Re:Creators – 18

Whatever wasn’t working for me last week as the Chamber Festival kicked off, it mostly worked this week, while the best thing about last week—Suruga’s gutsy confrontation with Blitz and the reunion with her resurrected daughter—was carried to a satisfying climax: Blitz switches sides to protect Erina.

The merging together of Blitz and Meteora’s stories was accepted by the audience because, well, who doesn’t like parents reuniting with children thought dead? Also, Suruga was wearing one hell of a bulletproof vest, so she’ll be fine; she didn’t have to sacrifice herself to save the world…yet.

Yuuya and Shou go at it, and because Yuuya doesn’t have Hangaku, he’s at a distinct disadvantage…until Extreme Final Legend Martial Artist Hikayu appears, perfectly matched to Yuuya’s skilled set and ready to bring the pain…while retaining Hoshikawa’s easily-embarrassed personality.

I’ve loathed Oonishi since he appeared, but have to give him props here. Armed with a dating sim protagonist with no fighting abilities, he converted her into a badass fighting machine, and the audience just rolls with it, because they truly DO like ‘this kind of thing’—that thing being fanservice.

What held back last week to some degree was the absence of the most intriguing creation, Magane, who until now has been merely observing. The ‘side’ she ultimately chooses to ‘put her money (or pyrite) on is Souta, and Souta alone, whom she sees as being “just like her” in how the ends justify the means.

Souta has decided to move beyond selfish regrets, and gotten better at knowing how to talk to Magane, but she still gets him wound up, allowing her to use her Infinite Deception of Words. Fortunately, she uses it to his advantage, promising him his creation will not only be set into motion, but be accepted and stir people’s hearts.

I like the move: it feels like something Magane would do to make things as entertaining as possible. She likes fun things, and believes she’ll get to witness a lot more fun if Souta is free to do his thing, so she offers him this indirect help against Altair as an endorsement that however he handles things is okay with her.

As Shou, Hikayu and Yuuya bicker over who will fight whom, Blitz arrives, and Shou assumes he’s there to back him up. But Blitz shoots at Shou instead, Hangaku suddenly reappears beside Yuuya (Souta lied about Magane not giving him back), and we have ourselves a three-on-one fight (four-on-two if you count the dolls).

Shou holds his own until Hikayu brings down the hammer with her Killing Cosmo Hell Fist (summoned with a lot of mumbo-jumbo about Arhat and Vajra and accompanied by calligraphy) to put him out of commission. I love how useful Hikayu has suddenly became this week.

Even better, Shou doesn’t get back up or try to fight to the death, because Hikayu and Yuuya also manage to convince him of the truth: Yuuya didn’t kill who Shou thought he killed. Yuuya blurts out some spoilers about the mastermind in their story, but somehow the audience—entertained so much by what’s gone down thus far—also roll with that, and the story remains stable.

That brings us to what has ended up the least interesting part of the Festival so far: the aerial battle with Altair. Don’t get me wrong; I liked Altair’s spinning array of sabres and her ability to stop a Vogelchevalier’s blade with one hand was badass, as was Alicetaria’s big smile while riding Gigas Machina.

But throughout the match there’s the underlying feeling that whatever more powerful thing Selesia, Kanoya, and Aliceteria throw at her (and they finally get her in a cage, separated from her weapons), she’ll be ready with a countermeasue and a smirk, making all the action to that point somewhat pointless. But even that is a a common thing in drawn-out shounen battles, so it’s at least consistent.

We’re also well aware that while she’s lost Mamika, Aliceteria, Blitz, and Shou so far, she still has Charon in her back pocket, and Charon seems fully on her side, despite his history with Selesia. Indeed, I am not sure Meteora, Selesia & Co. were even aware of Charon’s existence, rendering him the latest wild card that would muck up their plans to cage Altair.

How will Selesia deal with her former ally (and lover?) fighting on the other side? Will they be able to muster some on-the-fly writing that will bring Charon to their side? Four episodes remain…plenty of time for more twists and turns.

Re:Creators – 17

After another week off for another special following a calm-before-the-storm episode, Re:Creators has been giving the impression that it’s not keen on ever ending, even though it must five episodes from now. The supposed “final” Chamber Festival battle has been built up and hyped for so long, its beginning was always going to be hard-pressed to live up to it.

