3-gatsu no Lion – 24

A new tournament bracket has been released, and Nikaidou is furious that he and Rei are in different groups…as if Rei had anything to do with the seeding. The only thing for it is for the two to win their respective groups and face each other in the finals.

Nikaidou then launches into a torrent of trash-talk, calling Rei arrogant and pompous, and their loudness almost gets them kicked out of the watching room where the other pros are watching Souya and Kumakura. The two are still kids, after all…they need to argue with shoji, not words.

A couple other younger pros start talking about Shimada’s mental and physical state after losing to Souya, and Gotou, who hears a bit too much of it, is having none of it, sticking up for the absent Shimada by saying unproven young whelps who may never get within a mile of a title match shouldn’t be running their mouths about those who have “been in the ring.”

Rei is glad Shimada is being defended, but laments that the defense is coming from the same person who has caused, intentionally and unintentionally, his sister to suffer. It gets to the whole idea of “chaos” in this segment, in which both humans and shogi are full of contradictions and paradoxes; all mysteries that will never be solved, but we must simply live with.

In a move that surprises all spectators young and old, Kumakura responds to Souya’s seemingly innocuous move made to force a reaction out of his opponent…suddenly resigns, giving Souya another successful title defense. It’s only after everyone plays through that Rei and the other see what Kumakura saw: that Souya had beaten him, seeing many many moves ahead to Kuma’s doom.

Meanwhile, Kyouko is performing all of the duties of your classic wife figure for Gotou, and we learn why: his actual wife is in a coma in the hospital.

Rei may only see a villain and a scoundrel (or at best, an uneasy ally against those who would drag Shimada thorough the mud), but Kyouko’s been around him a lot more time, and while she may be blinded by infatuation, she also sees a role to play in Gotou’s wife’s absence…especially if her prognosis is such that soon Gotou will be a widower.

It’s not pretty to see him getting along with, even sharing the bed with, another woman poised to “attack” him while his wife still draws breath, but who ever said humanity was pretty? Not to mention, without Gotou, Kyouko always seems lost and alone, and Rei can’t be the one to fill the hole in her heart.

But Gotou made a good point to Rei that echos his own thoughts about chaos: seeing everything in good and bad or black and white is a recipe for a poor understanding the world. Life isn’t Go! If I had to choose between the two games, it’s more like Shoji.

As for the man who gives his name to this segment, Kumakura: he’s lost again, but takes the defeat with a cool calmness that makes many of his peers swoon. Of course, that is a public calmness; below the surface boils a man who has been shattered into pieces having to collect them all and re-construct himself in time for the next title challenge.

It’s a thankless, cruel task, but it’s the only way he knows how to live. Not to mention, kicking the shit out of a wall is always a quick way to release pent-up frustration!

This episode had solid slice of life and some good internal stuff with Rei…but after only catching a brief glimpse last week, I definitely missed the Kawamotos.

I realize the show is probably following the source’s chapters and the sisters and their grandpa are just one part of Rei’s life, but they’re an important (not to mention adorable!) one, and I hope we get to spend more quality time with them soon.

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Alderamin on the Sky – 05

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I’m on the older side, so as I watched the magnificent origin of the relationship of young Yatori and Ikta unfold, I couldn’t help but think of Captain Picard and Guinan (I also thought of Muppet Babies, for what it’s worth). In addition to the fact that TNG had an Oscar-winning actress on TV before it was cool, one of the great big unanswered questions of the show was the history of those two.

All Guinan said to Riker when Picard was captured by the Borg was that what they had was “beyond friendship, beyond family.” That sums up Yatori and Ikta perfectly. One was raised from birth to be a knight, which is no different from a blade. The other was raised into a world of science and deep, distant thought about mysteries once left to the comfort of theology.

Yatori decides to study abroad with Ikta as his father Sankrei was a celebrated military mind whom she sought for enrichment. What she got was a lifetime companion who not only made her more whole, but whom she made more whole as well.

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Japanese can be at times wonderfully onomatopoeiaic, as I was reminded when Ikta conveys how “stiff” Yatori speaks, even to a fellow kid like him. But throughout their early interactions, Ikta never tries to impose his will or philosophy upon Yatori; instead, he shows her parts of her world and levies suggestions on how she might become something more than the Igsem blade she was forged to be.

A sword, after all, is only an inanimate object; no mater how much intense training Yatori undergoes, she cannot deny her flesh, her blood, and the emotions all humans possess. Indeed, Yatori is as much a sponge as a blade, benefiting greatly from her exposure to Ikta, his father, and the scientists associated with them. She also learns to play, which for Ikta means outsmarting adults.

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It’s really quite invigorating to see these two at an early age right after seeing Ikta bring Yatori down from her killing fever last week. This episode painstakingly explains the bond these two share not with idle exposition, but by telling a story in its own right; a story of two very bright and talented kids bouncing off one another.

Just as Yatori had never met a kid quite like Ikta (nor met any kid period, for that matter), Ikta had never come across such a stern, stiff, duty-obsessed girl. It’s refreshing how quickly they hit it off despite their profound differences in upbringing.

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Their bond is formalized quite by chance, when the adults they followed to a remote locale for a geological survey forgot their gear and turned back to retrieve it. Yatori and Ikta end up on their own, up against a pack of starving wolves, who are treated by the show with the same respect one would show a group of starving people.

