Domestic na Kanojo – 09 – Cavalcade of Unpleasantness

Time to go on the record: I am not a fan of the Natsuo x Hina route. It made sense for Natsuo to be infatuated with his beautiful and kind teacher, and for those feelings to remain even after their parents married. But as for Hina returning those feelings? I’m just not buying it, and Natsuo isn’t doing himself any favors with his incessant brooding, whining, and stalker-ish behavior that blows past any and all decent boundaries.

He’s also apparently decided to utterly ignore and move past the fact Rui was coming to his room to make out, without considering why she may have been doing that. Rui is thankfully less concerned with Natsuo than with her big sister leaving the house right now, blaming her and Natsuo’s shenanigans for being the primary factor in her move.

A serendipitous encounter with Hina’s ex who we learn is underclassman of Kiriya-sensei (which…who cares?) properly apologizes to Rui (with a $45 parfait), and doubts Hina is moving because of Rui, but because she genuinely wants to strike out on her own. That night, Hina is surprised to find Rui in such distress, but her lap is there for Rui’s head, and she assures her she’ll visit home when she can. It’s a nice sisterly moment, but obviously fails to address the Natsuo-shaped rift between them.

It was disconcerting enough when Hina said her move would make “meeting” with Natsuo more convenient, but when she gives him a key to her new place, she’s truly playing with fire. As she’s been fond of saying, Natsuo is still a kid, which basically means he lacks experience, emotional maturity, and above all, self-control. Give a kid an inch, and they’ll take a mile.

Predictably, as soon as he is able (and after coldly rebuking Rui) he rushes his horny ass to the apartment she’s still moving into, lets himself in, then sits by her bed until she wakes up (she’s exhausted from unpacking). They make out a bit, but thank goodness Hina pumps the brakes, because Natsuo “isn’t sure he’d be able to stop himself” from going all the way. Ugh.

You can tell Hina is being torn apart by the opposing forces in her heart—she knows she should be a good adult, teacher, and older sister (and thinks she’s failing at all of those). For whatever reason, she loves Natsuo more than that, and wants him in a way normally impossible—and certainly problematic—for those other three roles. So she delays, telling Natsuo there’s no need to rush; they have all the time in the world to do…whatever it is they’re doing.

I must also go on record in voicing my extreme displeasure at the sudden and baffling introduction of Alex, perhaps the most annoying and cliched character of any of the shows I’m watching this Winter. Did the show forget about Natsuo’s actual best friend in whom both he and Rui confided and relied upon? Why are they wasting so much time with this…creature? Whatever they have planned for him can’t be good…unless they plan to shoot him out of a cannon!

That brings us to Natsuo’s worst moment of the episode, which is saying something: confronting Hina at school about how he felt she was being too distant towards him, at school. She takes his hand and leads him somewhere presumably more private, but it’s still a window-filled hallway, and the vice principal is not far away. She once again appeases him, and kisses him, I say again, AT SCHOOL.

Some words to the wise, Natsuo: Hina isn’t your property, and if you get her fired, she won’t be able to afford your lovenest. Shape the ef up my dude! And Hina: stop enabling the bastard!

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Domestic na Kanojo – 08 – Keep It Together

Natsuo is bowled over by the Japanese American transfer student Alex, who is biking indoors, and the two end up apprehending an underwear thief who stole from Rui, among others. At the police station, Al sees Rui and immediately asks Natsuo (who calls her “a friend”) if he’ll set him up with her.

This, when Natsuo is still trying to figure out how he feels about Rui, who is affectionate when they make out but otherwise her usual stoic, hard-to-read self. While making dinner, Natsuo comes right out and asks Rui if she’d want to hang out with him and Alex. she sees right through his feeble ploy, and storms off, positively furious.

He visits her room later with a peace offering of yaki-udon and an apology, but Rui wants him to apologize by kissing her. The two are closing in on second base when Hina enters the unlocked, slightly open door and sees the two embracing.