In a distinct case of “be careful what you wish for,” this episode finally initiates that beginning, and is almost all action, with physical, magical, and verbal ammunition filling every nook and cranny of the screen. Selesia and Kanoya fight an arrogant-as-ever Altair, who deflects all their attacks with her infinite arrays of sabres.

As they dual the boss, Yuuya faces off against his old buddy Hakua Shou, which made me wonder when Selesia’s partner would come out of the woodwork and present her with the unexpected scenario of having to fight him. Even Magane shows up to scare Souta, suggesting all of their best-laid plans are far from certain to end this conflict.

Indeed, Altair kinda does what I did with these battles, which is shrug. She seems all too aware of the artiface that has been building around her, and the perfect nature of the military weapons being deployed against her screams Meteora. Even when Selesia uses a powerful “infinite gate” imprisonment protocol, Altair simply slips out of it and comes at Selesia from behind, as Magane did with Souta.

But if all of this is just foreplay, and Altair isn’t falling to (or for) it…why should we care? Sure, the crowds seem entertained, but to me it feels like various groups of combatants sniping at one another with increasingly insipid slogans, Altair being the most guilty of this. For all the evidence this battle has begun, there’s still the feeling that some stalling going on.

That’s why I appreciated the final scene, in which Blitz just kinda casually walks into the stadium’s locker room where Suruga is alone smoking, fully prepared to kill her before moving on to his other enemies. Suruga may be “his god” but he can’t stand that fact, because she’s the one who decided to kill off his daughter to make her story “more interesting.”

For a moment, I thought Suruga was not only expecting Blitz, but okay with him killing her. Hearing her talk about the pain and sleepless nights and despair she endured before she gained success isn’t quite enough to make Blitz stand down, but Suruga’s status as his creator is, as a strike team blasts into the room, accompanied by…Blitz’s very not-dead daughter, Erina. Has Team Meteora poached another ally from Altair?

Shokugeki no Souma 2 – 06

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Barring something bizarre (like a tie with one judge abstaining), this battle was only going to end one way: with Souma victorious. There’s no way he’d lose and give up cooking six episodes in.

The show knows we know the outcome, so it must, as it often has in the past, dazzle and entertain us with the process that leads to that outcome. And it succeeds!

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After whipping out bacon that demonstrates his curing and smoking expertise are on par with Ibusaki’s, and revealing that his profiling job was made much easier by guessing Sotsuda’s password and reading all his notes on Souma’s prep.

The very harsh alumnai judges believe the multifaceted umami of the bacon is something Souma simply cannot overcome, until he starts improvising, whipping out four distinct cuts of meat—cheek, tongue, tripe, and fillet—each perfectly prepared in a manner ideal to it, and added as garniture for the stew, in what Souma deems a “meet theme park.”

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Mimasaka predicted someone of Souma’s confidence would turn to improv, but is confident his profiling and detailed preparations will be able to weather anything Souma throws at the judges.

Mimasaka serves his dish first, and the beef/pork umami is violently, knock-’em-sock-’em good, leaving Mimasaka laughing villainously and the judges more weary than ever that Souma’s seemingly thrown-together dish will be any match.

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…But of course it is. Rather than being tossed around in a boxing ring with meat heavyweights, the judges are spirited away to “Yukihee Land” (trademark pending), where they transform into giddy high school girls (yes, including Dojima) running around enjoying life and youth.

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While Mimasaka’s carefully erected house of cards is impressive, it pales in comparison to the encyclopedic display of skill on display, as he puts a Chikuzen stew-like twist on beef stew rather than sticking with the French classic. The individual meats he used impress the judges with how well each was prepared and how they create and exhilarating ride in their mouths and imaginations.

By the end of their meal, the judges are gleefully holding hands without knowing it. The voting is unanimous, and Souma defeats Mimasaka…but he also teaches Mimasaka a lesson.

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Growing up, Mimasaka imitated his stern father’s cooking, and the first time he put a twist on it, he beat his father’s cooking, leading to his exile. He used that same approach intentionally—and with increasing cruelty—throughout his cooking career to advance himself, because it worked.

