Fruits Basket – 23 – Back to Basics

After episodes introducing various new Soumas and episodes that delved into the pasts of Arisa and Saki, this week’s Fruits Basket refocuses on the core of Tooru, Kyou and Yuki and the imperfect but effective dynamic between them that makes this whole thing work so well.

As we know, Tooru has a bit of a complex when it comes to valuing herself, and setbacks like failing a test Yuki helped her study for only acts as a catalyst for her self-loathing, as she repeatedly calls herself a “disgrace.” Then she catches a cold, only adding fuel to that fire.

Once the Soumas finally get her to lie down and rest—the only way she’ll get better—Kyou prepares rice porridge for her unbidden, and provides an open ear who’ll listen to her troubles. Turns out she’s worried about breaking her promise to her mom to graduate high school.

Kyou tells her not to sweat it—she can take makeups—nor to worry about putting Yuki out—he’s happy to help her and provides more notes. Ultimately, Kyou just wants her to feel better so she can get back to being the bright, cheerful, dottering Tooru they all know and love.

Kyou manages to cheer her up, and thanks to Yuki’s notes, she passes the makeup tests. While walking home in the rain (which makes Kyou uncharacteristically sluggish) the camera cuts to an unfamiliar figure whose face is obscured by an old-fashioned umbrella.

But the real storm is back home, where Kagura is lying in wait to see Kyou. Shigure manages to get the two out of the house to buy groceries with a minimum of property damage, which he bills to Kyou and Kagura’s bank accounts. Tooru learning that all the Soumas have these interconnected accounts reminds her how much she has yet to learn about them.

We’ve seen Kyou and Kagura “interact” (read:brawl) before, but never in a public place, where Kagura mentions “that thing” he hasn’t yet told Tooru, and he erupts at her without regard to the fact they’re in the middle of a crowded supermarket.

Kagura may be overbearing and clingy but you’d think Kyou would learn that being an ass to her won’t make her stop loving him, so he might as well make the best of the situation. He has his moments, as when he agrees to hold hands home, but alas, only half of the way.

Tooru’s weathered old ballcap and Kyou’s secret are enticing callbacks issues lingering under an otherwise pleasant slice-of-life outing, and one more wrinkle is added at the very end when Kyou encounters the umbrella guy at the front door, and refers to him as Shishou, indicating this is the man who trained him in martial arts.

I wonder what he wants with just two episodes left in the season?

Bloom Into You – 13 (Fin) – Right Now Is Different

As she visits her family grave, Touko remains determined to “see things through” and put on the stage show in her sister’s place. And that’s all fine and dandy…for the present. But what about when the show is over? Who is she, who does she become once there’s nothing left to do in her sister’s name?

Miyako’s Café Echo is a quiet and intimate place that draws both Yuu and Kanou (to start the process of re-writing the play’s ending) and Touko and Sayaka. While the latter two are there, Miyako and Sayaka share some knowing glances and phrases, and Sayaka finally asks Touko about her sister: What was she like?

Touko is somewhat hesitant to answer, as she’s realized the Mio she knew wasn’t the whole picture. Sayaka responds that just because what she knew of Mio wasn’t complete doesn’t mean that part wasn’t a real and legitimate part of who she was—and a part about which Sayaka wants to hear.

Talking about her sister puts Touko back in a forlorn, uneasy state, and she just wants to see Yuu at times like that, to simply exist with her in the right now. Yet even though she’s been told she’s allowed to “indulge herself” Touko still hesitates to send a text…until Yuu sends her one first, inviting her to hang out.

Just that one simple little text completely changes Touko’s right now. Back at the cafe, Riko arrives, and Miyako asks her if she prefers men or women; a kind of loaded question. Riko admits, she’s not especially attracted to women, but right now, she’s dating one: Miyako. Life is full of exceptions, contradictions, and imperfections. They can or can’t be explained, and can only either be accepted or not.

Yuu and Touko go to Aqua World and have a blast, and I couldn’t be happier. I’d much rather the series end on a lovely date that explores where they’re at in their relationship right now, rather than focus on the festival and stage play. I’m far less interested as a play than as a mirror to who Touko “is.” I shouldn’t, then, be surprised that Bloom Into You gave me what I wanted.

What I also didn’t want, and thankfully didn’t get, was a confession or “awakening” from Yuu. What I did get was Touko explaining why she says I love you so easily and often to Yuu. Regardless of how Yuu reacts, simply saying it makes Touko feel relieved. Relieved that she can actually fall in love with someone, something the sister she knew never did (as far as she knows).

That means that she’s not falling in love simply to check off another box on the list of things her sister did. It’s something that happened to her, Touko, organically and without influence. And however much of who she is is only a lie or an emulation of Mio, the part of her that likes Yuu is most assuredly neither. It’s real, and it’s relieving.

She admits that sounds self-contradictory, but Yuu further comforts her by stating what she believes: that it’s perfectly fine to be self-contradictory. To be so is to be human.

While outside before the penguin march, Yuu starts performing the play, and Touko joins in once she realizes there’s no one else around. When Yuu changes some of her lines from the script, she says she’s improvising, that Touko follow suit, and that Kanou is changing things up because she wasn’t satisfied with the script as-is.

