atmosphere, seeking wisdom from her gramps. And then, in the scene episode 10 starts with, we see one more example of the insidious danger of the Kuu-sama and their fundamental wrongness of their existence in society when a little girl simply can’t abide an older kid shrugging off a recently-devoured friend. Out of the mouths of babes indeed!

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Gatchaman Crowds Insight – 10

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When Mana’s father is swallowed up by a Kuu-sama, a former (current?) member of VAPE catches it on his cameraphone, forwarding it to Suzuki, who sends it out into the digital continuum, where it catches fire. I like how the means with which Gelsadra and Tsubasa united and consolidated the majority of society are the same means that prove their undoing. As with everything else, enhanced technology effects change much faster than more primative methods, but the door swings both ways.

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When the nation sees Mana’s father getting eaten, followed by a response by Gel-san that inadvertently sounds cold and uncaring, and a warning for those who don’t want to become one to get in line, Tsubasa is beside herself, unsure of what to do, leading her to sit with her grandpa and listen. I found Yuru-jii’s monologue to be a fine, stirring, cogent, unblinking look on Japanese history and society.

He’s seen this “atmosphere” before, and he was caught up in it, as was everyone around him, including his little brother: in WWII. “We lost ourselves, and fought against people we didn’t hate”, all out what was essentially a national inferiority complex. The atmosphere that led to war and the slaughter of millions just kinda snuck up on everyone, until it had become irreversible.

That atmopshere created an empire that would fight to the last man when faced with certain defeat. It took the first and only use of nuclear weapons against an enemy in human history to dissipate that atmosphere. Gatchaman’s sobering critique of the national psyche in the darkest years of Japan’s history stands in stark contrast to the glorification of the military in shows like KanColle and GATE, and I for one am glad shows like this are around to balance the discourse.

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The difference here is, the mood, and atmosphere, or kuuki, has been given physical form by Gelsadra, with the best of intentions, but ignorant to the world, its people, and their inherent desire to break from the crowd. He neutralized their wills, but he did not break them. And so, when word comes down the Kuu-sama are killers and Gel brought them about and is doing nothing to stop them, those very Kuu-sama reflect the changing mood, one of hatred and desire to bring Gel-san down.

I like how it’s Hajime who first comes to Gel’s aid against the amassing hordes of Kuu-sama. They may have physical form, but they can be disspated, or “popped” with the power of the Gatchamen. Gel-san also reassesses what he wants, from something as massive and ultimately impossible as uniting all of mankind as one, to something far simpler and more personal: wanting to see his dear friend Tsubasa.

So he exhales, releasing all of the mood bubbles in his belly and reverting to the form he took when he first landed…which is good news.

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Meanwhile, the Gatchamen muster and start taking out the Kuu-samas, lending a nice action angle to the episode. Rui breaks out of his funk thanks to X, into whom he inadvertently, but fortunately, programmed a sort of “Backup Will”, a fail-safe to rouse him from indolence should he get swept up in the fluffy bliss of belonging. X reminds him that he came up with her, and Crowds, and every other amazing accomplishment, when he was alone, not in the fetal position in the lap of a physical manifestation of the nation’s mood!

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Just as Gel-san exhaled to release the atmosphere, so too does Tsubasa, taking her grandpa’s advice to do some heavy breathing before setting off and joining Hajime and the other Gatchamen. She races to the city by transforming into an awesome hoverbike-thingy. Thanks to the events of this week, the apes are quickly evolving and thinking for themselves, but the residual caustic atmosphere must be purged in order to move forward. Everyone has to take a deeep breath.

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P.S. Yup, I accidentally totally skipped Episode 9. I’ll be watching that soon and writing a review later. Sorry about that!