Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro – 10 – Taking It Seriously

A day after feeding Senpai “steamy snaps” (of chicken, not her), Nagatoro watches him lollygagging during a marathon, and makes her displeasure with his performance plain. He tries to say he’s good at nothing but drawing and practicing is only for talented people, but Nagatoro knows better on both counts.

She’s not about to let her Senpai get off with such a lousy defeatist attitude, and orders him to show up at the park bright and early, where she meets him in a skintight two-piece track suit and ponytail, ready to run with him and show him he can do it if he tries.

While I’m sure on some level Nagatoro understands her attire turns Senpai on, to the point he tries to overtake her because he’s too embarrassed to watch her running from behind, that’s just the icing on the cake for her. She wants Senpai to see her and thouroughly enjoys his reactions, but she’s just as invested in helping him improve himself and to dispossess him of the notion it’s okay to just give up because something is hard.

Speaking of hard, Naoto is revealed is extremely inflexible during the crucial post-run stretching, so after putting herself into some teasing poses to get him all red, Nagatoro helps him stretch properly, which gives her an excuse to get as close and physical and sweaty with him as she dares. This culminates in the two doing a side-stretch together when Yosshi stops by with her dog…though at this point it should come as no surprise to her with whom Nagatoro is spending her weekend.

The Cultural Festival is approaching, and Naoto needs to start putting out some work worthy of the Art Club exhibition. He wants to have a male model so he doesn’t get embarrassed looking closely at them, but Nagatoro insists on modelling for him, showing him the sketch of her as a catgirl as proof of where his true artistic desires lie.

When he gives her the condition that she has to model in catgirl cosplay, he feels bad about it later, as he assumes she’d never be able to find such a costume, much less wear it for him. I don’t know why he thought this, considering the clothes she’s worn (or not worn) for him so far, but the next day she shows up in the literal costume of his dreams, courtesy of the needlecraft club.

She is playfully beating him with her big paws for not having complimented her enough when Gamo, Yosshi and Sakura come in, wondering if they interrupted something they shouldn’t have. But eventually the whole group is there hanging out and Naoto settles down and starts drawing Nagatoro.

The girls even offer to help Senpai make his exhibit more “hype”, not because they’re keen to use that scenario to torment him (well, not only because), but because they’re all friends now, and friends help each other out. This is in stark contrast to his relationship to the estranged Art Club President, whose stern, purposeful footsteps Naoto hears approaching and has the girls hide in the prep room.

When the unnamed President (voiced by the effortlessly imperious Mizuki Nana) enters, it’s clear from the couch and the snacks that she believes the “unsavory rumors” she’s heard about the club room becoming a gathering place for some “nasty characters”. At no point in this scene or Naoto’s flashback of her does the President treat Naoto as anyone other than an employee, at an emotional remove but also exerting absolute control.

There’s no give-and-take in their exchange, and both Nagatoro and the others feel bad for Senpai getting reamed out due in large part to their entering his world. When the President asserts that the club room is “no place for merrymaking”—as if you can’t do good work and have fun doing it—and threatens to turn a termination form for the art club into the faculty office, Naoto is unable to speak up for himself.

But before President leaves, Nagatoro emerges from the prep room with the others, having heard quite enough. She calls the President selfish for having been AWOL so long and leaving Senpai all alone only to come back out of nowhere to shut it down. The President doesn’t flinch in her assertion that the club shouldn’t exist if its members won’t take it seriously.

Surely Nagatoro also must realize how unserious she looks in her getup, but it doesn’t matter; she’s going to stand up for her Senpai! She draws upon her amassed wealth of knowledge about Senpai to declare that President simply can’t make that assertion. After all, she hasn’t been watching Senpai off by himself drawing like a man possessed. She has, and she knows he takes it seriously—so seriously, in fact, he wrongly believes he isn’t good at anything else!

The President accepts this challenge to her judgment, and decides to settle the fate of the art club with a festival competition. She will run the art club’s exhibit, while Naoto will have to run his own separate exhibit, and whoever gets more votes will be the victor; in his case, the art club will survive. If she wins it gets shut down.

Naoto can’t even fathom taking on the President all by himself…but he doesn’t have to. Nagatoro puts her hand on Senpai’s shoulder, just like the President did after last year’s successful exhibit. The President said “they made a good memory” but otherwise didn’t him much of anything emotionally, and since then has left him completely alone.

If President hadn’t done this, Nagatoro would have never had the opening she needed to begin her relationship with Senpai, so it’s not all bad. But she, and her girlfriends who were clearly moved by her passionate defense of her boyfriend Senpai, will surely help him do whatever it takes to beat the President. And even if he can’t, who’s to say they can’t start a new club; one will art and fun are allowed?

Episode 10 “Senpai” Count: 29 (+3 “Paisens”)
Total: 363

Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro – 09 – Rolling With the Punches

There have been plenty of cases of Nagatoro committing an unforced error that nets her a little more closeness with Senpai than she had initially bargained for, but let us not forget that Naoto also commits his fair share of blunders. For instance, he lent her a boxing movie, so now she shadowboxes all over the club room and eventually wants to spar with him.

He has no intention of even pretending to hit back, but when he dodges and loses his balance, he falls into her arms, and his self-own turns into hers. Nagatoro also plays with fire by letting her life with her circle of friends overlap with her Senpai time, such as when a bunch of loud gamers lead the four girls to flee the dining hall and make the club room their hangout space.

