Hinamatsuri – 12 (Fin) – Losing Your Balls is Snow Big Deal

Hinamatsuri ends on a hell of a high note, with two stories that while not very closely connected to one another, nevertheless ruled so hard. We pick up on Hina, Hitomi, and their two male classmates’ predicament of being lost in the snowy mountains. With Hitomi in charge, they soon have an igloo built, but unless they get help, they could die up there. Hina takes a rather casual view of their sitch (the “snow big deal” being a pun she seems particularly proud of)…until they tell her there’s no food.

Right then and there, Hina decides that this is one of those times when her telekinetic powers will be needed, and commits to finding a way to get fed rescued. She goes out to fly around and finds a light, but when she tells the others her secret, they think the cold has gotten to her. She eliminates all doubt by floating before them, then making Hitomi float.

The kids take this well, most likely because in as dire a situation as they are, she’s their only hope, and, well, she’s not crazy, her powers are real. After they try to recharge her powers by attempting to create the illusion of being in a cafe that serves ikura rolls, she makes a giant one out of snow.

A rescue helicopter easily spots the sculpture, and is extremely confused by it, but not so confused they crash! Hina and the others are picked up, and the next we see her, she’s safe in a hospital bed with a very relieved Nitta by her side. His nonchalance to the phone call about Hina was just putting on a tough-guy act; he really does care about her.

After that, and a montage of everyone in the city going on with their lives, we jump three years into the future and across the western sea to China, where Mao has lived and trained with a martial arts school. When she first arrived by raft, she scrapped together a living on the streets much as Anzu did, until taken in by the martial arts school’s master.

The rockstar dude who Hina once performed saw Mao’s feats of telekinesis on YouTube and has come along with many others to “learn the secrets”, even if it’s just a sham to sell regular old martial arts training. Mao is also still talking to handmade dolls representing Hina and Anzu.

Just when she was getting restless living such a regimented life as the golden goose for opportunist martial artists. Rocky reveals that he knows Hina, the girl with the same blue hair as her doll. Mao is overjoyed she finally has a lead.

Her handlers don’t want her going anywhere, however, so they chase her into the street and attempt to apprehend her. That’s when Hinamatsuri turns into a straight-up martial arts action show, with some of the best animation of the entire series as Mao takes down her ochre-suited opponents one-on-one and all at once.

While the latest-introduced and least utilized magic girl, with her Cast Away episode and now this extended segment, Mao has definitely had some pretty awesome adventures that have allowed her to efficiently demonstrate what a badass she is (as if we needed any reminders). It’s the best fight since Hina took on the whole of the rival yakuza organization.

Their master agrees to let Mao go with Rocky to Japan…if she can defeat a “metal man” that’s basically two rapidly spinning shafts no ordinary human could ever stop or even slow down, lest they get pulverized. Mao stops the thing dead with her powers, but makes sure to make it look like she used her martial arts to do it, positioning her arm and leg right where she stopped the shafts.

Her handlers buy it, and she and Rocky are off on a plane. Rocky to help Mao open new branches of the school (another stipulation of her release), and Mao so she can report to Ikuruga about losing the transport balls, and, more importantly, be reunited with her friends Hina and Anzu.

Things end so abruptly that I suspect the adventures of Mao, Hina, Anzu, Hitomi, Nitta, and the others aren’t over. I certainly hope not, anyway. A second season would be most welcome, especially if the show continues to be inventive in how it uses both the girls’ superhuman powers…and their humanity.

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Itsudatte Bokura no Koi wa 10 cm Datta. – 05

Just as Miou has come out of her funk and started to work on her painting of love anew, Haruki develops a profound crisis of identity. He stops coming to school snaps at Saku, and decides he won’t be going to America after all, because he’s now convinced filmmaking was his brother’s dream, not his.

Miou pulls out the ol’ “I’ll wait as long as it takes at the usual spot” to draw Haruki out, as when the snow starts coming down, he worries, correctly, that she’ll be standing out in the cold all alone. There, in their usual spot, the two have it out.

While in the moment I was frustrated with how mean Haruki was being, one has to consider how emotionally unmoored he is, as well as frustrated with how Miou wouldn’t talk or even look at him for so long, only to need to talk now.

Haruki really does need to just cool it with the angst and listen, because Miou has to tell him she was the one Chiaki saved, and to apologize for keeping it from him so long, worried he’d hate her.

Haruki is too busy hating himself to hate Miou, but when he starts talking about what an idiot he is to confuse his brother’s dream with his own, Miou gives him the front of her right hand, breaking the 10cm distance in an instant.

She reminds him two brothers can have the same dreams, and that in all her time watching him, she could tell that Haruki’s dream of directing films was his own, and a powerful one at that, so he should really lighten up!

Miou also shows Haruki her recently completed painting, one of a guy and a girl looking out a window in the classroom. I assume it’s meant to be the two of them, and so the painting serves as a kind of confession of sorts for Miou. Haruki is cheered up, and the two head to his place to get out of the cold.