After a long, agonizing pause, Hina flees to her room, and when Natsuo tries to explain, she tells him she’s not in the state of mind in that moment to believe anything he says. Instead, she declares that she needs to stop living there.

Rui visits Hina and explains that she initiated things, because she’s pretty sure she likes Natsuo. When Hina brings up the fact they’re family, Rui doesn’t see a huge issue, since there’s no blood relation. Nevertheless, Hina thinks their mother would be sad.

Al gives Natsuo the advice that nothing will ever be solved if nobody talks to each other plainly and honestly about how they feel, but the next day Hina announces she’s going to move out and live on her own. Her mom and stepdad buy her explanation, but Rui and Natsuo suspect they’re to blame (obviously).

The entire family goes to a night festival while Hina is still around, and Rui wonders if she and Natsuo should cool it with the kissing for the time being. Meanwhile, Natsuo can’t stop looking at Hina’s nape. When Hina loses her cell phone, Natsuo takes her by the hand and leads her to a private place where they can talk.

But Hina remains evasive, other than to say it’s necessary for her to move out for both their sakes. Natsuo’s attempts to force an honest conversation backfire badly, when he refuses to let go of a Hina who’s clearly had enough, and she bites his hand. The manager listens to Natsuo and holds Hina in place, noting how ugly she looks when she’s angry (his response when she says she’s always ugly is both brutal and hilarious).

The manager, one of the waiters, and her young son all join Natsuo and Hina in another secluded spot so the latter can cool down, but she’s tired of being the adult, and starts acting like a child. The son offers her a lollipop to cheer her up, and it largely works.

The manager, waitress and son depart, and Natsuo listens as Hina explains how it was just as much jealousy as shock when she say him with Rui. Rui has always been a free spirit, so Hina always felt she had to be the “normal” one who “kept it together”, not simply shooting from the hip like her little sister. She sacrificed her grasp on her identity, in part, to protect Rui’s.

Even though Hina rejected him, she did so because she felt she had no choice; as the adult in the room, she couldn’t give in to her feelings, no matter how real or strong they were. Hearing that his love isn’t unrequited after all is a revelation to Natsuo, who embraces her and asks nothing more than to be able to hold her like that and say that they love each other for that brief period of time.

As the family heads home together, while Rui isn’t turned around and looking, Natsuo and Hina hold hands. So it would seem that Natsuo is choosing a sister, based on his longstanding feelings for Hina. But just because he now knows those feelings aren’t one-sided doesn’t change the fact that Rui has fallen for him, and he’s going to have to address that every bit as earnestly as he and Hina addressed where they’re at. Because one thing is certain: Rui ain’t dating Alex!

Houseki no Kuni – 12 (Fin)

Padparadscha isn’t around long (she falls asleep mere hours after waking up for the first time in over two centuries), but makes the most of their time, and thanks in no small part to androgynous voice expert Romi Park, “Paddy” (my nickname, not the show’s) makes an impact both on me and Phos.

The last time Paddy was awake, Phos was just a cute “little pebble” hiding behind Master’s robes. Now Paddy seems impressed with the person Phos has become. While walking and talking—Paddy’s open shirt, tattoo-like chest spots, uneven socks and method of sword-holding all call to mind a wise old samurai—Phos trusts Paddy enough to mention wanting to talk with the Lunarians.

Paddy gives Phos some sage advice: pure truth can leave wounds as bad as lies; Phos must keep her composure and be mindful of her actions. Later, Phos—motionless and covered in butterflies—ponders the next move.

Like Paddy, Zircon showed up late in the story, but as a foreground character, Z’S little self-contained story works well enough. Around the same age as Phos, Z has a crisis of confidence when partnering with Bort, who doesn’t say a word the whole time. Z doesn’t think she can compete with Phos after being “surpassed”, but Phos, not only more capable but also more confident than Zircon, assures Z Bort’s silence is a good thing.

Meanwhile, Yellow Diamond, having lost Z as a partner, seeks Paddy’s company as fellow old farts, only to find Paddy is asleep again. While these little stories of Paddy, Rutile, Zircon and Yellow are interesting, they also come in very quick succession, suggesting the kind of grab-bag final episode trying to offer as many different tastes as it can in the event a second season never comes…which would be a huge shame, IMO.

