The Rising of the Shield Hero – 08 – Don’t Let The Hate Flow Through You

Fresh off of cleaning up the Spear Hero’s mess (carelessly introducing an invasive plant species), Naofumi, Raphtalia and Filo come upon yet another village suffering unintended consequences of a hero’s actions. This time it was the Sword Hero Amaki Ren, slaying a dragon in the mountains but leaving its massive corpse behind to rot.

That rot causes a plague in the village that has already claimed many lives. Naofumi treats those still living with his potions for 50 silvers, then agrees to deal with the root cause of the problem (the dragon corpse) for ten times that amount. When the village doctor’s nurse questions whether he’s really a savior, he remarks that he never said he was.

By the time they reach the dragon, the rot has set in to the point the corpse rises again as a zombie dragon with a nasty poison breath. Naofumi is immune, but Raphtalia is not, and his shield can’t fully protect her. Worse, Filo can’t help herself from charging the dragon on her own, since filolials apparently hate dragons just that much.

While Naofumi is struggling to minimize Raph’s exposure to the toxins, Filo is distracted for a moment, and in that moment, she gets gobbled up in a spray of blood. Just like that, barely a month into her life, it would seem the Heavenly Fowl was no more.

Naofumi retreats into his dark brooding corner of his mind, fearing he’s about to lose everything once more, when he’s suddenly visited by something best described as a curse of pure, unadulterated hatred. He’s quickly consumed by his hatred for this world, everyone in it who loathes and distrusts him, and of course, Malty.

The hatred imbues him with formidable power—enough to stop the dragon’s arm when it tries to crush him, then lops off its tail, setting the stump on fire. But it’s too much power for Naofumi to handle. Fortunately, Raphtalia is there to pull him out of his hate-trance, though she bears the brunt of the curse emanating from his person.

As for the dragon, it suddenly keels over, and Filo bursts out of its stomach, having eaten the crystal core that gave it live. The “spray of blood” was merely Filo puking up all the red fruit she ate earlier; the dragon swallowed her whole.

But while Filo is fine and the dragon defeated, Raph is in a bad way, and Naofumi’s quick heals only offer temporary relief. Naofumi offers all the silver the doctor just gave him in exchange for healing her, but the village lacks holy water pure enough to dispel the curse. Still, Raphtalia doesn’t regret doing what she did; she didn’t want the curse to take her Naofumi away.

As she and Filo rest, Naofumi resolves to continue growing stronger—for one thing, his level is too low to unlock the shield he gained from absorbing the dragon’s crystal. They’ll also need to head to a larger city with a larger church that will possess stronger holy water. But more than anything, Naofumi seems relieved his family wasn’t taken from him…not when he had just fashioned accessories for them using the crafting hammer they gave him.

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The Rising of the Shield Hero – 07 – The Victory Gardener

When Naofumi’s trader friend sends him to a village in dire need of a huge order of herbicide, he, Raphtalia and Filo soon find out why: What started as a “miracle seed”, ironically provided by the Spear Hero Motoyasu to end a famine, grew into a scourge of a vine that not only overruns the village but infects its children like a parasite and breeds plant monsters that mere adventurers can’t defeat.

Naofumi goes above and beyond his duty by not just delivering the herbicide, but healing the kids with his potion lore, and with Raph and Filo providing the offense while he provides defense and support, defeats the central plant monster, leading to the destruction of the network. It honestly isn’t that difficult a quest, now that Naofumi and his two wards are so powerful.

Having cleaned out the village elders’ entire supply of cash, he agrees to take the rest of his payment in trade; specifically, the fruits he himself developed by altering the seeds so they won’t cause anymore trouble, just bear profitable fruit. With that, Naofumi returns to the trader with the merchandise, and he in turn offers another delivery job, this time to a hot springs village.

Here, the rivalry between Raphtalia and Filo for Naofumi’s attention kicks into the next gear, with Raph learning the romantic qualities of the bath she’s in only to learn Filo is already sharing her bath with Naofumi, or when she brings milk to share with Naofumi only to find him combing Filo’s hair. Raphtalia considers Filo an interloper: she was there first, and Naofumi is hers.

She tries once again to win Naofumi over once and for all by going off on her own to find a crystal called latium (an ingredient in love potions) that can be obtained from the nest of a certain native bird, only to find Filo is on a similar quest to make Naofumi her “mate”…and collect some eggs for eating. But when Filo almost falls off a cliff, Raph catches her, and when the giant silverback they landed on chases them, Filo transforms and has Raph jump on so she can jump to safety.

