Bokutachi no Remake – 02 – On the Right Track

Given the chance to go back ten years, Kyouya has resolved to do a better job this time around, starting with taking a different path in choosing art school. But beyond that he had no idea where that new path would take him. If the answers are in his head, you could say they’re locked, and getting to know his three roommates is a good start in finding the means to unlock them.

By coincidence, Kyouya gets a part-time job at the same konbini as Nanako, and a part of that job is restocking the walk-up fridges. Between the darkness of the stocking space behind the shelves and the coolness of the fridge, the scene is akin to a cozy winter night in the park, only Kyouya and Nanako are on the clock.

While Kyouya may have entered art school completely devoid of confidence, he’s already learned from his roomies that just because they’re talented doesn’t mean they don’t have their own insecurities. It didn’t sit well with Nanako that she thougth Lake Biwa was the ocean, so she left her hometown to get a better idea of the size of the world, hoping to learn who she is as the explores it.

Kyouya admits to us that he’s in no hurry to get past either quiet little scenes with Nanako in the fridge or even the little conflicts that arise when two guys and two girls live in the same space (read: food stealing, which Shinoaki will not tolerate).

Things become a bit more urgent in the now when their class is assigned a short film assignment. They’ve only got three minutes to tell their story. Having spoken to Aki and Nanako and having found similarities to his own (and even having visions of the three on the same train platform), Kyouya comes up with the idea of telling the story of a woman’s life by using a day at train station.

Tsurayuki, the one roommate Kyouya hasn’t reached out to about why he enrolled, goes into his room for a half-hour and comes out with a treatment for the station idea. But then he takes Kyouya aside and says he had the same exact idea locked away. He knows Kyouya didn’t steal it, but asks if “anything else is going on.” Kyouya is unsure of how to answer, so he says nothing, and the tension passes.

Still, it’s telling that Tsurayuki is the first one to get a hint that there’s more to Kyouya than meets the eye, even if he has no idea what that is. He’s a screenwriter, after all, and scenarios like that are always going through his head. He accepts that two people get the same idea all the time, and the group starts production of the short in earnest.

This inevitably leads to creative differences, with producer Kyouya’s insistence they stick to the three-minute limit butting up against Tsurayuki’s desire to tell his story his way. He thinks if it’s good, no one will care about the runtime, and even asks Shinoaki and Nanako to adjust what they’re doing to accommodate his contribution.

When Kyouya puts his foot down, Tsurayuki is angered, but in this case at least, Kyouya is right; this is an assignment and if the rules are broken all their collective efforts are for naught. That said, he also knows Tsurayuki has a point about taking risks and not over-compromising on one’s art.

A lot happens this week with the group beyond the group’s short film. There’s the aforementioned getting-to-know-you and slice-of-life scenes; Kyouya, Shinoaki and Nanako are snared into a fine arts club desperate for members, and Eiko reveals her group is also filming in a train station and won’t be outdone. I do hope at some point Eiko becomes a less antagonistic presence, knowing how well she and Kyouya work together in the future.

When Kyouya’s teacher can tell he’s down in the dumps, she shows him a script from a film that everyone loved, but no one liked the finished product, because the director and cast got to do whatever they wanted without any boundaries. She reminds him a producer doesn’t just issue cuts or subtraction, but about properly wrangling and harnessing the collective talent of his team to make a final product people will like.

It’s just as much a creative process as writing a script, drawing storyboards, or acting, and it’s something Kyouya reveals he’s actually good at when he applies himself. He manages to strike the balance of motivating Tsurayuki and the others to do what they do best without letting them run wild, and they in turn appreciate his calming, organizing presence.

That’s why it’s so heartbreaking that on the first day of filming, when all their planning and preparation is about to start paying off with real images on film, learn Tsurayuki accidentally checked out a digital still camera instead of a video camera. Here, the others echo a statement Kyouya had repeated to himself and used as a crutch for much of his ten years to come: It is what it is…nothing to be done about it.

It is here where we learn the true power of Kyouya’s potential as a producer: he alone, having lived and learned from those ensuing years, is the only one of the four to say No, something CAN be done about it. And he’s right. Chris Marker’s La Jetée is just one famous example of a film composed of a series of still photographs.

I’m guessing that’s what they’ll do, but even if it isn’t, the fact Kyouya isn’t going to let things end here means he’s continuing to learn and benefit from the time jump. What’s so satisfying about this dynamic is that he now finds himself in a position to help everyone out because living and working and bonding with them helped get him in that position. It’s a symbiotic balance creative teams always strive for.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Bokutachi no Remake – 01 (First Impressions) – To Be an Artist Is to Believe in Life

Bokutachi no Remake’s first episode is fifty minutes long, giving it a cinematic quality. While there’s no combat or explosions, there is a lot of heart and a lot of quiet, relaxing atmosphere. I was a little surprised we spent nearly half of the episode on protagonist Kyouya’s life in 2016, but in hindsight I’m glad we got as much as we did.