Back to Phos, who is trying to remember Kongou’s training, but considering how much of Phos body has been lost, memory gaps hardly come as a surprise. Phos does remember a nice little memory of being taught by Kongou as the older Gems watched, in awe of lil’ Phos’ cuteness. Like Sengaku Nadeko, Phos was once quite spoiled, indolent, and reliant on cuteness. Now, where the memory can’t serve Phos, Phos goes to those who can, like Alex and the large archive of Lunarian lore.

Alex also clears up a misunderstanding Phos and others may have cultivated: it isn’t love or admiration that drives Alex to study and pore over the details of Lunarians; rather, it’s Alex’s enduring hatred of them, especially after they stole Chrysoberyl away.

Adequately brought up to speed on Lunarians, the next time Phos encounters them, Phos immediately makes an attempt to isolate one of them within the alloy membrane in order to attempt communication.

All Phos gets out of the Lunarian is the appearance of eyeballs in its eyes, and “F–” which could’ve been a gasp, or the beginning of a word. It is interrupted when Cinnabar swoops in to destroy the Lunarians, obviously unaware of Phos’ intentions and simply assuming Phos was in danger. However, just watching Cinnabar work gets Phos thinking about the promise to find “new work.”

That line of thinking leads Phos back to Cinnabar (much to Cinnabar’s shock) where Phos finally announces she’s found something other than night watch for Cinnabar. A blushing Cinnabar, ever vigilant about the details of such an important promise, reminds Phos that the promise was for a “better” job, not just a different one.

Phos can’t promise the job being offered will be better, and even predicts it could be much, much worse (truths opening new wounds an all that). In a powerfully-acted dramatic, even romantic scene I would have never have expected of early Phos (except in jest of course), Phos explains the need to have someone by Pho’s side to offer an opinion, even and especially if it differs from what Phos sees.

Cinnabar counters that no partnership can be accepted unless Phos has a plan for the hard part, after their investigations, if Master Kongou turns out to be the bad guy. Phos accepts this, then departs after deeming Cinnabar “extraordinarily prudent and clever.” But Cinnabar, trying to fight back the seething distrust of all others, catches up to Phos, and could be open to simply teaming up after all.

After that, another day in the life in the Land of the Lustrous starts, and Phos is suddenly summoned by Kongou. The little pebble who hid behind him is no more; Phos is on a mission to find the truth, but doesn’t necessarily want to destroy the harmony of the land because of that truth. All Phos can do is report to Kongou, maintain her composure, and be mindful of her actions.

Does Kongou know of Phos’ plans and suspicions? In that case, would he be open to hearing Phos out, as Phos is eager to hear him out? Or would he be eager to silence or neutralize her as an imminent threat to the harmony? There are so many possibilities: Gems taking sides for and against Kongou if the truth spread; an en masse loss of innocence to match those of Phos and Cinnabar.

Unfortunately, I have no idea when or even if we’ll be able to witness Land of the Lustrous explore these possibilities further in anime form. A overlooked Fall underdog that surged from under 7 to over 8 over its 12-episode run, Hoseki no Kuni turned out to be a revelation, and Phos’ transformation from clumsy layabout to possible hero to all gem-kind is one of the season’s best arcs.

I’ll miss Phos, the rest of the Gems, their gorgeous world, ethereal foes, and elegant combat, and sincerely hope there’ll be more to watch down the road.

GANGSTA. – 04

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Another day in the life of GANGSTAs reveals new details about Worick (formerly Wallace) Arcangelo and his partner (formerly his bodyguard). Notably, Worick wouldn’t make a bad detective, owing to his preternatural talent for memorization. Chad, who’s known these men since they were 17-year-old boys, periodically brings them in to appease the higher-ups, but makes use of Worick’s skills in identifying some suspiciously cleanly carved-up bodies.

