Hinamatsuri – 03 – Shaken AND Stirred

This week three of Hinamatsuri’s young women learn the value, rewards, and pitfalls of hard work from three very different vantage points, starting with Anzu. Anzu is unable to return to her mystery home, so she is homeless. She resorts to petty theft in Utako’s shopping district, but the constant chasing is getting exhausting, and one never knows when she might accidentally cut loose with her powers.

The hobo that once gave up her location to Sabu takes Anzu under his wing and shows her how to make honest money to pay for food. It’s a lot of work for a pittance, and even when she and Yassan show up to the hobo camp with sake to share, the mostly old men there treat her like crap…until she sings them an old nostalgic song that brings many of them to tears.

Anzu is rewarded with a canned drink and membership into the tribe, with all the benefits that entails. But the next day it’s back to the drudgery of searching for stray coins and collecting cans, during which time she runs into Nitta. Seeing her situation and seeing through her half-hearted explanations, Nitta assumes the worst and attempts to solve it with money.

The same stubborn pride that keeps Anzu on the streets also makes her angry at the handout, and she throws the 40,000 yen back in his face. However, when she remembers the hobos talking about how steel and aluminum price drops will cut deeply into their haul, she swallows her pride, chases Nitta’s car down, and accepts his gift.

When she’s immediately surrounded by Usako and the other proprietors she stole from, she loses more than 39,000 of it as repayment, and returns to camp dejected and ashamed. But Yassan assures her it’s for the best: she’s no longer wanted for theft; she has a fresh start as a “homeless girl.” If she keeps working hard as she can (and accepts gifts like Nitta’s when they come), she’ll be able to survive, as they have. Without using her powers.

Next we move on to Mishima Hitomi, who already knows the value of hard work and has applied it to studying, resulting in her position as top student in class, a position she takes great pride in. However, after her impromptu go at bartending last week, Utako wants her to keep working there, and is willing to blackmail her with an incriminating photo to make it happen.

Hitomi counters with a recording of Utako blackmailing her, and Utako takes a different tack, suggesting they both delete their data on each other…but Utako had already downloaded the photo to her PC, so it’s Game, Set, and Match Utako: Hitomi starts working at her bar for 1,500 yen an hour. She is a hit, not because she’s a middle schooler, but because she’s just too damn good at mixing drinks.

Just as at school, she works hard, takes no shortcuts, and comes to take great pride in her good work at the bar. But her two world collide when her homeroom teacher comes into the bar with the vice principal (who is already drunk), trying to nab the position of head teacher.

The teacher is not drunk, and quickly recognizes Hitomi, but decides its in both their best interests to keep the secret to himself. But he still doesn’t let Hitomi off the hook: as something of a mixology aficionado, he challenges Hitomi to make him a Million Dollar, and then a Bartender, to test her shaking and stirring skills. Hitomi passes with flying colors, and he’s duly impressed in her skills, as Usako and the other patrons knew he would be.

While a misunderstanding and her own passivity got her into the job to start, and she was blackmailed into continuing it, her natural talent for the job keeps her coming back…and the mad stacks she’s depositing into the bank account her parents don’t know about don’t hurt one bit! Not only that you watch Hitomi work behind the bar, you can tell she’s in her happy place.

Anzu expanded her world by transitioning from theft to a modest but honest living, while Hitomi expanded hers by adding paid labor to a repertoire that had once been unpaid study, though that will pay off when she needs to get in a good high school and college. And because she’s making so much bank, she needn’t worry about burdening her folks with tuition.

That brings us to the young woman at the top of the social ladder, simply by having her egg land in a rich yakuza’s apartment and that yakuza having a heart of gold…in other words, privilege and luck. Though she may have helped Nitta out off-camera, since the first episode she hasn’t really worked. Having seen Anzu surviving on the streets, Nitta wonders out loud why Hina couldn’t try to do the same thing (is he half-joking? quarter-joking?)

Hina gets the message, and after a frightening dream in which she’s filthy and destitute on the street while Nitta walks past with a glamorous Anzu on his arm, Hina adopts a more genial and eager-to-please attitude that understandably throws him off. When he goes off to work late, she attempts to work hard so he won’t throw her out.

But unlike Anzu and Hitomi, Hina’s hard work ends up working against her goals, not towards them, while her attempt to expand her skills through various household chores ends in one huge mess after another. Her comedy of errors, while predictable, is nonetheless cleverly depicted. I especially liked her attempt to air out a blanket, only for it to fly away into the Tokyo cityscape like a  magic carpet.

Worse, when things get messy, Hina simply gives up and moves on to the next chore, and when she finds a bowl of ikura in the fridge marked “rewards for Hina” she unilaterally decides she’s worked hard enough to give herself the reward.

Fittingly, as Nitta tells his associates, it’s been so long since Hina has done anything to earn a reward, the ikura in the fridge has gone bad, something Hina’s stomach suddenly realizes while she has every dish in the house levitating and dripping soapy water all over the hardwood floors. The dishes shatter, she goes down, and Nitta, who was impressed by how nice she was being before he left, is poised for a rude surprise.

Basically, Hina could learn a lot from Anzu and Hitomi about the importance of being competent at the hard work you are attempting. She did it before with the forestry (and the raid of Nitta’s rivals); she can do it again. She just needs more practice! Ultimately, everyone, even Hina, wants to feel needed, and to strike a proper balance between taking and giving.

