Kino no Tabi – 04

This week KnT switches things up a bit, following Shizu and Riku’s Journey rather than Kino and Hermes’. We saw a moving country on the land last week; here, it’s a moving country on the sea; a Ship Country.

Shizu is invited aboard and brought before the ruling “Tower Clan”, who look like black mages. They offer him a choice of roles while aboard: serve them as a kind of rent-a-cop, or join the common people. Unsurprisingly to us, the humble prince chooses the latter.

He meets a cute, tiny girl named Tifana, or Ti for short, who doesn’t speak, but takes him and Riku all over the ship (despite choosing manual labor, he never has to do any). The general sorry state of the ship, periodic shaking, and numerous flooded compartments tell the tail of a ship that has long been neglected and may not even be afloat much longer.

As per usual, KnT doesn’t skimp on the gorgeous environment; quite a departure from the clean, gleaming, well-maintained Moving Country. When he finds what looks like a long-abandoned control room, he has Ti point out all the places where there’s flooding. The situation is dire, and the rulers of this country have much to answer for…or so he thinks.

Ti, meanwhile, conveys so much despite never speaking; she takes a liking to Shizu, and doesn’t seem to have anyone else. It’s a lovely, immersive moment when Shizu shields her from a sudden rainfall with his jacket and the two quietly listen to the nice, calming sound of the rain hitting the fabric.

Ti then takes him to the country’s roof, and the endless ocean sprawling out before him makes him feel like he’s flying above it. After experiencing this unique and exhilarating sight, he turns to the tower at the country’s center, and remembers that this could all end up under the see unless he does something.

That “something” means confronting the Tower Clan, and when they rebuke him, readies his sword. But another traveler arrived aboard the country who chose the opposite path: that of serving the leaders. When this traveler lifts their mask to reveal Kino, I was nearly bowled over. There‘s Kino!

She and Shizu aren’t on opposite sides long, as the clan quickly accuses her of plotting with Shizu, changes course, then sentences the two to remain aboard to die with the other people.

Shizu and Kino quickly answer by storming the tower and easily overpowering its haughty occupants. When they reach their Jedi Council-like observation deck, Shizu is asked by their leader if he wishes to be the new king, to which he says if necessary. With that, the black cloaks and hats fall to the floor, no longer occupying bodies.

It’s Shizu’s country now, and he promptly points it towards land, opens the gates, and has everyone come out. He tells them that the days of the country functioning properly, or at all, are numbered, something he may well be right about. However, he didn’t consider the fact that the people don’t care. They don’t want to live on the land; they never have. They’d rather die at sea. In trying to be the hero, Shizu only made himself the villain.

When Shizu turns Ti away to join the others, she suddenly stabs him in the gut with a knife, cursing him for leaving her nowhere to return to (as she says, speaking for the first time.

Hermes fills Kino, Shizu, and Riku in on who Tifana really is: the abandoned daughter of passing travelers who shares her name with the ship itself. Hermes also describes the country’s inhabitants as the descendants of children whose parents were killed by a plague, leaving them alone and with no one to lead or take care of them; enter the Tower Clan.

Now that he knows the truth, Shizu commits to taking care of Ti from now on, for which she’s very happy and grateful. But as Shizu, losing blood, starts to pass out, Ti fears he’ll die and leave her alone again, and pulls the pin on a grenade to end them both.

Fortunately, Kino’s there to shoot the grenade away and tend to Shizu’s wounds. Once he’s healed enough, she and Hermes take their leave, hopeful they’ll cross paths with Shizu, Riku, and Ti again. I hope so too; they make a fun team.

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Hajimete no Gal – 03

As expected, Yukana’s very tan best friend Honjou Ranko inserts herself into her relationship with Junichi by writing him a love letter then mounting him behind the school. After a brief feint, Yukana laughs off Ranko’ actions as just messing around with Junichi…but Ranko seems determined to break them up.

A very predictable development, combined with a lot less comedy (a lot of it recycled jokes that don’t hit as hard, or at all, the third or fourth time around) made for a less-than-stellar Hajimete no Gal.

While out on a shopping trip, Junichi learns more of the challenges of dating a gal, like the need to properly choose which clothes look better on her, or defending her from man-sluts. In both cases, Ranko tries to upstage Junichi, finally meeting him at his house to talk.

She mounts him again, assuring him she’d rather take his virginity then let him get with Yukana, whom she’s secretly in love with. Ranko’s kinda all over the place, and Kitamura Eri does fine voice work, she doesn’t have much to work with here.

I guess I should be glad Ranko’s not in love with Junichi, but he still gets off the hook way too easily. Indeed, Junichi moves at the speed of a sloth throughout this episode, which I suppose is par for the course considering his self-image as a loser, but it’s still pretty annoying.

This week he did next to nothing—other than halfheartedly trying to tell off the guys hitting on Yukana, which failed—to deserve all the attention he’s getting. Next week it appears will involve more Kashii Yui, who was obviously going to be more than just the Miss Perfect Junichi believes her to be. She looks particularly pissed watching Ranko tease him.

