In the Heart of Kunoichi Tsubaki – 01 (First Impressions) – The Art of Perturbability

What if Takagi-san had a kunoichi ancestor…and instead of sitting next to the boy she likes in class, the ancestor lives in an all-female village where girls are raised to fear and avoid men? Even though said men are just on the other side of the mountain…and the ancestor really wants to meet one?

That’s In the Heart of Kunoichi Tsubaki in a nutshell. The titular Tsubaki is the best kunoichi student in her village, but she’s also growing up and starting to think about boys, even though she’s never met or even seen one. But hey, sometimes it’s the unknown that drives us.

Most if not all of the other girls harbor a similar curiosity, but mixed with a hatred and prejudice for the gender, often to the tune of repeating the same jokes about them (they’re monkeys, their crotches are weak, they stink). Two of her own kohai, Sazanka and Ahegao, even go off on their own to try to meet and then beat up the men when reports come in that they’re nearby.

Tsubaki striking out into the night to bring the two younger girls home provides much of the episode’s action, and the chase is beautifully storyboarded, directed, and animated. These wee ninja are quick as darts and twice as sharp. They can also breath fire and change their forms, you get the feeling any men out there would be at a disadvantage.

Tsubaki very nearly lets her own curiosity about men (which again, is different and less hostile than that of the other girls) lead to contact with the men, as she concedes that no harm can come from simply watching them from afar.

However, when one of those men appears behind them, Tsubaki freaks out and they escape. The tiny Sazanka wanted to fight them (she wants to fight everyone), but Tsubaki had more than enough unknown for the night, having walked right up to the edge only to retreat in the end.

Whether the near-encounter with a man was real or just Tsubaki’s dream, what becomes clear that morning is that the Akane clan’s village is a lot like Takagi-san’s school (again, if it were all women), with a colorful array of characters at different stages of adolescence.

The Takagi-san style art with larger heads can make it hard to nail down how old everyone’s supposed to be, but judging by the character designs of both elementary and middle school students in Takagi, it’s a similar mix here, with some girls making more kiddy jokes like boys are some kind of beast, while others closer to Tsubaki in age seeming to share a more complex curiosity about them.

One thing is certain: Tsubaki’s recent preoccupation with men is distracting her from her training, both in class and out in on the grounds. Asagao Sazanka soon puts two and two together and notices her big sis seems to get flustered when she hears the word man. This is unfortunate development as a lot of people say “man” a lot in this episode.

Sazanka thus issues a challenge to Tsubaki: if she can use her flame jutsu to evaporate a large puddle of water while she whispers “man” in her ear, it will prove to her that Tsubaki isn’t afraid of men. Tsubaki ends up creating enough flames to make a huge crater, thus putting Sazanka’s concerns to rest.

Nevertheless, Tsubaki wants to meet a guy. She doesn’t know why, or even what she’d say or do if she did, she just knows she wants to meet one really bad. This, despite the fact her elders and peers have all been conditioned to believe men are brutal savages.

Leaving aside a more specific desire for romance, a part of Tsubaki is telling her there is more to this world than her village, and that it may just prove beneficial to learn more about what lies beyond its borders.

Shin no Nakama – 12 – Life Comes at You Fast

Even in his twisted current state, Ares believes what he is doing is both right and righteous. He was born to serve the Hero, but to do so, there must be a Hero, and it’s Ruti. He and Shisandan defeat Danan and make it to the chamber deep in the futuristic/ancient ruins where five of the six “Sacred Avenger” blades reside. They only need Ruti to touch one in order for the Hero’s Blessing to take hold once more.

But Shisandan, who like Ares wants nothing more than for Ruti to return to being the Hero, knows that won’t be enough; they’ll have to kill the one thing making Ruti not want to be the Hero most: her brother Gideon/Red. Neither Red, Rit, nor Ruti make it easy, as the three have no intention of letting Ares or Shisandan get their way, but those two find an odd ally in Theodora, who likewise defers to the Almighty’s Will.

A wyvern or two show up in the ensuing battle, and a magically-chained Rit rejects Theodora’s strict dogma that places so heavy a burden on unwilling shoulders. Ares, becoming more undone by the minute, conjures a giant iron cube that sends Red and Rit flying down the elevator shaft to their deaths, causing the biggest emotional outburst from Ruti yet.

Danan, who has recovered from his fight with Shisandan and Ares, uses “Rising Dragon’s Roar” to halt their fall and fly them back up to where Ares is. Ares, meanwhile, turns his attention to Tisse, and even squashes Mr. Crawly Wawly! Fortunately he’s fine, and he manages to clandestinely bind Ares’ hands with his spider silk, allowing Red to chop off his hands and deliver a near-fatal blow to his former comrade.