Advertisements

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 14 – An Unlikely Team-up Gets the Rebels on the Train

Erina has decided she’s going to do what she wants…which just so happens to be the right thing and benefits the Totsuki rebels AND means she’s bound to spend more time with Souma.

The structure of the advancement exams are laid out by Hisako and it feels more like a military campaign against Hokkaido, and for that, Polar Star needs a drill sargeant to train them up. Erina lands on a sexy teacher look instead, and nobody complains.

During the week in which Erina whips Polar Star into shape, Nikumi and the Aldini Bros. listen in, and Erina ends up pulling them into the Hokkaido seminar as well. They have nothing to lose; they’re rebels too.

On two separate occasions, Erina makes sure to remove her glasses before talking to Souma. She puts her faith in his ability to come up with a solution to whatever they throw at them, and later she tells him whatever she might have said in the past about wanting him to fail, she doesn’t feel that way anymore.

Naturally she frames it in terms of not wanting anyone to be expelled…but Souma is part of that “anyone”, and he appreciates it.

The class is bussed to the first of many examination venue (Totsuki’s resources really are formidable), and the rebels are all grouped together among the 5-person teams—all but Erina, who is intentionally placed in a group of faceless classmates who have abandoned their own cooking for Central’s orthodoxy. Azami can’t be losing his God Tongue, after all.

Not only are the rebels isolated, but the salmon they’re given is subpar. Fortunately, they’re given from roughly noon till sundown to come up with a dish, and the group, made up of Souma, Megumi, Alice, Ryo, and Yuuki, have more than enough skills and resourcefulness between them to come up with something. Erina allows a wry grin of understanding. She’s taught them all up, now it’s time to see if they can fly.

Her faith in them is matched only by her clear disgust for the other kids’ blindl following of the step-by-step instructions to creating Central mandated salmon dishes. Only the steps matter, and the only answer to “Why” is “because Azami wishes it.” That’s not cooking. That’s cynical mass production of one and only one way of cooking.

After facing off against Alice and Ryo in the past, it’s great to see them on the same side as Souma, working to their strengths with the precision and speed they’ve come to expect of one another. Of course, it’s not 100% smooth, as Alice constantly takes exception to Souma asserting himself as the leader…as well she should!

While they arrived in the kitchen with their salmon less than a half hour before time expires, it’s such a quality fish (brine-frozen at its peak of freshness), a half-hour is all they need to put their instructor on her back, leaving her no choice but to pass them.

I’m appreciative that at least at this first stage of the exams, despite all of the roadblocks Central puts in their way, when it comes time to judge their cooking the clearly-biased instructor cannot deny what her taste buds are telling her—that the rebels made the best dish in the room.

Indeed, Azami and Central are actually helping the rebels to become better chefs by piling so many challenges ahead of them. If they can overcome them and advance to the second year, it won’t just be a repudiation of Central orthodoxy, but a back-door defense of it as a tool with which to forge great chefs from the crucible of adversity.

With the first hurdle cleared, the rebels join the rest of the advancees aboard Totsuki’s grand luxury sleeper train, the Tsukikage, which brought back memories of Rail Wars! and explains the OP’s train imagery. While Hisako continues drilling some Polar Stars, others take the opportunity to avail themselves of the sumptuous train’s many features.

Erina, meanwhile, holes up in her personal compartment, but is visited many times by Fat Aldini, Ryouko, Megumi, and finally Souma. She doesn’t realize they’re coming to express their appreciation for all she’s done. Of course, she was never after gratitude, nor did she expect it; Erina is doing what she wants…and loving it.

Souma joins her just as the train leaves the forest, revealing a sky packed with twinkling stars that remind Souma of salmon roe, and he even gets her to drop her guard and laugh at him (rather than scoff or harrumph). Then Erina takes note in her head that Souma’s face, the mere mental image of which used to annoy her to no end, is something she’s come not to mind so much. Baaaaaaaaw. Erina’s the best.

Citrus – 02

While all of Yuzu’s thoughts are focused on what Mei’s kiss was all about, she falls into a fountain and takes Mei with her, and ends up in an even more inimate situation when they bathe together. Yuzu thinks about how Mei’s skin feels, Mei is pressing her against the wall, as if she could read Yuzu’s mind. However, it’s too much contact too quickly; Yuzu is again flustered by her little sister.

At school, Yuzu continues to make no effort to follow the dress code, and notices many of the girls are paired up, holding hands and flirting. Harumi says since most of them are already engaged, it’s more a matter of “being in heat” and fooling around while they still can; lust, not love. Their chat is interrupted when Harumi notices the chairman, Mei’s grandfather, is at the gates.

Yuzu brashly approaches him and calls him “gramps”, but he’s having none of it, turning to Mei and reaming her out for allowing “such a fool” to be near school grounds. Yuzu sticks up for her sister, but is banished from the grounds. Either Gramps didn’t get the memo about the marriage, or worse, he doesn’t care; doesn’t see Yuzu as real family.

While sneaking back in, Yuzu and Harumi spot Mei’s betrothed in the parking lot, and overhear him talking to his girlfriend about how he doesn’t really care about Mei, and will only string her along because her family is rich. It’s an awfully specific phone convo for a guy to have out in the open just when Yuzu happens to hear it, but it also shows what a jerk this guy is.

