Horimiya – 07 – Downpour

I. The Coffee Stain

Yuki would never say so, but Hori falling for Miyamura worked in her favor. It meant Tooru would have to give up on Hori and look for love elsewhere. Yuki makes an effort to hang out with Tooru more frequently, in hopes they’ll grow closer. She doesn’t let little opportunities like carrying the class trash out together slip away.

Unfortunately for Yuki, this backfires when, while she’s teasing Tooru, he bumps stright into Kouno Sakura, who is presently crushing on him hard. Coffee from the trash spills on Sakura’s top, and when Tooru runs off to grab his gym jacket for her to wear, Sakura asks Yuki if she and Tooru are dating. Yuki tells the truth: they’re not. But she also leaves out the truth: she’d like to.

Sakura takes Yuki’s reply as cause for relief. In the StuCo office she asks Kakeru about why he likes Remi. He gives a very heartfelt response about how despite him not being that strong, he feels compelled to protect Remi, which inspires him to become stronger, so Remi really protects him too…and Sakura.

Buoyed by these words of support, Sakura returns Tooru’s washed jacket and gives him a bag of homemade cookies. He genuinely loves them, especially the sakura colored ones, so Sakura gets him to repeat “I love Sakura”, which is wonderfully devious on her part!

II. Smiles and Cupcakes

Hori watches something play out in the bookstore that’s a microcosm of Yuki’s tendency to withhold how she really feels or what she wants: she reaches for the last issue of something just as someone else is, and lets that person take it. “The things she loves or wants tend to escape her.”

The more upset she is, the more she’ll smile to hide it. So Yuki is beaming when Tooru goes out to the hall to talk with Sakura, and smiles even wider when Sakua offers her cookies, after initially refusing them under her breath. The trash is right there in which to toss them, but they’re too damn good to waste.

Not wanting to give up on what—on who she wants, Yuki reaches out to Miyamura for cake-baking advice. He assures her he wasn’t born a baker, and nobody’s good at anything when they first start out. If she messes up, she should just give it another shot.

Yuki takes that advice to heart in both baking and Tooru. She has Horimiya try her first (failed) attempt, but to her horror Tooru joins them, eats an entire burnt cupcake, and smiles his big smile saying that while it was utter crap, he looks forward to the next batch. The Yuki-Tooru-Sakura love triangle is official!

III. FIVE DAYS

After two very strong segments focused on secondary characters, this felt like it would be an entire episode in which Horimiya’s romance would be placed on the back burner. O me of little faith! On the contrary, the latter two segments are all Horimiya, All the time, and greatly advance their relationship.

This segment is the epitome of the adage absence makes the heart grow fonder, as Hori and Miyamura are separated almost the whole time. Miyamura is away with family in Hokkaido for five days (a funeral from the looks of it). It’s he longest period they’ve been apart since they became a couple, and to make matters worse, Miyamura’s phone dies and he left his charger back home!

While those sound like the ingredients for another rom-com cliché, in which a lesser show would milk the misunderstanding around his lack of replies, by now we know better. Hori never feels like Miyamura is avoiding her, it just sucks ass that he’s away. She also carries out functions as if he were there, like getting him a drink at school or setting a place for him at the table at home. She counts the days off on her hand.

Five Days is a little masterpiece of brooding atmosphere and steady crescendo-ing anticipation of Horimiya’s eventual reunion; anyone who’s had to endure time alone with a new love knows full well what they’re feeling.

When Miyamura finally gets home and plugs his phone in. we don’t get to see the message that greets him, only his reaction: to run to Hori’s. Hori, meanwhile, can’t wait any longer, and rushes to Miyamura, and the two end up meeting in the elevator.

I breathed a sigh of relief, having been conditioned by countless other anime for the two to just miss one another another couple times. Hori’s tearful look of elation really is a sight to behold, and as she steps back to welcome him back, we see the message on Miyamura’s fallen phone: “Hurry up and get back here, dummy.”

IV. FEELING THE HEAT

That brings us to the final most stunning segment of the entire series. It starts out so simply, innocently, and comically, with Yuki, Sakura, and Remi taking Hori to task for loving horror and slasher movies and making Miyamura watch them. They insist that’s weird and could even push him away.

The next time Horimiya watch a scary movie, Hori tries to follow his friends’ advice, first by pretending to act scared as an excuse to draw closer, which scares the bijeezus out of him. Then she tries to surreptitiously take his hand, only causing him to recoil in terror. He apologetically goe off to be alone for a minute, and Hori retires to her room, devastated that what Yuki said has come true, and he wants nothing more to do with her.

Naturally, nothing could be further from the truth, and before long Miyamura joins Hori in her room where she’s sulking about “not being cute”, because she doesn’t and can’t get scared. Miyamura realizes she was doing that stuff for him, and reminds her he didn’t fall for a “normal girl”, but for “her”, just like she fell for him and all his quirks, among them his tendency to be a scaredy-cat.

Miyamura suggests they go back and watch the rest of the movie, but instead Hori calls him Izumi and slides off the bed and into his arms. She puts her ear to his chest to listen to his heart; he does the same. As the rain continues to fall in sheets outside, they move to the bed. Hori notes Miyamura’s cold ears and hands, says he can’t go home in such a downpour.

In her head Hori says “There was a heat within me, and I wanted Miyamura to feel it too.” And so Hori and Miyamura make love for the first time.

At some point after that, Miyamura has some real talk with Souta, who is worried about losing his big sister. Miyamura assures him he won’t take his big sister away, but asks if he can have Kyouko, to which Souta assents. Poor Souta! Still, he’s really not losing anyone; he’s gaining a big brother.

In a post-credit, post-coital sequence, the two are naked together and Hori proudly declares she’s bitten Miyamura on the neck, so he’d better grow his hair back to hide it. So there you have it! Going from a stolen candy kiss and a make-out session interrupted by Hori’s dad, to going all the way.

There’s no doubt that being apart for five days, and the joy they felt upon reuniting, was another milestone in their relationship, something they couldn’t reach without experiencing being apart. But it was also a matter of it simply happening—effortlessly, organically, just like so many other important moments in this series. Nothing is forced; everything just makes sense.

By being in Hori’s room they had the privacy; by reiterating that why they love each other has nothing to do with anyone else, they had the intimacy; and heck, the fact it was cold out, and there was the soothing sound of that rain…I can’t stress enough how simply, beautifully and tastefully this scene was composed. It’s rare for an anime to depict a loving couple earnestly taking the next step—one of the best, Kare Kano, is twenty-two years old—but if any contemporary series could do it, it’s Horimiya, and it did.

The Quintessential Quintuplets – 16 – A Pretty Fun Hell

While Fuutarou, Itsuki and Ichika try to bail Yotsuba out of her track training camp, Miku stops by Nino’s for tea. She saw Nino stomp out of her previous hotel, and wonders what went on with Fuutarou. Nino is still fuming about Kintarou always being Fuu in disguise, but that’s tabled for now in favor of discussing Nino’s return home.

For all Nino thinks all of her sisters have changed, she’s changed too. They remain five sisters in completely different directions, but that just means they continue to complement each other by exposing them to things they normally wouldn’t…even something as mundane as the different teas they drink, which they learn come from the same leaf!

Operation Spring Yotsuba doesn’t get off to a great start, owing to how well the track captain knows Yotsuba, Itsuki’s less-than-stellar impression, and the simple fact her hair is too damn long! The real Yotsuba returns after having tackled the “groper” (a Fuutarou invention), but then it soon becomes obvious she isn’t Yotsuba either…she’s Nino!

