The Duke of Death and His Maid – 03 – A Distant Kiss

Bocchan loses a game of pool to Alice, and so cannot refuse when she asks if he’ll accompany her into town for a festival. Because many will be in costume, he’s able to wear a steel-framed suit to avoid contact with both Alice and bystanders. It’s a way for him and Alice to feel like they’re on an actual date out in the world for the first time, even if they still can’t touch.

When they become separated by the crowd, Bocchan demonstrates how despite the rumors around town about a monstrous shinigami, the actual person of whom they speak is actually a kind and gentle young man. When a lost boy clings to his coat, he cheers him up by playing a song on the piano set up in the town square.

Bocchan sheds his heavy disguise to join Alice atop the clock tower, where they gaze at the moon and she tells him the story of another couple separated by a witch’s interference. In the case of the story, the man is on the moon while the woman is on earth.

But the man could be on Pluto and the basic tragedy would be the same as Bocchan and Alice’s; they are together in their hearts, but can never actually touch as long as the curse remains in force.

One night Bocchan gets a note from Alice to meet her in her bedroom (set off from the mansion) if he has trouble sleeping. When he enters to find her brushing her hair while nude, he assumes she has naughty plans for him. In the end, however, between a calming scented candle and cammomile tea, she really was simply trying to help him sleep…though it’s clear she was also hoping he’d get the wrong idea so she could gleefully watch his reactions.

Another night, when a once-in-a-decade meteor shower is to occur, Bocchan is the one to invite Alice to an intimate boat ride on the lake. His true intention is to properly confess his feelings—as opposed to the offhanded ways he’s told her he loves her. Things go pear-shaped when the wind snatches his hat, Alice leaps into the drink to grab it, and he can neither stop her nor help her out of the water due to the curse.

When she tells him straight-up that she’d be fine dying by his kiss, he leans as close as he dares before backing off, not willing to sacrifice Alice for just that one kiss. Alice, knowing he wouldn’t do it, tips the boat so he falls in the water with her. Thankfully, the water doesn’t conduct his curse like it does electricity!

In all the excitement, they missed the meteor shower, but as they both dry off by the fire, Alice says she’ll accompany him to the next one, in ten years. Bocchan is constantly worried that he’s not properly expressing how he feels, but Alice already knows, and feels the same way about him. It’s why she’s stayed with him this long; it’s why she has every intention of being with him in a decade, curse or no curse…but hopefully no curse!

The Duke of Death and His Maid – 02 – Moonlight Waltz

The third member of Bocchan’s family, Rob, makes his first appearance, and proves to be your typical jovial, dependable old butler who might just be a bit long in the tooth for the strenuous work of maintaining a mansion. Even so, he gives it the old college try, which incidentally leaves Alice with little to do but toy with her beloved duke.

She eventually agrees to behave herself and sit quietly as Bocchan plays some of the new piano piece he’s working on, which is indeed both somber and beautiful. Alice’s rush of emotion during the piece precedes the good duke telling her he composed the piece for her; as a reward she leans in to kiss him, her lips stopping only an inch from his.

Bocchan may be relatively content with Alice and Rob, but a member of his original family does come to visit him now and again, treating it like a special service and act of welfare on her part, but visiting him nonetheless.

Viola (Minase Inori in Adorable Squeaky Mode) may not be as overtly honest as Alice about how she feels about her brother—she wants him to break the curse so he can return home—but it’s clear that unlike her mother she does care.

When a black cat appears in the mansion, Bocchan is terrified, not because he’s scared of cats but because he’s scared of killing it if it touches him. So he runs from the cat, Rob mistakes him for the cat, and Alice makes much of the fact the cat tore her dress in just such a way.

They find a note with that cat—”Forgive Me”—that Bocchan takes to mean it was abandoned, as he was. As for me, I wondered if that black cat wasn’t sent by the witch as a messenger; maybe the curse wasn’t intentional? It would explain why it was cast upon a five-year-old boy who no one had reason to curse.

The pièce de résistance of the outing is the ending, as Alice finds Bocchan in the deserted ballroom and the two dance inches from one another under the gorgeous, massive full moon, a scene lifted from a storybook. Like the music Bocchan composes, it’s sad, beautiful, and with just enough of a touch of hopefulness.

The Duke of Death and His Maid – 01 (First Impressions) – Ducal Distancing

An young duke (or Bocchan) is cursed by a witch at age five to bring death to any living thing he touches, like the Grim Reaper, AKA Death. He is shunned by his family and exiled to a villa in the woods. His only companion is Alice, the daughter of the head maid who grew up with Bocchan. There’s also a butler, he doesn’t show up in this first episode—bad back!

