86 – 15 – Tines Falling from a Comb

Shinei’s cordial, by-the-book adjutant is giving him a  report in the hallway of their base when a half-dressed Frederica half-sleepwalks right into Shin and calls him “Kiri”, short for Kiriya, her knight who she believes became a Legion because of her. Once she’s fully awake she’s mortified; a proper lady should never find herself in such a situation.

Of course, when we later learn she’s running around the barracks doing all the odd jobs the soldiers have no time to do, it tracks that she’d be exhausted. Meanwhile, the old Spearhead gang is back, but aside from some momentary cheeriness from Kurena, it’s a particularly dour affair. Frederica chalks it up to them getting worn down by their roles as lackeys of the army.

The start of the episode was the least interesting, with their unit commander Colonel Wenzel trying to make the strategic case for putting the 86 to “proper” use in her new prototype Reginsleifs. She seemingly gets her wish on the eve of a forecasted large-scale Legion attack that Shin knows is far, far larger than the conscientious federacy’s analysts predict.

After the briefing, Shin returns to his quarters to find Frederica there. He prepares coffee as she criticizes how empty his quarters are, comparing them unfavorably to those of Eugene, which she cleaned out after he died. Shin tells her she could have spared herself some pain by never getting to know Eugene, but Frederica doesn’t roll like that.

Some of Misaki Kuno’s best voice work is done as Frederica regales Shinei with the story of the siege that ended the empire, and Kiri’s fall as well. Even so, to her it’s always better to meet, know, love, and remember. If freeing Kiri of the Legion means losing Shinei or anyone else, she won’t have it.

Those connections are what make life living for most people, but Shinei has been living without a single thought about his future for so long, he’s never properly grasped that…until perhaps he met Lena and now Frederica. Just as the Shinei’s resemblance to Kiriya was a catalyst for her getting close to him, Frederica is like a subsitute Lena for Shinei right now, trying to keep him aware of the things in life other than war.

Frederica tells Shinei like Lena did to start thinking about his future; even if it’s just his next leave, that’s a start. As for Raiden, he’s a bit irked that Shinei unilaterally revealed to the military that he can hear the voices of the Legion, something they all agreed to keep secret lest it make things unpleasant for all of them.

Raiden and Shinei don’t feel like friends here, because they’re really more like brothers. Strained brothers, due to Shinei being his usual mostly opaque self and Raiden actually starting to think about a future himself. He’s worried for Shinei like a brother too, not due to the coming Legion threat, but becaue the Giadians are “no saints”.

The credits end with the first Lena sighting in what seems like forever. Whether this harkens a Lena-centric (or even half-Lena) episode next week obviously remains to be seen, but it’s clear the calm before the next coming storm is just about over.

The aquatope on white sand – 12 – Everything becomes the ocean

It’s the last day of Gama Gama, and admission is free. The place is packed with people, which has Kukuru asking why they didn’t come earlier. But even so, she understands that Gama Gama has gotten too old to properly care for its sea life. The logic doesn’t make the last day any less melancholy, but there’s a hint of hope, as Kukuru is offered a job at Tingaara when she’s done school.

Once the last visitors head home and the doors close for the last time, the staff plus Karin and Udon-chan have a little party celebrating 48 glorious years. When everyone learns Kukuru has a job at Tingaara if she wants it, and that Umi-yan and Kuuya are also taking jobs there, a tipsy Karin urges Kukuru to go for it. But Kukuru just isn’t sure, and that’s understandable: the offer came on the day she believes her dream to have ended.

Gramps makes a very awesome and tearjerking speech, and then Kukuru and Fuuka spend some time on the moonlit beach. After the emotional roller coaster of the typhoon, they’ve fully made up. In fact, Kukuru believes it’s now her turn to support Fuuka’s dream, by urging her to take the lead actress job in Tokyo. Fuuka books a flight there for tomorrow.

The next day, Gama Gama is “hollowed out”, as all of the sea creatures are placed in portable tanks bound for either Tingaara or other aquariums that requested them. Kukuru is shook by just how lonely it is with the lights on and the tanks empty…until she goes into the room where all the visitors left notes on the wall.

It’s a room full of warm gratitude, and Kukuru can’t help but smile and feel grateful for everyone who came to Gama Gama and were changed forever. Then, while walking past one of the empty tanks, Kukuru experiences another illusion, once again involving someone who looks like her sister, who gives her a loving pat on the head as if to say “you’ll be alright.”

Back home, during Kukuru and Fuuka’s last meal together for some time, Kukuru mentions the illusion she experienced, believing she’d met her “doppelganger”. This is when Gran finally decides to tell Kukuru something they were going to tell her when she grew up.

As she’s already been an aquarium director for a summer and then lost that aquarium, Gran decides she’s grown up enough. Kukuru had a twin sister…but only Kukuru was born.

I understand Gran not wanting to keep Kukuru in the dark any longer, but the timing couldn’t be worse when it comes to Kukuru and Fuuka having to say goodbye so soon. At the airport, Kukuru tries to put on a brave face, as she feels she owes it to Fuuka, who supported her dream for so long.

Airport goodbyes always get me, and Aquatope really nails it, from the awkwardly formal handshake to watching from Kukuru’s POV until Fuuka disappears into the terminal.

But that is not goodbye, because before she boards her plane, Fuuka thinks about how she only cried when she was alone after her dream ended. She thinks about how Kukuru must be crying alone right then, and decides she can’t board the plane; not now. She runs dramatically through the airport, calls Kukuru and asks where she is, and meets her out on a patio where she is, indeed crying alone.

