Super Cub – 10 – The Girls of Winter

For me, there are few things better than waking up in a warm cozy bed, pulling open the curtains and discovering that the world has become white—or silver, as Koguma puts it—with a fresh, immaculate coat of snow. So when Koguma does just this, I can relate.

And while she prepares for a day in, as she doesn’t want to try to ride on the slick roads, Reiko gives her a call demanding she come to the cabin, and Koguma braves the suddenly very steep and terrifying hill from her apartment building. She’s rewarded with tire chains for her Cub.

Once properly affixed to the tires, Koguma and Reiko can truly go wherever the fuck they want, and they decide to head up into the mountains for a bit of mechanical horseplay. Koguma crashes her Cub for the first time ever, but thanks to the thick, soft snow, she’s able to pop right back up and remount her trusty steel steed.

She even follows Reiko in doing some jumps and then basically riding around so wildly that they both crash almost on purpose. Especially when they remove their helmets and layers, I kept waiting for a chime and message to pop up saying “Do not attempt. Messing around on motorbikes can cause serious injury or death”…but it never came!

We’ve seen Reiko continually battle Fujiyama, but this is the first time we’ve seen Koguma really cut loose and go wild, following her friend’s lead. There’s a wonderful sense of momentousness mixed with mundaneness in watching them share their usual bikeside meal with such a majestic alpine backdrop.

After lunch, it’s back to playing with their Cubs in the snow. Reiko starts a snowball fight, but Koguma escalates by peeling out her Cub so it shoots loads of snow on Reiko in retaliation. They wrap up their fun but tiring day with a relaxing cup of joe at Buerre, assuring Shii that she can join them next time, with Reiko joking that she’ll stuff her in her cargo box.

As winter goes on, Koguma and Reiko continue to augment their riding kit with ever-thicker, warmer, tougher gear. All the while, Koguma can tell Shii is working hard on converting part of Buerre to an Italian café. While having coffee there with Shii out, her dad says he’s glad she’s finally enjoying the quirky Alex Moulton bike he gave her, and that it’s as if she’s trying to catch up to Koguma and Reiko. But for the record, he’s happy the girls are insipiring Shii.

Unfortunately, while neither Koguma nor Reiko have ever suffered any serious injuries from riding, Shii isn’t so lucky on her Moulton. I’d say it was inevitable the winter would claim someone, but I figured it would be one of the girls suffering a fever or something. Certainly not the realization of a parent’s worst and most absurd fears: “What if you were in a ditch somewhere?!”

Well, Shii is in a ditch, half submerged in icy water and apparently unable to move. Thankfully she’s able to call Koguma, and Koguma answers. Hopefully she (perhaps with help from Reiko and Shii’s parents) will track her down and she’ll be okay. But that doesn’t lessen the sheer horror of seeing Shii in that position, or the audacity of the episode simply ending without getting her out of danger!

Fruits Basket – 53 – Let’s Make Footprints Together

Kuragi Machi hates perfection. She hates it wherever it is, such that when presented with a fresh box of chalk, she must dash it on the floor, shattering every piece. Two classmates report her stunt to Yuki at the StuCo office, mentioning a rumor she was kicked out of her home for trying to kill her brother. Machi stops by the office just in time to see her classmates have spread the rumor to Yuki, and runs off with her awful parents’ voices in her head.

Manabe partially corroborates the classmates’ story, but he admits he only knows the story the parents fed him, so it might not be true. What Manabe does know is that he once watched Machi obsessively make footprints in the freshly fallen snow. Manabe takes Yuki to Machi’s apartment, which Yuki charitiably describes as the “Sea of Decay”, while Manabe hands him one of her bras. Manabe then leaves the two alone to take out the trash.

Manabe leaves the two alone to take out the trash, and as Yuki tapes her cracked window, Machi tells him to ask and believe whatever he wants, since she’s given up trying to set the record straight. Yuki rather easily deduces that Machi is bothered by orderly things. It harkens to the fact her awful parents demanded absolute perfection, then dismissed her as boring and lacking in individuality.

When her little brother was born, her parents got the son they wanted, and had no further use for her. Yuki rejects her being something her parents “got wrong”, as she worked hard to be the Machi he knows and he’s glad she’s there. Machi admits she was never jealous of her brother; she was only trying to place a blanket on him when she thought he might get cold.

It was her psycho mom who accused her of trying to kill him, leading to her exile and the rumors. Then Yuki says if the snow piles up, he’ll make footprints in it with her. That hella-smooth line almost leads to a kiss between the two, were it not for the unsilenced phone of an  eavesdropping Manabe.

The next day at the StuCo meeting, Kimi thoughtlessly slides another fresh box of chalk in Machi’s face, but just as Machi is freaking out, Yuki reaches over and snaps one of the pieces without interrupting his announcements.

For the first time, Machi looks forward to the next time it snows, while I look forward to Machi and Yuki growing closer. After the meeting, Yuki makes a quick check-in and is just in time to save Tooru from a ladder off which Kyou falls. Then he heads to an “appointment” with none other than graduating senior Minagawa Motoko.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Motoko despite her often underhanded tactics to get a little closer to Yuki, so I was perfectly fine with her getting a proper sendoff scene here, in which she wants to make clear and plain her feelings to Yuki not so he’ll return them, but just so he knows she loved him, he made her school days happy, and she hopes he’ll find happiness too, or greater happiness if he’s already happy.

We then learn why Nao has been so hostile towards Yuki and even called him his “rival”, when he locates Motoko giving the classroom one last look and tries his best to make his feelings known to her. Like she did with Yuki, it’s more about wishing her well in the future than confessing and expecting an answer, and Motoko’s response seems more than enough for Nao.

