Houseki no Kuni – 04

When Master Kongou finally wakes up from his slumber, it’s from a strange dream in which he is in the center of a mob of Lunarians, and destroys them all with a kind of chakra. He regrets sleeping too long.

Jade, Bort, and Diamond then brief him on everything that’s happened, including the snail eating Phos, mining and reconstructing Phos from the snail’s shell, and the fact that only Phos can understand what the creature is saying, leading everyone to think Phos has gone crazy.

In defense of Phos, we can hear the creature too; their name is Ventricosus, king of of the Admirabilis, and in her current form, she’s pretty cheeky (she’s also voiced by Saito Chiwa).

Despite the indignity of a tossed Ventricosus landing on his head just right, Kongou not only believes Phos, but uses Phos as an interpreter to initiate a dialogue with the creature. He orders Phos keep the creature close while continuing work on the encyclopedia (at present, the amount of work Phos has done on that is…naught).

When Phos speaks on Cinnabar’s behalf, Kongou interrupts, stating that not only is he still working on the matter (and has yet to find a solution), but that it was Cinnabar’s decision to go on night watch to begin with, going into exile rather than sit around HQ doing nothing. It’s not ideal, but Kongou maintains the best way Phos can help Cinnabar is by doing what he ordered: work on that encyclopedia. Later, Phos and Venty get to talking, and Venty mentions that there is someone who resembles the Gems back in her homeland under the sea.

Phos, not making any progress on the land with Cinnabar, decides it’s work a look, and prepares for the trip by applying a salve to the “skin” that should protect the finish from the saltwater. Rutile tattles on Phos, and Kongou categorically forbids such a trip, reminding Phos to do what he asked and not worry about Cinnabar for now.

When it’s clear Ventri isn’t getting the proper nutrition she needs away from the sea (Phos even believes Ventri has died momentarily), Phos and Ventri have a very in-depth discussion on the nature of death (something neither the immortal Phos nor any Gem may can fully grasp the finality of), then Phos breaks the rules once again and heads underwater.

Once on the sea floor, Venty suddenly transforms into a beautiful jellyfish-queen form, and here is again where the 3DCGI fluidity really shines. Now closer to home, Venty starts to remember certain information; a kind of oral history about a race called “humans” who walked the earth.

Things happened, and humans split into three distinct forms: flesh (Admirabilae like Venty), bone (the Gems) and soul (the Lunarians). “Vague stories” also point to the fact that the Lunarians are seeking a revival of humanity by uniting the three forms, capturing them by force.

While that’s their goal, the “flesh” in the equation are content with their existence under the waves, while the “bone” would clearly prefer not being attacked from the sky all the time.

Alas, Ventricosus is hiding something, and exploits their newly-formed bond to deceive Phos. There is no malice in her actions, but her brother is being held by the Lunarians, and she means to offer Phos in exchange for his freedom.

With the sun almost down and Phos greatly weakened, the Lunarians prepare to capture Phos, smashing Phos’ arms and legs. But I’m sure Venty’s betrayal hurts far more than Phos’ loss of limbs, and the fact that Phos once again needs rescuing after disobeying Kongou’s commands to try to help Cinnabar.

It isn’t just the animation that’s beautiful in HnK, although it certainly is that; it’s also very well-written and performed, with a wealth of clever quips in the dialogue and some surprisingly profound discussion on the varying natures of existence of the three kinds of beings.

It remains a mystery what happened to humans, or what exactly Kongou is besides caretaker to the Gems, but if we take Venty’s stories at face value, we now know a lot more about why things are the way they are in this world, and have a clearer picture on the Lunarians’ goals.

Not that that puts them in the right; despite being human myself (I think), there’s something sinister about eliminating three new forms of life that emerged naturally for the sake of reviving one. It seems reckless and hubristic; akin to swimming against the waves of evolution.

