Fruits Basket – 17 – Paying It Forward

Uotani Arisa was a broken and rudderless teen, subsumed by dirt and blood from pointless beatings; lost in the darkness. Things were briefly made worse when her idol Kyouko turned out to be the “lame” doting mom of the even lamer and impossibly sweet Tooru.

And yet, when Arisa is alone and on the run from more beating than she can take in a day, who does she barrel into once more but that sweet and polite Tooru, who immediately senses her friend is in danger, grabs her by the arm, and runs.

At Tooru’s apartment, Arisa finds herself back in an atmosphere of warmth, tranquility and love that is so foreign to her it’s uncomfortable. She figures her dirty delinquent self wouldn’t change even if she had such an atmosphere at her home, with her dad. Nevertheless, she’s jealous of it, and she wants it.

Tooru Kyouko are more than willing to share it with her, and to soothe her crushing loneliness that has been the core of her struggles in life so far. Back in the present, we see that Arisa is no longer lonely, and loves Tooru and Saki very much. That’s when the three young delinquent wannabes finally confront Arisa, but she ignores them as if they were mere gnats.

While her story about how she became besties with Tooru is complete, there remains the rest of her story: how she became the strong, beautiful, wonderful person she is. It’s a story she doesn’t tell the Souma boys, but is generous enough to share with us.

Hanging out with Tooru and Kyouko is a positive force for change in Arisa, but that change doesn’t come as quickly or easily as removing the stems peas. She may have returned to school and studies with Tooru, but her teachers assume she’s bullying her, while her gang takes none to kindly to her efforts to go straight.

Other students are weirded out by Tooru hanging out with Arisa all the time, and rumors spread about Tooru actually being a delinquent beneath a goody-goody facade. To Arisa’s relief and joy, Tooru pays such rumblings absolutely no mind. She’s going to make an extra muffin for her dear friend Uo-chan, no matter what anyone says.

But while the bond of friendship between Tooru and Arisa can’t be easily broken, the same doesn’t go for Arisa’s bones. While in the present she credits Kyouko and Tooru with saving her, it’s not like Arisa did nothing to help her own cause, and while she might not have known it at the time, going back to her gang to tell them she’s out and facing the consequences was actually the first step towards saving herself.

Thanks to her older gangmate Akimoto, Kyouko learns of the horrible beating Arisa’s doomed to receive if no one intervenes, so the Crimson Butterfly dons her duster for one last rodeo, intervening in the fight, extracting the battered Arisa, and carrying her back to her place on piggyback.

As Arisa demeans and insults her idiotic self for not realizing sooner she was on the wrong path, Kyouko offers some sage life advice, having experience quite a bit of that life herself. She tells Arisa that sometimes you need to hit rock bottom to realize you want to change; and that neither the light nor purity of life she seeks would be possible without the presence of darkness and dirt from which she emerged.

Arisa didn’t understand the feelings she bore until she got hurt exploring them, but now that she’s come out the other side, she knows with the clarity of a mountain lake what she wants to do: to become a strong, beautiful, wonderful best friend in whom Tooru can take pride.

So Arisa abandons her delinquent past to become just that, and eventually she and Tooru befriend Saki as well. And while she is utterly devastated when Kyouko suddenly dies, she’s also eternally grateful for the things Kyouko gave her and the things she left behind, with which she can not only continue to be a better person with a kinder soul, but pay the love and kindness and wisdom she received to others.

That means not simply socking the redheaded delinquent punk (Ishi-chan) who keeps bothering her, but offering her words of advice she wished she’d received earlier: Stop acting out while you still can, before something serious happens. If you need someone to scold you, I’ll do it anytime.

Ishi is immediately smitten by Arisa’s blend of warmth and coolness, and her two friends fall in line, becoming fans of Uotani Arisa on the spot. After the credits, Ishi not only cosplays as Arisa, but wears the exact same outfit Arisa wore the day they met! Needless to say, this is exceedingly cute and heartwarming.

Just like Arisa idolizing someone like Kyouko instead of a less savory gang member, it’s almost as if the universe is looking out for these three still very young kids who have a lot of life yet to live before giving up.

