Ikebukuro West Gate Park – 09 – Trouble in Paradise

There is a lot to sift through this week, but I’ll give IWGP this: there’s no other current show that makes people sitting at tables and talking quite so dang compelling! We begin with Makoto and Takashi being hired to guard an anti-immigration group during a particularly distasteful demonstration.

They’re doing it not for the money, but to keep the peace; in fact, an anti-hate pro-immigration group is paying them so their more radical elements won’t start anything. Even here, everyone thinks it’s a bit odd that the hate group is in Ikebukuro, where the ship has already sailed.

Makoto knows this all to well, as the new brother of a Chinese immigrant. Guo makes her return this week, and we learn she’d been working elsewhere and presumably living on her own, explaining her absence in previous episodes. She introduces Makoto to another mixed family: a Japanese husband and his Chinese wife.

They own a Chinese restaurant in building called Ikebukuro Paradise, and have been the recent victims of harassment. The perps were masked, but the couple suspects the anti-immigration group that’s in town. Makes sense. Makoto gets more insight walking with Guo, who tells him how much it hurts to hear people tell her to “go home” when she is home.

The Chinese restaurant incident isn’t the first at Ikebukuro Paradise; previously a café burned down, though its owner insists it was an accident reacted to the cafe’s audio system, and he basically curtly asks Makoto to stop digging. Of course, Makoto doesn’t, contacting his pal Saru, who tells him a Chinese fund linked up with a Japanese corporation.

Lin fills in more blanks, saying the Chinese real estate company intends to redevelop the Paradise by knocking down the old building. It seems the immigration kerfuffle and harassment could be unrelated strings, but only so far. Then the latter problem escalates when a member of the anti-hate group is attacked and its more radical elements want an eye for and eye.

Then the Paradise problem reasserts itself, as a fire breaks out, killing a resident and at least temporarily shutting down the restaurant. It’s to early to ascertain if it was an accident or arson, but Takashi has seen enough, and urges Makoto to “figure out who needs crushing” so his G-Boys can crush them.

In a nice scene with Makoto, Takashi acknowledges the need for Ikebukuro to change and grow the way it’s doing, but also laments the Ikebukuro he grew up in, and fears the town will lose its unique character if the change and growth go too far and “hate and indifference” continue to rear their ugly heads.

Makoto arranges a full-on summit between the pro- and anti- immigration groups. While testy, the anti leader insists they weren’t behind the fire, and the pro leader is willing to take her at her word. Takashi believes the leader, warped as her views are, but gets an odd unsavory vibe from her second-in-command, Tsukamoto, whom he suspects is into some shady shit.

Sure enough, the former café owner Torii, hearing about the fire and death, comes forward to Makoto and the restaurant owners about the true reason he closed up shop: he was harassed by land sharks. The owners thought they were targets of racial and cultural hatred, but they and the other tenants were rather victims of cynical corporate goons.

Tsukamoto, it turns out, was the director of the company that forced Torii out, the missing link Makoto needed to tie the two problems together. Tsukamoto and his superiors intended to use the anti-immigration group as cover for their land-sharking activities.

But by the time Makoto informs the anti-immigration group’s other leaders of Tsukamoto’s intentions, it’s too late to cancel the demonstrations. It’s a tense moment the next day when the red and blue groups march past each other, but it’s a third group, a hastily-assembled gang led by Tsukamoto himself, that tries to incite violence.

Makoto expected this, and so hired his buddy Shadow to take Tsukamoto out before he could achieve his goal. Takashi’s G-Boys mop up, and all the would-be escalators are arrested. The demonstration ends peacefully, and the restaurant owners and other residents of Ikebukuro Paradise can breathe a sigh of relief, as they’re no longer in the crosshairs.

That said, Lin warns Mikoto and Takashi that some shady Kansai organization that was behind Tsukamoto’s company as well as the smoke shop many weeks back is still looking to plant a foothold in Ikebukuro and destroy the harmony Makoto & Co. have been fighting for so hard.