While everyone is scared of Bocchan and thinks him a monster, only Alice (and presumably the butler) treats him like an ordinary guy. She is absolutely fearless in how close she gets to him, and loves to toy with him by presenting her ample bust or garterbelts because of his innocent reactions.

But behind the playful and occasionally raunchy teasing, there’s genuine affection and devotion behind everything Alice says and does that has nothing to due with the fact she’s a family employee. She is happy when their old childhood friend Phillip shows up, but even when it goes predictably pear-shaped, Alice flatly refuses Philips’s offer to get her a “safer” job, while Bocchan forbids Phillip to disrespect her.

Bocchan has his issues—he’s a little traumatized during every meal due to the unpleasantness of meals with his family between getting the curse and being exiled—but a monster he is not; he really is just an ordinary young man who cannot be touched. Alice is hoping by being with him and treating him with love, kindness, and occasional sexual harassment, they can break his curse together, and he can do what it’s clear from the outset they both want: for him to put a ring on her finger.

As is typical of first episodes of new series that don’t introduce the whole cast at once, I enjoyed the elegance of following just Bocchan and Alice. Phillip and his four(!) bodyguards were a well-timed break from their routine, and while it wasn’t a fun experience, Phillip isn’t an altogether bad person, as he is capable of pitying Bocchan even as he fears his curse.

If you’re not a fan of CGI or canvas-textured backgrounds then this show will not be your visual cup of tea! I’ll admit the characters are a bit stiff and uncanny as they tend to be with this animation method, but like most things it grows on you. One advantage, however, is that the models remain perfectly consistent from shot to shot, and some very subtle hand gestures, body movements, and facial expressions are possible.

These subtleties are crucial in a show all about how close Alice is willing to get to Bocchan without actually touching him, and her acceptance of his wilted white rose—interpreting it through the language of flowers as swearing his whole life to her—was genuinely moving and gorgeously shot to boot. Also, Alice’s azure eyes of deepest summer are mesmerizing to the point you can see why Bocchan cherishes her so.

Hanae Natsuki and Mano Ayumi get the lion’s share of credit for bringing the characters to life and making me care about them right from the get-go. The classy Victorian aesthetic and classical score also heighten the material, while both OP and ED go pleasantly against the grain with more contemporary music and visuals.

I may have just finished a show about a girl teasing a guy, but that turned out to be way more heartwarming and profound than I expected, and I foresee enjoying this new take on the formula as well.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Holmes of Kyoto – 03 – Mystery at Mount Kurama

This week’s whodunit sends Holmes and Aoi to Mount Kurama, where they have a nice date-by-any-other name before visiting the villa of their client. While at a particularly cool restaurant, Holmes reveals that he lost his girlfriend in much the same way she lost her boyfriend. His ex has since married the “arrogant and overbearing Osakan”, but he took that as destiny telling him it was right for them to part.

The case involves three brothers who were instructed by their late author father’s will to be at the villa at a specific time to be given three scrolls that turned out to be worthless reproductions, suggesting they had some other meaning besides assets to distribute. However, the scrolls were burned in the incinerator on the villa grounds. Someone currently in the villa burned them…but who?

Holmes all but dispenses with manners (particularly the second son, who reminds him of the Osakan who wooed away his girlfriend) and works quickly, and because of his near-encyclopedic knowledge of classic art, it doesn’t take him long to deduce what the three pieces were.

Both the first and second sons’ scrolls were works that carried symbolic messages; in both cases, an urging to seek greater heights in the things they’ve decided to do with their lives. But before Holmes can describe the third son’s scroll, the mother breaks down and confesses to burning them—which was fairly obvious in the opening moments of the episode.

She claims to have done it out of anger for not even being mentioned in the second will, and with the mystery solved, Holmes departs with Aoi. Before he does, the brothers insist he tell them about the third son’s scroll, and he acquiesces.

The message of the third scroll is that the third son’s true father was actually the author’s secretary, who was once in a bike gang(!) but saved their father’s life and apparently gave the mother support and comfort as her husband recovered.

It explains the timing of the distribution of the scrolls—just as the third son came of age—as well as the mother’s true motive for burning them—that they’d learn the truth. However, the fact her husband left her an aquamarine ring (symbolizing freedom) indicated he wanted her to be free to live her life, and also free of any guilt she might have felt over what happened.

And there you have it: another reasonably-well-off family with problems has their little personal mystery solved by Holmes, and he and Aoi are driven to the station by the second son (who is an awful driver) where they’ll return home to await the next case.