Yatori and Ikta have no quarrel with the wolves, but they cannot allow themselves to be killed and eaten for the sake of the wolves. They are meant for greater things. I love how Ikta calls out for Yatori when the first wolf corners him, and Yatori comes through like the knight she is.

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But this is not simply a tale of Ikta coming up with a game plan and Yatori carrying it out. It isn’t simply the knight saving the damsel in distress (who is Ikta in this case). Rather, when the desperate wolves infiltrate the house, and Ikta and Yatori must retreat to a smaller space ton ponder their next move, Ikta rejects Yatori’s pre-programmed intent to protect him at the cost of her own life.

That won’t do at all! For Ikta, any outcome where one of them dies is no good. Chivalric training aside, he rejects the notion that Yatori must lay down her life so that he might live. Having met and gotten to know Yatori, Ikta knows she can be more than a blade.

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So he proposes they look at it another way: she is not the hero and he the recipient of heroism: they are together the right and left hand of a single entity, one far smarter and stronger than either of them alone.

Yatori, still young and relatively impressionable (as well as quite a smart cookie in her own right) can pick up what Ikta is putting down. They work together to outsmart and defeat the remaining wolves, forcing the survivors to retreat.

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In the process, they burn down the whole damn house, and eat what’s left of the dried meat they have on hand. Yatori says it feels like they’re eating the wolves’ meat, which for Ikta is definitive proof that she can, indeed, be more than just a blade.

Not long after that unforgettable, life-changing experience, Ikta and Sankrei go missing…but one day Ikta returns, and Yatori is happy, for it is neither her brother nor her lover nor her dear friend who has returned to her: it is her other hand.

The best part of Alderamin is Yatori and Ikta’s relationship. I’ve said it before, and this episode went and capitalized on that strength, with exceptional results.

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Sousei no Onmyouji – 13

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Yes, this show is still around, and yes, I’m still watching! Who would have thought that Benio not only had an evil overpowered brother who needs to be defeated down the road sometime, but also both their parents were killed by an overpowered Kegare that’s the equivalent of an Arrancar in Bleach: a kegare with human (or humanoid) form. This girl just has the worst luck.

But hey, someone’s looking out for her, and that someone is Rokuro. After getting the lay of the land, he peaces out of Magano with Benio at his earliest convenience, since Benio is in no condition to fight.

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He uses a med-talisman on her, and she wants to head right back in there, but he tells her to eat first and cheer up, assuring her that her late parents would much rather she kept living than die trying to avenge them.

As he goes in to get a better idea of who they’re up against in Kamui, Benio actually listens to Roku and eats his stone-cold oyakodon, which actually isn’t that good at all, but Benio still scarfs it down. As she does, she really does cheer up, remembering all the positive reinforcement and support Rokuro has offered her over their time together.

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Back in Magano, Rokuro learns that Kamui is primarily concerned with being “entertained”, and with his demon gauntlet thingy, Rokuro seems able to provide the absolute minimum quantity of entertainment for Kamui to reconsider killing him quickly. Roku has potential, after all, and anyone or anything that can land a blow on Kamui is someone he isn’t in a hurry to kill. That would be boring!

Of course, it isn’t long before Kamui turns up the difficulty level a tick, and Rokuro is shot back and bloodied with ease. That’s when a reinvigorated Benio returns (albeit hopping on one leg) to relieve him.

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Benio certainly has a head full of steam, but it’s been abundantly clear for a while now that neither she nor Rokuro can accomplish much on their own; they have to combine their power in order to make progress.

And progress that make, as Rokuro catches Benio from out of the air, the two combine their spiritual energy (or whatever), her sword gets bigger and meaner, and they deliver an epically crushing blow to Kamui.

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Kamui survives, but a limb lighter, and decides he’ll withdraw for now and wait for these two to become stronger, or, if they produce a Miko, send him or her to face him. It doesn’t really matter, as long as he’s entertained.

I actually like the guy’s philosophy; it’s at least more interesting that just a mindless killing machine. Guy’s got a code, and he’s got priorities. He even remembered Benio’s ‘rents, and how they were one of his only victims who actually sacrificed themselves for someone else, namely their daughter.

Turns out the encounter between Rokruo+Benio and Kamui was all but set up by Arima, to further bring the two together, and you can hardly argue that it worked like a charm.

Benio wakes up in bed with Rokuro, in the lovenest Arima prepared for them, no more willing to follow through with the plans Arima made for them than before, but still no less grateful for Rokuro’s support. Her parents told her being scared is okay, because they’re not alone. And she’s not alone here.

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Sousei no Onmyouji – 12

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Rokuro and Benio’s relatively placid domestic life continues this week, with Rokuro working hard to control his gauntlet in the cellar while Benio prepares dinner.

Only “dinner” turns out to be your classic steaming purple witch’s brew, which all bad cooks throughout anime are able to replicate exactly. It would be one thing if that was the only point of the joke – but Rokuro goes too far in asking “what kind of family” Benio had that led to her thinking ohagi and curry, and Rokuro apologizes.

He’s also grateful Benio made him some goop, even if he can barely choke it down. He decides the only way they’re going to be able to live together is if they rotate cooking duties, and he believes he’s the better cook, and aims to prove it.

