My Autism Diagnosis Journey

It’s been a crazy couple weeks for me. After a year of being self-diagnosed, and 29 years of knowing I was different but not knowing why, I finally decided to get a formal autism diagnostic evaluation. And oh boy, was it a doozy!

I guess I should explain why I did this, since there is no real “cure” for autism. It’s partially so I can get disability accommodations at work or with government assistance. But mostly, it’s about peace of mind. I wanted to know that I wasn’t just crazy. I wanted to feel more comfortable the way I am, and I felt like getting an official piece of paper was the best way to do that.

But getting an evaluation with an autism specialist is not easy, and certainly not cheap! Most specialists don’t take health insurance, and ask for $500+ up front. (Yay, America!). I had to make so many phone calls before I found someone who I could actually afford. And that was just the first step.

I finally found a specialist named Sarah, who worked with me to pay for my treatment in installments. She seemed knowledgeable and friendly enough, but I was still nervous as hell. I did my research online and heard so many horror stories of people getting dismissed for the most superficial of reasons. But I tried to go in with an open mind, and reminded myself that I was lucky to find a specialist who was both female and an LGBTQ+ ally.

The first meeting was a “getting to know you” session, where Sarah asked me a lot of deep, dark questions about my childhood, mental illness, and my struggles with trauma. I’ve been to so many different therapists that I was used to this by now, but it was still a draining 2-hour session. At the end, she sent me a couple questionnaires to fill out, the main one being the Autism Quotient (AQ).

Each test was a series of 40-60 personality statements, and I had to circle whether I agreed or disagreed with each one. Some of the questions were easy, but a lot of them were so confusing that I felt like throwing my hands up and doing the anime girl “EHHH?!” sound. For example:

“I prefer practical jokes to verbal humor.” – What kind of humor are they talking about specifically? I hate sarcasm or put-down humor, but I laugh way too hard at corny dad jokes. So I guess my answer to this one is, “it depends…?”

“I enjoy social occasions” and “I enjoy social chit-chat” – These questions are redundant and vague. I don’t like crowded places, but I love hanging out with my neurodiverse friends. I never feel like I have to “fit in” or act a certain way to be accepted. Maybe the problem isn’t that I don’t like social occasions, but that I don’t like being forced to socially interact with neurotypicals all day?

“I am fascinated by numbers” – A lot of neurotypicals think every autistic person is a math whiz. Thing is, I hate math! I’ve always been more of a creative person. So now I have to tell the truth and risk being rejected because of stereotypical views, or lie to fit into that same stereotype. I ended up circling “Slightly Disagree”.

The next three sessions were all going over my answers. A test can only say so much about you, so it’s good to have someone to listen to my story before they make a diagnosis. Yet I still struggled with this part, because so many of the questions were personal. A lot of them related to my childhood, and I couldn’t help remembering how difficult things had been for me growing up. I was bullied a lot in school for being different, and my father was abusive at home. Talking about those traumatic memories is emotionally draining for me, so getting through those sessions was probably the hardest part of the whole thing. Luckily, my therapist was patient and understanding enough to let me vent my frustrations with the process.

After 4 weekly sessions, I finally got my results and almost 10 pages worth of explanation. I was officially diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, as I hit basically every category they check for. I wasn’t surprised by the results, but I was surprised by how I reacted to it. I thought it would be a life changing revelation, but instead, I just felt a slight sense of relief. I still have the same problems that I did before, but now I know a little bit better how to deal with them and to not beat myself up for things that aren’t my fault.

The biggest questions I had now were: “Why did no one tell me about this sooner?” and “Where do I go from here?” I didn’t grow up knowing I was autistic, and I thought if someone had told me sooner that certain parts of my life wouldn’t have been as challenging. But the sad reality is a lot of autistic kids fall through the cracks. I was a fairly bright and well-behaved kid, and quiet enough so that no one noticed how much I was struggling. And there just wasn’t a lot of general knowledge on autism when I was growing up in the 90’s. The only thing most people had to go on was Dustin Hoffman’s character in Rain Man, and the inaccuracies of that particular film would take a whole blog post of its own.

As for what the next steps are, well, there’s actually not a lot I can do now. I can’t take any pills to “cure” my autism, nor would I want to. The main thing it would help with would be getting accommodations at work. For example, I have been able to work from home because the office I was working at uses flourescent lights that give me severe migraines. It can also help if I need to apply for disability, although it’s no guarantee that I would still get approved (disability services in the U.S. are notoriously slow and tend to reject pretty much everyone the first time they apply). And there are some organizations that help autistic people with life things like finding a job or housing. That’s pretty much it.

So I guess it’s a bit of a mixed blessing, but it’s mostly the validation that matters for me. I think it helps to know that I’m not just a defective person for not being able to handle large crowds or flourescent lighting. It just means my brain is different from most people’s, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The autistic neurology also has a lot of benefits, like being creative, thinking more critically, and not being as easily swayed by trends or authority figures. It’s not an easy life to live, but it is a meaningful one, and really, that’s the most important thing.

Mari’s birthday special: My Favorite Anime Blogs

Today I turn 25… for the 6th time. I don’t really have much planned for today for obvious reasons, but I wanted to give y’all a gift. And by “gift” I mean “more anime blog recommendations”. I think we all follow each other anyways, so some of these might be redundant, but I also wanted to give them a shout out.

These aren’t ranked or anything, the order is just when they popped into my head. If your blog isn’t on here, don’t fret. I just didn’t have room for it, but I might still do more of these later. Enjoy!

