Hinamatsuri – 11 – Just a Regular Nice Guy

TV journalist Seta Daisuke looking for an exciting, violent, and profane yakuza story and thinks he’s found one in Yoshifumi Nitta, who, after all, is known to have taken down an entire rival group single-handedly. Seta steels himself for a tough assignment, even writing his will.

As we know from watching Nitta, that might’ve been, ah, a bit premature. While Seta initially believes Nitta is just putting up a calm front to hide the unhinged savage within, Nitta’s daily life leads to Seta coming to the crushing conclusion that his vicious yakuza is just…a regular nice guy.

His mom and sister all but confirm it when they burst into rude laughter upon being asked whether there are any “exciting” stories about their son and brother. My friends, there are not. Nitta is as cool a cucumber as one can get in his business.

Mind you, we the audience know that he’s actually had some pretty spectacular moments that any journalist would sell non-vital organ to cover, but most to all of those involve Hina in some way, and Nitta has no intention of revealing anything about her besides the fact she has no one else so he takes care of her.

Seta resorts to staging a scene where Nitta loses his temper and brains Sabu with an ashtray. While it’s true he went a bit to far, Sabu kinda had it coming considering he almost got Nitta killed during the group’s now amicably-resolved succession crisis. That’s some good unspoken continuity!

When Seta surveys his amassed footage and concludes that he will be fired the moment he shows this to his boss at the station, he decides to abandon his journalistic integrity and resort to clever editing, narration, and flat-out fake news.

Nitta and Hina watch the farce of a yakuza profile, in which a pixel-faced Nitta’s completely tepid responses are made to sound like he’s the monster Seta’s voiceover claims him to be. Ironically, he ends his piece by lamenting the end of the decent, respectable yakuza in favor of “monsters” like Nitta (or the completely phony Nitta he created); despite the fact Nitta actually is that guy.

And not just him. His yakuza associates don’t hesitate to tease him with memorized lines from the show they knew was a bunch of bologna. Combined with Hina doing the same (and asking, bemused, who exactly was the subject of the profile they watched, ’cause it wasn’t him!), Nitta ends up running away, barely holding back tears. I guess it’s for the best the yakuza aren’t portrayed exactly like him…

 

In the second part of this episode, Nitta hosts Anzu while her parents are away at a hot spring. With Hina away on her middle school’s ski-training trip(?), it’s just him and Anzu, and in Anzu he finds a girl much better suited for his life than Hina, in terms of her ability, and enthusiastic willingness, to help out with domestic chores.

She doesn’t subtly mock or shade Nitta (as Hina is wont to do) either! Anzu is such a consistently, relentlessly good girl throughout her visit, Nitta has to run into another room to scream and curse the chinese restaurant owners for getting the good girl-in-a-metal-egg, while he’s stuck with…with Hina.

In fact, Nitta experiences a bit of what Seta did during the interview in the first segment. All of Anzu’s pleasantries and smiles sound fake to him after the ruthless “realness” of life with Hina, whom he regards as the typical spoiled brat of a kid who is a pain in the ass to their parent or guardian just ’cause.

But he’s wrong; just as Seta was wrong. This Anzu is the real Anzu. She may have been a lot more like Hina in the past, but her experiences and environment since have changed her, for the better.

Eventually, Anzu unconsciously manages to wear Nitta down until he dissolves into a cloud of sand, re-coalesces in mid-air, and flies away in formation with several Anzu-angels, leaving the Hina-demons crawling along the ground far behind.

After an incredible night in the “Ideal Father’s World”, the day arrives when Anzu’s folks return and she returns home, and the dream is over. Nitta decries that fact that “Reality is coming home.”

All the time he was shitting on Hina, something in the back of my head was telling me the show was going to teach him a lesson about not knowing what he’s lost until he lost it…even though it kinda already did that. My intuition turned out to be correct.

He gets an ominous call from the school ski trip informing him that Hina has been “lost in the mountains.” Now, you, me, and Nitta know that with her telekinetic abilities she’ll probably be just fine, and could easily deal with any threat she might come across.

That’s perhaps why Nitta responds so nonchalantly. But it’s still upsetting to hear that she’s lost, just when Nitta was dreading her return. Here’s hoping the final episode is devoted to his search for her and their reunion, perhaps with some assists from his various friends.

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Darling in the FranXX – 19 – Talented Yet Terrifying

Frikkin’ scientists, amirite? It’s said Adam and Eve were cast out of Eden, but the moment they tasted the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, Eden pretty much ceased to exist anyway. Eden is an impossibility in a world where humanity is aware that there is far more to the world than the limited, tedious paradise they inhabit.

