Mahoutsukai no Yome – 23

Whether he feels bad about trying to sacrifice Stella or not (I would guess not), Elias can’t accept Chise leaving him. He wants her back, and wanders aimlessly in search of her. When he kills part of the forest he’s in, Spriggan springs into action and takes him down.

Titania and Oberon show up, willing not just to help him find Chise, but to invite them both to the land of the faeries (always with the ulterior motives). Elias declines that particular offer, but Titania still helps him find Chise.

Titania’s powers reach far and wide, and practically everyone Chise has encountered and/or befriended on her various adventures notices those powers. As for Chise herself, she now finds herself watching a young Joseph’s memories.

Joseph was the son of a witch and gravedigger and much hated by the villagefolk for those qualities. But when he finds Cartaphilus half-buried in the woods, he takes him home out of pity, and resolves to heal his extensive injuries using the skills he no doubt learned from his mom.

Only Cartaphilus never gets better, no matter what treatments Joe tries. He doesn’t get worse either, which means the conditions that would allow Joseph to leave the town he hates so much never materialize. Joe snaps, and decides that drastic measures are the only answer: he “becomes one” with Cartaphilus.

The newly merged individual travels (presumably) to London, collecting body parts from innocents to replace the ones that no longer work, and learns from a mage that the ancient curse he has cannot be lifted.

With that, Chise comes out of it, and Cartaphilus almost immediately tries to rip her arm off, hoping it’s the final piece to the puzzle of ending his suffering. It doesn’t look good for Chise until Titania, Elias, Spriggan, and Ruth arrive in the nick of time to save her.

Renfred and Alice arrive as Cartaphilus unleashes his grotesque menagerie, and a big battle occurs in the small space. Still, Chise is laser-focused on Cartaphilus, and when he creates a portal to escape, she follows him, but not before shooting an angry look at Elias.

Elias and Ruth follow her, and they end up in a foggy London alley with Chise, just as a fleeing Cartaphilus bumps into Mariel, who just happens to be in that very same alley. Mariel, hoping to help in some way, transforms herself into a bull for Chise to ride.

They find Cartaphilus sitting on the same fountain we’ve always seen during the second-cour credits. Can Chise end his suffering, while also saving herself?

Mahoutsukai no Yome – 22

Chise makes the only deal she believes she can make, not just to save Stella, but her own life as well. That deal puts her in the lion’s den, and Joseph, the lion, makes it clear he still hates her, even if he’ll honor the deal.

The process starts with the two swapping eyeballs—a particularly icky sequence—and when his body doesn’t reject it, he prepares to remove her cursed left arm.

While Chise was awake for the eye-swap, Joe locks her in her memories for the next phase—childhood memories she thought lost forever, in which she and her dad and brother were together and she was a normal, well-adjusted girl.

After painfully bittersweet images of their nearly perfect family life flash by—among them her dad fighting off some kind of demon or faerie—a form of Joseph appears that isn’t so much Joseph, but the piece of him that has now made itself at home in her body—his eye.

One night, the perfect family situation dies. Chise’s father gets out of bed with his infant son, walks out the front door, says goodbye to Chise, and never returns. One could explain his course of action as cutting his losses—perhaps having had enough of living with two Sleigh Beggys—and perhaps he simply did what he felt he had to in order to protect his non-Beggy son.

Whatever the reason, it’s a huge betrayal, and Chise’s mom cannot make up for her husband’s absence. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t try: she works any and all jobs she can to scrape by, but because so many monsters are attracted to her no one else can see, she cannot hold those jobs for long, and she slowly drowns in debt.

Like Chise, her mother had a frail body, and when keeping up with everything simply became too much for it, her mind snapped as well. In a moment of weakness, she listened to the voice that told her it would be easier if Chise weren’t around.

