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.

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 09 – Fuel to the Fire

Last week Kazuya acted like a heinous criminal but suffered zero consequences and was actually rewarded with a phone case because Chizuru conveniently ceased to remotely resemble the character we’d known up to that point, while Ruka fell of the face of the earth. How do you come back from such a fiasco?

First, by bursting Kazuya’s bubble: he didn’t get a gift from Chizuru because he’s special, but because it’s a common rental girlfriend practice. And Chizuru still considers their relationship strictly business. When she straight-up asks if Kaz has fallen for her, he lies and denies it. But you can’t help but think she’s lying too.

Second, by welcoming Ruka back to the show, and with a vengeance! Devastated that he blew her off to go on a date with his rental, Ruka demands to immediately go on another date with him that same day, and it’s well within her rights as his GF to do so. When it’s clear to her his mind is elsewhere, she blindfolds him and spirits him away to a love hotel room.

There, she removes her socks (to get comfy) and Kazuya tells her about the situation with his and Chizuru’s grans. Ruka tells him straight up there’s no future for him and Chizuru, who can only ever be platonic, while his gran is very likely looking at the future in the form of a great-grandchild, which Ruka is ready and willing to provide when the time comes.

That time isn’t now, however. Kazuya is overwhelmed and retreats to the bathroom, which gives Ruka the opportunity to slow things down a bit. Her heart rate has never been faster but she knows she shouldn’t rush into sex.

When he fled to the toilet, however, Kazuya left his phone with Ruka, who sees a notification on his lock screen that tells her where and when he’s attending a New Year’s shrine visit with his family and Chizuru. She then decides to crash said visit…and good for her!

I for one have had enough of Kazuya and Chizuru comfortably maintaining a charade when the bottom line is they’re lying to their families. So I was elated to see Ruka invite herself and make them squirm. Kazuya agreed to be her boyfriend, after all; by rights, she should be there, and Chizuru should be off on some other rental date or acting shoot.

Ruka even comes right out and states the truth to Kazuya’s family that she’s his girlfriend, leading Kazuya to tell his grandmother that she’s a pathological liar. Kazuya, you absolute scumbag. Lowest of the low. Die in the garbage fire to which you and Chizuru keep adding fuel!

Ruka then confronts Chizuru in private, telling her Kazuya told him what the score is, and that she’s grossly overstepping her rental GF bounds. When Chizuru pleads “it’s complicated”, Ruka rightly responds that’s because they’re making it complicated.

Ruka suspects that’s intentional, perceiving that Chizuru has fallen for Kazuya and wants to stay on as his “girlfriend” indefinitely. She gives Chizuru an ultimatum: if she doesn’t love Kazuya, then walk away. It’s the right, fair thing to do. Shit or get off the pot, Chizu-chan!

At the shrine, Ruka takes Chizuru’s gran aside, and learns that it’s not just a great-grandchild she’s after. All Gran wants to do is ask Ruka—who in addition to being a “pathological liar” is also Chizuru’s “nearest, dearest friend”—all about her future granddaughter-in-law. It’s clear to Ruka that Gran loves Chizuru and wants her to be family. So it really is more complicated.

That doesn’t change the fact that as long as Chizuru and Kazuya only see themselves as a rental arrangement, it is wrong to keep leading Gran on. So after Kazuya earnestly apologizes to Ruka for the terrible things he told his fam, she makes it clear to him that she’s not giving up on winning both him and his Gran over, no matter how long it takes.

To that end, she gets a job at the same karaoke parlor where he’s working. He has to learn that further ghosting and two-timing of his real girlfriend will not be tolerated. Kazuya doesn’t deserve Ruka—honestly, Kazuya doesn’t deserve a quick death—but he’s got her.

The question is, will he be won over by her, or will she be the catalyst that forces him and Chizuru to abandon their ridiculous current arrangement for something—anything—real? My guess is the latter. Hopefully we’ll know the answer in three weeks’ time.

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 08 – Worst Christmas Ever

I had high hopes for Kazuya’s trial dating of Ruka, as it could help him and Mizuhara complete their post-rental separation. It could also have been a means of seeing more Ruka, someone actually honest about her feelings for Kazuya and thus a naturally more tolerable character than Mizuhara. Alas, the best episode of the series is immediately followed by the worst.

We never get to see Kazuya and Ruka’s “honeymoon” period, we just skip to him loathing his existence anew and desperate to cancel his Faustian deal with Ruka. And that’s despite him knowing full well Mizuhara may not think anything of him other than as a client.

The bottom line is he’s not happy with Ruka because he doesn’t like Ruka the way he likes Mizuhara. Which is fair! Meanwhile, Mizuhara looks unhappy too as she spots Ruka with Kazuya, suggesting she is also having second thoughts about going along with Ruka’s deal.