That’s right, the scissors Nino produces at the end of her scene with Miku were meant for her own hair. Whether in order to confront the track people for Yotsuba’s sake, or because her heart was broken by a boy who never existed, or a little of both, Nino now sports the same cropped locks as Yotsuba, though she retains her signature butterfly ribbons and flat bangs.

With Yotsuba agreeing to help with the most recent meet and then quit the team—which is what she wants, but simply needed a nudge to do—Nino and Itsuki adorably make up, each apologizing for their role. Itsuki, the youngest of the quints, tears up despite having played the role of mom when she slapped Nino way too hard, and the fact they both buy tickets to the movie the other sister liked completes the reconciliation.

With the quints reunited, they soon complete their problem sets, and Fuutarou has them go over them again as they enter the home stretch till the exams. He shows deference to Nino by asking her if it’s okay to proceed in this manner…she can’t help but blush and fight back a smile at his polite attentiveness. The day of the exams arrives, and the quints stride confidently into the schook. Fuutarou hangs back, borrowing Itsuki’s phone to call his sister…but we see he was actually on the phone with the quints’ dad.

The exam scores come in, and out of 500 possible points from the five subjects tested, none of them scored higher than 206. While discouraged by these underwhelming results considering how hard they worked, the sisters actually seem to be looking forward to Fuutarou scolding them and pushing them to do better…which is why they’re shocked to learn from their father’s butler Ebata that Fuutarou has resigned as their tutor.

The sisters can’t even go to Fuutarou immediately, as Ebata has been ordered to tutor them on an interim basis. The problem sets Ebata gives them seem so easy, which they attribute to Fuutarou’s diligent tutoring. Then they break out the rolled crib notes he gave them in case of emergency and discover they don’t contain notes at all, but a message meant for all five sisters to read off in order.

It concludes, “I’m glad I finally done with this hell job…but it was a pretty fun hell. Later.” But the sisters are in agreement: they want Fuutarou to continue tutoring them. So they devise a plan. On Christmas Eve, while Fuu is acting as a crier for a cake shop, the five sisters approach him and ask if he’ll deliver a cake to their place. His clearly awesome boss lets him off work early, urging him to have a Merry Christmas.

When they ask him back, he says he already blew his second chance, and now believes it was only his “selfish ends” that held them back, to which he can no longer in good conscience subject them. The newly short-haired Nino gets in Fuu’s face, telling him they’ve only made it this far because of that selfishness, and he can’t stop being selfish now.

When he reminds them that their father has forbidden him from entering their house again, they direct his gaze to the building behind them: with Ichika’s new acting salary, they’ve rented a new place where he’ll always be welcome. Yotsuba inexplicably tosses the five keycards into the air, and in trying to catch them, Fuu slips and falls into the water. To his shock, all five quints jump in after him. All for one and one for all, to be sure!

After surfacing, he spots the rolled fortune Rena gave him, to open once he “learned to accept himself”. But at the same time, Nino cramps up and can’t swim, and Fuutarou abandons the fortune to rescue her, obviously. But maybe he never needed to read the fortune, because when everyone is out of the river, he rips up the résumé of his replacement and decides he’ll stay on as their tutor after all. As for Nino, her heart is beating like a jackrabbit and it may well have less to do with almost drowning and more to do with who saved her.

QQ started out totally scattering the quints, but it’s clear that besides the fact they complement each other and make up for their shortcomings, the one thing that brings them back together this week is the desire to keep Fuutarou in their life, as the one who will help them realize their best selves.

While him calling their dad was an obvious clue, his sudden resignation still felt abrupt, and hit me as hard as the sisters, so I tip my cap to the show for keeping me off balance. It was also a wonderfully brisk affair, with resolutions to this arc coming fast and furious without feeling rushed or inorganic (though part of me was hoping they’d address the whole “jumping into freezing water” thing). I’m looking forward to their next tutoring session in their new, less snazzy digs!

Episode Four Quintuplet Ranking:

  1. Nino: Between her lovely sisterly tea time with Miku, to her portrayal of “Cranky Yotsuba”; from making up with Itsuki to her efforts to get Fuu back; from being the only quint who Fuu needed to rescue to her cute new ‘do, it’s another easy win for Best Girl Nino.  Total Points: 19 (1st)
  2. Itsuki: No Itsuki-at-the-Uesugis this week, but she was as wonderful in her making-up scene with Nino as she was wonderfully terrible at impersonating Yotsuba. She also had a moment where she channeled Fuutarou. She and Nino are pulling away from the pack. Total Points: 16 (2nd)
  3. Miku: Came close to tying Itsuki this week. She was so damn cool in that tea scene, describing to Nino why they belong together. She also had the highest test scores of all the quints! Total Points: 9 (3rd)
  4. Yotsuba: Glad her track crisis didn’t drag on any longer, as it felt like a rehash of something not that engaging to begin with. Nice tackle of that creepy groper, but otherwise didn’t distinguish herself. Total Points: 8 (Tied for 4th)
  5. Ichika: I hate to rank her last when she’s footing the bulk of the rent for the quints’ new place, but yeah…she didn’t do much this week! Total Points: 8 (5rd)

The Quintessential Quintuplets – 15 – Leaving the Nest

Nino insists Fuutarou take a shower to thoroughly wash off the river, but mostly wanted someone to talk to and break the monotony of her solitary hotel life…plus she felt bad that he looked so depressed! She gets Fuutarou to tell the full story of his encounter with Kyoto Mystery Girl…which lasted far longer than I had originally thought!

Sleep-deprived or not, there’s virtually no way “Rena” was a hallucination, yet remains an baffling enigma. She asks him to tell her about the students he’s tutoring as if she’s not one of them, but then why does she not only look just like one of them, but blushes when he describes them one by one with perfect accuracy?

Rena tells Fuutarou he seems like someone who is “needed” now, and takes her leave, returning his student ID but keeping the photo of them, because, as she says, “they’ll never meet again.” She tosses him a rolled fortune and tells him to open it when he’s learned to “accept” himself. When he tries to follow her, he falls out of the boat and into the river.

The story moves Nino to tears, and she assures him “at least one person on this planet” would fall for an “insensitive guy” like him. Right on cue, she notices he’s wearing nothing but a tiny towel and is scandalized…yet can’t help peer through her fingers! Fuu learns she taped his study packet back together and has been working on it.

She apologizes to Fuu for her behavior, but won’t go home and make up with Itsuki, who had never slapped her before. Itsuki, meanwhile, has become way too comfortable at the Uesugi residence for Fuu’s taste. The next day, Fuu shows up at Nino’s hotel again, and she tells him about how she feels like her four sisters flew away from their nest, leaving only her behind—it’s why she keeps her hair the same length it was five years ago.

Fuu tells Nino that you can’t change how people change, but have to accept that change and whatever it brings. One part of Nino’s past she isn’t ready to forget is her brief time with Fuu’s cousin “Kintarou,” so she changes gears by having Fuu arrange for them to meet again.

A classic sitcom scenario then plays out, with Fuu having to spend the day with Nino as Kintarou and answering her phone calls for advice about his “cousin”. He slips up more than once, calling Nino by her first name, letting slip he knows she’s a good cook, then finally telling her he doesn’t care about their exams, but just wants the five of them back together.