Hajimete no Gal – 02

After Yame accepted his request to go out with her, Junichi is in a bit of a daze, not sure whether it’s all a prank or not, considering what he believes to be the logical fallacy of a cute gal dating the likes of him. His loser friends commit to standing by him come what may, only to immediately turn their backs on him when he receives a sexy selfie from Yame.

Despite this, Shinpei still offers advice to Junichi: take Yame to karaoke, which is how popular kids “get a room” for sex. He elaborates on the process with his “Karaoke XXX Rule”, before “dying” from exasperation that karaoke parlors have become indistinguishable from dens of ill repute.

Later that morning, Yame proves she’s not messing around by announcing to the entire class that she’s dating Junichi, then fielding questions. Both Kashii Yui and his “little sister” are dumbfounded. Junichi tries to ask her out to karaoke, but never finds the right opportunity until she asks him out after school to that very thing.

Corrupted by Shinpei’s overblown theory about karaoke parlors (which seems to be confirmed by a sign), Junichi is initially weary of their date, but once he sees how much fun Yame is having, he stops overthinking things and has fun himself. To his surprise, she even knows anime songs; the only kind he can sing.

But after Shinpei’s three tenets of the Karaoke XXX Rule are fulfilled (Yame singing a suggestive song; the two singing a duet; Yame removing her sweater), Junichi re-enters his head for a conference with all his various alter-egos, including ‘Good’, ‘Pessimistic’, ‘Horny’, and ‘Cool’, with ‘Cool” him eventually convincing the others that if he’s a true man, he’ll give her a kiss before moving on to sex.

Junichi tries to kiss Yame, only for her to point out an errant hair sticking out of his nose and excuse herself. Out in the hall, she regains her composure, certain Junichi just tried to kiss her. Far from the easy girl for whom sex is no big deal Shinpei, his friends, and Junichi himself believe her to be, Yame isn’t the kind of girl to even kiss someone so easily. She’s more like Junichi than he presently realizes.

Hopefully he’ll find this out in time, and stop interacting with Yame with misconceptions about who and what she is, just as she seems to be embracing him for who he is, not assigning a silly label. As for Yame’s friend Ranko, it appears we’ll soon learn how she feels about this new boyfriend.

Kiznaiver – 10

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After the seven Kiznaivers recovered from their collective “overload”, they decided to stay away from each other for the rest of the Summer. When they return to school, no longer bearing Kizna scars and no longer connected, Yamada seems to rub salt in the wound by describing all the crazy experiences they had over the Summer, even if things got a little too intense at the end.

Hisomu isn’t able to stay away from Katsuhiro, rightly worried he won’t properly feed himself (not that Hisomu does either, with those cans), and despite everything that’s happened—nay, because of it all—Nico still loves everyone and wants to stay connected. The pure joy she exhibits upon taking the hands of Hisomu and Kacchon, spinning around giddily, was infectious.

These three can be friends again without major issues. But what about the others? Harder to say. Tenga hopes that if Chidori gives him a strong, unambiguous rejection, she’ll feel better…but she knows she won’t. We barely see Yuta and Honoka, as the latter won’t talk or listen to the former.

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Then there’s Sonozaki. The mayor informs her of an imminent investigation, and in the meantime, the Kizuna Experiment is being shut down, meaning everything she’s worked for in her life is about to go down the drain into a sea of futility. She can’t bear that outcome, and so races to the nearest ledge, and as she seemingly falls, Kacchon feels her pain in his newly-appeared chest scar, as strong and horrible as ever.

His desire to find and help her leads him to the secret subway station to the school, where he finds an Urushii who, perhaps feeling a bit of guilt right about now, is receptive to giving him, along with Hisomu and Nico, more answers about what exactly they were a part of.

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This project isn’t just about pride for Sonozaki; it’s about her life, and the lives of those she lived with. Once she was connected to eighteen other kids, including Kacchon, she began to feel all of their combined pain as well as her own, multiplied nineteen times. Only with the use of harsh drugs that dull all her senses allow her to function.

Worse still, her body never returned any of the sensations she absorbed form the others, leaving some the ones who are still alive as serene mannequins, unable to function at all. Once Kacchon hears they’re still alive, is allowed to meet with them, and sees the hollow husks they’ve become, he breaks down and cries, as if Sonozaki’s hold on his emotions was weakened or suspended.

Kacchon clearly wants what Sonozaki wants: to undo what’s been done to their friends, as well as to end her suffering. The Kizuna System, it would seem, was always critically flawed and untenable. But maybe there’s hope for the unfortunate souls involved.

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Kiznaiver – 09

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What started this spiraling closed loop of intense pain that took down six of the seven Kiznaivers, leaving them writhing in the rain? Kacchon left Chidori. He left her at a critical time; when she was oh-so-close to telling him her past love for him is still present.

Worse, Kacchon left her to go after Noriko, whom she always suspected was a rival but now has to deal with the devastating reality that he chose Noriko, not her. He did it without even knowing what it would do to Chidori.