The trip to the birdsnest is short and unproductive, again due to the silverback, but Raph and Filo decide not to let the boar boss them around anymore. They work together to slay it, trade it in to some villagers for cash, and use it to purchase an expensive metalcrafting hammer for Naofumi, as a token of their mutual gratitude. Insofar as Naofumi can be touched by anything, he seems touched by the gesture.

Raph and Filo can be pretty irritating when competing, but thankfully far more fun to watch when collaborating. As for Naofumi, he’ll probably never see either of them as anything other than kids…and if you think kissing will get you pregnant, you kinda are a kid.

TenSura – 12 – That’s a Lot of Bacon

Treyni the Dryad has come to confirm that an Orc Lord has risen. Not only that, his army of orcs are afflicted with “Starved”, a skill that allows them to gain the power and abilities of whoever they eat…including each other. This is an enemy that must be defeated with as few casualties as possible, lest they unwittingly refuel the army.

The Dryads know that no one of the groups of beings who dwell in the forest could take on the army, so they’ve reached out (through the potato chip-stealing Treyni) to the most powerful among them: Rimuru Tempest. Shion volunteers on her master’s behalf, but privately Rimuru is worried about losing. He’s never faced someone with an ability like his “Predator”, after all.

Souei volunteers to be Rimuru’s envoy with the Lizardmen, whose numbers Rimuru will need to achieve victory. Impressed by Souei’s intense Kajin aura, and the fact he’s only a mere messenger for an even more powerful master, the Lizardman Chieftain agrees to an audience with Rimuru in seven days’ time.

Before those seven days are up, however, everything gets messed up, all thanks to our overly-preening Chieftain’s son, Gabiru. Gelmud plants an underling named Laplace to easily manipulate Gabiru into staging a coup against his father, who has agreed to maintain a defensive stance but has alienated his younger comrades by doing so.

Gabiru gives those youngsters what they want: the opportunity to fight their enemies head-on rather than continue hiding in the caves. But since Gabiru imprisons his father and sister before hearing them out, he doesn’t learn about the orc army’s Starved ability until the orcs begin to eat their own dead. Rimuru was surely right to worry!

TenSura – 11 – Avoiding Incompetent Allies

With his new coterie of ogres (sorry, kijin) Rimuru encounters three anime tropes in a row this week: a brewing rivalry between Shion and Princess Shura, the very lazy revelation that Shion sucks at cooking, and Gabiru, the overconfident puffed-up adversary who isn’t smarter than he looks, and he looks pretty dang stupid!

Gabiru actually has moments of self-doubt, but he’s a helpless sucker when it comes to positive reinforcement: his men tell him he’s The Best and Nobody Beats Him, and therefore he believes he is. He may be insufferable, but for some reason I still like the guy. Ya can’t teach charisma!

Rimuru and his crew are extremely #NotImpressed, and Gabiru has no idea how many of his gaffes almost get him killed during his short encounter with the Slime’s subordinates.

Rimuru appoints Ranga (in his true, intimidating size) to deal with Gabiru, who expresses his disappointment a great direwolf is serving a lowly slime. Ranga clearly isn’t sure he can fight Gabiru without killing him, so he delegates the task of dueling with him to Gobta, who manages to survive Shion’s cuisine with new poison resistance.

Much to Rimuru’s surprise, however, Gobta is a stout warrior, throwing his spear as a diversion then using Shadow Movement to sneak up behind Gabiru and deliver a knockout kick. Gabiru’s shocked retainers don’t give up on their leader, but cart him off as they scurry off in retreat, promising “this isn’t over!”

Despite the stupidity of one of their leaders, Rimuru still contemplates at least aligning his forces with those of the Lizardmen, considering the threat two hundred thousand orcs presents to the whole of Jura Forest. A dryad named Treyni appears and formally requests Rimuru’s assistance in defending the forest from the orcs, adding further urgency towards action.

Citrus – 09

It’s a given that Matsuri would lose the Battle of Yuzu, and that she’d lose for one simple reason: it’s not a battle, or at least it’s not supposed to be. Life isn’t a video game and it isn’t zero-sum.

While that can be unsatisfying and frustrating for someone so seemingly adept at “playing the game”, it reveals that Matsuri’s “game” is actually very limited, specialized, even stunted, and that there’s a lot more for her to learn, much like Mei and Yuzu.

For now, however, Mei simply concedes the first round, with a longer game plan that’s a lot clearer than I thought, but with no guarantee of success. Matsuri tells her to buzz off or she’ll leak the photo of them kissing, and just to twist the knife, orders Mei to go on a date with one of Matsuri’s old creepy “texting buddies.”

Mei knows how much Yuzu is looking forward to the Christmas party—she can hear Yuzu gushing to Mama from the hallway, but Mei tells her she must decline…”extra council work that can’t wait.” When Yuzu tries to persuade her to reconsider, Mei tells Yuzu to be with Matsuri, stating “that girl needs you.”

