Mieruko-chan – 11 – Meowruko-chan

While last week seemingly confirmed that Toono Zen was a Bad Dude who was behind the local cat abuse, all the episode really did was confirm that he’s an odd, lonely young man; it didn’t explicitly show him actually doing anything. Now we learn that both we and Miko judged him too quickly.

First we flash back to Zen’s childhood, which was strictly controlled by his mother, who wouldn’t let him for relationships with anyone or anything other than her without accusing him of “betraying her like his father,” and punished him by squeezing his head if he kept secrets from her.

Fast-forward to the present, when Miko has decided she can no longer stand by and do nothing while Hana is basically starved by the spirits surrounding Zen-sensei. She carefully follows Zen down mostly empty and isolated streets, until he comes across a mangy stray kitten in a tunnel.

Miko had planned to call the police and catch Zen red-handed abusing a cat, but couldn’t let the act actually happen, and cries out when it looks like he’s about to crush the little kitty’s head…which we already saw was a similar gesture her mother performed on him many times.

Zen asks Miko if she followed him and what she’s doing, and the huge ghoul seemingly protecting him pops out and threatens her. Miko runs with the kitten in hand, but trips and falls, though the kitten is unharmed. Startled, it jumps out of her hands and runs right into the street.

Right on cue, Car-kun races down that street at breakneck speed, threatening to flatten the poor kitty. But then Zen leaps out in front of the car to save the kitten, and suddenly Miko has no idea what is going on. Why would he want to save a cat…then kill it?

Turns out Zen wanted to do nothing of the sort. At the hospital, he tells Miko not to blame herself for what happened; he chose to leap in front of the car. He further explains that someone in his area—not him—has been abusing animals, and he was patrolling the area like usual.

Because of the odd way Miko had interacted with him when he answered the message about adopting another stray cat, as well as her odd demeanor at school, Zen assumed she might be the animal-abusing culprit, proving that both of these people simply needed more information before forming assumptions.

Miko gets more context on the hospital’s roof from Satoru, Zen’s friend since grade school, learning about his strict—nay, fucking psycho mother, who killed his pet cat when she found out about it, which…goddamn. Satoru, a vet, is the one Zen brings all the cats he finds so that he can secure new homes for them.

Lately, with the animal abuser, Zen has only found cats who are either already dead or close to it, which explains last week’s suspicious scene. As for why Satoru helps Zen, well…for the same reason Miko wants to help Hana: if your friend is in trouble, you do what you can to help them!

Now that Miko knows that the cat spirits are the result of Zen encountering the victims of the animal abuser, and the ghoul was once his horrible mother, she decides to help Zen out, for his sake, for Hana’s sake, and hell, for her own sake. She addresses Zen’s mother-ghoul directly, asking her to set him free, and she charges after her into the corridor.

I’m not sure if Miko intended for the fox spirits to arrive and destroy the mother-ghoul, but I’m not sure what else she expected, considering she put herself in harm’s way. It’s supposedly the third and final time they’ll help her, but at least it was for a good cause, and will end up helping both Hana and Zen. But who knows; maybe this is only the beginning of Miko taking a more active role in helping people with her ability.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Mieruko-chan – 10 – One More Time

The show delivers one of its creepiest scenes yet without showing a single ghost or ghoul…just creepy-ass Toono Zen, cracking open the door of his pitch-black apartment surrounded by crows, accepting some leftovers from a kindly lady with some suspicious blood on his hand. He retreats back inside when talk turns to the recent maiming of cats in the neighborhood.

How such a guy was able to get a job subbing at a girl’s high school is beyond me, but a lot of the class finds him hot. Naturally, this doesn’t include Miko, who now has to constantly see those tortured cat ghouls writhe around Toono, who looks on the surface like he’s not aware of their presence, but at the same time could simply be hiding the fact he’s aware of them…just as Miko tries to do.

One side-effect of their new substitute teacher and his ghoulish kitty entourage started out as a joke, but is now starting to become worrying: Hana just can’t stop eating. She even inadvertently bails Miko out of a very sticky situation with Toono and the ghouls when they to to the nurse’s office. Yulia sees them go in, and immediately correctly diagnoses the problem: Hana’s aura is being drained by the spirits surrounding Toono.

That Yulia knows this could prove crucial to Miko and Hana in the days ahead, but there are two problems: Hana has no idea what Yulia is talking about, Miko does know but is still apprehensive about talking about it, and Yulia thinks Miko is out to get her. To Miko’s point, ghouls can pop up anywhere at anytime; there’s no safe time or place to talk about them, as evidenced in a “peaceful” park where one cute kid transforms into a ghoul and has to be destroyed by Miko’s guardian spirits.

