Steins;Gate 0 – 14 – The Voice of God Can Be a Real Pain in the Ass Sometimes

Steins;Gate 0 comes out of its one-week break between Spring and Summer with authority, delivering a tantalizing blend of drama, tension, and purpose. Roughly half a year has passed since a brainwashed Kagari was taken by forces unknown, which means we’re already at a point where the likes of Rintarou and Mayuri have reached the “acceptance” phase of loss. There was a time when he’d search endlessly and fruitlessly, but absent clues or recourse…life goes on.

In Rintarou’s case, “life going on” means continuing not to pursue any kind of objectives relating to time travel, which means Suzuha and Daru are on their own. While Daru has made some progress, he’s still far from restoring the Phone Microwave, which prompts Suzu to reach out to Maho (back in America) for her assistance and scientific know-how.

The only problem is, a sleep-deprived Maho continues to suffer from her Salieri complex: even if she has the ability to repeat what “Mozart” accomplished in another world line, she lacks the confidence to implement it. She doesn’t agree to assist Suzu because she’s afraid she’ll fail; she’ll let everyone down where Kurisu wouldn’t.

Word comes that Fubuki is in the hospital again; Suzu makes her dad Daru use it as another opportunity to interact with her mother (worried she may never be born in the future). Thankfully, it’s a false alarm; the doctors simply wanted to run more tests on Fubuki…though I wonder whether this is some kind of foreshadowing for further ill effects of time travel.

While at the hospital, Rintarou meets Dr. Leskinen, who doesn’t hesitate to take several pictures of their encounter for the benefit of Maho. Daru learns for the first time that Rintarou may be bound for America to study and eventually join Leskinen’s research group, but Leskinen made sure not to set a concrete date for Rintarou to do so.

Suzuha finds Kagari’s metal opa in the hallway outside the lab, which is strange, because there’s no way she nor anyone else wouldn’t have noticed it for half a year; it must have been left there on purpose. Sure enough, Suzu pretends to be in the shower when an uninvited guest helps herself inside the lab.

Suzu, unquestionably the most militarily capable of Rintarou’s circle of friends (not counting Tennouji) gets the jump on the helmeted intruder in black, and when she forces her to take off her helmet, it’s revealed to be Kagari, or rather a fully-brainwashed Kagari in “Bureau Mode.” She’s come for her Opa, and when Suzu doesn’t produce it, Kagari goes mad and attacks.

Kagari isn’t too much of a challenge to Suzu, until Daru shows up and Kagari slashes Suzu across the abdomen. Kagari snatches up the Opa and flees, and Suzu isn’t able to catch up to her. But as she fled, Daru noticed Kagari was crying. Their Kagari is still in there, somewhere, and she needs their help. But if what Suzu suspects is true, they can’t help her without a time machine.

Suzu also notes that Kagari mentioned she “heard the voice of God” both in the present and twelve years ago when she held her up with a gun. She goes on to believe Kagari, like so many of her “Valkyrie comrades”, is the victim of the “Bureau’s Professor,” who thankfully doesn’t look much like Leskinen (from what little we see of him).

Suzu and Daru beseech Maho via “Skipe” one more time to assist them in building a time leap machine; Maho can tell they’re more desperate than before, yet still doubts herself. But after looking at Amakurisu, something clicks in her head, and she starts packing for Japan.

Rather than searching Kurisu’s work for all the answers, Maho intends to go down the same path and reach the answers herself. After all, no one acknowledged and valued Mozart’s talent more than Salieri. If anyone can do what Kurisu did when it comes to time travel technology, it’s Maho. I’m glad she finally realizes that.

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Steins;Gate 0 – 13 – Dark is Dangerous

The near-miss with the car brought back Kagari’s memories, but only some of them. She’s still missing a 12-year gap between 10 and 22. As a result, Kagari acts a lot more like a child than she used to, and treats a somewhat bemused Mayuri (who is mostly going with the flow) like her beloved “mommy.”

Watching a 22-year-old woman act so spoiled around her parents irks Suzuha, to the point they have a yelling match in the TV repair shop. Both sides regret the fight and plan to apologize, but Suzu learns something crucial from it: her and Kagari’s memories of how they became separated are very different.

After conferring with Tennouji, Rintarou begins to suspect Kagari’s strange memory gap is the result of foul play: brainwashing and mind control, just as Kiryuu discovers…something less than 5km from where Kagari collapsed. It’s a clue, but it requires they take a long drive.

Mayuri decides to celebrate the restoration of at least some of Kagari’s memories by throwing one of her patented parties, which she tries to make a surprise, but with her early memories restored Kagari knows when her Mommy is trying to keep a surprise party secret.

All the while, this ominous van drives around Akiba playing seemingly innocuous Mozart, and it’s clear the van is Bad News, whether it’s a van for kidnapping or simply for triggering Shiina Kagari. That perilous van hangs there, like Damocles’ Sword, over the remainder of the episode, as Mayuri & Co. prepare the party.

If the argument got the ball rolling on a theory about mind control, Kagari’s desire to properly apologize to Suzuha is the unfortunate side-effect. Kagari’s trip to the sweet shop isolates her from everyone else, who in hindsight are wayyy to loosy-goosy with her security at this point.

Indeed, in his desire for more clear answers about what’s going on, Rintarou is far, far away; in no position to keep her safe.

She hears the Mozart from the van (which is either planted there by “Them” to play specifically for her, or sheer coincidence) and more memories flow into her head: memories of being left with “doctors” by Mayuri, ostensibly to cure her PTSD, but the visits really comprise a kind of human experiment called the “Amadeus System”, of which Kagari is Sample #K6205.

The shock of this influx of memory sends Kagari into a trancelike state, and she drops the cake for Suzuha and her cell phone and wanders off who-knows-where, believing she’s hearing “the voice of God.” More likely, it’s the voice of those who did this to her to begin with.

Combined with Rintarou and Kiryuu discovering the facility, where Kagari was held in a cell for who knows how long, scrawling “Mommy” on the walls, Kagari’s vanishing from everyone’s sight (again) forms one hell of a thrilling cliffhanger for the second half of Steins;Gate 0.

