Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku – 04

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In Magipro, Ruler is what Mokuou Sanae can’t be in the real world: in control. She always ranked at the top of her class, but speaking out of turn at the office where she worked got her reassigned by a boss who wanted her to learn her place. She always saw everybody in the world as idiots to be brought to heel. It’s how she ruled as Ruler, and it was her downfall.

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Getting Ruler’s backstory was a sure sign that she’d be the next victim, despite having come up with a devious scheme to steal Snow White’s Magical Candies. As it happens, her desire to keep distance from her subjects by insulting them at every opportunity became her fatal flaw when she relied on Swim Swim to transfer Snow White’s candies while she held her pose to keep Koyuki from moving (the flipside of her magical power to control).

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As such, Swim Swim took it upon herself to doublecross Ruler, only taking half of Snow White’s 50,000+ candies and distributing them evenly to all but Snow White herself, La Pucelle…and Ruler. That puts Ruler in last place at the time of the rankings, and it kills her.

Tama seems torn up by the coup, but the twin “angels” are fine with it, and acknowledge Swim Swim as their new leader. In a nice twist, Swim Swim was the young girl who Nemurin said could be a princess if she tried hard enough. But Swim Swim couldn’t be the true Ruler until the old one was eliminated. And so it comes to be.

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The entire situation disgusts Koyuki, who was ready to die rather than let anyone else die in her place before she learned Swim Swim only took half of her candies. But Souta isn’t so dedicated to Koyuki’s ideals, especially if it means Koyuki’s death. So La Pucelle re-vows to be Snow White’s knight, doing whatever is necessary to keep her alive and safe – whether Snow White wants such treatment or not.

With the sixteenth magical girl entering the field, Koyuki will no doubt continue to need protection, not just from those who would eliminate her, but from her own stubborn refusal to defend herself at the cost of others.

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Qualidea Code – 03

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In its third and final trial week (to determine if it’s worth watching), Qualidea Code presents its best episode yet, fixing the issues of the first two by further developing Ichiya, greatly upping the peril, and aside from a brief changing scene, ditching unnecessary skin.

It also introduces us to a potentially dark side of life in this new world, as those not up to snuff being transferred “inside” is talked about in weary tones, and a burden the adults must bear. Ichiya skips out on daily patrol to meet with a former subordinate who is being transferred inside due to injury.

He feels embarrassed to be acting so nice and considerate, but he is. But the patrol that sorties without him comes afoul of a new type of Unknown; the biggest and toughest yet and quickly called Leviathan-class.

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This is more like it. With Umihotaru and the Aqua Line under enemy control, the Unknown now have a beachhead upon which they can orchestrate a large-scale assault on the remainder of civilization. Kasumi wonders out loud why Ichiya wasn’t leading his patrol, and despite having a good reason, Ichiya stays tight-lipped and orders Cana to do the same.

Still, Ichiya blames himself for this mess, and looking over an old coloring book (where one mostly red-filled page documents the doomsday when the Unknown arrived), remembers he promised himself to get stronger in order to protect Canaria.

Cana pays Ichiya a visit, and sees the book entry, but Ichiya has already gone off on his own to fight the Leviathan.

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It’s a really, really dumb idea, but it fits who Ichiya is, and I wasn’t altogether sure he definitely would fail to beat the thing on his own. That being said, Cana makes sure to reach out to the two other heads and subheads, telling them what Ichiya has done and asking for their help.

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In the meantime, Canaria and the rest of Ichiya’s squad join Ichiya on the field of an excellent night battle, which Ichiya gets started off right by laying waste to dozens of lesser Unknowns in an attempt to awaken the hidden Leviathan from the sea.

Cana starts to sing to buff everyone, and the battle intensifies, aided by the pulsing soundtrack and light-dark contrast of the magical weaponry in the night. Ichiya even takes command of his people and coordinates their actions with a concentration on self-protection so that he can take on the tower alone, confident Cana and the others will be safe.

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But just when Ichiya is about to deliver the decisive blow you thought would wrap this episode up in a neat little bow, Cana’s voice gives out, her song and its effect stops, and Ichiya’s strike fails.

Looking back at an unconscious, bloodied Cana, Ichiya surprises us again by ordering a retreat, just as the Unknown Leviathan rises out of the water, showing that the gigantic tower was only the tip of a very vast iceberg.