But that marks the second of three times they’ve helped Miko; the third time will be their last, adding one more lump in her throat. The episode is bookended by two students accidentally interrupting their teacher Toono’s seemingly nightly cat-hunting mission. Here I thought the show was going to try to humanize him a bit at some point, but nope, looks like he’s pure evil.

The forces of evil seem to be amassing around Miko, Hana, and Yulia. With only one guardian intervention left to count on, it may be time for Miko to drop her guard and converse with Yulia about ways to protect themselves from the coming scourge…and prevent Hana from gorging herself.

Mieruko-chan – 09 – The Joy of Being Able to React

The arrival of Toono Zen as her substitute homeroom teacher is an extremely vexing proposition for Miko. There are an inordinate number of intense cat-demons constantly surrounding the guy, who doesn’t seem to notice. At least he doesn’t seem to remember her from the stray cat encounter, while Hana can’t quite place the guy and Miko encourages her to believe she’s mistaking him for someone else.

Still, Zen’s demon hangers-on creep out Miko to the point she retreats to the bathroom, only to encounter another gigantic ghoul who climbs out of the toilet in her stall. Miko uses the fact there’s no TP to retreat, only to find Yulia eating her lunch in the stall next door. Mind you, Miko is only alone because Hana went to buy bread to eat after she ate her regular lunch.

Miko is of the mind that no one should have to eat their lunch in a bathroom stall, so invites Yulia to join her and Hana outside. Yet when she spots their teacher once again walking down the halls, Miko’s eyes suddenly fill with tears, concerning both Hana and Yulia.

The bulk of the remainder of the episode consists of a test of courage in the form of a haunted house set up by the local donut concern; if customers can brave the house and get their card stamped, they’ll receive 20 free donuts. Hana is an incurable scaredy-cat, but Miko simply loves the opportunity to be able to react to scary things by screaming. The fact that she smiles as she screams is particularly disturbing to Yulia!

Miko ends up seeing a real ghoul among all of the haunted house monsters, but she’s still able to react because the ghoul can’t be sure who she’s reacting to: the genuine article, or the artifice of the haunted house. When all’s said and done the three friends end up going through the ringer but coming out of it closer than ever…not to mention 20 donuts richer!

Mieruko-chan – 08 – Let Sleeping Moths Lie

While shopping with Kyousuke for a birthday gift for their mom, Miko comes across a very cute dress and decides to try it on, since she and her mom are pretty much the same size. Unfortunately, a ghoulish store rep who says “It looks great on you!” kinda ruins the mood…not to mention Miko wears the dress out of the store, basically nixing it as a gift for mom.

While she and Kyousuke find another gift, the trip home is less than stress-free, thanks to a spectral axe murderer walking down the subway car, swinging its axe right into peoples’ heads. Miko has every right to be scared about what the axe might do to someone like her who can see them.

Thankfully, the axe only hurts other ghouls, and goes right through her head without incident. We don’t see Miko and Kyousuke giving their mom the gift of couple mugs. Rather, we watch as their mom makes two cups of tea with them: one for her, and one for her dearly departed husband.

The balance between creepy/gross/spooky/sinister ghosts and benevolent ones continues when Miko and Hana see off their pregnant homeroom teacher, learning that the child she’s carrying is her second try. This explains the odd white specter that’s so interested in the teacher’s belly: it’s the ghost of her dead child.

This was one of the best and most powerful segments of Mieruko-chan to date, because it once again subverts expectations. At first I thought the ghost was a threat like Miko did. But when we see how it interacts with his mother’s hand, it’s as if we and Miko can see the healing love emanate from her. I was well and truly choked up.

Contrast that with just regular choking due to one of the grosser ghouls Miko has come across. With a dozen slithery three-nostriled tusks leaking snot and some unsettling googly eyes, this particular specimen is not the first ghost Miko decides to face “head-on”. Perhaps she’ll face a less gross one later. For now, Miko joins Senpai’s Futaba as a Fall 2021 character who is partial to canned oshiruko.

The final segment brings back two very different cat people. First, Miko and Hana’s substitute homeroom teacher is Toono Zen, the guy Miko wouldn’t let adopt the stray kitten. Between those nasty demonic cats surrounding him and his blood red eyes, I wonder if he has “the sight” like Miko and Yulia, and knows that Miko can see too?

