Cardcaptor Sakura – 66 – These Bitter Tears

Nakuru’s movie is a big hit, with particular praise going to Sakura’s cuteness, but as Yukito sits with Touya in the projector room, his heart is uneasy, since now Touya knows he’s not human. Touya assures him it doesn’t matter what he is, as long as he doesn’t disappear and stays by his side.

After some post-movie drinks, Sakura, Yukito, Syaoran and Tomoyo enjoy the other diversions of the school fair, with Syaoran watching wearily at Yukito and Sakura in particular. Nakuru then insists only two can enter their class exhibit at a time, thus separating Yukito and Sakura from Syaoran and Tomoyo. Nakuru is following Eriol’s orders, but it ends up working in Sakura’s favor, because this gives her the ideal opportunity to confess to Yukito.

It’s also fitting that she does so while surrounded by stars, the source of her magical power. But when Sakura tells Yukito that she really likes him, he says he likes her too, but asks her to look closer at her feelings. He posits that her feelings for him are quite similar to those for her dad, which is understandable since he looks so much like her dad and is a kind lad besides. But his point is, there’s someone she likes more than anyone…and it’s not him.

Sakura is thus rejected by Yukito, but in the softest, gentlest way possible. He also admits that the person he likes most is indeed Touya, who saved him, after all. And while he’s unsure if Touya feels the same way, Sakura grasps what he’s getting at. Alas, their talk is interrupted when all of the glass stars around them start to shatter, and Yue appears to protect her.

When other students enter the exhibit, Sakura uses both Maze and Illusion to cover up the damage, as well as hide the two of them, though they’re soon separated. Even so, when Syaoran senses Clow’s presence, he’s able to cut through the illusions with his sword. As he and Yue search for her, Sakura encounters Eriol with his staff and Clow’s magical circle.

Admitting he’s been “found out”, Eriol puts Sakura to sleep. When she comes to, she remembers Clow’s presence and the circle…but not Eriol. She leaves the school fair with Syaoran, Yukito, and Tomoyo, but when the latter two split off to head to their respective homes, Syaoran insists on walking Sakura all the way home.

Sakura asks a favor: that they stop by the park first. While they sit on the swings, Sakura tells Syaoran how she confessed to Yukito and was turned down. And while Yukito is right that she mostly thought of him as family, a little part of her liked him in a way differently than that. And while Tomoyo told her there’s no greater happiness than seeing the one you like most happy—Sakura can’t help but weep bitter tears.

Syaoran offers his handkerchief, a smile, and the promise that she too will find that someone, and they’ll be just as happy when she finds them. Of course, Syaoran wants to be that very person, but wisely doesn’t press that issue. Here and now, he’s there to be an ear to listen a shoulder to cry on…and a friend to console the heartbroken Sakura with a hug.

My goodness, that was one emotionally heavy episode, but absolutely flawlessly executed, and one of the all-time best episodes of CCS as a result. The show can spin its wheels with diversions to pools and ski slopes, but when the time comes for a major development it does not hold back the feels. And now, of course, with Yukito officially eliminated as a potential love interest for Sakura, Syaroan’s path is clear.

Oregairu 3 – 11 – The Best Time to Buy In

“There are infinite ways to express a single word,” says Shizuka-sensei, literally illustrating that by writing all the rather harsh negative words she can conjure to describe her relationship with Hikki, then scribbling them all over until the word “love” remains. She tells Hikki if he can’t find a single word, use all the words he needs (he’s no stranger to this practice). If words aren’t enough, pair them up with actions.

This week, Hikki does just that. He finds his words—not the ideal words or the words easiest to understand—but the words that are at least imperfectly sufficient to get his point across, and he pairs them up with bold action. The next day after school Hikki shares an afternoon of nothing with Yui, and she tells him her wish is for Yukinon to be part of them.

With the end of the service club, that seems unlikely to be east or even possible for Hikki, who is so bad at expressing or responding to people’s feelings. The word he uses most is associated, as in he does not want to stop being associated with Yukino.

When Yui hears this, a heartbreaking display of emotions runs across her face, but to her surprise and pride, no tears come out. They do, however, come out once she comes home, and her mom is there to hug her. For all the words Yui and Hikki said, the ones that are meant are “Yui, it’s not you, I love…it’s Yukino”. What she knew all along.

On to Hikki’s action. With the prom over and the service club disbanded, he decides to take his fake decoy prom out of mothballs and make it an actual thing, lack of resources be damned. This provokes an emergency meeting with Yukino, Yukino’s mom, and Haruno, the latter of whom seems to finally be getting satisfaction from how Hikki is doing things.

In effect, Hikki is setting himself for abject failure…unless Yukino takes charge and “saves” him. As someone who ran the first prom so splendidly her mother acknowledged her, Yukino couldn’t save face if she turned this down, and the Yukinoshita family would suffer a blow to its vaunted reputation. So she accepts.

In return, Hikki says he’ll “take responsibility” for anything and everything that results from this supposedly ill-fated venture. Even though none of the words explicitly indicate it, the exchange sounds an awful lot like Hikki is asking Yukino’s mom for her daughter’s hand in marriage.

In the end, the PTO had no say in whether the fake prom became real, so Hikki wasn’t negotiating with Yukino’s mom or Haruno. It was all about creating a new opportunity to regularly associate with Yukino…and she took the bait. That night while walking home, Yukino is confused about what Hikki thinks he’s doing, when she told him to respect Yui’s wish.

Since Yui’s wish is for the three of them to remain together, Hikki tells Yukino he’s fulfilling Yui’s wish by doing this. This angers Yukino, who doesn’t like all the verbal gymnastics being used and wants to “get better at doing this”, but Hikki is more pessimistic: in the process of trying to get better, he believes they’ll drift further apart.