But for the first time, it didn’t work, and Mimasaka must surrender all of the treasured tools that embody the pride of the previous chefs he beat (in a scene that looks a lot like Hunger Games, what with all the past losers rushing into a container full of knives). Only Takumi refuses to take back his Mezzaluna; it goes to Souma instead, and he’ll get it back when he beats him in a Shokugeki.

Now that Mimasaka has experienced the same shameful, pride-robbing defeat what all the chefs he defeated, like them he begins to question whether he should even cook anymore. But the point of Souma’s lesson was to demonstrate that a true professional chef takes the worst defeat of their life in stride, because the kitchen must open tomorrow, and the customers must be fed.

Meanwhile, Souma continues to look ahead to his future match with Erina (who looks down imperiously before demanding he get her that manga she wanted), while Round 2 of the semifinals between Hayama and Kurokiba begins immediately. And what do you know, I have no idea who’s going to win this one!

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Shokugeki no Souma 2 – 05

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Souma made a big, bold bet, one that Nikumi, for one, is none too pleased about, because unlike us she can’t be sure that he’ll win, which means someone she deeply respects will be throwing their life of cooking away if he loses.

The wager also attracts the attention of a young, eager Totsuki junior high student who spends way more time with journalism than cooking. After relentlessly courting Souma for an exclusive, Souma uses him as his taste tester.

The dish for the Shokugeki is the same thing Souma served Mimasaka in his dorm when the challenge was made: beef stew. And unlike (or more likely, like) many Mimasaka’s previous 99 victims, he’s trying to switch things up by being very transparent about what he’s doing.

Souma knows he’s not going to win by being secretive; Mimasaka will find out or predict what he’s up to. Nor can he win by emulating his opponent’s specialty: Mimasaka doesn’t have one. Instead, Souma is treating this like the ultimate creative battle…against himself.

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After her loss to Hayama, Arato is too ashamed to stay by Erina’s side, and takes a leave of absense. Mind you, she makes this decision before Erina had a chance to talk about the match with her (during which time she’d likely have told her she was proud of her effort and wanted her to remain by her side).

On the bright side, when Erina needs the next volume in a shoujo manga she’s reading, the absence of Arato means Souma has something to compensate her for in exchange for her tasting duties (since someone at the dorm has the complete set).

Erina has her largest role in an episode this season, and she shines. By not making things easy for Souma, she (intentionally or not) contributes greatly to setting Souma on the proper path, being immediately dismissive of his pathetic diner stew (and its white miso secret ingredient) without elaborating why.

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While Mimasaka relives the last 28 episodes as Souma, starting back at the diner with Souma’s hometown friends, Nikumi, like Erina, lends Souma a subtle hint for how to proceed in the form of a meat care package, warning him she won’t let him lose and give up being a chef as she runs away flustered.

The final four days leading up to the match pass by in montage form, with Souma ditching the journalist (no longer useful at this stage in his dish development) and Megumi and Nikumi periodically looking in to see how he’s progressing.

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The day of the match Souma must win arrives, judged by five Totsuki alumni (including Dojima, Mizuhara and Hinako), who along with Kikuchi, Tsunozaki, and Erina, imagine how difficult it will be for Souma to break out of the diner mentality of dishes tasting best on the third bite (gourmet dishes must taste good on the first).

Erina expects a crushing defeat for Souma, meaning the end of his stinking up her academy once and for all, right up until she notices what he’s up to down in the arena. Instead of the usual cuts of beef, he goes with high-gelatin oxtail seasoned with cloves to deepen the white miso, and a veggie matignon to add sweetness near the end.

Souma has always been a sponge for culinary knowledge, even if it isn’t being directly taught to him by those he absorbs it from. But he caught on to what Erina was hinting at, as well as the meat that Nikumi gave him, and crafted a game plan for evolving his diner’s signature dish into something one would be proud to serve in the kind of elite gourmet restaurants the judges run.

Conspicuous in his lack of screen timeat the start of the match is Mimasaka; because Souma bet everything on this match, he’s the center of attention, but once he and the crowd notice the opponent, they see that he’s mimicked him in every regard. There is simply no way to surprise Mimasaka; he’s always going to be one step ahead. Oxtail, cloves, matignon – he’s got all that…plus his signature twists that usually corner and decimate his opponents.

