Re: Zero – 30 – Partners in Crime

First of all, it’s classic Natsuki Subaru to compliment Echidna on her school uniform! Second, Re:Zero finally deigns to air its opening credits! After they roll, Echidna didn’t really send Subaru back in time; both her uniform, the classroom, and his parents were illusions created from his memories. After some rather half-hearted attempts to trip him up. Subie doesn’t take the bait; he’s now fully faced and accepted his past and is ready to move forward.

Echidna declares he has passed the trial…but it was only the first of three. Subaru stops her right there: Freeing the Sanctuary is Emilia’s job, not his. Unfortunately, when he comes to back in the ruins, Subie finds an unconscious Emilia enduring a terrible nightmare, and she wakes up in an acute state of panic. If she was facing her past, it’s clear she’s having a much tougher time than Subie.

Ram makes sure Emilia is comfortably resting, while Subaru and the others talk barriers. Otto wonders if those who can pass through it can simply carry those who can’t across while they’re unconscious. That idea is shot down by one Ryuzu Bilma, the elfish girl Subaru briefly spotted in the forest, who turns out to be extremely old (a “loli hag” as Subie artfully puts it).

Anyone of mixed blood who crosses the barrier will have their body and soul separated, leaving the formless soul within and a shell of a body without. In other words, the only way out for them is the lifting of the barrier. Subaru then stays beside Emilia’s bed until she wakes up in the morning, and unconsciously puts her hand on his arm, a gesture she immediately walks back.

Later in the morning Subaru warns Ram that not everyone within the sanctuary wants the barrier to fall, and he must be vigilant against any threats to Emilia from those elements. She also believes Frederica could have some kind of plan in mind she didn’t reveal to Subaru. That night, Emilia attempts the trial again, and while she’s not denied a second chance, it too ends in failure. Afterwards, Roswaal has Subaru meet with him in his room while Ram stands by.

The Margrave finally admits that he allowed everything regarding the Witch’s Cult attack on the village and manor to happen as kind of political gambit, knowing the villagers’ opinion of Emilia would improve if she saved them. Subaru is pissed, mostly because so much of Roswaal’s plan depended on Subaru not being “complete trash” and coming through. But Roswaal had faith in him then, and has faith in him now.

Subaru doesn’t tell Emilia any of this, respecting Roswaal’s wishes (and deferring to political acumen). Like Roswaal with Subaru, Subaru may not have the most concrete evidence that Emilia can and will pass the trials and free the Sanctuary, but he has faith nonetheless. Emilia is grateful for the belief in her and trusts Subaru, but asks him to simply continue believing in her—without “spoiling” her.

To that end, Subaru decides to appeal to Garfiel to free the villagers. Since Garfiel has Emilia working on the barrier, the villagers are no longer necessary, so he agrees. Garfiel will escort Subaru and the villagers back to Arlam. Subaru leaves with Emilia’s blessing and one last tidbit from Roswaal, via Ram: if he runs into trouble with Frederica or anyone else, turn to Beatrice, and tell her “Roswaal said to ask the question”.

En route to Arlam, Garfiel tells Subaru he can tell he went through a trial, and wonders why he can’t simply complete them in Emilia’s place.  Judging from how she acts whenever she fails an attempt, it’s clear to Garfiel what I mentioned earlier: that Emilia is having a hard go with facing her past, probably because a part (or all) of her doesn’t want to.

After a brief stop in the village, Subaru goes on to the manor, which is oddly empty and bathed in blood-red light—never a good sign on this show! As he desperately runs through the halls searching for Rem, we hear an odd squishing sound and he trips and falls…on his own bowels. As he lies in a pool of blood and guts, his assailant reveals herself: Elsa, his very first nemesis in this other world.

Talk about a blast from the past! We last saw her back in 2o16, retreating after being wounded but not killed by an all-out attack from Reinhard. I wrote “the fact she’s still out there with her chilling desire to disembowel everyone else is certainly disquieting, as is the fact that such a huge attack didn’t kill her.” Well, now she’s back, and Subaru is almost certainly primed to Return by Death. I wonder where and when he’ll end up?

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.

Gleipnir – 13 (Fin) – The Truth is Out There…Not Here

As Honoka/Aiko’s “Ghost” “erases” another classmate (perhaps involved in the bullying that caused Aiko’s suicide) in front of Elena, Shuuichi and Claire ask Sayaka’s gang to give them all the coins they collected so they can go back to living normal lives while the two of them “end the game” for good. It’s a neat strategy, but unfortunately we never get to see it realized in this frustratingly incomplete finale.