When the part comes when Touko’s character is apprehensive about which person she should choose to be based on the different stories she’s received, Yuu asks why she needs to make a choice at all. “I don’t know anyone aside from ‘you'”,  Yuu’s nurse character says. It’s not like Touko’s character has no memories, she’s gained enough during the hospital stay to lay out the groundwork of who she is right now, not who she might’ve been.

The penguin show interrupts their rehearsal, and the two continue to enjoy the aquarium. Eventually Yuu takes Touko by the hand and leads her through the transparent underwater tunnels, to other exhibits, and to the gift shop. Touko wishes this would never end, but the exit approaches … they’re there already; too soon for her taste.

On the train home, both Touko and Yuu are sleepy and close to drifting off. Yuu tells Touko she can, and she does, leaning her shoulder and head against her. In idea for the title of Kanou’s play comes to Yuu: “Only You Know.” She takes the sleeping Touko’s hand and draws nearer, gently waking her and saying they need to change trains…

…And that’s it! Such a quiet, delicate ending full of warmth and love. Do I wish we got to see more of Touko and Yuu’s relationship blooming, and possibly Yuu eventually figuring out that what she feels for Touko is indeed a kind of love? Sure, and in that regard, this series has left us with naught but an elipsis, and a second season has not yet been confirmed.

So Like Touko with her memories of her sister, we have to be content with what we have and the fact that it’s not the whole picture…though I hope we get a little more down the road.—sesameacrylic

Bloom Into You – 12 – Changing the Ending

Actors put draw from personal pain to express pain in their performances, but in light of what Ichigaya told her about her sister, the line between performance and real emotion is perilously thin. Sure, Touko blows everyone away with her line-reading, but they don’t know that almost all of those lines could be said about her!

Everyone, except for Yuu and Sayaka. But all throughout camp, just as Yuu’s affection for Touko seems to be growing, the combination of Touko’s promise to hold back and Sayaka assigning herself in charge of “looking after” Touko, you can see Yuu grow increasingly lonely and frustrated. Yuu knows that Touko wasn’t acting when talking about who the “real her” was.

After Sayaka dismisses Yuu’s concerns (and frankly doesn’t see the need to discuss it with a kohei at all), Yuu seizes an opportunity when she and Touko are alone and all but orders her to walk her home. She asks about Touko and her family’s further Summer plans. She stops at the railroad crossing and remembers the kiss Touko gave her.

Then, she takes the initiative once more. When Touko’s about to go her separate way, Yuu invites her to her room, and is honest about why: if they part there, they won’t see each other for a while, and she doesn’t like that. She wants Touko to have more faith in her, for she’s holding up her end of the bargain, neither loving nor hating her. Touko accepts, but warns Yuu that she’s going to “indulge” herself.

What ensues is the steamiest scene between the two yet, and another demonstration of how Yuu is probably not being fully honest with herself when it comes to how she feels about Touko.

The show pulls no bush-league parent barge-ins; the two have each other all to themselves, and spend it on the bed until dusk. Kudos to the sound designer and the voice actors for the very immersive blowing fan, as well as the extremely subtle sound effect of the girls’ lips meeting. Touko’s flowing hair is also impressively handled.

During that time, Touko opens up to her about why she’s upset, just as she hoped she would. She expresses how lost and aimless she feels now that her idea of who her sister was might not be remotely accurate. Yuu asks why she needs to “become” someone other than who she currently is.

Again, Touko’s self-loathing surfaces in response. Assuming (perhaps wrongly) Yuu feels nothing for her, she questions why she’d stay the way she is. Then, after getting on top and kissing Yuu some more, Touko whispers in her ear “Don’t fall in love with me. Because, you know, I hate myself. And I can’t be in love with someone who likes the things I hate, right?”

Well, wrong, Touko! Staking her love entirely on the person she loves never loving her back just…that’s not how this works! That assumes Yuu’s feelings will never change no matter what, even as Touko insists upon changing into someone better than she is.  Like she can evolve, but Yuu can’t. It’s unfair, selfish, and utterly misguided. But it’s also what you’d expect of someone with Touko’s experiences.

Yuu agrees with me, in that just because you can logically explain why Touko feels this way doesn’t mean you have to accept it. And Yuu won’t. She yells “Senpai, you idiot!!” when they part, hoping Touko heard her. After spending some time alone with her thoughts, she calls Kanou: she wants to change the ending.

She runs to Kanou’s house to explain, and ends up drawing out the very reason Kanou was so frustrating with the ending as she wrote it (the girl ends up becoming the person her lover remembers).  It all comes down to why the character would pick that version of her: the motivations are totally couched in the past, rather than in the present duration when she’s lacked memories but gained insights from three different people.

The need to choose one and only one of the three version to “become” was always a false one; both Kanou and Yuu see this strongly implicitly. Realistically, there’s a fourth way to go, an ending where that false choice isn’t made. But Yuu doesn’t simply seek to change the play’s ending. She wants to change Touko herself; to somehow get her to see that there’s no single answer. She doesn’t want Touko to hate herself.

It may be selfish or arrogant (and her gaze into the stars of the mini-planetarium do give her a very imperious bearing), but it’s what she’s setting out to do. Hopefully, she’ll take a second at some point and figure out why she has to…though something tells me she already knows.

