86 – 10 – We’ve Come This Far

86 eschews dialogue and even diagetic sound, sticking with visuals and music to tell the story of Spearhead’s newfound freedom. Followed by their ever-trusty robot porter Fido, Raiden, Theo, Kurena, Anju and a far happier, less haunted Shin continue their “deep recon” mission by heading further and further from their Republic minders, camping out and keeping a low profile as columns of Legion pass by in the night.

It’s so nice to finally see these good kids get to live like the kids they are, not always having to worry about going into battle or being killed or being turned into a Legion. Being in the vivid blues, greens, and purples of nature make for a nice change of pace from their usual gunmetal grays and blood reds. They wash their uniforms, and trip to an old Imperial town nets them a boiler in which to heat a much-appreciated bath.

Shin is smiling and laughing the whole time, but still seems distracted by something, though it’s no longer his brother, whom he’s satisfied is now at rest. Like the others, I feared the worst when they woke up to find him gone, but Raiden remembered the tunnel in the town Shin took a good look at, and it leads them to a zoo where he’s found an immobile Legion with the brain of an 86, which Shin puts out of its misery.

The five stare for a long time at the skeleton of an elephant and other beasts who died locked behind bars, and wonder if they’ll end up the same way. It’s Fido, of all of them, who tells them to stop talking about such things and keep moving forward. While Raiden withdraws his question of whether Shin will be going across the water by himself—and possibly to the good Major, who doesn’t appear this week—he probably already knows the answer.

After the credits roll with almost ten minutes left, we get a retrospective of sorts of the life of Fido, starting with him finding and befriending Shin. He’s been there since this most recent cycle of Spearhead began, and probably before that, and all this time has been capturing all of these small moments of joy and grief. Shots of characters long gone smiling and playing are shown, then immediately juxtaposed of images from the day they died.

The most foreboding and indeed deeply upsetting moment we see happens at the very end, with Fido, and all of the memories he contained that for many of the 86 represented their only record of having existed on this earth, is blown up, most likely by Legion, on October 30, the latest date we’ve seen so far.

On one level, I have to think Shin and the others will be alright, even if Fido very clearly isn’t. And even with Fido’s stored “memories” have gone up in smoke, those five still carry memories of the fallen—all 576 of them, including Shin’s brother. The question is, assuming they’re alright, what will become of them? Will Shin find a way to get to Lena? I suspect next week’s season one finale will focus exclusively on her, and what progress if any she’s made in her one-woman crusade to save the soul of her nation.

Vlad Love – 02 – The Blood Defines the Drinker

It’s been over a month since the first episode of Vlad Love,but five more episodes have arrived just in time for Valentine’s Day. I just wish the episode had a little more vlad and love and less of Mitsugu’s classmates. The opening act takes place entirely within the confines of the nurse’s office, which grows both stale and claustrophobic after a while.

She’s been able to recruit a fair number of students to donate blood, but the vast majority are horny boys. Mitsugu makes it known she doens’t want Mai to drink boys’ blood, as it could adversely affect her loveliness. Only three girls end up donating, each representing a different blood type that reflects their personalities—though Nurse Chihiro insists there’s no scientific proof of that.

Mitsugu takes the three girls’ blood to Mai, and much to her consternation, Mai can’t help but drink all three bottles, perhaps due to pent-up hunger. Sure enough, with each blood type she drinks she exhibits the same characteristics of the donor, thus proving Nurse Chihiro wrong. The only apparent side effect of mixing the blood types is that Mai jumps from one personality to the next.

Hidaka Rina clearly has a ton of fun voicing all these different Mais, culminating in her singing karaoke on the table before collapsing from overexersion. She begs her host for more blood, but as Mitsugu is thawing her last pouch, Mai finds and drinks the blood of a 2,000 year old Mesopotamian demon, which had resided in one of the archaeological artifacts in Mitsugu’s house. Mai starts “buzzing” and eventually fires eye lasers at a wall, busting out to go on an evening “stroll”.

The stroll consists of Mai using her vampire umbrella to fly across the nightscape as the morning sun begins to rise. Mitsugu grabs on for dear life and is initially terrified, but eventually calms down, as she is, after all, in the arms of a surpassingly cute girl.  Mai eventually “runs out of gas”, sending the two plummeting back to the earth, and because this is a show where physical harm has no lasting effect on anyone, Mitsug survives the fall, though she and Mai end up in the literal lion’s den of the local zoo.