It’s clear IWGP holds the anti-immigration hate group in pretty low regard, as they should. But it’s also upfront about the reasons people have to join and participate in such groups—people who might start out like Takashi, yearning for The Way Things Wereand becoming more radicalized by the growing influx and influence of immigrants.

At the same time, IWGP is just as clear in promoting the proper way forward, and it obviously isn’t brawls in the streets, but respectful, considered conversations between groups who come to the table in good faith. Makoto once again demonstrates his keen ability to mediate tough issues and keep inevitable brush fires from spreading too far.

Ikebukuro West Gate Park – 07 – Mars (Enterprises) Attacks!

“Everyone’s so worried about me…What am I, a little boy?” I doubt the people warning Makoto are doing so because they think he’s a kid, but because there is much he has to lose by diving too deep into this latest mess. Like his mother, his newly adopted sister Shungui, the family produce stand, and his reputation as a neutral troubleshooter.

Unfortunately, we don’t see his mom or Shungui either this week or last, which is a shame, not just because they could put the impudence of Makoto’s words into relief and even offer him perspective, but because I like those characters, and Shungui in particular seemed like someone we would be and should be seeing more of. Alas, Makoto is on an island at the beginning of this episode.

Ikebukuro is on the knife’s edge; war could spill onto the streets at any moment…yet he still finds time to work on Toshiaki’s film at the video store. His police buddy informs him “Shadow” is a lone operator, while his Hidaka PR buddy Saru informs him that Mars Enterprises hired both the Shadow and the masked thugs to create imbalance as a preface for expanding into Ikebukuro.

Unfortunately, Takashi is once again ghosting him, and the minute Makoto is off the phone with Saru, he has the bunny mask thug’s knife to his neck, clarifying that he and his guys have a grudge with him and Takashi personally. Bunny Mask is also helpful enough to perform his scene right in front of the “making of” camera, which is just icing for the cake in terms of how sloppy the masked thugs are.

Makoto determines that the masked thugs are Yamamoto and his men, who worked for OK Holdings and were previously run out of town. He informs Hiroto personally, but the Knight is already on his horse, and his men are itching for a confrontation with Takashi for control of the G-Boys present and future.

He finally gets to meet up with Takashi, who notes that one piece his old friend has left out of the equation are the Red Angels. Whether Makoto simply took Kyouichi at his word or has a blind spot due to his officially neutral status, Makoto isn’t willing to entertain the possibility the Angels could exploit the G-Boys civil war to expand their own influence.

Finally, and apparently quite by chance, “Shadow” presents himself to Makoto in the park. He further clarifies matters, saying the only job he did was on Donglong, while the thugs did the jobs on Hiroto’s men. He adds that they did a crap job while both they and Mars used the “Shadow” brand without his consent. This caused Shadow’s reputation to take a hit, and he paid Mars back by beating up each of their board members.

Shadow seems to consider himself an underworld equivalent of Makoto: an independent troubleshooter who works for justice (Shadow works for money; justice is just gravy), and someone for whom “reputation is paramount”. In the interests of preventing war, Makoto decides to ask Shadow to take care of the “weak link”: the war-mongering Hiroto.

Makoto institutes this gambit as much out of a desire to prove he’s not “just some kid” or a “nice guy”, but someone willing to do whatever it takes to protect the peace and balance of his town. But the gambit backfires, as Hiroto’s men blame King for the beating of their Knight and begin the march to war.

After consulting with Takashi once more, Makoto gets Kyouichi to agree to back Takashi in order to “quell the disturbance”. Kyouichi proves himself an honest and honorable man by doing his part, marching his Red Angels between Hiroto’s men and Takashi and declaring an alliance with the latter, then getting Hiroto’s uneasy No.2 to drop his bat and back down with a mere look.

With war averted—arguably way too neatly, but averted all the same—all that’s left is to take out the trash, i.e. Yamamoto and his ragtag quintet of thugs, who end up coming to them as Takashi and Makoto film a scene in Toshiaki’s film. In the adult video section, Yamamoto & Co. surround the two, but suddenly Shadow appears to even the odds. He takes out two of the thugs, and Takashi takes out the remaining three including delivering a knockout blow to Yamamoto.