There, after cocoa, Miou remembers she has a DVD Saku told her to watch with Haruki. It is footage recorded right after Chiaki saved the girl Haruki now knows was Miou; Chiaki tells his little brother he’s filming one of the best scenes a director can film: a person’s moment of victory for having achieved something great (in his case, saving Miou).

Young Haruki promises his brother right there that he’ll follow his dream—yes, his dream of directing—making the DVD video evidence that what Miou said to Haruki is true, and he really does love making films. I guess that means he’ll be heading to America after all…which is bittersweet, since it’ll mean being apart from Miou.

Houseki no Kuni – 08

I raise my hands in defeat! I mean my hands are probably rising up right now out of the sea in defeat.

Antarcticite isn’t willing to immediately accept that Phos’ arms are lost, but instead braves the frozen depths (and the colliding ice boulders therein) in search of them, to no avail. Upon reporting to Kongou, Antarcticite takes full responsibility, citing inexperience in working in a pair, but Kongou blames his own lack of caution.

He has Antarc and Phos travel to the Chord Shore, where all Gems are “born”, to find material for new arms. There, they witness something akin to such a birth, albeit far less advanced and complete. The reddish crystals simply fall into the snow, lifeless and inert.

The beach is littered with gold and platinum deposits—deemed worthless by Antarc for their high weight and malleability. Still, there’s nothing else around, so Phos is fitted with temporary gold arms in the absence of more suitable material. The results are initially…not promising:

Um… I’m kind of getting engulfed. Wouldn’t you say I’m being engulfed?

Worse still, the clouds part and Lunarians appear both over the Chord Shore and surround headquarters, keeping Kongou from racing to the Gems’ aid.

In an all-but-no-win scenario, Antarcticite shows true grit and valor, using the saw as a snowboard and taking out as many Lunarians as possible before they unveil yet another new tactic: fishing tackle and hooks that entangle Antarc. Only a burst of nearly self-shattering strength severs the connection, but the Lunarians still don’t disperse.

Antarc manages to yank their stolen hand free and cause the Lunarians to disperse, but not without nearly shattering as well. Though extremely fragile, Antarc attempts to break Phos out of the gold prison, but another Lunarian arrow reduces Antarc to a cloud of crystal shards. Before being carried off, Antarc orders Phos to remain silent, buying Phos time.

Phos…doesn’t remain silent, instead managing to find a way to control the new gold “arms”—a term that doesn’t really do the new shapeshifting appendage(s) justice—and attempt a desperate counterattack to retrieve Antarc’s fragments.

Phos pushes the absolute limit the gold’s ability, acting both as a means of propelling their body into the sky, absorbing or blocking projectiles, and grabbing and throwing Antarc’s sword. Also pushed to new dizzying highs – the increasingly intricate CGI, put to good use. The shimmering, “gooey” liquid gold presents a stunning contrast to the brittle frozen backdrop.

It’s a valiant effort, but ultimately futile, as the Lunarians retreat too quickly for Phos’ attacks to reach them. Phos ends up badly cracked and plummeting to the ground, but is caught by Kongou, who arrived too late to save Antarc. Still, were it not for Antarc, Phos would be gone too.

Phos acknowledges that sacrifice while lamenting Antarc’s loss, and is likely now possessed of a new iron determination to master their new golden “inclusions”, to prevent (or at least make it more difficult) for the Lunarians to capture another beloved comrade and friend.

As the end credits roll over a somber view of Antarcticite’s now-abandoned quarters (with a lovely new song sung by Phos’ seiyu), I’m devastated by Antarc’s sudden loss, despite not knowing they existed just two episodes ago. Antarc made a huge impact on the world of Houseki no Kuni, performed momentous deeds and fought for Phos till the bitter end, and in this writer’s opinion, left us far too soon.

Just Because! – 07

Things really come together in the Natsume-Izumi-Komiya love triangle this week, as both girls start to realize the feelings they have, things long left unsaid are finally said, nudging the narrative forward in a satisfying way.

Komiya clutching Izumi’s back was certainly a provocative image to leave use with two weeks ago—particularly in making Natsume bear witness to the display. As it happens, the embrace was instigated by a jubilant Komiya. We get to see what led up to that hug-from-behind, with Izumi saving Komiya from a run-in with a scary dude who thought she was snapping pics of him without his permission.

She blames Izumi for not giving her permission, but more importantly, finally tells him why it’s so important he give it: the photography club is a place where she finally belonged; if it’s gone, she’ll have nowhere.

While that’s not strictly true, I’m sure Izumi can relate to not having a true place to belong after being uprooted from his school and friends years back. And like Komiya, he’s working to preserve such a place, by trying to get into the same university as Natsume.

Izumi tellingly gets no sleep at all; perhaps he recognized Natsume last night when Komiya was on his back; and when it snows the morning of her test, all forms of transportation are snagged and delayed. It’s a common scenario for Natsume, as Izumi sees it: she’s always getting the short end of the stick; one could also call it plain ol’ bad luck.

