Durarara!!x2 Ketsu – 05 (29)

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I misread Kasane’s intent last week: she didn’t come to Shinra’s intending to make a deal. Instead, she’s only implementing the next step in her comprehensive Celty research. She takes control of Shinra with a long kiss, plucks him out of his wheelchair and jumps out the window into the night.

Celty goes berserk, transforming into a big black ball of rage and gives chase just as Kasane intended. We see a lot of emotions going through the darkness of Celty’s mind, but the one that stands out the most is Shinra, Shinra, Shinra. And so her body moves instinctively to retrieve him.

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As Varona stands by a car with Celty’s head inside, Kasane leads Berserk Celty through the skies of Ikebukuro, periodically firing blades to slow her down. Meanwhile, Chikage accompanies Masaomi to his Yellow Scarves hideout after saving him from Izumii earlier in the day, putting their fight on hold for now.

Masaomi, for his part, is shocked to hear Izumii is fighting on Mikado’s behalf as a member of the Dollars, while Chikage wonders what version of the Dollars he’s encountered truly represents them.

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Kasane eventually meets up with Varona, who is this week’s narrator, and unlike everyone else running around this week has a lot of time to think about things. She admits she felt the euphoria that comes from gaining power when she stole the head; but it didn’t last long, and she realizes that it’s because her cover was blown instantly, and by Shizuo, no less.

Varona remains a deeply wounded and scarred young woman, but Ikebukuro and Shizuo have definitely had a profound – and I believe positive – effect on how she looks at the world and her role and values in it. She isn’t denying her feelings, only trying to figure out what they are and why she has them, and it all comes back to Shizuo and the peaceful daily life she enjoyed. She concludes it’s too late to go back now; that life is gone. But is it?

As chance would have it, after teaching some punk kids a lesson, Shizuo ends up with another bike on his shoulder when he encounters Celty’s horse. In the funniest and coolest scene of this entire Ketsu arc, the horse goes through various forms of transportation for Shizuo to ride it until settling on the bike, which he mounts and is then propelled at very un-bike-like speed.

While I’m unsure how interconnected Celty and her horse are, or whether they’re one and the same, it did seem like the horse was acting more reasonably than the mindless black ball of rage being messed with by Kasane. Whatever the case, it’s a given that the horse and Shizuo are on a direct course to the car with both Shinra and her head in it, which just so happens to be driven by his former adoptive protege.

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Dagashi Kashi – 05

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“Don’t get high on your own supply.” It’s a useful saying for both drug and candy dealers, apparently, because You started doing so with his bottle ramune, and has ended up consistently eating all his inventory, causing Kokonotsu to assume they don’t have it in stock.

Hotaru and You using peer pressure on Koko was pretty funny, along with the way the two kinda feed off each other’s chaotic energy, even leaving the store together in the middle of the night, promising to come back “clean.”

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This is one of the rare cases where I’ve had a candy vaguely similar to one in the show: those little wax soda bottles that contain sugary liquid you bite the tops (or bottoms) off. I don’t remember them being that addictive, however.

Anyway, all mention of You’s addiction disappears in the next bit, which starts later that night, as Koko walks in on You recording a truly terrible dagashi review of Baby-Star Ramen, a “by-product” dagashi born from the desire not to waste anything.

Koko gives a far more impassioned presentaion, unaware You is recording him in a video that gets a lot more hits than he ever did, as well as impressing Saya (who only has one brief appearance this week).

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Next up, Yatta! Men, another ramen-based snack that comes in little tiny cups with peel-off lids. When Koko and Tou lament their lack of spending money, Hotaru suggests they attempt to win said funds by trying their luck at Yatta! Men.

It’s here where we discover that, like Aqua in KonoSuba, Hotaru has dreadful luck, and seems incapable of selecting a winning cup, even as she collects enough ramen for Tou to make a bowl and slurp it up. No doubt some of that ramen contains Hotaru’s tears of defeat and frustration.