While we may now know mostly what’s been done to Kagari, it remains to be seen who did it, why, and most important, how Kagari is linked to Maho and Leskinen’s Amadeus System. Was Kagari even a war orphan from the future? Will there really be enough cups and plates? We shall see…

Steins;Gate 0 – 12 – Paradox Song

There’s this song. It’s a song Mayuri sang to a young Kagari in the future, just when she finally became her legal mother. When the Kagari of the present hears the Mayuri of the present singing it, she loses consciousness. It’s not that Mayuri’s singing is just that bad—it’s quite lovely—but rather that Kagari’s brain is suddenly getting hit by some pretty profound aural stimuli.

But when Kagari makes the connection between the song and her fainting spell, the question becomes where did Mayuri learn the song? That takes us on a rather wild ride: She heard it from Suzuha, who heard it from Yuki, who heard it from a woman in her baking class who turns out to be…Rintarou’s mother. Yet Rintarou himself, apparently the source, can’t remember singing it. To quote Alice, “curiouser and curiouser.”

Rintarou’s mom said he used to sing it to Mayuri to cheer her up when she was in her “reaching up at the sky at a cemetery” part of her life. They visit Mayuri’s grandma’s grave to try to spark Rintarou’s memory, but get caught in the rain.

While seeking shelter by a shop window, Kagari hears “The Magic Flute” (K620) playing on the radio and goes into a kind of trance, remembering when she once walked along that same street in her bare feet and pajamas. She’s almost hit by a truck (of course), but Rintarou makes a diving save.

While she’s out this time, something happens. Kagari runs to her mother’s arms; a blurry figure that she discovers is Shiina Mayuri. Waking up in a hospital room, she sees Mayuri by her bedside and immediately recognizes her as her one and only mommy.

Mayuri protests that she’s not a mommy, but, well, she just is. Or rather, she will be…just as Suzu is Daru’s daughter. Rintarou nods assent, and Mayuri goes with it, providing Kagari with the affection she needs. The plain credits roll as a very lovely rendition of the song is sung, at it seems things will end on a pleasant note.

Of course, this is the twist-loving White Fox we’re talking about, so after the credits we find ourselves on a train platform where that same barefoot pajama’d Kagari is singing the song, and a teenaged boy overhears it—a teenaged boy with the same color hair and eyes as Rintarou.

I’ll admit, I was a little confused by this scene, but maybe that was the point. Here is Kagari, who will presumably be adopted by Mayuri in the future, in Rintarou’s past, singing the song he’ll sing to Mayuri to cheer her up. Seems an awful lot like a causal loop to me.

That would be fine, except there’s a creepy white van parked near the platform, confirming that “Runaway K-6205” has been found. Are we watching past events here, or is Kagari in danger no matter where or when she is? Will the next episode continue in this world line, with “Macho Psychologist” Rintarou helping Kagari out? I honestly have no idea, but I can’t wait to find out.

Kimi no Na wa. (Your Name.)

Simply diving into a review immediately after watching a film as devastatingly gorgeous and emotionally affecting as Kimi no Na wa is probably not a great idea, but this is an anime review blog, so here goes.

Kimi no Na wa isn’t just a charming body-swap rom-com, or a time-travelling odyssey, or a disaster prevention caper, or a tale of impossibly cruel temporal and physical distance between two soul mates, or a reflection on the fragility and impermanence of everything from memories to cities, or a tissue-depleting tearjerker.

It’s all of those things and more. And it’s also one of, if not the best, movies I’ve ever seen, anime or otherwise.

After a cryptic prologue, Kimi no Na wa starts out modestly: Miyamizu Mitsuha, Shinto shrine maiden and daughter of a mayor, has grown restless in her small town world, so one night, shouts out tot he night that she wants to be reborn as a boy in Tokyo.

This, mind you, happens after an odd incident in which Mitsuha essentially lost a day, during which all her family and friends say she was acting very strange and non-Mitsuha-y…like a different person.

That’s because she was. She and a boy from Tokyo, Tachibana Taki, randomly swap bodies every so often when they’re dreaming. As such, they end up in the middle of their couldn’t-be-any-different lives; the only similarity being that both of them yearn for more.

Despite just meeting these characters, watching Mitsuha and Taki stumble through each other’s lives is immensely fun. And because this is a Shinkai film, that enjoyment is augmented by the master director’s preternatural visual sumptuousness and realism. Every frame of Mitsuha’s town and the grand vastness of Tokyo is so full of detail I found myself wanting to linger in all of them.

As the body-swapping continues, the two decide to lay down “ground rules” when in one another’s bodies—albeit rules both either bend or break with impunity—and make intricate reports in one another’s phone diaries detailing their activities during the swaps.

Interestingly, Mitsuha makes more progress with Taki’s restaurant co-worker crush Okudera than Taki (she like’s Taki’s “feminine side”), while the more assertive Taki proves more popular with boys and girls when Taki’s in her body.

Taki happens to be in Mitsuha’s body when her grandmother and sister Yotsuha make the long, epic trek from their home to the resting place of the “body” of their Shinto shrine’s god, an otherworldly place in more ways than one, to make an offering of kuchikamisake (sake made from saliva-fermented rice).

While the three admire the sunset, Mitsuha’s granny takes a good look at her and asks if he, Taki, is dreaming. Just then he wakes up back in his own body to learn Mitsuha has arranged a date with him and Okudera—one she genuinely wanted to attend.

Okudera seems to notice the change in Taki from the one Mitsuha inhabited; she can tell his mind is elsewhere, and even presumes he’s come to like someone else. Taki tries to call that someone else on his phone, but he gets an automated message.

Then, just like that, the body-swapping stops.

After having cut her hair, her red ribbon gone, Mitsuha attends the Autumn Festival with her friends Sayaka and Teshi. They’re treated to a glorious display in the night sky, as the comet Tiamat makes its once-every-1,200-years visit.

Taki decides if he can’t visit Mitsuha’s world in his dreams anymore, he’ll simply have to visit Mitsuha. Only problem is, he doesn’t know exactly what village she lives in. Okudera and one of his high school friends, who are worried about him, decide to tag along on his wild goose chase.