When Naoto expresses his surprise such otherwise aggressive girls gave up so easily, they say they’re taking care of it by sending Sakura in to flirt with the gamers and turn them against each other. But by going along with this strategy, Nagatoro is setting herself up for potential heartache in a later segment.

With Senpai and her friends in such consistent close contact, Nagatoro ends up in the unusual position of having to defend his honor…or rather, his depravity. Gamo, who is most definitely messing with Nagatoro because she knows she actually likes Senpai, declares him an “herbovore” with no libido.

Nagatoro strongly disagrees, calling Senpai a “closet perv” and insisting on proving it by finding a dirty book hidden somewhere in the club room. The thing is, she’s right: Naoto does have a pretty dirty (but also artistic) book hidden away; just not in the room where Nagatoro bet she’d find it.

When Naoto sees how frustrated Nagatoro gets, he slinks into the prep room and very transparently tries to hide it while she’s watching him. This leads her to pounce on him with with a mixture of joy and relief, clearly ecstatic she had him pegged correctly. Rather than watch further PDA, Gamo and Yoshi leave the club room.

In the next segment, Nagatoro not so subtly shows off her new earring, which Naoto naturally notices immediately and compliments. These two are now so close that the slightest change in appearance is a big deal. As a couple in everything but name and with their dynamic largely right up against the precipice of “real dating”, it’s the little details that excite them.

But this is, at the end of the day, dilly-dallying on the part of both Nagatoro and Naoto, and they’re punished by Sakura, the most complex, inscrutable, and possibly brightest of Nagatoro’s three girlfriends. As a result of flirting with the gamers, one of them is now stalking her, and she wants to get him to stop…by pretending to date Senpai-kun.

Gamo and Yosshi are all for this, and Naoto is too nice to decline, even knowing how Nagatoro will feel about it. Of course, Nagatoro fucking hates this, and never lets us forget it in her facial expressions throughout the segment. To her credit, she doesn’t seem to place outsize blame on the situation on Senpai. After all, if he wasn’t as stupidly nice as he was, she wouldn’t like him!

That doesn’t make it any easier to watch her smartly cardiagned Senpai being clung to by Sakura in a ridiculously cute outfit on their fake date. That’s especially when Gamo starts tapping against the fourth wall, calling this one of those situations from one of the rom-com anime Paisen watches, and how those dates start out fake but the feelings gradually become real.

Of course, Naoto is just too uncomfortable around Sakura, even when he doesn’t know Nagatoro is watching, for that to happen, while it’s pretty clear from the get-go that Sakura is only using Naoto to flush out the stalker. And yet there’s also clearly part of her using this scenario to try to light a fire under Nagatoro.

Gamo is content to mess with Nagatoro, but Sakura is more like me: growing a little impatient with their schtick and waiting for them to get real with each other. But there’s no guarantee that will ever happen. I’m sure both Naoto and Nagatoro harbor a measure of frustration over their “failure to launch”, as it were.

But that doesn’t change the fact that they still enjoy each other’s company and their daily interactions, some of them thrilling in their accidental (or not-so-accidental) steaminess, but ultimately safe in their mutual ambiguity and deniability. That might just be enough for them, and may continue to remain so indefinitely. I hope it isn’t, but I accept that as a distinct possibility as we head into the home stretch.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Episode 9 “Senpai” Count: 23 (+11 “Paisens”)
Total: 331

Horimiya – 12 – The Mantis

This week it’s Christmas in Horimiyaland, and everyone is figuring out how—and with whom—they want to spend their holiday. It’s just too perfect that Yuki fell in love with Tooru having absolutely no clue that the boy’s family was freakin’ loaded. Money can’t buy you love! If anything, it intimidates a girl of more modest means like Yuki.

At a time when everyone needs Christmas cake, Izumi is scheduled to work through the holidays at the bakery, meaning he won’t be able to join Kyouko and her family. While she’s understanding—her boy’s fam gotta earn, nothing you can do about it—her dad, mom, and Souta are less forgiving. Never mind if it’s Kyouko’s the one technically dating him. They want Izumi!

Shuu and Sengoku were both convinced Tooru and Yuki were already an item, but by saying he only “recently” harbored a crush on Kyouko, Tooru he reveals he’s still in a transitory place: not yet far enough removed from the pain of not having those feelings returned, and thus not quite ready to look for love elsewhere. Compounding matters is that he likely considers Yuki his best mates.

Why else would he so helplessly waver when she asks if she can come to his place to play video games? Or sneak in the house like something elicit is afoot? Or so determined to keep the family’s statuesque personal assistant Yashiro’s nose out of his business? Like his other friends, Tooru likely doesn’t want Yashiro or his family to get the wrong idea in the present—even if it may well turn out to be the right idea in the future.

After they both calm down after tea and cake (from Izumi’s bakery!) and fire up the video games, Tooru lets slip that he’s “happy with the way things are.” And honestly, I really don’t see Yuki disagreeing with that. As they watch that loading screen, they both seem content and comfortable. No need to rush things.

There’s a bit of drama at school when Sengoku doesn’t immediately agree to spend Christmas with Remi at Remi’s, and for a very bizarre reason: her dad is into catching bugs and putting them in boxes. When it’s trifling things like this that come between lovers, you know it’s true love. Sengoku simply has to grow a pair. The bugs are DEAD, dude!

