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!

Houseki no Kuni – 05

When Phos can’t be found, Kongou musters the entire group to go perform a search. Diamond encourages Cinnabar to assist, but Cinnabar demurs. Meanwhile, Phos, weak and with smashed legs, is fished out of the sea by the Lunarians, who circle Phos like a bunch of ravenous customers at the local buffet.

Ventricosus would like to be on her way with her brother Aculeatus, but the Lunarians alter the deal, and basically tell Ventri to pray they don’t alter it any further. They want more Gems before handing over her brother. These guys are straight-up jerks, but it’s only fair that a betrayer get betrayed. When Ventri protests, they attack her, and Acule awakens and smashes them to bits, showing his admirabilis form (which Phos finds adorable) before taking humanoid form and assisting Ventri.

Acule is ready to continue using Phos as a bargaining chip to free their family members still imprisoned on the moon. But Ventri seeing a literally broken Phos who won’t even offer words of resistance (Phos is exhausted and immobile; why bother?) causes Ventri to have a change of heart.

Phos has forgiven Ventri after the betrayal, and Ventri sees it as an opportunity to not be like the Lunarians. She and her brother escape, and set Phos free. Just as Kongou prepares to send everyone under the sea to search for Phos, Phose washes ashore…right beside Cinnabar.

Phos apologizes for going another day without keeping the promise made to Cinnabar, and promises to try harder tomorrow. For some reason, rather than call out to Kongou and the others, Cinnabar sneaks into HQ and leaves Phos in the infirmary, to be found later by Rutile.

Kongou’s rage is something to behold, as every step he takes creates cracks in the building; all of the Gems scatter for shelter from his wrath. But while he calls Phos an insolent fool with a force that almost causes Phos to shatter, he then catches Phos before that actually happens—a nice moment of compassion from the master.

He’ll have Rutile do whatever can be done to repair Phos, then hear a report tomorrow. He also summarily cancels Phos’ encyclopedia-writing assignment, leaving Phos once more without a job.

Phos washed ashore with two spikes from Acule’s shell, and Rutile notes they contain agate, which is more than twice as hard as Phos’ structure. Rutile manages to craft new legs for Phos, which have a distinctive iridescent black-and-white striped pattern (pretty cool-looking), but upon standing up, Phos finds the legs useless. Phos has also lost a good deal of memories—including those of Jade—as a result of the loss of the original pair of legs.

As the others leave one by one to attend to their other duties (which will be harder to attend to after that exhausting search), Phos laments being worse off than before all of this started and sulks in the grass, but after thinking of Cinnabar (who is in a worse situation than Phos anyway you look at it), Phos suddenly jumps up and finds that not only do the legs work, but Phos is now unbelievably fast.

Perhaps Phos’ latest brush with destruction has now produced a better situation, and those new legs will give Phos new hope of being useful to Cinnabar, Kongou, and the others.

Made in Abyss – 13 (Fin)

Always cold and hungry yet full of longing to see the wonders of the Abyss, the still-human Nanachi was lured, along with a good deal of other disadvantaged children, to their doom by the dastardly White Whistle Bondrewd the Novel.

On the way down to the unreassuringly-named Sea of Corpses, Nanachi meets the ebullient Mitty. Weary at first, they hit it off almost immediately, buoyed by the exciting, life-changing adventure they’re about to undertake.

Did I say exciting and life-changing? I meant nightmarish and life-ruining/ending. One by one Bondrewd comes for the children until Nanachi and Mitty are the only ones left.

Neither has any idea what’s happening to the others until Bondrewd comes for Mitty, but not Nanachi, in the night. But Nanachi, now all alone, follows them, and sees and hears things she shouldn’t.

Bondrewd takes Nanachi’s disobedience as an auspicious event, and places them in a tube right beside a frightened, already-trapped Mitty, and calmly explains how the “experiment” is going to go down. The two descend to the Sixth Layer, where a horde of formerly-human things gather around their tubes.

Then the ascent begins, and all of the Curse is transferred to Mitty in a graphic, gruesome, and thoroughly upsetting sequence. Nanachi can only watch in the other tube, absolutely powerless to help. Mitty was Nanachi’s one and only true “treasure”, more important than any relic they might have found in the Abyss.

But, as we know, Mitty isn’t gone. Well, not totally. To Bondrewd’s delight, the double-dose of Sixth-Layer Curse not only took Mitty’s human form, but made it impossible for her to die. She is constantly disintegrating, regenerating…and suffering.

Nanachi flees Bondrewd’s clutches with Mitty (though it’s highly likely he lets them go) and eventually finds a place to live. But there is nothing Nanachi can do for Mitty. It’s not that they can’t put Mitty out of her misery due to emotional considerations…it simply isn’t possible.