I Drink and Watch Anime

Irina has a new post every single day, which honestly makes my blog feel a bit lazy in comparison. And her posts are great every time, with a knack for good humor and flow. I especially enjoy her character analysis posts and her collaborations with other bloggers. She also just did a review of my favorite anime, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, which I think is one of her best posts yet! Overall, IDAWA is a light and breezy blog that never seems to run out of ideas and is always a blast to read.

Pinkie’s Paradise

Pinkie’s blog is fun, fluffy, always a pleasure to rewatch, and very, well, pink! She always has good insights on the anime she watched, and often branches out to other fun nerdy topics like Pokemon or bad video game movies. She’s been doing a great write up of several anime including Samurai Flamenco, That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime and Flip Flappers each weekend. Which makes me very happy, because Flip Flappers is one of my top 10 favorite anime and y’all need to watch it! But I digress. Pinkie is great and you should check her blog out!

Shallow Dives in Anime

One of the things I love about blogging is being able to talk to people with all kinds of different thoughts, feelings, and experiences. And what made Dewbond’s blog stand out for me is his multi-part, not at all shallow analysis of Sword Art Online. It’s not my favorite anime or anything, but I think it was great to see so much love and thoughtfulness for a show that is often mocked and maligned in the community. Shallow Dives has a lot to offer for anime fans of all stripes, and I always appreciate a new post.

Crow’s World of Anime

With all the love he’s shown my blog, I have to return the favor, right? Crow does a great job highlighting the best of the anime blogosphere (do people still say that?) every week, and collaborates a ton with other writers. But his blog has a lot to offer on its own, with a thoughtfulness you don’t get much on the internet. Give Crow some love for me, will ya?

BiblioNyan

This blog does it all. They don’t just write about anime, but all different kinds of Asian pop culture – Chinese TV dramas, books from India, you name it. They are clearly well read and put a lot of research and insight for each post. And their style is easy and charming to read, while still being personal and unique. Check out BiblioNyan for a fresh take on your favorite media, and to get introduced to some new stuff you might never have even thought of before!

Anyway, that’s all for me. I didn’t want to make this too long because I’ve had a hectic week and the Re:Zero post took longer than usual to finish. And if you want me to do a write up on your blog, let me know. Maybe I’ll do it next year. Regardless, I hope you enjoy some of these fantastic blogs. Be sure to give each of them a follow if you haven’t already!

Re:Zero S2E11 – The Taste of Death

SPOILERS

*Sigh* We’re never going to see that intro again, are we?

Opening with a heartbreaking shot of Rem still unconscious, we then cut back to Subaru’s second time confronting Betty in the library. She still has the Gospel, as before, but this time we learn the pages are blank. It stopped showing Betty’s future a long time ago. She is a spirit who contracted with Echidna, but was left in Lugunica without the Witch of Greed when she died. Now she is just following empty pages, directionless and alone. Betty laments her long life and begs Subaru to take it from her, in a scene much more tragic than I expected from this character when she was first introduced.

WHO HURT YOU

Subaru refuses, but of course, Elsa shows up again at the worst possible moment. Since the Forbidden Library uses doors for its magic, all she had to do was open every door in the mansion and eventually she’d get in. Wait, that’s all it takes?! Honestly, I’m surprised no one got in sooner. Oh, wait…

A spectacular fight breaks out in the hallway, spilling out into the courtyard as Betty fends off Elsa’s skillful swipes with her own brand of Shadow magic. But they soon find a new enemy waiting for them – or rather, an old one we didn’t expect! This is Maylie, the little blue-haired girl who told Subaru where to go to save Rem, way back in the Mabeast battle of Season 1. Turns out she’s actually the master of all those feral demon dogs! It’s a bit weird to bring such a minor background character back as a villain, but it is a nice call back and brings a bit more continuity between the various story arcs.

The villains of Arc 1 and Arc 2 (I guess) both outmatch and outnumber Beatrice, and Elsa lands the killing blow. But Betty uses the last of her power to warp a wonder Subaru back to the Sanctuary once more.

Subaru is still alive, back with Emilia. But something’s wrong. For one thing, it’s snowing again. For another, Emilia has gone completely bat-shit crazy! She showers Subaru with affection and confessed her deep love for him (definitely out of character for her), but simultaneously berates and gaslights him for not paying enough attention to her. Her wide yandere eyes confirm it – this is not the Emilia we know and love! Maybe she’s been infected by the miasma, or maybe she’s Satella in disguise. Or maybe poor Emilia has just snapped from the pressure of so many failed trial attempts. Either way, this is definitely the creepiest we’ve seen from her, and major props to Rie Takahashi for being able to pull such a wide range of emotion from her character.

Not the expression you want to see with those words, usually

Subaru leaves, and not even an enraged Garf can snap him out of his depression. With Puck still gone, though, there’s only one person who could have caused this snow – the mad magician, Roswaal. But this time, their meeting ends in tragedy. Garf tries to transform and kill the man who’s clearly been behind some, if not all, of this, but the sneaky Roswaal impales him – and Ram, who had jumped in front to protect the man she loves most. All with the same unchanging, sociopathic grin. He doesn’t weep for them, see, because he knows that Subaru can get them back.

With his darkest secret stolen from him, Subaru is beaten bloody and powerless to resist. And as if on cue, the bunnies appear to finish the job. Roswaal knows he is going to die, but he doesn’t care – in fact, he seems to delight in his own demise, throwing himself at the Great Rabbit with a sardonic grin. He explains that even if he dies, the next timeline’s Roswaal – the “me, who is not myself” will eventually finish the goal he set out to achieve. It sounds like madness – but in the world of Re:Zero, where death is everywhere but never seems to stick around for very long, maybe the only way to survive is to become mad yourself.

