Zoku Owarimonogatari – 06 (Fin) – Twenty Percent Interest

As is usually the case when involving Oshino Ougi, there’s a sinister aura to the “ghost classroom” where Koyomi finds her; like the last level of a game that may well end up kicking your ass because you’re under-leveled. That Ougi is wearing Koyomi’s boy’s uniform actually adds both to the sense of unique occasion and ominousness.

But if Monogatari has taught us anything, especially from the likes of Shinobu and Ononoki, it’s not to tell a book by its cover. This isn’t going to be a battleground, because Ougi isn’t Koyomi’s enemy. Ougi is Koyomi, and vice-versa. Case in point: the only reason their uniforms are swapped is because she thought it would be a funny prank.

Rather than a battle of fists or magic, this will be place where these two sides of Koyomi take the various pieces he’s collected in this mirror world and start to fit them together. Ougi starts with the easiest, most obvious, and yes, most cliched hypothesis: It was all a dream. Not just the mirror world, but all of Koyomi’s dealings with everyone thus far.

When Koyomi says if it was all a dream, he’ll consider it a happy one, wake up, stretch, and live out the day in a good mood. She withdraws this rather uninteresting theory relatively quickly, but answers him directly about being his double, not the Koyomi of the mirror world. She came to the world with him and helped him along the way, such as asking Black Hanekawa to save him.

She did this in part because Koyomi’s best interests are her best interests, but also because despite all her glaring and teasing, but because she is truly grateful to him for saving her from the darkness. That’s a tidy segue into the reflection rate of mirrors, with which Koyomi is already familiar thanks to Sodachi, who said that most mirrors only reflect 80 percent of the light.

The 20 percent that isn’t can be said to be absorbed, or erased, or executed. In any case, it goes into the darkness; into nothingness. Until that morning when Koyomi noticed his reflection had suddenly stopped moving. Koyomi didn’t pass through the mirror into a new world; he pulled a mirror world out of the mirror, saving the 20 percent of light that would have been lost—utilizing his innate mastery of all oddity qualities.

As has been established earlier, this world doesn’t really make sense as a reflection of Koyomi’s original world because the people in it aren’t mirror images, but other sides of who they fundamentally were, are, or could be. Here Koyomi learns why those other sides are what they are.

Gaen Izuko’s bitter memories created Gaen Tooe. Hanekawa’s regret about leaving town created her mini-me. Shinobu and Ononoki regained the humanity they lost. Koyomi’s regrets, and those of everyone else, that they either forgot or wanted to forget or pretend never existed, came back in this world. They gained their lost twenty percent back.

Ougi mentions that this isn’t something to be undone with the snap of fingers; Koyomi and everyone else actually experienced what it was like to regain that percentage, for good and ill, and will carry it with them from now on, even if they all revert back to the people they were before the mirror world was pulled out.

Perhaps most poignantly, the mirror world proved to Ougi—and any potential specialist who might place a target on her back—that there was value in Koyomi saving her from the darkness. That the darkness itself was wrong to think she had no reason to exist. In this mirror world, Ougi was Koyomi’s fail-safe. Without her, this story might’ve ended under the fist of the Rainy Devil.

In part as thanks for that, Ougi presents Koyomi with a zero-reflection, 100-percent absorption rate mirror, or a “slice of darkness” he’s to offer to Mayoi at the Shrine of the Polar Snake. There, at that focal point of the town, it will absorb the twenty percent of light he pulled out of the mirror, restoring the world to its previous state. But again, the “reminder” everyone got of that light—of their almost-forgotten regrets—will remain. With that, Ougi leaps out the window, her work there done.

Back home, Koyomi gets a knock at the door. It’s his girlfriend, Senjougahara Hitagi, trying out a new, adorable look that isn’t based on Hanekawa’s style. Her late arrival provides the perfect capper for a wonderful epilogue that explores how far Koyomi has come, and how he fears not knowing where to go from there.

He explains his last two days to Hitagi, about how after losing his title as high school student he looked in the mirror and summoned his regrets. Mind you, those myriad regrets weren’t all resolved to his or anyone’s satisfaction; they were simply remembered, faced, and acknowledged, which enables him to step towards the future a little more informed, so that he might hopefully avoid actions that will create more regrets.

In this regard, Hitagi’s total absence from the mirror world makes sense: Where she’s concerned, Koyomi has no regrets, and it’s reasonable to assume neither does she where he’s concerned. Koyomi creates a microcosm of his occasional hesitation when the two come to a crosswalk, where he used to stress about whether to lead with his right or left foot when the crossing light signals “go.”