Hikki streamlines these sentiments with a pretty cool line: “If I let you go, I can’t grab hold of you again,” backing up the words by grabbing her hand as she power walks away. He then clarifies that saying he’ll “take responsibility” isn’t sufficient to express his true emotions about it. What he really wants is to have responsibility; for her to let him have it.

Initially Hikki hesitated in telling Yukino what he wanted, but Yui told him he had to tell Yukino anyway, even if it’s not the same thing she wants. So he does: he wants to remain involved with Yukino, not out of obligation, but desire. Putting it only the way Hikki can, he asks for the “privilege of distorting” Yukino’s life.

Yukino is a little put off by the innate harshness of such a word as “distortion”, but Hikki points out that distorting each other’s lives is not only unavoidable, but not a bad thing. And while he knows he doesn’t have a lot to offer her, he pledges anything and everything if he can be involved in her life.

A flustered Yukino tells him she’s troublesome and will cause nothing but problems and will eventually become more useless when she relies on him. He responds that he’ll just have to become more useless. After she play punches him and he tenderly takes her hand and holds it at his hear, she hugs him and asks her way: “Please allow me to have your life.”

“A bit stiff,” as Hikki says, but he’s hardly in a position to complain! And that, my friends, is how these two crazy kids confess to one another and ask to continue to be part of each other’s lives. I feel bad for Yui, but she’ll be okay. And that’s the point: no matter how much of a SNAFU their relationships have been or will be, they’re still young, and still learning what romance is and how love feels. They’re all going to be okay!

Re: Zero – 29 – Take Care, Natsuki Subaru

Having episodes end with Emilia unconscious two weeks in a row was a bummer, but returning to the real world and getting to spend some time with Subaru’s remarkable parents made up for that and then some. Right from the word go, we know we’re in for a ride: Subaru’s dad executes wrestling moves to welcome him to the morning, while his mom (who shares his “scary eyes”) insists he eat a giant mountain of peas, which neither she nor his dad like.

They may have their amusing quirks, but his folks are alive, present, and relatively normal…which makes them among the rarest anime parents out there!

Subaru is a shut-in; he has been since about three months after high school began. His dad manages to coax him out for a walk, and sakura-strewn park in which they have that walk is particularly dreamlike and bright, as bright as his bedroom is dark.

Also bright, to the point of blinding: his parent’s absolute unconditional love and support, no matter how far off “the prescribed path” he’s strayed. Like so many others, Subaru’s problems weren’t caused by a rough or abusive childhood.

When periodic stabs of pain in his head resolve to the spirit of Emilia thanking him for saving her all the time, his memories from the New World flood back in, and with all that amassed experience and wisdom, is able to look at his past objectively and wrestle with it.

Subaru’s dad is a gregarious renaissance man, which put pressure on Subaru to achieve a similar level of greatness in anything and everything he did. But as he grew, he became less than the best, and eventually not that good at those things.

He tried to make up for the lack of talent and ability by acting out, gathering people around him he called friends but who ultimately were only around until he got boring. High school was the rude awakening for which he was not socially or emotionally prepared, and he gradually just stopped going.

Even so, his mom and dad treated him with the same affection and cheer as they always did, despite his desire for them to punish him or even throw him out for being such a pathetic loser. At a couple points during their talks, his dad asks if he likes someone. That’s because as his father he must sense a positive change in Subaru; that he’d figured out to get back on his own two feet.

Without naming names, Subaru admits there is a girl he likes, and a girl who loves him. Rem once told him giving up doesn’t suit him. She and Emilia saved him from his own complex because they didn’t have to pretend he wasn’t the son of the great Natsuki Kenichi—obviously neither of them know his dad. Subaru didn’t know how bad he needed to know it was okay to just be Subaru.

After a little cry and hug with dad, Subaru puts on his school uniform and prepares to return to school, Starting Over from Zero just as he did on Rem’s recommendation…only with school. His mom decides to walk him part of the way there.

She reiterates the things Subaru and his dad talked about, and when Subaru tells her he’ll never let go of people who helped him get over his troubles, and be sure to make himself worthy of them later, she declares he’s definitely “his kid”.

While those two words once caused stabs of pain (and still do one more time), his mom assures him not to worry about being “just as awesome” as his dad. After all, he’s only half his dad, and half his mom, so half as cool constitutes a “filled quota”.

Subaru, knowing he’ll leave both his parents soon and may never see them again, offers tearful apologies for not being able to do anything for them before going off to do his own thing. Again, his mom tells him not to fret; she and his father didn’t have him so he’d do something for him, but so they could do something for him. And they have, just by being there for him, loving him, and never judging him.

Subaru’s dad may have cast a shadow that inadvertently, temporarily stunted his son’s development as an individual. But because his son was half-him, he was eventually able to make it out of that shadow. It’s why when his dad says “do your best” and his mom says “take care”, he can hold his head high, smile, and go to school.

In this case, “going to school”, and specifically opening the door to his homeroom constitutes the completion of the trial, and Echidna is waiting for him (in his school’s uniform!) when he does so, remarking how he made it there faster than she expected.

As we return to his trials in the new world, it was both instructive and at times downright emotionally compelling to see of the old world from which Subaru came. The struggles he faced before arriving in the new world underscore why ending up there and meeting Emilia, Rem and the others was not only the best thing that could have happened to him, but also possibly meant to be.