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Finally, Hotaru tries to rally back with more gambling; not a great strategy considering her luck thus far. She chooses a candy called “Watch Out for the Sour Grape!”. She entered into the game believing she could tell which of the three candies in each package was the super sour one from the sunglasses of one grape on the packaging (which Tou’s sunglasses reminded her of).

However, she’s thinking of the old packaging; there’s no such “hints” on he new design, and even if it was the old design, it was just a rumor and not true. In any case, Hotaru loses again, and is unable to mask her sour-face.

And there you have it: another serviceable tour of Japanese confectionery stocked with, shall we say, sporadic laughs. Five episodes in, despite the diversity of the candy, Hotaru and You’s shtick is beginning to lose its luster.

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 05

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As we return to Yakumo’s saga, which is already suffused with a constant underlying melancholy borne from the knowledge these events have long since passed, a young Yakumo is desperate to be good at whatever it is he’s doing, be it rakugo or a more straightforward play.

To that end, he’s far more concerned with practicing than women, who a drunk Sukeroku brings home one night. It’s just the latest iteration of something Sukeroku has done since he and Yakumo first met as boys: trying to get him to loosen up.

Sukeroku believes you have to be “a little stupid” in order to survive in rakugo, something Yakumo is not only virtually incapable of being, but would be betraying who he is if he tried. The audience will always know if his heart isn’t in it. We’ve seen how bad that can go!

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Speaking of his heart, it’s in a state of turmoil over the prospect of not being “cut out” for rakugo, turning an intimate little make-out session with Miyokichi into a pity party. For her part, Miyo loves Yakumo’s rakugo, which should tell him it’s worth pursuing.

Yakumo remains depressed, but puts his head on Miyo’s shoulder when she offers it. It’s notable that things don’t ever seem to go anywhere sexually between the two, something Miyo herself might’ve confirmed by telling her senpai essentially “it’s not like that;” in other words, platonic.

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Nevertheless, it’s a strong, warm friendship, and Miyo is excited for the lovely, elegant Yakumo to be portraying a man disguised as a woman for the play, and offers her services as makeup artist gratis. She does good work; the transformation is striking.

Sukeroku laughs his ass off when he first sees Yakumo’s somehow even foxier fox face, when he sees how terribly nervous his bro is (to the point of threatening to flee), he tells him to steel himself, knowing full well with his looks and talent he’ll have the audience eating out of his hand.

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Sukeroku turns out to be exactly right, which shocks Yakumo. When he starts feeling the rapt audience following his every move, his confidence builds more and more. His progression from initially jittery suits his role as meek ‘wife’ to the more boisterous Sukeroku’s ‘husband’, and makes it that much more of a shock when the time comes for him to reveal he’s a guy. His change in voice, posture, and level of dress; it’s all pretty much perfect.

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He leaves the stage to enthusiastic applause, a very different man than the one he walked onto it as. He was depressed, but now he’s seen with his own eyes and by his own efforts that there is hope after all, not only in theater but in rakugo as well. His performance showed everyone out there what he’s capable of, and the elegant “racy stuff” he can do so well; as effortlessly as Sukeroku pull of his unwashed galoot bit.

Finally, to once again remind us we’re only looking into the past, of two people who were still so close but whom we know will one day be separated once more and for good, the theater manager takes some candid black-and-white photographs of the two brothers, preserving the joy and victory of that night for posterity.

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KonoSuba – 04

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This week’s KonoSuba felt like three separate and distinct KonoSubas in one, all coalescing at the end around a single theme: whether Aqua is any good. We begin with Darkness showing off her repaired armor (and somewhat sadly asking Kazuma to praise her sometimes) and Megumin getting really excited about her new Manatite staff.

Kazuma also isn’t wanting for anything, as he later buys clothes and equipment better suited for his environment (albeit the same green shade as his tracksuit). All three spent their cabbage spoils wisely, but Aqua didn’t. In fact, she spent all the money she had and built up a 100,000-eris bar tab, thinking she’d be good for it, only for most of her cabbages to turn out to be lettuce, which isn’t worth nearly as much.