Ruti and Shisandan, who at some point fell down a level or two, continue to battle each other. The angrier Ruti gets, the more powerful she becomes, until she wrests one of Shisandan’s swords from him, slices him to bits, and beheads him. The animation and lighting here really bring the scene to life and lend it an epic quality.

Of course, it wasn’t Shisandan’s intention to win a fight against Ruti, but to get her to touch one of the Sacred Avenger blades. She does so, and almost immediately, it re-takes a hold over her mind and stifles both emotion and free will. After watching a Ruti enjoy her independence, it’s a gut-wrenching moment seeing it all snatched away in an instant.

Things get even worse when she ascends to where Red and Rit are, he greets her warmly, and without warning she lunges at him, sword drawn. It’s only thanks to Show MVP Tisse Garland (never thought I’d write that!) putting herself between Ruti and Red that he’s not killed right then and there. But things don’t look good for Tisse, while nobody who tried to wrest Ruti from her blessing is safe now that she’s been re-brainwashed by the sword.

This is all very intense and dramatic and I’m not sure how our happy couple (or poor Tisse!) is going to get out of it alive, let alone content to return to their slow life. There’s only one more episode to sort it all out.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Shin no Nakama – 11 – Our Own to Live

Tisse’s first act as savior and protector of Ruti is to go to those who care about her—Red and Rit—and let them know what’s going on: how a contract demon met with Ruti, gave her a drug that weakens her Hero’s Blessing, and broke Godwin out of jail to make her more of it.

Meanwhile Ares, Theodora, and Albert have returned to Zoltan, presumably to retrieve their wayward hero. Ares and Albert make themselves invisible (which is something you’d think Red could detect) as Red chats with a one-handed Danan. It doesn’t take long for Red to make clear that a.) he left the party of his own free will, and b.) he’s now found where he truly belongs.

Ares ends up tangled up with a second Danan, this one with both hands, who seems a bit too sharp to be the real Danan. It’s also pretty clear Danan wouldn’t lead Ares right into Red and Rit’s unattended apothecary so he can wreck up the place. He even ruins their big bed! All while “Danan” kinda looks on and scoffs. He’s clearly got plans for Ares.

Red and Rit are out, because they decided together that they can’t continue their quiet life while Ruti is in turmoil, and if Shisandan is still alive and assuming the form of Danan and others, they can’t stand by and do nothing. Red rushes ahead to the ancient elven ruins where Godwin is being held, and lures Ruti stright to him by threatening to harm the alchemist.

Now that Red is no longer ignorant to her situation, Ruti is prepared for her brother to hate her, and demand she return to her duties as Hero. Naturally, Red doesn’t do this; if he did anything like that, he’d be a real hypocrite! On the contrary, he’s been studying ways to lesson her Blessing’s effects for years, for a time when she wants to go on her own journey. It seems that time has come. As far as Red’s concerned, just as his and Rit’s lives are theirs to live as they please, so too is Ruti’s.

Ares…doesn’t believe this, and when he arrives at the ruins and tries to order Ruti around, Red can’t hold his tongue. This makes the already unstable Ares go a bit nuts, casting a spell that slams Red into a stone wall hard. Ruti responds by stabbing Ares with her sword, but missing his vitals, assuring him that if he hurt or tries to seriously hurt Red, she’ll slay him and not bring him back.

In a show full of complex personalities and motivations, Ares is probably the least interesting character—even moreso than Theodora and Danan, since at least they have honor. This guy is just a pathetic brat, and now it seems Shisandan (in the guise of the adventurer Bui) wants to make a new party with him to search the ruins for a relic of the First Hero.

Bui is certain Ruti will return to being the hero if Ares gives this relic to her, which makes me think it’s the kind of relic that messes with  free will. In any case, I hope Ruti doesn’t regret not finishing Ares off when she had the chance…

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Shin no Nakama – 10 – It’s Nobody’s Fault

Like last week, this episode featured a lot of what I love about Shin no Nakama—Red, Rit, Ruti, Tisse, Mr. Crawly Wawly, and more of the slow quiet life. But it also came with a near-constant tension over Ruti’s present drug problem.

Surprisingly, that’s not revealed to Red yet, and he doesn’t infer it on his own, but to be fair, he’s a little overwhelmed to suddenly have Ruti back in his life saying the party’s adventures haven’t gone smoothly, and she wants to move to Zoltan to be near him.

In his new world where he’s chosen free will over his Blessing (and Rit has done the same), who is Red to tell Ruti she can’t do as she pleases? Eventually she’s going to run out of drug and the Blessing will once again assert control, but even as the Hero, Ruti would be happier with Red back in the party. In fact, she believes they can’t defeat the Demon Lord without him.