Not until Reg and Riko came around. With his Incinerator, which Nanachi calls “Sparagmos”, or the “light that returns to the cardinal point”, Nanachi believes she can finally free Mitty’s long-suffering soul from what’s left of her body.

Reg asks for time to think it over, and worries that if he kills Mitty, Nanachi will feel they have no more reason to live, and might take their own life. Nanachi promises they won’t, and convinces Reg of the only right and proper course of action when they tell him that when they one day do die, Mitty will be left alone, suffering for all eternity.

After preparing a tasteful site for “sending off” Mitty, Nanachi only halts Reg from firing Incinerator for one last goodbye to her treasure, then tells him to do it. The ensuing inferno consumes every bit of Mitty until there’s nothing left. Just like that, she’s gone.

It’s ruinously sad, but I’ll admit, a HUGE relief her suffering is at an end. After all, her last words as a human to Nanachi in that tube were “kill me.” Hers was the kind of pure lasting suffering that’s hard to imagine or even comprehend, but I can grasp the catharsis, even if the hurt remains in the hearts of those who sent her off.

Things thankfully take a lighter turn when Reg awakens to find Riko is also awake, and starting her rehabilitation. Riko takes an instant liking to the cute and fuzzy Nanachi, and both Nanachi and Reg appreciate Riko’s far superior culinary skills.

After going through that emotional, visceral ringer, It’s awfully nice to see Riko back to normal. Then she asks if there wasn’t someone else there besides the three of them, and recalls a dream that made her think that.

The creepy dream we saw part of last week is put into context thanks to Riko. She is consumed by a kind of skin (representing her deep illness) and can only cry and panic, but when she sees that terrified, crying eye—Mitty’s eye in the waking world—she calms down, stares back, and tries to comfort her.

Then, after Reg sends Mitty off, Riko perceives it as Mitty (or rather, her soul) being restored to its human form before passing on. Then Riko realizes she needs to “get going”, and follows the light back to consciousness and out of her wounded stupor.

Upon hearing this “dream”, which was likely something more significant, Nanachi looks grateful that someone saw their treasure in the moment she finally achieved her freedom.

Nanachi takes Riko and Reg to a kind of healing hot spring, and enjoys watching Reg squirm as Riko proceeds to have no qualms whatsoever about bathing with him naked, all while quietly asking Mitty to wait “a little longer,” which could either be interpreted as Nanachi planning to take her life and join Mitty soon, or not until after she’s lived a life that now includes two new potential “treasures” in Reg and Riko.

After removing the mushrooms from her arm (another highly painful, unpleasant ordeal), Riko eventually regains the ability to lift her arm and even move her thumb. Reg blames his crappy amputation attempt for the state of her arm, but Riko doesn’t blame him; she asked him to do it, after all. She also heared from Nanachi how tearfully and desperately Reg tried to save her, and thanks him for that, regarding her nasty scar as “precious proof” he protected her.

Riko, like Reg before her, asks Nanachi if they’ll join them as they continue their journey further down the Abyss, and Nanachi agrees. The credits then roll over a lovely montage: Riko ties her backpack to a balloon and releases it, and they prepare for their journey as it makes its harrowing ascent past all the layers they’d passed, even requiring Marulk to free it from a branch and repair it.

It eventually reaches Nat, who looks shocked and elated to finally possess evidence of Riko and Reg’s progress. Having completed their preparations (and the construction of a big, sturdy new backpack), the new party of Riko, Reg, and Nanachi leave Nanachi’s cozy house behind, in search of trying to satisfy that most unstoppable longing for the unknown.

Meanwhile, in Bondrewd the Novel’s lab, he notices one of dozens of lights has gone out; a light signifying Mitty’s life. He is proud of and grateful to Nanachi for having finally gotten it done, as if letting them escape was yet another experiment. And he’s eager to meet her again. Ouzen was right; she’s kind and pleasant compared to this evil bastard.

And there we are; that’s a wrap! At least until a second season comes along. While I can assure you there are very few shows I’d want to jump into the second season of immediately, and this is one of them, I think a good long rest is in order, to recover from the emotional wounds it left in this final, epic, horrendously devastating yet still somehow hopeful, and achingly beautiful finale. I want to believe Riko’s mom is waiting for her. I have to.

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 07

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It’s Autumn, and getting chilly, but Yakumo goes out to sit amongst the gingko trees on hospital grounds in thin robes. Konatsu finds him and wraps him in a scarf. He’s in a dark place. When he first collapsed, he thought he wouldn’t “have” to do rakugo anymore.

Now that he’s returned from that hall of candles and from his encounter with Sukeroku…wherever he was, he feels he’s lost both the voice and the desire to ever take the stage again. Konatsu, who still blames him for her father’s death, calls it karmic retribution.

The deep-seated bitterness remains. Yet if anything, Konatsu is even bitterer to see the ultimate antagonist in her life brought so low.