When Kyouko shows her parents her superlative marks (all A’s save gym and art…kinda the opposite of me!) her mom remarks how there will only be one more report card, and then she’ll graduate. As her parents bicker and Souta asks her to look at his marks, Kyouko gets lost in thought: What will her life be like after graduation?

But before that, it’s Christmas, and the episode doesn’t want to leave anyone out as it checks in on just about everyone, starting with a contact-wearing Yanagi and Yuki’s big sister, who have a cute little exchange by a big outdoor Christmas tree. Tanihara and his brother wrestle over a clear view of the TV.

In what is a promising development, Yuki and Tooru are hanging out together for Christmas. I’m rooting for you two tentative bastards….take all the time you need!

Motoko is studying hard even the night before Christmas, but Shuu makes sure she takes a fried chicken and cake break. Sakura urges Sengoku to stop being a goddamn wimp and go hang out with his adorable girlfriend on one of (if not the) most important nights for couples both potential and extant. On the latter front, Shindou asks his girlfriend to wait one more year for him to graduate, and she agrees.

The entire Hori residence—including Souta’s cute friend Yura—is united in their elation when Izumi stops by to drop off their cake. When he says he can’t stay, Kyouko is again understanding, but her family won’t let him leave without a hot drink, eventually stealing a whole hour of his shift at the bakery.

When they finally allow him to leave, Kyouko walks him home, despite not being dressed for the chilly night; she’s in slippers, for goodness sake! But there’s something she wants to say to Izumi, and mercifully it’s not to ask him to berate or hit her; that particular pothole on their relationship road seems to have smoothed out off-camera…and that’s fine.

No, Kyouko tells him the same thing he told her back when they first started going out: she still doesn’t know very much about him. But due in part to that and other factors, she wants to be with him even after they graduate. Izumi goes quite a few steps beyond agreeing, and proposes marriage! Whoa, boy! Immediately embarrassed by blurting out what is surely deep-seated but still premature desire, he shuffles off.

But Kyouko promises she’ll “make him happy”, something Izumi says is usually what the guy is supposed to say in such a situation—which ironically is the kind of cisnormative comment you’d expect from Kyouko! She insists she should be the one to say it, as she admits she’s self-centered and “only good at studying and chores” though she’s selling herself short.

These two lovable dorks then bow to each other, expressing how they’re looking forward to their future together. All I can really say to that is BAAAAAWWWW.

After the credits, we fast-forward to New Year’s, which Kyouko and Izumi are spending together at a festival. They get their fortunes, but they hardly matter, since they both agree that as long as the other person is smiling, it’s all gravy. They grab some amazake and reflect how they were the last people they saw at the end of the previous year and the first people they saw at the beginning of the new one.

Izumi wants every year to be like that. Izumi walks Kyouko home hand-in-hand, assuring her that they can and will indeed be together forever. And damnit, I believe him. And like them, I’m happy just seeing the two smiling together, shrugging off the anxiety around what would happen after high school, laying out their future, and sharing in the warmth, relief, and elation of knowing graduation will only be the end of their beginning.

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 12 (Fin) – The One He Wants

We’ve finally arrived at the end of one of the most frustrating, problematic rom-coms I’ve experienced in quite some time, and it ends pretty much how I expected: by not ending. But despite how hard it was to watch at times, I could never quite look away.

On not one but two occasions this week Kazuya shows signs of not only knowing what he must do but stepping up and doing or saying it, only to abandon the effort a half-step short of the finish line. First he does this with Ruka, realizing how lucky he is to have her and how unreasonable he is for feeling like she’s not enough.

He is right in the middle of telling her he’s ready to move past the “trial” period of their relationship and declare them “official”—only to be distracted by the arrival of Mizuhara and Mami at the karaoke parlor. It’s the first of two “showdown” scenes between the two women, and in this first one Mami has all the power and relishes wielding it.

Mami tells Mizuhara she didn’t book her to rag on her profession, but now that she knows she’s a rental, she couldn’t stay quiet. She doesn’t like the fact Mizuhara and Kazuya have had a fake relationship this long, and aside from deeming it bad for Kazuya, just watching it in practice pisses her off “a teensy bit.” None of her words are that harsh or cruel, but Yuuki Aoi’s expert delivery and Mami’s odd expressions make them feel like icy daggers.

Because this is a show where Everything is About Kazuya, Kazuya feels it’s his duty to not only eavesdrop on Mizuhara and Mami’s date, but pretend to be sick and excuse himself from work to follow them. Mizuhara rewarded him last time he did this, so why wouldn’t he do it again? He has an excuse ready to go: he doesn’t want Mizuhara to bear the brunt of Mami’s hate.

Meanwhile Ruka is left holding the bag, wondering if Kazuya was serious about making them official. Kazuya finds Mizuhara and Mami on a bridge about to wrap up the date, but not before a “rematch” of sorts, only this time with Mizuhara having a slight rhetorical edge.

Mizuhara asks Mami straight up how she feels about Kazuya, as she’s sure Mami still occupies a special place in the guy’s heart. Mami doesn’t take the bait, but tosses the question back to Mizuhara, suspicious that in a year of fake-dating, she’s fallen for Kazuya for real. Mizuhara simply states “He’s my boyfriend”, not adding the “rental” part because at this point, until the end of their contract, whether it’s a rental or not is irrelevant.