Re: Zero – 28 – Desirable Existence

Subaru agrees to join Echidna for her “tea party” and brusquely gulps down the contents of the cup, which she identifies as “a body fluid of mine.” From there, the two proceed to have a spirited yet affable back-and-forth, with Subaru evoking quite a bit of amusement from the Witch of Greed. Echidna strikes a lovely balance between cool menace and warm feline playfulness.

For a few terrifying moments she transports them into an eerie void where she mentions all of the witches and what they were all about before the Witch of Envy killed them all. She then reveals the tea strengthens his resistance to the magical power that would already have caused most others to vomit or go mad.

Subaru is only able to chat with Echidna thanks to the “Sloth Witch Factor” that made him its new vessel after Betelgeuse died. The ruins in the forest are the Witch’s Graveyard, where Echidna’s soul is held prisoner. She grants him the right to face the trial of the Sanctuary, no doubt in hopes she can use him to free her soul. Before he leaves she licks her hand like a cat and warns Subaru: “I’m a very, very evil magic user.”

Subaru then finds himself out of the freezer and into the frying pan, with the fiery Garfiel about to pummel him into dust (having already done the same with Otto and the ground dragon). When Subaru mentions Frederica, with whom Garfiel shares hair color and tooth sharpness, Garfiel stands down.

Emilia is safe and sound in the wagon, and when she comes to, she adorably, belatedly shields Subaru from Garfiel. Still, her crystal grants her (relatively) safe passage to the Sanctuary, and Garfiel sees to that. Turns out the Sanctuary is a bit of a dump, with an ill-favored aura neither Lia nor Subie can shake.

Still, Ram is a sight for sore eyes, and welcomes Subaru with a Barusu rejoinder. Roswaal’s dulcet voice is also a sound for sore ears, but he looks sore all over, covered in bandages as a result of failing the trial of the Sanctuary. He had to try, you see, for neither he, Ram, the villagers of Arlam, or even Lia or Subie are allowed to leave the Sanctuary…at least not until someone passes the trial and breaks the barrier.

Subie and Lia address the villagers, in that order. While they’re happy to see the former, they’re weary as always of the latter. But again Emilia shows her growth by telling them how she feels, what she intends to do for them, and why. It boils down to her wanting families to be able to stay together.

She isn’t asking for their support in the royal selection in return, but even though she still feels unworthy, she’d appreciate the villagers’ friendship. An impressed Ram wonders what Barusu said to Emilia to enact this change; Subaru says Emilia figured it out for herself.

That night, Emilia stands before the entrance to the Witch’s Graveyard, and it glows with light in a sign that it accepts her as a valid challenger for the trial. Naturally, something soon goes wrong: the light goes out, even though it’s supposed to stay on for the duration of the trial. Subaru approaches the ruins, the light returns, and he rushes in to find Emilia passed out again.

He’s stopped in his tracks, but not by Return by Death. A voices says “first you need to face your own past”, and he wakes up in a bed. His bed…in his world. A world not depicted since he was transported away from the konbini parking lot. Before he can get his bearings his muscular dad rolls in and jumps on him as a wake-up call.

Like his otherworldly meeting with Echidna who definitely has Big Plans for him, Subie’s journey to the home of his past may only last a third of an episode, or it could be the whole episode, or the entirety of a mini-arc. Whatever the duration, this development gives me, to quote Echidna, “such beautiful expectations.” I can’t wait to see where this goes.

Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu – 27 (S2 02) – Showing What They’re Maid Of

Emilia and Subaru bid Crusch and Felix farewell with thanks, hearty handshakes and best wishes. With Crusch’s memories gone who knows what shape the royal selection will take, but for now the priority is returning home and getting some answers. But upon returning to the village, they learn Roswaal, Ram, and others have yet to return from the Sanctuary.

Upon arriving at Roswaal manor (driven there by Otto), Emilia and Subaru are surprised to be welcomed by new maid, a “beast-girl” named Frederica Baumann. I immediately recognized the dulcet tones of Nazuka Kaori (Eureka), which complement Frederica’s adorably sharp teeth quite well. Turns out Frederica worked for the mansion just before Subaru arrived, and had been on personal leave until Ram called her back.

Subaru pays Beatrice a visit, and we see that extended isolation has not made her more pleasant to deal with. She’s downright prickly with Subaru, especially when he presents the gospel he took off of the dead Betelgeuse. Beatrice seems to regard “Geuse” as a dear friend who, like others, left her behind. She also resents Subaru once again using her as a mere “tool of convenience”.

Could this mean Betelgeuse was once good, or just that Beako doesn’t see the world in terms of good and bad? In any case, she has no answers for him, only the means to seek them. Roswaal’s intentions, the meaning of the Gospel, and answers about this “Witch Factor” thing all lie in the Sanctuary, which Frederica has been instructed to tell Emilia and Subaru how to access.

Before heading to the Woods of Clemaldy where the Sanctuary is located, Subaru says goodbye to the sleeping Rem and tasks new Maid-in-Training Petra(!) with Rem’s care, and Frederica with Petra’s care. Petra doesn’t have the maid-like manner of speaking down yet, but she’s eager to prove she’s an adult upon whom people can depend.

Frederica presents Emilia with a jewel that will help them pass a magical barrier that impedes access to the sanctuary. Petra bashfully gives Subaru a handkerchief as a kind of old tradition with travelers; he’ll return it to her stained from his adventures when he comes back.

The journey into the woods is uneventful at first. Emilia is nervous, especially considering Puck isn’t answering her calls to come out (Puck did tell Subaru he’d be relying on him to take care of Lia). She’s also apprehensive about hte possibility of meeting other half-elves in Clemaldy, a stronghold of demi-humans.

