Mayonaka no Occult Koumuin – 02 – Another Bang for Another Buck

After two episodes, one thing that stands out about MOK is the quality of animation…or rather lack thereof. There’s a number of things drawn in a fast, iffy, haphazard way that all combine to distract from a story that probably needs better production values to hold my interest.

Which is a shame, because MOK is as strong with the Japanese mythology as it is weak in actually showing it, from the nekomata Yuki who reunites with Arata (who thought Yuki was just a regular cat years ago) to a mysterious nine-headed kishi that threatens to cause further Another disturbance.

Arata and the other midnight occult civil servants are putting in overtime to investigate a string of recent burglaries involving very particular magical objects. Arata, with his “Ears of Sand” that can understand Anothers, is immediately one of the more in-demand members of the office, as if it wasn’t for him, they wouldn’t be able to gather the information they need to connect the dots.

There’s also a weird tension between Arata’s desire to reason with all Anothers through dialogue and his co-worker’s belief that’s naive and even reckless. They maintain that Anothers are distinctly another, and that they and humans just aren’t going to see eye-to-eye on things. I tend to side with Arata on this; after all, the position of the others is due largely to the inability to ever properly communicate prior to Arata’s arrival.

Still, Arata manages to do something stupid and touch a magical circle of some kind before determining whether it’s safe. He and Kyouichi are teleported deep beneath a mountain, where the “oni” who was riding the kishi, stole all the magical objects, and created the magical circle, is there to welcome “Abe no Seimei” with a horde of kyoushi, or Japanese zombies.

That last-minute reveal finally introduces some serious peril to what had thus far been a mostly harmless job; the kyoushi can’t be talked to or reasoned with, so Arata had better hope he can convince their master to make them stand down. I bet Arata wishes he’d listened to his grandpa more…

Mayonaka no Occult Koumuin – 01 (First Impressions) – Believe What You See

MOK’s first episode takes place entirely at night, as Miyako Arata reports to his first shift at the Shinjuku Ward Office “Nocturnal Community Relations Division”, the exact nature of which is something Arata himself is a little fuzzy about.

He meets two of his new colleages, the bishounen scientist Himezuka Seo and their bespectacled shift leader, Sakaki Kyouichi. They’re both warm and friendly, and inform Arata most of his shifts will take place outside, which only compounds his confusion with what their division does.

Kyouichi and Seo take him to the entrance to Shinjuku Gyoen, unlock the gate, and head inside for a “rite of passage” that involves spraying a “helper spray” that makes fairies and other supernatural creatures visible to those who aren’t able to see them.

Arata meets a tiny (and somewhat surly) pixie, a giant, cuddly Cu Sith, and more, and learns that it’s the NCR Division’s job to maintain good relations with the various supernatural beings that inhabit the forests. It’s most comforting to learn that Tokyo’s ultra-urbanization over the decades hasn’t resulted in the destruction of these beings.

Rather, they exist much like conventional city animals—pigeons, crows, raccoons and squirrels—they’ve adapted to exist beside humans, albeit out of sight to most. Only occasionally, they can cause a disturbance, such as a fight breaking out between angels and tengu.

Arata discovers that an angel and a tengu are lovers who wish to elope, but neither the angel’s older sister nor the tengu’s father approve, and since the two races just naturally don’t get along, it isn’t long before their bickering spills outside of the park and into the city proper.

While Arata can tell the angels and tengu mean no harm, Kyouichi and Seo both seem to ignore them and present a defensive posture, ready to use gas grenades and the like to disperse them. However, Arata informs them that he can hear what they’re saying, and manages to defuse the situation by being the one person who can have a calm dialogue with everyone.

Arata’s colleagues are amazed that Arata can understand what the angels and tengu are saying—it’s a rare if not impossible gift for a mere human, and sure enough when an elder tengu appears and addresses Arata as Abe no Seimei, it’s all but confirmation Arata isn’t a mere human at all.

MOK follows a long tradition of night-oriented Tokyo-set shows like Tokyo Ghoul and Durarara!! in creating a rich and lived in animated version of the Eastern Capital. It also follows the latter of those two shows with a usually laid back, upbeat tone, helped in no small part by the jazzy score by Evan Call (previously of Violet Evergarden and currently of YU-NO). I found MOK—or Midnight Occult Civil Servants—clever, cozy, and cool.

Hanebado! – 02 – Smashing a Slump

The epic clash between Nagisa and Ayano…doesn’t go well, mostly due to the massive differential in both talent and motivation. Ayano just doesn’t care, so when Nagisa gets too into it, she just gives up, which of course makes Nagisa even more angry.

Ayano still stays in the club—ostensibly because Elena elects to become the manager, and she and Ayano can never be apart…I guess?—but Nagisa is caught in a bad slump, and feels she can’t get out of it unless she beats Ayano in a match in which both players are invested…easier said than done.