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Seems like a pretty tame episode, right? Well, I thought so too at first, but as soon as Benio went out running on her own, I almost immediately assumed a kegare would appear; one powerful enough that she couldn’t take it on alone, and requiring Rokuro to step out of the kitchen and let his culinary masterpiece go cold in order to rescue her, yet again proving that neither she nor he do well taking on foes by themselves, but fare far better when working as a single unit.

And that’s exactly what happens. But you know what? I’ve never had a problem with this show’s derivative-ness or predictability, because as I’ve stated in previous reviews, I like the slow but steady growth of Rokuro and Benio as twin protagonists of equal stature that I’ve come to be emotionally invested in. That, and the aesthetic, and the awesome soundtrack.

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Before Benio runs into the Kegare-of-the-Week, while on her run the talk of proper dinner and family sticks in her head, and she recalls the day six years ago when she watched her parents fighting and purifying Kegare, a duo like her and Rokuro, only with the same masks and twin swords. We also learn where she gets her love of ohagi from (her Dad).

Unfortunately, that’s also the day her parents were killed, by a Kegare that could talk, and offered her the grim choice of which parent he’d spare from death. Obviously, she couldn’t choose in the ten seconds he gave her, and he crushed them both.

And whaddaya know, that smart Kegare, known as Kamui, just happens to be the Kegare who crosses Benio’s path here. Not only that, he’s specifically searching for the Twin Star Exorcists. That’s a lot of coincidences!

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But whatever, Rokuro and Benio were only brought together because of a prophecy, and because the head honcho believes they’re fated to be together and conceive the Miko. By fighting Kamui alone to get revenge for her parents, Benio is going against that prophecy, as well as getting into the very same situation as six years ago: with Kamui giving her ten seconds to choose—only this time, it’s how he’ll kill her.

Naturally Benio isn’t going anywhere, but she can’t do anything here, so it’s up to Rokuro, who delivers a furious punch that blasts Kamui away long enough for him to cheer Benio up and tell her everything will be okay. They’re going home; she’s getting patched up; and then he’ll wow her with his gastronomic excellence.

But, of course, that one punch doesn’t keep Kamui down long. If anything, he’s only lightly annoyed a human was able to do such a thing to him. The fight isn’t over, but with Benio in such bad shape, how on earth is Rokuro going to be able to deal with him alone? More importantly, that oyakodon has to be stone-cold by now, right?

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Kiznaiver – 07

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While Ruru wasn’t literally killed by Maki (obviously), her mother is glad Maki feels guilty for abandoning her as a friend, making her write the final chapter by herself. Half the house is a shrine to Ruru, so the tension runs high in the mother’s presence. They may have known Ruru was going to live a short life due to her chronic illness, but that doesn’t make the pain any less difficult to bear.

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This week we also learn how Maki and Ruru —two loners—met for the first time and became more dear to one another than anyone else. They filled in each other’s manga weaknesses (Ruru’s writing, Maki’s art), and rose quickly as their audience soared.

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But it seems Maki was never a fan of Ruru “joking” about jumping off high ledges, faking a seizure, or getting more romantic with her. Though the last one, Maki knew, wasn’t a joke, nor was she not interested.

Ultimately, it seems more like Maki cut herself off from Ruru in order to be spared the even greater pain she’s endure if Ruru died when they were lovers. This is a very tense but lovely scene because it’s so intimately shot, but also interspersed with art from their manga depicting the same actions.

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The other Kiznaivers don’t know most of this…because Maki hasn’t told them, but also because they haven’t come out and asked. They come up with a plan to become her friend at all costs, not leaving her alone until she realizes there’s no point in resisting any longer; it’s six-against-one, after all.

It’s just really nice to see how much these six have gelled as a group, and how they basically became friends through osmosis, without even realizing it. Chidori in particular notices how Kacchon is changing, but for the better, and how he doesn’t simply allow Tenga to walk all over him, but rather likes having him around.

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As blue and lost as Maki is right now, the six still want her around too, especially Yuta, who tries to use the manga to learn more about what happened. The final chapter is one that Maki never read, and she assumes Ruru “cursed” her to love her and no one else forever and ever.

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That turns out to not be the case, as Ruru, treating the final chapter she wrote alone as a kind of indirect letter to Maki, telling her if remembering her ever gets too painful, it’s okay to forget, because she loved her smile and wouldn’t want her to stop using it.

Yuta manages to get Maki to come out for fireworks, but she’d rather watch everyone swim in the ocean instead. To everyone’s shock, Yuta doesn’t hesitate in running as fast as he can into the water and splashing around like a goon.

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Once Maki has read and understood Ruru’s wish for her, the smile returns to her face, the first smile we’ve seen that wasn’t sinister or fake. And the Kiznaivers feels something that isn’t pain – a weight being lifted from Maki’s heart. She can’t be friends with any of them, she says—because they’re already far closer than friends or lovers.

I enjoyed the resolution to Maki’s impasse with the other Kiznaivers. It felt earned and realistic that these people who so badly want to be her friends would eventually pull her out of the darkness and into clarity, closure, relief, and understanding. It’s also neat how the story of these last couple episodes serves as a real-life extra chapter to the manga Maki and Ruru made together.

