Princess Connect! Re:Dive – S2 12 (Fin) – Gochisousama

I love the battle music in PriConne not just because it’s tremendous in its own right, but reminds me of other great battle themes, like this one from early in Final Fantasy XIII-2, which gets me in the mood to write about this fantastic finale.

The final feast of PriConne 2 is a sumptuous multi-course smorgasbord comprised of myriad shapes, sizes and colors. Yuuki not only powers up Pecorine, but everyone, and the townsfolk rally for the sake of their princess. Kaiser is wrong; they’re not useless in just being able to yell. It’s because of them Peco and the others are able to fight and break through.

When Kaiser decides “screw it, I’m going to destroy this cursed world”, she brings up her two aces in the hole, Neneka and Labyrista, whose minds she’s overthrown. But their combined attack (which resembles the bankai Senbonzakura Kageyoshi) is blocked and nullified…by a reinvigorated Karyl, choosing the right side and sticking with it.

As the battle progresses, Kaiser (AKA Mana) longs to be reunited with someone named “Minerva”, without whom she’s endured crushing loneliness for countless time loops. Yuuki is able to release Kaiser’s hold on Labyrista’s avatar, and Labyrista quickly releases Neneka. Having lost her two most powerful weapons, Kaiser doubles down on her recklessness by letting the shadows envelop and overthrow her.

As final bosses tend to do, this turns her into a colossal slime monster, but thanks to the other guilds showing up to support them, the Gourmet Guild are able to leap inside the mass of goo, and Yuuki, Kokkoro and Pecorine are able to clear the way for Karyl to reach her majesty and try to save her.

In a gray morose world on the brink of destruction, Karyl, Kaiser’s Princess Knight, won’t let her body and soul vanish into the abyss. Even when the structure around them crumbles, Karyl doesn’t let go, and even though geting her there mortally wounded Yuuki, he chooses to go back and reach out to Karyl, pulling both her and Kaiser out of sure oblivion and back into the world.

The townsfolk rejoice as the Gourmet Guild emerge unharmed and victorious. Kaiser, either no longer a threat or unwilling to fight any further, accepts her loss and is arrested. Her spell on Peco’s parents is lifted, and they remember their daughter and embrace her.

Her friends look on with full hearts as she weeps buckets of tears of joy into the bosom of her mother the queen. And then she takes her rightful place back at Landosol Castle, addressing her adoring people.

Back at the Gourmet Guild, Karyl is the new chef, and assures the others that her meal might not look like much but it tastes great. Yuuki and Kokkoro praise her, but Kokkoro makes the mistake of serving tea to their fourth member, and all three of them suddenly feel her absence.

That is, until they hear her voice and see her in the doorway. While she’s glad her parents remember her and she’s a princess again, she still has a long way to go before she’s ready to rule the kingdom she just took back. So she re-joins Gourmet Guild as Pecorine, primed to go on a lot more adventures and gain the experience she’ll need once she comes into her throne.

This was a breathless banger from start to finish; an episode with a whole lot to do that managed to pull it off with a brilliant flourish before returning to the warm and peaceful Gourmet Guild house. It’s pretty much exactly what I was hoping for in a finale…I just wish we could spend a little more quiet time with the guild now that there are no more secrets or divided loyalties…just food, fun, and family!

P.S. While it’s a totally different an much older game, I feel compelled to end this write-up with one of my favorite victory themes, from Star Ocean: Till the End of Time:

86 – 22 – Somewhere Left to Go

Remember 86? The show left us hanging, but it’s finally back to give us a conclusion. Shin succeeds in defeating Kiri, but is knocked out by the blast of Morpho’s self-destruct. He dreams of those who died before him, from his brother to his fellow Eighty-Six who thank him one by one.

I don’t think Shin’s interested in thanks, or for the gratitude of scores of people who died before him. Rather, he’s tired of being the one to survive; for everyone to fight till the end, only for their ends to come before his. This is someone who never thought of the future because the only future he could see was one of soul-crushing solitude.

But when the Legion flak fly away en masse, revealing a vivid bed of funereal higanbana, a solitary female soldier appears and makes contact. We know it’s Lena, but since Shin has never actually seen her, he’s not sure at first. The two exchange cordial words as Lena draws closer, teasing the long-awaited in-person meeting between these two seeming soulmates…

That said, a part of me prepared for the possibility Shin and Lena actually wouldn’t actually come face-to-face, despite being so close…and being kind of oddly okay with that, despite how cruel it felt. Seeing Lena alive and well, in the flesh, and unwilling to run from the war restores Shin from his doldrums. Seeing her hold Theo’s drawing of her as a pig and a photo of Spearhead in her hands, and hearing her say she wants to catch up to him, brings a rare smile to his face.

We learn that Lena is the commander of what’s left of San Magnolia’s forces, which isn’t surprising at all considering she was one of the only soldiers who took her job (and the threat of the Legion) seriously. We also learn that the Giad Federacy will be assisting San Magnolia with rescue efforts.

