Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon – 10

The Gist: It’s the Christmas episode and Tohru is asked to put on a holiday play for seniors by the shopping arcade association. Everyone but Kobayashi is involved and, after some foreshadowingly unproductive discussion, they agree to put on a version of ‘The Match Stick Girl.”

Of course the Dragons don’t really understand human culture, and everything they plan is overly specific to their own hobbies or just straight up weird. It’s wonderfully bizarre when it comes together, with an Anxious Kobayashi providing commentary and watching from the back of the room ready to spring in and stop things if they get out of control.

And even though things do get out of control, the seniors are happy and everyone has fun. So much so that Kobayashi settles down a bit and her love and appreciation for Tohru grows ever so slightly larger.

This applies to everyone else too. Lucoa and Shouta interact more naturally (read: less rapey), Riko’s lust for Kana is a little less frequent, and even Elma gets acceptance among the group.

After the after party, Tohru and Kobayashi share a snow filled dragon ride through the sky and exchange gifts.

The Verdict: Dragon Maid owes much of its success and limitations to its reliable comedic formula. That formula was a bit more obvious than usual, as several jokes used the same setup “Oh, dragon misunderstands the point” but they were still well timed. The creativity is in how weird the jokes get, and the general strength of the episode depends on how much charm and warmth the cast can generate around those odd jokes.

This week checked off the warmth marks, obviously, and the weirdness stayed creative too. I wish there was a stronger narrative thrust or purpose to all of it, but the show still deserves your attention without that.

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3-gatsu no Lion – 22 (Fin)

The more I watched this episode, the more I wished it didn’t have to exist. I mean…I already KNOW Rei’s a really lonely guy with no friends whatsoever at school. Do I really need the show to drill it into my head with more lonely montages? No, I do not.

It’s doubly frustrating to see Rei fail so hard at interacting with his peers because last’s week’s episode felt so good, and this is like having cold water poured on you; it’s just…unpleasant to watch Rei at school, as it always has. Seriously, Hayashida-sensei and those four weird burner club guys who aren’t really characters—those are the only people he ever speaks to!

At certain breaks in his inner monologue, I kept hoping against hope that someone, anyone resembling a normal high school student would approach him, maybe having seen or read about him. But no one ever comes.

The second half, which starts as a flashback to really drive home the point that Rei is awkward and lonely, again feels like a redundant detour that illustrates what I already know: Shogi is the “ticket” that ensures someone will always sit by him.

Rei envisions himself on (and the show is very intent on repeatedly showing) a magical floating CGI train in the sky; a train he shares with many other people headed towards the same destination.

Call me bitter because the previous episode was a perfect ending to the series as a whole, not just the Kawamoto side of Rei’s story. I guess, like all those high school kids, the actual shogi was never that interesting too me; too arcane to get too far into with its alphanumerical nomenclature.

Fortunately, everything else was not only interesting but endearing, charming, and relatable. So while it’s regrettable the series ends on a meh note, it doesn’t take away from last week’s loveliness, nor do I regret getting into the show.

Average Rating (22 episodes): 8.14

Youjo Senki – 10

The Gist: Team Tanya successfully wipes out the Republic’s forward command, which allows the Empire’s plan to unfold without a hitch. A massive explosion is set off under the Republic’s southern position, Empire tanks surge through the scattered survivors, and the Republic’s main force is encircled.

From inside their submarine escape vessel, Team Tanya has every right to pre-celebrate victory. However, little do they know, Colonel Anson and a boat full of Kingdom Mages is about to run into them, putting their lives, and indeed the success of the entire plan in question.

Following the credits, we flash back to Serebryakova being an un-wakeable weirdo sleeper on the submarine for some humor. Will the improved Anson finally match Tanya’s output? Will her team of 10 stand a chance against a full regiment of broom-riding mages? Beyond this battle, what’s Youjo Senki’s end game? Only a few episodes remaining to see…

The Verdict: Like the battles it features, this week’s episode landed a string of successes, with the caveat that things may go off the rails, structurally, by the end. The flow of battle and strategy was easy to understand and visually interesting, and we got a broader emotional range from Tanya and crew while on the submarine.

However, there’s an over arching haphazardness of editing throughout Youjo Senki. On one hand, it tries to cram a lot in per-episode but what it crams in isn’t always relevant or impactful. The Empire’s board meeting between government officials and the military didn’t really add to any tension over the success of the plan for example. Anson’s scene on the Kingdom ship reduced the surprise impact of his arrival at the end of the episode for another. There are plenty of other short moments in hallways and at tables where characters repeat information we already know too.