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Subete ga F ni Naru: The Perfect Insider – 11 (Fin)

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Subete ga F ni Naru was a fun, engrossing, and above all thought-provoking show from beginning to end. Even though the main mystery has been solved, this episode trudges onward with some very long but solid character interactions: first between Saikawa and Miki Shiki, then between Saikawa and Moe. By the end, has introduced a whole new brace of head-scratching mysteries to ponder during the digital end credits.

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Dr. Magata makes good on her promise she and Saikawa will meet again far sooner than Saikawa expected, considering she’s on the lamb, but something he said in their sensory deprivation meeting intrigued her to the extent she felt the need to visit him in person and chat a little, before surrendering herself to the police. That something was “You can’t smoke underwater,” and she opts to try one of cigarettes (her first ever).

They talk of life and death; her view (though she doesn’t say it’s the only view) that the latter is the natural state of things, while life itself is “a kind of illness” that death cures. She also considers the human compulsion to want to interfere in the lives of others—or to want one’s own life interfered with by another—is essentially what love is.

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As we see the ship at sea for the first time since the pilot, I pondered what it represented, as Shiki tells Saikawa that they have similar “structures”—other selves created to protect “the real him.” But Saikawa isn’t Shiki, nor does she believe he could ever become her. At least, he’d need “far more than one hundred years” to do so. It’s not meant as an insult, just a fact, and Saikawa accepts it as the two part.

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The Lego Shiki leaves him with is another question mark, but after pondering his encounter in his office (during which time Moe tentatively enters, makes coffee, and promises to leave right afterwards), he realizes the three “policemen” who surrounded her weren’t policemen at all, but guys she hired to act that way. Shiki is still out in the wind. Saikawa laughs out loud, not just because she got him once more, but because I think he’s happy she’s still free.

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His talk with her got him thinking: “love has no single shape.” It could be being killed, as it might have been for Shiki and her daughter. Or it could be solving the magic trick someone else loved outsmarting others with, then being the one who saves the life of someone who had no one else,  and telling silly jokes that make her irritated or tear up.

Saikawa makes no bones about him and Moe being very different people, but that doesn’t matter; two people don’t need to be the same to be in love. He’s willing to accept all of Moe’s “contradictions” if she’s willing to have him. This was a love that has been brewing for some time, but only his experience with Dr. Magata shook him out of the impasse they were in and take the next step into something like a romance, which Moe has been ready to take for some time.

The camera plays with the positions of Moe and Saikawa as they go on an apparent date together, only showing them separate from each other at first, not quite in the same location at once, until they are in the frame together. Moe also learns that Gido is Saikawa’s little sister, so she never had any competition to begin with (not to mention Saikawa never wanted to kiss her).

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On that happy note, we leave Saikawa and Moe, and shift to a time and place we know not when or where. Shiki is on a camel in the desert with her daughter, teaching her that even though humans do not really exist for the sake of people and things around them, they cannot help but assign such reasons to exist as for the sake of others, or to help everyone. “They always want an answer”, and that want drives them. We cut to the two of them in the kitchen of her locked apartment in the lab, where Shiki urges her daughter never to stop seeking those answers even after she is gone, which is strange, because the theory was that she outlived her daughter when she murdered her.

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The final shot is the most perplexing, but not negatively so: “Michiru” introduces “Kishio”, the apparent name of her daughter, in that seascape with the giant shipwreck. Where is this place? Did it ever exist, or is it just in Shiki’s mind? We saw Shiki interact with Saikawa in the real world, but these last scenes threaten to upheave all that came before. Then again, Shiki did speak of dying without suffering and not fearing death.

After getting so many satisfying answers and explorations of philosophy, existence, life, death and time…there are still more questions. But as is the case with so much in life, we must be content with the answers we have, and with the fact that we’ll never find them all.

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Utawarerumono: Itsuwari no Kamen – 09

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It’s with a semi-heavy heart that I bid adieu to perhaps the strangest Fall show I’m watching. Its episodes are usually fairly fun, but has lacked substance and cohesion. The show’s M.O. is to introduce two or more new cute female characters per week, and the show has gotten very crowded and unfocused as a result.

This week it’s two of Kuon’s “sisters” from her homeland, who baby her like a couple of mother hens. Their treatment of her is over-the-top to the point of incredulity, and we’re talking a show were almost everyone has tails and fuzzy ears. I will say I liked the little mini-arc the Big bird and tiger had, but it’s all just so darned random.

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Random, but at the same time, very workaday. Much of this show has been Kuon and Haku eating and bathing while encountering the new characters of the week, many of whom have stuck around, leading to a huge entourage of people, many of them princesses.

It was  also nice to have Haku inadvertently demonstrate how well he’s come to know Kuon by visiting all of her usual haunts, and going somewhere he knew she’d never go (the BL bookstore) only to find her hiding there. But it’s not much we haven’t seen before, and nothing that reignited an interest in continuing the show for a whole second cour. As you can see, I can barely scrape together 250 words about it. That’s when you know it’s time to say sayonara.

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Utawarerumono: Itsuwari no Kamen – 08

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You have to give Utawarerumono credit where it’s due: it certainly knows how to surprise with its content. One episode we’re following Haku as he becomes entangled in one princess or another, the next, he’s on an undercover mission with Ukon and Atui to investigate corruption aboard the Eight Pillar General Dekoponpo’s immense pleasure barge.