The final few minutes are a grab bag, as Hiro meets his baby sister Hinata, Kagura worries about Isuzu’s whereabouts to Hatori and Shigure, and Isuzu emerges from what looks like a building on the Souma compound, donning a white robe and having just cut her hair short. I couldn’t help but notice how closely she resembles Akito from behind, and that might just be intentional on her part. To be continued…

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Combatants Will Be Dispatched! Dropped

With a full slate of shows to follow this Spring, I needed Combatants to really knock one out of the park in its third week to justify keeping it around and…it just didn’t. It was a dull, dreary affair, full of sloppy character models, sketchy animation, unfunny comedy, and a cast that are rehashes of Konosuba characters, only less likeable. Agent Six it probably the show’s biggest misfire, as the show is well aware that he’s supposed to be an dishonorable bastard, but gives us zero reasons to want to watch him.

Combatants Will Be Dispatched! – 02 – Assembling a Team

With far less exposition to dump on us, this week’s CWBD is an improvement, flowing much better structurally and focusing on its kooky characters, like the artificial combat chimera Rose and Grimm, archpriest of Zenarith, god of undeath and disaster.

While both are eccentric to say the least, Alice deems them two of the more powerful assets at their disposal. With their ultimate goal of defeating the Demon Lord in mind, they can’t be picky about personalities.

And just like KonoSuba, there’s nobody here whose personality you’d call “normal.” Alice comes closest, but she’s an android. Six continues to be a cad, racking up Evil Points. Rose is a timid glutton who has a sinister chuunibyou side. Grimm wants a man, and Six would seem to do. Grimm and Rose were both exploited by the military as frontline weapons.

The newly-formed party first tastes battle after harassing a demon lord army supply train, which distresses Snow because she wants more exciting frontline combat so she can affort to pay off her sword (the news she clawed her way to where she is from nothing makes her character more interesting).

Then two of the Demon Lord’s Elite Four arrive: the voluptuous Heine of the Flame (whose “cosplay” reminds Six of his comely bosses back home), and Gadalkand of the Earth, who straight up murders Grimm, just like that!

Even though his sole interaction with her was catching a glimpse of her thong, Six still wants to avenge Grimm, but Gadalkand and Heine both withdraw before he can fight them. Then he learns from Snow and Rose that due to her demon blood and position as Zenarith priest, she comes back to life no matter how many times she dies…which should prove quite handy!

While Six continues to be, for the most part, pretty scummy, he comes off far better this week, especially when he sits vigil over Grimm’s corpse in the temple of Zenarith. When she wakes up, she’s surprised he’s there because he didn’t want her to be lonely.

The episode closes on a sweet note, as Six orders her a spiffy new Kisaragi-brand wheelchair and the two go on an adorable date racing through the wastelands and breaking up couples in a village. This is still no KonoSuba, but I came away from this second episode feeling like it’s starting to find its own voice, and liking everyone just a little bit more.

Combatants Will Be Dispatched! – 01 (First Impressions) – Falling From Grace

With the director of Master Teaser Takagi-san (and this years excellent Those Snow White Notes!) and the creator of KonoSuba, you could say my hopes for this series were somewhat inflated from the get-go. So I regret to report that while this opening episode of Combatants Will Be Dispatched! was okay, it was not great. It didn’t come close to meeting those hopes.

We open with our (anti)hero Combat Agent Six meeting with two busty women in elaborate, skimpy fantasy cosplay and equally lofty names and titles. Everything is serious for the first few seconds as they inform Six of his mission to investigate an Earth-like planet. But then Six calls out Astaroth and Belial for their chuunibyou getup and dialogue.

While this knocking on the fourth wall is a common occurrence in KonoSuba, and it’s intriguing that Six’s two bosses have real Japanese names, his joking around felt premature and forced here, which can be said about a lot of the ensuing comedy. KonoSuba’s jokes based on Kazuma’s perviness and fish-out-of-water status was comparatively so natural and effortless.

It doesn’t help that right off the bat these characters are all some combination of generic, unlikeable, and inconsistent. Astaroth and Belial seem to be in a position of authority, yet Six apparently helped the two found the “Kisaragi Corporation” they all work for, and Astaroth even seems to be harboring a crush on him.

Why, then, does Six let the two women, along with generic “scientist girl” Lilith, boss him around by shoving him into a teleport tube to this random planet? Six is introduced to the “high spec pretty girl” android Alice and shoved in a teleport tube before there’s any satisfying explanation of what exactly is going on. The episode is waving its hands at us saying “just go with it,” but I’d have preferred something more solid to go with!

My initial theory, as Six and Alice are dispatched to the Earth-like world (appearing 30,000 meters above the surface) is that Astaroth, Belial, Lilith and Six are gamers in some kind of VR-RPG. That explains how they alternate between playing their roles as agents of universal domination and a group of regular human friends.

The remainder of the episode is all about Six landing in a vast ruddy alien wasteland, heading to a nearby city, and learning about his new android assistant. Alice’s primary feature is an apparently city-leveling self-destruct, which calls to mind KonoSuba’s Megumin’s all-or-nothing Explosion. Otherwise she’s just a little girl, and as such, when packs of dog-like beasts attack, it’s up to Six to defend them.

Alice also serves as a rather clumsy provider of exposition, explaining how Six amasses “Evil Points” by doing bad shit, which he can then spend on stuff by writing it on paper and scanning that paper with a gizmo on his wrist. While somewhat novel, it seems like a rather inefficient system. Also, while we know Six starts out with 300 Evil Points, we don’t learn how many he spends to put a shotgun in Alice’s arms.

The show seems to be full of decisions and details that force me to think about why those choices were made instead of just sitting back and enjoying the silliness. Alice just said she was physically just a little kid, yet we see her moments later wielding a shotgun without issue. And why just a plain-old shotgun? It’s a fantasy anime, why not come up with a more imaginative weapon?