The excellent fight scene really underscored how overmatched Yamamoto and his thugs were. Once the masked thugs identities and motives were made clear, they never had a realistic chance to instigate a full-scale turf war, especially since revenge was Yamamoto’s primary goal. Hopefully he won’t need a third demonstration of the futility of seeking revenge.

Toshiaki finally finishes his film, and it’s a hit, so he plans to make more, and Makoto notes the firm dedication inherent in Toshiaki’s efforts. He saw that same dedication in Shadow’s no-nonsense way of operating, and in Kyouichi’s dedication to protecting the town he’s come to like. After dancing on a razor’s edge these last two episodes, Makoto seems content to continue dedicating himself to selling fruit. Gotta pay the bills!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Ikebukuro West Gate Park – 06 – Shadows in the Knight

Ikebukuro is a town of balance, and that balance ensures peace. But one otherwise ordinary night, a group from the G-Boys Hiroto Faction are pulled from their van and viciously beaten by toughs in animal masks. Makoto is busy acting in an indie film being directed by the clerk of a doomed video store.

It’s a fitting setting in which to begin for an episode about the wider downfall of Ikebukuro’s hard-fought peace. Also on the film crew is Crow, an underling of Hiroto, whose boys were hit by the animal maskers, apparently led by a mysterious figure called “Shadow”. Hiroto suspects the attack was a warning from his boss, “King” Takashi, to keep his ambitions in check.

Before Makoto can confer with Takashi, Hiroto’s boys are hit by the Shadow again, and hard. In lieu of any word from King, Makoto meets with another childhood friend, Saru, the Hidaka Group’s PR man. He knows that Shadow is apparently elite muscle-for-hire, and that Hidaka’s position is that balance should be maintained, using his ice cream to illustrate his point.

He also warns his friend Makoto to “know where to draw the line” in his involvement, lest he end up in trouble. That’s when Hiroto reaches out to Makoto through Crow, and Makoto learns Hiroto is now having his men call him “Knight”—a direct challenge to King. With command of a third of the G-Boys, among them some of the toughest fighters, his faction has been waiting for someone to “pull the trigger” at them for some time.

In other words, even if it is King sending Shadow against his men, it doesn’t matter. He wanted an excuse to move anyway, and he got it. The spark has been lit, and the Hiroto faction is a tinderbox. Makoto gets him to agree not to move against Takashi until he’s spoken to him, but Hiroto warns if his boys are attacked one more time, it will be war.

With Takashi still not taking his calls, Makoto has no choice but to meet with the Red Angels instead. Kyouichi says he isn’t attacking Hiroto’s boys, as he has no reason to start a war that will endanger his people. However, he hastens to add, should one drop of Red Angel blood spill from the crossfire of an imminent G-Boys civil war, they’ll show no mercy.

Makoto walks down a dark Ikebukuro alley late at night with Sunshine 60 looming in the background. The mass of the tower behind him makes him look that much smaller and more alone; the town’s chief diplomat who has yet to make contact with the leader of its most powerful gang. Even as he makes no progress, he is followed by a sketchy guy in the shadows whose face he never sees, perhaps as subtle and bloodless warning as he’s going to get to quit while he’s still neutral.

As timing would have it, Takashi calls him immediately after the frightening encounter, and they meet in West Gate to talk for the first time. King hesitated to answer his buddy’s calls because he didn’t want him involved, because he can’t guarantee his safety this time. This enrages Makoto, with good reason.

When you think about it, he is one of the strongest and bravest players in this town precisely because he works alone and has no sworn allegiance, except to Ikebukuro herself. He commits to finding out who the Shadow is and who sent him to attack Hiroto’s men. As if to answer that question for the audience, the camera lingers on Isogai as he and Kyouichi walk on a bridge as cop cars race past.

Makoto and King end up shaking hands, symbolically sealing Makoto’s fate as a declared ally of King and thus a legitimate combatant in the G-Boys war to come. Because it is coming; and Makoto is out of time to stop it. The Shadow attacked Hiroto’s boys a third time, and this time a group from Dongfeng were hit as well.