Yuzu tells Mei about her fiancee’s infidelity, but Mei, not surprisingly, already knows, and, well, she’s not fine with it, but she clearly seems resigned to proceeding regardless. She also dismisses Yuzu’s “big sister” status in this issue, since she’s never kissed anyone and thus can’t possibly understand. Yuzu only seems to make things worse the next day when she hijacks a school assembly to tell everyone how she saw the teacher forcing himself on Mei.

That little stunt leads to the chairman sending men to pick Mei up from Yuzu and her Mom’s and having her live with him from now on; Yuzu’s mom says Mei didn’t resist. When Yuzu confronts Mei, Mei pretends nothing is amiss. When Yuzu presses, Mei tells her she’s been ordered to stay away, and that’s how it is.

Yuzu doesn’t stay away. She can’t sleep in the empty room without Mei, knowing there’s clearly something bothering her (what with the crying in her sleep) and she can’t stand feeling partially responsible for her mom’s pain. So she goes to Mei’s grandfather’s mansion and confronts her again, bringing up the pained looks and cries for her father in her sleep.

Mei gets violent, tossing Yuzu on the bed and tearing her blouse. As tears fall from Mei’s eyes to Yuzu’s face, Yuzu gets up and takes hold of Mei, saying “I’m with you now!”, which seems to have an effect. Alas, their grandfather enters the room and expels Yuzu right then and there.

While shopping with Harumi (who is in Full Glamorous Gal Mode outside of school), a very forlorn Yuzu finally tells her friend about her and Mei being related and her expulsion (though doesn’t mention how Mei has kissed her and pushed her into walls and onto beds).

Harumi tells her that despite Mei’s demeanor Yuzu’s feelings on wanting to protect her are probably getting through to her, but that gets Yuzu thinking about what her feelings for Mei truly are, and whether they’re love, something she’s never experienced before. It certainly seems that way.

Citrus – 01 (First Impressions)

The flashy, glamorous Aihara Yuzu tries to make it clear to the outside world that she’s a gal who gets around, but has never actually been in love or even kissed anyone.

This is hardly a new story, but what makes things a little more interesting is that when she transfers to a new, all-girls school where she sticks out like a sore thumb, the hard-nosed student council president Aihara Mei turns out to be her new, slightly younger stepsister.

The knowledge that Mei is betrothed to an “elite teacher” is seemingly confirmed when Yuzu accidentally catches Mei and the teacher making out in a secluded spot; Yuzu is so flustered she flees in a not-so-inconspicuous manner.

In any case, her insistence on dolling herself up and flaunting the school dress code in every way possible brand her as a delinquent in the eyes of the mostly drab, sheltered student body (one exception being Taniguchi Harumi, a “gal in disguise”).

While Yuzu may talk the talk, Mei seems to walk the walk, and Mei essentially sends Yuzu’s perfect maze of deception crashing down around her when Yuzu tries to force Mei into talking to her by bringing up her sucking face with the hot teacher.

Mei reacts by pinning Yuzu down and giving her a long, deep kiss with tongue before leaving the room, telling her “that’s what a kiss is like.” Yuzu’s first kiss is thus not only with a girl, but with someone she just learned is her “little” sister…and someone she butted heads with the moment they met.

Mei has also demonstrated beyond doubt that while Yuzu possesses all the outward trappings of boy-crazy gal, like Jon Snow, she really knows nothing, while Mei has actually experienced a measure of love and desire.

Decent yuri anime are few and far between, but this one at least shows glimmers of promise with its full-length episode format, attractive visuals, and a complex (if somewhat contrived) scenario that should be fraught with similarly complicated emotions on the part of both leads as their relationship evolves beyond the sizing-up stage.

Itsudatte Bokura no Koi wa 10 cm Datta. – 06 (Fin)

After much cathartic yelling and crying last week, it’s all gravy as Miou, Haruki, and their friends graduate from high school on a positive, if bittersweet, note.

Miou and Haruki get the time they need alone together and write all their dreams on the chalkboard, emulating the promo art with one important difference: a tiny “I love you” Miou rights just out of Haruki’s sight.

The two also avoid closing that 10cm gap they’ve always had, knowing that if they did, they’d likely never let go. That is, they’d never give each other the time and space to realize their individual dreams. A very mature move by both, and one that pays dividends later on.

Much, much, much later on, as in SEVEN GODDAMN YEARS LATER. Sheesh, what is it with these Fall romances and their huge time jumps? And here I thought Just Because!’s month was a long time!

At any rate, Miou is a mostly content art teacher at her old school, Yuu proposes to Natsuki in one the most adorable scenes of the episode, and even Souta and Akari remain a strong item. Miou’s friends worry about Miou, but Miou said she’d wait for Haruki, and wait she does.

Fortunately, all her waiting doesn’t come to naught, as the moment Haruki wins a rookie director’s award in L.A., he’s on the first plane back to Japan to tell Miou first (though Miou already finds out through Natsuki).

Despite the well-known amount of, er, temptation in the Hollywood scene, Haruki kept his head down the whole time, and was there to work and realize one of his dreams. And he missed Miou as much as she missed him.

