Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – 14 – Forest of Illusion

CCS:CC is a show replete with beautiful pastels and idyllic scenes of Sakura’s lovely, happy life, but from its first moments this is an episode that throws a number of strange and even unsettling images into the mix, starting with Sakura waking up to find Meiling and Kero-chan right in her face, trying to compete to see who has the more intense face (it causes the first of ten Sakura “hoeees!” in the ep).

Sakura with her new ‘do and Meiling meet up with their friends at a shrine market, but Syaoran is running late because he’s doing some rather intense magical training, no doubt to be able to support Sakura when the going gets tough.

It’s a fun and pleasant day as usual, until Sakura and only Sakura starts seeing animal ears and tails on all of her friends. They even start “talking” like the animals they represent, until the very environment around them starts to blur and twist and Sakura finds herself in a great grassy valley with a planet in the purple sky.

This is one of the trippiest cards since the Escher-esque labyrinth, and Sakura doesn’t have a clue where she is and how to change her increasingly animal friends back. She can’t even catch up to them, as they scatter and run when she approaches, eventually settling down at the base of a massive baobab tree.

Sakura is scared, and things suddenly get scarier. A storm swoops in, and a lightning bolt splits the tree in pieces, causing it to burst into flames. As it begins to fall on her animalized friends, time suddenly stops, and Syaoran literally tears through the fabric of the environment to join Sakura.

The time magic he used has gassed him, and the magic won’t last long but he still manages to calm a panicking Sakura down with a big hug, urging her to control her breathing and think about the situation. Sakura realizes she wanted to go to the zoo, so the card turned her friends into animals. When she became scared, it made things scarier.

Once sufficiently calm, Sakura is able to break out of the illusion and secure the “Mirage” card that caused all of the trouble. Everyone ends up back at the shrine, none the worse for wear save Syaoran, who is still exhausted from his use of powerful magic.

Meiling acknowledges her cousin Syaoran doing his best for Sakura’s sake (and the fact he calls her “Sakura”), while expressing her aggravation that she has no magic with which to help out. Still, neither Meiling nor any of Sakura or Syaoran’s friends need magic to support them; their friendship is something worth becoming stronger to protect.

I imagine Sakura will have to grow stronger still in order to face whatever nefariousness Yuna D. Kaito is up to.

Advertisements

ReLIFE – 17 (Fin)

Aw HELL yeah! I didn’t ask for much, just a happy yet satisfying ending that felt earned, and ReLIFE delivered exactly that. Initially framed by Yoake’s final report, things start out in the afterglow of Kaizaki and Hoshiro’s confessions. All their friends are super-excited for them, but they keep it very cool and low-key, which is just like two teenagers who are actually adults.

They’re both simply savoring every day they have left together, because they don’t have a lot of them. It makes you wish they’d gotten together much sooner…but then again, I couldn’t have asked for a better way for them to finally realize their feelings for another, and their love only deepens as the days pass, as evidenced by their late night phone call when simply messaging on LIME won’t cut it.

Graduation Day comes, and Kanzaki manages to graduate by the skin of his teeth (thanks to Oga). There’s goodbyes, notes of goodwill, flowers, smiles…and tears. But there are no tears more bitter than those shed by both Kanzaki and Hoshiro.

He finally gives her a hug, just when she needs one most, and it turns out he needed that hug just as badly. He says it feels like a break-up, even though they’ll see each other at the start of the college term. Hoshiro thanks him for being such a transparent yet kind liar.

And that’s the last they see of each other in their respective ReLifes—with a tearful embrace, assuring each other they’ll never forget each other, even if they know they can’t keep that promise.

Yoake congratulates Kanzaki for a marvelously successful ReLife, telling him he can look forward to very promising job placement in exchange for his cooperation with the experiment, and should hold his head high. Meanwhile, Onoya has her exit interview with Hoshiro, who never really warmed up to her newer support.

Describing her ReLife, Hoshiro describes how her heart is “ripped open” by getting close to people only to lose them, but admits she does feel like she changed “a little.” After taking her pill and falling asleep, Onoya accidentally discovers a marker Hoshiro used to write “I was in love with Kaizaki Arata”, and breaks down at Hoshiro’s failure to hide it better, as once Onoya sees it, she has to get rid of it along with all other evidence. It’s her job, after all.

Fast-forward to a bit of time after Kanzaki regains his 28-year-old appearance and starts interviewing for the jobs ReLife provided. Ultimately, however, he wants nothing more than to help others as he was helped, so he requests a job with ReLife, and is accepted. Now he is the one visiting shut-ins and other wretches, offering a way for them to find themselves again.

At a ReLife company dinner, Kanzaki arrives a bit late, but a space was saved for him. Turns out the seat he takes belongs to Hoshiro, but it’s no big deal or anything, as someone from another part of the restaurant is calling for her. As she turns to walk away, Kanzaki notices the strap on her bag…

At the end of the dinner (well, the first round, but the only round recommended for newbies), it starts to rain, but Kanzaki doesn’t have an umbrella. Just then, Hoshiro appears once more and opens the very same green umbrella the two shared just after confessing. She offers to share it, but Kanzaki politely declines, and she starts to head off on her own…but turns and says she heard the higher-ups calling him a test subject.

