Assassins Pride – 09 – Wedding Crashers

The Shangarta mini-arc felt more over-stuffed and rushed than any previous Assassins Pride storyline, but it at least managed to bring Melida and Kufa still closer together and answer some questions about his and Rosetti’s past.

There’s a lot to get through here. It’s a dense episode. We start with Melida seeing Kufa in his half-lacanthrope, vampiric form. He immediately prepares to wipe all her memories of him, resetting their relationship to “nice to meet you” status.

To his credit, he lets Melida make the final choice to not wipe the memories, as she’ll gladly take his secret to her grave. Even if Kufa believes there’s no one in the world who would ever accept him, Melida is that someone, and is even able to kiss him without a hint of embarrassment him to prove it.

Kufa takes us back to when he was a child at the Pricket residence, and we learn Rosetti was his adoptive sister, and Blossom his adoptive dad. A giant spider-mage attacks the place and makes Kufa bite Rosetti, turning her into vampire kin.

He helps a man who has come to slay the spider, and swears his loyalty to him in exchange for letting Rosetti live a normal life as a human, which Kufa makes possible by wiping her memories.

Back in the present, Melida has a wedding to stop—the one between Rosetti and her betrothed. Melida snaps Rosetti out of her trance by bringing up the fact that the two of them still have a competition for Kufa’s heart—and Melida’s already kissed him…twice.

The Rosetti we know snaps out of it and spars with Melida. In the process, some of Melida’s magical flames graze Blossom, on whose head a tiny spider was lurking. It transforms into Naqua, the spider-baddie who forced Kufa to turn Rosetti years ago, and most recently forced Rosetti to commit the assaults.

Once Rosetti remembers all the awful stuff Naqua made her do, she chases him down, but he quickly overpowers her. That’s where Kufa comes in, activating Rosetti’s vamp side so they can fight together. They lure Naqua into a mystery spot, paralyzing him, and turn him into dust, which is then dealt with by the other students and instructors.

After the fight, Kufa, who must abide by the promise he made to his guild, suppresses Rosetti’s memories of him—going back to when they were brother and sister—once more. Like Melida, she pleads with him not to do it.

I know Kufa made a promise and his guild would probably kill him and Melida and Rosetti when they found out, but it’s still a raw deal for Rosetti. I mean, Kufa gets to walk around simply hiding his true nature but with all his memories intact…why not let Rosetti have those same rights?

Then, in a final scene with his adoptive father Blossom, Kufa gives him a potion that will restore his wife’s humanity, which begs the question: if such a potion exists, why didn’t Kufa use it on Rosetti? I guess; the wife hadn’t completely changed yet, while Rosetti had.

In any case, on the train back to Flandore, Rosetti is back to her usual self: jealous of Melida and having no memory of who Kufa really is, just a vague inkling that someone she was close to long ago is out there, somewhere, and she’s intent on becoming famous enough that he’ll seek her out.

Like I said…that was a lot of plot boxes to check off in short order, but rather than come away dizzy and confused, I found it to be a pretty satisfying episode. Kufa and Melida’s bond keeps growing deeper and deeper, while there was an obvious bittersweet-ness to how things turned out for Rosetti.

 

Assassins Pride – 08 – Heart of Darkness

Attacks on innocents increases, and they look a whole lot like vampire attacks, so with Kufa suddenly vanished and the blue aura a distinguishing feature of the culprit, it’s looking increasingly bad for Melida’s instructor. Rather than continue with her school’s training, she decides to sneak off and investigate matters for herself, notably leaving Elise behind.

Instructor Laqua predicted Melida’s actions and tags along, in part because Kufa told her to look after his charge if anything were to happen to him. Whether he’s responsible for the attacks or has gone dark in order to more effectively track down the true culprit, the bottom line is that he’s not around.

Melida and Laqua search the most forbidden of the “mystery spots” and learn there’s not strange phenomenon at all, just a secret dungeon where Marquis Pricket has been experimenting on townsfolk. The increased restrictions on movements were all to hide his dark operations.

Upon returning to town, Melida and Laqua find Rosetti killedapparently while protecting an injured Elise. When the Marquis himself is attacked, the townsfolk turn against Kufa and seek to use Melida as a hostage to snag him and no doubt exert mob justice.

Shenfa helps Melida escape, and suddenly she’s all on her own. She investigates another mystery spot that turns out to be the bad guy’s library and office. He sics a vampirized Rosetti at Melida, and that’s when Kufa finally shows his face to protect his student, begging Rosetti to snap out of it.

At this point it’s pretty clear Marquis Pricket is the baddie, and is trying to create his own army of lancanthrope-human hybrids. We’ll see if Melida and Kufa can foil his plans and save Rosetti from an awful fate. In any case, I imagine the fake-boyfriend angle has been shelved indefinitely!

Sarazanmai – 11 (Fin) – Just Like That

Sooo….yeah. True to form, Ikuni chooses not to go with the simple, straightforward finale, at least not in terms of presentation. A frikkin’ lot happens in these final twenty-odd minutes. It’s a torrent of ideas, metaphors, and processes; almost too much to take in all at once.

While it retained several elements of previous episodes, I still felt like I was back in that first episode, wondering what the hell was going on. But like that first episode, I also didn’t particularly care if I wasn’t quite absorbing everything Sarazanmai was confidently emitting.

At the end of the day, for all the window dressing and CONCEPTS, Kazuki and Enta’s odyssey into the darkness to rescue their friend was nothing more than that: They simply weren’t going to allow their connection to one another be severed—not by a Toi wracked by guilt and grief, not by the Otter egging Toi on, and not by Keppi’s dark half.