At the top of the steps where they always sat 10cm apart as kids, they confess their love as grownups, and finally, mercifully, close that infernal gap with a hand-hold and a smooch. Medetashi medetashi!

And that’s a wrap for Fall 2017! I should hope so; it’s literally Winter now, and frikkin’ freezing to boot. Thanks for reading! We’ll be back in action soon checking out the new shows Winter 2018 has to offer.

Houseki no Kuni – 11

One of the many enduring charms of HnK is how every character’s traits are derived from their namesake gem in creative ways. Take Alexandrite, AKA Alex, AKA Lexi. The two nicknames are apropos, as Alex/Lexi has a split personality; extremely timid when green-haired; but going berserk when looking upon a Lunarian.

Real-life alexandrite changes color depending on the light; green in daylight, red in artificial light. While moonlight is reflected sunlight, there’s no doubt that the moon’s reflection adds another dimension to it; if we consider the Lunarian to represent moonlight as opposed to daylight, Alex/Lexi’s color change (and personality change to boot) makes sense.

Lexi proves handy with a sword, but only manages what Dia and Bort managed: to cleave the Lunarian into smaller and smaller clones of itself, albeit less and less threatening ones, kind of like a Matryoshka doll with its nested duplicates of reducing scale.

Before long the hulking beast is reduced to dozens of fluffy half-sheep, half-puppies, but when the gems round them all up, they merge back into that single hulking beast. Phos is ready to lure it away with another new alloy membrane trick: making an all-alloy decoy of a gem.

Phos’ vigilance proves unnecessary once Master Kongou appears. Despite its size the Lunarian is as docile as its one hundred-plus mini-clones; and even does a series of tricks at Kongou’s command. Phos finds it odd that Kongou calls the beast “Shiro” and acts very familiar towards it. It leads Phos to suspect there may be some kind of connection between the master and the enemy that he hasn’t revealed.

Phos goes out to ponder this and comes afoul of Cinnabar once more. Cinnabar bears two “gifts”: Bort’s loafers, and the last piece of the fluffy Lunarian. Cinna also has news for Phos: most of the Gems already knew about Kongou in relation to the Lunarians, but as he seems so committed to their care and safety, they’ve decided to trust him. Cinna is on the fence, and actually seems to take interest in what Pho plans to do…only to turn around before Phos can answer.

Phos has a little alloy malfunction while calculating the amount of courage needed to confront the master…but Phos wants to know the truth. When Phos returns to HQ, Kongou is asleep beside the beast (with many gems curled up asleep in its fluffy tail).

Before Phos can open her mouth, she has a vision of Antarc, who shushes Phos. The last “puppy” merges with the larger beast, which disperses in a cloud of light, having become whole and, in Kongou’s words, “found peace.”

After that, Phos gives her report on her partnering with Bort, stating that all Gems should have the opportunity to work with Bort. Phos, however, wishes to pursue another matter on their own: regarding Lunarians. Believing the only way to get answers is to ask them directly, Phos stands on guard awaiting their return.

From there, the episode shifts to something completely different, hastily introducing the new character of Padparadscha, an incomplete gem Rutile has been painstakingly reconstructing in the lab. While the prospects for this character are intriguing, especially when they open their eyes to end the episode, it feels like another episode altogether.

The awkward, arbitrary nature of the transition was almost enough for me to bump this down to a 7. However, this episode managed to earn my recommendation anyway, thanks to the interesting development of the “Shiro” incident, both with its ingrained comedy and its role in giving Phos a new goal to pursue.

Houseki no Kuni – 10

Old Phos used to cause trouble and get in the way. New Phos holds court—with Alex (AKA Lexi) over detailed descriptions of Lunarians; agreeing to take on Jade’s patrols while Kongou sleeps; and even with Bort, who wants to team up with Phos.

But always not far from Phos’ thoughts is the ghost of Antarc. While Phos might initially hesitate over teaming up with Bort (a little of the Old “what a pain” Phos seeping out), it’s a step Phos has to take in order to get stronger and learn more about how to fight properly.

Phos’ only concern is how Diamond will feel; Bort is basically dumping Dia sight unseen; Dia hears it from Phos first. But Phos has Dia’s blessing; after all, it was Dia who told Pho she needed to change back when Dia was Phos’ only advocate.

That being said, Dia still seems awfully dejected, quietly picking flowers for a lonely-looking bouquet as Bort departs with Phos. Unfortunately for the pair, their first mission as partners is not an easy one, as an entirely new and powerful Lunarian emerges from a “double sunspot.”

Bort plays right into the Lunarian’s trap. Bort’s first strike only multiplies the apertures, through which more than four limbs emerge and grab Bort. Phos delivers a gold-plated assist, but the fuzzy white many-armed beast isn’t going to go down easily.

As “recklessness is for the inept”, Bort grabs Phos and falls back to HQ, then tosses Phos at the bell to strike it six times (an order for all other Gems to hold position). Bort’s plan involves luring the Lunarian to Kongou, who will hopefully awaken in time to destroy it.

But the Lunarian doesn’t follow Bort and Phos…it goes its own way, which turns out to be where Diamond is sulking. From here until the time Dia takes the upper hand, the episode takes on the flavor of a creepy horror movie where the protagonist must quietly hide from the monster hunting them.

Dia watching the flower vase jostle from the monster’s booming steps is a neat Jurassic Park reference, and some niftily subtle animation to boot (the way Dia gently arranged the flowers earlier was also an elegant moment).