Knowledge is simultaneously what makes humans humans and what constantly threatens to destroy them. It is humanity that developed world-ending nuclear weapons; it is also humanity that maintains the delicate balance that has kept those weapons from being used for over seven decades and counting.

This week on DFX we learn a lot more about Dr. FranXX, formerly Werner Frank, eccentric maverick scientific genius. We also learn that APE began as a collection of elite scientists, and they recruited him to work on something that has always fascinated humans: how to make immortality a reality.

It’s all too poetic that humanity developed the ability that could massacre most of the human population in one day, while we still have a long way to go before we’re all immortal. And yet, I can’t help but think the same thing that staves off nuclear war is the thing that keeps us from advancing too far in achieving immortality.

That thing is fear. If there is ever a global nuclear war, it could end humanity. If there is ever a breakthrough that makes humans immortal, it will also end humanity; just in a different way.

But that’s the real world. Here in DFX humanity advances far beyond the “safe zone” of maintaining humanity as we know it, thanks to brilliant minds like Frank and his colleague Karina Milsa.

Their efforts are admirable, but to quote the incomparable Dr. Ian Malcolm, they were so preoccupied with whether they could achieve immortality, they never stopped to ask whether they should.

The Magma Energy mining system developed by APE ends up gradually  desertifying much of the Earth’s surface. But Magma Energy also grants humans—now essentially immortal—to build grand structures like Plantations in which to live. It’s just evolution, right?

Only Magma Energy has another side effect: the emergence of the inscrutable, ruthless Klaxosaurs. It’s as if the world was trying to correct humanity’s technological overreach, and restore its mortality.

Still, Frank and Milsa’s massive scientific intellects are re-purposed to developing anti-Klaxosaur weapons: a robot that would come to be called the FranXX. At first it had a single pilot. One of the test pilots was Milsa, who loved Frank and married him, but was lost in a prototype accident when the robot went berserk.

Upon losing the only person in his life Frank had a close connection to, he lost another part of his humanity, and so stopped caring about the future of mankind and simply focused on how much further he could progress it; how much better he could make weapons with which to defeat their new enemy.

FranXX became piloted by male-female pairs, restoring a measure of the reproductive drive lost by the proliferation of immortality treatments. Mankind put themselves back into a state of godliness and thus rebuilt Eden and locked themselves in for an eternal stay.

Only the pilots, parasites of FranXX were involved in fighting the Klaxosaurs outside of Eden (or, in the case of Mistilteinn, just beyond its borders). Meanwhile adults lived their endless tedious lives in the Eden they built, and forgot all about Klaxosaurs in the first place.

APE eventually located the Klaxosaur “leader,” and sends Frank to investigate. Of his team, only he is spared by the “Princess”, whom he regards as the most beautiful being he’s ever seen. But she can smell the blood of her Klaxosaur brethren on his hands, and exacts punishment in the form of tearing off his arm.

This ordeal does not discourage Frank in the least. Considering how far he’d come to come face-to-face with such a fascinating being, it stands to reason he’d keep pushing to perfect mankind’s defenses, not for it’s own sake, but like climbing a mountain, because it (being discovery) is simply there.

Frank seeks no earthly rewards or accolades; only more knowledge, and the self-recognition that he progressed the technology as far as he “humanly” could.

This brings us to the present, where Frank is now known as Dr. Franxx, and he’s grizzled and partially mechanized. APE, still his bosses, wiped Kokoro and Mitsuru’s memories without his knowledge or consent, thus in his mind impeding the path he himself set to achieve the results they seek. Frank/Franxx never had any problem achieving results. The problem lay in the means with which he used to achieve them.

Regardless, results are results, and they’ve given him enough clout to allow Squad 13 to have a candid audience with APE in order to state their wishes: for Kokoro and Mitsuru’s memories to be restored. No can do, APE cites; they cannot restore what is no longer there; the memories were removed, not merely blocked.

Upon learning this, Hiro gets upset, and tells APE they can no longer consider people who did such things to them their “Papa”, i.e. their authority to which to be subservient.

When the APE members don’t even bother answering Zorome’s naive question about how many Klaxosaurs they’ll have to kill to become adults (because the answer is “you will never be adults”) “Papa” lost their last advocate in Squad 13.

They may need Franxx’s know-how and connections to have any success at opposing APE, but that doesn’t mean Hiro will ever forgive him for what he did to both him, Zero Two, and whoever else he used as mere tools or variables in his grand experiments.

We also learn how Zero Two came to be: when the Klaxosaur Princess attacked him, he managed to come away not just with his life, but a clump of her hair…hair containing her DNA…which he used to clone her, thus, presumably, creating Zero Two.

So will he help Zero Two, Hiro, and Squad 13? Have they rekindled his belief that humanity isn’t really human unless they can love, struggle, and die? I hope so; the kids need all the help they can get.