Mami considers that a dodging of the question and turns to leave, but Mizuhara grabs her hand and tells her they’re not done. As scenes of Kazuya crying about Mami flash by, Mizuhara tells Mami how being a rental girlfriend helped her realize the importance and difficulty of falling in love. She asks if Mami ever faced Kazuya’s feelings head on, in good faith, seriously engaged with his love, or considered that he may be the one to make her “happy for life”.

Mami tells her to buzz off under her breath, and states that all of that is between her and Kazuya. Fair enough, but Mizuhara wins this round. She knows Mami wouldn’t have bothered with this date if she didn’t care one way or another about Kazuya. Of the three lead women, Mami is the one most unready, unwilling, and unable to reckon with her feelings, preferring her cool, aloof, gives-no-fucks, bored-with-everything…facade.

That night, Kazuya is waiting by Mizuhara’s door when she comes home, confessing he saw and heart what she said to Mami, thanking her for having his back once again, and apologizing for not being able to do those things himself. Mizuhara then shocks Kazuya by apologizing in turn, for not being able to secure him a real girlfriend (apparently Ruka doesn’t count!).

As she’s suggesting he consider asking Mami out again, for closure if nothing else, Kazuya steps up to the plate, as he did with Ruka, and says something he should have said long ago: “You’re the one I want. It’s gotta be you.” At last, some progress! Only no, he immediately recants, saying he wants her “as a rental girlfriend”, before rushing into his apartment with a curt good night.

Yet another disappointing, immensely frustrating moment of failure for Kazuya, who comes away from the incident thinking it’s a sure thing that Mizuhara isn’t into him. Meanwhile, next door, a blushing Mizuhara wonders WTF just happened. I have no doubt if Kazuya had made it clear he truly did want her as a real girlfriend, it would have been better for both of them, whether Mizuhara accepted or rejected him.

Instead, as a closing montage indicates, it’s still very much anyone’s game when it comes to winning the Kazuya Sweepstakes. Sumi’s out there doing her job with renewed confidence, Ruka smiles at the phone background of her and Kazuya, Mami is utterly bored to death by her latest rich old dude, and Mizuhara is still showing up early for dates with Kazuya.

They’re still rental dates, and she’s still a rental girlfriend. I get it; that’s the name of the show. And the point of the show wasn’t really about Kazuya to end up with one girl over the others, but to explore the different ways in which we fall in love, now made more complex and at times strange via new technologies.

Kazuya was almost always abysmally hard to watch, but that was kind of the point too. What kept me coming back were Ruka, Mizuhara, Mami and Sumi—in that order—as much care was put into their voices, character designs, clothing, and personalities. They were the stars, while Kazuya was an unfortunate but necessary variable in the equation. If RaG were to return for a sequel, they’d be the ones who’d bring me back.

Fate/Extra Last Encore – 12 – Doing What You Can

Shortly after Hakuno and Saber are expelled from the Seventh Level, Twice Pieceman paying Leo a visit from the Angelica Cage in an apparent flashback. Their unaligned positions are laid bare: Twice believes there is nothing left of humanity but its past; Leo still believes he can restore it if only he has the grail. As a Harwey, Leo has long been groomed to be the ultimate leader, but while he can “control” humanity, but he can no longer save them, or even live among them.

Kishinami Hakuno may not even be a real human, but he still wants save them and continue to live as one. The previous act’s ending suggested he and Saber had a long climb ahead of him, but while FELE faithfully replicated the old-school video game cruelty of having to start back at the beginning, Hakuno had in his pocket the bookmark of hope Alice gave him, which serves as a handheld save point.

Once he and Saber finish falling, he uses the bookmark like a phone flashlight to lead them through Limbo, where they first met. Rin gives a report; she’s still on the Seventh Floor just barely staying alive against Leo and Gawain as SE.RA.PH begins to crumble around them. Leo doesn’t have a concrete plan for defeating Leo, but a simple realigning of his thinking will serve him immensely in Round Two.

In Round One, he and Saber were separated, having to fight their counterparts one-on-one and being so overwhelmed they had no time to regroup. This time, they’ll arrive side-by-side and fight as one unit. Neither Hakuno nor Leo believe a mass of anger and hatred—much of it collected from those who failed to defeat Leo—will ever be sufficient. As such, when Hakuno and Saber arrive to spell an exhausted Rin, Leo is more bemused than anything else; the Dead Face has a death wish.

But Hakuno doesn’t wish do die, nor is he not dying because he’s pursuing a concrete goal. He wants to keep living so he can find a goal. The warmth of Saber helps him to focus just the anger within him, not the hatred. She believes she can break Gawain’s Excalibur, and only needs Hakuno’s best for an instant to do so.

It’s the ideology of hoping the best they can do will suffice against Leo’s bored arrogance and certitude. Indeed, Gawain and Excalibur put on a bigger, brighter show than the tiny red glowing dot that is the Dead Face-turbocharged Saber, while Hakuno’s face starts to crack and bleed like he could come apart at any moment.

But again, a moment is all Saber needs, and it’s what she gets, smiling when the light comes, knowing she’s got it. She shatters Excalibur Galatine in two and then activates her Golden Theater for One Final Play, Fax Caelistis; the Closing Rose that Fames Stars.