It enabled her to see Izumi with Komiya at the worst (and most misunderstandable) possible time; it also caused it to snow the day of her big test, and to slip and fall right before the PA warning about the slippery floor.

But Izumi is on it; he does what he’s always done with Natsume; try to make up for her bad luck by being there with her; to help bear some of her burdens. After seeing him with Komiya, Izumi helping her off the cold wet ground was probably the last thing Natsume expected…and yet here he is.

Izumi also shields her on a crowded train, making things as comfortable as possible before her test. When she worries she’s forgotten all she’s studied, he throws history questions at her, which she answers with ease; she’s alright after all. She asks him to keep quizzing her.

Neither mentions what was up with Komiya last night, he’s just there, in the there and now, to offer his support, and it seems to work: Natsume arrives at the test center with a spring in her step and has a defiant, confident look in the testing room.

That train scene is my favorite of the show between the two; there’s so much quiet, gentle mutual affection there; both look so cozy and content. And it almost instantly turns Komiya—whom I was damn near ready to ship with Izumi last week, but who sneaks up on Izumi in a bookstore—into an interloper. Izumi barely has the time of day for her.

At the same time, I feel sorry that the timing of her “queasiness” is coming at about the same time Natsume is starting to realize her feelings for Izumi. After the test, Natsume watches a middle school couple interact on the train, with the boy carrying the larger load for the girl’s sake, albeit somewhat grumpily.

The boy reminds Natsume of Izumi, clearly carrying something too heavy but willing to do it for her. In that flashback, Natsume’s fellow council members skipped out on her, in another instance of her getting the short end of the stick, but Natsume’s quite right that Izumi got an even shorter end when he suddenly had to move away.

But now Izumi is back, and he’s still willing to go the extra mile for Natsume. Indeed, she’s not yet aware he’s aiming to go to the same university as her. I wonder how she’ll take that when she does learn? I guess it depends on whether he tells her or if she finds out.

Komiya does know; she saw the books Izumi was reading at the store. As such, and with her “queasiness” in mind, Komiya wastes no time asking permission again, this time asking Natsume if she can ask Izumi out on a date.

In baseball speak, this question to Natsume could be considered “chin music”, a fastball high and inside, meant to back the batter off the plate. It’s an aggressive move by a girl who has made many an aggressive move to get what she wants, though in a more pragmatic than selfish or hostile way.

Everyone is looking for a place to belong, and in Komiya’s case, that place might just be by Izumi’s side. Natsume may have been super-passive up to this point, but her response to Komiya is a swift and decisive “no, you can’t”, spoken almost under her breath, but from a higher physical point than Komiya, underscoring her precedence.

Those three words indicate so much: No, you can’t swoop in and take what would already be mine, if I’d realized and/or acted sooner. No, you can’t steal a march on me. You may be working through things faster, but that doesn’t mean I have to match your speed. I’m going to sit down, figure things out and talk with Izumi, and then we’ll see what’s what. Until then, REQUEST DENIED.

It’s an admirable first step and line in the sand for Natsume. Here’s hoping she keeps it up and has a good, productive conversation with Izumi very soon.

Houseki no Kuni – 07

Phos lies prostrate before the Amethyst twins as Rutile repairs them, but once they’re whole enough to speak, it’s the twins apologizing to Phos: they were overzealous in their efforts to show Phos how badass they are and let their guard down.

Phos doesn’t feel any better about freezing up, and runs off, both to try to outrun the shame, but also because that when circumstances necessitate an immediate retreat, Phos has to be able to do it. Phos’ legs lead to Cinnabar, whom Phos still doesn’t feel right speak to quite yet.

Phos’ state of incomplete development comes at a bad time for them; Winter has come, and with it the time when all gems hibernate until Spring—and sufficient sunlight for them to function—returns.

The only two who normally stay awake while the others sleep are Master Kongou, and the heretofore-unseen Antarcticite, voiced by Ise Mariya.

Antarcticite was unseen because they only become solid when the temperatures drop enough; when it’s warm, Antarcticite occupies a vat in their room, in a liquid state. “Antarc” also has a particular like of Kongou, and cherishes the time when they patrol together.

Then, while the two are hugging, Phos emerges from behind a wall. Unable to sleep, Phos requests to be allowed to stay up and train up in these harsher-than-usual conditions rather than waste them hibernating. Kongou agrees and partners Antarc with Phos.

Antarc is initially quite annoyed by this decision, but only because they remember Phos of yore, not the present Phos, willing and able to grow. When Phos tells Antarc of the desire to become better and more useful, Antarc takes a more patient tack.

Phos is particularly sluggish in the dim winter chill, but toughs it out until the two reach their destination: a field of eerily gorgeous and hazardous ice floes that let out blood-curdling screeches when grinding together.

Like Amethyst, Antarc is quick to demonstrate their duty to Phos: cleaving the surfacing ice floes with a saw in order to stop them from disturbing the hibernating Gems. Watching Antarc spring into action, balance a high heel atop the ice, then unleash a massive blow, is really something to behold.