After a day of fruitless searching, Taki’s about to throw in the towel, when one of the proprietors of a restaurant notices his detailed sketch of Mitsuha’s town, recognizing it instantly as Itomori. Itomori…a town made famous when it was utterly destroyed three years ago by a meteor created from a fragment of the comet that fell to earth.

The grim reality that Taki and Mitsuha’s worlds were not in the same timeline is a horrendous gut punch, as is the bleak scenery of the site of the former town. Every lovingly-depicted detail of the town, and all of its unique culture, were blasted into oblivion.

Taki is incredulous (and freaked out), checking his phone for Mitsuha’s reports, but they disappear one by one, like the details of a dream slipping away from one’s memory. Later, Taki checks the register of 500 people who lost their lives in the disaster, and the punches only grow deeper: among the lost are Teshi, Sayaka…and Miyamizu Mitsuha.

After the initial levity of the body-swapping, this realization was a bitter pill to swallow, but would ultimately elevate the film to something far more epic and profound, especially when Taki doesn’t give up trying to somehow go back to the past, get back into Mitsuha’s body, and prevent all those people from getting killed, including her.

The thing that reminds him is the braided cord ribbon around his wrist, given to him at some point in the past by someone he doesn’t remember. He returns to the site where the offering was made to the shrine’s god, drinks the sake made by Mitsuha, stumbles and falls on his back, and sees a depiction of a meteor shower drawn on the cave ceiling.

I haven’t provided stills of the sequence that follows, but suffice it to say it looked and felt different from anything we’d seen and heard prior in the film, and evoked emotion on the same level as the famous flashback in Pixar’s Up. If you can stay dry-eyed during this sequence, good for you; consider a career being a Vulcan.

Taki then wakes up, miraculously back in Mitsuha’s body, and sets to work. The same hustle we saw in Taki’s restaurant job is put to a far more important end: preventing a horrific disaster. The town itself may be doomed—there’s no stopping that comet—but the people don’t have to be.

Convincing anyone that “we’re all going to die unless” is a tall order, but Taki doesn’t waver, formulating a plan with Teshi and Sayaka, and even trying (in vain) to convince Mitsuha’s father, the mayor, to evacuate.

While the stakes couldn’t be higher and the potential devastation still clear in the mind, it’s good to see some fun return. Sayaka’s “we have to save the town” to the shopkeep is a keeper.

Meanwhile, Mitsuha wakes up in the cave in Taki’s body, and is horrified by the results of the meteor strike. She recalls her quick day trip to Tokyo, when she encountered Taki on a subway train, but he didn’t remember her, because it would be three more years before their first swap.

Even so, he can’t help but ask her her name, and she gives it to him, as well as something to remember her by later: her hair ribbon, which he would keep around his wrist from that point on.

Both Taki-as-Mitsuha and Mitsuha-as-Taki finally meet face-to-face, in their proper bodies, thanks to the mysterious power of kataware-doki or twilight. It’s a gloriously-staged, momentous, and hugely gratifying moment…

…But it’s all too brief. Taki is able to write on Mitsuha’s hand, but she only gets one stoke on his when twilight ends, and Taki finds himself back in his body, in his time, still staring down that awful crater where Itomori used to be. And again, like a dream, the more moments pass, the harder it gets for him to remember her.

Back on the night of the Autumn Festival, Mitsuha, back in her time and body, takes over Taki’s evacuation plan. Teshi blows up a power substation with contractor explosives and hacks the town-wide broadcast system, and Sayaka sounds the evacuation. The townsfolk are mostly confused, however, and before long Sayaka is apprehended by authorities, who tell everyone to stay where they are, and Teshi is nabbed by his dad.

With her team out of commission, it’s all up to Mitsuha, who races to her father to make a final plea. On the way, she gets tripped up and takes a nasty spill. In the same timeline, a three-years-younger Taki, her ribbon around his wrist, watches the impossibly gorgeous display in the Tokyo sky as the comet breaks up. Mitsuha looks at her hand and finds that Taki didn’t write his name: he wrote “I love you.”

The meteor falls and unleashes a vast swath of destruction across the landscape, not sparing the horrors of seeing Itomori wiped off the face of the earth—another gut punch. Game Over, too, it would seem. After spending a cold lonely night up atop the former site of the town, he returns to Tokyo and moves on with his life, gradually forgetting all about Mitsuha, but still feeling for all the world like he should be remembering something, that he should be looking for someplace or someone.

Bit by bit, those unknowns start to appear before him; a grown Sayaka and Teshi in a Starbucks; a  passing woman with a red ribbon in her hair that makes him pause, just as his walking by makes her pause. But alas, it’s another missed connection; another classic Shinkai move: they may be on the same bridge in Shinjuku, but the distance between them in time and memory remains formidable.

Mitsuha goes job-hunting, enduring one failed interview after another, getting negative feedback about his suit from everyone, including Okudera, now married and hopeful Taki will one day find happiness.

While giving his spiel about why he wants to be an architect, he waxes poetic about building landscapes that leave heartwarming memories, since you’ll never know when such a landscape will suddenly not be there.

A sequence of Winter scenes of Tokyo flash by, and in light of what happened to Itomori quite by chance, that sequence makes a powerful and solemn statement: this is Tokyo, it is massive and complex and full of structures and people and culture found nowhere else in the world, but it is not permanent.

Nothing built by men can stand against the forces of nature and the heavens. All we can do is live among, appreciate, and preseve our works while we can. We’re only human, after all.

And yet, for all that harsh celestial certainty, there is one other thing that isn’t permanent in this film: Taki and Mitsuha’s separation. Eventually, the two find each other through the windows of separate trains, and race to a spot where they experience that odd feeling of knowing each other, while also being reasonably certain they’re strangers.

Taki almost walks away, but turns back and asks if they’ve met before. Mitsuha feels the exact same way, and as tears fill their eyes, they ask for each others names. Hey, what do you know, a happy ending that feels earned! And a meteor doesn’t fall on Tokyo, which is a huge bonus.

Last August this film was released, and gradually I started to hear rumblings of its quality, and of how it could very well be Shinkai’s Magnum Opus. I went in expecting a lot, and was not disappointed; if anything, I was bowled over by just how good this was.