Excalibur is broken. Gawain is disarmed. Leo concedes defeat, and the battle is over without him dying, as is the rule of the Holy Grail War…though his still-smug look still amusingly pisses Rin off.

Leo rings the bell signalling Hakuno’s victory, and the floating chunk of rock upon which they stand begins to rise, taking them up to Angelica Cage AKA the Tree of Possibilities (without a bath, to Saber’s disappointment). Rin is upset that Leo still looks like he won something even though he just lost…but maybe he did win something by losing.

Unlike Pieceman, Leo hasn’t given up on humanity, only he lacked the ability to save it. By conceding to someone who can, a part of his goal could yet be achieved. The best Hakuno could do was enough to get to Pieceman. Will it be enough to defeat him? And barring defeat or victory, can humanity be saved another way before SE.RA.PH perishes?

Fate/Extra Last Encore – 11 – Status Quo Equals Decline

When last we saw Hakuno and Saber, he had just saved Rin and Rani from an eternal stalemate (though only Rin survived); we now rejoin them as they ascent to the seventh and highest floor, where master Leonardo Bistario Harwey dwells. Even though Rin and the female Hakuno managed to defeat Leo and his servant a thousand years ago, it was only because Leo “gave up the win” of his own volition.

They arrive at a painfully gorgeous yet empty place, and are met by the Saber-class servant Gawain, who has neither the will or reason to raise his sword against them. Turns out Leo was saved by Twice Pieceman (the one who holds the grail and from which whom no servant has ever taken it) and subscribed to the ideology of Twice, maintaining the status quo on the floor.

Since humans can only survive through change, he became humanity’s enemy. After about a century, he determined no challengers would come forth, and settled into a slumber, where he remains…until now. Gawain leads the new challengers to the place where Leo sleeps—though not before Saber pays respects to her former master, whose tomb is situated on a picturesque cliff overlooking a waterfall.

As much as Saber liked that Hakuno, Rin opines that perhaps if Leo and not Hakuno had won and made it past the Seventh Floor, perhaps SE.RA.PH and humanity might not be in such a bind, because Leo wouldn’t have lost to Twice as Hakuno did. Even so, it’s likely civilization would have still fallen for other reasons related to the kind of person Leo is.

Regardless, the present Hakuno must do what neither Leo (devoted to preserving the present) nor Twice (obsessed with the past) ever could: look to the future; the only way forward for mankind. To do so, he must do what his predecessor did and win against Leo…only this time when he awakens, Leo is prepared to fight back rather than conveniently resign.

As soon as he’s up and about, Leo sics Gawain on Saber and starts attacking Hakuno, who can barely deflect his attacks with Dead Face. Saber is similarly overwhelmed by Gawain’s power, and notably neither are able to properly support one another or compensate for their shortcomings. It’s a relatively quick but still extremely epic and badass battle.

Leo orders a coup-de-grace in the form of Excalibur Galatine, Gawain’s Noble Phantasm that basically creates a facsimile of the sun itself to incinerate his opponent. While Saber and Hakuno survive the onslaught, the ground beneath them does not, and they fall, perhaps all the way back to the lowest level. Speaking of levels, it’s as if they approached a boss in an RPG without sufficiently leveling up, and simply got schooled.

Unfortunately, there’s no time to gather more power; nor is there time to ascend all the way back to the Seventh Floor: Chakravartin will be complete in a matter of hours. Just when Hakuno was his most resolved, he’s swatted down…and even if he manages to reset Moon Cell, it will most likely mean deleting the last thousand years of history.

Since that history contains the defeats and amassed negativity that led to his creation, restoring Moon Cell will presumably claim Hakuno as well, meaning history could easily repeat itself with no more hero to correct it again. Still, I’m sure he, Saber, and Rin can figure something out.

Tada-kun wa Koi wo Shinai – 13 (Fin) – On Second Thought…Screw Duty!

Tada-kun never fell in love…until he did. And just his luck, it’s someone who is not only from very far away, but whose hand is promised to another. Against as a monumental, implacable an obstacle as Teresa’s stated duty to her country, he feels lost, defeated; like nothing matters anymore—even feelings that got him on a plane.

As Alec basically lets Teresa cry it out one more night (and cries right beside her, owing to her own unrequited love) Kaoru emerges from the sidelines to encourage Tada not to give in to despair or give up on saying what he came there to say to Teresa. While messing around, Kaoru accidentally lets the royal invite Rachel slipped in Tada’s bag.

That’s all the stimulus Tada needs to spring into action, retrieving the damp envelope at all costs. He’s regained the will and the imperative to see and speak with Teresa one last time…even if he’s being a bother.

Turns out Tada is far more of a bother to Charles and Alec than Teresa, but while Alec is quick to call for Tada to leave, Charles, who puts Teresa’s happiness before his own, lets her and Tada have some more time together. Nothing he says or does can change the fact Teresa simply doesn’t love him.

It sucks, but it’s not at all unexpected when two people are arranged, basically at birth, to marry one another. Love can certainly develop in such a scenario, but in my personal view it’s definitely putting the cart before the horse, and such arrangements aren’t a match for organically developing love such as Teresa and Tada’s.

When Tada finally confesses he’s loved Teresa since they met, she accuses him of being unfair. She left Japan so she could lock away all of her feelings deep inside for all time, but all it took was him following her to her home and saying a few words to break that lock.  There’s no “last day of crying” for Teresa, as long as she’s not in a situation where she can live with the one she loves.

