Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina – 08 – The Dollmaker

I already adored Elaina, but now I have one more reason to love her: she’s as creeped out by dolls as I am! And, I imagine, most people? Who really wants dozens of tiny figures staring at you from a shelf? To each their own; I just feel like that’s a bit odd!

Despite the propensity of creepy dolls in this nation, Elaina sticks around, and learns from a fellow Witch, Sheila, that someone known as the “Ripper” has been going along “taking the lives” of women. Elaina also enters a store run by a kooky, sleep-deprived dollmaker who is also the world’s worst ventriloquist. Even though she’s giving the dolls away, Elaina would rather not take one.

She asks Elaina to look out, and Elaina being Elaina, she doesn’t commit to anything; you gotta admire her devotion to her independence. However, after stowing the doll in her hotel room in a closet so it won’t stare at her in the night, Elaina wakes up to find she’s the latest victim of the Ripper. Going by the adage “hair is a woman’s life”, the Ripper took her “life!”

A furious Elaina brings in Sheila, who is the second statuesque woman in as many weeks to declare Elaina “thin”, adding insult to injury. They discover the hotel room doll is gone and only its hair remains in the closet. Makee no mistake: Elaina is pissed that her ashen locks have been chopped, and she openly wishes the death penalty on whomever’s responsible!

After Shiela interrogates the innkeeper, she and Elaina learn that high-quality dolls with human hair are often sold at a late night “secret auction” in the city. The two dress the part, complete with masks, to indicate that they belong among those who “look like they’re doing something they shouldn’t”.

The auction turns out to be full of what I would call hardcore dolltakus—people harboring an obsession for dolls Elaina simply doesn’t get, even though she herself is pretty doll-like and she’s pretty in love with herself! That’s not a bad thing at all, mind you; just an observation!

When the lot comes up in which a doll looking like the one in her hotel is sporting her ashen hair, Elaina puts an end to the auction…with her wand. She takes the stage, rips it’s head off and stomps on it, demanding the Ripper to show themselves. She’s not fuckin’ around.

The Ripper turns out to be…the kooky dollmaker, because DUH. She also proves to be far kookier than I imagined, as she seems to basically get off on strong facial expressions, be they happiness, sadness, or anger. Yes, she makes a profit with the auction, but she gives all the money to charity.

That’s nice, but it doesn’t move Elaina in the least, so she conjures a giant golden birdcage with which Sheila can deliver her to the Magic Association. Also, as I suspected, Elaina doesn’t stick with her new bob cut, as she’s able to use magic to restore her hair to its original length. She also still maintains the Ripper deserved the death penalty.

When Sheila arrives at the UMA branch with her prisoner, she’s approached by Saya, and that’s when we learn Sheila has been Saya’s mentor all this time. When Sheila describes the traveling witch she met as having ashen hair and a dolphin brooch, Saya unilaterally takes over the Ripper’s interrogation, inadvertently making a face that causes the dollmaker to cry out in ecstasy. Alrighty then!

Read Crow’s review of episode 8 here!

Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina – 07 – Walls Were Meant to Fall

Elaina fondly remembers a story from the Travels of Niké about a country separated into two halves by a wall. She shows the chiefs on both sides how to market themselves as the superior side: by having tourists and visitors etch their praise into the wall with blades.

Seeing Niké in this flashback resembles Elaina, I’m inclined to consider it further evidence her mom and Niké were one and the same, especially as her mom encourages Elaina to visit the country to find out who won the contest.

The thing is, over a decade later it’s Saya who makes it to this split country before Elaina. By then the outer coating of the wall has been weathered away by tourist praise, but the chiefs want to shake things up. Saya ends up etching her undying love for Elaina into the wall, and suggests that the townsfolk on both sides should do the same…it’s their wall, after all!

A little later, Elaina finally arrives, eager to see the wall and the results of the ongoing contest of the two sides…only to find a giant heap of rubble where the wall was. Turns out all that etching and erasing of messages by the townsfolk on both sides eventually causes the two sides to break through and meet each other.

By then no one remembered the source of enmity, and so decided to finish demolishing the wall.. This is great, right? Witches of two different generations (Niké and Saya) ended up being the catalyst for reunifying the country. The wall may be in ruins, but everyone looks happy. The sole exception is Elaina, who is disappointed she never got to see the wall, and also that the final score was an exact tie.

In a way, you could say Saya ruined Elaina’s childhood dreams. And in a final mark that the two are fated to reunite someday, the piece of rubble Elaina claims as a souvenir just happens to be a piece Saya etched “ELAINA” into!

A community separated by enmity is the basis of the second story, though instead of tracing history back to Niké, Elaina’s story is being told by a village chief who met her to his young son, while his wife stomps grapes in the background. Back when Elaina visited, the village was split into two: This and That. A bit on the nose, but fine!

Now of legal age, Elaina visited to sample the area’s famously delicious wine, but learns that That has begun dominating sales with a new label featuring Rosemary, a beautiful, buxom Grape-Stomping Maiden, and declaring the wine in the bottle to be made from grapes “lovingly stomped” by her.