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Yamada twists the knife by getting the other six Kiznaivers into an A/W room and playing a live feed of Kacchon’s talk with Noriko, as they discuss whether he likes her. He’s not sure, but he can’t stop thinking about her, and the little girl in the dream he has has become clearer since he was Kizna’d. He knows it’s her now.

It’s too much for Chidori to watch, and seeing her so hurt makes Tenga pained and angry. Nico, in turn, is pained and angry by Tenga’s concern for Chidori and not her. But both Tenga and Nico decide to go to that gym, Tenga hoping something can be done, Nico so she can “get hurt properly.”

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Some shit is going down in that gym. The closer Kacchon gets to Nori, the more memories come flowing to the surface; the names of the other child subjects—those who weren’t so lucky—combine with Noriko’s rhythmic ball-bouncing that is a kind of heartbeat to transport Kacchon to that time.

A second Kizna scar, on his chest, glows just like the one on Noriko’s neck. These two are connected; they always were; long before the other connections. As his dream promised, Kacchon wonders if he’s finally getting his pain back. In any case, he can’t stop holding Noriko.

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At this point, the others arrive, and it goes about as well as you’d expect. Chidori runs off; Tenga sucks it up and tells Kacchon to go after her; Nico runs off; Yuta tells Tenga to go after her; and Tenga learns for the first time Nico loves him. It’s a mess, and it’s wonderful how quickly a couple of initially cute love polygon vertices start to fray at the edges and become twisted into something far darker.

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Urushii can tell this isn’t going to end well, but Yamada insists the experiment continue, seemingly unconcerned with whether the subjects undergo full mental breaks. Thankfully, Urushii remembers a man’s weak spot and heads out.

She might be too late; the damage is done in the soupy, pounding rain tinged with industrial light; a striking venue for the things that transpire. At this point the Kizna scars turn blood red, and everyone can start hearing each others’ hearts. Chidori tells Kacchon to let go, but her heart wants him to hold her.

He listens to her heart, but that only makes things worse, since she knows he’s not doing it sincerely as with Noriko. Tenga, rather than go after a distraught Nico, starts beating the crap out of Kacchon. Nico and everyone else shows up, and the combined emotional pain starts coming in intolerable waves.

It’s even enough for Maki to reconsider getting any closer to anyone…and who can blame her, under such extreme, torturous circumstances? But what’s so sad is that Maki things this is what will always happen if people try to grow closer and closer.

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She forgets that they’re all young people, and what seems like world-ending emotional distress can be seen as frivolous to an adult, like, say, Yamada. How many teenagers have screamed through their parents’ hallway, before slamming the door to their room, something along the lines of “MY LIFE IS OVER”?

Even so…this situation looks pretty damn bad, no matter what your age. It’s interesting, though, that Kacchon outlasts everyone in staying upright. Is his pain lessened by the fact he’s also connected to Noriko, and has been already through something similar to this for years?

All I know is, our would-be friends came face-to-face with more secrets about who has feelings for who, things have gotten very weird and dark, and I would hope, with three episodes left, this is rock bottom. As to how things get better or how they’ll wear the wounds they sustained this week, I can only conjecture.

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Kiznaiver – 08

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The Kiznaivers have never been closer, even if they still tend to snipe at each other, they also all show up when Nico invites them to the mall to hang out take booth photos together (which is what regular friends do) even during a typhoon warning.

Back at Kizuna HQ, Yamada and Urushi are licking their chops at the opportunity to move the experiments to the next level, and the conditions are perfect, so they use the Gomorins to bring the team in.

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Before they do, the sight of an outdoor playcenter reminds Kacchon vividly of the time he was test subjects with Noriko. When Yamada nonchalantly explains more about the Kizuna Project and how they even went so far as to experiment on researchers’ and sponsors’ own children, it’s pretty clear what’s coming: some kind of epiphany between the currently frustrated Noriko and a Kacchon who is “disappointed” in her.

I must say, I’m not a big fan at all of Yamada or Urushi, who are way too laid back about the fact they essentially tortured children who had no say in the matter, not to mention all the adults who suffered from early experimentation. Morally speaking, the ends don’t usually justify the means…and they don’t even have any ends yet.

All they have are seven youths who have already demonstrated that they not only share each other’s physical pain, but also strong emotions, be they negative or positive. And Yamada and Urushi want to delve deeper into the positive by pairing everyone off. Again, it’s a bit icky, but they’re committed, as is Noriko, to ensuring the experiment is completed – regardless of how the subjects feel.

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The chart of Kiznaivers relationships reminded me of the character charts Zane used to spend way too much time making, but once they were complete really gave a concise picture of who liked whom (One instance that was at times a closed circle of one-sided relationships was Nagi no Asukara).

Here, Urushi lays out the obvious: Yuta likes Honoka; Honoka still likes Ruru; Nico likes Tenga; Tenga likes Chidori; Chidori likes Agata, and Hisomu likes pain. Noriko can figure out the last one for herself, to the surprise of the adults: Agata likes her.