Whatever his deal, homeroom is not going to be pleasant for Miko for the foreseeable future. As for the tough yakuza-looking guy, he takes his time finding just the right cat food and cake to celebrate his late wife’s life, their anniversary, and the lives of their two beautiful white cats, who continue to watch over his new fuzzy companion as benevolent spirits. Mieruko-chan continues to spook me out and melt my heart.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Mieruko-chan – 07 – Tunnel Visions (of Horror)

Things are only getting spookier for Miko, and it’s largely Hana’s fault! When Hana’s photo gets a lot of likes on Instagram (666, to be exact) she believes it’s her calling to be a photographer, and buys a Polaroid to take more. Yulia, waiting for an opening to exact her revenge on Miko for humiliating her/choking her out, eggs Hana on by suggesting a bus trip to the mountains for some prime photo spots.

Yulia’s motivations aside, this is the first time in a long time, maybe ever, she’s gone on a trip with friends. That said, she sticks to her mission, getting Hana to enter a tunnel known to be haunted so Miko will have no choice but to admit she also sees ghosts, and deal with them. Of course, at first it’s normal stuff that gets Hana spooked: the darkness and a sudden drop of water falling on the back of her neck.

When Miko trips in the dark, then dusts off her hands, Yulia believes her rival is setting up some kind of supernatural barrier. Because of the discrepancy between the types of ghosts Yulia and Miko can see, Miko’s gestures seem to coincide with the ghosts Yulia can see shriveling up and vanishing, as if Miko exorcised them. But Yulia can’t bigger and much more horrifying monster that is devouring the ones she can see.

Yulia makes things worse by trying to get Miko to admit she can see the ghosts too, totally unaware the biggest and baddest instantly reacts to the sensation that the humans can see them. Miko has been operating under the assumption that this is, as Egon once said, “very bad”. The monster prepares to swoop down on the three girls, but is stopped and defeated by the shrine spirits, who once again protect Miko.

Hana takes Miko and Yulia’s defeated, exhausted expressions on the ride home as shared disappointment in not getting to the end of the tunnel to the photo spot. So she gathers the two close for a selfie. That ends up making Yulia’s day, as it’s established her belief in ghosts cause other classmates to ostracize her, but she’s finally found new friends.

As for Miko, she’s just trying not to overthink why some spirits protect her while others want to kill her, Hana, and now Yulia, or what one of the ones protecting her meant by “three times”. But as the preview says, things are going to get spookier before they become less spooky, so Miko will likely need all the spectral allies she can get!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Mieruko-chan – 06 – Aw, No…Hana!

While there’s equal or greater Miko at either end, the middle of this episode is All Hana, All The Time, starting with her waking up to find her clock stopped, eating a giant stack of pancakes for breakfast, and lights flickering and going out around her. This is because one of the bigger and more grotesque ghouls to appear in Mieruko-chan is following Hana around, even using her dazzling aura as a kind of grill to sear smaller ghouls to snack on!

I love that as sinister and deadly as this monster looks, the only thing we know for sure is that he loves barbecue…that could be the only reason he’s haunting Hana! For while he gets awfully close to Hana and messes with lights and clocks around her, he doesn’t seem capable of actually hurting Hana, even when she braves a haunted abandoned building to retrieve a crying boy’s dog.

Once both boy and dog are happily home, Hana swears she’ll never put herself through something that terrifying again. And Hana didn’t actually see any ghosts! Like most people, she was simply scared of the unknown in the darkness. It’s probably for the best she can’t see what’s actually there, like Miko.

This proves especially true when Miko takes Hana to a shrine with an ulterior motive: pray to the local deity to do something about the monster still haunting Hana’s steps. While Hana soaks in the Ghibli vibes (even humming a bit of a tune from Nausicaa), Miko watches all paranormal hell break loose…or is it heaven?

Why not both? The black shadowy monster seemingly bests the two golden fox deities, only to be destroyed by what seems to be their big, big brother.

After the shadow monster is pulverized, the golden monsters converse in a strange language neither we nor Miko understand, then the larger of the three does…something to Miko while saying the one thing we do understand: “Three times,” then vanishing with a gust of wind.

Did this deity protect Miko from three future hauntings? Both we and Miko will have to wait to find out what, if anything, these deities did. All the while, Hana grabbed some sweet Insta pics that don’t even need filters!

The Saint’s Magic Power is Omnipotent – 08 – Into the Western Woods

The Saint’s Magic Power is Omnipotent would prefer if we forget about Aira and whether or not she and Sei will ever actually speak to each other, and despite being somewhat frustrated by the sudden page-turn, I came to accept it in the spirit of enjoying watching Sei’s magic power continue to evolve, which all starts when she finally gains access to the forbidden section of the library.