Shin expected his trip would be a one-way variety, while he would be the last person standing against the overwhelming might of the Legion. And yet here we are, Morpho gone, the Federacy still intact, and, to his delight, Kurena, Raiden, Anju and Theo are still alive, as are Frederica and Wenzel. In Frederica’s case, it was Kiri who protected her from his own explosion.

When the Spearhead gang is back together in the briefing room, everyone is eager to hear Shin describe what the Major looked like. He lies and says he couldn’t see her, but it’s clear to them Lena has grown quite a bit, and that Shin always had a soft spot for her.

More importantly, the universe decided to cut Shin a break for once. Be it Lena or his Spearhead colleagues, those he thought dead weren’t dead after all, but fought and survived. Lena, not knowing she was talking to the Reaper, said that’s something to be proud of…and for the first time in his life, Shin was.

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 3 – 09 – The Thing You Wanted Most

Once, in a blue moon, an anime gives you exactly what you want. This was one of those times. All I wanted was to bask in the adorable bliss of Takagi and Nishikata’s 100% Unrequited Love: The Movie Date, and that is what I got. No school, no ancillary characters…just our main couple, together, like they were always meant to be.

The show teases us a bit by starting with Nishikata’s dream of “SanTa-kagi” visiting his home in the middle of the night and giving him a gag gift, then shows us Takagi at the ferry pier looking lonely and a little worried…until she spots Nishikata running to her, late and apologetic.

Nishikata realizes that with the year about to end he hasn’t scored a single victory against Takagi; a wrong he’s determined to right. After the ferry ride, he suggests they kill time at an arcade, and come across a new 100% crane game. His heart is set on the Kyunko+Ikeo plushie set, but tries to go for the easier score: a puzzle.

He fails, losing both to Takagi and to himself for trying for the easy win at the cost of what he really wanted. Then it’s Takagi’s turn at the controls and she quickly and effortlessly acquires the plushie set…which she can tell was the thing Nishikata really wanted, and so immediately gifts to him. She’s simply happy to have done something to make him happy.

When the two move on to the movie theater, Nishikata is very cognizant of the fact that some “couples” there might be fake couples who are only putting on airs so they can get the special gift for couples. While he considers himself and Takagi to be one of those “couples of convenience”, he’s determined to pass them off as a real couple (which of course they actually are).

This results in him strutting up to one of the attendants and declaring “two tickets for the Nishikata couple”—rather than Nishikata reservation—both surprising and delighting Takagi in the process. They also decide to go in on a “100% In Love Set”—two sodas and a large popcorn to share. Before heading into the theater, Nishikata hangs back to go to the bathroom, but he really just needs some time alone to write a Christmas card for Takagi.

When he enters the theater and spots the familiar back of Takagi’s head, he thinks to himself “I’m gonna sit…right next to her?” Yes you are, Nishikata, and you’ll like it! The two unwrap the special couple gift, which turns out to be a set of miniature figurines of a Santa Ikeo giving Shunko a Christmas gift.

The movie starts, and as the two lovebird dip into the popcorn their hands touch. As we know, the same voice actors who voice them also voice Shunko and Ikeo. The two thoroughly enjoy the movie, with Nishikata unable to hold back tears as the credits roll.

After the movie, the two stroll around town a bit, with Takagi asking Nishikata what kind of girl is his type, guessing that it’s someone like Kyunko—a bit of a klutz but also earnest and kind and always trying her best. Nishikata says he doesn’t think of Kyunko quite that way, and that’s to be expected, as he’s the Kyunko to Takagi’s Ikeo in their relationship!

Quite suddenly, Takagi challenges Nishikata to a race to an electric pole, which he wins easily, netting him his first and only “win” of the year, just what he wanted. Naturally, he gets totally full of himself and believes he simply cannot lose to Takagi, proving it by having her guess which hand he has a coin in.

Later, she bumps into him from behind, and, sensing something’s up, asks her straight-up what’s up with her. Turns out she decided to try acting like the klutzy-yet-earnest Kyunko for a little while, hoping he’d think she was cute. But Nishikata likes Takagi the way she is, teasing and all.

Takagi just happens to pose in front of the town Christmas tree as it lights up, spurning Nishikata to produce his Christmas present to her: a pair of gloves to keep her hands warm. Takagi can’t hide her surprise, nor her joy, at being given a thoughtful gift by the boy she likes. Nishikata notes that this isn’t turning out anything like his dream…which is good!

Takagi then gives Nishikata her Christmas gift to him: a scarf she made for him, partly while they were on library duty. Then they board the ferry back home, and Nishikata walks Takagi to her house, and they wave goodbye to each other. There’s no classic “confession” scene…but there doesn’t have to be one.

Nishikata walks, then runs home full of joy, having experienced perhaps the best day of his life. The Christmas card he bought and wrote for Takagi was advertised at the store as something “to someone you care about!” Turns out Takagi bought the very same card for him.

So while the actual messaging on the cards is somewhat cordial—he writes “Thanks for everything today”; she writes “Thanks for another fun year”—the more important message conveyed to one another is that they wrote those messages on a card they bought knowing it was for someone they cared about. Someone they love spending time with.

I don’t see how Nishikata can ever dare to deny who Takagi is to him anymore. Not after he, and Takagi, and all of us got everything we could have ever asked for, and more, out of the Best Date Ever.

