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.

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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.

RokuAka – 07

Remaining true to its pattern halfway in, RokuAka takes a step back from last week’s plot-and-action-packed drama and keeps things nice and breezy, starting with some tight shots and dialogue between Sisti and Glenn that’s open-to-lewd-interpretation, until it’s revealed they’re merely doing hand-to-hand combat training.

Sisti is a little impatient about it, but when Glenn tells her if she wants to truly protect her sister with magic, she’ll need to master some non-magical fundamentals, she’s on board. It’s good to still see the friendship of these two continuing to grow.

What would have been a return to routine at the academy is suddenly broken by the arrival of a “transfer student”, Re=L, whose transfer had been thoroughly telegraphed by the OP and ED. As befits her tendency to rush at everything head-on, even a greeting, Re=L comes at Glenn with her giant sword, confident he’ll block it.

She’s ostensibly here to protect Rumia, but she claims she’d rather protect Glenn, which I actually prefer to her being an early-Rumia-rehash, i.e. having a low opinion of him to start. These two go way back, after all.

Re=L comes on a bit strong with her eccentricities and lack of social skills. The class and Sisti in particular are a bit dubious of whether this is all okay. Re=L eventually settles in nicely, thanks in large part to the always kind and friendly Rumia, who it should be noted is always ready to die, hence her fearlessness in being in such close proximity to the blue-haired newbie!

Glenn, relieved Re=L is starting to fit in, hopes she’ll make more progress on a class field trip to a tropical island, where he eggs on the guys in the class to take stock of their uniquely fortunate situation, seeing as how tropical island = beach = girls in swimsuits. Meanwhile the girls on more than one occasion marvel at the idiocy of the boys.

After some beach leisure and sports, the next stage involves the lads devising a very nerdy plan to infiltrate the girls’ rooms (in order to make “lasting memories”), a plan stymied by Glenn. I was worried for a second he would join them, which would have definitely added more than a few Bastard Points to his record.

He learns from Albert-in-disguise that she’s just a decoy, and Albert’s warning about her being “dangerous” weighing on his mind. But while resting alone on the beach under a gorgeous starry sky, Glenn spots Sisti, Rumia and Re=L running into the ocean to affirm their friendship and splash around. Also surprisingly, Glenn’s not a lewd bastard about this either, but is simply glad Re=L continues to seem okay…

…Only Re=L is not okay. She puts on a good show, but something’s been weighing on her all the time since she transferred: Why Glenn left the Imperial Court Mages; why she left her. When she says Glenn is “her everything” and lives “only for Glenn”, Glenn may think she’s just messing around, but her confrontation with him later in the night makes it clear she’s not.

Re=L thinks she’s gotten a raw deal here, in losing Glenn and then having Sisti and Rumia swoop in and steal him from her. This may not be 100% fair to Glenn, who has in a way “given himself” to all of his students, not just Sisti and Rumia. But I also feel he owes Re=L an explanation for suddenly abandoning her, even though he probably didn’t think it meant as much to her as it clearly did.

With Eleanor Chalet planning something devious, this is not the time for anyone on Glenn’s side to be in emotional turmoil; especially with his talk about the “dark side” of military magic one can be swayed by if not used correctly or in the right state of mind.

Kuzu no Honkai – 12 (Fin)

Last week I joked that I’d be fine with whatever transpired in the Kuzu no Honkai finale…as long as it didn’t feature a school festival. Alas, that’s what we get, and for the most part, it felt like marking time; padding for some closing remarks by Hanabi.

There’s also a time jump from the November festival to March, only for the episode to go back to the festival, which feels fairly weird and not altogether necessary. The jump occurs after Hanabi does some milling around as a stagehand, then ends up encountering Mugi in a supply closet.

What’s going to happen there? Well, I was reasonably sure it wasn’t going to turn into anything steamy, but the jump to March, when Hanabi’s class is now preparing a celebration ceremony for Kanai and Akane’s impending wedding. While being hit on by another guy, Hanabi is “saved” by Ecchan, now sporting shorter hair.