Yuri Drewes might have the line of the night when he sidles up to her and asks if she’s thinking about murdering someone. But her interest in poisonous plants is obviously more honorable and altruistic. When her attempts to create holy water or imbue plants with magic fail, she learns from Yuri about “Saintly Conjury”, which is the closest analogue to the “blessing” of water of which she speaks.

At the end of the day, Sei more or less figures out how to perform Conjury quite by accident, simply because she’s concentrating very intently on her desire to help those who have helped her. An orb of magical energy appears just below her throat, and it lets out a little shock wave that imbues all of the surrounding plants with magic, just like she’d been trying.

While this is inarguably a huge breakthrough, Sei isn’t quite sure how she did it, and so isn’t sure how to repeat it. But then duty calls, as the knights request the institute’s best healer to accompany them on a dangerous expedition to the infamous Western Woods. Johan expects her to be very low on the prospect, but to his surprise, she’s fully prepared to do whatever she can to prevent or mitigate more casualties of the kind she treated before.

So early the next morning, she dons her durable, practical, yet stylish adventurer’s outfit and prepares to depart. She’s met by several surprises, first Jude and Johan seeing her off (though I don’t see why she’s surprised; they both adore her). Then she learns Commander Hawke will be joining the expedition in order to protect her. That goes for Yuri too, though a part of him is coming along just in case she pulls off Conjury again.

While Sei is wearing the hear ornament Albert gave her because she knew she’d want to keep her hair out of the way, he tells her that it’s actually enchanted, and will keep her safe come what may. His delicate, respectful, and above all dignified courtship of her has been one of the many surprise delights of this series.

But heck, even if her hairpin didn’t do jack, she’d still be fine, right? I mean, she’s got a Knight Commander and the Grand Magus protecting her. Well, maybe not so much, as the miasma becomes denser and the monsters grow stronger, Yuri and Albert’s hands are full stemming the tide of lesser beasts when a boss-type salamander appears.

When it spits its fire breath at Sei, she doesn’t have time to raise a magical shield, but her hair ornament has her back, raising an ice barrier in the blink of an eye that protects her from the flames. So yes, practical choice of hair accessory, but also a literal lifesaver. Though I suppose she could always heal herself if it came down to it…

But up to this point in the ongoing battle, Sei had been on her back foot and serving a support role as a healer and buffer, a role she knew well from the video games she’d play when not working her ass off. But when she witnesses a demon cat bite Albert in the shoulder, drawing blood and causing a deep wound, Sei just…reacts.

Whether it’s Saintly Conjury or simply Saintly badassery, Sei casts the same spell she cast the other night, but instead of simply imbuing nearby plants with magic, it eliminates all monsters and miasma across a vast area-of-effect, while fully healing Albert and everyone else’s wounds, right down to minor cuts and bruises.

Sei’s not just a healer or supporter. She also might just be the greatest weapon against evil alive. That aside, it was just hella fun to finally see her operating in the field, rising to the occasion as I expected she would.

Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina – 09 – Estelles;Gate

Last week’s doll-and-face fetish episode, and the grape-stomping maiden episode before it, made for some particularly goofy Journeys of Elaina, making me wonder when and if show would get dark again. Sure enough, this episode arrives with an “Explicit Content” warning, opens on a starving, broke Elaina, and no OP! What the heck are we in for? At the time, I had no idea.

Elaina finds a flyer promising good pay for “ultra-short-term” work, and encounters a fellow Witch, Estelle. Through meeting her, Elaina is pleased to learn that while Estelle became an apprentice when she was younger, it took her longer than Elaina to become a full-fledged Witch. Wand-measuring aside, Estelle is offering a giant sack of gold coins for the job.

What is the job? Well, first, a sad story: Back while Estelle was training abroad, her dear childhood friend Selena’s parents were murdered in a robbery. Selena’s uncle took her in, and proceeded to abuse her. Selena eventually snapped, murdering her uncle, and then several others. It ultimately fell to Estelle to apprehend Selena…and execute her.

Estelle seeks to use magic to go back in time so she can save Selena’s parents and prevent the chain of events that lead to her having to kill her own best friend. Time-traveling requires more magic than any one witch has, so Estelle has been gradually draining her blood to augment the spell.

The other problem is that once they’re actually in the past, Estelle will be drained of all magic, which is why she needs Elaina. By wearing matching magical rings, Elaina will be able to share her magic with Estelle. This job is not without its risks and inconveniences—hence the generous payday.