The three quitters also converse with another first-year, Yuu, who has a ritual of eating a hot dog on a stick after every workout. They can tell things are no less tense at practices than before they quit.

When paired up for doubles, Nagisa and Ayano crash into each other, but you get the feeling the collisions are all Nagisa’s fault, because she’s thinking about coming out of her slump and proving something far more than she’s thinking about the team. Coach Tachibana switches her out for Riko, who ducks to let Ayano return the shot.

Nagisa sees this as nothing but making Tachibana’s “favorite” look good, which she says is all everyone thinks people without talent are good for: making the talented look better. Nagisa’s huge chip on her shoulder is long-standing; she’s always been tall for her age, and despite working harder than almost everyone, that height was seen as a natural (and unfair) advantage.

When the quitters see Nagisa yelling at Yuu out of frustration, one of them confronts her, saying she used to envy her love of badminton. Left unsaid is the fact she probably pities her now.

Having watched enough of Nagisa’s play (and attitude) to diagnose the cause of her slump, Tachibana engages in a bit of tough love by having a match with her. Before he blew out his knee he was an Olympics-bound player, and it shows: he straight-up schools the slumping Nagisa.

But then, he says all the things she needed to hear: the misconceptions people have for tall people like her; the acknowledgement she’s good because of hard work, not her height; and perhaps most important, that she can’t just rely on being tall to deliver jumping smashes at this stage in her career, but have more trust in her shot and be less obsessed with controlling everything.

It’s a pep talk with immediate positive effects, and by the end of their match, Nagisa has scored a point against a would-be Olympian, and a smile returns to her face. She later apologizes to the team, promises she’ll be less selfish going forward, but also vows to one day beat Ayano. I’m just glad she’s out of her funk!

3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 10 – Love is Painful, but Also Fun

I’ll admit the title above isn’t a particularly original observation, but one thing it definitely is is true, as anyone who loves or has ever loved someone else can attest. When 3DK started I noted the balance in its core couple, and I stand by that assessment.

Whatever they may feel about their situation, the fact is both of them are at pretty much an equal disadvantage when it comes to matters of love and intimacy. Before falling for one another, neither had any experience with intimacy. Hikari had never liked or been liked by someone like Iroha, and Iroha had never liked or been liked by someone like Hikari.

Their mutual lack of experience has made for a bumpy road as their affection for one another intensifies, but it also leads to some novel strategies someone with more experience than Hikari might not attempt, such as having Iroha present for his gentle rejection of Ayado.

It wasn’t even a stone-cold rejection of Ayado, so much as a calm and measured affirmation that he’s simply already in love with Iroha. More importantly, he showed his work, explaining how he used to feel and how those feelings changed when he learned more about her, and when his preconceptions were replaced by truths.

Iroha, who only wanted to hear Hikari say the words “I love you”, wants to hear them again later, and Hikari knows not to refuse her. Ayado feels bad about being turned down, and both she and Hikari find themselves weighed down by their 3D problems in the immediate aftermath, but after that both are fine; Ayado is refreshed.

Itou knows now is not the time to confess his love for Ayado, nor is he sure such a time will ever come. When making up with Hikari after yelling at him by sleeping over, Itou reveals to Hikari that there’s a girl he likes, but believes he’s already been given his answer.

I wouldn’t be too sure about that; Ayado is coming off a rejection, but given time, she might be receptive to someone like Itou’s feelings provided, ya know, she is aware of them, and that’s up to Itou. It’s up to him whether he can get past the fact she once loved Hikari. In any case, as Itou says, it’s painful being in love, but also fun.

Hikari’s tale of romantic ineptitude is a simple one: he buried himself in games after he decided interacting with people was too hard and painful. It was Iroha who brought him back to the 3D world, and showed him how it wasn’t only pain that awaited him there, but a good deal of joy as well. He also learned how well-equipped he was to live in such a world, owing to his basic decency and kindness.

Iroha’s tale is one we hadn’t delved into, but I’m glad this episode finally does so. Iroha has a pretty face, and so she never wanted for the attentions of men of all ages, whether that attention was appropriate or not. When she pressed those who confessed to her what they liked, they gave only superficial answers.

What changed Iroha from an insular person not any more sure how to interact with people into someone approaching gregariousness was, apparently, a medical diagnosis. She decided she’d interact with as many people as she could, but she only managed to attract those like her; people only looked at the surface and never dug deeper.

In a way it’s hard to blame them, because like her it was all they knew. Then she met Hikari, someone who wasn’t simply looking to share in the kindred understanding of attractive people that your real self will always elude others. Hikari got past that, found the awkward person beneath the surface, and wanted to protect that person…and stuff.