When they finally get to Toi, who is in the midst of erasing his memories and thus connections from them, the other two put their faith in the talisman that started their connection in the first place: the miçanga. As they plummet into the abyss watching their connections vanish one moment at a time, Toi himself cries for a stop to it all; for once he doesn’t want to give everything up for anyone. He wants to keep what he has: the friendship of Kazuki and Enta.

As Keppi and Dark Keppi battle and eventually fuse into a Full Keppi, the three friends in kappa form deliver the miçanga to a young Kazuki, shoring up the connection at its source and causing Mr. Otter to crumble away to dust, frustrated that he, an abstract concept, would be defeated.

NO YOU DON’T! STOP LYING!!!

A-Ahem…anyway, Once they’re all back in the normal world (whatever that means), Toi does the right thing and turns himself in, and is sent to juvie, from which he emerges three years later only to throw himself off a bridge. Fortunately, not only does the jump not kill him, but Kazuki and Enta jump in after him, having waited for him to get out all this time. They proceed to run around and have fun, together again at last.

Now that they, as the Kappa King put it, connected their desires through the pain of loss, they and only they can take the future in their hands. Does that mean the three will compete at the World Cup in Qatar? Probably not. But perhaps they no longer have any need for dishes of hope, transformation into kappas, or shirikodama extraction.

Sarazanmai – 10 – A Little Bit of Dishtory Repeating

Way back when, after the siege of Keppi’s castle, Otter saves Mabu’s live with a mechanical heart, but only if he makes a solemn promise. In the present, Reo reveals he’s a kappa too, once a vassal of Keppi’s along with Mabu. He shrink-wraps Keppi and demands the final dish of hope, but empathizes with Kazaki’s wish to save someone close to him, and so lets him tag along while he collects the other four dishes.

During the descent, Reo laughs at Kazuki’s earnest attempt to save his connection with Enta, and his jadedness is understandable; the Mabu they encounter is less his Mabu than ever; cold, distant, and in Reo’s words, nothing but a fake, half-baked doll. They descend further and find Dark Keppi, the half of Keppi created when he split his Shirikodama to escape capture by the Otters.

This otter demands the dishes, and also places Enta in “Enta’s World”, in which his desire—to be loved by Kazuki—is made real. But like Reo with the resurrected Mabu, it’s just not the same, and Enta escapes the fantasy. Reo has a key assist by shooting the head off the Otter and producing four of the five dishes needed, but just then Mabu jumps from a precipice and ends up transforming into a Zombie Kappa.

This means Reo has to be transformed by Keppi—like he and Mabu were in the old times—and go through the same (literal!) song and dance as Kazuki, Enta, and Toi. Even Miyano Mamoru’s casual singing voice is better than those of the other three, as he peers into Mabu’s Shirikodama and learns that in order to live and stay by Reo’s side, Mabu had to give up his connection with him.

That means when Mabu, who he only just freed from zombiehood, decides he can’t live on with that severed connection anymore. Pledging his everlasting love for Reo, his deal with Otter is broken, his mechanical heart stops, and he disappears. When the dust clears, Keppi creates a new fifth dish of hope (Kazuki broke one earlier) and Reo is beside himself with grief, unleashing it with his pistol in a destruction spree that ruins Asakusa’s bridges.

Then Reo forgets who Mabu ever was, and is then shot through the heart…by Toi, who has returned from the ferry. Kazuki thinks he’s changed his mind and come to rescue him and Enta, but Toi hesitates, wanting the five dishes to bring his brother back. Enta’s clock runs down to fifteen, ten, zero seconds…and Kazuki makes his  wish, even at gunpoint.

When Enta wakes up, Toi admits he probably would have saved Enta too…but now he’s as full of grief and rage and desire as Reo was before he shot him. That attracts Otter, who looks to bring him under his influence, using the spectre of his older brother to lure him in. Once Chikai appears, whispering in his ear, Toi lets go of Kazuki’s hand and walks into the darkness of his own volition.

With Kazuki, Enta, Haruka, Mabu and Reo’s stories largely complete, the final episode will seek to close the book on Toi, one way or another, who has only had to live in a world without his brother for a few hours (maybe less), and is thus all too easily manipulated by Otter. We’ll see how Keppi and the Golden Duo fare against that negative influence, and maybe get back to being three normal soccer-loving kids.

Fruits Basket – 04 – Boarish Manners

That meek, soft-spoken girl at the door who wants to see Ryou? Uh, she’s not so meek once she sees him for the first time in four months. She delivers upon him a beatdown the likes of which we’d yet to see if this series, far beyond his sparring with Yuki. Turns out that’s just how Souma Kagura expresses her affection…with extreme prejudice. Her two-sided personality is voiced by the supremely talented Kugimiya Rie.

Kyou’s two years older, self-professed fiancee (based on a promise he made at knife-point when they were kids), Kagura demands to know where she stands, and doesn’t like how there’s another woman living in his house, albeit one who can’t hug him without making him turn into a cat. Since they’re both Soumas and Zodiac animals, she can hug him freely.

Kagura is clearly much stronger than Kyou, and so basically rolls himself into a ball and endures her savage beatings, but he dares to silence her when she starts mentioning his “true form” to Tooru. As someone who hasn’t yet found her first love, Tooru can’t help but feel a little jealous that Kagura loves someone as deeply as she does.