Many millions of words have been written about Kimi no Na wa long before I finally gave it a watch, but I nevertheless submit this modest, ill-organized collection words and thoughts as a humble tribute to the greatness I’ve just witnessed. I’ll be seeing it again soon.

And if for some reason you haven’t seen it yourself…what are you doing reading this drivel? Find it and watch it at your nearest convenience. You’ll laugh; you’ll cry; you’ll pump your fist in elation.

Sagrada Reset – 02

Just when Asai determines Mari is the result of her mother’s ability to create a clone of her never-born daughter, an agent of the “Bureau” (or “Kanrikyoku”), Tsushima, arrives to take her away.

The father left town, and now the mother will do the same, leaving the virtual Mari a virtual orphan. That doesn’t sit right with Asai, so he has Haruki reset, and the formulation of a plan commences.

It’s actually pretty impressive how quickly and efficiently Asai directs the service he and Haruki are likely going to be providing throughout the run of the show: “erasing tears” by resetting and fixing the cause of those tears.

Their classmates assist with their own abilities, but when the one who allows Asai to share his memories with Haruki bristles at the prospect of defying the Bureau, Asai cuts himself with a broken ramune bottle until Tsushima gives permission.

Everything works out perfectly: Asai, with the help of the rest of the group, is able to show Mari’s mother the error of her ways; to stay and continue raising the girl who may not technically be her real daughter, but loves her nonetheless.

With Haruki and his classmates’ combined powers, Asai has gained the power to “erase sadness.” In the process, he’s also managed to awaken some feelings in Haruki, though the road is long.

He discusses this in great detail with Souma Sumire, who is a tough nut to crack: you get the feeling she’s glad Asai may have found his calling, but a part of her also regrets bringing him and Haruki closer together.

Mind you, the relationship between Asai and Haruki doesn’t become a romance overnight. After all, Haruki has only gained back a small portion of the full spectrum of emotions most humans carry and experience. She cuts her hair at his suggestion, but also confuses trust with love. Asai proves it when they kiss and there’s no spark.

Then he undoes the premature kiss by asking her to reset. After seeing what they managed to accomplish with Mari and her mother, Haruki believes following Asai’s lead is her “zeroth rule”, so she complies.

But in the period between Haruki’s Save Point and her Reset, Souma Sumire falls from the bridge, into the river, and dies, as we witnessed at the end of last week’s episode. Seeing her wearing the dress and holding the red umbrella rendered her a dead girl walking, and gave her last conversation with Asai far more significance than he could comprehend at the time.

When Haruki finds Asai quietly mourning on the rooftop, she demands he instruct her to reset…unaware she just did, and it’s too late. When she sees Asai crying, she can’t help but do the same. She’s following his lead, but also realizing that this is what the two of them have to stop from happening to others at all costs.

There’s a huge jump of two years to when Asai and Haruki, now high schoolers, are recruited by Tsushima into a Bureau-sanctioned “Service Club”, where they can erase sadness in an official (and supervised) capacity.

It’s a pretty jarring time leap, to be honest, but it means the first two episodes were always meant to be a prologue in which the pairing of Asai and Haruki was made and their shared calling revealed. Now the real work begins: both the sadness-erasure work, and the emotional-awakening-of-Haruki work.

Sagrada Reset – 01 (First Impressions)

Asai Kei is introduced by class rep Souma Sumire to Haruki Misora, a stoic and seemingly emotionless girl who has no friends. Because Haruki has the ability to “reset” the world up to 3 days into the past, and Kei has a supernatural five-sense memory, Souma believes they’re perfectly suited to joining forces for good.

Sagrada (or Sakurada) Reset is a bit of an odd duck, like its two leads. On the one hand, it subtly, delicately paints the picture of a small town that is totally normal except for the fact that half of its residents possess supernatural powers. It also delves, if not too deeply, into some interesting philosophical ideas about what constitutes “goodness”—Sumire’s story of Zen and Gizen to Asai being one of the episode’s high points.

But there are a few issues. First of all, this episode felt like it took forever to run, and although it accomplished a lot, it just didn’t feel that eventful. That may be okay in a 24-episode show, but the earlier a show can impress me and draw me in, the more likely I am to commit to such a show.

I also don’t mind a matter-of-fact, stoic duo, but that comes with the caveat that sometimes scenes are going to feel slow and listless. It didn’t help that this was a very talky episode, and neither Hanazawa Hana nor Ishikawa Kaito ever raise and barely modulate their voices throughout all this talking. Yuuki Aoi breathes some energy into Souma, but I wager she’d be the quiet character on any other show.

The episode also seemed reluctant to demonstrate the characters’ special abilities (and didn’t even name one for Souma, who may well not have one); indeed, if one were to blink when Haruki whispers “Reset” in the wind, you’d miss her ability altogether. Yet on another level, it’s intriguing that such powerful abilities are presented so plainly and elegantly, rather than, for example, a CGI light and effects show, or even worse, floating TV screens.

Two things at which Reset excels is its ambient sound design, and it’s awareness of its leisurely pace, which it uses to drop a sudden twist at the end: that the little girl Haruki has been sitting with recently has actually been dead for seven years. I definitely want to learn what’s up with that and how such a predicament will be resolved (presumably by our duo), and so there’s a hook for continuing to watch.

The “cold close” apparently showing Souma (same hair and eyes) falling off a bridge to her death compounds that desire to see what happens next. Like Akashic Records, there’s potential, but I’m banking on the fact that neither show’s strongest episode was its first. Unlike Akashic Records, there’s a stiltedness to the cast that exposes the fine line between ‘subtle, deliberate’ and just plain dull and tedious. So we’ll see.

Fate/Grand Order: First Order

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“Who are you callin’ a foo?”
What do we have here? A Fate/stay night spin-off involving a time-travelling, future-saving organization. The first fifteen minutes are full of interminably dull introductions and info-dumping, including those of the supposed two leads, Fujimaru and Mash, who are also dull.

There’s also Fou, a weird white squirrel thingy that wears clothes, makes awful high-pitched sounds, and generally doesn’t need to exist, and Director Olga Aminusphere, who aside from having an obnoxious name, seems like a low-rent Tousaka Rin.