Simply put, the villagers (or rather the male villagers) of This wish to recruit Elaina as a rival Grape-Stomping Maiden. Why don’t they just pick one of their own maidens? That’s never explained, though the women of the village are always in the background stewing ruefully (I imagine if they all agreed to withhold sex from their men, this childish nonsense would stop pretty quick!)

Elaina is given a charming red outfit to counter the green of Rosemary’s, but when she stops by the This side with a retinue of loyal That men carrying her on a litter, she most heartily laughs at Elaina’s “childish”, “thin” figure, deeming her unsuitable to lovingly stomp on grapes. That’s when Elaina’s confidence and competitive spirit kick into gear.

Technically, Rosemary is right: Elaina doesn’t lovingly stomp on the grapes…she hatefully stomps on them while screaming “DIE!”, as if she were stomping on Rosemary’s head. After a whole day of stomping, Elaina’s legs and feet are a wreck, but she only stomped enough grapes for maybe half a cask.

That’s when she becomes Witch Detective Elaina, thinking it fishy that That’s wine sells in so much higher numbers. Even if Rosemary stomped all day, every day (and she clearly doesn’t, since she had time to stop by This and trash talk them) she wouldn’t be able to stomp enough grapes. Elaina and the This Chief discover she’s sitting back and relaxing while all the men stomp the grapes at factory scale.

With Rosemary’s verbal barbs still stinging in Elaina’s side, she has a little revenge by tying up Rosemary and exposing the scam. But as she samples That’s wine for the first time, she admits it is indeed delicious. Then has another glass…then another, and before long, she’s drunk.

By this point the villagers of This and That have begun a grape-tossing fight, and when she’s hit in the grapey crossfire, she responds by launching a magical counterattack. Surely there are regulations against witching-while-intoxicated, but thankfully Elaina’s “grape bullets” only knock everyone out; no one is killed!

The morning after the grape fight, Elaina is gone, but the villagers of This and That eventually reconcile. The chief of This and Rosemary fall in love and marry. In the present-day where he’s telling the story to a kid, Rosemary is still stomping grapes, as beautiful as ever, and the grape-tossing festival is a tradition.

While Saya ended up essentially tearing down walls with her intense and heavy love, Elaina does so by getting lit and escalating an epic food fight. The grape maiden fetishism aspect is pretty gross all round, but both tales are lightweight, fun, and the visuals, as always, were beautifully executed, earning the episode an extra half-star.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Crow’s Episode 7 review is here!

Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina – 06 – Truth is the Sword, Lies the Scabbard

Elaina’s next destination is an island city-state whose name has recently been changed to “Land of Truth-Tellers”. Their king has initiated a barrier around the whole of his domain in which no one can lie, either verbally or by writing. Elaina is weary of entering such a place but deems it worth the risk if it makes for a good story.

This being our ever-confident Elaina, she first tests the truth-telling effect by trying to say “I am not beautiful,” and later tries to write “I have a twisted personality”. Instead she ends up saying she is beautiful and writes that she’s pure of heart—both of which are the unvarnished truth.

Despite the seeming benefits of a society without lies, she finds the town quiet and oddly tense. She’s also approached by an unwashed young woman who asks non-verbally via a notepad if she’s the witch dispatched the United Magic Association. Again Elaina tells her the truth: she isn’t.

It’s when Elaina witnesses two young men fighting in the streets while others do nothing and watch that the problems with a lie-free society become clear: if everyone always says the truth, it’s much easier to end up in fights, which is why most people simply stay quiet. If you don’t have anything nice to say, etc.

But one witch decides to break up the lads’ fight mid-punch—Saya “the Charcoal Witch”, who is the UMA witch dispatched to the town! She’s so elated to see her beloved Elaina that her time-freezing spell dissipates and the lads punch each other square in the jaws. Elaina tries to take Saya’s extremely heavy feelings in stride.

Another effect of the truth barrier is that Saya, who is naturally quite the chatty person, will and does say everything rattling around in her mind, including all the things she wants to do with Elaina. But duty calls: she meets with the notepad woman, Eihemia the Quicksand Witch, who gives them the full situation.

When the King (with whom Eihemia was secretly infatuated) demanded she make his kingdom free of lies, she went all out to do so, locating a sword (which he’d later truthfully declare “lame”) powerful enough to serve as a vessel for the truth barrier’s magic. Unfortunately, in doing so Eihemia loses all of her magic and even her voice.

That means even though she did exactly what the king wanted, she ended up losing all the things that made her a useful member of his court, and she was banished from the palace. Had the episode wanted to go darker it could have explored what Eihemia has been forced to do to survive on the streets in a town with no lies, but it does not go there, which is probably for the best!

Her solution is clear: destroy the sword, and her magic and voice will be returned—as will the ability of the kingdom’s people to lie. Elaina and Saya get around having to write the truth by cleverly piecing together separate sentences then putting them together to gain access to the palace.