The shorn locks are a not-so-subtle symbol for her having shorn the part of herself that couldn’t live without Hanabi in her bed, and Hanabi is relieved to have Ecchan talking to her again. Ecchan is also correct that Hanabi still wants space and isn’t altogether uncomfortable being alone…though Akane’s olive branch of a rose from her bouquet is an encouragement to, at some point, go looking for her next love.

As we rewind to the festival, we learn that that doesn’t mean a romantic reunion with Mugi. Hanabi goes over a number of reasons why she wouldn’t mind continuing to be with him, but ultimately, she’s a lot happier simply talking with the guy; not having to continue to define their relationship with physical contact. They’re “using their words,” and it feels good to do so.

“Real Love” is what both are after, which is why they decide say goodbye to each other (though whether they remain platonic friends, we don’t know.) After all, they both know what it feels like to be in love, and while they could one day find themselves more deeply in love with each other, neither want to be “saved” in that way, at least not yet.

They don’t want to give up on the possibility that some day, someone will cross their path and they’ll know it’s true love. They decide to live that way, even knowing they could get hurt even worse next time, or may never find that love. They are finally assigning value to themselves; they no see themselves as ‘scum’, or ‘the worst’. They both lost their first loves, but they’re young, and life goes on.

Kuzu no Honkai – 11

While on a train to a weekend hot springs getaway with Kanai (two adults! How often does that happen in anime?) Akane falls asleep (she later blames being with the younger Mugi last night). She dreams she’s in a gallery of all the men she’s had, and all the lines she supposedly crossed, while either not realizing it…or not caring.

The distinction is moot; what matters is the reason: she’s never felt truly connected with anyone. In the dream, Kanai asks her why she “keeps doing this” if, as she herself said, she’s not “suited for it.”

Like last week, there’s only one brief scene involving Hanabi, and it’s one in a situation we’ve barely seen her in: hanging out with high school peers she hasn’t laid with. They view her and Mugi as some kind of ideal couple, and we the audience, like Hanabi, can only roll our eyes and say If they only knew.

When Hanabi tells them how she thinks it’s best if she and Mugi don’t see each other, they call her “such a grownup”, and considering everything she’s been through in such a short time, and the satisfying end result of Kanai’s rejection and Mugi’s, er, “moving on,” I tend to agree.

Even the contrast between the girls’ food orders and her plain ol’ coffee seem to help her exude a wisdom beyond her years. She’s been through some stuff; they haven’t. If they actually have, this show didn’t have time to show it.

Last week Akane didn’t like her dynamic with Kanai, in which she he was occupying far too much of her thoughts for her comfort. Trying to move on by telling all, if anything only intensified Kanai’s feelings for her. She’s in a nonchalant “okay let’s see where this goes” mode when they start off on the hot springs trip, but by the end, she starts to notice her heart beating.

No one has been able to throw Akane off like Kanai throws her off here. He tells her he’s fine with her messing around because he thinks she does it because she likes it, as opposed to never having known anything else. The flaws she’s always thought kept her from connecting are of no concern to Kanai, and his love for her isn’t transactional; it’s unconditional, almost paternal.

That unconditional love, and his desire for her to live a happy life, wipes clean those portraits in her dream gallery, replacing them with the image of her and Kanai. She finally feels connected. It’s something entirely new to her, but she doesn’t dislike it, and the next morning when Kanai goes for it and asks if she’ll marry him, she decides to give it a try.

Now that she’s ready to take that step, her first date with Mugi is more about closure than anything else; even Mugi realizes this. For so long he tried to find out how he could change her, but in reality, the Akane he loved was the one who existed; not the ideal he hoped to help create.

It’s clearly shitty for Mugi to see the change in her once she announces her marriage, knowing he had nothing to do with that change. But like Kanai’s rejection of Hanabi, it’s also freeing. Mugi loved the way Akane was before she changed. But she has, and so I imagine he’ll move on. But he won’t forget her.

It will hurt for a while, but Mugi will be okay, just like Hanabi and Moca and Ecchan will be alright. With Akane and Kanai getting hitched, it will be interesting to see if Hanabi and Mugi attempt a relationship, only not as it was: rather than an pragmatic alliance of “replacements”, a genuine romantic pairing of two people who no longer consider themselves scum.

