Kuragehime 11 and Wrap-up

Last week’s episode closed with Amamizu-kan covered with tarps and scaffolding. Game Over? Well, obviously, no. If Yakumo managed to end so happily, what chance did Kuragehime have to end in tragedy and defeat? None. The sight of Kuronosuke in essentially the very Jellyfish dress of her dreams flips a switch in Tsukini, and she’s all gung-ho about making more. Priorities change when she sees the tarps: panic sets in; cash is needed to buy the place, fast.

Tsukimi and the sisterhood go with what worked before: Jellyfish dolls. I like how Kuronosuke actually has to actively correct their course by informing them that clothes can cost more than $5.00, thanks to hype, fashion, and branding. It also makes sense that the sisterhood is surprised by the fact that clothes can sell for much more than dolls. With his tentacles all over the fashion industry, Kuronosuke arranged for Tsukimi’s work to be shown at a competition.

The combination of his looks and Tsukimi’s designs result in a sweep. Their designs are a hit; they’re in business. Of course, when they return home and Chieko’s mother shows up, all their frantic efforts were unnecessary; she’s decided not to sell. Of course, it isn’t all for naught; Tsukimi has found a way to make a living, and she and Kuronosuke have grown a little closer.

Don’t get me wrong: Kuragehime was a pleasant diversion, and Kana Hanazawa was on top of her game voicing the nervous and timid yet hopeful Tsukimi. But with only eleven episodes to work with, Tsukimi, Kuronosuke and Shu’s storylines weren’t explored to their full potential. The conflict was too easily resolved, and the villaness is too easily neutralized. Then again, 11 more episodes of those static otaku side characters wouldn’t have improved matters. Never mind: what happened in Kuragehime happened, and couldn’t have happened any other way. And I enjoyed it just fine. Rating: 3.5

Series Mean Ranking: 3.545 (Ranked 4th out of 15 Fall 2010 Series)

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Although the mere mention of his brother sends Tsukimi reeling in despair, Kuronosuke manages to get her interested in making jellyfish-inspired clothes. The entire sisterhood is scattered and distracted: Mayaya and Banba are out spending 5000 yen Kuro paid them to go away, while Chieko and Jiji help him and Tsukimi with the skirt. It’s actually kind of funny for how much he loves clothes, how little he knows about how to make them.

However, it would appear to be too late to make a fortune on jellyfish apparel (especially when its made with million-yen pink pearls), as construction tarps cover Amamizu-kan’s facade when Mayaya and Banba return home. Meanwhile, Shoko is yet again able to get under Shu’s skin, but their relationship seems to have gotten a little complicated. Through her constant efforts to woo him, she seems to have developed real feelings.

And so the web becomes Shoko and Tsukimi after Shu, and Shu and Kuronosuke after Tsukimi. Quite the web, as there’s only one episode left to resolve both that stalemate and the threat of the sisterhood’s eviction. I’m looking forward to seeing how this all turns out. Rating: 3.5

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Just when Kuronosuke is about to properly distract Tsukini from her troubles with a jellyfish apparel powwow, Shoko shows her “proof positive” that she slept with Shu. Am I wrong, or is that just a picture of her in bed with him, and not necessarily having sex at all? Regardless, everyone assumes it’s true, except Shu’s little half-brother, who knows better. Shoko is a lying landshark who has Shu wrapped around her little finger.

Tsukini, meanwhile, can’t get the imagery out of her head, and tries to drown her sorrows in sweet sake. Having never drunk before, she exhibits her status as a hopeless lightweight and passes out instantly, and who should carry her to her bed but Kuronosuke, who cross-dressed less and less enthusiastically throughout the episode. Now that Tsukini believes Shu to be even more of an impossibility than ever, has Kuronosuke found his opening? Even if he has, does he want to take it, or is the shame of having the hots for her too much to bear? Rating: 3.5

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Kuronosuke excavates through the strata of storage, and finds potentially profitable junk to sell at a flea market, but  jellyfish dolls devised by Tsukini and whipped up by Chieko steal the show, and net them thousands of yen for the war chest. Shuu’s dad then has Hanamori hire a private investigator to tail Shuu, who’s neither subtle nor stealthy.