Claire finally gives Shuuichi an ultimatum: either they hang out at one of their houses or they’re through, having had only this one summer together before going their separate ways. It’s a bit out of left field, but the result is Shuuichi invites her to his house, which is filthy and no place for a makeout session. When Claire tries to get answers, a repressed memory of Elena in the same position surfaces, and in a panic, Shuuichi nearly assaults Claire before returning to his senses.

Ultimately, Sayaka’s gang decides they’ll give their coins to Elena and not Shuuichi. Chihiro makes the exchange, but is interrupted by the arrival of Shuuichi, whose memories continue to surface. He now knows that Elena used her ability to erase his memories so Honoka/Ghost Aiko wouldn’t go after him. In effect, she did the same thing to him that he and Claire want to do for Sayaka’s crew: shoulder all the burden.

Shuuichi wants more answers, but Elena is elusive, and a fight ensues, that while technically impressive and exciting, doesn’t really amount to much. With his memories returning Honoka/Ghost Aiko appears and prepares to erase Shuuichi altogether. While he’s busy with “ghost clones” Elena slips behind him and uses her ability, locking the memories of her back away and saving his and Claire’s lives.

And that’s pretty much where we leave things: a stalemate with no time left; an ellipsis. Kaito and Ghost Aiko guard the landing site that Shuuichi and Claire are still determined to reach, reuniting with Sanbe for that purpose (Hey Sanbe). Sayaka and the others go back to their lives.

Mifune, perhaps the most ineffectual character of the entire series, is resigned to moving on from Shuuichi, who was never aware of her feelings. But the power couple is still in the game, and still determined to end it. It’s just unsatisfying that we probably won’t see that end in anime form. Thirteen episodes should’ve been enough to tell this story.

Gleipnir – 12 – Cram School Curse

For those like myself who were eager for answers, the penultimate Gleipnir delivered in a big way, taking us back to the halcyon days of the Yamada Cram School gang, which consisted of Kaito (the lion haired lad), Naoto, Aiko, Honoka, Elena…and Shuuichi. Things would not go well at all for these five friends as the years progressed, and the Alien and his coins only made things worse.

Fast-forward to a few months before the present day, and the friends meet up for a reunion. Only Honoka isn’t there. Only Kaito doesn’t know why: Honoka’s dad murdered someone, she ended up living with relatives, they didn’t get along, and she just…disappeared. Aiko things they should just let things be, since Honoka didn’t tell any of them and so probably doesn’t want to be searched for. Pretty cold stuff.

The thing is, Naoto has noticed Aiko (who is his girlfriend) acting a bit off lately, and when Kaito sees her twirling her hair the way Honoka used to, he follows her and meets the alien. Then Kaito gathers everyone else to explain what happened: Honoka used a coin to transform into Aiko. Kaito believes Honoka did it out of a desire to have “everything” Aiko had…including Naoto, whom she loved.

To Kaito’s frustration, no one wants to do anything about this, and insists that things “stay the way they are.” But that doesn’t sit well with him. He confronts Honoka!Aiko at the cram school, sitting before of the real Aiko’s grave. Believing Honoka killed the real Aiko and took her place, he takes a rope and strangles her to death. It’s a shockingly rash action from someone who had to that point been a normal high school teen, and timing for such rash action couldn’t have been worse.

Shortly after killing her, Kaito learns from Naoto that Aiko’s will was found and addressed to Honoka. Aiko, who had a strong sense of justice and defended other kids being bullied at school, became the bully’s new target, and eventually she succumbed to the despair and hung herself.

Honoka, filled with regret for being unable to save her best friend and was the only one to get a note from her, went to the alien with a coin and asked to become Aiko, believing no one would care if she disappeared, but would be sad if they learned the truth about Aiko.

What’s so heartbreaking is she was pretty much right—everyone was willing to go along with the “new” Aiko despite eventually learning what Honoka did. Only Kaito didn’t want Honoka to disappear, and wasn’t okay with everything the way it was. From this point forward, Kaito disowns Naoto, Elena and Shuuichi, and vows to make them disappear to see how they like it.

He goes to the alien with a coin to make that happen, and in the present we learn he’s the one who has collected 100 coins, no doubt enlisting the aid of the “glowing lady” with Honoka’s form. Elena and Naoto are part of the team attempting to defeat him, but they’re clearly at a disadvantage.

That brings us back to the day Shuuichi encounters and murders the last survivor of Madoka’s gang in the junkyard. We knew Claire called him and he assured her everything was taken care of, but now we learn Claire had gone to the abandoned cram school to investigate Shuuichi’s past on her own.

There, she finds the little stuffed dog that was the inspiration for Shuuichi’s form. It’s concrete proof not only that he was there, but that his memories have been messed with. Months before, Shuuichi assured Elena and Naoto that if Kaito was plotting something, he’d use a coin to respond.

It’s starting to look like Elena didn’t force him into anything, but it will be up to the finale to present the actual moment he got transformed by the alien, and show why he broke from Elena and Naoto and lost his memories.

