3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 11 – Just Trying to Help

With Hikari and Iroha’s problems behind them the focus turns to Itou and Ishino, both apparent victims of unrequited love (or in Ishino’s case, lust?) On Hikari’s suggestion, Itou works up the courage to ask Ayado out to a movie, without overtly labeling it a date, but her easy acceptance and lingering smile doesn’t set Itou at ease; quite the contrary.

Hikari watched Itou asking her out from the classroom, and starts to wonder if Ayado, the girl who just confessed to him, is the girl his first (and for a long time only) friend has come to like after years of saying 3D girls aren’t for him (a philosophy Hikari himself subscribed to until meeting Iroha).

As for Ishino, she sees everyone apparently pairing off and having fun, and is jelly. She’s also feeling legitimately lonely and undesirable due to Takanashi’s constant rejections, so when her objectively awful ex offers to hang out with her on the weekend, she not only accepts, but cuteifies herself up to the max. I honestly mistook Ishino for Iroha, so infrequently does she clean up thus.

Itou and Ayado’s movie date-not-date goes swimmingly, though Itou can scarely deride any enjoyment, so skittish and silent she is around the always bright and ebullient Ayado. Her enthusiasm and gratitude for being invited is all well and good, but the one thing Itou is afraid of revealing through further engaging her is the fact that she, the girl he’s come to like, doesn’t like him that way. So he keeps his feelings to himself.

The next day at school Ayado visits Hikari and Itou’s class to give Itou his ticket stub she accidentally took. Hikari, acting a lot like his mom acts toward him (proud of and excited for Itou), but one careless question has Ayado asking Hikari if he wants to see it, she’ll see it a second time.

That has the one-two punch of demonstrating to Itou that Ayado still has eyes for Hikari and devaluing their date by saying it could be so easily replicated. Mind you, neither were Ayado’s intentions, but if she still likes Hikari and has no idea how Itou feels, who can blame her?

Hikari tries to make things right with a “double date” picnic with him and Iroha and Itou and Ayado. He even grabs Iroha and runs off so the Itou can have some time alone with Ayado. When Iroha learns what he’s up to, she scolds him, because he’s taking romantic shortcuts.

That evening on the ride home, Hikari apologizes for being careless, and sees now how Itou needing so much help could make him feel pathetic. Hikari’s heart, as usual is in the right place: he just wants Itou to be happy, like he is, now that he knows how fortunate it feels not only to love someone, but to be loved by that same person.

As for Ishino, she’s stood up by her ex, but Takanashi happens to pass by, and as much of a cad as the guy is, he’s not about to walk past a crying Ishino, and takes her out for ramen.

While walking hand-in-hand, both hoping things work out for Itou and Ayado, Hikari and Iroha come across a very handsome young man in a red jacket whose immediate reaction upon seeing them holding hands is to cold-cock Iroha, breaking his glasses (and almost his jaw). It turns out not to be an ex of Iroha’s but her younger brother Chika.

Iroha is furious with Chika, but still lets herself get whisked away by him, despite the fact he just committed assault on her boyfriend. Chika’s a guy who makes judgments based on covers, and thought Hikari was a stalker and can’t understand why Iroha is dating him

Back home things get a little creepier when he caresses Iroha’s face. Possessive and possibly incestuous? Greeeaaaat. Looks like Hikari’s final trial of the show will be winning over this guy, or at least punching him back! That, and enduring the inevitable goodbye that was pre-loaded into his romance with Iroha when it began.

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3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 10 – Love is Painful, but Also Fun

I’ll admit the title above isn’t a particularly original observation, but one thing it definitely is is true, as anyone who loves or has ever loved someone else can attest. When 3DK started I noted the balance in its core couple, and I stand by that assessment.

Whatever they may feel about their situation, the fact is both of them are at pretty much an equal disadvantage when it comes to matters of love and intimacy. Before falling for one another, neither had any experience with intimacy. Hikari had never liked or been liked by someone like Iroha, and Iroha had never liked or been liked by someone like Hikari.

Their mutual lack of experience has made for a bumpy road as their affection for one another intensifies, but it also leads to some novel strategies someone with more experience than Hikari might not attempt, such as having Iroha present for his gentle rejection of Ayado.