The spectacle, and the utterly pristine whites, blues, purples and aquas of the frigid winterscape lend this episode a unique beauty, backed up by some of the most conspicuously excellent music of the show.

I’ve always liked “ice levels” as a kind of aesthetic palate-cleanser. Winter turns the Land of the Lustrous into another world, and it’s a glorious thing to see and hear. The stark beauty is nicely complemented and warmed up by the understated Phos-Antarc buddy comedy.

Antarc shows Phos all of the various duties they must perform; some menial, others herculean, and others downright weird, like making sure to put down the sleepwalking gems—and, occasionally, cover Master Kongou when he smashes into a wall—with blankets. Phos simply tries to keep up, but it’s a lot of work and has to be done with a minimum of energy due to the low sun.

Then, just as Phos is wondering whether they bit off more than they can chew and ponders the hopelessness of achieving their goals, the ice floes seem to call out, echoing the anxieties in Phos’ head. Kongou warns Phos to ignore the voices, giving Phos yet another challenge to overcome among all the others.

It ultimately proves too much. While out on patrol, Phos considers sawing off both arms so that they be replaced with a stronger ones, as Phos’ legs were. Phos stops themselves, but slips and falls into a frigid pool. Antarc pulls Phos out, but Phos is missing both forearms—and if they can’t be retrieved, many more memories.

Antarc has been shown to be proficient in making minor repairs, but this is a job for Rutile, who is hibernating. So yeah, we close another episode with Phos’ existence at another crossroads. Here I thought Phos would find a way to attach saws to their legs and use them to cleave the floes; now I just hope the Phos I know and love can get out of yet another spot.

Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 03

This week on Girl’s Last Trip, something amazing happens; something perhaps more amazing than finding all the elements one needs to build a makeshift hot tub: Chito and Yuuri meet another survivor, a young man named Kanazawa.

The lit cigarette portended something potentially perilous, but Kanazawa is harmless. He has no gun and no vehicle, and has been making maps, but that’s about all we and the girls ever learn about him. Where he came from and how he survived are left a mystery.

While he doesn’t have a gun, he does have dynamite, which he uses to knock a building over so they can use it as a bridge across a gorge. His maps help lead them to a fueling station, and then they finally reach their destination: one of the mammoth towers that must lead to a higher level, where maybe there will be more people…or at least more food.

SSR excels at portraying just how tiny humans are before all this gargantuan infrastructure; Kanazawa offers some insight regarding the fact more contemporary civilizations couldn’t fully figure out the more ancient, yet in some cases, more advanced structures. At any rate, they’re very big and impressive.

Anyone who doesn’t like heights—like Chito—might just feel a bit of vertigo or tingling in the back as the elevator, which has no chain link fence, slowly rises higher and higher. Just as Chito is worried about what would happen if the elevator tilted, the elevator tilts, and Kanazawa’s sachel of maps slips off.

He nearly slips off as well trying to catch it, but he can’t. His maps are gone; scattered hundreds of feet above a level they may never return to. As he had earlier declared the maps were his life (i.e. the only thing keeping him going), he wants the girls to let him fall. They do not let him fall—Yuuri may be a book-burning glutton but she’s not evil.

They manage to fix the elevator and reach the top, and their seeming reward is the activation of all the streetlights around them, and a great light in the distance that is the girls’ next destination.

After Yuuri uncharacteristically shares her rations with Kanazawa (and Chito rewards her by giving her half of hers), Kanazawa heads North on his own. Looks like he was only ever going to be a temporary party member. Now on to that great light…whatever it is.

Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 02

Chito fights to stay awake at the handlebars as she searchs for shelter in a stinging snowstorm…and Yuuri builds a mini-snowman on her head. It’s pretty indicative of their relationship: Chi-chan may be the brains of this survival operation, but her seriousness is tempered by Yuuri’s more easygoing nature—when she’s not pointing a rifle at Chito, her only friend in the whole world (no one threatens anyone this week).

They find an old building, but it’s still cold—until they find a pipe that isn’t. Chito helps a freezing Yuuri steady her gun and blasts a hole in the pipe, then they use the Kettenkrad to haul a pipe fragment to fill and make a hot bath. Not only does the bath look extremely comfortable to spend time in, but proper hygiene is absolutely essential when trying to survive and this is only their fourth bath since leaving home.

After the bath they get a fire going, and Chito writes in a journal by the light. We learn Yuuri can’t read or write (at least not on Chito’s level), and the difference in education and value placed on the written word brings the two into philosophical conflict:

Chito: Memories fade, so we write them down.
Yuuri: Memories just get in the way of living.

(It’s also worth mentioning the language Chito reads and writes in isn’t Japanese, at least as we know it; they come across a Japanese sign she can’t read. Another indication we’re either dealing with the distant future or an alternate universe.)