Fruits Basket – 36 (S2 11) – Don’t Pity Me

While their beach vacation had its good times and bad, it must feel good regardless when Shigure, Yuki, Kyou and Tooru arrive home. Their return is only marred by the unexpected presence of Ayame, who was housesitting came in the unlocked back door and made himself at home.

Ayame sets Yuki off a bit (though not as earlier visits might) which in turn leads to Yuki and Kyou fighting. But Tooru separates herself from the bickering to make a phone call.

Since she’s now resolved to break the curse, Tooru needs to gather information, so she starts by visiting Kazuma (in secret!) and telling him what Akito told her. He’s frank in warning her that Kyou’s confinement and the Zodiac members returning to the estate is without doubt one “potential future”—though he for one won’t let it happen without “resistance.”

Akito and the Zodiac members exist in a “world” impenetrable to outsiders, and the bond of their very blood may be the curse. Tooru thinks of bonds as precious things, but she’ll break them if she must. Kazuma urges Tooru to continuing being who she is and smiling around the Soumas as much as possible. Because when she does, “the world feels gentler” and the curse a bit less heavy.

Tooru leaves, runs briefly into Rin (hostile as always) who is also seeking Kazuma’s counsel. Then gears then shift to what was for me a long-awaited reunion of Kyou and Kagura.

In past encounters Kyou was a very different person, and Kagura knows he’s changed when the usual things she says that would Kyou him to yell at her are dealt with far differently. Kyou tells her he has something to say, but before she’ll hear him, she wants to go on one last date.

Kagura’s thoughts linger on their first encounter, when Kyou was a lonely boy drawing fried eggs in the dirt. Before she met him, Kagura thought she was being a burden to her family, but Kyou showed her that there are people truly suffering and deserving of pity; what true misfortune was In doing so, she was looking down at Kyou to build herself up, and while she’d come to feel awful about it, she kept doing it for years.

Then the incident occurred where she removed his rosary, saw his true form, and ran away screaming. Kyou was punished by not being allowed out as much, and Kagura decided the only way to purify her selfish, “unclean” self was to rationalize her feelings for him into unconditional love and devotion. Through all her dealings with him, she never thought about Kyou’s feelings, only her own.

Kyou’s reaction to all this is to tell Kagura was he’d meant to tell her the other day: he’s not in love with her, and he never will be. It’s a devastating hammerfall, but one he needed to say as much as Kagura needed to hear it, for it to be real. But Kyou makes clear it’s not because of her looking down on him, and that her hanging out with him in the past really did make him happy. She was, for a time, the provider of light and hope that Tooru is for him today.

Before going their separate ways, Kagura turns and declares her love for him over and over again until there are tears in her eyes, and Kyou again surprises her not by ignoring her or yelling, but tenderly embracing her and letting her cry into his chest until the tears have fully dried. When she comes home and her mother sees her puffy-eyed, Kagura rejects her pity.

Kagura accepts that it was time to hear what Kyou said, and to reflect on how selfish she’d been to that point. She’ll own that, and won’t share it with anyone; not her mother, and surely not Akito. Same with the gentle warmth and kindness of Kyou holding her until she’d cried it out. It’s all hers to cherish, and to one day move beyond.

Both Kazuma and Kagura (not to mention Ayame) represent people Tooru may be able to rely on as allies in her fight to save Kyou from confinement, though in Kagura’s case her blood bond could limit how much she can defy Akito (it remains to be seen where Rin stands). Even if Tooru has to do most of the bond-breaking and curse-lifting herself, she’ll need any and all the assistance she can get.

Read Crow’s write-up of episode 11 here.

Gleipnir – 11 – Like Nothing Ever Happened

This episode is full of one-on-one visits to the alien, the first of which is Elena. It’s clear she’s tired of this nightmare, wants it to end, and when the alien gets a little too cute marveling at her sister’s group’s recent ingenuity, threatens to kill him. The alien tells her he’s as mortal as his human form suggests, but killing him won’t undo everything that’s already happened, nor everything she’s done.

Following the slaughter of Madoka’s crew by poison fire, Sayaka’s group decides to let things cool for the time being, and return home for now. Shit just got a bit too real. As Sayaka laments to Aihara (while also declining an offer to comfort her), her lofty ideals led to the same carnage and destruction she’d hoped to avoid all along. Isao remarks to Yota how frighteningly calm Claire and Shuuichi were; as if they were used to doing such things.

As Shuuichi walks home with Claire, he wonders if everyone in Madoka’s group was really dead. He’s come around to thinking if it means keeping her and the rest of the group safe, it’s better if they’re all dead, so no one will come for revenge.

