Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 13 (Fin) – Ten Thousand Times More Beautiful

With no more conflicts or catharses left to have, the girls enjoy their final days in Antarctica. They’ve settled into such a routine and gotten so used to the astonishing environment, one adult jokes they won’t be able to reintegrate into society, presenting Shirase and the other Mahjong junkies as evidence.

Their final journey to the frozen sea affords them the opportunity to taste snowcones made from ice with thousand-year-old air pockets, which Mari attests to be delicious. They also learn that much of the winter team’s activities will include sleeping, drinking, and games to pass the time.

Shirase finally gets her wish to be surrounded by adorable penguins, but she’s locked in a cycle of being disgusted by the smell and delighted by being in their presence while asking for some unspecified form of help. I imagine many of us would feel the same way.

Mari is getting cold feet about leaving, and wonders out loud to the others why they can’t just stay. Hinata flicks her forehead and doles out reality; they have to get back to their homes, their families, and their school. But all four promise that they’ll come back together someday.

They then present their final request to the rest of the team: that they play a game of snow softball. Captain Toudou is, naturally, the ace, but just like Takako, Shirase is not only able to hit her pitch, but drive it out of the “park.”

On the eve of departing, Shirase decides to have her hair cut short—her heart wasn’t broken by a guy, but such a change makes sense after her catharsis with the laptop (she also wisely chooses Hinata to cut it, not Mari). The whole team musters for the girls’ farewell ceremony, and after a heartfelt speech by Gin that starts everyone crying, Shirase confidently delivers and even more heartfelt, tear-jerking speech.

In it, she expresses the understanding she reached in this place beyond the universe, and why both her mother and her love it so much: It’s a place that strips everything bare, with nothing to protect you and nowhere to hide. It’s a place where someone can come face-to-face with who they really are…and she did that.

Before embarking for home, Shirase hands Gin her mom’s laptop, stating she no longer needs it. Later, Gin discovers there’s still a message from Takako in the outbox; the last she ever composed. The quartet waves goodbye to their Antarctic summer home where they experienced and learned so much about the world, each other, and themselves.

Yuzu wonders if maybe they all got a little stronger during the journey. A ‘little’? I think she sells herself and the others short here. They were the first high school-age students to explore Antarctica, and they made it. Now, all of a sudden, they’re headed back to the normal world. Even if and when they come back, it will never be the same as their first time.

When night falls, Mari finally gets to experience the one thing they couldn’t due to the laughably short Antarctic nights: view the aurora. Just when they do, Gin sends the last email Takako wrote to Shirase, stating how the real thing is “ten thousand times more beautiful”—something of which, in that moment, Shirase and the others are all to aware.

The four friends, having forged their bonds in the coldest and harshest crucible on the planet, go their separate ways with confidence and return to their lives that were with a serious sense of accomplishment, self-awareness, and maturity.

They discovered as much about themselves in Antarctica as they discovered about the place itself, like how there are no “nothing” days but there’s still more to discover upon returning, like the smell of one’s house.

And in a perfect capper to a marvelous series, Mari texts Megumi that she’s home, and gets a near-immediate response, along with a photo of her posing with the aurora: “Too bad. Right now, I’m in the Arctic.” Well played, Megu-chan; well played.

 

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Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 12

Shirase vividly remembers the day she was suddenly pulled out of class and informed of her mother’s death. How can she not? We all carry days like that in our memories. For her, it was the end of life feeling as it had before, and the beginning of a dream; an awful dream from which she hoped every day to wake up from.

She’s worked so hard, endured mockery, made and fought with friends, and arrived at the place where she lost her mother. Yet she still doesn’t feel like the dream is over. Now Gin has invited her and the other girls to join the team that will press inland, to the observatory site from which Takako never returned.

Shirase tells her friends it’s not so much that she’s depressed to stressed out about her mother. Rather, she’s weary that if and when she gets to the end of the road, there will be nowhere left to go. If nothing changes, the way it hasn’t thus far, what if she keeps feeling the way she does the rest of her life? What if she can’t wake up?

The girls decide to give Shirase space, proof, according to an adult colleague, that they’re truly good friends. Shirase sits with Gin, who tells her that neither of them know what Takako felt, or whether she wanted them to return to Antarctica, where she’d be waiting in some form.

All Gin can say for certain is that she came because she wanted to come: “At the end of the day, those ideas we latch on to aren’t enough to motivate us. But when we run around on the injustices of reality, they’re the only things that can break through, make the impossible possible, and allow us to proceed on.”