Kyouya comes to believe his life went wrong when he chose an economics school over an art school when he received acceptance letters from both. He burned out of his office job, went to work for a video company, but was soon laid off. While searching for work he happens upon Kawasegawa, who just so happens to be in dire need of Kyouya’s specific set of skills at SucceedSoft.

At first it seems Kyouya has found his dream job, but gradually politics from higher-up curdle that dream, and he has to take the express bus back to his parents’ house for the second time. That double whammy, combined with Kyouya’s laid back affability-turned disillusionment, helps us feel for him. I could also relate: I was laid off a job of eleven years due to Covid!

It’s here where the show stops teasing us with “will he/won’t he” travel back ten years every times he hits the hay. This time he wakes up in 2006, which he identifies from his sister’s middle school uni, his deep CRT TV, PS2 (all I had in ’06 too!), and flip phone. It doesn’t really matter how he ended up back to the day he got two acceptance letters—just that he chooses the art school this time.

He’s the first to arrive at the house he’ll be sharing with three other co-eds, and there’s a palpable excitement to spending his first night in his half-unpacked room. Things get quite a bit more exciting when, after a bizarre dream sequence, he wakes up to find a cute blue-haired girl dozing next to him. When this girl slips and falls into Kyouya’s crotch, his other two new roommates enter and get quite the first impression.

Fanservice and pratfalls aside, the blue-haired girl, Shino Aki, as well as Nanako and Tsurayuki, soon settle into an easy co-habitation and become friends. They’re even all in the same visual arts program. Kyouya soon learns that his former/future boss Kawasegawa also attended this college, but she gives him the cold shoulder.

Kyouya also learns just how few art school grads end up working in their desired fields (just eight out of over 130), but also just how little he believes his past ten years future experience will help him in this setting when he’s among so many talented people. Again, I can relate to Kyouya here, in that I was the best artist at my non-art high school but when I reached college there were plenty of people way better than me.

It was a little overwhelming, but I soon learned to see it not as being someone unable to shape up in an ultra-competitive field, but part of the education itself being meeting people who do what you do, either better or worse; learning from them, and them learning from you.

Of his roommates, Kyouya ends up spending most of his time with “Shinoaki”, and the two have a lovely cozy chemistry, to the point he can carry her home on his back when she nods off, but she doesn’t wig out when she wakes up. On the contrary, Aki insists Kyouya drop the act and tell her what’s bothering him, because she can sense something is.

He tells her, and she assures him that there’s plenty he can do at their school, just as there’s plenty the people he deems amazing can’t do. Even the amazing worry; probably especially so. It’s just a lovely and beautifully lit scene between the two that thankfully time doesn’t lead to any goofy romantic pratfalls, but instead to Kyouya discovering that Shino Aki is his favorite illustrator from his future. Learning this doesn’t discourage him, it inspires him.

If you find Bokutachi no Remake’s premise too familiar by half, do not be discouraged; unlike say Tokyo Revengers there’s no effort to explain the mechanics of the time travel, which works to the shows benefit. Suffice it to say, Kyouya gets a second chance, and he’s not going to squander it, and now he lives with some of the best creatives of his generation. They’ll all make each other better by making up for each other’s shortcomings.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

SSSS.Dynazenon – 10 – Moblie Suit Yourself

After the group ended last week in the very highest of spirits, enjoying their own little summer fireworks festival, this week everyone seems a bit board. When it’s mentioned there haven’t been any kaiju in a while, that’s basically the…ahem…Trigger for one to appear. And this kaiju is unlike any that have come before.

Not content to fight a battle with mere, matter or energy this handsome, hulking mecha-beast’s unique ability is to blip people and objects out of time and space. Shizumu celebrates its arrival by saying he’s been waiting for this particular kind of kaiju; one that will “free them all”.

First Mujina vanishes in the blink of an eye, leaving only a motionless shadow. Then it’s Yume, who was right beside Yomogi. She ends up in the back seat of her car, younger and smaller, and her sister Kano alive and well. As Yume focuses on her sister, a tiny Dyna Wing flies behind her and eventually comes apart.

The kaiju trudges through the city, blipping out entire buildings, and its here where Dynazenon, already a proven virtuoso in the field of sound design, really takes it up a level. There’s just something so terrifying and yet also oddly calming about how it goes about its business in dead silence. Like the characters, it feels like dread is lurking just around the corner, and you wont hear it when it’s finally upon you.

Yomogi and Koyomi are on an elevator to a rooftop, but only Yomogi makes it to the top, as Koyomi is absorbed into his memory of finding the cash with Inamoto-san. Yomogi, discouraged, leaps into the kaiju’s mouth before the building beneath him vanishes. Anti is transported back to when he was in Akane’s world, and Akane even makes a cameo at the restaurant where Anti pigs out.