Claire pulls Shuuichi into an apologetic hug, but Shuuichi doesn’t blame her for getting him into this. In fact, Shuuichi’s been feeling a stronger and stronger desire to use his power to fight, not just to get his memories back, but to truly become one with her.

Clair tries to lighten the mood by suggesting they go see a movie, or alternatively renting one, watching it at her place, and fooling around. Time was this would sound like Claire teasing him, but she genuinely loves and cares about him. If they’re going to hang on to their humanity together, well…one assumes they’d become one the conventional way at some point.

Shuuichi returns to school and his normal life, and the first day goes by without any threats upon his life or those of the group’s. He and Claire finally notice Chihiro attends their school, and Shuuichi warns Chihiro to pretend they don’t know each other in case any of Madoka’s guys are also classmates.

And then there’s his friend Abukawa, whom he saw hanging with unsavory looking sort a while back. He’s been absent since the fire, and Shuuichi’s classmate Izumi tells him she heard about his burned body being found by the river. Shuuichi grapples with the realization that in order to save Claire and the others, he may have inadvertently murdered his friend.

Shuuichi stops by the alien’s spot (a rare daytime visit) eager for answers he’s certain the alien has. Whether Sayaka’s desire to preserve their humanity or Madoka’s desire to create a tight-knit misfit family, he knows people have come to the alien seeking the power to make their lives and those of others a little bit better.

The alien admits that the current form of the “game” wasn’t what “they” imagined, but now it’s a force of nature that can’t be stopped, only observed until it reaches its conclusion on its own. Shuuichi is welcome to try to take back his lost memories and the normal lives he and Claire once had, but the alien can only provide the raw materials; it’s up to Shuuichi to determine precisely how to pull that off.

It’s a testament to Shuuichi’s evolution that he so calmly allows himself to be watched and followed from the alien’s spot to a junkyard, his keen sense of smell making him aware of a potential enemy. It turns out to be the only surviving member of Madoka’s crew, who is eager to avenge his boss and brother.

This guy assumes that without the girl inside him, Shuuichi will be a pushover…but ever since the fire in the forest, he’s been a whole new Shuuichi, capable of handling himself even against a katana specialist. He tells Shuuichi he must not have known who Abukawa truly was; everyone has at least two faces; Shuuichi only ever saw the kind one.

Just as the last Team Madoka member urges Shuuichi to finish him off, Claire calls him on the phone, worried. Shuuichi assures her everything’s fine; he’s got this. And then he kills the guy.

The third alien visit of the week is from the past. A high schooler named Honoka is his very first visitor. Honoka proposes he ask other humans to help him find his companions, and set up a vending machine to grant their wishes as a reward.

Honoka is hesitant to provide a wish of her own for the alien to grant, but shows him a photo of her five friends, telling him they’re good people who would be willing to help him collect coins. Among those friends are Shuuichi and Elena, along with two other guys and a third girl.

It’s the clearest picture yet of Shuuichi’s social situation prior to gaining his powers and losing his memories. As the alien reflects back in the present on how kind and ruthless humans are, we cut to the lion-haired lad from the photo in the present, along with Honoka, who clearly gained powers at some point despite her initial hesitation. He uses her power to kill a group of gatherers, declaring this his story.

It’s a late introduction to two more of Shuuichi’s old circle of friends, but a fascinating one, especially considering Elena, like everyone else, was drawn into this mess by a well-meaning Honoka. The show is steadily gathering momentum and I’m looking forward to the final two episodes filling a few more gaps in Shuuichi’s memory, as well as further developing his bond with Claire.

Sing “Yesterday” for Me – 07 – Video Games

Rikuo! Taking Haru Out! For DINNER! To celebrate his new job at a photography studio! Not just dismissing her as a convenience store clerk groupie in the alley, but treating her like…well, a lady! Hell, if I was Haru, I’d order a couple beers too, in hopes the universe wouldn’t card me.

With a third of the show in the books, we’re officially done with the introductions of the characters and their issues. The pieces are all arranged; all past and present love intersts accounted for…it’s officially time to play the game. And, well…as much as I love her, I fear it may be the beginning of Game Over for Haru…despite Rikuo’s newfound manners.

If Rikuo taking Haru out is meant to be both an olive branch after the business with his ex-girlfriend and a sign he’s finally taking her feelings seriously, an impatient Rou has decided to undermine Haru’s progress by essentially pushing Shinako closer to Rikuo.

Shinako has never had anything like boyfriend, but she knows she has no interest in Rou. She loved Yuu, but even that wasn’t necessarily romantic love. She loves Rou too, but as family member. Rou is simply barking up the wrong tree. He can wait and hope and try a “change of attitude” all he wants; Shinako ain’t interested!