Bloom Into You – 11 – Working from Incomplete Blueprints

The StuCo summer rehearsal camp seems like a whole world of trouble for Touko and Yuu, not to mention Sayaka, and the three only grow more nervous and excited as the day turns to night and relatively normal StuCo operations switch to a bath and sleepover setting.

For her part, Yuu is committed to not letting herself get too flustered while in the bath with Touko (or at least not appearing as such), and Touko and Sayaka take her complete lack of hesitation in stripping down to be “going too fast.”

But once they’re in the bath together as a trio, they calm down, as all three know it’s just not the right environment to make a move, were a move to be made, due to the very presence of three of them. Were it just Touko and Yuu, or Sayaka and Yuu, or Sayaka and Touko, things might be different, but each serves as a firewall for the other, resulting in a less romantic and more collegial vibe, both before and during bedtime.

I particularly liked the three lying awake, wondering if the others were similarly awake, voicing to themselves the impossibility of anything happening that night. But while there’s perhaps a bit of frustration from being “blocked” by one another, most of what they feel is relief it’s the three of them. After all, they have a play to get down, such distractions are for another time…if they’re for any time at all!

With it thus established that no “first moves” will be made by any of the three, day two arrives with much less anticipation and suspense. But the day also marks the arrival of Tomoyuki Ichigaya to coach up the council. Not only is he in Hakozaki-sensei’s theater troupe, but he was a former student at their school, a member of the student council…and as such was close to Mio.

Kanno’s play is about a girl known as three different things based on who is remembering. Touko has spent so long trying to mold herself into a perfect replica of her sister Mio, she never stopped to wonder who Mio really was, beyond the physical manifestation of perfection she saw as a little girl.

She never considered that maybe what she knew of Mio was just one small piece of a much larger tapestry. Like the three people who know her character in the play, she’s working without the full picture she thought she had, which means she isn’t as perfect replica as she thought.

Indeed, according to Ichigaya, Touko has already surpassed Mio as a StuCo prez, and while he himself doesn’t have the full picture of Touko, we know that she’s been working a hell of a lot harder than he claims Mio worked. Mio seems to be someone who used the council as her own personal force of worker bees, using her charm to get them to do her bidding. And Ichigaya maintains that he and the others didn’t necessarily feel taken advantage of, since they genuinely liked Mio and it was fun being around her.

Still, this is a big blow to Touko, and she can’t hide how it affects her from either Yuu or Touko. Further, Touko can tell from just one little look from Yuu that she’ll be there for her, should she tell her what’s up. Touko wants to just melt into Yuu’s arms and bathe in her kindness, but is still worried about taking that kindness for granted too often, leading to it “drying up.”

Of course, as Yuu has said, that will never happen, but Touko holds back anyway. Instead, she sits back with Sayaka as the three kohais play with fireworks, content with their more old-fashioned sparklers. Sayaka goes first, asking about what she talked about with Ichigaya, and admitting she knows he was in Mio’s council.

Touko mentions the discrepancy between his memories of her sister and her own, and how she now feels lost now knowing she never had a “complete blueprint” to work from. Sayaka apologizes for not mentioning Ichigaya connection before, but Touko doesn’t blame her, doesn’t mind her knowing, and thanks her for worrying about her, which brings a bashful smile to Sayaka’s face. All the while, Yuu watches the two from afar, wondering what they’re talking about…and why Touko felt she couldn’t come to her.

Things seemed to slow down a bit this week, and while it may just be me noticing now, but some of the animation took a bit of a nosedive in quality, which was pretty distracting. Nevertheless, Touko’s Mio revelation is an crucial development going forward.

Golden Kamuy – 21 – The Naked Truth

While visiting Asirpa’s relatives, the crew learns of a band of blind bandits who were once sulfur miners on Mount Iwo. Those who weren’t killed by the acid ended up sightless, and attack anyone they can in the dark. They’re led by a former Abashiri inmate, Toni Anji, who also has tattoos. They head to a local hot spring, but while all the guys are relaxing in the bath, the blind bandits snuff out all the light and attack.

As a result, Sugimoto, Tanigaki, Ogata, Kiroranke, and Shiraishi have to fight an enemy they can’t see with their dicks out. The enemy can “see” them just fine thanks to echolocation by tongue-clicking; a clever tactic that also creates an unsettling atmosphere.

As with the aphrodisiac sea otter incident, the beefcake is strong with this episode, with tasteful angles and shadows preventing everyone’s manhood from being exposed. Only Asirpa and Inkarmat remain clothed. Golden Kamuy has proven quite adept at creating compelling action set pieces, and taking away both the clothes and eyesight of the combatants is yet another example of that proficiency. It’s also pretty hilarious.

While she’s still weary of Kiroranke, Inkarmat still joins him and Tanigaki on a boat to try to escape the bandits, but Toni and his cohorts toss stones to gauge distance before he opens fire, shooting Tanigaki and capsizing the boat. Inkarmat can’t swim, and starts to sink, and even has a vision of a circle of bears coming to claim her soul.

But Tanigaki, who was only shot through the butt, dives into the lake and rescues her, and she rewards him with a kiss. She thought for sure she was a goner, but he showed her that the fate her fortune-telling portends can be changed.