Because they chose the right woman to idolize, just as she did. And perhaps, one day, when they’re better people, they’ll pay Arisa’s wisdom and kindness forward, and help others become better too. Along with Tooru—essentially a demigoddess of love and kindness—this is the enduring gift Kyouko left behind, and why she’ll never really be gone.

Fruits Basket – 16 – Her Kind of Place

This week’s cold open is perhaps the darkest scene since the show dove into Hatori’s dark past. It’s not just shot dark, it’s frikkin’ dark, full stop. A younger, short-haired, long white coat-donning Uotani Arisa comes home to a dad wreathed in TV light and surrounded by bottles who doesn’t notice she’s there. She goes to the room and sits in the dark, wondering, perhaps, why she’s even fucking alive; what the point of all this is.

The next we see Arisa, in the present, luxuriating in the pool during P.E., is as bright and upbeat as the cold open wasn’t. Despite their reputation for delinquency, both she and Saki love the pool and would never skip out on an opportunity to swim in it. But the sight of Tooru in the same school swimsuit she wore in middle school reminds Arisa of elderly people buying dinner at the konbini she works at: somehow just really sad and wrong.

So she does something about it, asking—nay, telling—the Souma boys that it’s about goddamn time they get up off their asses and show some gratitude for Tooru constantly cooking and cleaning for them, by coming along to help her and Saki buy Tooru a big girl swimsuit. After some brief Shigure lecherness, the kids hit the mall.

Yuki and Kyou are beyond embarrassed to even be in a store that sells skimpy bikinis, let alone to see one placed in front of Tooru, but Arisa demands they at least lend their opinion as to what color Tooru would look best in.

Naturally, the boys pick opposite colors: Yuki blue, Kyou orange. Saki corrects them: Tooru looks best in pink. Her mom was the Crimson Butterfly while her straightforward dad’s color was white; combine those, and you get pink. When Yuki remarks that Arisa and Saki seem to love Tooru very much, Arisa quickly confirms that assessment. After all, Tooru saved her.

That’s when three yankees spot Arisa and plan to jump her, but are totally distracted by the gorgeous Souma boys she’s with.

Tooru is very predictably reticent about accepting the swimsuit, claiming she doesn’t deserve such a gift or any gift for that matter, because she’s nuts—but Arisa and Saki insist, so a swimsuit it is. Yuki and Kyou will just have to wait until next time they’re at a pool or beach with Tooru to see what it looks like.

Yuki remarks about how much Arisa and Saki love Tooru (and vice versa), and asks if the three go back to grade school. Arisa says no, only since middle school, when she was still active in a women’s gang she joined in fifth grade. She beat the shit out of people and had the shit beat out of her, and absolutely idolized the Crimson Butterfly, AKA Honda Kyouko.

When her gangmates tell her the Butterfly’s daughter attends her middles school, Arisa keeps her eyes open for “Crimson Butterfly II,” a carrot-topped delinquent in the mold of her mom. Instead, she’s bumped into by Kyouko’s actual daughter: klutz, space cadet, and deeply kind and decent girl, Honda Tooru. Arisa can’t believe it.

When she finally gets to meet the total badass bike empress she placed on such a high pedestal, she was bound to be disappointed, but could never in a million years have thought she’d be a carefree doting parent. When Kyouko and Tooru invite her to dinner, Arisa suddenly feels very uncomfortable and out of place.

Arisa gets up to leave, and when they insist she stay, she lets Kyouko have it: she’s disappointed and embarrassed to see what has become of the Crimson Butterfly. Kyouko’s response is perfect: she “just relaxed a bit”, is all. But it’s just too hard a pill to swallow.

In her rush to leave, she left her trademark black face mask, and Tooru chases after her to give it to her, calling her “Uo-chan.” But Arisa rejects the nickname and rejects Tooru’s open hand of friendship. She can’t look at Tooru without being reminded of how low the Crimson Butterfly fell. So she goes back to beating the shit out of people and getting the shit beat out of her, because what else is she going to do?

That brings us back to the cold open when she comes home, shuts herself in her room, and can’t get the image of Kyouko and her warm, bright, happy life with her “strange” daughter out of her head. Lame as it might seem to her, it may nevertheless be something Arisa wants, but long ago thought she could never have.