Nino doesn’t ever let on that she knows Kintarou is Fuu in disguise until he’s ready to confess. She claims to Fuu at the first-floor café that she thinks Kintarou was about to ask her out. She then holds out her hand to give him a handshake of gratitude, only to pull up his sleeve to reveal the bracelet she just returned to Kintarou.

Whether Nino thinks the previous Kintarou she met was the real one, or she knew Fuu was Kintarou all along isn’t 100% clear, but what is clear as day is her expression of hurt and disappointment, which is the last thing Fuu sees before succumbing to the drug she slipped in his iced coffee. While it was played for laughs when she drugged him in the first season, it hits different here, especially after the heart-to-hearts they’ve had since then.

It’s an abrupt end to the Nino storyline, as she ends up checking out of the hotel, leaving Fuu in the lurch. I do wish he had had the chance to make clear there never was any Kintarou and properly ask for forgiveness, but Nino seems to have made her own ruling on the matter, and so we move on to the other sisters.

After forcing Itsuki to wake up on time (she forgets where she is and thinks Nino is trying waking her), the two of them try to get a bead on Yotsuba’s situation with the track team. Her coach doesn’t care about exams, and is willing to use Yotsuba as long as she lets herself be used…which is always.

Fuu has to resort to running with Yotsuba while quizzing her, ultimately resulting in him tripping over his own feat and into Yotsuba’s caring arms. She uses that as an excuse to get him to stop running. Then we learn Ichika also wants to help her little sister, even going so far as to brush her teeth like she used to do when they were little.

Ichika makes it clear that as the eldest, she wants to be there for Yotsuba and the others, and furthermore, tells Yotsuba it’s okay to quit if she wants. Yotsuba seems to want to quit, but doesn’t think she can, because it would mean causing trouble for the team.

Little does Yotsuba know that Ichika has been on the phone with Fuu and Itsuki throughout their conversation. She tells them she’ll be meeting with the track coach tomorrow. Hopefully the three of them working together can help “free” Yotsuba from a prison of obligation.

As for Miku, she arrives at Nino’s new hotel, having worn Nino’s spare butterfly ribbons to pass as her sister. Fuu had his change to try to bring Nino back into the fold and only got her angry by pretending to be someone he wasn’t. Now it’s time for Miku to have a go!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Episode Three Quintuplet Ranking:

  1. Nino: Not much of a contest here. Nino totally ruled the roost this week. We got Caring Nino, Sensitive Nino, Real-Talk-with-Fuu Nino, Crushing-on-Kintarou Nino, and, most controversially, the return of Criminal Nino. Don’t drug people! Total Points: 14 (1st)
  2. Itsuki: Total Points: 12 (2nd) Not as much screentime as last week, but it’s clear she’s become a capable, productive surrogate member of the Uesugi family, yet is also capable of faces like this upon waking up:
  3. Yotsuba: Nice to see number four again! Unfortunately, she’s pretty one-note, with her usual conflict of trying to please too many people. Total Points: 6 (Tied for 4th)
  4. Ichika: That was the most, uh, interesting toothbrushing scene since Nisemonogatari. Glad to see Ichika actively trying to help Yotsuba rather than continuing to float above everything. Total Points: 7 (3rd)
  5. Miku: Yout can’t score points if you don’t show up! Total Points: 6 (Tied for 4th)

Rena (Unranked): The show wants me to think she’s a sixth and separate person, but I still don’t know what to think. I was intrigued by the fact Nino is the only quint to retain her original hair length from five years ago. Could Rena be Nino in disguise, getting back at Fuu for his Kintarou deception? To be continued…

Jujutsu Kaisen – 04 – You’ve Really Made the (Special) Grade

After the conclusion of last week’s episode, a log entry details an incident involving a Curse at a juvenile detention center to which three first-year Jujutsu Tech sorcerers respond—and one of them dies. 

This episode chronicles that incident, in which our newly formed trio of first-years are immediately dropped into a seemingly no-win scenario involving the very highest level of Curses: a “Special-Grade.” As the coordinator Ijichi puts it, carpet-bombing one of these with cluster bombs merely evens the playing field a bit.

Suffice it to say the Curse inhabiting the detention center is way out of Yuuji, Megumi, and Nobara’s league. But not only do they have to face this threat on their own (Gojou-sensei is away, possibly dealing with other threats), this is usually the norm: there simply aren’t enough high-grade sorcerers available to deal with all Curses, which means students are pressed into service. Talk about School of Hard Knocks.

Still, Yuuji isn’t about to shirk his duties, however insurmountable the odds may be. That’s because he hears the cries of a guardian of one of the inmates. But they enter a house of horrors with the Curse’s illusory abilities twisting the interior of the facility to have impossible interior heights and vanishing exits.

When Yuuji finds the inmate the woman was crying about already torn to pieces, he wants to get the body outside so the guardian knows for sure he’s dead. Megumi tries to get his head back in the game; this is about verifying the five inmates in the center, not rescuing anyone. Besides, the inmate Yuuji would have saved had killed a girl while driving without a license. Megumi makes Yuuji consider the crimes those he saves might commit.

Kobara tries to break the two up, but falls through the floor. When Megumi wonders why the Curse wasn’t detected by his demon dog, he sees the dog smashed into a wall, and a second later, the immensely creepy and powerful Special-Grade Curse appears before them. When Yuuji tries to use his blade, the Curse lops his hand off. Shit just got real…fast.

Yuuji sents Megumi away to save Nobara, who ends up swarmed by weird doll faces and eyeball Curses from above. She quickly runs out of ammo and is nearly swallowed up, but Megumi arrives in time to save her by having a giant frog he summoned pluck Megumi away from the curse with its tongue. Nobara, by the way, hates frogs.

As for Yuuji, he struggles with whether to unleash Sukuna onto this Curse. As Sukuna is “King of Curses”, he’d have no problem defeating it…but Sukuna threatens to kill Megumi and Nobara if Yuuji lets him out, as punishment for not fully relinqueshing control of his body. Yuuji tries to focus his cursed energy into his fist on his own, but the Curse easily blocks his punch.

Then Yuuji hears the howling of one of Megumi’s demon dogs, indicating that he successfully recovered Nobara, and he lets Sukuna out. He tried his best on his own, but the only way to fight a Special-Grade is with a Special-Grade.

Sukuna proceeds to toy with his fellow Special-Grade, and demonstrates that despite technically having the same ranking, the gap between their power is so great, relatively speaking the other Curse is as ignorant of the true nature of Curses as a whelp like Yuuji.

To see a Curse that so easily had its way with Yuuji be neatly sliced with ease, Damien Hirst-style, really drives the point home: Ryoumen Sukuna is a force to be reckoned with. The entire boss battle is a tour-de-force of combat animation.

From those slices, Sukuna pulls out one of his own fingers, which will be the third of twenty Yuuji consumes. But here’s the thing: Yuuji never awakens, even when Sukuna tells him to do it already, before he displays a truly devilish smirk—the same smirk a fox might have if it just gained access to the hen house.

That’s what makes this merely part one of two. Nobara is off to the hospital, while Megumi will head back to the center to wait for Yuuji. It also remains to be seen exactly how “lost” within himself Yuuji is, what devilry (if any) Nobara gets up to while he has more time, and if Megumi gets his wish of a Grade-1-or-higher sorcerer (ideally Gojou) arriving to save the day.

All I can say is the first-years did remarkably well considering what they were up against…and that I hope, if they all get out of this alive, they can get an easier mission next time.