Once inside, they soon end up fighting off magical attacks from the king and his sword, one of which hits Saya square in the back and hurts like a bitch. When the king’s guards arrive, Elaina has Saya take care of them in the background while she reasons with the king.

The crux of her argument for destroying the sword: good people sometimes lie, while bad people will always find ways to bend the truth through the various loopholes in the barrier magic. To keep people from the little white lies we tell each other to get along every day will eventually be the kingdom’s undoing.

If truth is a sword, Elaina puts succinctly, lies are the scabbard that keep us from swinging that sword recklessly. Of course, scabbard in Japanese is apparently Saya, so Saya momentarily thinks Elaina called her name. Elaina then uses her broom to disarm the king and conjures a hammer to smash the sword to bits, thus lifting the curse of unchecked truth from his kingdom.

Eihemia’s voice and magic are restored, and she and the king reconcile when he agrees that some degree of lying and being lied to is necessary in any society. She returns to the court, and the king apologizes to his people. All’s well that ends well, and Saya gets paid for her trouble!

That turns out to be a good thing, since she had recently spend all of her money on matching dolphin necklaces for her and Elaina for when they crossed paths. Before heading back to UMA HQ, Saya takes her time tenderly putting the necklace on Elaina. Then the two pinky-swear to meet again someday.

This week was Elaina very nearly at its best. I for one don’t mind the darker stories like the one with the princess and dragon, but this was also great stuff; a feel-good fable-like high concept adventure that’s balanced by solid comedy. And of course, it is improved immeasurably by the return of the delightful Saya, voiced by Kurosawa Tomoyo, who brings so much effervescent vim and vigor to her characters.

Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina – 02 – You’ll Never Fly Alone

While flying along on her broom during her travels, Elaina makes it a point to declare that even the “sun’s eyes” squint at the beauty and majesty of the lovely Ashen Witch, i.e. her! I like how Elaina isn’t a perfect goody-two-shoes but has a healthy ego that could curdle into arrogance if she’s not careful, but hasn’t yet. That confidence is both to be expected of the youngest Apprentice and full Witch ever, at at times, justified!

Her destination this week is the gorgeous, whimsical City of Mages, so-called because the non-magical are unable to reach it, as if Diagon Alley were a whole city. Instead of flying cars, witches dart hither and thither in the sky, and Full Witches like Elaina are idolized. Unfortunately her first encounter with a resident involves a mid-air collision with a novice who lost control of her broom.

Elaina repairs the damaged roof and the cut on the face of the girl, who introduces herself as Saya. She thanks and apologizes profusely to Elaina, insisting that she be allowed to do something to make up for the trouble she’s caused, but Elaina is content to continue on her journey, and bits Saya farewell—for all she knows, for good.

Of course, Elaina and Saya are fated to meet again. This happens when Elaina is roughly turned away from every other hotel in the city—a far cry from the fawning and deference she expected due to her full Witch status. It’s a fun echo of when none of the witches in her hometown would give her the time of day. However, Saya happens to work at the one hotel that will let her stay there, and Elaina asks for and receives a “nice witch discount”.

Turns out Elaina was turned away from the other hotels because her Witche’s brooch fell off and is now lost. After a fruitless search, she takes a relaxing bath…and Saya waltzes right into her room! It’s the first sign that Saya wants quite a bit more than just to make up for bumping into Elaina. She prostrates herself and begs Elaina to help train her to pass the Apprentice exams.

Saya shows Elaina a photo of her and her little sister, who came with her to the city but passed the exam before her and returned home. Since Elaina’s ego was bruised by getting kicked out of so many fancy hotels, she wants a win, and a boost to that ego. Impressed with Saya’s prostrating skills (an odd but sincere gesture from her home back east), Elaina agrees: while searching for her lost brooch, she’ll train Saya for a week.

It turns out to be a wonderfully equitable arrangement for both parties. Saya proves a quick study in both broom-flying skills, and while she’s lacking in magical attack focus and accuracy (and mushroom tolerance), Elaina’s very close attention is both appreciated and effective.

In return, Elaina gets to experience what it’s like to be a teacher like Flan was for her, and finds nurturing her junior to be extremely appealing and rewarding. While there’s nothing as intense as Elaina and Flan’s duel, there’s still plenty of lovely eye candy to enjoy throughout their training.

While searching on the roof where she landed for her brooch, Elaina spots a lady whom she pays to tell her what she saw the day of the collision. That night, Elaina lets Saya sleep in her bed with her, and Saya indicates how happy she is that, at least until her brooch is found and she continues her journey, they’ll be “together forever.” That’s when Elaina says she knows Saya stole her brooch and has been concealing it.

This was never about learning how to fly properly—Saya wouldn’t have been able to come to the city from far to the East if she weren’t a solid flyer—instead, but how Saya can’t “pin someone down” with “misguided methods” so they’ll remain with her. Ever since her sister left Saya has experienced crippling loneliness, which she hoped would end upon meeting Elaina (with whom her collision was intentional).