I get how Kazuya feels, but the despicable things he does throughout the episode threaten to make him irredeemable, not to mention excruciating to watch. For one thing, he doesn’t dump Ruka even though it’s clear it’s not working. Instead, he’s content to string her along, lies about having family Christmas plans, and Ruka is never seen again in the episode. WTF?

After thinking about why Mizuhara decided to work as a rental girlfriend for all of ten seconds, he hears her showering through the wall and jerks off. The next day, instead of enjoying a date with Ruka—something he’d consider torture for some reason—he spots Mizuhara with what appears to be a date…and proceeds to stalk her. ALL DAY. ON CHRISTMAS EVE.

That’s not just torturing himself, but the audience as well. This shit is hard to watch. Lest we forget, Kazuya is not a high schooler but an college student and full-grown-ass adult. At any point during his stalking he could—he should—get arrested and tossed in jail. Of all the boundaries of decency and privacy he’s broken, this is probably the worst instance, especially considering his goal to become a better person. All that progress went down the shitter this week.

When he starts to believe Umi-kun is Mizuhara’s real, perfect boyfriend, he feels solidarity with a brotherhood of her clients he doesn’t even know in opposition to a her personal life he also doesn’t know. By sumply watching them creepily from afar during their date (which might not be a date) and eavesdropping on Umi’s call, he has no context with which to jump to conclusions.

Umi could be a client, or an old childhood friend, or a brother or cousin, or a manager, or a gay friend, or a scout. With an incomplete picture gleaned from stalking them, Kazuya decides they’re boyfriend and girlfriend, and Umi is planning to sell Mizuhara into sexual slavery (or something to that effect).

For his hours of disgusting criminal conduct, culminating in him jumping out before Mizuhara and Umi can “kiss”, Kazuya is rewarded. Turns out they weren’t going to kiss, Umi was fixing her earrring, and they’re not dating, Umi is a fellow actor. That’s right, Mizuhara is starting out as an actress. She’s working as a rental girlfriend and living in the same dump as Kazuya to pay for acting school.

One after another, Kazuya presents up his incorrect assumptions and Mizuhara knocks em down, until it’s clear he’s been stalking her for hours, and listened in on Umi’s phone call. Yes aside from momentarily turning cold, calling what he did “simply stalking” and asking if he has “anything better to do in life”, he’s completely let off the hook!

This is Mizuhara, who in the past has legitimately threatened legal action against him if he doesn’t back off her life. But it’s also the Mizuhara who slowly seems to be falling for Kazuya, despite him being an absolute ghoulish cretin of an incel. Love has certainly made and idiot (and criminal) out of him, and so it’s made an idiot of Mizuhara as well.

She presents him with the gift of a new phone case (which she picked out with Umi) and he breaks down crying, which is good, because it means he is at least aware of how much pure trash he is, even if he seems incapable of changing. Among Mizuhara’s excuses for the gift is that she feels bad leaving him to deal with Ruka alone.

The mention of Ruka underscores how frustrating this entire episode was. It seems to be portending Mizuhara and Kazuya becoming a couple, but poor frail-hearted Ruka ends up being a placeholder and pawn while the inevitable is delayed. Ruka herself felt like gift to us for our endurance, only for her to be immediately ripped away so we can watch Kaz do crimes. Sorry, I wasn’t havin’ it!

The Quintessential Quintuplets – 05 – Flying Colors

As Ichika hides her face by locking herself in a warm embrace with Fuutarou, we learn that the mustache guy is not her date, but her co-worker on a film crew. But even that is a fabrication on Ichika’s part, desperate as she is to keep her secrets as long as she can.

She manages to deflect by asking Fuutarou why exactly he’s so invested in her and her sisters. When Ichika comments how it’s weird for them to be hugging so intimately despite just being friends, Fuutarou mentions how he’s not sure it’s right to call themselves friends, to which she responds he’s being way too picky about semantics!

Also, Ichika says she’s a little hurt by the notion he never considered them friends, and that gets Fuutarou thinking about his recent interactions with both Miku, who also looked hurt by the same assertion, and Itsuki, who said it’s so obvious what they are to each other it doesn’t actually have to be said!

Yet apparently it does! Especially when Ichika’s co-worker spots Miku—who is sporting a new hairstyle so Fuutarou will compliment her— and mistakes her for Ichika. Fuutarou and Ichika track the two down, and Fuutarou declares once and for all: he’s their partner. That’s when mustache guy blurts out that Ichika is actually an actress who has to get to her audition.