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This is definitely more like it: no easy battle with easy outcome. Ichiya made mistakes this week, and he has to pay for them. The life of the one person he can’t fight or live without is suddenly in danger, and he’s simply not strong enough to defeat the foe before him. He’s not all they need, in other words.

As for Asuha, Kasumi, Hime and Hotaru, they’re on their way to Umihotaru in their preferred modes of transport, answering Cana’s call for help. Asuha is heartened by how quickly her bro sprang into action, despite his official hatred of Ichiya. He’ll need all of them to get through this.

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ReLIFE – 07

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While we learned a lot more about An in the last episode, it was still mostly driven by Kaizaki’s reactions to those revelations. This time, it’s Yoake who gets top-billing as protagonist-of-the-week, in an episode that takes place while he’s still supporting Subject 001.

The truth about An gave us an glimpse of the world of ReLIFE Lab that this episode expands by setting Kaizaki’s story aside and showing us how Yoake came to support him instead of An (who we see is very enthusiastic early on about the prospect of being Kaizaki’s support).

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ReLIFE Lab is portrayed as very much like any other workplace, just as Lacuna in Eternal Sunshine is very much like any other doctor’s office; a neat amalgam of the mundane and the fantastical. There’s a kind of bizarre magic in what ReLIFE does, and yet Yoake still has to deal with a board of suits concerned with their branch’s rep and interested in results.

My one gripe about this otherwise lovely episode is that we don’t really get much in the way of info about Subject 001, which seems like a cruel tease. However, ReLIFE has been so good up to this point I’m willing to give the show the benefit of the doubt on this. Maybe they’re saving that 001 reveal for later (and 001 went to Aoba High just like Kaizaki) or maybe they’ll never reveal it.

As for Yoake and An, neither seem interested in the other romantically, but one can’t deny there’s have chemistry and warmness to their rapport. Maybe it’s just a senpai/kohai thing, or the fact that their peculiar line of work, what with all the masquerade and stalking, can be isolating. Their scene on the bridge in the rain was very nice; so many complex emotions going on.

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I also got the feeling that while An is obviously disappointed Kaizaki was transferred from her to Yoake, at least it was Yoake, whom she knows and trusts, who got him and not someone else. That, and she’ll be right there at school with both Yoake and Kaizaki.

The episode ends back in the present, with Yoake surveying all the people Kaizaki has changed as a result of gaining the confidence to act. In the past Yoake mentioned Kaizaki had the “trauma of losing someone”, and the uncertainty of knowing if he did enough when he should have led to present part-timer status.

Watching Kaizaki gradually overcome those issues through his ReLIFE is having an inspiring effect on Yoake, who is also pleased that he seems to have found a proper “distance” from Kaizaki that he lacked with 001. And so yet another ReLIFE character has been wonderfully rounded out and humanized, while the world has been further enriched without answering too many questions.

With everything going so well, I reckon it’ll be time to rock the boat again pretty soon!

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Owarimonogatari – 06

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When it’s time to solve the mystery of how Oikura’s mom disappeared from a locked room, it’s not surprise that Ougi shows up to cramp Hanekawa’s style. For someone whose face is essentially a mask, she sure doesn’t mask her contempt for Hanekawa and her large boobs, which she feels are exclusively responsible for stealing Araragi away from her.

As usual, I’m not sure how much of what Ougi says is serious and comes from her heart, because I’m still not sure she has a heart, and isn’t some kind of strange construct or apparition, in contrast to all the flesh-and-blood girls in Araragi’s life. She says all the things a jealous underclassmen who likes him would say…but does she really mean them?

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I hope we’ll find out later. In the meantime, we have an arc to conclude! And conclude it does, with Hanekawa answering Ougi’s challenge and coming to the same conclusion as to what happened to Oikura’s mom. That leaves Araragi as the only one yet to realize the truth…and it’s a truth Hanekawa would rather Oikura never be told and never know for the rest of her days, not matter what immediate benefit could arise from telling her.

Still, she agrees with Ougi that it’s something Araragi must figure out for himself and make his own choice. They start offering subtle hints, and he keeps coming to the wrong conclusions, so they give him less subtle hints (over forty of them!) until he’s finally got it: Oikura’s mother starved herself to death, and for two years, Oikura took care of a corpse, until it eventually decomposed into nothing recognizable, giving the impression she disappeared, while she actually “evaporated”, like boiling water.