She then mentions her own stint as a subject, how it lasted two years, and how her supporter pushed for her to get a job at ReLife, and she took a position in the pharma section. Kanzaki asks if she’d tell him about her ReLife, and she compares it to…fireworks, like the ones she saw at the festival with her friends.

They both latch onto the spectacular yet fleeting nature of fireworks, and eventually both remember flashes of that night when Hoshiro told Kanzaki he was like fireworks. I tellya, I got an absolute thrill out of watching them gradually put the pieces together in their heads.

You could say the fireworks…sparked their memories, heh-heh. Once he recalls Hoshiro in her red yukata looking up at the sky, Kanzaki calls her by her name. Hoshiro needs just a little bit more, but she eventually remembers writing the note on her hand as she cried after taking the pill. And that’s it: in spite of the lab’s efforts, they found and remembered each other…and it didn’t even take that long!

Now, while the ReLife procedures were concluded with all due diligence, I’d like to think both Yoake and Onoya played roles in facilitating a reunion. Yoake accepting Kanzaki’s request to work for ReLife; Onoya predding Hoshiro to work there as well…even telling Kanzaki that Hoshiro’s seat was his in the restaurant.

But while the supports made the conditions more favorable for a happy ending, at the end of the day they were just that, support. It took Kanzaki and Hoshiro being friendly, open, and honest with each other, and especially Hoshiro bringing up how she heard he test subject, like her, at that crucial moment.

If she hadn’t they might have gone their separate ways, perhaps forever. But I’m immeasurably chuffed she did, and the resulting re-connection was nothing short of mesmerizing. Time for some #Adulting!

ReLIFE returned quite out of the blue to rip my heart out with the prospect of tearing apart two lovely people who had only just found each other…only to painstakingly reconstruct that heart, and fill it back up with love until it almost burst all over again, only in a good way!

Of course, you’re mileage may vary, depending on whether you read the entire web manga (I did not) and your particular emotional investment. Clearly, my investment was significant, and one and a half years of time away didn’t dull it in the slightest. This was a big win.

ReLIFE – 16

Well THAT escalated quickly! Christmas is approaching, and after Kaizaki recommends an almost too-pure-for-the-world Oga to just take Kariu anywhere and they’ll have fun, he suddenly finds Hoshiro not only avoiding him, but bolting away like a scared chipmunk whenever he makes eye contact.

Kariu and Tamarai kinda already know what’s up; both Kariu and Oga previously pegged Kaizaki and Hoshiro as being in love, so they convene in the locker room to get it from the horse’s mouth. Yet all Hoshiro can say about her feelings is “I don’t know.” Kariu, suddenly the mature one to provide the advice, tells her “I don’t know” isn’t going to cut it…not when she’s just “one step away.”

Later, Tamarai simply advises Hoshiro to ask Kaizaki on a date, just as Oga advised Kaizaki to ask Hoshiro. But just when Kaizaki thinks their distance couldn’t be any greater, Hoshiro sneaks up behind him and asks him if he’s free on the 25th and to expect further details by LIME.

That night, Kaizaki is a nervous wreck, but finally gets those details, along with another silly Hoshiro cat sticker. Hoshiro makes it clear it’s a date and she’s looking forward to it. After getting the all-green from Yoake, Kaizaki isn’t about to turn her down, even if he believes it will “ruin her Christmas” when she inevitably forgets all about him.

The date starts out a bit stiff, but both parties seem to be enjoying themselves immensely as they mill around the mall doing date stuff. In an adorable little detail, Hoshino, completely unaware that “Christmas” dates typically happen on Christmas Eve, set the date for Christmas day, but that ends up working out just fine, as it’s a lot less crowded.

The montage of their date is a somewhat creepy montage of photos taken by Yoake and Onoya, who are keeping a respectful distance but still watching and listening to their charges like hawks…while trying to get in some Christmas chilling of their own.

When Onoya acknowledges with a somber look that both of the lovebirds will forget all about their wonderful date, Yoake, always trying to find the silver lining, says that won’t mean it never happened…which, fine, but dude, that’s not the same of having a date and remembering it! The latter is much better, and these two deserve much better!

Yoake, having at least a sliver of heart, sends a quick message to Kaizaki informing him it’s actually Hoshiro’s birthday. When she gets him a present for Christmas, he gets her one for both Christmas and her birthday, bringing a warm and appreciative smile to her face.

When the two go up in a Ferris Wheel, Hoshiro asks Kaizaki what his birthday is. He tells her it already passed in August, and both get very troubled and pained when they say they’ll just have to celebrate it next year, knowing full well (at least at this point) that next year won’t happen for them, and saying they’ll never forget today. It’s hard to watch, I tellsya!

But even if nothing romantic happens on the Ferris Wheel, things turn around on a bridge. Kaizaki impulsively reaches out and takes Hoshiro’s arm as if to hug her, but she draws back. Apologizing, she tells him how much he’s “on her mind”, and the more he’s on her mind, the less she understands what to do.

It’s all the opening Kaizaki needs. He tells her she’s on his mind to, and that he loves her. That in turn allows Hoshiro to take the one final step Kariu was talking about: she tells him her feelings for him are the same.

With that, it suddenly starts raining. Ever prepared, Hoshino breaks out her umbrella and holds it out for Kaizaki. He takes hold just above her hand, but she puts her hand over his before they walk away together into the dark sacred night.