It wasn’t even a stone-cold rejection of Ayado, so much as a calm and measured affirmation that he’s simply already in love with Iroha. More importantly, he showed his work, explaining how he used to feel and how those feelings changed when he learned more about her, and when his preconceptions were replaced by truths.

Iroha, who only wanted to hear Hikari say the words “I love you”, wants to hear them again later, and Hikari knows not to refuse her. Ayado feels bad about being turned down, and both she and Hikari find themselves weighed down by their 3D problems in the immediate aftermath, but after that both are fine; Ayado is refreshed.

Itou knows now is not the time to confess his love for Ayado, nor is he sure such a time will ever come. When making up with Hikari after yelling at him by sleeping over, Itou reveals to Hikari that there’s a girl he likes, but believes he’s already been given his answer.

I wouldn’t be too sure about that; Ayado is coming off a rejection, but given time, she might be receptive to someone like Itou’s feelings provided, ya know, she is aware of them, and that’s up to Itou. It’s up to him whether he can get past the fact she once loved Hikari. In any case, as Itou says, it’s painful being in love, but also fun.

Hikari’s tale of romantic ineptitude is a simple one: he buried himself in games after he decided interacting with people was too hard and painful. It was Iroha who brought him back to the 3D world, and showed him how it wasn’t only pain that awaited him there, but a good deal of joy as well. He also learned how well-equipped he was to live in such a world, owing to his basic decency and kindness.

Iroha’s tale is one we hadn’t delved into, but I’m glad this episode finally does so. Iroha has a pretty face, and so she never wanted for the attentions of men of all ages, whether that attention was appropriate or not. When she pressed those who confessed to her what they liked, they gave only superficial answers.

What changed Iroha from an insular person not any more sure how to interact with people into someone approaching gregariousness was, apparently, a medical diagnosis. She decided she’d interact with as many people as she could, but she only managed to attract those like her; people only looked at the surface and never dug deeper.

In a way it’s hard to blame them, because like her it was all they knew. Then she met Hikari, someone who wasn’t simply looking to share in the kindred understanding of attractive people that your real self will always elude others. Hikari got past that, found the awkward person beneath the surface, and wanted to protect that person…and stuff.

Hikari is still nervous being alone with Iroha, particularly in his room, but after a day of karaoke and bowling during which Iroha discovers Hikari’s cool, intense side (going all out singing) as well as his delicate, nurturing side (clipping her nails when she breaks them while bowling), he comes to the realization he’s okay being with her.

When he and Iroha spotted his little brother holding hands with Takanashi’s little sister, Hikari lamented that he sometimes feels his life moves five times slower than average. But when you only have three months left with your girlfriend before she moves, he realizes that slowing of time is a good thing.

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – 20 – The Lunch Mooch

Whatever the precise nature of Yuna D. Kaito’s goals, he seems pretty confident he’ll be able to pull them off. And can you blame him? Sakura still doesn’t have the slightest clue she’s being targeted, let alone how or why, and is content to continue living life as if nothing’s amiss.

She spends the morning making lunches for herself, Syaoran, Yukito and Kero for the day. I will say for the record she makes making rolled omelets look way too easy; aside from the fact those pans aren’t cheap, her method requires a lot of practice and a lot of failure.

Her date with Syaoran is replaced by a visit to the sprawling villa of Masaki, her mother’s grandfather, who apparently has something he simply must give her before departing abroad the next day. Syaoran accompanies her, and he and Sakura bicker over whose bento is better (each arguing for each other, not themselves, naturally).

When Grampa Masaki is alone with Syaoran, he comments on just how similar Sakura is to her mother; someone whose constant outward happiness and joie-de-vivre makes everyone around them happier. Meanwhile, Kero and Yue confer on the growing powers of both Sakura and Touya, while Kero receives a message from Eriol in England: a magic circle which both Kero and Yue replicate.

While wandering around the vast estate looking for someone to make more tea, Sakura comes upon her mother’s bedroom, which shines as brightly as the sun. Sakura uses Record to view a montage of moments from when her mother inhabited the room, but then the projection of her mom turns to her, puts her hand on her cheek, and warns her not to go any farther, lest she not be able to return.