After last week’s disappointing Ayame-stuffed lakeside excursion, Fruits Basket roars back into relevance with a much-anticipated look into the past of one of Tooru’s BFFs and one of the most lovable characters on the show, and it didn’t rush things, leaving its resolution for next week.

It reminded me of another excellent backstory episode of another blonde delinquent-turned respectable civilian (Onizuka Hime from SKET Dance) as well as a wonderful exploration of how much a person can change in a short time—and how much Tooru can change them just by being Tooru. More of this, please!

Oh, and as an added bonus, the three delinquents who have a beef with Arisa have a hilarious post-credits sequence where they’re enthusiastically practicing their threatening techniques under a bridge, only for their first “victim” to be none other than Souma Momiji, who inadvertently scares them off with a his terrifying German friendliness. Very good stuff.

Fruits Basket – 06 – Not One to Ask for the Moon

After a particularly narratively and emotionally heavy episode that ends with Tooru back where she belongs, we get something much lighter, starting with the cultural festival at school, the great success of Tooru’s onigiri, and Yuki giving his upperclassmen the going-away present of cross-dressing for them.

We also meet a Souma relative somehow more annoying than Kagura (though mercifully less violent): Momiji, the pint-sized half-German who is brazen enough to hug Tooru in the middle of school and transform into his Zodiac form, the rabbit. Thankfully Yuki manages to distract the class with his charms.

We also meed Momiji’s minder, Souma Hatori, whose animal remains a mystery for now (my money’s on Ox), and who was the one who altered memories the last time Yuki’s secret was exposed to normies. Once he and Momiji are gone, Yuki laments to Tooru how unmanly it is to be called “cute”, and she can’t deny she thinks he’s cute-looking too.

Yuki throws her for a sudden dokidoki loop when he tells her he’s sure she’d look much cuter than him in his princess dress. While heading inside, Tooru is confronted by her BFFs Uotani and Hanajima, who are concerned she’s hiding something from them from the way she’s acting around the Soumas. When she says she’s living with them, she assures them there’s nothing to worry about.

Uotani and Hanajima decide to determine that for themselves, leading to an impromptu visit and sleepover at Shigure’s house. Tooru learns (and is duly #impressed) that Shigure is an author, of both “high” and “low” literature. While Tooru is grabbing some playing cards, Uotani and Hanajima wonder if they’re actually useful friends to her anymore, considering in her dire need they weren’t there to help.

Kyou and Yuki tell them she doesn’t sweat things like that, nor does she “ask the moon” of her friends. It’s more than enough for Uo and Hana to be by her side, like they were at her mom’s funeral, like they are at school, and like they are tonight at her new home. Tooru confirms this by telling them the story of her baseball cap, which a boy (that looked an awful lot like Yuki or Kyou in silhouette) gave her when she was feeling sad and lonely years ago.

After a good night’s sleep in Tooru’s awesome bed, Uo and Hana have some breakfast and give the Soumas their official approval. Not only are they kind gents (despite their spirited cat-and-rat rivalry), but they already know Tooru well, and appreciate her. Yuki and Kyou also agree that Uo and Hana can come back anytime…as long as the Souma family secret is maintained.

Speaking of which…Souma “Memory Modifier” Hatori is Tooru’s latest “Ominous End-of-Episode Phone Call,” basically ordering her to report to the main house on her next day off school to speak to him and possibly meet Akito, the family head—who admits in a scene with Shigure that he does ask the moon. Now what could they want with Tooru?

Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge – 08

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Ohta is injured, so Tanaka must fend for himself! In theory, of course. In reality, Tanaka can’t quit his dependance on help cold turkey, and asks (kinda demands?) Echizen help him instead.

Because Echizen is a kind and decent person, she agrees to direct Tanaka to her neighbor Ohta’s house, and while she carries her usual unpleasant demeanor, it doesn’t change the fact that she helps him nonetheless.

She’s clearly also helped out a bunch of other people, as evidenced by the numerous times she’s stopped on the way home by people thanking her for helping them.