Red makes it clear very early in his reunion with Ruti that he doesn’t intend to rejoin, which would suggest he’s made his choice between the slow life with Rit and the fast one with the Hero. But it’s not that clear-cut. I think a lot of the reason Red doesn’t ask any questions about Ruti’s sudden change is that as the person who loves her most in this world, he’s just so glad to see Ruti like this.

Red and Rit put their blooming romance aside this week, and to the episode’s credit, it doesn’t go off-character with Rit and Ruti at each other’s throats. Tisse can still feel the tension, and fears the worst could happen if she’s not vigilant, but just as Mr. Crawly Wawly asked her to “look closer” when Ruti tried to pet him, he also shows Tisse a way forward.

As the title of this post says, it’s nobody’s fault Ruti became the Hero, but when she reminisces about her first battle against a giant owlbear—a battle she had to fight because her Blessing compel her—it kinda makes me wish the Almighty who bestows Blessings were a character in this show, so Red  could slug them in the face.

What Mr. Crawly Wawly and then Tisse discover is that it may be up to them to keep Ruti on the straight and narrow. Ruti is in love with her past when she could feel heat and cold and taste honeyed milk better and could sleep and be with her brother. But as much as Red loves Ruti, he also loves Rit, and he can’t live both lives with both of them at once.

It’s nobody’s fault things got this way (well, maybe Ares), but Tisse believes if anyone can save the Hero by helping her to move forward with her life and her destiny, it’s her. In that regard, the fate of the world may rest on the tiny silver-haired soft-spoken assassin…well, the shoulder that isn’t occupied by The Mister Crawly Wawly.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Shin no Nakama – 09 – Warm Hands, Full Hearts

Ruti takes Tisse and their Fisher-Price airship and head for Zoltan to break an alchemist out of jail. Why is the Hero abandoning the rest of her party to do crimes? Because the goatman gave her a sample of the Devil’s Blessing, which weakens her Hero’s Blessing and makes her more human.

She wants a steady supply of the drug, and she trusts Tisse. We get more time with the tiny assassin than all previous episodes combined, and thanks to the legendary Kugimiya Rie (Tisse’s seiyu) and the adorable Crawly Wawly, all of that time is a delight. This is an episode full of jokes that keep things light, unlike the last two weeks where all the self-serious plotting got on my nerves.

I also said the last two weeks that all I really care about is the main couple, but that’s not true; I always cared about Ruti and was fascinated by the curse of her Blessing, and now I care about her and Tisse, who hides the fact that she’s a sweaty bundle of nerves beneath her cool exterior.

Speaking of cool, Winter has come to Zoltan, and business at Red and Rit’s is slow since people don’t want to leave their homes. Rit suggests Red craft a hand warmer similar to the ones form Loggervia, and they’re a big hit in town. Rit saves one warmer for her and Red to share, strolling until they find a private park bench where they  can cuddle and smooch.

That’s the good stuff right there: the Quiet Life of the show’s very long title that both OP and ED promise and that drew me to this show to begin with. That said, that coziness blends well with the gently building tension as Ruti and Tisse get closer to Zoltan, but don’t run into Red and Rit immediately.

In fact, both Ruti and Red end up dealing with the same bridge knight seeking to challenge anyone who crosses. Ruti easily dispatches him into the river where he loses all of his possession. When he challenges Red in nothing but his bear boxers, Red does the same thing, and he loses he boxers too.

Tisse encounters Red first, not knowing who he is when they’re sitting beside each other at a very chill udon stand. As both are seasoned professionals, they quickly but discreetly size one another up and determine that they could be trouble; Tisse because she’s a capable assassin, and Red because Tisse can tell he’s a far stronger knight than the one who lost his drawers.

As expected, Ruti has no trouble at all executing a prison break and extracting Godwin, the alchemist, who will make as much of whatever Ruti wants if she just stops staring at him. The next morning Tisse wakes up to find Ruti didn’t sleep…but you get the feeling if she had enough Devil’s Blessing, she could, and she wants to.

What leads Ruti and Red to finally cross paths at the very end of the episode is nothing contrived, but a practical matter of Ruti not wanting to heal Godwin’s wounds with her Hero’s magic lest her cover be blown. For that, she needs an apothecary, and Tisse, who had already scouted the whole place, knows where the best one is.

What Ruti didn’t know is that the apothecary is the same guy who she met at the udon stand. Fresh from a fairy hamlet on Zoltan’s outskirts where he healed a very blue, very pretty, very naked undine from a cold-like curse that seems to be going around, there he is, welcoming new customers. When Ruti and Red lock eyes and realize that fate has brought them together, Ruti can’t conceal her overflowing happiness.