It’s Rikuo Shinako goes to for council, wondering what she could or should be doing regarding Rou. Ironically, she states her believe Rou is “falling for an illusion”, while Haru has stated that all romantic love is is illusion (all while being hopelessly vulnerable to it all the same).

Rikuo’s advice doesn’t come from a place of moral superiority or jealousy or even lingering bitterness from being previously rejected by Shinako. He simply reminds Shinako that Rou isn’t a little kid anymore, that he knows life doesn’t always go the way you want, and if he wants to stress himself out, she should let him.

In not so many words, and regardless of whether it’s intentional, Rikuo is telling Shinako not to try to spare Rou the full force of Life Not Going Your Way. For whom does life always go right anyway? Rou has decided he’s rapidly approaching adulthood, and wants nothing else but to “catch up” to Shinako.

So Shinako tells him: she’s watching him; watching who he’ll become. It’s not a forceful rejection, but it still mostly sounds like one to Rou, who as Rikuo said is world-weary enough to read between the lines. Even so, it’s too gentle a gesture on Shinako’s part—as we’ll find out later.

Rikuo’s friend Fukuda visits him, and is happy to hear his progress in pursuing his interest in photography professionally. He even gives Rikuo a major boost by hiring him to photograph his upcoming nuptuals. Rikuo discusses it with a supervisor at lunch, and then after work, Haru is waiting outside the studio.

Haru wants to be someone Rikuo can confide his problems in and seek advice and help. At first Rikuo is dubious, but eventually comes out and remarks how it almost feels like the “universe is nagging” him, asking “what do you want to become?” after a period of not asking, and him not caring or trying. It’s kind of stressful, but Haru tells him to keep stressing out…”it’s how everyone gets to be who they are.” She’s such a gift…

Haru doesn’t realize the universe isn’t just nagging Rikuo about his career or calling. Fukuda knows how terrible Shinako is at dating and romance, and all but assures Rikuo that he can’t assume she’ll make the next move.

Fukuda’s wedding comes, and Rikuo snaps photos…including candids of Shinako, who was also invited after all. He tries to take both Fukuda and Haru’s advice, but chickens out at the last moment, using the need to return his boss’ camera to take his leave.

His hesitation doesn’t really matter, as without trying Rou once again causes memories of Yuu to surface in Shinako. She tries to leave his place, but he can sense the tears welling in her face before he sees it, and follows her as she flees. When he bared his arm in front of her, it looked just like Yuu when he’d receive shots. Shinako never looked away from Yuu’s arm, thinking if he was being so strong, she’d have to be strong too.

Rou takes this opportunity to wrap his arms around Shinako’s, but her impulse isn’t to sink into that embrace, but to ask—clearly and more than once—for him to let her go. Rou being “the only one who knows how important” his bro was to her isn’t the secret weapon he thinks it is. It is, in fact, anathema, as Rou is a constant reminder of that which Shinako knows she has to move past.

Shinako knows she’s being selfish and presumptuous, but waits for Rikuo anyway. After a calming soft drink at a family restaurant, he walks her home, but she’s frustrated that all they’re talking about is her and Rou, when the thing she can’t deal with she really wants to talk about goes unsaid. She proceeds to explain why she initially rejected him, citing an inability to forget Yuu and a fear of being alone.

Rikuo then reiterates that he was willing to wait for her, to which she replies that maybe she was waiting too. Maybe she can’t move on until somebody—somebody not Rou—pulls her. When they’re briefly interrupted by her neighbor, Rikuo suggests they find a place to talk more in private.

Then Shinako invites him into her apartment…“although it’s messy.” You got THAT right, Ako-chan!

P.S. There’s a new ED for Yesterday this week (with a new song by Sayuri) depicting an arcade game featuring an 8-bit Haru and her crow flying around town defeating enemies and launching relentless love attacks at Rikuo. It ends with Game Over, as Rikuo walks off-screen with Shinako while poor Haru is surrounded and pelted by foes. Yikes!

Sing “Yesterday” for Me – 06 – The Great Destroyer

“Why are you enjoying this so much?”
“Because it’s not my problem.”
—Rikuo and Kinoshita on why I love this show

Just as things were attaining a semblance of balance, enter Yuzuhara Chika, Rikuo’s high school ex-girlfriend, her hair now kissed by bottled fire and voiced by the often fiery Kitamura Eri. She’s behind on rent and happened to be passing by, and asks if she can crash at Rikuo’s until she’s back on her feet financially.

That’s right, YwU is not quite done introducing new characters at the expense of the core trio. That’s probably in part due to the fact we’re now only a third through an 18-episode series, not halfway through a 12-parter.

Kinoshita warns Rikuo that Chika is a serial destroyer of bands due to her penchant for ginning up relationshop drama among the members. There’s every indication Chika came to Rikuo because she tends to use usable people and he’s an easy mark, but she proves to be a model freeloader, cooking, cleaning, welcoming him home, all things he’s used to doing alone.