Kuzu no Honkai – 10

Mugi may have been able to sleep with Akane while Hanabi was rejected, but Mugi isn’t under any illusions the reason is anything other than Akane “just felt like it today”; that she’s role-playing, student-and-teacher; because it seemed like a lark. His connection with her matches the episode’s title: “Fragile and Empty.”

The thing is, Mugi does know Akane better than most, if far from as well as she knows herself. He knows from watching her all these years how she jumps from man to man. In her inner thoughts, she tells us how it was always like that since her first: taking all of a man’s love and giving nothing back; taking all the jealousy of the other women and wrapping herself in it. This is the process by which she assigns worth to herself, and it’s the only process she’s ever known.

She executes the same process with Mugi, “shattering his world” so that she can keep standing. But unlike other men, Mugi knows her game, and wants to change the rules. But he also knows changing her is no mean feat, as she isn’t someone who’s ever fallen for anyone, only had others fall for her.

After scores of random, inconsequential men who simply played the game her way, Akane now finds herself afoul of not one but two very different men. Even though Mugi knows what kind of person Akane is, and even when another man tells Kanai, neither of them flinch in their devotion to her. The difference is, Kanai doesn’t care, and wants her to be herself. Mugi, on the other hand, still wants to change her.

During their aquarium date, Akane racked her brain about what exactly Kanai’s deal was. She felt like she was the one pursuing him by committing so much of her thoughts to him, and didn’t like how it felt, so tried to make the date their last. She thought if she told him enough about who she is (or at least the perception of that person that had been crafted both within and without), but Kanai still stopped her from leaving.

Akane has been unique in Kuzu no Honkai as the only character not “in love” with another. Indeed, Akane may not even know what it is to love someone. She’s been loved by men many times before, and every time she shattered their worlds and danced on the ashes. Now things are different.

Neither Kanai nor Mugi will back down. Both know who and what she is, yet still yearn for something she’s never experienced: a relationship that endures, a prospect that doubtless terrifies all parties involved. But Mugi knows the only way he can change someone else is by starting with himself. That’s advice he got from his pact-mate, Hanabi.

Can Mugi actually succeed, and if he does, where does that leave Kanai? Hanabi, Ecchan, and Moca are in pretty good places emotionally right now, but it feels like Mugi’s still operating deep in that murky soup they once inhabited. Who, if not himself or Akane, will be able to help him out?

Kuzu no Honkai – 09

When this week’s Scum’s Wish starts, Hanabi is alone, and wants to die. When it ends, she still feels alone, but realizes she isn’t, and doesn’t want to die. But first thing’s first: Both Narumi and Mugi reject her on the same day (poor girl!) a trip to a forest getaway with Ecchan is a welcome distraction. Any time her mind is busy is better than not.

Ecchan is looking forward to having Hanabi all to herself, but they find her cousin Atsuya is at the cabin. Atsuya feels like an interloper the whole time, but he’s not just there to mark his territory. In his opinion, Hanabi is a dead end for Ecchan: she’ll never get her to feel how she feels about her. And he doesn’t want Hanabi continuing to string her along.

But this trip was never about “making Hanabi hers”, but about saying goodbye for good. Atsuya in the next room or no, Ecchan still gets one last night of bliss with Hanabi. But after that, she vows to be alone. Hanabi wakes up early, and on a walk with Atsuya he tells her Ecchan can’t be used as a replacement.

After they spend one last day out on the town, as the couple Ecchan had at some point hoped they could be, Ecchan expresses her pride in Hanabi for “going for it” with Kanai-sensei, even though she knew how much the rejection would hurt. She did, in effect, what Ecchan had already done, only Hanabi has been “too nice” to reject her, so she has to break it off herself.

With a heartfelt, genuine display of affection and an intense desire to keep knowing Ecchan and learning more about her, Hanabi manages to secure consideration that Ecchan may come back to her, but it may take a long time. Forgetting how to love someone after loving them for so long, takes time, if it happens at all.