Elaina, confident and cocksure as always, proudly proclaims herself to be a traveler, and so the next logical step in her journey is to travel through time and see how things used to be in the past. So she slips on the ring, Estelle activates the spell, and off they go.

The witches safely arrive ten years into the past, but only have one hour to do what needs to be done before being sent back to the present. Estelle makes it clear that the timeline in which she executes Selena has happened and can’t un-happen; changing events will create a tangent, but that’s enough for her, as long as there is a timeline in which Selena gets to live on.

Their broom-flight to Selena’s house is interrupted when Estelle spots young Selena walking down the street, and can resist giving her a big hug, no matter how much it weirds the girl out. Elaina notes that Estelle got quie the cold reaction from Selena, but Estelle insists that deep down Selena is very kind.

Estelle proceeds to get Selena’s parents out of the house under the guise that she’s Selena’s half-sister and has business with them. Elaina stakes out the house, waiting for the robber to arrive, but it dawns on her that the murder of the parents was too grisly for a mere robbery. Then her magic-sharing ring glows and shoots a red beam in Estelle’s direction: she’s engaged in battle.

When Elaina arrives, she finds a horrifying sight: Selena has viciously attacked Estelle, and has blood on her mouth just like her photo in the future papers. It turns out Selena’s parents abused her long before her uncle had the chance, twisting her into homicidal mania, even sadism. It doesn’t matter whether Estelle was her best friend or she and Elaina are trying to “help”—Selena is already beyond helping.

While the blood and gore on display in this scene is indeed explicit, I for one am glad we didn’t have to witness the abuse Selena suffered at the hands of her parents, and the warning was meant for the violence. And there is a lot of it—the most in the series’ run for sure.

When Selena prepares to attack Elaina, Estelle gets up and stops her in her tracks. Having worked so hard and sacrificed her own blood to try to save Selena, she is overcome by heartbreak and despair, and there’s nothing left but to kill Selena again before she can kill Elaina or anyone else.

Elaina tries to stop this by removing the ring, but Estelle simply sacrifices her memories of Selena in order to summon enough magic to explode her head off. The hour is up and the two witches return to the present. Sure enough, Estelle doesn’t remember Selena, and barely remembers Elaina. She’s a ruined husk of a witch, and Elaina is so upset by the experience she runs out of Estelles house, pointedly leaving the bag of gold behind.

That, and Elaina’s subsequent breakdown on the bench in front of the clock tower, shows that the effects of this particular journey will (or at least should) last beyond just this episode. Elaina weeps uncontrollably, her confident façade utterly shattered. She no longer thinks of herself as a special or exemplary; only an “ordinary” traveler and witch, inexperienced and unable to do anything.

She’s being a bit hard on herself, as who the heck could have handled that situation better? It was largely out of her hands. The best thing to do would have been to refuse the job, but she really needed money and was intrigued by the prospect of a different kind of traveling. The episode fades to black and the credits roll without images. Black Friday, indeed.

Read Crow’s review of episode 9 here!

DanMachi III – 08 – Suffering Fools

Every season of DanMachi has come with one or two absolute bangers that are both the culmination and transcendence of every preceding episode to that point; a climax that feels epic and cinematic in scope; that pulls out all of the stops. This season’s banger has arrived, and it simply rules.

Bell, foolish as he is, is able to create just enough deniability to not be branded an enemy of humanity on the spot: the vouivre is his catch, and he won’t let anyone else touch it. That said, when Wiene slithers away, crashing into every other stone building and causing it to topple, it doesn’t inspire much confidence he has his quarry under control!

When other Xenos emerge from Knossos, Loki Familia is ready, with Bete, Tione, and Tiona making quick work of Gros, Lyd, and various small fry. It’s especially fun to see the two Amazon sisters in action again. They’re ordered only to disable, not to kill, but it’s clear they could kill easily if they needed to.

Fels summons an Adamantite Golem, but Tiona cuts it down with one swing from her massive two-sided sword, as if to say “That all you got?” As it turns out, it isn’t: the Xenos’ least talkative but most powerful member, the Black Minotaur Asterius, arrives fresh from killing Dix in the halls of Knossos, that’s when Loki’s vanguard starts to have some problems.

The Minotaur proves a worthy match to all three active combatants, then pulls out a magical axe that shoots them so full of lightning they become numbed and paralyzed. That’s Finn’s queue to send in their heavy hitter, the War Princess herself and Bell’s would-be girlfriend…Ais Wallenstein.