One day while readying dinner, Chika mistakes Rikuo collapsing from fever for a sexual advance, and her eyes narrow as she consents…only Rikuo isn’t propositioning, he’s ill. And so the time arrives when Rikuo is in need of being nursed back to health, and Haru is nowhere to be found, because Rikuo hasn’t told her about Chika.

When they find out from Kinoshita that Rikuo is sick, it’s because Minako accidentally wandered to the konbini after drinking with her friends (who wouldn’t leave her alone about not ever being in a relationship) while Haru is already loitering there.

Whether due to her guilt about him “setting up her wires—i.e. relying on him when it’s convenient—or because she’s knocked back a few, or both, she accompanies Haru, and they share in the utter shock of a third pretty woman at Rikuo’s apartment that late at night.

Haru is NOT okay with this—Rikuo is as good as a cheater in her book—but while Minako is also upset, she says she only has herself to blame for rejecting him. Hearts are fickle, and expecting Rikuo to keep standing still and waiting for her wasn’t realistic.

After being confronted by a steamed Haru (and saying precisely the right thing to have a milk crate thrown in his face), Rikuo stops by Minako, but the sight of her expression…frightens him (in a nice touch, we never see the face he sees). Minako is angry too.

During another homemade meal, Chika and Rikuo talk more about why things ended and who they are. Chika plays the piano for a living and was always good at it, but at first it was because she was forced to play. She’s always wanted to be liked, and saying no can make people not like you, even if she’s never fallen in love or been “deeply invested” in anything. Sound familiar?

She also breaks it to Rikuo that telling him he didn’t understand her was just an excuse she gave to break up with him so she could date a new guy she liked more. “Understanding” her more, then or now, wouldn’t have made any difference, so there’s nothing for him to regret regarding that. I’m not sure if he should feel better or worse about that!

Minako stops by Rikuo’s again, and Chika finally clears the air, assuring her that she simply asked for help from a guy she knew would help, and doesn’t want “things to get ruined” because of her (again, allegedly). Yet again, Minako feels bad, because she’s not actually Rikuo’s girlfriend, as Chika initially assumes.

Chika dated Rikuo for just four months in high school, but Minako straight up turned him down! I’m sure her relief Chika is not interested is mixed with guilt that she has some kind of claim on Rikuo. But, well, she clearly does, doesn’t she? She never dismissed Haru’s declaration of war, and Chika’s sudden appearance on the battlefield put things in perspective.

I can harp on precious little time spent on the Haru/Minako/Rikuo triangle so that a new player could take the stage, but honestly I found Chika’s brutal honesty with her feelings and motivations refreshing, right up to her polite goodbye-and-thanks note, prompting one more charge of selfishness from Rikuo.

She came and went like a storm, but before she left she looked out into the sunset while smoking on the balcony (in a beautifully drawn and lit scene), with what seemed to be an internal debate in her head.

Should she stay, keep enjoying cooking and eating with the nice guy she once dated at the risk of blowing something up that was there before? Or should she leave, and later on look back fondly on those few days when she played house with an old flame? She chose to leave, but I wouldn’t mind if she wasn’t gone for good.

Sing “Yesterday” for Me – 05 – Miss Never Number One

Rikuo ends up at a new part-time job at a photography gallery, only to encounter co-worker Minato Kouichi, who was in the same third-year class as Haru before she dropped out. He joins them for lunch and exhibits how pretentious he is about photography. Rikuo takes an instant dislike to him.

That leads to yet another coincidence in which Minato is walking Haru home at the same time Rikuo is walking a slightly tipsy Shinako home. Both Haru and Rikuo are irritated by what they see. Shinako tells Rikuo that she’s done walking in circles, while Minato not to subtly hints that he had a crush in Haru in high school, only for her to be completely oblivious.

Minato visits Haru as often at the bar at least as often as Haru visits Rikuo, and eventually asks if she’ll spend a day with him. He formally asks her out, and while she replies with a rant about how much of an asshole Rikuo is, she’s not ready to give up on him, even if she’s “just the backup”, or she’d be lying to herself. Minato expected a rejection, and reveals he dropped out of college to pursue a life of freelance photojournalism.

When Haru says of her pet crow “I kept feeding him, and he got attached to me,” I couldn’t help but notice how similar that is to her approach with Rikuo, intentional or not. Rikuo so often comes off as irritated or annoyed with her (or is so often spotted with Shinako after dark), Haru’s adopted the misconception that he doesn’t care how she feels.

In reality, her reliable and persistent “feeding” of her charming personality to him has made him attached to her, to the extent he’s jealous when he sees her with Minato and even gets into an artistic competition with him. It’s fitting that while Rikuo loses, it’s because Minato’s photo was simply more compelling.