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Konatsu and Yakumo’s meeting among the Gingkos, and the tragic past that binds them, is re-investigated and all but rewritten this week, as Higuchi invites Yotaro and Matsuda to join him in the countryside where everything ended and began: the hot spring inn where Sukeroku and Miyokichi Yurie died.

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It’s where Higuchi, only a boy and accompanying his father, an inn regular, first met (and pretty much fell for) Miyokichi. A few years later he encountered her in Tokyo, and she’d only grown more beautiful and refined.

When Higuchi heard the way she spoke the name Kikuhiko, he had to see what kind of man could snatch this gorgeous woman’s heart. When he went to see the future Yakumo perform, he found himself in awe like many others, and asked if he could be a rakugo apprentice.

Obviously, Kiku refused, and now we know that young man from episode 10 of last season was Higuchi, who since then has immersed himself in rakugo, not as a performer, but a student, and may just be positioned to help steer its future with Yotaro.

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But this episode is concerned mostly with the past, specifically the last days of Sukeroku. Yotaro obviously wasn’t there, but Matsuda was, and throughout the episode Matsuda is overcome with nostalgia for the barely-changed place.

More to the point, Higuchi has brought them here to view film reels of Kiku and Shin’s performances, which despite their degraded quality put everyone right back in that state of awe. The Kiku in the film is younger than Yotaro, and yet he’s so much better, and more to the point, seems so much happier to be performing rakugo. All Yotaro needs to do is close his eyes, and he sees the young master in color, performing all the roles within the world of his story.

Then the innkeeper loads the reel of Shin performing “Shibahama”, the story of the wife’s lie that made her husband’s life better, and there isn’t a dry eye in the darkened room, including my own. It’s a story told and performed so well that it simply gets me every time. And Yotaro can tell how happy Shin was.

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After that, they go to the graves of Sukeroku and Miyokichi, whose happiness—and ultimately lives—Higuchi said were destroyed by Yakumo. But Matsuda knows the truth of what happened that night, and it isn’t the story Yakumo told Yotaro last season. Likely because it was such a good and well-told story, I never questioned whether Yakumo was a reliable narrator.

But overcome by all the memories the town, inn, and film reels surfaced in him, and the sun not only setting on the day, but on his and Yakumo’s lives, Matsuda reveals all: Miyokichi stabbed Shin. Kiku was holding him and got covered in his blood when Matsuda and Konatsu came in, and Konatsu then tried to push her mother out the window. Shin grabbed Miyokichi and the two fell to their deaths, while Kiku held Konatsu back.

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That misleading image—of Kiku holding her father, the two stained in blood, and Kiku wearing a fiercely hostile expression—is pretty much all Konatsu remembers of the ordeal; her memory is hazy from passing out from the shock of the events she witnessed. But it’s an image that still haunts her to this very day, as she smokes alone in her jammies when Yotaro returns home.

When she looks up at him, wondering why he was out late, she sees the tears in the big guy’s face (not an uncommon occurrence) and assumes Yakumo must have done that to him. He did, but not directly. Those are the tears of someone who has heard the truth and come across someone who still doesn’t, and has gone through a lot of pain because of it.

He doesn’t relay to Konatsu what he’s learned on this night. Instead he embraces her…while she keeps smoking. But I imagine the truth will come out at some point, as Matsuda begged Yotaro and Higuchi not to let the master leave the world believing rakugo will die with him.

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 06

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When Yakumo suddenly collapses, Mangetsu is able to administer first aid before the paramedics arrive. Konatsu goes with Yakumo, and Yota is ready to follow…but instead elects to stay behind. The sound of the crowd comes back into focus: the show must go on.

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And it does, as we are presented with Yota’s rendition of “Inokori” (which was performed by Sukeroku in episode 9 of last season). This isn’t another fiasco like the time Yota cast off his robe; he basically knocks it out of the park, proving he was ready to perform it. The only problem is that as good as he was, his master wasn’t there to hear it.

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The moment the curtain falls, Yota, who had been keeping it together splendidly, starts to tear up. Matsuda can’t help but tear up too. The only one who doesn’t tear up is Shin, but he seems on the verge of doing so simply because it’s what the adults are doing. At the hospital, Yakumo remains unconscious. Matsuda takes Mangetsu home, praising his rakugo on the way. Maybe he’ll get back into it?

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A couple of weeks pass, with Yota filling in for Yakumo, all but doubling his already formidable workload and feeling the strain. He continues to proclaim master will wake up and be fine, but not even he is a sure as he sounds about that.

Meanwhile, time goes on, and the proprietor of the Uchikutei theater tells him about plans to “rebuild” it, which one would think would mean demolishing the Taisho-era venue. We get a bit of a tour of the empty place as he runs down all of the little charms and foibles that make it as unique and irreplaceable as, well, a performer like Yakumo.