With tears of joy in her eyes and a huge smile, she pounces on her onii-chan with abandon. I suspect the beautiful reunion will be somewhat marred once Red learns Ruti is in Zoltan to procure drugs that make her a weaker hero. In any case, this week was a marked improvement on the previous two.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Shin no Nakama – 08 – Happy Wife Happy Life

For the second straight week Shin no Nakama wades deeper into plots, false identities and shadow players. But what keeps me engaged and coming back is the wonderfully tender and naturally progressing romance between Red and Rit. The double bed has arrived, and while both blush like beets, they still jump into bed together.

They almost go too far with their flirting (considering the walls are thin and Al’s a guest). Between gestures and facial expressions, the animators put a lot of love into the scene, and I love the detail about Rit being self-conscious about her hand callouses, only for Red to say he likes them, or how both display catlike reflexes when they hear Al stirring.

The scene carries a lot weight, both emotionally and critically, especially considering all the external forces tugging on these lovebirds. Are we being set up for heartbreak? I don’t know; all I know is I’m just not the biggest fan of…any of the show’s various plots, other than Red and Rit’s romance and the plight of Ruti and her party.

Whether it’s the axe murderers ending up as the pawns of axe demons forming contracts with them due to the drug (or something) or Bighawk capturing Al so he can use him as pawn to spark a rebellion against the powers that be in Zoltan…it’s all very meh and distant, in stark contrast to all the good relationship stuff.

Mind you, with the OP and ED this show has, I was fully ready for a show that didn’t have a central plotline, but instead focused on the main couple’s growing love and the details of their new slow life. As new characters and villains are introduced and more things happen in Zoltan, the less interested I become. It’s a weird contradiction.

Take Albert: I knew he laid claim to the strongest adventurer in Zoltan, and had the Champion blessing, but I still didn’t know him well enough as a character to care about the many twists and turns he goes through this week. This more dramatic stuff like Albert saying Red joining him will change the course of the entire world…it mostly just rings flat.

I care about Red, Rit, and Ruti, and that’s pretty much it. Normally that’s not enough for me to stick with a show, but I’m genuinely curious to see how far their romance goes, just as I’m constantly worried for their future.

That’s a tension the show could lean into, but it genuinely seems more interested in Bighawk turning into a goofy white goat man, breaking Albert out of jail, then meeting with Ruti. The show wants to keep expanding the world, while I just want to soak in the warm tub with a cup of mead!

Shin no Nakama – 07 – Wasted Wings

They say bad news comes in threes: First a bloodied Al is brought to Red and Rit’s; fortunately, he’s fine. Then he says his parents were attacked by Ademi, the bully and son of the captain of the guard. They turn out not to have suffered life-threatening injuries. While his folks recuperate, Al stays with Red and Rit, who get a taste of what it might be like to have a son—a son with the Weapon Master Blessing.

But then the third Bad Thing happens: Gonz and Nao come by saying Tanta was arrested. This starts a big and frankly pretty boring sequence where Red and Rit first go to the Adventurer’s Guild to request a join query with the Townsguard. Turns out their captain, Ademi’s dad Moen, didn’t intend to treat Tanta badly. It’s just that his men suspect Ademi was killed by a resident of Southmarsh.

In exchange for helping them out, the Adventurer’s Guildmaster asks a favor of Rit: track down a drug dealer. She lets her guard down and he blows up in a spray of sticky substance that prevents her from drawing her dual blades. Fortunately, she’s bailed out by Red’s former party-mate Danan, who admits he was originally going to drag Gideon back into the party, but is reluctant now that he sees Red living a happy life.

That said, Danan sees that there’s a lot of strange and upsetting things transpiring in the once-sleepy town where Red intended to settle down Also…Danan might be evil now? Or at least being controlled by that guy he met last week. When Rit comes home, all she wants is to nibble on a sandwich and then relax in Red’s lap. She sees the writing on the wall: they may not be able to enjoy their quiet life much longer.

Did I mention there are some complex dynamics going on with protests in Zoltan and Southmarsh, possibly egged on by the Thieves Guild, keeping those towns’ guards from properly investigating the attacks? Yeah…while the moments between Red and Rit were lovely as usual, there was precious little of it, and there was simply too much else going on.

By the time we checked in with Ruti, Tisse, Ares, and Theodora, I felt a bit exhausted…not what you want from your fantasy slice-of-life show! The party defeats a behemoth and then commandeer a damn airship, and Ruti laments that such a craft is wasted on someone who can’t go where she actually wants—her brothers side.

Unfortunately, the scene is undercut by the fact the show has nowhere near the budget needed to model and animate a halfway-decent airship. Instead, it dredged up memories of the similarly goofy pirate spaceship in Rogue Galaxya PS2 game released back in 2005.

Shin no Nakama – 06 – The Champions of Here

Red is making a routine delivery to Dr. Newman when the two of them suddenly hear someone freaking out. They discover one of their neighbors has overdosed on that recently approved drug that has become popular as a narcotic. These opening events, and an episode title like “The Rampage Begins”, portend a not-so-quiet slice of Red and Rit’s quiet life.