Hiroto justifiably doesn’t care about the attack on Dongfeng muddying the waters; too much of his boys’ blood has been spilt. Just as Makoto is confident he can keep both King and Knight at bay, Knight draws his sword: he’s quitting the G-Boys, and no longer taking orders from Takashi. Their meeting in the alley was but a mere formality.

Maintaining peace and balance is not Hiroto’s goal. He’s thirsted for power, and is now taking the opportunity to grab it. Once he’s in charge of the G-Boys, he dreams of expanding their influence across all of Tokyo. Obviously, this is folly, and Takashi tells Makoto that it’s a product of his lack of strategic experience (Lao Tzu would also have some criticisms of Knight’s approach).

The episode ends with another suspicious lingering camera shot at Kyouichi, who is apparently pleased with how things are going. Did he and/or Isogai hire Shadow to destabilize the G-Boys? Were they simply biding their time all along? Or are they just looking forward to their largest rival eating away at itself from the inside, poised to fill the vacuum that results?

Whatever the case, IWGP is on a certified roll, following up two strong case-of-the-week episodes with a headfirst dive into the central gang conflict. It may be too late to keep a war from starting, but perhaps Makoto can still find a way to end it before it causes too much damage.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Re: Zero – 35 – Trust the Process

As Subaru races to the mansion to try to head off Satella, Garfiel informs them that he’s only alive thanks to Ram’s wind. It blasted him up into the sky while Ram, Roswaal, and Ryuzu, Otto, and everyone else were swallowed up by the shadow. If it wasn’t obvious to him before, it is now: this loop is toast.

Satella, who says only “I love you” and “Love me”, swallows Subaru up, and he sees flashes of the memories of her past victims. He then uses Petra’s hanky, which turns into a blade, to stab and kill himself so he can Return by Death. And after all this time, the RbD sound still gives me goosebumps.

Shit has hit the fan in the past and will again, but this episode is a rare instance of Re:Zero giving Subaru a goddamn break for a change; at least a break relative to the usual torture. He wakes up with Emilia by his side, and she hugs him when he starts to cry, happy to see this side of him. She’s not even discouraged by her latest trial failure!

Garfiel remains neutral in this loop as well, so conditions are perfect for Subaru to start gathering information with which to determine the best course of action to help Emilia and prevent anyone from being killed, either in the Sanctuary or the Mansion. He starts by using the memories from Satella’s shadow to find a secret location that turns out to be where the original Ryuzu—Ryuzu Meyer—is held in stasis.

Thanks to Echidna’s fluid-spiked tea, Ryuzu Bilma identifies Subaru an Apostle of Greed, and must obey his commands under their contract. All he wants for now is information, which she is happy to provide. Both the Sanctuary and Ryuzu Meyer were created by Echidna as part of an elaborate experiment to achieve immortality.

Subaru posits that Echidna chummy with him because like her, he’s immortal, after a fashion. He learns that all the Ryuzu clones are basically pure mana, but Meyer was never a sufficient vessel for Echidna’s soul. He also learns that Garfiel once attempted the trial himself, and “Bilma” is the current Ryuzu’s way of claiming individuality, along with her tea-drinking hobby.

Subaru then gets to have a lovely moonlit chat with Emilia, in which he assures her she’s gonna be fine and will get the job done. She’s ever grateful for all the courage he’s been able to awaken in her. It could well be that unless Subaru says these encouraging things to her, she’ll ultimately become discouraged by her trial failures. Instead, it’s as if he’s buffing her up for success.

After a friendship-acknowledging chat with Otto, Subaru goes to sleep. The next morning, he leaves a note and heads off to the mansion to get a better handle on what’s going on and how to stop the carnage he’s witnessed. Once again, his exit is blocked by Garfiel, but when Garfiel learns Subie is merely testing him, vows to uncover all the secrets and learn all that he can learn, Garfiel grudgingly lets him pass.

What compels Garfiel to step aside is the look in Subie’s eyes as he says, with absolute conviction: “I know hell. I’ve seen it many times.”