After defeating the beasts, Six and Alice are approached by Snow, a female knight straight out of SAO. While initially both suspicious of the two but otherwise noble and dignified, Snow’s not-always-hidden “other side” is apparently extremely obsessed with recognition, money, and glory—in the same way Darkness is obsessed with being punished and ravaged.

Snow is also the personal knight for the Kingdom of Grace’s lovely Princess Tillis, and she’s apparently such a good bodyguard that she lets two total strangers—a highly-trained spy and his android assistant/bomb—into the same room with their weapons! Grace is also a land where real-world items like tanks are regarded as mysterious ancient artifacts.

One such artifact used to make it rain in the kingdom, but is malfunctioning. Alice shows her worth by fixing it, only for Six to insist on resetting the activation password to “Dick Festival”. He helpfully explains that making Princess Tillis say those words will net him Evil Points, and I can’t argue with him there.

The problem is, Tillis’ father, who I’ll call “King Santa” for now, would also have to say those words, so Six and Alice end up tied up. Even so, the King is grateful the artifact was repaired, and Tillis, citing her country’s desperate need for warriors to fight beasts, decides to make Six one of her knights. Snow is dubious, but Six reminds her she said she’d take “full responsibility” for whatever happened with the rain-making machine.

As a result, Snow essentially gets demoted to Sir Six’s XO in their interceptor group. Along with Alice, the three-person party has been set—I just wish I was more excited about it! Not helping matters is the fact that while overall the series looks fine, there are some glaring off-character model moments that are less excusable in a first episode whose job is to impress.

But mostly, Dispatched! is too similar to KonoSuba not to invite unfavorable comparisons to the older series, which not only aired first but crucially also aired at a time when I frankly had more of a stomach for Kazuma / Six / Rudy’s pervy antics. If I’m sick of Six’s schtick one episode in, it does not bode well for the future.

The next-episode preview is presented as a broadcast on a TV in Kisaragi Corp.’s break/club room as Astaroth, Belial and Lilith have tea and snacks, adding credence to my theory the “corporation” is more of a gaming club formed in high school. We’ll see if the show can redeem itself next week.

Re: Zero – 50 (S2 Fin) – Number One Knight

The only thing standing between Subaru & Co. and winning the day is one of the Three Great Mabeasts, the Great Rabbit, who surround the Graveyard just as Subaru returns from the mansion with a newly-revitalized Beatrice. What with the weakness of her contractor (Subie) and the length of time since her last real battle (400+ years), Beako deems she has just the right handicap to make the fight interesting.

With that, she unleashes El Minya—a shower of pink crystal shards that obliterate bunnies on contact. They keep coming, but her contractor, Subaru maintains hand contact and uses El Minya as well until the Rabbits, not being truly infinite, reach their maximum number. Subie then builds a crystal paddock to restrain them, which Emilia traces and reinforces with her ice magic, rising them off the ground.

Having been given sufficient time to prepare it, Beako finishes the Rabbit off with Al Shamac, transporting it in its entirety to an isolated space—like the forbidden library—from which it will never be able to return. A great psychological weight lifts from everyone—and myself!—when they realize that the battle is over, and they won.

Just when Beako is hoping for a little more enthusiastic celebration, she gets more than she bargained for when Subie lifts her up and spins her around in elation. Beako and Roswaal pay their respects to Echidna, their mother and teacher. Beako realizes for the first time that the Roswaal before her is the Roswaal she knew—the product of soul transcription, Echidna’s dream was realized.

Given some time to themselves outside the graveyard during a gorgeous sunrise, Emilia bashfully, adorably broaches the topic of “the baby in her belly!” It’s a phrase that nearly causes Subie to jump out of his shoes, but is only the result of some god-level trolling on Puck’s part, who convinced Lia that a mere kiss like the one she shared with Subie is enough to create life!

What follows is a “purification ritual” at the chapel, in which everyone in the main circle Roswaal wronged is given a much deserved slap or slug to the face. Ram, who is recovering quickly thanks to Beako, doesn’t stop them, as not even she can deny he’s made mistakes—one of them never being aware how much she loves him until now.

Emilia and Subaru knows they need Roswaal’s power for the Royal Selection and Battles to Come, but what’s stopping him from turning on them again? He removes his shirt to show just that: an oath sealed by a curse, which he received after losing to Subaru (on whose chest it would have appeared had he lost). Gar and Petra object anyway, but defer to everyone else, while Lia is sufficiently satisfied upon hearing a simple “I’m sorry” from the margrave.

A little time passes, but not much. With Roswaal’s mansion in ruins, the house of Annerose Miload, of a Mathers branch family, serves as the venue for the knighting of one Natsuki Subaru by one Emilia. Before the ceremony, Roswaal informs Subaru that he still intends to bring Echidna back, blood, breath, and soul.

Because he lacks the Tome of Wisdom, and the pain of losing what may be lost in his quest to revive teacher might surely cause him to Burn Everything Down, he instead vows to keep a close eye on Subaru and the path he walks. Like Roswaal, Subaru has lost so much, but every time he picks up the pieces, refusing to lose anything, bearing every wound those initial losses create.

After some flowery dialogue, the deed is done; Subaru officially becomes Sir Subaru. Subaru marks the occasion by telling Emilia how sexy and cute she looks in her be-knighting outfit, and in another sign of how much stronger she’s become, Lia laughs it off and sticks out her tongue rather than crumbling before praise. More importantly, Subaru now dons world-appropriate clothes that match Emilia’s white-and-purple theme.

As the well-earned party rages indoors, Subaru goes out onto the balcony for some quiet contemplation, and Emilia soon joins him, accurately accusing him of being drunk…on himself and the atmosphere, not booze. Emilia tells him there’s something she wants to talk to him about, and asks him to come to her room later to do so, employing a pinky swear to seal their agreement.