Repairing the substantial damage to Shigure’s house takes up much of the day (especially with Shigure and Yuki pointedly not helping), and before long, Kyou’s stomach starts to grumble. Tooru offers to start dinner, as is routine, but Kagura stops her in her tracks. Tonight, she’ll be the one to feed her beloved Kyou. The resulting feast reduces the food supply in the fridge to nothing, but as seems to be Kagura’s M.O., she got a little carried away.

As good as the food looked, part of me expected it to taste vile or some such, but nobody even gets to eat any of it, as Kyou snaps at Kagura when she says it’s ready, and she responds by driving him through the floor and onto the feast, ruining it all. With no other food to cook, Kagura heads out to the grocery store in a huff.

It isn’t until she’s at the checkout that she realizes she left her purse at home, but Tooru bails her out by paying for her, and the two women walk home together. When asked, Tooru specifies her “love” the sign of the Cat more than overt romantic love for Kyou himself, and is “humbled” by the extent of Kagura’s love.

Here we have another example of Tooru not judging someone as volatile as Kagura, but rather believing in her and her long-standing love for Kyou. Kagura in turn thanks Tooru for coming for her, and the two make hamburger steaks together. This time, when everything is ready, Tooru climbs up to the roof to tell Kyou.

Up there, she tells him how lucky he is that someone cares for him and worries about him so much—not surprising, coming from someone who was loved by her parents, but lost them far too soon.

She also brings up peoples’ dreams, whether Kagura’s dream of marriage to someone she can truly embrace, to Kyou’s love of martial arts. Tooru sees another side of Kyou as he lights up talking about martial arts. It’s clearly not just about beating Yuki, but becoming better and better at it.

When Tooru gets Kyou to come down to eat, Kagura presents him with a hamburger steak a little different from the others: his has a fried egg on top, like the fried egg he was drawing in the sand when they first met, which was when Kagura basically fell for him. Kyou tastes his dinner and through his sheepish silence expresses his approval and thanks.

The next morning, Kagura has to leave, and bids Kyou farewell with a big hug, followed by one last beatdown. Kyou says some unkind words, and Kagura responds by punching through the front door…and straight into the chest of the paperboy.

Yuki manages to distract the civilian, but Tooru finally learns that Kagura is the sign of the Boar—very appropriate considering her propensity for charging headlong towards her goals. When Tooru compliments her as the cutest boar anyone could ever ask for, she transforms back into a woman—a naked woman, on Kyou’s back.

That brings us to a cliffhanger that threatens the relative peace of the last four episodes, as well as the status as Tooru’s new home and life. She gets a call from her grandfather, and the contents of the message are enough of a shock for her to drop the gardening books she checked out. Is Tooru doomed to lose everything once more, after an all-too-brief taste of happiness?

Fruits Basket – 03 – The Different Shapes of Kindness

Yuki, Tooru and Kyou’s class decides to do an onigiri stand, and we see again the dynamic between Prince Yuki fangirls and Tooru’s delinquent friends, as well as the fact the class has warmed to Kyou despite—or possibly partly due to—his hot temperament. Oh, and because cute cats flock to him!

Still, when they criticize his idea and accept Yuki’s, he storms off to skulk on the roof. Kyou opens up about his long-held resentment of his “golden boy” cousin, who was always respected and trusted more than him, and excelled at everything he did better and faster than Kyou. He admits if he could be like Yuki, he would be.

That sentiment proves vital to Tooru as she attempts to figure out why these two hate each other so much. She gathers more intelligence when Kyou becomes the life of the party when the class plays cards, while Yuki is off rejecting the umpteenth girl to ask him out. She tells him he’s nice, but closed off to people, and that everyone says a “normal girl” isn’t worthy of him.

It doesn’t sound like a compliment to him, and it puts him in a sour mood when he ends up in Kyou’s presence. The two go at it verbally until Yuki loses his cool and kicks Kyou across the room. All Tooru knows is that this is about more than the fact they’re rat and cat; and probably quite a bit about Kyou waning badly to become the thirteenth member of the Zodiac.

In what feels like a non sequitur of a mini-scene, Tooru falls down the steps at work after her shift is over and encounters a strange blonde who speaks German to her and kisses her before Tooru runs outside. Obviously, we’ll see more of this person in the near future, but all I could do for now was chuckle at Tooru’s extremely flusteredness around someone seemingly not from Japan.

When Yuki arrives to walk her home, Tooru tells him he and Kyou are both so kind, and Yuki flashes a sad smile and turns to walk. Tooru stops him to say he can tell her anything that’s troubling him and she’ll listen and try to help. She’s so passionate about this point she doesn’t notice the drunk salaryman who shoves her into Yuki, transforming him into a rat.

While walking with Rat-Yuki, he tells her his deal with Kyou, which is basically that once the ice is broken it’s easy for him to fit into a group of people, who flock to him just like cats do once they learn the rough edges are only skin deep. Thus Tooru learns that Kyou and Yuki resent each other because they’re both jealous of the ways they’re not like the other. Tooru tells him how kind he is and how that draws people to him too, but Yuki dismisses his kindness as merely self-serving; phony.

When a typhoon suddenly hits, Tooru assists Yuki in protecting his secret base—a vegetable garden—from the harsh weather. Tooru tells him what his mom told her to be, which is a believer and not a doubter in people. When everyone is born they have nothing but desires, but gradually develop their own unique “shape” of kindness; their hearts growing with their bodies and minds. To her, Yuki’s kindness is like a warm, bright candle.