Back at Amamizu after that good haul, Kuronosuke barges in on Tsukini pretending she’s wearing the jellyfish-themed wedding dress her mom was going to make her if she ever found a man, and if her mom was alive. Kuronosuke remembers his mother wanting all the most beautiful dresses in the world.

For all of his stressing and fuming about falling for Tsukini, Kuronosuke is starting to realize the increasing likelihood that she’s his soul mate. Thus he promises they’ll secure the funds to buy Amamizu – and he proposes they do it by making not jellyfish dolls, but jellyfish dresses, like the ones in Tsukini’s dreams. But irrespective of his actions and intentions, it’s Tsukini who will have to gain some self-esteem and believe she’s worth more than nothing and not less. Rating: 3.5

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Kuronosuke is gone for five minutes and the sisterhood lets the Buyout Vixen – their most lethal enemy – waltz right into their castle. After he arrives, she retreats in a cloud of Hakana salt, but not before Tsukini notices she has Shuu’s glasses and fears the worst. She wants a shoulder to cry on, and it’s Kuronosuke’s. Meanwhile, the fact remains, she’s mistaken about Shuu and the vixen.

We continue to see Kuronosuke’s inexplicable and ridiculous (from his perspective) attraction to Tsukini. Case in point: the moment he sets foot on campus (not cross-dressing), he’s surrounded by a quartet of swooning models. But he doesn’t even notice them. He even tries to kiss Tsukini in her room, an impulse that only fails because Mayaya opens the door at the wrong time, sending the two flying.

Meanwhile, Kuronosuke also wants to get rid of Tsukini’s future habitation problems by buying the whole apartment building so it won’t be razed. Blackmailing his dad backfires (Shuu only saw him get to second base with Kuro’s mom) but he discovers that the otakus’ hoarding impulses could net them millions of yen in flea market bounty. He definitely seems to have made this group, and especially Tsukini, his own personal project. Rating: 3.5

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Developer Lady gets into full body-as-weapon mode, slipping a mickey into Shuu’s drink, getting him in bed with her, and snapping pics. Meanwhile, Kuronosuke finishes making everyone over to the extent they’re able to go to a night cafe without looking out of place. This was good practice for the sisterhood, as they’ll have to not only look the part but act the part when initiating battle with the developers to save their nunnery.

Throughout the evening, Made-over Tsukini continually catches Kuronosuke’s eye. He’s clearly got it bad for her, which he believes to be incredibly “uncool”, considering its typically the girls that fall for him, not vice versa. The triangle of Tsukini, Shuu, and Kuronosuke is an interesting one; I hope the last six episodes explore it more. Rating: 3.5

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Shit just got real: Amamizu-kan, the apartment building where the girls live, is up for demolition and redevelopment. They brave the harsh fluorescent lights and judgmental stares of career men and women in suits and such for the “local explanatory presentation.” Shuu shows up too, to test the waters and see if the administration should side with the developers or the opposition. But even though an extremely lovesick Tsukini sits right next to him, he doesn’t even notice her.

Instead, Shuu gets ensnared by the developers’ rep, a hottie who knows his type, and just how many buttons to undo to get his attention. Tsukini sees them sharing an umbrella and believes all to be lost. In fact, all of the nuns return to Amamizu-kan having failed totally. Kuronosuke decides to take it upon himself to give every one of them makeovers, starting with Mayaya (Nicole Richie style…priceless) and Banba (Er…Annie?) Donning this cosmetic “armor”, they’ll be able to properly battle the developers. Rating: 3.5

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Tsukimi had a lot of firsts in this episode: first time wearing a kimono; first time making eye contact with Kuranosuke; first time hugging a man (Shuu); and first time essentially going on a date with two guys (although one of them is dressed as a woman for half the time). By the end of the episode, all of the tolerance she built up becomes too much and she cracks. Shuu accidentally seeing her half-dressed is the kicker.

But most importantly, we learn two vital facts about Tsukimi and Kuranosuke. Tsukimi has been writing to her mother all this time, but she’s dead. Kuranosuke is estranged from his mother and doesn’t know how to reach her, due to the scandal it would cause his father. Kuranosuke is also jealous of the apparent chemistry between Shuu (a 30 year-old virgin) and Tsukimi (a 20 year-old virgin). He can’t believe this, especially since he can have absolutely any woman he wants with a single text.