Sakura and Akiho end up in the clock dream again, in which Sakura knows who the cloaked figure is (though doesn’t say it) while Akiho recognizes the cloak as the one passed down in her family. Yuna and Momo converse on how “the power of the dream is growing”, and much faster than originally thought. Kero and Yue arrive in England, where Eriol is finally ready to tell them what he’s learned, and it’s not good: “the one thing [he] feared the most is becoming reality”.

As confident as Yuna and Momo appear to be so far, and as oblivious as Sakura appears to be (it’s particularly unnerving to see her dip so far into her powers she becomes woozy and has to lie down), but she has no shortage of powerful friends, from Kero, Yue, and Eriol to Touya, who doubtless won’t hesitate to use his growing power to protect his sister. And then there’s always the slight possibility Yuna’s intentions aren’t even sinister…

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – 19 – Storytime for the Kiddies

Sakura’s a wonderfully kind person, and so it comes as no surprise she’d go to the pediatric ward to read to children. I also think she intrinsically understands she has a tremendously entertaining voice, and it would be a shame not to show it off once in a while!

Tomoyo is coming to film the event (of course), and Sakura manages to recruit both Akiho to help her read and Syaoran to accompany them with piano. She achieves this by knocking both their HP levels to zero with her thoroughly persuasive glare.

Syaoran checks in with Wei for help with scoring the book (and denies his four doting sisters’ request to see him on video mode), while Akiho studies the storybook and marks in a notepad all the places she’ll have to be careful (Japanese not being her first language an all).

After being given simple yet elegant tunics and caps, the two read the story of the Fox and the Mittens to the assembled children, all while Syaoran plays the organ, an upgrade from the piano.

It’s a delicate and beautiful presentation, an interesting departure from the usual formula of the show. This is also an episode in which Sakura doesn’t capture a card, and doesn’t even say her trademark “Hoe” once!

When the crowd gets riled up at a perilous point in the story, he quiets them with a flourishing solo, allowing the girls to get back on track. All in all it’s a tremendous success, and the group of kids come away not only entertained but impressed with the skills of the storytellers and organist.

Tomoyo caught everything on tape, but Sakura managed to stealthily release her Record card. Unfortunately, the footage it took is from over thirty years in the past! Sakura is disappointed; she must’ve “done it wrong.”

Upon seeing this, Kero-chan finds an excuse to rush to Yue’s place and inform him of what she did. Sakura has become far more powerful than either of them could have imagined, to the point it has become imperative they inform Eriol, of whom we’ve only gotten the slightest glimpses so far.

Darling in the FranXX – 13 – Recalling a Forgotten Fairy Tale

When Zero Two goes on a rampage and takes Hiro with her, the consciousnesses and memories of the two are merged, and Hiro begins to  remember forgotten events involving a younger, redder Zero Two, as if she was the key to unlocking his repressed memories.

The appearance of Zero Two in Hiro’s early life is a revelation to someone who has always asked questions and sought answers but received none, and named other children like Ichigo and Mitsuru so they could be people and not mere numbers.

Hiro is indeed quite “special”, and Dr. Franxx always wanted him that way, to see how someone like him would fare as a parasite. But that comes at the cost of Hiro discovering the existence of the little girl with horns.

Dr. Franxx is not painted in the best light here, as if there was ever a good light to in which paint him to begin with. Whatever he seeks to learn from the girl he calls a “specimen”, all that matters to Hiro is that this very different and amazing little girl is being hurt by the adults, and he’s not okay with that.

When the adults stonewall him, he searches for a way to get to her, casting aside all fear of punishment from the adults precisely because they’ve always told him he’s so special. As far as he knows, he’s supposed to rescue the red girl.

He does, and for a brief, beautiful few hours, but not much more, the two are blissful in their freedom and gratitude for one another. Hiro gives the girl a name—Zero Two—literally licks her wounds, and reads from her beloved picture book, the story in which just happens to mirror theirs precisely: a beast princess and a human prince falling in love, then losing each other in tragic storybook fashion.

Unfortunately, that’s how the story of young Hiro and Zero Two ends, with the adults tracking them down, capturing and separating them, and forcibly removing their memories.

But back in the present, the sad ending of that story has been usurped by the writing of new chapter, in which Hiro remembers Zero Two was the girl with the picture book. Not a monster, just a girl who just happened to have red skin and horns, and who, like him, needs friendship, family, and love.