I honestly have no idea where things will go from here, and I can’t rule out the possibility Yoake will have his way and their memory of one another will vanish, which would be an appalling tragedy. That’s why I wouldn’t have minded if this was the final episode.

After sixteen episodes of these two, things are exactly where I want them. Will I regret watching one more episode? Am I a fool for hoping some kind of happy ending is still possible? One, perhaps, in which they meet and hit it off as strangers? Hey, I’ll take a relationship respawn over a system failure any day.

ReLIFE – 15

In this outing the Aoba Fest, with its maid/butler cafe and stalls and bonfire, comes and goes fairly briskly. Kaizaki and Hishiro alike try to make the most of their second chance at a pivotal time in high school life, but it’s a decidedly bittersweet experience.

It’s obvious why it’s sweet: the festival looks like a lot of fun, especially when much of it has Kaizaki, Hishiro, and their friends dressed to the nines. After Hishiro tried to get Yoake to slip up and tell her Kaizaki is also a subject, she tries to find out for herself by grabbing Kaizaki’s arm and drawing close to him, as if they were dating…with inconclusive results.

She could interpret him as being uncomfortable because he’s really an adult, or he could just be flustered because she’s acting out of the ordinary, which she kinda is. The bitter part comes when the festival ends, when Kaizaki laments that he’ll “vanish” when his ReLife ends.

Yoake corrects him by saying he has to take solace in knowing he left his “mark” with these high schoolers; things happened in their lives that wouldn’t have happened without Kaizaki.

Onoya has a similar chat with Hishiro, telling her to take pride in the fact she’s taken a “lovely step forward” by taking an interest in someone like Kaizaki. Whether it’s true love or not, that’s something the pre-ReLife Hishiro couldn’t do.

Yoake’s attempt to cheer Kaizaki doesn’t last when his class undergoes college counseling. Both he and Hishiro choose to go to Aoba U like Kariu and Oga, even though they know it’s “pointless” since in reality their ReLifes will end and they won’t be joining their friends, nor will their friends remember them.

Any way you look at it, that stings. That stings hard enough to wonder if it was a bad idea to do a ReLife in the first place, even when one considers how socially and emotionally improved it made them.

It stings enough for Kaizaki to ask Yoake if he really has to go back to his old life, and has to let all the friends he’s made forget about them. Yoake reminds him that Kaizaki didn’t become someone new in his ReLife, he regained the friendly straightforward person he was.

But that restoration couldn’t have happened if Kaizaki hadn’t lived his life as he had before ReLife, which he’s now asking to discard. Yoake tells him not to give up on “Original” Kaizaki; “High School” Kaizaki is, after all, only an illusion.

Onoya, having only just started becoming Hishiro’s support, has nevertheless been engaged with the whole crew for some time now, and unlike Yoake, hasn’t quite accepted what they’re doing and sees the end result as cruel, sad, and scary.

Continuing his role as comforter-in-chief, Yoake tells her ReLife isn’t about enjoying every moment to the fullest in a life that is fleeting by design, and all they can do in their capacity as ReLife staff is support them with everything they’ve got, without regrets.

That night, Hishiro resigns herself to the fact there’s really no way to find out for sure whether Kaizaki is a fellow test subject, and there’s no point in thinking about it…yet she can’t stop thinking about it. Could that mean it’s not so pointless after all?

The next day is class photo day, and Kaizaki and Hishiro both know that it’s a photo in which no one else in the shot, not even the good friends they’ve made, will remember them.

They’ll be like “ghosts” in such a photo. And yet, just as the shot is taken, they look in each others‘ directions, holding out hope that a fragment of a memory will still remain in someone’s mind when they look at this photo.

Must all of the dream-crushing things the vile Yoake says really come to pass according to plan? Must these two people really forget one another? I, like them, certainly hope not!

ReLIFE – 14

Well, this is a nice surprise on the second day of Spring when there’s a Nor’easter pummeling my coast: a bonus episode of one of my favorite shows of 2016, ReLIFE! These four new reviews won’t make much sense without watching the 13 that came before, which I highly recommend. You can catch up by reading my reviews here.

When we left the main couple of Hishiro and Kaizaki, we knew they were both subjects, but they didn’t know that they were, and so maintained a distance that was not bridged, since they both assume they’ll lose contact with the other forever because of the nature of ReLIFE.

Still, both have benefited tremendously from their experiences as high schoolers, and continue to do so. Meanwhile, real high schoolers Kariu and Oga are now an item, while Yoake is transferring Hishiro to his junior Onoya now that she’s entering an “unprecedented” second year.

Hishiro now rather strongly suspects that Kaizaki is a test subject like her, but Yoake will neither confirm or deny it, while warning her that if she learned that he was a subject, it would spell the end of his experiment and an immediate severance, and Hishiro would never see him again.

With that in mind, Hishiro treads carefully, but is still eager to learn the truth. To that end, when Kaizaki is made the class boys’ cultural festival officer, she volunteers to be the girls’ officer. They work tremendously well together and the paperwork flies off the proverbial desk.

Their work is momentarily interrupted by a problem Oga is having. He got in a fight with Kariu for shooting down the idea of her coming over to his place after a date, because he didn’t want to hurt his older shut-in brother and feared Kariu wouldn’t “approve” of him.