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It is indeed an awful truth, and one Araragi and the other have no idea how Oikura will react to. But Araragi decides he’s going to tell her. He’s through looking past/overlooking Oikura, as he has for the last six years, as she overlooked her dead mother for two. He’s going to see her, look her straight in the eye, and tell her the truth. It’s a long walk back to his apartment, and the sequence of camera shots in the intensifying sunset make that walk a beautiful occasion.

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Oikura takes the news far better than Araragi expected. More importantly, learning the truth (or perhaps, having it confirmed by someone else) made it that more real, and that much more releasing. Turns out Oikura is moving to a smaller municipal condo, and transferring out of Naoetsu High. But she went back to her class anyway when she knew Tetsujo was on leave, hoping something might change. In the end, Oikura is smiling, but not demonically, before the bright sunset. And the brightness isn’t hurting her.

Now that things avoided have been remembered, things at a standstill can move again. Because what was done with the truth was more important than discovering it, Ougi later concedes this particular case was her loss, also admitting she was wrong that Araragi would turn tail and run like he had in the past. But helping Oikura find change helped him to change too.

Oikura visited Senjougahara and they made up, and she left to start her new life. But not before taping an envelope under Araragi’s desk. This time, it had something in it: several pages. What exactly it was is kept a mystery (which I like), but whatever it is gives Araragi a laugh, so I like to think it’s a reversal of the message the earlier empty envelope sent.

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Charlotte – 04

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I don’t dislike baseball, and while I probably wouldn’t watch an anime exclusively devoted to it, I do enjoy the occasional baseball episode (it was one of my favorite DS9 episodes, simply because it’s so fun and feel-good).

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This week’s Charlotte was one of those, and it turned out a lot like “Take Me Out to the Holosuite”, which featured a ragtag team of Sisko’s crew (many of whom never played baseball) against a superior team—or in the case of Charlotte, a team with an ace who uses telekinesis to pitch perfect games.

They’re not just playing for pride, either: Nao gets the pitcher to agree never to use his power again if they lose; warning him that to do so would invite unwanted attention and ultimately capture by evil scientists. She also points out that he’ll lose the power, and thus any change of getting to the Bigs, once he grows up, but he seems undeterred.

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The game that unfolds is a bit of a circus, what with new Hoshinoumi transfer student Yusarin transforming into Mika, who has above-average athleticism baseball “game sense”, but is limited by Yusa’s weaker, slower body. Joujirou is predictably an asset in getting to first in record speed, but Nao has to record his at-bat with a high-speed camera to prove to the ump via instant replay that he was indeed safe. And, of course, Yuu switches bodies with an opposing batter while manning first base, with his repeated fainting confusing the ump to no end.

Finally, Nao calls upon Yuu in the most important at-bat; one in which a base hit will give them the win. Unlike his usual M.O. of sneaking around and swapping bodies, Yuu must face something head-on. He goes down 0-2 quickly, but realizing the gravity of his position, he valiantly fouls off pitches until the pitcher tries a new angle that results in a passed ball, scoring the two runs they need to win the game and the bet.

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This week’s challenge for the Student Council turns out to be a little more interesting than the one-dimensional producer targeting Yusarin, because the pitcher wasn’t cheating for personal gain; he wanted to take his team as far as he could because he wanted his friend, the catcher, who has excellent natural ability without the use of powers, to be noticed by scouts. Nao respects the guy’s selfless motives, but tells him there are other ways to do that; ways that won’t get him locked up and experimented on.

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Perhaps Yuu also learned the benefits of facing problems head on, which would serve him well in the unending battle to get his sister to stop putting pizza sauce in his meals. This is getting pretty ridiculous: I know he doesn’t want to hurt her feelings, but if he really doesn’t want pizza sauce in everything, he needs to confront her directly and tell her to please stop. I’m sure he could figure out a way to do it tactfully. Or better yet, have Yusa tell her for him! But not Mika. She’d probably spit in the food. ;)

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Charlotte – 03

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After another incident of Joujirou injuring himself while procuring lunch (the show already spent that nickel last week!), the StuCo gets a new lead: someone who can not only channel the dead, but also has the power of pyrokinesis. It turns out to be the idol we saw Ayumi watching, whom Jou is also enamored of: Nishimori Yusa (voiced by Uchida Maaya). With some more Yuu and Takajou teamwork (in which Nao gets cold-cocked and Yuu takes the brunt of Jou’s attack) they manage to find one of Yusa’s protectors, who take them to her.