RABUJOI WORLD HERITAGE LIST

The Genius Prince’s Guide – 03 – Two Peas in a Pod

Last week’s episode might’ve featured a literal gold mine, but the ambitious battle animation of the first two episodes was writing checks it couldn’t cash, which I found distracting. This week is much more my speed, as even though it is mostly just characters standing or sitting around talking, the characters and the things they’re talking about present a gold mine of narrative and interpersonal intrigue.

Last week the only thing tethering me to this show was the winsome dynamic between Prince Wein and his self-professed “Heart” Ninym. But now I have a third character to invest in: Touyama Nao’s Second Imperial Princess Lowellmina Earthwold, AKA Lowa. Wein and Ninym’s old classmate and notorious partner in crime at Imperial military academy has come to propose marriage to Wein.

Lowa is, in a word, awesome, defying standard princess archetypes, and someone I fell for immediately. Lowa and Wein’s audacious scheming (and Ninym’s patience with both of them) harkens back to when they were all teenagers. When in public, in the presence of members of the court and other underlings, they comport themselves the way a Prince of Natra and a Princess of Earhwold are expected: formal and cordial.

Of course, Wein suspects the marriage proposal to be nothing but a pretext for Lowa’s latest scheme, so he and Ninym hide in chests reported to contain local Natran garb for Lowa to wear. She sniffs out the ruse instantly, then asks Fisch, the Imperial ambassador who now works directly under her, to guard the door while she chats with her old friends.

It’s here where Lowa, Wein, and Ninym can speak more like the comrades they were. At first it seems Fisch occupies too high a station for guard duty, but then Lowa reveals her purpose beyond marriage to Wein: she wishes to take advantage of the power struggle between her three brothers to seize the empire for herself…with Wein’s help!

All three princes could easily stomp out Natra, but they’re not united, and Lowa believes that she, a fourth choice, could break through the chaos and bring stability to the empire. Wein believes that Lowa proposing a coup is a bluff, but isn’t yet sure of her true true goal.

This is the same kind of scheming that made Lowa, Wein, and Ninym’s circle of friends famous at the academy, only now writ large, as both she and Wein occupy thrones and are now playing the real game. And not for one moment does Lowa seem in over her head or overly arrogant.

She’s just as sharp-witted and detail-oriented as Wein (likely more so since he’s the lazier of the two) leading Ninym and the others to call them two peas in a pod. But with at least the pretext of marriage and potential bluff of war laid out, the episode splits into little vignettes that enrich both the setting and its characters.

Falanya summons Ninym, weary about all the changes going on and worried she’ll be left behind. Ninym, showing her tender side, assures Falanya that with all the changes going on, one thing will stay the same: her brother will always cherish her, as she cherishes him. We learn Falanya always thought her brother would wed Ninym, but Ninym tells her she doesn’t need to be his consort; she’s already his heart. While that’s a sweet sentiment, it’s a bit bittersweet that even Ninym is certain Wein could never marry a Flahm like her.

Lowa continues her charm offensive by having Ninym and Fisch join her for a hot bath in Natra’s luxurious facilities. There, she insists Ninym dispense with all the formalities just as the three of them dispensed with their clothes. The two regail Fisch with a story from their military years, when Ninym challenged someone to a duel for being a racist jackass and mopped the floor with him, thereby gaining the esteem of the whole class.

I love the built-in history with Ninym and Wein that accompanied Lowa’s introduction. She just feels like an old friend. There’s also a wonderful bit of tension in not quite knowing exactly what she’s up to, though I’m loath to believe whatever it is would make enemies of her two friends.

From the baths, we check in on Wein tutoring Falanya, and by extension us, in the history of the empire, specifically how one formerly independent kingdom neighboring Natra, Antgatal, betrayed an alliance of similar kingdoms by joining the empire. Antgatal’s king was rewarded the title of marquess and given leave to govern his own lands. This segues nicely with Ninym mentioning Lowa’s prime suitor, the son of Antagatal’s marquess.

But Lowa doesn’t seem particularly interested in a political marriage to the grandson of an infamous charlatan. Indeed, she doesn’t want to be anyone’s consort, but has designs to rule as Empress. The genesis of this ambition was nurtured by Wein himself back in their academy days, when he said that just as people stopped eating with their hands and started using utensils, great change can come once enough people adopt it.

Wein knows Lowa would face a treacherous road should she decide to upheave the male chauvanist imperialist structure, where the majority of vassals support one of her three brothers while ignoring her despite her talents. To defeat the existing ideology, she must strengthen her own and wage war; the only other path is submitting to social norms and feeling dead inside.

Back then, Lowa asked Wein if, should she wage this war, he’d help her. He quickly responded “no”—and got a swift kick for it—but that’s mostly due to his lackadaisical nature that abhors responsibility, which to a degree still endures but is something he can ill afford to flaunt what with the fact he is prince regent of a relatively vulnerable kingdom. He eventually told her that if he couldn’t escape her entreaties, he “might help out a bit”, which brings an easy smile to Lowa’s face.