But Subaru survives the Great Rabbit this time, going back to the Sanctuary to die with Emilia. And here I’m going to bow out for a second and let Tappei Nagatsuki explain what happened, as it is in the novel:

His voice refused to come out. Light vanished from his black eyes.
Not noticing this, thinking Subaru had merely fallen silent, Emilia tilted her neck in adorable fashion.
Then she abruptly smiled, gently bringing her face closer, and–
“–“
–kissed the silent Subaru’s lips.
–The taste of her first kiss was the cold taste of death.

Really, I don’t know what else to add to that. There is so much to unpack with this episode, and I’m almost at a thousand words already. The art direction was phenomenal, especially the glitchy camera with the scenes from Emilia. It reminded me of those “found footage” horror movies that were all the rage in the early 2000’s. Beatrice, Roswaal, and Emilia were incredible this episode, showing new and darker sides to their characters and making the audience question the assumptions they may have made about them before. And there was a lot of great continuity with this and the events of the first season, showing the link between Elsa and the Mabeast attack. But have you realized we’re not even halfway done with this season, let alone this series? There is still so much left to see, much more of the world to explore, and so much suffering left for poor Subaru. I know some of y’all out there hate him, but I have to wonder what he did to deserve all this…

Made in Abyss – Fear of the Depths

Few things terrify and excite us more than the unknown. Our curiosity to understand the deepest and darkest corners of existence helped us wander out of our caves and bask in the primordial sun. We’v trekked across continents, sailed great waves in search of new land, and built rocket ships to explore the cosmos – for power and resources, yes, but also because they was there. The dangers are great, but there’s something that compels us to go anyway. There is no real refusal of the call to adventure.

Made in Abyss is a 2017 fantasy anime about a girl, a boy, and a great underground cavern known only as The Abyss. The girl, Riko, wants to go to the bottom of the Abyss because she believes her long lost mother is there, waiting for her. The boy, a robot named Reg, has lost his memory, and believes the Abyss will reveal the secret of who – and what – he truly is.

In this world, the Abyss is the final frontier. It stretches down thousands of miles across seven layers, and no one has ever come up from the bottom. There are untold riches there, relics of an ancient advanced civilization. The scenery is otherworldly, taking clear influence from Miyazaki classics like Nausicca Valley of the Wind. The creatures have ghastly names like the Corpse-Weaver and the Crimson Splitjaw. And there is a curse that activates when you ascend, which amplifies from severe nausea to loss of humanity and death.

Also, the bottom looks like a huge gaping mouth

Riko and Reg are a precocious duo. Riko has read book after book on the Abyss, and she’s a good enough cook to make fish stew look appetizing. Reg has grappling hook arms and a blaster cannon that can obliterate pretty much everything in its path – although it knocks him out for two hours after. But they’re just kids. They’re naive. Impulsive. A little dumb. They have no idea what horrors await them. And there is a sadness that hangs over all of this. Most adventure stories have a return home as part of the journey, but the nature of the Abyss makes it so Riko can never go back.

Don’t let the chibi character designs fool you, this one is pretty gruesome

And yet, there’s something eerily beautiful about the Abyss and it’s many layers. It has a calm serenity to it, that you would expect from spending a long time in nature. The backgrounds look like Impressionist paintings, full of life and color. The soundtrack, by Australian composer Kevin Penkin (he did Tower of God and Rising of the Shield Hero), has a hypnotic, ethereal quality. The spacey synths, lush strings, and dense percussion create a world of sound and color, begging you to see more.

I kinda want to do a whole post just on this OST. Would y’all want to read it?

And those that Riko and Reg meet on their journey are just as fascinating. Ozen, a world-class cave raider who used to know Riko’s mother, lives on the line between good and evil and life and death. And then there’s Nanachi, an adorably sarcastic genderless bunny. They become hugely important towards the end of the first season, and without spoiling too much, their scenes definitely made me cry the hardest.

I know it looks weird, but trust me. When you watch the show, this part will make you cry too

I’ve tried to avoid talking about the story too much. Partly because I don’t want to spoil anything for new viewers, but partly because the story is almost incidental in a show like this. The character motivations are relatable, but nothing we haven’t seen a million times before. And there is some socio-political stuff going on too, but honestly, who cares? What makes Made in Abyss great is the atmosphere. It’s the mix of calmness, wonder, and terror, like walking through an ancient forest late at night. You know it’s dangerous, but you can’t help but wonder what’s on the other side.

Which is big scary monsters, usually. Have I mentioned this would be awesome as a video game?

Made in Abyss has only one real flaw, but sadly it can be a deal breaker for people. Part of Riko and Reg’s relationship dynamic is that they are just starting to hit puberty and getting curious about their sexuality, and the anime will sometimes get creepy and gross about this. I get that sometimes people get curious about that stuff at a young age, but they go way too far with it IMO. I really dislike this aspect of anime culture and I don’t understand why people defend it online. That said, I made a whole post last year about how I feel about problematic media. With stuff like this, you have to take the good with the bad. Just because there is objectionable content doesn’t mean the whole thing is terrible, but I understand if it would be too much for some people and they might not want to watch the show because of it. You do you.