Darling in the FranXX – 18 – All too Brittle a Home in which to Live

Everything Squad 13 does in the remains of Mistilteinn is being monitored, so you knew the first night Kokoro and Mitsuru spent together would probably be their last. We start with what could be the happiest morning of their lives, where the love they shared seems to paint everything around them in a more beautiful light. They are experiencing that which humanity has apparently given up.

Sure enough, Hachi informs Ichigo that the squad will soon be packing up and leaving Mistilteinn, leaving their distinctive, human birdcage for a far more sterile, antiseptic one where all the other, emotionless parasites live. Hiro thinks they should close out their days there with a wedding ceremony for the beaming new couple (and notably not for him and Zero Two).

Everyone is gung-ho about making it a celebration to remember; all but Ikuno, who lies in bed dejected. Ichigo thanks her for getting angry and sticking up for Kokoro and Mitsuru, but Ikuno tells her she didn’t do it for them, but because she agreed with a part of the lead Nine’s assertion about man-woman pairings.

Ever since Ichigo gave her her name (turning the number 6 on its side to make the “no” kana), Ikuno has had eyes only for her, and always cursed the boys who got to stand by her side simply because they were boys. Ichigo recognizes the pain from her own unrequited love for Hiro in Ikuno, but draws her into a comforting hug and tells her she doesn’t mind.

These are simply part in parcel of all the messy things they have to live through that makes them human. Left unsaid is the fact that virtually everyone outside of Mistilteinn no longer feels that way. They’ve shed that vital part of humanity, presumably in order to survive most efficiently.

As the preparations for tomorrow’s ceremony are completed, the squad and Zero Two take a group photo together, mimicking the photo of the previous squad that lived there. As they stand there, their joy and camaraderie frozen for posterity, I thought of two things.

First, how much everyone has grown as characters, from Hiro and Zero to Ichigo, Mitsuru and Kokoro, Ikuno, Goro and even Futoshi. Only Zerome and Miku have remained more or less static in their childlike naivete. And yet I’ve come to love each and every one of these characters, and become fully invested not just in their safety, but in grasping the humanity the rest of their people abandoned and finding genuine happiness.

Second: that there probably won’t be a squad that comes after 13 who will ever see that photo. It just feels like the wheel is breaking, not least of which because Mistilteinn itself is no longer a viable place to live, having been crippled by the Mega-Klaxosaur hand slap.

It’s that slap that Zero Two dreams of after nodding off while drawing her storybook illustrations. The dream also features a gang of partially injured soldiers grabbing her and preparing to drag her away. Hiro wakes her up and asks what’s wrong, but Zero Two doesn’t want to mar another lovely moment with her darling on the eve of such a blessed event with unpleasant portents.

The next day, Zero Two commits to living in the moment, sharing a playful frolick with Hiro through the blooming sakura trees, dressed in the same gray uniform as the other Squad 13 members, thus truly becoming one of them. She’s able to wear one of their unis because Kokoro has changed into her re-purposed curtain gown, looking every bit a bride as she descends the staircase to join her waiting groom.

Ikuno presents them with a bouquet and boutonniere and escorts them to the aisle, while the other assembled squadmates ring bells and toss petals. Futoshi decides to officiate the wedding, giving closure to his one-sided love for Kokoro by being the one to “give her away” to Mitsuru.

Everything is just lovely, until it isn’t. The Nines arrive aboard an APE assault ship with a squad of grunts and place everyone under arrest before Kokoro and Mitsuru can seal their bonds with a kiss. They fight; their squadmates fight; Zero Two attacks the Nines, her former comrades…but it’s all for naught.

Everything they carefully built crumbles like a stale old breadstick and an iffy Italian restaurant…or more appropriately, like the sakura blossoms falling from the tree. Like their lives on Mistilteinn, the wedding was only a passing dream; one everyone could happily live in only until it ended, and it couldn’t end more cruelly.

Hachi, while protesting the Nines’ actions, does nothing to stop them, and does nothing to comfort the rest of Squad 13 as Kokoro and Mitsuru are taken away for “reindoctrination” to remove the “dangerous” ideas they’ve developed.

As the rest of the squad defeatedly packs up to leave their home on the worst note ever, Hachi visits the similarly “defective” Nana in her cell and remembers the first time she was dragged away like Kokoro and Mitsuru, after her FranXX copilot (whom she must have loved) was killed she had an emotional outburst. Hachi, devoid of emotion then, as now, could only silently watch.

Here, he remarks that Nana “in her current state” could nonetheless better provide comfort to Squad 13 than he. It might not seem like much, but the mere fact he believes they need or deserve comfort means Hachi has gained back a slim measure of humanity simply buy observing the very emotional parasites.

