Violet Evergarden – 03

Violet attends Auto Memoir Doll Class, sternly instructed by Mrs. Rhodanthe. Violet treats it like military training, and without trying impresses the whole class with her two hundred words-per-minute typing speed, earns top marks for grammar and vocabulary. So far, so good.

Her desk neighbor Luculia (whose seiyu I can’t quite place…Yuuki Aoi, perhaps?) takes an interest in the “doll-like girl with a soldier’s demeanor.” When the time comes to ghostwrite letters to one another, Violet’s letter to Claudia sounds like a dry report, while Violet utterly fails to parse out the feelings Luculia expresses, resulting in another tactless letter full of potential misunderstandings, which the instructor soundly rejects. Technical proficiency will only get you so far in this class.

Still, Luculia, while walking partway home with Violet, decides to show her her favorite view of the city, from the clock tower. This induces a vivid flashback for Violet, remembering Major Gilbert telling her how he wished for her to see that very view.

This reinforces the notion that the only way Violet will make any progress—either as a Memoir Doll in touch with her clients’ feelings or a woman in touch with her own—is through external interactions with her fellow townfolk, like Luculia, which bring out her internal emotions. Seeing the view the Major wanted her to see is a step in the right direction.

At first, Luculia chose her brother as the recipient of her letter, but switched to her parents, and we get a glimpse of why: her brother is a raucous drunk and a layabout, and not really available to hear what Luculia might want to say, even if she found the words to say. Watching her eat dinner alone in the dark as he snored beside her was sad beyond words.

When the Doll class concludes, Violet is not among the nine who graduated, though Luculia does pass. Violet reports her failure to Claudia, who tells her not to feel so bad, since graduation isn’t a requisite of being a Doll. But Violet isn’t satisfied. She doesn’t see how she serve any purpose as a doll if she can’t do what the instructor said: draw out the true feelings the client wishes to express.

Violet returns to the school, perhaps for further guidance, but to her surprise is met by Luculia, who offers to ghostwrite her a letter about the person she kept mentioning at the end of her previous ones: the Major. This leads to Violet telling Luculia why she wanted to be a Doll in the first place (to understand what “I love you” meant).

Whether Luculia took “the Major’s last words to me” to mean the Major is dead or not, she proceeds to pour her heart out about her own situation. Her parents, whom she had Violet ghostwrite letters to, were killed in the war, and her brother, who was in the army but never saw battle, blames himself for not being able to defend the city where their parents died.

Here I thought he was tortured by the things he had to do in the heat of battle—this world’s equivalent of PTSD. But it’s the regret over not being able to do anything that took root in his heart that has been eating away at him ever since.

Watching him get into a pointless fight and getting badly beaten as Luculia expressed her feelings made for some singularly powerful drama, aided in no small part by Evan Call’s sumptuous score, which never strays into melodrama.

Violet hears Luculia’s words, and after Luculia leaves, takes up the typewriter once more. The next time we see her, she’s blocking a drunken, supine brother’s crutch with one arm, and delivering him a ghostwritten letter with the other. He had been lying there remembering better times, when he and Luculia would climb to the top of the clock tower to enjoy the view. It’s clear even here, at rock bottom, that he loves his sister very much.

The letter is oh-so-brief: I’m glad you’re here for me. Thank you for everything. They’re the words Luculia wanted to say but couldn’t, and they’re the words her brother needed to hear but weren’t being said. Words of forgiveness, gratitude, and love.

The next day, Luculia takes Violet back to the school once more. Luculia and her brother are on the road to rebuilding a relationship, thanks to the letter. Rhodanthe presents Violet with a brooch signifying her status as a graduate of the class, in hopes she’ll become an exemplary Memoir Doll.

This time Violet listened and understood the words being spoken, and took from them the feelings that needed to be expressed, without the need for paragraphs of flowery language. All she needed was a strong inspiration—almost a muse—and found one in Luculia.

We’ll see how this breakthrough translates to being able to successfully convey the feelings of people other than her new friend. But for now, Violet has achieved a hard-earned and well-deserved victory.

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Violet Evergarden – 02

The second episode of Violet Evergarden begins with a flashback to four years ago, when Gilbert first “met” Violet. I use quotes, because his brother suddenly presents him with Violet like she’s a new weapon for him to try out, rather than a human being to meet.

