Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 02

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I was glad for the hour-long first episode that really established a present day for the show; giving it the confidence to go decades into the past in only its second. And while Yotarou was the main protagonist of the first episode, he and Konatsu are entirely absent here, as we have only the old Yakumo narrating the past, and how he met Sukeroku.

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This story explains why the present-day Yakumo has bouts of bitterness and insecurity that can manifest as cruel or petty treatment towards those in his life, be it Konatsu or Yotarou. It all boils down to this: Rakugo was an arranged marriage for Yakumo, while it was true love for Sukeroku.

For Yakumo, then known as Bon, was into a geisha house. He was a dancer until he ruined his leg, and so he got dumped off at Yuurakutei’s house to be his apprentice and learn rakugo. He didn’t even want to get into rakugo, but he had to. His entire future was neatly laid out for him…by people other than himself.

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Sukeroku, then known as Shin, was a filthy, orphaned street urchin, who always used to be able to get into theaters for free. He convinces the master to let him be his apprentice in much the same manner as Yotarou convinces Yakumo: a combination of charm – from his overabundance of enthusiasm, and pity – the implication he truly has no where else to go.

The master can when Shin shows him what he’s got that he’s doing a lot of straight mimickry, but the fact he makes Bon smile and laugh tells him he could be more than just another mouth to feed.

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OH MY GOD LOOK IT’S A YOUNG MATSUDA!!! Holy crap, that’s so cool that Yakumo would not only inherit his master’s title, but his manservant as well. This makes Matsuda the only character other than the narrator Yakumo whom we know form the first episode.

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Oh, but where were we? Ah yes, Bon and Shin. Another reason the master takes Shin in is so that Bon has a foil, and learns to loosen up a little. Sure enough, after Shin says out loud something Bon dare not—they were both abandoned by their families—Bon has himself a cathartic cry and tells Shin his entire story, which Shin earnestly listens to and responds appropriately: basically, “Yeah man, that’s a pretty raw deal.” But it means so much just for Bon to have someone to talk to.

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The two grow up together, alike in how they came to be in the master’s house, but otherwise total opposites, except for their ability to accept one another, much like to very different brothers who still share blood and love for one another, even as they compete for their “father’s” approval.

Once they’ve studied and practices and grown up enough, their master gives them names and deems them ready to open for him at the theater. Bon gets the elegant, refined name Kikuhiko; while Shin gets Hatsutaro, which he feels will sink him before he even jumps in the pool.

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Now we know that Kikuhiko would end up being given the title of eighth-generation Yakumo, but I’m certain the master doesn’t arrive at that decision after Kiku’s first performance, which was an unqualified disaster, though not in any over-the-top or overly cartoonish way (say, he slips and falls or flubs his lines).

He gets all the words out, it just all feels so flat. And he’s super nervous, shaking and sweating from the get-go. No nice way to say it: he bombs. And he knows it, even before he sees Hatsutaro backstage, and dares him to do better in his very first performance opening for their master.

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Hatsutaro does better. Almost too much better. His performance, starting with a loud “HEY!” that wakes up those in the sparse crowd Kiku put to sleep, is far more energetic, warm, loose, and inviting. Rather than no laughs, he gets many, and from a diverse cross-section of people.

Kiku only succeeded in making the crowd almost as uncomfortable as he was. That’s some kind of theater, but it’s not rakugo. Hatsu did some damn fine rakugo in his first performance. He even turns Kiku’s frown upside down. But that’s just it: right now, Kiku simply has no confidence in his future, because he never actually wanted to do this, and still doesn’t. He knew that truth would come out in his performance, and sure enough, it did.

This is only the first part of Yakumo’s tale, which he did fairly warn us was long. We have yet to learn how he clawed back from that sorry first performance to become the living legend he is in the present (and who inspired Yotarou to seek him out), not to mention how his relationship with Sukeroku progressed/regressed; and at some point Sukeroku will meet Konatsu’s mother.

However much more story Yakumo has to tell, I am all ears.

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Schwarzesmarken – 02

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Shortly after her first training sortie with the Black Marks, which goes quite well, and being introduced to the kindly, beautiful Lt. Pham, Katia quickly meets the darker side of her new country, the Stasi, who arrive in force to take her into custody for questioning.