Much to Mitsugu’s surprise, Mai is able to talk to the lion and other animals (likely due to the demon blood), and she releases them to join her on her stroll, resulting in a rampage that makes the newspapers. As Mitsugu celebrates the fact she can create “the ideal girl” by tailoring Mai’s blood diet, Mai sleeps one off on a pile of zoo animals in the kitchen.

While it has some pacing issues and much of its comedy is trying too hard to be zany, I can’t deny I’m glad Vlad Love is back, from the moment I saw it’s OP, which is the season’s best by far. The show doesn’t look or sound or act like any other show airing, which is enough to celebrate its existence, while the winning central queer romance is as rare and refreshing as, well, a donation-addicted chimera-blooded protagonist!

Cardcaptor Sakura – 13 – No One Card Should Have All That Power

This week is I believe our second look at the Tomoeda summer uniforms, and Sakura is feeling good about the day. Her class is going on a field trip to the zoo, she wakes up without anyone calling her, her dad makes her a huge and sumptuous lunch, and she even encounters Yukito—on his own for once—on her way to school!

The only potential fly in the ointment is a morning news report of how a giant (and very heavy) “King Penguin” slide at the local park was completely inverted by some unknown force. When similar loud noises, shaking, and destruction of animal enclosures occur at the zoo, Sakura (and Kero-chan, who stowed away in her bag) assume it to be a Clow Card.

Not just any card, but Power, a deceptively tiny and weak-looking card who never the less packs a punch, even lifting an elephant high into the air (Sakura rescues the beast with Windy). Power then turns on Sakura and won’t stop chasing her until she decides on a test of strength, and Sakura picks the first thing to pop into her head: a tug-of-war.

Even with the grateful elephant helping out, Sakura is losing the battle until Syaoran shows up and uses Time to freeze everyone but himself and remove the rope from Power’s clutches. When he restores time to normal, Sakura has won the challenge, and Power allows herself to be secured quietly. She’s a powerful and showy card, but also an honorable one!

Tomoyo puts Sakura to work immediately restoring the penguin slide to its proper orientation, and snaps a picture for her own amusement. When a gust snatches it away and Yukito catches and sees it, Tomoyo explains that it’s a “composite photo”, so no harm, no foul.

Knowing what I know about Yukito from Clear Card, its interesting to see him outside the “circle of trust” that currently consists of Sakura, Kero, Tomoyo, and Syaoran—not to mention his role as Sakura’s primary crush!

Kakushigoto – 04 – Somewhere Far Away

This week’s time leap occurs at the beginning, with 18-year-old Hime explaining that the boxes her mother left her were full of things she’d need for the age labeled. Because everything was pre-stored, some if not most of those items were out of date by the time Hime attained those ages.

But she doesn’t mind. Thanks to the boxes, she’s able to experience a unique closeness to her mother she couldn’t have experienced. They serve as both time capsules and something like prophesies about a future Hime’s mother couldn’t possibly see…and yet at the same time, could.

But it’s back to the more lighthearted present-day of the show, when an assistant notes Kakushi is signing unimportant documents with “Kazushi”, assuming it’s his real name. However, Kakushi is his real name, and used it when he got published, so it’s his pen name as well.

When Kakushi’s editor Tomaruin goes to the EiC to declare his artists’ wish to change his pen name, the higher-ups are worried Kakushi has fallen in with fortune-tellers who may brainwash him not just to change his name, but start a cult! While having lunch with Ichiko, considers what it would be like for people to name their children after characters he created…only to find a woman named a dog after one of them…purely coincidentally.

Also coincidentally, Hime gets into onomancy (divination through names) and determines that while her pop has 5-star luck in just about everything, he should avoid the artistic fields at all costs. Later, Tomaruin stops by Kakushi’s house to find Hime engaging in Nadila’s native version of fortune-telling.

The editor is immediately smitten with Nadila, and returns to the bosses with the glazed cult member look, declaring his new name is “CEO”. But at the end of the day, Hime tells her dad they can rest assured, because there’s a guardian spirit watching over them both. That spirit is, of course, her mom.

When Hime comes to her father with an art assignment and asks for help with the background, the subject of “can dad draw?” comes up, something Kakushi would really rather avoid. That said, his assistant worry about his background skills as he hasn’t had to draw them in years (to say nothing of coloring).

While at first Kakushi wanted to balance helping Hime create an impressive work of art and exposing the fact he’s a professional artist, the assistants bring him back down to earth, making him raise the question of whether he can cut it with non-manga art after doing nothing but manga for so long!