As the credits roll, we return to Japan, where aside from Pin-senpai graduating, is more-or-less the status quo…with one very important development: Charles broke off his engagement to Teresa, rightfully acknowledging that it wouldn’t be fair for either of them to follow through with something that was not their choice.

In a bit of a surprise, Teresa not only seems happy to be free of her engagement to Charles, but took it further by “running after” Tada back to Japan, either delaying or outright cancelling her succession to the throne.

Tada is shocked that she would all but abdicate for him, but once they’re in each others arms, the whys, wherefores, and consequences melt away, and it’s just the two of them, Teresa, and Tada, no longer having never fallen in love. Is it a bit too neat and tidy of an ending? You bet…but who cares!

Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul – 24 (Fin)

I’m not going to lie and say I was all that enamored by this finale. In fact, it was a bit of a chore to get through, ironically as soon as the titular Bahamut showed up. Now, all of a sudden, Charioce is a good guy like everyone else, and all is forgiven, at least until the more immediate threat of Bahamut is dealt with (and, as it happens, all is forgiven even after that).

Favaro is dead, and Bacchus’ wagon has crashed. Nina decides the only way to fight a dragon is with another dragon (hers truly) while the gods and demons get together and form a barrier to minimize damage to the capital—though Bahamut’s random breath blasts still causes plenty of apocalyptic destruction. I just wish it was more interesting a boss.

Dragon-Nina doesn’t go up against Bahamut head-to-head; that would be suicide. Instead, she flies to Dromos and lands (naked) on Charioce’s back, much to his chagrin. But that’s just tough: if he’s going to put his life on the line to destroy Bahamut, she will too. They interface with Dromos together and it takes the form of a dragon covered with magical circuitry.

Nina and Charioce’s dragon shoots a beam; Bahamut shoots a beam; the beams meet, the first beam pushes Bahamut’s back and eventually blasts his head off, and badda-bing-badda-bang, the capital—and the world—is saved.

Just before Bahamut is blasted away, Nina (but not Charioce) finds herself in “the light of Bahamut”, where Amira is still hanging out. She gives Nina a big ol’ hug (both are naked, so Nina’s a bit bashful) and whispers something. When the day returns, the Dromos dragon has turned to stone and Charioce and Nina are passed out on the deck.

Fast-forward to the epilogue: Nina is still in the capital, helping with rebuilding; still living with Bacchus, Rita and Hamsa; Favaro announces he’s leaving again to resume his wandering life; Nina tells him about Amira, and he’s heartened; Rita has apparently resurrected Kaisar as a zombie.

Nina can apparently visit the palace whenever she wants to dance with Charioce, who is blind now but still king. As I said, all the horrible things he did are forgiven now because Bahamut was defeated…only Bahamut isn’t really dead, and he’ll be back, because he’s the name of the franchise.

But…I guess Nina’s willing to let bygones be bygones in terms of the atrocities Charioce committed against demons, gods, and whatever humans opposed him. She’s also lost her voice, apparently the price she had to pay (along with Char’s other eye) to use Dromos.

I do loathe running out of enthusiasm right before the finish line, but Bahamut really undermined much of this season with its inexplicable insistence that the audience go along with the notion that Charioce was a fellow who deserved redemption.

Nina’s love always felt as blind as the king ended up. She gave and gave and never got anything back for her love, except for the occasional decently-animated dance.

This season was at times fun, often gorgeous, occasionally sweet or funny or even moving. But in the end I just wasn’t buying what Virgin Soul was trying so hard to sell, and as a result I doubt I’d have any use for a third round.

Ushio to Tora – 39 (Fin)

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No more dancing around the matter at hand: this is the final week of Ushio to Tora (for the forseeable future), so if Hakumen’s going down, Hakumen’s going down today. And I couldn’t be happier; frankly, I’d gotten a bit tired of its raspy, evil voice-of-many-voices.

The souls of the recently deceased like Hyou and Nagare aid Ushio against a Hakumen who has been exposed as jealous and terrified; a Hakumen that never wanted the existance it got, but couldn’t escape, and so became more and more twisted.

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Ushio’s parent’s also finally unite, but at the end of the day, all the amassed allies of Ushio can only do so much; it’s Ushio and Tora and the Beast Spear that must defeat Hakumen once and for all.

In a last-ditch effort to kill them without fear, Hakumen gouges out its own eyes and goes by the smell of the spear. Tora counters this by stabbing himself with the spear, hiding its scent long enough to disorient Hakumen. Ushio and Tora go in for the kill, drive the spear through Hakumen’s skull, and end it.

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Hakumen goes out not cursing the victors, but wishing someone, just one person, could say its name—it’s real name, which we never learn—in a soft, quiet voice, as something other than the wretched monster it was throughout its existence.

Not long after Hakumen evaporates into the either, Tora, whose spear wound was mortal, also passes away before Ushio’s eyes, content that he already “ate” Ushio and he’s full now.

Put another way, Ushio filled Tora’s once empty, black heart (which had been thoroughly wrung out in his past life) with experiences and people Tora cared about and fought to protect. Now it’s time to go home to his family, who is no doubt waiting for him. Tora’s death was a surprise, but a welcome and noble one.