…Or so you’d think. Instead, these suddenly unpleasant events don’t suddenly take over their lives. They still find time for a leisurely omelette lunch, or a day by the river in their swimsuits. They even share their first kiss. Investigating drug crime is not their job, and they’re fine with that. Their job is to stock the necessary ingredients to counteract the drug, and take it easy.

I’ve been a steady defender of both Red and Rit’s individual freedom to live their lives how they see fit…but neither of them is The Hero. I’ll admit to seeming a bit dismissive of Ruti’s fate, but I wish to dispel that right here and now by declaring her the show’s most tragic figure.

Ruti’s Hero’s Blessing is more of a curse, overriding her life 95% of the time. The rest of the time, she’s just a lonesome young woman who loves and misses her brother, and is crushed by the weight of a duty she never asked for.

I felt bad enough last week when we learned she can’t even sleep at night. This week we learn she’s resistant to nice weather as well as bad, and never gets hungry and so doesn’t eat food. I wouldn’t be surprised if she didn’t have a sense of taste…being a hero in this world means being anhedonic.

When a bloodied and maimed man suddenly rushes into the apothecary, Red treats him while Rit heads into town to see what’s going on. Turns out it’s nothing good: a number of members of Albert’s party are apparently tweaking out on that drug, which has turned them into rampaging killers.

Rit is content to knock them all out, but Albert kills them with bolts from his crossbow, then nonchalantly apologizes if his party members inconvenienced her from her slow life with her “fiancé”. Rit seems ready to fight, but then suddenly drops her twin blades—something she says is a ritual to “douse” her blessing’s urge to attack.

Possessed of Blessings far less intense than Rutis, Red and Rit are able to maintain their quiet cozy days, but Zoltan seems primed for a major drug and violence epidemic. Red’s ability to produce healing medicines will be key, while Rit may have to use a lot more of her Blessing’s skills than she’d liked in order to maintain peace. The two of them are two talented to sit on the sidelines for long if shit really hits the fan in the village.

As if to herald the figurative storm for which this week seemed like the uneasy calm that always comes before, there’s a literal storm that requires Red and Rit to close up the house shutters and prepare for a long night of rain and thunder. That preparation includes a cup of warm milk and honey Red serves Rit as a calming and sleeping aid.

It’s something Red once made for his sister Ruti when she was little. In a flashback to a similar big storm, we see that even as a young girl Ruti was already exhibiting the qualities of an unfeeling hero, even though it’s clear in her words and actions that she adored her big brother. It’s heartbreaking to watch Red (well, Gideon back then) explain the concept of emotions like happiness and affection and why he thanked her for saying she loved him.

Ruti knows the words, and maybe deep down feels the feelings, but her Blessing is constantly tamping them down. It’s why, in the present, Ruti laments in her own way that she can’t go to where her brother is, even though she once asked him to promise never to leave her. Because she’s the Hero.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Fruits Basket – 43 – Having Nothing in the End

Hiro is talking with Kisa about his yet-to-be-born sibling, whose gender will be a surprise, when he spots Rin in her school uniform. He’s concerned about her ashen appearance, but she gives him basically the same treatment as everyone else who tries to reach out: Buzz off. Go have your happy life with your nice parents and leave me alone with my misery.

The episode then revisits the time Rin approached Shigure, and we learn that she seeks a means of lifting the Zodiac curse, just like Tooru. She’s willing to give him her body for the info, but Shigure—in a rare instance of not being a total slimebag—rejects her offer. But he also refuses to help in any way, while stating he’ll enjoy the benefits Rin’s and others’ efforts, because, as he himself says, he is the worst.

Spurned by Shigure, who may or may not possess the answers she seeks, she goes through a Souma storage room in hopes of finding something, anything related to the curse and a way to lift it. Exhausted and nauseous, she collapses on the ground, then remembers one of the happiest moments in her life—in bed with Hatsu post-coitus, wishing she could be his heart—followed by one of the worst: her parents telling her they “don’t want her”.

Around dusk, she returns to Shigure’s house, strung-out almost beyond belief, but nobody’s home…until Tooru comes through the door. Even that act of opening a door sends Rin into a hysterical fit, repeatedly begging Tooru not to yell at her. Tooru being Tooru, she does the only thing the situation calls for in that moment: giving Rin a warm, gentle hug to try to calm her down.

Shigure may believe he’s the worst, but delving into Rin’s horrific childhood establishes some healthy competition for the title. By all accounts, Rin’s parents tried for years to put on a happy, fun façade as they raised her. It wasn’t until it started to feel like a performance to her, and she asked them why that was, that they snapped. This is not at all to blame Rin for breaking the façade; it was doomed no matter what she said or did. But it’s clear she blames herself.