At the same time, Zero Two remembers that Hiro isn’t just fodder to help her become more human. He’s her Darling from “back then” after all—her one and only Darling. Perhaps the two have turned the next corner in their always twisted, often tragic, yet occasionally joyous lives. One can hope.

Fate/Extra Last Encore – 10 (Fin) – Hakuno Picks a Third Way

FELE’s last episode for a while elaborates on the plan devised by Rin and Rani to bring a Master to the Sixth Floor, and they relay those plans to Hakuno on the roof of a high school down on what I assume to be the level where he started.

Waking up in the ladder with Saber, Hakuno explores his code casting powers, which apparently contain all of the weapons and skills of the masters who died before him. That combination of abilities adds credence to Saber’s insistence that he is himself and no one else, and must proceed as such.

When they reach the Sixth floor, it is a white wasteland piled with long-unused lances. Suddenly, Rin appears in her Lancer garb and attacks Saber, and a giant Rani sneaks up on Hakuno. Then Rin and Rani fight each other, more Rins show up, more Ranis show up, and Hakuno and Saber basically get a very efficient course in what’s been happening for about a millennium.

They realize the lands and waters are littered not just with weapons, but corpses of endless Rin and Rani copies. But there is one place where there are no corpses, and Hakuno determines that’s where they should go.

While pondering what the heck is up with all the Rin copies, the “real” Rin arrives, but like her “soldier” versions, she’s only a digital copy, and a fragile one at that. She’s just able to lead them to the central dome when she starts to disperse, a process she tells them actually hurts quite a bit.

Within the halls of the dome, recorded video of Rin and Rani is projected on cross-shaped supports. They once fought as rival Masters on this floor, but Moon Cell deemed their fight a draw just before the Holy Grail War was suspended, leaving them in a horrifying limbo of fighting and killing each others’ endless digital copies as the “originals” lay dormant.

It’s a stalemate, but it’s also a bug in the system that’s gotten way out of control, so they both sent avatars of themselves to guide Hakuno here, so he could end the cycle and choose a winner and a loser, something Moon Cell couldn’t do.

However, Hakuno doesn’t choose to kill either Rin or Rani. Instead, he tries to revive both of them. Only Rin survives, while Rani passes on due to the “peculiar” nature of her digital body. But she’s grateful for the attempt, and Rin is grateful he succeeded in bringing her back. Once Rani is laid to rest, she commits herself to continuing to aid Hakuno until the end.

“Fate Spin-off By Shaft” was met with mixed and polarizing emotions, but I for one enjoyed it immensely. It took the parts of Fates I’d seen before and liked and placed them in a gorgeously-rendered distant and unsettling future where a tiny glimmer of hope still remains thanks to a walking talking manifestation of death itself and his trusty, adorable, formidable Roman Emperor of a Servant. I’m looking forward to Part Two.

Darling in the FranXX – 12 – Time is Running Out and Zero Two Drops the Pretense

Squad 13 returns to Garden, to the place where they were made, even if it isn’t where they came from—a question Kokoro ponders while doubting the adults’ answers. In narration, Hiro says it doesn’t matter where, as long as he can live life to the fullest. But his increasingly distant (and feral) partner Zero Two feels the opposite: where she came from—what she is—means everything.

Hiro the rest of the squad are only tagalongs. The reason they’re at Garden is for Zero Two, or “Iota”, as the leader of the elite “Nines” calls her. He’s surprised she’s been able to integrate so well into a squad of humans, and is rudely explicit about how inhuman she is, gaining the ire of Ichigo. Ultimately the adults’ patience with Zero Two’s sullen bit runs out and they have to tranq her.

The rest of the squad tours the Garden, even though they were forbidden from doing so, and the memories come flowing in. Hiro, for one, vageuly remembers a red girl with white hair and horns. They see children getting parasite injections far earlier than they did.

With the increase in klaxosaur activity, it would seem humanity no longer has time for experiments in disobedience or individuality; they’re basically growing bodies to put into cockpits as fast as they can. Squad 13 is a relic; an indulgence they can no longer afford…even though it could be argued they bear elements of humanity crucial for its long-term survival.