The next day after school, Mama Harumin almost inadvertently gets Yuzu to discovr Mei isn’t working with the school council when she suggests Yuzu help out with the council if she wants to party with Mei later. Unfortunately, Matsuri intercepts Yuzu on the way to the office, and insists they go on their date together. Heeding Mei’s words last night and goes along.

So, round two goes to Matsuri as well, and that’s a win, right? I mean, she’s on a date with Yuzu and Yuzu alone, while Mei is sleeping with some creep! Well, it’s not that simple. When Matsuri expresses her distaste for the frequency with with Yuzu talks about Mei, she loses her cool and reveals the her plan, trying in vain to convince Yuzu that Mei is a slutty little liar.

In hindsight, Matsuri should probably be ashamed of herself for thinking Yuzu would react by shunning Mei and running into her open arms. Then again, at this point in her emotional development, winning, and beating Mei, and anyone else between her and Yuzu, is more important than how Yuzu feels.

Round Three is ALL MEI. Yuzu may not have seen what Matsuri was doing before, but she’s sure woke to it now, and excoriates Matsuri for trying to hurt Mei, the person who “looked at her the most”, even urging her to pay more attention to Matsuri.

“Relationships aren’t games,” Yuzu yells in the full restaurant, not giving AF who hears. “Don’t sum them up with cheap words like winning and losing!” Dayum Yuzu, coming through in the clutch.

Turns out Mei didn’t have to sleep with anyone; and Yuzu manages to find her at the meeting point. She runs to Mei and hugs her, in tears over what Mei went through, or more precisely, what she let Matsuri put her through.

The three share the train ride back. Matsuri is still thinking in terms of winning and losing, (and let’s be honest, Mei DID win here) but at least tries to correct herself from that kind of talk.

The reason Mei won is that she and Matsuri are so similar, seeking love everywhere while hating those around them, closing their hearts, and refusing to accept anything. It left Mei empty, as empty as Matsuri must have been feeling.

But she didn’t count on a “meddlesome person” like Yuzu entering her life and giving her unconditional love even when she didn’t ask for it, filling a bit of that emptiness.

Matsuri is rightly impressed by Mei’s recklessness, but Mei trusted Yuzu enough to believe that as soon as she got wise to Matsuri’s games, she’d come running to her side, and that’s just what happened. Matsuri leaves the two, but before she does, whispers in Yuzu’s ear that Mei really likes her, before loudly, jokingly suggesting a threesome in the future. Frankly, Matsuri got off pretty easy here.

That night, Mei insists on having a slice of the cake Yuzu worked so hard to make for Christmas. Yuzu calls her stubborn, but Mei replies that’s who I am. Just as Matsuri had to learn that relationships aren’t only about winning and losing, Mei has to learn to be more open and honest to Yuzu.

And the truth is this: Yuzu makes her heart race, just like Mei makes hers. But there’s things inside Mei that will please her, and things that will terrify her. Bottom line, if she’s still adamant about some kind of romance, Mei is game, but Yuzu will have to take and accept all of her, including the warts, and be content that she isn’t going to change, any more than Yuzu should.

Citrus – 08

Matsuri continues to Be The Worst when Mei tags along on her “date” with Yuzu, which Yuzu never meant to be a romantic date. Matsuri loudly embarrasses her about wanting to be a couple and have sex, while Mei mostly keeps her distance and lets Matsuri do as she pleases…for now.

But Mei’s presence alone is enough to enrage Matsuri to the point she decides to use it for a fresh bit of blackmail, which Mei is unusually vulnerable to due to her dad’s side of the family and position at school.

When she confronts Mei and tries to goad her into slapping her, Mei kisses her instead, “taking back” the kiss Matsuri stole from Yuzu. This surprises Matsuri, but only entertains her more. In any case, she has her incriminating photo.

Matsuri then takes off on her own. Mei feels responsible, but Yuzu doesn’t blame her. It gets colder, and they hold hands as they walk home. I love how Mei’s come to appreciate Yuzu’s warmth in the winter.

I don’t love how Matsuri didn’t go home, but wanted to creepily watch them from afar. Why? And aren’t all of them going to catch their death with such few layers out there?

Mei has apparently never celebrated Christmas, so Yuzu is excited to get her involved in their traditional family-only party. Hime shows more maturity by telling Mei to enjoy herself, while Harumin, who was barely in the episode, is playfully jealous she can’t join either.

As Yuzu makes the preparations, both culinary and stuffed bear-related, Mei works overtime after school so she doesn’t leave too much for her subordinates, and that’s when Matsuri shows up, no doubt to threaten her with the photo of them kissing.