Subaru assures her no matter what she needs to say, he’ll never become “disenchanted” with her. After all, she just made him her Number One Knight! Emilia compliments Subaru’s sweet face, and remarks that the scene they’re beholding just might be her “ideal”, and she’ll never forget it. It was at this point I was convinced a shoe or two would drop, pulling the rug from everyone’s feet and plunging the celebratory mood into some fresh devilry as White Fox often does.

But it didn’t! The fact Rem never woke up aside, this was a totally happy ending, not leaving us with any cliffhanger we’d have to stew with for an unknown duration until a third season arrived to sate our hunger anew. And I’m very happy about that, and where everyone stands at this stopping point.

The gorgeous way the episode fades to white as Subaru and Emilia dance a waltz while surrounded by friends and allies—that’s pretty much my ideal too! Emilia finally got the character-building arc she deserved, and cemented her role as Best Girl. The Royal Selection, Rem’s reawakening, and dealing with the Sin Archbishops can wait. For now, Let’s party!

Re: Zero – 49 – Every Moment Matters

Episode 48 turned the action up to 11 and supplemented it with a fair amount of effective comedy to keep things grounded and hopeful despite everything being on the line. This week the action is turned down considerably and the comedy excised entirely in favor of a number of dramatic set pieces that complete the table-setting for the season two finale.

We begin with Emilia emerging from the Graveyard and encountering the snowstorm. Fortunately the villagers are safe thanks to a shield of ice Puck created around them, though he told them they had Lia to thank for it. She asks everyone to seek shelter in the Graveyard and stay safe and patient.

Emilia runs to the tree of ice from where much mana seems to be emanating, and it shatters and transforms into Puck’s familiar green spirit form, which leads her into the giant crystal room. There she finds a whole mess of Ryuzus, with Shima preparing to “fulfill her role”.

With a flash of white, the crystal containing the Ryuzus’ progenitor and that forms the core of the barrier vanishes. Emilia asks Birma where Roswaal and Ram are, and finds them freezing to death in a field. With his tome of wisdom destroyed, Roswaal is lost and feels that “nothing matters.” Even so, he is healing Ram, who lets out a breath, proving to Emilia she’s still alive.

The first wave of demon bunnies approach, but Emilia freezes them solid with her magic. She then creates a clear and solid ice road above the deepening snows so the Ryuzus can take both Roswaal and Ram to safety. To Emilia, nothing doesn’t matter, so she’ll stand strong and keep fighting until she can’t anymore.

From the freezing sanctuary to the burning mansion, Beatrice laments her present situation and looks back on her past, when Echidna left her in charge of the Forbidden Library full of her knowledge, and asked her to wait for someone “suitable to inherit” that knowledge, which she simply called “that person.” Echidna used those particular words simply for the sake of getting the pertinent information to Beatrice.

However, she’s treated them like a rigid gospel, and they gradually turned into a curse. For 400 years, various Mathers descendants would visit the library but rarely speak to her, instead looking through the library’s books. By the time Emilia the “half-devil girl” showed up, she killed her emotions and stopped talking. Then Natsuki Subaru arrived, and for a time felt like he was “that person” for whom Echidna had entrusted her to wait.

But last week, as we saw, Subaru said flat out “there’s no way I could ever be whoever ‘that person’ is…”, and she threw him out with her telekinesis. Even if Subaru didn’t even understand what she meant by “that person” anymore than she did, because the two words Echidna used were so imprecise. Four centuries of time may have given them more weight and importance they didn’t deserve.

When Subaru first makes it back in the library, Beako is ready to toss him out without any further discussion, but he holds on to the door and manages to stay in the library. He tells her even if he isn’t that person, he wants to stay with her, to end her days of loneliness. His argument isn’t strong enough, and Beako de-reses the library, banishing him seemingly for good with a “farewell.”

Of course, that’s not enough for Subie to give up either; not as long as there’s still a door in the mansion left to open. He finds it in the secret underground passage, and even though smoke billows and flame lick at its seams and the knob burns his hand, he puts his faith in Beatrice that she won’t let him die when he opens it.

Since this is probably his last chance (there are no more doors), rather than say he’s come to take her away or save her, Subaru tries a different tack: he needs her to save him, by agreeing to stay with him. Otherwise, he’d be too sad to go on living. Beako’s refrain is that he’ll ultimately leave her by dint of his far shorter lifespan.

But even if Subaru’s life is only a moment in Beako’s, if she gives him a chance he promises to engrave that moment into her soul. Rather than fear their inevitable goodbye, he asks her to embrace a guaranteed Subaru’s lifetime’s worth of tomorrows, in which she’ll be too busy taking care of him to be bored or lonely. Unlike the other memories we saw, the moments with him will never fade to sepia.

Subaru’s speech finally does the trick, and just as the library is about to collapse into the flames, Beatrice takes Subaru—whom he calls by his name for the first time—and flies out of the burning ruins of the Mathers mansion in a gleaming purple-pink streak of light. That color, as brilliant as her sepia memories were dull, happens to be a combination of the blue of the freezing sanctuary and the red of the burning mansion.

The destination of that streak of light is the entrance to the Graveyard, where Emilia is fighting the good fight against the bunnies but starting to run out of steam. Subaru, with Beako’s hand in his, tells Emilia he needs to “make a revision” to his first battle, while Beako tells Subie not to blame her for “whatever may happen next.”

I don’t know what will happen next, but hopefully it involves the defeat of the Great Rabbit the ending of the snowstorm, and the final lifting of the barrier, resulting in a victory for Emilia and Subaru without the need for Return by Death. Then again, I’ll remain firmly on guard for the possibility of Re:Zero throwing a final wrench or two into the works—even unto the final moments of the second season finale. After all, every moment matters!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Yuru Camp△ 2 – 02 – Four Sunrises

Rin arrives at Iwata, and it’s everything a gal from a landlocked prefecture could hope for: crystal-clear skies and endless ocean. Riding her moped beside the sea feels great, until the cold and wind get to be too much. Fortunately her mom recommended a tea place, and who should be minding the store but the mountain climbing lady she met at the Yashajin Pass.

