3-gatsu no Lion – 16

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While it could be argued Hayashida-sensei got Rei in this hole by miscounting his absences, he gets resourceful in a bid to dig him out of it, including introducing Rei to the After School (Bunsen) Burners Club, a group of passionate nerds happy to help Rei out with science-y stuff. This was a lot of fun and engendered the most laughs; the mustachioed guy in particular was hilarious, somewhat Excalibur-like.

It’s a relief to the teacher to see Rei interacting and laughing with fellow students. The lesson he imparts upon Rei is that when he cannot overcome something alone, seek out someone to help; otherwise no one will ever seek him out.

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After a brief fake-out with a too-confident looking Gotou, we learn that Shimada was the victor in the third and final match, making him the challenger against the ethereal reigning champion Touji Souya. Gotou was prepared to give remarks on his loss, while Shimada is so spent from the exertion he can barely stand or talk. His spirits are buoyed when Rin asks if he can join his shogi workshop.

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Back at the Kawamoto’s, the girls and gramps are making special boxes for the girls festival and planning what kind of meal to prepare for the special occasion. Hina is frustrated that Rei hasn’t been by, and doesn’t understand why he’d deprive himself of food (and their company) for so long. Gramps understands, though; it’s a matter of pride. He’ll come back when he’s ready.

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The workshop is at Shimada’s house, a modest but gorgeous little home dramatically perched atop a hill in the oldest part of town. There’s a sense Rei has climbed a mountain to reach some kind of temple in order to aid him on his quest to enlightenment. In reality, he doesn’t spend enough time playing in non-competitive matches with peers, which is why Shimada was able to run roughshod over him.

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Shimada is glad to host three gung-ho shogi players in his home for the workshop, but once the three start getting defensive, digging in their heels and barking like petty feudal lords, the toll Shimada’s matches exacted upon his body are amplified, and he cuts the ‘shop short, blaming a stomachache.

Nevertheless, Rei is being exposed to different forms of play, with nothing on the line except his still-narrow personal view of shogi play. Nikaidou even follows him home, as their argument over use of certain pieces at a certain time inspires him to want to demonstrate to Rei what he’s on about on a shogi board.

Overall, this was a pleasant (if a bit thin-feeling) episode that shows some of the incremental steps Rei is taking towards…well, growing up, becoming both a better shogi player and a better man. Notably, there were no scary flashbacks (or scary Kyouko) to be had, but like Hina I too hope he’ll end his self-imposed exile from the Kawamotos soon.

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 05

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Yota is stoked. He’s flying high. He’s learned how to command a crowd, the theaters are full, his material is killing. He owes much of this to a lifting of a weight of uncertainty since Yakumo performed “Inokori” for him. Yakumo maintains that mastering that—and in just they way he instructs, by summoning one’s ego—is Yota’s next step.

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But Yakumo is no longer Yota’s sole source of instruction or inspiration. Whether he knows it or not, Yota has also fallen under the influence of Higuchi Eisuke, the outsider who shows Yota the wider world of rakugo, not just the venerable but narrow Yuuakutei canon.

The implication is obvious: like a smattering of gutted clans in days of yore, an alliance must be formed – a new rakugo – in order to survive modern times, and Yakumo’s death.

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Yota seems to rarely leave the open entrance to his home, sitting their first listening to his predecessor Sukeroku, then to all the myriad versions of Inokori provided by Higuchi, no two of them alike. It’s strong enough stuff for him to laugh and react loudly deep into the night. He’s so immersed, Konatsu has to snap him out of it so he can get some sleep for the family performance.

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And it is truly a family performance, as Konatsu will be at the shamisen per her father’s bidding. Of the three family members, she’s by far the most nervous. Performing rakugo for a bunch of kindergartners and a smattering of their parents is one thing: playing pros at the very top of the game in and out to a giant packed theater is another. But Yota (and indirectly, Yakumo) know she’ll be fine.

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Damn…when Yota offered to give Mangetsu an pregame audience with Yakumo and I saw that loooong foreboding hallway, for a few moments I feared for the worst: that Yakumo was keeled over dead in his dressing room, just like that. Blame the seductively creepy OP in which the ghost Sukeroku opens Yakumo’s cloak to reveal nothing but dry bones, and the earlier mention by someone that his voice has lost something.

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Thankfully, Yakumo is fine, but everything I mentioned before still casts a pall on him. Yota’s meeting with him is another great one, as Yota proudly shows what he’s really been up to in the red light districts: getting his carp tattoo finished. This is Yota literally not letting things go unfinished; not apologizing for who he was and who he is.

Yakumo may think rakugo is finished once he dies, but he’s wrong. His rakugo won’t even be finished; it’s not his call, but history’s. So even though he’s pissy about the fact Yota is taking into account other methods for “Inokori” (likely aware this is Higuchi’s influence), you can’t expect someone who claims, and is pretty certain, they don’t have an ego to use that ego.