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When Yusa goes into channeling mode she’s unaware of what’s happening, and the girl she channels is her late older sister, Misa, who was once an delinquent with Yusa’s present bodyguards. It’s Misa, not Yusa, who is able to control flame. But Yusa is in trouble: she accidentally ended up with an incriminating smartphone, and a producer is looking to wipe her off the map to protect its secrets.

Nao devises a plan whereby Misa takes over Yusa and acts tough like she’s killing all of the producer’s henchmen left and right, but all she does is lightly singe her two buddies in flame-resistant suits, while Jou, Yuu, and an invisible Nao make it seem like she also has The Force. The producer is scared off, almost too easily, but at the same time, after that demonstration, I’d be pretty freaked out too!

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After that, Nao insists Yusa transfer to Hoshinoumi; it’s only a matter of time before her powers manifest in public and she’s taken away by scientists and used up like just another human “battery.” Misa agrees it’s what’s best for her little sister, even if it means one day she’ll no longer be able to possess her. One of her buddies also takes the time to confess his feelings for her; feelings he wasn’t able to confess when she was alive. And of course, back home, Ayumi is over the moon that her brother is now classmates with “Yusarin.”

This was an alright introduction of the fifth member of the main cast as displayed on the official promo art, and Uchida Maaya does a good job differentiating between the cutesy Yusa and the tough-as-nails Misa. But to be honest, there wasn’t much in the way of danger this week; everything just kinda worked out perfectly. for all involved Also, after just finishing the lovely Yamada/7 Witches, yet another instance of two people in one body feels a bit passe.

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Charlotte – 02

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Yuu’s first day at Hoshinoumi Academy is fairly eventful, as Joujirou demonstrates the incredibly destructive and unnecessary way he buys lunch. But while his demonstration and its resulting wounds is played for laughs (and it is pretty funny on its face), the show delves into darker territory with regard to the effects special abilities have on the people who possess them.

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But first, Nao and Joujirou show Yuu how they operate, using the location pinpointing and power identification skills of a “comrade” to locate ability users who, like Yuu, are up to no good. In this case, it’s the archery captain, who uses his “thoughtography” ability to produce images of girls in their underwear which he then sells…to help support his struggling family.

Nao and Joujirou put Yuu to work immediately, using his body-swapping ability to get the name of the culprit and foil his attempt to blackmail Nao (who is nonetheless flattered that the culprit thinks she’s attractive). It’s clear Yuu is a good fit, and that he’s now on the straight and narrow stopping people from going too far with their powers or using them for nefarious purposes.

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The StuCo he’s now in less about punishing the ability users and more about protecting them from themselves. Those who get discovered are often taken away by the powers that be to have their brains poked and prodded. Nao knows this because her own brother, the first youth who had a power awaken in them, underwent just that kind of intrusive experimentation, leaving him a husk of the person he once was.

The importance, and indeed nobility of The StuCo’s cause is underlined greatly when Nao brings Yuu to see her brother. At this point, Nao is used to him not reacting to anything, despite his hospital being in the most gorgeous, P.A.Works-y environment possible. She even buys lunch and eats it on the train like they’re on some workaday errand, not visiting her profoundly wounded brother.

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Her casual attitude may be Nao attempting to live as normal and happy a life as she can in her brother’s stead, because she managed to escape the same fate. But however you interpret it, it’s a brother-sister dynamic Yuu doesn’t repeated with him and his beloved Ayumi. While initially resistant to all the crazy crap going on at Hoshinoumi with Nao and Joujirou, perhaps Yuu will continue to be more smart with his powers and get with the program.

After all, as Nao says, any of them could be captured tomorrow and their lives and the lives of those they love irreparably ruined. For all its goofy or laughable moments, Charlotte doesn’t fail to bring the gravity either. That combo makes sense: for those with lives almost always on the brink and an ongoing mission that may not end until they lose their powers at adolescence, one must have fun, goof off, buy beef tongue and destroy a cafeteria now and then to maintain their sanity.

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Charlotte – 01 (First Impressions)

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What is it? Otosaka Yuu abuses his power to possess another person (for just five seconds at a time), which has twisted him into a kind of Yagami Light Lite, with troubling megalomaniacal and sociopathic tendencies and poor moral fiber. He cheats at both tests and in love, until he’s caught by a camcorder-wielding silverhair named Tomori Nao.