Even Gauma isn’t immune to the Kaiju’s insidious attack, being transported back over five thousand years to the time he wore the same uniform as the Eugenicists, and they were all buds, and he met the Princess, his affection for whom led to him betraying his comrades.

Yomogi ends up in the memory when his mother first brought up her new boyfriend/husband-to-be, but unlike the others Yomogi isn’t that interested in this illusion. He regrets not telling his mom he didn’t want to meet the guy, but he doesn’t try to re-live anything, because he’s primarily concerned with saving Yume and the others.

It’s foremost in his brain that it’s All Up To Him. And as his Dyna Soldier isn’t broken, he grasps it and manages to shatter the memory, ending up in a void somewhere within the kaiju’s body. There, he can see through the various mirrors, windows, and displays in the memories of the others, including Yume, but is unable to attract her attention.

Meanwhile, the buildings and people still existing in the city are dwindling fast as the kaiju continues its relentless march, but both Chise and Second are protected from being blipped by—you guessed it—the trusty Goldburn. But they’re unable to do anything in that shield; only hope someone can undo the kaiju’s undoing.

Despite being in their respective past younger selves, Yume, Koyomi, and Gauma are still aware on some level that their situations are chances to right wrongs they’ll later regret. Koyomi doesn’t run from Inamoto, and takes her on a joyride to the beach with the cash. Yume tries to stop Kano from leaving for the flood gate, but isn’t able to follow through.

As Chise starts to seriously worry, Second assures her whether the others can return is “entirely up to them.” That may be true, but it’s mostly up to Yomogi, who after literally throwing himself at a solid wall again and again says he simply Will Not Stand for Yume feeling bad—is finally able to shatter the boundary between them.

Yume instantly transforms back to her present-day age, and holds the beaten-up Yomogi when he collapses. Once again, Yomogi puts others first, exclaiming for them to stop her sister. Kano is indeed atop the flood gate, singing a lovely but also sad and lonely song. But to Yume’s relief, she’s not trying to kill herself. She has no intention of dying, and she genuinely wants Yume to come to her recital.

Yomogi leaves Yume with her sister so they can talk for a little while, confident that unlike last time Yume will come back. He then proceeds to free Koyomi, Gauma, and Anti. Koyomi learns that even back then Inamoto wasn’t serious about them running away together, and suspected the cash was fake.

Gauma faces his former friends and says he didn’t betray the others for the country that betrayed them, but for the Princess alone. Anti…well, Anti seemingly knew what was going on all along and was planning to leave of his own accord.

Getting back to Yume, she has what so many people who have lost someone under mysterious circumstances would dream of having: not a chance to bring that person back, but to learn what actually happened so she can have closure. When Kano realizes this is an older version of Yume from after her death, she regrets distancing herself from Yume due to her superior “agreeability”.

It soothes Yume’s heart to no end to know Kano didn’t take her life or invite her to her recital as some kind of cruel goodbye crystallizing their rift for all time. Instead, the reason for her being on the flood gate was all too practical and mundane: she wanted somewhere solitary to practice singing.

Before they part, Kano urges Yume to “make sure you rely on people”—something Yume mentions she’s already gotten the hang of. When Yume asks if she should stay in this world with her, Kano tells her the same thing she used to say to her all the time—”suit yourself”—but this time its  meant out of love and confidence in Yume, not apathy or resentment.

With all four Dyna Pilots plus Anti freed from their pasts, it’s time for a kaiju battle, which is quick and clean. With a full head of steam and maximum motivation and synchonization, the group blasts out of the kaiju and combine with Goldburn to become Super Dragon King Kaiser Gridknight.

When their opponent proves quick and elusive, they power up Dyna Saber and unleash a Kaiser Knight Circular, and ever-expanding purple ring that eventually catches up to the furiously darting kaiju’s teal trail, slicing it clean in two. Interestingly enough, the minimalist abstract shape seen from high above calls to mind both the neon signs of the eighties and the graphics once common on Solo cups and pickup trucks alike.

With the highest-difficulty kaiju defeated, every character comes away a changed person, no more than Yume, who celebrates having made up with Kano and learned the truth by singing on the top of the flood gate as her sister once did.

Koyomi learns he was chasing something unattainable all along, and choosing to go with Inamoto didn’t magically make them be together. Yomogi doesn’t really deal with his problems, but to be fair, he was singularly responsible for saving the others. Even if Anti freed himself, he’s not a Dyna pilot, and didn’t harbor anywhere near the intensity of emotions Yomogi harbored for Yume. That may have kept him from helping the others.