As humanity hopes continuing to refine their children into increasingly efficient parasites will help extend the time they’re on the planet, Zero Two insists her time is quickly running out. Every time she sorties with Hiro she tries to kill as many Klaxosaurs as possible, as viciously as possible, hoping it will help her become human.

Because Hiro believes everything in this show is about him, he assumes Zero Two feels like she can’t truly belong in the squad, or in his heart, unless she becomes completely human, shedding everything that made her part klaxosaur. Since Gorou and Futoshi’s feelings helped him understand his own, he thinks confessing his love for Two will both appease and please her.

Imagine my combination of delight and despair upon witnessing Hiro completely strike out after confessing to the person who always insisted on calling him her “Darling”, not to mention kissing him and staying by his side. Hiro drops the Darling and calls Hiro “fodder.” She only cares about him if she can use him to kill klaxosaurs.

Since partnering with Hiro, we learn Two’s level of “saurification” has been steadily rising, which explains why she’s been acting so feral lately. (Ichigo hears this, because the adults apparently have an open-door policy.)

When she learns what is becoming of Zero Two, which she adds to the knowledge given to her by the leader of the Nines, Ichigo moves to have another conversation with her squadmate, only to find her smashing mirrors to bits for daring to reflect her face. Ichigo freezes in terror and closes her eyes, ready for the worst, but Two just walks past her.

Despite her clear and worsening imbalance, the adults continue to let Zero Two sortie with Hiro, and Two continues to believe she can become human if she kills enough klaxosaurs. Whether someone told her such a theory was true, or she simply decided for herself it was true, the evidence just doesn’t bear out that outcome.

If anything, killing klaxosaurs only seems to increase her bloodlust for combat. When Hiro tries to hold her back, she eventually overloads and starts to choke Hiro, while more and more images of the red girl with horns flash through his head. This totally berserk Two wants to meet her darling from “back then.” I imagine we’re in for some crucial flashbacks at the start of the second half.

Fate/Extra Last Encore – 09 – The Emperor’s Soliloquy

The “film” the female Kishinami Hakuno shows her male counterpart is of her own quest with Saber as her Servant, and a more noble, loyal and true servant, no one could possibly have.

Like the current Hakuno, the female Hakuno learns that she’s neither wizard nor Master, but a “recreation of the data of someone who once existed”; an “NPC”. But Saber tells her that’s of no consequence, either to her value as an individual or her role as prospective victor of the Grail War.

It is in She-Hakuno’s moment of deepest despair and crisis of identity that Saber reveals her True Name: Nero Claudius, fifth emperor of the Roman Empire and one history condemns as a raving despot and dictator. Naturally, Nero herself has a more nuanced life story to tell, and that story is told through what appears to be the work of Ueda Hajime, a frequent collaborator with Shinbo Akiyuki who also animated all Monogatari EDs.

Saber makes no attempt to sugar-coat her tale or excuse the life she led, only to lay it all out to provide Hakuno with context in which to consider her sage advice. Nero loved strangers and commoners more than the royal family to which she belonged. She’s proud of bringing the Great Fire of Rome under control, but as her reign went on she became seen as a moody, unstable dictator.

The Senate could not depose her as long as she had the loyalty of the common people, but when push came to shove no one came to her aid when she was brought down, and she died alone, in despair, with the love of no one. Both in its flamboyantly unconventional presentation, themes of adoration and fall from grace, and truly epic scope, Saber’s story parallels that of the vampire later known as Oshino Shinobu in Monogatari.

And now that we finally have the whole picture of who Saber is, and was, we can appreciate just how much weight there is behind her words of encouragement, for both past and present Kishinami Hakunos. She is at peace with her demise, and will set her life ablaze for the sake of those who wish to believe she is beautiful. In other words, who will love her.

Whatever love she had in her lifetime—of family or people—was either nonexistent or fleeting, so it stands to reason she’s not picky about where she gets her love now. Both Hakunos may deem themselves pale imitations unworthy of having a Servant as excellent and wise and kind as Saber.

They are utterly mistaken for thinking that way. Saber doesn’t care from whom she gets her love. In fact, she would prefer if those people did not “mind every little thing” about themselves.

Call it the extension of her affinity in life for those deemed “less than” in the society in which she lived. Commoners. Bastards, cripples, and broken things. And yes, even NPCs who have been killing and hating for a millenium.