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On the train to another gig, Eisuke encourages him with two bits of information: that unlike the precise technique of Yakumo and raw reality of the last Sukeroku, Yota has his own kind of rakugo: in fact, he is a vessel for it. No “ego or hunger” on display, Yota fades away, leaving only the rakugo to be absorbed by the crowd. It’s a rare gift.

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The episode ends with Yakumo opening his eyes, and though he still doesn’t look or sound too good at all, he’s still alive, which is surely enough for his family. Whatever happened in that sliver of afterlife he tasted, we see no more of it, adding to its mystique.

All I know is Yakumo looks tired, and while he doesn’t look like he enjoyed what he witnessed, he may not be particularly happy to have not died when he did, taking rakugo as he knows it with him.

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 05

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Yota is stoked. He’s flying high. He’s learned how to command a crowd, the theaters are full, his material is killing. He owes much of this to a lifting of a weight of uncertainty since Yakumo performed “Inokori” for him. Yakumo maintains that mastering that—and in just they way he instructs, by summoning one’s ego—is Yota’s next step.

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But Yakumo is no longer Yota’s sole source of instruction or inspiration. Whether he knows it or not, Yota has also fallen under the influence of Higuchi Eisuke, the outsider who shows Yota the wider world of rakugo, not just the venerable but narrow Yuuakutei canon.

The implication is obvious: like a smattering of gutted clans in days of yore, an alliance must be formed – a new rakugo – in order to survive modern times, and Yakumo’s death.

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Yota seems to rarely leave the open entrance to his home, sitting their first listening to his predecessor Sukeroku, then to all the myriad versions of Inokori provided by Higuchi, no two of them alike. It’s strong enough stuff for him to laugh and react loudly deep into the night. He’s so immersed, Konatsu has to snap him out of it so he can get some sleep for the family performance.

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And it is truly a family performance, as Konatsu will be at the shamisen per her father’s bidding. Of the three family members, she’s by far the most nervous. Performing rakugo for a bunch of kindergartners and a smattering of their parents is one thing: playing pros at the very top of the game in and out to a giant packed theater is another. But Yota (and indirectly, Yakumo) know she’ll be fine.

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Damn…when Yota offered to give Mangetsu an pregame audience with Yakumo and I saw that loooong foreboding hallway, for a few moments I feared for the worst: that Yakumo was keeled over dead in his dressing room, just like that. Blame the seductively creepy OP in which the ghost Sukeroku opens Yakumo’s cloak to reveal nothing but dry bones, and the earlier mention by someone that his voice has lost something.

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Thankfully, Yakumo is fine, but everything I mentioned before still casts a pall on him. Yota’s meeting with him is another great one, as Yota proudly shows what he’s really been up to in the red light districts: getting his carp tattoo finished. This is Yota literally not letting things go unfinished; not apologizing for who he was and who he is.

Yakumo may think rakugo is finished once he dies, but he’s wrong. His rakugo won’t even be finished; it’s not his call, but history’s. So even though he’s pissy about the fact Yota is taking into account other methods for “Inokori” (likely aware this is Higuchi’s influence), you can’t expect someone who claims, and is pretty certain, they don’t have an ego to use that ego.

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Yota warms up the crowd, getting them “laughing like fools”, which might be fine in a solo show, but Yakumo needs to put them in a different, more nuanced mood; Yota’s winding them up makes it tougher. Still, he’s more than up to the challenge, and performs “Hangon-ko” with both musical accompaniment from Konatsu (who he says he’s counting on, and who doesn’t let him down despite her nerves) and an extra prop: streams of incense.

The significance of the titular incense to the story—that it brings back the soul of a dead loved one—is all too apropos for Yakumo’s darkening state of mind as the days ahead of him dwindle. And even though at this part in the story he tells, the widower buys the wrong incense and burns way too much of it, the incense still has the effect of summoning the ghost of Miyokishi before Yakumo, in one of the most chilling and intense moments of the show’s entire run.

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Yakumo manages to finish the story to polite but not raucous applause, and Yota quickly orders the curtains dropped. Yakumo collapses and enters what must seem like the afterlife. Miyokichi is nowhere to be found. Instead there are off-kilter shelves after shelves of countless burning candles – no doubt signifying lives.

Like the end of the deliciously haunting OP, Yakumo’s candle must be burning very low indeed, flickering, and threatening to be snuffed out. Sukeroku also comes before him, as young and vital as the day he was killed. He asked him why he’s there, ignores his questions of whether he’s in paradise or hell, and starts to choke him.

As we ponder what medical malady struck Yakumo on that stage, an attack that will most likely result in the cancelling of the remainder of the family performance, including Yota’s “Inokori”, but more importantly, may mark the commencement of the trial of Yakumo’s soul.

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