To Aru Majutsu no Index III – 23 – Joining Hands To Fight

Stiyl’s efforts to bring Index out of her trance go rather poorly (he only ends up digging a big hole for himself…literally!) But Kazakiri Hyouka is on the scene in Russia to take it to the archangel Gabriel. Their ensuing fight about the Star of Bethlehem is appropriately epic in its speed and ferocity.

When Sasha asks what’s up with Hyouka, he assures her with confidence: he may not know exactly what she’s doing there, but Hyouka’s a friend. In fact, they go back a full decade to when their character designs and color palette hadn’t yet evolved to the present 2010s style!

It’s an episode full of odd but interesting pairings, starting with the continued collaboration between Accelerator and Worst. They’ve come so far in so short a time, he’s trusting her to protect Last Order while he deals with the dueling angels. Like Touma, Accelerator doesn’t know what Hyouka is there for. Unlike Touma he has no reason to trust her, especially when he believes she was drawn there by the parchment Gabe is after.

One would think coming straight at an archangel with power on a level hard to fathom who is specifically looking for something on your person would be a bad move, and even with Hyouka also fighting, Gabriel still manages to gain ground on them. When her huge special move is done charging up, a massive “Sweep” of holy arrows rain down on both Accelerator and Hyouka.

They’re largely bailed out by an assist from another seemingly unlikely comrade in Acqua, who uses his presidential authority to draw the water-element telesma out of Gabriel, stopping her in her tracks and weakening her, but its a risky move that could kill him.

Touma figures out that the Star of Bethlehem, being a necessary element in Fiamma’s plans, must have a means of controlling Sasha somewhere among the labyrinth of structures, so he starts wrecking up the place with his Imagine Breaker.

Accelerator, remembering Touma’s words of wisdom (and punch to the face) throws everything he’s got in what he takes the most pride in: protecting Last Order at any cost, even losing. Gabriel self-destructs, but with help from Hyouka, he manages to prevent cataclysmic collateral damage.

The minimization of damage was also made possible by Acqua’s assist, and after taking most of Gabe’s power he’s prepared to pay for it by dying…but Hamazura and Takitsubo find him first, and the former straight up refuses to let him give up. Acqua gets on his feet and lets out a triumphant roar, but I wonder how much he has left in the tank after such exertion.

Once enough setbacks in his carefully-orchestrated plan have taken place and all the myriad forces suddenly united against him actually start making some progress, Fiamma decides to accelerate the part where he takes Touma’s right arm, separating him from Sasha. Turns out even though Gabriel was taken out, she managed to read the parchment and align the Star in such a way that Fiamma could start an element-re-configuring ceremony.

In the aftermath of the Gabriel battle, Accelerator is troubled to find Worst ended up crashing the Hummer she was driving, and both she and Last Order are unconscious. Hamazura and Takitsubo reach the facility where the bacteriological agent will be released, but an Academy City bomber gets there at the same time and obliterates the place, separating the lovebirds.

Our heroes have shown that by putting aside less important differences and combining their forces, they can put a dent in Fiamma’s plans, to the point where he now no longer looks invincible. But it’s taking a harsh toll with Fiamma far from beaten, which means they’re going to need backup, and soon. Thankfully, Misaka’s only 70km away, and her clone presumably knows how to drive.

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Inuyashiki – 11 (Fin)

Early in this final episode, I was deathly afraid Hiro would somehow repair himself and pay Ichirou and his family a visit, and there would be no way Ichirou would be able to fight Hiro off and save his family; indeed, they’d likely be part of the ample collateral damage of such a fight.

That fear was only amplified when Ichirou showed his entire family the machinery within him, confessing to them that he might not be their Ichirou, but a fake. When his wife asks him to describe their honeymoon, he recalls every detail with such emotion both she and Mari end up bawling and embracing him…of course he’s their Ichirou. Only his son stays away, still understandably weary of this shocking news.

As for Hiro, his arms aren’t coming back, and he seems to have given up on destroying Japan. He shows up in Andou’s room to read the latest Jump, but Andou can’t allow the charade to go on, and calls Ichirou. Hiro splits before he arrives, and later watches Shion and her grandmother from afar, not daring to get too close lest his awfulness infect them any further. Hiro is also constantly hearing desperate cries for him to just effing die already for all the horrendous shit he’s done. He’s not in a good place.

As for Ichirou, honesty proves to be the best policy, as his family quickly embraces him (I love how his office didn’t even acknowledge him as the healing god on TV). He takes the fam out to eat and they take a riverside stroll afterward, in a wonderful display of family camaraderie.