The photo depicts Haru in high school, which stands in contrast to Minato’s earlier screed against portraiture as the photographer forcing his feelings on the viewer. Sure enough, Minato’s affection for the subject suffuses the image, and even Rikuo can’t resist the portrait’s candid beauty and longing. It’s a Haru Rikuo had never seen before, and can never unsee.

One could also look at this photo as a portent for Haru’s eventual dropping out. She looks restless, and her gaze is pointed elsewhere—somewhere more painful yet more rewarding, scarier yet inevitable: adulthood and independence.

Sing “Yesterday” for Me – 04 – His Lingering Shadow

After three episodes Hayakawa Rou is by far the weakest of the characters, but only because all we’ve known is that Shinako loved his late older brother Yuu, and Rou loves Shinako. She tries to be a good big sis to Rou by cooking him meals, but she can’t give him the one thing he wants from her most. In his frustration, he blames it not necessarily on his faults as a person, but because she can’t let go of a dead guy.

This week we learn why Rou is the way he is. This goes a long way towards making his character more sympathetic—even if he remains the least interesting of the four leads. Since Yuu was always the center of not just Shinako’s but everyone’s attention, Rou had to seek attention elsewhere: by being “the kid who can draw” in his class. Only now he’s in a tougher class in which everyone is that person.

Hell, I was that person in high school, then went to art college and got a rude awakening. It’s an understandable hit to the ego of someone who’d taken for granted one’s superiority in a smaller pool. Still, Rou worked hard to be as good at art as he is, so he’s going to rely on that work ethic to pull him through this phase.

One thing he wants to avoid at all costs is ending up like Rikuo, whom he still can’t believe Shinako even gave the time of day to. Worse, he learns of Haru and Rikuo’s “deal” rudely labeling her a “backup” when the two meet in context at the konbini. Kinoshita insists Rikuo help out in the back, so it falls to Rou to walk the young lady home.

Haru, who it must be said still sees love as in illusion, wonders what Shinako is doing so differently that she is so beloved by both Rou and Rikuo. Ruo rebuts by pointing out how not interested in him that way Shinako really is, but Haru doesn’t want Rou discouraged.

If Rou were to find a way to win Shinako’s heart, that frees Rikuo up for Haru, so she’s firmly on team Rou X Shinako, so gives him a supportive back on the back and runs off with her pet crow, which leads Rou to call her a weirdo.

Rou returns to find his dad and Shinako have already returned to Hanazawa. Once there, his dad informs Shinako that he’ll be renting out the house where they lived with Yuu, and presents her with a box of Yuu’s assembled belongings. In the room where she tended to him until the day he died, Shinako breaks down when she finds the eraser he lent her the first day they met, with the message “baka” concealed by its sleeve.

Outside cheery blossoms glow and she catches a glimpse of Yuu as a student, and she transforms into her younger self to approach him, only for him to disappear behind the tree. In a heartwrenching scene Shinako weeps bitter tears of loss, the shadow of Yuu still looming. It may be “okay to forget” as Yuu and Rou’s dad puts it, but Shinako can probably never fully erase Yuu’s shadow—nor would she want to.

Fruits Basket – 28 (S2 03) – The Desolation of Indifference

One of Fruits Basket’s biggest personalities in Souma Ayame pays a visit to Shigure’s house. He comes with fresh peaches and invites Yuki and Tooru to visit his clothing boutique. Despite how annoying he finds his big brother, Yuki wants to try to understand him better, so to Ayame’s surprise he takes him up on the offer.

Despite a nondescript front and somewhat suspicious sign, the shop itself is pretty straightforward. They sell sewing and handicraft supplies, but Ayame also provides a discrete “custom” tailoring service to satisfy any taste (i.e. cross-dressers/drag/fetish/etc). Ayame is in the back when Yuki and Tooru arrive, but they’re received by Ayame’s charming partner Kuramae Mine—voiced by Index herself, Iguchi Yuka!

While I’m sure Yuki was glad Tooru accompanied him, the bottom line is he’ll get nowhere in his efforts to learn more about Ayame unless the two sit down together alone and have a proper conversation. That means Mine tastefully takes Tooru to the back and subjects treats her to their ample stock of elegant dresses.

When Tooru laments hearing the brothers fighting, Mine assures her that fighting, in their case, is good—it means they acknowledge one another’s existence. Having witnessed a lot of this with Yuki and Kyou, Tooru understands how any communication is good no matter how aggressive initially is, because that’s the rough first step to understanding one another.

Yuki is in a bad mood to start since that very morning he woke up from a dream in which his mother is asking him why it matters if he’s a tool. The tension between him and Ayame dissipates when Ayame turns down his Noble Charisma Levels a couple of notches and lets a more sensitive and thoughtful side come through.