Nao, who can become invisible (but only to one person at a time) insists Yuu join her and her colleague Takajou (who can teleport, but never knows where he’ll stop) at Hoshinoumi Academy, a school specially suited to people with special powers like them. Facing expulsion at his present school and getting dumped by its idol Yumi, and faced with the enthusiasm of his little sister Ayumi, Yuu grudingly agrees to the transfer.

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Why should you watch? P.A. Works’ last effort that I watched, Glasslip, was a huge disappointment. Charlotte is much livlier, funnier, and flat-out better right out of the gate. Unlike a kid just dealing with teenage angst or longing, Yuu is a pretty confident dude, but also unprincipled, and selfish, literally causing traffic accidents to get a date with a girl. He’s the kind of swine you love to hate, like Light or Kanie from Amaburi. Yet I can’t help but root for him as I hope his new colleagues will work to reform his character somewhat.

The episode efficiently lays out the possibilities and limitations of his power, and the fact that if he could possess people as long as he wanted without them knowing, then he might be able to act so high and mighty and godlike. But he doesn’t. His power is half-baked, and so are those of his colleagues, so things can never quite get that out of control.

However, when they get a little out of control, such as when Takajou races around the city like a bull in a china shop chasing Yuu, or Yuu makes someone do something that causes a chaotic chain reaction, it’s great fun to watch. It’s also a just episode, in which Yuu gets all the misfortune coming to him…but doesn’t overdo it.

We see all the sides of him, like the side that sees Ayu as his only family and loves her so much he won’t tell her his omelette is too sweet.

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Why shouldn’t you watch? Like all previous P.A. Works, this show is gorgeous, and it got off to a great start, but if you still feel burned by Glasslip, I won’t begrudge you passing on another high school drama…is what I would say, only the drama so far is pretty pretty understated; in its place is just comeuppance and a healthy helping of comedy. If we’re just talking about Charlotte in a vacuum, its flaws are few.

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The Verdict: Charlotte gave us colorful, dynamic, flawed characters with clashing personalities, punchy dialogue, justice, and the usual P.A. Works dreamily beautiful yet everyday setting. It lured us in and held our attention throughout. Its superpowers are in-your-face and impactful without dominating the proceedings.

It also smartly set up the introduction of the fourth main character as the next target of the other three: the J-pop idol Nishimuri Yusa must be using her power in some underhanded way in order to achieve fame. I’m looking forward to the reveal of that power and watching Yuu clash with Yusa. This is a definite keeper.

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Fate / stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 13

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When UBW’s first season wrapped three months ago, things were in a very bad way, and they only get worse this week, although from one perspective, perhaps it’s best that what happened happened for the sake of moving forward.

That may not quite explain why Saber is in such a suggestive position with the back of her gown hiked up, but that’s a small detail; suffice it to say she’s trying to fight Caster. She’s not yet a full thrall, but she has to fight her own body to resist.

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With Shirou no longer Saber’s Master, and still recovering from his severe wounds, this first episode back is full of doubt and dread, with the feeling that everything is high up in the air…and extremely breakable, so when it all comes down it will shatter. But that hopelessness only goes so far. We know Shirou will make a comeback in some form or another, it’s only a question of where and when.

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That where and when is decidedly not here and now, but Shirou still can’t keep his nose out of Holy Grail business. Which is just as well, as we find out later.

The moment Rin mentioned part of why she was going after Caster now was so that she could restore Saber to Shirou and thus restore their alliance, I knew Archer would have some misgivings about such a plan. What I didn’t expect is that those misgivings would be strong enough for him to straight-up betray Rin and join Caster.

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To be fair, Archer is a super-pragmatic guy who follows strength and goes with the odds, not ideals or hope or emotion. Rin’s motivations stunk of all three. He also warned her several times whether she really wanted to visit Caster, perhaps knowing what he’d do when they did. The fact he’s pieced together the fact she’s the famed, peerless Princess Medea made that choice all the easier.

Still, Archer’s still a billowing billowing dickweed for turning his cloak on Rin, especially in the middle of their battle. Yet, rather than allow Caster to finish Rin and Shirou (who leapt out from the shadows to save her), he makes their survival a condition of him joining her.

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Why the sentimentality all of a sudden? Aren’t the weak useless? Perhaps part of him hopes Rin will come back stronger than ever to wrest him from Caster’s grip…even if he knows she’ll never forgive him for this. Rin, for her part, promises she’ll do just that.

