Fruits Basket – 58 – Forgiven for Existing

Kyou’s a real big jerk in this episode, not letting poor Tooru get a word in edgewise, and even then rejecting those words and running off, ignoring her feelings entirely. Then again, it was about time we heard Kyou’s full backstory, including how he met Kyouko quite by chance one day, as she noticed how his hair matched hers.

In this meeting of orange-haired Kyous, Kyou finally met someone who didn’t curse his existence; an intermittent surrogate mom of sorts, who treated him the way his real parents should have treated him, instead of blaming a mere child for everything wrong with their lives. For a boy thus psychologically tortured, Kyouko was a ray of light and hope—as was her daughter, whom Kyou only ever saw once, watching her from behind.

When Tooru went missing that day, Kyou made “a man’s promise” to Kyouko that he’d find and protect her. But while he searched all night and into the day, it was ultimately Yuki who found her and brought her home, all while wearing the blue cap he claimed from Kyou when the wind blew it his way.

Kyou was never going to accept a hat touched by someone he deemed his  mortal enemy and nemesis; a “bad guy” title he bestowed upon Yuki because a bad guy was needed. Kyouko urged him not to live his life that way, and even when Kyou pushed her aside, she assured him she’d hold him to his promise he made “another day.”

Lonely because he felt betrayed and ashamed because he couldn’t help, Kyou stopped seeing Kyouko, until one day by chance they were at the same crosswalk. When an out of control car careened towards her, he was ready to pull her towards him to save her, but if he did that, he’d transform, so he “let her die” to protect himself.

Despite hating himself so much, and wishing he could go away and disappear, he always saves himself in the end by running away. Even now, after all he and Tooru have been through, he can’t look at her face, so afraid he is that she loves the wretch who let her mother die. If that mother’s last words were what he thought they were: “I’ll never forgive you”, how could he ever forgive himself?

With his ray of light and hope extinguished, and wracked with the guilt of having done nothing to stop it, Kyou shut down. Shisho took him to the mountains and tried to get him to “keep living”. He began to refocus on Yuki as the bad guy who stole all of his hope, and Akito egged him on by promising to acknowledge him as an official member of the Zodiac and cease calling him a monster if he “defeated” Yuki by high school graduation.

This gave Yuki another reason to hate and compete with Yuki, so he followed him to Shigure’s house…only to come across the last person he expected to see: the late Kyouko’s daughter and treasure, Tooru.

Despite growing closer to Tooru since then, Kyou can’t forgive himself, and doesn’t want her to forgive him either. He’s the real bad guy, not Yuki, and he feels he doesn’t deserve hope, or love, or forgiveness. Finally given a chance to speak as the two are pelted by the rain, Tooru declares that if her mother really said she’d never forgive Kyou, then she’ll just have to “rebel against mom”.

She asks if there’s any way Kyou can accept that she loves him, and he in turns says he’s “disappointed in her”, even after saying he wouldn’t when nothing but a sheet separated them. Kyou then runs off, not letting her say anymore, and Yuki, who had been observing from a respectful distance, chases after him.

That leaves Tooru alone and vulnerable to attack from a dirty and clearly unhinged Akito, who approaches Tooru bearing a knife clearly intent on doing away with the one she’s deemed the bad guy. And while this is by far the most overt threat on Tooru’s life in all these fifty-eight weeks of Fruits Basket, something tells this non-reader that Tooru won’t be joining her mom quite yet…

Fruits Basket – 57 – Caught Up In a Fantasy

“I wonder how much time and effort it’ll take for you kids to find your answers…” Those are the words Kyouko said to a young Kyou. The answer? A fuckin’ lot. Only Kyou seems to be retreating into the answer forced upon him at birth. As Akito was born to be loved, he was born to be loathed and despised, his existence only causing pain.

Even if he didn’t believe those words, as far as he’s concerned they were proven true when his mother walked in front of a train, and then Kyouko died. In his dream, in his dark room in this mercilessly dark episode, he dreams of a third death at his feet, with his hands drenched in blood: that of Tooru. He believes his mother and Kyouko came to him for a reason: to tell him to know his place.

It’s ironic, then, that neither he, nor the other Zodiac members, would even be in this dreadful mess were it not for someone NOT knowing their place. Whether she genuinely loved Akito’s father Akira or was simply trying to get in on that sweet, sweet Souma fortune and prestige, I cannot say, because I have no reason to trust her. But Souma Ren was but a humble servant when she decided to approach Akira, saying she alone could see his pain and loneliness, and offered to take it all away.

Even if it was a cynical scheme at the beginning, Ren was profoundly attached and obsessed with Akira, so maybe she always was. And maybe Akira’s attendants would have found a suitable mate for him to produce a successor before he died…but maybe not. Instead, Ren overstepped her assigned bounds and stepped into that role, bearing the next family head. But it was she who demanded Akito be raised as a man…and a precocious young Shigure seemed to know what that was really all about.

Ayame, Hatori, and Kureno didn’t understand, but Shigure did, even then: Akito was always going to be someone to be pitied, for Ren was imposing upon her a life she never asked for, costing her access to a life where she might not have become a Machiavellian monster.

In the present, Ren thinks that she has a sympathetic ear (and possibly another lay) in Shigure, but he’s only there to fuck with her, as usual. He says he only looks at Ren “that way” because it lets him fantasize about whether Akito would look like her if she’d lived as a girl.

Meanwhile, Akito is sulking in her room, holding the box containing Akira’s remains, remembering her mother (who was never really a mother) challenging her to prove that nobody can break her little dream and rub it in her face. But the dream is dying; Akito can feel it. Bonds are breaking by the day. She’s interrupted by Ren storming in with a dagger, ready to use it unless Akito hands her beloved Akira over.