The Quintessential Quintuplets – 14 – Scattered to the Five Winds

While his family sleeps, Fuutarou is hard at work hand-writing comprehensive problem sets to ensure the quints pass the exam coming up in seven days. As usual, his burning of the candle at all five ends results in him collapsing into a “death-like” sleep before he can reach the door of their apartment.

Itsuki, frustrated that he’s late, finds him out in the hall, and her annoyance immediately shifts to genuine concern, then genuine gratitude to see how hard he worked for her and everyone’s sakes. It’s no surprise she’d react this way, considering she was the first to originally seek Fuu’s help…but it’s still lovely to see her smile behind his back.

Fuutarou is happy that all five sisters are present for the session, but things go off the rails shockingly fast due to the persistently butting of heads of Nino and Miku. First, it’s little things like Miku borrowing Nino’s eraser or Nino drinking out of Miku’s can (though joke’s on her, it’s matcha soda!) Fuu’s attempts to get them to get along fail miserably.

Then Nino, regarded as the most sensitive (as well as prickliest!) sister, gets fed up and heads to her room to study alone. When Fuu tries to stop her, she tells him to butt out of family business. When Miku hands her her copy of the problem set, she slaps it out of her hand. Then Itsuki gets involved, slapping Nino and ordering her to apologize, showing Nino how Fuu handwrote all those papers.

Nino is clearly contrite, but also doesn’t want to lose face (as she sees it). Above all else, she’s hurt, angry and disgusted that her four sisters have turned against her and fallen for all of Fuutarou’s “slick talk”. She then decides to double down on her stubbornness and move out.

When she accuses Itsuki of being a “domestic violence meat monster”, Itsuki decides to move out too. It’s a disaster! The next day (with only six days before the exam) Miku joins Fuutarou to search for her missing sisters; Ichika and Yotsuba are apparently busy with other stuff.

Then Miku asks a crowd if anyone’s seen someone who “looks like this” (referring to herself, not a photo), and they locate Nino at a luxury hotel, to which Miku is able to gain access by simply pretending to be Nino. Fuutarou pleads with Nino through the door to remember how she’s always been the one who cared the most about her sisters and their home, but that doesn’t work.

Any time Fuu, an “outsider” to Nino, tries to act like he knows them, it only makes her more resentful. However, she does notice the bracelet Fuu was wearing when she mistook him for “Rintarou” (and basically fell for him), and takes it off his wrist before slamming the door. As for Itsuki, well…as soon as Miku mentioned she ran out without her purse, I had a pretty good idea where she ended up: Fuutarou’s place!

She’s already having a second helping of Raiha’s curry when Fuu comes home, seems to borrow Fuu’s gym clothes to sleep in, and along with Fuu make an adorable Raiha futon sandwich at night. Basically every second of Itsuki at Fuu’s place is a gift, with her seiyu Minase Inori delivering a wonderfully warm and subtle performance. While on a moonlit walk, Fuu protests Itsuki continuing to crash at his place, saying a “well-off girl” won’t be able to survive.

Itsuki corrects him: only a few years ago (and likely around the time Fuu met Mystery Quint(s) in Kyoto), she and her sisters lived in poverty, due to her mother having to raise five kids all at once. When mom fell ill and passed, Itsuki took it upon herself to “guide the others” in her stead, which for Fuu explains why she slapped Nino. But Itsuki laments that she seems to have failed.

The next day, Fuu conronts Yotsuba, who has apparently joined the track team. She apparently couldn’t say no to the captain, and he’s unable to get her to quit. He tries to reason with Nino, but can’t get past hotel security. With all the quints separated, his prospects of helping them pass the next exam are in dire straits—especially with Nino saying she doesn’t care whether she passes.

With only four days until those exams, Fuutarou considers trying to drown himself in the river, thinking it might unite the girls, before immediately checking his suddenly dangerous thoughts. He then comes around to thinking Nino was right; he should have never come into his lives, which seemingly caused all this discord.

Of course, they came into each others‘ lives years ago, as the arrival of a grown-up version of the Mystery Quint appears before him, leading him to jump into the river after all. What the hell was that? A hallucination? Our boy’s been pretty sleep-deprived. Ichika in a wig, dressed for an acting gig? A sixth sister? (No, probably not that.) Who knows, but she’s gone when Fuu climbs out of the drink. I would think if she were actually there, she’d have expressed concern about him falling in!

That said, Yotsuba runs past the soaked Fuu but doesn’t stop, as she’s practicing for track (I alsonoted that her shoes match the one that snapped a twig while Fuu and Itsuki were on their walk. Not sure what to make of that except…is Yotsuba doing track to stay out of the way vis-a-vis Fuu and the other sisters? At any rate, dunking himself apparently washed away his discouragement, and he heads back to Nino’s hotel, where again he’s stopped by guards.

But when Nino spots him, part of her admires his dogged perseverance, part of her feels bad for how wet he is, and part of her doesn’t want the other hotel guests to be subjected to him, so she invites him up to her place. Maybe she’s cooled down enough to hear him out…or maybe she just wants to ask how he came to possess Rintarou’s bracelet!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Episode Two Quintuplet Ranking:

  1. Itsuki: The classic and presumptive Best Quint on most lists, here she really earns that top spot with the lion’s share of screen time. She showed all the sides: the eager student, the strict mom, the freeloader, the clear-eyed reminiscer, the moonlit walk companion…just a very strong overall showing. Total Points: 8 (2nd)
  2. Nino: Yes, she’s a huge pain in the ass, but also yes I love her very much and just want her to go home! Getting that super-expensive hotel suite is so Nino, who’d never. She’s also wonderfully dense about the Fuutarou-Rintarou connection. Total Points: 9 (1st)
  3. Miku: Good to see her standing up to the seemingly stronger-willed yet also more sensitive Nino, and defending Fuu’s hard work beside Itsuki. Total Points: 5 (Tied for 3rd)
  4. Yotsuba: Second straight ep where there’s just not much of her, to the point I’m wondering if she’s avoiding Fuu on purpose. Total Points: 3 (5th)
  5. Ichika: Ichiwho? A near no-show this week, though like Yotsuba there may be a reason: despite being the eldest, Ichika tends to fade into the background when sister conflicts rage. Total Points: 5 (Tied for 3rd)

Asagao to Kase-san. (OVA) – The Sun is Always Shining Above the Clouds

Asagaro to Kase-san, an OVA released in the Summer of 2018, is a concise but solid piece of serious yuri storytelling in the vein of Aoi Hana, Sasameki Koto, and Sakura TrickIt strikes that delicate balance of covering a fair amount of material while never feeling like it’s trying to do too much. The stakes never stray from the future of a couple of young lovers who start dating in their final year of high school.

That they’re both girls, living in relatively conservative Japan, never comes up, because this isn’t about whether they can be together or not. It’s about their mutual love, plain and simple, and how they weather other challenges to remain together, a state neither of them at any point wish to leave.

Mild-mannered gardening fanatic Yamada Yui had never dated anyone before she and the athletic track star Kase Tomoka got together, but they’re together before the opening credits, which is a heck of a timesaver! Suffice it to say they liked each other to the extent they were equally enthusiastic about becoming a couple.

That mutual enthusiasm paid dividends, as before long the like turned to love. There’s never any doubt that Kase is as smitten with Yamada as vice-versa, even if the latter tends to feel inferior due to Kase’s social and literal stature at school. There are also times when she allows Kase to swept up by others, often interrupting potential time alone.