Kaizaki and Hishiro put on a veritable friend-cheering-up and advise clinic, with Kaizaki assuring Oga that the best way to act around family is naturally, without hiding anything, while Hishiro assures him if he just tells Kariu what’s up, she’ll accept it; in fact, she’s probably mad because he didn’t in the first place.

Afterwards, Kaizaki and Hishiro exchange words of mutual respect. Kaizaki, unaware that Hishiro is a fellow adult, continues to be astounded by her maturity and wisdom beyond her years, while Kaizaki’s very accurate suspicions persist.

The two continue festival prep, and Oga and Kairu make an appearance to show they made up nicely, but later in the day, when Kaizaki returns to the classroom to find Hishiro worn out and asleep at her desk, he resists the urge to touch her head in affection, while in his head admitting he’s fallen for her.

So, we’ve come a little further from the fireworks festival episode, in that Hishiro is on to Kaizaki (the level of her surety is up for debate, but the fact she’s right is indisputable) and Oga and Kariu are doing nicely as a couple. But both Kaizaki’s ignorance of Hishiro’s true age and Oga’s veiled threat prevented all the truth from coming out. We’ll see if that happens in the next bonus episode.

Citrus – 08

Matsuri continues to Be The Worst when Mei tags along on her “date” with Yuzu, which Yuzu never meant to be a romantic date. Matsuri loudly embarrasses her about wanting to be a couple and have sex, while Mei mostly keeps her distance and lets Matsuri do as she pleases…for now.

But Mei’s presence alone is enough to enrage Matsuri to the point she decides to use it for a fresh bit of blackmail, which Mei is unusually vulnerable to due to her dad’s side of the family and position at school.

When she confronts Mei and tries to goad her into slapping her, Mei kisses her instead, “taking back” the kiss Matsuri stole from Yuzu. This surprises Matsuri, but only entertains her more. In any case, she has her incriminating photo.

Matsuri then takes off on her own. Mei feels responsible, but Yuzu doesn’t blame her. It gets colder, and they hold hands as they walk home. I love how Mei’s come to appreciate Yuzu’s warmth in the winter.

I don’t love how Matsuri didn’t go home, but wanted to creepily watch them from afar. Why? And aren’t all of them going to catch their death with such few layers out there?

Mei has apparently never celebrated Christmas, so Yuzu is excited to get her involved in their traditional family-only party. Hime shows more maturity by telling Mei to enjoy herself, while Harumin, who was barely in the episode, is playfully jealous she can’t join either.

As Yuzu makes the preparations, both culinary and stuffed bear-related, Mei works overtime after school so she doesn’t leave too much for her subordinates, and that’s when Matsuri shows up, no doubt to threaten her with the photo of them kissing.

So far Matsuri has been totally incapable of driving any kind of meaningful wedge between Yuzu and Mei, and that’s a good thing. Here’s hoping her string of failures continues and she’s left alone and miserable on Christmas and every other day.

Or maybe, if she eventually gives up these cruel and childish games and decides to change her awful ways, she can be rewarded with contentment in her friendship with Yuzu and maybe even Mei as well…But I don’t think it’s gonna happen.

Citrus – 07

Yuzu needs to score in the top 100 if she wants Mei and Gramps off her back, but she can’t concentrate after her last kiss with Mei, which felt different and more meaningful. Alas, Mei withdraws to the outmoded “we’re both girls” and more reasonable “we’re sisters, so we should stop this.”

Yuzu is devastated, because she takes Mei at her word; in reality there’s a lot of doubt behind Mei’s supposed certainty, as we’ll see later in the ep. Good Ol’ Harumin is there to console Yuzu with an after-school arcade session where commentary on her getting a game over matches commentary about her Mei dilemma.

Then THE DEVIL takes the stage. Satan has many forms, but chooses a pleasing and seemingly harmless one in Mizusawa Matsuri, Yuzu’s childhood friend. Now where have I heard of an anime in which one relationship is suddenly put at risk by a meddling childhood friend? Oh yeah, pretty much all of them.

Subtlety is not Matsuri’s strong suit, with her devil-may-care headphones, bubble gum (and bubble gum pink hair), and seiyu Izawa Shiori’s trademark apathetic drone. Because Yuzu is a sweet, innocent, kind person, she’s a sitting duck for Matsuri, who is not the girl Yuzu remembers, if she ever was.

Harumin immediately senses Pinky is BAD NEWS, even before Matsuri brings up her part-time job of sexting dirty old men, despite being in seventh grade. And yet Matsuri shows how skillful she is at manipulating people like Yuzu even with Harumin ostensibly in the way.

Matsuri snatches Yuzu’s phone and steals a picture of her with Mei, then drags Yuzu and Harumi to a karaoke when Yuzu is supposed to be buying things to make dinner. But she’s too nice to say “gotta go” to her former little-sister figure.

Worse still, Harumi suddenly has to duck out to take care of a family matter (part of me thought Matsuri sent her a false message), leaving Matsuri all alone with Yuzu. Matsuri promptly confesses her love and tries to kiss Yuzu, and is interrupted by a call from Mei asking about dinner.

Later, when Mei and Yuzu nearly cross paths at an intersection, Matsuri pulls Yuzu aside and kisses her in full view of Mei, whom Yuzu never saw. Frankly the coincidence and perfect execution of Matsuri’s fuck-you to Mei are a bit much; We get it, she’s pink scum.