Akito, in a particularly nihilistic mood, tosses the box high into the air, and for a moment I thought there’d be a horrible cloud of ash. But the box is empty. It always was empty. The chief attendant prepared it as a charm when Akito was being consumed by grief after her father’s death.

As a bereft Ren stares into the empty box, Akito says she’s always been “Other”, and this has all been broken from the beginning. There will be no rubbing in the face of a victory, but she does seem poised to kill Ren with her own knife…until another bond breaks just then.

This time it happens to Hiro, who is playing with his siter Hinata and was probably finally swayed from Akito’s pull due to her. The first thing he does is hold her tight, and then his mom comes in and hugs him. Hiro is full of conflicting emotions, and his mom understands that “saying goodbye feels lonely” by nature. But ultiamtely, it’s a good thing. Hopefully Kisa can follow and these poor kids can start having ordinary lives!

As for Akito…I can pity her without forgiving the things she’s done. It’s not just a matter of her sticking to the “fantasy” that she was a god born to be loved by all forevermore. It’s that she herself was always fifty-fifty about whether Akira’s soul was in that box. No one ever gave her any other life to live than the one she had, and didn’t even know or think she had the ability to change any of it.

Kureno draws her in to comfort her, saying she can start learning the things she doesn’t know or understand. She can change, and escape the choking, crushing bonds of the Souma clan, and he’ll be right there beside her. But Akito believes they’re already past the point of “change”.

She blames Kureno for this, by staying with her out of “kindness”, while half-saving and half-rejecting her. She wishes he could have left her back when his curse was first broken. But it’s too late, and she demands he take responsibility with his life, stabbing him in the back. As Kureno collapses, there’s a devastating smash cut to Arisa looking at a dead bird in the rain.

With that, we return to Shigures, where Tooru and Kyou are just finishing up a meal. Kyou prepares to leave, but Tooru doesn’t simply let him go without a word. She stops him at the door and says there’s something she has to talk to him about. Judging from his face and the dream he had about Tooru, I doubt Kyou’s in the most perceptive mood. It’s going to take a little more time and effort for these kids to find their answers…

Those Snow White Notes – 06 – Everyone’s an Apprentice

Yui lights a fire under the ass of the Shamisen Club when she learns her gamer friend from Aomori is also participating in the group division of the Matsugoro Cup. Her name is “Maimai”—could it be Setsu’s self-appointed rival Tanuma Mai? Whoever it is, Yui doesn’t want to lose to them!

She zealously pushes the others to memorize and practice “Shinbushi” for a month, then Koyabu-sensei and the instrument shop owner Oodawara-san arrange a training camp…in Aomori. When they arrive, Setsu still isn’t sure whether he’ll enter the individual division, while Shuri is struggling with her timing.

In the throes of a full-on slump, Shuri reaches out for advice from Setsu, who is too preoccupied with his own stuff to give her anything other than “just keep doing what you’re doing”. This angers Kaito mightily, but not just because he’s in love with Shuri and Setsu is being a condescending jerk. He’s mostly mad—just as practically everyone else he knows is disappointed—that Setsu isn’t making full use of his talents.

Earlier at school, Kaito was a soccer star with a realistic shot at the pros until he blew his knee out, closing the door on his preferred future forever. He then overheard his father say the injury was a “good thing” because it meant he could focus on his studies and follow in daddy’s footsteps. As such, Kaito considers himself “perfectly set on the rails” his parents laid down.

Rai tells Setsu this, providing context for why Kaito blew his stack, and in the baths, Setsu comes to Kaito to apologize. Kaito apologizes too, and then the two of them and Rai start horseplaying, which Yui and Shuri can overhear from the girl’s bath, indicating the boys made up.

The next morning, super-early, Oodawara-san takes the club up to a vantage point overlooking the Tsugaru Strait and offers a history lesson that proves instrumental in Setsu reorganizing his thoughts about finding his sound and participating in the individuals. The first Tsugaru shamisen players were blind and living hand to mouth. Oodawara wonders what the hearts of people looked like to those who never saw the natural beauty of Tsugaru around them.

Oodawara goes on to say rules and traditions only go so far when it comes to Tsugaru Shamisen, since the circumstances and experiences of the first players were so very different from their successors, who weren’t blind. The past is not simply endlessly repeated; there is a conversation between the past and present, meaning change and boundary-pushing is not only inevitable, but crucial to its survival.

Setsu, grasping better how to find his sound, has Rai and Kaito switch shamisens to better match their playing styles and personalities. Shuri keeps struggling, but is determined not to give up. Wakana and family friend Kouta pay him a visit, and it’s clear to Setsu they’re both trying to light a fire under him.

Talk turns to gramps, who never took on any apprentices because he believed anyone who truly listened to him would be able to learn his sound. But more importantly is what Wakana says before parting: gramps also said that the reactions of the people listening were the most important lessons. In other words, Setsu will never find his sound if there’s no one listening.

Setting up atop the vantage point overlooking Cape Tappimi (or “Dragonsflight”), Setsu starts to play, and at the base of the hill, Shuri hears him and comes running as fast as she can. She can hear Setsu’s sound, and when she reaches the top that sound is so powerful, a feeling rose up in her chest that made her suddenly shout “Wa!”

Turns out that while “Wa” isn’t one of the kakegoe shouts, she shouted it precisely when she should have, because she was riding the sound, not chasing it as she had been throughout her slump. Setsu’s sound was “leaping so freely” it not only felt amazing, but helped her leap right out of that slump with a new understanding of what she was doing and how to fix it, all through the power of his sound.