It’s all quite wacky and out of left field, but it works, because Haku works so well as a protagonist with an inscrutable talent for being in the thick of things without even trying, and because the characters that surround him are as bright and quirky as he is unassuming and laid back.

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Sure enough, their time aboard the barge reveals a huge, apparently illicit gambling operation centered around duelling giant insects. That doesn’t stop Atui from getting really into the gambling, along with Kosuri, who makes a cameo as another party seeking corruption.

When the bugs get loose and have to be dealt with, Dekoponpo quickly flees, and his sycophantic valet Bokoinante tries to load as much loot onto the lifeboat as possible. These two characters are cartoonish and one-dimensional, but remain amusing in their banter nonetheless.

As for Atui, she proves again she’s a capable warrior, even if she just violently lashes out at her targets with her eyes closed (she doesn’t like bugs). As for her getting covered in a sticky white substance, well…I’m not sure that was entirely necessary.

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As for Haku, when he goes to the general’s office to find hard evidence of corruption, he encounters a furious Bokoinante who has come for his master’s favorite golden statue, which helpfully serves as a shield for Haku when Bokoinante slashes at him.

In any case, Kosuri and Ougi are the ones who end up with the evidence and quickly alight from the ship, while Atui’s spazzy attacks bust a hole in the hull, causing the whole barge to sink. Quite the collateral damage; hopefully Dekoponpo is well-insured.

Haku is saved from drowning by Ukon, but only after he drops the heavy golden statue he wanted to keep. The rest of the giant bugs are dealt with by troops under Oshutaru’s counterpart, Mikazuchi. In the end, they don’t collect any evidence, but as Ukon says, “it’ll all work out.”

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Back home, a strange fog comes upon Haku, along with two mysterious cloaked ladies who invite him to come with them through what seems to be an interdimensional portal. After a trip through some trippy caverns, he ends up in a strange indoor garden, where a familiar-looking woman serves him familiar-tasting tea.

Then an old man asks Haku to tell them all about his experiences since waking up in the mountains with no memory. Word is certainly getting around about Haku and his hard-to-describe but undeniable value to those around him. But I can’t pretend this episode wasn’t all over the place, because it was.

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Utawarerumono: Itsuwari no Kamen – 07

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First of all, Rurutie really lets her hair down this week as she plies a bookstore for BL literature, showing Atui an entirely different Rurutie than the one she’s accustomed to. She even meets her most beloved author. Say, he looks a bit like Haku, no?

From there, talk comes down of a ceremony in which the imperial princess will finally be revealed to the public. And as soon as I saw a new face, I figured she was that very un-revealed princess, hiding in plain sight.

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The only problem for her is, while no one knows who she is, she comes off as a haughty highborn girl, reading and taking whatever BL lands in her lap, eating whatever lovingly prepared desserts are lying around, and generally making a big mess with the expectation someone else will clean it up.

Absent the crucial piece of information that she’s royalty, Kuon treats her like she’d treat anyone who scarfed down her kunyui: with barely masked contempt and an intent to do bodily harm. The threat of punishment scares the girl off, and a lively chase ensues.

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That’s broken up rather quickly by the silver-haired Munechika, who proceeds to paint the girl’s back door red, showing everyone why the mention of punishment spooked her so. The next day, to Kuon and Haku and everyone else’s surprise, the girl who menaced their headquarters is revealed as the imperial princess, Anju. Though frankly, her upper-crust behavior and lofty manner of speaking should have tipped them off. In all, a not unpleasant, if predictable, little episode.

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Utawarerumono: Itsuwari no Kamen – 06

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Utawarerumono is tops this Fall in sheer amount of time spent in the baths, but by that same measure, no Fall show is better at selling the sheer pleasure of those baths, particularly after a hard day’s work. This week, there’s no work, nor does the episode ever leave the inn. But that’s okay, because a lot of neat stuff happens within the inn’s walls, as well as in its baths.

And it all starts when a beautiful, mysterious woman offers Haku sake in those baths, without any concern about him seeing her naked. The next day Haku receives an invitation to a banquet hosted by inn’s owner, whom Haku deduces was that woman. He brings Kuon as his plus one, and they proceed to explored the surprising depths (and heights) of the expansive inn.

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Kuon solves a puzzle on the wall at the supposed top level, revealing a staircase to an even higher level, Myst-style. But Kuon Has A Bad Feeling About This and doesn’t want to go up there. Haku doesn’t have any reservations, and the woman from the bath ends up on top of him. But for all the threatening purple fog and compromising positions, there’s actually nothing to be afraid of.

Turns out the woman is Mother Karura, one of the women who raised Kuon, and who is so sensitive about her age Kuon must call her Big Sister Karura. The three of them are soon joined by another one of Kuon’s guardians, the husky-voiced Mother Touka. Her reservations were based on her believing she saw Touka before, dressed as an inn employee.

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Turns out the mothers founded the inn as a kind of home away from home, complete with baths that the country they’re in used to lack. It explains why Kuon likes the inn so much, as well as her nervousness around the mothers. She doesn’t consider herself a “full adult” like they are, and was unsure how to act.