As we know, Gilbert would come to think a lot more of Violet than merely as a trusty tool, be it a comrade in arms, a sister, or even a lover. But witnessing the simple moment they met serves to underscore what was lost when they were suddenly separated at the end of the war.

I imagine Violet and Gilbert were quite inseparable for all of the four years that followed, but now they’re apart, and Violet is trying to make the best of it. More importantly, she wants to learn what the last three words he said to her meant.

For her, that means learning the secrets of the women who write letters that properly express the feelings and intentions of their clients. But there’s a problem: Violet may be able to express love—for Gilbert, mostly—but since she doesn’t understand love, she doesn’t know she’s doing it.

As such, despite her speed and precision at the typewriter, she has a rough go of perceiving or transcribing the clients’ wishes. She’s always lived by cold hard facts and logic. The nuances of words and the concept of tact are as foreign to her as her metal arms are to her new co-workers Cattleya, Erica, and Iris.

When a customer is so angry he prepares to walk out without paying, Violet restrains him with ease, showing she can be an asset to the business (in addition to accurately typing addresses and records). But she’s not going to learn about love by simply doing the grunt-work.

Unfortunate circumstances lead her to writing a “love letter” from an interested woman who doesn’t want to come off as too easy to her admirer, and it goes about as well as you suspect. I actually really felt for the poor customer who had the bad luck to entrust Violet with such a coorespondence.

But I also felt bad for Violet, who has no idea (not yet at least) why her letter was so horrible. We can only hope she’ll apply that military discipline and sticktoitness to learning the finer points of interpersonal communication…and tact. I felt worse still when she thought she saw the back of Major Gilbert’s head, and her crestfallen face when it turned out to be a stranger.

The fellow Auto Memoir Doll who gets the most exposure this week is Erica, who was struggling to write letters that satisfied her customers before Violet showed up. In Violet’s blunders she sees her own shortcomings in this very tricky business, albeit different shortcomings.

She later learns from Violet (in a gorgeous end-of-the-rain scene where the sun starts to pour on their faces) why Violet is so adamant on persisting with the job even though she’s not well-suited for it: to learn what “I love you” meant.

Erica often walks past a store window with an early typewriter, whose inventor built for his blind wife so she could keep writing novels. It was a tool build out of love. The wife’s novels inspired Erica to try her hand at writing, and she intends to stick it out just as Violet does.

Erica (and Iris for that matter) are well aware not everyone can be Cattleya, who is the company’s popular (and money-making) celebrity. She likes Claudia Hodgins (so named because his parents wanted a daughter), but he can’t treat her to dinner because he spent his month’s pay to retrieve the brooch Gilbert gave to Violet, which was later stolen and placed on the black market.

Once Cattleya dolls Violet up a little to give her a look better befitting her regimental aura, Hodgins presents the brooch to Violet as a surprise, and her reaction shows every one present there’s a lot more to Violet than she’s revealed to them thus far.

When Cattleya asks Hodgins about the “Gilbert” Violet mentioned, he tells her, gravely swirling his drink (creating patterns of undulating light on the bar) and as Violet, in her quarters holds her brooch up to the light: Gilbert is from the rich and famous Bougainvillea family.

But still unbeknownst to Violet, he’s Never Coming Back, in one of the more effective episode title drops I’ve ever had the privilege to see. Violet bites the brooch, no doubt believing she’s now a little closer to meeting Gilbert again. In reality, that brooch is all that’s left of him.

It’s a truth Hodgins is in no apparent hurry to reveal to her, and who can blame him? The way she is now, Violet would either not believe him, and possibly undertake a desperate, futile quest to find him, or believe him, and lose all will to live one moment longer without her Major.

Violet Evergarden – 01 (First Impressions)

Violet’s life was once simple to the point of elemental. Rather than earth, fire, water, and air, she had the Battlefield, the Mission, the Orders, and, most importantly, the one who provided the last two on the first, the Commanding Officer; Major Gilbert.

When she comes to in a hospital, her face and arms bandaged, unable to hold a pen, Major Gilbert is the first person she calls for. She believes she’s in sufficiently good working order to begin the next Mission. She wants Orders as soon as possible. She wants to return to the Battlefield. She wants Gilbert.

