Dagashi Kashi – 08

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Well, that was certainly the strangest start to a Dagashi Kashi yet … I thought for a moment I was tuned into the wrong show! But I liked the reveal of Tou telling a ghost story during a stormy night at Kokonotsu’s place, which only his sister is scared of. Knowing Tou, if he can freak out his sister Saya, that’s at least something, even if Koko and Hotaru don’t react.

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Around the time I was wondering what candy, if any, was the focus of this segment, Tou whips out the “Ghost Story Gum.” Hotaru has collected and read all 144 stories, which explains why she’s not scared by any of them.

As for Koko, he gets hung up on the narrative inconsistencies, for which Hotaru has an answer: the people who write the stories are corporate slaves! If there’s a meta-commentary on anime here, it’s too subtle.

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From there, we transition to a Tou who is simply unreasonably into cup-and-balls, after watching a YouTube video of people popping off tricks with the thing. He desperately wants to be cool and popular, and thinks— quite absurdly—that an $11 child’s toy is the answer. Say what?

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Tou is immediately hostile and dismissive when Saya shows up (wanting to hang out with Koko, not him), but as usual Master Saya shows the boys up with some sick cup-and-ball action that puts the YouTubers to shame, then soaking up Koko’s praise with glee.

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Embarrassed by his lack of cup-and-ball progress, Tou runs off to the shore, where Koko follows him. Tou then whips out “Pop-a-Fortune”, a button candy with packaging that tells your fortune. The boys go from health to homework to seeing a girls’ panties, with mixed results.

‘Mixed’ pretty much sums up this episode…along with ‘sparse’. The art is great as usual, and there are a few sporadic chuckles to be had courtesy of Tou’s absurdity, but all in all it’s a quiet, inconsequential week.

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 09

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Things move fast this week, but most of the things that occur are basically foregone conclusions. Kikuhiko and Sukeroku both become Shin’uchi, but in his debut, Sukeroku sticks it to the association president by performing his specialty, “Inokori”, in which he must embody multiple sides of one character, Saheiji, depending on who else he’s talking to. It’s a challenging story, but Sukeroku pulls it off and gets the only approval he needs: that of the crowd.

Now a Shin’uchi, Kikuhiko is committed to shedding a woman he feels someone of his stature can no longer be with. It’s not pride so much as obligation to the structures he was raised into, which demand that a man put things above his own personal feelings. His breakup with Miyokichi had been telegraphed for some time, but that doesn’t make it any less heartbreaking when the hammer comes down.

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Miyokichi, as it happens, isn’t the only one who gets dumped: as a result of his insolence in his debut, Sukeroku is taken aside by his master, who informs him Kiku, not he, will be the Eighth Generation Yakumo. Again, the writing was on the wall. As well-intending as Sukeroku is, and no matter how much practical sense it makes, he was never going to be able to successfully convince the old guard of his “change or die” views of rakugo.

For the elders, including his master, change is death; there is no difference. Oral tradition cannot truly survive if it becomes a game of Telephone. Tweaking tradition is a slippery slope, one that the elders would rather fall to their death by clinging to rather than allow it to be propped up with new ideas.

Furthermore, Sukeroku was always hampered by his modest origin; he was always an interloper, a “stray dog” who clawed his way into this world. There’s no way the master would allow such a person to succeed him, no matter how unassailable his talent. There may be TVs now, but castes still matter.

When Sukeroku argues too forcefully, Yakumo expels him, throwing him out of his house. And that’s how our two dumped and dejected people find and comfort each other.

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Speaking of comfort, Kikuhiko isn’t experiencing it just because everything seems to be going his way. In his mind, Sukeroku is still better at rakugo than him, no matter how many elders or syncophants say otherwise. He’s particularly irritated when a dilettante-ish rakugo critic tears down Sukeroku in an apparent effort to curry favor. Kiku ends the interview right there.

Then Master Yakumo’s wife dies, and with mortality on his mind, he informs Kikuhiko that he intends to give him his name. Kiku’s initial reaction is that it’s a mistake; Sukeroku should get the name; he’s more skilled; he doesn’t have any skill compared to that raw talent. But Yakumo reproaches his apprentice.

It’s not Kiku’s place to tell him who he should give his name to, nor to say whether he’s better or worse than Sukeroku. Just like his brother, Kiku spoke out of place, but out of humility and inferiority, not arrogance and outsize obligation to take rakugo upon his shoulders and “save” it, as Sukeroku wants to do. There’s more to being Eighth Generation than being The Best At Rakugo. 