The bottom line is, making sure Kukuru didn’t have to cry alone was far more important to Fuuka than a movie role in Tokyo. She had to be in the position where she had to choose to learn that the job wasn’t really a new dream. You could say she’s torpedoing her career simply because Kukuru’s gran got talkative about things past at the worst possible time.

Still, Fuuka simply couldn’t let the person who helped her find strength and happiness after losing everything cry by herself. After sharing some big ol’ sobby hugs like two close friends should (seriously, WTF was with that handshake earlier guys!) Kukuru decides she’ll work at Tingaara after all.

The aquarium and its fragile micro-ecosystems taught Kukuru over the years that life can be difficult, and being alive isn’t a given. It was basically a coin toss that Kukuru got to live and her sister didn’t, so she now feels doubly motivated to make those who love her proud; that includes Fuuka.

Fuuka ends up on a plane back home to Iwate as planned, but as she settles into the cozy night flight she reads the poem Gramps read during his farewell speech, about how everything eventually becomes the ocean, which is probably why whenever someone peers into “the ocean within”, they find peace. Kukuru joins in, and they finish the poem in one voice, telling each other see you tomorrow.

It’s a bold and gorgeous way to end the first half of Aquatope, and I couldn’t be more excited to see what new innovative ways the show will cause me to bawl my eyes out when the second half comes around.

Meikyuu Black Company – 05 – The Rise of General Ninomiya

After a very nervy and fun fakeout in which Ninomiya dreams he’s back on Earth but Rimu followed him and is wreaking havoc on the city, he wakes up somewhere else entirely…or rather somewhen else. He was summoned to save humanity, who have been living in the underground town of Marcia for the last three centuries. This appeal is initially clumsily made by Marcia’s “Priestess”, Ranga (voiced with great verve by M·A·O), whom Ninomiya discovers is a boy…by grabbing his crotch.

This is obviously a despicable act, but not shocking considering it’s long since been established that Ninomiya is a slimebag. The “cute girl is really a boy” trope is also particularly outmoded and tone-deaf, especially for a show spouting progressive socioeconomic theories. It also isn’t dwelled on for too long, so I won’t either. Suffice it to say Ranga is determined to make his “Lord Messiah” fall for him—Why, I cannot say—but also is mainly on board so he can get to the surface; he can’t stand living underground.

When Ninomiya bristles at helping a bunch of needy losers, Marcia’s mayor Zazel pulls an old 9mm pistol on him, only for the gun to get chewed on by Rimu. Ninomiya, a constantly snacking Rimu, and Ranga travel across the surface by motorcycle. There, Ninomiya learns this isn’t a different world, but the same old Amuria, just in the future.

Raiza’ha Mining Corp. basically destroyed human civilization and made it ripe for conquest by the Demon Lord. Now the monsters rule the surface. Ranga directs the trio to what is “probably” the Demon Lord’s castle, but turns out to be home to the Demon Lord’s deputy assistant section chief, General Ant.

This ant turns out to be Ninomiya’s old friend and comrade Ant A, who treats them to a feast while he unburdens himself with the monsters’ current troubles. These are put into relief when one of the conquered humans bursts in complaining about the horrific conditions under which he works.

These conditions are, hilariously, the norm in both Japan and America: 8 hour days, only two days off (AKA the weekend), and a scam called insurance. While it’s a pretty on-the-nose critique of our present late-stage capitalist dystopia in which we live, there’s definitely something to plainly listing all the ways it sucks through the voice of someone acting like it sucks, rather than it being the norm.

Of course, this and many of the other humans aren’t aware that it could be much worse than the status quo; it could be like the state of Raiza’ha at the height of its power, when employees were treated like dispensable slaves. Seeing which way the wind is blowing and reunited with his good friend Ant A, Ninomiya decides to ditch the mission he was summoned for and join Team Demon Lord.

By employing more draconian labor practices upon the conquered surface humans while at the same time incentivizing rule-followers and hard-workers with the ability to boss other humans around, he quickly reorganizes the entire social structure of the human subclass, while increasing efficiency, output and earning favor with the big guy.

This results in Ninomiya returning to Marcia in a gaudy Captain Harlock outfit. As the Demon Lord’s newest deputy assistant section chief, General Ninomiya declares that he’s going to be running Marcia from now on. Flanked by Ant A, Cerberus, Rimu, and a Ranga who is simply going with the flow at this point, I’m not sure the underground humans have any choice but to submit, desperately short on supplies as they are.

At any rate, Ninomiya Kinji has once again climbed to the top of his situation by being nothing more or less than the asshole he is and always will be. We’ll see how long it lasts and what form his likely inevitable downfall takes.

Horimiya – 13 (Fin) – Gifting the Sky

Like Yuru Camp, Horimiya ends with an ending, namely high school graduation, and all the bitter-sweetness that comes with such an event. Kyouko and Shuu had been gradually emptying out their lockers day by day, but no one else thought to do so, which means they’re forced by default to help Yuki, Izumi, and Tooru with her much larger loads.

While cleaning up the StuCo office, Remi, Kakeru, Sakura, and Akane all agree to go on a post-graduation trip once one of them gets a driver’s license. Remi momentarily feels a bit lonely about the prospect of her boyfriend being able to drive far away from her, but…he’d never actually do that!

Speaking of hypotheticals, while Kyouko is napping in Izumi’s lap (a cute quiet couple moment I wish there’d been more of), he ponders what might have been were it not for all of the little coincidences—like saving Souta—that led to him not only befriending and falling for Kyouko, but everyone else in their circle of friends.