The episode ends cryptically, when after Gauma collapses due to apparent hunger, we cut back to him lying on the ground in the past after betraying the Eugenicists. I’m notot sure what to make of this, but I’m certainly intrigued. Despite this ellipsis, this episode still represents another high watermark for Dynazenon excellence.

Jibaku Shounen Hanako-kun – 08 – Turning Nothing into Something

As Steve Zissou said: “That was a goddamn tearjerker.” I had no idea that would happen. The opening minutes of Mitsuba Sousuke were horribly grating, with the ghost spewing endless random insults as Kou intermittently shocked him with his exorcist’s staff. But then we learn a little more about Mitsuba…and a little more. And before I knew it, I cared about this girly, cocky, moody guy.

And you know what? So did Kou. It’s almost as if Kou was my emotional surrogate in this episode: initially super-irritated with this ghost, but then extremely empathetic of his plight. Even Kou wasn’t prepared to hear that Sousuke was in his class and had introduced himself. Alas, worried about being bullied for being too much of one thing or not enough of another, Sousuke became neither…and was forgotten altogether.

Kou gradually warming up to Sousuke and vice versa has some lovely yaoi undertones, and it’s a testament to the writing, voice acting, and direction that such a close and meaningful bond is formed in such a short period of time. All Sousuke wanted was a friend, so Kou offers to be his first, encouraging Sousuke to simply be himself. It starts to feel like there could be something to Kou’s less adversarial approach to the family business.

And then Hanako’s dark twin Tsukasa ruins everything, plunging his arm through Mitsuba’s chest, and everything turns to shit. Just as Hanako-kun grants wishes to the living, Tsukasa does the same to the dead, and in befriending Sousuke, Kou inadvertently provided Tsukasa with the answer he needed to grant Kou’s wish, something he was duty-bound to do. To quote the Oracle: “We’re all here to do what we’re all here to do.”

With an assist from Sakura on the school radio, a new rumor is formed before Kou’s eyes, of the broken-necked kid in the entrance who reaches out and tries to befriend people. Sousuke adopts a Picasso-esque grosteque, Picasso-esque form and can no longer talk, but sheds a tear as he is forced to attack Kou. He comes within an inch of killing him when Hanako-kun intervenes. (Throughout this sequence I was practically yelling “Where the fuck is Hanako-kun??”)

Unfortunately, all Hanako can do is stop Sousuke from killing Kou. Before disappearing, Tsukasa twists the knife by telling Hanako “it was great” to be killed by him. A visibly shaken Hanako then gravely informs Kou that there’s no bringing Sousuke back. Dead is dead, and the living shouldn’t be too kind, because there’s no future for the dead. “Nothing new begins.” Their only salvation is “annihilation”. Kou can’t believe it. He doesn’t want to. He’s sure there’s more he could have done…can do.

When Kou repeats all of his insults at Sousuke before telling him he’s his friend, I thought for a moment that the kid would actually come back; Kou has supernatural powers, after all. But he doesn’t. He’s gone, and all that’s left his his camera and the photos he took, including a candid one of his friend Kou.

Late into the night Kou stays up, remembering the friend everyone else forgot, grieving for that friend but not disheartened in his belief exorcists like him can do a little more than nothing about The Way Things Are regarding life and death.

Nene didn’t utter a single line and all we see of her is from behind for a couple seconds, but it doesn’t matter. This was the best, most affecting, most devastatingly beautiful episode of Hanako-kun to date.

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.

Fate/Extra Last Encore – 06

The third level, the “Nameless Forest” is a totally different animal than the ones that came before, both in design and purpose. First of all, it’s way trippier, as Shinbo creates a lush and textured wonderland inspired by the aesthetic of the illusory worlds witches created in Madoka.

These bizarre, whimsical surroundings make for a great backdrop as Hakuno, Saber and Rin attempt to find the Floor Master. According to Rin, the third level is the land of dreams where “ghosts” gather, ghosts being souls transferred into information by Moon Cell.

Rin also kinda answers my question from last week, in that Death Face is “something different” from the other ghosts,embodying a “different concept of death.” She also calls it a thousand-year-old legend, apparently unaware that Hakuno is that legend (or feigning ignorance for some reason).

Things get increasingly weird in terms of time and space, with Saber almost instinctively taking Hakuno’s hand to ensure they won’t become separated. Even so, with all off the multi-colored drawers, tanks containing thousands of playing cards, and most concerning, a preponderance of mushrooms, Hakuno eventually finds himself somewhere other than Saber’s side.

That place is in the presence of the Floor Master whom Hakuno says goodbye to in the episode’s cold open; we see his victory and ascent to the fourth level so we know it happens (or happened in the past); it’s a question of how.

This Master is a ghost named Alice, and this wonderland is where she’s been ever since a war that killed everyone else, and after her life of illness was ended by excruciating pain caused by adults in a hospital.