This is ridiculous and hilarious and makes perfect sense, since Aqua has so little luck. Kazuma, meanwhile, is roling in luck and cash, and wants to move out of the stables, but instead pays Aqua’s tab, after she tries pretty much everything: flattery, begging, and finally shaking her bum.

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Part Two of the three parter is the marvelous story of how Kazuma is forced to tag along on Megumin’s practice sessions far from town (where she won’t get scolded by guards) so she has someone to carry her home (just thinking about the silliness of such arrangement would send any milk I’m drinking out my nose).

She finds an abandoned castle perched atop a cliff, and day after day, once a day, blasts it with explosion magic, and every day, Kazuma carries her home. At first, it’s a chore, but he starts to get into it in spite of himself, gradually becoming a kind of aficianado; the equivalent of an “explosion foodie.”

Every explosion has its own intensity and personality, and Megumin has good and bad days. They bond through the experience, and Kazuma’s previously dismissive attitude toward her gives way to a kind of respect and understanding.

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His attitude towards Aqua, on the other hand, remains extremely dismissive. Aqua seems happy to be bringing home free dinner (and I’d be happy too!) but Kazuma is restless. He doesn’t think they can beat the Devil King, and he thinks a lot of that has to do with Aqua not being the all-powerful goddess he thought he had.

A Megumin aptly puts it, his “verbal lashings are pretty nasty;” subjecting Darkness would bring her tears of joy, but they only bring Aqua tears of sorrow (though Aqua reacts interestingly to Darkness’ interest in being reamed by Kazuma).

Kazuma’s war with Aqua is put on hold when a Dullahan arrives in town – one of the Devil King’s top generals. Looking kinda like Ains Ooal Gown’s cousin, his main grievance is with the constant explosion spells being cast on the castle where he’s taken up residence. Heh, I knew that castle wasn’t abandoned!

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After failing to pass of blame to another town wizard, Megumin steps forward and actually takes responsibility, though she refuses to apologize for or cease doing what is, for her, as natural and necessary as breathing. If she has to fight the Dullahan into submission for him to understand, so be it. Aqua arms herself and stands beside Megumin in solidarity.

Then the Dullahan, out of patience, prepares to his Megumin with a Death curse that will kill her in one week, but Darkness races in front of her and takes the curse instead. Now, I know enough about Death spells to know they’re typically not reversible; once you get one, it’s only a matter of time. This incident actually heightened the peril dynamic of the entire show for me; it looked like it was actually going to get serious.

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Of course, this being KonoSuba, feelings like that don’t last long, but that’s just fine, because the route it takes instead is true to its mission statement to send up every fantasy trope it can find in the most creative way possible. Because the Dullahan death-cursed a masochist, he only made things weirder and more of a hassle for himself, so he retreats before Darkness jumps on his horse.

Before he does, he challenges the party to come after him, and if they can fight their way through his castle fortress and get to him, he just might lift the curse. After he leaves, Megumin again shows she has heart and guts by resolving to take that challenge. Kazuma, who as we saw bonded with her somewhat in training, declares his intent to accompany her. It looks like the party is about to embark on a grand adventure to save their selfless comrade.

But NOPE, Aqua just uses her magic to instantly lift the death curse from Darkness as easily one balls up a tissue and tosses it in a dustbin. JOB DONE. I have so say…I wasn’t expecting that at all, but again, it made perfect sense.

Aqua had been beaten down the entire episode as an underachieving, whiny, pathetic excuse for an arch priest, but ends up the heroine, gaining the adoration of the entire town while utterly sapping Kazuma and Megumin of their motivation. So going back to the question of whether Aqua is any good…well, she is, but only at very specific things at very specific times. If this bizarre party is going to thrive, it will do so mostly by threading needles.

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GATE – 17

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Last week was a little…weak,but that’s because it was only the somewhat tedious prologue to this: the titular decisive battle in the Fire Dragon Arc. Yao brings the remnants of her clan to meet Itami, and nine of them join them in the fight.