She’s known for a while that he had strong emotions, but didn’t know they were romantic. Now, all of a sudden, the pieces are falling into place for her, and she heads to where the others are to “kickstart” the experiment.

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As Noriko purposefully makes her way, time runs out for Chidori to properly confess to Kacchon, despite the two being all alone for an extended period of time. Kacchon’s attention is turned elsewhere, quite suddenly, by a stronger sensation, and either the symbolic visualization or straight-up hallucination of his younger self and hi fellow test subjects leading him to where he needs to be.

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That precise time and place turns out to be crucial, as Kacchon arrives at the place just in time to save Noriko from being crushed by a falling statue just as she emerges from an abandoned metro station. Just like that, Noriko’s experiment has taken a huge step forward.

Why? Simply put, Kacchon has achieved a kind of “spidey-sense” vis-a-vis Noriko. Or rather, he’s always had it, and it has finally fully re-awakened. That explains the cryptic visions of the younger Noriko. It isn’t that her feelings reached him in time. She is a part of him and vice-versa.

To confirm, Noriko removes her choker to expose the Kizuna scar on her neck, glowing brighter and purer than any of the others’ wrist scars. That’s Kacchon in there, and that’s huge, as it not only progresses the experiment, ill-begotten as it was, but marks the loosening of a knot that had been festering in Kacchon’s heart for years. I for one am intrigued.

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Kiznaiver – 07

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While Ruru wasn’t literally killed by Maki (obviously), her mother is glad Maki feels guilty for abandoning her as a friend, making her write the final chapter by herself. Half the house is a shrine to Ruru, so the tension runs high in the mother’s presence. They may have known Ruru was going to live a short life due to her chronic illness, but that doesn’t make the pain any less difficult to bear.

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This week we also learn how Maki and Ruru —two loners—met for the first time and became more dear to one another than anyone else. They filled in each other’s manga weaknesses (Ruru’s writing, Maki’s art), and rose quickly as their audience soared.

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But it seems Maki was never a fan of Ruru “joking” about jumping off high ledges, faking a seizure, or getting more romantic with her. Though the last one, Maki knew, wasn’t a joke, nor was she not interested.

Ultimately, it seems more like Maki cut herself off from Ruru in order to be spared the even greater pain she’s endure if Ruru died when they were lovers. This is a very tense but lovely scene because it’s so intimately shot, but also interspersed with art from their manga depicting the same actions.

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The other Kiznaivers don’t know most of this…because Maki hasn’t told them, but also because they haven’t come out and asked. They come up with a plan to become her friend at all costs, not leaving her alone until she realizes there’s no point in resisting any longer; it’s six-against-one, after all.

It’s just really nice to see how much these six have gelled as a group, and how they basically became friends through osmosis, without even realizing it. Chidori in particular notices how Kacchon is changing, but for the better, and how he doesn’t simply allow Tenga to walk all over him, but rather likes having him around.

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As blue and lost as Maki is right now, the six still want her around too, especially Yuta, who tries to use the manga to learn more about what happened. The final chapter is one that Maki never read, and she assumes Ruru “cursed” her to love her and no one else forever and ever.

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That turns out to not be the case, as Ruru, treating the final chapter she wrote alone as a kind of indirect letter to Maki, telling her if remembering her ever gets too painful, it’s okay to forget, because she loved her smile and wouldn’t want her to stop using it.

Yuta manages to get Maki to come out for fireworks, but she’d rather watch everyone swim in the ocean instead. To everyone’s shock, Yuta doesn’t hesitate in running as fast as he can into the water and splashing around like a goon.

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Once Maki has read and understood Ruru’s wish for her, the smile returns to her face, the first smile we’ve seen that wasn’t sinister or fake. And the Kiznaivers feels something that isn’t pain – a weight being lifted from Maki’s heart. She can’t be friends with any of them, she says—because they’re already far closer than friends or lovers.

I enjoyed the resolution to Maki’s impasse with the other Kiznaivers. It felt earned and realistic that these people who so badly want to be her friends would eventually pull her out of the darkness and into clarity, closure, relief, and understanding. It’s also neat how the story of these last couple episodes serves as a real-life extra chapter to the manga Maki and Ruru made together.

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Mayoiga – 03

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Dozens of people of every disposition and background suddenly isolated in a strange place full of mysteries…Mayoiga, I’ve decided, is the Lost of anime. This episode made that decision a lot easier, especially with the group’s need to hastily grope their way through some kind of rudimentary justice system after one of them tries to harm another.

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One reason “Jack” is looking for a new life is that he was heavily bullied in school, lost it, lashed out, and ended up in juvy. Just because he was released doesn’t mean all his trauma and neuroses are gone; so when Judgeness prods him too far, he lashes out again.

That gets him tied up, and ultimately it’s decided they’ll throw him in a creepy undergound prison for the night, even though some (cough-Lovepon-cough) wants him swiftly executed for his wrongdoing.