Seiyuu Kurosawa Tomoyo brings a beautiful vulnerability and comic expressiveness to Saya throughout the episode, and shows her equally solid dramatic chops in this scene as Saya breaks down. Hondo Kaede is just as effective as a consoling Elaina who, after delivering a needed forehead flick, tells Saya that being alone is an inevitable and necessary part of becoming a witch (like eating mushrooms).

Elaina felt lonely during her development, but she gradually gained the courage to fight alone, and so must Saya. Part of that means understanding that those she loves are always watching her, even if they’re not physically there. To that end, she gives Saya her spare hat, so that when the time comes that she’s lonely, she’ll remember Elaina’s words and her affection.

Six months later, Elaina is elsewhere in the world (looks like Venice…Hi Arte!) and reading this show’s equivalent of the Daily Prophet, an article in which reports that Saya finally passed the Apprentice exam, and announced that her next step is to go see “the traveler I love!” It’s an immensely sweet sentiment to end the episode, while almost assuring us that not only will Elaina and Saya meet again, but Saya could well become her apprentice.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t pick up on some of the yuri undertones to Saya’s interactions. While Elaina kept things platonic, it’s clear Saya is very much enamored of the Ashen Witch…and who can blame her? While Saya first tried to replace her little sister with Elaina, now that she’s advanced to the next stage of her magical life, Elaina is something else—a friend, mentor, and ideal for which to strive!

Our fellow anime lover Crow has also written on this episode; you read about it here!

Ushio to Tora – 39 (Fin)

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No more dancing around the matter at hand: this is the final week of Ushio to Tora (for the forseeable future), so if Hakumen’s going down, Hakumen’s going down today. And I couldn’t be happier; frankly, I’d gotten a bit tired of its raspy, evil voice-of-many-voices.

The souls of the recently deceased like Hyou and Nagare aid Ushio against a Hakumen who has been exposed as jealous and terrified; a Hakumen that never wanted the existance it got, but couldn’t escape, and so became more and more twisted.

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Ushio’s parent’s also finally unite, but at the end of the day, all the amassed allies of Ushio can only do so much; it’s Ushio and Tora and the Beast Spear that must defeat Hakumen once and for all.

In a last-ditch effort to kill them without fear, Hakumen gouges out its own eyes and goes by the smell of the spear. Tora counters this by stabbing himself with the spear, hiding its scent long enough to disorient Hakumen. Ushio and Tora go in for the kill, drive the spear through Hakumen’s skull, and end it.

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Hakumen goes out not cursing the victors, but wishing someone, just one person, could say its name—it’s real name, which we never learn—in a soft, quiet voice, as something other than the wretched monster it was throughout its existence.

Not long after Hakumen evaporates into the either, Tora, whose spear wound was mortal, also passes away before Ushio’s eyes, content that he already “ate” Ushio and he’s full now.

Put another way, Ushio filled Tora’s once empty, black heart (which had been thoroughly wrung out in his past life) with experiences and people Tora cared about and fought to protect. Now it’s time to go home to his family, who is no doubt waiting for him. Tora’s death was a surprise, but a welcome and noble one.

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When it becomes Ushio’s turn to pay the piper and become the next Tora, the souls of Jiemei and Giryou bail him out by leaving the Beast Spear (which shatters into dust) and entering his body to keep him from transforming into a beast.

Back to being a human, he falls from the sky, and his dad catches him as Mayuko watches. But Tora isn’t coming down; she never got to change him back to a human. Ushio got a happy ending, but Mayuko most assuredly did not. What did she do to deserve such a raw deal?

Oh, and Saya has to say goodbye to Omamori, who goes in her place in order to close the gate from the inside. It’s the right move; like Tora, Omamori has lived far longer than her friend, and so it’s only natural she be the one to go. Ushio and Saya have their whole lives ahead of them.

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With that, there’s even more loss, as the bulk of monsters turn to stone in order to prop up a sinking Japan—not purely for the humans’ sake, mind you, but because they love the country too. Thanks, youkai! Also, some like Kagari and Raishin remain behind so the humans aren’t lonely. How thoughtful!

Of the life that stretches far ahead for our young protagonists thanks to their efforts and the sacrifices of those dear to them, we see precious little, which keeps a good finale from being a great one. I liked how Kirio wants to step in to fill the void in Mayuko’s heart, but Ushio and Asako didn’t meet until the end credits, and only then wordlessly as they walk to school with the other two.

While I can’t help but feel a little disappointed by the lack of quality Ushio x Asako time at the end, the fact remains this was a tight and often moving finale. Things got a little heavy in the home stretch, but Ushio to Tora was worth the watch.

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Ushio to Tora – 38

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Despite the title “The End”, this week is not the end; just the beginning of it for Hakumen. The united counterattack is now in full swing, with supernatural and military forces working in concert to make Hakumen’s life increasingly difficult. Even better, the battle is being broadcast to Japan from a news chopper, lessening the fear of those who didn’t evacuate (like Asako and her fam).