I’m pretty sure Ozen is gay and Marulk (the maid) is a trans girl. They aren’t super obvious about it, but it’s there

There’s so much to unpack with Made in Abyss. It is a beautiful, messy, epic, flawed, innovative masterpiece of an anime. I’ve watched it twice and I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of its immense depths. There are many anime you could compare it to, but it’s really in a world all its own. The series only covers the first four layers as of this writing, but there is a movie coming out soon which will continue right where the story left off. I can’t wait to watch it and see what else this harrowing adventure has in store for Reg, Riko, and Nanachi. Even if I don’t think I’m ready for it.

Re:Zero S2E10 – Satella, The Witch of Yandere

SPOILERS

Villains aren’t hard to come by, but there’s a few special ones that can transform the entire atmosphere of a show whenever they’re on screen. Darth Vader is one. Sephiroth from Final Fantasy VII is another. And though it’s too early to compare her to those guys yet, I think that Satella, the Witch of Envy, does the same thing with Re:Zero. Even though she’s only had, like, 6 minutes of screen-time so far, everything that’s happened in the story is because of her. And her though we know little about her personality yet, this episode gives us a terrifying taste of her power – and a tiny glimpse of her humanity, under the hood.

Fun trivia: the word Satella uses for “I love you” is “aishteru” which is the most powerful and intense way to say the phrase in Japanese. My friend from Tokyo told me that sometimes even old couples who have been together for decades don’t always say it, which shows how creepily passionate Satella feels about Subaru

Last time, Garfiel barely saved Subaru from Satella’s attack last episode, but tragically, they were the only ones to make it out alive. Everyone else – Ram, Roswaal, Otto, and even poor Emilia – were swallowed up by the Witch’s black fog. Just as soon as this new timeline has started, Subaru has already failed. He’s devastated, but as long as he has Return by Death, he can save them, right?

Dude, everyone you know and love is dead! Who cares about the timing?

But Garf isn’t going down without a fight, and brings in the cavalry for his last stand – an entire army of clones of Ryuzu, seemingly empty shells, who launch themselves at Satella in an obvious suicide mission. Even Garf’s cat form, which was deadly just a few episodes ago, can’t put a scratch on Satella’s deathly pale face. She just stands there, repeating “I love you” over and over to Subaru as she slaughters everything in her path. It triggers Subaru’s jealousy more than hers, as he confirms his love for both Emilia and Rem.

But when Satella lovingly touches Subaru’s cheek, it’s all over. Subaru gets some trippy flashbacks of his time at the mansion, mixed with what appear to be memories of her previous victims. And as his life slowly fades, he finally gets a glance at Satella’s real face. It looks just like Emilia’s – beautiful, terrible, angelic, and yet so very sad. Not sure if he can, or even should, Subaru tells the Witch, “I’m going to save you”. Then he dies.

When he comes to, he’s back in the temple with the unconscious Emilia. He tries to comfort her as he did every time before, but this time he can’t. He just breaks down, out of grief, worry, anger, and his helplessness of it all – and Emilia ends up comforting him instead. Subaru laments his moment of weakness, but Emilia takes it in stride. I know he wants to give off this aura of stoic manliness to impress her, but I don’t think he should bother. Emilia likes Subaru as he is, vulnerabilities and all.

But Subaru has no time for moping. There’s still some sleuthing to do, and “one” person he hasn’t talked to yet. He uses the memories he learned from Satella to find Ryuzu, and finds the original in one of those weird Evangelion vats they always put clones in. One of the clones tells him that all the Ryuzus were created 400 years ago by Echidna so she would have spare bodies to put her soul in. The experiment failed, but Echidna can still control the clones – as can Subaru, as he gained some of her power through the magic tea she tricked him into drinking. Wait, does this mean Subaru could potentially gain the Authority of Greed from drinking enough of Echidna’s bodily fluids? Let’s not think about that part too much.

Late that night, Subaru has another wholesome scene with Emilia and we get a few moments of Otto being adorably tsundere with Subaru. (Every other girl in Lugunica already has a crush on him, but we can’t leave the guys out!) When the day breaks, though, he rushes back to the mansion to re-do his meeting with Beatrice. It’s a terrible idea, of course: Elsa the Bowel Hunter is waiting for him, and he doesn’t even have Ram or Frederica to back him up this time. But Subaru isn’t concerned with his own life. He knows he can just come back, after all. It makes me wonder how blurry the line between life and death really is for him. If all he does is prepare for the next inevitable death, he’s not really living, is he?

The episode ends on Subaru’s re-reunion with Beatrice, which will surely set up another action-packed romp next week. The episode was great overall, but seeing Emilia again made me realize I’ve missed her these past few weeks! She got a little development at the beginning, but hasn’t been around much since. And since her full backstory isn’t shown until later, it’s hard for anime-only viewers to understand why the trial traumatizes her so much. I know Re:Zero has to be The Subaru Show sometimes, since he’s the only one who can use Return by Death and advance the plot. But considering that Emilia is taking the trial to free the Sanctuary and prove herself worthy as King of All Friggin’ Lugunica, you’d think we’d see her perspective on things a bit more.

I also want to see her more because… well, she’s really pretty y’all

But considering they’ve introduced a new character or plot twist almost every episode, I can’t complain too much. This has been a stellar season overall. And with just three episodes to go before the mid-season break, I can’t wait to see how it all plays out out! Without spoiling anything, next week will be insane. In a good way.

It will have more Beako, which is always appreciated

Music in Anime: The K-On Girls’ Awesome Instruments

If K-On doesn’t make you smile, you’re dead inside. I love all the adorable moe girls and their band, Ho-kago Tea Time. But their songs are fairly simple, so there’s not much I could write about them besides “OMG so cute” and “Mio rocks!”. So I decided to write about their instruments instead! They are all based on real world gear played by music legends, and reflect each of their owner’s personalities in interesting ways. You could even say they are minor characters in their own right!