Alice wants nothing more than to have someone like Hakuno to play with forever and ever. Quite suddenly, Hakuno “snaps out of it” and is once again in Saber and Rin’s presence. A vision.

Rin and Hakuno each have one more vision while in the midst of the mushrooms – both involving Amari Misao, their “classmate” in “high school.”

If ghosts are reproductions of people’s states at the moment of death, Amari’s regrets come through strong and clear; both her insufficient strength (which Rin can sense) and when she tried to seek the week to defeat her enemies, only to find there was no one weaker than her.

Having returned from their visions, Hakuno and Rin find signs of a battle, and Saber goes after a shambling, scissors-shooting construction of various objects as if it were like any other opponent. She manages to slash it in two, but the moment she does she and the other two are instantly transported all the way back to where they started, next to the ladder that brought them there. Even time has seemingly reverted.

Rin surmises this is the work of the Noble Phantasm known as “Nursery Rhyme”, which is being used to ensure they keep repeating the same day forever. With such a power, in such a place, being wielded with such a character as the Alice we met, it’s pretty obvious we’re dealing with Caster. Swords and bullets aren’t going to do the trick this time.

Ao no Exorcist: Kyoto Fujouou-hen – 05

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Alright: I’m officially frustrated with how slowly this arc is moving. It’s one thing to spend an episode or two in one place, but this is getting ridiculous. Yaozou holds another tedious meeting to bring everyone up to speed, and we keep seeing the same flashbacks of Rin flaring up and standing trial. The show seems to be spending so much time reminiscing while setting the table, I’m starting to lose my appetite.

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Mamushi, still being portrayed with the possibility she could still be redeemed, if barely, is having difficulty bearing the evil of the Right Eye, but Todou claims he can’t bear them both alone. Mamushi honestly thinks she’s doing what’s best for her order, so a little suffering is par for the course.

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The sitting around back at Myoda HQ is all the more frustrating because no one, save Tatsuma, seems to be in any hurry to follow Todou and Mamushi. Granted they vanished without a trace, but…you’re exorcists. Do something exorcisty to detect and find them! Instead we get more meetings, then are treated to Yukio reading a letter by Tatsuma that’s as big as a goddamn book.

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Granted, at least the book-letter takes us to a different place, namely the Myoda Temple years ago, when Tatsuma was a young man with a dying pregnant wife and preparing to take over from the master, his ailing father. We also learn that Rin’s Koma Sword was once the main relic of the Myoda sect…until one day Rin and Yukio’s dad…stole it.

Now that sounds like an interesting story. But in the back of my mind, I know that back in the present Rin and Yukio and Shura are sitting around in a jail doing nothing. What little momentum had been built up isn’t likely to survive such a leisurely stroll down memory lane.

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Ao no Exorcist: Kyoto Fujouou-hen – 04

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Bon is our eyes and ears for most of this episode’s first half as he follows Renzou’s bro Juuzou, suspicious of his movements (and of the trail of bodies in his wake), until it’s revealed those exorcists were knocked out by Mamushi, not Juuzou.

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Having been told about the eye when she was a student of Todou’s, her general argument is that neither Saguro Tatsuma nor her own father can be trusted; that they are the real traitors, and she’s acting in the best interests of the Myoda Sect.

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I for one am glad the obviously more sinister-(and awesome!)-looking suspect, while indeed the traitor, at least has halfway viable reasons besides “I’m just evil BWAHAHA!”, though it does take quite a bit of exposition to get her somewhat complex positions and accusations out.

Meanwhile, Rin is making progress with the candles on the roof when the whole earth shakes. He starts to run off but Shura catches him and forbids him from moving and acting on his own, lest he be “put down” as per the agreement that spared his life (for now).

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It’s also good to see Todou back so soon, even if he claims Mamushi is acting on her own (clearly he’s been manipulating her for some time). There’s something appealing about his frumpy, unexceptional, harmless functionary look; especially contrasted with everyone else’s more traditional garb (Shura aside). Mamushi grabs the eye, and she and Todou skedaddle.

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Tatsuma prepares to go after them, but Bon wants a goddamn explanation out of him, now. Tatsuma, for whatever reason, won’t or can’t give him one, only saying “it’s a secret” and other fatherly platitudes to stay out of trouble and be patient. It’s not enough, and Bon all but disowns him, warning if he runs away he better not come back.

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Those sentiments set Rin, who had been pretty passively in the background, off. Understandably so, as he had a similar falling out with his dad Shiro that was never able to be resolved, since Shiro died. Rin may want to repair his friendship with Bon, but trying to stop him from making the same mistake, something he’ll regret forever, takes precedence.

Of course, Rin gets so worked up, his blue flames come out, scaring the crap out of everyone who didn’t know about them and forcing Shura to knock him out with the shock collar-like ring on his tail, but not before he calls her a hag and tells her to buzz off. I admire Rin’s passion regarding Bon, but he really does need to realize how short his leash has become.