Haku is a good guide in this instance, calling for the start of drinking, only to be drunk under the table by Karura. He nearly drunkenly confesses his love for Kuon before passing out, leaving the daughter and two of her many mothers to chat and reminisce.

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Touka, for one, believed Kuon and Haku were married, and Kuon reacts like she usually does in such instances, assuring anyone curious that they’re just “travelling together” and she’s far more of a guardian than a lover. Her mothers let her obfuscation pass, though they may well sense better than she does what she has with Haku, and it ain’t just guardianship.

After a huge meal (which poor passed-out Haku misses out on, but is apparently smaller than the meals Kuon used to scarf down), and the mothers explain their presence in Yamato (they’re investigating and observing its development…to be continued), Kuon loosens up a lot more, and before long, the women are back in those lovely baths.

There, the mothers have a pleasant surprise for her: they share sake with her, like a fellow adult, and not just any sake: the same sake she accidentally drank when she was a boisterous little girl. All this time Kuon sought the ideal of adulthood her mothers represented, but they already considered her an adult ever since she drank that sake. Now that she’s drinking it again, she can officially consider herself one, too. And not just because she’s a Hakusitter.

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Oregairu 2 – 09

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Happiness is:

  • Hikky dreading going back to school after the club’s big conciliatory catharsis.
  • Komachi doing a pitch-perfect impression of Hikky’s condescending mumble, before remarking that she likes this “scum-niichan” just fine, and Hikky agreeing with her.
  • Hikky returning to a very brightly-lit club room to find a perfectly civil, downright chipper (for her) Yukino.
  • An elated Yui wanting to sit as close to Yukino as physically possible.
  • Yukino being both happy and a little uncomfortable with the closeness.

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Happiness is:

  • Yukino and Yui attending the event meeting with Hikky. The cavalry has arrived!
  • Yukino and Yui’s priceless reaction to Hikky and Irohas’ little bag exchange ritual. “What was THAT all about?” their eyes seem to ask…
  • Yukino and Yui both agreeing with Hikky’s opinion of the other president dude, but being unable to enact instant change. Fixing will take some doing.
  • Shizuka giving Hikky, Yukino, Yui and Irohas tickets to Destiny Land to celebrate the club pulling through.
  • Hikky’s demand for someone to marry Shizuka already, before he’s forced to.
  • The gradual reveal that Yukino is not only a yearly member of Destiny Land, but doesn’t want to go during the busy season.
  • Yui and Hikky working together to convince her to come anyway.

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Happiness is:

  • Iroha inviting her crush Hayama, which leads to Miura, Ebina, and Tobe also tagging along. One big happy family. (Unfortunately absent but probably for the best: Kawasaki and Totsuka).
  • The resulting dynamic of Hikky with his two girls (Yukino and Yui), Hayama and his two girls (Miura and Iroha) and Ebina and Tobe, a pairing that Hikky worked so hard to prevent, which led to all that unpleasantness that is now behind them.
  • How Hikky is cut off in the group photo, but the one closest to him is Yukino.

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Happiness is: This photo.

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Happiness is:

  • Yukino teasing Yui about how there will never be a “next time” in which she’ll allow her photo to be taken.
  • Hikky’s realization the two are only joking around and are actually closer than ever.
  • Ebina properly thanking Hikky once more for what he did, knowing what it cost.
  • Hikky telling Ebina his, Yukino’s and Yui’s problem had nothing to do with her request; it had been brewing before; at best it was a catalyst/last straw.
  • Hikky smiling unironically. I know; I’m scared too!
  • Yukino demanding absolute silence on the Panda Battle ride.

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Happiness is:

  • The adorableness that is Yui getting up in Hikky’s face with a panda puppet.
  • The moment Hikky believes Yui is making “the first move” she told him she’d make (last season), rather than wait.
  • The way Hikky agrees to a date at the theme park next door (Amaburi?), “someday,” which is enough for Yui for now.
  • Yui slipping animal ears on herself and Yukino and having Hikky snap their picture.
  • Everyone wanting to give Komachi gifts. She got the ball rolling on Hikky’s redemption, after all. But more than that, she’s just a very cute and lovable sister.

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Happiness is:

  • Circumstances working out so Hikky and Yukino end up separated from the others.
  • Yukino taking Hikky’s sleeve in her hand, asking him to “save her someday,” just before their boat takes the plunge. DAT PLUNGE. The silence…pure poetry.

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Happiness is: Yukino making relative peace with the fact she isn’t like her sister, or Hikky, and may not “have what they have,” but that’s okay, because she still loves them both. (She doesn’t say that part, but it’s pretty evident.)

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Happiness is Hikky, Yukino, and Yui side by side by side, watching the park’s fireworks show, being bathed in warm and cool flashes of light as they wear smiles on their faces.

Happiness is Yukino’s many smiles throughout this episode, in particular that last one looking up at the sky, and Yui whispering to Hikky, again getting as possible close to the person she loves.

Happiness is NOT watching Iroha confess to Hayama, only to get flatly rejected and run off, more upset than we’ve ever seen her.

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However, as unhappy an event as it was, I was very happy with how it was portrayed: from the POVs of the others, in particular Hikky; without words, only expressions half-concealed by the shadows. All the planning in the world to create an opportunity for Iroha to get closer to Hayama didn’t mean a thing, because Hayama didn’t want to get closer to her.