Yuki apologizes for bringing this stuff up, but she assures him she’s glad he did, because it means he trusts her enough to share his problems, and that they’re becoming closer as friends. Yuki promises to try harder to interact naturally with people at school, even if it’s intimidating, because that’s what he wants.

After a night protecting the vegetables, Tooru decides to use some as she spends the rest of the morning experimenting with onigiri in the kitchen. Kyou wakes up before Yuki, but since he’s cat-based he hates the chive filling, and would prefer something meatier. He makes some of his own, showing Tooru that he’s actually a natural at forming onigiri, though he doesn’t think it’s so great.

Tooru disagrees. In fact, she decides to create another metaphor to describe both Kyou and Yuki’s issue, which is not so rare: if a person is a rice ball and the plum is what’s great about them, they have “plums on their backs,” meaning they can’t see them. But people are drawn to both of them, just as all people are drawn to their friends, because they can see those plums. Hence, both he and Yuki are great.

With that, Yuki arrives on cue and force-feeds Kyou a chive onigiri to show him that one politely eats something someone has made for you, even if you don’t like it. Then a knock comes at the door, and Tooru finds a shy young woman outside, asking about Kyou. Could this be an admirer of his, or another member of the Souma clan? Whoever she is, it seems pretty clear she can see his plum!

Tooru could come of to some as overly preachy and poetic this week, but she’s so goshdarn cute and sincere it’s hard to fault her. She had such a good Mama, and duitifully honors her memory by being the best possible person she can be, while sharing the lessons she learned from  her.

For all the loss, grief, and pain she endured, Tooru remains a staunch believer in people, as well as in her ability to help those people. If Kyou and Yuki can’t find each other’s good aspects or make any kind of peace with each other on their own, then she’ll lend them a hand.

Fruits Basket – 02 – Sodium in Water

When Kyou, Yuki and Shigure all transform into animals, Tooru panics, right up until the dog signs for a package with his seal, and they start talking with human speech. Turns out each member of the Souma clan is possessed by an animal of the Zodiac, and when hugged by the opposite sex, they transform into those animals for a time, eventually changing back to (buck naked) humans.

To call Yuki and Kyou like oil and water would be inaccurate: oil kinda just sits on top of water. Yuki’s more like sodium and Kyou water; it always ends up with an unpleasantly violent explosion. Once’s everyone’s dressed they go at it again, and Kyou breaks a table in his rage, accidentally injuring Tooru’s forehead. Yuki has had enough, and decides to show why sparring with Kyou is never fun for him: he always wins handily.

At school, suspicions from Yuki’s fan club persist, but he doesn’t pay them any mind, and meets with Tooru in an empty classroom, asking if she told anyone about “them.” Tooru takes this to mean the Souma family secret of animal transformation, but it could just as easily be asking if Tooru told her friends she was now friends with Yuki and living in his house.

Regardless, Yuki informs Tooru that Shigure has to report to the Souma family head, Akito, who will determine what if anything is to be done about Tooru knowing, up to and including memory-suppressing hypnosis. Tooru accidentally bumps into him, turning him into a rat, but once the shock of that is over, Tooru expresses her wish that even if her memories do have to be altered, she’d like to still be friends with Yuki afterwards.

Back home, Kyou is making preliminary repairs on Tooru’s ceiling, and is about to offer some kind of apology when Shigure returns home with good news: as long as Tooru keeps their secret, she’s free to live there without any memory modification. Tooru celebrates by putting her well-honed cleaning and cooking skills to use. That night, she learns Shigure has arranged for Kyou to transfer to Yuki and Tooru’s school.

The reason for this is because he essentially dropped out of the school he was attending to train his body and mind to defeat Yuki, and he could use a fresh start to learn more about interacting with people in ways other than confrontation and combat. True to his Zodiac sign, this is better said than done.

He causes an instant sensation at school, as the girls flock to his desk to chat with him. Not used to so much attention, he tries to get away, but one of the girls clings to him, and he puts her in a painful arm lock before jumping out a high window (and landing on his feet, natch). In other words, not a good start!

Outside, Yuki tracks Kyou down and scolds him, and their two diametrically opposed goals are made plain: Kyou wants to work to become a full-fledged member of the Souma clan, something Yuki considers a cage he’d rather escape.

The fight gets heated, and Tooru intervenes, resulting in Kyou transforming into a cat. The enraged Kyou snaps at Tooru once more, and she slinks away, believing Kyou truly hates him. Yuki doesn’t even bother punching him.

Back home, Shigure tells Kyou it’s simply not going to be easy, but he has to keep going to school, and consider it training. That means hurting, being hurt, and developing empathy that informs his future words and actions, not just going with his impulses.

As Tooru walks home from work later that night, she remembers her vow to her mom to cease being a Dog and become a Cat in solidarity for the way the Cat was treated in the Zodiac legend, but now that she’s met the Cat, he seems to hate her. Of course, that’s not strictly true; Kyou simply isn’t sure how to act around Tooru yet, and takes Yuki’s place as her escort home as an olive branch.

He snaps at her again once or twice, but takes the advice from Shigure—not every strike, verbal or physical, needs to be carried through. He can stop short; hold his tongue or fist; consider a less extreme response. He tells her she can call his name even if she doesn’t need anything, can hang around where he can see her, and she’s welcome to hit him if she says or does something she doesn’t like. It’s his way of apologizing, and it lifts Tooru’s spirits considerably. She tells Kyou about her love of the Cat, and her desire to be friends with its vessel.