Setsu, in turn, thanks Shuri for giving him the final little push he needed to decide he’s going to enter the individuals after all. That’s right: IT IS ON.

In their final “Shinbushi” practice of training camp, the club gets through the piece without a single mistake. Everyone’s feeling good, and Oodawara suggests they celebrate their success by attending Nebuta, one of the “three great festivals of Tohoku” according to Yui, and something hard to argue with what with the excellent music, dancing, and food.

All the while, the tiny obaasan who hosted the club at the guest house clandestinely shows off her god-level texting skills, revealing that she was one of Umeko’s spies all along. She informs Umeko that Setsu has indeed agreed to enter the individual division, just as Umeko is promoting the Matsugoro Cup. She got what she wanted yet again, but in this case it’s because Setsu wants it too.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

TenSura – 34 – The Turn of the Tide

No more talking or planning…it’s time for action! As I’d hoped, Tensura delivers with a crowd-pleasing sequence of pulse-pounding duels and battles that all pack a punch in different ways. Free of the anti-magic and demon-weakening barriers, Rimuru’s generals can really cut loose, and they do.

Working alone, it takes no more than sixty seconds for Benimaru to eliminate the entire unit guarding the device to the east. Gabiru’s unit’s aerial attack makes similarly quick work in the south while Souei’s underlings apologize for defeating the troops around the northern device so quickly and easily.

With three of the four devices destroyed, all that’s left is the west, where Rigur and Gobta handle the knights while Hakurou and Geld deal with the otherworlders Kyouya and Shougo, respectively. These two thrilling duels form the backbone of the episode, and they do not disappoint.

Hakurou, normally a pretty chill guy, is still steaming from having been jobbed in his last scrap with Kyouya, who conveniently forgets that the barriers made life much easier for him, and prevented him from experiencing anywhere near Hakurou’s true power.

Hakurou is all too happy to demonstrate that things will be a little different this time around, giving as much trash talk as he’s getting from the young cocky pup.

Again Kyouya tries to trick Hakurou by turning his sword into dozens of flying blades, but this only further disappoints Hakurou for having to deal with a “less than second-rate” opponent resorting to tricks to try to defeat him. Each of Kyouya’s blades are turned to dust, and not one lands a single scratch on the old man.

Kyouya seals his doom by relying on his All-Seeing Eye to detect Hakurou’s movements while yelling out the incredibly lame line “Rest in pieces!” Hakurou, who appears to be standing still, warns Kyouya “you can’t see nothin’ yet”, then everything goes white and blue as he unleashes Crestwater Slash.

Not only can Kyouya not dodge the strike that separates his head from his body, but his All-Seeing Eye keeps working normally even after he’s been beheaded, until his vision finally catches up with Hakurou’s movements. That means Kyouya gets to experience the singular horror of being aware his head was chopped off. Tensura is not fuckin’ around here!

Next up: Geld vs. Shougo. Shougo starts warming up by trying to get Geld to remove his armor for the sake of a “fair fight”, but Geld doesn’t take the bait; he knows more than anyone that in war you use every weapon at your disposal. Shougo thinks he’s got an easy fight when he busts out Berserker and Diamond Skin, but like Kyouya, he’s soon exposed for the overconfident,  second-rate novice he is.

Shougo’s skin may be diamond-hard, but it’s also extremely susceptible to Geld’s Rot, which attacks Shougo’s limbs and forces him to retreat. He runs into Kirara’s tent, where she’s just chilling out wondering what all the noise is…and strangles her to death. Kirara: we hardly knew ye.

Shougo uses her soul to acquire the Survivor skill, which he believes when combined with the Berserker skill will make him virtually invincible. The operative word there being “virtually”, Geld catches up to him and starts beating the ever-loving crap out of him while going heavy on the Rot.

Shougo continually heals, but he still feels the pain and horror of Geld’s attacks. Confident he’s suffered enough, Geld prepares to deliver a finishing blow, but it is blocked by Shougo’s ally, Lord Razen, who recognizes the power of both the Orc Lord and a Kijin and decides to teleport away. Hakurou reveals that had they killed Razen, it would have triggered “nuclear strike magic” that would have wiped everyone and everything in and around the city.

With the fourth of four devices destroyed, the anti-magic barrier falls, which is the signal both for Shuna and Mjurran to initiate their own barrier to replace it, and for Rimuru to begin nourishing his Demon Lord seed. Razen ends up killing Shougo’s soul with a spell and then possesses his body, which is still equipped with both Berserker and Survivor. Just like that, the three otherworlders are off the board. They were assholes, and will not be missed!

Razen believes he’s now powerful enough to face a Demon Lord, but you’d think he’d no better than to write checks he’s not sure he can cash. Just then, Rimuru places an anti-magic barrier around Falmuth’s army and activates Megiddo, AKA Armageddon.

Thousands of tiny drops of liquid spread forth from dozens of larger balls, and then a net-work of glowing white magical strings pelts the soldiers below, insta-killing them with incredible speed. By the time the episode ends, over 5,500 have been killed—more than halfway to Rimuru’s goal.

There’s no going back now. These humans and their actions convinced Rimuru beyond any doubt that there can be no peace without war, overriding his past human form’s aversion to killing. Falmuth and the church started this war, but Rimuru intends to finish it more powerful than ever. In a way, this episode marked the beginning of the end of the Old Rimuru.

Made in Abyss: Dawn of the Deep Soul – Trials Make Love Stronger

I finished the first season of Made in Abyss three years and a week ago, commenting that while I ached to know what would happen next, a long rest was in order, so that I might recover from the emotional wounds throughout that first run, culminating in the shockingly brutal story of Mitty and Nanachi.