As dawn starts to peek out of the horizon, Sugimoto and Ogata (the only one of them with a gun) infiltrate the bandits’ hideout, but soon find the windows are all nailed shut, and another ambush ensues in the pitch black. Toni goes after Sugimoto, and the two grapple and come to a standoff.

That’s when Hijikata suddenly appears to greet his old fellow inmate, and Ushiyama tears through the walls to let the sun in. The threat is over, with Sugimoto & Co. leaving Toni Anji to Hijikata & Co., provided he can get a copy of the tattoos he bears.

As the now fully-reunited supergroup heads into town to take their pictures taken, of all things, Tsurumi “punishes” his Abashiri mole, Private Usami, by drawing stick figures on his symmetrical face moles (a mole with moles, heh heh). Usami, like so many young men, is so smitten with the Lieutenant that it’s hardly punishment at all.

As for Sugimoto, he is compared to a young Hijikata by the old man’s photographer friend: “like a demon, but also kind.” But while locked in battle in the darkness, Toni Anji said sensed something else those with sight couldn’t: that Sugimoto could never return to who he was. I guess we’ll find out.

Golden Kamuy – 20 – Inkarmat Holmes

Ah, the seaside. Warm breeze, giant sunfish, sea otter meat, and…swarms of locusts?! Golden Kamuy brings a lot of people together, but then immediately splits them apart, both with the swarm, and with sudden clashing stories about who is dangerous and who is (still) working for Tsurumi.

When Sugimoto, Shiraishi, Ogata and Tanigaki seek refuge in a building and proceed to cook the sea otter stew, they all start to get very horny and see sexier versions of each other (including the latecomer Kiroranke), resulting in a ridiculous sumo orgy. There’s more serious activity afoot outside, as a highly suspicious Asirpa demands Inkarmat tell her how she knows her father.

According to Inkarmat, Nopperabo they’re seeking isn’t her father at all. Her father is a man named Wilk, whom Inkarmat befriended and even fell for (though he only regarded her as a child). Wilk, Inkarmat tells her, was murdered by his best friend…Kiroranke.

That night, just as the others are coming down from the sea otter, Inkarmat mounts Tanigaki and disrobes. While there are any number of reasons she decided to sleep with him (including genuine attraction, which is definitely there) she later attributes the lay with the sea otter’s legendary aphrodisiac effects.

Once everyone is reassembled on the beach, Asirpa immediately confronts Kiroranke with what Inkarmat just told her. When Kiroranke plays innocent, Inkarmat produces evidence in the form of fingerprint matching.

Then Ogata draws his rifle on her, accusing her of working for Tsurumi, but she says she was only using Tsurumi. Tanigaki puts himself between Inkarmat and Ogata’s gun, and Ogata accuses him of letting himself be seduced.

It’s a big mess, with multiple people suspecting each other of murder, or conspiracy, or some such foul play. This week Sugimoto not only gets the horny sumo orgy started, but also plays the role of peacemaker (after all, no one is pointing any fingers at him for anything).

He tells everyone that their mission remains the same: go to Abashiri and meet with Nopperabo for answers. He half-jokingly warns that whoever “makes their move”, resulting in another member of the group suddenly meeting their maker, will share the fate of their victim. Call it Mutually Assured Justice.

Tsurumi’s intel network is formidable, and he is informed the moment the reunited group is headed to the prison. He even has a mole there, posing as a greenhorn noob. His superior officer is ordered by the warden to “feed him to the pigs” when his duplicity is uncovered, but the young lad make quick work of the two inmates who ambush him. Looks like our friends are heading straight into a hornet’s nest. What else is new?

As for the post-credits sequence in which a wagon is robbed in the night by a crack shot with a pistol…not enough info to form an opinion one way or another, except to assume the able gunman in question will probably cross paths with either Tsurumi, Hijikata, or Sugimoto & Co.

Golden Kamuy – 19 – Missing Something

The reunion of Tanigaki, Inkarmat, and Cikapasi with Asirpa and the others was facilitated by Ainu hunters who then invite the whole gang to their kitan as they perform a post-bear-hunting ceremony, in which they tell the other gods that the world of humans is a good place. Asirpa is once again the “tour guide” describing the Ainu concept of kamuy.

Tanigaki then tells her about Huci, but Asirpa can’t go home yet, not when she’s so close to Abashiri and learning the secrets of her father. Instead, Tanigaki decides to stay by Asirpa’s side and assist her in her efforts. Asirpa also gives Inkarmat a look that seems to ask  what does this woman want?, which is also something I’d like to know.

One of the Ainu hunters recognizes Tanigaki’s rifle as having once belonged to the hunter Nihei Tetsuzou, whom he once hunted bear with. At the time Tetsuzou revealed the purpose of the seven notches in the rifle: they were made by his only son, who died in battle.

He made a notch for every enemy he killed, but his father would never know whether he lost count or simply died once he’d reached seven. He just wishes he’d never gone to war and simply stayed with him and hunted bear.

Koito, who like the taxidermist is in love with Tsurumi, reports on his failure to keep a hold of Shiraishi, and Tsurumi thinks Koito’s consolation prize of the con artist’s tattooed skin has the wrong marks, suggesting it may be fake. He assigns Koito to henceforth assist him in hunting down those who would prevent the 7th from its glorious victory.