Kyou reacts somewhat like a tsundere would, and Tooru feels she finally understands Kyou has a gentle heart under the rough exterior. Having thus made peace with Cat and having official permission from the family head to live with Yuki and Shigure, Tooru is looking forward to fun-filled days ahead. Here’s hoping she gets them; she’s already experienced enough of the other kind.

Fruits Basket (2019) – 01 (First Impressions) – Anywhere Can Be Home

Honda Tooru’s backstory is almost comically tragic: her father died of an illness when she was three, and one day her mother was killed in an auto accident. The only relative who’d bring her in was her pensioner grandfather, for whom she didn’t want to be a burden.

Then his house needed months of renovations, so he told her it might be best if she moved into a friend’s house…only she felt too bad about staying at her one friend’s tiny apartment or to be another mouth to feed at her other’s. So she started living in a tent she bought on sale.

Unbeknownst to her, this tent is on private property belonging to the Souma family, one member of which, Yuki, is in her class. When they cross paths while she’s exploring her tent’s surroundings, she meets Yuki’s older cousin, Shigure.

When Yuki and Tooru walk to school together, his fan club, “Prince Yuki” aren’t having it, and give her a multi-pronged verbal attack. She’s saved by her yankee BFFs, Uotani and Hanajima, who you’ll remember, are not aware that their lovely friend is essentially homeless. But they have her back. In exchange, she helps them ace Home Ec by doing all the cooking, which she’s of course happy to do.

After school, Yuki walks with Tooru and they discuss the Zodiac (a subject first broached when she saw Shigure’s Zodiac knickknacks). In particular, Tooru voices her love of the Cat, even though it has no official place in the Chinese Zodiac. Tooru declares the Cat an “idiot” and that the math was never there for it to begin with. Before Tooru rushes off to work, Yuki tells her to look out for her health—no doubt sensing how thin she’s stretched.

After Tooru gives her appalling sad life story so far, through which she’s remained strong, upbeat, and committed to taking care of herself and burdening no one, we see her working so hard at her job that her older co-workers consider her a godsend.

Later that night, as she’s walking (or more accurately teetering) “home”—to her tent—she’s spotted by Yuki and Shigure, on a stroll of their own. That’s when she first learns she’s squatting on Souma land. Shigure can’t help but laugh at the absurdity of a high school girl living in a tent…but as Yuki says, it’s not that funny. And it isn’t! It’s heartbreaking!

It’s doubly heartbreaking because no one, not even someone as strong-willed and determined as Tooru, can go to school, keep up with her studies, and work as many jobs as she can to pay for that school, all while living in a tent. When Shigure hears a wolf howling, that indicates to him that there was a landslide nearby; possibly near her campsite.

They rush there to find her tent buried under a huge mound of earth, but because the photo of her mother is in there, she starts clawing at it, despite the fact she’s already running on fumes and about to keel over from fever and exhaustion. Shigure makes sure she’s in bed at their place while Yuki employs thousands of rats to help him dig out Tooru’s effects.

Wait…thousands of rats? What’s that about???

Before falling asleep, Tooru tells Shigure about how her mom only had a middle school diploma, and wanted her daughter to experience high school life rather than go right into the labor force. Tooru also recalls the last morning her mother was alive. She’s haunted by the fact she was studying all night and so slept in and didn’t get to say “itterasshai.” 

It was the one and only time she never said it, and that was the day she was killed in the accident. Like I said, Tooru’s story would be ridiculous if it weren’t presented to straight-forwardly and soberly. Once she’s out, Yuki admits that compared to her, he’s spoiled beyond belief.

After a dream of her mom that has her waking up with tears in her eyes, her first thought is to recover the picture, only to find Yuki outside, picture in one hand, and her other stuff in the other. He says there’s an extra bedroom on the second floor, and she’s welcome to stay there until the renovations at her grandfather’s are complete.

True to form, Tooru doesn’t want to be any trouble to them…but she isn’t. Besides, he and Shigure were just talking about how their household is in dire need of someone who is good at cooking and cleaning; Tooru likes doing those things—she even cooked for her mom! So it’s not like she’s going to be a freeloader.

All she has to do, Yuki says, is be Tooru and “go at her own pace.” That moves Tooru, because her mom said those same words to her.

It doesn’t take long for Tooru to learn that she’s not going to be the main source of trouble here, nor a source of strangeness. There’s plenty of that in the Souma family, as while they’re airing out her new room, a guy named Kyou who was lurking in a tree bursts through the ceiling and picks a fight with Yuki.

In the ensuing chaos, Tooru trips on a piece of wood and lands in Kyou’s chest in a kind of pseudo-hug. Kyou instantly transforms…into a cat. Her first thought is to rush him to a hospital, but a piece of wood falls on her head, and she falls into both Shigure and Yuki, transforming them into a dog and rat, respectively.

So there you have it; the secrets out: the Soumas are a family of animals representing the Chinese Zodiac, who normally have human form, but transform when hugged. Shigure understanding the wolves’ howling; Yuki’s inherent hatred of cats, it’s all explained. But more importantly, Tooru is no longer on her own.

There are people—strange, supernatural people, but people all the same—who have opened their home to her, and won’t hear of her roughing it any longer as she works herself into another fever. And while neither Yuki or Shigure represent a pig, their place is a mess, which is where Tooru’s skills come in. It’s a mutually beneficial situation.