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Now that Rin and Shirou are in the same boat. It looks as if the two could be walking home as if they’d simply stayed at school late doing club activities, rather than walking away from their captive servants; one taken against her will, one who went over willingly. They lost the big game, having come up a bit short, but they’re still alive, and not out of it yet. Shirou insists the best thing to do is to go home, rest, and formulate their next move.

When Rin asks Shirou why he went into that church with that injury, he tells her how her raw emotional wounds must hurt far more than his shoulder, and promises she can whine and gripe about it all she wants when they get home, and he’ll listen gladly; a gesture that moves her to tears.

 

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Later, atop a starlit hill, Shirou confesses why he really saved her life: because he has feelings for her; feelings he’s no longer afraid to report. Having just witnessed such unbridled honesty, Rin dispenses some of her own, thanking him for coming to her rescue, admitting how happy it made her that he saved her.

I for one was delighted that this season wasted no time addressing this couple. Saying such things took a lot of guts for both of them, but considering how much those guts have been punched of late, the time was nigh for the walls to come down and for the truth to come out in the open. It was also a welcome glimmer of hope in a dark sea of doom and gloom.

If they had the strength to be honest about their feelings, it bodes well for them working together to come up with some way to get their servants back.

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Fate / stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 12 (Fin)

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Wisely choosing to go with a near hour-long format for its final episode until April 2015, F/sn also finds the magic of its first two episodes, which were responsible for immersing us in this show to begin with. There’s a heroic, almost intimidating scope to the narrative and the emotions that accompany it, that makes this feel like a short but very meaty film rather than a mere episode of television. In short, F/sn outdid itself yet again.

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“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” The adorable but unfazed Morning Rin brazenly asks Shirou out on a date, and while Saber tags along, she tells them to pretend she’s not there. They have coffee; they eat sweets; they try on glasses; they have a spirited go at the batting cages.

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They even have a picnic. It’s F/sn at its most domesticated and on its best behavior. But whether it’s Saber constantly eating or getting excited about eating or getting really into the baseball, or never really knowing 100% whether Rin is messing around with Shirou or sees him as a legitimate love interest (most likely both, I’d wager), this kind of Fate is also eminently charming and fun, even if there’s a foreboding feeling lurking just outside the frame.

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But these fun times only comprise a third of the sprawling episode. The idyllic bright sunny day darkens as we check in on Fuji-nee visiting Kiritsugu’s grave, and see that she’s being shadowed by a chick with familiar hair and lip color. Fuji-nee has shown that she’s got combat skills, so she should be fine…right?

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Shirou, Rin, and Saber’s lovely tripartite date comes to a violently rude close so suddenly, it comes as a gut punch, the first of many to come. Their bus is blasted into a bounded field…

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…and Caster appears, with her magic thread wound tightly round a freshly-caught Fuji-nee’s throat. Caster, never one to play by the rules of the Holy Grail War, seeks to end it quickly, and is intrigued by Shirou. If he swears fealty to her, she’ll free Fuji-nee. He refuses, so she makes a counter-offer: take his arm with its command seals.

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With the choice now his arm for Fuji-nee’s life, there is no choice to Shirou. Saber is less sure, and charges Caster. That’s when Shirou, in a panic and worried about Fuji-nee’s safety, inadvertently uses his final command seal to freeze Saber in her tracks. Caster takes full advantage, running her “Rule Breaker” dagger through her, which has the effect of transferring Saber from Shioru to Caster.

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This was…well, what can I say? It was a shock. A huge shock. Here were Shirou and the girls, having a harmless fun time on the town, and it ends with Shirou losing his servant and friend. This is Fate taking the gloves off, and showing no mercy to someone who has someone to lose (Fuji-nee) and who also has no idea what they’re doing.

Caster spares Shirou on a whim and sics Saber on Rin, but Shirou comes between them and takes the strike in his shoulder. Now Shirou is down a servant and bleeding out. Fortunately Archer breaks through and rescues him and Rin, but it’s tough to watch Saber being left behind.

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A surprisingly upbeat (perhaps putting up a strong front?) Rin patches Shirou up at her place, then showers and has a chat with her own servant Archer, a scene which hearkens back to their first encounter at her house in the first episode. Here, they discuss Archer’s past (and his possible tie to Saber), their priority (defeating Caster), and the status of her pact with Shirou, which she intends to honor, even though he’s no longer a Master, until he decides to leave the war for good.