Back home, Mei is less angry at Yuzu than I expected, which actually makes sense since Mei realizes she is the one who told Yuzu everything was over when it clearly wasn’t. When Yuzu is just to cute for her to resist any longer, Mei comes at her from behind and licks her neck, literally marking the Yuzu she won’t share with pink-haired interlopers.

Of course, Mei is almost as ill-equipped to deal with Matsuri as Yuzu, since she’s being driven primarily by emotions. Mizusawa Matsuri may say she loves Yuzu but I don’t think she loves anyone, except maybe Mizusawa Matsuri. The show introduced her as someone who manipulates people for the hell of it. Whether she derives fun, I can’t say; maybe this is all she thinks she can do.

The show is not yet ready to portray her as anything other than a villain so far, brazenly invading Yuzu and Mei’s school and making a big fuss about going on an after-school date. Mei shoos her off, but Matsuri won’t give up easily. We’ll see if Matsuri’s story gets a little more nuance and dimension like Hime’s, because right now, if she had a pink mustache, she’d be twirling it.

Citrus – 06

My first thought about Mei’s Dad showing up is Please don’t be a creep. But once it’s clear he’s not, it’s also clear what else he’s not: Mei’s strict “sensei.” Mei’s ideal of her father is who he was, not who he is or who he’ll ever be again. He chose to leave the academy and won’t go back.

That decision left Mei alone on a path she thought they’d share forever. Her father’s absence has only made things worse, as by not opening his letters she could convince herself there was still hope he’d come back to that path.

Now that Yuzu knows the score from both sides, her goal of bringing the two together has gotten a lot more complicated. Mei is so distraught and fatalistic, she seeks an easy escape in fooling around with Yuzu. Yuzu is understandably insulted and pained if Mei thinks the only way Yuzu can “accept” her and “be the one that needs” her is to submit to commiseratory sex.

After an awkward morning where Mei slips out without breakfast, Yuzu’s Mama adds another piece to the puzzle: she calls her husband a “tsundere”, able to spread education and love to kids the world over, but finds it almost cripplingly difficult to do the same with his own natural daughter. And yet, he accepts that maybe he’s just not cut out for it, and that it might be too late, and asks Yuzu to be the support Mei needs in his stead.

While attempting to ascertain what Mei needs and how to support her, Yuzu gets some very welcome emotional and logistical support from Harumin, who strikes about the right balance between being almost too perfectly helpful and being a character in her own right.

When Yuzu gets word from Mama that Papa is leaving for abroad in less than two hours, Harumin takes Yuzu to school on her bike so she can find Mei, not wanting her dad to leave with things the way they are.

When they just miss each other in the chairman’s office, Yuzu hijacks the P.A. system to get a message to Mei: that she’s done a good job; that she shouldn’t blame herself anymore; that she’s pushed herself enough for someone else’s sake.

Yuzu snatches up Mei and they race to the station, which Mei thinks is another example of Yuzu acting without thinking. But Yuzu has thought about it a lot, and this is what she’s decided to do: cultivate a situation in which Mei is able to let go of “sensei”, embrace her father for who he is, choose her own path, and move forward.

They get to the station right on time to catch Mei’s dad. After they share some words, they have a cordial goodbye, and Mei actually calls him “father” for once. It’s certainly a bittersweet moment, but it also must be exciting and relieving for her; she really will inherit the academy, because it’s what she has decided to do.

That night, she opens and reads all of her father’s letters to her with Yuzu by her side. Yuzu is so relieved and happy that Mei has made so much progress that she can’t help but tear up a little. That, in turn, brings Mei’s face close enough to hers for a kiss, and they do kiss, but it’s not anything like any of the other kisses they’ve shared before. For one thing, neither forced it on the other.

With Mei’s daddy dilemma largely resolved, we immediately move on to this next stage in their relationship, just as Yuzu’s pink-haired, conniving, scheming, manipulative childhood friend remembers her and plans to “get back in touch”, which could well mean an attempt to ruin Yuzu’s life for her own amusement. Should be fun!

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 06

Dark times would seem to be ahead for Totsuki Academy, as Azami is formally elected director by the Elite Ten (well, six of them anyway). His inauguration speech is pretty normal and humble, leading some in the crowd to think “huh, maybe he’s not that bad.” Oh, he’s bad.

Azami moves quickly to isolate Erina, summarily relieving Hisako of her role as her secretary, stating that all Erina needs is her father, who promises “he’ll always be by her side”, which is not only inaccurate (he has most certainly not been by her side for some time) but feels ominous and threatening. Worse still, Erina is incapable of defying her father. What the hell did he do to the poor girl?

Just as Souma is wondering how Erina’s grandfather Senzaemon is dealing with his sudden retirement, the super-cut senior shows up at Polar Star, bringing his impressive set of muscles and his stirring leitmotif. Amazingly, it’s the first time the two have met and talked face to face.

Souma accompanies Senzaemon on his routine evening training, and can barely keep up despite his youth; but for all his physical strength and wisdom, Senzaemon laments there is little he can do about his situation. However, a former student of his (Souma’s dad Jouichirou) told him Souma may be only person who can save Erina from Azami’s wrath.

We get a peek at that wrath, as Erina, once a vibrant young lady who loved to laugh (and also loved her cousin Alice) was essentially brainwashed by Azami into having an extremely narrow and critical manner of assessing taste.