The answer is, well…not really! Not because he’s particularly bad at backgrounds or coloring, but because his manga background unconsciously influences his style. He discovers this when on a lark he attends an art class run by none other than…Future Idol Senda Naru, who assumes he’s there to see her!

Naru is pretty good herself, and it’s she who gets Kakushi to realize manga has been so absorbed throughout his artistic language, he’ll sketch a stone bust like a shounen hero without even trying. But this is all moot, as Ichiko informs him when he leaves the class: he’s not allowed to help Hime with her drawing at all!

Now Kakushi isn’t worried about embarrassing Hime with manga-style backgrounds, but of Ichiko and Hime’s peers questioning her integrity. To avoid any question of him directly aiding Hime with her drawing, he arranges to have Ichiko accompany them to the zoo.

Ichiko rightly sees this as a date, belieiving Kakushi wants to keep them at a distance in case people see a teacher on a date with a student’s parent and get the wrong idea. Of course, this is the wrong idea, and Kakushi is just trying to protect Hime’s honor, but by the end of the date Ichiko thought the date was wonderful!

Kakushi’s odd date parameters also cause Ichiko to pay a different price with her other students: when she tells them her date is “far away” while looking wistfully up in the sky, they assume she’s gone crazy from the grief of a dead lover, and promise to behave in class from now on!

The myriad misunderstandings—some positive, some negative—are all a matter of the perspective of the observers. And so it is with Hime’s drawing: when the tigers don’t come out of their cave, she decides to draw herself and her dad from the tigers’ perspective—an idea both beyond her years and just the kind of creative thinking a kid would come up with organically.

Kakushi proceeds to buy the most gaudy, expensive frame for the drawing and hangs it prominently on the wall, despite Hime’s believe it disrupts the feng shui. Kakushi finds something very familiar about the drawing. Sure (and eerily) enough, the composition is identical to a photo he and his wife had taken with baby Hime at the same tiger enclosure, on the same bench.

In that regard Hime wasn’t just drawing what the tigers in the cave saw, but what her mother saw from her perspective “far away”, up in the sky: her daughter and father safe and happy, returning to a spot they once all shared. And so even without a time leap, the ending made me tear up all the same!

Elfen Lied – 09 – Unusual Animals

Since Lucy has only interacted with hateful bullies and traitorous two-faces, it stands to reason she’d have a problem with any other human who suddenly approaches her. But Kouta brings an olive branch in the form of a music box playing a pretty (but sad) tune and an offer of friendship, no strings attached. The appallingly lonely Lucy may not completely trust him, but can’t turn him down either.

For a few blissful days, Lucy gets to spend time with Kouta as an ordinary kid…in between squatting in houses whose occupants she murders. Kouta proves to be a man of his word when it comes to showing up. He thinks her horns are cool, but when he senses she doesn’t feel the same, he offers a hat to hide them on an extended date that starts with a visit to the zoo, where Lucy is delighted by the elephants and giraffes.

The pair end up cooling off in a pond, but Kouta instigates a splash battle that results in both having to strip down so their clothes can dry in the sun. This whole day is the last Lucy will get—Kouta is leaving the next day, after attending a festival with the family he was visiting. She tells Kouta it’s the most fun day she’s ever had, and while he’s sure she’s exaggerating, it’s heartbreaking that she’s not.

At points throughout the date, Lucy hears people chattering about the murders going on, and descends into her head where bandaged “clones” of her feed her negativity. When Lucy fears the cousin Kouta promised to go to the festival with is a girl, those voices intensify, and all of a sudden she’s choking Kouta on the bus. But Kouta is so guileless he shakes it off. The two end up humming the music box song as they watch the sun set, then part ways amicably.

That is, after Kouta tells her that his cousin is a boy, which is a lie. Lucy discovers this because she goes to the festival and spots Kouta with Yuka. A crowd forms around her, watching her, commenting on her, and the voices inside draw closer and become more determined to drive her to the dark side permanently…and she kills all of the people around her.

Kouta doesn’t witness it, but a little girl—perhaps his sister?—did, and described the killer. Lucy glares at Kouta and the girl from a rooftop, betrayed by his lie. A white lie he told to spare her feelings, but a lie all the same. Which makes him just like every other human she’s interacted with.