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As Kiku continues to thrive but derive no joy from anything other than doing rakugo, Sukeroku and the scorned Miyokichi quickly shack up together and become an item. Just as Sukeroku and Kikuhiko must embody different people to perform their stories to suit their audiences, so too does Miyo, a skilled and experienced geisha, know how to be exactly the woman a particular man wants. She could be classy and prudish for Kiku, whom she loved, but knows Sukeroku less propriety.

I’m glad Miyo doesn’t waste any more time than she needs to worrying about Kiku; what’s done is done, and she’s moving on with someone who actually wants to be with her. Sukeroku doesn’t know if he’s quite that person yet…but he does like boobies. There’s something sad and close-looped about the two being depressed about the same person—Kikuhiko—but they must make do with each other.

Also, she doesn’t have time to wait around or worry; she has a baby on the way, and wants to raise it in the countryside. Her geisha house is shut down, so she steals the till with the intention of running off with Sukeroku.

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He stops by Kiku’s not for money or a place to stay, but to say goodbye, even as Kiku urges him to make peace with the master so he can give him his name. Sukeroku knows what he has to do to get back in the good graces of their master, and he can’t do it. He tells Kiku about Miyo and the baby and the country, and Kiku is not happy.

What is Kiku going to do without Sukeroku around annoying him and challenging him to be his best? What is he going to do with Yakumo’s name when he’s certain his drunk, uncouth, stray dog of a brother deserves it more? Someone he wants to punch and embrace in the same moment?

These unanswerable questions (which must attempt to be answered anyway, one day at a time) sow the seeds of a bitterness and regret that will stay with Kiku for years, then made worse one day when Sukeroku loses his life in his prime. That bitterness will come to define the man telling this story to Yotarou and Konatsu in the present.

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GATE – 21

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Pina’s Rose Knights fight, bleed and die, but ultimately prevail against the initial force of Gimlet’s cleaners, seeing as how the latter aren’t equipped with plate armor and aren’t exactly great fighters. Sherry, wasting no time demonstrating what a badass she is, stands and watches with unblinking eyes the violence and death she knows is of her making (though I wish she and Sugawara had retrieted within the Palace, lest, say, a stray arrow find one of them).

The knights managed to keep Oprichnina at bay and protect the embassy this time, but a bigger, tougher force will show up eventually, and they’re going to be woefully outnumbered. This leads the officials responsible for the diplomats’ safety to beseech a minister for authorization to rescue them, along with the pro-peace refugees.

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The civilian politician is, well, like pretty much every civilian politician in GATE: a weak weeny who is waffling about doing the right thing because he’s too concerned about his own career and upcoming elections.

He has reason to worry: Alnus is full of press and military officials from all over, and he doesn’t want to look weak. As if the waffling politician weren’t enough, we also have a self-important journalist who has a low opinion of the noble SDF, and makes no bones about his journalism not being totally objective, since at the end of the day it’s a business.

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Meanwhile in Rondel, assassins make another attempt on the lives of Lelei & Co., only they are foiled by Itami’s stuffed beds and a flash grenade. The assassins are far from pros, but they are representative of the M.O. of someone called the “Pied Piper”, who exploits those who are easy to convince of huge plots and conspiracies and lies; in this case, young inn employees were told Lelei & Co. were impostors and murderers.

The key, then, to stopping these attempts on Lelei’s life is to figure out who this Pied Piper is and take him out. At the same time, Rondel has learned through recent messenger of Team Itami’s exploits with the Fire Dragon. In particular, Lelei is lauded as the one who finished it off, furthering the Imperial position that a human and Imperial citizen get the lion’s share of credit for the feat, which doesn’t sit right with Lelei (her word for it is “nasty”).

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Because the Jade Palace-protecting Rose Knights are under Pina’s command, it isn’t long before Zolzal “kindly requests” that she order them to stand down, promising no harm will come to the diplomats (but making no such promises for Casel or Sherry). Naturally, Pina refuses, and attempts to set off for the Palace to see what’s what, but then, in the least surprising move yet by the Acting Emperor, he places Pina under arrest. Frankly, Pina should have sneaked out of the Capital ages ago.

With a force of Imperial regular army—the Rose Knights’ own comrades—over one thousand strong at the Palace gates, the situation is about to explode. So it’s a relief that the civilian minister finally gives the go-ahead for a rescue mission.

Like Sugawara last week, his professional training gives way to his humanity, and he makes the better of two bad choices. There were going to be consequences either way, but at least this way he won’t be sitting back and twiddling his thumbs while his diplomats are slaughtered, along with what’s left of the pro-peace movement.

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