Itami giving them a crash course in RPG launchers before heading into the dragon’s lair deep within Mt. Duma. Forest elves? Alliances and fellowships of nine? Mt. Doom-a? It would be a Tolkienesque episode – were it not for the inclusion of modern weaponry, which actually works in GATE’s favor; as I’ve never seen a dragon slain in the particular manner we witness this week.

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Itami devises a plan in which they mine the dragon’s nest with buried C-4 explosive, but he/she returns before they finish, and Rory (who can’t/won’t go underground for some reason) isn’t able to stay in radio contact.

As a result, the assault teem has to improvise, which for a group of dark elves given only the most rudimentary training, means a lot of elf redshirts buy the farm in this battle. Indeed, so closely did all the female elves resemble each other that I incorrectly believed I’d witnessed Yao’s untimely demise…more than once.

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In fact, before the end of the battle, all eight of the elves who accompanied them will be lost, though they all die fiercely battling the dragon with everything they have, and buying time for Itami to finish the bomb, and also, for Lelei and Tuka to have a turn at the beast.

We really haven’t ever seen much of Lelei doing anything at all, so it’s immensely satisfying to see her test the hardness of the dragon’s skin with telekinetic swords. Once she gets the force level right, she cracks an uncharacteristic (but welcome) knowing smirk.

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Indeed, this is Lelei at her most emotional and badass, and it’s because like Tuka, her village and people were killed by this thing, and she wants revenge too. Her blizzard of swords propelled into the dragon from all directions doesn’t finish it, but it does mess it up.

Enter Tuka, who has been watching people fight and die around her, and finally decides to take a chance and use her power, even if it isn’t enough. She had been blaming herself for her father’s death, turning her frustration over the futility of defeating the dragon inward. But now she turns it outward, and it’s awesome to behold, as she summons a storm of dragon-roasting lightning.

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With all the metal in and around the dragon, it isn’t long until some of the electricity it all conducts touches the bomb fuse, and it’s BTOOOM! City. Bye-bye, Fire Dragon. The multi-angle explosion made for an excellent spectacle, all the more satisfying because it was a total team effort. The victory would not have been possible with everyone’s contributions, in addition to the elves’ sacrifice.

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And yet, even when the dragon is slain and Itami, Lelei, Tuka and Yao get back outside safely before the caverns cave in on them, they’re still not out of the woods, because Rory, who had remained outside the whole time, took all of Itami’s injuries and pain, and is in bad shape.

She’s also being harassed by Giselle, the very blue apostle of the goddess Hardy who isn’t a fan of fabric that covers the front of her chest. She’s come to capture Rory so Hardy can marry her. Out-of-left-field extra conflict, or a rich dessert at the end of a wonderful meal? Your mileage may vary, but I happen not to mind this development, because it’s interesting to see Rory actually worried about something for once.

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It’s certainly convenient for Giselle to appear here out of nowhere at this particular time when Rory is by herself, not to mention Gisells just happened to be the one who bred the very fire dragon hatchlings whose shells were found in the nest. But also closing on Mt. Duma is a the SDF air and artillery attachments, sent to aid Itami at Yanagida’s request, but also happy for some action.

It certainly feels like very sugary dessert when, after Giselle exercises dominance over the situation for no more than a minute, she’s absolutely schooled by the display of JSDF force, and her baby dragons are wasted instantly. It’s almost too easy, but I did enjoy Rory’s gloating in the aftermath. She’ll be the one to decide who she marries, thank you very much.

That last skirmish also doesn’t undercut the fact that Tuka is no longer insane, but has gotten the revenge she needed to move forward…though she still intends to keep calling Itami “Dad” as her pet name for him.

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KonoSuba – 03

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And then there were four. Two of whom, Megumin and Darkness, are extremely eccentric individuals with no concept of personal space whom Kazuma wants nowhere near his party, even though he’s well aware he and Aqua aren’t enough to make it in this world. (It was also a little mean of him to call Megumin a “little girl”…she may just be small for her age!)

Ultimately, Darkness doesn’t endear herself to Kazuma so much as she simply doesn’t go away and refuses to take no for an answer, because for her, “no” is a pleasurable experience. The sterner and harsher the rejection, the happier she seems to get. Kazuma’s usual arsenal of repelling barbs only embolden the bombshell.