While that’s not the most surprising twist, it’s still a hella good one, which subverts Ichika’s previous reputation as cool, relaxed and lazy. It’s not that she can’t be all three of those things at times, but that’s not all she is. She’s held back, both from her sisters and Fuutarou, in case this audition thing goes south. But judging from Fuutarou’s reaction to their little line-reading session, it won’t!

When she turns to leave, Fuutarou takes her face in his hands and stretches it out, telling her to quit it with the fake smiles that hide her true emotions. He’s observed it what sets Ichika apart from the others, and it was confirmed when he felt her trembling while hugging him in the alley. Ichika is putting on an act with those false smiles, but Fuutarou isn’t convinced. He proceeds to come clean about their partnership, and that at the core of things he wants to “work for what he earns.”

Ichika is impressed he was able to discern such a subtle change in her behavior. Acting is her dream; her way to finally stand tall as the eldest sister. If she has to ditch the fireworks for a shot at her first big break—leaving the ensemble to explore a solo leading role—she’ll do that, apologize to the others later, and hopefully it will work out.

Ichika is super-late to the audition, but gets her shot, and doesn’t miss. From the first lines she utters, the casting crew stands up straight, like some rare bird had suddenly entered the room. There’s suddenly more conviction and resonance to her lines than when she said them to Fuutarou. Now I know why they cast Hana-Kana for Ichika—it’s such a powerful yet subtle performance, but she makes it look easy.

Later, Mustache Guy (who scouted her) presumes Fuutarou must’ve helped Ichika pull out a role-winning performance. Her role thus secure, Fuutarou escorts her to her sisters, who are waiting in the part with…Chekhov’s Fireworks Kit! Yotsuba bought the kit for Raiha, but there’s no doubt the wise-beyond-her-years imouto would have no problem donating it to a good cause.

Ichika bows and apologizes, but the others apologize right back, since all five played a role in the confusion that separated them. Where one sister messes up, the five of them overcome it together. Nino gets in Fuutarou’s face, but to his shoc k it’s to thank him for getting the job done—albeit in the most unconvincing tone imaginable! He then sits back and admires his work, shaking off the urge to go home and study.

When there are only five fireworks left, the sisters do a countdown before grabbing their preference…and Ichika and Miku pick the same thing. Ichika lets Miku have it, saying Miku “can’t let go of that one.” It couldn’t be any clearer that the “less flashy” firework represents Fuutarou, and despite Ichika’s generosity in this one instance a love triangle is officially up and running.

To confirm that, one need not look further than when Ichika approaches Fuutarou to tell him that as partners, she’ll be working hard to repay him for his support, but warns him not to think he’ll have an easy time with her. Alas, he’s asleep with his eyes open, so she gently rests his head in her lap.

This episode felt like a turning point when the dynamic of Fuutarou and the quints finally shifted from one primarily composed of hostility and discord to one of more cooperation and harmony. Sure, it may now only be something like 51-48 in cooperation’s favor, as there are surely many more conflicts to come, but it’s a long way from the utter chaos of the first episodes. Enough good faith and good deeds have been exchanged and motivations revealed that more progress can be made.

It’s been said in the comments, but it bears repeating after watching this episode: a harem rom-com about quintuplets has absolutely no business being this damn good. It’s as if creator Hariba Negi came up with a premise he knew sounded like tacky schlock, but said “Just watch—Imma elevate the FUCK outta this schlock!” And he did. I don’t often regret a decision to skip a show, but in the case of QQ I clearly missed out on a gem.

Kabukichou Sherlock – 08 – Adult Swim

Irene doesn’t know the password for the USB drive, so it seems like she and Sherlock will part ways for a time…only for her to end up at Bar Pipecat, ordering the other detectives to do chores and maintenance while Mrs. Hudson is laid up with a bad back (or as she calls it, “that time of the month”). When a new client comes in whose ex is trying to gain custody of their young daughter through blackmail, Irene decides to take the case, picking Watson as her partner.

When the girl’s mother suffers a fainting spell, Sherlock is left to babysit her, and while things start out rough at first (rice bowl with fried egg and a chocolate bar? NO GO) the two come to a sort of truce. Meanwhile Irene proves an astute investigator and gatherer of information, making more progress than all the other detectives and locating the blackmailer ex’s home, at the night swimming pool right next to the district’s famous Elephant.

Turns out the guy is a serial blackmailer, manipulator, and trafficker of underage women—a super bad dude. A woman Irene used to co-star with, who is also being blackmailed, ends up giving Irene the clue she needs to find the safe containing all of the compromising information, including the client’s.

At this point Sherlock joins the investigation (his rakugo is quickly dismissed by Irene as too slow), and the two end up sharing a tanning bed as a hiding spot, only for the blackmailer to be murdered by the actress in a crime of passion. Irene lets her get away, since she’s suffered enough, but when she returns to her hotel room, Irene finds the actress’s ear in a box. Jack the Ripper has apparently made Irene his next target.