Hikari is still nervous being alone with Iroha, particularly in his room, but after a day of karaoke and bowling during which Iroha discovers Hikari’s cool, intense side (going all out singing) as well as his delicate, nurturing side (clipping her nails when she breaks them while bowling), he comes to the realization he’s okay being with her.

When he and Iroha spotted his little brother holding hands with Takanashi’s little sister, Hikari lamented that he sometimes feels his life moves five times slower than average. But when you only have three months left with your girlfriend before she moves, he realizes that slowing of time is a good thing.

3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 09 – She Loves Me as I am; I Hurt Her as I am

Hikari manages to find Iroha, but their communication impasse continues unabated. Iroha knows she shouldn’t get so mad whenever he’s kind to others, but doesn’t quite know how. Hikari doesn’t know much of anything, just that something’s wrong and he wants someone—Iroha, Ishino, Takahashi—to give him all the answers.

Itou’s doomed pursuit of Ayado has him accompanying her into town for a post-fever hospital visit, but what with her talk of needing to confess to Hikari, he never gets what he deems a decent chance to tell her of his own feelings for her.

While on the train home (alone), Hikari dreams of Julia, the only other girl who ever interacted with him on a regular basis, in elementary school. She liked how he was good at drawing, but he didn’t know how else to get approval from others, so he kept drawing, even after everyone else, Julia included, moved on.

He repeats his assertion it’s a miracle someone like Iroha likes him, but decides a grand gesture like confessing his feelings for her might get things back on track. To his dismay, Iroha doesn’t want to talk, but Hikari only makes things worse by answering a text from Ayado when his attention should be on Iroha first and foremost.

I don’t care how indiscriminately kind you are; the person standing in front of you is almost always more important than a text or phone call. Hikari blows it, then gets completely blindsided by Ayado’s confession. So much so he runs away, engendering the scorn of Itou, who tells him he’s “the worst” for responding to Ayado’s courage with such cowardice.

Hikari surely looks like he’d like to go back to not having any friends at all, but it’s too late for that. He may not be on the best terms with some of them, but they’re still his friends. He may be on rough seas with Iroha, but they’re still boyfriend and girlfriend.

Ishino and Takanashi serve as sounding boards for Hikari and Iroha, and both find themselves giving out serious advice in spite of themselves. Like it or not, these two have become good friends with this dysfunctional couple, and so they’ll lend a hand whenever they can, because beneath Ishino’s rough and Takanashi’s douchey exteriors, they’re both good people.

Takanashi tells Iroha the only way to figure things out is to keep seeing Hikari and talking with him. Hikari, meanwhile, gets punched by Ishino…but at his request, leading him to properly respond to Ayado’s confession.

3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 08 – IT BURNS US, PRECIOUS!!!

In hindsight, the camping trip seemed doomed to failure. You had multiple parties involved who liked someone who didn’t like them back, whom I listed last week. You had the central couple just having forged their latest peace treaty after yet another misunderstanding. It all felt like so much tinder ready to ignite from the tiniest spark. Besides, we all know what camping leads to…FIRE.

Still, while things were all but certain to blow up before the episode concluded, it featured lots of good character pairings beyond the usual Hikari-and-Iroha. Ishino goes for it with Takanashi only to be turned down in sensational fashion (she asked what he didn’t like about her and he answered, holding nothing back).

While you could say Takanashi’s general feeling of being put out by being invited in the first place is a measure of comeuppance, he is also forced to endure as thorough a dressing-down from Iroha as he exacted upon Ishino. It’s not just that Iroha hates him for what he did to Hikari; she hates how he tries so hard to defend himself to the end.

Itou mostly keeps a respectful distance from his new crush Ayado, but when she calls him “cat-ears-senpai” one too many times he starts to suspect she doesn’t even see him as a potential mate. When she, convinced she’s a “below-average nothing of a girl” thinks no one is looking, she steals a gaze at Hikari talking and laughing with Iroha. But Itou is watching, and he can see—as could anyone with eyes—that Ayado is neither ‘below-average’ nor ‘nothing’.

Despite all this magma simmering just below the surface, it must be said that pretty much everyone is having fun on this trip, even if that fun is being somewhat marred by varying levels of heartache. Iroha even makes a point to tell Ishino how glad she is everyone is having fun. And then Ayado drops a teapot and burns her hand, and Hikari (who was in the kitchen with her) takes her to the sink and tenderly holds her hand under running water.

Seeing Ayado in Hikari’s hands—and seeing how she reacts to being in them—is too much to bear for Itou, who goes outside for some air. When Ayado goes so far as to make guilty eye contact with Iroha, it’s too much for her too, and before you know it, Iroha and Itou are outside for the exact same reason: Ayado and Hikari.

I don’t know if she’s on new medication to make her more sensitive and perceptive or if she was always like this beneath her rough exterior, but Ishino goes out and diagnoses Iroha’s mood with frightening accuracy, in addition to offer some worthwhile advice: if you don’t want things to keep getting weird, don’t be afraid to speak up on the spot.