Her barrier jewel starts to glow, and Subaru decides the proper thing to do is to yank it off of her, causing her to pass out. The next thing Subaru knows, Emilia, Otto, and the wagon are gone, and he’s lost in the lost woods…not a great situation to be in! He encounters a small pink-haired elf in a white tunic and when she runs off he gives chase.

He comes upon a clearing where a stone ruin stands, and starts to walk through the front door…as Frederica said, will and resolve are as necessary as magic and strength in the Sanctuary. That’s when he’s transported again, this time to Windows XP’s default background, Bliss.

Just above him on the crest of a hill sits a woman with long silver hair having tea under an ornate umbrella. She introduces herself as Echidna, AKA the Witch of Greed. While voiced by Sakamoto Maaya (always a good decision), Echidna looks an awful lot like Emilia. But wasn’t the witch she said she resembled named Satella?

While this was mostly a getting-from-A-to-B(-to-C) transitory episode with lots of goodbyes between characters (and no telling whether they’ll ever see each other again), the intro of Frederica, Maid Petra, and of course Echidna represented major developments, and the steady buildup of Clemaldy as no place for the weak was highly effective.

It will be interesting to see if Subaru has reached a new “save point” for his Return by Death, or if that little trick is already obsolete. For now, he seems separated from everyone and unable to protect anyone but himself…if that. In other words, he’s been thrown right back into the Shit!

Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu – 26 (S2 01) – Sleeping Beauty, Weeping Hero

Allow me to indulge in a brief tangent: I’m playing Final Fantasy VII Remake at a more leisurely pace than most. I knew, as with Re:Zero here, it would be a while before we get the continuation, so I’d best savor what I’ve got, right? Anyway, I had just managed to defeat the much ballyhooed Airbuster boss at the end of Chapter 7, after which with Cloud falls through a church roof and lands on Aerith’s flowerbed.

Coming off such a long mission at the Mako Reactor culminating in a stressful, protracted boss battle, I expected a little respite to catch my breath. No such luck: within minutes Cloud is locked in a very tricky one-on-one fight with Reno. I went at him much the same way I’d fought Airbuster—and had my ass handed to me to the tune of four Game Overs before I got used to his patterns and found his weakness.

The point is, FF7R wasn’t ready to let me rest just yet, or even spend any time celebrating what had felt like a significant victory. It was immediately time to deal with the next crisis It’s the same with Re:Zero’s second season. Turns out watching the director’s cut wasn’t necessary, as the only unique scene it had—Emilia’s infamous “Who’s Rem?”—is the cold open of this first episode.

What we didn’t know is why exactly Lia suddenly forgot Rem. Was there another whale? Did the teleportation back from Isekai Quartet‘s “Chibi High School World” cause the amnesia? Re:Zero 2 wastes no time answering that question: Re:Zero’s Airbuster (the White Whale) may be defeated, but there’s no time to celebrate, because now its Reno is on the scene.

“Reno” in this case refers to not one but two new heretofore unseen Sin Archbishops of the Witch’s Cult: That of Greed, the smug Regulus Corneas, and Gluttony, the manic Lye Batenkaitos. The convoy that includes the wagon carrying Rem and Crusch is suddenly ambushed by the bishops, resulting in a huge amount of carnage.

Lye is a lot like Betel in his goofy over-the-top spiel, but Regulus is the more fearsome one to my eye and ear. He’s so calm, well-spoken, and put together, wasting no movement in his horrifically violent attacks. He looks more like Reinhard or Julius than a Sin Archbishop, which is somehow more unsettling.

When Crusch fights force with force, interrupting Regulus’ monologue, he is insulted by her lack of manners and relieves her of her left arm. After administering first aid, Rem breaks out her flail, but it’s telling that she makes it absolutely clear that she’s not the one they need to worry about, but the man she loves, her hero, The Hero, Natsuki Subaru.

That turns out to be a bad move, as neither archbishop considers Rem to be much of a threat, and as we saw what happened when she fought the Sin Archbishop of Sloth Betelgeuse, this battle was going to end about as well as my first tussle with the slippery Reno in FF7R. Emi’s question to Subaru meant the battle had already been decided, and Rem lost.

As steeled as I was to witness it firsthand, I was still not prepared for the devastating flashes of Rem and Subaru’s future before losing consciousness: sitting on a bench with their newborn second child; their firstborn standing nearby. Welcome Back to Re:Zero, where there is no limit to the amount of times your heart will get stomped on!

Once the convoys arrive at Crusch’s estate, Subaru is on the edge of panic as he restlessly searches the scores of dead and wounded for Rem. First he spots blue hair, but it’s not her. Finally, he finds her, unconscious. The healer doesn’t know who she is, and can do nothing for her. After lashing out at the man in anger, he quickly descends into crippling despair, grabs the nearest broken sword, points it at his throat, and kills himself.

Of course, Return by Death doesn’t take him back to a point in time before Rem is attacked; only to the back of the wagon with Emilia just before he mentions Rem. He’s too late to stop Rem’s attackers. He’ll have to save her after the fact.

Puck informs him that Gluttony literally devours not just memories, but someone’s very name. This is what was done to Rem, which means the girl lying in bed is an empty shell. She won’t wake up unless her name and memories are restored. I imagine killing Gluttony will do the trick, but who knows?

Meanwhile, everyone else has indeed never heard of Rem, while Crusch, the last person she was with, also had her memories eaten, to the point she doesn’t even know herself. At an impromptu meeting between Subaru, Emilia, Wilheim, Felis, and Crusch, Felis puts Crusch’s welfare first and proposes an end to an alliance with Emilia that no longer serves a benefit, only a burden.