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When the doctor’s the highest-ranked officer left in your compound, time to start worrying
First Order essentially blows up that dull beginning by putting Fujimaru and Mash in an emergency situation that has them travelling back to 2004 where the outcome of a standard Fate-style Holy Grail War has ended up suspended for some reason.

Mash becomes a demi-servant prior to dying, with the inexperienced “commoner” Fujimaru becoming her master, to the chagrin of the aristocratic Olga.

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Dark Saber – Almost worth the price of admission
The two dull protagonists must, with the limited help of Olga and a lot of help from a particularly helpful (and badass) Caster, take out the remaining “dark” versions of Archer and Saber, in order to end the Holy Grail War and correct the singularity that is dooming humanity’s future.

If that sounds a bit vague, it is. And while there’s a bit of a thrill seeing the heroic spirits back in action, albeit on different sides, it’s all a bit bloodless. No, not literally; there’s plenty of blood, but the dead, empty city isn’t the most exciting stage for otherwise cool-looking battles.

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“Look Mash, I’m helping!”
Mash’s transformation into demi-servant may have been a sign of her inner courage and toughness, and her new dominatrixy outfit is pretty boss, but neither she nor Fujimaru manage to ever make me care all that much about them or their sudden newfound friendship, as they’re less actual characters and more combinations of character traits. Takahashi Rie and Shimazaki Nobunaga try their best, but simply don’t have enough to work with here.

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And aside from a few nice images and some competent action, the most striking thing about this Fate spin-off is its lack of the same distinct visual sumptuousness of Unlimited Blade Works (to date the only other Fate property I’ve watched), due to this not being a ufotable series, and clearly having a smaller budget to work with.

Placing the fate of humanity’s future on the shoulders of two barely-there, uninspiring characters we barely got to know in over an hour-long special just doesn’t provide the gravity or stakes it should. As we’re between seasons, I had time to check this out, so I did. And it was…okay. In all, it feels like a superfluous wade into the shallow end of the Fate franchise pool, rather than a deep or meaningful dive.

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Orange – 03

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Mother of God…this show. The emotional hold it has over me was maintained this week; in fact, it only tightened and intensified its formidable grip on my heart. I have to tip my cap to any show that is able to make such an relatively small, personal drama and tragedy feel like a world-reaching epic.

Naho seemed so confident and resolved to change the future, and so convince it was happening, and so happy that her efforts were bearing results.

And then Ueda-senpai happened. I know, right? A “prettier” love interest moving in on the heroine’s man…Naho will surely prevail, because it’s true love between her and Kakeru, right?

This shouldn’t be such a big deal, and yet it is. It’s a huge deal, because Kakeru has no future if he dates Ueda. The two things are firmly intertwined.

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This isn’t just about Naho getting the guy. It’s about saving him from oblivion.

Sure, I care far more for Naho’s happiness than anyone else’s (which is as it should be), but the specter of that increasingly bleak, almost nightmarish future considerably raises the stakes for Naho to win the Kakeru Sweepstakes.

Naho’s fatal flaw now—and in her future self’s original past—was that she cares for others before herself. She questions whether it’s right to trample on Ueda’s feelings to satisfy her own desire. She hesitates, and before she knows it, what had been an iron resolve to save him last week starts to rust and bend.

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What’s so impressive is just how goshdarned fast just a little bit of hesitation can get Naho into such serious trouble. Kakeru asked her flat out if she likes anyone; she couldn’t answer. He asks her “what she wants” before going to get drinks; all she can say is “orange juice.” In both cases, Kakeru is, consciously or not, reaching out to Naho, and it’s either not the appropriate time, or she just can’t muster the words she needs to.

So she ends up behind the curve, and Ueda steals a march on her with the tools Naho desperately needs to develop in a hurry: Directness. Persistence. Initiative Guts. She gets his hidden eraser note too late. She writes her reply to the question of whether it’s okay if he dates Ueda (Hell No) and sticks it in his shoe locker, instead of running to Kakeru herself and yelling “NO!” at the top of her lungs in front of him and Ueda.

Instead, Ueda corners Kakeru, and both overwhelmed by Ueda and absent a clear answer from Naho, Kakeru says yes, he’ll date Ueda, and go out during the break. I was so devastated by this development, even though it was sure to come along, I had to pause the TV and pour a glass of water to calm myself. It wrecked me.

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The only, and I mean only faint glimmer of hope comes when Kakeru finds her “No.” But I imagine he’s too nice a guy to dump someone so enthusiastic about dating him so soon after saying yes, so it could well be that Naho’s response was too little, a hair too late.

As expected, Naho is so crestfallen by the events of the day, she can’t eat, let alone pretend to hide her feelings to her mom. She goes up to the bed, pulls out the juice box Kakeru bought her before everything turned to shit, and drinks it as tears fall from her eyes. Sweet, sour, sorrowful…and utterly devoid of solace (Sorry, Suwa…)

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There are a couple of “post-apocalyptic” shows out this Summer, but none of their dystopias have been as and desolate and dismal as Naho’s future in Orange. It’s still, cold, desaturated, and the trees are leafless. Kakeru’s friends find that his note isn’t to himself, but to all of them.

He didn’t write to himself because he knew he didn’t have a future, which obviously insinuates he may have taken similar steps as his mother rather than suffer an accident. At the same time, no one’s dreams for the future came true, even his wish that they were all still close.

Tears well up in everyone. They shed those tears not just for Kakeru, but a bit for themselves, past and present: This isn’t the way it’s supposed to be.

Despite all that went awry for Naho and how steep a hill she must climb, I have to believe things can be made right; that a more hopeful future can be made. I may well end up even more disappointed and disheartened than I am now, but so be it.

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Orange – 02

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I never like awarding 10s and RWHL certifications willy-nilly, but I was compelled to give this episode the score it deserved, which was, to me, the highest score possible. This episode was an emotional roller coaster that sucked me in and wouldn’t let go. It contained no less than All The Feels. And it made missing the next episode, or indeed the rest of the run of the show, seem like as big a mistake as Naho not listening to her future letters.