This episode dragged a bit in the middle as Holmes interrogated everyone, and the animation was pretty damn rough (how I wish these stories were in the hands of someone with some visual flair) but the case was clever enough, and despite his flaws Holmes remains a charming young scamp.

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – 21 – Two New Keys to Victory?

In an extended opening act between Sakura’s brother and father, the two discuss her similarity to her mother Nadeshiko, both her smile and the “something mysterious” about her. Sakura’s husband left things he couldn’t sense to Nadeshiko and didn’t ask questions, even if it meant he felt left out. But unlike his dad, Touya has the power to aid Sakura, should that time arise…and it’s looking pretty likely that it is!

Meanwhile, Sakura’s grandfather gives her one of the two items her mother wished her to have: a jeweled key she always treasured. My first thought was that this could be the key she needs to focus her magical power in order to oppose Yuna D. Kaito. The second “item” turns out to be gramps’ villa itself, meaning not only does Sakura have a potential new tool in the key, but a base from which to draw power.

Eriol mentions to Yue and Kero that the mansion where Yuna and Akiho live was once torn down to build an amusement park, yet now the park is gone and the mansion is back; its location being a particularly strong base for magicial power. He also informs his associates that Yuna was excommunicated from the order that gave him the “D” title, ostensibly for stealing a magical relic.

Eriol has a lot of exposition this wek: confirming that it is Sakura herself who has summoned all of the cards she’s been securing. They represent various aspects of her power, and while that power is considerable, it is still chaotic, without focus, and most importantly, inadvertent on the part of their creator.

Perhaps sensing his enemies have conspired together long enough, Yuna launches an attack on Eriol, cutting off both magical and conventional communications between him, Yue, and Kero. Eriol manages to fight off the attack, cracking his staff in the process, but it exhausts him. Even he can’t go up against a “D”-class magician for long.

While Yuna’s watch is finally broken, he still has that stolen relic—I’m guessing the book—and doesn’t seem too perturbed about pushing Akiho has far as he can in order to get Sakura’s cards.

Sakura remains uneasy about recent events, but nevertheless blissfully unaware of the identity, nature, and scale of her enemy and his plans. Instead, while watching Syaoran and his reflection in the car window, she wishes she could look in a mirror and see the Sakura everyone else sees.

That wish casts a fog around her home, and when she and Syaoran arrive, it has flipped around; become a reflection of itself. While a little strange and unnerving, there’s no active physical threat; all Sakura has to do is release her staff and secure the card, somewhat unimaginatively called “Mirror.”

It’s her twentieth card, and it enables Sakura to “mirror” her Flight card, making a double which she affixes to Syaoran so they can fly around hand in hand. Of all the things she could have done, she did something to make her and Syaoran happy. Too much power will make its owner unhappy, and Sakura is certainly hella powerful at this stage, if still chaotic. But Syaoran embraces her in midair and promises her he won’t let her be unhappy.

I’m not sure what he, or Kero, Yue, Eriol, or Touya can actually do, considering it’s been implied Yuna is stronger than all of them, and Sakura is the only one who has a chance of defeating him. But first she has to be told that Yuna is even an enemy that needs defeating, right? He’s been operating in the shadows for far too long while she’s dilly-dallied about with her newfound powers and ancillary high school life.

If her boyfriend, brother, friends and allies are really serious about preserving her happiness, she needs to be told the truth, even if it makes her unhappy. She needs to know so she can prepare for what’s coming. Because you know what would make her even more unhappy? If they, or anyone else (say Akiho) gets hurt because Yuna successfully stole her cards and becomes an unstoppable force.

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – 20 – The Lunch Mooch

Whatever the precise nature of Yuna D. Kaito’s goals, he seems pretty confident he’ll be able to pull them off. And can you blame him? Sakura still doesn’t have the slightest clue she’s being targeted, let alone how or why, and is content to continue living life as if nothing’s amiss.

She spends the morning making lunches for herself, Syaoran, Yukito and Kero for the day. I will say for the record she makes making rolled omelets look way too easy; aside from the fact those pans aren’t cheap, her method requires a lot of practice and a lot of failure.

Her date with Syaoran is replaced by a visit to the sprawling villa of Masaki, her mother’s grandfather, who apparently has something he simply must give her before departing abroad the next day. Syaoran accompanies her, and he and Sakura bicker over whose bento is better (each arguing for each other, not themselves, naturally).

When Grampa Masaki is alone with Syaoran, he comments on just how similar Sakura is to her mother; someone whose constant outward happiness and joie-de-vivre makes everyone around them happier. Meanwhile, Kero and Yue confer on the growing powers of both Sakura and Touya, while Kero receives a message from Eriol in England: a magic circle which both Kero and Yue replicate.