But while Yamada comes to realize she’ll have to be more assertive at times, the fact that Kase is so popular isn’t a problem for her; it serves to validate why she loves her so much in the first place: Kase’s a surpassingly kind and gregarious young woman.

In any case, in moments when Yamada might feel lonely due to indulging Kase’s natural gregariousness, Kase’s own desire to be alone with Yamada means it’s never that long before she seeks Yamada out, both grateful for her patience and relieved to have in her a kind of haven.

Time with Yamada is special to Kase; more special than time with anyone else. That’s whether they’re on an intimate nighttime phone call, alone together in Yamada’s room raising the temperature a bit, or on a beach in Okinawa making up and out after Yamada gets a bit too “surprised” seeing Kase nude.

The biggest threat to their relationship isn’t the fact that they’re both girls, which is refreshing. Instead, like any other relationship, it’s the unrelenting march of time and the changes it brings. Kase is on the fast track to Tokyo U on an athletic scholarship; Yamada’s inertia seems to be keeping her tethered to her hometown, commuting to the local college from home.

Especially when Kase calls to offer to turn down the scholarship and she essentially tells her not to, Yamada is on the cusp of relegating their relationship to a long-distance affair, with visits very few and far between. It’s only on the very day Kase leaves for Tokyo that Yamada wakes up and realizes she doesn’t want that at all. She wants as much Kase as she can get, and so she runs and keeps running until she’s in Kase’s arms aboard the Shinkansen.

How will Yamada manage to get into a Tokyo school? Ehh, she’ll figure it out! The most important thing is that they’re together, like they want to be. They’re also on the same wavelength; Kase really didn’t want to leave Yamada, but felt trapped by the circumstance of her athletic excellence. Fortunately for her, Yamada wasn’t going to let something like that cause what they had to fall apart.

Backed by gorgeous animation and superb voice work from Sakura Ayane and Takahashi Minami, Asagao to Kase-san delivers an elegant and captivating romance between two girls for whom simply no one else would do, and whose bond managed to withstand the winds of change. Give it a watch and your heart will grow at least three sizes!

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 2 – 12 (Fin) – The Real Game Begins

The entirety of Takagi 2‘s finale is devoted to the summer festival, as it should be. We start with Nishikata waiting nervously for Takagi, his hands already sweating with anticipation. She arrives positively resplendent in a yukata, nearly bowling him over with her beauty.

As they walk to the festival together, little kids and old people alike see them for what they are: a couple on a date. Nishikata thinks he can win a game in which no adults say they’re on a date, but he has to rely on semantics, and ultimately loses at the candy apple stand.

As the other members of the cast enjoy the festival, Nishikata tries to distract from the fact he’s on a date with Takagi by engaging in one competition after the other, from goldfish scooping to ring toss. He loses at all of them, but Takagi gives him an out: if he does “date stuff” with her, he’ll automatically win.

For once, Nishikata doesn’t want to win, or rather the little timid voice inside him doesn’t want him to fully open himself to the experience. He won’t feed Takagi, but he does give her the gift of a cute hairpin, eschewing the childish toys also available to choose.

On two notable occasions, the large crowds separate Takagi and Nishikata. The first time, he’s able to locate her quickly, but the second almost spells disaster, as they can’t find each other when the fireworks begin. Thankfully, Nishikata’s mate Kimura, with the assist of the episode, directing Nishikata to Takagi’s location atop the shrine steps.

Takagi has to endure the bulk of fireworks all alone, and her face has never been more morose…but when she spots Nishikata running up the steps her face brightens, and meets him halfway down the steps. Sadly, the fireworks end just as they reunite.

Far more importantly to Takagi, Nishikata finally takes her hand into his, unbidden, calmly explaining how it would suck if they got separated, not to mention the steps can be perilous.

DAWWWWWWWWWW

Takagi’s reaction above tells you all you need to know about how much this means to her. Just one episode after he finally asked her out, he mustered the courage to take her hand, and even if it was the practical move, it shows HUGE growth on his part to actually, you know, make it.

They descend the steps hand-in-hand and later we find them playing with sparklers on the beach; unassailably a date thing. Takagi tells him that throughout all the “losses” he’s endured, he’s never really lost, because, well, he has her. Her attention, her affection, her eyes on him.

No matter how you slice it, Nishikata is a winner. And in what I dearly hope will be a third season of this beautiful, uplifting show, perhaps he’ll keep gaining confidence, shaking off his childish hang-ups, and making the right moves. There’s a lot of game left to be played. But if this is the ending to this particular story, I’m glad it ended on a happy note.

Dororo – 16 – Nobody Listens to Dororo

I wish that instead of a large trove of gold that continues to paint a literal target on Dororo’s back, his dad’s “lifelong ambition” could have been something as simple as giving his daughter he raised as a son a safe and comfortable life. That would have meant setting aside larger ambitions like rebelling against the samurai, but it would prevented Dororo from living such a hard life, and from being in his current predicament: captured by his dad’s former No.2, Itachi.

Itachi dug up Dororo’s mother’s remains and found half of the map, and he believes her son has the other half, if not on his back then in his head. To that end, he takes Dororo to the cove where the treasure was stashed, and makes his latest in a long line of mistakes: trusting a crazy-eyed one-armed sole survivor of a village, whose self-proclaimed family consists of two giant sharks. Did I mention he fed them his arm, and has made a habit of feeding him live humans?

Dororo warned Itachi not to trust the kid, and of course, Dororo turns out to be right. One of the two boats carrying half of Itachi’s men is capsized, and its occupants eaten by one of the sharks. He promises to return at sundown to finish off the other half, including Itachi and Dororo, and orders one of the sharks to keep watch.

Itachi—now a brigand again after being double-crossed by the samurai he double-crossed Hibukuro to join—quickly loses hope in getting out of this alive, but Dororo loudly admonishes him, using his own shit life so far as an example of the importance of keeping one’s head up and not giving up even when death seems close. Itachi notes that Dororo sounds like his old man.

If he spoke too many words “for a little runt”, Dororo decides to be the first to take action. He dives fearlessly into the sea to lure the shark guarding them, then leads him to leap up by the side of the boat where Itachi and his men are ready with swords.

It’s an audacious gambit to be sure; not sure quite how Dororo doesn’t get himself killed in six different ways, but hey, I guess that’s why he’s lived so long without parents up to this point: he’s good at surviving. Unfortunately, the sharks are often somewhat poorly drawn and animated, which blunts the impact of the action.

When the shark’s “brother” returns and finds the shark slain on the coast of the cove, he’s caught in an ambush and then viciously beaten. His life is only spared because Dororo insists, but that could prove a bad move if the guy, who is let go and vows revenge, considers Dororo to be one with the brigands who killed half his family.

Meanwhile, Itachi insists Dororo spill the beans about the exact location of the treasure. When Dororo lets slip that even if he knows where it is he doesn’t want to reveal it (believing whatever Itachi does with it beneath his father’s legacy) Itachi has him stripped down and learns that he’s biologically a she. The heat of the fire then reveals the map on Dororo’s back, and Itachi traces it and heads off with his men, leaving Dororo tied up.