Combined, these little delays and wheelspin shave time off of other moments, not always for the better. In some ways, the opening attack from Team Tanya didn’t even feel like a scene in it’s own right, since it was so brief and the potential failure was so brief as to add no tension (It would have been far stronger to end on that in the previous episode, and leave us guessing what Tanya will do if her target was wrong to begin with).

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 11

For all the sorrow and tragedy and pain in his life, things turned out pretty well for Yakumo, AKA Bon, and as it turns out, he really did die under ideal circumstances: he died in his sleep, peacefully, painlessly, surrounded by those who loved him, listening to his grandson doing rakugo.

This episode, perhaps the finest in the entire run of the show, takes place entirely in the purgatory-like place the recently deceased go before crossing the Sanzu River to the hereafter. This requires a fare, which, big surprise, Sukeroku hasn’t been able to afford yet.

The show had always teased an interest in depicting a more fantastical world than that of the living, and in this place people can change their age at will, time is kinda hard to put a finger on. Yakumo is initially annoyed that once again Sukeroku is sponging off him, even after death, but once he’s a boy again, he quickly falls back comfortably into the very deep brotherly bond they shared.

The afterlife is suitably lush and otherworldly, but also borrows heavily from traditional Japanese aesthetics, which makes sense considering the characters we’re following. Sukeroku makes sure Yakumo understands how grateful he is for raising Konatsu.

The reunions don’t stop with Sukeroku, as Miyokichi died at the same time. While she’s cast away the “role of a woman”, she and Sukeroku are still a married couple, working together to earn fare across the river. It feels like, from their perspective, they only recently got here, just like Yakumo.

Yakumo wanted more than anything to apologize to Miyokichi for dumping her so heartlessly, but she holds no grudges in this place. In fact, she can now reflect on the mistakes she made in life, namely latching onto one person rather than rely on, and be there for, others. She’s also amused to no end by Yakumo talking like an old man, since he died as one.

The three travel together for a bit along that seemingly endless scaffolding, and Yakumo mentions the food is tasteless and unsatisfying. Sukeroku says it’s because they’re dead, but if he wants to be satisfied, he knows just the place: the very theater that burned down two episodes ago has arrived in the afterlife as well. It had a soul, after all. Even better: it’s a packed house with the biggest billing ever: All the masters of all generations…and Yakumo is on the bottom. He’s gone from grizzled old master to fresh new arrival in this place.

Sukeroku decides to warm the place up with a performance that really does seem to give flavor to the sake, meat, and onions he pretend-drinks and eats (never has his jaunty entrance theme, which Yotaro inherited, sounded better or more significant). “You can’t take this taste with you when you die!” also has new meaning. He’s still got it, in this place, which has gone back to exactly the same as it was in the old days.

There’s also a magic cushion (I’ll allow it) which brings the person from the living world the performer wants to listen the most. In Sukeroku’s case, it’s his daughter Konatsu, who appears the age she was when he and Miyokichi died. For Yakumo, it’s his grandson Shin, about the same age as his mom, and just as enthusiastic to hear Yakumo’s rakugo.

Yakumo takes the stage as his old self, but has never looked happier, beaming at his reunited family and full of energy. In a playful mood, he performs “Jugemu”, and Miyokichi and Shin “sing” along the comically long name. His story continues as the camera leaves the old, drafty, but brightly glowing theater, which slowly fades out of focus.

Yakumo then finds himself in a fine boat, packed and ready for his journey across the Sanzu. Sukeroku sees him off, and Yakumo makes him promise he and Miyokichi will join him soon, once they save up enough for their fare (the one thing he apparently can’t share with his friends, even if he wanted to). That could be a year from now, or it could be yesterday.

While en route, the ferryman reveals himself as Matsuda, who may have followed his master into death after nodding off himself, and he couldn’t be happier to be by his side again, chaffeuring him to the very gates of heaven.

It’s a fitting end to Yakumo’s story, and a achingly gorgeous episode full of joyful and tear-jerking moments, from Miyokichi first seeing Yakumo, to Konatsu hugging her mother, to Yakumo taking the stage one last time and meeting Matsuda on the boat.

The preview indicates the last episode will be an epilogue that jumps forward in time, perhaps to an older Shinnosuke with a red-haired young woman who may be his younger sister. That should be fun, even if it doesn’t come close to approaching the greatness of this, Yakumo’s farewell.