After the credits, Subie arrives at Roswaal Mansion with Patrasche, and has Frederica and Petra take Rem and head to safety so he can conduct his business in the mansion without fear of collateral losses.

Then Subaru enters the library, where a surprisingly cooperative Beatrice seems aware that this time, Subie has come for the right reasons, seeking the right things. By doing so, he’ll be bringing an “end to the end of the end”— setting Beako free in the process. I half-wanted her to say when he entered, with a knowing glint in her eye: “Shall we begin?”

Re: Zero – 34 – Down the Great Rabbit Hole

For being the Witch of Greed, Echidna sure is helpful and informative! It’s her opinion that there is no limit to how many times Subaru can use Return by Death, as it is limited only by the Witch of Envy’s presently-limited delusion.

Envy wants him to “redo destiny” without mistakes, but doesn’t count, say, what happened to Rem as a mistake. Neither Rem or anyone else are taken into account. Subaru alone is responsible for who is or isn’t lost when the next “save point” is established.

The more immediate concern is, of course, that horde of voracious rabbits, which Echidna identifies as the Great Rabbit. Like the White Whale and Black Serpent, these Three Great Mabeasts were created by Daphne, Witch of Gluttony, over 400 years ago. The Rabbit can only be killed by killing all of its constituent parts simultaneously.

When Subaru requests more info on the Great Rabbit, Echidna arranges for him to meet Daphne one-on-one; such is her ability as the vessel of the souls of all the dead witches. Instead, the childlike Witch of Pride Typhon pops out first, ripping off Subie’s arm and shattering him to bits before the earnest, self-conscious Witch of Wrath Minerva saves him.

After that, Daphne finally appears, bound and chained within a coffin. After questioning why Subaru would destroy the Great Rabbit without first understanding the infinite gluttony that powers it, she offers a useful hint about how to at least get the rabbit where you want it: it is drawn to great sources of mana, like a powerful magic user.

As Subaru exhibits signs he could soon wake up, he beseeches Echidna to tell him how to return to her should he require more of her wisdom. She tells him the conditions for joining her tea party are tougher the more times he’s admitted, but like the last two times, if he needs her, he’ll find a way to get to her, either through the tea party or in the trial itself.

As for the trial: Echidna is losing her patience and interest in Emilia, and is all but convinced the half-elf candidate will never “break out of her shell”, i.e. properly confront her past. Right now she’s much more confident in Subie’s ability to pass. After Echidna receiving payment in the form of the sentiments within the handkerchief Petra gave him, Subie returns to the tomb, his memories of the Witch of Greed fully intact.

The only problem is, Emilia is nowhere to be found. When Subie goes outside, he faces a giant shadow slowly engulfing his surroundings, and Witch of Envy Satella makes her appearance. She draws close to Subie declaring “I love you” over and over and over again.

I’m sure there’s some truth to that, considering the ability she game him. At the same time, as Subie himself is gradually covered in her cloak of darkness, it sure doesn’t look like he should be sticking around, and certainly isn’t going to get anything useful out of her other that “I love you”.

It’s Garfiel (of all people) to the rescue, splitting Subie and Satella up, grabbing Subie and leaping to a (slightly) safer place. There, the two observe Satella not following them, but headed to the barrier. It dawns on Subie: she’s headed for Roswaal’s mansion, and to Frederica, Petra, and the comatose Rem.

Determined not to let Satella “get away with anything else”, Subie no doubt is preparing to chase after her—though I wonder whether Garfiel will be okay with that. After the credits, we see Roswaal in bed about sink under the shadow, and grabs a book (a gospel?) in grim preparation to accompany Subaru in “hell”.

Watching Subaru and Echidna interact is always fascinating, while it was fun to meet three more colorful quirky witches. Interesting too that they’re portrayed as characters with whom Subaru can converse and reason; Satella is much more of an implacable force of nature.

As for the Great Rabbit, I’m sure it can be defeated just as the White Whale was defeated. However, I agree with Daphne: one lone human won’t be enough to do it, which means Subie will have to flex his alliance-building muscles.