Souma will have to weather those twists—some possibly drawn from his own culinary history, some of Mimasaka’s own imagining—keep his cool, and simply out-cook his clone. How will he prevail where 99 chefs fell? Will he put it all on that first bite, or manage to flip the script in a way even Mimasaka could not predict?

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Shokugeki no Souma 2 – 04

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In hindsight, SnS wouldn’t have brought a character like Mimasaka Subaru into the foreground unless he had some extended role to play. And if he knew so much about Arata and Hayama, he’s doubtless know even more about open book Takumi. That meant Takumi probably never had a chance.

This week, Mimasaka takes Takumi apart, matching him move for move, then adding “twists” that push him even further into the corner, until his own gameplan and emotions become the enemy on top of the incredibly talented but demented chef he’s up against.

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He may not be the most nuanced character (frankly, it might have been nice if his character design weren’t so huge and threatening to so obviously match his predatory personality), but there’s no denying Mimasaka has a system, is utterly committed to it, because it works.

Even a judge has some real problems with how Mimasaka goes about his business in the kitchen, but Mimasaka knows people don’t like him, and doesn’t care. In a Shokugeki, it’s all about the food, and Mimasaka’s food is simply better than Takumi’s, and it’s not close.

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Thankfully, Takumi doesn’t simply curl into a ball and accept his defeat, even when it’s too late to start over with something new (and he’s limited by the ingredients on hand he himself chose). He manages to produce an ace in the hole with his homemade lemon curd layer made with the family olive oil.

It’s a brilliant, clutch counter to Mimasaka’s many twists, and at just the right time…but Mimasaka knows everything about Takumi, including the lemons and the oil, and his dish’s true genius isn’t revealed until the judges have tasted both and can compare. Mimasaka’s preserved lemons are in every layer of the semifreddo, and beat out Takumi’s curd.

It’s a total victory for Mimasaka—his 100th Shokugeki win—and he claims Takumi’s beloved mezzaluna, confident he’s stomped out yet another career. On to the semifinals, which occur in a week’s time.

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Rather than console Takumi, Souma simply goes home, and whether he expected it or not, Mimasaka is in his room (having used the spare key, to the girls’ horror). Souma maintains a neutral calm throughout most of their talk, being just as gracious a host as Mimasaka was to him last week. Mimasaka has come to announce they’ll be going up against each other. He wants a Shokugeki with Souma, and he wants his beloved knife.

Just as he knew how to push Takumi’s buttons, Mimasaka things he has Souma right where he wants him: angered that someone he respected has been so thoroughly humiliated. Indeed, it could be argued Mimasaka trampled Takumi as part of his overall strategy should he get Souma in the next round, which he did.

And he’s right: Souma is angry, and does take the challenge. But the terms are different. If Souma wins, Mimasaka will give him all of the hundred tools he’s claimed from those he’s beaten, essentially undoing his entire legacy. Souma considers Mimasaka and his methods more of a virus than an opponent; something to be wiped out entirely. He also considers those methods a waste of Mimasaka’s own considerable skills.

If Souma loses, he’ll quit being a chef. Well, we’re only four episodes into the season, and Souma is not going to quit being a chef…so I guess the result of his next match is clear, right? Perhaps, but it will surely be something to see how (not if) he bests someone who knows him better than he knows himself…at least on the outside.

I’m excited to see that, but I can’t help but think Mimasaka has been a wasted opportunity thus far, lacking the nuance of Souma’s other rivals. We’ve yet to see anyone defend Mimasaka’s philosophy or methods, nor has there been any attempt to explain how he came to adopt them. Perhaps that will come to light in his battle with Souma.

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Boku dake ga Inai Machi – 08

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Hwelp, I’m an idiot. I was pretty darn sure the end of last week was the beginning of the end of Kayo–again–but I was mercifully mistaken: it was only a very, very close call. That’s not to lessen the seething tension of the episode’s first moments when Kayo isn’t sure what’s going to happen, but a lot of that weight I talked about (not all, but a lot) was lifted. Who the shit cares if I read the scene wrong, or the show “tricked” me by deviating from its usual pattern? Kayo’s still free and breathing!