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As far as the present-day goings-on, Ally continues to wring her hands over whether to stay or go (knowing the last girl who lived with the Handymen almost died) and one of their clients, Danny Monroe, and his men end up in a spot of trouble with a kukri enthusiast. Those events are punctuated by flashbacks going back to the day Wallace met Nicolas. Back then, Wally could basically read any book in a minute, and grew bored and restless with his education and stifling living situation.

When he learned Nic was deaf, he felt insulted to have a “defective” guard, but at the same time, Nic gives off an irresistible aura of wildness and freedom (even if Nic is far from free). We also learn more about the “Twilights” and why they’re called that: as the victims (or children of victims) of combat doping gone wrong.

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Whatever the case ends up being, the two seem pretty tight in the present, as both professional partners and brothers of a kind. These scenes also bring up the question: did Nic just snap and kill Wally’s fam and take his eye…or did Wally ask him to blow up his life? There are still key gaps in their backstory, but the show is doling them out at a pretty good clip, and with Nic facing off against a fellow “A/0” ranked Twilight (and a sprightly one at that), I wouldn’t be surprised if Worick will lend a hand next week.

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GANGSTA. – 03

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GANGSTA’s first two episodes were anchored by big confrontations with Bad Guys, or at least people who are darker grey than our lead guys Worick and Nic, but this week is more of a Day-in-the-Life-in-Ergastulum affair as we shadow Ally as she helps out with deliveries of Dr. Theo’s drugs throughout the town. In the process, she learns a lot more about the town she apparently didn’t know too well before, and much more about her two employers; almost more than she probably wanted to know.

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But before that, we get a glimpse into Woricks (likely periodic) dreams in which he relives the night he met Nic: when Nic came to murder his family and stab his eye out back when he was thirteen. This puts their relationship in an entirely new light, introducing the possibility that Worick could be long-suffering Stockholm victim who simply went with the flow of where events took him.

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Worick shoos Ally out along with Nic because he has a lady caller; apparently one of his many jobs is gigolo, and apparently a well-regarded one as his client seems pretty well-off and discriminating (she also drives an old Jag…or is that an Alfa?)

It makes sense that he wouldn’t want to upset clients by having another woman around his pad…but perhaps he also didn’t want to make a federal case out of his other job to Ally, and would rather she figure it out organically from clues and the words of others.

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He eventually joins up with Nic and Ally. The latter gets to witness a variety of Ergastulum happenings, like a mobster trying to win Nic back into the fold (saying he can bring Worick along too) while disposing of bodies. They also visit a brothel where Worick once worked (and likely learned his trade after his kidnapping by Nic), where the madame treats him with some degree of maternal tenderness.

Dr. Theo’s drugs are for a very ill woman who doesn’t seem to be getting better; someone Nic seems close to. Ally agreed to work for the Handymen; now that the curtain is being pulled back a bit, there are still some doors that close in front of her she dare not push back open.

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And that gets to the advice of the old shop woman who knows what brand of cigs Worick sent Ally out to buy for him. She tells Ally not to linger around these two chaps too long. Heck, even Worick warns her not to stay in Ergastulum too long, or she’ll be stuck there just like everyone else.

For a second, it looks like Ally takes the woman’s advice, but she doesn’t go far; just to the alley where she and Worick first met. There, she asks Worick if he ever thinks about the “why”…whether it’s why Nic killed his family and kidnapped him, or why he’s a gigolo, or a host of other whys. But all Worick can say is “good question.”

Does this life make him happy? Is he weak, or passive, or complacent? Who knows. But Ally could probably answer Worick if he asked: “Why stay?” Because where else is there to go? The way Ergastulum is presented to us, there may as well be an empty void beyond its walls. Something is better than nothing, and the knowable and inscrutable are less frightening than the unknown.

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GANGSTA. – 02

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Everyone in the city of Ergastulum seems to be hanging by a thread in terms of keeping their internal organs internal, so it’s striking to see a relatively well-adjusted little girl living amongst all this violence and danger.