She doesn’t get any of that. Instead, there’s this guy Colonel Hoggins. Violet’s new orders are simply to come with him. He takes her to a mansion, and there lives the Evergarden family to whom Gilbert has entrusted her until she comes of age.

In this civilized civilian capital untouched by war, Violet must feel utterly out of place. You don’t go stashing a military asset in a civilian setting, now do you? That would be improper. And Violet has always seen herself as such an asset. It’s why she stands at attention and salutes Mrs. Evergarden.

When Violet cannot grasp a lovely-looking cup of tea, it’s a highly symbolic gesture that becomes far more explicit when she reveals her adamantine hand. The metal on that hand is unlike anything else in that mansion, and so it doesn’t look like it belongs. Violet senses this.

When Hoggins starts to go, she protests. She must have orders at once. She must contact Gilbert. She must restore those elements that made up her world as long as she could remember. But again, Hoggins is unaccommodating. The war is over, he tells her, and to her that means she no longer has a purpose, and should be disposed of.

Colonel Hoggins, realizing Violet won’t adjust to life in peacetime so easily, decides to take her with him to the new postwar business he started: a civilian post office that also ghostwrites letters for the many members of the populace that can’t write (presumably due to the ravages of the war).

Because Hoggins, once the a leader of a force dedicated to destroying the enemy and nothing else, found a new niche in the war their blood and toil created, so can Violet. It’s just a matter of re-configuring the nature of those elements which she requires to live.

The “Battlefield” is now the port city of Leiden. In Gilbert’s stead, Hoggins is now her Commanding Officer (he prefers “Boss”). He’ll issue her Missions and Orders.

Those orders will consist not only of work—sorting and delivering mail—but also to learn that she needn’t work all day and night; that she must take breaks, eat, sleep, and all the other things civilians take for granted every goddamn day.

She seems to gradually get the hang of things, but there’s still a “fire” within her Hoggins hopes she’ll one day recognize. Not a literal fire, of course, but the fire of the trauma she suffered. She may regard herself as a weapon and tool and much of the rest of the army might’ve thought the same, but there’s also a human girl in there, and it’s time for her to live and be free.

Live and be free were Gilbert’s last orders, so Violet has no qualms about carrying them out. One day, she listens to one of the “Auto Memoir Dolls” writing a letter for a man who wants to urge his childhood friend not to marry another man.

As the words flow out of the “Doll” (really a beautiful, perceptive woman), memories of Violet’s former Battlefield surface. They’re brutal, and cruel, and dark. She’s every bit as brutal, taking out every enemy soldier that comes near her with grim efficiency and with no regard for her personal safety. We also see Gilbert, who seems to silently curse having to send her out to fight and kill.

The Doll’s closing words in the man’s letter are “I love you”, which are the last words Violet heard from Gilbert, who most likely died in that alley.

Violet didn’t understand those words, any more than a rifle would, but after witnessing the Doll use those words with such surety and conviction, she wants to learn what they mean. As such, she asks Gilbert if she can join the Auto Memoir Dolls in order to learn more about love and other emotions. Gilbert agrees, and Violet’s new Mission begins.

My first impressions of Violet Evergarden are…Wow. Dayum. This is how shit is done. KyoAni really balled out, delivering a wonderfully structured, quietly thrilling portrait of this broken vet. The war between nations may be over, now a new, more difficult war begins: to survive and find purpose in peacetime; to learn what an individual is and to learn what love is.

Ishikawa Yui (AKA Mikasa Ackerman) also delivers a compelling perfomance as, well, someone very similar to Mikasa in terms of loyalty to the person she loves most (though Vi doesn’t know what love is yet) to her general badassery.

Animation is, in a word, majestic. There’s a very vivid sense of the ugly pall of war being lifted over this alternate world, and yet the episode never banged us over the head with exposition. The flashbacks to the battle are effective in their brevity and intensity.

And the score, composed by American Evan Call, was the perfect aural accompaniment to Violet’s story. I don’t award 10s to first episodes lightly, but in the case of this episode, there is no other choice. Bravo.

Alice to Zouroku – 05

(In an attempt to balance our workloads, I’ve taken over Alice to Zouroku reviewing duties from Preston.)