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This means Satoru gets to see Kayo again, and is able to provide her with lunch thanks to his mom, who was up even earlier than he was preparing meals. One for him, another for “lunch”, but really for Kayo, as the note in the bento box confirms. At this point, Kayo’s mom has a pretty good idea what her son is up to, and is letting him keep his secret for now, having faith he’s doing the right thing and silently supporting him.

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At school, Kayo’s consecutive absences draw the attention and conjecture of the whole class, and Satoru asks the Yashiro of this timeline to act once more. Turns out he already has contacted social services, and accompanies them to Kayo’s home.

Kayo’s mom managed to sneak out just as they arrived, meaning it’s not yet time to rest easy, but at least the proper authorities are aware of the situation and intend to get Kayo away from her mother as soon as they can.

Satoru, Kenya and Hiromi keep Kayo company that night, giving her the opportunity to present Satoru with his belated birthday present: a pair of mittens she knit for him. Considering what became of the mittens back when Satoru failed to save her, I’m not surprised Satoru can’t help but tear up with joy and relief at the sight of them.

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The previous night’s intrusion didn’t result in Kayo’s demise, but it did spell the demise of the bus as a viable hideout, especially when they discover the contents of the backpack the man left behind, which Satoru instantly recognizes as the tools of the serial murderer, including that damnable spray bottle used to accelerate hypothermia.

I don’t think he noticed future first victim in Nakanishi Aya as he walked past her that morning, but with Hiromi as the second victim, it’s abundantly clear the bus and its environs are the nexus of the tragedy he hopes to avoid. They all have to get the hell out of there. But where will he stash Kayo? Why, at his house, of course.

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Such is Satoru’s knowledge of and faith in his loving mother, he knows bringing her there is the right move, and a move she’ll gladly accept. She’s seen Kayo and knows the miserable, loveless life she’s been forced to lead until meeting her son.

Nowhere is it clearer how raw her wounds from that life still are when Kayo instinctively recoils at the sight of Satoru’s mom’s approaching arm. Were it her own mom’s arm, it would have meant a strike; instead, her head is gently patted.

After feeding everyone and sending Kenya and Hiromi home, Sachiko calls Yashiro to inform him of what he expected – Kayo is safe and sound with Satoru. When she asks if Kayo really has to go away, I thought about the possibility of Sachiko adopting her, so she could have some constancy in her life.

Sachiko then goes out of her way to make sure Kayo feels as loved as possible on this night. The hot dinner with friends, a hot bath, having her hair washed, being given new, fresh pajamas, drying her hair properly, and sharing a warm futon with Satoru and his mom (lying strategically between the two) – everything is a new and wonderful experience for Kayo.

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That morning, Sachiko cooks her a hot multi-course breakfast, so far removed from the lazy, thoughtless breakfasts of cup ramen, bread, or spare change her “mom” provided, and Kayo can’t hold it in anymore.

She starts bawling at this attention and care and love she’s never gotten before. The 11-year-old Satoru might’ve taken this kind of treatment from his mom for granted, but the 29-year-old knows better, and understands Kayo’s tears as well as his own good fortune.

Later, Kayo knocks on her own apartment door, and her furious mother, who was in the process of trashing Kayo’s room, answers, winds up for a vicious slap, but stops in her tracks when she notices Kayo isn’t alone. Kayo and Sachiko flank her like bodyguards. Hopefully Kayo will never have to be alone with her pathetic coward of a mother ever again.

This was a generous episode not just because it didn’t kill Kayo in the beginning, but because it ends not on a note of uncertainty or imminent disaster, but on a note of potential triumph. Certainly, a lot of setbacks can occur in the four remaining episodes, but for now those possible troubles feel far away.

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Boku dake ga Inai Machi – 07

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Boku dake ga Inai Machi – 06

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Boku dake ga Inai Machi – 05

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Boku dake ga Inai Machi – 04

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In theory, Satoru’s task is simple: if he remains in close contact with Kayo consistently for one more week, and they can celebrate their birthdays together at his house, he believes he’ll be able to change history by preventing her kidnapping and murder.

He makes it a point to try to hang out with Kayo on a Saturday date to the museum, hoping to get her away from her home so her mother won’t be tempted to beat her. And in another amusing instance of Satoru-29 thinking out loud, Satoru doesn’t mince words in asking Kayo on a date.