While wandering around the vast estate looking for someone to make more tea, Sakura comes upon her mother’s bedroom, which shines as brightly as the sun. Sakura uses Record to view a montage of moments from when her mother inhabited the room, but then the projection of her mom turns to her, puts her hand on her cheek, and warns her not to go any farther, lest she not be able to return.

Sakura and Akiho end up in the clock dream again, in which Sakura knows who the cloaked figure is (though doesn’t say it) while Akiho recognizes the cloak as the one passed down in her family. Yuna and Momo converse on how “the power of the dream is growing”, and much faster than originally thought. Kero and Yue arrive in England, where Eriol is finally ready to tell them what he’s learned, and it’s not good: “the one thing [he] feared the most is becoming reality”.

As confident as Yuna and Momo appear to be so far, and as oblivious as Sakura appears to be (it’s particularly unnerving to see her dip so far into her powers she becomes woozy and has to lie down), but she has no shortage of powerful friends, from Kero, Yue, and Eriol to Touya, who doubtless won’t hesitate to use his growing power to protect his sister. And then there’s always the slight possibility Yuna’s intentions aren’t even sinister…

Sousei no Onmyouji – 07

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This episode’s Arima-heavy early scenes (and why does every show need someone dressed like a proper English lady having tea?) were a little troublesome, but I liked the end result, as well as his very serious underlying goal: he wants to bring about the prophecy of the Miko; to do that, he needs to bring Rokuro and Benio together.

So this week, the two would-be lovebirds graduate from being two roommates in a dorm of many to two occupants of palatial villa, in order to grow closer to each other. Thus continues SnO’s emphasis on character over plot or action (though the short bit of action still packs a punch)—something I’m on board with, because I happen to like both leads.

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A big part of why I like them is that while they do spar a lot of the time, they also spend a fair amount of time not sparring. They also can suck it up and work together when they have to, and the floors of their two once-separate bedrooms literally turn on an incline and create a sidescroller-style physical challenge, the two know they need each other, and as they figure out how to overcome the various obstacles involved, they find themselves thinking alike more often than not.

A challenge that could have been sigh-worthy in less careful hands also adds to the enjoyment and complexity of their trial, as Benio just happens to be going commando today on account of her panties being in the wash. This means she has to be careful what happens with her skirt, and Rokuro has to be careful where he’s looking. But when he accidentally sees something, she doesn’t go berserk and beat the shit out of him. They simply deal with it, in a reasonable fashion.

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Indeed, Arima meant for this trial to bring the two closer together in several ways, and when they do, Rokuro and Benio are what you’d expect two kids to be: embarrassed, a little excited, but also respectful. Rokuro doesn’t try to sneak another look, and Benio doesn’t hold it against him when gravity causes him to fall on her.

Because they work together, they get out of the combined room without too much trouble, and when they face another trial in the air ducts in the form of a question involving numbers of hiragana and strokes, the two put their brains together again to come up with the correct answer.

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It’s a good job they do clear the trial as quickly as they do, because their “exorcist” pals need bailing out once again. Seriously, is there ever going to be an episode where these guys can handle a Kegare on their own? Until they do, I’m putting “exorcist” in quotes when referring to them.

Rokruo and Benio work together again to bring down the giant mantis-like beast, but Benio starts to panic when she realizes her hair tie is gone, one of the two her brother gave her. Rokuro stops her desperate search and takes her back to the villa, where he finds the tie in the air duct (and I noticed the glint when they fell out of it the first time, a neat little visual detail that went unexplained at the time).

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The day over, the two have their baths (ladies first, says Rokuro, but again, no funny business with peeping), and prepare to go their respective, once-again separate rooms to turn in. But before that, Rokuro asks about Benio’s brother. She wonders why, but the amount of importance she placed on her hair tie made him curious.

She sits down with him and talks about her beloved twin brother, from whom she was separated and believes to be dead—though I think we might have caught a glimpse of him a couple episodes back. Maybe if he reappears, he’ll be Benio’s version of Mayura?

Rokuro’s desire to learn more about Benio means he’s starting to care about her, just as Benio is starting to care about Rokuro when she tells him to make sure to brush his teeth, and assures him that even if he’s not the heir to a great family, his skills are remarkable…even if he’s usually “mostly useless.”

That last jab that leads to bickering at the end wasn’t all that necessary, but it’s clear she’s half-joking, and just giving Rokuro shit. If she didn’t like or care about him, she probably wouldn’t bother. As goofy and insufferable as Arima is, he may be on to something here.

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