Up in her room, Shirou stirs and finds the pendant Rin used to heal him from mortal wounds once before. The sight of it reminds him just how much he owes Rin, and his still-fresh wounds (no longer being quickly healed by Saber’s mana) remind him how powerless he presently is to repay his debts.

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As the good guys lick their wounds, Caster wastes no time, posting Assassin at the temple gate to protect her Master (opening his chest and rearranging his ribs as motivation), then sets her eyes on the church where Kirei hangs out.

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Even the stoic Kirei shows a bit of shock when Caster presents Saber from beneath her cloak (and gets all touchy, adding to Saber’s clear discomfort). Here, we first learn about a ‘lesser’ and ‘greater’ grail. The latter is summoned when one servant remains, but the former is something she believes can be acquired before that, and aims to beat Kirei into submission.

Kirei calls Caster by her former title, Princess of Colchis, intimates that her ‘soft heart’ is the reason she’s so keen to bring the war to a quick end. He gets pretty banged up in the ensuing battle, as Lancer hangs back, promising someone (his master) not to allow anyone to interfere.

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Speaking of interfering, Shirou goes after Rin, despite the fact he’s no longer a master and can do absolutely nothing except get in her way at this point. He finds her on a rooftop, where she tells him as much without mincing words. So much has happened, their date feels like ancient history. She leaps off the roof, knowing Archer will appear to catch her in midair, and before bounding off into the dense city lights, gives Shirou these parting words: “Stay out of this from now on, or you’re dead.”

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As much as Rin may be trying to cast (no pun intended) aside her emotions so she can focus on the pressing matter of winning the war, those words sound and feel just as much like Rin looking out for him than they are a threat. She can’t afford to have a Fuji-nee-like Achilles’ Heel, after all. But let’s get real: Shirou may be out of it now, but he obviously won’t be staying out of this. We’ll just have to wait three months to learn how he’ll claw his way back in. Three…long…months.

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Sword Art Online II – 19

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It took until just five episodes left in the damn show, but SAO II finally delivered something I’ve been yearning for since the second season was announced: an episode with Asuna as the focus, doing things. While part of me is content we got an episode like this at all, I’m pleased to report that it was a damned fine episode in its own right.

By now we’re well aware of the inner turmoil Kirito, Asuna, and the others carry with them, even though only Kirito has gotten that much screen time to explore it (as well as Sinon, whose turmoil came from the real world, not the game). What we haven’t seen is much of Asuna’s struggles with that turmoil, and just how cold and uncaring her family is to her situation.

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Asuna leaves her very cold bedroom to the huge, stodgy dining room where her mother scolds her for not being five minutes early for dinner. The dinner starts off relatively innocuous until Asuna realizes her mother is using this opportunity to tell her she plans to marry her to a countryside banker and move her to a better school so she can start college early.

This dynamic works because while Asuna’s mom is basically the villain here, she’s decidedly not evil, only cold and pragmatic: she didn’t come from money, but married into it, and she’s determined to make sure Asuna avails herself of the opportunities she’s been given in life.

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And that’s all well and good…if ignoring the fact that Asuna “one of those children who spent two years killing each other.” Her mom’s phrasing seems to be designed to underplay just how traumatizing the experience is, and shrug it off as an unfortunate inconvenience, but she can’t just wave away the emotional scars, nor the bond she formed with Kirito. Her mom’s checked into him as well (again, devaluing him by calling him a child), and forbids her to choose him as her mate.

When Asuna questions her judgment after subjecting her to the criminal Sugou as her first betrothed, her mom dismisses that as her father’s choice, not hers. Asuna is forced to retreat, but not before tossing that dig about her mom being ashamed of being from poorer parents.

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Asuna doesn’t want the path that’s been laid out for her; it’s a path laid out by parents who may on some level care about her happiness, but are forcing their own definition of happiness upon her, “for her own good.” It’s pretty tough love, and unlike Kirito, whose family situation is just peachy (aside from his sister briefly being in love with him), it’s made diving into ALO a kind of emergency release for Asuna. With the weight of the world and her parents’ expectations bearing down on her, ALO is where she has strength and agency.