Squad 13 and Zero Two sans Kokoro and Mitsuru arrive at the parasite camp  “Bird Nest”, and it’s a real downer of a place, reminding them of Garden and not in a good way (it also feels like they’ve been taken backwards in their development, which may well be Papa’s intention).

Weeks pass with no news until one day they are reunited with Kokoro and Mitsuru. Though they still wear the rings they so tenderly and lovingly presented to one another, their memories have been altered (like Hiro and Zero Two’s years before) to make them not only believe they are new members of the squad, but to make them forget they ever knew each other.

It’s a heartbreaking gut-punch to end the episode, and yet when Kokoro is on her own and spots the abstract “trees” in one of Bird Nest’s courtyards, she’s reminded of “sakura”, the blooming trees under which she and Mitsuru wed. She may not remember Mitsuru, or the wedding, or anything else, but she remembered the trees.

After watching what Papa and the adults and the Nines did to his squad, his home, and finally his two friends who truly and deeply loved one another, Hiro announces in voiceover that they are “at the end of their rope.” He’s done being ruled by a destiny that will only continue to pulverize the things they build into dust.

I’m eager to see how he’ll try to start fighting back, even if I’m dubious his efforts will net him anything but more cruel tragedy and loss.

Hinamatsuri – 07 – Take a Deep Breath Here and Hold it

Despite being introduced as the girl from the same “realm” as Hina come to eliminate her, Anzu’s stories since have tugged hardest on the heartstrings due to the circumstances in which she ends up, and this week is no different.

We start off with her learning the ropes of the restaurant owned by the couple who took her in, and she’s constantly saying and doing things that remind them of her destitute recent past, and thus make them tear up.

Those things include her clothes always being too big, 800 yen being a king’s ransom, and using only cold water for her shower. However, her time among the homeless made her a hard worker and a quick study, and by the time her first day is over, she has time to soak in her warm and comfy new home. Dawww.

From the sweetness of Anzu getting acclimated to her new life, we shift to Hina getting chewed out by a teacher for constantly sleeping (guilty as charged), and what do you know, Hina actually uses her powers!

Not to do anything to the teacher, mind you; she merely manipulates her desk neighbor Hitomi into pocking out a pointillist sketch of a knife-wielding oni, which Hitomi would surely get in trouble for if teach saw it!

Hina isn’t just sleeping at school because she’s tired; she’s also bored. Nitta tells her to figure out on her own how to make things more fun. When she hears some somewhat exaggerated claims about how much power a student council president has, Hina mixes it with stuff she saw on TV and announces her candidacy, to the dubiousness of all.

When Hina tells her homeroom teacher “I’ve got this”, he’s never been less convinced, and scoffs at a fellow teacher praising his ambitious kids. The only one who takes Hina seriously is someone who barely knows her; Nitta’s boss, who instructs the company lawyer to draft a proper speech for her.

When that suggestion was first made, I knew it would result in some comedy gold, and readers, I was not disappointed. After ignoring a teacher’s insistance first-years can’t run for president (causing the whole auditorium to note her ignoring him, in unison!) Hina starts out strong, as her speech is a reasonable argument for a competitive bidding process for a new lunch supplier.

Things go off the rails once Hina simply recites even the parts she’s not supposed to read (‘take a deep breath here’) and even the lawyer-speak can’t hide the fact that a school-mandated afternoon nap for middle schoolers is…a bit silly.

Nevertheless, Hina wins secretary, a job for which she’s a no-show for the first few council meetings. When a member pays a visit to her classroom, only Hitomi is there to receive her, and Hitomi being Hitomi, gets roped into yet more work as she inadvertently fills in for Hina and is appointed “stand-in secretary.” Guys…Hitomi’s got a bar to tend!

The third segment finds the middle ground between Anzu’s poignant introduction to homed life and Hina’s comedic presidential campaign, as Nitta once again fails to secure a date with Utako, and Hina urges him to talk about it with her so he’ll feel better (having learned this on TV, of course).

When Hitomi gets word Hina’s “dad” wants to date her boss, she thinks of how hard it must’ve been for Hina losing her mother (whom she envisions also had blue hair, since Nitta doesn’t), and vows to help get Nitta that date in any way she can so Hina can one day have a new mom.

Her efforts don’t go so swell at first, as Hina’s hamfisted act makes it seem as though Nitta put her up to asking Utako on his behalf. Hitomi persists, and Utako relents, agreeing to go on the dang date.

Upon learning Hina got him said date, Nitta picks her up and spins her around the room in elation…until she smacks her foot on the doorway and breaks it. In the hospital room Hina insists Nitta carry on with the date, which he does…but on that date—the audio for which we never hear—he apparently never stops talking about Hina.