The group reunites for cardplaying, but only Hikari and Takanashi actually seem interested in playing, while Ayado, who was accidentally pushed into the drink by Ishino, comes down with a fever. Tending to her falls to Iroha, which we later learn was Hikari’s idea, in yet another case of not knowing what he doeth.

Ayado’s pent-up feelings combined with her fever compel her to confess that she’s in love with Hikari, which is really the last thing Iroha needs to hear right there and then. The next time she sees Hikari, he pleads ignorance once more, and she blows her stack and runs off into the chilly woods. “Too dense. I’ve had enough of it.”


Hikari and Ayado are in trouble for the same thing: failing to properly gauge how their words and actions will be construed by the people they care about. Ayado’s poor timing and lack of tact set Iroha off, though she doesn’t deserve the reaming she gets from Takanashi.

Itou is there to put a stop it. Itou may never find himself being watched by Ayado the way Hikari has, but he won’t stand for Takanashi being overly cruel, not to mention hypocritical.

Meanwhile, Ishino accompanies Hikari to look for Iroha, who remains hidden (and cold) to the end of the episode. That’s one damn dark way to end! Honestly, I don’t know where Hikari and Iroha go from here. Hikari’s continued inability to understand anything is wearing thin, while Iroha knows that it’s not entirely his fault—his kindness for those deserving of it simply has no filter.

Sometimes it’s no one’s fault. Sometimes things just burn down, and all you can do is properly dispose of the ashes. Or will new growth (in their relationship) sprout from those ashes, like a Phoenix rising over Arizona?

3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 07 – Iroha and Hikari Grow Closer as Triangles Form

When Iroha sees Hikari with Ayado after telling her to stay away from him, Iroha is jealous. While she almost immediately regrets asking Ishino for advice, Ishino makes some good points.

Just because Iroha may not have ever told someone “the way she wants it to be” doesn’t mean she “has no right” to do so. In this case, it’s not imposing her will on Hikari so much as expressing how she feels to him, considering he’s not the world’s most perceptive man.

The situation resolves itself in a satisfying way, when Iroha witnesses Ayado being accidentally soaked then openly mocked by classmates, but turning the other cheek. She sees a lot of Hikari in her, someone who is kind and gentle, but also someone who perhaps gives too much without asking for anything in return. Hey, Ayado has a lot of Iroha in her too!

Iroha’s jealousy dissipates as she learns Ayado is a good person, while feeling regret for insisting Hikari trust her while initially doubting him a bit in this case. Iroha also seems worried about coming off as overly hostile or angry all the time, but Hikari doesn’t mind; he wants her to feel she can talk to him about anything bothering her.

The next day Ishino acts as Iroha’s attack dog unbidden, but they’re interrupted by Ayado herself, who wins Ishino over as quickly as Iroha (noting how Hikari surrounds himself with such beauties). With both Iroha and Ishino thus approving of her, Ayado seems poised to join their circle of friends.

Itou, on the other hand, bolts upon being introduced, but that turns out simply to be his shyness, and once he learns what a nice person Ayado is, before long he’s offering her a handkerchief to wipe away the tears of joy she sheds upon being invited to a picnic with the others.

Later, Hikari touches Ayado’s hair while trying to pluck something out of it (it turns out to be a caterpillar, which he’s not into). But unbeknownst to Hikari, his careless gesture of intimacy has Ayado’s heart racing.

When the weekend arrives, Hikari spends some quality guy time with Itou in Akiba, after Iroha politely declines to join them, insisting “she’ll be fine.” Hikari’s been given significant funds to spend on making himself look less scruffy-looking, and who should appear but the stylish Takanashi, who is apparently only in Akiba for a “computer part” (the district’s original claim to fame).

Takanashi reluctantly tags along and offers Hikari tips, all the while wondering “why am I doing this?” It’s not that complicated: Takanashi is not a complete asshole; as such, he feels bad about what he did to Hikari at school, and this is an act of penance.

He is rewarded when he’s able to witness Hikari being a badass when Ayado—handing out tissues in a maid costume for a new cafe to earn money to buy a figure she wants—is harassed by young men who find her irresistible.

Hikari isn’t overly judgy or aggressive—he merely puts himself between Ayado and the lads and firmly informs them of proper Akiba etiquette regarding maids, and encouraging them to come back once they’ve done more research. This performance causes Ayado to swoon once more.

Hikari meets up with Iroha that evening to apologize for not hanging out with her, and Iroha reiterates that it’s fine, and they have a nice chat (and he shows her his new fashionably short pants). The next morning Ayado races past them, and while it’s plain she has a crush on Hikari, it’s not plain to him.