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Naho is a good girl. She has a gentle, generous heart, but she also lacks confidence, and sometimes isn’t able to say or do what she wants. The letters she’s getting say in no uncertain terms that if the behaviors that come naturally to her in the present persist unchanged, Kakeru will be out of her life in ten years. Naho is currently falling in love with Kakeru, so she really doesn’t want that to happen.

So when the letter tells her to make Kakeru a lunch, she plans to do so. She doesn’t tell him when it seems like the best time to do so, hesitating until the latest possible moment in the day, and only after her friends tell Kakeru she makes her own lunches and Kakeru “jokes” about wanting her to make one.

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Saying it was just a joke, and worrying about “bothering” Kakeru by foisting her unworthy slop upon him (well, she’s not that harsh on herself), vex Naho terribly. Interestingly, her thought process mimics her mom’s.

Initially, she casts my heart into the cellar by deciding against making a lunch for him. But thankfully she reconsiders, and gets “fired up” making the best damn lunch Kakeru will ever have tasted.

For a second, I thought she was making lunches for everyone to provide cover and hold back rumors of favoratism. Of course, to all her friends, including Suwa, who likes her, they already know the score with her and Naho.

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But making the lunch is only half the battle for Naho. She must inform Kakeru she’s done so, and deliver the meal to him at the proper time. The time between when she nervously greets him to the lunch bell is tortuously long, as demonstrated by the montage of various teachers giving lectures intercut with quick shots of Naho and the bag containing the lunch.

But when that lunch bell rings…she CHOKES! My heart, having just started back up the stairs, ends up in the sub-basement. I was literally banging my fist on the coffee table, furious by her self-defeating inaction. But then, she waits after school for Kakeru to be done soccer practice with Suwa. And again, Kakeru gives Naho the fresh opening she needs, offering to walk home with her—and only her.

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Naho engages in idle conversation meant to learn more about Naho in basic terms: where she lives; what she does when she gets home, her hobbies. Naho’s truthful answers are nothing flashy, but Kakeru still seems to enjoy them.

Then Naho starts to ask him questions, but gets more specific…like where he was and what he was doing those two weeks he was absent. Because Kakeru has feelings for Naho, he wants her to know, but also clearly exhibits some courage of his own by coming out and saying it:

The very day of their opening ceremony—the day the future letter warned Naho not to invite Kakeru to hang out with them—his mother committed suicide. With that, my heart busted through the floor of the sub-basement and into a subterranean aquifer.

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At this point, even though they were sitting down and Kakeru clearly expressed his hunger, Naho had not yet revealed she had made a lunch for him. But by hearing Kakeru tell her something so intimate and sad, and realizing what not listening to the letters did, Naho finally summons the courage she needs to present the lunch to him.

He accepts it with elation, having hoped she’d followed through on fulfilling his desire, even though he called it a joke at the time. My heart starts another long descent as she finds her footing, promising she’ll make him lunch every day from now on, and give him wake-up calls if he needs them, or any of the other things a parent does until you find someone you love who does them instead.

Returning to her letters, details emerge: Kakeru dies in an accident in the Winter of his seventeenth year, and she and the others always regretted not saving him when, as her future self sees it, they could have. Well, that’s that; Naho WILL save him, no matter what.

GO NAHO. (Sorry, Suwa.)

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Orange – 01 (First Impressions)

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16-year-old Takamiya Naho gets a mysterious letter from her 26-year-old self in the future. The letter details everything that will happen in her second year of high school, and asks that she make different choices to avoid the regrets her future self harbors.

Most of those regrets involve transfer student Naruse Kakeru, who Naho promptly falls in love with. Reading the letter, Past Naho learns that ten years in the future, Kakeru has passed away.

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I’ll admit, at first my cynical ass was a little put off by the sheer raw earnestness of Orange, particularly the exaggerated, almost grotesque expressions made by Azusa and little in the way of comedy, but I gradually got used to the character design and soft, gentle colors evoking a wistful look back to almost idealized better times.

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I also like how Naho doesn’t immediately start doing what her future leter tells her to do, because it’s a lot to take in and she’s certainly a bit weirded out about the situation.

Of course, when she chooses not to keep Kakeru from hanging out, Kakeru ends up absent for two weeks, doing God knows what, so the next time a choice comes, Naho realizes the regret she’d feel if she didn’t pinch hit and her class lost the softball game.

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The stakes here are still low, but a tiny kernel of regret can grow bigger and glom on to other little regrets until you have enough to compel you to write a letter to your past self, so Naho steps to the plate and belts one, too-small shoes and all, and wins it for her classmates.

Kakeru is there to treat her foot injury, in a tender and beautifully lit scene that establishes the romance that’s likely to come, not long after Kakeru makes it plain he doesn’t much care for Suwa, who also seems to like Naho.

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And while I knew full well Kakeru wasn’t in future Naho’s life, just as Menma was a ghost in Jinta’s, when Past Maho reads that part and we see the letters on the page, I still got chills. It was a masterful dramatic blow right to the gut that earned the episode a 9. Kakeru, who Naho only just fell for, won’t be around if she doesn’t make different choices.

It’s probably more responsibility than a carefree high schooler should have to bear, but she seems a lot better off than her future self. Despite being a wife to Suwa and mother to a child, makes it plain that the joy and happiness her past self is currently experiencing will slip away if she loses Kakeru. Will “keeping a close eye” on him be enough?

In all, I was impressed with this first episode. It’s always great to have Hanazawa Kana in a meaty leading role, and as I said, the ending packed a punch, as did her winning homer. Definitely looking forward to this one…even if it might break my heart!

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Boku dake ga Inai Machi – 07

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As expected, shortly after Satoru is arrested he’s able to activate another revival (there wasn’t much he could have done in a jail cell), but despite knowing it was going to happen an infectious wave of relief still washed over me, just as it washed over Satoru upon realizing he was back in the museum with a very alive Kayo. This time he thinks out loud and means it, and starts responding to Kayo’s “Are you stupids” with “Yeah!”

This time Satoru is doing away with all pretense and restraint. If he’s suddenly acting strangely for a kid of his age to people around him, so be it. No matter what the consequences are for him, he won’t let Kayo die again…and he’s operating under the assumption this is his last revival, having already been given an unheard-of third chance.