Utako takes that, and Hina’s closeness to Nitta, to mean that she’d only come between them if she continued dating them, not at all perceiving the fact that they’d both welcome her as part of the family if things progressed that far (and there’s no reason to think they wouldn’t).

And so Nitta essentially strikes out for being too good a fake dad, and has to resort to using a hand puppet to represent Hina’s new mom, which even Hina isn’t buying!

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.

Shoukoku no Altair – 02

This week’s Altair begins with more of Mahmut’s backstory; specifically, when he was still in school and excelled at everything but convincing others to follow him—and inspiring loyalty is a key trait in a pasha. What inspired him to work harder to adopt that ability was a friend of his, the older Ibrahim, who vowed to become Vali of his hometown of Hisar.

Fast-forward to the present day, and Hisar is in rebellion, with Ibrahim at the center. Zaganos Pasha immediately sets off with a punitive force, but Mahmut breaks out his usual indignation with the situation, clearly having not learned how to properly engage with the impatient Zaganos.

Thus, he gets nowhere, and must follow Zaganos to Hisar to find out what’s going on. Shahra decides to tag along, because she belives she could be useful; I know of no other reason she has besides seeming to like Mahmut (who doesn’t return her interest, even for a moment).

Elsewhere in Hisar, the families of all thousand soldiers in the castle’s garrison are the hostages of an alliance between the Araba and the Empire. The deal is, Ibrahim’s and his mens’ loved ones will be seen safely to the Turkish capital if they hand over control of the city.

That would be bad news to Turkyie, as Hisar is a buffer between them and the Empire. Unfortunately, between the Imperial representatives, the Araban leader, and the local (female) lord who has brought a large force of her own to bear near Hisar, all the new characters create a bit of a haze and no one really stands out. They’re all just kind of around. But with the tent soaked in oil, there are certainly human stakes to consider.

When Shahrah gets a little dance party going outside that tent, it lures out one of the Imperials. Mahmut, Good Guy that he is, tries to tell the Arabans—happy to be gaining a new city and nation—that they’re all pawns in a larger game of geopolitical chess being played by Minister Louis, whom if I’m not mistaken was roundly beaten by Mahmut in his little fake arrow scheme.

Nevertheless, Mahmut is right in the thick of things, having to cross swords with an opponent of unknown ability (that turns out to be pretty formidable) out of loyalty to his friend Ibrahim. The Imperial tells him it’s no worth it, as Ibrahim had already failed in his role as Vali by letting personal emotions supersede his duty.

He accuses Mahmut as failing for the same reason, but vows not to take his life until the Imperial army is within Hisar’s walls and he can claim victory. And that’s where we leave things: with Mahmut in some very deep water; but with a few pieces (like his at-large golden eagle) to work with, he’s certainly still in the game.

Shoukoku no Altair – 01 (First Impressions)

Take away the exotic setting and lush costumes, and Shoukoku no Altair is the very common story of an overachieving young man determined to move forward, be useful, and protect his country, after enduring tragedy earlier in life in which he wasn’t able to save his family.

Fortunately, Altair does have an exotic setting, lush costumes, and a very decent soundtrack to boot. And so we have ourselves a show that isn’t all that original in storytelling but is able to just sail by on competent, often stylish execution.

Newly-appointed Pasha Tughril Mahmut is the youngest Pasha ever, but never comes off as arrogant or petulant, even when a comrade accuses him of having a “tantrum.” Rather, I liken him to Tintin: young, courageous, resourceful, cunning…and yes, a bit dull. He has a strong sense of justice and is always ready to shut naysayers down…but has no idea what to do with women.

One of his mentors, Pasha Halil, sees a great future for Mahmut, so when the Balt-Rheim Empire accuses their homeland Turkyie of assassinating their prime minister, Halil chooses to be the sacrifice they demand.

War claimed many lives twelve years ago, as we see in a heart-wrenching, well-directed flashback in which a young Mahmut struggles in vain to save a woman I presume is his mother. From that point on, he swore always to do whatever he could, never standing still.

So Mahmut does what Tintin would do: investigate the incident and find the real truth, which is that the arrows used to kill the minister were of Balt-Rhein design. He joins up with with Halil, who believes the Empire as a whole does not want war, just an isolated element.

Thanks in part to a clever use of mutton stew and the local eagles, the pashas weather an attempted ambush, capture the conspirator’s men, and bring them and the false arrows before the Emperor himself.

War is staved off—for now, but the minister who conspired to start it was not tried or even named for his role, meaning this is only the beginning of Pasha Mahmut’s duty. With only THE REFLECTION left to air on my Summer list and my interest in Apocrypha fading fast, Altair is just interesting enough for another look or two.