Turns out no amount of time would heal those wounds to the extent they wouldn’t be re-opened and—very soul freshly re-crushed—upon watching the continuation of the Abyss story. That’s because the deeper Riko, Reg, and Nanachi descend, the more acute and devastating the horrors they encounter.

This is the third of three Made in Abyss films; the first two were a retelling of the first season, while the third is a direct sequel As such, spoilers throughout.

Case in point: upon arriving at one of her mother’s favorite spots in all of the Abyss, the Garden of Flowers of Fortitude, they encounter one of Bondrewd’s delvers, the Umbra Hands, harvesting tissue from other delvers who have been infected by a parasite that not only feeds off you while you’re still alive, but feeds itself to you in order to keep you alive. Lovely!

Few anime do soaring vistas like Abyss, and there’s something just so otherworldly and dread-inducing about the sight of the Fifth Layer’s Sea of Corpses, along with Idofront, Bondrewd the Novel’s domain. But as cold and unyielding and inhospitable as the spinning ghost city seems on the outside, within resides one of the sweetest, warmest, most human souls they’ve yet encountered: an adorable little girl named Prushka.

Prushka is Bondrewd’s daughter (voiced by Minase Inori), who is initially suspicious of outsiders coming to help her dad when she thinks she should be enough. But once she meets Riko, Reg, and Nanachi, they open for her a whole new world of questions and information about the Surface (she was born in the Abyss).

It’s so strange to see Prushka acting so lovey-dovey with Bondrewd, perpetrator of countless acts of sickening biological crimes, especially since he and his Umbra Hands resemble evil robots. And yet that evil robot still has a strange gravitational pull Nanachi finds hard to resist. Nanachi can’t forgive Bondrewd, but something still draws them toward him. Nanachi was something of a child figure to him, after all, so Nanachi sees Prushka as a younger self.

Bondrewd has bad news for Riko: while she may have her mother’s White Whistle, only the person for whom the whistle was made can use it to activate the altar that will take her down to the Sixth Layer. He offers them accommodations to “think things over”, but there isn’t any doubt his intentions for them are about as far from harmless as they’re all far from the Surface.

Despite her cozy room, soon Riko wakes up alone, and upon exploring, finds that she’s trapped in a small area with the only exit being a stair Prushka warned will cause “strains of ascension” if climbed. When Riko attempts to climb them anyway, she loses all sense of touch and balance, grinds her baby molars away and falls down the stairs, gaining cuts here and there. But she hallucinates far worse: as the very concepts of what and where are gradually eaten away by white light.

Ultimately, the reason Bondrewd does anything all comes down to curiosity and the aspiration to reach the bottom of the Abyss and learn its infinite secrets, same as Riko. It’s just a matter of scope and scale. Riko has managed to retain her humanity throughout her descent. But while has the affable dad voice and general form of a man, there is simply nothing left of Bondrewd’s humanity.

After Nanachi offers to stay with him and help him continue his research in exchange for Riko and Reg’s safety, Bondrewd tells them that, uh, unfortunately, he’s already tossed Reg to his Umbra Hands, who restrain him, slice off his right arm (along with Incinerator) and start collecting his bodily fluids. That’s when Riko, who was helped up to the upper level by Prushka, intervenes, and Prushka learns the truth about her father for the first time.

With Bondrewd showing his true horrific colors loudly and proudly, Nanachi, the most experienced with how he operates, comes up with a plan to take him out. This involves luring him into a nest of giant seven-tailed scorpions, trying to infect him with parasite larvae, and finally Reg crushing his body with a giant boulder.

Naturally, Bondrewd praises both Reg and Nanachi every time they toss a new tactic at him, saying things like “wonderful” and “I’m surprised.” After all, Nanachi is one of the creations of which of which he is most proud, one who unlike Mitty and the others was able to receive the “Blessing” of the Abyss rather than fall victim to the Curse. You’d could mistake it for fatherly pride if, again, Bondrewd had a shred of humanity. But his willingness to offer love and pain and suffering in equal measure disqualifies him as both from being either a parent or a human.

None of the tactics against him end up working, because the Umbra Hand who escorted Prushka simply takes the mask off of the crushed Bondrewd and places it on his head, thus transforming into a new, untouched Bondrewd. Turns out all of his Umbra Hands are him—and his immortality is tied to a relic called Zoaholic. The fight ends for now, and Bondrewd returns home with Prushka.

If Zoaholic didn’t make Bondrewd insane, the act of splitting his soul and essence into multiple bodies still removed what was left of his empathy or humanity, which is why he ends up having Prushka cruelly vivisected just like all of the other orphan children before her. He’s satisfied her experiences with Reg, Riko, and Nanachi helped “perfect” her, and this is the natural next step. She is never told this would happen, and never asked if it’s okay.

Her body is marked with “X’s” to signify the parts that will be cut away and discarded (most of it) until all that is left is a mass of “fleshy curse repellant” to be placed within a suitcase-sized cartridge. It is in this way that Bondrewd staves off the curse; using the pain and suffering of still technically-living children as his strength.

It’s truly skin-crawling, horrible, horrible stuff, and even though I had a reasonable suspicion that Prushka was doomed to a Mitty-like fate, I was still not ready to see even a little of that fate carried out, nor would I ever be. No one would!

By the Riko, Reg, and Nanachi return to Idofront to rescue her they’re way too late, while the sight of the “processing” room brings back Nanachi’s memories of assisting with said processing. When Bondrewd arrives, Riko and Nanachi they buy time for Reg, who hooks himself up to Idofront’s power supply and ends up rebooting in Berserk Mode.

Bondrewd tells Riko that his own White Whistle is the result of sacrificing his own body and soul, and that all White Whistles are made in this way—with a willing human sacrifice, not carved stone.