I must say, after so much darkness and dread, I was glad to see the mood of the show brightening along with the skies around the battle. The irreverent chatter between Ushio and Tora flies as furiously as the cameos, which, to be honest, are a bit out of control; but are to be expected, as the end, titles aside, is very quickly approaching.

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Hakumen is a little slow on the uptake, and in assessing exactly why things are going so bad, determines that Ushio and Tora are the cause. If they can be smitten once and for all, Hakumen can crush everyone else’s spirits and get back to wreaking havoc. So Hakumen unleashes a Malboro-esque poison cloud, isolating and trapping the duo.

All everyone else can do, from Asako to Mayuko to Hinowa and the Moritsuna siblings, is keep fighing; keep doing their part; and trust Ushio and Tora will be okay.

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And they do do okay. Ushio’s armor is shattered and he comes close to his soul shattering as well, but he’s not like the other wielders who turned into azafuse, and both he and the spear are able to calm themselves, buoyed by the knowledge, and Tora’s confirmation, that Hakumen is not only terrified of his adversaries (for their ability to unite humans and youkai, among other things)—he’s also insanely jealous.

Hatred, pain, fear, and death are the only things Hakumen has ever known, and perhaps believes they’re the only things in the world. But seeing what Ushio and Tora have been able to accomplish; watching all the assembled friends and allies fight with everything they have for their sake; even watching the beast spear reassemble itself to fight again; it’s no surprise the increasingly puny bastard would be a bit envious.

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Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge – 10

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I never though it would be possible: a pool scene with no girls in bikinis flitting about! Just a shirtless Ohta and Tanaka, surveying a very nice public pool filled mostly with kids.

A couple of said kids discover Tanaka can’t swim, try to tease him, and incur the wrath of Ohta. They make peace, however, and Tanaka inadvertently teaches them how to float perfectly along the water, a talent he owes to his listlessness.

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It was fun to see Miss Wac at her other part-time job as pool lifeguard, criticizing Tanaka and Ohta from a place of ignorance, this time in aquatics.

It’s left to out imagination how exactly Tanaka gets home when Ohta reports he’s too tired and listless to carry him, but I loved the fact Tanaka’s floating method became a trend with grade schoolers, much to the dismay of their swim teacher.

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The second half is all about girls in yukatas, making up, if you will for a first half that was mostly ‘beefcake’. Miyano wants to attend the fireworks festival with Ecchan in a sexy yukata, but thinks she needs to grow 10cm to do so.

Tanaka and Ohta decide to help Miyano out: not with rapid growth, which ain’t gonna happen, but by helping her choose a cute yukata. Shiraishi also joins them, and we learn that, just like Tanaka, she’s more used to watching the fireworks on TV in an air-conditioned room. Frankly, part of me wanted to see these two doing just that at episode’s end.

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Instead, Shiraishi regrets to inform the others that her two girlfriends already invited her, but it’s no big deal. Shiraishi gets all the joy and satisfaction she desires when Tanaka heartily endorses her yukata.

Miyano…is a different story: even the smallest-size yukata off the rack fits…poorly. So Shiraishi, reciprocating all the good Miyano did for her, decides to dust off another one of her wrecklessly-perfected skills, in this case sewing, to make a custom yukata that wil fit Miyano properly.

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The result is…well, adorable, but also with an air of maturity. It’s a complete success, and Echizen is so charmed by the sight of her cute friend, she allows Tanaka and Ohta to join them.

Not moments after Echizen internally remembers when she and Ohta used to go see fireworks in matching yukatas, Ohta asks her if she remembers that very memory; and when she denies, he’s suspicious.

Ohta starts off well by properly complimenting Echizen’s yukata, which isn’t what he or Tanaka expected. But things take a turn for the worse when, in the middle of Echizen working up the courage to compliment his yukata, Ohta runs off at the mention of unlimited syrup at the water ice stall. But then, I guess we always knew Ohta’s priorities.

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Tensions lesson once the fireworks start, and we see Shiraishi with her two friends enjoying them in one spot, and Echizen, Ohta and Tanaka in another, united in their awe of the fireworks’ magnificence.

But wait…where’s Miyano? She’s so short she can barely see the fireworks over the taller masses around her. Someone put her on your shoulders, already!

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Ushio to Tora – 37

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This week we check in with a thoroughly defeated and battered Tora who is basically ready to throw in the towel; a Tora we’ve never really seen before. So who better to cheer him up and remind him of the work that must still be done than Mayuko, via her her “spiritual form”.

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I’ll be honest, I never thought all that much about Mayuko’s feelings for Tora, and when she comes out and confesses here, it’s not that surprising, but the tears she sheds when she realizes she can’t turn Tora back into a human no matter how much she loves him (or combs him) was pretty damn moving. I too want to see Human Tora and Mayuko double-dating it up post-Hakumen with Ushio and Asako!