Yuuri doesn’t even really pay attention when Chito is underscoring how valuable books are, so when asked to add fuel to the fire, she tosses a book in, and Chito isn’t able to put it out until it’s half-destroyed. Chito goes to bed angry at Yuuri, and when the winds outside intensify, it looks as though Yuuri is going to add Chito’s journal to the fire. If the choice is between staying warm enough to live versus the book, there is no choice.

Fortunately, things aren’t that bad (yet), and in the morning, Chito finds that Yuuri drew her sleeping face in the journal, along with the scrawled words “I’m sokky[sic].” She’s no longer mad. And how can she be, when the snows have finally ceased and the skies cleared, giving us a better look at the sprawling ruins of a colossal city of multiple vertical layers, Fifth Elementstyle.

The duo treads water out to the edge of one of the massive structures they stand upon, where a row of huge drains begin to spew forth fresh, pure snow melt, which Chito suggests they’ll use to do laundry—no point in washing yourselves if you’re going to keep walking around in filthy rags.

As their clothes dry, Yuuri finds a fish—something neither of them has ever eaten or even seen—but they’re right on when they fire-roast it on a spit. A hot bath, clean water, laundry, and a fresh meal: it’s been a downright luxurious outing for our post-apocalyptic wanderers.

There’s so much to like in SSR, starting with cute (but-not-too-cute) character designs, yin-yang characterization, deft voice work by Minase Inori (Chito) and Kubo Yurika (Yuuri), and gorgeous, gorgeous scenery of a ruined, deserted, but still thoroughly impressive civilization

The camerawork is great too, with some shots capturing two tiny human specks against the majestic the infrastructure, and others in which the girls’ widening faces fill the frame as they exhale in extreme relaxation. It’s a beautiful, heartfelt show; at once big and small; cold and warm; scary and comforting.

Kuromukuro – 23

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I must say I didn’t expect Yukina, Ken, and Muetta to go to school what with everything that’s going on, but it’s not as if there’s that much more for them to do. The Efidolg are being really really nice in not trying to kill anyone else or attempting to secure either the Kuromukuro or Muetta’s glongur, but the Earthlings don’t really have a plan for how to proceed quite yet. As such, we get a calm-bef0re-the-storm episode, and a fair amount of fanservice, starting with Muetta in Yukina’s spare uni.

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In this calm, both Ken and Muetta try to figure out what they’re going to do with themselves if and when Earth survives the Efidolg onslaught. Again, the timing for a career counseling session seems a bit odd, but I appreciated the practicality of a samurai figuring out something else to do with his life – though I’m pretty sure he could make good money in the modern world demonstrating his fighting skills for education, entertainment, or both.

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As for Muetta, she is even more a fish out of water than Ken, since she’s not sure who or what she is anymore, whereas at least he had his ideals and an object of devotion in Yukihime. Just as the other teacher gives Ken some sage (if somewhat obvious) advice about the future, Marina also flexes her counseling skills by telling Muetta not to despair in her new situation, but to take life by the horns, as all humans do.

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I enjoyed Muetta’s reaction to the deliciousness of omelette rice (and the speed with which she consumed it), her description of the sustenance she’s used to (“square”), and her general bemusement with English loan words and earth technology (like “movies”). Ken is equally amusing as unreliable translator – the blind leading the blind.

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Most importantly, Ken has made peace with the fact that Muetta is not Yukihime, but her own person…and he wants her to fight with them. He expresses this wish during a shoot for a movie, the script for which Carlos has been working on since the attack and by all accounts seems completely absurd and incomprehensible.

I’ve gone on record as not being the biggest fan of Carlos or his desire to be remembered, but the shoot is fine harmless fun, even if it’s mostly a chance to see various characters in different outfits.

This was a quiet, somewhat rambling episode, but it wasn’t entirely pointless, and is likely the last episode of its kind. With only three left, Kuromukuro needs to get down to the business of thwarting the Efidolg threat.

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Kuromukuro – 22

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With Kurobe Lab captured, its remaining staff brainwashed, and the Pivot Stone in Efidolg hands, the enemy halts its advance, allowing the good guys a measure of uneasy peace this week. Zell pays a visit to the Shirahane household to tell the story of how he met and befriended their husband and father Takehito.

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From the moment Zell jumps out of the shadows when Takehito tries to cut himself (to lure the “ogre” to his trap after many other baits failed), their entire interaction is pure gold. I love how unafraid Takehito is of Zell, and how Zell, while a little weirded out by this guy just runs with it, inviting him to his cave for some tasty boil-in-a-bag, showing him where he came from, and warning him of the Efidolg threat.

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Yukina’s father parted ways with Zell but got caught in a sudden snowstorm that claimed his life. Koharu would’ve just been a baby when this happened, but Yukina regrets calling her dad a liar, when he was right about everything. The “ogres” (or “oni”) that are a part of Japanese legend were actually ancient aliens.

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That night, as Yukishi says a prayer for Takehito, Muetta…wanders off, but not back to the Efidolg. She actually has no idea where she belongs anymore, only that it isn’t here. She can’t get the childhood memory of her homeworld out of her head, and the fact that memory may be fake doesn’t make it feel any less real or powerful.