When Ishino suggests, no, assigns the group of friends to a camping trip at her relative’s cabin in the woods, Hikari is firmly against such a “normie” activity—until both Itou and Iroha express genuine interest. Ishino is entrusting Hikari with inviting her crush Takanashi, while Itou is considering inviting his new crush Ayado.

So Ishino likes Takanashi, who like(d) Iroha; Iroha and Hikari like each other, Ayado likes Hikari, and Itou likes Ayado. Should be an interesting camping trip!

3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 06 – Isn’t This Kinda Nintendo Hard?

Hikari seriously needs to get up out of his head, for real. He also needs to RELAX. Iroha is upset because she’s worried he still doesn’t trust her. He uses his “I’m a stupid antisocial otaku who can’t read the atmosphere” card as an excuse for not understanding her anger/concern.

Meanwhile, Ayado Sumie is the easiest person in the world to talk with, and gives thanks and praise to Hikari, along with a batch of fresh potatoes, for helping her “live on with pride in her body” and simply “talking to somebody.”

Between having Iroha as a girlfriend and Ayado as, well, an admirer (if not more), Hikari’s grows a big head without even noticing it, and when he spots Itou talking to a cat, he assumes it’s out of loneliness because he isn’t hanging out with him enough.

Itou rebuffs Hikari’s angle with extreme prejudice, and before he knows it, Hikari is alone, like he was before, only now it’s unbearable, even when he’s cooking. He recalls how he and Itou met, back when it was not only bearable, but natural.

Itou was constantly taken advantage of by the class thugs, and Hikari won’t give him the time of day, but when he recovers Hikari’s earbuds after said thugs threw them out the window, Hikari pays him back by not flaking out on an after-school art project foisted upon them.

When the thugs try to destroy Hikari’s 800-yen magazine he just bought, Itou snaps into action, “making his kindness into something that can be properly returned.” Itou gets slugged, but he gains Hikari as a friend.

After apologizing and making up with Itou, Hikari considers doing the same with Iroha…but chickens out. Still, he can’t bear her angry face, and so waits quietly outside her house like a stalker until he realizes how stalkery this all is and prepares to leave, but Iroha answers the door.

He gives her a peace offering of potato dumplings, and she invites him in, finally admitting she’s tired of being angry, as well as explaining why she was. Hikari responds that there’s no way he wouldn’t trust her; it’s just that he can’t believe how happy he is because of her.

After they kiss and hug, that feeling intensifies, and curdles into distrust not in Iroha, but his own animal urges, which he assumes are not wanted. He promptly—probably too promptly—flees, and the next day he’s incredibly awkward with Iroha once more, and warns her to stay away from him.

Once again, he finds it much easier to interact with his kohai Ayado than Hikari, and finds comfort in sitting beside her. He also gives her some potato dumplings, since she gave him the potatoes. This would all be fine if Iroha couldn’t watch them being so friendly from the windows.

When Arisa sees Iroha and asks what’s up, Iroha can only run into her arms, clearly distraught, and wonder “why it has to be this way”. Hikari isn’t trying to hurt her—in fact, he’s trying to do the opposite—but he needs to learn about boundaries with other girls while he’s dating one…especially if he’s going to run out on her when he’s at her house and run away from her at school.

Dude seriously needs to relax and stop committing unforced errors.

Citrus – 12 (Fin)

The Citrus finale ends predictably, but starts with a bit of a surprise: Nina’s brute strength is all but neutralized by Yuzu’s sheer force of will. Nina realizes she can’t hold Yuzu back from doing something she may regret the rest of her life. But that doesn’t mean she won’t tag along when Sara summons Yuzu.

Nina has always seen her sister as someone who will put her own happiness last, and when she and Yuzu arrive, Sara appears to be doing just that by giving Yuzu a chance to confess to Mei. But letting Mei go and supporting Yuzu does make Sara happy. She can tell they’re a better match; they just need to work harder at understanding each other.

Sara is also happy because she has a little sister who cares about and protects her so much. And she has no intention of ceasing to be friends with either Yuzu or Mei. When you put it all together, Sara gained more than she lost.

As Yuzu takes the long walk to the shrine where Mei is waiting, her friends give her a wide berth. Matsuri wanted to inject herself into Yuzu’s trip, but resists the urge to bother her.

Harumin and Himeko spot Yuzu running like a bat out of hell, and both admit that her whirlwind nature is what draws them to her. Harumin has never minded supporting Yuzu as much as she has because she has so much fun watching her figure things out (that, and she’s a natural mama bird).

Night has fallen by the time Yuzu finds Mei on one of those bridges where confessions usually happen, but Mei is not in a receptive mood, and bolts when Yuzu tries to press the issue. Not quite sure if the ensuing chase was absolutely necessary, but it does add to the dramatic mood, especially when it ends with an accidental full-body tackle by Yuzu.