In this episode apparently brought to you by SNICKERS® (You’re not you when you’re hungry. Eat a SNICKERS®.) Minnie C doesn’t easily give up her captives, so she and Ichijou Shizuku enter a long, sustained battle full of CGI effects that holds together reasonably well, considering the show itself has never striven for ufotable-level precision.

Minnie C puts on a good fight, but Shizuku eventually wears her down due to her superior power: the ability to summon any number of 666 weapons and 13 grimoires from a magical storeroom derived from an anime she used to watch.

That’s not as satisfying a powers-origin story as, say, Minnie C, but the major difference is that Shizuku is fighting for others, while Minnie is only fighting for herself, angry at the world for taking away her darling. When she runs out of energy and Shizuku stands triumphantly over her, I really feel for Minnie C when she apologizes to her husband for continuing to be alive, because she’s completely wrong: her husband wants her to live. That means finding another reason for living beyond being with him.

Meanwhile, the now-freed (and largely static during the battle) Alice celebrates and underscores her and Zouroku’s new freedom by floating with him high up into the sky, something he’s fine with after being cooped up on that container ship so long. He’s also fine that Alice is accepting of his and Sanae’s love and invitation to join their family, no matter what kind of being she truly is.

Minnie C is shipped back to the states, and the organization that employed her and the other ability-users and pursued is dismantled by the police. Alice takes to the granddaughter role with gusto, further charming her new big sister Sanae, who has no end of plans to use Alice’s newly-restored energy to have “fun”, a concept once foreign to Alice.

Shizuku and Ryuu rest easy, knowing all’s well that ends well. Ryuu almost seems to want to will the next crisis into being by wishing another “incident” would come along, but until then, it’s nice to see Alice, Zouroku, and Sanae simply having a normal dinner on a normal night, in the normal lives they hope to maintain even after all that’s come to light.

In fact, this could be the finale to a five-part miniseries, as it leaves me wondering what the show has lined up next.

Alice to Zouroku – 04

Nearly the entirety of this episode is spent in the cramped dark interior of a Hummer in which Minnie C continues to restrain Sana and lectures her about the fact that she’s not human, but rather a random but extremely powerful phenomenon that’s taken the form of a little girl.

Their scenes feel numerous and repetitive, until Sana meets someone who looks like her older self in her subconscious, then musters the energy to transport Zouroku into the car with her and Minnie C.

This occurs after Zouroku makes it clear he not only wants Sana back, but wants to make her a part of his and Sanae’s family. Sanae concurs, but hopes in the future her gramps will be more open and communicative with her and Sana.

When Zouroku is in the Hummer, he wastes no time lecturing Minnie C, who is unquestionably up to some of the “crooked stuff” he hates so much. Minnie can justify her beastly actions all she likes; as far as Zouroku is concerned, Sana is a little girl who doesn’t deserve this treatment…even if she isn’t really a little girl (and the jury is very much still out on that).

When Minnie starts shooting her service pistol, Sana tries to surrender, but Zouroku won’t let her call herself a monster or a waste of time. It’s his choice what he gets himself into, and now that he’s into this, he’s committed to her well-being.

That being said, neither Sana nor Zouroku have the power to oppose Minnie C, which is why seeing Ichijou Shizuku arrive at the scene to rescue them is necessary.

Her appearence in her suit left me doubting she was the same “cosplaying” girl who saved Sana from Minnie in the first ep, but now at least we know she’s a “Cabinet Information Research Office Secret Service agent”, and Ryuu and her superiors are well aware of her abilities.

This episode felt like it dragged the rescue out, and as a result, it was very monologue-heavy. Also, Ryuu’s assurances everything would be fine (which they turned out to be) kinda sapped the tension. I’m glad Sana and Z were rescued, and have a powerful ally who knows how to properly use her powers.

Alice to Zouroku – 03

In the aftermath of Sana’s big pig-conjuring hiccup, she’s loath to come right out and apologize to Zouroku (as any little kid would be), but playing Good Cop Bad Old Man, Ryuu manages to get Sana to wear a tracking device so he and Shizuku can help keep her safe.