Back in the present, Princess Lowa wakes up, having dreamed of that conversation with Wein, to learn from Fisch that she’s been invited to tea by the Prince Regent. Knowing full well he’s not just interested in small talk, but trying to pry more information out of her about her designs, she enthusiastically accepts the invite. I too can’t wait for their next interaction.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Genius Prince’s Guide to Raising a Nation Out of Debt – 02 – Heart of Gold

After bathing and dressing, Ninym goes to wake Prince Wein up, only to find he’s dreaming of a woman with a bigger chest than hers. What would have been a sweet moment was marred by a dumb boob joke. It’s kind of a harbinger for what’s to come: a tolerable story marred by poor execution.

Last week I forgave the fact that armies looked like grey blobs, and that CGI chess pieces replaced the combat animation for the most part. But after this week’s siege of the gold mine Natra just conquered, I no longer see clever workarounds, but cheap shortcuts. Weeks supposedly pass in this episode, but the action is so poorly portrayed it feels like a long afternoon.

The whole premise of the show is that Prince Wein is a genius, but this week it’s abundantly clear that it doesn’t require a genius to defeat Marden’s larger numbers. Not only are the enemy commanders one-dimensional mustache twirling villains—and racist against “Flahms” like Ninym—they’re also dumber than a sack of bricks, falling for the most obvious traps and failing to understand concepts like “high ground” or “bottlenecks”.

That said, the Marden general’s biggest mistake is the racial slur his pompous envoy directed at Ninym. Wein confirms that the envoy’s words are the general’s, then sets up a raid on the enemy headquarters that ends with him telling the guy that Ninym is “his heart”, and any who wound his heart shall die by his own hand. This is devotion we didn’t quite see last week, and it at least gives this part of the battle a pulse.

Sadly, the rest of the episode doesn’t really measure up, as between the awful personalities of the enemy commanders and the awful production values that I sometimes worried would stray into Wizard Barristers Episode 11. With Wein’s common sense tactics being laughably portrayed as potentially empire-shattering genius, I struggled to find something to keep me watching next week, and for now, that’s the easy rapport between Wein and Ninym.

The Faraway Paladin – 12 (Fin) – Illness of the Strong

Last week Will hit rock bottom as he fell into the same trap as countless other heroes, anime, isekai, or otherwise: trying to go it alone out of fear of getting others hurt. Fortunately, his beautiful first and best friend and brother Meneldor’s head is harder than it looks, and he’s not about to let Will slink off in the rainy night. Their first fight ensues, with Will even going so far as to break Menel’s arm so he can’t follow him.

He would’ve needed to break the other arm—and both legs, because Menel doesn’t give up. He employs the gnomes to knock Will on his ass so he can use his good arm to help Will up. Will surrenders. Reystov calls what befell Will to be the “illness of the strong”—an instinct to isolate oneself and take all the burdens on one’s shoulders—and knows many who succumbed to it and died.

Thanks to Menel, Will is able to realize the error of his ways. He can’t go it alone against the Chimera and demon forces trying desperately to keep the Beast Woods in chaos. He’s just one in a whole slew of variables in the equation necessary to break the demons’ hold on the region. Through careful scouting and preparation and by rallying his band of adventurers and priests, Will is able to attain a victory he’d never reach all by his lonesome.

Even the final boss chimera isn’t someone Will can take one by himself. Sure, he detects the monster using invisibility and even trying to trick them into lowering their guard, but Menel’s mastery of faeries, nymphs and gnomes provides decisive backup in the Chimera battle. With its defeat, Bee writes new songs of their heroic deeds to be spread throughout the lands.

As the party celebrates their triumph, Menel points out something that had totally escaped a naïf like Will all this time: that he is at this point the new de facto Lord of the Beast Woods. This is where Will learns another axiom common to heroes: true leaders don’t seek power, but it is thrust upon them. Will must either rule his new realm or choose some trusted people to do it for him as he continues his adventures.

And make no mistake: there will be more adventures. A second season of Paladin has already been announced, something I never felt was in doubt (though I’d also like to see second seasons of Shin no Nakama and World’s Finest Assassin). Will also has an ultimate goal: turning the City of the Dead into a City of Living—thus making Blood, Mary, and Gus proud.

The Faraway Paladin – 05 – Live Right and Die

This episode starts out with a lot. A lot of inner monologue of Will as he accelerates to the temple where he hopes he’s not too late to save Mary and Blood. For while he was able to gain the blessing of Gracefeel and hold his own against Stagnate, his lack of experience showed in his ability to be easily tricked. Then again, failure is the ultimate teacher.

It’s a very shounen-y first five minutes where everything Will is doing is explained in his head in minute detail as it’s happening. I found all the hurried narration mostly redundant and distracting, detracting rather than contributing to my immersion in the scene. But all’s well that ends well: with his training and the blessing of both Gracefeel and Mater, he defeats Stagnate.

Gus is about to break out the 200-year-old booze, and Mary and Blood try to rise from the ground, only to fall back down. With Stagnate gone, it turns out their time on this world, in this form, is up. Will doesn’t want to hear this, and thinks it’s mean and cruel to be faced with this right after killing a god, but the fact Mary and Blood are even there in physical form to say goodbye is a miracle made possible by Gracefeel.