When Koito mentions how Ogata was with Shiraishi and the others on the airship, Tsurumi laments how someone he was sure would be loyal is no longer in the fold. He regails Koito of the tragic tale Ogata told him, of how he was the bastard son of the famous Lt. General Hanazawa and a prostitute who went mad hoping that he’d come back to her if she kept making monkfish stew.

She did that instead of loving her son, who one day poisoned his mother to end her suffering, and also to see if his father would come to her funeral; he didn’t. He then met his half-brother in the army and could tell that he had a family who loved him. He shot that brother in the head, again to see if his father would simply think of his other son and his mother.

Finally, with Tsurumi’s help, Ogata performs seppuku on his own father General Hanazawa, who curses him as a failure of a son who was always “missing something.” Whatever that “something” was, it couldn’t have helped that Ogata never had anyone in his life who loved him. The closest he got was Lt. Tsurumi’s attempt at seduction, which, unlike, say, Koito, didn’t interest him in the least.

Back in the present, when Sugimoto, Asirpa, and the gang reach the sea and jump for joy, Ogata is watching their backs with binoculars, still searching for that thing he’s missing. Could he one day find it by sticking with these folks?

Golden Kamuy – 18 – Kanemochi with Walnuts

This episode puts the chase on hold in favor of a deep dive into Tanigaki Genjirou’s eventful and tragic past, as told to Lt. Tsurumi several months ago. It all starts with a description of the kanemochi his people made to serve as last-resort rations, and how his had a special ingredient to set them apart from others.

Tanigaki had a need for such rations when he and another member of his hunting party got stuck in a blizzard for many days. He and this man, Kenkichi, shared the rations, the secret ingredient for which was walnuts, and they survived. Eventually, Kenkichi married Tanigaki’s sister Fumi and the couple moved into a remote place in the mountains.

Then Tanigaki got word that something happened, and rushed to Kenkichi and Fumi’s home. There he found only charred remains of the house and of Fumi, who had a stab wound in her heart; Kenkichi’s knife, “the soul of a matagi”, not far from her body.

Tanigaki abandoned his family and his village to find Kenkichi and seek revenge. That led him to the same battleground as Sugimoto, who asks for food. Tanigaki gives him some kanemochi, and Sugimoto recognizes Tanigaki’s dialect because someone he fought beside had the same one.

In one coincidence, just as the Russians started running into the Japanese trenches with lit grenades strapped to their bodies, Kenkichi leapt out to stop one of them, saving everyone in the trench, including Tanigaki.

It turns out Tanigaki was wrong: Kenkichi didn’t kill her sister in cold blood. He took her life in order to spare her a worse fate. Fumi contracted smallpox, and didn’t want her family finding out or for Kenkichi to stay and die with her.

Kenkichi didn’t want to leave her to be attacked by animals. And so the compromise was struck: put her out of her misery, then burn the house so the pox wouldn’t spread. It was pretty much the best option out of a host of terrible ones.

Kenkichi tells this to someone he can’t recognize, since his eardrums are shot and his eyes blown out. But Tanigaki knows how to get him to understand it’s his brother-in-law he’s speaking to—by giving him a piece of kanemochi with walnuts; his last meal.

Tanigaki tells a rapt Lt. Tsurumi that he admires Kenkichi for finding a role in life and carrying out that role, and that he sought a similar role, since vengeance was no longer an option. Tsurumi offered him a place with his unit, but as we know, that wasn’t the role for him either.

Now, in the present, flanked by Inkarmat and Cikapasi, Tanigaki finally reunites with Asirpa and Sugimoto. And since he’s not working for the nefarious likes of Tsurumi, he can feel a lot better about his latest role.

Leave it to Golden Kamuy to take something like a regional food and create an entire tragic drama around it. It may not have moved the main plot forward too far, but it did greatly enrich one of its characters.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 06 – One Big Weapons Project

Now that Asuna has revealed herself, Kikuoka must answer some questions for her. It turns out he wasn’t lying when he said Kirito was receiving treatment he couldn’t receive anywhere else. They have him in a full-spec STL that is gradually rebuilding his damaged brain, though they still don’t know if he’ll ever wake up.

However, Kikuoka didn’t bring Kirito to Rath HQ out of the kindness of his heart. As an SDF official, he has always sought new ways to fight wars ever since the NerveGear came out. When fully copying the souls of fully-formed real-world adults failed (none will ever accept they are copies), they had to use the copies of infant souls, and raise them in a controlled virtual environment where they’d accept their existence—bottom-up AI.

While that in and of itself was a major achievement, it caused problems for Kikuoka vis-a-vis his ultimate goal: to develop a new weapon for the defense of Japan. The AIs followed the law—the Taboo Index—precisely and without exception. The Underworld was a utopia with no crime…until Alice crossed that border as a result of her dealings with Kirito, whom they placed into the world after wiping his memory.

In effect, Kirito was the chaotic element they needed in order to “teach” their homegrown bottom-up AIs to break the law; even to murder. Alice, or A.L.I.C.E. (a rather tortured acronym I will not repeat), was the first product of introducing Kirito to the project: the first AI to dissent and resist the Taboo Index (even if it was accidental).