Cardcaptor Sakura – 14 – If the Shoe Fits

This week Sakura is given a personal invitation by Yukito to his and Touya’s high school cultural festival. She takes Tomoyo along, but when they arrive at Yukito’s class’ traditional sweets shop (Dagashi Kashi!) they find that Yukito’s other admirer, Syaoran, is already there, and on his tenth or eleventh ramune, should probably be cut off.

We meet Touya’s high school classmate Yoko, whose friends have deemed her the best match for dating Touya. Both are good, kind, capable people, after all. It’s just that the entire high school is blissfully unaware of the reason their two crown princes Touya and Yukito remain without girlfriends. Meanwhile, Yukito beats the entire basketball team to win plushies for Sakura, Syaoran and Tomoyo—in that order.

Eventually, Sakura learns what her brother is up to: playing the role of Cinderella in a gender-swapped school play. She and Syaoran both end up on the floor at the outrageous sight of her big brother—who is not the most naturally gifted actor—in tattered dress and their mutual crush, who wears a can of mackerel on his head for no discernible reason.

As the play progresses and Cindertouya meets Prince Yoko, the Mist Clow Card shows up, rotting away the sets. Yoko starts to fall from the balcony but Touya catches her, but it’s a serious situation. Sakura and Syaoran head to the projection room to get a better view of things; on the way Sakura calls Kero for advice. He suggests she wrap the Mist up in order to secure it.

To do so, Sakura releases the Shadow card for the first time, and successfully captures the card. When the balcony gives way and both Touya and Yoko continue to fall, Syaoran summons wind magic to ensure they land softly and safely. He may not have gotten a card this time, but he does receive Sakura’s genuine gratitude for his quick thinking and help. His tsundere reaction confirms they remain rivals, but his momentary blush indicates Sakura is growing on him.

Like most high school festivals, this one ends with a bonfire dance. Yoko confesses her love to Touya, who predictably turns her down (even she saw that coming), but agrees to her request to dance with her (and only her)—a welcome consolation prize.

As for Sakura, she ends up winning the Yukitostakes when she gets to dance with him while Syaoran can only look on in seething envy. Even knowing full well Sakura has less a chance with Yuki as Yoko has with Touya, there are no words for the pure joy on her face during their dance.

Cardcaptor Sakura – 02 – Clothes Maketh the Magical Girl

When Sakura wakes up to the sound of an Osaka accent, she assumes the TV is on. Alas, the developments of the last day and night are of the lasting variety: she’s a magical girl with a tiny winged familiar. And even she knows she should keep those things secret as long as she can.

To that end, she sneaks Kero some food and warns him to keep it down until her dad and brother leave. Turns out Kero-chan wasn’t interested in sitting around her room all day, but stows away in her bag. Sakura’s best friend Daidouji Tomoyo discovers him, and just like that the cat’s out of the bag.

Tomoyo actually already knew about her magical girling, because she filmed it with her camcorder. Fortunately, the secret is safe with Tomoyo. A nastier character might try to blackmail Sakura with the footage, but Tomoyo loves Sakura and would never betray her.

In a sight that’s commonplace in the Monogatari series, Sakura, Tomoyo, and their classmates find all their desks haphazardly piled up on top of one another. Everyone else assumes it’s an ambitious act of vandalism, but now knowing what Sakura is caught up in, Tomoyo suspects a Clow Card to be the culprit.

That night Tomoyo meets Sakura and Kero at school—for the record, Sakura is just naturally scared of school after dark—with a quartet of her expensive suit-wearing bodyguards in tow. Tomoyo dismisses them until needed…which never happens, and what could bodyguards do against magical creatures anyway?

Tomoyo then invites Sakura into a big Dodge van that doubles as a mobile wardrobe, packed with magical girl outfits she’s made for Sakura. Her first official battle costume ever consists of a navy leotard and leggings, white tunic, bold red cape, bow, and cap, and some slick high-top sneakers. It’s a pretty bitchin’ look…not to mention cute as hell!