I’m happy for Tooru, and can’t wait to see how her new housemates handle her discovering their secret. I may have gotten into this show nine weeks late, but it’s right up my alley, with a winning premise reminding me a lot of Kamisama Hajimemashita. Of course, that show is based on a manga first published seven years after the original anime adaptation of this show, so this has the older pedigree.

In any case, there’s a lot of warmth, moving drama, lighthearted comedy, and plenty of potential for romance here, and I’m looking forward to catching up with the rest of the anime-watching masses on what looks like one of the Spring’s consensus best.

Attack on Titan – 52 – Hoover Hardens his Heart

On the eve of the present battle, Bertholdt and Reiner recall the Battle of Trost when Marco Bott overheard them talking about Titans and their mission, simply by chance. They tell him they were just joking, but know Marco is sharper than that.

Annie soon joins them as they restrain him, and Reiner decides to remove his ODM gear. Shortly afterward he’s found and eaten by a Titan as the three watch in horror and remorse. Their secret was safe for a little longer, in exchange for their friend and comrade dying horribly.

Back in the present, while having coffee with War Chief Zeke (the Beast Titan) and discussing Annie’s capture, Zeke questions their commitment, but they resolve to end this with him tomorrow. At dawn, Bert and Reiner go to their separate positions, with the latter chiding the former for being so timid when he’s perhaps the most powerful Titan of them all.

Reiner encourages Bert to think for himself and not just wait for others to give him a signal to act. That’s all well and good if you’re the Armored Titan, but it’s a little different when your Titan is so big his transformation is basically a nuclear bomb.

Back to the latest point of the battle up to now, with half of Reiner’s head blown off, his Titan still manages to call out, which is the signal Bertholdt, hiding in a barrel, was waiting for. The Beast Titan tosses the barrel into the town. Irwin, Hange, Levi, Armin, and everyone else watch as it sails over them, and Armin realizes it’s Bertholdt is in there and they’ve got to get away.

But just when he seems ready to transform, which would be game over for everyone in the town, Bert spots the KO’d Reiner and hesitates. He fires up his ODM instead and rushes to Reiner’s side, where he learns Reiner transferred his consciousness to his nervous system as a last resort. Bert asks Reiner to flip himself over to protect his exposed nape when Bert transforms.

While Armin wasn’t able to negotiate with Reiner, he wants to at least try with Bertholdt, probably assuming the more timid of the two will be more willing to listen. But while Eren’s been mastering physical Titan hardening, Bert has been busy becoming mentally tougher, and meeting with Armin is the last bit of proof he needs to confirm that he’s finally ready to take the next step.

Bertholdt has no ill will towards Armin or his other former comrades; indeed, he regards them as “precious”. But they also have to die, because that’s what needs to happen. That’s the plan of all Titans, and those they serve. That it’s unfortunate doesn’t change the fact it’s inevitable truth that not even Bertholdt can avoid any longer.

Mikasa tries to take him out of the equation all together with a sneak attack, while Armin mentions Annie to try to throw him off emotionally, but Bertholdt shows he can and will deal with all psychological comers, and that he can live with whatever the result of this battle.

With that, Bert transforms, unleashing the nuclear-esque explosion virtually right on top of Hange Squad, while Levi and Armin’s squads just barely get to a safe distance. But no distance is safe once the transformed Colossal Titan starts scooping up flaming bits of town and launching them into the air, creating a kind of meteor shower for all surviving scouts to contend with.

Armin freezes up a bit, as the original plan to retreat back to Irwin and fight the Colossal in a battle of attrition will no longer work; not when Bert can put a wall of flame between Irwin’s forces and the Beast Titan. Armin’s only choice is to fight and defeat the Colossal Titan there and then, with only the forces he has. Needless to say, it will be a colossal undertaking, and they’re colossal underdogs.

Sarazanmai – 05 – A Nostalgic Scent

Not long after Haruka was born, Kazuki gleaned from his grandfather’s dying words that his mother wasn’t his biological mother, and ever since felt disconnected from the family as a non-member, despite all the love they gave him.

It’s not so much that he hated his brother, as he said last week, but he hated the whole situation of him and his brother not actually being related by blood. Why it matters so much to him that they are connected by blood, but there it is.

In the present, Toi captures Sara’s manager and escorts her away from her fan meet-up event, but finds she’s not quite human, and thus capable of transforming into a little critter who can squeeze out of any confinement.

Kazuki fares rather well as Sara’s double, at least where Haruka’s concerned, but things go pear-shaped fast when both the manager and the real Sara arrive in the hall and the former removes Kazuki’s wig. And that’s it: his secret is out. Now Haruka knows all those texts were just from him.

As all this is going on, the Otter Cop Duo wrings the desire from a man obsessed with sachets of a very specific smell, creating a new Kappa Zombie boss.

The three kappaboys do their song-and-dance, but when the Sarazanmai comes, and Kazuki’s memory of finally reuniting with his true mother in secret, the smell of her sachet he remembers is the same as the sachet Haruka always carries.

Whatever that means, the three kappaboys are ripped out of the tunnel of water, their work to extract the shirikodama still incomplete.

Keppi is so mad he can boil tea on his belly, and asserts to the boys that they won’t get their human forms back or get a dish of hope until they defeat the Sachet Zombie. Kazuki shares more about his meeting with his mother with Toi and Enta, culminating in him deciding to stay with Haruka and his non-biological parents.

Even so, before he returns to them, Haruka runs (that’s right runs on his functioning legs) to beg Kazuki to come back, fearing he’s going away. Kazuki spurns him rather harshly and walks off, but Haruka follows him…and gets hit by a car.