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Mayuko takes some solace in the fact that Tora gets his fighting spirit back, and she also heals him, ending what had been a precipitous drop ever since he killed Nagare. His revival couldn’t have come at a better time: even with all the myriad barriers of various parties in play, Hakumen is not returning to the spot in the ocean where he was originally locked away without a fight, and those barriers are weakening.

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The earlier scene with Mayuko and Tora and dozens of other instances before are ample evidence Ushio to Tora isn’t able getting a little emotional, which sometimes can’t escape stiltedness or maudlin. I wanted to like the half-hearted insult-slinging reunion of Ushio and Tora more than I actually did.

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Cutaways to Kagari and Raishin helping out some human soldiers, or the HAMMR guys making a valiant last stand, felt like curtain calls of a kind for these characters as we wind down to the finale.

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Thanks to all their friends and allies, Ushio to Tora manage to back Hakumen back into his pen, where he’s none to happy to be, no sir! He promises to kill the ones erecting all the barriers through his minions, but something tells me he’s not going to find a whole lot more success.

He’s had his day in the sun; now it’s time to put him away for good so we can bask in the glow of a victory hard-earned by enduring all this hardship and emotional stress and strain.

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Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge – 09

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Much of this week is spent in a McDonalds knockoff called “Wac”, where Tanaka’s disappointment at not getting the “Lucky Meal” toy he wanted (a mini-Roomba) is misconstrued as some kind of personal vendetta by the employee who served him.

We spend as much of the first segment with her worrying about Tanaka and Ohta “glaring” at her than we do with Tanaka and Ohta. She starts to go a little insane, though we know, of course, she’s totally mistaken and has no reason to fear our protagonists.

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She finally realizes at the end of Tanaka and Ohta’s visit to Wac that they’re actually nice people who thank her and call her amazing. Of course, that only makes her more confused and suspicious.

That brings us to Saya, Ohta’s little sister, who just happens to be Tanaka’s little sister’s best friend. Unlike Rino, Saya isn’t a perfect opposite-sex doppelganger of her brother, though she is blonde and tall. She’s also voiced by Touyama Nao, who for once voices a painfully shy, not boisterous, character.

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Saya is at first scared of Tanaka, but once Rino assures her there’s nothing to fear, Saya relaxes a little. She’s even able to carry on a convo with Tanaka when Rino is off ordering a drink, albeit talking about her own brother’s “Gorilla Level” on a scale of 1 to 5, which is apparently how both Tanaka and Saya gauge the effectiveness of a brother to protect his little sister.

When Ohta arrives and the cat comes out of the bag that he’s Saya’s big sister, it’s a big blow to Rino, who considers Saya her best friend but still can’t abide Saya’s big brother’s existence, at least in terms of his near-constant proximity to Tanaka.

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Saya at first thinks she’s an eyesore to Tanaka, causing him to be in a bad mood by sitting with him, but Rino can tell he’s actually in an uncommonly good mood. Saya chalks that up to the unique perspective of a little sister.

Then the opposite happens when Saya walks home with Ohta, and he can tell she had a good time hanging out with Tanaka, even though she doesn’t think she shows it on her face. Basically, Ohta shows the power of a big brother, which like a big sister, can tell things non-sisters and non-brothers simply can’t, due to their extensive experience living with each other.

I enjoyed the long-expected introduction of Saya, but also the little portrait of the McDonalds part-timer, and how books shouldn’t be judged by their covers, especially in the case of Tanaka and Ohta. They’re exceedingly nice guys; just give ’em a chance!

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Ushio to Tora – 36

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The last three weeks have been rough and the ratings have suffered because everything’s so dark and brooding and hopeless and INTENSE GRRRRR, but glimmers of light at the end of the tunnel have been gathering.

Take Saya. She’s through sitting on the sidelines, and adds her own lights to the battle, in the form of summoned dead she brings back in order to help bind Hakumen. She’s totally badass, even though she’s all on her own.

Now that everyone else has their memories back, everyone is working towards the same end, which means Hakumen finally, thankfully has his ass righteously kicked by their combined efforts.

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Nothing like hearing all about your monster friend’s appallingly tragic past to forgive that friend for his recent transgressions. Tora doesn’t come out of his unconsciousness this week, but he does become the forge into which the millions of shards of the Beast Spear accumulate and bring forth a new spear, one far more powerful than the first.

As all his friends and allies prepare to launch fresh attacks on the Big Bad, Ushio takes a moment to thank Tora for everything he’s done, and even gives him some blood from his arm, though if I’m honest, that was a lot of blood; Ushio should probably be a little woozy at this point!

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No matter. Hakumen sets up the underbosses at the tips of his tails, and Ushio knocks ’em down. Combined with the HAMMR scientists’ TRUMP weapon, Ushio’s Mom and Mayuko, a ghostly Oyakume, Saya, and the Kouhamei sects on nearby islands, Ushio’s new spear packs a whollop, and Hakumen gets the beating he’s so sorely deserved all season.