Back in the present, Lucy comes to, her memory restored. And who should be standing over her but Kouta the liar and his pretty girl cousin. Then we cut back to Mayu and Nana outside the house, where Lucy appears and leaves the premises. It’s ambiguous whether she killed Kouta and Nana inside, though the preview shows them alive and well, so more likely than not she simply left without harming them.

A Lucy this hardened by the years between her encounters with Kouta surely wouldn’t soften her stance on his status as just another liar in her life; someone momentarily interested in an “unusual animal” like her. Her inner voices—and Director Kazukawa—may be right in calling her next level of human evolution, and that her kind is predisposed to wiping out their inferior predecessors.

But what if Lucy is only the way she is because she was always around the wrong humans? If she had had someone kind like Kouta in her life the whole time, maybe things could have been different…

Bunny Girl Senpai – 12 – Trying Your Best ‘Till You Disappear

Sakuta tells Mai and Nodoka the story of Kaede he’s never told anyone, but now that Kaede is making friends and thinking about going back to school, he can’t hold it off. It’s also the story of himself and the rest of his family. When Kaede suddenly enters a dissociative state as a result of online abuse, she loses her memories and becomes the “Kaede” we know.

Other than her outward appearance, everything about her is different, to the point she could have switched personalities with someone the way Mai and Nodoka did. She walks different, talks different, eats different. Kaede’s Mon can’t deal, and due in part to being a big brother who is utterly powerless to stop whatever Kaede’s going through, the slash marks on his chest appear one night.

The doctors believe they’re self-inflicted, as “Adolescence Syndrome” isn’t a theory they’d subscribe to. But Sakuta gets sick of the hospital and sneaks out, finds himself on the beach, and meets his “first crush”, Shouko. Shouko tells him “life is here for us to be kinder”, and she strives every day to become a little kinder than she was the day before.

Sakuta adopts that credo; one could say it’s all thanks to Shouko that he’s able to do any of the stuff he does to help his friends later on. But here, before he meets Nodoka or Tomoe or Mai, we see that the first person he helped was Kaede. He helped her simply by acknowledging that she was Kaede. She didn’t have to be the old Kaede. He was the first and only one to accept her, not as an anomaly, but a person.

Back in the present, where Kaede is on the cusp of “leaving the nest”, Sakuta gives her a book the old Kaede apparently lent to her friend. In it is a note expressing that friend’s wish to be friends with “Kae-chan” again. Tears well up, and Kaede suddenly faints.

She wakes up in the hospital, none the worse for wear, but the doctors believe that her dissociative state may be wearing off. The note was apparently the trigger. The Kaede we’ve known all this time is still there, but she overhears Sakuta reporting to Mai that he doesn’t know how long she has.

Kaede accelerates her plans to go to school, even risking her well-being to do so (the dark red bruises appear when she gets overly stressed, and rushing things when it comes to going back to school is definitely stressful. Sakuta, hoping there’s something he can do for her as her big brother, promises he’ll show her the school.

But first they go to the zoo and watch the pandas, tigers, giraffes, elephants, meerkats, and all the other animals, all just “doing their best to live their lives”. Like Pandas with their not-very-nutritious bamboo diet, Kaede—specifically this Kaede—has it rough. But all she can do is keep doing her best.

That night, before heading home, Sakuta delivers on his promise to take her to school: an empty school at night. It proves just the thing. Having seen the place in the flesh for the first time, Kaede is more optimistic and motivated than ever to go to school during the day. Not because she might be out of time in her current state, but because it’s the next natural step.

Her opportunity to go to put that optimism and motivation to the test never comes. The Kaede who wakes up is the old, pre-breakdown Kaede. You can tell, too: Kubo Yurika totally switches up her voice. She remembers Sakuta, but doesn’t remember going to the zoo, and doesn’t speak in the third person. “Kaede” is gone.

Will it be for good…and isn’t that okay? It’s not like Kaede died, after all. Sakuta may feel like he lost someone precious—and in a way, he did—but that person was never going to be around permanently. We’ll also have to see how the “original” Kaede reacts to everything in her life, from her parents, friends, even her room layout, being different from how she remembers. Will Sakuta seek to bring back a part of “Kaede” to help bridge the other Kaede’s gap of experience?

Grand Blue – 05 – Beauty is Only Skin Deep

As punishment(?) for neglecting her at the festival, Chisa puts the word out that she’s dating Iori, immediately making all the other guys at college hate him and wish him ill will in a very over-the-top, repetitive opening act that went on a bit too long.