91 Days – 05

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After a rough, uneven road trip last week, 91 Days smooths out a bit as Nero is lured back home by the promise of a truce with Orco. Unfortunately for Nero, that truce is dependent on him dying, something his brother is willing to make happen for the good of the family, with Ronaldo’s blessing.

Nero smells something rotten in Denmark and bugs out of the meet-up, leaving him, Avilio, Volpe, Valbero, Colteo, and a wounded Tigre out in the wind. If Avilio isn’t careful, fate will take care of Nero before he can!

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Naturally, he’s not going to let that happen. He’s gotten this far in gaining Nero’s trust, and he needs to get closer to Don Vanetti before he’s satisfied. So he sneaks to the Island with Colteo and his fine, fine hooch, in order to parlay with Fango.

Nero wants nothing to do with Fango (since he believes he killed Vanno), but Avilio forces the issue, confident Nero’s loyalty to his friend Tigre overshadows his hatred of Fango.

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Fango doesn’t so much receive Avilio and Colteo so much as they’re delivered into his clutches by his lover. Fango claims to not want to do business with Avilio after what happened to Serpente, but unlike Nero, he’s only joking. Avilio offers Fango something he wants—Don Orco on a silver platter—in exchange for protection.

Never mind that Nero has no plan to nab Orco; as long as Fango thinks he has a plan, he won’t kill them all, which is the whole point. I for one am glad we’re seeing a more reasonable, less chaotic Fango who is willing to hear the enemies of his enemies out. Returning the Island is the best thing 91 Days could have done.

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91 Days – 04

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This week documents the adventures of Nero and Avilio on their road trip, with dwindling funds and a hitman on their tail. After the action, intrigue, and tragedy of the first three episodes, this…was a bit of a drag.

A road trip is an opportunity to spice things up, but the manner in which 91Days does this is scattershot and disjointed in nature. The guys have a little fun doing tricks for kids, but it’s too obviously a means to show Avilio the innocence he’s lost.

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Meanwhile, the lumbering Mexican hitman is about as one-dimensional as you can get; more a walking plot device to be defeated than a character. Fango, while evil, was a lot more interesting than this guy.

After managing a smile while around the kids, later in the night Avilio continues practicing his murder face while Nero remenices on his first job with the family, which was the night Avilio’s family was killed. Nero was the one who shot at Avilio as he ran. He realizes there were “three”, but I thought he already knew this.

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The episode kinda goes off the rails when the hitman making his move is played for laughs for some reason, complete with a slapsticky kick in the nuts, and failing to kill him by hitting him with the car (which is totaled by the impact).

Sure, the hitman is good at tracking, but never seems to apply his superhuman strength when he needs to. That, and the goofy comic tone to his pursuit near the end, really kills the tension.

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He tracks them to a barn late in the night, but once more, “Big Mexico” can’t get the job done. Nero empties a clip into him to no avail, but his well-thrown knife to the back gets the job done…only he gets right back up a few seconds later (only to be blown away by a shotgun-wielding Alex Trebek).

This wasn’t a total loss; Nero had some more adventures with Avilio, making their bond that much closer for when Avilio decides to make his move…but other than that, this was a pretty uneven episode.

There was a bad omen in the beginning, when a waitress’ eyes were pale blue one second and deep green the next. Unlike Nero with his juggling skills, a ball or two was dropped here.

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91 Days – 03

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Things went down much faster than expecting in last week’s outing, with Avilio taking out Vanno, only to have a gun pulled on him by Nero. Turns out Nero is willing to hear him out – if they can locate Serpente’s body.

We also meet Don Orco (or should I say Orca?), who is reeeeally particular about the butter content of his lasagna, as is Fango. Where they disagree is on the nature of the response to the apparent death of Serpente. Fango wants a war; Orco wants to make the Galassias happy.

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With an assist from Colteo, Avilio locates Cerotto, the guy who sold Serpente’s body to the prohibition official, and locates the place where the body is being stashed. Unfortunately, Fango spots Nero by pure chance (I know tinted windows weren’t around back then, but what about curtains?) and is led to the same place.

Avilio wears Serpente’s suit and a burlap sack on his head to fool Fango into giving up his Vanetti hostage, but like the hit on Fango, it goes sour. Fortunately, Avilio and Nero make it out unscathed; unfortunately, a war between the families is all but inevitable…which is just fine with Fango.

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After this latest ordeal, perhaps still stung by grief over losing his friend Vanno, Nero softens towards Avilio once more, even turning his back on him. When Nero’s brother insists he get the hell out of dodge until things blow over, Avilio volunteers to be his driver.