After laying out all of her cash and listing all the ways she made it, Shirase regains the idea that brought her to Antarcica, and joins Gin and the other girls on the inland trip…because her mother is waiting there.

Along the slow, cold slog of a trip, Shirase and he girls experience the harshest conditions so far, but still have to work in them, because there’s no other choice. They also experience some of the most otherworldly sights, like a sun pillar.

When Shirase asks Gin if her mother saw the same thing, Gin answers in the affirmative. Later, Gin has Shirase check in with Syowa Station. From then on, as Shirase realizes she’s following in her mother’s last footsteps, the journey adopts an increasingly melancholy mood.

When a punishing blizzard arrives identical to the one that suddenly claimed Takako, Gin remembers Takako’s last call on the radio, saying “it’s beautiful” but not telling Gin where she was, because if Gin went out to attempt rescue, nature would likely have claimed her as well.

The girls are snug in their sleeping bags as the winds lash against the snowcat, and Shirase sees a vision of her mother sitting nearby, working on her laptop. Mari wakes up to thank Shirase for taking her for allowing her to get the most out of her youth.

It doesn’t matter to her whether they went to Antartica or the Arctic or anywhere else; what made the trip special was that they took it together, as friends. Shirase then tells her mother that she, who thought she’d be fine alone forever, now has friends: slightly weird, frustrating, and broken friends, but friends who were willing to come this far with her.

Now, there’s only a little further to go, and once the snowcats arrive at the observatory site, those same friends rush into the underground complex to try to find something, anything that serves as proof Shirase’s mother was there. And boy do they ever find it: Takako’s laptop, with a photo of Takako and Shirase taped to the back.

Again Shirase’s friends recede to the hallway as Shirase fires up the laptop. She gets the password right on the second try, and when Takako’s inbox opens, it immediately starts updating, with a dozen, then a hundred, then a thousand emails gradually pouring in…and Shirase loses it. Her friends hear her anguish and then they start crying.

In a show that’s had no shortage of episode climaxes that tug at the heartstrings, no scene to date has tugged quite this far (I pretty much lost it too!). It truly feels like Shirase has finally awakened from her hazy three-year-long dream, having experienced a profound measure of closure from this. In any case, her fear of not feeling anything once she came to the end of her journey didn’t come to pass. She didn’t just feel something; she felt everything.

Another – 11

A panicking Teshigawara tells Sakaki and Misaki that he may have accidentally killed class rep Kazami, who he believed might have been the dead one. While going to check on the body, Sakaki notices the dining hall is aflame, and the manager within dead. Kazami is gone. Takako plays the tape on the PA and tells the class Misaki is the dead person and must be killed. As Teshi and Mochi are cornered by the maid, Sakaki and Misaki run for their lives from students trying to kill her. Ms. Mikami, Ogura and Takako are killed in the process, and Izumi thinks Misaki killed Takako. The dining hall explodes, killing another student.

Without a doubt, having the whole class go on a manor retreat was a big, big mistake. Whether it’s pure fear of dying or some kind of supernatural power fueling them, students go crazy left and right this week, rearin’ to kill who they think is the dead person. Panic and desperation lead to insanity, in the case of Takako and Ogura, who both die particularly freakish and gruesome deaths (hanging and falling don’t begin to decribe them). All because no one knows Misaki Mei has a twin.

With all the death and carnage going on, you’d think one of the victims would actually be the dead person, but it seems they escaped harm this week, saving their fate, and that of Sakaki and Misaki, for the final episode next week. This episode outdid all previous episodes in sheer manic horror, gore, and bone-snapping. Compared to the calm early episodes, it’s as if the class has completely exploded on itself (like the dining hall), and they’re well on their way to tearing themselves apart, like so many class 3s before.


Rating: 4

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On the eve of the Bonbori festival, it appears that Kissuiso is overbooked. The staff is overworked, accidents are happening, and everyone is more focused on “winning” the battle with the Madam Manager. Ohana is caught in the middle, but little by little, everyone realizes they don’t have the guests’ comfort at heart. When Tomoe sprains her ankle, The manager fills in, Ohana’s mom volunteers to help, and they get back to “festing it up”, rather than just grinding.

The Battle for Kissuiso was fought for all the wrong reasons. Last week I sided with the staff for wanting to keep the inn open, not thinking about how it would have to change to become profitable. This week, I was on Ohana’s side, who was basically on her own side. The frantic inn where the customers’ needs were obstacles to overcome was not the Kissuiso she loved. Overwork was making the staff short with her, and clumsy in their duties. Tomoe’s ankle sprain provided the catalyst to snap everyone out of it. Jiromaru’s corny narration was icing on the cake.