Meanwhile, Valkana searches feverishly for Yottsun after Masaki is found, with a story of him leading her along until he went off on his own an vanished. Valkana’s obsession with finding him stems from his absolute need not to be called a scapegoat—after just such a thing happened in his “previous” life as a systems engineer (ah, the flashback…one of Lost’s primary narrative devices).

That obsession makes Valkana very short-fused, and Koharun gets a taste of his wrath when she suggests deep down he’s lonely, otherwise he’d never embark on an adventure involving so many other people. The truth hurts some more than others.

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In case anyone was in doubt, Maimai kinda likes Mitsumine, despite her standoffish demeanor towards him. When they encounter one another on the bridge, she’s clearly flattered by his desire to keep her safe, even if that desire extends to, say, Masaki.

Lovepon, meanwhile, remains as loopy as ever about doling out swift justice to those who upset the balance or safety of the group. She believes Jack deserves execution, and anyone who stands in her way deserves it to, as she grabs Mitsumine, falls off the bridge, and tries to drown him.

She does not succeed, but while fighting her off, Mitsumine notices the drowned body of Yottsun floating down the stream. Did Masaki kill him when he tried to rape her, or did he just get killed by a bear? The mind races with possibilities based on the scant information we know. And once more, an episode ends with a hook I can’t quite escape from…

…AND YET, were I to keep saying “One more episode”, I may one day turn around and see that I’ve watched the whole thing, and wasn’t worth it. I committed to watching three episodes, and I’ve watched those three. As enticing as the mysteries ahead may be, I think it’s time to move on.

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Mayoiga – 02

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Mayoiga makes liberal use of its CGI bus model…until it careens down a muddy hill, leaving all the passengers to continue on foot…but not before tossing the bus driver all their wallets as compensation for getting them this far.

The thirty clean-slaters are all different, but they’re alike in one regard: they don’t much care about the driver’s dignity; or at least those who do don’t speak up strongly enough when it counts.

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We learn a little more about Mitsumune, like how Speedstar AKA Hayate is his classmate, friend, and long-time protector…and how he’s easily wooed by girls, due to not having much experience with them (all boy’s school).

With Koharun and her map, the group trudges through the forest, hoping to avoid bears (or bear-like monsters) and eventually come upon a bridge that leads to a village that matches the descriptive details Koharun has at hand. They’ve arrived at Nanaki Village.

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They soon determine that there’s nobody home, which is kind of strange to start. The village has been abandoned for at least a year. There’s no talk of food or lodging, just exploration in various random groups branching off from the whole.

Mitsumune had hoped to accompany Masaki, but he’s snagged by two other girls who seem to have plans for him. Speaking of plans, the sunglassed Yottsun seems to have unsavory ones for Masaki, and manages to end up alone with her. A strange shadow in the woods catches her eye, and that’s the last we see of either.

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Mitsumune, meanwhile, manages to ruin a potentially fun time with Maimai by congratulting himself on not getting so hot and bothered in her presence, which is a little insulting. Maimai then reveals she was only going to toy with him, but they’re interrupted by the sudden emergence of the bus driver from the woods.

Was the driver the shadow Masaki saw? And what did the driver see after everyone left him? Who sent Koharun the anonymous email telling her how to get to the village? And, of course, what happened to Yottsun and Masaki? Is this group only the latest of many who have inhabited this lost village, and have they suffered their first two losses?

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 12

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The day of the dual performance arrives, and the atmosphere is fizzing with anticipation. Sukeroku is noncommittal at first, even when Matsuda arrives, lonely after the passing of his wife. But Konatsu is super-excited at the prospect of getting to watch her dad do what he was meant to, while Kiku sees this little makeshift theater as the venue for re-stoking Sukeroku’s fire and enticing him to come back to Tokyo with him.

Matsuda isn’t the only lonely one. Miyokichi may be with Sukeroku, and Konatsu may be their child, but one gets the idea only one thing—one person—is on her mind, and that’s Kiku. It’s ironic that this theater was once a place for geishas like Miyokichi used to be. But now she’s in Western clothes and sneaking in incognito, and the room is now a place for a different kind of performance.

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We only see and hear snippets of Kiku’s whole performance rather than a single continuous story, as if to underscore the point that this episode isn’t really about Kiku’s performance He’s become one of the best performers alive; his talent is undisputed, and he’s a consummate professional. There was never any doubt he’d knock it out of the park. 

The real question is how a rusty Sukeroku will fare. He becomes more motivated after Kiku goes first (Kiku’s intention, no doubt), because by watching Kiku he was able to observe the quality of the audience, about whom he was initially dubious.

But Kiku’s rakugo was good not just becaue Kiku is good, but because the crowd is good. Rakugo is a far more collaborative process than it seems, with a performer feeding off the crowd as the crowd gets sucked into the performance. Notably, Miyokichi leaves before Sukeroku begins, and there’s never a shot of her listening in the hall, so I assume she really left.

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No matter: with Matsuda, Konatsu, Bon, and a good audience at his disposal, Sukeroku goes all out with a rare (for him) sentimental tale about an alcoholic fishmonger who finds a purse of cash washed up on the beach. He celebrates with a lavish party, but awakes from his stupor to learn he only dreamed of the purse, but not the party.