She chokes Chise awake, telling her the words Chise never forgot: “I shouldn’t have given birth to you,”, but in this context she isn’t talking of Chise’s inadequacy as a daughter, but the fact that she exists at all. Her mother knows that her curse is her daughter’s curse. It’s more an act of misguided mercy and desperation than malice.

That’s why her mother snaps out of it before she kills Chise, and overwhelmed by shame for what she tried to do, throws herself out the window. After that day, Chise forgot everything that came before, and it was the genesis of her belief she was worth so little even her mother regretted having her.

But that villainous mother, devoid of the context of her torment or the lengths she went to to keep their family of two together, was nothing but a creation in Chise’s mind. Her real mother didn’t really wish her dead; on the contrary, she decided she’d rather die than live on knowing she even made the attempt.

Chise breaks free of this vision of her mother as the real one, and says goodbye before letting her go entirely in a dreamy field of flowers. She even goes so far as to thank this false artiface of her mother, as she was the reason Chise ultimately ended up meeting so many wonderful people, among whom she still counts Elias, despite what he did to Stella.

With her “dark mother” gone, replaced by the whole picture of how things went so damn wrong with her family, Chise is left with the portion of Joseph’s curse of eternal life embedded in his left eye. That curse promises to be a blessing to Chise for as long as she wants to live—meaning that the moment she wishes to die, it will be a curse.

Joseph is not the first to have hosted this curse, and won’t be the last, but all of them have said the same thing to it throughout the centuries and millenia—”Help me.” Chise, waking up on the operating table, grabs Joseph by the throat and tells him she’s going to do things his way, diving into his past to find out how he became is the person he is—to make sense of his truth. Even if he hates her.

Kokkoku – 03

Juri escapes death by strangulation when her eyes go white and she spontaneously gains the ability to expel “specters”, the jellyfish-like beings humans must merge with to be able to move in the Stasis. Before long, the three men in her house are stalled, and Juri escapes with The Stone, much to the chagrin of Majima.

Now that we’ve seen flashes of both Majima and Juri’s memory, it’s clear the two knew each other, and were both involved with specters during that time. Majima remembered, Juri didn’t, and now Majima is with the bad guys, working against Juri’s family. It’s not much, but it’s something.

Meanwhile, the Bad Guy leader (Sagawa) tests the abilities of the Herald on an expendable henchman, and learns that the monster is getting smaller, and thus his power isn’t limitless. Before long, they may even be rid of it, and able to do affect change in Stasis as they see fit.

Coincidentally, the specter within the now-dead henchman travels to Makoto and merges with him, enabling Ma-tan to wake up, much to the delight of Tsubasa.

With all the Yukawas now free except for Takafumi, Sagawa decides to try to talk man-to-man about ownership of the Stone. In the fact of such intimidation, I fully the gentle, passive Takafumi to fold like a cheap suit.

The tougher members of the family in Gramps and Juri thankfully reunite, but not before Juri gains another tail from a group of thugs who were looting a store when she walked past…not trying to hide herself or her movements in any way despite not knowing who may be around and after her. Baka Juri!

One of those guys appears and tries to keep up a story about simply being some guy who happens to be able to move as well, which lasts all of ten seconds before he and his friends start to rush Gramps and Juri.

With a series of short teleportations, the two are able to get away, and stick to the middle of the road to avoid ambush. However, they don’t take the extra and very obvious precaution of staying away from other people, regardless of if their motionless or not.

The huge goon in sunglasses doesn’t have to go anywhere to get his knife in a position to stab Juri to death; she strolls right up to him! I tell ya, I’m rooting for the Yukawas—there’s no one else worth rooting for—but they aren’t making things easy for themselves with these constant tactical blunders.

I get it; they’re merely civilians unaccustomed to being in this kind of situation, they’re way outnumbered, and they’re scared. But if they want out of it with their all organs still internal, they’ll have to do better.