You can kinda tell Nero still isn’t anywhere near 100% sold on Avilio, but if he still suspects him of some kind of treachery, better to keep him close than let him operate out of sight. Avilio, meanwhile, has had nearly everything fall into his lap so far. Is the universe compensating for his past suffering?

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We indeed see the grief Nero feels for his fallen friend when he falls to his knees at the funeral. Avilio is sent back to the car, but he still turns back to get a good look at what he has wrought. At this point, he must be content not to give the game away until he’s wiped out the Vanettis entirely. Long game stuff.

Of course, with a call coming in to a hitman ordering him to go after Nero and Avilio, we can expect things to get even tougher for our antihero after his initial small victories.

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91 Days – 02

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Avilio could have joined the Orcos and helped them take down the Vanettis, fulfilling his duty as a member of the family while satisfying his thirst for revenge. But he didn’t, and the answer why is clear: it’s easier to accomplish what hell-bent on doing by joining up with the Vanettis. He can earn their trust with his competence, with Colteo’s skill providing cover.

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He arrives at a Godfather-like wedding, with a groom who’s the nephew of the Chicago-based Galassias, who are more powerful than either of the families in Lawless. Because of that, they can pressure the two to make nice, something that doesn’t sit right with Vanno Clemente.

Not only that, he has to watch his pal Nero’s sister Fio be snatched up by the Chi-town clown. So when Avilio makes a flippant remark to the groom and dodges his punch, Vanno takes a shine to him. When Nero gives the okay to take out Fango, Vanno turns to Avilio—just as Avilio planned.

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Interestingly (for me anyway), the show doesn’t simply hand victory to Avilio. Despite a nice bit of disguise and stealth, Fango is a motherfuckin’ survivor (not to mention a masochist), and doesn’t go down easily. I imagine even if Avilio had gotten a bullet or two in him, it wouldn’t be enough to stop Fango from parkouring into the night.

But someone wanting to off a jerk like Fango probably isn’t such a surprise to his employers (he is a mercenary, after all), and Avilio claims he hasn’t killed before, so Vanno isn’t that upset by the failure; hell, he half-expected it. He knew you need more luck than Fango to kill Fango.

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What Avilio does get him, by dumb luck, is Serpente, the somewhat sadistic dude who killed his young car-loving pal earlier in the episode. At this point, Avilio has Vanno eating out of his hands, meeting him in a place and time where no one will see or hear them, so that Vanno can get his revenge.

What surprised me was that Avilio acted so fast. We’re only on Day frikkin’ two, and here he is, already taking a shot at one of the three main guys on his list, which he shares with an increasingly worried Colteo. The only problem is…he seems to have messed up again, and all the trust he earned may have been wasted. That’s typically the assessment when you’ve got the barrel of a gun in your back!

But judging from Avilio’s look, he’s not going to let things end here. I was expecting him to be friends with Vanno and Nero longer than he was. But I’m not disappointed the show didn’t go in the direction I assumed.

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91 Days – 01 (First Impressions)

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Seven years after his family is killed in a mob power struggle, Avilio returns to the town of Lawless, reuniting with his friend Colteo to sell his quality moonshine to discriminating customers on the “Island.”

They end up facing the Orco family’s new attack dog Fango, but manage to escape with their would-be-buyer, who turns out to be Nero Vanetti, the son of the man who killed Avilio’s family.

91 Days wastes no time establishing Avilo’s backstory and resultant vendetta, and the title leaves no doubt as to how long he’ll have to get his vengeance.

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What might be lacking in complexity or surprise in the story is made up for by 91 Days’ rich, detailed, earthy prohibition-era setting. There’s a pall of melancholy and fallen grace everywhere, no more overt than a church on an island converted to a bar.

Unlike GANGSTA, this is a show that sticks to realism; no magical super-beings here, just good old-fashioned blood, brawn, sweat, and smoke. The weapons are bats, bullets, but exclusively knives in the case of Avilio, who has clearly been honing his mind and body for this quest for revenge thes last seven years.

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Even a wild dog like Fango doesn’t faze Avilio when the guy interrupts his negotiations. In fact, he uses it as an opportunity to show his worth to some people who seem important, and turn out to be the very people he wants to get close to.

Avilio is a man with nothing to lose, since he already lost it all, so he’s no someone you want to bet against. That being said, there isn’t much else to his character, at least not yet in this first episode. His childhood pal Colteo welcomes him back in his life, but I wonder how long he’ll last, as he’s not as hard or strong as Avilio has become.

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Where the originality comes into play is Colteo’s mad distillery science, and the decisive blow to Fango is a chemical reaction that harkens to seven years ago, the night Avilio’s fam was murdered, when then-Angelo put out a candle with his finger, showing it was the paraffin burning.