There will be spoilers. though K-On isn’t an anime you can spoil anyways. Also, since picking your favorite is Serious Business, I’ll say: Azusa is the cutest, Ritsu is the funniest, Mio is the best musician, Mugi is the sweetest, and Yui is the dumbest (and also my favorite).

Yui Hirasawa – “Geeta” Heritage Gibson Les Paul Cherry Sunburst

Yui didn’t even know how to play an instrument before joining the Light Music Club, but soon became the lead guitarist of the band! She fell in love with her Gibson Les Paul, “Geeta”, when out shopping with the girls, but needed Mugi’s help with haggling down from the pricey 250,000 yen (over $2000 USD!). Little did she know that her Les Paul is an iconic guitar played by music legends. Created in 1952 by the eponymous jazz guitarist, it was one of the first solid body electric guitars, meaning it didn’t need sound holes for amplification. Originally a flop, the Les Paul is now world-renowned for its rich tone and signature heaviness. You can find Les Paul players in everything from country to metal, but some of the most famous are Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), Slash (Guns n’ Roses), and God himself, Eric Clapton.

Mio Akiyama – “Elizabass” Fender Jazz Bass

The dark-haired Mio is shy and writes terrible lyrics, but she can play bass like nothing else! So it’s only natural that she would play a Fender Jazz Bass, whose warm midtones make her melodic licks stand out. Created by Leo Fender in 1960, the Jazz Bass was based on the Jazzmaster guitars. It’s asymmetrical design was meant to cater to jazz musicians, who normally play upright bass. Tons of virtuoso players have wielded one, including Geddy Lee (Rush) and Jaco Pastorius. These aren’t quite as expensive as Yui’s Les Paul, but they’ll still set you back at least $700 – and since Mio plays a left handed model, it must have been even harder for her to get her hands on one! Although the Precision Bass is the more popular Fender model, Mio’s choice of the rich, buttery Jazz Bass reflects her unconventional and creative personality.

Ritsu Tainaka – Rick Marotta signature Yamaha Hipgig drum kit with Zildjian cymbals

The self-proclaimed class president and class clown, Ritsu’s wild and energetic personality makes her right at home on the drums. But her kit is compact, with a small bass drum and some punchy Zildjian cymbals that she can really wail on in the choruses. A full kit is at least $600. But I think what’s more interesting about Ritsu is her influences. She tells Mio that her favorite drummer is Keith Moon from The Who. He was mostly known for two things: his unhinged lightning-fast fills, and for drunkenly destroying hotel rooms. Well, we should all be glad she’s not that crazy!

Tsumugi “Mugi” Kotobuki – Korg Triton Extreme 76 Keyboard (and RK-100S Keytar)

K-On is so popular that Korg even released a limited edition keytar in 2015 based on the one Mugi plays in the first ending sequence. Isn’t she great?

The adorable ojou Mugi is a classically trained pianist, but she can still rock out! Her keyboard was first introduced in 1999 and quickly became a go-to at festivals for its incredible library of sampled instruments. Mugi also plays a Korg RK-100 keytar in the first end credits and a Hammond organ in the second, which gives the band a nice retro sound. Each of these instruments is well over $1,000, but considering Mugi seems to have like eight vacation houses and a seemingly endless supply of fancy tea sets it probably didn’t set her back much.

Azusa Nakano – “Muttan” Fender Mustang

The last addition to the band, Azusa is a serious-minded girl with a great taste in guitars. Her Fender Mustang’s a bit shorter than most electric guitars, but it has a thin, twangy sound that works great against Yui’s heavier riffs. This Fender model was obscure until the 1990’s, when it became a favorite of alternative rock musicians like Liz Phair and the late great Kurt Cobain. In the same way, Azusa tends to not stand out in the show too much, until the finale when the band’s song to her made everyone cry. Aww!

BONUS: Sawako “Sawa-chan-sensei” Yamanaka – Epiphone Flying V and Gibson SG

Sawa-chan started off as the mild-mannered music teacher, but that all went straight out the window when we learned of her mysterious past as the singer and guitarist of a death metal band! She shreds on her Flying V while filling in for Yui in Season 1 and during her own concert in Season 2. But I’m more curious about her vintage 1960 Gibson SG that the girls find in the closet in Season 2! In the show, it’s one of the first models ever made and the girls pawn it for 500,000 yen (almost $5,000 USD!) My uncle used to have one of these, and the cherry mahogany has one of the sweetest tones on any guitar I’ve ever heard. It’s a great axe for blues and country, although Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath proves you can use it for metal too. I would have kept the guitar, but considering Sawako is living on a teacher’s salary I don’t blame her for keeping the money!

Re:Zero S2E9 – The Witches’ Tea Party!

SPOILERS

This is the episode I was waiting for. Of all the spectacular moments of Arc 4, my favorite reading the novels was getting to see all the Witches of Sin. Tonight we were introduced to Typhon, Minerva, and Daphne, the Witches of Pride, Wrath, and Gluttony, respectively. And the Big Bad of the whole series, Satella the Witch of Envy, finally made her appearance. It was all well worth the wait!

Don’t lie. I know some of you out there want to drink Dona’s tea

After opening up about Return by Death to Echidna in the last episode, Subaru gets a lesson on his dark power and the Witch who gave it to him. Though Echidna doesn’t know why Satella granted Subaru such an extraordinary ability, she posits that there is no limit to how many times he can die and be reborn. He just has to suffer and die over and over again until nothing else can hurt him or his friends, like a karmic Dark Souls.