Kuragehime has been a joy to watch, as all of its characters are full of life and energy, virtually bursting out of the screen. The more new experiences Tsukimi has, the more interesting her character becomes. She and Kuranosuke are extremely fun to watch. I also find opening song is also ridiculously catchy. Rating: 4

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This week we learn more about Kuranosuke’s family, and that the reason he cross-dresses is so that he will never be asked to enter political life, like his brother, father, and uncle, who are all politicians with serious suits and looks on their faces (though oddly, he can get a significant rise out of his uncle when he dresses extra-fabulous.) I have to say, as far as cross-dressing characters go, Kuranosuke’s not bad at all.

Part of his social life is helping girls become beautiful, but since meeting Tsukimi, he can’t be bothered with ordinary girls, and rejects their invitations. He wants a project. Like me, he’s sick of Tsukimi looking like crap and gives her the full-nine-yard makeover with the speed and accuracy of a seasoned pro.  And, not surprisingly, once she’s cleaned up and wearing female clothes, Tsukimi is indeed quite the cutie. All it takes is a passing glance of her for Kuranosuke’s bro to become smitten.

This is another case of Tsukimi letting the need for acceptance by her nunnery-mates supersede her own self-interest – she lacks self-esteem and self-confidence, and her friends are too busy in their own worlds to notice. Kuranosuke is the best thing that ever happened for her, but it won’t be easy to build her back up into a socially functional girl again.

An aside: I liked the little Japanese economic history lesson used as an explanation for why there’s no shame in receiving the bulk of their income from their boomer parents, who prospered in the bubble economy…after all, one can’t be a full-fledged otaku if one has a job. Rating: 3.5

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The band of single otaku women show their ugly side in this episode where the ones who feel excluded most of the time end up wanting to exclude. The first episode somewhat idealized their existence, so it was good to see them taken down a peg and made, well, less ideal.

Isoating oneself totally from men or beautiful women (or beautiful men dressed like women) and total devotion to one narrow interest can make you an expert on that particular interest, but also make you so clueless about anything else – like social interaction with outsiders – as to be harmful to one’s personality. That everyone was so cold and unwelcoming to the cross-dresser just because she was attractive and stylish is proof of this, and their behavior came off as immature and off-putting.

Thankfully, Tsukini has evolved to the point she can carry on a conversation with her new friend, who seems to genuinely like spending time with her. It turns out that a peace offering of top-quality beef is enough to get that acceptance to spread throughout the ‘nunnery’. But if they find out he’s actually a boy, there will be blood. Rating: 3.5

Kuragehime – First Impressions

Kuragehime is the final show I’ll be watching this season, and I can confidently say it was well worth the extra two weeks’ wait. Produced by Brain’s Base, directed by Takahiro Omori (of Durarara!!) and starring Kana Hanazawa, this series came with good credentials and doesn’t disappoint.

I came into this show blind, and I’m glad. It was nice to be surprised, and this show did so: it’s main character, voiced by Hanazawa, is an “Ugly Betty” type named Tsukimi, who is obsessed with Jellyfish and lives with a bevy of equally-unattractive women with their own specialized hobbies. It’s heartening to learn that she’s found kindred souls after moving to Tokyo with greater expectations than she was ultimately unable to meet.

All the nerd-women she lives with seem consigned to their mutual monastic fate, but perhaps since she’s only 18, I still detected yearning. She was the only one who’d dare go to Shibuya on a weekend, for instance. And when a gorgeous woman (with an obviously male voice she doesn’t detect) invites himself into her room, she probably seems like the member of the “Nunz” most likely to successfully interact with the opposite sex.

As with Durarara, Kuragehime has already established a dense and vibrant Tokyo setting, equally vibrant ensemble of distinctive characters, and started to set up the foundations of an unlikely romance. Along with Bakuman this is the most realistic, down-to-earth series, and the two shows should provide a nice weekly balance from all the magic and fantasy. Rating: 3.5