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Even when Echizen successfully gets Tanaka to Ohta’s, she sees how happy Ohta is that Tanaka made it there “himself” that she hides so Tanaka can take the credit. This begs the question, for Tanaka as well as me: Why exactly is Echizen a delinquent? Does she, in fact, only dress like one? It sure seems like it, but that contradiction makes her only more endearing.

The next day Ohta returns to school, but is limited due to an injured foot. Tanaka tries to abandon his listlessness that he might be Ohta’s “conveyance” the way Ohta is his most of the time, but to no avail. He has the will; he just doesn’t have the way.

That being said, Tanaka does let Ohta put some of his weight on him on the walks to classes, where Ohta imagines how great it would be if the floors, stairs, and doors were all automatic. With his injury, Ohta is being given a taste of the difficulties moving Tanaka deals with everyday, so it’s only logical that he’d start thinking of ways to make life easier.

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Tanaka seems to do Ohta a solid by purchasing his usual sweet pan for lunch, but he gets tired on the way back, remembers that sugar can help with energy, and eat’s Ohta’s pan, leaving Ohta with Tanaka’s savory sandwich. Tanaka’s “various reasons” rationale (complete with face covered in crumbs) is hilarious. And who’s there to bail both out but but Echizen, adding to the mystery of why she’s a delinquent.

The day is more energy-draining than usual, making it hard for Tanaka to stay awake during unsupervised self-study, during which he must complete an English worksheet. He half-assedly puts down answers in Romaji letters (not English), then wonders why, if only about 80 countries speak English, they couldn’t “reform” them and make Japanese a global language.

Note there’s no megalomaniacal ambitions or malice here; Tanaka is just thinking of the most complicated way possible of eliminating English classwork so he can sleep more. The cut to the various people he could potentially ask for help was a wonderful sequence of unique personalities, none of them useful to his immediate needs.

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The day ends with a fire drill that demonstrates how Tanaka’s dependence on Ohta could be hazardous to his health, as two classmates help Ohta out but Tanaka gets lost in the school during the evacuation, so used to being carried by Ohta that he is. It’s a similar problem as taking the bus or taxi or Uber someplace all the time, but never driving or walking there yourself – writ small.

When the day ends (with scenes of the town at sunset as gorgeous and tranquil as any show airing today), Tanaka thanks Ohta for everything, even going so far as to name a day after him, which, combined with his “Tanaka Antoinette” line, suggests he considers listlessness a kind of oblesse noblige or higher calling.

The next morning, he gives Ohta an Ohta’s Day gift: a booklet of coupons enabling Tanaka to walk by himself between classes. Tanaka’s attempts to be magnanimous again goes awry because his ability can’t quite match up to his good intentions, and Ohta must swoop Tanaka up and dash to class before the bell rings.

Clearly, Ohta needs to find a more useful way of reciprocating Ohta’s kindness, but at the end of the day, Ohta is simply happy that Tanaka is trying. It’s the thought that counts…but hey, some light physical training wouldn’t hurt, right?

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Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge – 03

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Tanaka may be always listless, but I’ll tellya what else he’s becoming: popular. After a very filling meal makes him more listless than usual, the person who left a letter of challenge in his shoe cubby confronts him.

This week marks the introduction of Echizen, a blonde Yankee sporting a super-long skirt, slipped-on school shoes, and multiple piercings. She wants to fight Tanaka, to find out what kind of person he is.

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Fortunately, Echizan is far more than a delinquent, and the show quickly molds her into a three-dimensional character I truly wish to root for, even if she’s hassling Tanaka…nay, because she is. She’s also Ohta’s childhood friend, so he knows her from before she became…this way. She also doesn’t overdo it, and her manner of speaking is actually quite refreshing.

When Tanaka discourages her from starting a physical fight she’d easily win, she challenges him to Othello (AKA Reversi) instead.  She wins handily, but hold on: Tanaka was playing by different rules, and because he spelled out the character for “white” on the board with his white pieces, it stands to reason he won a game in which the winner had to do just that.

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An attempt to beat him at cards also fails, as he’s so intent on showing off his mad shuffling skillz, the wind on the rooftop blows all the cards away and they’re left one card short of a deck. It’s as if nature itself is allied with Tanaka against engaging in a serious challenge with Echizen.