The contrite man promises his wife he’ll quite drinking and pay back all the debts he has, in addition to the added debt from the partying. For three years, works his ass off, until every debt has been paid off. Then his wife confesses the purse wasn’t a dream after all; she merely gave it to police, who held it for a year with no one claiming it before passing back to her.

The wife is beside herself with guilt for deceiving him for so long, but he’s not upset. In the past three years, her lie made him a better man, and when she offers him sake to celebrate, he puts the cup down without taking a sip, lest everything that happened turn out to be a dream.

The crowd leans in, laughs, cries…and leaned in, laughed, and cried. It was a powerful, mesmerizing performance, and at its heights gave me the same chills and goosebumps as the musical performances in Shigatsu kimi no Uso.

When it’s over, Kiku and Sukeroku spend some time relaxing like they used to do in their little apartment, only this time the latter’s daughter is sleeping on his chest, and the two brothers actually deign to agree on something Kiku says:

People can’t understand everything about each other. And yet people still live together. The love of sharing trivial, meaningless things with others is human nature. I suppose that’s why humans can’t stand to be alone.

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Being in this small, close-knit town, being with Sukeroku again, meeting Konatsu, and Sukeroku’s latest and maybe most soul-bearing performance—it’s all had a profound effect on Kiku. He once thought all he needed in his life was rakugo, but he’s human, and he doesn’t want to be alone anymore. Their late master’s house has fallen to him, but it’s too big for just him. He wants Sukeroku, Konatsu, and Miyokichi to move in with him.

But when Kiku is summoned to a room at the inn where Miyokichi meets him, we learn that all she wants in that particular moment is Kiku…and only Kiku. In all the time they’ve been apart she never stopped pining for him, and the fact he’s there gives her cause to believe he wants to change things, perhaps even make amends for knocking her and Sukeroku’s lives off track with his shortsighted insistence on solitude.

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Kiku can’t quite resist Miyokichi’s embrace, but things take a dark turn when she leads him to the open window and starts to push, contemplating both of them dying together.

That’s when Sukeroku barges in, and in a gesture that’s appreciated but perhaps too late to be worth much, promises Miyokichi he’ll get a real job, that he’ll do right by her by abandoning the rakugo that makes her feel so  insecure. He wants to be the husband in that tale he told with a happy ending, in a dream he doesn’t want to wake up from.

If he has to choose between Miyokichi and rakugo, he’s choosing Miyokichi. But the wooden balcony gives way, and Miyokichi starts to fall. Sukeroku dives after her, leaving Kiku to grasp him to keep the two from falling. But Sukeroku breaks his grip, and he and Miyokichi fall to their apparent deaths together.

Now Kiku is alone, and so is Konatsu—though we know he’ll end up taking her in. While it wasn’t as if Kiku took a gun and shot her parents, he most definitely played a role in their demise. No wonder he’s so bitter in the present day, and that Konatsu has always doubted his car accident story.

Yet, even without Sukeroku or Miyokichi, Kiku was able to continue performing excellent rakugo and being adored for it over the years. After all this talk about not being able to do it alone, one could deduce that it was the presence of Konatsu in his life that kept him going. And now, as we know, he has an apprentice, who brought back all these memories of Sukeroku in the first place. I’m eager to see how this ends.

10_sesRABUJOI World Heritage List

GOD EATER – 10

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GOD EATER is back. Repeat: GOD EATER is BACK. And just when I was about to give up hope. Turns out they waited until the point in the season when the rest of the Winter shows were in their final quarter, either because they needed more time or because they didn’t want this show to end when everything else was at episode 4 or 5.

You know what else? My patience was handsomely rewarded. This was the best episode of GOD EATER (and one of the best of the entire Winter) yet, using Lenka’s ordeal with adjusting to a new God Arc as the framing device for a heretofore untold story of Lenka’s childhood, starting with when he was found in the mud by a kind family who tested negative for entry into Fenrir.

More than a story, it is an often horrifically heartbreaking tragedy that is epic in scale, stretching across the fifteen years that precede the show’s present day, and being far more emotionally powerful than any of the black-and-white flashbacks that came before.

A lot of this episode’s power comes from our amassed knowledge of the previous nine. And yet, this could very well have been the first episode of GOD EATER—or even a completely standalone short film—and still been effective.

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After Lenka was rescued and named by his new big sister Iroha, his family lived in a shanty town living off rations and constantly at risk of Aragami attacks. When his mother develops a cough and becomes bedridden, he and his sister strike out with other town members to find medicine, but are ambushed.

Lenka, who wants to become strong enough to protect everyone, hits an Aragami with a stick, but it has no effect. Still, he’s bailed out by a God Eater – Lindow, specifically. Lenka is both jealous of Iroha’s attention towards Lindow, and of Lindow’s strength to protect. Lenka’s father doesn’t like the Fenrir system in which “people choose people” and leave others to die due to limited resources, but that’s exactly what happens in the shanty town as well.