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Yet even in the virtual world, Asuna admits she hasn’t done much and is worried the Lightning Flash Asuna of yore is gone, along with her innocence. Fighting Zekken — whom she’s surprised to find is a girl — is a way of validating whether she’s still “got it”, which in turn could give her more strength to face her problems in the real world.

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Zekken is a perfectly nice, polite young lady, but the surprise of her gender throws Asuna off at first – as does her ridiculous speed.

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Taking a step back and another deep breath, Asuna realigns her resolve, remembering why she’s there: not just to prove she’s still a power in ALO, but to blow off some steam. The difference in the two halves of the fight are like night and day; in the latter half, Asuna goes all out and is able to keep up…

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…Right up until Zekken turns it up and breaks out her overpowered, almost-cheating special skill. At this point, while Asuna’s resigned to losing, she’s not upset by her performance; it was a duel she can look back upon with satisfaction. Then, at the last second, Zekken holds back her blade and ends the fight. It turns out she wasn’t necessarily looking to win the duel either…only test her opponent. And Asuna passed.

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Before the duel, Kirito confided in Asuna that he thought something was fishy about Zekken, as if she were a “product of the full-dive environment.” I don’t understand that term any more than Asuna, but it is an unsubtle hint that there’s more to Zekken than just a duel-loving heavy user. The fact her player name is “Yuuki”, Asuna’s last name, is also telling.

Kirito’s suspicions are confirmed when Yuuki flies Asuna up into the sky to formally ask her to “please help [them],” meaning whatever Yuuki is, there’s more than one of her, and as powerful as she is, their duel impressed her enough to believe Asuna could be of help. And I’m sure that notion alone raised Asuna’s spirits considerably. This episode sure raised mine!

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Oreimo 2 – 09

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On the first day back at school, Kyousuke finds out Kuroneko has transferred to another school. She’s also moved out of her house and won’t answer her phone. That night, Kyousuke wakes Kirino and asks for advice. When Kirino sees how sad he is, she has to help, and they head to a hot spring town to look for Kuroneko. They find her by chance; she makes Kirino admit she never wanted him to have girlfriend, but she also says seeing how sad he was when Kuroneko left was even worse. Before Kyousuke can tell Kuroneko what he’s going to do, she passes out. When she comes to, she says her family’s only moving to Matsudo, which isn’t that far, so while Kyousuke won’t see her at school anymore, he’ll still be able to see her, as will Kirino.

Well…that was odd…and not what we were expecting at all. But it wasn’t bad, either. Things get pretty bad early in the episode, when we learn that not only did last week’s written break-up stand (begging the question how the two separated that night, which is never answered), but she seems to have fallen off the face of the earth. In the end, Kuroneko’s breakup and departure turned out to be a combination of family circumstances she couldn’t control (dad gets a new job, family moving to company housing) and part of a rather sinister plan to make Kirino tell her her true feelings, not accepting that she was fine with her dating Kyousuke. Still, the stunt she pulls on Kyousuke is cruel and awful, and we’d have trouble letting her off the hook completely. Of course, love can make one very forgiving.

For her plan to have worked, Kyousuke and Kirino had to run into Kuroneko just when they did, while she was on vacation, which has less to do with their determination to find her and bring her back, and less pure dumb luck. Then again, Kuroneko has always believed in destiny; she has a whole journal of her life drawn out, so we’ll forgive that. And the plan does work. Kirino finally tells her she wanted to be the most important person in Kyousuke’s life…but, but…not at the cost of his happiness. At first she was happy when Kuroneko dumped him, but that didn’t last, because it left Kyousuke a wreck (understandably). So now, with Kuroneko moving away, albeit not far, it’s logical to assume we’ll see less of her and perhaps less of her and Kyousuke. And that doesn’t make us happy at all. But hey, at least they’re still a couple…sorta…

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Stray Observations:

  • Anything worse than sending a text you really want answered, and it’s never responded to? This is why you don’t text for these kinds of things!
  • Kirino is actually pretty selfless and cool this week, doing everything she can to help Kyousuke, because he helped her so much. 
  • She even tells him its no good for Kyousuke not to date anyone until she dates someone, because that would make him unhappy as she’d be if he dated someone. Oroboros!
  • While it probably didn’t make sense to believe this, we’d always thought Ruri lived alone with her sisters. She didn’t mention a parent until last week, and we’ve yet to see either of them. 
  • More nice symmetry: Kyousuke climbing on Kirino in bed in the night to ask for advice, just like she did to him in the very first episode.