Hitagi has a wonderfully Hitagi response to that: just plant both feet and take a leap, which is exactly what she does after taking Koyomi’s hand. Then Araragi Koyomi delivers a  stirring final monologue: “The long-continued story having come to its end, I remember my memories, leave my business unfinished, and leaving ample aftertaste and black space, towards the next story, we take a leap.”

Whew. It’s been quite a ride, leaping from one story, one oddity to the other over ten years and one hundred and three episodes containing many more individual chapters. I don’t think it’s a gross exaggeration to declare Monogatari, when taken as a whole, to be the most rich and satisfying collections of anime I’ve ever experienced.

It’s a series that has demanded time, patience, and at times, a certain twisted sense of humor, or tolerance for same. It’s downright bittersweet to think the book of Araragi & Co. has finally closed for good. But I’m glad I took the leap. Or should I say, a huge, joystick-pushing, lake-obliterating jump.

Advertisements

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.

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – 22 (Fin) – A Duel that Never Happened

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card ends with some fireworks, danger, and a much-awaited reveal to Sakura that her new friend Akiho is the cloaked figure who has been haunting her for months—only for that reveal to be undone by Yuna D. Kaito’s time reversal magic, the use of which fatigues him.

It just underscores what a contemptuous cad Yuna D. Kaito is to not only make Akiho do these things, but not even have the courtesy to let her remember. Akiho has been in the “Clock Land” of her dreams so often, the lines between dreams and reality are starting to blur, as she feels she’s somehow being a bother to Sakura in real life.

One night, while reminiscing about meeting Kero-chan for the first time, and how she’s glad she met everyone she’s met on her Cardcaptor adventures, she’s interrupted in mid-thought by yet another waking dream, only this time Cloaky is really there, balanced on an electrical pole.

Sakura releases her staff, activates Flight, and flies out to meet the figure, but Kero is blocked from leaving the same window by some kind of magical boundary he can’t break even in Big Mode. It’s clear Cloaky wants this confrontation to be one-on-one.

What follows are the aforementioned fireworks, with Akiho sending a giant ball of broken glass (which Sakura destroys with Blaze), a curtain of flame (she dissipates with Aqua), and a barrage of glowing projectiles (she gathers up with Spiral). Then Cloaky re-seals Sakura’s staff and begins to draw her key towards her.

When Sakura tries to re-release an grab her key back, Akiho dumps out all of Sakura’s Clear Cards, and even deactivates Flight, sending her careening to the earth from hundreds of feet in the air. It’s the tightest of tight spots Sakura’s ever been in, and as she falls, the cloak is pulled back and she catches an unmistakable look at a very out-of-it Akiho.

That would’ve been a fine cliffhanger on which to end things, but if Yuna was going to swoop in and undo it all, I’m glad it happened now and not in the next season, lest I get my hopes up for too long that the reveal would stick.

While inspecting the frozen Akiho and Sakura, Momo is of the mind Akiho will simply think this was all a dream as usual (she’s been “sleep-acting” as Cloaky all this time, after all), but Sakura will remember, spuring Yuna to use more taboo time magic to undo the duel.

I can’t help but feel terrible for poor Akiho, who is little more than a tool doing Yuna’s bidding while he hangs back, observes, and intervenes when necessary. In the season that follows I’d love to see her somehow break free of his hold on her, though that would require an awareness of her situation she still doesn’t have.

As for Sakura, she has no recollection of her big fight with Cloaky and losing all her cards and nearly her life, and simply continues on with what she was saying to Kero-chan after he dried her hair: with all of the wonderful people she’s met by her side, she’s confident she’ll be just fine, come what may. After that close call, I can’t yet share her confidence.

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – 21 – Two New Keys to Victory?

In an extended opening act between Sakura’s brother and father, the two discuss her similarity to her mother Nadeshiko, both her smile and the “something mysterious” about her. Sakura’s husband left things he couldn’t sense to Nadeshiko and didn’t ask questions, even if it meant he felt left out. But unlike his dad, Touya has the power to aid Sakura, should that time arise…and it’s looking pretty likely that it is!

Meanwhile, Sakura’s grandfather gives her one of the two items her mother wished her to have: a jeweled key she always treasured. My first thought was that this could be the key she needs to focus her magical power in order to oppose Yuna D. Kaito. The second “item” turns out to be gramps’ villa itself, meaning not only does Sakura have a potential new tool in the key, but a base from which to draw power.

Eriol mentions to Yue and Kero that the mansion where Yuna and Akiho live was once torn down to build an amusement park, yet now the park is gone and the mansion is back; its location being a particularly strong base for magicial power. He also informs his associates that Yuna was excommunicated from the order that gave him the “D” title, ostensibly for stealing a magical relic.