It’s then when Berserk-Reg arrives and fights on the same level as Bondrewd, ultimately blasting a huge sphere-shaped chunk out of Idofront. He lands in a pit of Mittys—material for Bondrewd’s cartridges, and we’re reminded of all those lights on the wall representing their lives are labeled: he remembers the name of every child, their unique qualities, and how cute they were. Shudder…

As Bondrewd and Reg are locked in an epic battle, we hear Prushka’s disembodied voice as she recounts her life with Bondrewd, starting as a failed subject. He decided to raise her as his daughter, gave her Meinya as a pet, and gave her a fun and happy childhood, ultimately culminating in her helplessly watching as pieces of her are removed one by one on the operating table.

We hear Prushka because she’s now a cartridge that Bondrewd is currently using in his fight, and ends up being his last cartridge. Even after what he did to her, she still wants to help her dad achieve his dreams—even if it means helping him fight against Reg, Riko, and Nanachi.

Thus aided by Bondrewd, Reg can’t defeat him with one arm, which is why he was buying time for Riko to retrieve his other arm. Even disconnected from his body, she’s able to aim it at Bondrewd and fire it, blasting him to pieces.

As this is happening, Prushka pleads with everyone not to fight, because they’re all going to have adventures together. An image of that dream appears in the climax of the battle, and is pretty much the most heartbreaking goddamn thing I’ve ever seen.

Then Bondrewd falls to the ground, finally beaten, and Nanachi stand over him. True to form, Bondrewd isn’t bitter about losing; on the contrary: he’s never been happier to find someone with stronger aspirations, will, and love defeat him. It means they, not him, are worthy of exploring the greater depths of the Abyss, and all the curses and blessings therein.

Riko holds the spent cartridge of what’s left of Prushka, simply red liquid that spills everywhere, and very understandably begins to bawl in absolute despair. But then she notices an object lying in the puddle of liquid: a White Whistle. Turns out Prushka’s soul willingly became the sacrifice necessary for Riko. Now her dream of going on adventures together can be realized.

With that, Riko gains the means to make her Last Dive, along with Reg (who learned a great deal about what his relic body can do) and Nanachi (who found a degree of closure in her vendetta with Bondrewd). Bondrewd, oddly enough, is still alive (after a fashion), but no longer a threat to them, and indeed is happy to see them off as they enter the “elevator” that will take them to the Sixth Layer, that much closer to Riko’s Mom, whatever’s become of her.

Quite appropriately, the end credits pull double duty as an illustration of that elevator descending ever deeper  into the Abyss, accompanied by an achingly gorgeous song that is a collab between MYTH & ROID and Kevin Penkin. Penkin, of course, also contributed the score and outdoes himself in the task; his music has been and continues to be a vital piece of what makes Abyss so unique an special.

It doesn’t look like I’ll be able to end this in less than 1500 words, but whatever; this was basically four episodes of the anime comprising a Fifth Layer arc, enshrining Bondrewd the Novel as one of anime’s all-time most monstrous and compelling villains, exploring the ways ambition can mutate “love” into a heartlessly destructive force.

It also ably reinforced Abyss’ uncanny ability to tear its viewers’ hearts and souls to bloody shreds before painstakingly sewing them back together with delicate threads of hope. And with a second season in the early stages of production, the story of Riko, Reg, and Nanachi is far from over.

Re: Zero – 37 – Seven’s a Crowd

Returning by Death to the graveyard and Emilia, Subaru is more determined than ever to save her and the people of the sanctuary and mansion, even at the cost of his life. But upon returning and begging Echidna for an audience, he starts to experience what a voice much like his own voice calls “unthinkable presents”: visions of the worlds after he’d died and Returned by Death. Worlds that kept going without him.

Again and again, he witnesses what he’s indeed never considered: that in those worlds he leaves, those he leaves behind still suffer his loss, and he certainly feels both the crush of those deaths now compounded by his guilt over causing further pain to those he loves. Then again, this could be the second trial, and not true reality.

Those experiences flash by faster and faster, giving us not only a glimpse of how Emilia, Beatrice and Ram (among others) react to his demise, but serving as a kind of mini-montage of all the times he’s died period, starting from the very beginning. Then, all of a sudden, we hear a familiar voice…of Rem. Rem is there to comfort Subaru and urge him to basically lay down, rest, and let her shoulder his burdens.

Once the shock and elation of reuniting with a conscious Rem wears off, Subaru realizes this isn’t Rem. Rem may love and dote upon him, but at the same time, no one is stricter when it comes to him overcoming the pain and standing back up on his own two feet…Starting Over from Zero and such!

Turns out it’s not Rem after all, but a very flustered Carmilla, Witch of Lust, sent to the graveyard by Echidna to keep his mind from being totally worn away by the trial, an illusion that drew upon his memories. The trial, to, Subaru, would seem to present a series of failures, almost mocking his efforts as pointless.

However, Echidna assures him that he is where he is now due to everything he’s seen, done, and experience, good and bad. It mattered. None of it was a waste. To that end, since he’s here now, she wishes to enter into a formal contract with him, forming a bond between their souls that will enable her to help him when it’s needed, and will grant her the ability to Return by Death with him.

It’s hard to see her sudden dropping of this proposal to be the sum product of a deliberate and calculated effort on her part to butter him up and come across as a reasonable, even benevolent ally. To make her promise to help him achieve the future he wants—not to mention use her body, mind, and soul however he likes—appealing.

When the other witches (including Sekhmet, Witch of Sloth, who constantly yawns!) appear up one by one to warn Subaru not to take the deal—there’s too much fine print Echidna isn’t telling him—she launches into a passionate monologue describing in detail all of the ways she’ll help him, declaring it, essentially, a “vow of love.”