Will she now turn to Hikky, fulfilling the prophecy in the OP of Iroha taking her place among the other three Service Club members, filling the void between Hikky and the others? Whatever happens, and as sadly as this episode ended, there was still plenty of happiness to be found.

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Oregairu 2 – 08

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After living a tentative dream stumbling both with his one-man service request and his “replacement triangle” of Iroha and Kaori, Yukino splashed cold water on him before walking away.

(*VROOOM VROOOM*…a red Aston Martin DB9 pulls up…)

Oh, Shizuka-sensei, thank God you’re here! I’m not going to ask how a teacher can afford that car—I’m guessing an on-the-side service club-for-profit of her own—but I am glad she’s arrived in Hikky’s darkest hour to counsel him.

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As far as mentors go, Komachi is too young and Haruna is Yukino’s sister with her own baggage, so Shizuka is the right woman for the job. And goddamn it, if a gorgeous woman in a suit picks you up in her British GT, drives you to a bridge, tosses you a coffee and lights a cigarette, you listen to her.

You listen as she talks about how mental states and emotions one feels are not always equal. How if you can only think in terms of calculations, calculate. How it’s impossible not to hurt people; it’s just a fact of life. That instead of worrying about how not to hurt someone (again, an impossibility), try to find out why you don’t want to hurt them in the first place.  How caring for someone means knowing you’ll hurt them from time to time.

Shizuka’s saves her wisest and coolest words, and one of the central lessons of Oregairu—and growing up, period—for last:

Right now isn’t everything, but there are things you can only do now, and things you can only have here. Now, Hikigaya. Now is the time. Think. Agonize. Struggle. Worry. Otherwise, it’s not the real thing.

Hikky makes Shizuka blush by telling her all the men she’s courted have had terrible taste—a very Hikky compliment—and in his head, wonders what might have been had they been closer in age. I’m thinking “Dude, when you turn 18 and she’s still single, don’t hesitate!”

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But that’s then. This is now. So he thinks, agonizes, struggles, and worries, through the night. And the next day after school he knocks on the door of the service club; not as a member, but as a client: The joint Christmas event many of his own actions led to is a hot mess, and he can’t fix it by himself. But this isn’t about swallowing his pride or admitting he was wrong.

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Yukino tells Hikky that people who made messes on their own should fix them on their own. Hikky agrees; Yui doesn’t, calling Yukinon unfair, and all of a sudden the discussion is no longer about his request. The event, like Komachi’s request, was simply the means to get in the door, a reason to spur action, but not the reason; the one Hikky agonized over. He cuts off Yukino and Yui’s sniping about being unfair and the efficacy of understanding through talk.

Hikky has been uncharacteristic from the start in this scene, first by knocking, and then sitting so he faced Yukino and Yui. But he really catches them off guard when he himself tears up in preparation reveals his true request, or rather desire. He doesn’t want words or mutual understanding or acceptance of each others’ “ugly self-consciousness”…he just wants the real thing, which he tearfully proclaims after a montage of all the times he believes he experienced it. But what is that?

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No…not that, but for many, including me, Coke is so irresistible because of nostalgia: it tastes like childhood; like a simpler time, long before we were aware of the concept that we all hurt each other, and that understanding others can be extremely difficult. But I don’t guzzle a two-liter every day. It’s a temporary retreat, not a replacement for life. Diet Coke, on the other hand, tastes like being six feet under. Just one guy’s opinion.

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Oh. Sorry about that!

Hikky wants “the real thing” even though he’s not entirely sure what it is, let alone how to get it. But there’s value in knowing that he doesn’t have it and that he doesn’t know how to get it. Of moving beyond what one doesn’t understand and instead trying to figure out why one wants to understand.

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He also believes all three of them want it. Yui is able to express that right off the bat with a smile, but Yukino still doesn’t understand. She’s terrified of not understanding, and flees while clutching her arm as if she’d just been shot with a dose of radiation.

Hikky is paralyzed in the moment, but yet again proving she’s the essential fulcrum of their group, Yui snaps him out of it and urges they chase after her. Whatever Yukinon’s problem is, they can’t let it end without knowing, or trying to know. She takes him by the hand—a romantic gesture in most Japanese high schools—but Hikky’s grip loosens; not because he isn’t going with her but because he “can walk himself.”

And who is it who know where she went? Why Iroha! Yui and Hikky’s shortness with her underscores how special their three-person group really is, and how far Iroha still has to come to being as much of a priority.

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Thankfully, her aim isn’t to break their momentum, but to point them in the right direction of their wayward member (on the school rooftop at sunset, for maximum dramatic impact!) There, Yui takes the lead, telling Yukino none of them understand, but if they talk more, maybe they will…and even if they don’t, they’ll at least understand that they don’t understand. Yui doesn’t even understand what she’s saying, but like Hikky, and like Yukino, she doesn’t like the way things are now.

Now, when there are things you can only do and have. Yui tears up again, as does Yukino, who calls Yui “unfair” again as they tightly embrace. Yukino says it’s unfair because they’d just fought a battle of sorts: a battle Shizuka hoped Hikky and Yui would win before someone else does later in life: the battle to get inside Yukino. With Yukino accepting Hikky’s request—upon further consideration, tears, and hugging, and perhaps even the tiniest sip of the real thing—victory is in sight again.