He imagines an alternate reality in which no one ever approached him or interacted with him, but things simply happened around him. Remi has shorter hair for some reason, Sakura doesn’t know Tooru, while Kyouko and an unnamed friend ogle Akane.

Kyouko wakes up, snaps him out of his daydream, sits in his lap, and says it must be fate that brought them together. But even if fate didn’t exist, Izumi likes to think the world would gradually move in the direction he wanted.

Graduation Day arrives, and as StuCo president and class rep, Kakeru is ready to give his big speech, only for Izumi to sneeze loudly before he can get a full word out, causing the entire class to start snickering. After the speech, Kakeru chases a contrite Izumi, who hides up on the roof.

There, he encounters his old, lonely self, tells him how well things have gone and how happy he is, and then looks at his old self for the first time, promising he won’t look away again. The old Izumi, in turn, decides he’ll “disappear” for him, no longer needed.

A parade of farewells and see-you-laters ensue. Tooru stumbles over a goodbye with Sakura before she holds her hand out for him to shake, and tells him she genuinely had the most fun ever this year, and he was a part of that. Awww. Similarly, Akane tells Yuki how he wants to join everyone on a post-graduation trip, and Yuki preemptively thanks him for doing the driving.

Kyousuke arrives after school to see Izumi, much to Hori’s chagrin, and is momentarily mistaken for Izumi’s dad (as opposed to future dad-in-law). Finally, Motoko gets a taste of Iura’s loud, peppy high school persona, and it’s a shock to say the least, though no doubt she’s happy to see that side of her brother.

Finally, our cozy lovey-dovey titular couple walk together to get some sushi with Kyouko’s fam, hand-in-hand. Izumi remarks how he once feared all the boundaries between him and Kyouko, but no longer. The two are so close, they might as well share the name Horimiya…and that’s fine with him, because wherever she goes, sunny days follow.

The spring sky looks bluer and more beautiful than he’s ever seen—so much so that he wishes he could repay Kyouko for shattering his old reality and wanting a future with him…by gifting her that sky. The vivid colors, soft focus, and dancing sakura petals add to the sense that Kyouko and Izumi are on cloud nine. If this ends up being the last we see them in anime form, I couldn’t ask for a lovelier parting shot!

Horimiya was by no means perfect. I didn’t always agree with some of the narrative choices made after the couple slept together, and there were ultimately a few too many characters to juggle (with Shuu, Akane, and Sawada getting particularly short shrift) but at its best the central romance was as fun and electric as anything I’ve seen in the genre. It certainly won’t be a series I’ll be forgetting anytime soon.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Horimiya – 12 – The Mantis

This week it’s Christmas in Horimiyaland, and everyone is figuring out how—and with whom—they want to spend their holiday. It’s just too perfect that Yuki fell in love with Tooru having absolutely no clue that the boy’s family was freakin’ loaded. Money can’t buy you love! If anything, it intimidates a girl of more modest means like Yuki.

At a time when everyone needs Christmas cake, Izumi is scheduled to work through the holidays at the bakery, meaning he won’t be able to join Kyouko and her family. While she’s understanding—her boy’s fam gotta earn, nothing you can do about it—her dad, mom, and Souta are less forgiving. Never mind if it’s Kyouko’s the one technically dating him. They want Izumi!

Shuu and Sengoku were both convinced Tooru and Yuki were already an item, but by saying he only “recently” harbored a crush on Kyouko, Tooru he reveals he’s still in a transitory place: not yet far enough removed from the pain of not having those feelings returned, and thus not quite ready to look for love elsewhere. Compounding matters is that he likely considers Yuki his best mates.

Why else would he so helplessly waver when she asks if she can come to his place to play video games? Or sneak in the house like something elicit is afoot? Or so determined to keep the family’s statuesque personal assistant Yashiro’s nose out of his business? Like his other friends, Tooru likely doesn’t want Yashiro or his family to get the wrong idea in the present—even if it may well turn out to be the right idea in the future.

After they both calm down after tea and cake (from Izumi’s bakery!) and fire up the video games, Tooru lets slip that he’s “happy with the way things are.” And honestly, I really don’t see Yuki disagreeing with that. As they watch that loading screen, they both seem content and comfortable. No need to rush things.

There’s a bit of drama at school when Sengoku doesn’t immediately agree to spend Christmas with Remi at Remi’s, and for a very bizarre reason: her dad is into catching bugs and putting them in boxes. When it’s trifling things like this that come between lovers, you know it’s true love. Sengoku simply has to grow a pair. The bugs are DEAD, dude!

When Kyouko shows her parents her superlative marks (all A’s save gym and art…kinda the opposite of me!) her mom remarks how there will only be one more report card, and then she’ll graduate. As her parents bicker and Souta asks her to look at his marks, Kyouko gets lost in thought: What will her life be like after graduation?

But before that, it’s Christmas, and the episode doesn’t want to leave anyone out as it checks in on just about everyone, starting with a contact-wearing Yanagi and Yuki’s big sister, who have a cute little exchange by a big outdoor Christmas tree. Tanihara and his brother wrestle over a clear view of the TV.

In what is a promising development, Yuki and Tooru are hanging out together for Christmas. I’m rooting for you two tentative bastards….take all the time you need!

Motoko is studying hard even the night before Christmas, but Shuu makes sure she takes a fried chicken and cake break. Sakura urges Sengoku to stop being a goddamn wimp and go hang out with his adorable girlfriend on one of (if not the) most important nights for couples both potential and extant. On the latter front, Shindou asks his girlfriend to wait one more year for him to graduate, and she agrees.