But then the person on whose behalf Echizen is fighting appears: Miyano, or “Myaano” as “Ecchan” calls her. We learn both from her reluctantance to eat Osha’s bunny-shaped bread to her friendship with the tiny, cute Miyano that Echizen loves cute things.

The Skirt swap bumper was hilarious.

Exhizen’s love of cute things, and inability to eat them, gets her in trouble in the next segment, which results in a row with Miyano. She can’t eat the cute bunny cookie Miyano baked for her, so it gets old and grows white fluffy mold.

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Miyano is PISSED (in an adorably similar way to Popura in Working!!)—as is Ohta, who shares Miyano’s love of sweets and belief that wasting them is sacrilege.

Interestingly, Echizen enlists Tanaka of all people to help her, first acting as a shield (which fails when Miyano goes cold when peaking out from behind him) then writing a letter to express her feelings (which Miyano misinterprets as a challenge).

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Throughout Echizen’s crisis (which is really just an honest misunderstanding), she forms a nice rapport Tanaka, depending on his open ear and honest responses as she bounces ideas off him. He comes up with things she’s too wound up to consider, and comforts her when she suspects Miyano never wanted to be friends.

Tanaka, rightly, believes it’s a waste of time to let things fester with a friend (he considers himself and Ohta to be as steady as an old married couple…which they are!), while Miyano is listening in while they talk (it’s a school, there’s only so much privacy).

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Miyano is still angry about her cookie going to waste, but she doesn’t want to make it any bigger than it is; it’s certainly not as important a matter as the fact that she is deeply in love with Echizen (She has good taste!). Yes, Echizen is the one Miyano wanted to train with Tanaka to become more listless and mature.

The thing is, Echizen likes her the way she is, as Tanaka said, and upon hearing such wonderful news, the two make up nicely. The next time Miyano makes sweets for Echizen (as well as for Tanaka and Ohta), the makes them “not cute at all”, resulting in chocolate bodybuilders. Ecchan has no problem wolfing them down, but now the boys are the ones with a thing about eating things that look like certain things.

As they converse, now a genial quartet, Shiraishi, the cutest girl in class, walks by. I presume she’ll be the next likable, rootable, well-rounded character to make it a cool quintet. I look forward to whatever distinct quirkiness she’ll bring to the show.

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Prison School – 07

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It’s been interesting to watch the deterioration of Kiyoshi and Shingo’s relationship over the last seven weeks, but to Prison School’s credit, Shingo is not always just the bad guy. Or at least, there’s more to him than simply his feud with Kiyoshi, as nicely demonstrated this week when he’s released into the wild by Meiko. He meets the bold, lovely Anzu in an arcade, who says she’ll take him on anytime; in video games, but also, perhaps, more than that.

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Among the inmates who aren’t Kiyoshi, Shingo is definitely the most “normal”, and there’s nothing normal about being in prison school for two months, so it stands to reason he’d do anything even for fleeting instances of freedom and normal life. Meiko knows that, and milks him for all he’s worth. When Shingo presents the missing sword from Gakuto’s figurine (which no one else knows about except Kiyoshi), which he found on the bathroom floor, Meiko does some googling and snooping and not only finds the figuring in the bathroom closet, but deduces it must be Gakuto’s—or “Dirty Four-Eyes.”

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For his quite accidental informing, Shingo gets another few hours on the outside, and his flirtation with Anzu continues, from her playing video games over his shoulder to sharing their ice cream cones to her offering to take him to go see The Grapes of Wrath. The two have nice chemistry, and feel very natural and normal together. While I wouldn’t want this to be the whole show, it is nice to see Prison School successfully playing the romantic slice-of-life straight, without any ecchi mayhem.

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Of course, it almost seems to make up for that normalcy by having Mari and Meiko unveil their suspicions about Gakuto in the strangest, meanest, wrongest way possible, offering one snack kernel for each inmate, but putting the missing sword in Gakuto’s hand and testing his reaction.