Diamond eventually gets sick of hiding and decides to do what Bort always yells at Dia for: get reckless. This is Dia in full-on Badass Mode, without a care for how much bigger or stronger their opponent is.

Dia’s first strikes don’t do much (even a diamond limb-as-a-weapon doesn’t make a major mark), but Dia only needs one leg to rush the Lunarian, dodge its swipes, and deliver a killing blow before collapsing into a half-shattered pile—just as Bort is watching from outside the window.

But even that isn’t the end of things, as Dia’s strike only managed to cut the one big enemy into two smaller ones. With Dia out of commission, it falls to Bort to face the pair, which Bort does without fear, as usual.

But as tough as Bort is (tougher than nails, literally), I’d feel a lot better if Phos, other Gems, and hell, why not, Master Kongou arrived in time to assist Bort. I tell you, these Lunarians get nastier and more devious with each passing week.

RokuAka – 12 (Fin)

Rock Bottom: Leos threatens a frightened Sistine into submission; if it means protecting Rumia, she’ll marry him; sure, whatever. Rumia visits the absent Glenn, who say’s he’s got this. But then the day of Sistine’s sham wedding arrives, with no Glenn in sight. Sisti is resplendent in her nuptial white, but her face is a mask. Rumia and Re=L aren’t fooled; Leos is a Bad Man. But where the heck is their hero?

Ah, there he is. Just when Leos is about to plant a kiss on Sistine’s lips to seal the deal, he bursts in to object to and cancel the wedding. Sistine, who had worked so hard to steel herself, and isn’t convinced Rumia will be safe if she doesn’t do as Leos says, is initially upset about being saved.

But Glenn insists he’s got this. When hordes of Angel Dust addict puppets appear, things start to feel a lot like the battle he fought years ago; the one in which Sara died. Meanwhile, Sisti gets a front-row seat to some bloody, intense professional mage shit…and she’s not steeled for that.

When Leos turns out not to be Leos, but a former fellow Mage Corpse Executioner, Jatice Lowfan (dumb name), who tells them the real Leos died horribly, Glenn again orders Sistine to get the hell out of here; she doesn’t belong in this world.

She obeys, but after slipping in her long, bloodsoaked gown, she remembers how much she cares for Glenn and isn’t willing to let him kill himself in some random fight for which he already carries emotional baggage.

She tears away excess fabric so she can run and saves Glenn from a critical hit in the nick of time. She knows she doesn’t belong in this world…but neither does he. She’s taking him back where they both belong.

Glenn and Sisti form a two-man cell and proceed to hand Jatice his ass-tice, even ruining his lovely summoned esper, Justia. Jatice straight up wasn’t expecting Sistine to join the battle; not when he was sure he’d sufficiently messed up in the head with the Leos wedding ordeal.

So yeah, it’s another villain who simply underestimates the power of Sisti, Glenn, or the combination of the two. He admits defeat this time and strolls off…but of course, This Isn’t Over…Jatice is after the titular Akashic Records that allow their owner to essentially rule the world, and he thinks he has to get rid of Glenn with his own hands to do so.

As bad guys go, Jatice is pretty lame; as his his name. But the threat he poses will surely drive a chunk of a second season, if RokuAka ever gets one (I’ve heard no plans). Nevertheless, the re-reconciliation between Sisti and Glenn, and in particularly Sisti overcoming her fear, saving Glenn rather than vice versa, and fighting by his side made for a satisfying tentative conclusion.

RokuAka was far from perfect, but it featured a great core of highly likable, rootable characters which kept things entertaining and made it easier to overlook the fact the show’s not that great-looking. Not only that, but starting with its first episode, it’s always had a great way with its audience, balancing comedy, drama, and outright peril with wry aplomb. If a Season 2 ever surfaces, sign me up.

RokuAka – 11

Glenn and Leos’ duel for Sistine’s hand in marriage (ostensibly) is realized as a battle between the two teachers’ classes. Class 4 is far stronger than Class 2 and Leos is way more bookish than Glenn, so everyone assumes it will be a cakewalk, but Leos does whatever it takes to win, employing tactics deemed shameful by the elites of the academy.

Frankly, it’s all a big snoozer for me. I don’t mind hearing about magical tactics in theory, but in practice it leaves much to be desired. There’s way too much pace-killing, shounen-style explanation of what’s happening for my taste, and the mechanics of the fighting itself are clunky and kinda all over the place.

Fortunately, the battle isn’t the entire episode. It ends in a draw, which I should have expected. Leos, embarrassed by the performance of his class, isn’t satisfied, and throws another glove at Glenn. Sistine tries to cut in and put a stop to the pissing match, but is ignored, as Glenn goes off about wanting to marry into money.

It’s a bit too much for someone who doesn’t know he’s only joking—who Sistine unfortunately happens to be—and Glenn receives a slap and “I hate you” from her for his conduct.

But we know there’s a very good reason Glenn is going so far; and Rumia (who also knows) urges Sisti to find out what that is from Glenn himself, noting to herself she must talk with him too about the “weird aura” surrounding Leos.

While reflecting on the roof, Glenn is met by Sistine, and she gets the answers she seeks in the form of an abridged tale of Glenn and Sara, the girl he “let die” while on duty in the Imperial Mages.