The entire Hori residence—including Souta’s cute friend Yura—is united in their elation when Izumi stops by to drop off their cake. When he says he can’t stay, Kyouko is again understanding, but her family won’t let him leave without a hot drink, eventually stealing a whole hour of his shift at the bakery.

When they finally allow him to leave, Kyouko walks him home, despite not being dressed for the chilly night; she’s in slippers, for goodness sake! But there’s something she wants to say to Izumi, and mercifully it’s not to ask him to berate or hit her; that particular pothole on their relationship road seems to have smoothed out off-camera…and that’s fine.

No, Kyouko tells him the same thing he told her back when they first started going out: she still doesn’t know very much about him. But due in part to that and other factors, she wants to be with him even after they graduate. Izumi goes quite a few steps beyond agreeing, and proposes marriage! Whoa, boy! Immediately embarrassed by blurting out what is surely deep-seated but still premature desire, he shuffles off.

But Kyouko promises she’ll “make him happy”, something Izumi says is usually what the guy is supposed to say in such a situation—which ironically is the kind of cisnormative comment you’d expect from Kyouko! She insists she should be the one to say it, as she admits she’s self-centered and “only good at studying and chores” though she’s selling herself short.

These two lovable dorks then bow to each other, expressing how they’re looking forward to their future together. All I can really say to that is BAAAAAWWWW.

After the credits, we fast-forward to New Year’s, which Kyouko and Izumi are spending together at a festival. They get their fortunes, but they hardly matter, since they both agree that as long as the other person is smiling, it’s all gravy. They grab some amazake and reflect how they were the last people they saw at the end of the previous year and the first people they saw at the beginning of the new one.

Izumi wants every year to be like that. Izumi walks Kyouko home hand-in-hand, assuring her that they can and will indeed be together forever. And damnit, I believe him. And like them, I’m happy just seeing the two smiling together, shrugging off the anxiety around what would happen after high school, laying out their future, and sharing in the warmth, relief, and elation of knowing graduation will only be the end of their beginning.

Horimiya – 02 – Your (First) Name.

The first Horimiya was so nice I watched it twice, and if anything it was even better because I didn’t have to take mental notes for a review, I just slipped into it like a warm cozy blanket and enjoyed. I enjoyed so much, in fact, at no point during the two viewings did I realize that Hori didn’t know Miyamura’s first name!

But before that, Hori and Miyamura are strolling along the shopping district when she overhears the theme song of an anime Souta likes, and starts singing along. In addition to showing off Tomatsu Haruka’s lovely singing voice, she also charms Miyamura to no end, even though she herself is embarrassed.

It’s such a gorgeous and realistic little moment in these two’s normal lives, not just because she felt so carefree with Miyamura she sang in front of him without thinking. Memorizing songs your kid siblings (or kids, if you’re a parent) is just a thing that happens IRL. You think I care about “Let it Go” enough to memorize the lyrics? Doesn’t matter, because my nieces watched Frozen literally hundreds of times!

Back to first names: Hori suddenly realizes she doesn’t know Miyamura’s when her perpetually busy mom stops by the house unannounced. Voiced by Kayano Ai in Full Mischievous Mom Mode, Hori can’t conceal how much Miyamura has been over of late since Souta is right there to fact-check. That said, Hori’s description of him as “dark villain in a detective movie”? *Chef’s kiss*

While a more structurally complex episode than the first, Horimiya hews to storytelling best practices. A “what’s your first name” scenario could be drawn out across a whole episode, but it manages to resolve things in just a third of one. Hori’s Wile E. Coyote-like attempts to learn without asking fail hilariously, particularly when she has the gall to ask Tooru, the guy she just rejected, about Miyamura!

With her mom around, Hori has a surefire way of hearing Miyamura introduce himself, but her mom seems to sense she’s trying to take a shortcut and save face, so she diabolically sends Hori off on an errand when Miyamura stops by. Finally, with Miyamura directly asking if something’s bothering her, and if it’s because she has a crush on someone, she has no choice but to come clean.

Miyamura Izumi has a good laugh at her expense. Souta calls her lame, and Miyamura has known her first name was Kyouko all along. But at the end of the segment, she’s able to cast aside the histrionics and laugh about it with them. The bit doesn’t go on any longer than it needs to, and now Hori has a piece of paper with Miyamura’s name, so she has no excuse to forget it!

The next segment introduces three new classmates, bringing the total to seven. All three are in the Student Council, and include President, Top-Ranked student, and Hori’s childhood friend Sengoku Kakeru, his gorgeous girlfriend/StuCo mascot Ayasaki Remi (M · A · O), and the VP, Kouno Sakura.

The StuCo and Kakeru in particular seem to have no qualms pushing huge heaps of StuCo paperwork on Hori, despite her not being a member. Worse still, much of the work she’s tasked with doing should be Remi’s responsibility. Hori’s friends can tell all the extra work is weighing on her, but she seems stubbornly determined—and oddly obligated—to do it anyway.

Later that afternoon, while Miyamura is minding his own business in the hall, thinking about whether to bake Hori a cake to cheer her up, Remi races past and barrels into him, spilling a huge box of papers everywhere. Then Remi has the temerity to ask him to watch where he’s going. Dude was stationary, kid! When he notices she left a stack of papers behind, she says it’s cool to just toss them.

The next day, Miyamura arrives to find a potential dust-up in the hallway, as Kakeru accuses Hori of losing track of the budget papers. She rightfully pleads innocence, and while Kakeru admits both sides share some responsibility, he still demands an apology. Hori seems on the verge of tears as the crowd around them prepares to make their own conclusions.