Ayame regrets how he treated Yuki in the past, most of all because it was an absence of feeling—an existence of nil, neither loving nor hating him. Yuki was part of the background of his life, and the one and only time Yuki reached out to him for help, he slapped his hand away like one would slap a gnat.

Ayame didn’t realize how much he contributed to Yuki’s misery until later in life, when it was far too late to undo it. He became overtaken by fear that Yuki would exact upon him the same total indifference he’d exacted on Yuki. Dressmaking became his way to show that he was more than a tool, but someone capable of creating something that wouldn’t have otherwise existed.

It’s clear Mine played a huge role in helping to guide Ayame to this calling, which has in turn led to his happiness and desire to mend the frayed bond with his brother, and to forgive himself. When Yuki hears Ayame talk, he can’t help but see a parallel to the garden he tends: making his mark on the earth; showing he exists and can create.

But it’s not just dresses or plants that can’t exist without Yuki and Ayame, respectively. It’s the people they have by their side who allow them to be the best version of each other. Mine is the Mine she is in part thanks to Ayame, and vice versa.

The same goes with Yuki and Tooru—who emerges from the back with Mine glowed up into a pure-and-lovely masterpiece! As long as they have those people—and each other—in their lives, they’ll never be just tools, wandering the desert of indifference alone.

There are always going to be times when Yuki and Ayame don’t agree, see eye to eye, or even understand why they’re doing or saying something. But like two brothers arguing, the fact that they can identify differences means, by definition, that they’re not indifferent towards each other. And like mountains of laundry, reaching understanding means taking things one small step at a time.

Sing “Yesterday” for Me – 03 – No Demands? No, Demands!

Yesterday starts with Haru following Rikuo in the rain. He basically tells her she could do better than the likes of him. She tells him she has no particular hopes or demands about the likes of him anyway. She also feels like she’s playing catch-up to Shinako, but her war declaration freed her to act.

In the space of a few minutes, Rikuo suddenly knows a lot more about how Haru feels…but he still doesn’t know much about Haru the person, which she’s intentionally keeping vague as a long-established way to remain at enough of a distance to run away if things get too painful or messy.

As a result of their chat, Rikuo catches cold from the rain. Haru ends up with his phone number from Kinoshita unbidden, but she hesitates to call him (with her rotary telephone!), for the same reason she hesitates to reveal too much about herself. As a result, Shinako get the jump on her, as it were, by stopping by Rikuo’s to give him some hardy leftovers to keep up his strength.

When Rikuo is better and back to work, Haru invites him out to a monster movie on Sunday. Rikuo bites, and Haru is so happy a the prospect of a date she shares her happiness in the form of free coffee for Rou, whose change was eaten by the vending machine.

Haru also gets excited about looking her best for the date, after visiting her mom for the first time in three months (the two are cordial but hardly close) and stopping by the konbini to say hi to Rikuo and voice how much she’s looking forward tomorrow.

Haru’s anticipatory cuteness is particularly heartbreaking because I knew there was just  no way that movie date was going to unfold without a hitch. Sure enough, Rikuo learns Shinako has come down with her own fever while calling her about returning her Tupperware.

Rikuo proceeds to return the favor by taking care of her, and ends up falling asleep at her kitchen table. By the time he wakes up and realizes what’s happened, the rain clouds have returned (they really know when to show up for maximum effect) and Haru believes Rikuo either forgot, stood her up, or chose Shinako over her.

A contrite Rikuo eventually finds her soaking away in the rain and apologizes profusely, but is way too blunt about where he was, even if he insists it was all innocent. Because of the timing of his standing her up and the fact he didn’t have her contact info, even having cell phones wouldn’t have solved this matter.

Despite having clearly said she had “no demands”, Haru realizes later that she still had expectations with Rikuo. She then determines that if she stops going to the konbini, that will be the end of things. She has an exit ramp…right up until she yells out at a stop light and Rikuo hears her and comes over, blocking her escape.

Their exchange is tense at first, but Haru decides to drop the Mysterious Girl act and start over fresh with a proper introduction (including height and weight!). Rikuo reiterates his regret at standing her up, and Haru accepts his regrets, making him promise to take care of her should she ever come down with a fever, then immediately feigning one.

Miyamoto Yume’s performance in this scene (and just prior when she was alone on her bike), and the animation of Haru’s face, are the highlights of this episode. The murky muddy palette returned with a vengeance, but that only made the eventual reconciliation at the end, when the rain clouds had finally passed both literally and emotionally, that much more powerful. After so much darkness, some healing light.

At this point I don’t even care if Haru is a MPDG (and for the record I don’t think she is)—she’s winning my heart!