Honestly, I wanted to rate this episode higher, but it had a bit too much standing around talking/explaining, the flashbacks to the trial seemed redundant, and I’m bummed Mamushi’s pretty much a bad guy right now and it’s not certain at all whether she’ll be redeemed.

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Orange – 13 (Fin)

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Naho vows to give Kakeru chocolates on Valentine’s Day and make sure he knows her feelings, but even though her letters state all of the various opportunities, she still manages to blow by almost all of them without success, which is obviously done to heighten the tension. It works!

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But this isn’t like the squandered opportunities of the past. This is it, with just a day before he commits suicide in the original timeline. She has to get those damn chocolates to him, or at least make up with him. A particularly one-dimensionally evil Ueda Rio provides one last obstacle to Naho, but she doesn’t back down, and by the end of the episode’s first act, victory is hers. It’s a satisfying scene that cuts through a lot of the murk that had built up.

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With apologies, hugs, and tears thus shared, Naho and Kakeru are back to normal; no, better than ever, and all the happier for it. Kakeru even blurts out that he loves her, and she doesn’t blush and run off.

But the hour of his past death is still ahead of them, and the circle of friends remains concerned enough to consider either breaking his bike or waiting at the site of his once-and-hopefully-not-future demise.

Again, we see the future friends planning out the logistics and agreeing to send their letters to the past. Again, it seems a little odd to call so much attention to such a mysterious and hard-to-swallow process that is never fully explained anyway (because it’s time magic).

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In any case, because they’ve changed the future so much, the timing of Kakeru’s attempted suicide is altered somewhat, and because Hagita actually sabotages his bike, he’s on foot when a truck nearly hits him.

Kakeru is wandering the night wanting to die, just like last time, because of the power of the unsent text on his mom’s phone he found. But unlike last time, Naho and the others have had an equally powerful cumulative effect on him, to the point it doesn’t matter that they’re too late to stop him, because he stops himself. He doesn’t want to die after all.

From there, everyone runs to him, thinking he’s been hit but relieved to find he isn’t, and when they have to explain why they’re all there, they finally let him in on the future letters, even giving him letters from their once-but-no-longer selves. And there’s a big ol’ group hug, baaaaaaaw.

Those former selves are still chillin’ in the future, content that they did all they could to make Kakeru in an alternate world a better chance to stay alive, for the benefit of their alternate past and future selves. They created a new world, where Kakeru could live and be happily ever after.

 

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Parting thoughts: In its first three to seven weeks, Orange could almost do no wrong by me, so enthusiastic was I by a show that had the potential to be AnoHana or Toradora! quality, with Hanazawa Kana as its able lead.

But the show eventually regressed a bit as the angst was heightened, and my enthusiasm waned just when it was growing for those other shows. Orange could also be a little cheesy at times (I continue to have mixed feelings about the huge smiles of various characters),  and it never maintained the (in hindsight unreasonable) heights I envisioned for it, but it still really wowed and moved me for a solid half of its run.

I liked these earnest kids and their mission to save their friend, I’m glad they succeeded, and I look forward to the anime movie that continues the tale a little further.

Orange – 12

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This week we finally get glimpses of life from Kakeru’s perspective, both events Naho and the others weren’t present for, and in the re-telling of important moments we’ve already witness from the point of view of others. More importantly, we see the “initial” future that leads to his suicide. Here, Kakeru finally opens up, and it’s a dark, brooding place.

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Kakeru is clinically depressed, and can’t forgive himself for what he thought as sending his mom over the edge into suicide. It’s shocking to see him make an actual attempt, since it’s the realized fear of both us and Naho & co, who at the end of the day can only see a small part o Kakeru’s daily life, and only what he chooses to show them, which isn’t much.

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Even when he finds his mom’s old phone containing a lengthy apology for what she did to him and an explanation for her actions, he’s so stuck in his head on that bike ride he ends up getting killed, even if that wasn’t necessarily his desire at the time.

All the other events unfold as Naho’s letter said they would, bringing us to that sudden end. But the last thing he sees in his head is the face of Naho, whom he thinks would probably be sad if he were to die. But he can’t be sure, and in any case isn’t sure anything actually matters.

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That brings us back to the present of the “second” timeline, in which Naho and the others have worked so hard, unbeknownst to him, to keep him safe and happy. But like last time, the New Year’s fight with Naho is an open wound that’s hard to heal, even though Naho knows she must.

We check in on her alternate future self and the others deciding to send letters out to sea, hoping the black hole in the Bermuda Triangle will swallow them up and send them to the past.

This is…a pretty ridiculous plan; frankly I kinda wish they had kept the means by which they received the letters a mystery rather than try to clunkily lay out the practicalities of actually doing it. It’s enough that they wanted to reach out to their past selves to try to change things; I didn’t need the details.