When he doesn’t bite (even when she places the figuring in her cleavage),  she mounts the horse it came with, threatening to crush it with her ample frame. Gakuto scoops it from beneath her, but before Mari can finish her judgment, he smashes it against the ground all by himself, declaring he’s not into those kinds of things.

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Just like that, Gakuto’s seven years of life go up in tiny shards of plastic. But he did it so he wouldn’t waste his entire life putting trinkets ahead of his hard-won friendships. He also apologizes for shunning Kiyoshi. I daresay it’s one of the most honorable moments from Gakuto not involving soiling himself.

As for Meiko, her little scheme backfired, and Shingo blurts out where the sword Mari touched came from (the boy’s bathroom), causing Mari to faint from shock, then to shun a Meiko who desperately wants to be whipped, in a very clever ecchi Twister game of tea time.

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Mari’s punishment for Meiko is to wear a skirt and shirt that cover her breasts and panties, but which prove so unbearably restrictive, Meiko almost faints in the hallway. Chiyo is there to help her, and by hanging around the council office, she’s able to learn for the first time about her sister’s DTO operation, which she surely takes exception to, as she’s one, like Anzu, who don’t mind boys at the school.

Mari’s “final phase” of the plan to expel the boys, seems to involve Andre, who they know is a masochist who keeps a “slave diary” (with some very nice illustrations in it, I must add!), but also notable this week is that all the inmates other than Shingo have now forgiven Kiyoshi, and also forgive Gakuto after he smashed his figurine.

Now it’s not Kiyoshi on an island, but Shingo. Would he still be so eager to continue help Meiko if he knew it was in service of getting the boys—including him—expelled? Certainly, being able to hang out with Anzu certainly makes it easier, but if he’s expelled, they won’t go to the same school anymore. Quite the quandary.

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Re-Kan! – 04

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Predictably, Re-kan! breathes new life into the beach episode formula by infusing it with its charming brand of supernatural embellishment. They have the beach to themselves because it’s haunted.

The ghosts are so thick around Amami, Kana can’t get a photo that doesn’t feature them streaking across the frame in such a way that makes Amami look like she’s being censored even though she’s wearing a perfectly normal swimsuit.

The ghosts also thwart Ero-Neko’s numerous attempts to harass the girls by land and sea; again, the cat’s hilarous voice sells what is otherwise a filler role. The Roll Call Samurai dutifully splitting the watermelon for the hapless Amami was also a nice touch.

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The episode downplays fanservice for practicality: the students needed a chaperone for their beach trip, and Yamada provided his big bro, who happens to be a cop, which makes Esumi, a former delinquent, uneasy. Elder Yamada joined the force because he wanted to be a hero, and views Amami’s sixth sense as akin to a superpower to be treasured.

While Amami could certainly have a future in criminal investigations (and I would watch the hell out of that!), for now she’s content to use that power to make the people around her, living or dead, happy. To whit: she uses messages in the sand and the breakers to get the scoop on the local fireworks display, best seen from the train (along with a somewhat unnerving famous ghost cliff-jumper).

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After a great bit about Kana having to deal with Amami’s ghost answering service, the balance of the episode is focused on stories of peoples’ pasts. Amami recalls being scared of sleeping alone, until friendly ghosts comforted and stayed with her until she went to sleep. That segues to the story of the “Fire-Haired Messiah” the unwanted nickname of Esumi Kyouko back when she was a yankee; a time Kana can’t help but mention.

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What I liked about the tale of Esumi’s past was that she was a righteous ne’r-do-well, protecting the weak and taking any hand that reached out to her in need of help, even if the arm turned out not to be attached to anything! That ghost led her to her first encounter with the elder Yamada, who is just as impressed with Esumi’s good deeds as he is with Amami’s sixth sense. To him, Esumi is a heroine, living the dream and righting rights; the kind of person who inspired him to become a cop so he could help people too.

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Esumi grudgingly accepts his praise, but admits she’s more scared of people than ghosts (or specifically, disembodied arms). But like Amami, she can’t help but help; it’s just who she is. Despite her past use of violence to solve problems and her semi-earned rep as a brawler, her heart’s in the right place.

If only she and Kana could do something about their eyes-through the hair…their hair design in the flashback was far less distracting!

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