Ken and Yukina go out to look for her, but the activated Pivot Stone lowers the temperature of the vicinity significantly, causing premature snow. Yukina trips and falls into a snowdrift, but Koharu’s ferret finds her, runs back to Muetta, then leads her Lassie-style to Yukina.

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Once again proving she’s not evil, Muetta strips down and warms the freezing Yukina up with her own body heat, causing Yukina to wake up very confused, but then very grateful for saving her life (and I’ll just say Ken really dropped the ball leaving Yukina behind without making sure she got back home safely.) When Muetta breaks down into tears at her frustration of not knowing where to go or what to do, Yukina gives her the only thing she can: a comforting hug and her belief that everything will be fine.

Like everyone else in this episode (who hasn’t been brainwashed), all Muetta and Yukina can really do is keep on surviving. Muetta notes that the premature Winter is the effect of the Pivot Stone, which will soon open a “star path” for the main Efidolg invasion force—if it isn’t open already. I simply don’t see how anyone survives if that force reaches Earth, so if anyone has an idea how to stop it and send the Efidolgs packing, now’s the time.

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Macross Delta – 16

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Aside from a brief (and fairly pointless) visit to Windermere and a scene with Mikumo proposing they use the ruins to counter the Song of the Wind, this episode was given over completely to celebrating Freyja’s fifteenth birthday with a surprise party. As it’s the middle of a Windermeran’s lifespan, Maki and Reina wanted to make it special.

In other words, there’s no action whatsoever, nor is there any movement on the galactic war front. The episode is carried only by the characters, so how much you enjoyed it depends on how much you like and/or care about said characters when they’re not fighting (or singing) to save the galaxy.

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I went on record as saying I liked how desperate things had gotten a couple weeks back when the lights went off on the Island Ship, but now that Elysion is docked with it, there’s little difference between the ship and being on Ragna, which kind of undermines the peril.

That said, I did appreciate the efforts made to expound on the Freyja/Hayate/Mirage triangle in a less stressful environment. At the same time, Mirage’s shopping “date” makes it clear Hayate is “denser than a black hole”, as his stalkers put it.

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He’s aware that he has a special bond with Freyja (and even hears her song from afar), but he doesn’t come right out an call it romance, nor is he even a little aware of Mirage’s burgeoning feelings for him. Mirage plays the good friend to both, though, when the night of the party comes.

The party is when Freyja and the episode shine, as her story about when she discovered Earth music and started singing for her villagewas actually very moving. Her surprise and elation at everyone coming together for her sake was also infectious.

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Finally, Hayate is very late to the party, but for a good reason: after a lengthy but fruitless trip to the mall, he realized the best birthday gift he could give her was home, in the form of snow. And if he realized how close he was to Freyja before, their little moment in the snow was likely the final nail the coffin for poor Mirage and her unacknowledged, unrequited love.

Then again, there were moments for both Ranka Lee and Sheryl Nome when one thought the other had won the Alto Sweepstakes, and it ended up being a triangle that was never broken in Frontier. But in terms of who made the most of this brief respite from intergalactic warfare, I’m inclined to place Freyja firmly in the winner’s column.

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Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu – 16

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In an episode that doesn’t really come close to last week in terms of emotional or visceral impact, Subaru manages to stay alive the whole time. The beatings Subaru receives this week are more intellectual than physical (though he gets beaten up physically too), as he is outwitted, embarrassed, and enraged by each of Emilia’s rivals.

First up, the ever-calculating, ever-level-headed Crusch. Subaru asks her for military aid against the impending Witch’s Cult raid on Mathers’ domain, but Subaru is not able to convince her that it’s in her best interest to help, or offer anything she won’t profit from anyway if Emilia were wiped out.

She never once loses her composure as Subaru fumes and bites his lip bloody, ultimately resorting to begging. Crusch simply sees right through him, that there’s more to what he wants than what he’s saying, though as we know, there are things Subie simply can’t say that has nothing to do with pride or loyalty.

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Next up, Priscilla. Surely she remembers him saving her in that alley, right? Nope. Priscilla doesn’t even pretend to treat Subie with the slightest whiff of respect, offering to help if he’ll kiss her feet, but quite unlike Crusch, loses her cool completely when he actually tries to do so.

Just as he only managed to convince Crusch that he’s, at best, mad as a hatter, he only manages to convince Pris that he’s a detestable pig who will do anything, no matter how debasing, to get what he wants.

Priscilla is disgusted even to be in his presence, and extends her disgust to Emilia’s whole camp. And she’s clearly deeply disappointed; doubtless a part of her wondered if he wasn’t quite as “insignificant” as he seemed; alas.

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o-for-2…will the third time be the charm? Subie didn’t even bother going to Anastasia Hoshin until they bumped into each other in the street. But while Ana seems a lot friendlier on the outside, she’s only playing games with poor Subaru, dangling something he needs (and a trifle at that; a carriage) in order to pump him for info on who Crusch has been meeting with.