But as with Carmilla as Fake Rem, the vow feels hollow and performative to Subaru. Echidna may indeed be a kind, gentle, naïve maiden, but she’s also a witch, and the Witch of Greed, no less. It is her greed that primarily drives her wish to contract with him, as it would “contribute greatly” to the satisfaction of her curiosity. But that assumes she can ever be satisfied.

By the time miasma is coming off Echida and her face has become more demon-like, Subaru finally asks her what he wanted to from the moment he returned: Does she know Beatrice? Yes. Does she know “that person” whom Beatrice has waited? No. In fact, Echidna always intended, and has been waiting all these 400 years, to see whether Beatrice would choose “that person” herself.

Basically, Echidna is pointing out that she gave Beatrice a raw, cruel deal before asking Subaru to trust her enough to give her a “taste” of everything he is, was, and will be. And Subaru isn’t having it. He declines her offer, and while Echidna looks disappointed and even miffed, she probably doesn’t think her fight for Subaru and his Return by Death is over just because he refused once.

Still, before we see fully how she’ll deal with that refusal, the seventh witch, Satella, makes her appearance, just in time for the second season’s first cour finale next week. I’m hoping she has a bit more to say to Subie than “I love you”!

Re: Zero – 36 – That One Most Precious Thing

Hope you enjoyed last week’s respite from suffering and death, because we’re right back to it this week! Turns out the pages of Beatrice’s genuine gospel have been empty for many years. Since all she can do is literally go by the book, she’s been pretty much trapped, waiting for “that person” to arrive. However, even if Subaru is that person, she’s long since given up on everything to the point her one true wish is to simply disappear.

When Subaru rages and fumes about Beako being so unclear until now, she tells him his only recourse to save her is to make her the first, only and most important thing to him—something she knows he can’t do. In lieu of that, all he can do is kill her so she’ll be free of her 400-year-old contract. Before Subie can do anything, Elsa arrives, having opened every door in the mansion to gain access to the library.

Beako uses Shamac and she and Subaru flee. He decides to head to the village, meeting Elsa’s partner, the mabeast user Maylie, on the way. Maylie has already killed Frederica, Petra, and likely Rem, meaning this loop is already a loss for Subie. Then things just get worse!

Elsa catches up, and Beako seemingly turns her into a pile of stagnant time mana shards. She prepares to do the same thing to Maylie, but Subie holds her back, not wanting her to kill a “kid”. A reconstituted Elsa reappears and puts her blade through Beako, and Beako seems happy about it. Elsa then starts hacking at Subie, but Beako quickly kills him uses her power to transport him away.

Subaru Returns by Death* wakes up in the graveyard. His wounds remain, so despite the Return by Death sound, he didn’t die (yet), including his gouged-out eye, remain! Even stranger, the Emilia he finds there is nothing like the one he knows. She’s very close and clingy, and comes right out and says she loves him. For a second I though Satella had possessed her physical body!

Realizing in any case this can’t be his Emilia, Subie meets with Garf and Ryuzu outside, where it’s snowing. He theorizes that someone pushed Emilia to the very edge so she has no choice but to turn to him…and he has a pretty good idea who did this.

Determined to get more answers out of him before resetting, Subaru meets with Roswaal, but their talk is interrupted by an argument between Ram and Garf. Only Roswaal counted on Ram coming between them so he could thrust his hand through the both of them, killing them so he and Subie could chat without further disruption.

Roswaal notes that Subie’s emotions include shock and indignation, but no grief, since he knows he can just reset and undo this. Rosy assumes from Subie’s reactions that he’s already met with Beako and she’s already had her dearest wish—to disappear—fulfilled. His partner in crime admits he is the one who has isolated Emilia, believing it is the way to fulfill his dearest wish—which he unhelpfully identify to Subie upfront.

As the Great Rabbit horde approaches the house the two wait for horrible death, Roswaal reminds Subaru that only he can start over; the next Roswaal will be a different person without the benefit of the things he learned from observing Subaru.

Before being overwhelmed by ravenous demon rabbits, Roswaal tells Subie the only way to become like him is to get rid of absolutely everything but the most precious thing in the world to him, and think of nothing but protecting that thing.

Subaru manages to return to the graveyard where an enthusiastic Emilia welcomes him to lie on her lap. But the grainy, out-of-focus direction indicates something is very off. In reality Subaru is only clinging to the thinnest thread of life after being half-eaten by the rabbits. This is the end of a most unpleasant loop.

It probably won’t be the last, either. Whether Subaru wants to become “like” Roswaal (likely not), the perfect or as-near-to-perfect-as-possible ending for which he’s always striven may not be possible without extensive losses. Subaru has always been a selfish “I want to save everyone” kinda guy, but if Roswaal is right, Emilia may be doomed unless she’s the only one Subaru saves. So much for last week’s stiff upper lip optimism!

*I mistakenly thought Subaru was killed by Beatrice and Returned by Death since I heard the trademark RbD sound.

Re: Zero – 35 – Trust the Process

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jibaku Shounen Hanako-kun – 12 (Fin) – No Daughter of Triton

The finale of Jibaku Shounen Hanako-kun begins with a rare look at Nene’s house, where her exposed legs…look like they’re of normal thickness?!? We’re brought up to speed through her narration: Kou told her and Hanako about his connection to Mitsuba, leading Hanako to worry about Kou and trying to determine a way to cheer him up.

Her preoccupation with Kou makes Hanako jealous, and he visits her when she’s in the middle of class before skulking off, leading Aoi (who can’t see or hear apparitions) to wonder who Hanako was talking to. I was a little surprised Nene hadn’t dealt with this kind of situation to this point!