Mahoutsukai no Yome – 15

Chise’s in Mortal Danger again, only this time bed rest won’t do the trick. Oberon believes the best way to treat her is to take her to the Land of the Faeries where time passes more slowly. Elias, overcome by worry, has to be slapped into coherence and the they then go, leaving Silky to watch the house.

You get the feeling that even though Oberon didn’t wish any harm on Chise after she made tabooed ointment, he’s still every bit an opportunist, and as a Fae he is unconditionally drawn to a Sleigh Beggy such as Chise. Medical treatment is a perfect excuse for Oberon to invite her to his world. And hey, if she can be convinced to stay…one hand washes the other, right?

Chise does not witness the trippy journey into Faerieland; she merely wakes up in a bed made out of part of a tree, bandaged head to toe. Her doctor, a changeling named Shannon (a faerie raised by human parents who then returned), seems kind enough, and confirms that there was no urgent need for Oberon to bring Chise there.

As Titania and Oberon try to convince Elias to stay with Chise in Faerieland, Shannon takes Chise to an otherworldly Mononoke Hime pool which contains healing waters…and proceeds to strangle her underwater.

As Elias tells the Fae royalty “thanks but no thanks, a human accepted me, so with humans I shall live”, Chise’s now-established Stong Will to Live overpowers Shannon’s attack. She saved herself, and Shannon remarks that she had to fear her life was going to end in order for her wounds to fully close.

Because time passes so much faster back home, Silky spends a good deal of time alone, tending to the house, and sometimes magically redesigning its interior a la Howl’s Moving Castle. Watching her install bells on the door so she can immediately know when her family is back was a rare display of emotion from the mute maid.

When Silky drifts off, she dreams of her past, when she was a banshee. When the family she haunted passed away, she had nothing and nobody, but Spriggan led her to the house that Elias Ainsworth would one day occupy. The Spriggan transforms her into a maid and bestows the name “Silky” upon her, and no matter who has lived in the house, she’s kept it a home ever since.

By the time Elias, Chise, and Ruth return, it’s Winter, but the house was kept a home by Silky’s presence. Her raw elation upon hearing them finally walk in the door, as well as the enormous hug she gives Chise, were a delight to behold. And hey, now we know Silky’s story, and that she’s not the cold fish she always appeared to be.

Kokkoku – 02

Kokkoku’s second “moment” delivers some welcome answers. The bad guys are part of some kind of religious cult, they want Grandpa’s stone, and the giant “Handler” (the cult calls it the “Herald”) stops anyone who tries to break the rules of the Stasis (crunching a hired goon’s head for trying to kill the “stalled” Makoto.

However, after a relatively nicely staged and directed opening action set piece last week, things kind of devolve into wandering around the drab frozen city, with Grandpa filling Juri in more on the details, while the bad guys send goons after them as they kinda stand around and wait.

One important new addition to the cast is Majima, a mysterious woman who seems to have assited the cult in finding the Yukawa family stone, which they call the “Master Stone” and is crucial for their plans.

A flashback seems to suggest Majima and Juri may have been friends at one time, and she witnessed the stone being used; this also explains Juri’s vague memories of being exposed to the time-stopping powers before.

There’s a funny moment when Gramps and Juri realize they left Takafumi behind, but in keeping with this family’s tendency to close ranks when shit hits the fan, there’s no question of rescuing him before using the stone again in hopes of escaping to a new Stasis, leaving the bad guys behind.

Just a few issues: One of the “jellyfish” turns Tsubasa from stalled to moving, and he’s very, very confused and flustered. When he finds Makoto unresponsive, he heads to the nearest hospital, where he’ll get no help whatsoever (and may even incur the wrath of the Handler).

So if they commit their plan without Tsubasa, they’ll never see him again. But even more detrimental to their plan is the fact Gramps didn’t know the cult was after the stone until he and Juri split up (never a good idea), with him going to free Takafumi and Juri going home to grab the stone.