Like a common schoolyard bully, the haughty Anastasia drops her mic and walks out of the tavern, taking her private army with her, utterly assured that Subaru is incapable of doing anything, giving him a curt lesson on being prepared for negotiations, and warning him that the things he does “won’t ever go away,” which hits particularly close for the respawning Subaru who has now struck out on securing an army to protect Emilia.

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Chance smiles upon him one more time, however, as he runs into Otto and a convoy of merchants carrying large amounts of oil. Oil that, I’m sure Subaru is thinking, could be repurposed as some kind of weapon against the cult. Getting back to his old resourceful self, he also hires the merchants to help him evacuate Mathers’ domain. It’s a far more modest and improvised plan, but it’s the best plan he has, and time is a wastin’.

Naturally, even this plan runs into a snag, when a carriage he believed was right alongside his turned out never to exist, and a gigantic beast (probably the fog-making white whale Rem mentioned in episode 14) appears in its place, staring its huge eye right in his face as he shines his phone flashlight at it, and then letting out a monstrous roar…

…And that’s where we leave things: wondering if that beast will send him back to the apple merchant’s stall (erasing all those unpleasant failed negotiations in the process), or if he manages to make use of that oil to progress his hasty, threadbare plans.

As Priscilla said, Subie “hasn’t thought this through.” True, but after a few more failed plans, absorbed blows, and lessons learned, perhaps he eventually will. OR perhaps he’ll simply keep suffering and dying shortly after watching those closest to him do the same, growing more and more insane from the trauma.

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Whatever the case, he’s certainly come a long damn way…

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P.S. Lovely new ED…and quite a departure from last week’s “Headless Subie and dead twisted Rem being buried in the snow as blood red credits roll”

Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu – 15

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I honestly didn’t think a second cour episode of Re:Zero could match the cinematic majesty of episode 7, but, well…here we are, eight episodes later, and this show is still topping itself. My expectations for the finale have now risen to unreasonable highs. But never mind that; we’ve got a long, long way to go, as does Natsuki Subaru.

Subaru doesn’t choose to commit suicide. He does die and Return by Death; but not by his choosing. He is slain in the most nightmarish way imaginable, having his fingers and leg cleaved off before freezing solid and cracking. Jeez, this show is rough on ol’ Subaru.

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Surprisingly, he respawns not in a bed, but at the vender’s cart, where he was with Rem seemingly an eternity ago (but in reality, early in last week’s episode). It isn’t long before he’s in a bed, however, as he’s so traumatized by what he witnessed and experienced in his last life, he is still in shock and barely able to speak.

Felis can’t do anything about his mental condition, so Crusch lets Rem take him home to Roswaal’s manor, hopeful being with Emilia and Ram will help him recover. Crusch also asks why Rem is so devoted to Subaru, and she responds “because he’s special.”

Once again, they fail to reach manor without incident, even though it’s Rem and not Subie’s choice to head there.

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The hooded baddies—witch cultists—ambush the cart, bloody a furious Rem, and take Subie captive.

Subie wakes up in chains, still unable to speak, and comes face to face with the grotesque and thoroughly insane Betelgeuse, who would be a goofy character for Re:Zero if we didn’t already have his less evil counterpart, Roswaal.

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Oh, and if this guy wasn’t fucking threatening and terrifying as all Hell, and merely a subordinate to “The Gospel”, and presumably, The Witch. Betel is a high priest of “sloth”, and initially calls Subie “pride” (perhaps why the cultists bowed to him last week?), and while his plans for Subie aren’t precisely clear, he’s intent on finding and killing Rem as soon as possible.

Rem all but grants his wish by busting into their cavern hideout, hopelessly outnumbered and surrounded. For all her power and combat ability and heartfelt desire to save her beloved Subaru, she’s still quite messed up from the initial ambush, and when she gets too close, Betel strings her up in mid air and breaks all the bones in her body, then twists her extremities in the opposite direction just two twist the proverbial knife.

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Betel heads off to prepare for “The Ordeal”, but Rem is amazingly still alive enough to scoot towards Subaru and free him from his chains, and from what is certainly to be more horrible torment at the hands of that monster and his master.

She tells him to live, and that she loves him, then passes away in his arms. While Rem has died before, as has Subaru, I just wasn’t prepared for this. She was found dead suddenly last week, but here the death is drawn out, as is Subaru’s apparent helplessness.

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Not sure what else to do, and still clearly foggy from his multiple ordeals, Subie continues his trek to Roswaal’s manor with Rem’s body in his arms. Again, he finds signs of a massacre, dead villagers, children, and Ram.

He doesn’t get anywhere near the front door before a colossal dark beast with glowing yellow eyes orders him to “sleep now, like my daughter.” Subaru’s head pops of with a splash of blood…and the blood-red credits start to roll as he’s buried by the snow. There’s no merciful fade to black. The camera doesn’t budge. The stirring, soaring, relentlessly tragic score blares.