Subaru bristles at that, and at Felis’ misplaced blame and selfish caution. Even though Crusch doesn’t really know who she is, she sides with Subaru, as does Wilheim. Gluttony, Greed, and the Witch’s Cult are threats to all (there are reports of others throughout the land falling victim to Gluttony), and so all of them must stay together to determine the proper path to defeating them.

Moving forward requires that Subaru accept that Rem is out of the picture for now, that there’s nothing he can immediately do about it, and going without sleep to stay by her bedside helps neither of them. Emilia comes to Rem’s room to say as much, and while she has no memories of Rem, she can tell she’s Ram’s sister. She’s also come to tell Subaru that she wants to help Subaru carry the weight of Rem. He saved her, and now it’s her turn to save him.

This causes Subaru to politely ask her to turn away so he can cry, but soon after bawling big sopping sheets tears, she wraps her arms around him in a hug of support. And so we start with the Hero at his lowest point (so far, at least…it can always go lower!), unable even to put on a Tough Guy act, and the Heroine promising to save him, starting with helping him process the situation so that they can begin to find a solution.

It’s a strong return to form for Re:Zero, which at this point is a known quantity in terms of how it operates and to never expect things to work out too soon without significant hardship and suffering on the part characters. Two new sniveling supervillains are here, and their Emilia-lookin’ Witch queen still looms.

Hopefully no one is starting their Re:Zero journey with this episode; that would be…interesting. Suffice it to say, if you enjoyed the first season, the second picks right up where it left off both in story, tone, and style. I’m eager to see and learn more. Thankfully, the wait is over.

 

Somali and the Forest Spirit – 12 (Fin) – Hanging In There

Berserk Golem is terrifying to behold, but at least initially, his attacks aren’t very coordinated. That gives Yabashira a chance to intervene before Golem makes Somali witness something she shouldn’t. He’s tossed aside, and Golem targets Rosa, only for the freed Somali to come between them.

She has enough trust in her dad that he won’t hurt her with his outstretched hand, but pat her on the head. He may have lost a lot of resources when he went into overload, but the love he has for her wasn’t among them, and it serves as a fail-safe switch, and he passes out after acknowledging his daughter.

We part ways with Rosa off-camera, though I’d hope she learned a lesson and will do some serious soul-searching about her attitude towards humans after the one she was ready to dissect saved her life. Golem comes to in a forest, with Somali sleeping by his side.

The pair continue their journey with Shizuno and Yabashira, but after assessing his damage, it’s not looking good for Golem. His left arm is gone for good, as is nearly a third of his skin and much of his internal fluids. He’s at 76%, max, and it’s all downhill from there…though he notably can’t set an exact date of final shutdown.

The quartet arrives in a new town full of horned dog people celebrating their harvest. Never mind that there may be more human hunters here who would recognize Somali’s smell; the show clearly cedes that the time of external threats to Somali are done, as long as she keeps her hood down. I’m skeptical!

Of course, the main issue is that while on their way to town, Golem noticed that his senses are becoming duller and it’s getting increasingly hard to move. Add to that the potential for him to lose control like he did in the cave, and he considers his continued proximity to Somali a liability. So at the town festival, while Somali is distracted by performers, he gives her the slip.

Shizuno fills Yabashira and Somali in on why Golem left, and why he couldn’t persuade him otherwise; he made his choice. But Somali is hardly satisfied with such an adult conclusion, and chases after her dad, leaving town and finding him in the nearby woods, staring at a pond. When he spots her, Golem orders her to stay away, but she won’t obey, and demands to know why they can’t be together like he promised.

When he denies it’s because of anything she said or did or because he doesn’t like her anymore (Somali is just a little kid, this is where her mind would go first) and tells her he’s worried about being a danger to her, she again rejects his reasoning. She’ll be too lonely without him, and she knows he’ll be lonely too. She gets him to admit the emotions within him (despite that not jiving with his “natural order”)—and even sheds the equivalent of a golem tear.

With that, Golem reverses his decision to run away, and instead vows to stay by Somali’s side as long as he can, enduring whatever hardships might arise. The two of them acquire some nifty new threads and continue their travels with the Shizuno and Yabashira.

This seal the ending as an ellipsis rather than a period, and opens the door for a possible sequel. But that aside, I was pretty certain the show wouldn’t kill off Golem in the last episode, despite some of the “death is not the end” flags during the town festival.

Instead, it galvanized its hopeful outlook with a hopeful ending, in which there’s still time for Golem to find a way to repair himself, and in the meantime, Somali’s formative years can continue to be filled with happy and fun memories with her dad, as long as they can.

Bunny Girl Senpai – 03 – Facing the Atmosphere

Sakuta doesn’t wake up at 6 in the morning, because he never slept in the first place, while Mai sleeps soundly. It starts a string of days Sakuta doesn’t sleep, because as he soon learns upon returning to school, everyone there has forgotten her except his sciency friend Futaba and himself—neither of whom got any sleep last night.

It isn’t murder by Freddy in his nightmares Sakuta fears, but the prospect of forgetting Mai. So he stays up, under the pretense of cramming for exams. The next day, Futaba has slept, and forgets Mai, all but making it official. The bags under his eyes grow larger and darker as he pops stims, chugs “Blue Bull”, but Mai picks up on what’s going on.

One night, during an ostensible study session, Mai slips sleeping pills in his drink, and then strokes his head as he slowly, gradually loses consciousness, tears forming in her eyes as she comes to terms with the fact he may not remember her when he wakes up.

That brings us to the opening moments of the first episode, when Sakuta finds the notebook painstakingly detailing his past self’s experiences with Mai. But when he inspects the book, all of the instances of Mai’s name appear blank, leading him to believe it’s a notebook full of wishful thinking.