When the questions turn to the Great Rabbit from last episode, Echidna tells him he can get the best info from Daphne. And this is where things get a bit weird. Subaru goes into some kinda Vulcan Mind-Meld with Dona and wakes up staring at the tiny, chipper Typhon. She’s so happy to see Subaru that she rips his arms and legs off out of sheer excitement. But right after, Minerva, the Witch of Wrath, beats her up and puts Subaru back together in an over-the-top magical girl sequence. By the time we can even process what the hell just happened, Daphne shows up in an upright walking coffin!

Come on Su, it’s only a flesh wound… okay, I made too many Monty Python references in the last post, I’ll stop now

To be honest, I don’t like it when anime introduces a bunch of important characters all at once like this. I feel like it diminishes their individual presence, and makes it harder for you to remember all of them. I hate making the obvious Fullmetal Alchemist comparison, but their Seven Deadly Sin villains were introduced more slowly and had more screen time early on. It helped them stick out more individually, and watching them grow and develop along with the heroes made for some epic confrontations by the end. But this is the Witch’s Tea Party, and they’re all great. Their personalities are vibrant and they’re campy in that great Re:Zero villain way. Minerva is my favorite of the bunch, although she’s still not as great as you know who…

Why is this a mood

Anyway, Daphne tells Subaru about her finest creations, the Demon Beasts. She gives him a couple tips to defeat the Great Rabbit, and explains the reason for their creation. They’re meant as food, for humans! The fact that they eat people is just her way of playing fair. It kinda makes sense, in a creepy Darwinist sort of way. At least she’s a bit less one-dimensional than FMA’s Gluttony, though that’s not saying much.

Her design is very over the top and creepy, but there’s a reason for the blindfold. Anyone who looks in her eyes will immediately die of starvation

Subaru returns to Echidna, now appreciating how chill she is in comparison to the other Witches. She accepts the handkerchief Petra wrapped around his arm as payment for her services, saying that whoever made it clearly was concerned for him. But we also get a glimpse of Dona’s dark side, as for all she’s done for Subaru, she has no interest in helping Emilia pass the trial. It almost feels like she’d prefer it if Subaru just forgot about Emilia and became completely dependent on her… but surely the Witch of Greed wouldn’t have some kind of ulterior motive, would she?

Subaru returns to the temple, but something’s wrong. Emilia’s not there! When he hurried outside, all Subaru sees is a black fog covering the entire Sanctuary, and a dark lady who looks eerily similar to the one he loves so much.

FINALLY! After a season and a half of nothing but rumors and teases, we finally come face to face with Satella herself! This is the Witch of Envy who nearly destroyed the world 400 years ago, who has given Subaru the curse of Return by Death and seems eerily obsessed with him. She tells him, “I love you” so many times it becomes a mantra of madness, and appears to swallow our hero in darkness completely before he’s saved by… Garfiel?!

Okay, that was a pretty clever fake out there. They even put the title card up and everything! Our ferocious feline has been almost entirely antagonistic to Subaru so far, so his quick turnaround seems out of place – but remember that this is still a new loop, so Garf is meeting Subaru for the first time. Subaru may have the scent of the Witch on him, but that’s probably nothing compared to the stench from the genuine article!

But the episode’s still not done yet, as after another phenomenal ending credits we close with Roswaal being swallowed by the dark mist, showing his copy of the Gospel, and asking Subaru to “not mess up next time” – meaning yes, he knows about Return by Death now! It was heavily foreshadowed before, but this brings a whole new dimension to Roswaal’s character. What else does he know about Subaru, and how did he figure it out in the first place? He’s definitely the most cryptic of the bunch, even more than Satella herself.

Despite my minor gripes with pacing, this episode was yet another banger in Re:Zero’s now infamous second season. I was so excited to see the Witches’ Tea Party in full anime goodness, and White Fox’s stellar adaptation did not disappoint. The visuals and music were amazing as always, and the new villains have lots of personality. And we still haven’t met the Witches of Sloth or Lust yet, so get ready for some more moe horror goodness in the episodes to come!

Fanart from raum on Twitter

Re:Zero S2E8 – That Rabbit’s Dynamite

SPOILERS

Eight episodes in, Re:Zero shows no signs of slowing down. Subaru confronts a hangry Garfiel in full beast mode, meets the second of the three great Demon Beasts, and talks about Return by Death for the first time without anyone dying. Arc 4 has officially kicked into high gear!

Last time, Subaru and Otto met up with Ram and were planning to escape the Sanctuary again. But Subaru still has questions for Roswaal, so he goes back for another tense grilling. Roswaal plays coy this time, but we learn that Beatrice’s book isn’t a Witches’ Gospel. It’s a book that can predict the future with 100% accuracy! That raises a whole bunch of questions about the metaphysics of Re:Zero‘s universe, but I’m more concerned with how Beako got it in the first place. It had to be created by someone as powerful as a Sin Witch, if not a Witch themselves. And who would want such a book, more than anything…?

Subaru and co. plan to return to the mansion, but Garfiel quickly stops them in their tracks. Turns out, Frederica isn’t the only one in the family with a beast mode! Ram and Otto try their best to get away, but Subaru almost immediately gives up once the angry cat catches up to them and threatens a group of innocent bystanders. He goes up to Garfiel, ready to die and restart – only for Otto to rush in and sacrifice his own life instead. And before we can barely catch our breath, Best Dragon Patrasche does the same thing, throwing Subaru out of harm’s way and dying just as as Frederica’s gemstone transports him away from danger.