By the time Yuzu has Mei down by contact, she’s said a lot of the things she hadn’t said before but needed to, like admitting a lot of what Mei says and does just doesn’t make any damn sense to her, but also knows Mei feels the same way about her. She goes through the times Mei tried to reach out with her feelings when Yuzu was only thinking about her own.

Yuzu regrets putting Mei through those things, but it doesn’t change the fact she loves her and wants to do better, so if Mei loves her too, she should give her a kiss. Suddenly too bashful to do so, Mei has her mini teddy bear kiss Yuzu instead. Yuzu, in turn, gives Mei a kiss.

After much groping (literal and figurative) in the dark, the sisters are finally sure about one thing, even if Mei says she needs to date Yuzu to find out for sure. With that, they hook back up with Sara and Nina, Nina gives Mei and Yuzu her blessing and tells Mei to try to be more selfish at times, and they part ways with a promise to take a trip to Kyoto again, just the four of them.

Sara also said she’d “forgive” Mei for choosing Yuzu if Mei held Yuzu’s hand as they headed back to the hotel. On another cold night, Yuzu is thankful for Mei’s warm touch, leading to them sharing another kiss on another romantic bridge.

Back at school, Mei, Yuzu, Harumin and Himeko make a fine quartet, and Mei shows how much Yuzu’s confession meant by holding hands with her, even there on school grounds. Whatever the future holds for Yuzu and Mei, they’re going to enjoy their present.

That’s nice! I’m glad the stepsisters aren’t on tenterhooks and are moving forward with an attitude of honesty, openness, and a desire to understand each other more. With friends like Harumin, Himeko, and Sara (and…okay, fine, Nina too) supporting them, who at times threatened to steal the show away from the core couple, they’ll be just fine.

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 08

Thanks to his consulting network, Eizan Etsuya is one of Totsuki’s greatest wheeler-dealers, and his profits greatly exceed the combined tuition fees of the entire enrollment. He has connections with everyone, including the three Shokugeki judges. He also has a fifty-strong eviction force about to knock down Polar Star’s doors. Souma doesn’t have a chance in hell, nor do the Polar Star residents…right?

Well, not so fast. Food Wars didn’t back our friends into a corner just to hit the trap door and send them plummeting to their doom. Simply put, neither Souma nor his dorm-mates are going to take this raw deal sitting down. Even if Eizan and the judges say it’s hopeless, Souma just has to believe…it isn’t.

He finds a degree of support in Rindo, who clearly sees something in Souma, and wouldn’t want to see him expelled. Of course, he wouldn’t have been worth supporting if he does lose; she seems to be waiting for him to show what he can do, which is more than you can say for the dismissive Eizan and his puppet judges.

Satsuma chicken is the ingredient, and Eizan shows that yes, he can still cook by preparing some exquisite Haianese Chicken Rice, a dish as much of strict orthodoxy as it is a dish of elegance and restraint. The judges go nuts over it, and Souma is also impressed by the taste, which is most definitely refined.

But he isn’t going to win this thing, or even get to a point where the judges taste his dish, by trying to surpass Eizan in refinement or sticking to a script. If Eizan is classical, Souma’s got to bring the jazz. Fell deeds awake. Now for wrath, now for ruin, and the red dawn! 

His resulting dish, gyoza made with boned wings and a sauce composed of, among other things, ketchup and Parmesan, does indeed sound like a desperate cobbling together of disparate ingredients that will only do the noble Satsuma fowl a disservice. That’s what everyone thinks, at least.

The judges were in Eizan’s pocket. There was no way they were even going to entertain picking up a fork to taste Souma’s food. They were that sure Eizan’s dish was superior. And yet…I guess the smell was just a bit too irresistible, or maybe Eizan’s rice wasn’t quite filling enough.

Whatever the case, after Eizan tastes the gyoza and is left speechless, one of the judges digs in, then another, then another. And all of sudden, Souma has won 3-0, and the eviction (which had been thwarted by Polar Star in riot gear) is called off. Suddenly, the impossible is possible.

It’s a win for all of Polar Star, not just Souma, as he wouldn’t have stumbled upon the flavor combinations that beat Eizan’s competent but by-the-book cuisine were it not for their input and collaboration. Erina, having witnessed this dorm-as-a-culinary-think-tank, can’t believe such a chaotic system could work. And yet…it did. I wonder what her father will say about this.

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 07

During an exceedingly rare instance of Yukihira and the others actually being in class, new Totsuki boss Nakiri Azami gives another inaugural speech, this time laying out the nature of his “revolution.” And hey, it really is a revolution—a authoritarian one.

He immediately bans all groups, clubs, and research societies, then sets up a paramilitary organization called Central to enforce his strict culinary dogma. No more pockets of like-minded weirdos, and no more individual creativity. Azami and the Elite Ten will decide what is food and what is “animal feed.”