While the notebook alone fails to jog his memory, it paves the first stone. He gets another when Futaba shows him the notes her past self wrote to herself, surmising that the collective effort of the school, and indeed the rest of the world, to utterly fail to confirm Mai’s existence, could possibly be overridden by a sufficiently powerful confirmation of her existence…i.e., a confession of love.

The final stimulus that brings the memories of Mai rushing back, like water from an unclogged faucet, is a question in the exam that deals with the characters for “security” and “guarantee”; he remembers Mai’s finger pointing them out, and from them on, he knows what he needs to do…and that is to make a complete and utter fool of himself, by running out into the schoolyard and screaming at the top of his lungs that he loves Sakurajima Mai.

He yells himself hoarse, but it has an effect: the other students begin to remember Mai. Then Mai herself appears to share in the humiliation, but also to slap Sakuta for breaking his promise never to forget her, which he definitely did, if only briefly.

If the school was a box and Mai the cat, Sakuta’s bold actions broke the logical stalemate, declaring once and for all that yes, Sakurajima Mai exists, and he loves her. The “atmosphere” of unconscious ignorance of the collective student body was overcome, and thus the “world regained” Mai. She insists Sakuta continue to tell her he loves her as often as possible so that she knows he’s sincere.

From the emotional lows of Mai willingly saying goodbye to the exhausted Sakuta to the highs of him remembering her again their reunion in the yard, this was a roller coaster of an episode; Bunny Girl Senpai’s best outing yet. Was his public outburst corny? You betcha…but that’s the point!

In order to “bring her back”, he had to step out of the flow and do something no one else did. A stern talking-to from the faculty is well worth it, because Mai will be getting one right beside him. So far BGS is smart, clever, mature, and engaging romantic comedy done right.

Violet Evergarden – 11

As a civil war rages in the frigid north, Claudia decides to decline a doll request from a soldier in the war zone; it’s just too dangerous. However, Violet overhears him, snatches up the request when no one’s looking, and takes a ship to the war-torn country. After all, there’s no place too dangerous for Violet.

When no ground route can be taken, Violet suggests they drop her into the camp via airplane; the pilot likes her moxie and goes along with it, possibly seeing the iron resolve in her eyes. When she says there’s nowhere she won’t go for her clients, she means it, damnit.

Looking outside my window, I don’t see a scene all that different from the snow-covered woods of the camp outskirts…at least in terms of looks. Thankfully, I don’t have snipers lurking in the distance trying to pick me off, which is the case with the unit Aiden is in. Everyone is killed but him and a younger colleague. Aiden tries to carry him with him, but it slows him down, and he’s shot too.

Not long after the enemy arrives to finish the job, Violet’s plane appears in the air and she leaps out and soars through the sky like a missle before pulling her chute and landing. She takes out a number of the enemy troops with ease until their leader trains his gun on her.

This leader knows who she is (and what she was), and so orders his men to retreat, leaving Violet with Aiden, who is most likely a goner. After so many jobs in the lands where there is peace, this is the first time she merges her past and present worlds.

When he wakes up in a cabin, Aiden tells Violet he can’t hold out long, and would like her to write his letters immediately. With neither a typewriter nor writing pad on hand, Violet simply uses her hands to air-type the worlds Aiden is saying, which she says she’ll memorize; another heretofore unknown talent.

At first Aiden only asks her to write a letter thanking his parents and hoping that if they ever reincarnate and marry again, he would love to be their son again. Then he drops a photo of his sweetheart Maria, and Violet asks if he wants her to write her a letter as well.

When Aiden went off to war, it was before he and Maria—childhood friends—had truly started acting like a couple. He never even got to kiss her, and when he closes his eyes in these, his final hours, Maria is foremost in the imagery, smiling in the fields of their home. He tells her how happy he was she confessed, and his desire to be by her side.

Then, as Aiden starts to fade, he asks Violet to her to put her hands on his, he tells Maria he loves her, and as he kisses Maria in his mind, for the first and last time, Violet kisses him on the forehead before promising the letters will be delivered.

There are no more dealings with the war-mongering extremists, and Violet is safely taken out of the zone, but before returning home, she visits Aiden’s family to deliver the letters and his bloody kerchief in person. When she sees the anguish and grief well up in Aiden’s parents and Maria, Violet cannot hold back her own anguish, and turns to leave before she makes an undue scene. But Aiden’s mother stops her and gives her a hug.

Thinking she caused so much pain by delivering the news of Aiden’s death, Violet is taken aback when they thank her for bringing him back to them. So many other families will never know what happened to their sons, brothers, fathers who went off and never returned.

But Aiden’s family not only knows, and have closure, but they were able to read the feelings in his heart in his last moments, and know he wasn’t alone…all thanks to Violet.

No other Auto Memoir Doll could have done what she did to fulfill Aiden’s request. She suffered a horrible past as a fearless weapon, but at least in this mission, those skills served a good cause. She should take solace in that.

Violet Evergarden – 10

Anne is of the age where she still plays with dolls, and is both troubled and intrigued when a life-size one arrives. Of course, Anne equates Auto Memoir Dolls with the ones she plays with, so for the duration of Violet’s seven-day contract, Anne believes she is not only a doll, but bad news as well.

The reason she is deemed “bad news” is simple. Anne may be young, but she knows all is not well with her ill, oft-bedridden mother. Now that Violet has arrived, all of the time Anne wants to spend with her mom is being taken by Violet, who ghostwrites letters of and for which the content and recipients remain frustrating mysteries to Anne.

