Mars Red – 01 (First Impressions) – On a Silver Platter

Tokyo, Japan, 1923: Major Maeda Yoshinobu is escorted to a maximum-security underground prison at Tsukishima Island housing a single inmate: Misaki, an actress who was performing Salome at the Imperial Theatre when she was turned into a vampire. When Maeda meets her through thick glass, she’s still reciting the lines of the play, as if she were still on stage.

Later on, a suspiciously vampiric-looking young man at the theatre tells Maeda that when the lights go out and the curtains rise, the audience is transported to the underworld. I can’t help but watch Maeda and his chatterbox underling’s journey deeper and deeper into the Tsukishima  facility and think they too are on a journey to the underworld.

While Japan and its military are rapidly modernizing and westernizing, it’s ironic that the covert vampire hunting unit Lt. General Nakajima has created deals with ancient monsters. The general reminds Maeda not to allow sympathy or pity to dull his blade, and Maeda assures him if Misaki cannot be brought to their side, he’ll promptly dispose of her.

Maeda visits the theatre, where the stage is still a mess of blood and ruined scenery, and he meets the inscrutable actor Deffrot, who played Jokanaan, AKA John the Baptist, whose head is served to Salome on a silver platter as payment for her Dance of the Seven Veils. In a very neat piece of “camera”work, the shadow of Maeda’s head is cast on the play’s poster, held in Salome’s hands.

Outside the theatre Maeda is approached by a young lady he mistakes for Misaki, but she introduces herself as Shirase Aoi, a reporter for the Nitto News. Maeda ignores her requests for comment and access to the theatre, and then Moriyama arrives by car to report that Misaki has escaped. For a second there, I wondered if Aoi was Misaki after all.

As Moriyama speeds Maeda back to Tsukishima, Misaki effortlessly smashes through all of the steel doors and barriers in her way, takes a bullet with barely a flinch, bleeds black blood, bites a neck, casually nudges a bullet away and dodges the others with her vampiric speed. Through it all she moves with a dancer’s grace, embodying the role of Salome—whom I learned was transformed by French writers from her biblical role to the “incarnation of female lust”.

A different dance ensues, with both Maeda and Misaki gradually making their way to the same spot: across the Nihonbashi bridge to Marunouchi Plaza at Tokyo Station. It’s the capper to an episode that serves as a Where’s Where of Taisho-era Tokyo.

Misaki gets closer and closer to Maeda, but when he grips his sword and prepares to draw, she places her hand over his, embraces him a little while longer, then steps aside and lets herself be consumed by the morning light, without further bloodshed. The same stigmata design on her tongue appears on the spot where she incinerated.

Back at HQ, General Nakajima promotes Maeda to Colonel and puts him in command of Code Zero, with the mission of apprehending or disposing of vampires in Japan. If I had to describe Mars Red in one word, it would be classy. Given another word, I’d use deliberate. As Maeda navigates a Tokyo in flux and deals with Misaki, every scene is given room to breathe.  Maeda is a bit of a stiff, but still…I’m intrigued.

Koi to Yobu ni wa Kimochi Warui – 01 (First Impressions) – So We’re Doing This, Huh?

I’ll preface this by saying this isn’t my first age gap rom-com rodeo. Winter 2018’s Koi wa Ameagari no You ni (Love is Like After the Rain) was a lovely show that immediately dispelled any reservations I might’ve had about its “high school girl falls for middle aged single dad” premise.

Visually, Koikimo doesn’t look like it will come close to reaching After the Rain’s flair, starting off with a gray, muddy, obviously photoshopped photo of a Tokyo Skyline. A lot of the scenery is converted photos, which I couldn’t help but think screamed shortcut. Not a dealbreaker, but it’s always nice when a rom-com looks great.

Granted, it’s supposed to be gray and ugly out, as it’s raining, and the introduction of the two leads is well done. When Amakusa Ryou walks out on the woman he spent the night with without a word, it’s effective shorthand for this guy’s a bit of a cad.

Arima Ichika saving him from a potentially fatal stair fall by hooking him with her umbrella, then giving him her lunch after observing how pale he is, shows us that she’s a good, kind person who won’t let others get hurt needlessly. All in all, it’s a good, economical first meet-cute!

When Ryou comes home from his job as an “elite employee”, his high-school aged sister Rio tells him she has a friend over—who just happens to be Ichika. When Rio steps out for a call, Ryou asks Ichika if she wants anything in return…say, a kiss? As far as he’s concerned, she saved his life, and can ask for anything in return.

Ichika’s reaction is perfectly natural for a high school girl getting offered a kiss from a 27-year-old guy: kimochi warui. Ichika mentions she often blurts out what she’s thinking, but by doing so she’s sealed her fate: Ryou falls for her right then and there, and is on his knees when Rio returns. Rio also gives her brother Ichika’s address so he can send her a single rose.