So far Matsuri has been totally incapable of driving any kind of meaningful wedge between Yuzu and Mei, and that’s a good thing. Here’s hoping her string of failures continues and she’s left alone and miserable on Christmas and every other day.

Or maybe, if she eventually gives up these cruel and childish games and decides to change her awful ways, she can be rewarded with contentment in her friendship with Yuzu and maybe even Mei as well…But I don’t think it’s gonna happen.

Citrus – 07

Yuzu needs to score in the top 100 if she wants Mei and Gramps off her back, but she can’t concentrate after her last kiss with Mei, which felt different and more meaningful. Alas, Mei withdraws to the outmoded “we’re both girls” and more reasonable “we’re sisters, so we should stop this.”

Yuzu is devastated, because she takes Mei at her word; in reality there’s a lot of doubt behind Mei’s supposed certainty, as we’ll see later in the ep. Good Ol’ Harumin is there to console Yuzu with an after-school arcade session where commentary on her getting a game over matches commentary about her Mei dilemma.

Then THE DEVIL takes the stage. Satan has many forms, but chooses a pleasing and seemingly harmless one in Mizusawa Matsuri, Yuzu’s childhood friend. Now where have I heard of an anime in which one relationship is suddenly put at risk by a meddling childhood friend? Oh yeah, pretty much all of them.

Subtlety is not Matsuri’s strong suit, with her devil-may-care headphones, bubble gum (and bubble gum pink hair), and seiyu Izawa Shiori’s trademark apathetic drone. Because Yuzu is a sweet, innocent, kind person, she’s a sitting duck for Matsuri, who is not the girl Yuzu remembers, if she ever was.

Harumin immediately senses Pinky is BAD NEWS, even before Matsuri brings up her part-time job of sexting dirty old men, despite being in seventh grade. And yet Matsuri shows how skillful she is at manipulating people like Yuzu even with Harumin ostensibly in the way.

Matsuri snatches Yuzu’s phone and steals a picture of her with Mei, then drags Yuzu and Harumi to a karaoke when Yuzu is supposed to be buying things to make dinner. But she’s too nice to say “gotta go” to her former little-sister figure.

Worse still, Harumi suddenly has to duck out to take care of a family matter (part of me thought Matsuri sent her a false message), leaving Matsuri all alone with Yuzu. Matsuri promptly confesses her love and tries to kiss Yuzu, and is interrupted by a call from Mei asking about dinner.

Later, when Mei and Yuzu nearly cross paths at an intersection, Matsuri pulls Yuzu aside and kisses her in full view of Mei, whom Yuzu never saw. Frankly the coincidence and perfect execution of Matsuri’s fuck-you to Mei are a bit much; We get it, she’s pink scum.

Back home, Mei is less angry at Yuzu than I expected, which actually makes sense since Mei realizes she is the one who told Yuzu everything was over when it clearly wasn’t. When Yuzu is just to cute for her to resist any longer, Mei comes at her from behind and licks her neck, literally marking the Yuzu she won’t share with pink-haired interlopers.

Of course, Mei is almost as ill-equipped to deal with Matsuri as Yuzu, since she’s being driven primarily by emotions. Mizusawa Matsuri may say she loves Yuzu but I don’t think she loves anyone, except maybe Mizusawa Matsuri. The show introduced her as someone who manipulates people for the hell of it. Whether she derives fun, I can’t say; maybe this is all she thinks she can do.

The show is not yet ready to portray her as anything other than a villain so far, brazenly invading Yuzu and Mei’s school and making a big fuss about going on an after-school date. Mei shoos her off, but Matsuri won’t give up easily. We’ll see if Matsuri’s story gets a little more nuance and dimension like Hime’s, because right now, if she had a pink mustache, she’d be twirling it.

Gi(a)rlish Number – 02

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Senbongi Sayaka’s Karasuma Chitose continues to lead the way in Gi(a)rlish Number as a sardonic up-and-comer who is always taking the measure of people around her. That applies two her new co-stars Yae (see Chitose’s inner thoughts in pic above) and Koto (who has a Kansai accent and knows a lot about anime but doesn’t seem very “interesting” or “useful” to Chitose. That being said, Chitose never lets too much of her inner self spill out, so she gets along with both girls fine.

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Unfortunately, I’m starting to feel like they’ve been tethered to a sinking ship, even though they can’t exactly turn down good voice acting work because the producer Kuzu is a buffoon who is almost totally non-detail oriented, even insisting “passion” is what’s most important in anime. Not, you know, silly little things like character design and animation quality.