Where is Hyakkimaru in all this? While he sees the trail Itachi’s horses made, his makeshift leg slows him considerably. So it’s fortuitous he comes across a stranger who tells him there’s someone around who makes new limbs for those who have lost them. That’s right: Jukai’s back. Assuming Dororo and Hyakkimaru remain separated most if not all of next week, I suspect Hyakkimaru will be reuniting with the man who first gave him a functional life—the closest thing to a father he ever had.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 17 – The Ascent

Considering the Rising Arc has consisted of “climb a few levels, fight a boss, repeat” structure, SAOA has managed to mix things up by demonstrating both the variety of integrity knights and varied ways in which they fight and think, and the variety of ornate settings in which they fight within the cathedral.

Things get shaken up even more when Kirito and Alice end up outside the Cathedral’s quickly-autohealed walls. All of a sudden things get a lot more simple and minimalist, both in where they are—Dangling from Kirito’s sword, with death beneath them—and who they are to each other: enemies who must work together to survive.

Interestingly, Alice inititally wants Kirito to let her plummet to her death, for she wouldn’t be able to live with the shame of being saved by “such a sinner.” Kirito actually has to remind her that as a knight, her life is not her own, but belongs to the church, and to her Pontifex. Whether she has to bear shame or not, it is her duty to live on and protect humanity from the incursion of the Dark Territory.

He even makes the case that his and Eugeo’s “invasion” of the cathedral is the will of the gods and of Stacia, since Alice herself cites that their will is revealed through the actions of her servants. So Alice holds on, lets Kirito raise her up so she can put her sword in the wall just as his slips out, and then she returns the favor and lifts him up.

A Truce it is, then: they will work together to climb to the open-air Morning Star Lookout on the ninetieth-fifth-floor, at which time the truce will terminate and Alice promises to slay him. Kirito soon learns he’ll be doing most of the work on this climb, as apparently Integrity Knights are a pretty specialized sort, and Alice neither has the athleticism (not to mention outfit) to do the gymnastics necessary to climb.

As Kirito climbs in the virtual Underworld, Asuna and Rinko are having lunch when they a Japanese escort ship on the horizon changing course in a maneuver that catches one of Ocean Turtle’s officials off-guard. In a neat little transition from Asuna piercing her salad tomato to Kirito piercing the wall of the cathedral, we return to the climb. I’m not sure what else to say about the brief trip to the real world, except that it’s possible the easy peace Asuna and Rinko of enjoyed may not last.

With the sun setting, Kirito is finding it harder to generate wedge objects, so Alice makes one of her own (gold and fancy-looking, of course), revealing she was letting him make them this whole time even though she could have chipped in earlier.

Eventually they can see a ledge above them where some kind of statues sit, but they begin to transform into dark territory minions, which start to attack the two. And just like that, what had been a tough enough job of climbing the sheer wall is made that much more perilous with these flying beasts.

Since dealing with the minions isn’t going to work of Kirito has to hold Alice up, he decides to hoist her up to the ledge above, in a move that catches her entirely by surprise, but does add some stability to their situation. Once she’s on solid ground, she hoists him up in the same way, though he hits the wall back-first and upside-down.

Detaching the chain so they can both move freely, Alice dispatches two of the three beasts with one slash, then waits for Kirito to take care of the third, asking if he needs any help. He doesn’t, and once he finishes his foe off, she likens his weird Aincrad style to a kind of dance that would be performed on stage at the summer solstice festival.

That’s an odd thing to note, because when Alice thinks about it more, her head starts to hurt. She’s never actually been to the festival, as she initially said, but heard about it from monks…apparently. Or maybe the Alice buried in the Synthesis is starting to claw its way back to consciousness, due to all of her interaction with her old friend Kirito.

Regardless, throughout the climb Alice’s opinion of Kirito seems to soften more and more, until she even offers her handkerchief to the “criminal” to wipe minion blood off his face. Perhaps she doesn’t want him at any externally-forced disadvantage for their 95th-floor duel. But even as an integrity knight Alice doesn’t like the fact their were minions in such a sacred place…it means someone in the church wanted them there.

Cut to Eugeo, who is without Kirito by his side for the first time in quite a while. He continues climbing, and makes it to a hall on the ninetieth floor, which appears to be a bathhouse. There he encounters a man bathing there, covered in muscles and scars: not just any Integrity Knight, but Commander Bercouli Synthesis One. He asks for Eugeo to give him a little time to relax, as he just arrived from a long dragon ride.

Will Eugeo be able to defeat or at least get past Bercouli without help from Kirito? Will Kirito manage to defat Alice, or possibly turn her to their side once and for all before they face Administrator? Either way, their epic climb is almost at an end.

Goblin Slayer – 01 (First Impressions) – Shoulda Leveled Up More…

A young priestess and healer is eager to start adventuring, and registers with the guild. She’s quickly recruited by a party of three: a swordsman, a hand-to-hand warrior, and a wizard of the mage’s college. All are Porcelain-ranked, the lowest.

They’re all very gung-ho about going into a cave and hunting some goblins who recently raided a village, but they don’t have any plan, and it’s clear from the worried look of the guild registrar that they’re in over their heads with such a mission.

At no point do the members of the party take the threat of the goblins seriously, or not overestimate their skills. The swordsman even boasts he could slay a dragon if he wanted, even as his long sword hits the roof of the cave, showing just how out of his element he is.

Predictably, the low-level rookies get their asses handed to them, and it’s not pretty. This show promptly shows the folly of underestimating goblins, who are all too willing to exploit the many weaknesses of their human opponents.

The party manages to kill a couple of goblins, but the wizard is stabbed with a poison blade and the priestess’ healing spell is useless. The swordsman nicks the cave roof at the wrong time and gets overrun and gutted; and the hand-to-hand specialist is over-matched by a larger hobgoblin, who tosses her to the other goblins.

That’s when we learn one more little detail that takes the threat of the goblins to a new and darker depths: they’re quite fond of raping the women they manage to overpower.

They don’t even have a problem about raping the half-dead wizard. The depiction of bestial rape was apparently (and understandably) controversial in both the LN and this adaptation. The helpless, fear-petrified Priestess is shot in the shoulder with an arrow and looks to be their next victim…until the titular Goblin Slayer shows up.

The Slayer is as effective, ruthless, and cunning as the noobie party was ineffective, overconfident, and foolish. He keeps a running tally of his goblin kills (like Gimli and his orc-count), puts the wizard out of her misery, and with the Priestess’ Holy Light assists, takes out the two biggest threats: the goblin shaman and the hulking hobgoblin.

He also finds the goblin children and slaughters them, saying they’ll learn from their elders’ mistakes and hold grudges for life. The Goblin Slayer may be more the manifestation of an concept (namely, goblin slaying) than he is an actual character, there’s no disputing his skills…nor his respect for his enemy, something that doomed the rookies.

The hand-to-hand warrior’s adventuring days are likely over, at least for the time being, as she’s carted off to recover from the trauma she endured. The swordsman and wizard both died in the cave.

That leaves the Priestess the sole survivor of her first ill-fated party, but to her credit she’s not discouraged from continuing her life as an adventure; it’s just who she is. Indeed, she takes her first fiasco of a quest as a valuable lesson: don’t go in to any quest half-cocked. As soon as she returns to town she procures some chain mail.

The hand-to-hand warrior’s adventuring days are likely over, at least for the time being, as she’s carted off to recover from the trauma she endured. The swordsman and wizard both died in the cave.

To survive the next quest, she must also gain strong allies—allies like Goblin Slayer. She may only be able to heal or cast holy light three times, but those three times will make his job of slaying goblins that much easier, so he’s happy to have her by his side for his next session. And so, a new party of two is born.