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Yota warms up the crowd, getting them “laughing like fools”, which might be fine in a solo show, but Yakumo needs to put them in a different, more nuanced mood; Yota’s winding them up makes it tougher. Still, he’s more than up to the challenge, and performs “Hangon-ko” with both musical accompaniment from Konatsu (who he says he’s counting on, and who doesn’t let him down despite her nerves) and an extra prop: streams of incense.

The significance of the titular incense to the story—that it brings back the soul of a dead loved one—is all too apropos for Yakumo’s darkening state of mind as the days ahead of him dwindle. And even though at this part in the story he tells, the widower buys the wrong incense and burns way too much of it, the incense still has the effect of summoning the ghost of Miyokishi before Yakumo, in one of the most chilling and intense moments of the show’s entire run.

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Yakumo manages to finish the story to polite but not raucous applause, and Yota quickly orders the curtains dropped. Yakumo collapses and enters what must seem like the afterlife. Miyokichi is nowhere to be found. Instead there are off-kilter shelves after shelves of countless burning candles – no doubt signifying lives.

Like the end of the deliciously haunting OP, Yakumo’s candle must be burning very low indeed, flickering, and threatening to be snuffed out. Sukeroku also comes before him, as young and vital as the day he was killed. He asked him why he’s there, ignores his questions of whether he’s in paradise or hell, and starts to choke him.

As we ponder what medical malady struck Yakumo on that stage, an attack that will most likely result in the cancelling of the remainder of the family performance, including Yota’s “Inokori”, but more importantly, may mark the commencement of the trial of Yakumo’s soul.

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Fuuka – 06

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This episode of Fuuka has no band/light music club practice, no Mikasa, Nachi or Iwami, and precious little Fuuka. Instead, true to its title, it’s all Hinashi Koyuki all the time, starting with a particularly bad day at the recording studio. Koyuki just can’t manage to find her voice, and it’s likely largely due to “Nico-kun” being back in her life.

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First, we look back on their friendship, when she seemed to have much harder edges and a tomboy streak. Yuu was a crybaby prone to moping, but took direction well, and genuinely seemed to enjoy spending time with Koyuki, adventuring and such. Indeed, at this time, Yuu liked Koyuki, he just couldn’t muster the courage to say anything.

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As for Koyuki, her home situation isn’t great, as she cries herself to sleep as her parents war downstairs. When she becomes a child of divorce and moves to Tokyo with her mother, her friendship with Yuu is tragically cut short, just when they’d made promises not just to make snowmen, but to start a band like their mutual favorite – HEDGEHOGS – and share the stage one day.

I understand Koyuki’s attraction to Yuu and vice-versa a little more now now – they were largely each other’s only and best friends. People fall for their besties all the time. Yuu, for Koyuki, was an escape from her unpleasant home. Koyuki drew courage and chivalry out of Yuu.

It’s just a bit unfortunate Yuu tells her he “likes it better when she smiles”, because it plants a seed in her head that her smile around him is some kind of prerequisite for him liking her. I’m sure ‘lil Yuu didn’t mean it that way, but still…

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Fast-forward to now, and when Yuu admits he avoided contacting her out of fear she hated him—when she avoided contacting him out of fear he hated her—the assertive Tama-chan comes back out, inadvertently bringing out the mopey, submissive Nico-kun. It’s a nice scene, because A.) it lets us see another side of Koyuki and B.) it shows how quickly their old dynamic from when they were kids can reassert itself.

When Yuu talks about the band Fuuka made him and others join, it really irks Koyuki, to the point she can’t listen anymore and has to go. She leaves on cordial, even upbeat terms, however, as she gets Yuu to renew their deferred promise to share the stage someday.

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Koyuki then gets splashed by a truck just when Fuuka happens to be running by, and invites her into the bathhouse she lives above. Koyuki gets to take the measure of her potential rival, and Fuuka’s bubbly exuberance and physicality contrasts nicely with Koyuki’s more modest, solemn bearing. Koyuki also learns Fuuka has never even thought of being in a relationship, which buoys her spirits as she heads home: maybe regaining Yuu’s affections won’t be so hard after all, eh? Riiiight.

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And because we can’t have two episodes of Fuuka in a row end on an upbeat note, we end instead with two amateur photogs in a “Starbuccos” looking over a shot of Koyuki and Yuu pinkie-promising in his street. I wouldn’t be surprised if this ends up on a tabloid magazine cover Fuuka happens to notice while walking by a newsstand, or something.

I’ll just close by saying I didn’t much mind the dearth of music or band practice this week, because, if I may confess, I don’t much care for that part of this show. It may yet change my mind, but for now I’m content with the relationship stuff.

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