But just as she’s worried about Kou and frustrated by Hanako’s lack of openness and tendency to tease, she’s courted by Puffy the pufferfish of the Fish Kingdom for the title of Mermaid Princess. She’s already eaten the mermaid’s scale; all she needs is to drink some of her blood and boom, she’s a princess.

While she likes the sound of having a harem of hot guys and being at the top of the popularity pyramid in said Fish Kingdom, Nene is not okay with breaking her contract with Hanako, and she becomes far less enthusiastic about the princess offer when she learns all of those hot guys are just hot fish, and henceforth she’d be a fish too.

Puffy drops the kindly act and goes for the low-hanging fruit in criticizing Nene’s judgment with men and her fat legs, assuring her neither would be a problem once she comes into her fishy throne. Then the Mermaid grabs and pulls her under water to further force the issue.

The blood is mere millimeters from Nene’s lips when Hanako pulls her out and restores her human form, scaring the fish off by threatening to turn them into sashimi with his knife and declaring his cleaning assistant officially off the market.

When Nene was asking Tsuchigomori-sensei for advice about what to do, Hanako was listening from behind a curtain, and he apparently got the message, because he finally does let Nene in a bit by telling her about the little brother he killed, following that up with the question of whether she really wants to learn more.

Again, the answer should be obvious: she almost became an apparition, sacrificing her very humanity, in order to try to understand him more, when him simply talking to her would have done the same job! Nene may not be in love with Hanako, but she finds herself unavoidably charmed by and drawn to him.

Nene won’t accept anyone else’s ideas about who or what he is. Sure, a lot of the problems she’s had that required him to save her were of his making, but the fact remains, he saved her! And so, she’ll keep visiting him in the girls’ bathroom, and helping him keep the balance among the School Wonders. It’s a heckuva lot better than being pursued by presumably hot fish suitors!

Jibaku Shounen Hanako-kun – 11 – Artificial Ghost

After fruitlessly prostrating themselves before the bathroom mirrors, Hanako and Kou seek help from Spider-sensei, who directs them to the boundary of the former Second Wonder, Yako, which still exists but is simply no longer under her authority. She leads them to a mirror within her realm (which looks a lot nicer), which leads to the boundary of the Third Wonder.

By the time they arrive, a lot has happened in the Hall of Mirrors. Nene has been put to sleep after trying to stop Tsukasa from forcing Mitsuba to eat the remains of the Third Wonder, which he claims is the only way to keep him from disappearing altogether. Hanako is surprised to see his brother in the boundary, but not as surprised as Kou is to see the friend he thought was gone.

As it turns out, Mitsuba may look, talk, and act very much like the “old” Mitsuba ghost, they’re not the same entity. New Mitsuba is the result of Tsukasa taking the soul, or “reason” he stole from old Mitsuba and placing it in an artificial spirit body constructed from myriad lesser spirits. This new version of Mitsuba becomes the new Third Wonder after eating his predecessor. He also doesn’t seem to remember Kou at all, which is disappointing.

Interestingly, a big battle doesn’t ensue, which surely subverted my expectations. Instead, Mitsuba uses his newfound authority to send Hanako, Nene and Kou back to the living world via mirrors. He may not know Kou, but he knows Nene well enough now to not want harm to befall her, while Tsukasa made a point to be gentle with her earlier. I doubt Hanako can let Mitsuba the Third Wonder stand, but can Kou still find the Mitsuba he knew, or is he truly gone forever?

Tenrou: Sirius the Jaeger – 12 (Fin) – Bringing the World Together

Fallon manages to land the plane without killing anyone, and Dorothea deals with their vampy stowaway. Willard gains access to the airship’s bridge and brings the ship close enough to the ground so Yuliy can grab hold and board it. Yevgraf immediately becomes drunk with power and spends a lot of time smirking, laughing, and gloating about it.

Indeed, Yev proves just a few minutes into his “merging” with the Ark that he’s only in it for number one. Having gained the knowledge of the Ark, he believes vampires to be a weak and inferior race just like humans, and plans to purge both in his new world.

This naturally comes as a shock to his always enthusiastically loyal underling Tamara. But even more shocking to her is that Yuliy is the one who comes to her rescue against a Yevgraf who has changed a great deal in a very short time…and not for the better. Like myself, she did not see such an alliance coming!

Yuliy isn’t interested in killing vampires for the sake of killing vampires. He made a promise to his father to keep the Ark, and the pride of Sirius alive, and to prove him right about all of the races of the world being able to peacefully coexist. I mean, if the Ark doesn’t have the answers to such a future hidden somewhere within it, what good is it, really?

The Jirov brothers team up to fight this new “deformed final boss” version Yevgraf, who is little more than a monster now; all subtlety regarding his lamenting the end of his kind by some random disease utterly evaporated for the sake of a good-vs.-evil showdown.

Yev can heal super-fast, but eventually the power proves too much even for his body, and the regeneration slows and eventually stops altogether. This leaves him a far more vulnerable target for attacks by both Yuliy and Mikhail, who work together to finish him off.

Not soon thereafter, Misha succumbs to the disease and his wounds, but not before handing Yuliy the Ark he pulled out of Yev’s chest and telling him to keep living, this time with the Ark.

The airship crashes into the sea, and Willard washes up on the shore, but while he’s out, Yuliy reaches out to him, telling his second father he’s found a new way to live: by using the power of the Ark to help the world, as he believes those who bestowed it upon his predecessors intended.

Willard wakes up surrounded by the rest of V Company, Iba and Ryouko. A bit later Ryouko returns home and enrolls in college business classes, hoping to one day walk by Yuliy’s side once again. Willard & Co. receive word of the location of a couple matching Yuliy and Tamara’s description, and are ordered to capture them.