Verbal and physical abuse followed, until one day Rin collapsed from the injuries the marks of which her clothes concealed. Kazuma and Hatsu are with her in the hospital, and that’s when her parents tell her flat out they no longer want her. Hatsu responds not by turning into Dark Hatsu, but simply by getting extremely pissed off with the parents, and lays into them, getting no response in return.

From then on, Rin lived with Kagura’s family, and the mere fact it was a genuinely happy household caused her intense emotional and physical pain, since she wonders “what she did wrong” to cause her to lose her own home. The only person in whom she found true peace and comfort was her white-haired knight Hatsu, who eventually confesses his love, and she reciprocates.

For the one person with whom spending time was not painful to also be a Zodiac member only adds fuel to the all-consuming flame of misfortune that is Rin’s life. Akito finds out, and when Hatori’s eye is brought up, Rin declares that she was the one who seduced Hatsu.

Akito doesn’t hold back on the verbal or physical wrath, calling Rin wicked and devious “like all women” and calling her flowing black hair “repulsive”. Seemingly feeding off Rin’s fear by grabbing her, Akito tells her she has no value other than filling one of the Zodiac slots before throwing her out the window. This is witnessed by Hiro, and if he hadn’t, Rin might well have bled out. Instead, she’s still alive…and wishes she wasn’t.

For all of those times I misinterpreted Rin’s standoffish, quick-to-anger nature in the few scenes in which she interacted with others, I can only beg for the character’s forgiveness. She’s had every right to act the way she has. It’s now crystal clear she broke up with Hatsu in order to save him from Akito’s wrath, as well as her own belief her love for him would be so heavy it would one day crush him.

I can only breathe a sigh of relief that Rin is now in the safest possible place: in Shigure’s house and in Tooru’s care. She may act like every bit the wounded horse upon coming to, and stubbornly reject any and all offer of help from Tooru, but the fact is the two share the same goal, and they’ll need each other if they’re going to make any progress.

So ends the darkest and most devastating episode of Fruits Basket to date, an absolutely unrelenting look at the destructive effects of the Zodiac curse on its members. Few episodes of anime hit me as hard as this one. Rin is at absolute rock bottom, neither wanting nor feeling she is deserving of love, happiness, or anything at all. But if anyone can help her, it’s Tooru. As long as Rin is alive, there is still hope. And I hope to hell she gets the redemption she needs and deserves.

Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! – 12 (Fin) – Such Sweet Sorrow

It wouldn’t be an Eizouken production if it wasn’t completed after an all-nighter, during which Midori, Tsubame and Doumeki modify the ending to omit the dance party, in order to match the only track of music they’re going to get, which has a more somber tone. When their last-minute changes cause them to miss their window for their go-to DVD publisher, Sayaka bails out her creatives by making a deal with the club that got busted by the StuCo.

The dance party is left out as an extra scene to be released when proper music is procured—a necessary sacrifice in order to come in on schedule and under budget. The next day at Comet A (which is held at a very Tokyo Big Sight-looking venue), Tsubame dutifully interacts with customers, until Sayaka deems the time is right for her and Midori to don paper bags, thus increasing word of mouth and social media interest.

Thanks to their genuinely good work and Sayaka’s gift for marketing, the Eizouken sells every last one of their DVDs moments before the chime marking the conclusion of Comet A. Midori, who had to interact less with people and generally took it easy, suddenly has a burst of energy, and suggests the three of them go to her house to watch their finished creation, which for them will be the first time.

The sight of the three comrades gathered beside the warm blue glow of the TV, surrounded by food and drink, Midori safe and content within her hermit crab-like blanket, is just so cozy and beautiful. They slide the DVD into the player just as everyone else who bought one does, and the show begins.

Like Gas Mask Machete Girl and Robot vs. Crab, Shibahama UFO Wars packs an immediate visual punch, with both Midori’s talent for intricate conceptualization and Tsubame’s passion for lyrical motion on full display. The music track wasn’t at all what they expected, but they make it work for the short, and no one outside of the production would ever have suspected otherwise. As people watch, they imagine residential towers like the ones in the short suddenly bursting forth from the ground.

By the time the short ends, Midori has fallen asleep, and Tsubame and Sayaka deem it unnecessary to wake her before heading home. After all, they’re sure she’d say that while it was something they could be proud of, there is always always always room for improvement, and they’ll be working to improve it starting tomorrow, after a well-earned good night’s sleep.

Sure enough, the next morning Midori dashes in and animatedly describes to Tsubame and Sayaka her latest insight into how to improve the short. As she does, the camera pulls out of their studio, past the river to the other shore, and…just keeps going, getting more and more fanciful until an entirely alien world is revealed. Which is only fitting, as Midori might as well not be of our world. ;)

And just like that, we’re no longer privy to the daily goings-on of the Eizouken. They’ll keep at it, but it’s sad we can’t keep watching. At least, not until a second season comes…if it ever comes. I’ll cross my fingers for that, but like Sayaka’s attempt to delay the initial DVD order, it might not work out, and that’s okay. This was a particularly special dozen episodes; a lush and imaginative love letter to anime I almost instantly fell in love with.