When Ichika asks her what his deal is, Rio says Ryou claims to have never asked anyone out, so Ichika must’ve really done a number on him. Rio suggests Ichika go ahead and date him. After all, he’s “hot, smart, and fairly loaded.” Still, Rio can’t help but add on “he’s a scumball” at the end, almost under her breath, and pretty much makes it clear that Ichika dating him would “amuse” her.

Rio gives Ichika Ryou’s phone number so she can call him to tell him to stop sending her gifts—her mom later tells Ichika he’s only sending her one flower a day because her name means “one flower”—Ichika is not charmed! When Ichika calls, Ryou asks upfront if he’s bothering her, and she’s pretty clear that, yeah, he kinda is.

That’s when we run up to the first nail in the coffin: Ryou states quite confidently that he’s not going to stop bothering her, and will continue to pursue her regardless of how she feels. In fact, it is his hope she’ll continue to speak her mind to him, especially if it’s insults or curses, all but cementing his scumball status—if, ya know, not taking “no” for an answer didn’t make it clear enough.

The next day, Ichika encounters Ryou by pure coincidence (or so I hope, by God) while on her way to the grocery store, and decides to use him so she can get two cartons of the one-per-customer eggs that are on sale. While she’s probably only thinking about his utility as a means of getting her family more egg bang for the buck, a predictable side effect is that he becomes overcome with emotion while they’re shopping “like a married couple”

After learning Rio spilled the beans on her favorite chocolate and shampoo (what kind of friend is she?) Ichika almost lets slip her otaku credentials while comparing olive oil. To her surprise, he plays along, saying one of them has “three times the attack power.” They’re complimented as a couple by an employee giving out samples, but Ryou just has to stare at Ichika’s used toothpick long enough for her to notice. He also refuses to let her carry her own groceries.

So yeah, this guy seems way too aggressively pushy, creepy, and unconcerned with the feelings of someone, considering he’s wading into uncomfortable territory as it is by pursuing a high schooler. And yet the series seems to want to make the case that if Ichika took a stronger stance against their continued interactions, he’d back down, and Rio would side with her. I’m not sure I can subscribe to that case! So far this feels pretty creepy and wrong!

Ichika shouldn’t have to take a stronger stance then the one she already made by telling Ryou he was bothering her on the phone. Really, that should have been the end of it. So this inescapably smacks of that classic, increasingly distasteful “I’ll wear her down” method to courtship that either undervalues or outright ignores personal boundaries.

Sometimes relationships are inherently unbalanced and there’s no way around that! The primary imbalance Koikimo seems to want us to focus on is not one of power or boundaries, but level of interest. In this dynamic, one person (Ryou) likes the other a lot right out of the gate, while the other isn’t sure whether they’re intrigued or repulsed.

The final segment of the episode involves Ichika studying at a café while waiting for Rio, and Ryou just happening to spot her in the window. I’ll take the fact that these coincidences are just that until proven otherwise, but Ryou sitting at Ichika’s table without even asking is a dick move, period!

Yes, he helps her with Ichika’s math problem, confirming Rio’s claim he’s smart (Rio gives her bro ten extra minutes with Ichika, no doubt hoping to be amused), but then one of Ryou’s fully adult conquests stops over, scolds him for getting his “filthy mitts” on a “bland little high school girl”, then warning Ichika that he’s a total womanizer.

Ichika speaks up for herself and says that “he’s not entirely bad toward me”—faint praise, if any, but honest—then walks off. Ryou then takes a handi-wipe and smears it on the woman’s face, ruining her makeup and false lashes. I don’t care how cutting or bitchy her remarks were, you cannot put your hands on someone like that. That is fucking out of bounds!

Alas, the anime seems content to shrug it off as a sign of how important Ichika is to him.  When Ryou tracks Ichika down apologizes, and tells her how happy her words made him, Ichika mildly blushes and responds that she just said what was in her head. Honestly, she’s probably better off nowhere near this guy, but at least he’s her friend’s brother. Better the pushy creep whose sister you know…?

#MeToo become a truly global movement around 2017. The Koikomo manga was first published back in 2015, which explains why this premise feels a bit dated and squicky, especially with modern shows like Wonder Egg Priority earnestly exploring the toxicity of the patriarchy.

After the Rain was not only a lush Wit Studio production, but about a girl who fell for a guy—a much nicer guy than Ryou, and a loving dad besides. I’ll watch a bit more to see if Ryou gets less creepy (I doubt it) or—more importantly—if Ichika makes a more overt effort in expressing what, if anything, she wants out of…whatever this is. Until then, I remain cautiously pessimistic.