I guess it helps to be the nurse for a well-respected mob doctor, Theo, as well as good friends with Nic, who seems to be the most powerful cat in town, even against his own “kind”, a class of Shizuo-like supermen called, among other things, “tags.” Nina may be small and frail, but she’s tough, hard-working, and definitely a good influence around the feral Nic.

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Nina’s boss Dr. Theo, neutral in the various wars of the city, wants Nic to take care of somebody trying to bully him into joining an organization, theatening Nina in the process. In the chess game of these two sides, the guy targeting Theo already sent some wiseguys after Nina, but Worick sniffs them out, and uses Alex (or “Ally” as he now affectionately calls her) as a distraction so he can ghost the three of them.

Worick congratulates her on her measured reaction to the violence, but it’s clear she’s not exactly okay being around it, perhaps choosing to turn the despair inward. Ally later marvels at Nina’s stomach for this business, but this is Nina’s home, and always has been; she’s simply used to it.

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We’ve seen how well Worick and Nic work as a team, but in this case, against a fellow “tag”, Worick leaves the bulk of the work to Nic. His target actually gets a knock or two in, but only because both Nic and Dr. Theo are screwing around to a remarkable degree, considering Nina’s right there in the crossfire. But Nic, an “A/0” rank, is just giving his “B/2” opponent three minute lead time to do his worst. Once those minutes are up, Nic does what he does and carves the guy up, though doesn’t kill him.

I’m liking Gangsta’s grungy style and smash-mouth combat, though at times it reminded me of a Durarara!! fight. In fact, this show could almost pass as a spin-off of that show’s underworld elements. We see the guy Nic doesn’t kill beg his boss for his life and get rejected, showing us that while some like Nina consider “twilights” like Nic to be kind, good people, others just see them as tools, or if they don’t perform, plain old trash.

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GANGSTA. – 01 (First Impressions)

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What is it: As the title suggests, a gangster show, and a perfectly serviceable one at that. It takes place in a world pretty much like ours, only perhaps a bit colder and harsher (your locale may vary). It’s populated by all the usual suspects: wiseguys, pimps, prostitutes, dirty cops, and Worick and Nic, two gangsters-for-hire.

Nic is deaf and good with a sword; Worick wears an eyepatch and is good with his words (and handgun). They take on a job from Police Captain Chad to clean out a new gang led by a prick named Abbot that’s breaking the rules, and have no trouble doing so. In the process, they make a friend in Alex, a woman once under Abbot’s heel, but once Abbot is checked out, she answers the Handymens’ phone.

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Why you should watch: If you liked the thematic elements of Cowboy Bebop/Samurai Champloo, Michiko to Hatchin, Black Lagoon, and the like, this show will probably be a good, if familiar, fit. It deals with grown-up stuff like gang territory, corruption, drugs, sex, abuse, and other unpleasant things, and the camera mostly sits back and lets everything play out.

Watching the quirky duo of Worck and Nic do what they do helps this small, well-contained episode avoid by-the-numbers-ness. The town where they live and work is a maze of high, ashen walls, accentuating the claustrophobia of those like Alex trapped and oppressed within them. And like Zankyou no Terror, these two guys may not be entirely safe or sane, but they have their soft spots too.

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Why you may not want to watch: If you don’t want swearing, blood, or sexual content, stay away, obviously. But the shows I mentioned above also happen to be shows that were both more original and came out of the gate better than Gangsta, and also had their share of quirky MCs.

The milieu is almost too familiar, and while a subdued palette is called for considering the atmosphere, the show does look a bit dull, and aside from a couple neat moments (like Worick firing a gun right next to Nic’s useless ear), the combat animation isn’t anything special. Finally, Alex, so far, is a boilerplate damsel-in-distress who is only alive and free thanks to the actions of others, who happen to be male.

The Verdict: Gangsta has the distinction of being the first of six Summer 2015 anime I’ll be checking out, in addition to continuing Food Wars. It executed fine, but I wasn’t dazzled, nor did it really innovate. At this early stage in the season, the chemistry of the core trio and the promise of more gansta-y adventures warrants further watching— for now. I’ll call it a slow but solid start.

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