On the evening of the festival, Sui, Satsuki, and Ohana marching three abreast down the hall is a triumphant sight, and unlike the first half of the episode, everyone is working like a well-oiled machine. Not only that, they’re enjoying what they’re doing, rather than just doing it mindlessly in the pursuit of profit. This was a great final “inn arc” episode that brough everything and everyone together beautifully, and was simply oozing with emotions. It’s still in the air whether Kissuiso can make it, but it seems the finale will deal primarily with Ohana and Ko.


Rating: 4

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Ohana and Ko all but confess, and he agrees to come to the climactic Bonbori festival. The manager insist that Kissuiso will close for good after the Bonbori festival, despite a glowing review by her daughter which nets the inn gobs of business and the fact that everyone loves the inn and wants to stay. Enishi stages a coup in order to keep the inn open, leaving Ohana split between family and friends.

A little of everything this week, and all of it good. Ohana and Ko finally talk about their feelings, but rather than taking up most of the episode as I expected, it’s just the appetizer. With Sui intending to close the inn, some are starting to look at future employment, but then Satsuki puts Kissuiso on the front cover of her travel magazine, and suddenly it looks like they can make it work. Thus this becomes a battle of wills, between Sui, who doesn’t want anyone else sacrificed for her and her husband’s dreams, and everyone else, who want to keep the inn open and running anyway.

I can feel for Sui, but ultimately I’m on the side of Enishi and everyone else. Sui may be old and wise, but she isn’t infallible, and she isn’t a god. Her pride is blinding her to the arrogance of thinking she can protect the fate of others when in reality, her actions threaten to crush dreams and change fates she has no business changing. Whatever Kissuiso was, it is more than just her and her late husband’s dream. With all this seriousness going on, there were also moments of comedy, like Tohru and Minko disocvering their favorite manga was written by none other than Jiromaru, and Sui’s ridiculously quick and efficient bath.


Rating: 4

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The inn has an ill-favored mood as it’s likely it will be shut down. Takako is off to Tokyo to track down the producer who duped Enishi and the inn, as she plans to take over as madam manager. Ohana (now her niece) tags along, both to discuss her future with her mom and to possibly see Ko again. But her mom has already ‘kidnapped’ Ko. After spending the day together talking about Ohana, she plays the test footage for him, reignting his hope just when he was about to give up on her. The two then meet by chance on an overhead crossing.

“Never give up,” Takako says in her characteristic Engrish. That sentiment pertains not only to her goal to save Kissuiso, but to Ohana and Ko’s distance-strained relationship as well. Takako somehow finds one man among millions and gives him a judo throw…by not giving up. Whether she’ll get the money the inn lost back or not, she’s restored honor. Meanwhile, Ohana’s mom, while a bit nosy and manipulative here, has her heart in the right place, setting Ko straight vis-a-vis Ohana.

Ohana abandoned Ko when her mother abandoned her, but she never went to Yusonagi to learn to be a waitress, or fulfill her calling. She wouldn’t have gone at all if her mom hadn’t acted like a spoiled, impulsive child and run off with some random guy. So in a way, what Ohana’s mom does is amends of a kind. Now that Ko understands a little more, he and Ohana can proceed accordingly. But considering the manager needs Ohana back in two days (two episodes?), Ohana will have to be quick about it.


Rating: 3.5

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Now we’re getting somewhere! Well, kinda. Peace, understandings, and declarations are all either made or starting to be made. Not since the first week of the series last season has so much stuff been packed into an episode. I got that same feeling like it was three-quarters over when in reality it wasn’t even half-over. That makes me optimistic about this series ending as strongly as it started; perhaps even better.

It’s still to early to be sure of this, but as I said, I’m optimistic. Thanks to advice from her mother (who didn’t know she was giving it), Ohana has decided that a one-sided crush is okay vis-a-vis Ko (whom we’ve neither seen nor heard from all summer), and that she’ll confess to him next time she sees him. Minko and Ohana are at each others’ throats once more, but when Nako breaks them up, Tohru is seen to have been standing there, hearing everything.

At last, the air is cleared, as Tohru finds Minko crying by a shrine and they finally talk to each other about something other than cooking or Ohana. It’s just what Minko needs to keep going, and it helps Tohru not only realize how much he means to Minko, but also the source of her distractions. He brings her back on board the wedding food. Minko and Ohana finally call a truce, as they realize they aren’t even going after the same guy anymore (and never were), and both need to be more direct where their crushes are concerned.