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When it becomes Ushio’s turn to pay the piper and become the next Tora, the souls of Jiemei and Giryou bail him out by leaving the Beast Spear (which shatters into dust) and entering his body to keep him from transforming into a beast.

Back to being a human, he falls from the sky, and his dad catches him as Mayuko watches. But Tora isn’t coming down; she never got to change him back to a human. Ushio got a happy ending, but Mayuko most assuredly did not. What did she do to deserve such a raw deal?

Oh, and Saya has to say goodbye to Omamori, who goes in her place in order to close the gate from the inside. It’s the right move; like Tora, Omamori has lived far longer than her friend, and so it’s only natural she be the one to go. Ushio and Saya have their whole lives ahead of them.

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With that, there’s even more loss, as the bulk of monsters turn to stone in order to prop up a sinking Japan—not purely for the humans’ sake, mind you, but because they love the country too. Thanks, youkai! Also, some like Kagari and Raishin remain behind so the humans aren’t lonely. How thoughtful!

Of the life that stretches far ahead for our young protagonists thanks to their efforts and the sacrifices of those dear to them, we see precious little, which keeps a good finale from being a great one. I liked how Kirio wants to step in to fill the void in Mayuko’s heart, but Ushio and Asako didn’t meet until the end credits, and only then wordlessly as they walk to school with the other two.

While I can’t help but feel a little disappointed by the lack of quality Ushio x Asako time at the end, the fact remains this was a tight and often moving finale. Things got a little heavy in the home stretch, but Ushio to Tora was worth the watch.

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Charlotte – 10

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After all the shock and intrigue of last week’s masterpiece, this week started off a bit slow and rigid, with Shunsuke telling Yuu and Nao the story of what happened after his time leap.

He returned to a time a couple of years before the three of them are captured, tracks down his trusty friends Kumagami (or “Pooh”), Shichino, Medoki, Maedomori, and helps them expand a syndicate of ability wielders. However, something always ends up going wrong, everyone is captured or killed, and Shun has to time leap and start all over.

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The re-re-re-built syndicate starts to become more wealthy and secure thanks to gambling winnings, but Shun learns that he loses a bit of his vision every time he leaps, and when he goes blind, he won’t be able to leap at all.

So he makes his last leap count, by working to set up a school to educate and protect ability wielders until they lose those abilities, including his brother and sister. To further protect them while working behind the scenes, his friends help him erase all memory of him from Yuu and Ayumi.

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That brings us back to the present, where Shun announces the next mission is to save Ayumi. He may not be able to time leap anymore, but if Yuu uses his true power, “Loot” (or “Plunder”) to steal Shun’s power, than he can time leap and save Ayumi. And that’s exactly what he does.

Being back in a time when his sister is alive—something he took for granted the last time around—is ample motivation to save her this time, and he moves forward with confidence and a solid plan to save her not only from “Collapse”, but from Konishi the knife-wielder as well.

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Yuu also finds an understanding ally in the Nao of the past, who has been through a lot less things with Yuu at this point. Still, she believes his story about time leaping without complaint, and also accepts his thanks for her saving him when Ayumi died before. It doesn’t matter that she won’t actually have to save him from himself in this timeline if he saves Ayumi, because the fact she did in the previous one is the only reason he’s still alive, free, and there, in a position to save her. Yuu understands this, and makes sure Nao knows how grateful he is.

As for the Ayumi-saving caper itself, he steals her Collapse ability without a hitch, while he, Nao, Yusarin and Joujirou all go undercover at Ayumi’s school for a coordinated attack. Yusa and Jou are immediately indisposed and taken out of the equation due to their respective fame and suspiciousness, but then again, they both serve as good diversions for the bulk of the students, giving Yuu and Nao room to work.

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And work the plan does: Konishi stalks Ayumi once more with her click-click-clicky knife, but Yuu is there to stand between the two. He breaks all the windows behind Konishi, and an invisible Nao kicks the knife away and snips away Konishi’s bangs. Konishi retreats, her warning received loud and clear.

With Ayumi safe and by Yuu’s side, he encounters Pooh and Medoki on the streets, who offer to take him to his brother. I was certain there would be some kind of mistake, Steins;Gate-style, that would prevent Yuu from saving Ayumi once more, but everything went off without a hitch.

It was almost too easy and quick a resolution, but it was still a very satisfying episode that covered a lot of ground and still found time for little moments of comedy. Now, with Ayumi apparently safe, there’s still plenty of time for Yuu, Shun, and the resistance to accomplish even more for the cause.

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Charlotte – 09

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Judging from the amount of time he spends figuring out what to wear, Yuu is not only looking forward to his concert date with Nao, but also seems to be developing some feelings for her. When they meet, he encounters a much more pleasant and bubbly and less surly Nao who is genuinely excited to see ZHIEND live (and collect their very practical smartphone case!)

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As the concert progresses, Yuu’s mind-splinter like nagging feeling of deja vu keeps building until it finally explodes when Sala starts singing a song caled “Trigger”, which just happens to be the trigger that sends Yuu…somewhere, somewhen else. Here, he and and a very alive Ayumi are patients/inmates at the very kind of government facility Nao always warned about, where ability users are rounded up and monitored, while those more powerful (and thus dangerous) are restrained, dissected, and/or disposed of.