Azami believes that by eliminating the meritocracy and replacing the current system with his, Totsuki will be a more just and equal place, and a few low-level plebs can kinda dig it if it means they get to learn how the Elite Ten cook. But a lot of people are unhappy and unwilling to accept this.

Worse still, the banning of all autonomous entities in the school besides Central includes Polar Star Dormitory! I should have known such a warm and fluffy rendition of dorm life experienced by Erina was a bit of a danger flag, and now we see the beloved home and melting pot of the central core of the shows characters is in the crosshairs.

Many, including Souma, intend to challenge these edicts with Shokugekis, but Eizan buys off all the judges, who don’t even eat his challenger’s food before declaring Eizan the winner. It’s meant as a warning: challenge the new system, and you will be expelled.

Rather than break Souma’s spirit, Eizan only draws the redheaded kid’s ire. I’m not sure what Souma’s game plan will be, other than cooking chicken that smells so amazing even bought judges can’t help but eat and judge it, but Eizan has also arranged things so that in the three hours Souma is occupied with cooking in what could be another farce of a shokugeki, a band of delinquents is dispatched to evict Polar Star immediately.

I’m telling you, everything the good guys know and love has been turned on its head. #THISISNOTNORMAL. How in the heck are they going to get out of this awful mess?

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 06

Dark times would seem to be ahead for Totsuki Academy, as Azami is formally elected director by the Elite Ten (well, six of them anyway). His inauguration speech is pretty normal and humble, leading some in the crowd to think “huh, maybe he’s not that bad.” Oh, he’s bad.

Azami moves quickly to isolate Erina, summarily relieving Hisako of her role as her secretary, stating that all Erina needs is her father, who promises “he’ll always be by her side”, which is not only inaccurate (he has most certainly not been by her side for some time) but feels ominous and threatening. Worse still, Erina is incapable of defying her father. What the hell did he do to the poor girl?

Just as Souma is wondering how Erina’s grandfather Senzaemon is dealing with his sudden retirement, the super-cut senior shows up at Polar Star, bringing his impressive set of muscles and his stirring leitmotif. Amazingly, it’s the first time the two have met and talked face to face.

Souma accompanies Senzaemon on his routine evening training, and can barely keep up despite his youth; but for all his physical strength and wisdom, Senzaemon laments there is little he can do about his situation. However, a former student of his (Souma’s dad Jouichirou) told him Souma may be only person who can save Erina from Azami’s wrath.

We get a peek at that wrath, as Erina, once a vibrant young lady who loved to laugh (and also loved her cousin Alice) was essentially brainwashed by Azami into having an extremely narrow and critical manner of assessing taste.

Erina rightly knew that it’s wrong to waste food, but he broke her of that, and with the threat of violence and abandonment, molded Erina into his instrument. He even threw away all of Alice’s letters from Sweden, making Alice think she never wrote back out of malice. What a dick this guy is! I just met him and I already hate his guts.

Erina has been getting better since Senzaemon exiled Azami, and has made friends—first Hisako, and eventually Souma, though she’d never admit it—but now that Azami is back, she could revert back very quickly, as his power over her is all but absolute and she lacks the means to fight him.

Thankfully, just as Azami is moving quickly to put his bird back in a cage, that bird’s friends move just as quickly to prevent that from happening. Enter Alice and Ryou, who encounter a beside-herself Hisako and spring into action, getting Erina out of Nakiri Manor.

The question is, then what? As various options for where she should be harbored are shot down for various practical reasons, and a heavy rain starts to fall, Erina considers giving up and going back, lest she cause problems for her friends.

But those friends would much rather have those problems than let Azami take her from them. Her retreat is interrupted by Megumi; the rescue group and Erina have stumbled upon the grounds of Polar Star Dormitory. Megumi welcomes them all in to shelter.

Souma arrives from his talk with Senzaemon to find the one he’s supposed to save in his dorm, which must feel pretty surreal. When the prospect of harboring her is floated to the other dorm members, they’re mostly weary…until Hisako tells them the story of how Erina grew up, and they instantly change tack, welcoming her with open arms and appalled she had to go through such hell.

This is another reminder of how nice and close-knit the occupants of Polar Star are; it goes beyond cooking (though they are excited to feed the God Tongue and hear her critique their cuisine); they’re a family, and are more than willing to welcome another member to that family, especially if there’s nowhere else she can go.

Souma, for his part, is pretty hands-off, which is just as well; the warm and caring nature of Polar Star is such that he can depend on them to keep her safe even when he’s not around. He may not have promised Senzaemon he’d “save Erina”, but he does want to get her to earnestly call his food delicious…which is pretty much the same thing, when you think about it.