Saber’s been dead three millenia, but doesn’t let it get her down for a second. To her, Hakuno isn’t beholden to the person or people he was before. As far as she’s concerned, he’s is a new person, who deserves a fresh start without prejudice. But he has to take it.

Reinvigorated and healed thanks to the ministrations of Rani (or, at least, her ghost), Hakuno and Saber head back out. Saber faces off against Berserker once more.

After copying and countering his martial arts moves with Royal Privilege, she unleashes her Noble Phantasm: Kingdom of Heaven and Hell,  the Golden Theater of the Deranged, and Veil of Petals, ending Berseker without any difficulty. It’s a short but gorgeous battle.

That leaves Hakuno to deal with Julius, who no longer has any backup. Julius tries his usual spiel denigrating Hakuno for not being alive or having a wish or any business fighting him. This time, the words don’t hurt Hakuno. Saber has opened his eyes. Julius isn’t talking about him; those were other people, and he’s not interested in hearing about their pasts.

After a trippy zero-gravity battle in which the two Dead Faces fight in midair as their surroundings rotate and reorganize around them, Hakuno delivers a decisive blow. Yet even in his dying breath, Julius assures him that he’ll end up like him eventually.

Hakuno doesn’t worry about those words; he’s recommitted to being the best Master he can be for the best Servant one could ask for, who is waiting for him at the ladder to the sixth level.

Rani and Rin seem poised to remain behind having accomplished their shared goal of getting a “decent Master” to the sixth level. But citing the increased difficulty at that level, Rin changes her mind and follows the pair after all, while Rani vanishes in a cloud of digital code.

Thinking back on this episode, I’m astounded at how much it achieved in 25 scant minutes. It felt like a feature film, without ever feeling overstuffed, while cementing my undying love for this version of Saber, whose story was so vividly and painfully told. My head is still spinning. That was truly awesome.

Fate/Extra Last Encore – 08

The fourth level was apparently so uneventful the series skips it altogether, and we end up on the very rainy and somber fifth level, which takes the form of a enormous jumbled mass of skyscrapers. While the ladder to Level Six is in sight (and just an ordinary physical ladder) and there’s no Floor Master, there is a “homicidal maniac” lurking the floor; Julius Harwey, whom Rin remarks was defeated by Saber and her former master.

All of the hope Hakuno seemed to carry with him from the third floor seems to have faded away, and the more Saber discusses her former master (who was a girl), the harder Hakuno is on himself.

Saber, in another one of her warm, caring monologues, tells Hakuno not to worry about doing anything other than what he’s capable of.

True genius, Saber believes, lies not in one’s talents, but by their ability to bear the cruel truth that not everyone is equal; that everyone has their roles and weaknesses. Basically, she wants Hakuno to buck up and keep doing his best.

But once Julius shows up (with either a Berserker or Assassin Servant), Hakuno and Saber are quickly separated, and Saber needs an emergency save by Lancer-Rin. Saber leaves the Servant to Rin so she can return to Hakuno’s side.

Hakuno, meanwhile, is goaded into summoning his Dead Face, but learns that Julius is also a Dead Face…”unable to save anything or save anyone,” beings whose purposes were torn away long ago.

While taking what would be a fatal blow to the midsection were he actually a living human named Kishitani Hakuno, Hakuno enters a dreamlike state where he’s told exactly what he is: an amalgamation of the massive number of  dead, defeated, and failed souls bearing grudges…a mass of hatred brought about by SE.RA.PH.’s long decline.

He is told he ascends “only to kill”, and was born “only to die.” If Hakuno were to take these words at face value and do as Saber recommended, dying would seem to be the only thing he is capable of doing, so he should do that, no?

Regaining consciousness just as Saber and Rin arrive, the battle is lost almost as soon as it resumes, as Julius reveals his Servant kills with a single blow, and Saber received that blow. Hakuno crawls towards the apparently defeated Saber (Julius and the Servant only flee when a giant arm breaks up the battle that was). He’s sure that she’d have been able to win had he been a real Master…even if there aren’t any of those left.

He descends into darkness, accepting everything he was told in his dream about being born from hatred. He allows himself to think for a moment that he might have been Saber’s former Master reincarnated before dismissing it as folly. But he hears Saber’s encouraging voice once more, asking if he really wants to simply give up at this point.