Colteo hoped to make money off his quality hooch so he could go to school, but now that he’s swept up in Avilio’s plans, that’s probably not going to happen.

For all the looming stone buildings and iron bridges in Lawless, There’s a distinct sense of impermanence to 91 Days. Avilio probably doesn’t want to be on this earth any longer than he needs to take care of business, and he probably won’t be. I’m looking forward to seeing how he uses his 91 days.

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GOD EATER – 10

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GOD EATER is back. Repeat: GOD EATER is BACK. And just when I was about to give up hope. Turns out they waited until the point in the season when the rest of the Winter shows were in their final quarter, either because they needed more time or because they didn’t want this show to end when everything else was at episode 4 or 5.

You know what else? My patience was handsomely rewarded. This was the best episode of GOD EATER (and one of the best of the entire Winter) yet, using Lenka’s ordeal with adjusting to a new God Arc as the framing device for a heretofore untold story of Lenka’s childhood, starting with when he was found in the mud by a kind family who tested negative for entry into Fenrir.

More than a story, it is an often horrifically heartbreaking tragedy that is epic in scale, stretching across the fifteen years that precede the show’s present day, and being far more emotionally powerful than any of the black-and-white flashbacks that came before.

A lot of this episode’s power comes from our amassed knowledge of the previous nine. And yet, this could very well have been the first episode of GOD EATER—or even a completely standalone short film—and still been effective.

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After Lenka was rescued and named by his new big sister Iroha, his family lived in a shanty town living off rations and constantly at risk of Aragami attacks. When his mother develops a cough and becomes bedridden, he and his sister strike out with other town members to find medicine, but are ambushed.

Lenka, who wants to become strong enough to protect everyone, hits an Aragami with a stick, but it has no effect. Still, he’s bailed out by a God Eater – Lindow, specifically. Lenka is both jealous of Iroha’s attention towards Lindow, and of Lindow’s strength to protect. Lenka’s father doesn’t like the Fenrir system in which “people choose people” and leave others to die due to limited resources, but that’s exactly what happens in the shanty town as well.

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When Lenka grows ill and there’s only one dose of medicine, Lenka’s mother demands it be used on him, for he is the future. That’s confirmed when they test him for the first time and he reads positive, making his dream to become strong a more real possibility. It’s Iroha who injects the drugs, as both she and their father weep uncontrollably over tacitly condemning their mother to die. They bury her not long after.

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A few years pass, and Lenka is on the cusp of fifteen, the age when he can join Fenrir. His older sister has also grown more beautiful, and still quite close and protective of her brother. But she’s also mature enough to slap Lenka when, after an Aragami attack, their father is trapped under wreckage. All they can do is escape on a motorbike their father prepared for such an eventuality. Like his mother, Lenka’s father died so that he could live.

But while escaping the Aragami on the bike, one manages to scratch Iroha’s leg. It doesn’t look that bad, but the wound bleeds and festers, and before long, she can no longer walk (an analog to a similar desperate journey he’ll go on with Alisa later on). Once they check the wound and it’s riddled with maggots, once more a choice must be made.

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Lenka can’t make that choice—Iroha is all he has left—so she chooses for him, by slitting her own throat, forcing him to leave her. Before they part, she tells him to go to Fenrir, because he tested positive, and always was positive. That didn’t do the family any good, however, because they weren’t related by blood. But no matter how Fenrir cruelly defines it, Iroha always considered Lenka her brother – she even named him, because like a lotus, they found him in the mud, where lotuses bloom.

To twist the proverbial knife once more, before and then in the process of being devoured by Aragami, Iroha briefly envisions the world she always dreamed of, a beautiful pastoral paradise where plants have returned, and where she’ll be together with her dear brother forever. She looks like a Studio Ghibli character in this fantasy, before a devastating smash cut to her being eaten. No point in trying to hold back the tears here; this was utterly dejecting. Rest in peace, Iroha.

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The Utsugi family, then, sacrificed themselves one after another to save a boy who wasn’t even related to them by blood. But if any of the three of them, including Iroha, had to do it all over again, I doubt they’d change a thing. The choices they made led to Lenka being in the position to “overturn” the world they had no power to change.

When Lenka stops re-living the memories of losing his family members one by one over the course of his life, he awakens to find the adjustments for his new God Arc are complete. All that’s left is to re-declare what he means to do with his newly-resotred (and likely greatly increased) power: to kill Aragami. But also, to be someone whom people can entrust their hope for a better world, the way his family was for him.

GOD EATER is back; with brutal, gorgeous, heart-rending, unyielding authority. Episode 11 has its work cut out for it.

10_brav2RABUJOI World Heritage List