I’ve always enjoyed this quirk of CCS—the clothes don’t just magically appear when she transforms, but are lovingly made by Tomoyo. The show doesn’t always address the practicalities of how Sakura finds time to change into these elaborate outfits, but in the words of Ruby Rhod (no stranger to fashion), “Who cares!”

Her wardrobe thus sorted, Sakura proceeds to have a rough time with the escaped Clow Card, called Shadow. But in what will follow a familiar but solid formula, she’s eventually able to utilize the two cards in her possession (Fly and Windy) to restrain, capture and seal Shadow and restore peace to the school…at least until the next card shows up.

Part of that card-catching formula not only includes Tomoyo’s input as costume designer, but one-girl film crew for the documentation of Sakura’s heroics. The next day Sakura finds Tomoyo in the screening room watching Sakura’s fight—the good, the bad, and the ugly—and Sakura is embarrassed. But she’d better get used to it, because this is only the beginning of Tomoyo’s well-intended involvement in her new magical girl career!

P.S. You can expect CCS reviews on Tuesdays and/or Fridays, time permitting. The schedule may change/slow when Summer 2020 heats up—P.

O Maidens in Your Savage Season – 08 – Where Legends are Made

This week, with the cultural festival as the backdrop, every O Maiden decides they’re going to make a choice that will hopefully ensure them happiness and stability as they move forward.  Naturally, things don’t start out smoothly for anyone.

For Kazusa, it’s deciding to tell Izumi upfront how she feels. As her performance with Niina looms, Kazusa is mindul, and nervous, of the fact that Izumi is about to witness her essentially rehearse her confession to him with Niina on stage.

Momo decides she’s not going to entertain Sugimoto’s vapid attention any longer, something she’s even more sure of when he shows up with two of his friends. When Rika sees another girl flirting with Amagi, she starts to realize they can’t have relationship if she insists on keeping it secret from the world.

Then there’s Niina. She seems the most lost out of everyone, caught between feelings for Saegusa and Izumi, but neither sure what those feelings are or how to act on them. For his part, Izumi is taken aback when she puts her hand on his face, leading to her scurrying off while he struggles to hold three teapots—which I’m sure is a metaphor for something.

Hongou finds her encounters with Milo-sensei almost completely dominated by the presence of the modern Japanese teacher Tomita-sensei, who has clearly taken a liking to Milo. Tomita doesn’t see Hongou as a threat, she sees her as a child and a student, and there’s clearly the sense Milo appreciates having Tomita around, almost as a shield from Hongou’s potential mischief. But any discomfort he has comes out of his refusal thus far to set clear boundaries, a responsibility that’s his and his alone.

While wallowing in the rest area, Rika is joined by Sonoe, and the two get to talking about the latter’s boyfriend. Sonoe, who it should be said is clearly ready to move on from bullying Rika to a conventional friendship between hotties, tells Rika how her thing with her boyfriend was physical at first, but became romantic when she learned he was a nice guy. Also, that it’s only natural to want to show off and be proud of the person they like. There’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Izumi in the audience would be awkward enough, but Saegusa also joins the crowd, sitting right beside Izumi. Suddenly, it’s a rehearsal for Niina as well as Kazusa, in which to somehow prove to Saegusa that she’s not boring, that despite having become a woman, she can still be unpredictable like a child.

When nobody expects it, and just when Kazusa is starting to get into rhythm with Izumi less of a source of stress and more of a calming presence, Niina flips the script, walks out into the crowd, and puts her hand on Izumi’s chest, shocking everyone there (and no one more than Kazusa), but eliciting an impressed smirk from Saegusa.

Izumi takes Niina by the wrist to talk in private, whipping the crowd into a frenzy as they hoot and applaud what looks to all the world like two lovers shuffling off to be alone. In the moment, it looks like a heel turn for Niina (if you’re an KaZumi shipper, like me).

Izumi is surprised when Niina tells him even she didn’t really know what she was doing, he surmises that it may have been to make Saegusa jealous, and that if she still wants to do that kind of stuff because she still likes Saegusa, he’s willing to help her. The key is, she should focus on what she wants, not how others will see it. A tall task for someone all but defined by observers. But the one thing Izumi can’t see is the real reason Niina reached out to him: she likes him.