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When Lenka grows ill and there’s only one dose of medicine, Lenka’s mother demands it be used on him, for he is the future. That’s confirmed when they test him for the first time and he reads positive, making his dream to become strong a more real possibility. It’s Iroha who injects the drugs, as both she and their father weep uncontrollably over tacitly condemning their mother to die. They bury her not long after.

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A few years pass, and Lenka is on the cusp of fifteen, the age when he can join Fenrir. His older sister has also grown more beautiful, and still quite close and protective of her brother. But she’s also mature enough to slap Lenka when, after an Aragami attack, their father is trapped under wreckage. All they can do is escape on a motorbike their father prepared for such an eventuality. Like his mother, Lenka’s father died so that he could live.

But while escaping the Aragami on the bike, one manages to scratch Iroha’s leg. It doesn’t look that bad, but the wound bleeds and festers, and before long, she can no longer walk (an analog to a similar desperate journey he’ll go on with Alisa later on). Once they check the wound and it’s riddled with maggots, once more a choice must be made.

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Lenka can’t make that choice—Iroha is all he has left—so she chooses for him, by slitting her own throat, forcing him to leave her. Before they part, she tells him to go to Fenrir, because he tested positive, and always was positive. That didn’t do the family any good, however, because they weren’t related by blood. But no matter how Fenrir cruelly defines it, Iroha always considered Lenka her brother – she even named him, because like a lotus, they found him in the mud, where lotuses bloom.

To twist the proverbial knife once more, before and then in the process of being devoured by Aragami, Iroha briefly envisions the world she always dreamed of, a beautiful pastoral paradise where plants have returned, and where she’ll be together with her dear brother forever. She looks like a Studio Ghibli character in this fantasy, before a devastating smash cut to her being eaten. No point in trying to hold back the tears here; this was utterly dejecting. Rest in peace, Iroha.

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The Utsugi family, then, sacrificed themselves one after another to save a boy who wasn’t even related to them by blood. But if any of the three of them, including Iroha, had to do it all over again, I doubt they’d change a thing. The choices they made led to Lenka being in the position to “overturn” the world they had no power to change.

When Lenka stops re-living the memories of losing his family members one by one over the course of his life, he awakens to find the adjustments for his new God Arc are complete. All that’s left is to re-declare what he means to do with his newly-resotred (and likely greatly increased) power: to kill Aragami. But also, to be someone whom people can entrust their hope for a better world, the way his family was for him.

GOD EATER is back; with brutal, gorgeous, heart-rending, unyielding authority. Episode 11 has its work cut out for it.

10_brav2RABUJOI World Heritage List

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 03

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SGRS has played a clever trick. I thought this show would be about Yotarou, the reformed thief, but he hasn’t been present the last two episodes. Instead, it’s been young Yakumo’s, or I should say, Bon’s show.

And that’s totally all right, as he puts immense craft, care, and detail into his quietly epic life story, a large part of which contained Sukeroku (AKA Shin) who is absent from the present world. In hindsight, that absence and the events that let up to it (which have yet to be told) are given greater weight with each new section.

Bon is struggling with the same boisterous kind of rakugo Shin performs and gets reliable laughs from, and having to balance school means he feels like the gap between them is growing. So Shin suggests he try rakugo that makes the most of his weak voice: bawdy and erotic stories. On that note, Shin suggests they go to a brothel and get laid…once they have the scratch, of course.

In the midst of hanging out offstage with the “house band”, Bon, who had no prior interest in or time for girls, meets Ochiyo, a girl he becomes interested in and spends lots of time with. The warm fondness and melancholy in present-day Yakumo’s voice makes the couple’s inevitable separation really sting.

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That hurt is somewhat mitigated by present-day Yakumo keeping Ochiyo’s promise to never forget her, because here he is telling us about her! The reason she has to leave Tokyo is basically the same reason people start leaving Tokyo in droves: World War II is about to break out. The dread of that fact is underlined by highly effective use of loud white noise, which swells and cuts out suddenly, creating tension and foreboding.

The government starts censoring rakugo just at the time Bon sees the raunchier stuff as his way in, almost as if the universe were blocking his path. Soon it’s just the master and his two students, and he only takes Shin with him to a kind of USO tour in Manchuria, sending Bon and his bad leg to the country with the mistress. But the night before Shin leaves, Bon has his brother pinky-swear that they’ll see each other again.

Bon gets a job in a factory, meets another nice girl, and settles into a provisional life, a life without Rakugo he never thought he’d have to deal with until it came. Sure, he’s not exactly on the front lines or anything, but his suffering is borne of not being able to take the path he wishes due to, well, history itself.

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And yet, he never fully gives up on rakugo. He stuffs the books in the closet, but he still tells stories to himself when he feels down. He finds the rakugo heals and fuels his troubled heart; it gives him vitality and hope. And then, one day, just like that, the war is over.