Like other White Fox works like Akame ga Kill!, Re:Zero and Steins;Gate, Goblin Slayer knows how to pile on the suspense and dread and doesn’t hold back when it comes to torturing its characters. It also features some pretty solid soundtrack, including a thoroughly badass battle theme during the end crawl.

It’s a desperately simple show—something I believe works in its favor—and while its protagonist is pretty much an Index clone looks a lot like Index, at least the episode ends with her in a good position to succeed…though she’ll have to get stronger for the day or moment when the Slayer won’t be there to bail her out.

Darling in the FranXX – 18 – All too Brittle a Home in which to Live

Everything Squad 13 does in the remains of Mistilteinn is being monitored, so you knew the first night Kokoro and Mitsuru spent together would probably be their last. We start with what could be the happiest morning of their lives, where the love they shared seems to paint everything around them in a more beautiful light. They are experiencing that which humanity has apparently given up.

Sure enough, Hachi informs Ichigo that the squad will soon be packing up and leaving Mistilteinn, leaving their distinctive, human birdcage for a far more sterile, antiseptic one where all the other, emotionless parasites live. Hiro thinks they should close out their days there with a wedding ceremony for the beaming new couple (and notably not for him and Zero Two).

Everyone is gung-ho about making it a celebration to remember; all but Ikuno, who lies in bed dejected. Ichigo thanks her for getting angry and sticking up for Kokoro and Mitsuru, but Ikuno tells her she didn’t do it for them, but because she agreed with a part of the lead Nine’s assertion about man-woman pairings.

Ever since Ichigo gave her her name (turning the number 6 on its side to make the “no” kana), Ikuno has had eyes only for her, and always cursed the boys who got to stand by her side simply because they were boys. Ichigo recognizes the pain from her own unrequited love for Hiro in Ikuno, but draws her into a comforting hug and tells her she doesn’t mind.

These are simply part in parcel of all the messy things they have to live through that makes them human. Left unsaid is the fact that virtually everyone outside of Mistilteinn no longer feels that way. They’ve shed that vital part of humanity, presumably in order to survive most efficiently.

As the preparations for tomorrow’s ceremony are completed, the squad and Zero Two take a group photo together, mimicking the photo of the previous squad that lived there. As they stand there, their joy and camaraderie frozen for posterity, I thought of two things.

First, how much everyone has grown as characters, from Hiro and Zero to Ichigo, Mitsuru and Kokoro, Ikuno, Goro and even Futoshi. Only Zerome and Miku have remained more or less static in their childlike naivete. And yet I’ve come to love each and every one of these characters, and become fully invested not just in their safety, but in grasping the humanity the rest of their people abandoned and finding genuine happiness.

Second: that there probably won’t be a squad that comes after 13 who will ever see that photo. It just feels like the wheel is breaking, not least of which because Mistilteinn itself is no longer a viable place to live, having been crippled by the Mega-Klaxosaur hand slap.

It’s that slap that Zero Two dreams of after nodding off while drawing her storybook illustrations. The dream also features a gang of partially injured soldiers grabbing her and preparing to drag her away. Hiro wakes her up and asks what’s wrong, but Zero Two doesn’t want to mar another lovely moment with her darling on the eve of such a blessed event with unpleasant portents.

The next day, Zero Two commits to living in the moment, sharing a playful frolick with Hiro through the blooming sakura trees, dressed in the same gray uniform as the other Squad 13 members, thus truly becoming one of them. She’s able to wear one of their unis because Kokoro has changed into her re-purposed curtain gown, looking every bit a bride as she descends the staircase to join her waiting groom.

Ikuno presents them with a bouquet and boutonniere and escorts them to the aisle, while the other assembled squadmates ring bells and toss petals. Futoshi decides to officiate the wedding, giving closure to his one-sided love for Kokoro by being the one to “give her away” to Mitsuru.

Everything is just lovely, until it isn’t. The Nines arrive aboard an APE assault ship with a squad of grunts and place everyone under arrest before Kokoro and Mitsuru can seal their bonds with a kiss. They fight; their squadmates fight; Zero Two attacks the Nines, her former comrades…but it’s all for naught.

Everything they carefully built crumbles like a stale old breadstick and an iffy Italian restaurant…or more appropriately, like the sakura blossoms falling from the tree. Like their lives on Mistilteinn, the wedding was only a passing dream; one everyone could happily live in only until it ended, and it couldn’t end more cruelly.

Hachi, while protesting the Nines’ actions, does nothing to stop them, and does nothing to comfort the rest of Squad 13 as Kokoro and Mitsuru are taken away for “reindoctrination” to remove the “dangerous” ideas they’ve developed.

As the rest of the squad defeatedly packs up to leave their home on the worst note ever, Hachi visits the similarly “defective” Nana in her cell and remembers the first time she was dragged away like Kokoro and Mitsuru, after her FranXX copilot (whom she must have loved) was killed she had an emotional outburst. Hachi, devoid of emotion then, as now, could only silently watch.

Here, he remarks that Nana “in her current state” could nonetheless better provide comfort to Squad 13 than he. It might not seem like much, but the mere fact he believes they need or deserve comfort means Hachi has gained back a slim measure of humanity simply buy observing the very emotional parasites.

Squad 13 and Zero Two sans Kokoro and Mitsuru arrive at the parasite camp  “Bird Nest”, and it’s a real downer of a place, reminding them of Garden and not in a good way (it also feels like they’ve been taken backwards in their development, which may well be Papa’s intention).

Weeks pass with no news until one day they are reunited with Kokoro and Mitsuru. Though they still wear the rings they so tenderly and lovingly presented to one another, their memories have been altered (like Hiro and Zero Two’s years before) to make them not only believe they are new members of the squad, but to make them forget they ever knew each other.

It’s a heartbreaking gut-punch to end the episode, and yet when Kokoro is on her own and spots the abstract “trees” in one of Bird Nest’s courtyards, she’s reminded of “sakura”, the blooming trees under which she and Mitsuru wed. She may not remember Mitsuru, or the wedding, or anything else, but she remembered the trees.

After watching what Papa and the adults and the Nines did to his squad, his home, and finally his two friends who truly and deeply loved one another, Hiro announces in voiceover that they are “at the end of their rope.” He’s done being ruled by a destiny that will only continue to pulverize the things they build into dust.

I’m eager to see how he’ll try to start fighting back, even if I’m dubious his efforts will net him anything but more cruel tragedy and loss.

Darling in the FranXX – 17 – All the New Rules are Starting to be Scrapped

Things have gotten so blissfully domestic in the scarred remains of Mistilteinn, Zero Two files her horns like one trims their nails, and Miku makes her a tiara of flowers that give her a more regal bearing. There’s a very Garden of Eden/Earthly Delights about their home, especially with Hiro Kokoro already having met their “serpents” in Zero Two and the pregnancy book, respectively.

Both have lent knowledge “Papa” (i.e. God”) did not directly give them, and has fundamentally changed their destinies, with Kokoro gaining the drive to procreate and Hiro growing horns of his own. Once Adam and Eve Know Too Much, anyone who’s read Genesis knows what happens next—expulsion from paradise. Papa’s agents arrive almost on queue to “check on” Squad 13 and see if any “corrections” are needed.