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Chitose, Yae and Koto team up with veterans Momoka and Kazuha for a kickoff event during which a very vague PV full of half-formed ideas is presented. Chitose helps keep the on-stage banter among the newbies interesting and the crowd engaged.

Kazuha is the most concerned about the fact the show they’re in doesn’t even have a key visual, but Momoka thinks the five of them should simply focus on doing the voice work and leave the other matters to those responsible for them.

The vets also file out, leaving the three newbies to celebrate a successful kickoff, at a restaurant, blissfully unaware of the mounting turmoil in the studio’s conference room.

Chitose was hoping to be the only heroine, and later, that they’d sing the OP rather than the ED, but she’ll adapt and work to distinguish herself under these revised conditions, all while never doubting for a second that she belongs here, and that she’s winning.

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ReLIFE – 05

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Last week’s cliffhanger portended a rough road ahead for all parties involved, and a galaxy of possibilities in terms of if, and how, the conflicts would be resolved. But judging from the first four episodes, I was confident ReLife would resolve everything relatively quickly, but in the most narratively and emotionally satisfying way. The right way: no shortcuts, no lies, and no running away.

As it turns out, both Kaizaki and Kariu were knocked out by their fall down the stairs, so there was no immediate confrontation between them and Hishino. Instead, Kaizaki wakes up in the infirmary. Hoshino and her bag are gone, so the mystery of where she went and how she feels about what she saw is always hanging in the background, adding tension to an already tense scene.

Before Kariu comes to, Kaizaki pieces together what happened, and he remembers back when he was training at his job. When the woman training him started out-performing the men, they turned on her and started working to knock her down, sullying all the hard work they’d done to get to where they are.

Kaizaki remembers his trainer saying she wasn’t mad, but sad that they had given up trying to fight fair. Now we know one reason Kaizaki quit his job; rivals had twisted into vindictive enemies. It happens all the time.

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Kaizaki knows this, because he’s 27. He’s lived ten years more life than Kariu or any of his other classmates. And so, without even thinking, when Kariu comes to he lectures her the way a 27-year-old would lecture a 17-year-old.

His own baggage comes into play, as he makes the connection between what the “filthy adults” stooped to at his workplace and what Kariu is doing; telling her he’s not mad, but “very, very sad”, and that she’s too young to be acting like this. Kariu blows up at him, caling him too self-righteous and too self-assured, considering they’re the same age. But much of what he said still hit home, even if it was delivered with a bit too much, shall we say, adult authority.

Kaizaki tells her what she’s overlooked: sure, she hasn’t been able to beat Hishiro or Honoka, but she’s still bettered herself. Her hard work wasn’t for nothing, and she shouldn’t give up. Not only that, she has the wrong idea about Hishiro, because they’ve barely ever spoken. Kaizaki delivers this advice knowing full well he himself gave up, but like both Hishiro and Kariu, he’s trying to change. And he is!

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That wonderful exchange (with more baller work from Tomatsu Haruka) would be about all we could reasonably expect from a good episode…but this is a great episode, which means Hishiro is waiting at the gate when Kaizaki, and later Kariu, leave the infirmary.

Kaizaki initially lies about Kariu taking the bag because it was “dangerous to have it in the hall”, but changes his mind and tells the truth, remembering Yoake telling him not to clear all the thorns. Hishiro reacts as one would expect: with calm, cool logic. She doesn’t know the right answer, so she’ll ask Kariu upfront. (There’s also the matter of her heart panging when she saw Kaizaki hugging Kariu, but she wisely tables that issue for now).

Kaizaki may be hiding in the bushes to watch how it goes (with Yoake), but both of them stay out of it when Kariu comes out and sees Hishiro. Kariu doesn’t run, nor does she try to lie and say she doesn’t hate Hishiro, because at the moment, she kinda does.

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The source of that hate had been cultivated each time Hishiro flashed her one of her scary mocking smiles, so when Hishiro assures her she never meant to mock her, and Kariu talkes Kaizaki’s advice and asks her to smile on demand, it dawns on her that she misunderstood; Hishiro is simply very socially awkward.

It was Kariu’s own issues with her than caused her to interpret it as mocking. Also, well, it really does look like she’s mocking her, but hey, that’s why you talk things out with people!

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When Hishiro tells her all those smiles were meant to help them become friends, Kariu lets out a hearty laugh; part in relief, part in amazement. She also realizes Hishiro wasn’t ignoring her handshake, and when Hishiro puts out her hand this time, Kariu takes it and agrees to be friends…as long as it’s clear they’re also academic rivals.

That’s fine with Hishiro, who is so happy to have made a new friend, she smiles for real, surprising and dazzling Kariu in the process.