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KonoSuba enters ecchi territory when Darkness’ thief friend Chris teaches Kazuma the “Steal” ability, then challenges him to steal back his coin purse from her. Instead, he scores her panties, which distresses Chris to no end and makes Darkness jealous that she isn’t the one being humiliated in the streets.

That being said, Chris is otherwise a pretty normal and capable kinda person, one of the first to enter Kazuma’s circle. So of course he ends up doing something terrible to her, due in part because he’s an adolescent virgin shut-in. He ends up with her panties because it’s where a part of his dirty mind happens to be during the Steal process.

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Just as Megumin shamed Kazuma into surrender last week, Chris shames him in front of the entire adventurer’s guild (though it’s at least partially an act). I gotta say, while Kazuma sports the lion’s share of annoyed, exhausted, and flabbergasted expressions, he gets plenty directed at him here, even from Aqua and Megumin.

When he demonstrates his new Steal ability on Megumin, he claims her panties as well, which astounds him because he thought the loot he’d receive would be more random (not that he’s complaining). Darkness continues to make her case for joining the party, feeding off of Megumin’s energy.

Kazuma, a little thrown off what game he usually has by the craziness, ends up motivating both Darkness and Megumin by pointing out how tough his and Aqua’s quest to defeat the Devil King will be. In fact, all the talk about how tough it will be make Aqua nervous and reluctant to proceed.

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Circumstance brings this Dream Team of Ineptitude together in the form of a town-wide emergency quest alert. A swarm of…something is quickly approaching the city, and all adventurers gather at the gates to meet it.

When that something turned out to be flying cabbages, well…I nearly fell out of my chair. Yes, in this alternate world, harvesting cabbages is more of a hunting frenzy, as they don’t go gentle into that good…salad.

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After mutiple swings from her sword fail to claim any heads (of cabbage) Darkness decides to prove her worth by serving as a shield for some overwhelmed fighters, getting more and more excited as the cabbages pummel her and her armor is shed and her clothes torn, she feels the uncultured men gawking at her and feels tremendous, wonderful shame.

Megumin inadvertently causes a near-“crisis” in Darkness by launching another one of her patented one-off explosion attacks, being as unable to hold back as Darkness. But while there’s quite a bit of collateral damage, she’s able to harvest enough cabbages to give the party a very nice payday Correction: her Explosion really help much; it’s Kazuma who collects most of their cabbages with his Lurk skill. Aqua is able to do little things like hydrate the other adventurers and keep the cabbages cool.

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After tasting this world’s cabbage for the first time and being pleasantly surprised by its superior flavor, Kazuma looks around to see what fortune hath wrought: he is now “cursed” by not just a variably competent arch priest and unreasonably specialized arch knight, but a gorgeous but clumsy, masochistic crusader.

I placed cursed in quotes, because that’s only one limited way of looking at his situation. Sure, he may forsee hardships in the future with a party that looks a lot better on paper than in the field, but time should yield better teamwork, and even when everyone screws up it tends to turn out okay.

Aqua, Megumin, and Darkness may be as much blessings as curses in this wonderful world. And together they’re a swirling vortex of comedy gold. Which is a blessing for us.

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P.S. Tilt-shift is often over-used in live-action TV, but I love its usage in KonoSuba’s beautiful ED.

Boku dake ga Inai Machi – 05

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Boku dake ga Inai Machi has made it sparkling clear that it has absolutely no intention of going easy on Satoru or the audience. He may be mentally 29, but that doesn’t blunt the devastation of losing Kayo one bit. He sees suspicious footprints by the shed, but nothing else. In an immensely disturbing cut, we see Kayo’s mother and her male friend inside, Kayo’s badly beaten, lifeless body lying on the floor.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter right now who killed Kayo or how. All that matters to Satoru is that he failed in his mission to save her. His mom tries to comfort him by saying it’s not his fault, but she’s not aware of her son’s journey to this point, nor the pain of having come up so short.