After those heartfelt goodbyes where Mary and Blood reiterate how they consider Will their child, Will prepares to head out on his personal journey. Gus has been “hired” by Gracefeel to continue watching the seal on the High King for ten more years, then he’ll pass on as well. After that, dealing with the high king will be up to Will…or I should say, William G. Maryblood, taking the names of his parents as his last name and his gramps as his middle.

The episode ends on a bittersweet note with a flashback to the human Blood and Mary talking about settling down after all this, getting married, and having a kid—which Blood just assumes will be a boy and Mary goes along with it. Fine; not sure why a girl couldn’t be trained to be a warrior, but whatevs! It’s here where they also agree on the name of that future child: William, or “helmet of will”, knowing he’ll inheret their iron wills.

To Your Eternity – 19 – Killing With Kindness

We begin the penultimate episode of To Your Eternity with Hayase…doing a good deed?! That’s right, she’s using her not inconsiderable combat prowess to defeat the Nokker Zombies before they can kill innocent men, women or children. When a Nokker tries to infect her, she flexes—both literally and figuratively.

The Nokker stops in Hayase’s arm and seems to listen when she tells it that appearing before Hoshi in such a gross, unpleasant form is Doing It All Wrong; if it wants Fushi as she does, it will have to treat it with kindness. Their little confab is broken up when Oniguma!Fushi steps on Hayase…but once again stops short of killing her.

While Fushi doesn’t kill her, he’ll wish he had restrained her in some way before the day is out. Perhaps he’s distracted by the fact Tonari and Sander are in mortal danger. He bails them out of a bad way by using his Gugu form to burn the entire corpse pit. But while the bulk of the immediate Nokker threat is neutralized in those flames, his Creator tells him three Nokkers still remain on the island.

Those Nokkers were once Oopa, Uroy, and Mia, but you can’t really say it’s them anymore, as we already saw them chilling in Paradise last week. Nevertheless, it won’t be easy for Fushi to put their overthrown bodies out of their misery.

That’s when Hayase, who as I said wasn’t sufficiently neutralized, scoops up both Tonari and Sander, drugs them both, and threatens to toss them into the flaming corpse pit…unless Fushi accepts her offer. You see, she wants to keep him “clean” and “pure” as a being who can neither kill nor be killed. She’ll gladly kill and sully herself for him.

But Hayase never picked up on the fact that her go-to sedative doesn’t work on Tonari for long, and Tonari decides to pull Hayase down into the flames with her. With three of her friends dead and what she perceives as a lifetime of missteps to answer for, ridding Fushi of his greatest adversary in exchange for her life seems like a square deal.

Fushi disagrees, swooping out to save both Tonari and Hayase from certain death. And for once, he’s the one to knock out Hayase with the same poison he once accidentally knocked out the others.

Speaking of the others, when Tonari gingerly picks up a sword with tears streaming down her eyes, ready to put down the husks that were once Oopa, Uroy and Mia, Fushi steps in to do it, having both summoned the courage and not wanting Tonari to have to do the deed.

During a solemn private memorial, one of the elder islanders asks their ostensible leader if she has any words for the people. Tonari says to stop the killing…especially after everyone saw what became of them making piles of corpses.

After wandering the island offering foot and supplies to anyone who needs them, Fushi takes his leave from the island, knowing it’s only a matter of time before the Nokkers return again. He bids Tonari and Sander an very understated farewell, if you consider how many pitched emotional moments they shared previously. Maybe that’s the point; they’ve been through, and lost, a lot. They’re tired.

One person who is tireless in her obsession with Fushi is Hayase, who wakes up elated to find she’s sharing a boat with Fushi. She confesses to Fushi how much she loves him and has always loved him ever since she first saw him, and offers to show him what that love means.

Fushi is understandably repulsed by Hayase and her offer, and pulls a trick I’d say would be cruel for anyone other than Hayase, considering the shit she’s pulled these last nineteen episodes. Fushi clones the rowboat and paddles away, leaving a tied-up Hayase stranded in a becalmed sea nowhere near land.

But as he returns to the mainland (and to Pioran) guided by Tonari’s owl, a Nokker core—perhaps the very one who spent some very formative minutes inside her arm—hops onto her boat and attacks her. Is this finally the end of Hayase? I’m loath to predict that, but the preview suggests the fighting may be over, even if the dying isn’t. But then death, like pain, breeds growth.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

To Your Eternity – 18 – Paradise Bound

Tonari, who has become somewhat fond of Fushi beyond his utility as a tool for advancing her interests, wasn’t about to leave him to the tender ministrations of the “hag” Hayase. So she rows back to the island to save him, only to discover he already freed himself from the pit, which wasn’t half as deep as Pioran’s prison wall was high. Faced with having to explain why she’s there, Tonari tries out her best tsundere act.

The seas aren’t suitable for heading back out by boat, so Tonari and Fushi spend the night in a cave beside a campfire. Tonari asks about what exactly the man in black is. Is he a thoughtful god, trying to stave off the world’s destruction by creating Fushi? Or is he a demon, and the Nokkers are the servants of the real God(s) tasked with stopping him?