Yuru Camp seems to be running with the idea that Japan is just a big small town, where you’re always bumping into people you know by chance. I don’t mind, it’s fun! Rin goes to the upstairs café for a matcha tiramisu set, and suddenly wants to set up her tent right there.

Rin also visits the Mitsuki-Tenjin Shrine, but learns that Shippeitarou III passed away years ago, making Rin suddenly think about how short dogs’ lives are, even going so far as to text Ena her worries about Chikuma. Ena says she’ll be devastated when it happens, but it’s inevitable. All she can do is make sure her pup has as many good times as possible.

Rin switches gears from pondering mortality to getting a fire and dinner going. With no pine cones or twigs on the campground, Rin uses her knife to make a feather stick to start her fire, showing how there are plenty of tricks she still learning. After whipping up a duck soup nameko mushroom soba, she sends all of her pics to the gang, and Nadeshiko reports that it’s snowing back home.

After getting a few hours of sleep, Rin gets up to watch the first sunrise of the new year from Furude Beach, where many others are already gathered and a torii gate is set up for the event. Toba-sensei elects to drive Chiaki, Aoi, and Aoi’s little sister Akari to Mt. Minobu.

They take the ropeway, pray at the shrine, buy some dango, drink some amazuke, and find a good spot to watch the sun rise. In both locations, there’s a palpable electricity in the air, a sense of anticipation in the literal darkness before the dawn.

Then the sun rises in all her majesty, filling that darkness with blinding light and vivid colors. Rin aligns herself so the rising sun appears directly within the torii gate, as if a great spirit were emerging. Yuru Camp has previously displayed a gift for depicting sunrises and sunsets, but it really outdoes itself this time, showing us the same sunrise from multiple locations.

As the day goes on, Rin is looking forward to trying out Iwata’s local specialty pig’s foot curry, but is tempted by a food truck selling pizza and pot-au-feu, and decides to indulge. Chiaki gets Toba and the others to hurry off Mt. Minobu so they can try to catch a second sunrise in Fujikawa City fifty minutes after the first—and one that looks like a diamond rising over Fujiyama’s summit.

While Toba-sensei drifts her Suzuki Hustler up and around the mountain road with the skill of a rally driver, they arrive to find the sun already high above Fuji-san—Chiaki was off by a whole half-hour. The last to see a “sunrise” is Ena, once it’s already pretty high in the sky. Still, I’m sure she enjoyed the extra sleep!

While Rin is starting to think about preparing to check out, she gets a call from her mom: Yamanashi has frozen over in the night, making the roads home too dangerous to attempt, particularly on a moped. The new plan is for her grandpa to drive out in his van to get her and her bike. She just has to sit tight for two days. Considering she’s a short walk from the beach, there are far worse places to be “stuck!”

Horimiya – 10 – Pure White Snow

First of all, I’d like to simply make the observation that for a show called Horimiya, which is short for Hori-san to Miyamura-kun, there sure hasn’t been a lot of the title characters! They show up in the beginning for a brief comedy bit in which Hori is more worried about Miyamura being stolen from her not by girls, but guys like Tanihara and Shindo.

Miyamura’s growing discomfort with Hori’s kink isn’t addressed, and so simply continues to hang there in the background without a satisfying resolution. Hori simply hasn’t been a very likable character lately, and doesn’t help her case with her biphobia this week. Instead, the episode is dominated by Yoshikawa Yuki, who for me was always a character best enjoyed in small portions.

To be frank, Yuki’s crisis isn’t compelling enough to me to carry a whole episode, and starts to grow repetitive as she continues her M.O. of running away from her problems. Unlike her sister, I don’t mind her turning down Yanagi, as she barely knows the guy, and likes Tooru. What I do mind is just about everything else she does and says.

While we don’t hear her say the actual words, it’s later clear Yoshikawa comes clean to Remi about her feelings for Tooru at least to some degree, and in exchange Remi agrees not to correct Kouno’s misunderstanding about Tooru and Yuki dating. Yuki doesn’t like lying or pretending, and wants the lie to be real. She’s just too scared to put herself on the line.

As such, she runs away from the problem, staying home from school for four whole days and stewing in her present state of frustration simply because she fears feeling something far worse if she were to take action: the sting of knowing for sure that Tooru doesn’t like her “that way”, shattering the limbo in which she resided all this time.

Yuki’s sister points out something it’s logical for a big sister to know, but which we already knew from watching Yuki: she never tells anyone what she wants, and almost always regrets it. Yuki is also hung up symbolism surrounding her name, which means “snow”, while “sakura” means the beautiful things that bloom after the snow melts.

Still, when her sister requests she make more of the “snow white” cookies she baked, Yuki at least finds the courage to turn her phone back on. As she suspected, she’s confronted with hard truths, as one of the dozen texts she got is from Tooru telling her that Sakura told him she likes him.

Yuki returns to school but pretends like nothing is wrong, but Tooru wants to talk about it. Yuki assumes he said yes, and that this is the end of their game of pretend, but Tooru surprises her when he says Sakura didn’t ask for a response; she just wanted to get it off her chest. More to the point, Tooru considers Sakura way out of his league, and is certain she’ll find someone better than him.

Yuki ponders the effort Sakura must’ve mustered to bake cookies for Tooru everyday, and the courage she amassed to tell him how she felt. Meanwhile, she just runs, at all times terrified of rejection. Sakura is warm cherry blossoms in the spring while she’s “gross, muddy, freezing” snow, like her name.