That, Kikuoka hopes, is the first step towards building an army of artificial fluctlights capable of killing an enemy, which will mean no longer having to sacrifice real-world soldiers in conflicts—a huge strategic advantage that could elevate real-world Japan to the highest echelons of global power.

Of course, this opens up a tremendous ethical and philosophical can of worms; one so large Kikuoka himself isn’t interested in pondering it beyond the limited scope of what is essentially a weapon R&D project. But having experienced about as much virtual life as Kirito, Asuna is not okay with exploiting souls that are the cognitive equal to real-world humans as, well, cannon fodder. Perhaps they’re not real humans, but they’re close enough for it to be wrong.

Nevertheless, in the imperfect human world, two or more wrongs often make a right, and while Kikuoka is definitely putting out some serious supervillain vibes with his secret base and yukata, his intentions to eliminate the human cost of war are noble. But he execution has yielded the creation of a new race of beings that aren’t necessarily his to do with as he pleases.

Project Alicization is, in a way, one massive crime against virtual humanity. While she loved Kayaba too much to kill him, Koujirou Rinko is still aware of the role she played in his crimes.  But when she confesses that role to Asuna, Asuna is forgiving, because she doesn’t feel she’s in any position to forgive.

Asuna and Kirito, like Rinko and Kayaba, have also committed crimes in their various virtual dealings. But all they can do is accept that and move forward, learning the lessons that had to be learned. And right now those lessons are telling Asuna that Kikuoka is doing is wrong, even if it is saving Kirigaya Kazuto.

I imagine at some point Asuna is going to plug into one of those unused STLs, to reunite with Kirito and, if he ends up remembering her, confer with him on how they should deal with Kikuoka and his monstrously advanced experiment.

Even assuming Kikuoka had free reign to do as he pleased, there are so many complex variables in his system that something unexpected is sure to arise. If and when it all blows up in his face, he’ll need people like Asuna and Kirito to clean up his mess.

Golden Kamuy – 17 – No Persimmon Trees in Hokkaido

One thing that brings Preston and I back to Golden Kamuy again and again is that it never fails to surprise. If you’d told me the much-ballyhooed master of disguise/forger would only last an episode before he got a bullet in the head (unless he’s playing possum, of course), I wouldn’t have believed you.

But a show that’s introduced so many characters can afford to kill them off now and again to keep one guessing, now can’t it? His and Sugimoto’s subterfuge is broken by Tsurumi’s trusty second lieutenant Koito, another new face who the skilled fake warden can only keep off balance for so long until he slips up (not with his Satsuma dialect, but in saying the warden drinks).

Fortunately Koito’s bullet to Sugimoto doesn’t kill him, because Sugimoto is immortal, and after crashing out the window, he, Shiraishi, and Ogata manage to commandeer a crude military airship. Thanks to the soldiers forming a pyramid and some athleticism from the resourceful Koito, there’s a duel on the ship, but Shiraishi uses the precursor to a bungee cord to dive off with Koito and then drop him.

Shiraishi crashes into the trees, but comes back up with Asirpa, who’d been following on horseback. How she climbed the tree to grab ahold of Shiraishi so fast…is better left unsaid. Thus the moment Shiraishi has been dreading comes: Sugimoto tells him he knows about Hijikata. However, due to the skin Hijikata had being fake (at least according to Sugimoto), he doesn’t believe Shiraishi really betrayed him…for now.

But the airborne group isn’t out of the proverbial woods yet. On the contrary; when the airship runs out of gas they have to ditch and end up in a whole other woods. Asirpa patches up Sugimoto’s bullet wound as best she can, but with the airship being such a large target to follow, the 7th is pursuing them; they cannot waste their head start.

The chase drives Sugimoto, Asirpa, Shiraishi and Ogata into the Daisetsuzan mountains, home of “sex demons” Ainu call the Pawci-Kamuy. Those demons take hold of Shiraishi once the weather takes a turn, and he strips down and runs off. Asirpa follows while Sugimoto and Ogata skin some freshly killed deer to take shelter in, taun-taun style, but Shiraishi magically reappears in one of the carcasses.

Sugimoto goes after Asirpa, but when they finally reunite they’re both lost, with the weather only getting worse. Luckily, another deer is nearby, and Sugimoto shoots it, Asirpa skins it, and they basically spoon inside the carcass until morning. As strange a sequence of events it was that led to this outcome, I’m glad it happened.

With the running over for the night and nothing but time, Sugimoto and Asirpa get to talk a little more. For once, Sugimoto explains something to Asirpa: how to dry bitter persimmons so they’re sweet. He notes they don’t grow in Hokkaido (hence Asirpa isn’t aware of them), but also that he hasn’t had one since before the war that took his friend and changed him.

Asirpa holds out hope that like a blood-clotting plant or warm deer carcass, if Sugimoto gets to eat another persimmon, he may get back some of what he gave up to survive in the war and everything since. And she wants to be there, in his homeland, with him, when he does that, so she can try one too.

Iroduku: The World in Colors – 02 – A (Little) Star Is Born

Hitomi wants to see Yuito’s vivid drawing again, but he’s preoccupied with the fact she broke into his room. Fair enough; it is a crime, not to mention a hassle for someone who clearly hates hassles. Hitomi has no choice but to tell the truth—it’s the magic’s fault—and hope he believes her.