Bernhard resists the handover of a soldier under her command, even a brand new one, and challenges both Lt. Col. Axmann and her academy rival Major Brehme to produce a reason for the arrest, and is actually backed up by her unit’s political commisar, Gretel Jeckeln.

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The Stasi leave empty-handed without a fight, but they promise they’ll be back when, not if, they get something on Katia. And between her big mouth (talking about things like wishing for both Germanys working together to fight the BETA) and asking Theodor to look through documents on a certain general who is actually her father, they might not have to wait long to have an excuse.

Theodor, who clicks his tongue enough to make a drinking game, certainly doesn’t like being in another situation where the Stasi spotlight is on him and his loyalties are questioned. There are no second chances, so feeling particularly selfish about his well-being, he considers doing…something on the battlefield to solve his “Katia Problem.”

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But he doesn’t. Instead, when she’s about to be pounced on by a BETA, he actually saves her. Perhaps, in the heat of battle, Theodor is compelled to do the right thing, not what’s best for his own skin. Their operation is crippled when the Stasi, who promised to send reinforcements, instead simply sit at HQ sipping tea, leaving the 666th out to dry.

They lose their CO, and both Katia and Pham are somewhat inexplicably called upon personally to help defend Fort Neuenhagen, where their TSFs are damaged and where they wake up, not knowing if they’re prisoners or not at a place whose soldiers call “Hell on Earth.”

“Fine” is the best way to describe this episode. It wasn’t bad, but nothing really stood out. Theodor remains a bland, tongue-clicking boob, Katia strikes me as way too idealistic for her own good, the visuals are nothing special.

As Oigakkosan mentioned last week, the show is also juggling too many premises. It seems far more interested in the shades-of-gray political conflict than the war with the BETA, who are, like the enemy in Kantai Collection, are just pure, bland, malice…but also extraneous. This show is eliciting too much meh in me to continue.

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Hai to Gensou no Grimgar – 02

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HGG makes another strong case for continued viewing, in an episode that chronicles the trainees’ first kill, what they went through to get it, and what it does to them. Yet we’re not thrown into the heat of an ultimately futile battle like last week. Instead, we get an wonderful scene of Haruhiro and Manato having some tea in the middle of the night, just shooting the breeze.

In the morning, their task would seem easy: for the six of them to take out a single, isolated goblin unaware of their presence. They got the tip about the location thanks to Manato frequenting a tavern (and drinking to make friends and gather intel). What we quickly learn, however, is that even with superior numbers, it isn’t easy to kill the goblin…because as much as they all look the part, nobody has ever killed anything before.

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The goblin isn’t some gamehen or rat, it’s a humanoid biped with clothes, weapons, and formidable combat and survival skills. The long range girls miss their marks while the short-range guys don’t cut deep enough when they get the chance. They only do real damage to the goblin when he stabs Haru in the shoulder and pins him down.

Just when the gang thinks they’ve got the goblin beat, he gets back up and doesn’t stop fighting, despite his injuries. Finally Ranta has to go a little nuts and continually stab the shit out of the goblin until it stopped moving. It’s a gorey, nasty business that has everyone shaking, crying, even fainting, in Shihoru’s case.

This is the gritty realism HGG brings that sets it apart from similar recent fantasy rpg-style anime. There are no gimmies, no lightweight foes, and no victory fanfare. There’s only physical and emotional trauma, along with a wolf fang and a silver coin, enough to keep everyone fed a little while longer.

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Not only that, HGG deals fully with the consequences of the ordeal the trainees had to endure, along with the weight of the knowledge that while it may get easier, this is how it’s always going to be, and it will change them.

After the battle everyone breaks off and simply relaxes in town. There’s no dialogue for the better part of five minutes, only a soothingly bittersweet insert serenade about how it’s going to be alright. As Haru walks about on his own, he sees both joy and despair, and it makes him go check on a brooding Ranta.

Yume has fun shopping with Shihoru, but later she catches Shihoru and Manato looking like the perfect couple, and her face is a mixture of sadness and acceptance. Finally, once Moguzo finishes repairing and cleaning his gear, he whittles an airplane—something from his past life that doesn’t exist in this world—out of wood. That gave me goosebumps.

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The gorgeous, painterly fantasy setting and the bustling town are beautiful and engrossing because they’re basically the same kind of things we can see everyday in our own world, which makes them resonate more. And the day of wandering around, observing others, and pretty much doing and thinking about anything other than slaughtering other living things, has a healing effect on the group.