Sisti doesn’t think Glenn’s been particularly mature in letting his emotions drive him, but she also admits she’s touched by his desire to preserve her dream. She also has no idea just how thoroughly and ruthlessly Leos intends to crush that dream once she’s agreed to marry him.

As in serious battles against pros in the past, Sistine Fibel is utterly unprepared, physically and mentally, for the shitshow she’s found herself in. This isn’t merely a pissing contest between two guys who are into her. It’s a battle between someone with her interests at heart and someone who essentially wants to enslave her, body and soul.

She learns Leos’ true colors when he joins her and Glenn on the roof, gets Glenn upset by bringing up the bloody details of his past, and then overpowers him with an ability that bypasses “The Fool’s World”, which is literally Glenn’s trump card. At this point, Leos is beyond any kind of airs, promising Sistine both she and her friends will suffer if she doesn’t marry and submit to him.

The next morning, Glenn doesn’t show up for the duel, and a narrating Sistine laments that Glenn never returned to the academy. That either means Glenn has returned to his life of post-tragedy seclusion and deprivation, in which case he’ll need a serious talk from someone to get back into the game and rescue Sisti, or he’s gone off to plan a defense against Leos so he can properly rescue Sisti. We’ll see which Glenn shows up next week—if he shows up at all.

RokuAka – 10

After a super-clunky third mini-arc finale, RokuAka rebounds with a strong opening for the fourth, albeit one somewhat hampered by a very obvious Wolf-in-Self-described-Fiancee’s-Clothing.

We start with a little housekeeping: Re=L enjoys a nice warm conciliatory dinner at Sistine and Rumia’s folks’; Celica travels to the depths of the library to peruse a map of what looks like Melgalius’s Sky Castle (hey, they didn’t forget about that!).

In that same library, Glenn thanks Sistine for saving him with Reviver, making her remember her mouth-to-mouth, which causes her to turn red as a hot poker.

All of this is preamble to the main event: the arrival of handsome young elite professor, Leos Kleitos, sent to fill in for a Alzano professor on leave. Leos also introduces himself as Sistine’s fiancee, going off of what Sisti believed to be just joking around when they were both kids—but Leos takes their childish promise seriously, and will harbor no dissent.

If Glenn is jealous, he copes by expressing shock that such a fine upstanding man such as Leo could possibly fall for such an “impertinent white cat”—a case of the pot calling the kettle black if I ever heard one. He sits in on Leo’s lecture, which is impeccable in its goal of clearly, succinctly teaching students how to become as powerful as possible as fast as possible.

But that’s just it: Leo is teaching students, not necessarily recruits for the magical branch of the military. He’s teaching them how to use these powers, but leaving out how not to let them use them, something that fits more with Glenn’s philosophy. The contrast isn’t lost on Rumia, who almost seems to read Glenn’s mind about his disapproval of Leos’ approach.

Leos also finds in his private chat with Sistine that not only is she not someone who’s simply been standing around waiting for him to come and sweep her off her feet; she’s one of those students not necessarily interested in becoming a solider. Indeed, she’s still very much committed to keeping her promise to her gramps and exploring the Sky Castle.

Apparently oblivious to the irony of someone who puts so much weight in what Sistine said as a young girl about marrying him one day, Leos dismisses her dreams of pursuing magical archaeology as worthless in no uncertain terms. And this is where Leo’s calm facade shatters: to him Sisti is someone who should fawn before him, accept his offer of marriage without hesitation, and let him hone her into a powerful military weapon.

Glenn, eavesdropping not on his own but at Rumia’s behest, can only take so much of Leo’s verbal abuse before he leaps from the bushes. Leo tells him to mind his own business, but it’s Sisti who says it is his business, for she and Glenn are “lovers who have sworn our future to each other!” The announcement comes as a bit of a surprise to Glenn (and everyone) but it’s really a long time coming.

Sisti has feelings for Glenn, and has deemed he’s worthy of them. And Glenn is quick to swoop in and accept the mantle of lovers, perhaps going a bit far with details, but all in the noble service of irritating Leo. By the end of the confrontation, Glenn has challenged Leo to a duel.

And just as he lobbed barbs at Sisti when he saw that Leo wanted her, Glenn looks forward to one day marrying Sisti, which means marrying into money, which means not having to leave the house or work. It’s a veneer of the old bastard, but I’m not buying it anymore, and I’m not really meant to. It’s just how he confronts the world.

Albert can see through him too, but for a reason that only the OP had spent much time hinting at: Sistine reminds Glenn of his and Albert’s old comrade, Sara Silvers. We don’t get a clear look at Sara’s face, but we do see the similar hair and the fact Glenn calls her “White Dog” and blushes in her presence.

It’s clear Glenn had feelings for Sara, but she was apparently killed in action while they were on a mission to eliminate a drug called “Angel’s Dust”, which Al has on authority is somehow back and in the city. Angel’s Dust can apparently turn people into “ruined husks for others to control”, which sounds right up the RDW’s alley…along with Leo, for that matter.

But it’s also made clear that Leo was also putting on an act at the academy, and that it was his job to get Glenn to challenge him to a duel. He succeeded, and his shadowy contact—who I’m going to go out on a limb and guess is related to Glenn by the look of him—is happy about that…which can’t be good.