Ushio to Tora – 37

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This week we check in with a thoroughly defeated and battered Tora who is basically ready to throw in the towel; a Tora we’ve never really seen before. So who better to cheer him up and remind him of the work that must still be done than Mayuko, via her her “spiritual form”.

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I’ll be honest, I never thought all that much about Mayuko’s feelings for Tora, and when she comes out and confesses here, it’s not that surprising, but the tears she sheds when she realizes she can’t turn Tora back into a human no matter how much she loves him (or combs him) was pretty damn moving. I too want to see Human Tora and Mayuko double-dating it up post-Hakumen with Ushio and Asako!

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Mayuko takes some solace in the fact that Tora gets his fighting spirit back, and she also heals him, ending what had been a precipitous drop ever since he killed Nagare. His revival couldn’t have come at a better time: even with all the myriad barriers of various parties in play, Hakumen is not returning to the spot in the ocean where he was originally locked away without a fight, and those barriers are weakening.

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The earlier scene with Mayuko and Tora and dozens of other instances before are ample evidence Ushio to Tora isn’t able getting a little emotional, which sometimes can’t escape stiltedness or maudlin. I wanted to like the half-hearted insult-slinging reunion of Ushio and Tora more than I actually did.

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Cutaways to Kagari and Raishin helping out some human soldiers, or the HAMMR guys making a valiant last stand, felt like curtain calls of a kind for these characters as we wind down to the finale.

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Thanks to all their friends and allies, Ushio to Tora manage to back Hakumen back into his pen, where he’s none to happy to be, no sir! He promises to kill the ones erecting all the barriers through his minions, but something tells me he’s not going to find a whole lot more success.

He’s had his day in the sun; now it’s time to put him away for good so we can bask in the glow of a victory hard-earned by enduring all this hardship and emotional stress and strain.

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Ushio to Tora – 36

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The last three weeks have been rough and the ratings have suffered because everything’s so dark and brooding and hopeless and INTENSE GRRRRR, but glimmers of light at the end of the tunnel have been gathering.

Take Saya. She’s through sitting on the sidelines, and adds her own lights to the battle, in the form of summoned dead she brings back in order to help bind Hakumen. She’s totally badass, even though she’s all on her own.

Now that everyone else has their memories back, everyone is working towards the same end, which means Hakumen finally, thankfully has his ass righteously kicked by their combined efforts.

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Nothing like hearing all about your monster friend’s appallingly tragic past to forgive that friend for his recent transgressions. Tora doesn’t come out of his unconsciousness this week, but he does become the forge into which the millions of shards of the Beast Spear accumulate and bring forth a new spear, one far more powerful than the first.

As all his friends and allies prepare to launch fresh attacks on the Big Bad, Ushio takes a moment to thank Tora for everything he’s done, and even gives him some blood from his arm, though if I’m honest, that was a lot of blood; Ushio should probably be a little woozy at this point!

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No matter. Hakumen sets up the underbosses at the tips of his tails, and Ushio knocks ’em down. Combined with the HAMMR scientists’ TRUMP weapon, Ushio’s Mom and Mayuko, a ghostly Oyakume, Saya, and the Kouhamei sects on nearby islands, Ushio’s new spear packs a whollop, and Hakumen gets the beating he’s so sorely deserved all season.

Up against the wall and moving in another direction against his will, Hakumen calls for help…from uber-Tora Guren. But Guren is occupied with Hyou, who we find, of all things, in the yard of an alcoholic, Academy Award-winning starlet. HWAHHH?

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Yeah, it’s pretty random, and the actress is kinda a dick to her seven-year-old daughter, but when Hyou repeatedly saves them from Guren, at the cost of numerous parts of his body and quite a bit of blood, the woman undergoes a swift transformation. It’s almost too perfect that Hyou should make his last stand not dying alone for no reason, but to save a mother and daughter, after he couldn’t save his own so long ago.

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Letting the gluttonous gasbag Guren eat his eye and arm are certainly last-ditch tactics, but hey, they work, and Guren goes up with n immensely satisfying big blue BANG; Guren was almost as annoying as that whiny Hakumen, and I’m glad he’s gone, and essentially by his own dumbassery.

As for Hyou, well, he achieved the revenge he sought his whole life, and saved a couple of people in the process. One can be forgiven for getting a little glassy-eyed at his farewell, when he joins his family in the afterlife. It certainly seems to have an effect on the previously disaffected mother, who isn’t as quick to swat her little girl away when Hyou passes away.

The cherry on top?  Hakumen can whine and scream all he wants, Guren ain’t coming. You’re on your own, chump!

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