It’s been easy-breezy.

Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! – 11 – Ripples of Peace

With 45 days until their deadline, the Eizouken creatives are working furiously while Sayaka conducts business in the same space, giving her the idea for partitions in the future. Things get even more lively when their studio hosts a raid by the Security Club.

The StuCo arrives and expels the president of the Transcription Club for “arranging deals using school funds without permission.” Eizouken is not affected, but the Secretary warns Sayaka not to let something like this happen to her. Sayaka responds with a bill for the property damage. Touche!

While working on the weekend—as they must for all weekends—the trio finally notices their adviser is supervising them at all times, even without overtime. As their adviser, he advises them not to work so long and have some fun from time to time, for “the best work comes from a sense of play.”

This permission to goof off is his highly inconvenient for Sayaka, who is just barely keeping Midori and Tsubame on schedule, but the three go on a fun trip anyway. An underground tunnel leads to a sheer cliff, and the promise of a tire swing leads them to an abandoned, flooded “Solar City” that gives Midori all kinds of ideas about underwater civilizations.

One day, Midori and Tsubame arrive to find a sign posted on the studio entrance strongly warning against acquisition of outside-of-school funds. Sayaka is home sick(!) so Midori and Tsubame catch a train to visit her. We learn how Sayaka and Midori met: they were the only two loners in middle school P.E.

Having endured partnering up with a stranger, Midori follows Sayaka around and even makes money collecting special leaves for a restaurant that serves grilled fish on them (a very Kanamori Sayaka hustle), and even rides a train for the first time. Sayaka’s thoughts about how people temporarily allying for mutual benefit doesn’t automatically denote friendship.

It’s probably why Midori to this day considers both Sayaka and Tsubame “comrades”, not “friends” (or, in Japanese, nakama, not tomodachi). More importantly, it gets to the heart about how people see things in different ways. Where once she saw leaves, Midori now she sees cash, thanks to Sayaka.

When Midori and Tsubame show Sayaka the threatening sign, she tells them not to worry about it; she’s secured another checkmate against the commerce-ruining adults of the school in the form of widespread and overwhelmingly supportive publicity for their Shibahama film project. They’re now virtually bulletproof against the school’s retaliation.

That again underscores the concept of people seeing things in different ways; the school sees the Eizouken’s activities as “anti-educational”; Sayaka considers them the exact opposite. Then, when asked about her progress with the story and ending, Midori is ready with a full rundown of the film, which she gives in a gorgeous illustrative scene.

In the process, Midori utilizes the concept of different perspectives by having the human and kappa societies be a mirror of one another. She also integrates all of the weird and seemingly unrelated ideas she came up with during their adventures! Ironically, the skeptical vice principal planting Cosmos (a symbol of peace) may have been the spark Midori needed to tie everything together.

It looks like an exciting film with no shortage of action and battles, but the central theme of peaceful coexistence and understanding will certainly play well with the city officials. Making the humans and kappa so visually alike is both thematically on-point and a time-saver, indicating the creatives have gotten better at managing their creative ambitions and embracing shortcuts when appropriate.

Armed with a strong story and all the leeway they’ll need to execute, the Eizouken gets to work, and even manages to complete the animation with time to spare (though not much). That’s when they hit an unexpected snag: the music track they acquired for the film’s score is nothing like the demo they heard, and doesn’t match the animation at all.

Assuming there’s no time to draw anything new, they’ll need a musical miracle. Maybe one of them knows someone who knows someone who could bail them out…

Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! – 10 – Watch the Tan Lines…and the Tangents

You can’t get much past Kanamori, her business sense forged as it is in the fires of her family’s past failure. Eizouken relies almost solely on Tsubame’s fame right now…but her sock has created a tan line on her leg, and she hasn’t been taking any modelling jobs recently.

Neither Tsubame nor Midori see what the big deal is, but thankfully they have Kanamori to explain it to them: if Tsubame’s star dims, so will the Eizouken’s. She has to take on the occasional job to keep her star bright.

As if Kanamori didn’t have enough problems herding creative cats, the StuCo stops by the studio personally to drag them before a conference with the teachers, who have found out about the festival they’re attending and the Eizouken’s intentions to turn a profit.

Kanamori, head turned arrogantly skyward at all times as a sign of protest and disdain, tries her best to justify the model, but the decision has already been made by the adults. As a school club, they can attend and participate in Comet-A, but they can’t accept any payment.