But more on that next week. Till then, we’ve learned the depth of affection Sistine has come to feel for Glenn after all their harrowing adventures, and that won’t change just because a prettier face from her past shows up. Also, maybe Rumia doesn’t get kidnapped this time, yeah?!

RokuAka – 09

There’s no lengthy ER-style scene in which Albert and Sistine work to save Glenn’s life – their spell is already complete, Glenn wakes up, and Sisti is the one asleep from using so much mana. Albert is simply waiting to get going, and makes it clear to Glenn that rescuing Rumia is the priority. If Re=L gets in the way, Al won’t hesitate to eliminate her.

By the time Sisti awakens, Glenn and Albert are long gone, but she resists the urge to go running after them, and instead chooses to put her faith in their ability to bring Rumia back save. Even when some classmates want to do something, Sisti insists on sitting tight. Talented though they may be these are all young, totally inexperienced students who are unprepared for the kind of combat we’ll see Glenn and Albert face. They’ll only get in the way.

That being said, Glenn and Albert carve through the gauntlet of chimeras Director Berks, Eleanor Chalet, and Re=L’s bro have ready for them awfully easily, to the point where it starts to get a bit boring and perfunctory. As for Berks himself transforming, it feels like exactly what it is: an excuse to make Glenn rescue Rumia—and flip Re=L back to their side—all by his lonesome.

Eleanor isn’t even concerned with fighting a battle here: she gets what she needs (data on the Revive Life ritual) and skedaddles long before Glenn arrives to confront Re=L and her bro. Glenn manages to prove to Re=L through a combination of yelling and telekinetic pistol-whipping that the man standing there isn’t really her brother, because her brother’s dead.

Actually, Re=L died too—or rather the girl Re=L was modeled after. That girl, Ilushia, was disposed of along with her real brother Sion once her “replacement” was created. And when Fake Bro can’t rely on her anymore here in the present (because she still has emotions), he whips out a trio of emotionless, “perfect” Re=L clones (in skimpy S&M outfits, natch).

Far from “perfect”, are just as easy to defeat as the chimeras. They’re in the picture for so little time I’m not sure why they existed at all; it’s as if Glenn and Re=L simply blew on them and they fell over.

I’m glad Re=L’s backstory (and name) are explained, and I’m satisfied her sudden betrayal last week was due to her inherent programming, but this episode still couldn’t match the third and sixth episodes in terms of being satisfying conclusions. The bad guys were too dumb and pushover-y (or in Eleanor’s case, disinterested), and everything was rushed and wrapped up too neatly.

Not to mention, I think I’ve had my fill of Rumia-napping stories. Can we take the fight to Divine Wisdom, already…or as she demands in the preview, more Celica Time?

RokuAka – 08

When the students finally get to the White Alchemy Research Lab, the resulting tour is somewhat interminable and clunky, full of characters explaining things (or interrupting others to explain things), then discuss how dangerous it is to resurrect the dead before saying such practices would never be carried out nowadays.

It all feels like foreshadowing for what Eleanor and the RDW have up their sleeves for their next attempt to nab Rumia. And with her supposed bodyguard Re=L in an extended snit borne from her jealousy over her and Sistine’s closeness to Glenn, Rumia is particularly vulnerable, especially when Glenn goes off to find Re=L, who stormed off in a huff.

The boring lab tour nonetheless succeeded in placing me in a false sense of security, just as RokuAka’s first episode so ably did, sacrificing a consistently dark tone, but resulting in a satisfying emotional roller-coaster as shit hits the fan.

Just as Re=L is approached on the beach by her apparent brother (who I immediately assumed was RDW), Eleanor faces off with Albert, Rumia’s actual bodyguard, albeit a long-distance one. It’s time and distance that screw him over, as the increasingly unhinged Eleanor is merely creating a diversion; keeping Al away from where he should be.

Glenn leaves Sistine and Rumia alone to go look for Re=L, obviously lulled into a false sense of security. He clearly isn’t aware of how easily Re=L can be turned to the dark side by her “brother”, who uses some kind of eye-contact hypnosis/brainwashing to turn her against Glenn, running him through with her massive sword.

Another who is caught completely off guard by what the RDW has in store for them is Sistine, who cheerfully gathers food for Glenn and Re=L’s return, certain Sensei will come back and everything will be fine…until she hears glass breaking, enters the room, and finds Re=L standing over a severely wounded Rumia with blood everywhere.

As we know, Sistine is not a professional soldier or warrior. She can be a badass, as we saw at the competition, but she’s still a kid, and this week we get another realistic reaction to the horrible fucked-up shit she has to deal with: When Re=L (who is a pro) basically dares her to use offensive magic, poor Sisti, scared shitless and worried about hitting Rumia, freezes, and Re=L escapes with her captive.

When Albert comes in with the half-dead Glenn, and Sisti sees how bad his wound is, she goes into a fit of despair…also quite appropriate for an ordinary, well-adjusted young civilian. Fujita Akane has done great work with the voice of Sistine all Spring. Of course, Sisti isn’t a complete wuss either, nor is she immune to the proverbial glass of cold water, which Albert provides by starting to leave if she doesn’t buck up and help him save Glenn. While he prepares the reviving magic, Sisti must administer CPR.