*crying emoji*

When he comes to, he’s back in what appears to be the dungeon. Outside, the whole Sanctuary is covered in snow. (Never a good sign in Re:Zero, unless it’s the Memory Snow OVA.) The only sign of life is a tiny white rabbit, with an adorable horn and glowy red eyes.

PSYCHE! Yup, this anime literally does The Killer Rabbit from Monty Python straight, and somehow still nails it. This is the Ousagi (Great Rabbit), one of the Three Great Demon Beasts created by the Witch of Gluttony. The other one we’ve seen is the White Whale, who raised so much hell back in Season 1 that it took an entire army to bring it down. Sure, one bunny isn’t bad – but what about thousands of them, constantly multiplying, eating you alive and driving you so mad with hunger that you start eating yourself too? I swear, I thought Nagatsuki was fucking with us when I read this scene in the novel, but it works. Somehow.

Subaru respawns in the temple with Emilia, but he’s too shaken up to even notice her. He has a complete meltdown, banging his head on the floor so hard it starts bleeding – only to be magically transported again to a nostalgic dreamworld with a familiar face.

Of course, any time Echidna is on screen, Re:Zero becomes exponentially better, and this scene is no exception. She has some great lines in both her femme fatale and tsundere modes, but the real gut punch comes when Subaru realizes she knows about Return by Death. She had to have seen what he went through in the other timelines, to find him qualified to enter the trial again. In fact, in Echidna’s World, Subaru can freely talk about his ability without fear of him or anyone else dying. It’s the first time he has ever been able to since the show started, and it takes a minute for him to even process it.

I think the worst part of Return by Death is not being able to tell anyone about it. He has gone through all kinds of hell in dozens of darkest timelines – but he can never open up to anyone about it, or get anyone to understand what he’s gone through. One of the most important parts of overcoming trauma is talking about it in a safe space. That’s literally what therapy is for. But the one person he can talk to about this isn’t Rem, or even Emilia – it’s the Witch of Greed, who could easily be as scary as Satella yet always treats Subaru with respect and empathy.

Subaru’s lucky, he always has a hot girl there to make him feel better whenever he has a breakdown

We finish with Echidna comforting a crying Subaru and soft music over the end credits. It recalls the best scenes of Season 1 – Subaru’s “lap pillow” with Emilia, his death from the monstrous Puck, and Rem’s love confession – but it doesn’t feel forced or obvious. Overall, this was another great episode. If I had to criticize it, I’d say the pacing is a bit wonky this time around. There were so many intense scenes back-to-back that it was a bit hard to keep track of everything that was happening. But that’s just a nitpick, and I generally prefer slower-paced episodes for Re:Zero anyways. Echidna is great as always, and I still can’t wait to see the other Sin Witches in all their anime glory!

WHY WOULD YOU DRINK IT AGAIN omg Barusu is so dumb sometimes

Re:Zero S2E7 – Enter the Beatrix

SPOILERS

Sorry this post is a couple days late! I just started a new job and it’s been kicking my ass lately, so I haven’t been able to give Re:Zero my full undivided attention until today. But even still, I couldn’t wait to see Subaru’s confrontation with Beatrice that was teased in the last episode. While that scene was a bit too short for my tastes, we still got some suspenseful moments and a great scene with the anime’s most unsung hero.

Not Beatrice, although she’s great in this too

It starts right where we left off, with Subaru beaten and bloody with a bodacious Beatrice standing beside him. Poor Subaru is exasperated, believing that he should have just died so that he could get another chance to save Frederica and Petra. Beatrice scathingly insults him while being genuinely concerned for his life, but he freaks out when he sees a copy of the Witches’ Gospel on the floor. This is the sign of a contract with a Witch – the book that Betelgeuse valued more than his own life. Beatrice tells him that everything she has done is according to the wishes of her “mother”, and calls Subaru a fool for believing he, a human, could have a real bond with her. Then Elsa arrives, putting this awful time loop to a close just as Subaru tries in vain to save Beatrice.

It says a lot about this show that the main character dying is not the most shocking part of this scene

There’s a lot to unpack here! First, I’m worried for Subaru’s mental health. He seemed to let go of some of his troubles in the trial, but it’s worrying how little he values his own life. He may be able to use Return by Death to get another chance to save his friends, but is it worth relying on that? What about the excruciating pain he feels in the moment, or the trauma those around them must feel from having to watch him die? Even if time resets and no one remembers it, that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

Lore-wise, we learned that Beatrice is affiliated with the Witches’ Cult (who isn’t at this point?) and she’s presumably contracted to one of the seven witches as a spirit. The only other named spirit we’ve seen so far is Puck, and remember how powerful he is? Whether Beatrice is friend or foe, she’s sure to be a game changer. Speaking of Puck, where is that stupid cat? Emilia is really suffering and she could use his help right now.

Subaru tries to restart the loop as normal, but it doesn’t last long. When he tells Garfiel of his plans to take the trial in Emilia’s place, he beats Subaru up and locks him in a dungeon! He’s been a loose cannon for a while now, so his heel turn isn’t surprising, but the reason why presents new problems for our heroes. Garfiel can smell the miasma of the witch on Subaru, which is most potent whenever he dies and restarts. Each cycle of Return by Death worsens the stank, making the angry cat boy exponentially more suspicious and hostile. How can Subaru deal with him – and with Ryuzu, who seems to be plotting some nefarious scheme of her own?