While their superiors now see Yuliy as an adversary to keep in check, nobody in V Company is against what he’s doing, which is why they intend to be the first to find him. When we leave Yuliy, he’s on a train, preparing to meet with vampire elders about reaching some kind of détente.

And that’ll do it for Sirius! I’ll admit it took me a while to get through it, but that wasn’t out of lack of enthusiasm. On the contrary, despite its lukewarm reception in the halls of MAL, I quite enjoyed P.A. Works’ foray into the vampire genre. It tweaked the blueprint with period and steampunk touches and a likable (if not particularly unique or deep) cast of characters.

Tenrou: Sirius the Jaeger – 11 – The Wrong Hands

After leaving the realm where his father resides, the red pool is gone, and the Ark of Sirius is in Yuliy’s hands. It looks a lot like the sphere Willard acquired in Dogville, suggesting one of the two may be a fake or other means of defeating Yevgraf. Yev arrives right on schedule in his airship, and uses his blood pact with Mikhail to force him to retrieve the Ark from his brother.

Major Iba and Ryouko have followed Yuliy and Bishop and meet up just in time for Bishop to take Ryouko hostage and reveal he’s a vampire, something Yuliy already knew. However, the threat is short-lived, as Yuliy tells Bishop he always knew, and also knew that he and Bishop wanted the same thing: to defeat Yevgraf.

Where they differ is that Yuliy wants to keep the Ark around as the new “pride of the Sirius” while Bishop sought to destroy it so the vamps wouldn’t get it. They eventually agree to fight side-by-side towards that goal.

Yuliy and Bishop confront Misha and the twins, respectively, and with Misha basically programmed to attack Yuliy, it isn’t long before there’s a knife in Yuliy’s shoulder and the Ark is in Misha’s hands. As Tamara rushes the Ark to Yev, Bishop grabs Larissa and kills her.

After a struggle, Misha overcomes the blood pact, thanks to the blood of a diseased vampire he drank earlier. But he still doesn’t want Yuliy doing anything foolish; to let him do so would be to betray the promise he made to their mother. Yuliy, however, won’t allow any outcome where the Ark is destroyed or ends up in vampire hands.

Unfortunately, he’s powerless to stop the latter from happening, as Larissa gets the Ark to Yev, who promptly kills Bishop, then dickishly offers his immense gratitude to Yuliy for doing such a great job unsealing the Ark so he could take it. It really is a worst case scenario, as Yev orders his army to attack Yuliy, with Iba and Ryouko also in the crosshairs.

V Shipping comes to the rescue via airplane, and eventually deposit Willard on the airship with the “other Ark” in hand. But both he and Misha would seem to be too late; activated with Yuliy’s blood, he swallows the Ark whole and its power begins to surge within him, turning one eye gold.

Yev’s laughter suggests he’s absorbing an immense amount of information, and as we know, information is power. Will a Mikhail on his last legs and very mortal Willard be enough to delay whatever Yev has planned so Yuliy can arrive, unleash his Sirius powers, and use Ryouko’s katana to defeat the big bad? Only one episode left to find out.

Tenrou: Sirius the Jaeger – 10 – Sirius Pride

Willard & Co. make good use of their Dogville Detour, locating some kind of magical item that Willard believes Yuliy will find useful once he’s found the Ark of Sirius, which is a Very Big Deal.

As his friends support him from afar, Yuliy and Bishop make quick work of Klarwein’s modified cyborg vampire soldiers. Turns out Yevgraf’s lack of confidence in Klarwein’s plans was justified!

While he may be dressed like a goofy cartoon villain and has a ridiculous (and awesome) airship to boot, Yevgraf is looking more and more like a more complex villain, someone who is backed into the corner.

He’s walking talking proof that maybe it’s better to have never become a immortal vampire than to become one and then, many centuries later, find out that hey, he’s not immortal after all!

Once past Klarwein (which again, wasn’t hard), Yuliy and Bishop enter the cavern where the Ark is believed to be sealed. Where Mikhail’s vampirism kept him from passing the barrier, Yuliy gets through.

There he bears witness to a very thorough flashback of the events that led to his father Alexei leaving one day and never returning. When Mikhail and Yuliy were attacked by a bear, Akasaka (the soldier, presently a hermit, who was seeking the Ark) saved them, and befriended Alexei.

Alexei wanted to reform the ways of his people in order to coexist better with humans like Akasaka, who were proof to him that they weren’t all bad (and hey, they’re not). But he could not escape his blood, which demands that someone of royal blood basically sacrifice their soul and corporeal freedom in order to seal and thus protect the Ark.

It’s heartbreaking to see what a vibrant and prosperous town Dogville was in its heyday, as well as seeing Yuliy and his family all alive and well and together. But it’s perhaps even more heartbreaking to find that his father is still conscious within the Ark itself, basically keeping it sealed with his soul.

Just as his father sought a new way for his people to live—a “new Sirius pride”—his son seeks a way to free his father; a new way to seal the Ark. That way might well be in Willard’s possession.

Alexei isn’t totally against Yuliy doing what he can, but not at the cost of his life, soul, or freedom. Even after everything that’s happened in the world since he was sealed away, he doesn’t see it as a burden; he sees it as vital to keeping the world peace.

The problem is, when it’s time for Yuliy to say goodbye to his father, a great pillar of light erupts from the once dark red pool in the chamber, alerting Yev and the twins in the airship that Yuliy has finally arrived there and done what he’d hoped he’d do. Yuliy’s intentions are noble, but now there are matters both more pressing…and more competent than Klarwein!