Fortunately, he does, and accepts her apology without further trouble. Unfortunately, he scoots off before Hitomi can ask about his drawing. In the meantime, Hitomi isn’t sure what to do now that she’s in the future past, so her great-grandparents enroll her at Kohaku’s high school for the time being.

We only see a still image of Kohaku, but I found it exceedingly amusing that the mild-mannered granny of Hitomi’s time was such a wild child menace sixty years in the past, her presence is felt even in her absence, like some kind of Sauron-like supervillain!

Kohaku, with her frequent destructive exploits, has single-handedly given all mages a bad name, so it’s only natural that the students at school would be weary of Hitomi. If only they knew how much she can’t stand magic!

Well, they get a slight demonstration of that contempt when, in front of dozens of witnesses, among them her new acquaintances with the photography club, Hitomi proves she’s a mage by creating a very tiny, dim star that only sparkles for a moment.

And yet, even that poor showing represented the best Hitomi had probably done in months if not years. As a self-styled loather of magic, she never practiced, so whatever natural magical ability may dwell within her, she stinks at it because it’s like a totally unused, atrophied muscle.

Hitomi finds Yuito drawing on the rooftop after school, and offers an apology for causing such a stir. Yuito apologizes right back for forcing her to prove she was a mage when he could have simply trusted her word. Hitomi is surprised by his contriteness, but also uses it to ask to see his drawing one more time, as it’s something “special” to her.

This week I came to identify both Hitomi’s latent magic and Yuito’s private drawings as representing parts of themselves they’re loath to reveal to others, as if they were parts of their hearts or souls. Even though Yuito loves drawing while Hitomi hates magic, both of them would rather not show it to others…right up to the point they met each other.

Now, as one of Yuito’s friends observes later, Hitomi might not find magic to be that bad after all, as she’s practicing her star-making and has clearly already improved markedly from her previous attempt. In her case and in Yuito’s, all about who you show it to, and why.

I’m kinda glad Kohaku didn’t appear for at least one more week; I feel like her blowing in like a storm would have disrupted the delicate initial bonds forming between Hitomi and Yuito, not to mention even more adversely affect her first impression at school. We’ll see how the dynamic shifts when young Kohaku returns.

Irozuku Sekai no Ashita kara – 01 (First Impressions) – Modest Magic

That term up top, modest magic, is used by the protagonist Tsukishiro Hitomi to describe her practice of repeating the same thing over and over in her head—in this case, that she’ll be fine alone—until it eventually comes true. It’s a spell, but a very simple one, and yet, it’s done all the time and it often works.

However, it doesn’t seem to be working too well for Hitomi; ever since her best friends in life left town, the color in the world has slowly drained from her sight. Even on a dazzling night of fireworks, she sees everything as a flat, even monochrome.

Classmates invite her to join the festivities, but Hitomi has promised to meet her grandmother Kohaku at a certain spot. There, Kohaku presents her with a device that will enable Hitomi to travel back in time. Why exactly she’s having Hitomi doing this (and why Hitomi doesn’t seem to have a say in the matter) are not explained.

But perhaps, like in Kiki’s Delivery Service, this is just the right time for a mage of Hitomi’s age to do what her granny is having her do; an initiation of sorts. The time travel is depicted as a ride aboard a bus driving through a glittering blue either of countless floating images.

Continuing the whimsical transition, after paying the strange magical creature that’s driving the bus a fare of cookie sticks (or something?) Hitomi alights and falls straight through the ground—which is made of clouds—and lands hard in the bedroom of some random guy (or is it random that she lands there?)

What doesn’t seem to be random is when she is. Her grandmother’s spell was aimed at sending her back to when she herself was in high school, which was about sixty years ago…in other words, our present year 2018. Once there, granny promised, Hitomi would eventually learn why she had to go, ostensibly by learning from her granny’s own high school-age self.

When the guy comes home and enters his room, Hitomi hides under the bed, and when he steps out, she escapes out the window (the mechanical latch for which briefly flummoxes the girl from the voice-activated future). While escaping, a classmate of the boy to which room belongs captures video footage, presuming the boy (whom she identifies as Aoi) was up to no good.

Once she escapes, it’s confirmed: Hitomi has traveled to the past. The glittering, skyscraper-packed skyline of her time has been seriously downsized. It looks a bit different, but it feels the same.

Those same classmates who saw her go out Aoi’s window spot her looking lost and confused, but don’t judge, and happily lead her to her destination: the town magic shop. Whatever the condition of the shop sixty years in the future, in 2018 it’s bustling, with folk young and old availing themselves of the wares.

Hitomi is disappointed to learn that Kohaku, her grandmother, is currently away on a trip to England, with no certain return date. But Kohaku’s grandmother—i.e., Hitomi’s great-great grandmother—is there, and believes both Hitomi’s letter and her story.

She sets Hitomi up in the spare room in the attic of the house, which Hitomi learns is practically brand-new in 2018. She remembers the house and the room as being much older of course, and a cozy, comforting place where she was once read bedtime stories.

There’s a coziness to the show at this point that pervades her interactions with her relatives. It may be a different time, but it’s the same family, and they’re just as warm and kind back then as they are in 2078.