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3-gatsu no Lion – 25

After Matsumoto and Smith mess around with the towering Kumakura’s huge shoes, we see a shogi den settled down for lunch in June…when I guess it’s to hot to eat outside? As he munches on his healthy yet high-class meal, Nikaidou rants about how Rei must get to the finals of the Newcomer Tournament so they can face one another, then proceeds to analyze Rei in a manner that’s far too accurate for Rei’s taste.

When Nikaidou tells him it stands to reason he’d know his deepest depths like no one else, because they’re not just rivals but best friends, Rei, a paragon of stoicism to that point, freaks out and books it out of the room. “Leave him be,” an older player says, “it’s funnier that way.” And to a geezer like him who was one, teenagers are funny, with their needless emotional outbursts and poor organization of priorities.

But what I took out of the first half of “June” is that Hey, Rei is his Nikaidou and Nikaidou is Rei’s. Rei has a friend. Not the only one, either! That fact might embarrass him, but that’s progress, and it took a lot for him to get to that point.

In the second half of “June” we get a welcome cut to the Kawamoto residence, where Grampa makes his first appearance this season (his love of and fawning over Momo will never get old, because let’s face it, Momo deserves all the love). He’s holding a brainstorming session for new sweets after the success of the last one.

When Momo is asked what goes in the water, she first says “duck”, but a duck on top of an agar sweet could easily fall off, while a duck encased in that agar would look like a dead one. Then Momo suggests a sandal, recalling a time she lost one while Akari was walking with her near the water. Gramps instantly declares her a genius and a prodigy.

But there’s something off about this scene: Hinata. She doesn’t say a word, and has her head down as she scribbles into a notebook. At bathtime, Akari finds her sitting alone on the stoop, and when asks what’s wrong, Hina says “nothing” and shows her sister a smile that’s probably forced, because it’s gone again when she’s alone in the bath, looking up at the moon.

So what’s up with Hina? I can guess, considering she’s entering adolescence, but little did I know the next segment would serve as a dark preface to that question’s answer. In the present day Rei notices a plant with the same leaves as a “ladybug bush” he noticed when he was a little kid being teased, bullied, and ostracized at school.

As we know, Rei chose shogi to please his stepfather, willing to endure the hate from the man’s biological children because he had no choice. Now we know to the extent Rei, Shogi Prodigy is not the product of a nature or nurture, but pure, elemental survival.

Rei had no safe haven from the hatred of classmates or stepsiblings. He made himself more invisible and indifferent to prevent escalation at school, but trying to ingratiate himself with his stepparents and not feel like a burden only intensified his siblings’ resentment towards him.

As much as Kyouko’s been humanized in the present, the villainous version reappears in these flashbacks, as someone who couldn’t give a shit Rei’s problems, either the loss of his family or the continued abuse he faces at school. He’s a creepy eyesore to her. No wonder it’s still hard for him to talk to her today!

Shogi wasn’t a dream or aspiration, it was a life raft. Instead of reacting to the horrible things in his life, he buried his nose in shogi books, studied feverishly, and played like his life depended on it, because he thought it did. A perfect and devastating visual is of him desperately treading water in a dark sea, with nothing to cling to but a floating shogi board.

Things are much better for Rei now; he has friends, a surrogate family that loves him unconditionally, and even a place to hang out at school—but though he still carries wounds and scars that may never heal. More importantly to the closing act, a product of his ordeal is that he can spot the warning signs of others enduring the same from a mile away, as he instantly does when Hina enters the room.

She’s missing her left shoe (in a weird, prophetic echo of the shoe Momo suggested for the dessert), the sock is filthy, and her face is a raw mess of tears. For the show to so quickly and concisely reassert all the crap Rei had to go through, only to visit it upon one of the kindlest, gentlest souls in the show in Hina, is almost too much to bear, especially when the episode ends before we’re able to learn the details or see her be comforted.

I guess the details don’t matter; it would seem she’s now going through the same thing Rei did. I can only hope that if she cannot find a solution at school, at least going home won’t just add to her shit sandwich. Unlike Rei, who only had shogi, she has Rei, Akari, Momo, and Gramps. Being a teenager is usually terrible for everyone, but it’s still worse for some than others.