Unfortunately, Juri simply ran there without trying to be sneaky at all. Even if she had been, the whole group of bad guys were staking the place out, waiting for someone to show up. Since it’s Juri, who they presume they don’t need to activate the stone, her death by strangulation is ordered, and she passes out before the credits roll.

Now, you and I both know Juri ain’t dying…but perhaps something more interesting will happen as a result of the goons’ attempt. Whatever that is, I think it’s time the Yukawa’s were allowed some kind of win. I also want to know what’s up with Majima; if and how she and Juri are connected, and why she’s okay with her being strangled.

Fate / Zero – 22

For an episode preceded by such disturbing spectacle as a broken man murdering his best friend and making Rin an orphan, and followed by the casual malice of a born-again nihilist discarding his hostage before setting a foreboding trap, this episode has the most charming, heartwarming opening: an exhausted Waver finally arrives back home just before daybreak.

We know it’s not really his home, and he hypnotized its occupants into thinking he’s their grandson. But when his “grandpa” beckons for him to join him on the roof for a truly spectacular sunrise, something else dawned on me: Waver is Me. He’s the most normal, decent, well-adjusted participant in a war stocked with utter weirdos on all sides.

He seeks only simple glory and acknowledgement; the underdog raised high; his doubters and haters silenced. Sure, hypnotizing the couple was wrong, but how can I judge when even after the hypnosis wears off, the grandpa is not only forgiving, but wants Waver to stay. He’s a better grandson than they ever had.

On to the weirdos. While I more easily related to him early as a young kid having fun before all hell broke loose, and continue to recognize the emotions in his heart, support his goals (as laid out by Iri) and feel for his many losses, I simply haven’t lived a life as intense as Kiritsugu, so while I’m rooting for him, I’m on the outside looking in with Kiritsugu.

And Kiritsugu is alone again. It’s not ideal, but he’s not going to slow down or stop, even though he’s gone forty hours without sleep. He says “alone again” because, like Natalia, Maiya has left him. He doesn’t seem to count Saber as a person he can work with or trust, let alone a person at all; instead, she’s a tool to win the war, and he treats her as coldly as ever as she makes her report.

Kiritsugu probably also feels alone because Iri has been taken by the enemy, and he no doubt fears he won’t see her alive again. But a defiant Iri makes use of her captivity by Kirei to get in a number of barbs that cut the priest to the quick. Notably, that Kiritsugu isn’t an “empty man” like him; he seeks nothing less than the salvation of the world through the elimination of all violence and conflict.

Unsurprisingly, Kirei hears nothing but the naive utterings of a child in these words, but Iri does manage to give him something he didn’t have before he kidnapped her: Kiritsugu’s dream, which he will now proceed to destroy, along with the Holy Grail itself, which he can think of no use for. And since he gets all he needs out of Iri, he snaps her neck, seemingly killing her.

That I’m a bit fuzzy on how this whole Einzbern homonculus system works—and thus unclear whether Iri is dead dead or even ever alive—is irrelevant; it’s still absolutely gutting to see such a gentle, loving person treated with such contempt. Kirei is one hell of a villain, and his frustration and resentment for lacking something fundamental Kiritsugu seems to possess is palpable; he’s an almost pitiable wretch.

After that unpleasantness, what sure feels like the final day of the War transitions into the final night, and Waver awakes to find Rider in no particular hurry. Mage signals in the sky indicate that someone wishes to challenge them—Kirei arrranges for Archer to fight Rider while Berserker will keep Saber company—and Rider summons a horse, the backup to his chariot.

Waver has no intention of going along. As Rider said, only the strong remain, and Waver doesn’t consider himself strong. He’s Just A Guy, after all, the Everyman of Fate/Zero, with no business in the final battles. He even expends all of his Command Seals at once so he can say with certitude he is no longer Rider’s Master.

And yet Rider still picks him up by the scruff and dumps him in front of him on his horse. He wants Waver to accompany him as he has on all of their great battles thus far, not because he’s his Master, but because they’re friends and equals.