In an earlier talk with his boy while walking home, Ichirou tells him how death makes life precious, and that now that he’s a machine he realizes he took being human for granted.  Even so, you can’t deny his family is being a lot nicer to him now that he’s a machine, when before, only his dog Hanako seemed to care whether he lived or died.

At the same time, perhaps they weren’t ever as disdainful as the earlier episodes depicted; maybe we were just seeing things from Ichirou’s woe-is-me perspective. It wasn’t as if he was the only member of his family feeling underappreciated or downtrodden.

In any case, that odd ominous sense of finality to the family interactions is explained by President Donald Trump of all people on the TV: Remember that Giant Asteroid? It’s still headed to Earth, where it’s expected to wipe out all life in three days. Trump basically tells the losers of the world to pound sand; he has no regrets about his life.

Such a comforting voice in trying times, is the Trumpster’s. A good chunk of the masses respond by engaging in widespread illegal activity. Something has to be done, and we know who needs to do it.

While I know the asteroid has been mentioned for some time, the shift from the Ichirou-Hiro conflict to Stopping the Asteroidocalypse still feels very sudden, and once this episode ended, I felt a bit like an entire arc had been awkwardly squeezed into one episode.

That being said, the execution, while hasty, still made an impact, what with Mari’s tearful farewell of her father (who promises he’ll be back) and the gorgeous shots of Ichirou floating around space. Unfortunately, even his formidable arsenal is ineffective at altering the asteroid’s course.

Enter Hiro, who followed Ichirou into space, and who believes the course will shift if he self-detonates on the asteroid’s surface. As horrible as he is, Hiro doesn’t want Andou or Shion to die, so like Ichirou, he’ll do all he can to stop that from happening.

When the night sky turns to day for a few minutes, both Andou and Shion seems to sense their friend is gone. For all the hundreds of people he killed in various awful ways (and if looking at things dispassionately), sacrificing himself to save the entire population of earth seems like a sufficient means of redemption.

It’s too bad then, that Hiro alone can’t save earth; he only blew up part of the asteroid; to finish it, Ichirou has to blow himself up as well. While I’m sure he didn’t like breaking his promise to Mari, he’d have liked her being incinerated by a meteor even less.

Also neither Ichirou nor Hiro in their current states were anything that should have been anywhere near humanity; they were simply too powerful, on both the good and bad side of things. They should have died when that alien ship squashed them. Turns out they got some bonus time, but now that time has ended.

The simple, quiet epilogue of Mari learning her manga won the competition in Jump (to Andou’s surprise as well) is the product of Ichirou lovingly supporting his daughter’s creative dreams, and earning back her respect and affection in return. No doubt the next work she publishes will be dedicated to her father’s memory.

Charlotte – 08

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Charlotte follows its best episode (and one of the best episodes of the Summer) with another powerful outing, though not quite packing the same punch. It has Yuu returning to school and to the routines he had abandoned after Ayumi’s death. It’s all here, from Joujirou’s fanboying and bleeding, Yusarin’s spells and music videos, Tomori’s standoffishness and drop-kicking.

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But just when Yuu (and I) think the wet guy is going to show up with the next ability user, Tomori says he’s not coming. Instead, she has a second ticket to a ZHIEND show tomorrow, and wants one of them to go with her. Citing their honest ignorance of and disinterest in post-rock (look it up on Wikipedia), the process of elimination makes Yuu Nao’s “date,” and when she says it’s nice to have a breather now and then, he agrees and accepts.

Later that day while walking home, he bumps into a fuchsia-haired blind woman who mixes English in with her bizarre accent and is on a quest for “modern-yaki.”

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Yuu takes her to a okonomiyaki joint for some hiroshima-yaki instead, and learns that she’s none other than Sala Shane, the lead vocalist for ZHIEND. Not only that, Sala is a remarkably down-to-earth person who picks up instantly on Yuu’s still-raw wounds of grief, and decides to spend the whole day with him.

Yuu calls Nao to join them, but she seems utterly disinterested, which I took to mean she might have somehow arranged this, because the fact of the matter is Yuu benefits from hanging out with Sala, even as he still reflexively pulls out his phone to tell Ayumi he won’t be home for dinner.

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Sala once had the use of her eyes, and was once far bigger and more popular than she is now with her “dull” little post-rock band. But when things got out of hand with the fame and the money and the way the people around her changed, she gave it all up, making a deal with God to take her sight in exchange for a smaller, more peaceful life.

I couldn’t help but notice the similarity of her sitting in a dark, trash-filled house with nothing but the light of the TV to similar sights of Yuu in the same position. She remarks that the day may come when he too has to make a deal with God, and tells him to “handle it well” when it does.