We also learn that Frederica and Garfiel are half siblings, which partially explains why they don’t get along

After being tied up in the dungeon for three days, we finally get our prison rescue from an unlikely source. Yup, it’s Otto the Merchant, the comic relief sidekick that everyone underestimated until now! I haven’t talked about Otto much so far, but this arc is where he really comes into his own. He’s a valuable ally not for his raw fighting ability, but for his communication skills and enormous heart. Dude has apparently been having his own side adventures offscreen, running from Garfiel while picking up valuable information about Emilia organizing a search party. When Subaru wonders why Otto would risk his neck to save someone as dumb and useless as him, Otto just says, well, because they’re friends, and that’s what friends do. D’aww.

It’s nice for Subaru to have a male friend, and someone who has nothing to do with the Royal Selection or the Witch Cult. Probably

But because ending any episode on a happy note would be off-brand for this season of Re:Zero, we get a quick post-credits stinger of Otto and Subaru meeting up with Ram and Garfiel transforming into his beast form. I would have liked to see the whole transformation this episode, but I guess that will have to wait until next week!

Still, this was another great episode. I especially loved the scene with Beatrice. The music, voice acting and direction were all top notch. The whole season has shown White Fox’s commitment to this amazing series despite having difficult working conditions during the pandemic. It’s consistently been my favorite anime of the season, even if Fruits Basket and Deca-Dence have given it a run for its money at times. I’m psyched for the next episode. Be sure to have a nice hot cup of tea ready for it!

Ram didn’t have much to do this time, unfortunately, but her smug face is always appreciated

Little Witch Academia: Reconstructing the Magical Girl Genre

Puella Magi Madoka Magica changed the game for magical girl anime. Long associated with cutesy fare like Sailor Moon and Cardcaptor Sakura, Madoka opened the floodgates for dark, deconstructive magical girl anime. To be fair, I love Madoka, and think it’s a nearly perfect show. But there’s only so many times I can watch cute little girls get brutally murdered before my brain short-circuits, especially when so many recent series are just Madoka rip-offs with less clever writing and direction.

Is it possible for a series to rip off itself? Because that’s how I feel about Magia Record.

That’s why 2017’s Little Witch Academia was such a breath of fresh air, both for Studio Trigger and for the genre as a whole. It’s not the most original story ever – it’s basically just Harry Potter as a magical girl anime. But the charming art and animation, adorable cast of characters, and relentless optimism make it a modern-day classic. Besides, JK’s transphobia ruined Potter for me, so I’m happy to replace it with a series with no tedious relationship drama and a much better ending!

It was funded by Kickstarter, which I think makes it clear how much the fans love this series!

Our unlikely hero is Atsuko “Akko” Kagari, who is basically Deku from My Hero Academia if he were a closeted lesbian with undiagnosed goober-itis. After she sees a magic show by the dazzling Shiny Chariot, she dreams to become a witch and attend the prestigious Luna Nova academy. The problem is, Akko sucks at magic! Her spells constantly backfire, and she can’t even fly on a broom without crashing hilariously. Like Harry, her youthful rebellious streak constantly gets her and her friends into trouble. But Akko has an ace up her sleeve: Chariot’s Shiny Rod, said to hold the secrets to the most powerful magic in the world. And her boundless energy and can-do attitude win over everyone, even the stuffy old teachers at Luna Nova.

One nice touch is that all the characters have different nationalities. The show takes place in England, but Akko is Japanese, Lotte is Finnish, Sucy is from the Philippines…

We also have our Ron, Hermione, and Draco analogues with Sucy, Lotte, and the pompous Diana respectively. Lotte is the bookish type and moral center of the group, but Sucy steals nearly every scene she’s in with her ridiculous potions and constant experiments on her friends. She’s one of the most chaotic neutral characters in any anime I’ve seen, and I’m here for it. And while Harry and Draco were rivals that became enemies, Akko and Diana eventually get over their differences and become best friends – and, okay, there are some subtle yuri undertones in there. Can you see it?

Subtle

While the presentation is fairly straightforward, it still has that zany “Trigger-ness” that makes the studio so distinctive. The animation is a fluid mix of anime and Western cartoon styles, and they really let loose for the wacky Tex Avery-style gags. My favorite early episodes are when they go HAM on the weird comedy. Like when Akko takes a surreal mushroom trip inside Sucy’s deranged mind, or a magic “love bee” gets loose inside a fancy party, causing all the guests to spontaneously fall in love with each other.

This isn’t even the weirdest part of the episode

The second half of the series is ramps up the drama thanks to the heavy, Croix, taking center stage. Her ominous techno-magic makes Luna Nova obsolete by comparison, but it can easily be used to manipulate the ignorant masses. Yup, this series has some weird Black Mirror vibes, of all things! But unlike Trigger’s BNA, it doesn’t let the social/political message take over the story. The best part of Little Witch is still the characters, especially as we find out more about Croix’s relationship with Chariot and Akko’s place in their long, secret chess game.

They definitely have a history together

Magical girl anime has always centered around hope and idealism. Even the darker shows set up that idealism early and crush it with death and despair. But what makes Little Witch Academia great is that it never tries to be anything other than what it is. There is a thematic/meta aspect to it, as the young witches learn to respect their ancient traditions and the older generation realizes they need to change and adapt to survive. But mostly, it’s about the timeless themes of determination and not letting your disadvantages define you. Even if Akko’s unflinching belief in herself is sometimes dumb and gets her into trouble, she’s still a great witch for inspiring her friends to do better. The tagline of the show is “A believing heart is your magic”, and Little Witch does a great job selling it.

I’m so obsessed, I watched the OVAs and read the manga. They’re not as good as the series, but the manga has some gorgeous artwork!