Up against the wall and moving in another direction against his will, Hakumen calls for help…from uber-Tora Guren. But Guren is occupied with Hyou, who we find, of all things, in the yard of an alcoholic, Academy Award-winning starlet. HWAHHH?

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Yeah, it’s pretty random, and the actress is kinda a dick to her seven-year-old daughter, but when Hyou repeatedly saves them from Guren, at the cost of numerous parts of his body and quite a bit of blood, the woman undergoes a swift transformation. It’s almost too perfect that Hyou should make his last stand not dying alone for no reason, but to save a mother and daughter, after he couldn’t save his own so long ago.

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Letting the gluttonous gasbag Guren eat his eye and arm are certainly last-ditch tactics, but hey, they work, and Guren goes up with n immensely satisfying big blue BANG; Guren was almost as annoying as that whiny Hakumen, and I’m glad he’s gone, and essentially by his own dumbassery.

As for Hyou, well, he achieved the revenge he sought his whole life, and saved a couple of people in the process. One can be forgiven for getting a little glassy-eyed at his farewell, when he joins his family in the afterlife. It certainly seems to have an effect on the previously disaffected mother, who isn’t as quick to swat her little girl away when Hyou passes away.

The cherry on top?  Hakumen can whine and scream all he wants, Guren ain’t coming. You’re on your own, chump!

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Ushio to Tora – 28

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The East/West youkai decide Asako can go on her merry way, but Mayuko is to be sacrificed. Obv., Asako ain’t taking that sitting down, and tries with everything she has to fight back, but the monsters are too strong.

Asako’s only kept from being killed by the barrier when Mayuko starts flexing her oyakume descendant muscles, saving her with a protective magic. I’ll admit, it’s a little strange seeing Mayuko use magic, but all this hullabaloo seems to have awakened her true power.

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Mayuko is willing to be thrown into the forge, but Asako stops the youkai, and offers herself as a sacrifice so Mayuko can perform her duties as the oyakume. Mayuko doesn’t like this one bit, but she can’t stop Asako from sacrificing herself. Only Ushio and Tora, arriving in the nick of time, can do that.

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For a second there, I really thought this was the end for Asako, which would make things very tragic indeed for Ushio, who’d have to carry on fighting Hakumen having lost one of the people most important to him in the world. Indeed, Asako only remembers Ushio when she’s about to leap into the flames—and she does leap in—but Ushio jumps in before her and catches her.

Both of them are badly scorched, and the youkai start attacking them mercilessly for interrupting their plan, but Tora steps in to take the punishment, and Mayuko uses her magic to protect them and eject them from the building.

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Of course, things aren’t any safer out there: a Tora lookalike named Guren has arrived to fight the youkai and destroy the Beast Spear on behalf of Hakumen. Guren’s crew and the youkai engage in an aerial battle while Ushio, Tora, and the girls fly away with Jeimei.

Saya enlists Kappa to help heal Asako’s burns, but Ushio doesn’t have time for medical attention, and rushes back into the fray, even against those who no longer know who he is and don’t wish him well. Tora, unable to let his meal get killed by someone else, soon follows him, and the two show the youkai how well they fight together, and that the present Beast Spear is still a powerful weapon.

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Before Ushio returns, Mayuko leaves with Jeimei to fulfill her destiny, leaving Asako with Saya and the Kappa. When Ushio and Tora get back, Mayuko is gone, but Ushio doesn’t persue her. He knows he was lucky to come away from the day with one of his friends alive and free. He’s going to trust in Mayuko’s strength, get back to the fight with Hakumen, and eventually come to get her back.

Things are still in a pretty dark place in Ushio to Toraland: Asako’s in bad shape, while most everyone still forgets who Ushio is, and may well still be convinced a new Beast Spear needs to be forged. I’m guessing he has to address the mass amnesia (which is likely curable) and get his allies back before he can fight Hakumen in earnest. Lots of trials still ahead for our hard-headed protagonist.

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Ushio to Tora – 27

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Our easing back into the world of Ushio to Tora seems at first like it will be a bit of a respite for Ushio, as he and Asako butt heads when passing each other in a romantic sakura-strewn street.

Then Ushio questions his default conduct towards Asako (to yell at her, feigning disinterest, and for her to yell back) when he realizes this kind of foolishness might not be able to go on for another year because for him, there might not bea next year.

So he offers, in his very Ushio-to-Asako way, to walk her home, and the two are on cloud nine—right up until Asako suddenly loses all memory of who Ushio is. So does her family. And when Ushio heads to the Kouhamei Sect HQ for help, they’ve all turned to stone. Sooo…not a rest episode, then!

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Instead, it’s more of a Murphy’s Law episode, where everything bad that can happen to Ushio does happen. But even that turns out not to be 100% the case, as Tora, bless the big furry guy, remembers Ushio all to well, to Ushio’s giddy delight. You wouldn’t forget someone you’ve promised to eat one day, now would ya?