As such, the relief soon washes away, replaced with the weight and suspense of everything he must accomplish in the next couple of days; a weight that never lets up.

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For a moment at school, I thought he was in trouble again, because I still can’t bring myself to fully trust Kenya, but again I was all but proven wrong for suspecting him of anything but the noblest of intentions. He’s simply a good enough friend to know when Satoru has completely changed.

When he asks Satoru “Who are you?”, Satoru gets to think out loud on purpose again: “A superhero.” He hopes to become one, anyway, but as far as Kenya’s concerned, he already is one, even if he doesn’t have the results yet.

I loved how Satoru’s plight is filtered through the prism of two kids talking about friends and heroes. It doesn’t feel like material that should be over the kids’ heads because we know Kenya isn’t your typical 10/11-year old, and Satoru is an adult.

Another tense scene was with Satoru at Yuuki’s place, where he probes Yuuki in preparation to give him an alibi, so that whatever happens, his life won’t be ruined by the events to come. What’s striking, and highly disturbing in its ambiguity, is Yuuki’s initial reaction to hearing that Kayo is in Satoru’s group of friends now.

This was the first time since siding with Satoru on Yuuki that I thought both of us might be being overly naive, and that Yuuki’s odd interest in Kayo could have been something going on for a while now.

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Regardless, Satoru takes Yuuki’s secondary reaction – one of joy – to mean he’s still good, so he proceeds to duck out on his birthday party to toss a rock through Yuuki’s dad’s window so that the cops will come, securing Yuuki’s alibi.

After that, Satoru spots Kayo’s mom, and seriously considers pushing her down a flight of steps to her death, but he’s stopped by Kenya, who has been following him. Kenya agreed to help him out, and he realizes he may have to get his hands dirty, but killing Kayo’s mom will only create new problems, and Satoru was too close to the situation to see that.

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From there, Satoru starts walking Kayo to her house as before, but this time, in another magical little back-and-forth, he announces his intent to “abduct” her, and she consents to let him. Satoru takes her to an abandoned bus hideout with a heater and blankets.

I understand the plan: simply keep Kayo out of the equation altogether; away from those who might kill her. But unless someone is with Kayo the entire time, it also looks like the perfect place to kill her where no one would notice. What makes it a great hideout also makes it a great grave.

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The first time she’s left alone, however, that doesn’t happen, allowing me to lower my guard just a little. She’s knitting away when Satoru calls on her, and they have a hot meal and fall asleep huddled together (something they’re embarrassed about upon being woken up by Kenya in the morning…they are kids, after all.)

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It worked for a day…but so did Satoru’s first plan. And that crushing weight I was talking about didn’t go away just because Satoru brought not just Kenya but Hiromi into the hideout. Kayo makes a neat little adjustment Satoru hadn’t though of: that she was the one who instigated all of this, thus absolving everyone involved of blame whatever may happen.

Rather than pick Satoru’s Joker, she takes an Ace to match her last card. She wins here, but the foreboding at this point is almost unbearable. I couldn’t help but wonder why the guy smirking under the umbrella in the present was so emotionally invested in Satoru’s downfall, or Yuuki’s bizarre reaction, or the ominous scenes of Yashiro noticing Kayo gone in class, then making a phone call in the faculty lounge.

It’s also just the seventh of twelve episodes, so it’s clearly not all smooth sailing form here. Sure enough, when an adult with a backpack pays a visit to the bus, not knocking the way Satoru would or saying a word, but just entering, Kayo under her blanket already looks like a body under a shroud, and the bus a cold, dark tomb.

Once again, the show mercilessly cuts to credits just before confirming that Kayo has in fact been lost to us once more. That leaves us simmering with a tiny shard of irrational hope for another week, knowing we know that hope is irrational, but not being able to let it go.

In reality, all I can realistically hope is that Satoru can engage revival and try again. Because if I put my heart aside and use my head, this isn’t going to go well for Kayo.

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Boku dake ga Inai Machi – 06

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The events of this episode reveal that the antagonist of BokuMachi doesn’t have any particular desire to erase everyone in Satoru’s life before erasing him. If he did, he’d have made sure Airi was killed. Instead, Satoru manages to rescue her, only to find he’s too weak to carry her out. But he only foils the enemy temporarily.

Enter the pizzeria manager to take over (and claim the credit), though this time he lets Satoru leave rather than screw him over again. But in a crucial moment of consciousness, Airi sees who really saved her – Satoru – and slips her phone into his pocket.

So begins the first episode of BokuMachi that didn’t totally bowl me over in rapt awe (hence the 8), but did begin the necessary work of establishing the basics of what’s going on, who’s doing it, and why – much like a detective starts piecing photos together on a cork-board.

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The phone shows that the arsonist meant to frame Satoru for the crime. When he contacts his mother’s colleague Sawada, a bigger picture takes shape than a simple comprehensive destruction of Satoru. He’s only the latest in a string of innocent men framed for the crimes of the criminal who killed Kayo and the other two youths.

His M.O. is to manipulate the crimes in order to divert police suspicion on those innocent men. The more they investigate, the further from the truth – and from the actual culprit – they get. This is a very intriguing crime story, though I did feel the show lag a bit as a lot of information was dispensed in very straightforward fashion.

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When talk moves to Airi, who is in the hospital under somewhat incompetent guard, Satoru suspects she wasn’t targeted just to strengthen the case for his guilt in his mother’s murder. Instead, the culprit was someone who know both his and Airi’s schedules – someone who was at the pizzeria. Obviously, not the manager, but the suited fellow whose face we didn’t see is the obvious choice.

Meanwhile, Airi is upset about how things have turned out, and wastes no time breaking out of the hospital to continue helping Satoru. It’s clear she’s being watched, and when a hand comes down on her shoulder from behind, we expect nothing good. But then Sawada visits Airi in the hospital, only to find her mother, who was the one who grabbed her.

Her mom, still inspired by her daughters faith in her dad, is willing to believe in Airi here as well, and takes her place in the hospital bed to allow her to move freely. What a cool, nice mom!