When she witnesses her mother collapse once more while working with Violet, Anne has had enough, and confronts her mother with the truth of which she’s already aware; that her mom’s time grows short, and that she wants to spend what is left of it together.

Anne runs off, but Violet catches up, and impresses upon her the futility of Anne blaming herself or believing she can do anything about it. As Violet puts it, just as nothing can make her arms have soft skin like Anne’s, nothing can be done about her mother’s illness.

What follows this emotionally harrowing seven-day encounter is nothing less than the full realization of Violet Evergarden’s talent and skill, made possible by her own ability to step out of the role of the “toy” and be her own “player”, borrowing the terms Anne used when she still thought Violet was an actual doll.

All along, the letters Anne’s mom wrote weren’t for some distant people who didn’t even have the decency to pay her a visit in her final days; they were always only for Anne. Holding back tears for the duration of her contract, Violet wrote letters to Anne from her mother, to be delivered once a year for the next fifty years.

In a masterful montage of those years spanning from her tenth to twentieth birthdays, we see the insecure, clingy, doll-clutching Anne grow into a fine young woman, fall in love, get married, and have a kid.

Each year, her mom is right there, Violet having provided her with the means to live on through the letters, reminding her beloved daughter that no matter how far away she might be, loved ones will always watch over you.

It’s as moving a story as any Violet Evergarden has shared, and my favorite so far. Now that she’s emerged from the shadows of her past, we can now see just how exceptional an Auto Memoir Doll Violet really is.

3-gatsu no Lion – 28

Hina is the focus again this week, and the show is all the better for it; it’s good to see that while he still has plenty of doubts, in this situation Rei is the one who isn’t emotionally at sea, and even has a concrete path he’s following for the sake of the girl who saved her. Hina has been all but a co-protagonist this season, giving Hanazawa Kana some really good material to work with and simply letting her do her thing.

In case her middle school life can never return to its former normalcy (and even that was a bit of a charade), Rei continues to familiarize Hina with shogi, which served Rei well in the past as an escape from unfavorable conditions, and is now the game that pays his bills. Rather hilariously, Rei proves as bad at going easy on Hina (even though he’s trying) as he is good at competing professionally.

Sitting alone with Hina in her room (for the first time), Rei feels it’s a suitable time to ask Hina to tell him, in small bits, in her own time, what’s going on at school. Hina describes, among other things, an oppressively awkward and hostile atmosphere and “an invisible hierarchy” in which “your ranking decides how loud you can laugh or how much freedom you’re allowed.” In other words, every damn middle school classroom, ever.

Of course, not all classrooms are like that, but by no means an uncommon atmosphere, and both Hina and Chiho are partly victims of bad luck, and partly victims of their own selfless personalities. While changing that atmosphere may be nigh impossible, it’s much easier to bypass it.

Takahashi asks for Hina by name and invites her to play catch with him during lunch. He tells her Rei came by his house to play shogi with his dad and granddad—a granddad usually bedridden, but a spring chicken before Rei and a shogi board.

In any case, Takahashi understands the situation, and tells Hina if the classroom is ever too much, they can simply play catch. Hina is overjoyed.

The joy—and the prudence of Rei involving Takahashi—is short-lived, and the bullies escalate by scrawling slurs on Hina’s desk (albeit in chalk; these girls aren’t yet to the point where they’re gouging the wood).

Their leader also calls Hina a bitch under her breath, but Takahashi seems to hear it, or at least can read the room, then invites the three hellions to join him and Hina in their game of catch.

Before I could ponder whether Takahashi was trying to quell the conflict through inclusion, he unleashes some game-level heat at the fawning bullies, sending them running off.

Then Takahashi tells Hina why he did what he did: Chiho once gave him half of her lunch when his bento box fell in the dirt. He knew then, as he knows now, that anyone who shares their food with you is a good person, and he doesn’t think Hina should be afraid to show she has allies in this war.

It’s sweet, sweet revenge and a wonderful sentiment, but I knew its effects would be temporary, and perhaps even cause further escalation. That night, while playing shogi with Hina, Rei apologizes for introducing another element into her problem so recklessly.

But Hina is grateful for everything Rei has done, and is happy he is always asking her what she wants. She’s just frustrated that she doesn’t know…or that she does know, but knows there’ll be no turning back if she does that, because two wrongs don’t make a right and such, right?

Rei has always felt that Hina is stronger than him, and he’ll never surpass her in that regard. The bullies may be having their fun drawing awful stuff on the chalkboard, but they’re not just causing Hina pain…they’re making her madand toughening her. Rei realizes that his pacifist nature may not apply to Hina, and that simply becoming invisible, shuffling off to stare at bushes or play shogi may not be the best options for her.

So when the teacher asks Hina for an explanation, she stands tall, proud, and tearless, and tells the truth: she doesn’t know; she didn’t write that; it was written there before she came to class. The teacher seems to remember the Chiho situation she handled so badly (Chiho is now in psychological rehab, unable to even respond to Hina’s letters). One can hope she’ll handle things a little better this time.

3-gatsu no Lion – 27

As part of repaying his debt he feels he owes her, Rei wants to help Hina in anyway he can, and that means getting a new perspective on the matter of bullying. Hayashida-sensei misunderstands at first. Rei isn’t the one being bullied. Indeed, he proudly proclaims his hard-won and long-standing invisibility at school.

When he brings up Hina, then describes her personality in such great detail and then presents his passion and motivation on the matter (“my duty as a human being” and such) Hayashida starts thinking that there is someone Rei likes. Of course, Rei isn’t thinking that way at all; Hina is not just a dear friend, but close to family, and his lifesaver to boot.