Chisa does nothing to stop the false rumor—on the contrary, she fans the flames—and Iori tells the guys that Kohei is dating Azusa (making him Public Enemy #2), but they both get a reprieve when they promise to arrange a mixer for them.

Oddly, their job is made easier by the fact the legions of haters are curiously whittled down to just two ornery classmates. To that end, they beg Azusa to introduce them to other women at her college. She agrees, but only if Iori continues to act like Chisa’s boyfriend until, as she puts it, Chisa “accepts it.”

With Iori’s promise secured, Azusa introduces her kohai, none other than Yoshiwara Aina, who the lads find extraordinarily adorable when she’s not wearing the thick layers of makeup that earned her the unwanted nickname “Cakey.”

Aina has wanted to join the diving club anyway since the festival, leaving the tennis club full of fakes who treated her like shit. Despite calling her cakey and drooling over her non-cakey appearance, Aina is still willing to scrounge up three of her friends for the mixer. But she also gives Chisa one hell of a sidelong glance; I believe Chii-chan just got some competition.

The quartet of lads, among them a virgin who will sleep with any girl as long as they’re a girl and he can sleep with her, are shocked to find Aina has somewhat tainted the mixer by giving her three friends as well as herself the same Cakey treatment, giving them the appearance of four clowns.

But if the girls are clowns, the guys are circus animals, constantly jockeying for attention and braying and snorting at one another whenever more than one of them focuses on one girl. Like the lecture hall scene, it gets a bit repetitive.

A look at a selfie shows them one of the girls is quite attractive behind the makeup, and they all go after her, but when Kohei asks her if she’ll come to his place later all four girls retreat to the restroom.

Iori uses the time to inspire his men, only to steal the show, thus invoking the other lads’ collective ire. Kohei breaks a mixer taboo by blurting out that Iori has a girlfriend (something he can’t deny lest he break his promise to Azusa), but the girls don’t even care; they already know that fact.

Later, the girls laugh off the mixer as an entertaining lark, likening it to going to the zoo. But Aina, ever the romantic, still ponders whether the person who saw through her cakey makeup and helped her out when she was down in the dumps could be a good match for her. No doubt she sees a decent guy beneath Iori’s own thick layers of alcohol-soaked machismo.

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – 14 – Forest of Illusion

CCS:CC is a show replete with beautiful pastels and idyllic scenes of Sakura’s lovely, happy life, but from its first moments this is an episode that throws a number of strange and even unsettling images into the mix, starting with Sakura waking up to find Meiling and Kero-chan right in her face, trying to compete to see who has the more intense face (it causes the first of ten Sakura “hoeees!” in the ep).

Sakura with her new ‘do and Meiling meet up with their friends at a shrine market, but Syaoran is running late because he’s doing some rather intense magical training, no doubt to be able to support Sakura when the going gets tough.

It’s a fun and pleasant day as usual, until Sakura and only Sakura starts seeing animal ears and tails on all of her friends. They even start “talking” like the animals they represent, until the very environment around them starts to blur and twist and Sakura finds herself in a great grassy valley with a planet in the purple sky.

This is one of the trippiest cards since the Escher-esque labyrinth, and Sakura doesn’t have a clue where she is and how to change her increasingly animal friends back. She can’t even catch up to them, as they scatter and run when she approaches, eventually settling down at the base of a massive baobab tree.

Sakura is scared, and things suddenly get scarier. A storm swoops in, and a lightning bolt splits the tree in pieces, causing it to burst into flames. As it begins to fall on her animalized friends, time suddenly stops, and Syaoran literally tears through the fabric of the environment to join Sakura.

The time magic he used has gassed him, and the magic won’t last long but he still manages to calm a panicking Sakura down with a big hug, urging her to control her breathing and think about the situation. Sakura realizes she wanted to go to the zoo, so the card turned her friends into animals. When she became scared, it made things scarier.

Once sufficiently calm, Sakura is able to break out of the illusion and secure the “Mirage” card that caused all of the trouble. Everyone ends up back at the shrine, none the worse for wear save Syaoran, who is still exhausted from his use of powerful magic.

Meiling acknowledges her cousin Syaoran doing his best for Sakura’s sake (and the fact he calls her “Sakura”), while expressing her aggravation that she has no magic with which to help out. Still, neither Meiling nor any of Sakura or Syaoran’s friends need magic to support them; their friendship is something worth becoming stronger to protect.

I imagine Sakura will have to grow stronger still in order to face whatever nefariousness Yuna D. Kaito is up to.