After ethereally floating down to street level, Ais unleashes an Aerial Tempest combo, and suddenly the Minotaur is down an arm. The moment Ais takes the field, you know shit’s getting real, but that’s by far the most damaging blow she’s able to land, as in the ensuing fight Asterius is able to keep up with and defend her lightning-fast attacks. He’s no slouch!

But when the Minotaur slashes her left shoulder, Gareth and Finn step in to relieve her and prepare a pincer when Hermes’ chienthrope child Lulune covers the area with smoke bombs, allowing Asterius to flee. It’s clear Hermes wants Ouranos—and Bell—to succeed.

As for Bell, he continues to chase a berserk, raging Wiene as she leaves a trail of destruction in her wake. When adventurers and guards try to attack her, Bell launches Firebolts in their general direction (but without intent to harm them). Little does he know their arrangement through the city blocks is no accident.

Wiene ends up being led straight into the amphitheater, where she’s surrounded by more than two dozen mages who fire lightning attacks at her in unison. One of Dix’s henchmen delivers the coup-de-grace before being crushed to death by Gros. The arena floor collapses and Wiene and Bell take a tumble.

With Wiene now near death and no longer thrashing about, Bell is able to replace her jewel, but while she regains her “humanity”, it seems too late to save her, as she begins to turn to dust, like someone snapped away by Thanos. As tears well in her eyes, Wiene smiles. She had a dream that no one saved her, but it was just a dream. In reality it’s Bell, whom she loves, who saved her, and for that she is happy and grateful.

It’s obviously heartwrenching to see her vanish in a cloud of black dust while Bell embraces her, but thankfully we don’t have to endure the despair for long, as Fels decides to whip out a spell he’s been attempting for 800 years and long since condemned as useless: Dia Orpheus, which essentially rewrites the rules of the universe to return Wiene to life and to Bell, back in her humanoid child form.

This time it works; Fels achieves a miracle. And one could hope that this time it worked because it had to in order to restore hope of humans and Xenos coexisting. That’s only possible because of Bell, who, foolish as it was, rushed headfirst to protect them when they were being unjustly demonized and oppressed.

After Wiene is returned to the other surviving Xenos in their hideout, Bell returns to the surface, and the city is half-destroyed, due in large part to his chasing Wiene around. Eina asks him if it’s true he exposed the city to danger and allowed other adventurers to suffer injury. When he responds in the affirmative, she slaps him…then hugs him, not wanting it to be true.

But there’s no overlooking the destruction around them, nor the injuries of the adventurers involved in the incident. Bell likely has a lot to answer for. Hesita & Co. stayed out of the fighting, and I doubt Bell will be expelled from the Guild with Ouranos in charge. But surely some measure of sanction or reckoning awaits him. As he couldn’t let Wiene die—and she didn’t—it will have been worth it no matter what. But that doesn’t mean Everything’s Going to Be Okay.

Lord El-Melloi II Case Files – 09 – Straighten Yourself Out

Gray and Caules are consulting with Olga-Marie about Hephaestion when the path of Rail Zeppelin is suddenly altered, turning into the infamous “Child of Einnashe,” or Forest of Dead Apostles, and stopping dead in the middle of a horrendous blizzard.

Some enterprising mages are quickly stabbed by the predatory trees. With El-Melloi still unconscious and most of the passengers locking themselves in their rooms, it falls on Gray and her allies to figure out how to get the train back on track.

In a rather abrupt transition, Luvia and Kairi visit the “Zombie Cooking” studio of Jean-Mario Supinerra. They ask him about the crimes involving beheadings, and he assumed from his Scotland Yard contact that such a case had been resolved. Trisha also contacted him about it just before she died in the same manner, suggesting she had some pecognition about her fate.

Melvin Weins, who had been following Rail Zeppelin by helicopter ever since meeting with Reines, joins Gray, scaring the crap out of her with his unorthodox, bloody entrance. Soon Karabo and Yvette arrive with the conductor, who asks them to assist in getting the train moving again, lest they be forced to cancel the auction.

Caules agrees to stay with El-Melloi, and Melvin plays his violin to tune the magical circuits of everyone, buffing them for the upcoming mission; judging by Yvette’s reaction, the tuning also happens to feel really, really good.

The eclectic, hastily-built party (a really cool combo, by the way) sets out into the bitter cold. Yvette locates the main Leylines and Karabo marks them for activation. Add warns Gray of trouble approaching, and hangs back, once again encountering Hephaestion, a Servant whose true name she knows but whose role—and Master—she doesn’t.

As Yvette, Karabo, and Melvin battle the forest’s defenses and finish activating the leylines, Gray and Heph spar, with the latter not at all interested in dialogue and the former hesitant, but not altogether unwilling to use force.