The next morning, Hitomi sets off to initiate a search for her azurite earring. Turns out it’s already been found—by Aoi’s nosy mother, who heard rumors of a girl jumping out his son’s window. She’s not mad at Yuito (Aoi’s first name), but as a single mother would prefer her son’s girlfriend properly left out the front door. The thing is, Yuito has no idea what she’s talking about…and he’s not lying!

Yuito’s house is where Hitomi decides to start, but just as she approaches it he exits, and she decides to follow him instead. Keep in mind, her whole world remains stubbornly monochrome at this point…until she finds him sitting in a park, drawing on a tablet.

His drawing is the first thing in a long time she’s seen in color, and the shapes spill out and dance around, adding vivid color back to the entire world around her. It’s only temporary, however, and once she snaps out of it, Hitomi finds she was dancing and twirling in front of Yuito like a total weirdo, and he asks her who the heck she is.

Thus begins P.A. Works’ latest original series, which proves to be a different kind of modest magic, as many their works tend to be. Irozuku isn’t overly flashy (despite having literal fireworks in its opening moments), but rather so far is a quiet and delicate, yet rich and sumptuous affair. Animation, character design, and soundtrack are all top-notch; even KyoAni-esque.

Personally, the moment she saw color on the tablet caused goosebump-inducing. That was also the moment I was sold on this show. Its solid technical bona fides are there, but Hitomi herself isn’t as immediately charming as, say, Shirahane Yukina (though Ishihara Kaori has the chops to remedy that). In any case, I’m definitely going forward with this.

Fate/Extra Last Encore – 13 (Fin) – Mankind’s Journey Continues

Twice H. Pieceman is done with humans, and he has been for a long time. On Earth, in life, he was surrounded by the death and suffering of the Vietnam War. After death, he was “reproduced” as an NPC within SE.RA.PH, but that NPC status meant the Holy Grail would always be out of reach, so he sought a successor who also felt the future was wrong.

When none came, and humanity grew stagnant, Pieceman stopped seeing the point of letting it all continue. That’s pretty much where we’re at when Hakuno, Saber, Rin, and Leo arrive at the doorstep of Angelica Cage and the Moon Cell Core, still shielded and guarded by Chakravaratin, the Noble Phantasm of Pieceman’s no-longer-around Servant.

Oh, and Pieceman is also a Dead Face; a remnant of his digital body that was destroyed when he sealed off SE.RA.PH. Killing a final boss that’s already dead will be impossible…but they don’t have to kill him; they simply need to get past him.

When a frontal assault on Twice and Chakravaratin by Rin and Saber fails (Leo is initially neutral and takes no action), Pieceman informs them even if they wish to save humanity, it’s too late; showing them images of what has become of Earth. Yet Hakuno is sure there are survivors he wasn’t able to eliminate—even after a millennium of trying—who will one day make their way to SE.RA.PH to continue civilization.

Having heard both sides, Leo abandons his neutral position and uses a barrier to shield the others from Chakravaratin’s lasers. He also summons Gawain and uses his final Command Seal to order him to use Excalibur Galatine on the wheel, damaging it and giving the others time to finish what he’s started.

Leo goes out as a proud leader fighting for the future of humanity, and Gawain goes out with a majestic bang, reforming Excalibur with the light of the sun.

Damaged but not stopped, it falls to Saber to fly up to the wheel and cease its turning so the shield over Moon Cell core will drop. Emperor Nero Claudius proceeds to prove her worth by achieving what is “no mean task”—stopping Chakravaratin as she promised. While she expected Hakuno to race to the Moon Cell core, he sends Rin instead, as the only true Holy Grail War Master still “in the game” (he’s not an official participant).

That allows Hakuno to come to Nero’s side near her end, which was the one simple wish she told the female Hakuno, since dying alone the first time was “harsh.” She gives Hakuno her sword and sends him off to Moon Cell.

Believing he’ll be able to manipulate a fellow Dead Face’s body and use it as a vessel, Twice is surprised to find his attempts are utterly ineffective as Hakuno bull-rushes Moon Cell, passing right through Pieceman. Despite being a Dead Face, Hakuno was able to go against his kind’s nature by expressing no hatred and not considering Pieceman a foe.

Hakuno shatters the shield and joins a somewhat flustered Rin right by the core. Touching returns Moon Cell to normal, but results in his disappearance. It’s something he does willingly, with a smile on his face: a being shrouded in death believing in life; and not shrinking from his duty, which led to his end, despite yearning for that life.

Down below at the ruins of Chakravaratin, Nero offers her congratulations to her Master and disperses in a cloud of rose petals, and Moon Cell is restored to normal, whatever “normal” is. The only person who appears to remain there is Rin, sporting a new dirty-blonde hair color, looking ready, willing, and eager to welcome the survivors of Earth, that they may begin rebuilding civilization.

And there you have it…FELE is at an end. Sure, at times things were a bit hard to follow and the jargon was a bit too dense for my tastes, but through it all Hakuno never ceased his dull optimism while Saber and Rin never ceased being awesome and fun to watch. Even Leo had a nice redemption here.

The setting of the final battle was appropriately sprawling, with intricate structures sticking out in a vast, austere void. The soundtrack delivered at every turn, just as it had throughout the show’s run. Shaft’s trademark closeups were on full display but not overused. It took a few months, but FELE came to a powerful and satisfying conclusion.