The Nines come dripping with the smug superiority you’d expect of such agents, looking down upon the less-than-ideal living conditions. None of them seem to touch the meager repast their hosts made and caught themselves—and no doubt can’t afford to waste. They look upon Squad 13 with pity, if not outright disgust, and their honeyed words and wry grins are fooling nobody (except Zorome, of course).

Meanwhile, during their latest meeting in the “birdcage” conservatory, Kokoro finally tries to come on to Mitsuru, having read the contents of the pregnancy booklet over and over, seeing the profound difference in their bodies, and thinking how right it feels to bring them together to make a life that will carry on after they’re gone.

Unfortunately, the night before while bumping into a Nine, Kokoro lost her booklet and it fell into Alpha’s hands. That’s when the wry grin vanishes.

Mitsuru rebuffed Kokoro’s advancements, but more out of shock that she was acting on feelings he knew he had for her. It takes a bath with his old buddy Hiro to realize those are feelings of love, and he should do what his heart is telling him to do.

Before he has a chance to, the Nines confront Kokoro in front of the rest Squad 13 (who heard from Zorome that she and Mitsuru are an “item” now), and Alpha presents her baby booklet, full of straight-up taboo ideas that aren’t even supposed to be spoken of. Reproduction has been banned ever since humans “evolved past it.”

What’s interesting is how Alpha handles what could be a life-jeopardizing situation for Kokoro like a hall monitor finding contraband. He is merely an instrument of Papa speaking only with Papa’s voice. But his dispassionate tone becomes cruel when Kokoro makes her case for why humans are no different in other animals, and how there should be more to life than piloting FranXX into battle.

He calls her and her perfectly reasonable ideas utterly “disgusting”, and for that, Ikuno slaps him and has to be held back from doing more, not merely lashing out on Kokoro’s behalf, but due to her own unrequited love for Ichigo.

Hachi and Nana separate Kokoro from the others and reveals that they’ve been watching Squad 13 all along, as part of Dr. FranXX’s “final test” for them. When Nana insists that even talking about reproduction is banned, let alone doing ti, Kokoro rightfully asks why they have the organs to do so, and emotions that seem to compel them to do so.

These questions from Kokoro spark a sharp visceral reaction in Nana, leading both Hachi and Alpha to suspect that she’s “relapsed to puberty”, which is ominously referred to as “not being good” for the person to which it happens. Alpha even blithely suggests they replace her with a “new Nana,” as the current one has been rendered “useless.” Harsh shit.

Based on Dr. FranXX’s reaction to Squad 13’s developments (and absent further information) it seems his primary goal was to see how easing 13’s emotional and sexual suppression would improve their performance as weapons against the Klaxosaurs. After all, he never expected his experiments would lead 13 to develop “humanity’s original reproductive instincts.”

And yet, here we are. When two members of APE arrive at Klaxosaur Central (presumably in the Gran Crevasse), they meet the humanoid “Princess of the Klaxosaurs” and formally ask her to surrender to Humanity and end the now century-long war.

When she refuses, one of the APE members attacks her, and she slaughters him, his partner, and their three guards with ease. When she removes the mask of one of the corpses to find nothing there, she derides them as “human wannabes.”

That got the gears going in my head: what if, perhaps a century ago or more, aliens invaded earth and imposed the system they have now? What if the “humans” we’ve seen in the various plantations are the anamoly, and the Klaxosaurs are actually closer to what humans used to be?

We can’t say how far in the future this story takes place, so the fact Nana, Hachi, and the parasites we’ve watched could have tricked us into thinking they’re “real humans” with their familiar looks and ways of living. The Princess’ words throw everything into doubt…though one thing we learn from Zero Two is that she can’t reproduce like humans.

Earlier in the series I doubt anyone would have guessed that the first Squad 13 couple to jump into bed together would be Kokoro and Mitsuru, but here we are. I enjoyed the contrast between the candlelit chasteness of Zero Two and Hiro’s romance, and the more physical, primal, hot-and-heavy Kokoro+Mitsuru variety that finally crests with the two having sex.

It is an act of simple human biology, and yearning to decide one’s future with one’s own heart an act of simple human psychology. But in their artificial world, these are also acts of rebellion, as well as capital crimes for which there may well be dire consequences. After all, Dr. FranXX, Hachi, Nana, the Nines, and APE are all watching. The Garden of Eden may feel secluded, but nothing that goes on there is really private.

APE, however, have more pressing matters. The Princess has violently rebuffed their condescending “olive branch”, and so they vow the Klaxosaurs will “feel the pain of having their earth scorched by their own creation.” ‘Their?’ Scratch that about aliens: perhaps Klaxosaurs are highly-evolved humans who created the APE and their ilk; now they’re at war with them, with Zero Two, Hero, and Squad 13 stuck in the middle.

While we’re on the subject of creations coming to bite their creators in the ass, I’ll close with that iconic quote from Jurassic Park:

Ian: God creates dinosaurs. God destroys dinosaurs. God creates man. Man destroys God. Man creates dinosaurs.

Ellie: Dinosaurs eat man…Woman inherits the earth.

Hey, at least Dinosaurs never destroyed God…right?

Darling in the FranXX – 16 – How The Mood Has Changed

The Gran Crevasse is now under human control, but at the cost of about 40% of their parasites. Plantation 13 has been devastated, and Mistilteinn is without reliable sources of clean water, food, and electricity. Squad 13 has been ordered to stand by, and they’ve stood by for a month with nary a word from Nana or Hachi and only weekly deliveries of rations.

Despite all that, the group has never been closer. The squad went through the wringer and came out with bonds stronger than ever. The decision to collectively forgive and embrace Zero Two has also led to her pitching in and working diligently to do her part to help everyone out in the tougher times where their every domestic need is no longer taken care of.

The lack of sorties means Goro is a bit restless, while when Michiru asks Kokoro to cut his hair (during which time he works through his angst rather nicely), Kokoro gives him a kiss, and is wordlessly rebuffed.

There are also signs that the parasites might not be long for this world. Ikuno suffers from headaches and fever, and while bathing, Zero Two discovers white hairs among Miku’s red locks. Still, Hiro is having fun, and would love to live the way they’re living forever; sentiments Zero Two shares.

The two also spearhead a different kind of operation: one that will ensure the squad’s survival even if the food rations end. The squad catches their own fish, prepare them, and eat them on their own, a huge step towards independence for the once-coddled parasites.

While they’re engaging in this operation, Ichigo comments about how the mood of the squad has changed, how she likes the change, and how she admits she initially misjudged Zero Two as being fundamentally “different” from the rest of them; and now believes that not to be true.

In another case of the parasites perhaps not being quite as well as they could be, Zorome calls Futoshi out on his recent habit of not eating, or throwing up what he does eat. Zorome tears up while pleading with his comrade to eat if he wants to survive.

The squad may sometimes butt up against each other in these lean and trying times when they’re not sure when their next meal or drink will come, but Hiro maintains that this is all a good thing for them. He feels like this is “where they truly belong”, because there should be, and is, more to their lives than piloting FranXX and fighting Klaxosaurs.

Later that night, while drawing beautiful illustrations drawn from her memory of the picture book she had—her first “pretty thing”, Zero Two admits to having learned that being human is about more than looking human, and that Hiro’s humanity was the kind she truly wanted.

Their bliss is short-lived, as expected; Zero Two senses…something off in the distance—someone who looks for all the world like some kind of humanoid Klaxosaur pilot, like her, no doubt come to sour what had been such a pleasant and tranquil mood.