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So, all’s well that ends well in the Kariu/Hishino Conflict! The operative word there being end, as the show had the guts to lay all the cards on the table and hash everything out in this one episode. Dragging out the misunderstanding would have only kept us from what are sure to be other great stories involving, say An.

I really enjoyed Kaizaki and Yoake celebrating like adults with beer and cigarettes, as Kaizaki gets a thank you from Kariu for ratting her out to Hishiro, realizing it was in her best interest. Kaizaki still isn’t sure he didn’t spare her the ugly truth about life, the truth he saw firsthand and drove him from the workplace.

But Yoake assures him he didn’t lie, either. There’s a happy median between blatant sugarcoating and outright nihilism. And even though Kariu won’t remember Kaizaki in a year, she’ll remember what he said to her if and when she runs into the same obstacles he did later in life. The episode closes with a triumphant shot of Kari sitting with Hishiro at lunch, the rest of the group happy and relieved. On to the next high school crisis!

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ReLIFE – 04

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ReLIFE takes things to the next level by delving deeper than ever before into a character other than Kaizaki, namely Kariu Rena. We’ve been able to infer since we met her that she considered her silver pin more than just a mark of status, with all of its perks and privileges, but a symbol that she was “good enough” to stand beside Oga.

It’s the kind of subject no one dare even bring up in her presence, but we’re privy to it because we’re in her head. She can’t hide how she feels there. But now Hishiro has the silver pin, and Hishiro is beside Oga and calling him “Kazu-kun,” while casting sneering, haughty, and/or victorious smirks at Kariu, as if to rub salt in the wound.

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Obviously, it’s not Hishiro’s intent to antagonize Kariu—quite the contrary; she thinks she’s on the cusp of starting a friendship with her—but all that matters is how Kariu is interpreting Hishiro’s faces and overall behavior, and because Hishiro isn’t aware she’s doing any harm, she can’t stop the vicious cycle that builds and builds like a knot in Kariu’s stomach.

It’s not just Hishiro, either: Kariu would at least have a release valve in athletic greatness, but her friend Honoka beats her on the volleyball court as easily as Hishiro beats her in test scores. To make matters worse, it doesn’t seem like either girl exerted the slightest effort to best Kariu. They just did it.

When Oga, who is totally tone-deaf when it comes to matters of the heart, tries to invite Hoshino to eat with them, Kaizaki and An read the room and realize what a bad idea that is, since Kariu is right there, already staring daggers into Hoshino.

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While Kaizaki handled that lunch situation about as well as he could, it doesn’t change the fundamental problem of Hishiro not wanting to be a loner but still eating totally alone. Kaizaki has to balance his desire to help Hishiro live a happier high school life while trying to stave off all-out war between Kariu and Hishiro.

All this is to say that Kaizaki cares. These “kids” he shares his life with day to day have become important to him; and thus his life starts to revolve around them. Yoake advises caution—sometimes kids need to fall and feel pain sometimes so they learn something—but welcomes Kaizaki’s newfound concern for his fellow man, something he didn’t really have as a NEET.

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But all of Kaizaki’s progress is put into jeopardy when the tinderbox that is Kariu finally catches. In a moment when Hishiro is simply trying to reach out to her, Kariu storms off, but immediately afterwards sees Hishiro with Oga again, and wonders if she smiles at him like she smiles at Kaizaki.

Kariu’s frustration builds late at night while practicing in the gym, after Honoka leaves with her childhood friends and there’s no one around but herself and her thoughts. When she returns the gym key and finds Hishiro’s bag outside the lounge, she decides to steal it, just to try to get back some semblance of control; to, for once, hurt Hishiro, rather than the other way ’round.

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Her caper doesn’t go so well, because Kaizaki happens to cross paths with her on the way to dropping off the study room key. Kariu tries to lie, but Kaizaki sees and recognizes Hishiro’s bag; the jig is up. Kariu tries to run, Kaizaki tries to stop her, and Kariu starts to fall down the stairs…

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Just when I thought some weird looks from Hishiro were going to end up landing Kariu in the hospital or worse, Kaizaki puts his creaky old body on the line and makes a shoestring catch, only to end up falling with her the rest of the way.

Hishiro hears the crash and goes to investigate, and finds Kaizaki and Kariu huddled together on the bottom of the steps, with her bag in Kariu’s arm. Roll Credits.

While I’d like to think Kaizaki can call a time out and explain all of this, the fact of the matter is, the most logical explanation for what Hishiro sees is that Kaizaki and Kairu conspired to steal her bag together, which means they’ve got it out for her, which means Kaizaki never wanted to be her friend, putting all of his interactions with her in a new light. Hishiro is a bright kid but inexperienced in social skills, and may well believe the worst.