Now down Narumi, Mugi, and Ecchan, Hanabi returns to school in a haze of loneliness and despair. She wouldn’t be out of place in Zetsubou-sensei‘s class. Neko spots her looking forlorn and at first appears eager to gloat about how now, finally, Hanabi is getting her comeuppance; a taste of the bitter medicine Neko’s been tasting for years.

But doesn’t gloat; not really. She also has an earnest nugget of recently-earned wisdom to deliver: being rejected is a kind of liberation. Once one starts doing things for themselves—even something as small as buying and wolfing down a danish—you can start to feel better. And having heard these words from Neko, Hanabi realizes she isn’t alone. Her pain isn’t unique, and it’s not implacable.

The episode closes with Akane at Mugi’s for a “teacher home meeting”, only with the parents not home, it’s actually a booty call. And despite Mugi’s clear discomfort with the premise, she is very insistent that he acknowledge that it is an official teacher meeting, and that he call her “teacher.” Yikes.

On the one hand, Mugi is getting something he’s wanted for years. But there’s no indication he’s succeeding in “changing” her as he vowed to do last week. Instead, he seems to be falling deeper under her control, with no discernible way out as of yet. Hanabi thinks Mugi’s being “tricked.” Akane (at least the one in her head) agrees, but adds that he wants to be tricked; that all men do.

Maybe Mugi will go on like this, content with what he has. Or maybe, in time, he’ll come to see the real Akane as nothing but a replacement for the Akane of his dreams…and that he can’t go on like this.

Kuzu no Honkai – 08

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Nice hat!

This episode was so strong throughout, and its ending had so much impact, I nearly forgot that it started with Ecchan and her cousin Atsuya, automatically the weakest of all the pairings simply because we’ve never met Atsuya before.

Aside from being tall, long-haired, and a bit shy, we don’t learn much, except that he’s certain he still has a chance with Ecchan (despite most evidence to the contrary). Ecchan, interestingly, doesn’t seem so certain he doesn’t either.

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Now, on to the Big Event(s): the Dual Confession of Hanabi and Mugi to their respective crushes. I like how they make sure they do all their Summer homework first. Not only are they being proactive, responsible honor students, but they’re operating under the assumption that they’ll be in no state to study later.

Naturally, they don’t study the whole time, but fool around a bit, and that’s when Mugi tells her he’s had trouble imagining her as Akane. Which is interesting because she hasn’t been thinking of him as Narumi either.

From what I gather from their pre-confession interactions is that Hanabi and Mugi are gradually falling for one another, and starting to become aware of it.

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Of course, they still believe (and are probably correct) that their lingering hope of being with their crushes is an impediment that must be extinguished. Whether they move on as a couple together, to them, moving forward means confronting those crushes and getting rejected.

They’re both scared, but in another sign of how her feelings for Mugi have evolved, when he hugs her, his intent doesn’t matter: the hug calms her and stops her hands from shaking. No one but Narumi ever excited Hanabi, and yet here’s Mugi, doing just that.

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Hanabi and Mugi agree to meet back up at 10pm the evening of the Sunday they’ll confess, but I didn’t believe for a second that they would actually meet up at 10pm. Mugi meets with Akane during the day, and she immediately takes command.

When Mugi manages to quickly get out an “I love you”, Akane doesn’t react, because she knew. Mugi, we know, knew she knew. But she didn’t know that he knew she knew, so the knowing stopped at two levels.

And if Akane ever had anything resembling a match, it would be the person who has watched her and knows the person behind the mask. Mugi only liked her because he couldn’t have her.

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Just as Hanabi is meeting up with Narumi, Mugi finds himself in a hotel room, in bed with Akane, removing her clothes. As the RPG shot above shows, he knows he’s outmatched against such a tough boss, but doesn’t care. Akane may be a “horrible, promiscuous, broken narcissist”, but he wants to believe she can change, and that he can be the one to change her.

Can Mugi be her “first”, as in the first person she actually cared about? Mugi assumes she’s incapable of caring about him, but we don’t get in Akane’s head, so he may be wrong about that. We certainly see expressions from Akane we never have before, and they appear genuine, as if the sheer audacity of Mugi’s gambit threw her off balance.