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Kayo’s mother proves a formidable obstacle to that day of bliss – were it not for Satoru’s truly heroic mother stopping Kayo’s mom from striking her after she admits she wants to go out. With Sachiko there (who knows exactly what kind of person she is), Kayo’s mom, concerned with appearances, weighs her options and decides to allow the date.

Thank goodness after Satoru and his mom left the episode didn’t cut to Kayo’s mom taking out her anger on Kayo. When I saw Satoru and Kayo standing before the stuffed bear, I breathed a sigh of relief.

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Of course, this being far more than just a slice-of-life romantic tale, it’s not all peaches and sunshine at the museum. On numerous occasions, Satoru gets deja vu-style flashes of Kayo saying and doing things she’s already said and done, leading him (and me) to believe that he hasn’t yet taken Kayo off the path that leads to her death, and the future won’t be changed so easily.

The film reel pattern in the letterboxing and the visualization of the various timelines as a tangle of said film is effectively used but not overused, particularly when both fast-forward to the same outcome: Kayo’s funerary portrait and total defeat.

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Satoru sticks to the plan, his courage buoyed, not cowed by his sense of duty to protect and save Kayo. He thinks out loud, in front of the whole class, that Kayo is pretty (her reactions to these slip-ups are priceless), he walks her home before being intercepted by her mother, and he tells her he’ll be at her house in the morning – the morning of Day X, which will decide everything – so they can walk to school together, which they do hand in hand.

If one were to liken Satoru’s quest as a war, we would call his 29-year-old self a grizzled veteran, hardened by the despair of the bad future that didn’t just affect him and Kayo negatively. Yuuki’s in prison and his mom is dead. There’s a lot riding on his success, but his previous 10-year-old self would never have been able to achieve what he achieves during this week, because he lacked that foresight, that loss of innocence, that ability to see beyond himself. This Satoru can.

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So he only very grudingly breaks contact with Kayo on this last day, seeing her right to her door, getting up before midnight to watch over her house and wait for the stroke of midnight. This entire day and in particular those last moments of it, are positively brimming with suspence, so much so I had to make sure to control my breathing just in case something awful transpired.

The episode also made sure to show us what Kenya, Yashiro, and Kayo’s mom – all persons of interest with regards to her potential disappearance – but none of them are anywhere near Kayo, and aren’t doing anything suspicious. When the second hand ticked past the twelve, I felt I could relax a little…but only a little.

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Seeing Kayo in her jammies receive a waiting Satoru at her door was a moment of triumph, as well as another perfect use of her unofficial catchphrase “Are you stupid?” As the hours and minutes until their birthday party ticked away, the suspense started to build all over again, especially when Yashiro told the two to do cleaning duty after school.

Turns out both that, and the suspicious-at-the-time meeting between Yashiro and Kenya that ended last week, were perfectly innocent: Satoru’s friends planned a surprise party for him and Kayo. Isn’t that something? Gee, it’s really dusty in here…or maybe there’s an raw onion nearby? *sniffle*

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The joy and mirth of the festivities are matched, and then some, when the episode inevitably, mercilessly brings the hammer down. At some point Satoru has to walk Kayo home and wish her good night, she promises to give him his birthday present tomorrow, and waves goodbye wearing the mittens he got her.

The promise is never fulfilled. The next morning at school, Kayo is absent. Satoru was able to change the future, but only by one day. I’d say I can only imagine what became of her in those evening hours they were apart…but I honestly have no freakin’ clue.

When confronting Kayo’s mother, Satoru exclaims, beyond the years of his physical body, “when it comes to saving a friend, there are no gains and losses!” And he’s absolutely right. Just as he wrongly thought getting past the X-Day was a victory, he’s wrong if he thinks this latest development is a loss.

Even if it is, and even if he doesn’t have ready acces to an IBN 5100, the results of those past battles don’t matter. The war goes on. It has really only just begun.

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Akuma no Riddle – 05

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This week’s riddle is “How do you get a bird out of its cage?” One thing Haru, Tokaku, and this week’s assassin Sagae Haruki share so far has been a sense of confinement due to circumstance. Haruki’s cage is poverty, and she has assassinated to put food on her large family’s table, and she’s promised they’ll be forever free from want if she kills Haru (even if she dies in the process).