He also wants Zouroku to go ahead and adopt Sana, which is a big step, but isn’t necessarily out of the question for the ol’ buzzard. Sana is a highly believable (and adorable) little kid throughout, constantly asking for juice but taking offense when Sanae asks if she needs help in the potty.

Meanwhile, Kitou takes of the kid gloves and sends in Minnie C Tachibana (again) to retrieve Sana. While en route to her mission we learn quite a bit about Minnie that makes her both a more sympathetic character and explains why she’s on the side of the bad guys.

Minnie met and immediately fell in love with and married an American marine, but when he was killed defusing a bomb in Iraq, she was a lost at sea (figuratively). That is, until she was reborn as a Dream of Alice out of a desire to be held in his big hairy arms – the arms we saw in episode one.

We also learn, I believe for the first time, that Sana’s elaborately costumed saviour from that first episode was actually Shizuku; they have the same blue mirror gate, after all. What’s interesting about this is that while Minnie, the Twins, and the Artist are all under the control of the facility, Shizuku is not only free but leads a normal life.

This is probably why despite Sana possessing power many magnitudes higher than she, Shizuku is working to keep Sana free. At her young age, she still has a chance to lead a normal life. But controlling her powers is key.

And what powers. In another flashback we see Kaitou showing Minnie C the “Wonderland” Sana conjured with a thought. Among the Dreams of Alice, Sana is clearly the crown jewel for them, and the facility wants to keep studying her under it’s determined if others can gain the same level of power.

Minnie C is fully on board with this, because if she can attain Sana’s power, she might be able to bring back her husband. That seems like a long shot, but she clearly thinks its worth it and has dedicated her life to that goal, even though Sana’s power specifically does not harm humans…for now.

Minnie C and Shizuku, then are diametrically opposed in their treatment of Sana. Minnie C has absolutely no compulsions about violently restraining Sana and threatening to break her neck. Sana is The Objective, nothing more. For Shizuku, as well as Zouroku and Sanae, Sana is a little girl who deserves better than lab rat status simply because she has supernatural power.

We leave Sana in the firm hands of Minnie’s beloved, and the good guys only have the faintest idea where she might have gone. But Shizuku is flying through the city, hoping she’s going in the right direction, and won’t rest until she’s found and re-rescued. Hopefully she won’t be too late before Minnie C’s obsession allows Sana to be hurt any further.

Sore ga Seiyuu! – 11

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The “most helpful” short review of SgS on MAL describes the show to a T, portraying working life reality without resorting to tropes, with adorable characters with regular human flaws and worries, and situations relatable to viewers of all professions despite the unique seiyu milieu. An apt description of a show that’s remained on my Summer watchlist due to its uniqueness, honesty, and heart.

This week, Futaba neither wants to be left behind nor hold her unit-mates back, so when she gets a “program reg”, a semi-steady bit role in a new anime, she tries her hardest…and ends up trying a little too hard for her precious voice. She’s not the only one who tried to hard, and she isn’t the last in this episode about a very important part of a Seiyu’s job and life: self care.

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Shiraishi Ryoko (whom I know best as the lovely Himeko in SKET Dance) gives Hocchan a run for her money as the best cameo on the show to date, because the episode positions her both as another seasoned veteran for Futaba to look up to (and Futaba is struck by her beauty, vocal versatility, and preparation) and as a voice of earnest caution against working to hard at the cost of one’s health.

All jazzed up about her boisterous young boy voice role, Futaba strains her voice, and all the seiyus around her suggest various remedies. Shiraishi gives her honey herb cough drops, but to no avail; the next day Futaba comes down with a cold. Thanks to her manager’s wrangling, she’s still able to record her lines, but must do so separately, losing precious hours amongst her peers in the studio.

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She comes back, none the worse for wear, and Shiraishi is there to offer more support, and life advice I presume comes straight from the real Shiraishi’s life. She thinks she was about Futaba’s age when she hurt her throat, but it wasn’t a cold, it was vocal cord nodules, the result of being so excited and busy with her voice work she never gave her throat a chance to rest and heal. As a result, she needed surgery, which no other seiyu she knew had ever undergone.