From then, it’s Miyamura to the rescue, handing his bag and glasses to Tooru for safekeeping, pushing through the crush, and delivering a swift headbutt to Kakeru, then producing the missing budget papers. Remi is revealed as the party responsible for their being misplaced, and turns on the waterworks.

But like Miyamura lying to Tooru last week, or the first-name thing this week, this is just another thing, and all parties are able move past it. The StuCo bow in apologetic unison, Yuki gives Hori a relieved hug, and Hori thanks her pierced knight in tattooed armor.

As for why he headbutted Kakeru, well…the guy was simply pissing him off. Me too, Miyamura! But we also learn the reason why Kakeru and Hori’s dynamic is the way it is. It reveals that ever since they were little tykes and through grade and middle school, Hori consistently bullied and messed with Kakeru.

I for one am glad Kakeru isn’t just a one-dimensional bad guy, but something more nuanced, and with reason and history behind his manner. He vowed to Hori that he’d make something of himself in high school and she’d no longer be able to mess with him, and so he has; he’s the academic top dog and loved by virtually everyone.

Miyamura is a new wrinkle in their long-standing relationship, and even though Miyamura has no intention of delivering any further headbutting, Kakeru still shrinks into a anxious ball when Miyamura greets him in the morning. Maybe Kakeru, like his childhood friend, also sees the detective movie villain in him!

The third and final segment (lotta bang for the buck this week!) could also have been stretched into an entire episode, but Horimiya’s writing is tight and efficient enough that it’s able to basically tell three episodes worth of story in one. This one focuses on the fact Hori’s birthday is coming up, concurrent with spring break.

Souta asks Hori if Miyamura (whom he thinks of as a brother now) will be over every day; Hori gently warns her little bro that the day may come when Miyamura won’t come over anymore. That could be for a variety of reasons, from the two of them drifting apart, to him finding a girl(or boy)friend, to them simply graduating and ending up in different places afterwards.

The bottom line is, Hori is as sad as Souta about the prospect of Miyamura not coming around anymore. Fortunately, that prospect should be a ways off, if it ever comes. Miyamura comes by with a cake (natch) as well as a very personalized and thoughful gift: a CD of “all the popular music young people like right now” (I love how she phrases it as if she were some old lady).

Between school, housework, and caring for Souta, Hori confessed to have fallen behind on musical trends. She told Miyamura this back when she was singing the anime theme. He not only remembered, but got her exactly what she wanted. She’s amazed he did this, but she shouldn’t be. As Souta tells her earlier, exhibiting quite the precociousness, she should be more honest with herself.

Both express their happiness in that moment with wide but also tentative smiles, as they both look outside the window and watch the sakura petals falling. If it’s Hori’s birthday, it means spring break is almost over, and they’ll be in their third and final year of high school soon.

For such an ostensibly jam-packed episode, the fact this moment is given such time to breathe and fill the space says a lot about the deftness of Horimiya’s direction. It also says a lot about the writing in terms of what isn’t said in this closing scene, simply letting the joy of being together in the present become tempered by the uncertainty of future. Frankly, Miyamura and Hori should stop worrying so much about the future and try to enjoy life in the present!

Yes, it’s something to think about, but it cannot dominate their thoughts, nor always mar otherwise happy times. Heck, the fact they’re so apprehensive about a future in which they’re not together should be an obvious sign of their feelings for one another. If they’re so concerned about time, then they should get a move on with acknowledging those feelings and making them known to one another.

Arte – 12 (Fin) – The Firenze She Made Along the Way

Matei pays a visit to Arte to apologize for his rude comments. Especially once he sees her gorgeous portrait of Lady Sofia, he admits to harboring an “ugly jealousy.” Arte replies that if his jealousy is ugly, the jealousy she’s had for male artisans is ugly too. He urges her to always treasure the talent that comes from her unique position, and to continue to cultivate it.

Matei helps Arte realize that she has unique talent and value as a female noble artist, and she doesn’t want to become tied down by a patron just yet. On top of that there’s much she still wants to learn from Leo, so she turns Yuri down and prepares to return to Florence. Yuri respects and even admires her decision; she and Katarina leave on good terms as well, committing to being friends from now on and vowing to write one another.

Upon returning to Florence, Arte finds Leo’s workshop empty. Darcia informs her that he’s come down with a fever and is resting at Ubertino’s house. Ubertino believes Leo will be fine, but is more concerned with the fact the ceiling mural he started won’t be finished by the Easter deadline. As a member of Leo’s workship and with Ubertino’s approval, Arte rolls up her sleeves and vows to complete the ceiling herself.

When the timeline proves impossible for any one person and Arte nearly collapses from exhaustion, Angelo steps in to assist with the painting while Darcia resolves to keep them fed and healthy. Eventually a group of other apprentices Arte has met and befriended join the team. With all the extra manpower the ceiling is completed on time.

Leo and Arte don’t end up meeting until the mural is unveiled, and while her “light calculations” are still in need of some seasoning, he’s nevertheless grateful for her help. When he asks why she came back, Arte says she wants to paint paintings that encourage people, like the triptych of the Virgin Mary encouraged her while she was in Venice. Leo’s glad to have her back, even if he’ll have to get used to the extra noise and energy all over again.

Finally, Arte’s mother accepts an invitation to the unveiling, and shows that she’s big enough to admit when she was wrong. She was sure that despite her late husband’s encouragement, a woman only had two paths: marriage or the convent. Arte proved she could forge her own path, but she didn’t do it alone, and made sure to honor everyone in her life—including her parents—who aided her in her journey by painting them into the mural (in heroic garb, of course).