In any case, Naho feels like she and Kakeru are drifting further and further away. The awkwardness and helplessness are palpable. So she goes for broke and asks that Kakeru wait until Valentine’s Day. She’s decided she’ll make her stand there. Whether it causes Kakeru to hate her or causes her pain is irrelevant. She’s not going to lose him again.

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Orange – 08

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This was not the strongest Orange—indeed, it’s the weakest yet—but it’s still pretty damn good; hardly a dud and still very recommendable. But despite the revelations contained in this outing, it still felt a little slower than I’d like, and that it was covering already-tread territory.

Azu and Taka don’t unreasonably assumed that because Naho and Kakeru made their love for each other, they’re now officially “dating.” But neither Naho nor Kakeru believes this is the case, as both are worried that going out would somehow “hurt” the other. I’m not really a fan of that line of thinking.

Also, considering how closely Naho has follows the letters, it seems a little arbitrary and shortsighted to start questioning them after Kakeru faints during soccer. And abandoning the rest of the letters altogether borders on reckless.

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And yet, that’s what Naho does: she puts the letters away and starts acting in the way she thinks is best for Kakeru. The letters tell her and Suwa not to let Kakeru anchor the class relay, since he’ll twist and ankle and lose, but instead, all five of Kakeru’s friends stand up to share the relay duties with him, since he wants to run, but is also worried he’ll let everyone down if he fails. This way his load is lightened, but the letter isn’t being followed to the letter.

A letterless Naho turns out to be a nearly rudderless one, as each time Kakeru holds out his hand to hold hers, she has no idea what he’s doing, and ends up frustrating him. I know the two aren’t used to physical contact, but the gesture he’s making could only mean so many things, especially when she knows he loves her.

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This latest “problem” with Kakeru almost leads Naho to go back to the letters, but instead Suwa is found out by Azu and Taka, who ask Naho what the trouble is and laugh when they learn how simple and easily solved the “problem” is: just hold hands with the poor guy!

Suwa encourages Naho to tell them the rest of the truth, about the future letters, and as expected, they respond by revealing their own. All five friends wrote to their past selves. All five regretted what went down with Kakeru, and all five are committed to saving him.

Now it’s all out in the open…except for Kakeru himself. Even if they all have the best intentions, the fact they all have this secret they’re not sharing with him could have serious problems down the road, no matter how hard they try to hide it.

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Orange – 07

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Orange continues to be a particularly hard show to assail, which explains all the 10s I’ve been doling out. It is without question First in Feels, that ahs affected me like no show since AnoHana.

Like many mysteries in fiction, I believe like my RABUJOI comrades that less is more in terms of explanation. To that end, Orange has kept away from explainin how the future letters work. What matters is that they are a means for Kakeru’s salvation, and now Naho is no longer alone in that struggle, and never was.

Suwa suggests they coordinate their moves in order to share the load of saving Kakeru. They do so by finding out his birthday and then asking him what he wants. Not only to Suwa and Naho do this, but the others as well who (as far as we know) are unaware of the letters.

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But because Kakeru and Taka want to support Naho’s pursuit of Kakeru, even being out of the loop doesn’t stop them from helping the cause. Taka finall gets to directly threaten Ueda, but stops short of assault and instead promises the school will know of the scorned girl’s continued bullying if it persists.

It’s still troubling that Ueda continues to pop up on the edges, since she still represents a wild card in the grander scheme of saving Kakeru, but good to see the united front against her. I daresay I’m also starting to feel bad for Ueda. Awful a person as she is, it’s true Kakeru dumped her pretty  fast, and if she’s going to be dumped, then Naho needs to—and forgive the crude metaphor—piss or get off the pot.

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Back in the old future, Naho, Suwa & Co. are still visiting Kakeru’s room, and the others reveal to Naho that Kakeru always loved him. Naturally, Naho’s instinct is to blame her inability to give a response contributed to the spiral of depression that led to his demise.

This time, they remember his birthday, Naho gets him a flashy sports bag—to replace the one his mom threw out in an act of possessiveness, an important symbol of moving on. Suwa gets Kakeru flowers, like he jokingly asked for, but just as Suwa does in his place in the future, Kakeru immediately gives the flowers to Naho, as an even stronger symbol of his feelings.

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Their friends file out and allow Kakeru to properly confess his feelings for Naho, though he doesn’t expect an immediate response. That’s just as well, because it takes some nudging from her friends for Naho to summon the courage to answer him.

Not only that, it takes a letter dated September 23, the day Kakeru attempted suicide after his friends from Tokyo visited and laughed off his stated desire to die. Neither Naho nor Suwa are going to let that happen. Suwa joins Naho and Kakeru for one of the tensest and most emotionally intense scenes in the show so far.