A door appears, and Hakuno walks through it, into a classroom with projector running. Seated beside it is a girl wearing the same uniform as him, who asks him (in Ishikawa Yui’s voice) to take a seat…because “it’s starting.” Very intriguing.

Fate/Extra Last Encore – 07

The fourth level’s part two starts with a flashback—I think—to an Alice wondering where Hakuno went, and in the process of absorbing various objects around her to replenish resources, transforms into a grotesque monster that forces the Masters to flee to lower floors, and killing and eating those that don’t. None of this seems to be anything Alice the Master intended.

Back in the “present”—whatever that even is—Hakuno, Saber, and Rin make their way back to the castle. The phenomenon that sent them back was only a “respawn”, not a time loop; and all parties involved retain their memories of the first attempt.

Rin (flashing an epic Shaft head-tilt) continues to drop hints to Hakuno about Dead Face without coming right out and saying that’s what he is, DFs being humans “rebooted by their grudges”, and Hakuno not knowing what beyond hatred propels him upward.

When Hakuno starts daydreaming of hanging out with Alice, reading to her and playing tag, Amari is also there in some form. When he comes back to reality, he, Saber and Rin face the monster they’re assuming is the Floor Master’s Servant.

Rin puts up a barrier, but the monster sends a hail of scissors at it, shattering it and her. Hakuno manages to spend another command seal, but before the monster is destroyed and the “game” reset, he ends up back in the dream.

There, Hakuno meets Alice in her true form, covered in bandages, lying in a bed, hooked up to all manner of IVs…and dead. The living, walking, talking Alice Hakuno has been interacting with is no more than a dream that dead Alice is watching, and is herself dreaming in Alice’s place, even able to take Amari’s form.

Back at the starting point, after Hakuno washes up and Rin apparently had a bath, they set out once more with Saber, for what Rin hopes will be the third and final time. As they walk through the forest, Hakuno ponders what and where he is: a man with no past and a place where the past has piled up to the point of near-madness.

Hakuno feels of a piece with the place because the hatred that drives him is essentially an obsession with the past; an inability to let something go. Saber tells Hakuno a story of a Master she once had “much like him”, with neither memories nor a wish, aiming to ascend only out of a desire to live on. At Angelica Cage, the highest level, the Master was defeated by “Twice Pieceman.”

Saber’s point, I believe, is that there are no guarantees. If you get to Angelica Cage, you have to beat Twice. If you beat Twice, Moon Cell has to decide to grant your wish. She wants to know if Hakuno will still ascend despite all that uncertainty.

In the dream (and a repeat of last week’s cold open), Hakuno has already won the third round, as Alice conceded the fight by not showing up. He leaves her with the promise he’ll be back once he’s won the Grail. And it certainly seems to be the case that he did return even after failing to win it.

Once back with Saber and Rin, Hakuno acknowledges that he’s no one special; just a fake who made it this far in someone else’s place. But even as a fake, he wants his feelings to be true. His time with Alice in his dreams have spurred him to want to ascend not just with hatred, but with hope.

In the present, however, the Servant still needs to be dealt with, and between Rin seemingly unleashing her trump card—transforming into Lancer, complete with Gae Bolg—and Saber’s coup-de-grace, it feels as much like putting a wretched creature (or ghost, as it were) out of its misery as defeating the floor boss.

It also carries on the Monogatari tradition of lots of discussion punctuated by short, intense bursts of decisive action. On to the fifth level.

Kokkoku – 08

Sagawa completes his merging with a Specter while able to maintain his own will. I just wish his various “experiments” he performs had a bit more bite. Now he’s essentially just a Hulk-like OP monster man, and he doesn’t even seem to take much if any joy out of his success. As he says, he’s a cautious man and always has been, but in this case a cautious villain is a dull villain.

Killing off his remaining followers didn’t really do much for me, since I never knew them anyway. It’s Sagawa’s apparent disinterest in quickly dispatching the Yukawas, Majima and Sako that confuses me.

More than once they butt right up against him, and he doesn’t put a lot of effort into taking them out, giving them ample chances to escape him, and even leaving Tubasa with them.

At this point in the story it feels like things have stalled, which shouldn’t be the case considering how the villain has powered up and become even more lethal. But it feels stalled because Sugawa is such a drab, boring dude who has slowed to a crawl right before the finish line.