It’s a touching gesture, and a fitting end for an anime with a lovable heroine in a very unconventional time period and setting, but a timeless message: Believe in yourself and your abilities, work your ass off, rely on friends and allies when needed, and you’ll eventually convince the skeptics and soar to success. Brava, Arte!

Arte – 11 – Crossroads

Having made excellent progress with Katarina, Arte gets back to the official reason for coming to Venice: Lady Sofia’s portrait. Arte also paints a portrait of Katarina, and accompanies her to the workshop to learn more about artisans first-hand.

While there, the apprentice Matei states that he “envies” Arte for being an educated noblewoman and an artist, and when she sees his battered hands, this compels her to step up her work considerably. Aside from her modeling sessions during her portrait, Katarina never sees Arte.

She stays up all night sketching and studying, not eating any the food Daphne brings. After being told she was the wrong gender for the world of artisans, suddenly hearing the opposite lights a fire under her.

As one would imagine, this eventually catches up to Arte, and sure enough Daphne and Katarina find her passed out from overwork and exhaustion. For this, Yuri gives her a very stern, businesslike talking-to that amounts to “I don’t care about your problems, don’t make my niece cry again.”

She eventually recovers and finishes Katarina’s portrait, and Kat is so bowled over by its quality she rushes back to the workshop to show Matei that Arte isn’t just an educated noblewoman who paints, but an immensely talented artist in her own right.

After meeting with Matei Arte must’ve thought she wasn’t dedicating enough time to art and was wasting her privilege. Of course, that’s rubbish! We’ve seen Arte work till she literally vomits; no one, including herself, can call her a loafer or coaster.

Both Arte and Leo also have moments this week when they truly miss each other (though Leo puts up a stoic front as always). Presumably Arte will return to Venice, but then again, perhaps not: Yuri offers to be her full-time patron going forward if she remains in Venice permanently.

That means a steady wage and a comfortable life, neither of which any woman of any station can take for granted in these times. If Yuri and his sister-in-law are satisfied with her portraits, perhaps there’s nothing more Leo can teach her she hasn’t already learned during her solo time in Venice.

We know Katarina doesn’t want her to go, but what does Arte want? Is her personal and professional bond with Leo worth declining a potentially once-in-a-lifetime offer? (Leo would probably say no way.) Yuri gives her until she finishes Sofia’s portrait to decide. I wonder which path she’ll choose!

Fruits Basket – 27 (S2 02) – A Mountain of Laundry

After a Motoko-shaped tangeant, Furuba returns the focus to Tooru, Kyou and Yuki, along with Tooru’s BFFs Arisa and Saki. Career plans are due, which means there’s also a new focus on what exactly these kids will be doing with themselves after they graduate.

Tooru’s always imagined herself getting right to work in lieu of college, but her friends don’t rule out the fact she might get married. Heck, even Arisa doesn’t rule out getting married! Of course, Anyone would be lucky to have her.

Tooru is excited to accompany Kyou to his shishou/dad Kurama’s dojo for lunch, only to find Kurama can’t cook for shit. He also chopped off his luxiriously long hair, citing superstition.

Tooru also meets Kurama’s assistant Tomoda, who like Kurama has certain nuggets of Kyou’s childhood. Despite his zodiac’s reputation, he was a young lad like any other non-Souma kid: scared of things he isn’t now, but also of things he’s still grappling with.

Kurama is promptly called away to meet with Kyou’s real father, a man who clearly values his admittedly impressive vinyl collection over the fruit of his loins. He’s hoping Kurama will be on his side when the time comes to “confining” Kyou post-graduation.

It’s what’s always been done with the cat, but this prick doesn’t know how much progress Kyou has made, nor Kurama’s commitment to protect Kyou like his own son no matter who opposes him…even Akito. In this regard, you could say he chopped his hair as a sign he was choosing Kyou over cruel tradition.

Kurama eventually returns home, and enjoys a curry with Kyou and Tooru, not letting Kyou’s “real” dad rain on his parade. Later that evening, after Yuki has already retired to his room, Tooru and Kyou get to talking about their respective futures, and the possibility of suffering the same fate as previous Cats comes up.

In turn, so does Tooru’s plan to become independent, which was conceived for her mom’s sake when she was still around. What if circumstances allowed her to pursue other futures that don’t sacrifice her freedom? Not knowing which future is best or possible, Tooru ends up in a spiral of uneasiness and eventually anxiety, and asks Kyou not to notice when she’s “intentionally ignoring things” lest she “go all week.”

Shigure, inserting himself in a very close moment between Tooru and Kyou, has a very comforting talk at the ready (in part because he wants to eat some of the somen they made): Think of all the questions and problems of the future as a massive mountain of laundry. Worrying about whether and how to do it all only wastes precious time. Instead, simply wash what’s at your feet, little by little. The mountain will gradually shrink, and before you know it, it will be gone.

Shigure’s words are backed up by the sheer amount of progress made by Kyou, Yuki, and Tooru since episode one of the first season. They are now in the future of that time, and have been systematically cleaning one piece of laundry after another. They’re in a better place than their worries make them think.

Shigure’s other piece of advice is that whenever that uneasiness comes—and it will always come, as it should—don’t be afraid to take a pause and do something to distract you and make you happy, whether it’s watching anime or having a meal with loved ones. Sage advice, especially considering neither Kyou, Yuki, nor Tooru have to worry about facing their futures alone.