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We learn where Yuu is taking Sala when we see the rest of his phone call with Nao, in which he tells her he’s bringing Sala to her brother’s hospital, betting she might be able to help bring part of him back from the fog. Where Nao almost seemed annoyed earlier in the call that she’d jump at the chance to see her heroine (in stark contrast to Joujirou, who worships the dirt beneath Yusa’s feet), here she expresses gratitude as the sun sets before her.

The highlight of the episode is Sala’s stirring solo a capella performance to an audience of Yuu and Kazuki. Sala is old enough that she would no longer have a power, and yet there she is, soothing the soul of a fellow adult, as someone who still has their power listens intently.

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Kazuki does come back; Yuu wins his bet, at least for now. Nao rushes to her brother’s side, then calls Yuu back to thank him from the bottom of her heart. Yuu doesn’t need Sala’s other heightened senses to detect Nao’s sincerity.

As for Yuu, he takes what Sala said to heart about him knowing good people, which have changed him without him knowing it. Last week, Nao straight-up saved him from falling off a cliff of despair. This week, without even thinking about it, Yuu repaid Nao’s kindness by helping her brother. Thanks to his experiences in these first days back in the post-Ayumi world, Yuu can see the light, and himself, and is happy with what he sees.

But he still gets nostalgic when he hears ZHIEND. Will he reach another breakthrough at the concert with Nao?

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Charlotte – 07

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Charlotte doesn’t hold any doors open, nor does it waste any time or pull any punches: Yuu survives the injuries incurred by the debris, but Ayumi is gone. And it’s only in that moment and in the days to come that Yuu realizes how much he took her presence, and her cooking, for granted. He thought he was taking care of her, but it wasn’t a one-way street, and Ayumi’s death leaves a yawning chasm in Yuu’s heart, a stinging sense of loss and helplessness that pervades this powerful but heartbreaking episode.

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Having failed to protect or “repay” his sister, Yuu surenders and shuts down. He tries to fill the hole with cup ramen and television, and either ignores or lashes out at anyone who tries to wrest him from his self-imposed punishment, from Misa and Jou to even Yumi, whom he once worshiped. Liking and pursuing her must feel like a sad joke compared to the situation he’s in now.

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Then sketchy men in black show up, and Yuu starts to think (perhaps not wrongly) the government is about to capture him. So he gets away, where he thinks the soaked kid can’t find him, and his “home” grows even smaller as he squats in an anime cafe eating pizza and mochi balls while continuing to escape from life by playing violent video games that he probably used to not care about in the least.

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When some roughs are using that video game too long Yuu takes the bait and starts playing games with them. One gang after another, no matter how strong or numerous or feared, falls before his body-swapping ability. He creates chaos among the group, and it’s in that chaos in which he’s able to work most effectively to defeat them. He’s using his skills not to help people, but to entertain himself.

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He learns “real life”, with real bodies and real blood, is more fun than the games. The hole he’s filled becomes infected and festers. He’s becoming a villain before our eyes, and the path he’s walking looks more and more like a one-way street. When he finds some drugs on one of his victims, he’s about to take things to the next level when Nao kicks them out of his hand, appearing out of nowhere. Where is Nao in all of this, I asked myself throughout Yuu’s self-destruction kick. Was she so guilty about how she handled the Ayumi case, or so upset about what became of Yuu, that she couldn’t face him?

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No, she was right there, by his side…the whole time. Last week’s cliffhanger kept open the possibility that supernatural powers would have some role to play in the story’s resolution, but magic couldn’t save Ayumi from her own power, nor could it save Yuu from drowning in grief and despair. But with her power, Nao could stay by his side, invisible only to him, with no time limit, and wait for him to get better. When it’s clear he won’t, she makes herself visible to him, in order to make him get better.

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And why? Not just because she feels partially responsible for Ayumi’s death, but because Yuu is, at the end of the day, someone she cares about, and if she can help it, she’s not going to let him destroy himself. So she makes a deal with him: if he has one bite of the food she makes for him, he’ll never see or hear form her again. At Joujirou’s house, she painstakingly recreates the same super-sweet omelette rice Ayumi always made for him. And he can’t have just one bite. He eats every bite, and agrees to come home.

It’s not words or actions that pull him out of deep waters of despair that are all to easy to slide into following the shock of a loss. It’s food; it’s a smell and a taste, and all of the better times and happy memories tied to them. It’s a reminder that he is still alive, and there are better ways to live, and better ways to fill the holes in your heart.

Brilliant portrait of a broken Yuu, and a equally brilliant scheme to save him by Nao. I’m still drying my eyes from the heavy emotions this episode so eloquently expressed.

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