Erina rightly knew that it’s wrong to waste food, but he broke her of that, and with the threat of violence and abandonment, molded Erina into his instrument. He even threw away all of Alice’s letters from Sweden, making Alice think she never wrote back out of malice. What a dick this guy is! I just met him and I already hate his guts.

Erina has been getting better since Senzaemon exiled Azami, and has made friends—first Hisako, and eventually Souma, though she’d never admit it—but now that Azami is back, she could revert back very quickly, as his power over her is all but absolute and she lacks the means to fight him.

Thankfully, just as Azami is moving quickly to put his bird back in a cage, that bird’s friends move just as quickly to prevent that from happening. Enter Alice and Ryou, who encounter a beside-herself Hisako and spring into action, getting Erina out of Nakiri Manor.

The question is, then what? As various options for where she should be harbored are shot down for various practical reasons, and a heavy rain starts to fall, Erina considers giving up and going back, lest she cause problems for her friends.

But those friends would much rather have those problems than let Azami take her from them. Her retreat is interrupted by Megumi; the rescue group and Erina have stumbled upon the grounds of Polar Star Dormitory. Megumi welcomes them all in to shelter.

Souma arrives from his talk with Senzaemon to find the one he’s supposed to save in his dorm, which must feel pretty surreal. When the prospect of harboring her is floated to the other dorm members, they’re mostly weary…until Hisako tells them the story of how Erina grew up, and they instantly change tack, welcoming her with open arms and appalled she had to go through such hell.

This is another reminder of how nice and close-knit the occupants of Polar Star are; it goes beyond cooking (though they are excited to feed the God Tongue and hear her critique their cuisine); they’re a family, and are more than willing to welcome another member to that family, especially if there’s nowhere else she can go.

Souma, for his part, is pretty hands-off, which is just as well; the warm and caring nature of Polar Star is such that he can depend on them to keep her safe even when he’s not around. He may not have promised Senzaemon he’d “save Erina”, but he does want to get her to earnestly call his food delicious…which is pretty much the same thing, when you think about it.

There are certainly dark clouds in the horizon as Azami tightens his grip on power, and there’s no telling what he has in store for those who try to steal away his God Tongue, the linchpin of his so-called “revolution” that will transform Totsuki into a “Utopia” (which, if you’re recall, means “place that cannot be”). Let there be no doubt: Nakiri Azami is a bad man who has done awful things, and he must be opposed and defeated at any cost.

This was one of the strongest Food Wars episodes, and it didn’t need to get anywhere near a shokugeki; all it needed to do was unleash the tremendous collection of characters it has nurtured, and all I needed to do was sit back and watch the wonderful spirit of togetherness and solidarity surround Erina in her hour of most dire need. I’m even more excited than last week to see where this goes, particularly when in regards to Souma and Erina.

Fate / Zero – 08

Maiya has orders to escort Iri away from the castle, but the orders aren’t so precise that Iri can’t countermand them when she senses Kotomine Kirei approaching. She doesn’t want that guy anywhere near her Kiritsugu, and Maiya feels the same way, so the decide they’ll do what they can to keep him away.

Neither of them are any match for Kirei’s considerable mage-executing skills, so all they can do take up as much of his time as they can. The bravery, grit, and selflessness the women exhibit without Saber by their side is something to behold. There’s no doubt Kirei is a fearsome, superior foe, but it doesn’t matter: he’s not getting to Kiritsugu, period.

Meanwhile, a bullet from Kirei’s pistol gets through Kayneth’s quicksilver defense, but he chalks it up to a fluke and a moment of poor focus to the disgust of fighting such an awful mage, and redoubles his defenses…which is exactly what Kiritsugu wants.

Saber and Lancer are having no luck, as there’s no end to Caster’s minions as long as he’s holding his noble phantasm, an old grimoire. Rather than keep hacking away, Saber clears a path with an Air Strike, through which Lancer dashes and slashes the book with Gae Dearg, and just like that Caster is defenseless and must withdraw.

Saber and Lancer’s ‘knightmance’ proceeds apace when Lancer senses his Master is in danger, Saber senses it’s because of her Master, and gives Lancer leave to tend to Kayneth, in accordance with the ideals of nobility and chivalry, while she rushes to help Iri and Maiya.

The next time Kiritsugu fires his pistol into Kayneth’s heightened magical defense, it scrambles the opponent’s magical circuits, causing him to cough up a good deal of blood and pass out. Kiritsugu remembers his mentor(?) explaining the bullets which contained his own ribs in powdered form; but he was only given 66 of them, and we see him use two on Kayneth.

And even that doesn’t kill Kayneth, only gravely wound him. Lancer arrives to rescue him and withdraw, and tells Kiritsugu that he’s only alive because of his Servant Saber’s devotion to the right-and-proper precepts of nobility; because she is the King of Knights. I’m sure Kiritsugu’s glad Lancer didn’t kill him, but less pleased Saber let Lancer get away so easily.

What’s so great about this situation is that everyone has a reasonable position here and nobody is outright right-or-wrong. In a way, Saber went rogue, but again…Lancer would have Kiritsugu him if not for her.