She was thus understandably worried about the operation, but she had no choice: for Shirashi, then and now, being a seiyu was her life. There was nothing else she wanted to do, and her talent and popularity proved it was the right path. She might’ve over-scared Futaba a bit, but the lesson remains: don’t get too caught up and push too hard too fast. Futaba also wants to life a seiyu’s life, so she has to take care of her voice. That means going at her own pace, even if that pace is slower than Ichigo’s and Rin’s.

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The episode’s second half chronicles Earphones’ preparation for their first real concert, a two-hour affair at a 500-seat venue. Only problem is, after one week they’ve only sold twelve tickets, and they only have three songs to their name. So in addition to stepping up their marketing and promotion for the concert in a big way, the unit also has to learn a bunch of cover songs to fill the time.

Ichigo commits to writing up the choreography for those songs, and becomes an idol possessed of a fire that makes Futaba and Rin tremble. After days of hard dancing, Ichigo and Futaba are a lot sorer than Rin, owing to being older…yet still young, they protest!

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They make a promotional push by pounding the pavement and distributing flyers at the popular Anitumn Festival (well, outside the festival, anyway) and before long, their venue is around halfway sold out, a great improvement from twelve takers. With Futaba’s newfound devotion to going at her own pace, she remains positive while working to master Ichigo’s dance moves.

Everything is coming together, and the group is in the highest of spirits, which bodes well for the success of the concert, as they’ll be wearing their hearts on their sleeve up on that stage before however many hundreds of people attend. But then Ichigo injures her ankle tripping on a bottle of water. Oh mannn….

Just like that, Earphone’s concert is in serious jeopardy, demonstrating that whatever your profession, even if you do take care of yourself, shit still happens; shit you can’t predict or prepare for. Here’s hoping it’s not a bad sprain, and if it is, the unit doesn’t let the setback douse their spirits.

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Sore ga Seiyuu! – 10

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As the OP states, even though Kohana Rin is only fifteen, she’s been working for ten years. As such, she’s by definition not your ordinary, run-of-the-mill fifteen-year-old junior high schooler. She’s a special case, which is why her counselor counsels her to seek education at a high school better suited for special cases such as hers, in which she can take acting classes and her work-related absences can be worked around.

The whole reason Rin’s been working so long (in addition to being talented) is that she used to be so painfully shy, so her parents put her in a theater trope. Since then, she’s simply gone with the flow, but it isn’t until now, when she’s now faced with going to a different school than her oldest and best friend, the heart-eyed Sayo, that she starts to doubt whether she even should be a seiyu.

The episode makes it a point to show that unlike Futaba and Ichigo, her present situation didn’t come about as a result of a choice she consciously made; her parents made it for her in hopes it would help her social skills. Futaba and Ichigo don’t lets their doubts get the best of them because they know they’re on the path they want to be on. But Rin isn’t so sure anymore.

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Things become a little clearer when, suddenly and coincidentally, her manager hands her a script for an anime film where she’ll be playing the little sister of the lead, voiced by Kamiya Hiroshi (making his second appearance on SgS). The director specifically chose Rin because he wanted a real 15-year-old actor.

With few actors her age out there with as much experience, she seems the perfect choice, but Rin’s recent realization she hasn’t led a typical 15-year-old’s life makes her uncertain. The director cuts several times because she’s either sounding too responsible or too young. But that’s to be expected, considering Rin is more responsible and composed than most kids her age.

Even Kamiya tells her she impresses him; when he was fifteen, all he did was goof off, and even though he’s regarded as one of the industry’s top voices, his own opinion of himself is of someone constantly unsure if he’s even cut out to be a seiyu. He can be negative and overthink things. He never thinks he’s good enough, so he’s always polishing.

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Learning this insight from such a towering voice works wonders for Rin, now that she knows she’s not the only one who feels the way she does. And however her career started, she is a seiyu, and she wants to become a great one. For that, she decides she’ll change schools for high school.

When she breaks the news to Sayo, Sayo takes it as you’d expect. She can’t hide her sadness or tears, but nor does she think it’s the end of their eternal relationship; not by a long shot. In fact, Sayo’s tears are both of sadness they won’t see as much of each other, but also joy and pride that her once-profoundly shy friend has grown so strong, and can now stand on her own two feet.

Of course, Rin still needs Sayo’s help with one thing, and will continue to year after year, no matter what: their annual end-of summer giant parfait.

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