More white noise, and a few well-chosen sights like a cloud in the sky and the sight of a radio broadcasting the emperor’s surrender mark that new event. When it comes to depicting the parts of the war we know well, the show doesn’t show much, because Bon himself doesn’t see any of the horrors.

More than anything, both Bon and the Mistress miss Shin and the master terribly, and even some time after the war continue to live in a kind of limbo as they await a return that may never come. The good news is, rakugo roars back into popularity, including the kind best suited for Shin, who gets a promotion and gets very busy very fast.

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He gets so busy, he’s totally caught off guard when one dusk, just as suddenly as Ochiyo, and country life, and the war, and loneliness, came and went, Shin, Bon’s brother and other half, returns. Five years had passed mercilessly, heartlessly, but by the end of it their promise was fulfilled and they were together again. They ease back into theater life; rakugo life; and peace. Only now, no doubt, with so much time spent apart, this family understands and appreciates far better what it means to be together.

And speaking of reunions, who should show up at their door but Miyokichi, a beautiful young woman. The brothers have competed in rakugo, and endured separation for an entire war’s length. Will their next trial be a love triangle?

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 02

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I was glad for the hour-long first episode that really established a present day for the show; giving it the confidence to go decades into the past in only its second. And while Yotarou was the main protagonist of the first episode, he and Konatsu are entirely absent here, as we have only the old Yakumo narrating the past, and how he met Sukeroku.

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This story explains why the present-day Yakumo has bouts of bitterness and insecurity that can manifest as cruel or petty treatment towards those in his life, be it Konatsu or Yotarou. It all boils down to this: Rakugo was an arranged marriage for Yakumo, while it was true love for Sukeroku.

For Yakumo, then known as Bon, was into a geisha house. He was a dancer until he ruined his leg, and so he got dumped off at Yuurakutei’s house to be his apprentice and learn rakugo. He didn’t even want to get into rakugo, but he had to. His entire future was neatly laid out for him…by people other than himself.

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Sukeroku, then known as Shin, was a filthy, orphaned street urchin, who always used to be able to get into theaters for free. He convinces the master to let him be his apprentice in much the same manner as Yotarou convinces Yakumo: a combination of charm – from his overabundance of enthusiasm, and pity – the implication he truly has no where else to go.

The master can when Shin shows him what he’s got that he’s doing a lot of straight mimickry, but the fact he makes Bon smile and laugh tells him he could be more than just another mouth to feed.

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OH MY GOD LOOK IT’S A YOUNG MATSUDA!!! Holy crap, that’s so cool that Yakumo would not only inherit his master’s title, but his manservant as well. This makes Matsuda the only character other than the narrator Yakumo whom we know form the first episode.

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Oh, but where were we? Ah yes, Bon and Shin. Another reason the master takes Shin in is so that Bon has a foil, and learns to loosen up a little. Sure enough, after Shin says out loud something Bon dare not—they were both abandoned by their families—Bon has himself a cathartic cry and tells Shin his entire story, which Shin earnestly listens to and responds appropriately: basically, “Yeah man, that’s a pretty raw deal.” But it means so much just for Bon to have someone to talk to.

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The two grow up together, alike in how they came to be in the master’s house, but otherwise total opposites, except for their ability to accept one another, much like to very different brothers who still share blood and love for one another, even as they compete for their “father’s” approval.

Once they’ve studied and practices and grown up enough, their master gives them names and deems them ready to open for him at the theater. Bon gets the elegant, refined name Kikuhiko; while Shin gets Hatsutaro, which he feels will sink him before he even jumps in the pool.

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Now we know that Kikuhiko would end up being given the title of eighth-generation Yakumo, but I’m certain the master doesn’t arrive at that decision after Kiku’s first performance, which was an unqualified disaster, though not in any over-the-top or overly cartoonish way (say, he slips and falls or flubs his lines).

He gets all the words out, it just all feels so flat. And he’s super nervous, shaking and sweating from the get-go. No nice way to say it: he bombs. And he knows it, even before he sees Hatsutaro backstage, and dares him to do better in his very first performance opening for their master.

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Hatsutaro does better. Almost too much better. His performance, starting with a loud “HEY!” that wakes up those in the sparse crowd Kiku put to sleep, is far more energetic, warm, loose, and inviting. Rather than no laughs, he gets many, and from a diverse cross-section of people.

Kiku only succeeded in making the crowd almost as uncomfortable as he was. That’s some kind of theater, but it’s not rakugo. Hatsu did some damn fine rakugo in his first performance. He even turns Kiku’s frown upside down. But that’s just it: right now, Kiku simply has no confidence in his future, because he never actually wanted to do this, and still doesn’t. He knew that truth would come out in his performance, and sure enough, it did.

This is only the first part of Yakumo’s tale, which he did fairly warn us was long. We have yet to learn how he clawed back from that sorry first performance to become the living legend he is in the present (and who inspired Yotarou to seek him out), not to mention how his relationship with Sukeroku progressed/regressed; and at some point Sukeroku will meet Konatsu’s mother.

However much more story Yakumo has to tell, I am all ears.

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