Then Yuki exhales, and Tooru notes he can see her breath, and says if it’s going to be this cold it could at least snow, as he was bummed it didn’t snow as much as usual this year. Yuki lists all of the negative aspects of snow and why no one wants it, particularly the part where it ends up melting in the spring.

Tooru surprises her again, saying the snow doesn’t melt because it’s spring, but because it decides to melt…to recede…to run, even when there are some (cough) who want it to stick around. It doesn’t melt because the cherry blossoms ask it to. Hearing all this from Tooru makes Yuki happy, as does when he gently takes her index finger in his hand and leads her back inside where it’s warmer.

For the first time, Yuki hopes it will snow…the pure-white kind. And then it does. Sengoku doesn’t make the symbolic connection, instead asking Remi what’s up with Sakura, as she seems to be acting especially happy. All Remi says is that it’s “the exact opposite” and heads out for tutoring. Sakura arrives in the office, notices Remi didn’t open the window.

She walks over to open it and spots Yuki and Tooru together outside, clearly enjoying each other’s company. Suddenly Sakura has to go, but Sengoku stops her to ask what’s wrong. Going by what Remi agreed to do for Yuki, we can assume Sakura believes Yuki and Tooru are dating, which means she was rejected before she had a chance to ask the guy out.

Sengoku calls this guy a complete idiot and moron who should be expelled—who wouldn’t want to be with her? I’m sure he considers this the right thing to say, and Sakura is grateful for his compliments, but there’s really nothing he can say to stop her from dropping to the ground and sobbing, because her heart was just recently broken. She’ll get over it, but right now it sucks.

That said, if Yuki and Tooru have come to an understanding, they never did come right out and say it. Does Tooru know how Yuki feels about him? Does she know he feels the same way? The next time we see them will they be the way they always are, with neither having explicitly confessed to the other? Can they graduate from pretend dating to the real thing? I hope so, considering all the time we’ve spent on this triangle—and not spent on Hori and Miyamura!

Re: Zero – 48 – Crunch Time

“Love Me Down to My Blood and Guts” almost feels like a finale. At the very least, it feels like the start of the climax of a epic blockbuster film. Every stop is pulled out and not a single moment of its 29+ minutes is wasted. You get a little bit of everything, starting with a well-balanced combination of badass action and lighthearted comedy.

Every wound Garfiel gives Elsa is instantly healed, but he doesn’t consider his fight futile, because he’s not necessarily fighting to beat her. He’s fighting to support his “Boss” Subaru, and no matter how many times Elsa heals and charges, he’ll keep meeting her steel with his.

That’s where we get a couple of impeccably-timed jokes, first with Garfiel boasting that the mabeasts will be no sweat for Boss, followed by the mabeasts being too much for Boss to handle. Subie also strikes out when he tries to demonstrate his real-world knowledge of dust fires, only to need to be bailed out by Otto and Petra igniting the beast with oil.

Those fires defeat the main mabeast but also beging to envelop the mansion. Subaru entrusts Rem and Petra to Otto while he runs into the flames to rescue Beako, whether she wants to go or not.

While the flames rage at the mansion, Emilia’s part of the episode serves as a calming, centering breath. Sure, she watched a number of unpleasant futures, but they come as a jumbled rush of voices and images, ultimately collectively blunting their individual discouraging effects.

There’s also the fact that they’re only “possible” futures, as Minerva tells her after the third trial ends. That means none of them are absolutely the real future, which means Emilia and those she loves will be able to avert disaster if and when it rears its ugly head.

Minerva appears to meet with Emilia in Bliss because Echidna was still “mad” at Lia for how the other two trials went, particularly the second. Perhaps Echidna really would have preferred to greedily feed off Emilia’s despair, but after reckoning with her past in the first trial, the witch’s prediction the other two would be a cakewalk turned out to be accurate.

Minerva is decidedly unwrathful in her interactions with Emilia. In fact, she treats her a lot like Mother Fortuna treated her, with tenderness and love, embracing her when Emilia turns back to see her. I suppose Minerva knew her mother, and maybe even knew Emilia as a baby, which is why she’s so aunt-like here?

In any case, Emilia has passed all three trials, and gains access to a tomb where the intricate barrier spell emanates from the deceased Echidna’s chest. With a cute little “Hi-yah!” Emilia deactivates the barrier and exits the graveyard, only to be welcomed by a raging winter storm.

Elsa and Garfiel are still going at it in the midst of the spreading flames when Maylie bursts through the outer wall with her giant hippo. Frederica isn’t far behind, turning the duel into a battle between sibling duos. After some trash talk the four get down to business, in a fury of bloody, kick-ass combat.

Frederica takes on all of Maylie’s other mabeasts, then Garfiel starts getting serious by transforming into his beast mode, ripping half of Elsa’s face off then not only going toe-to-toe with the hippo, but twisting and ripping it’s damn head off. Unlike the hippo, even Gar’s most vicious attacks fail to faze Elsa.

It’s at this point Garfiel realizes he’s dealing with a vampire. Elsa takes a few moments to tell the story of where she came from, and how she suffered to get to this kind of existence. When she was caught and stripped by an shop owner while stealing off starvation, Elsa reached for a shard of glass and opened the man’s belly.

Elsa, who’d previously only known the cold bleakness of her homeland, was both soothed and excited by the warmth of blood and innards, and never looked back. She tells Garfiel all of this because she finds him so precious and endearing. When he says there’s already a girl he likes, she clarifies that she only has business with his insides, and her love for him will begin after she kills him.

It’s a stirring final monologue for a baddie who has been around since Subaru first arrived, and distinguished by the utter inability to kill her. However, thanks to an assist by Frederica using Maylie to distract her, Gar gets in close and bites Elsa in the neck. Elsa bites him back, but he gives as good as he gets.