She also owns up to her father having been a murderer, and how she came to see him no differently than any other lowlife on the island: deserving of death. But she doesn’t see herself any differently, as in her mind she kills anyone she doesn’t like. She believes the island has poisoned her heart.

Fushi tries to cheer her up by saying that even if both their “parents” are or were demons, the two of them still do what they want to do. Being in that cave is proof of it: Tonari wasn’t about to let herself be saved at the cost of Fushi, while Fushi wasn’t about to let himself live out his existence as Hayase’s toy.

That night, Tonari dreams a familiar dream of a happy home with a living mother and father proud of her for the books she writes. Upon waking up, Tonari decides she’ll need to come up with a new dream, a new story less grounded in the past. She envisions herself, her crew, Fushi, and Pioran all relaxing and loving life on the beach.

It’s a lovely, idyllic image, and also the last upbeat image to appear in the episode; it’s all downhill from there. That morning when about to cast off, the Creator notifies Fushi that the Nokkers are attacking the town. Despite everyone worth saving on the island already off of it, Fushi heads towards danger, turning his back on an exasperated Tonari.

To his credit, Fushi isn’t doing this because the Creator is goading him to do it—it was Fushi who asked him to warn him when the Nokkers returned. It’s just that Fushi always has and probably always will blame his existence for the death of all the people who’ve died around him. If he can lesson that even a little, he must try.

The thing is, Fushi is cursed to be just too goshdarn likable to be left alone by those who enter his orbit. When he arrives at a hellish scene of corpses being reanimated into zombies by the Nokkers and wreaking havoc, it isn’t long before Tonari comes to help, and the rest of her crew also show up to help the both of them.

It strains credulity just a bit that they not only returned to the island so soon, but knew exactly where Fushi and Tonari were. What should be a devastating emotional climax is once again undermined by the fact barely any of it is animated, as with two episodes left the show is blatantly running on fumes.

Finally, the fact we’ve seen Mia, Oopa, and Uroy as Nokker zombies every week leading up to this episode, so we knew exactly what would become of them. Thile their souls may have passed to a paradise similar to the one in Tonari’s new dream, their bodies remain on Jananda; shambling nightmares Fushi isn’t strong enough to put down.

To Your Eternity – 17 – Her Pet Immortal

After knocking Fushi out with her Morning Glory potion, Hayase gives a somewhat baffling speech to the throng about how she’s going to build a new army to protect the immortal boy from the Nokkers, and immediately ceding the leadership of Jananda she won to Tonari. This immediately makes Tonari a target, and she and the other kids make themselves scarce.

Despite having no interest in ruling Jananda, Hayase very much seems to want to control Fushi, who is clearly more valuable than the entire rest of the island. Her repeated licking of his face is akin to marking her new precious property, and by disrobing she seems intent on becoming one with him. It’s very twisted…and very Hayase.

Her fun is interrupted by Tonari & Co., who come to Fushi’s rescue only to be met by Hayase’s Yanome guards and Captain Skyfish, who can see which way the wind is blowing and knows he probably shouldn’t be on the wrong side of someone as evil, dangerous, and unhinged as Hayase. In fact, he’s probably there specifically to makes sure Tonari and the other kids don’t throw away their lives in a futile effort to save their immortal friend.

Fortunately, the kids inadvertently buy time for Fushi to sneak up on Hayase with a sword to her neck, having created an empty husk of himself for the guards to carry away. Hayase is unmoved, but agrees to his proposal to remain on Jananda with her if she lets the kids and Pioran leave safely. New Leader Tonari announces to the rest of the island that all small children will also be boarding the ship, to grow up somewhere where they’ll have more choice in their lives.

Tonari is among those on Skyfish’s ship, though of course Hayase can’t resist drugging her and her friends to keep them from getting up to something. Interestingly, Tonari’s body is extremely efficient at filtering out poison, as she’s the first to come to, hours before the others. Enlisting the help of her boss (with an assist from Skyfish), she boards a dingy with Ligard, who apparently wasn’t badly injured by Hayase’s arrow.

Determined to add to the story within the thick tome tied to her belt, Tonari is resolved to rescue Fushi, alone if she has to, so he can be a part of her future. Watching Parona!Fushi get so mad at Hayase over killing the real Parona showed Tonari that Fushi wasn’t just a peculiar immortal thing, but a peculiar immortal thing with a measure of humanity she saw in herself.

While it was great to see evil old Hayase throw her weight around, this was the first episode where I couldn’t not notice the frequently cruddy character modeling, sketchy animation, and use of still images that all spell budgetary and time constraints. Between that and Hayase’s rather scattershot actions and intentions, this episode just barely held together…but it definitely had its moments.

To Your Eternity – 16 – What’s the Story, Morning Glory?

Fushi just won a huge victory, aided in no small part by Tonari’s crew and other people of Jananda. He has March, Gugu, and Oniguma back, a group I’d call family but his creator calls his “past.” By the way, that’s the last time I call him “the creator”, as some guy calls him “the asshole in black” and that’s a much better name for him!