We return to the straw beds of the guys in the last scene, as it turns out no one is really sleeping. Haruhiro has so many questions for Manato, but nothing comes out, and once Ranta announces he’s going to crash the girl’s bath session (an action that gets him tossed and yelled at by a furious Yume) Haru realizes he doesn’t really need answers from Manato just now, even if he actually had any.

He doesn’t know what will happen tomorrow—it could be better or worse than today—but he and his five companions will learn and draw strength from one another, and face it together. That’s sufficient comfort for him to look forward to tomorrow.

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Dimension W – 02

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Before her first job as a collector under Kyouma, we learn the rest of the conversation cut off last week. Mira shows Mary footage of the murder of Shido’s daughter and mother, not long after she was first activated. This is information that could get everyone killed, so Mary elects to keep Mira under Kyouma’s supervision, partly because he’s competent, and partly because he’s the one who brought Mira to them, along with all her dangerous baggage.

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Mira is determined to become a good collector, which will in turn help her achieve her father’s dying directive: follow the illegal coils. Kyouma wants the coils, Mira wants info about where they came from and who built them. It’s a mutually beneficial partnership. But you can tell Kyouma doesn’t like suddenly having to deal with a partner, especially one who embodies the very technology he rejects.

Their first target as a pair is to extract the illegal coils being used by the flamboyant celebrity criminal Loser, who is staging a very flamboyant public robbery of an art museum for his legions of giddy fans. This crime-as-entertainment is another interesting detail of this futuristic society.

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Kyouma tells Mira to find the jamming devices hacking the communications grid around the museum, and it should lead her to the coils, while he goes after Loser himself. Kyouma goes off on his own, while also putting trust that his new partner will get her part of the job done.

Loser’s son and partner in crime is in constant contact, and does some research on Kyouma in the middle of the chase. Loser shows just how useful illegal coils can be when put to good use, learning about his enemy as he flees from him.

Among that which Loser learns explains how Kyouma can keep up with him despite lacking any coils of any kind. Our boy was once a member of Grendel, a kind of elite anti-coil assault squad. Kyouma is now using his skills and training from his dark past to pay the bills.

Then Loser tells him a bit abot him self, showing him his horribly burned, disfigured face, mentions his lost legs and wife, and blames New Tesla for all of it. He’s on a quest for revenge, and Kyouma would do well to stay out of it.

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But Kyouma will do no such thing. He’s on the job, and he’s not leaving without the illegal coils he came for. The museum curator inadvertently helps him lose the police, locking the place down to prevent them from discovering he himself uses illegal coils to power his sexy twin bodyguards.

What the curator doesn’t know is that within his most cherished work of art lies one of the “numbers”, special classified coils that are Loser’s true goal with the heists. He busies himself extracting the coil while Kyouma very easily dispatches the bodyguards.

Meanwhile, after racing to the highest point she can, Mira finds the devices she was looking for. They were disguised as pigeons flying amongst live ones, but her extra-human vision discerned differences in their patterns. After collecting the illegal coil-equipped robotic birds, she makes her presence known to their controller, Loser’s son, who can’t believe she’s human. But considering her sentience, I believe he’s mistaken. Though she is more than a human, she’s definitely a human.

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When the police start banging on the door to the chamber, the curator tries to fiddle with one of the illegal coils and sets it off, and we see for the first time just how terrifyingly awful a “dimensional collapse” can be, and how dangerous illegal coils are in the wrong hands. The curator is caught in the rift, which then hardens into a horrifying mass of duplicated robogirls mixed with pieces of the curator, who is still alive and conscious for it all. Yikes!

Illegal illegal coils are no joke. And while Mira doesn’t get any info from Loser, who is determined to get his revenge and so won’t recklessly reveal his sources, she did show that she’s collector material, and can work in concert with Kyouma even without supervision. This was another thrilling, stylish romp. Two eps in, Dimension W is looking…very good.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 15

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“You cannot truly become an adult.”—our Masked Man McGillis’s words in the cold open. Those words didn’t stick with me throughout this phenomenal episode, but gradually gained significance as things progressed. Masky is surprised by how excited he is. Disguising himself so he can visit Dort, the front lines of the upcoming rebellion, has brought out the little kid in him. The Mask protects his identity, but he’s still exposed and untethered, and we can only guess what he’s up to.