Now, every time Kazuki sees Haruka in his wheelchair, he’s reminded of what he did to him, and simply can’t bear it, which is why he adopted the Sara clone routine to make a faux connection with him from a safe distance. But odds are Haruka already forgave Kazuki a long time ago, and couldn’t care less if they have different mothers.

Sarazanmai – 04 – Only The Bad Ones Survive

That’s the mantra a younger Kuji Toi learns from his older brother Chikai at a seminal moment in his life, along with the lesson that those who can’t survive can only perish and be forgotten. It’s when Toi is thinking about these things that Enta calls him to meet. Enta wants him to give his Dish of Hope to Kazuki…again for Haruka’s sake.

We learn along with Enta that Toi’s relatives run a soba shop that used to be run by his and Chikai’s parents before they ran into debt and committed suicide. It’s from those shadows that Toi finds himself in the position to give someone some light: in Kazuki’s case that means kidnapping the real Sara Haruka is poised to meet so he’ll meet Kazuki instead, preserving his secret identity.

Kazuki is so dedicated to his Sara persona, Toi can’t help but blush when he watches him eat soba, even though he sucks at eating soba! Watching Kazuki work to protect his weaker brother dredges up more memories for Toi, even to when he and his brother were not on the best of terms.

Chikai joined a gang to make money, cursed their folks for offing themselves, and spitting on Toi’s quaint sentimentality. But he also takes care of Toi, even if Toi doesn’t think what he’s doing is good or right. He produced enough cash to prevent the soba shop from leaving the family, and put their relatives to work running it. It was as if Chikai was sacrificing his goodness for Toi’s sake.

Kazuki’s crazy Sara-kidnapping plan is sidelined by a Zombie Kappa alert, also soba-themed. Specifically, Sobatani, a soba shop owner who was charged with stealing bathwater from a female regular. The Flying Object of the Week is soba and soba dishes, drawn by the Zombie Kappa’s insatiable desire.

Since some of the soba he draws in comes from Toi’s relatives’ place he has a personal stake in defeating the Zombie Kappa, and so takes the lead, demanding Keppi transform him, then uncovering the truth after their song and dance: Sobatani wanted to make soba out of the bathwater. Weird!

With Sobatani’s secret out and Shirikodama extracted, Sarazanmai occurs, and Kazuki and Enta watch along with Toi as the missing pieces of his tragic flashback fall into place. When Toi learned that both his and Chikai’s lives were in danger after stealing the money to buy the soba shop, he takes the handgun he finds in a drawer and shoots Chikai’s gang senpai.

Chikai arrives on the scene, and puts too more bullets in the man, claiming he was the killer, not Toi. Even when Toi sought to share some of the burden of badness in order to survive, Chikai was there to cover for him; to, in a way, save his soul. If only the two of them knew the truth, no one in the world would ever suspect the little brother of murder.

But Toi still concedes he killed someone, his brother’s save aside. He claims not to be too haunted by it—it was a necessity to ensure both his and Chikai’s survival, in keeping with his bro’s mantra. But it’s still his secret, and he threatens Enta and Kazuki with deadly retribution if they ever spill the beans about what they’ve learned.

Having gained new insight into Toi’s upbringing and motivations, Kazuki decides to offer up his Dish of Hope to him, believing he’s more deserving of it than he. ‘But what about Haruka’, Enta protests? Well, for Kazuki, that’s why Toi is more deserving: Kazuki claims to hate Haruka.

Does he mean Kazuki finds looking out for him and doing these things for him a burden? A mere excuse to indulge his own desires? Or would he never kill, even for Haruka’s sake? It’s a declaration that seems to come out of left field, but I’m sure there’s more context to come.

Sarazanmai – 03 – The Golden Duo

Kazuki wakes up, but is too out of it to notice that Enta was just kissing him. Enta is direct with the audience: he’s in love with Kazuki. He has been for a long time, ever since they were the unstoppable “Golden Duo” in soccer, complete with a signature pose. Enta has to contend with a lot of kissing the next day, as his big sister Otone is going on a fishing trip with her boyfriend.

The episode plays with the fact that kisu is not just how you say “kiss,” but the Japanese name for Sillago japonica, or Japanese whiting. The city idol declares it’s kisu day, and in lieu of someone to kiss (that he knows of), Kazuki tries in vain to go to a fishmonger for a “kisu selfie” for Haruka.

While playing cards with Haruka (who “Sara” texts to apologize for the selfie being late), Enta learns that Kazuki isn’t laughing around his little brother either ever since quitting soccer. Enta wants to use the wish from the next dish of hope to reunite the Golden Duo.

Enta even fantasizes about Kazuki coming around on his own and letting him tie the miçanga to his ankle – the symbol of their soccer brotherhood as well as a token of affection. But no—it’s just Otone, who runs off with the anklet for her date.

As Enta defends the spot by the river where he and Kazuki used to practice by getting into a fight with two other players, the two “Otter” cops create another Kappa Zombie, this one from Otone’s kisu-loving boyfriend. His head takes the form of a kisu, but he’s a Don Juan who has many women and many kisses, obsessed with quantity over quality.

Enta fantasizes again that Kazuki comes to rescue him, but it’s just Kuji, who doesn’t get why Enta got in a fight he had no chance of winning. Enta is committed to protecting the Golden Duo’s practice spot…in the off-chance Kazuki comes back to him.