I still hope they can sort it out somehow, but it doesn’t look good. What started out as a sight gag (Hishiro’s funny faces) has turned quite dark and serious. But hey, I’m not complaining: this is some damn good high school drama, de-aging pill or no. Kariu’s seiyu Tomatsu Haruka deserves particular praise for her sympathetic performance.

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ReLIFE – 03

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Kaizaki may be Yoake’s project, but Kaizaki has made Hishiro his, with entertaining results. Her manner of returning 1,000 yen to him is nothing short of inspired, while her attempts to smile at Kariu end up giving the redhead the mistaken impression that Hishiro is looking down on her (figuratively).

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The growing disconnect between Hishiro’s intentions and Kariu’s interpretations ends up being the primary driving force for an episode that’s otherwise pretty light. It goes without saying that despite his youthful looks, Kaizaki’s body is still every bit 27 years old, and his lack of warming up for a ball throw results in a paltry one-meter toss and lots of shoulder pain.

We also meet the childhood friend trio of Tamarai (Kariu’s athletic rival, but also friend), Inukai, and Asaji.

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When trying to be friendly with Kariu, Hishiro only manages to add fuel to the fire that she somehow has it out for Kariu, not remembering her name and failing to shake hands properly, along with that creepy smile that is the envy of anime villains everywhere.

Kaizaki actually gets off to a great start in the 50m dash, but trips and falls hard, prompting health rep Asaji to princess carry him to the nurse; a demoralizing new low for Kaizaki, but thankfully school isn’t all about sports!

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Things look up when Kaizaki learns Hishiro shares his route to school. When they arrive together, Kariu spots Hishiro smiling naturally (because she’s not consciously trying to smile), confirming her belief Hishiro is the type of girl who is mean to other girls but nice to the guys.

All the while, Kaizaki seems resigned to the fact no one will remember him in a year, so it’s not like he’s trying to start a romance with anyone. At home during his log entry, Yoake is glad Kaizaki is making faster progress than “Sample 001” in his first month of his ReLIFE.

At the moment, Yoake is more concerned about the cumulative emotional damage being done to Kariu, for which Kaizaki is indirectly responsible via his suggesting Hishiro smile more. Judging from those dead eyes, it doesn’t look like Kariu’s going to put up with Hishiro’s faces much longer.

16rating_8

Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge – 07

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Valentine’s Day arrives unheralded,  and the specific nature of Tanaka’s chocolate—fancy and homemade with love—and Ohta’s—obligatory, cheap, and bitter—leave the two scratching their heads as to who it could be, while the ransom-style note gives it a sinister aura.

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Valentines ends up coming as much as a surprise for Tanaka and Ohta as it does for all their female friends. Miyano didn’t think of them as the opposite sex, Shiraishi forgot because she was a loner for so long such holidays were always meaningless, and Echizen…for some reason she’s not in the running as a culprit.

That leaves…well, no one Tanaka and Ohta know. The show teases us with cuts to other girls. Tanaka has a very frank talk with Ohta about how he’s interested in girls, but waiting for someone to inspire him to make the effort to act. Then, not long after a pocket voice recorder (which is recording) falls out of Tanaka’s bag, his sister Rino appears.

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Is Rino the culprit? Yes she is; the boys just don’t know it yet. At last we meet, Tanaka’s sister! I would not have guessed Valentines would be the vehicle in which she’d be introduced, but it’s clear she cares for her brother a great deal and sees Ohta as not only an enabler for his listlessness, but a rival for his time and attention.

Like all things in Tanaka, she’s not some awful crazed brocon little sister, but something a lot subtler. Giving Ohta dark chocolate and refusing to let him put milk or sugar in his coffee were inspired tactics; the voice recorder and ransom note…less so.

Rino was no revelation, but I liked her well enough and hope to see more of her as she works to be more present in Tanaka’s life outside of home, meeting more of his friends in the process. And knowing that Tanaka is at least romantically aware, if not particularly active, was another nice nugget in his character.

16rating_8

Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 22 (Fin)

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BRAVO. Violin Girl had its ups and downs this cour, but really came through with a stirring and satisfying finale that looks back upon where Kousei has been, explore where he is in the present and what he’s become, and hints at where he’s poised to go, not long after a certain devastating yet inevitable development comes to pass.

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First of all, Kousei draws power from everyone who has helped him (most of whom are in the audience) and finds the sound within him, delivering by far his best performance. Entering a serene environment of still water and deep blue sky, the Kaori inside of him coalesces, not just to cheer him on, but to play violin along with him…one last time.