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Airi meets Satoru, and Satoru says his embarrassing thoughts aloud not once but twice. I liked this little detail because it shows that even if he’s not a 29 in a 10-year-old’s body, he’s still an introverted guy whose communication skills aren’t the best.

However, the name Airi suggets could be their man – Nishizono – doesn’t match the list of suspects from Sawada’s files. He’s hit a roadblock, and at the worst possible time: turns out Airi was followed without her knowledge, and the police surround and arrest Satoru.

But before they do, Satoru tells Airi about an idea he had for a manga: a Grim Reaper who made a clerical error and killed a young boy. He resolved to fix his mistake, but only ended up drawing more and more people to their doom. When he compares himself to the reaper, Airi objects: both the reaper and he should have more faith in themselves, and not focus too hard on their subjective impressions of how their actions affect others.

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After all, Airi is still alive and unhurt. As Satoru is taken away and Airi’s cries of protest go ignored, Satoru turns around and says what he thinks a hero would in such a situation: that he can keep fighting because she believes him. Then everything freezes and goes black-and-white as Satoru spots the same suited fellow with red eyes who he saw on the balcony the night his mother was killed.

Considering there’s little Satoru can do in jail, I imagine this is a Revival. Assuming it is, I wonder when he’ll end up as we enter the second half of the season, and what he’ll be able to do differently in that time now that he has a much firmer handle of the situation, but also knowing his adversary is an extremely crafty son of a bitch.

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Boku dake ga Inai Machi – 05

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Boku dake ga Inai Machi has made it sparkling clear that it has absolutely no intention of going easy on Satoru or the audience. He may be mentally 29, but that doesn’t blunt the devastation of losing Kayo one bit. He sees suspicious footprints by the shed, but nothing else. In an immensely disturbing cut, we see Kayo’s mother and her male friend inside, Kayo’s badly beaten, lifeless body lying on the floor.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter right now who killed Kayo or how. All that matters to Satoru is that he failed in his mission to save her. His mom tries to comfort him by saying it’s not his fault, but she’s not aware of her son’s journey to this point, nor the pain of having come up so short.

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To add insult to injury, both the school and media keep the disappearance under wraps or outright lie about it (to avoid traumatizing the other children). When a second girl goes missing, the story kinda goes away, as if swept away by the wind.

The last straw comes when Satoru sees Kayo’s mom take out the trash, and for one horrible moment I thought she might just be crazy enough dispose of Kayo’s body in such a fashion. It isn’t that bad (though one shutters to think what really happened to her body), but for Satoru, it’s pretty bad nonetheless: it’s a translucent bag, and through it he can see the gift Kayo promised to give him: a pair of knit gloves.

Seeing those poor gloves sends Satoru into a fit, and before he knows it, he and we out of the letterboxed past and back in full-frame 2006, only moments after he fled his apartment after finding his slain mother.

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Satoru is dejected to be back having accomplished next to nothing, but remains determined to discover what the heck is going on. But he initially doesn’t have the luxury of moving around freely like his past self. He’s a person of interest in a murder investigation, and while he’s a mangaka, he’s not incredibly imaginative when it comes to being on the lam.

His cheerful, supportive pizzeria manager lets him stay at his place, but one click of the remote is all it takes for Satoru to learn the crime and his framing in it is already public record. He doesn’t begrudge his manager apparently turning him in, but he doesn’t give up, either, and his desire to stay free bears fruit in the form of a timely encounter with…Katagiri Airi!

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I wasn’t alone in my almost instant love of the character upon her introduction, as well as my hope we’d see more of her. The show is not usually forgiving, but in this it seemed willing to cut us a little slack. Airi isn’t infatuated with Satoru or anything, she just trusts he didn’t and couldn’t possibly do what’s been reported, and wants to help in any way she can.

Airi provides Satoru a place to crash, and even a ray of hope when she pulls out the crime book he left at work with the bookmarked entry on Kayo. Turns out his actions in the past had an effect on the present after all: Kayo went missing March 3, after turning eleven. If Satoru can get back armed with more knowledge, he may be able to save her…or at least keep her alive longer and longer with each attempt, which could quickly turn into a Steins;Gatean obsession before long.

How she acts on her belief in his innocence contrasts sharply with the more pragmatic manager. No sooner is he meeting with a suspicious suited man whose face we never see (another one of those guys…or could it be the same guy who killed Sachiko?) thanking him for political favors, then he’s catching up toe Airi (whom he likes) and telling her he doesn’t think Satoru did it, and to help him if he approaches her.

Did the suit cut him a deal in order for his cooperation in one small part a larger conspiracy?

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If so, the manager probably believes the kind, naive Airi will do as he says and in doing so, get Satoru into a place where the police can nab him. But he’s foolish to lie about believing in Satoru, and even more foolish to be slinking around her house about to call the cops when she confronts him from behind.

Here we see a wrathful, fiercely loyal, and oh yeah, quite strong Airi, destroying the manager’s phone and punching him in the face with authority. Despite the potential danger, she’s staying on Team Satoru, and is committed to protecting him with everything she’s got.

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When they meet under a bridge, she admits she’s not doing this only for him, but for herself as well. She tells the story of how her dad was accused of stealing a candy bar in her hometown’s store, and while he always claimed his innocence, he lost his job, got divorced, and was basically ruined.

Yet Airi has always decided to side with her dad, because she loves him, and was there with him, and she though him a good person who’d never steal. She wants to believe Satoru in the same way, without him even having to beg her to believe him.

Unfortunately, the parties at work trying to ruin Satoru’s life at every turn are more sophistocated and diabolical in their methods than either Satoru or Airi are prepared for. Tough and careful as she is, she ends up trapped in her room when her house is set ablaze, and when she opens her door she gets knocked out by the smoke.

Is it “Airi, we hardly knew ye” so soon after her reunion with Satoru? I doubt it. But what comes next, I have no idea. She may survive. She may die, and trigger another “revival”. But if that happens, it means one more life he must try to save, even as he only managed to forestall Kayo’s death by two days.

The tide, in other words, is very much against Satoru. Everyone close to him is being killed; he’s being slowly erased. I sorely hope he can find a way to turn that tide.

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