The Kappa Zombie alert is then sounded (with Sara doing a wonderful homage to Castle in the Sky), and rather than cats last week the sky is full of brides, all of them drawn to the zombie, who turns them to kisu with a kiss. The three lads are transformed by Keppi, do their attack song and dance, and extract the zombie’s shirikodama.

All three parts of the ensuing sarazanmai are related to Enta’s long-standing secret crush on Kazuki. We see Enta smelling Kazuki’s clothes, playing his recorder (for an indirect kiss), and finally his more recent kiss with a sleeping Sara!Kazuki.

The zombie thus vanquished and its desire assimilated, Otone and all the other women wake up and completely forget Mr. Kisu…as if he had never existed. He even disappears from photos, Back to the Future-style! Enta confesses his love to Kazuki and just when they seem poised to kiss, it’s only another fantasy; “Kazuki” is just Keppi.

Thanks to Kazuki’s obliviousness and Kuji’s lack of really caring, Enta’s secret seems to be secure—or at least emotionally tabled—for now. The next time he’s with Haruka (who we see in a wheelchair for the first time), Enta declares he’s going to “give up” on trying to win Kazuki over.

Part of that is that he saw a random mouse making off with the miçanga meant for Kazuki as a sign that it’s not to be. But then Haruka produces Kazuki’s original miçanga, saved from the trash, and asks Enta to keep trying to get Kazuki back into soccer.

Meanwhile, the Otter Cops are scolded by their boss, who is “otterly” furious at their lack of progress due to kappa-related interference (I hope he’s just a giant talking otter, for the record). With his frustration in mind, I wonder how much longer the kappa zombie fights will remain as easy as they’ve been.

Sarazanmai – 02 – Let Slip the Cats of War

As a reward for defeating their first kappa zombie, Keppi bestows upon the boys a silver “Dish of Hope” they can use to wish for anything. Enta snatches it and accidentally wishes for a hatchback-sized cucumber roll, shattering the dish and leaving the three with no reward (unless they’re going to eat that roll…which is on the ground).

Kazuki is eager to earn another dish that he can use not to fulfill his own wish, but that of his little brother Haruka. We learn that he is the “Harukappa” to whom Kazuki is sending selfies of himself-as-Azuma Sara. Kazuki’s only wish is that Haruka is happy, and a dish can only help that cause.

Meanwhile, Kuji Toi is up to more criminal mischief on behalf of his older brother, while Enta receives a Kappazon package meant for Toi—containing a handgun of all things—strengthening Enta’s belief he’s Bad News

When Nyantaro, the fat, awesome neighborhood cat Haruka adores, sneaks into Toi’s weed-growing lab and steels a shipment hidden in cat treats, another ludicrous chase ensues. Kazuki (dressed as Sara again) stops Toi when he threatens Nyantaro with his metal ruler, and refuses to get out of his way or stop following him.

The chase leads them to a couples-only theme park, an employee of which dresses the two up in bee costumes and insists they hold hands the entire time they’re in the park. Kazuki and Toi hold hands and chase Nyantaro on ride after ride, but can’t manage to close the distance, since we’re talking about a neighborhood cat here: if he doesn’t want to be caught, it’s not happening.

We learn a little more about the two bishounen cops from the end of last week, who appear to do an elaborate song and dance of their own to extract desire and create a new cat-based kappa zombie boss.

It’s apparent these two and Keppi’s three young helpers are working at cross purposes, but the cops’ specific motivations, beyond their commitment to “wring out the desire”, remain mysterious.

Not soon after their “performance”, thousands of cats start to float up into the sky, including Nyantaro, and Enta and Keppi (disguised as his date) meet up with Kazuki and Toi to discuss the situation. Enta warns Kazuki to stay away from the kid he’s currently holding hands with, but in order to get his little brother’s favorite cat back, he needs Toi’s help.

Events from there follow a pattern now familiar after the first go-around last week (in what I like to call the Ikuhara Formula): Keppi turns the three lads into kappa, they attack the zombie boss (this time a giant cat), and when they determine its secret (he kidnapped cats and shaved them to give himself a coat of fur so his girlfriend would take him back! Of COURSE!!), they  break through and extract its shirikodama.

Once that’s done, the guys go through the titular sarazanmai, during which it’s revealed that Nyantaro was owned by another family before Kazuki stole it so Haruka could have a cat (even if it was only a neighborhood cat). He defends what he did because he did it for his brother’s sake; his happiness trumping all other considerations.

With the second boss defeated, the lads receive another silver dish of hope, and Kazuki and Toi immediately argue over it, with Toi even brandishing his gun. Since both have brothers they want to make happy, and Keppi informs them they’ll need five to grant a real wish, Toi cedes the dish to Kazuki, but he’s getting the next one.

That night, Kazuki finally completes his mission to take a Sara selfie with a cat (specifically the rescued Nyantaro), to Haruka’s delight. Exhausted from the day of activity, he passes out right there in the park, where he’s approached by none other than Enta…who promptly kisses him! Looks like he’s got a secret too—one that re-contextualizes why he was so concerned with Kazuki hanging around Toi.

The two cops also now realize somebody is out there working against them. It’s likely only a matter of time before the two opposing groups clash. In the meantime, on with the hope-dish collecting!

After two episodes, I now have a better grasp of the beats and rhythms of a show that definitely dances to the beat of its own drum. With less head-scratching to do I could concentrate better on all the little details that contribute to making Sarazanmai such a fun and exciting little show that’s unafraid to challenge contemporary “norms”of gender and sexuality.