They have each other, Arisa and Saki, Kurama, Shigure (if he doesn’t turn on them) and many others who will continue to support them.

In / Spectre – 12 (Fin) – What a Lovely Day

Whew…Rikka doesn’t play any last-minute trump cards, and Steel Lady Nanase vanishes in a wisp of smoke; the forum have had their say and decided she wasn’t a realy ghost—even though she was.

It turns out Rikka was aware she was dueling with Kotoko and Kurou all along, and emails the latter to congratulate their victory…and warn them that This Isn’t Over. But for now, Kotoko can celebrate her momentous, hard-fought win with Kurou and her youkai associates.

That said, having exerted so much mental energy outwitting Rikka, Kotoko has to rest for a while…a while that turns out to be 28 hours. While she’s asleep, Kurou goes behind her back and has a dinner date with Saki, the scoundrel!

Just kidding; the two have a very proper and cordial dinner as a form of closure on their relationship that ended so abruptly years ago. It’s also an opportunity for Kurou to tell Saki that Rikka is basically trying to create a god who has the power to turn her into a normal human.

The next morning, Kotoko is furious and suspicious about Kurou’s goings-on, and punishes him by getting his only remaining clean shirt wet by pouncing on him straight from the bath and shaking her hair on him, then tumbling around in the bed.

This is why I was so glad the Steel Lady story was wrapped up last week: so we could watch more of this fascinating and endlessly rootable couple interact and bounce off one another. Kotoko is such a formidable firecracker, she practically requires an immortal as a partner.

The two check out of the hotel as it looks close to rain, and Kurou assures Kotoko that he and Saki are so over (which is the truth after all) by comparing her to Princess Iwanaga from the KojikiWhen she’s offended (the princess was sent away because she was homely), he makes an appeal to her surpassing beauty.

After a momentary blush she scolds him for being superficial, then suggests they head for her house to meet with her parents, casually taking Kurou’s hand and holds it tighter and tighter. Honestly, I could watch this pair of lovebirds playfully bicker for another two seasons! Hopefully we’ll get at least one more, since there’s plenty of potential for more supernatural mysteries, not to mention a Rikka rematch.

Read Crow’s review of In/Spectre Episode 12 here.

In / Spectre – 11 – The Fundamentals are Sound

This is not a 12 Angry Men scenario, and it was never meant to be. By that I mean Kotoko’s goal from the start wasn’t to gradually chip away at Rikka’s influence in the forum. It was all about introducing enough elements of plausible fiction so that when she dropped her fourth solution—Nanase Karin isn’t even dead—the forum posters would take those previously posited elements and form their own theories about what happened.

Rikka meanwhile only intervened in the forum to reject Kotoko’s three conclusions, rather than those elements. To try to do more would expose her own motives to the forum. When she kills herself, she chooses the futures with the least dissenters, while Kotoko is all about creating more and more possible futures in which the Steel Lady is not real.

Kotoko’s fourth solution smartly utilizes elements of the previous three the forum have already been acclimated to and are comfortable holding in their individual minds. Nanase Karin was never killed by that steel beam; the faceless corpse was that of “A-san”, a woman of the same age and figure whom Karin befriended.

She convinced this A-san to help her escape the public eye by taking her place, but eventually murdered her by knocking her out and then dropping the precariously-positioned steel beams onto her face. After that, Karin took A-san’s identity and started a new life…but it wasn’t enough. She wanted to make certain the public believed she was dead, so she created the Steel Lady Nanase urban legend.

In order to quickly cement and spread that legend, Kotoko posits that Karin created the very Steel Lady Nanase Wiki on which everyone is chatting, and that she is currently among them. This is a stunning move that traps Rikka without ever revealing her true identity. The idea of Karin herself being the admin is seductive enough, because it draws upon the affection for Karin among many of the posters.

Finally, Kotoko explains how Detective Terada happened upon Karin, scouting out the scene of Steel Lady’s next appearance, quite by chance. When his detective instincts recognized her through her new appearance (her prodigious bust size being a dead giveaway), he is thrown off balance just enough to give Karin the opening she needs to kill him. None of this is airtight, but it doesn’t need to be, because much of the forum speculation is now on cruise control, as Kotoko planned.

Even though she continues to kill herself, Rikka finds herself less and less able to grasp the future she wants, in which the forum believes Steel Lady Nanase is a real ghost and not an artifice of her namesake. She seems to toss her blade away in disgust and resignation. Meanwhile, while she’s been choosing whatever futures had the fewest dissenters, Kurou has always gone for the same one over and over: the one in which he defeats Steel Lady.

As the “votes” start streaming in in MP Kotoko’s favor, Steel Lady becomes more erratic and uncoordinated, until Kurou is able to snatch her steel beam out of her hands and slam it into her face. Born from lies, she’s now poised to be destroyed by lies.

The truth, as Kotoko said, never had any place here. I can’t see what aces Rikka might have up her sleeves could undo Kotoko’s masterpiece of logical fiction, since it’s no longer about two dueling fictions, but the numerous fictions that exist in the imaginations of the forum. And by so carefully and artfully preparing this committee over the last few episodes, In/Spectre makes the final checkmate that much more satisfying. In short, it delivered the goods.

Check out another In/Spectre Episode 11 Review by Crow’s World of Anime.

In / Spectre – 10 – Bogged Down in Committee

If Kotoko’s logical fiction were a car, this week she suddenly pops a J-turn. One could say her first solution was simply a means of putting feelers out. If the forum is already convinced that Steel Lady Nanase is a real ghost, she turns into the skid with her second solution.