As for Kazusa, she also considered the fact that it may be game over for her and Izumi before she even took her shot, but she’s determined to take that shot anyway. Seeing how Niina looked when she touched Izumi clinched it for her: for someone who clearly likes him that much to still support Kazusa, who only ever thought about herself…that’s the person she’d want to be with Izumi, rather than some rando.

Everything comes to a head at the bonfire that concludes the festival. Due to the buzz caused by the performances—no doubt supercharged by Niina’s improvisation—the whole school is aware of the urban legend about standing in the shadow of the one you love, and people are trying it out.

It’s the first time Hongou’s work has reached an audience so large, and the pride in her accomplishment fuels her confidence in wanting to try it out on Milo-sensei. Unfortunately she doesn’t come close to getting a chance; Milo is well away from the bonfire’s flames, chatting with Tomita-sensei.

Rika fares better. Turns out Amagi wasn’t as close to giving up on them as it seemed last week, but Rika goes for broke and confesses to him in front of everyone, telling him she can now see the difference between romance and sexual desire, but more to the point, she doesn’t care anymore about anything other than Amagi knowing she’s in love with him. He responds by hugging her, telling her he’s never been so happy.

Momo was successful in getting Sugimoto to take a hike, but that leaves her alone at the bonfire when everyone else is busy with their respective love interests. Still, you get the feeling she’d rather be alone than have those annoying dudes buzzing around her, so it’s a win for her.

Niina tells Saegusa that she’s decided to let herself “obsess” over someone for the first time, and see where it goes, after a lifetime of keeping her distance. She’s pretty much asserting she has to look out for herself, even if it hurts Kazusa and ends up fruitless, as Izumi just doesn’t see her that way, and has—has always had—someone closer to him.

That brings us to Izumi, who beats Kazusa to the punch and and confesses to her first, moving her to tears of joy and relief. He references that day years ago when he first saw her as a girl, and after all those years of her protecting him, he decided he wanted to protect her too. Big sister, little sister, good friend…she’s been all of those things to him, but now he knows all of those characterizations are reflections of the love he’s always had for her.

The two walk to the riverfront hand-in-hand to admire the cityscape, at peace and happy as clams. So many weights have been lifted on this night, but the smooth sailing will only last so long with four episodes left. Storms lie ahead, and the strength of all of the night’s confessions and rejections place will be vigorously tested. I’m fist-pumpingly happy for Kazusa and Rika, but love and pain do go hand in hand!

Persona 4: The Animation – 10

Rise is swept into the TV world, and the gang goes in to rescue her. Kuma leads them to a strip club where Rise’s shadow is holding her captive, along with all the other Rises she’s been throughout her career as a model and idol. Rise makes the mistake of denying her shadow’s existence, and it morphs into a powerful boss that scans all the gang’s personas and renders them all neutral. Kuma has to step in to save Rise, who comes then acknowledges her other self and gains a persona. Then Kuma’s other self appears and nearly kills him, but Rise and Yu save him with their personas, and he gains his own as well.

Well, why not kill two birds with one stone? This episode didn’t waste much time setting up the now very familiar persona-gaining sequence with Rise, but also did it with Bear, which was a surprise. While we’ve not been his biggest fans, this episode showed as no other that he has his uses, much like the non-human character in any given RPG. His unique nature makes him impervious to Rise’s shadow’s scans. This took us back to many an instance when a boss scanned us and we knew they were about to nullify all of our buffs, the bastards.

Rise’s shadow is predictably complex, with its initial form cleverly comprising all the ‘personas’ she’d appropriated during her career. Having been all these different people, it makes sense that her shadow would have that scanning ability. The shadow’s defeat and absorption into a card was a bit rushed, but it’s good to simply get Rise on the team so we can perhaps move on with the killer thing. We’re not crystal clear on Kuma’s problems, but I guess they have something to do with his fear of abandonment/disappearing as well as not knowing what he is or why or how he exists. We didn’t get why the cait sith existed either, but we liked him.


Rating: 3.5