As he beats Maiya to a pulp and chokes then stabs Iri (who he thinks is a homonculus), Kirei can’t fathom why not one but two people challenged him, of their own accord for Kiritsugu’s sake. Kirei has been operating under the assumption that Kiritsugu is, like him, friendless, alone, and understood by no one. But he’s wrong…and I kind of pity him for being so.

One could say Kiritsugu using Iri as a kind of “decoy master” smacks of cowardice, but that position doesn’t take Iri’s (and Maiya’s) feelings into consideration. They do protect him of their own accord, as we witnessed here, and they will continue to do so.

Kiritsugu seems to know this, because when Saber finally comes and touches the injured Iri, she is immediately healed by the scabbard Avalon implanted within her according to her husband’s wishes—something only he and she knew about. Kiritsugu is not alone, because there are those who don’t want him to be.

ACCA: 13-ku Kansatsu-ka – 12 (Fin)

Leave it to ACCA to save its best episode for last. And why not? Each of the eleven preceding episodes perfectly prepared us for this finale. Everything pointed towards a smooth, peaceful, and efficient coup, and that’s what we got—only it wasn’t a coup to unseat Schwan, but a coup to secure ACCA’s future and thwart the Liliums and Furawau’s plans to snatch hegemony from the Dowa Royal Family. That, my friends, is one surprising yet completely logical and satisfying twist.

At first, things seem to be going according to Lilium’s plan: Once it’s Schwan’s turn to take to the podium and speak, he and his outnumbered guards are surrounded by ACCA officers in riot gear, and Schwan’s plans to dissolve ACCA are exposed to the throng, which quickly sides with ACCA in the matter, as expected.

But then Schwan calls Jean out, knowing exactly why he’s on the dais with the Chief Officers. Just then, Lotta (and I for that matter) are relieved to find Niino by her side. This is the moment when Director-General Mauve completely flips the script and reveals that beneath ACCA’s plan was another plan that Lilium was not made aware of.

In this plan, Mauve, rather than Jean, steps forward. She explains the theatrics were only meant to demonstrate Schwan’s need for greater then very loudly and publicly proclaims Schwan as the one and only Crown Prince of Dowa, thanks Schwan for his continued support of ACCA once he ascends to the throne and into the future, then bends the knee. Knowing how unpopular dissolving ACCA would be (and would make him), Schwan can only affirm Mauve’s words and commit to preserving ACCA.

Mauve’s speech is one of, if not the most badass moments of the series, if not the Winter season as a whole, because of how much it changes, all of the careful preparation that gives it so much power, and the jazzy soundtrack that adds a cool gravitas.

Suddenly, Lilium finds himself on the wrong side of the river with a very weak hand. He was so focused on his own machinations he failed to realize there were counter-machinations going on behind his back. Jean had been strategizing with Mauve since he learned of his lineage, and informed Grossular of what would go down the night before.

Mauve and Jean arranged things so ACCA would win before Furawau would, making the continuation of “the game” pointless. Sure enough, Lilium folds, but he also takes his ball (being Furawau) and goes home (meaning secession). I will now cease the sports metaphors.

After all the drama subsides, Jean and Lotta encounter Prince Schwan and Magie, who reveals it was the prince himself who ordered him to warn her of the attack. Between agreeing not to kill ACCA and this, Schwan turned out to be not-such-a-bad-guy after all, which is more interesting than a petulant, one-dimensional villain. And since there’s no usurping going on, Jean and Lotta’s lineage can remain secret, even as they’re allowed to meet with Schwan and King Falke.

With Lilium and Furawau leaving the Dowa Kingdom to start their own, Grossular dissolves the remaining three of the anachronistic Five Chief officers, who then go home and become chiefs of their respective districts, and seem all the happier for it, while Grossular stays on in an advisory role for the new single leader of ACCA, Mauve. She certainly earned it.

In other good (if a bit convenient) news: Just as Furawau seceded, Pranetta finally hit paydirt, and a resource (presumably oil) rush leads to the district’s revitalization, Suitsu is finally allowed to develop to the level of the other districts and its people allowed to vote.

We even find out who Niino’s secret other contact was, and it’s who I expected: Abend, the ever-loyal servant of the Dowa Family, who had colored his hair and taken on the identity of Owl to watch Jean that much closer. With the family members reunited, Niino is formally relieved of his photographing duties. Mauve and Grossular seem to be spending a lot more time together, while Jean assumes the feelings he has for Mauve are unrequited.

But that doesn’t change the fact that he and Jean are best mates, something that hasn’t changed since they met in high school (the post credits flashback to their prom, which Niino won but gave Jean the crown, was a nice touch), and won’t change now. Jean takes comfort in knowing he’s not alone. And, no doubt, in being able to stay in his old job. For all that’s changed around them, Jean, Niino, and Lotta really haven’t, and that’s for the best, as they’re perfectly happy with the lives they have.

So ends one of the most thoughtful, detailed, and elegantly beautiful looking and sounding series in recent memory, which came completely out of nowhere. Those are my favorite kind of shows: ones about which neither I nor anyone else have any potentially corrupting preconceptions.

It’s also a show with eminent rewatch value; there’s enjoyment to be found in watching the story unfold again whilst knowing its resolution. It’s also a show for which I’d happily embrace a sequel. Until then, I say goodbye to ACCA, a well-crafted and engrossing anime if ever there was one.