It’s the old ABC method (rather than the present, AHA-prescribed CAB method), which means locking lips with Glenn. But the show doesn’t treat it as a romantic moment or a joke, but as a life-and-death necessity, which I appreciated. Where RokuAka does joke around is after the credits roll, with another pleasant palate-cleansing preview, which is the proper time to do so.

The Garden of Words (Film Review)

Tokyo is one of the largest, busiest, most lively cities in the world, but there’s an oasis of tranquility right near its heart, and I’m not talking about the mostly off-limits Imperial Palace Grounds. I speak of Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, once a private estate in the Edo period, and also the primary setting of Shinkai Makoto’s 2013 film The Garden of Words.

I’ll admit my review comes very late—so late, in fact, in the time between the release of the film and the day I’m writing a review of it, its co-lead Akizuki Takao would be 19 (not 15), making a potential romantic relationship with Yukino Yukari, who would be 31 (not 27) more socially acceptable. But here it is!

Akizuki loves rainy mornings. He loves them so much, he’ll skip school to visit Shinjuku Gyoen and enjoy it. One day, while preparing to sit at a sheltered bench overlooking the gardens, he encounters Yukino: a beautiful, mysterious woman in work clothes drinking beer and eating chocolate alone.

While 15, Akizuki is wiser and more mature than his years. He finds high school a major drag, and mostly stresses about a practical way to support himself doing what he loves: designing and making shoes. But when he visits the park and shares the bench with Yukino, he feels like he’s in a more mature environment, where he can sketch shoes or just shoot the breeze with her.

Their encounters also become important to Yukino, who we learn is preparing to quit her job, and is clearly in the park to escape said job and the stress/pain it causes, which was apparently bad enough that she lost her sense of taste for a time, only being able to enjoy beer and chocolate.

Not only is the hard-working Akizuki a shoemaker-in-the-making, he’s also a part-timer at a restaurant and cooks a lot at home, making him a better cook than Yukino. Thanks to the meals he shares, Yukino starts to enjoy eating again.

Wanting to help him with a woman’s shoe design, Yukino removes her shoe and lets Akizuki hold and measure her bare foot, in an intimate, even sensual scene that also happens to be practical.

That intimacy is heightened by the made-for-a-couple sheltered-bench and the gorgeous environs. But while she’ll give him her foot, Yukino never talks about herself, her life, or her struggles, no matter how much Akizuki talks about his.

Unfortunately Akizuki has to find that out when he spots Yukino, or rather Yukino-sensei, at his school—she’s a teacher there. He had no idea of that, or that she’d been taking days off because the boyfriend of a student fell for her which led to unsavory rumors about her being promiscuous and verbal and emotional abuse from her upperclassmen students.

Yukino is pained to hear all this treatment, and that she’s quitting because of it, but likely also hurt that Yukino never told him anything, or that she could even possibly have known he was a student at the school but kept him in the dark.

Whatever the case, he decides the injustice done to Yukino should have a response from someone who has come to care about her, so he confronts the upperclassmen, starts a fight, and loses. After school, they meet at the gardens, but he doesn’t tell her he fought to protect her honor.

After giving her the correct answer to her tanka poem from their first encounter, Akizuki and Yukino find themselves caught in a torrential downpour, and even when they get back under cover, they’re both soaked.

They apparently take it as a good omen, and go to Yukino’s apartment, where they change into dry clothes, and while he’s waiting for his uniform to dry, Akizuki makes Yukino a delicious meal, both noting they’re having some of the happiest moments of their lives, right there and then.

Like the sunlight, it doesn’t last, and as the sky darkens with more rainclouds, a sudden confession of love from Akizuki is countered by Yukino correcting him: “Yukino-sensei”. Akizuki hears her loud and clear: he’s a kid; she’s not, and that’s the end of it. So he changes into his still-wet clothes and storms off, just as the storm outside picks up.

Yukino doesn’t want to leave things there, so after stewing, suddenly alone in her apartment, with even Akizuki’s coffee still steaming, she does the romantic movie thing where one comes to their senses, rushes out of the house, and chases after the one they love.

When she finds him paused on a balcony, he takes back his confession and starts spewing vitriol about her intentions, but later in the rant it becomes more about why she couldn’t simply tell him, a stupid little kid, to piss off and stop bothering her. Why she never said anything to him while sharing that bench.

Yukino’s response, also classic romantic movie, is to run into his arms and sob just as the sun peeks back out from between the clouds, finally telling him why she went to that bench again and again, and how being with him helped her “learn how to walk on her own” again; how he essentially saved her.

Yukino still moves out of that apartment, back to her hometown, where she’s still a teacher. But she later writes to Akizuki, and as he reads the letter in the park where they met and spent so much time and where they taught each other how to walk, he seriously considers going to her hometown someday to see her.

The Garden of Words is gorgeous, as is expected of a Shinkai film, with its near-photorealistic exteriors, lived-in interiors, and fantastic lighting and details all around. At just 46 minutes, it runs brisk but never feels rushed, but rather feels just as long as it should be.

It also felt like a particularly intimate/personal film, though not for the reason you’d expect: I once sat at the exact same bench in Shinjuku Gyoen they sat at, unhurriedly sketching the gardens and writing about my day (though as you can see, the real one has an ashtray.) If you’re ever there I highly recommend it, just as I recommend this lush and moving little film.