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In it, Suwa tells Kakeru no to hang out with his Tokyo friends, but with them, and goes further, saying he doesn’t want to just laugh with him. He, and Naho, want to know what’s really troubling him. Suwa’s firmness gets Kakeru to admit he wants to die all the time because he regrets breaking his promise to his mother and thinking her texts were “pain.”

As Suwa rightly puts is, Kakeru did nothing wrong. Everyone at some point feels the way he felt. It wasn’t his fault his mom died, and they don’t want him to continue blaming himself for everything. Not only that, Naho chimes in at the right time to deliver her unequivocal response: she loves him, and doesn’t want him to go away.

Kakeru’s joyful tears and smile are still tinged with melancholy, but Naho is in. She did what her past self could not, and she and Suwa, with their friends’ help, changed the future once more for the better. Now that Kakeru and Naho know how they feel about one another, the question becomes what comes next, and how to keep the good going.

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Orange – 06

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This week, as Naho and Kakeru grow closer and Naho learns more about the future, the enormity of her “mission” begins to weigh on her once more, and she again starts to doubt her ability to make the changes that needs to be made to save Kakeru. After all, she’s already failed the letters twice: when she invited Kakeru to hang out the day his mother died, and when she let him start dating Ueda-senpai.

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Since those failures, and the extra problems they created, Naho has been careful to carefully follow the bullet points in the letters. They are saying she has to watch the fireworks with Kakeru alone by the pool, and so that’s what she aims to do.

Knowing that these two are gradually becoming a couple and eager to help them out when they can, Azu, Tako, Hagita and Suwa all work to assist the two in getting together in the ideal time and place. Kakeru brings up his past regrets when asking Suwa if it’s really okay to be in love with Naho and to pursue her.

Suwa’s answer is that it has to be, because being in love isn’t a choice (and also because he has a pretty good idea how Naho feels).

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The consequences of Naho’s second failure almost derail the entire op, but Azu and Tako thankfully find Naho on the steps lugging Ueda’s contest prizes and take over the task, while Suwa and Nagita keep Ueda away from the pool in a way that will surely mean Ueda isn’t done fighting with the group. If she can’t have Kakeru and be happy, no one can. That could prove deadly to Kakeru later on.

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But we’re allowed to forget about Ueda and all her bullshit for a few wonderful, beautiful moments, as Naho and Kakeru are united before the fireworks end. In the courageous mood her future self told her she’d be in, she answers his question about which boy she’d most want to as her out (him), and he in turn answers hers (via Azu): that he’d want her to ask him out. The night ends as one neither will forget for the rest of their lives.

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Future Naho asserts that Kakeru’s regret stems from being unable to save his mother, while her regret comes from not being able to save him from the accident. Wondering why she can’t simply save Kakeru on the day of the accident, Naho reads ahead, and learns it wasn’t an accident – Kakeru rode his bike into a speeding truck on purpose, so he could go to where his mother was and apologize.

Knowing when it happens is irrelevant. Naho can’t save him from something his mind is set on anyway. Her true mission is to save his heart. That means learning more about his regret, which means asking about his mother. When Naho and Kakeru’s friends again arrange it so the two are alone for the Matsumoto Bon Bon, she gets plenty of opportunities, while also enjoying each other’s company.

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Despite their ongoing denial about not being a couple (at least not yet), the two look the part, and the camera captures them in a number of gorgeous isolated shots. Most affecting is when they pray to the shrine, which gives Naho her in.

After he evades her question of what he said to his mother at the shrine, Naho resolves to get him to answer her properly, even if he ends up hating her. Saving his heart is more important than preserving their romance, underscoring Naho’s role as a reluctant heroine.

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Turns out, Kakeru doesn’t hate her for pressing, though it’s clearly a painful subject to discuss. Indeed, he was worried she’d hate him if he told her the truth: that his mother, psychologically unstable, committed suicide the day he blew her off to hang out with Naho. That makes Naho’s first failure the reason Kakeru carries the regret that will ultimately destroy him if unchecked.

It’s an overwhelming blow for Naho, who can’t muster the words to comfort him. Suddenly, saving Kakeru’s heart seems like an impossible feat, especially all on her own. So she boldly reaches out to Suwa about her mission, and he seems to already be in the loop. You see, he also got a letter. BOOM.

That’s an explosive revelation right there, delivered with impeccable timing right at episode’s end. But it’s not so shocking, because we’ve seen Suwa and the others working so hard for Naho and Kakeru’s sakes.

I wouldn’t be surprised if everyone had letters, but it stands to reason if Naho could write a letter to her past self, she’d also write one to her future husband. It also explains why Suwa isn’t challenging Kakeru. In any case, now Naho knows his isn’t a mission she has to undertake all on her own. Everyone wants to save Kakeru’s heart.

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