Whatever is going on, Tora’s no affected, and he suspects neither is Mayuko, who he’s always thought was a human who never feared youkai or monsters as much as she should. Mayuko has taken Kirio into her home and is showing him both simple kindnesses like a hot breakfast, and the idea that simple kindnesses need not be things that send one into a spiral of self-hatred for being unworthy of such.

Unfortunately, Ushio and Tora are a little to late to get to Mayuko. Ushio meets amnesiac Asako, who wants nothing to do with him and suspects he has no good reason to be bothering her friend. The two exchange slaps, but then things take a turn for the worse: the heads of the East and West, all amnesiacs, arrive to take Mayuko and Asako captive. Ushio and Kirio try to stop them, but they escape.

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THey pursue, but Kagari and Raishin strike them down, and after dreaming of the Beast Spear shattering, Ushio wakes up in Saya’s house. She remembers him too (again, to his giddy delight) and they’re protected by her barrier from the culprits behind all the amnesia going around: memory-devouring hiyou; one of Hakumen’s latest tactics against Ushio.

Not only that, but the time-traveling Tokisaka is there. He saw the same thing Ushio dreamed—the spear being shattered—and reported it to the East/West alliance, all of whom had had their memories wiped. Thus fear and apprehension swept across the ranks, and fear is Hakumen’s most powerful weapon.

Things are bad, but there’s still plenty to hope for. Mayuko and Asako are both safe for the time being. Mayuko remembers enough of Ushio to candidly lay out the nature of the triangle she forms with him and Asako, who is starting to remember (though isn’t keen on the idea of loving a guy who loves her if it makes Mayuko cry).

Furthermore, Mayuko is confirmed (if it wasn’t already pretty clear) as a descendant of Jeimei, whose soul lives on in the spear. That means if Ushio, Tora, and Saya can’t fix the memory loss, the East/West guys may try to forge a new Beast Spear with her. It never rains…

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Suisei no Gargantia – 08

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Before Fleet Commander Fairlock passes away, he gives command of the fleet to Ridgett. It’s a surprise even to her, and not popular with other ship owners, who are eyeing Flange’s imminent departure. As Fairlock’s funeral procession makes its way from one end of the fleet to the other, Amy and Saya say goodbye to Melty, and Amy learns Ledo is also leaving. When Bevel confronts him, Ledo tells him his mind is made up. Ridgett manages to say goodbye to Fairlock before his sand-filled boat slides into the sea, and she asks the assembled citizens of the fleet to lend her their strength. Ledo says goodbye to Amy, and Flange’s fleet pulls away.

As that summary made clear, this is an episode of many goodbyes. Gargantia is about to say goodbye to Flange’s fleet, a huge loss that affects everyone aboard, but then Fairlock’s death means they must also say goodbye to him, while Ridgett says goodbye to her training wheels and assumes command. Amy and Ledo also say goodbye, but because as Amy said, they hadn’t made much progress as a couple anyway, and she can’t leave Bevel, the Doctor, and Saya behind. Heck, even Melty is leaving. All these goodbyes, and the deftness with which the episode juggles and presents them, made this the saddest episode of Gargantia yet, but also one of the best.

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After Fairlock dies, the rest of the episode’s events wrap around the central event of his wonderfully conceived funeral rites. He is placed in a boat at the bow of the fleet and sent aft, as people fill the boat with sand one by one. He’s then sent down a slide at the fleet’s stern, and sinks to the bottom of the sea he plied his entire life. It’s a gorgeous centerpiece without a speck of melodrama. In fact, the episode does a great job showing the pain everyone with cause to feel pain feels (Pinion and Ledo, notably, don’t shed any tears). Even Amy tries to keep it together, but can’t. Her new friend is going away and may never return, after all.

This was an episode full of solemn grief, and every emotional moment is earned. But Ledo has Amy’s welfare at heart, and doesn’t believe he can adequately protect her or anyone else if he stays on Gargantia. In a way, he has the same problem as Ridgett has earlier in the episode – he can’t see beyond himself, his own abilities or weaknesses or obligations. But Ridget is going to seek help from her colleagues and friends to become a better leader for Gargantia. Ledo is going to go kill things underwater to line Pinion’s pockets.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Stray Obervations:

  • Just wanted to note again how badass that funeral ceremony was. We’re also glad Ridgett didn’t miss it.
  • The schematic on the wall in Ridgett’s office, with the lights going out on the connections to the Flange ships, is another subtle way of showing the loss going on in this episode. And when a couple lights come back on, it’s a relief.
  • The pic of ‘Lil Ridgett is adorable.
  • We’re wondering if he and Melty will meet up on the new Flange fleet; though she hasn’t shown more than a superficial attraction to him.
  • Amy and Ledo don’t have a long goodbye, or even spend their final moments alone. It’s almost a non-goodbye. Though we can’t imagine they’ll never see each other again.