Hayashida gives Rei some good advice, including to tread carefully and not make a big fuss at school, lest it just make things worse for the victim, but to instead listen very intently to her feelings on the matter; how she’d like the matter resolved.

You know Rei is super-serious about this endeavor because he has a back-up plan: if Hina has to change schools or get a private tutor, he means to support her, not just emotionally, but financially. To that end, Hayashida spots a stack of shogi tournaments into which Rei has entered, calculating all of the winnings he’ll amass, which makes him a bit worried.

Despite saying he (literally!) can’t afford to lose again, he does inevitably lose, and is so angry he wrangles an all-to-willing Nikaidou to strenuously train with him. Nikaidou thinks Rei finally has fire in his belly and is utilizing his Best Friend; Rei just wants money to repay Hina!

The next day, Rei helps Akari lug home a whole mess of groceries she got a big sale. When Rei tells Akari his weight, she hurries home to start cooking, and won’t hear of Rei leaving.

There’s something about Rei, perhaps in part his personality; and the experiences he’s had (the loss of loved ones being something they share), that has Kawamotos pour their hearts out at him. Akari feels she can talk to him, and criticizes herself for the job she’s done as surrogate mom to Hina, lamenting she’s “no good.”

Only nineteen herself when their mother died, Akari had barely lived any life before suddenly becoming a mother of two. She did her best, but in hindsight worries she instilled “ham-fisted” ideals into Hina, which led to her predicament with her friend and the bullies.

Akari admired Gramps simply praising Hina’s courage, but she hates the part of herself for wanting Hina to simply run away rather than do something that would cause her to be unhappy or alone. This is, of course, silly; Gramps has lived a long-ass life, of course he’s going to have more wisdom on these kinds of things. Akari is too hard on herself here.

Rei reassures Akari that just as Hina did nothing wrong in fighting the good fight, neither did Akari. After all, Akari raised the girl who saved Rei’s life; that makes Akari his savior too. Had Hina been raised not to be as kind as she is, or to think of herself before others, Rei might not even be there talking to her.

His honest words cheer Akari up, and she fixes a big ‘ol pot of curry for dinner. When Gramps returns from the theme park with Hina and Momo, he complains that Rei is there “again”, but he’s only joking around, and orders him to sit, eat, and stop making him feel like the bad guy.

While stepping back into the house, Hina hands him a cartoon cat phone strap that somewhat resembles him, as thanks for everything he’s done. Hina expects Rei to think it childish, but he tells her he’s moved, and thanks her. It’s such a nice, quiet, warm moment shared between two people who will hopefully be thanking each other for being there for one another for a good long time to come.

3-gatsu no Lion – 26

As Hina cries in her big sister’s lap, Rei catches us up on the reason for her tears, as well as her missing shoe. It’s a harrowing, all-too familiar and common story: some girls in her class with nothing better to do started bullying her longtime friend Chiho. While everyone ignored it or pretended nothing was happening (even the teacher), Hina, like a Fire Sister, kept talking and eating with Chiho.

Eventually, the bullying got so bad Chiho stopped coming to school, and her mother decided they’d move to where her father works, pulling her out of school. When the girls who started all this make light of that in gym class, Hina pounces on their queen bee in vicious rage, to no avail.

Now Hina is the target of their bullying, and she’s terrified of going back to school and being alone, just as she’s distressed that she couldn’t do anything for Chiho. After scaring Momo with her crying, Hina runs out into the night, and Rei very slowly chases her (what can you say; kid’s not an athlete).

Rei makes no bones about it: Hina is the reason he’s above water; she is his lifesaver; and after gently taking her hand, he promises he’ll always stay with her, no matter what. After all, for all the distress and pain it’s caused her, Hina is quite correct that she did absolutely nothing wrong in trying to defend Chiho. That it was beyond her ability to stop the bullying, or that she’s the new target, does not change that simple fact that she’s a good person.

Fully appreciative of her fragile state and need to not be alone, Rei spends the day with her at the libarary where they look at books, something he’s been doing a long time and the reason he’s so good at shogi at his age.

While she’s looking at Japanese sweets books, Rei is looking for the name of the “ladybug bush” of his dark earlier years: “Silverthorn.” He also finds the scientific name of the Asian Ladybug that populated those bushes, and Hina notices the kanji for that name also means “heavenly path.”

Rei takes her to the bush and places a ladybug on her hand, and it climbs as high as it can before flying off toward the sun, demonstrating why, long ago, people gave the bug that name.

As the beetle flies heavenward, Rei would wish nothing more than to unleash hell upon those who have done this to Hina; but just as she walks the heavenly (i.e. just and rightous) path, he knows so must he. Tearing those bullies limb from limb won’t solve anything, and probably onlu make things worse for Hina.

Evening arrives, and Rei escorts Hina home, where Akari and Momo are waiting for them and invite Rei to join them for a sumptuous dinner consisting of all of Hina’s favorite foods. Their Gramps is there too, and gravely asks Hina to sit down and listen.

Akari told him everything that happened…and he praises her heartily for what she did. He knows from the papers how serious bullying can be, so he has nothing but joy and pride in knowing Hina would go to bat for her friend despite the dangers involved; something most adults wouldn’t do. He echos her own earlier words that she did nothing wrong, and should be proud of herself.

Now, I watched his monologue in a very dusty room, so you can imagine I needed a lot of Kleenex nearby, just as the Kawamoto sisters did. Both Gramps’ words of encouragement and Akari’s meal were things they knew they could do for Hina. Rei wracks his brain over what he can do, but simply being there for her, by her side, and assuring her he’ll never leave it, is already enough.