It’s even more concerning that this is the eighth of what I presume to be 11-13 episodes. If things are this slow now, and the only remaining baddies remain as dull as they are, how in the heck are they going to fill the time?

Perhaps the family drama that results if Gramps really is expelled from Stasis, and Takafumi continues to oppose the rest of the family’s desire to be rid of Stasis, will inject some energy into the proceedings. All I know is the increased focus on the bad guys this week didn’t do the show any favors.

Kokkoku – 07

Shouko’s brother Yosuke is alive after all, if profoundly malnourished. Shouko is overjoyed, and watching her embrace her long-dormant kin leads Juri to embrace Makoto just as tightly when he’s released. Mr. Eyelash Spots, AKA Sako, wants to join the Yukawas as an ally, if they’ll have him. I guess he’s had his fill of all this Stasis shit. He’s not alone.

For once, “Great Lord” Sugawa and the Yukawas have something in common: they want to seal the Stasis spell. However, Sugawa, who had the sacred manuscripts of the Genuine Love Society researched, determining that they were all written by the same person over 500 years, wants to follow the founder’s path and live a much longer time.

While Sugawa discusses his plans to let the outsider Shiomi succeed him as Great Lord, one of his disciples—a true believer—is eavesdropping, and is so often the case with these kind of organizations, a leader like Sugawa must always beware of those so committed they’ll put the Cause before its leader.

There are only four true believers left, plus one hired muscle, Shiomi, and Sugawa. They are all who remain to oppose the Yukawas. Once Juri changes into some new duds (which she’s also now wearing in the OP) the plan is laid out: she’ll expel the seven remaining opponents, leave Stasis and seal the spell.

Takafumi is the one member of the Yukawas who doesn’t want the spell sealed, and thinks the others are fools for wanting to do so. But the Master Stone ends up in the hands of the disciple who believes Sugawa betrayed them, and the handover is tense.

Sugawa tries to smooth things over by saying Shiomi will only be a temporary arrangement, but his disciple knows what he heard and has already made his choice and draws his blade. Sugawa then gives his “last sermon”, asking what it’s like to be completely controlled by a specter.

I imagine he’s going to be able to proceed even if his disciples try to interfere. It will fall to the Yukawas to stop him and reclaim their lives.

Kokkoku – 06

Damn, this was going to be my “last chance” episode that would decide whether I would drop Kokkoku, and what do you know, the story finally shows some signs of life! Granted, it does so in an episode full of death, starting with the guy Tsubasa is fighting. Tsubasa basically suffocates him as he struggles.

It’s an ugly, nasty business that makes Tsubasa, who can’t find Makoto after killing someone, start to despair. Thankfully Juri, Gramps and Takafumi encounter him before he turns into a Handler, and Juri’s expulsion of the jellyfish/specter stops the transformation.

So Tsubasa is fine, but now Stalled. Then Majima appears, saying she has the kid (who is with the crotchety guy who amusingly hates kids) and wants to deal. When Juri hears Majima’s terms, she wonders why she didn’t just come and talk to them rather than causing so much chaos.

Majima doesn’t have a good reason, beyond perhaps wanting at the time to give the Yukawas a taste of revenge for what they did to her family. Juri will help her try to retrieve her family, but she won’t forgive her for doing things the way she did.

Majima’s plan is to summon three Heralds, but she can’t summon the necessary murderous intent to do so. The summoning falls to Takafumi, who is just experimenting whether he can do so on a whim, and can. Talk about coming through with a hidden power in the clutch!

In any case, the Herald/Handler appears, and Gramps works overtime transporting himself and Takafumi out of its deadly reach, while Juri jumps onto it from above and begins expelling the three jellyfish within the body.

This makes for decent, novel action, with parts of the Handler sloughing off into clouds of wood, sand, and dust, but those clouds eventually freezing along with the rest of Stasis.

Unfortunately, while Juri released the jellyfish from Majima’s parents and brother, she can’t bring them back to life; only their semi-mummified bodies remain. Majima solemnly takes them into her arms and dusts off their faces.

So what’s next for this bunch of misfits? Will Majima honor the agreement and return Makoto? What about Sugawa? And how many underlings could possibly still be running around to serve him?