In the following montage, the Eizouken carries on with their big, complex  Shibahama-funded project. As Tsubame indeed continues modelling (though her face almost betrays a certain annoyance about it), Midori churns out drawings and paintings, sounds are recorded, and all of it cataloged on the computer.

I just hope they don’t run into any technical problems wherein they lose vast chunks of work. This fortunately doesn’t seem like the kind of show to drop cheap sandbags like that. Instead, the challenge comes in Midori actually being able to craft a cohesive and satisfying story from her myriad crazy concepts, and is able to “perform” her intentions to the team they’ll need to pull it off.

One key player is Doumeki, who finds herself napping for the first time—and making amazing weapon beam noises while she’s doing it! This leads to the four comrades meeting up on bikes for a “sound hunting” trip.

Kanamori (stunting AKIRA-style) is dubious about Midori tagging along when she has so much work to do, but I’m with Midori when she says it’s a director’s job to sometimes witness the work she’d normally delegate firsthand.

Besides, the resulting trip pays more dividends than simply collecting the sounds Doumeki wanted, including the latest iteration of the town’s famous bell across the water. Like the trip to the undergound restaurant, the trip fills Midori’s head with new ideas.

Some of these ideas are unrelated and can be filed away for future projects, irking Kanamori, but still other ideas help her to connect her disparate concepts into something resembling a story. That only Midori knows what that’s shaping up to be also irks Kanamori. She wants to see concrete results, and soon.

Still, she can’t put a price on the bonding that takes place between the Eizouken members on a trip that’s equal parts work, wonder, and fun. As the sun starts to fall, Midori gets one more crazy idea about the early origins of human clockwork mechanisms, and the StuCo secretary is along for the ride.

I particularly enjoyed seeing this girl, who seems very much like Kanamori, simply sitting by the river with her, asking how she’s dealing with the new restrictions. She doesn’t seem there to gloat or shove the Eizouken’s problems in their faces. Indeed, it even brings a smile to her face to watch one of Midori’s patented flights of fancy, which again isn’t immediately related to their current project.

The secretary (whom I assumed was the president until this week) had just warned Kanamori that the school is its own world, with special protections for its students, and to leave that behind. But when they’re creating, Midori and Tsubame are in a third world, neither inside nor outside the school; a world of their making. As for Kanamori, she can handle the outside world. It’s really more a question of whether it can handle her!

P.S. As pointed out by ANN’s Zac Bertschy, the Eizouken is basically an early Studio Ghibli analog. Midori is Miyazaki (hence the beard), Tsubame is Takahata Isao, and Kanamori is Suzuki Toshio. Love it!

Eizouken ni wa Te wo Dasu na! – 02 – Tilting at the Greatest Windmills

Midori, Sayaka and Tsubame head to the faculty lounge, which is whimsically located inside a giant empty swimming pool, to make their case for an animation club. When one teacher says there’s already an anime club and that they should focus on live action, the group decides to simply say they’re starting a film club, and let the fruits of their labor redeem the white lie later. The spacey, heavily-bearded Fujimoto-sensei volunteers to be their adviser.

Their digs are essentially a two-level ramshackle storeroom built of cheap corrugated steel filled with holes that let the elements in. The place is filthy, but full of potential, at least when armed with the powerful imaginations of Midori and Tsubame, who conjure various furniture, luxuries, and equipment for creating anime.

Midori gets a bit carried away when proposing they add hinges to the roof to make it a hatch from which they can launch personal helicopters. While messing around the rusty railing gives way and she takes a one-story spill. The always-enterprising Sayaka captures the accident on camera and swiftly posts it online for sale in hopes of raising club funds.

Fujimoto later tells them the school will pay for repairs to the building, and to keep the video for themselves lest it go public and cause trouble for the school. Sayaka also makes a verbose federal case for the tightwad teacher to get him to allow them to do as they please. The trio then explores the storeroom’s underbelly and find a windmill connected to a generator. The storeroom is full of animation production equipment in decent shape.

Totally geeking out on their wheelhouse stuff, Midori and Tsubame explain the details of how one makes a series of drawings then films them to present the illusion of motion. They find a crude animation of the windmill and complete and improve upon it, adding visual flair, transforming their environment into a wondrous fantasy spectacle.

There are no accidents as a result of this flight (or rather cruise) of fancy, but that evening Sayaka gets a deposit of cash for her footage, and both Tsubame and Midori (and her family) catch footage of her fall on TV. Such a development threatens to torpedo their Eizouken dreams in their infancy, before they’re able to create a frame of finished work.

Obviously, their efforts aren’t about to be permanently shut down after just two episodes, but it will be interesting to see how they navigate the stormy waters of what I’ll inelegantly call Dealing With People Who Want To Hold Them Back. One thing’s for certain: independent those outside factors, they have the talent and means to do what they want. Now all they need is the freedom to do it.

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