When the train starts back up, Olga-Marie happens to land on a dimensional pocket with an imaginary attribute; a signature spell of the Fellows family to which the late Trisha belonged. When Olga unlocks the pocket, Trisha’s head falls out, to Olga’s shock and dismay. Adashino enters the room, pleased the head of the victim has been found.

Even when the train released from the forests and ready to continue on its proper course, Gray isn’t about to let Heph get away, so she rescinds her first restraint, transforming her scythe into a giant hammer. Will they get left behind, or will the battle again be interrupted, whether by an awakened El-Melloi or someone else? Even standing still, with its titular character out cold, Rail Zeppelin continues to crackle with intrigue.

Iroduku: The World in Colors – 13 (Fin) – Back to the Future…In Color!

The structure of the Irodoku finale is simple: Everyone says their goodbyes before Hitomi heads off back to her proper time. Shou (“I loved…your photos”), Chigusa (“Uhh…Smile more, I guess?”), Kurumi (“Don’t make me cry!”), Asagi (“I don’t care, I’m crying!”), and Kohaku (“See you in 60 years!”) each get their turn as the star sand matures, but when it’s time for Yuito, both he and Hitomi hesitate to say everything the want to say, despite the fact this may be the last time they see each other.

Turns out Hitomi, or rather Hitomi’s unconscious magic, isn’t going to be satisfied with their sedate, half-assed goodbyes. The magical device starts to malfunction, and Hitomi is swallowed up into another full-dive illusion. Only Yuito jumps into the stream and ends up in the same place. He rushes about looking and finally finds her, devoid of color, and they embrace.

They thank each other for having such profound effects on each other’s lives before confessing their love to each other, saying all the things left unsaid before. Yuito was all but done drawing before she showed up, and Hitomi couldn’t see colors. Both had shut themselves into dark, gray corners, but now the walls of those corners have shattered and given way to brilliant colors.

But as I predicted, love is the answer here. Saying she loves Yuito and hearing that he loves her back is enough to restore color to her world; this time, permanently. In the moments before she’s sent back to the future, she can see everyone and the town in color for the first time.

Kohaku privately remarks that it wasn’t her time magic that sent Hitomi back; it was Hitomi’s own unconscious magic simply wearing off. Shortly after Hitomi disappears, Kohaku gets a text from “Kohaku Level 77” in the year 2078: Hitomi has returned safe and sound.

Her life-changing journey thus at an end, Hitomi finds herself on the same hill where she left her granny, and they embrace tearfully. Kohaku (she insists Hitomi call her that rather than “Granny” since they became such good friends in the past) then presents Hitomi with a time capsule containing all the photos they took together.

It was probably already there, buried in the yard, before Hitomi left; Kohaku always knew she’d become a great enough mage to send Hitomi back. She’s just glad her action led to Hitomi finding happiness. Finally, she shows Kohaku the children’s book she read as a child—the only thing she saw in color. Turns out, it was written by Aoi Yuito.

After leaving flowers at her mother’s grave, Hitomi, brimming with the confidence her time in the past awakened, reconnects with her friends with school and starts an all-new Magic Photography Arts Club. As for where the 70ish-year-old Yuito and the others are…the show does not disclose that, nor does Hitomi seem in a hurry to seek them out.

That seems strange, since one would’ve thought Kohaku would have kept in touch with one if not all of them, and one would think that due to advances in technology people would live longer than they do in 2018. Alas, this finale wasn’t about Hitomi reconnecting with her friends from the past (other than Kohaku), nor her rather uninspiring romance with Yuito.

It was about Hitomi leaving that dark corner where she shut herself off, embracing all of the new colors in her world, and resuming her life in her time. She got what she needed in the past. Now it’s time to build a new happy future for herself.—MagicalChurlSukui

Iroduku: The World in Colors – 12 – The Firework Called Love

Yuito and Hitomi’s embrace late last week felt like a turning point in their romantic development—as scenes  in which two sides of a couple run towards each other in the middle of the night tend to feel. But the aftermath of that embrace is tempered by two factors this week.

The first is the looming dread of Hitomi having to return to her time, despite not wanting to. The second, and possibly most unfortunate, is that as romantic pairings go, Hitomi and Yuito are just a bit dull. The flame of last week’s dramatic gesture was fizzled out rather quickly and anti-climactically, without so much of a hint of the ever-important confession.

But maybe that was the point. After all, what’s the point of confessing your love to someone you may never see again…though considering Kohaku is still around in the future there’s a good chance Yuito could be too—more on that later.