Eriol has a lot of exposition this wek: confirming that it is Sakura herself who has summoned all of the cards she’s been securing. They represent various aspects of her power, and while that power is considerable, it is still chaotic, without focus, and most importantly, inadvertent on the part of their creator.

Perhaps sensing his enemies have conspired together long enough, Yuna launches an attack on Eriol, cutting off both magical and conventional communications between him, Yue, and Kero. Eriol manages to fight off the attack, cracking his staff in the process, but it exhausts him. Even he can’t go up against a “D”-class magician for long.

While Yuna’s watch is finally broken, he still has that stolen relic—I’m guessing the book—and doesn’t seem too perturbed about pushing Akiho has far as he can in order to get Sakura’s cards.

Sakura remains uneasy about recent events, but nevertheless blissfully unaware of the identity, nature, and scale of her enemy and his plans. Instead, while watching Syaoran and his reflection in the car window, she wishes she could look in a mirror and see the Sakura everyone else sees.

That wish casts a fog around her home, and when she and Syaoran arrive, it has flipped around; become a reflection of itself. While a little strange and unnerving, there’s no active physical threat; all Sakura has to do is release her staff and secure the card, somewhat unimaginatively called “Mirror.”

It’s her twentieth card, and it enables Sakura to “mirror” her Flight card, making a double which she affixes to Syaoran so they can fly around hand in hand. Of all the things she could have done, she did something to make her and Syaoran happy. Too much power will make its owner unhappy, and Sakura is certainly hella powerful at this stage, if still chaotic. But Syaoran embraces her in midair and promises her he won’t let her be unhappy.

I’m not sure what he, or Kero, Yue, Eriol, or Touya can actually do, considering it’s been implied Yuna is stronger than all of them, and Sakura is the only one who has a chance of defeating him. But first she has to be told that Yuna is even an enemy that needs defeating, right? He’s been operating in the shadows for far too long while she’s dilly-dallied about with her newfound powers and ancillary high school life.

If her boyfriend, brother, friends and allies are really serious about preserving her happiness, she needs to be told the truth, even if it makes her unhappy. She needs to know so she can prepare for what’s coming. Because you know what would make her even more unhappy? If they, or anyone else (say Akiho) gets hurt because Yuna successfully stole her cards and becomes an unstoppable force.

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – 03

The rate of strange magical happenings in Tomoeda increases this week, with Sakura capturing not one but two Clear Cards. The first is a water-element Card called Aqua, which telegraphs its presence to us early on with an unexpected rain that grows heavier and heavier as the day progresses.

School goes on as it pours outside, affording us a look at “indoor lunch”, as well as another demonstration of how Yamazaki and Chiharu’s running bit in which he comes up with bizarre and dubious facts about things, Sakura and Li believe him, and then Chiharu hits and/or scolds him.

Finally, the rain is so heavy Sakura has to respond by releasing her staff, while Tomoyo provides a frog-themed battle suit. Sakura also makes use of her Clear Cards for the first time, using Gale to disperse the rain and Siege to surround and hold its source so she can secure it.

Indeed, it’s as if a Card showed up that specifically required the power of the two Cards she’d already collected to capture. I’m also now versed in Sakura’s trademark lingo, be it “Release”, “Secure”, and her all-purpose exclamation of “HOEHHH!” All good stuff. Also: consistent Battle Music!

When Sakura texts Yuki that she’s gained another Card, her brother Touya is nearby, and lets on that he may know a little about what Sakura and Yuki are up to, and that he himself once gave them power which he doesn’t expect he’ll ever have back.

The next day Sakura and Chiharu get to show the Cheerleading Club what they’re made of, but after stooping down to tie her shoe, Sakura gets up to find every other person at school gone. With nothing attacking her, she releases her staff and goes on the offensive, only to have her Gales either hit nothing or get reflected back.

Eventually, Sakura can see a faint wisp of something racing around, but it’s mostly invisible, so she employs Aqua’s rain to render it visible. Upon securing it, she herself is drenched by the rain she used, but Li races to the rescue and lends her his jacket until she can change.

It’s a cute and heartwarming moment, and it’s nice that every episode has at least one or two such moments (even if Li still seems a bit shady).

Just as Sakura thought she was done with magic for the day, she suddenly loses consciousness and ends up in her recurring dream with Cloaky. This time the figure tries to steal her Key, and when she grabs hold of it she gets pulled along with it, until she’s face to face with them.

Upon waking up, she notes that they’re about the same height, but that’s about all she seems to know. I’m now caught up on CCS:CC, and must now wait until next week like everyone else to see where this goes.