Jealous and spiteful of her success, Nanase Haruka’s father fell down the flight of stairs all by his lonesome, and intentionally left a note behind implicating his daughter, whose career was then ruined. Haruka let the falling steel beam kill her. When she met her father in the afterlife, he revealed the truth to her.

Wracked by his betrayal, Haruka’s soul couldn’t move on, but returned to the world of the living as the evil ghost Steel Lady Nanase. Having solved the mystery of her father’s death and created a logical reason for the existence of the ghost, Kotoko takes the next natural step and creates a reason for her to disappear.

To do so, she beseeches the forum to focus their prayers on delivering her from evil so her soul can move on in peace. This solution is so different it catches Rikka off guard. Kurou returns from his latest death having chosen a favorable future, and Nanase is visibly weaker, enabling him to get the upper hand.

But it’s not over. Kotoko has simply created another crack in the portrait of the Steel Lady; it remains to be seen if she can shatter it. The forum pokes a fresh hole in Kotoko’s latest solution Steel Lady Nanase wouldn’t need to wreak so much havoc if her only goal was to expose her father’s betrayal.

Rikka kills herself. Having pursuaded a few more but not enough, Kotoko pivots to her third solution, involving Haruka’s older, far less famous sister, Hatsumi.

Kotoko presents the idea that Hatsumi was also jealous of Haruka, so when she found the note their father left incriminating Haruka, Hatsumi mailed it to the media. This action had a much more devastating reaction than she anticipated, throwing Haruka into a pit of despair that led to her suicide-by-steal beams.

Only Hatsumi wasn’t convinced Haruka committed suicide, and said as much to the police. In fact, Hatsumi didn’t even believe the faceless body was truly Haruka, but a body double, and her sister was still out there, somewhere, waiting for the right time to exact revenge on her big sis.

Hatsumi became beset by obsession and paranoia, to the point someone depraved who knew and was infatuated with her sought the means to make Hatsumi believe Haruka was truly dead, setting her at ease. He achieved this by creating the spectre of Steel Lady Nanase. Once he murdered someone in her name, this individual might have gone on to seek a closer relationship to the object of his obsession.

Kotoko closes this third solution by calling for the forum to aid in the search for the degenerate before anyone else is harmed. The people take to this story like ducks to bits of bread…until Rikka herself inserts herself into the forum and questions the motives of Kotoko’s would-be creeper, and questions why Hatsumi wouldn’t think Steel Lady Nanase wasn’t her sister’s ghost trying to kill her.

Since we knew from the preview for this episode that only the second and third solutions would be presented, this episode has the disadvantage of being neither the beginning or end of Kotoko’s duel with Rikka. Yet it was still engaging thanks to Kotoko’s boundless charisma.

Rikka’s hold on the forum seems stronger than ever, while Kurou finds himself miles from the future in which Steel Lady disappears. But Kotoko still has a fourth ace of her sleeve. We’ll see if the last solution can sway the forum for good.

Check out another In/Spectre Episode 10 Review by Crow’s World of Anime.

In / Spectre – 09 – There is No Truth Here

Parliament is in session, and Leader of the Opposition Iwanaga Kotoko confidently casts her first net of logical fiction, hoping to snare enough votes to neutralize Steel Lady Nanase. A string of believable lies issues forth from her brain and fingers into the forums, creating a non-supernatural solution to the murder of Detective Terada. This early in the game she knows she doesn’t have to convince everyone, just enough to start creating reasonable doubt. It’s as much a murder case as a committee for a bill.

Her solution to Terada’s unusual, uncontested murder is surprisingly elegant and plausable, capitalizing on Terada’s general exceptionalism both as a detective and as a judo practitioner. She also makes good use of the site where his body was found (an abandoned gas station on a sleepy road). She spins the yarn of a the unghostly killer rigging a weight on a pendulum and luring Terada to the spot where it would smash into his face at great speed and kill him without resistance.

Since the episode can hardly just show Kotoko tapping away on her laptop in the back seat of a car the whole time, the online committee is visualized as her standing alone in cyberspace, surrounded by the screens of other users on the forum, poking holes into Kotoko’s solution. Kotoko expected this—any underdog would—and rather than trying to make everyone happy by plugging all of those holes, she settles for reducing the belief in the ghost story by increasing the specificity of the “real” killer’s description.

When that description starts sounding an awful lot like Saki, the policewoman turns around to shoot an angry look at Kotoko. She explains that it’s not her intention to frame an innocent policewoman at all, but to create an alternate killer that both fits the facts of the case and has motive (in the case of Kotoko’s fiction, romantic obsession). After all, neither her solution nor the legend of Steel Lady Nanase are true; they are dueling fictions. Since Rikka’s got a huge head start, Kotoko has to use every rhetorical weapon at her disposal to create lasting doubts.

And therein lies the challenge of this committee: even when Kotoko starts to sway the flow of the forum in her direction, the flow changes back to believing in the ghost all too quickly. That’s because Rikka is killing herself, visualizing and choosing the future threads that favor her ghost story. In the meantime, Kurou duelling with Nanase isn’t just to serve as a gauge for the effect of Kotoko’s lies (her power fluctuates in real time), but a way for Kurou to die and see the futures that favor those lies.

Despite it being another extremely talky episode of perhaps the talkiest show of the season, this is honestly all very fascinating and exhilarating to me. Your mileage may vary, but watching Kotoko do her thing is freaking awesome. Not only that, her first solution not holding up long was already folded into her calculations. She has three additional doubt-creating amendments to her proposed bill, so she’s feeling very confident about a legislative upset.