With the Nokkers out of the picture for the time being (but those OP images of Tonari’s crew Nokker-ified still fresh in my mind) it’s nice to see Fushi simply relax, drink some blood, drink some more blood, then conjure a sumptuous feast for his new compatriots. Unfortunately, the food he conjures is from the night March and Parona were drugged by Hayase using Morning Glory-based sedative. Talk about foreboding foreshadowing!

Tonari is the first to wake up from her food coma, and notices Fushi wandering off, as is his wont. For what I believe to be the first time, she apologizes to Fushi for bringing him there. That said, Fushi glimpsed an entry in the big red book that contains her thoughts, her dreams; specifically the entry where she says she’s going to invite him to share a meal with them.

Tonari starts writing in the book again, and regales us with her story so far. She’s always dreamed of “surprising” her dad, who was wrongly accused of killed her mom and sent to Jananda. Faced with the choice of being an orphan and going with her father, she chose the latter.

Eventually, however, her dad got caught up in the leader tournament, and warned his daughter that it wouldn’t be safe to be around him. That turned out to be true, but more to the point, in participating and eventually winning the tournament, Tonari’s father became someone that her seven-year-old self simply couldn’t recognize as her father anymore.

By the time they met at the port as they promised, he was already succumbing to the poison he was given by his rivals in the unending struggle not to lead the island, but simply to have control. Her father’s parting gift to her on her birthday was the book she writes in to this day. The years went on, and she met her found family and eventually, Fushi.

Speaking of Fushi, with March back in his repertoire, he’s able to easily scale the wall and enter Pioran’s cell. While she had urged him to leave her be earlier, now she can’t mask how happy she is that he’s there.

While he could smash the prison walls with one swipe of Oniguma’s paw, he intends to win the tournament, become the leader of the island, and leave the island with Pioran, their heads held high. It’s a good plan, and Pioran is right that he’s become much more reliable.

All he has to do is win the tournament final. Now armed with a reason for fighting, he walks down the corridor to the arena without hesitation. Tonari is there to see him off, worried he wouldn’t show but very glad he did. The two honestly don’t interact much this week, but this is the most tender moment they’ve shared yet. It figures that this comes right before yet another huge setback for Fushi, though fortunately not one that involves the Nokkers.

Then again, who needs the Nokkers when you have the evilest, most badass villain in the whole show in Hayase? Turns out she’s the one who urged Tonari to get Fushi on a ship to Jananda, all so she could eventually face him…and, incidentally, lick his face.

Fushi already has plenty of reason to hate Hayase considering she killed poor little March with an arrow to the back. But Hayase wants to make sure Fushi also understands that his Parona form is “her gift” to him: she tracked Parona down and murdered her by sloppily beheading her so she suffered. This riles Fushi up, and he comes at her with everything he’s got…but it’s not enough.

As Hayase puts it, Fushi is immortal, but feeble. His murderous intent is just one more simulacrum; it can’t hold a candle to her ruthlessness. Also, if we’re honest, Fushi hasn’t had much of a challenge in the tournament thus far, and all of his past opponents had no idea what he was. I guess Hayase doesn’t either, but she knows how he operates, and she knows his gentle nature.

She also knows that when he’s in human form he can succumb to a poison just like any regular human. She sticks him with some morning glory sedative (like I said, simply devastating foreshadowing), and just like that, she is the new leader of Jananda—presumably free to lick him all she wants. At the end of the day, Hayase isn’t the kind of villain who wants to destroy Fushi. Rather, she intends to possess and control him completely. I Imagine Tonari and her crew will have a couple things to say about that!

Magia Record – 14 (S02 E01) – Don’t Let Go

We begin this second season of the Madoka spinof in media res with what else, a battle against a weird and unsettling witch. This one has a general spider form, only her legs are human limbs and her web in the sky is made up of clotheslines stocked with sailor fuku shirts. The combatants are a trio of familiar faces: Kaname Madoka, Homura Akemi, and eventually, my avatar, Miki Sayaka, who saves the other two from getting wasted.

Of course, this isn’t the timeline or story we know from the original series; this is an alternate timeline, one of countless Akemi has traveled through in a so-far-vain effort to save Madoka. This episode is the equivalent of the original episode where the girls learned The Truth from the famously blunt and unsympathetic Kyuubey, who will only ever insist that magical girls are getting a fair deal. The Mami Sayaka saw is no longer the Mami they knew.

Sayaka, classically one of the moodiest of the girls, goes home and sits on her bed, depressed, while Akemi prepares to take a train to Kamihara City, where magical girls—and thus Madoka—can purportedly be saved. Before she can depart, the spider laundry witch returns. Madoka, sensing Akemi went off on her own, soon joins the battle, and through telepathy urges Sayaka to join her, with Madoka saying “she wont be coming back”.

Sayaka can’t exactly keep sitting at home when Madoka says this, so she once again arrives just in time to save Madoka, who along with Akemi had been just barely holding serve against the quick and crafty witch. Now that Madoka knows the witch was once a magical girl like them, all she can do is apologize before firing her pink laser arrows.