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Is this a flashback, or an alternate reality? The show doesn’t say for sure, nor does it need to. Suffice it to say this is an awesome new direction for a show featuring characters with all sorts of crazy powers, so the ability to travel through time (Yuu’s “big brother” Shunsuke’s ability) isn’t that far out there.

The episode fully commits to this new, harsh, dystopian setting with abandon, along with the efforts by other users to free Shun with Yuu’s true power, “plunder”, or the ability to steal other abilities. That power makes him uniquely suited when the time comes to race through the corridors of the facility to release Shun. In the process, many of his associates fall to the security forces. The time between 13:55 and 17:30 is a thrilling masterpiece in and of itself.

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Everything seems to be worth it though, as Shun is released, his eyes uncovered, and…well, something happens. Yuu wakes up in the hospital with Nao by his side, as if it was all a dream, but the timing of Shun using his powers suggests it’s because of Shun that Yuu is here, and was here in this world living peacefully with Ayumi.

Nao is confused by Yuu’s thinking out loud, until a dry Kumagami (who was in the facility with Yuu and Ayumi) enters the room, offering to take Yuu and Nao somewhere where they’ll learn everything they’ve missed out on so far, including reuniting with Shunsuke, who Yuu learns was the one who set Nao on her path of finding and protecting users, thus helping the overall cause. Kumagami also says he can help Yuu rescue Ayumi, as if she wasn’t dead (and indeed, we never saw a body.)

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From post-rock concert to dystopian government facility to comfy hospital room, Yuu then finds himself following Kumagami with Nao to another top-secret underground facility, though in this case, it’s the well-funded but time-deficient headquarters and last stronghold of the “resistance” of ability users against the government, an organization led by Shunsuke, who is now blind.

This is little more than a reveal, with Shuu exchanging pleasantries and preparing to tell Yuu and Nao Everything, but this episode had done more than enough already, completely changing the complexion and expanding the scope, stakes, and very reality of the show. This is no longer just about a school club that rescues kids one at a time. This is about saving them all, including Ayumi. I’m always suspicious of un-killing characters, but in this case I’m very intrigued to see how they do it.

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Charlotte – 08

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Charlotte follows its best episode (and one of the best episodes of the Summer) with another powerful outing, though not quite packing the same punch. It has Yuu returning to school and to the routines he had abandoned after Ayumi’s death. It’s all here, from Joujirou’s fanboying and bleeding, Yusarin’s spells and music videos, Tomori’s standoffishness and drop-kicking.

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But just when Yuu (and I) think the wet guy is going to show up with the next ability user, Tomori says he’s not coming. Instead, she has a second ticket to a ZHIEND show tomorrow, and wants one of them to go with her. Citing their honest ignorance of and disinterest in post-rock (look it up on Wikipedia), the process of elimination makes Yuu Nao’s “date,” and when she says it’s nice to have a breather now and then, he agrees and accepts.

Later that day while walking home, he bumps into a fuchsia-haired blind woman who mixes English in with her bizarre accent and is on a quest for “modern-yaki.”

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Yuu takes her to a okonomiyaki joint for some hiroshima-yaki instead, and learns that she’s none other than Sala Shane, the lead vocalist for ZHIEND. Not only that, Sala is a remarkably down-to-earth person who picks up instantly on Yuu’s still-raw wounds of grief, and decides to spend the whole day with him.

Yuu calls Nao to join them, but she seems utterly disinterested, which I took to mean she might have somehow arranged this, because the fact of the matter is Yuu benefits from hanging out with Sala, even as he still reflexively pulls out his phone to tell Ayumi he won’t be home for dinner.

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Sala once had the use of her eyes, and was once far bigger and more popular than she is now with her “dull” little post-rock band. But when things got out of hand with the fame and the money and the way the people around her changed, she gave it all up, making a deal with God to take her sight in exchange for a smaller, more peaceful life.

I couldn’t help but notice the similarity of her sitting in a dark, trash-filled house with nothing but the light of the TV to similar sights of Yuu in the same position. She remarks that the day may come when he too has to make a deal with God, and tells him to “handle it well” when it does.

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We learn where Yuu is taking Sala when we see the rest of his phone call with Nao, in which he tells her he’s bringing Sala to her brother’s hospital, betting she might be able to help bring part of him back from the fog. Where Nao almost seemed annoyed earlier in the call that she’d jump at the chance to see her heroine (in stark contrast to Joujirou, who worships the dirt beneath Yusa’s feet), here she expresses gratitude as the sun sets before her.

The highlight of the episode is Sala’s stirring solo a capella performance to an audience of Yuu and Kazuki. Sala is old enough that she would no longer have a power, and yet there she is, soothing the soul of a fellow adult, as someone who still has their power listens intently.

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Kazuki does come back; Yuu wins his bet, at least for now. Nao rushes to her brother’s side, then calls Yuu back to thank him from the bottom of her heart. Yuu doesn’t need Sala’s other heightened senses to detect Nao’s sincerity.

As for Yuu, he takes what Sala said to heart about him knowing good people, which have changed him without him knowing it. Last week, Nao straight-up saved him from falling off a cliff of despair. This week, without even thinking about it, Yuu repaid Nao’s kindness by helping her brother. Thanks to his experiences in these first days back in the post-Ayumi world, Yuu can see the light, and himself, and is happy with what he sees.

But he still gets nostalgic when he hears ZHIEND. Will he reach another breakthrough at the concert with Nao?

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