Last week was so grim for the service club that I’d gone ahead formulating contingencies in case it simply wasn’t to be, something Shizuka touched on during her bridge chat. This was an outstanding episode not just because it chastised its characters for having holed up inside their own heads, but it chastised me and anyone else whose hope had faltered, making me feel foolish for ever contemplating lame backup scenarios. Hikky, Yukinon, and Yui are the real thing, and their time is now. Thank God!

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Oregairu 2 – 07

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In shopping list she slipped into her brother’s bag, with whom she’s on good terms again, Komachi writes that what she wants most is his happiness (and detergent). But he’s increasingly unsure of how to get that happiness. All he knows is that saving people with his methods hasn’t quite done the trick.

Something is missing: “His responsibility…the answer” he needs. And as much as he doesn’t want to admit it, there may be no more answers in the Service Club, which he now attends increasingly for Yui’s sake, haunted by what would happen if he wouldn’t and Yukino’s “smile of giving up.”

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He may not realize it yet, nor does she, but Hikky’s answer may lie in Iroha, and hers in him. He is someone she can be herself with, after all, and who insists on carrying her bag even though it’s not heavy. I initially thought Iroha’s presence on the show would lead to cliched conflict, but we’ve instead been blessed with a far more complex and satisfying dynamic as the two tentatively circle one another.

The way the camera stays on the other side of the street as they cross and make the bag hand-off had just as much power as past close-ups of said hand-offs, if not more. Hikky isn’t just settling for handling Iroha’s tough stuff; he wants to support her in the little things too.

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If only it were that easy. Hikky hasn’t been this earnestly hands-on a “service client” like this before, nor has he faced quite as formidable and opaquely frustrating an opponent as the other school’s talky president, who continues to spew unproductive bullshit as the clock ticks on the Christmas event. Among the elementary kids they’ve recruited to assist is Tsurumi Rumi, whom I think I’ll call “Mini-Yukino” due to her not-at-all-not-coincidental resemblance to Hikky’s emotionally estranged club mate.

The council quagmire is the challenge he’s facing now, but Rumi is a symbol of someone he saved before with non-ideal, imperfect methods: sabotaging the bonds of the peers who bullied her so they’d no longer trust one another or level coordinated attacks on her, while leaving her just as alone in the end.

Later that night Hikky is treated to someone on the other end of the spectrum: Saika, who thinks it’s cool the way Hikky’s always working hard for others without complaint. Saika’s opinion is valid from his point of view, though he’s not in on the whole picture.

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Someone else who doesn’t have the whole picture is Orimoto Kaori, who bumps into Hikky and Iroha on the streets and, perhaps due to her proximity to her classmates, her vague language about her past with Hikky pique Iroha’s interest. Is it just me, but it feels like Yukino and Yui fade out of focus whenever Hikky is with Iroha, and having Kaori around makes a triad—a new triad.

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In fact, when Iroha very overtly puts her hand on Hikky, it looks every bit like a gesture of possession, not idle flirtation, in the presence of another girl Hikky may have had “dealings” with. “This is my man now,” so to speak. She seems happy that such a scenario may have occurred, though, because it reinforces the part of her that sees Hikky as a suitable mate. Whoa, sorry for gettin’ all Discovery Channel there!

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Bag hand-offs and arm-touching aside, in semi-public Iroha still plays her rapid-rejection card when she senses Hikky is flirting with her, but like Hikky, she’s maintaining a facade that doesn’t express her true feelings about the way Hikky is treating her.

That facade always mentions some quality she believes Hikky doesn’t possess or never will, in the process painting the picture of an ideal guy she’s never met, and maybe never will. Meanwhile, here is Hikky, staunchly by her side, worried he may be carrying too much of Iroha’s load with regards to the event, but still feeling responsible for her being there to begin with.

I should also mention that Hikky reaches out to Rumi even though he doesn’t have too, simply sitting with her and helping with decorations so she won’t be alone, then encouraging her to go to the others. If Hikky were the guy his facade less and less convincingly attempts to assure us he is, he’d never bother, but he can’t help it, especially with someone he feels an obligation to be nicer to after providing only an imperfect solution to her problems.

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Which brings us to an understated but ultimately pretty heartbreaking closing scene as Hikky bumps into Yukino. He’s been nothing but submissive, contrite, and polite to her since she’s been able to occupy the same room as him, but he only told her a half-truth about being busy with Komachi’s exams. In reality, he’s busy with Iroha, and enjoying it as well. Yukino knows this, and knows there’s little she could contribute.

She also believes Hikky is only still attending club out of obligation. For Shizuka, who brought them together, but tellingly has been nowhere to be seen of late—maybe the experiment is over, with mixed but still valuable results? For Yui, who not only wants to walk to the club with him, but wants to be seen walking with him by others.

But Yukino, without any hint of bitterness, tells him he doesn’t have to beg her pardon or ask her permission or force himself to attend. Yukino’s analysis may be right—Hikky is certainly deriving happiness from helping Iroha—but she also walks away before Hikky can at least attempt to respond to it. Maybe he just likes attending club. Or maybe it’s time to move on.

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