After all that, there’s a whole wedding to be had! And having been to my older brother’s wedding earlier this year (and a damn fine wedding it was), it was a lot of fun to watch it unfold just as it had been to watch it be prepared. It goes off without a hitch, and even the manager is humbled and impressed by what everyone managed to do without her help or direction. She decided to kill two birds with one stone: marry off her son, and put everyone to the test in seeing how they’d fare with her merely observing. They paseed. Now Ohana has four episodes (barring an OVA or film), to make things right with Ko. Fingers crossed…


Rating: 4

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So the young master Enishi and the lovely Engrish-spewing Takako have decided to wed. But the only ceremony they can afford (and his mother demands they have one) is a ceremony at Kissuiso, with everyone doing extra work so as not to disrupt normal operations. I say forgone, but it required Ohana to speak up and suggest it (though Beanman is the one who wordlessly suggests it to her).

Tohru agrees to take charge of the food, and he and Minko go on a market date, but even alone with him for an extended period and with multiple opportunities, Minko is unable to make her true feelings known to him. This is lame. We’ve only got a handful of episodes left, and she’s still silent as the grave. He’s not going to figure it out on his own, Minchi. You. Have. To. Speak. Up.

She’s clearly upset with herself for not being able to do so, and that frustration, combined with her resentment of Ohana’s penchant for speaking her mind (and speaking so comfortably with Tohru) boils over in a naked bathroom wrestling scene with her, where I though someone was going to get hurt. Ohana claims to not know what’s going on, and she has a point: Minko makes the odd choice to order her to go out with Tohru, to just get things over with. Ohana may be dense, but she knows Minko likes Tohru…and all of the emotional stress she’s causing Minko hasn’t been intentional.

Regardless, their relationship regresses back to the “Shut up and die” stage. Unfortunately Ohana and Minko are the only members of the love triangle who know anything; Tohru may be the densest of all, but I won’t say he’s made it overly difficult for Minko. Meanwhile, Takako sees all the prohibitive costs, and assumes Enishi’s mother won’t accept her, but on the contrary, the manager gives her the ring she was given when she got married. She’s okay with the marriage, but doesn’t seem ready to name Enishi the successor yet. Uh-oh…


Rating: 3.5

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Pretty much around the time Yuina was jumping out of a second-story window and she and Ohana were getting riddled with bullets, I started to wonder exactly what this film was about, anyway. Well, it didn’t matter, because it was all a scam. The funny thing is, hardly any of the staff skip a beat about it. Especially Ohana’s spirits remain high.

Of course, there are some bruised egos. Takako feels like a fool and rightly so for advising Enishi, and rightly so, but initially tries to run away and pin all the blame on him. Their long, complicated relationship reaches a catharsis of sorts, in the pool, of all places, where a memory of Enishi’s still drives him.

When his perfect sister is out-swimming him in the pool, he looks up at the sky and sees two jet fighters screaming across the sky; one trailing the other. Like he trails her. But after some whining and lamenting, Enishi eventually sucks it up, takes the blame, and even calls for revenge. He doesn’t regret trying to elevate Kissuiso’s standing with a film. He’d do it all again if given the opportunity.

His scenes with Takako, his mom, and his phone call with his sis are easily the best things going here; it’s a shame no cameras were turned on his drama. Contrast this with Ohana, Minchi and Nako’s roles, which were really tiny and peripheral these past couple weeks. So far this season, Ohana has taken a backseat to Yuina and now Enishi.


Rating: 3.5

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It’s lonely at the top…or at least one step below the top. Like Yosuke last week, the manager’s son Enishi is a boss – not the boss – at the moment, but one day Kissuiso – or whatever’s left of it – will be his. Not just his inn but the entire town of Yunosagi is struggling to survive in the cutthroat Japanese hospitality industry.

He hired Takako as a consultant to help come up with crazy ideas to create revenue and/or buzz. And to her credit, Takako hasn’t torn the traditions of the inn to shreds. And now it seems she’s helped reel in a director interested in making a film on the premises, and even letting the staff audition for roles. Nothing like a film to create buzz for a location.

This plan is not without risk, and there’s no sure guarantee it will help the inn. Enishi even shoos away other innkeepers wanting a piece of the action, firmly stating it will be a Kissuiso film alone. To some, this means putting the PR fate of the entire town on his inn’s – and his – shoulders. But in doing so, assuming success, Enishi may finally step out of his sister Satsuke’s (Ohana’s mom’s) vast shadow.