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Tokaku’s cage is her name. Even though she never saw her father and her mother died right after she was born, the Azuma family has shaped her course in life and assigned her expectations. Haru’s cage has been built from the bones of those who died so that she could live. Haruki neither gets off on killing like Otoya, nor is she unsuited for killing like Kouko; she’s good at it, but it’s a means to free her family from its cage.

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Yet Haruki doesn’t seem altogether apathetic to Haru’s plight, nor Tokaku’s. She believes it to be a service and a kindness to free them too, but that suggest an inability to fathom that death is not the only way out of those cages. In Haru’s case, she considers it a solemn duty to always smile, be merry, and try to live as normal a life within that cage, honoring those who built it with their lives.

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By the same token, death isn’t the only way out of Tokaku’s cage either. She may be stuck with her name, but by choosing to subvert Class Black’s system by swearing to protect rather than assassinate Haru, Tokaku seems determined to survive in her cage her own way, while building a tunnel from her cage to Haru’s, connecting the two. Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra. I will stop using metaphors now.

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Akuma no Riddle – 04

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What comes suddenly but never leaves? Well, that would be death, right? And not just the death of a person, but the death of innocence. Once death enters one’s life—as it does every assassin—it also never leaves. Some say murdering takes pieces of one’s soul. If that’s the case, Class Black’s rep Kaminaga Kouko yearned to separate herself from death, to try to preserve at least part of her soul. But to be granted her wish of walking away from assassination, she had to take one more life: that of Ichinose Haru.

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While last week Haru mostly took care of herself against the very impatient Takechi, Kaminaga is a different kind of animal: in short, she’s not a very good assassin, and doesn’t even like killing. She was simply born into the business, and does it because it’s all she knows how to do. But her peers mocked her and she accidentally killed her mentor with a car bomb gone wrong. It’s not surprising that she’d strike as early as possible, out of a desire to get this nasty business over with so she can retire; the exact opposite of Takechi.

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To that end, Kaminaga attempts a series of passive attacks via booby trap bombs. Tokaku either detects and disarms them all, and in one case shields Haru from the blast. This earns Tokaku back some points after dropping the ball last week. Once Kaminaga is cornered and forced into close combat with Tokaku, it’s over for her. Because she’s not a sadistic serial killer, I actually felt kinda bad for Kaminaga, even if it hardly made sense for her organization to bother training her when she was neither practically nor emotionally cut out to be an assassin.

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Akuma no Riddle – 03

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What’s red but not read, and dead but not dead? The Red Sea and the Dead Sea. Azuma’s role as Haru’s protector is accepted by the gamemakers and the mission begins in earnest, with the first advance warning being given by Takechi Otoya. Needless to say, her assassination attempt fails, so she drops out of Class Black by the end of the episode. That leaves ten assassins and ten episodes remaining.

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Takechi starts her morning smashing her roommate’s glasses, and it’s gradually revealed she only gets sexual release from murder and is thus a serial killer. If she succeeds in offing Haru, she’s asked for bulletproof insurance that she’ll be able to murder as much as she likes in the future without consequence. She kills her prey slowly, taking after spiders but substituting scissors for fangs. Her buddy-buddy routine with Haru before striking is pleasantly unsettling, but she isn’t convincing anyone.

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What’s really interesting about this first attempt isn’t that Takechi failed to kill Haru, but that Azuma failed to protect Haru. Receiving her first warning unsettles Haru, but it also steels her resolve to protect herself, which is what she does, with a little luck: when Takechi lowers her guard, Haru kicks the hell out of her, sending her signature scissors flying right into Haru’s binds, cutting them. Azuma has her chance to take Takechi out, but her gun’s knocked out of her hands and she ends up on her back with a saw blade mere millimeters from her eye when Haru rescues her with a nifty sleeper hold.

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In this regard, Takechi gets a pretty raw deal, as she’s expelled for failing, but Azuma isn’t. One thing’s for sure, both of them agreatly underestimated Haru’s propensity for survival. I imagine we’ll learn a little more about that propensity with each successive assassin. It may well be that Azuma is the one who’ll continue to need protecting from increasingly sinister adversaries. Bring on Number Two.

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