Having gone from gut-punch to heartwarm, the episode closes with a bit of a mindblower, as Iri, apparently not quite dead (or…whatever) after all, goes Beyond the Infinite.

In a surreal, bizarre and thoroughly unsettling sequence that calls to mind Akira, Evangelion, and Dalí, Iri sees hundreds of naked doll bodies piled up before her, one of which cracks a way-too-wide evil grin; then she has a touching scene with her daughter Ilya before an oozing black darkness encroaches upon them, and dozens of tiny arms grab at her and pull her down into the goo.

When she emerges, she realizes what’s happening: she’s in the Holy Grail. What exactly that means, and whether and how she can aid her beloved from there, remains to be seen. But I have to say I’m digging the extra metaphysical layer the show has revealed.

Fate / Zero – 21

I can only admire Fate/Zero for its willingness to include a little bit of everything for everyone in its Holy Grail War, and as it had already featured a dogfight between Archer and Berserker, it was only a matter of time before Saber got into a chase with Rider, she on her motorcycle and he and Waver on his giant chariot.

The resulting chase does not disappoint, as Saber squids fearlessly through traffic, pushing her steed to its mechanical limits before deciding Screw it, I’m bosozokuing this motherfucker. While I prefer the more classic look of her bike, it’s still hella cool she can soup it up the same was she can soup up her armor.

With only five episodes left (my how time flies) I wasn’t ruling out the possibility this would be it for Rider, but Saber is content to withdraw after destroying his chariot with Excalibur, after which Waver and Rider lament that they have to walk home; a not inconsiderable distance considering the speed and length of the chase.

And that’s pretty much the last of the levity in this episode, as things go visually and thematically super-dark from there. Turns out Rider didn’t kidnap Iri (didn’t seem very in-character); it was Kariya’s doing, using two command seals to A.) control Berserker and B.) disguise him as Rider. Kiritsugu tortures Kariya’s brother Byakuya but doesn’t get much out of him.

Kirei has been busy since killing Tokiomi; further exploring his capacity for “entertainment” by manipulating Kariya, using new Command Seals and his bloodlust for Tokiomi as bait. While this all makes sense, I wish we’d have been able to witness Kirei initially approach Kariya after healing him and his stint with Zouken. Instead, the plan came together entirely in the background and has to be swiftly explained after the fact.

Once Kariya is off to the church to duel with Tokiomi (by now very dead), Zouken reveals himself to Kirei. If there is one remaining bit of levity in this episode, it’s here, as Zouken, truly a top-class Master of Evil, seems to take a shine to Kirei. Kirei is understandably disgusted by the mere suggestion of being compared to scum like him.

But for once, Zouken is right: I have no doubt that after a few more decades of this kind of stuff, Kirei will be standing in the exact same place as Zouken, King of Shitbags – so shitty, he’s not sure what he wants more: to win the Grail War, or watch his son continue to suffer.

And does Kariya ever suffer. After entering the church and yelling at a corpse, he discovers Tokiomi is already dead, just when the deceased’s widow Aoi arrives, no doubt summoned by Kirei. It’s not what it looks like (that Kariya just killed Tokiomi) but it sure looks bad, and Aoi doesn’t go easy on Kariya, rejecting his excuses and condeming him for never having loved anyone, despite the fact he always secretly loved her.

Kariya is clearly not in a stable place mentally here, and that instability and the resulting breakdown is chillingly depicted with a series of blackout shots, tinged with flashes of him attacking Aoi (the dark church appearing bright beside the blackness), before returning to full vision of him slowly strangling her to death.

After that all Kariya can do is get up and stumble out, screaming and wailing incoherently; becoming more like his unhinged Servant all the time. And who enjoyed a prime vantage point for this macabre entire “play” up in the church balcony? Kirei, who along with Archer were watching and sipping wine the whole time. Kirei notes the wine tastes different; better. He wants to sample more.