By God…that was one of the darkest, cruelest, most hopeless endings I’ve ever seen. But this is Re:Zero, where endings usually lead to new beginnings. Still, it still felt like everything was over and there would be no victory, ever. 

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Sure enough, Subie respawns with Rem at the vendor’s. He’s not catatonic this time. He embraces Rem; alive again; in love with him. The vendor tells them to take a hike and stop scaring customers with their PDA.

Subaru takes Rem’s hand like he never intends to let go of it again, and she’s all to happy to hold his as they walk peacefully, quietly down the street.

But Subaru’s smile slowly vanishes as the camera pans up to his face. It’s a beautiful day, but there’s a storm brewing in his eyes. They’re not the dead eyes of defeat. They’re the fanatical eyes of a demon, and Betelgeuse is his prey.

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Hai to Gensou no Grimgar – 08

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Hai to Gensou no Grimgar is a little counter-intuitive. You’d think that its penchant for building slow, careful, gradual atmosphere meant it would need all twelve (or more) episodes to properly tell its story. And yet, despite taking things slow and easy and letting its characters breathe and exist in the world it created, this eighth episode could have been the finale, with four episodes to spare.

This was the culmination of nearly everything the seven episodes had cultivated, including my emotional investment. It achieved a tremendous amount without abandoning or compromising the style it’s stuck with all along. In fact, in the end it actually doubled down on the long quiet, contemplative, emotion-rich scene of rest.

I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a show so patient and diligent and deliberate that at the same time was able to move so fleetly and efficiently. It kind of had its cake and ate it too.

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Things start simply: a pre-game huddle in which Mary–the priest who let her party die who joined the party that let their priest die–adds her hand to the pile and promises to protect everyone. Then everyone gets into position, waits for the right time, and the most ambitious and dangerous battle yet fought commences.

The breathless, bloody action is set to upbeat (rather than desperate) music, reflecting everyone’s positive attitude and determination entering the fight. No longer is there any doubt that they will have each other’s backs. The goblins are initially surprised by their ambush, but quickly regroup and exhibit that they’re just as capable of learning about their enemy and adapting to their tactics.

At times, things get a little dicey, but just when you think one party member is in trouble, another one bails them out. When Yume and Moguzo get wounded, Mary quickly heals them, and it’s not a waste of magic because without numbers, they can’t afford the pace of the battle to wane due to injuries.

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After infiltrating the goblin stronghold and clearing the lower levels of all enemies, they reach the top, where the leader is sitting, apparently bleeding out and close to death. It’s here, so close to victory, where the party lets its guard down, just as it did when they took down their very first goblin but didn’t cut deep enough. Despite being indoors, they neglected the fact the roof was open, and a goblin snipers puts an arrow in Mary’s back.

Dear God, not again raced through my head as I held my breath, and as the others tended to Mary, Haruhiro (who Mary is now calling “Haru”, like me, or “Hal”, depending on your translator!), goes after the sniper, who happens to have his old dagger. After a vicious struggle, he uses that dagger to deliver the killing blow, Yume slides down the roof to meet him, and the battle is over.

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I was a little worried for a second that Mary died, but part of me assumed this time she had enough magic to heal herself, and so she did. After that battle, Haru and the others acquire their badges and finally become volunteer soliders. Their first stop after this achievement is the grave of their former leader, Manato, not just to show him that they did it, but to give him his own badge as well.

During this extended scene, which I liked very much, Haru thinks a lot about what to say. He notes how he and the others didn’t actually know Manato that long; how he didn’t get to see all the sides of him, how he may have well hid many of his flaws in that time. Haru wished he could have gotten to know Manato better, as did the others, but they can take solace in the fact they were still able to become a good party without him, channeling the pain of his loss to motivate their steady improvement.

As Haru talks about how far they’ve come Ranta says something nasty out of turn and gets admonished by Yume, Shihoru cries, and Mary keeps a respectful distance, though grows closer and closer as the scene continues. It also begins to snow, covering the scenery in white, indicating this is the end of one chapter and the beginning of a fresh new one.

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After the ceremony, Haru walks Mary home (I was wrong last week about her moving in with the party right away). They lament that magic can heal wounds, but not mend clothes or hearts or erase the pain of loss. As they enter the town, he admits he knows about three friends she lost, but she’s okay with him knowing, just as he’s okay with her having a name for him–Haru–that only she uses.

Their last exchange here is infused with a fair share of romantic undertones, but more than anything its just nice to see how far these two have come since Mary first arrived on the scene. Haru has become a good leader of a good party, and Mary has found new friends and a new purpose.

I imagine the party is in store for a time of rest after gaining their badges. I also wonder if the show will ever address everyone’s past lives or the mechanism that brought them to Grimgar; not that any of that is necessary. This was Hai’s best episode, considering the careful work needed to make this such a powerful, cathartic arc conclusion.

I don’t see how it will be topped with only four left (unless a second season is forthcoming), butthat’s okay; the show could have ended right here and I would have been content. This show has already far exceeded my expectations going in; everything that’s to follow is a bonus I’ll graciously accept.

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