ACCA: 13-ku Kansatsu-ka – 11

ACCA: Jusan-ku Kansatsu-ka. I hadn’t really read the words until recently, but they roll right off the tongue in a very satisfying, elegant way, like ACCA the show itself.

I daresay ACCA is a sneaky show. It seems a bit slow and dull at first but the details keep you around. Then it becomes something you must watch at all costs. In this way, it’s like no other show airing this Winter, and its quality has been rewarded on MAL, rising from 6.97 on week one to 7.43 today, the biggest climb of any Winter ’17 show.

By the time Jean arrives in lavish, exotic Furawau for the thirteenth of thirteen district audits, nearly all pretense has fallen over his “job” as inspector, as Furawau is the district spearheading the coup.

Yet true to its name (“flower” in katakana), Furawau’s inhabitants are cheerful and elegant, and discreet in their welcoming of Jean for his true purpose.

But while it’s named for its flowers, the gleaming skyscrapers and lush palaces are paid for with oil. 90% of the entire nation of Dowa’s oil is supplied by Furawau. This makes them Arabia on steroids, which makes resource-poor Pranetta the comparatively oil-less Jordan.

When he leaves for his hotel, Jean does not give the Furawau chiefs a direct answer about whether he’ll rise up with them. But fortunately for Jean, Niino was listening in when the Princess’ assassins were loudly discussing their plan for slaying him.

When they draw their appropriately ornate golden revolver from the shadows, Niino is there not only to warn Jean, but take two bullets for him. He survives, but when he wakes up from surgery, he wonders out loud something I’ve wondered for many weeks now: whether Jean is merely being dragged into things by chance, or if he’s “prying into the whole mess” of his own accord.

Before leaving Furawau, Jean tells the chiefs he’s with them. Upon returning to Badon, he doesn’t stop by Mugimaki where Mauve continues to show up and wait. Instead, he visits Lilium as his brothers instructed, and shows him all thirteen cigarettes he’s collected.

I love how each one is  different in color and length, and how Pranetta’s is one of his own. Details that carry symbolism: Dowa is one big happy cigarette case. When Jean says anyone can ascend as long as it’s not him, Lilium counters that only he can protect both ACCA and the people.

What he isn’t telling Jean…could fill volumes. Like the fact he needs to present at least the air of proper succession, and probably needs the ACCA angle to strengthen their case. Lotta can’t fulfill either of those conditions…nor can Lilium himself.

When Rail first heard of him, he assumed Jean was an upper class snob who thought his own excrement did not emit odor. Turns out he was right about the “upper class” bit, but now that Rail knows who Jean is for sure, he thinks he’d probably be a better King than Schwan.

Rail tells Jean this while they smoke in the city night, after Jean thanks him for watching Lotta while he was away. And Jean appears to take Rail’s subtle endorsement to heart…maybe he will be better.

The next day, people from all thirteen districts start pouring into Badon for the upcoming ACCA centennial ceremony. This means we get all the ACCA agents Jean met on his travels in the same room, and of course they all know each other.

It’s a nice “lower decks” scene, watching subordinates shoot the breeze. The girls badger Eidar about her feelings for Jean, only to learn she’s dating Grus. One agent brings up the coup, and silence fills the room.

Every one of them seems generally on board with the plan…except Warbler, who, being stationed in Suitsu, is naturally the last agent to be informed of the coup. And while it’s easy to get all swept up in the excitement of dumping a harmful king for a better one, Warbler provides a much-needed voice of concern and reason.

He makes very good points about the risk ACCA’s leadership is taking by arranging such a coup. He also questions if the young, inexperienced Schwan would actually follow through on his threat to dissolve ACCA. He believes the royal family is aware that tipping the scales of power too far in their favor could break the whole system, and trusts them to be more pragmatic once Schwan ascends.

But no one can be certain Schwan won’t dissolve ACCA, and in any case, the decision has already been made by the brass, so Warbler’s protests go acknowledged but not acted upon. After Jean leaves a brief, almost curt meeting with Mauve (which has the air of a breakup), Warbler tries to tell him that this coup idea is ludicrous.

Jean responds by saying he’d really like Warbler to take his job, after “one final push”, then calls the prince a “real headache.” Could Jean be starting to get the feel for the power he’s about to attain?

Cut to the prince being a huge headache, acting petulant aboard his ornate royal plane, dismissing Magie’s advice to meet with his cousin (Jean) or get to know the people more. He’s only going to Badon to attend the ACCA ceremony, then leave.

Warbler might think Schwan’s position on ACCA is open to interpretation or subject to review by the rest of the royal family or the privy council. But Schwan probably doesn’t think any of that. When he’s king—and he’s going to be king, he tells himself—he can do as he pleases.

Lilium continues to uncork bottle after bottle of champagne in celebration of a total victory that is still yet to come. In another private one-on-one with Grossular, he lays out the plan I expected him and his district to have: install someone he can control, Jean, in order to control the nation. He hopes to act quickly and elegantly enough that by the time people notice what’s up it will be too late to do anything about it.

Now that he knows Lilium’s true intent, will Grossular continue to stand impotently by and let it happen, or is he intentionally appearing weak to lull Lilium into a false sense of security? Does Grossular have his own plans? And as Mauve asked both him and Jean before him: is he all right?

He responds the same way as Jean: with a simple ‘Yes.’ Here’s hoping that’s true, because some big things are going down next week.