Before Elsa’s wound heals (or perhaps it won’t heal because of where he bit her), Gar lifts up the giant headless hippo and throws it on top of her. In her final moments, she recalls the very first thrill of disemboweling someone, then exclaims “What a thrill” in sheer ecstasy before being crushed with an ugly crunch. Hard cut to the title card and that oh-so fitting title, “Love Me Down to My Blood and Guts”.

At this point we’ve reached the 21-minute mark, which is when most other anime are rolling credits. Re:Zero keeps it going with an entire extra act, which is perhaps the most visually stunning and emotionally affecting in an episode that’s already full of those.

It deals with Ram and Puck fighting Roswaal, a battle that moves outside to protect Ryuzu Meyer’s crystal. Roswaal stirs shit by confessing to messing with Puck’s contract with Emilia when she was depressed after her fight with Subaru, essentially kicking her while she’s down in hopes Subie would scoop her up and do everything for her.

Roswaal admits to always looking back on the past, and with fondness, deeming all the wonderful things that ever happened to be in the past, and all that exists now is a phony standing atop a pile of corpses. Puck name-drops Beatrice, provoking him into launching fire attack.

Roswaal is disappointed in Ram’s weak outing thus far; as he wanted her to exact justice for her brethren and find happiness by defeating him. That’s when Ram drops a bombshell on him: he never properly realized her true intention: that she really was a demon, and not someone who was in love with Roswaal.

It’s a confession she delivers while both of her eyes exposed, a trademark of the demon maid sisters. When Roswaal asks her what of keeping her promise to her brethren, Ram simply says she’s prioritizing her own feelings over those of the dead. Puck, energized by Ram’s confession, grows to mammoth size (though maintaining his cute appearance) and seals Roswaal in a giant ring of ice, through which he can spot multiple Rams flitting back and forth.

Roswaal begins destroying the ice walls and the giant ice crystal attacks Puck rains down on him, but in the process he ends up with one of the crystals directly behind him. It shatters on its own and out comes the real Ram, snatching the gospel Echidna gave him, while suffering a horrific wound. Calling it “the root of all evil”, she drops the book in the fire, destroying it.

She wears a smile as she says “Now, at last…” before being hit by Roswaal’s retaliatory flames, which cause a huge explosion that consumes them both. Then the credits roll, and for me at least, the process of starting to breathe again commenced. As it has demonstrated many times in its previous forty-seven episodes, when Re:Zero decides to go big and epic, it does not disappoint.


RABUJOI
WORLD
HERITAGE
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Akudama Drive – 10 – Just Like She Taught Him

Courier, Swindler, and Sister leap off Executioner HQ in pursuit of the helicopter carrying Pupil, Guy Pupil, and Brother. They’re headed to Kansai Station to put the kid on the next Shinkansen. Doctor is also headed there aboard a flying bus whose other passengers she murdered, with a terrified Hoodlum thoroughly wrapped around her little finger.

While en route, Pupil, Guy Pupil and Brother watch a newsfeed showing that the civil unrest has intensified, with large mobs ready to storm police and government buildings.

Courier, Swindler, and Sister learn of the extent of the unrest firsthand when their path to the station is blocked by a civilian-established checkpoint. Unfortunately for these intrepid vigilantes, Boss straight-up strong-arms the ineffectual police chief to declare all rioters to be Akudama.

This has the unintended side effect of allowing Courier, Swindler, and Sister to pass through the checkpoint, as the police bots begin arresting the civilians. As the bus flies over the hotel where he and Brawler had so much fun, Hoodlum wonders just what the hell he’s doing.

Armed with police authorization, Boss sics her Executioners upon the mob, resulting in a bloodbath she deems necessary to restore law and order in Kansai; her primary concern is how this reflects on her to Kanto. Courier reveals he always knew Swindler wasn’t a real Akudama until she became one, which makes her happy.

Then it starts to snow much earlier than is usual in Kansai, almost providing a little bit of hope and cheer to an awfully tense and uneasy situation for all involved parties…except Doctor, who doesn’t even look up to see the snow.

Pupil and Guy Pupil arrive at the station and enter the elevator just as Courier railguns through the doors. He manages to blast his way down to the platform, but by then the Shinkansen has arrived and Brother is in a cargo vault on its way to the train. That’s when Doctor appears and things get way more complicated and intense.

With the quickness of a cat she sticks Guy Pupil straight through the heart with a needle to make a “string of life” that she holds in her hand. Since she’s still not technically an Akudama anymore, the Executioners can’t touch her. Doctor uses that immunity and the string to force Pupil to go grab Brother for her.

Hoodlum, still thoroughly in Doctor’s thrall, holds a scalpel to Swindler’s carotid artery, while Doctor gasses Courier. She revels in having the lives of everyone around her in her hands, but underestimates the “nauseating woman” Swindler’s gift of gab.

By talking to Hoodlum about Brawler and their mutual respect and love for each other, and how disappointed his big bro would be to see him now, Swindler is able to get Hoodlum into lowering his scalpel. Doctor, in turn, is disappointed that Hoodlum is now useless to her, and brings up the fact she stitched Brawler up so he’d bleed to death.

Doctor orders Pupil to execute Swindler and Hoodlum, but before she can bring her lightsaber down on them, a revived Courier shoots it out of her hand. Then things get even more chaotic as this entire standoff is crashed by hundreds of rioters who broke into the station to pray before the sacred Shinkansen for salvation.

In the ensuing confusion, Hoodlum pounces on Doctor and slits her through “just like she taught” him, though she’s still able to slit his and whip out her emergency surgery tools. Only this time it doesn’t work, as the Shinkansen seemingly answers the rioters’ prayers and opens its doors for them. This starts a stampede, and before Doctor can stitch herself up, she’s trampled to death.