When Mika tells Fumitan he knows something is on her mind (he just doesn’t know what), she talks about things adults are supposed to have, like responsibility. Only hers are dual: both to protect Kudelia and watch her. But hanging out with all these kids, and Kudelia in particular, has brought out the kid in her too, and before she knew it she’d disobeyed orders, irking Noblesse.

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Meanwhile, someone who believes he’s one of the most responsible, pragmatic adults around, Savarin, wears the suit of a salaryman, occupies a cubicle, and informs on his little brother the minute he sees Atra with him. We’ll later learn Savarin has replaced the family of his childhood with the responsibility of adulthood: working to keep the working class society of Dort from exploding into chaos and blood, but also working to preserve his own skin.

The workers are lead by union boss Navona Mingo, who gets Orga’s team out of the line of fire and hides them in the slums, where he casually asks them to join his fight. He seems to shrug off Orga’s declining, but I somehow doubt that’s the end of it. Meanwhile, Gaelio and Ein are ready to go, but the captain of their ship is able to delay him by spewing a lot of bureaucrat-babble that impresses a junior officer. What’s this captain’s angle?

Betrayal is bad no matter who does it, so when Savarin betrays Biscuit, who idolized him and lived his very life by his example, has got to be devastated when Gjallarhorn arrest him and Atra. But the reason they’re doing so is because they believe Atra is Kudelia Aina Bernstein, Goddess of the rebellion. This is a misunderstanding Atra quickly picks up and runs with, to protect Kudelia, her family, from harm.

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This gets her beaten by the Gjallarhorn soldiers trying to get rebellion intel out of her, and the sight of Atra being roughed up, her legs, one missing a boot, dangling from the interrogation chair, is almost too terrible to behold; she is only a child, for crying out loud.

But Atra’s blood is iron; forged and stiffened on Mars from an even younger age than she is now. She knows how to take a beating; she used to endure them every day. Now that she actually has someone to take it for (rather than punishment for some petty slight), she’s all the more resolved. Her toughness in this situation brought a tear to my eye.

Speaking of eyes, when Orga learns through Navona that Biscuit and Atra have been kidnapped, he relays the info to Mika, who tells Fumitan to keep Kudelia safe while he rescues them. The “foolish, innocent child” Kudelia tries to sneak out anyway, but Fumitan stops her, and can’t help but remark how her “clear, honest eyes” haven’t changed since she was a young girl, and how much she’s always hated those eyes and wished they’d cloud up from reality; from adulthood.

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Hope and idealism, like the giddy excitement McGillis is feeling, is for kids. Reality and stern responsibility is for adults. And speak of the masked devil, MaskGillis shows up right there and then, revealing to Kudelia not only how Nobliss Gordon has been using her, but how he’s had one of his own by her side all this time.

Sensing this moment of betrayal could be a chance to finally cloud those eyes, Fumitan does not deny the masked man’s claims, and Kudelia is devastated. Fumitan then leaves Kudelia’s side, but Kudelia can’t help but go after her, even when Masky tries to hold her back and remind her of her responsibility. But is this all a game? Was Mask’s intention to use the truth to put Kudelia in a more vulnerable position?

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It’s a shame Mika wasn’t around to mediate things, but he’s occupied with being a one-man rescue team, finding Atra’s boot in the streets, seemingly following her scent to where she’s being held, crashing a truck into the building, and taking out all the guards off-camera before bursting in.

When he sees the state of Atra, he’s ready to go a little bit further, but there’s no time. Orga arrives in a truck just as Savarin is fingering them for Gjallarhorn once more. Savarin appeals to his brother to see reason and do as his big brother says. Biscuit is appreciative of everything Savarin did for him and his sisters, but he has a new family now, so he goes with Tekkadan, and the brothers are separated, perhaps forever.

Meanwhile, Kudelia is out in the open, searching desperately for Fumitan, while a full-blown armed uprising of Dort’s working class is about to explode on the same streets where she calmly shopped just hours before. She’s too concerned with Fumitan to realize the danger she’s in, or the merit of staying put so Mika and the others could meet up with her.

She’s acting like a child would, only considering one thing at a time and rushing at it with reckless abandon; unknowingly squandering the sacrifice Atra made to keep her safe. But it’s not all her fault—because you cannot truly become an adult.

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