The club has a festival to execute, and despite her issues, Hitomi puts on a brave face and gives it her all. The result is some of her most impressive magic to date; Kokahu notes after the immensely successful first day that it’s the result of Hitomi’s training, not to mention being around people she wants to make happy with her magic, something she didn’t have in the future.

Back home, Kohaku’s folks have prepared a lavish feast to send Hitomi off, but some of their practical logistical talk initially harms the mood until they drop the subject and just let Kohaku enjoy her last night there, while preparing for her last day.

Festival-wise, the second day goes as well as the first; so well that Asagi, having made a mint off her bunny postcards, decides to kick Hitomi and Yuito out of the clubroom to explore the festival together, a sweet gesture on her part that shows how far she’s come.

Asagi later tells Shou people shouldn’t apologize for having liked someone (in his case Hitomi). She respects how Shou was able to put himself out there, and hopes one day she’ll have the courage to do the same. Naturally, she doesn’t specify whom she’d muster the courage to confess to, and even if she did, Shou still might not quite get it.

As for Hitomi and Yuito, they have fun running around the festival, culminating in a visit to what frankly seemed like a pretty lame haunted house—only one thing jumped out at them. Still, the darkness is an opportunity for the oh-so-timid couple to hold hands some more.

When they exit, Hitomi decides to cut their break short, perhaps satisfied with the moments they shared, but possibly also because she doesn’t want to get too deep into anything so close to ZHIEND.

During the festival wrap party, Kohaku and Hitomi join forces once more to create magical fireworks. While watching them burst in the sky, Hitomi describes how she feels, and Kohaku remarks that it sure sounds like it’s “happiness.” In that moment, Hitomi sees color in the fireworks—a huge improvement from when she saw them in black and white back in the future.

Unfortunately, the fireworks are the only thing she sees in color, and when they’re gone, her vision is back to monochrome. Perhaps there’s one thing she needs to do to make the colors permanent: tell Yuito how (I presume) she feels.

Whether she can do that in the past, or track him down in the future (when I imagine he’d recognize and remember her, as would the others), who can say. Maybe she’ll never confess openly at all, or maybe the magic ritual with the clock won’t work. However happily or bittersweetly it’s likely to end, I’m eager to see how this story resolves.

Iroduku: The World in Colors – 04 – Fewer Colors, More Understanding

When Kohaku arrived she looked so bright and confident I feared her light would completely envelop Hitomi. But instead of a bright sun blinding everything else in its vicinity, Kohaku proves to be a warm sun, embracing Hitomi just as her granny would…because she is her granny. She takes that role very seriously without pulling herself out of her own present.

Immediately, Kohaku attracts a lot of attention, especially when she “transports” her class to England by casting an illusion spell that puts the class into a photo. It would seem her penchant for causing mayhem at school rears its head when an illusory steam locomotive covers everyone with soot and smoke.

That night, at the ridiculously awesome Tsukishiro residence, Hitomi and Kohaku talk before bed, about how Hitomi not knowing precisely why she’s there or for how long, in other words not knowing what will come next, is exciting. She also shows Hitomi a photo of a train that was in the album she held; the magic train was her doing; she has magic power, it’s just hidden and dormant, only coming out under certain circumstances.

And for all the havoc she’s wreaked over the years, Kohaku maintains that magic should only be used to help people and to make them happy. She considers magic to be a gift from God, and its the duty of every mage given such a gift to give it back to the world through happiness.

The photography arts club is a happy bunch, with Chigusa and Kurumi slowly growing together (though Kurumi puts on a front of loathing and Chigusa pretends to be aloof). They go on the high school roof at night to take photos of the skyline.

Yuito tells Hitomi that seeing only in monochrome can have its advantages. She’s able to see or understand things color normally obscures for everyone else. The gang also learns that Hitomi is Kohaku’s granddaughter from sixty years into the future…and they’re perfectly fine with it (for the most part).

The two Tsukishiro mages cap off the night by transcribing Yuito’s tablet drawing of a train into the sky. They’re using magic to help their friends by making them happy. The next day while going over their shots, Kohaku officially joins the club and adds “magic” to its name,  making it the “Magic Photography Arts Club.”

Rather than someone who was going to shove Hitomi out of relevance, Kohaku is a net positive to the group, strong and self-assured in every way Hitomi is not, but also warm, generous, and loving. Knowing Hitomi is from the future worries Yuito, because he doesn’t know if or when she’ll return there. I imagine such worries are premature; Hitomi still has a lot left to experience in the past.

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