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It’s an exceedingly beautiful, sad, but ultimately uplifting performance, and to the show’s credit, everyone shuts up for a few minutes so we can simply listen and get lost in the wall of sublime sound. Now, if you’re not a Chopin fan, you’re probably not going to like this, but I’m just fine with him, and it was a transcendent sensory experience I hoped would never end.

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But at one point in the piece Kaori lowers her bow and begins to fade away, then light explodes violently from her core, to Kousei’s despair. Yet he doesn’t freeze. He keeps his head up and watches her disappear. He’s no longer playing with her, he’s playing for her, and for everyone else who got him to where he is: once again pouring his heart and soul into a Steinway.

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When the piece ends at the episode’s halfway point, there’s no delayed applause nor the usual post-performance victory fanfare. There’s only silence, and Kousei’s tears streaming down his face. He says goodbye.

And that’s it.

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When the B-part begins, there’s no mention of who won (probably Kousei), nor how Kaori’s operation went. The first scene is of cars trudging through the snow (something I’ll probably have to do tomorrow, despite the fact it’s the first day of Spring!). The second is Kousei in a graveyard with Koari’s parents. The operation didn’t work, and she has passed away.

Yet Kousei isn’t so overcome by grief that he cannot function as a person; he’s grown up. He also got to play with her one last time, if only in his head.

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Kaori’s folks give Kousei a letter from Kaori, affixed with the telling black cat sticker, her narration (and Kousei’s reaction) to which comprises the rest of the episode. This letter provides Kousei closure, but also fresh insight into his dearly departed love.

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Kaori first saw Kousei long before he spotted her in that playground. As a five-year-old, she was an aspiring pianist herself, who was affected so powerfully by lil’ Kousei’s performance, she ran straight home (Unattended five year olds! Japan!) and asked her parents to buy her a violin. Kousei was the reason she played a violin at all.

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Kaori continued to admire Kousei when they started attending the same school, but only from afar, as she was intimidated by the strong bond between him and Tsubaki. But the fact that Ryouta was beside them meant she’d have a chance to make Kousei notice her. To make that happen, she told the titular Lie In April: the lie that she liked Ryouta.

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Like the fact that she started playing violin so she could play beside Kousei, this lie comes as more of a confirmation rather than a surprise: it was clear pretty early on, despite all the teasing and flirting to the contrary, Kaori and Kousei had a lot more going for each other than Kaori and Ryouta, who was fun and nice and attractive, but not much more than that. Ryouta knew this too; he could never hold a candle to the power beyond words that music brings to the table.

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For all of the cursing of music for tearing Kousei’s mom away from him, or Kousei away from Tsubaki, or Kaori away from Kousei, Kousei doesn’t give up on music just because Kaori passes away. To do so would’ve meant he’d learned nothing from her. Instead, as we see, he’s grown into a cooler, more mature musician.

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In the end, music brought Kaori to him from the start; and though she was only “passing by”, she was able to bring him back to it, and it brought them together once more in his last performance with her. And as she wished, he will never forget her. If he does, she’ll haunt his ass.

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That brings us to Tsubaki, who isn’t sure how to approach Kousei after Kaori’s passing, knowing he loved her deeply. Kashiwagi, armed with 108 BL books’ (and zero boyfriends’) worth of romantic wisdom, tells Tsubaki to simply stop turning the gears in her head and simply listen to her heart and act the way she usually does with him.

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It works. In one last violent slapstick act that actually felt appropriate and earned, Tsubaki kicks Kousei in the shin and tells him in no uncertain terms that he’d better not ever think he’s alone ever again, because she’s never going to leave his side. Kousei is just fine with that, and so he should.

Kaori was the love that, rather than never was, was only a corporeal thing ever so briefly, like trees blossoming at the start of spring. Tsubaki was in his life before Kaori appeared, was there throughout his fleeting romance with Kaori and remains there for the long haul. I wish them both all the best.

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The show closes with a look at the random old photo Kaori included with her letter, of her posing with a friend. But it’s significant because a little Kousei is in the background walking past, with his mother’s stern foot just in the frame.

Ten years ago, this photo captured a moment when Koari and Kousei were so very close together, and both looking at the camera, and yet neither knew the other was in it, and in Kousei’s case, didn’t even know wouldn’t even formally meet the girl until ten years later. But not only did they meet, but she lifted him out of his deep soundless sea, he gave her a stirring sendoff and vowed to continue playing with everything he has as long as he has it.

Ill fate tore them apart too soon, but even if that photo and all other photos fade away with time, she’ll always live on in Kousei, the year or so they spent together and the music she made and helped him make etched eternally in his heart.

Once again: Bravo.

10_sesRABUJOI World Heritage List

Final Series Score: 9.05