With the battle stalled, Akemi calls a timeout with her escutcheon, and because she’s touching Sayaka, she can move along with her even though time is stopped. They collect Madoka, touch her so she can move, and then the three magical girls operate as a single entity bound by their arms, with Sayaka in the middle providing transportation around the frozen witch as Madoka looses arrows from all sides.

When time starts back up, the hundreds of arrows find their target, and Sayaka delivers an excellent coup-de-grace with her sword, leading to that ever-so-satisfying sound of the witch’s domain fading away and reality returning. Sayaka, Madoka, and Akemi won the day, but there are no promises for tomorrow, especially in Kamihara, where the witches are much stronger.

While I went into the first season of Magia Record with a healthy dollop of tempered expectations and was ultimately frustrated with how few questions it answered (and how many new magical girls it introduced), I also made clear the original masterpiece bought more than enough goodwill for me to not dismiss the second season out of hand.

I was rewarded for my loyalty to the franchise with a stunning barn-burner, but as with the OG magical girl trio this episode focused on, there are no guarantees for the future. Will we even see these three next week, or will we shift back to Iroha, Yachiyo & Co.? I don’t know, but I also know I want to find out.

Armed with the knowledge there will also be a third and final season in December means there is ample time to set up and execute a satisfying, coherent conclusion. Like Sayaka and Madoka held on to Akemi in the timeless zone, I’ll hold on to hope this is building to something. And if it isn’t, at least it looks and sounds like no other anime currently airing.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

To Your Eternity – 15 – A Victor Without Victims

Having Parona’s form brings Fushi nothing but grief, for the fact he has her form almost certainly means she died, like March, far to young. His Creator tells him not to get so worked up every time someone dies—literally everyone in the world except the two of them will die, after all—but Fushi tells him to piss off, and to the very hands-off Creator’s credit, he does.

As for Fushi’s new self-appointed bestie Tonari, she’s absolutely jazzed by Fushi’s new form, complimenting his hair and skin, glomming on him like she wants to possess him. She claims to want to be the bow to his arrow, but her constant spewing of half-truths and false faces remains extremely disorienting to Fushi. Combined with the whole kidnapping Pioran thing, he insists she leave him alone. She doesn’t.

As for the Creator’s credo of Pain Promotes Growth, Fushi replaces it with his own: Fuck Pain. On a island where the intricate social organization of humanity is blended with inhuman savagery, Fushi may be the most human one there, thanks to the quintessentially human people who helped shape him into the good and kind orb he is. It’s why he wants to save Pioran, his family, even though she insists she’s where an old criminal belongs.

So dedicated is Fushi to the cause of honoring Parona and Gugu’s memory by putting himself to good use protecting others, as she did, he even protects his own opponent in the third round from the arrows of impatient staff and spectators. This flummoxes the fighter to no end, but after he’s laid up with an arrow back home, both we and Fushi learn he too is a human in this place that is both inhuman and as human as humanity gets.

Some veteran islanders come by to protest Fushi’s way of doing things, insisting that he brings dishonor to everyone he fights by not killing them. Tonari shields Fushi from them, only to get punched in the face by a man who is then shot with a poison dart by one of Tonari’s crew.

But far greater than the threat of the islanders are the Nokkers, who rise out of the ground, stab Fushi, and steal Gugu away so he can’t use fire on them. Now down to the boy, the wolf, the crab, Parona, and the mole, and with a shitload of potential bystander deaths, Fushi runs, and warns Tonari and the others to run in the opposite direction. They don’t.

Fushi tries to burrow into the Nokkers as the mole, but he’s quickly tossed out and loses that form. Tonari grabs Fushi by the scruff of his coat, beaming widely and in absolute awe of the giant stone bear, while her crew launch diversionary attacks.

Tonari has a meta moment, asking Fushi who he thinks she is: “a side character who just runs away?” Then the earth opens up and it looks like Tonari is history, but Fushi grabs her and pulls her back onto land, where she orders her crew to execute a certain plan.

This plan involves explosive arrows. That works perfectly for Fushi, since his Parona form is quite comfortable with a bow. He can also infinitely create more bows and arrows when the crew runs out. The islanders, once rearing for a fight with Fushi and Tonari’s crew, restrain the bear with huge ropes and join the fusillade.

In the end, the Nokkers are defeated, and Fushi is able to regain both the form and memories of March, Oniguma-sama, and Gugu. It is an unqualified victory, but he could not have done it without help from Tonari’s crew and the islanders, all of whom he hated when the sun came up that day, but now probably has a new appreciation for, seeing as he got his forms, his family back.

For the first time, Fushi reacts to Tonari’s constant goofing around and bullshitting with a genuine thank you, which catches the girl completely off guard. Tonari repeats to him that to change fate, sometimes you have to work with others, and their victory today was proof of that.

It looks like Fushi, Tonari, and the crew will get to enjoy a bit of rest and celebration after quite an impressively action-packed episode imbued with ample emotional weight due to the stakes—and eventual spoils—of victory. But the final round of the tournament lurks, and crazy-ass Hayase lurks along with it, so that rest probably won’t last long.

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