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To add insult to injury, both the school and media keep the disappearance under wraps or outright lie about it (to avoid traumatizing the other children). When a second girl goes missing, the story kinda goes away, as if swept away by the wind.

The last straw comes when Satoru sees Kayo’s mom take out the trash, and for one horrible moment I thought she might just be crazy enough dispose of Kayo’s body in such a fashion. It isn’t that bad (though one shutters to think what really happened to her body), but for Satoru, it’s pretty bad nonetheless: it’s a translucent bag, and through it he can see the gift Kayo promised to give him: a pair of knit gloves.

Seeing those poor gloves sends Satoru into a fit, and before he knows it, he and we out of the letterboxed past and back in full-frame 2006, only moments after he fled his apartment after finding his slain mother.

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Satoru is dejected to be back having accomplished next to nothing, but remains determined to discover what the heck is going on. But he initially doesn’t have the luxury of moving around freely like his past self. He’s a person of interest in a murder investigation, and while he’s a mangaka, he’s not incredibly imaginative when it comes to being on the lam.

His cheerful, supportive pizzeria manager lets him stay at his place, but one click of the remote is all it takes for Satoru to learn the crime and his framing in it is already public record. He doesn’t begrudge his manager apparently turning him in, but he doesn’t give up, either, and his desire to stay free bears fruit in the form of a timely encounter with…Katagiri Airi!

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I wasn’t alone in my almost instant love of the character upon her introduction, as well as my hope we’d see more of her. The show is not usually forgiving, but in this it seemed willing to cut us a little slack. Airi isn’t infatuated with Satoru or anything, she just trusts he didn’t and couldn’t possibly do what’s been reported, and wants to help in any way she can.

Airi provides Satoru a place to crash, and even a ray of hope when she pulls out the crime book he left at work with the bookmarked entry on Kayo. Turns out his actions in the past had an effect on the present after all: Kayo went missing March 3, after turning eleven. If Satoru can get back armed with more knowledge, he may be able to save her…or at least keep her alive longer and longer with each attempt, which could quickly turn into a Steins;Gatean obsession before long.

How she acts on her belief in his innocence contrasts sharply with the more pragmatic manager. No sooner is he meeting with a suspicious suited man whose face we never see (another one of those guys…or could it be the same guy who killed Sachiko?) thanking him for political favors, then he’s catching up toe Airi (whom he likes) and telling her he doesn’t think Satoru did it, and to help him if he approaches her.

Did the suit cut him a deal in order for his cooperation in one small part a larger conspiracy?

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If so, the manager probably believes the kind, naive Airi will do as he says and in doing so, get Satoru into a place where the police can nab him. But he’s foolish to lie about believing in Satoru, and even more foolish to be slinking around her house about to call the cops when she confronts him from behind.

Here we see a wrathful, fiercely loyal, and oh yeah, quite strong Airi, destroying the manager’s phone and punching him in the face with authority. Despite the potential danger, she’s staying on Team Satoru, and is committed to protecting him with everything she’s got.

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When they meet under a bridge, she admits she’s not doing this only for him, but for herself as well. She tells the story of how her dad was accused of stealing a candy bar in her hometown’s store, and while he always claimed his innocence, he lost his job, got divorced, and was basically ruined.

Yet Airi has always decided to side with her dad, because she loves him, and was there with him, and she though him a good person who’d never steal. She wants to believe Satoru in the same way, without him even having to beg her to believe him.

Unfortunately, the parties at work trying to ruin Satoru’s life at every turn are more sophistocated and diabolical in their methods than either Satoru or Airi are prepared for. Tough and careful as she is, she ends up trapped in her room when her house is set ablaze, and when she opens her door she gets knocked out by the smoke.

Is it “Airi, we hardly knew ye” so soon after her reunion with Satoru? I doubt it. But what comes next, I have no idea. She may survive. She may die, and trigger another “revival”. But if that happens, it means one more life he must try to save, even as he only managed to forestall Kayo’s death by two days.

The tide, in other words, is very much against Satoru. Everyone close to him is being killed; he’s being slowly erased. I sorely hope he can find a way to turn that tide.

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