There are certainly dark clouds in the horizon as Azami tightens his grip on power, and there’s no telling what he has in store for those who try to steal away his God Tongue, the linchpin of his so-called “revolution” that will transform Totsuki into a “Utopia” (which, if you’re recall, means “place that cannot be”). Let there be no doubt: Nakiri Azami is a bad man who has done awful things, and he must be opposed and defeated at any cost.

This was one of the strongest Food Wars episodes, and it didn’t need to get anywhere near a shokugeki; all it needed to do was unleash the tremendous collection of characters it has nurtured, and all I needed to do was sit back and watch the wonderful spirit of togetherness and solidarity surround Erina in her hour of most dire need. I’m even more excited than last week to see where this goes, particularly when in regards to Souma and Erina.

Fate / Zero – 25 (Fin)

Did the Holy Grail know Kiritsugu would reject it? Who can say? But even if it initially chose him to be its bearer, his order to Saber to destroy it flipped the script. It also flipped the cup, as the Grail’s destruction means the black ooze it contained falls upon Fuyuki, destroying everything in sight, to Kiritsugu’s great despair. Even trying to do the right thing at the right time would seem to have backfired on this exceedingly unlucky and tortured soul.

Speaking of tortured souls, Kariya is still barely alive when he returns to the Matou basement, but while his senses tell him he is reuniting Sakura with Rin and Aoi, in reality Sakura is abandoning him to the Crest Worms and accepting the fate he tried in vain to keep her from.

Perhaps it was the contents of the Grail, not the Grail itself, that mattered most, as those contents fell on Archer, but rather than destroy him along with everything else, it gave him physical form (though not clothes). And because Gilgamesh still had a pact with Kirei, it resurrected him, albeit with no heartbeat.

That literal lack of a beating heart is indicative of his departure from humanity, as is his apparently Grail-fulfilled wish for death and destruction around him, and a hunger to “learn more” and explore the depths of his inhumanity. But as I said, the Grail will never fully satiate; at best it can only lock people—Servants and Masters alike—in a perpetual state of searching.

As for Kiritsugu, he’s done searching. Indeed, he seems to be just about done with everything, owing to the curse bestowed on him by a scorned Grail and his entire life’s work burning before him. The last thing he searches for—a single survivor among the scorched rubble—is something he ironically finds immediately.

By saving that single life—a young Shirou—Kiritsugu himself is saved. It’s a concept a sneering Kirei can’t possibly comprehend enough even to envy.

With that, the clock on the Fourth Holy Grail War reaches…Zero and comes to an end, with the official winner in doubt, though more-or-less claimed by Kirei, since the Grail seemingly brought him back.

Back at his “grandparents”, Waver announces he’s going to set aside his magical studies for a bit, get a part-time job, live with them, and save up enough to travel the world his king once conquered a good chunk of.

Kirei has upheld his promise to his master to look after Rin after he’s gone, likely so that he can observe and absorb all of the grief, pain and suffering Rin is likely to experience on the long, hard road all heads of great families must walk.

Rin maintains a stoicsm beyond her years at her father’s futural, even as she wheels her brain-damaged, delusional mom around. What gets her to crack and shed tears is the Azoth dagger; Kiritsugu twisting the blade like the piece of work he is.

And Saber, poor Saber, is back in Britain, on a battlefield strewn with corpses, having led everyone nowhere but to their own deaths. She remembers Lancelot’s last words to her, about how he only ever sought her righteous judgment for betraying her and falling in love win Guinevere.

Arturia considers herself a failed king who never understood anyone, and considering her surroundings it’s hard to argue with that assessment.

As for Saber’s former Master, he is banned from Einzbern Castle forever, having failed to secure the Grail for them, and never sees his daughter Ilya again. So he adopts Shirou, fixes up the old safe house, and spends the next five years raising his adoptive son and living a quiet but happy life.

One night he tells Shirou how he once wanted and tried to be a hero, but ultimately failed. Shirou confidently promises his dad he’ll become a hero in his place. A heavenly light suddenly shines above Saber; a ray of hope.

Clearly contented by his son’s words, Kiritsugu starts to peacefully pass away, with an answer for his friend Shirley’s question about what he wanted to be when he grew up: he wanted, and still wants, to be a hero.

* * * * *

And that’s it for Fate/Zero! Boy, what a ride it’s been these past five weeks. That was a far better show than I could have imagined…which is why it took so long after UBW to watch it. Burned by previous prequels to beloved works, I was worried knowing pretty much how everything would end would make it difficult for the stakes to matter.

Yeah…I was dead wrong about that. Not only was I far more emotionally invested in Zero, it was a lot more approachable, had a lot more heart, and took a lot more risks than the smoother, shinier UBW. It’s not that UBW is bad, it’s simply a matter of Zero kicking ass in virtually every aspect of the game. It wasn’t just a great anime, it was great television; great storytelling, full stop. So thanks to everyone out there who recommended it to me. It was well worth a look back.