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Of the two confessions, I always assumed Mugi’s would get messier, because of the object of his desire would make it messy with her masks and manipulations. What I didn’t expect is that Mugi was well aware of what he was getting into, but that he still had hope Akane could be redeemed in some way (and if the one who knows her and how she’s lived her life the most believes that, there could well be hope).

Because Narumi is so guileless and kind—basically the opposite of the Akane—it was a good bet that, pending a sudden unrealistic shift in his character, he’d make his rejection of Hanabi as clean and gentle as possible.

That doesn’t make it any easier or less painful for Hanabi, but once it’s all over—and it’s over pretty fast—she feels like a weight has been lifted, because this impediment to her future happiness had been extinguished. Call it a ripping off of a band-aid.

But part of why she’s relatively fine with how things go down with Narumi is because of how she’s started to feel towards Mugi. She believes she’s not alone because both he and she have unrequited loves, but Akane’s love didn’t out-and-out reject him.

Instead, he rejected the awful person she is and vowed to make her a better one. And now he’s in bed with her, and Hanabi is alone.

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Kuzu no Honkai – 07

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Moca startin’ the day of ACCA-style!

The morning of her date with Mugi, Moca is on cloud nine, but she doesn’t have any illusions about suddenly winning his heart. Having an elegant breakfast and getting all dolled up is as much or more for her than for Mugi’s sake. Still, she has to try today, for she, a student of fairy tales, doesn’t think people should settle for replacements.

This week Moca accomplishes something neither Hanabi nor Mugi have been unable to in seven: confront her unrequited love head-on, face the object of that love, and, through a clean-ish rejection, be able to move forward. By doing so, she becomes, by default, the bravest of those three people.

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While Mugi is off on a date with Moca (unbeknownst to her, obv) Hanabi continues her half-cocked mission to seduce Takeya, but soon learns it isn’t so easy to elicit love in someone. All Takeya wants from her is sex right now, Hanabi doesn’t give it to him, so he leaves her to go bang some other chick.

That’s where Takeya is at at this point. It looks pretty hopeless for Hanabi, and I must have mistaken all the confidence she seemed to exude at the end of last week when getting her “project” off the ground.

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Moca, meanwhile, is always on the verge of tears, she’s both so happy about the dream-like date with Mugi, and devastated that the happiness is tempered and sullied by the fact Mugi feels obligated to take his childhood friend on a date.

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Since we’re in Moca’s head most of this week, we learn a lot, like how she’s always loved Mugi, since they were little kids, and how with waterworks, she knew precisely how to get him to do her bidding and acknowledge their special bond.

Mugi and Moca got used to this cycle of behavior for years, and the nature of their past is ultimately what stops things from going too far in the present.

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Moca is cute. She knows she’s cute, and while in Mugi’s bed, she thinks it might be enough to hear it from Mugi to allow her to keep on living (just as his not recoiling when she held his hand did). Mugi curses himself as a pathetic coward who is going straight to hell, because there’s something deep within him that is screaming this is Moca; this is wrong, and things go no further than the removal of clothes.

For too long she was, as she says, a sacred ornament to be admired, and he can’t sully her, even though he tries his darnedest. At the same time, now that things have gotten so real with Mugi, the “dream” of the two living happily ever seems to shatter for Moca. This is the way she and Mugi are; she’s “important” and “special” to him, but that only goes so far. They can’t be a man and a woman.

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Moca really put herself out there, and by the end, there’s a kind of release of pressure. And she also becomes a kind of catalyst, as Mugi’s night with her has the same general effect as Hanabi’s lonely, aimless night, and one fine day on a hill overlooking the town, the two agree that they’ll tell Akane and Onii-san how they truly feel, before the end of Summer vacation.

They are cowards, they admit that. But Moca showed them they don’t have to stay cowards. And if they’re both rejected, Hanabi wonders what will happen next; whether she and Mugi will start to date for real; whether they’ll both be able to say goodbye to their respective loves forever and accept what life has given them…or another path is needed.

Playing the Moca Card this late in the game turned out to be another good move. She’d been the weakest, least developed character in the love polygon to this point, but this week really fleshed her out nicely. More to the point, both by staying on Mugi and keeping him from Hanabi, she inadvertently showed them the only way forward.

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