His mother seems to be giving him his chance. If he screws up, it will only justify his lack of faith in himself, and (what he perceives as) her lack of faith in him. Looking at her with typical younger sibling’s eyes, Satsuke seemed to him like a more advanced form of human (note how dolphin-like she seems in his daydreams) – which is particularly amusing considering we (and Ohana) know all too well how flawed she truly is. But whether he’s chasing reality or merely an ideal, Enishi has never seemed more assertive.

Oh yeah, the girls just play with the hose in the drained pool this week…so they’re suddenly twelve now…I guess. Rating: 3.5

[C]: Control: The Money and Soul of Possibility 11 (Fin)

What’s worth saving, today or tomorrow? I think I’d have to go with Yoga and say tomorrow. The case for Mikuni’s way got weaker and weaker, as his numerous uses of Midas’ rotary press essentially bankrupted Japan. It was finally Yoga’s turn to stand up to him and fight to get Japan’s future back. The first half is almost non-stop action, as their duel reaches fever pitch. The combat system of [C] was always a bit dorky, but never boring, and this week was no exception. More than anything, it was basically what the whole series has been: ambitious, creative,  intriguing, and weird.

That said, there was a breakthrough, as Yoga saw Mikuni’s most powerful asset, Q, for who she was; Mikuni’s sister Takako. Q is a crazed demon-like fighter, but while fighting Mashyu, who all but became human thanks to Yoga, snapped her out of it. Yoga defeats Mikuni, and the latter ends up in a 2001-style time warping sequence in Takako’s hospital room. Basically, she wants him to stop fighting. She wants the future to unfold as it should, not be stuck in the present.

If all this sounds abstract, it is, but it was still cool. And the animation, while a bit choppy and far from perfect, was at least really bright and vivid. When Yoga reverses the rotary press, the financial district becomes all sparkly and pretty, like there are christmas lights everywhere. It is here where Mikuni says goodbye to Takako, and Yoga bids farewell to Mashyu, who now well and truly loves him. Their passionate kiss seems a bit strange after Yoga earlier saw her as a daughter-like figure, but whatevs.

When he returns to the real world, things look pretty good – the Sky Tree is back, and the city is clean and cared-for, people are prosperous. The teacher’s family appears to be back. Hanabi also seems back to normal, but doesn’t seem to know him anymore. In an interesting twist, Japan is now using dollars, the yen having literally vanished into nothingness (a nice tie-in with the opening sequence). But the financial district isn’t gone, and neither is Mazakaki, or his godlike boss, who makes a cryptic appearence here. Still, I don’t see Yoga going back to Midas anytime soon. He could never get back everything he lost. He’s learned the cost of playing around with the future. Rating: 4

P.S.: About a year ago this month, I snapped a picture of the Tokyo Stock Exchange in Nihombashi. Coincidence? Well, yes, actually.

[C]: Control: The Money and Soul of Possibility 7

This episode of [C] is reflective. First, we get the story of Mikuni’s past, which to a large degree explains his present methods and motives. His father taught him that when enough money is bound together, it ceases to be money, and becomes power. The lust for this power led his father to abandon a chance to save his own daughter’s life, and he forcably prevented Mikuni from taking action. Before breathing her last, Mikuni’s sister Takako told him to treasure things like “tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year”, because they’re all things she’ll never see.

After her death, he closed himself off, and got a visit from the Midas dude just a bit too late to save his sister. This got him off on the wrong foot with the financial district, and after fighting deals and learning the system, he began to believe Midas was directionless, merely mocking and playing with people’s destinies at will. It was chaos, and with the guild, he sought to bring order. He may have learned a lot from his father, but his father’s success, in effect, cost him his daughter’s life. Mikuni will be damned if he’s going to allow such a thing to happen again. And is it just me, or does Takako vaguely resemble his asset Q?

The second half is all about Mashyu’s adjustment to having Yoga as an entre, their relationship becoming close and oddly human (despite the fact she isn’t human), and realizing why people like Mikuni and Satou want him to lend them his strength. He’s seemingly the only one she sees in the financial district who is so completely unsure about everything, and yet, when he does act, it’s always significant in one way or another. He hesitates because he won’t act unless his heart is sure of it. A nice parallel to this is waving off Mashyu kissing him, because she needs to “like him 30 times more” to be able to kiss him.

While only four episodes now remain in [C], I’m glad the series took the time to paint two rich character narratives this week. Both Mikuni and Mashyu will be far more interesting to watch, judging from the new things we know about them, and we also learned about how Yoga fits into their respective pictures. It’s also a bit chilling when Yoga notices that the Shinjuku skyline is missing skyscrapers: when people lose their future in the district, more than people and power disappears. That just punctuated just how unnervingly, insidious and dangerous Midas can be. Rating: 4