The train also completes the loading of Brother’s vault, so with no time to spare Courier, Swindler and Sister hop on the bike and board the train, meaning their next stop will be Kanto. After the credits, Bunny and Shark say this was Shinkansen’s purpose all along; to bring people to Kanto. For what purpose we don’t know, as they’re suddenly cut off. But hey, it can’t be good, can it?

Then again, it could yet be good for Swindler, Courier, and the Siblings. For one thing, Hacker is in Kanto now (as far as we know). For another, they no longer have to worry about Doctor stalking them. I’m a little sad she went so completely heel, but she was always the most calculatingly treacherous of the original group, and the undignified, ignominious end she meets was in ironically stark contrast to her lofty goals.

Cardcaptor Sakura – 68 – A New Spring Dawns

Eriol writes a letter in his dark office then observes the intensifying winter snow through the French doors with Spinel and Nakuru. He assures them that it’s “almost time”…for something. Meanwhile, we join poor Sakura rollerblading through that snow in her jammies while being chased by a swarm of mini snowmen pelting her with snow. She’s eventually buried, but quickly emerges and fights snow with Snow.

Kero is impressed with how powerful Sakura is becoming, noting that she could one day surpass Clow Reed, but Yue disagrees, saying she isn’t close. That ends up keeping Sakura up at night, wondering if and how she’ll ever be able to live up to Clow’s legacy. Then it dawns on her: she can use the Return card to go back in time and ask him herself—and while she’s at it, ask him why she keeps feeling his presence before strange things happen.

After another pinky promise to Syaoran that she’ll safely return, Sakura uses the Tsukihime cherry tree as a conduit to the past, where she finds Kerberos, Yue, and clow. They’re just having an afternoon nap in the shade of a sakura tree, ironically enough. Sakura sees how happy Kero and Yue are and can’t help but feel a little jealous, simply because she isn’t Clow.

The seasons pass, and the tree transforms with it, which Clow uses to make a point about everyone and everything: that it all changes, and that it’s all supposed to. That means even he, the most powerful sorcerer alive, must one day shuffle off his mortal coil. That doesn’t mean Yue is happy about it, or about the prospect of having a new master, so Clow tasks Kero with the duty of finding one.

While at first seeing Clow interact with his creations and vice versa only heightened her feelings of inadequacy, the fact is she is her own worst critic, and not even Clow, whom she replaced, would see value in comparing her with himself. Clow is Clow and Sakura is Sakura. He had his time, and now it’s hers. This point is aptly illustrated by the transition from the winter when Clow passes on to a spring when all the lovely flowers—including sakura—bloom anew.

Her confidence and enthusiasm in her task thus restored, Sakura returns to the present, where Tomoyo and Syaoran had been waiting with baited breath (though they don’t mention how long they were waiting). Sakura reports that while she did meet Clow, she didn’t learn any thing about why they keep feeling his presence. That’s when Eriol jumps into the conversation and offers an explanation.

You see, he is Hiiragizawa Eriol now, but in his previous life, he was…Clow Reed. While this isn’t exactly a shocker, now that it’s out in the open means we’re finally poised for the final showdown between Sakura and Eriol. That said, despite all the shadows and dark musical stabs, Eriol may prove not to be an enemy, but simply a reincarnated Clow ensuring that Sakura becomes powerful enough to convert all of his cards and complete her succession.

Cardcaptor Sakura – 64 – Mean Slopes

Sakura heads from the pool to the slopes in consecutive episodes, and from the first shot of her in her ski outfit admiring the snowy mountains, you just knew you were in for one hell of a looker of an episode. The vistas are just gorgeous, and really capture the grandeur and crisp chill of the setting.

In a welcome inversion of their usual dynamic, Tomoyo is way better at skiing than Sakura, having done it for years—though Sakura proves to be a quick learner. Syaoran is similarly unsure on his skis, and has to be saved from a tree collision by Eriol, who is not only an expert at skiing, but pairs up with Yamazaki to tell a whopper of a tale about geta sandals being the original skis.

Back at the chalet, when Naoko suggests they tells some scary stories about the mountains, Sakura naturally recoils in fear. Eriol indulges Naoko with a tale about a local yuki-onna freezing everyone she meets. Syaoran can tell Sakura isn’t lovin’ it, and suggests they turn in for the night, as it’s late anyway. Still, while Tomoyo dreams of Sakura, Sakura can’t sleep, still worried about what might be out there.

This leads to perhaps the most romantic scenes yet between Syaoran and Sakura, as they sit together beside the fire, then go outside when it starts to snow. Sakura discovers stuffed bears nearby, and asks about the teddy bear Syaoran made, and whether he’ll give it to Yukito. Syaoran admits to her the bear isn’t meant for Yukito, and that he actually likes someone else…though he’s just not able to tell her who. He couldn’t have asked for a better time…

The next day, Sakura shows she’s improved to the point she can hit the intermediate slopes, and Eriol volunteers to accompany her. However, the weather quickly takes a turn for the worse and the two are caught in a blizzard with the downhill lift out of order.

When an avalanche threatens to level the chalet, it becomes clear to Sakura that she needs to do something Cardcaptory to save the day. She manages to hide from Eriol long enough to summon, convert, and invoke the Time card, but it saps all of her energy, and she collapses before she can invoke Fiery to melt the time-frozen snow away.

The effect of the Time card wears off with her collapse, but Eriol uses his staff to disperse the snow, saving the exhausted Sakura. They return to the chalet as the weather improves, and Eriol hands Sakura off to Syaoran.

When he’s out of earshot, Eriol answers a question Sakura asked before about what he can’t stand: “making her sad like this”. But he claims to have no choice. Is all of this about testing her worthiness as master of the cards? What happens when she converts all of the Clow Cards to Sakura Cards? With only six episodes remaining, we’ll find out soon!