Kageki Shoujo!! – 04 – Opening of Borders

I was both fully expecting and looking forward to Sarasa either scaring Mr. Stalker away with her imposing stature or showing off her jujitsu moves if he persisted. Thankfully something completely unexpected and much better happens. Truly great art tends to challenge the viewer in some way, rather than giving them what they expect or predict.

That kind of narrative and thematic creativity really suffuses this, the best episode yet of Kageki Shoujo and the one that finally had me coming around hoping there’d continue to be less actual on-stage performance and more human drama. Like last week, there are some tough-to-watch moments, but also moments of great joy, goofiness, and redemption.

Mr. Gross Otaku, one of Sarasa’s many hilarious, unintentionally insulting nicknames for the guy, didn’t come to exact “revenge” on Ai; he came to apologize for being the one who ruined her career. He was a shut-in NEET who had lost hope until he first saw Naracchi on-screen, and it fascinated him how she was trying so hard never to smile.

In one unguarded moment, Naracchi does smile, and there’s video evidence, but that little smirk at the sight of her favorite mascot shattered Mr. Gross Otaku’s hermitic existence, inspiring him to get a job and make friends (naturally, other admirers of Naracchi). At the in-person event, he was so nervous about properly thanking her for helping save his life, he held on her her hands too long, leading to her making the remark that ended her idol career.

Taichi, who had been observing from a close distance in case Mr. Gross Otaku was a Mr. Total Perv, tells the guy that it wasn’t anything personal; in fact, it was likely only the straw that broke the camel’s back. Like Otaku Guy once did, Ai has given up on the world, and it led her to shut off her emotions. And yet, running away and leaving Sarasa alone invokes very strong emotions indeed, to the point Ai works up the courage to go back.

Naturally, her timing is terrible, and when she sees Sarasa doing goofy dance moves with the would-be tormentor while Taichi watches, Ai’s concern immediately curdles into something resembling hatred, and she storms off once again. The only problem is, poor Sarasa doesn’t know what she did to engender such hate!

Sarasa is persistent, and Ai finally makes a deal: she’ll tell her why she’s mad if she leaves her alone from now on. But when she does, Sarasa still doesn’t get it: if she came back out of worry for her, she should’ve been happy she was alright! As usual, Sarasa is right, but too blunt, and Ai retreats behind her curtain. Both girls seem incredibly unsatisfied where things end.

Sarasa, understandably getting a little fed up with being treated like this, declares that they’re “through”, though later confesses that might’ve been too harsh via Twitter to her friend Akiya—whose fellow Kabuki actor-in-training is tweeting more profound responses on his behalf. He tells Sarasa not to rush until they know each other, to be prepared for her feelings to be entirely one-sided, and appreciate that that’s beautiful in its own way.

The next day, Hijiri, Kouka’s Shit-Stirrer-in-Residence, confronts Sarasa with the pic she snapped of her with a guy (Mr. Gross Otaku), but Sarasa doesn’t have any time for this nonsense, as Ai is skipping classes and Taichi is worried about where she ended up. Sure enough, while staring at the sea, Ai is harassed by a couple of guys who recognized her, and one of them grabs her arm.

I have scarcely felt more fear and apprehension for a character than I did for Ai in this moment, but that was tempered by the knowledge that somehow in short order, Ai would be rescued. I just didn’t know it would happen by Sarasa calling Mr. Gross Otaku, who predicted Ai would go to the ocean to calm down (as she once stated in an interview) then run a social media search and locate her .

From there, all Mr. Gross Otaku has to do is buy a little time by haplessly trying to attack Ai’s harassers. He fails, faceplants, and gets a bloody nose, but still wins, as Taichi and Sarasa arrive and the latter screams for the police, who come running. There are no words for Sarasa’s transformation above as she voices satisfaction for scaring off the jerks.

What’s even more heartwarming about this entire scene that lets me forgive its many contrivances—as well as the entire premise of using stalking methods to save the target of stalkers—is that at this point, Sarasa is sticking to her guns when she said they were “through.” Yet even if she’s uncertain Ai will ever want to be her friend, she rescued her anyway, because it was the right thing to do.

When Sarasa explains to Ai how they found her and the role Mr. Gross Otaku —real name Kitaouji Mikiya—played, it’s Ai’s turn to do something completely unexpected: offer her handkerchief for Mikiya’s bloody nose. During the hand-off she drops the cloth on the ground, but it wasn’t intentional or meant as a slight.

As Ai says with tears welling up in her eyes, “this is the best I can do right now.” But Mikiya, being uncharacteristically cool, tells her to dry her eyes; all he and her other fans wanted was to see those rare and amazing moments when Naracchi genuinely smiled. Because that meant their idol was happy. He promises to return to see her perform on the Kouka stage.

Ai and Sarasa take the long walk back to their dorms, where they’ll face consequences for the incidents that transpired. While they walk, Ai opens up to Sarasa, asking her what she should do about something she wants to forget but can’t (though not going into detail). All Sarasa can tell her is to keep having good memories that will eventually cause the bad to fade from prominence.

Notably, Ai can’t see Sarasa’s face when she says this, but it sounds like a new invitation to make some of those memories with her, if she’ll have her. At this point, it’s safe to say the cat-and-mouse game between these two girls will continue, but they’ve definitely already made one of those memories Sarasa speaks of, and I’m looking forward to them making more.

As for poor, Yamada Ayako, who is now purging regularly and barely has the energy to sing, all I have to say is that every one of her upperclassmen and every adult on the faculty are totally failing her, and I’m terribly worried about how bad things will get until someone helps her. It shouldn’t have to fall to someone like Sarasa and/or Ai, but if it does I won’t complain. I just want Ayako to be happy and healthy!

Kageki Shoujo!! – 03 – Toughing it Out

Ai is aloof, standoffish and antisocial, and makes it crystal clear even to a lunkhead like Sarasa that she doesn’t want to be friends with her or anyone else, despite the fact they live and learn together. Sarasa is flummoxed by this declaration, but before they properly discuss it, Ai is whisked off by her big sister, Hijiri.

This week Kageki Shoujo! takes a long, hard, and sometimes downright distressing look back at how and why Narata Ai became the way she is. She always lied about being a perfect loving daughter to her glamorous actress mother, but the lying became harder as she grew older and more beautiful.

I can’t imagine the torment of men both young and old ogling you left and right, and What a cutie being akin to Hello for her, but that’s what Ai endured. When her mother shacked up with one of those older men, that constant public torment became private. She’d always been creeped out by Seiji, but then one day he was alone wither her and kissed her with his tongue.

After such a horrific assault, Ai no longer felt safe anywhere or with anyone…except her uncle, Taichi. And thank God for Taichi, because he was at least able to give her a measure of peace and security by installing a lock on her door and giving her a key to his place should she need to run away. But before he did that, she had already been assaulted, vomited, cut her hair, and tore apart her big teddy.

Considering her interactions with men who weren’t her uncle up to the point she became an idol, it’s not surprising that one day she’d say or do something to break the façade she’d created. Now that very scruffy dude whom she called a creep at a fan event has stalked her all the way to her school. Again, Ai is fortunate Taichi isn’t far, and she runs headlong into his arms. He’s the brother and dad, the family she never had.

Taichi will always be there for his niece, but he knows she can’t go on with no friends of any gender. Kouka is a chance for her to form new bonds with peers, and Sarasa, as bombastic and annoying as she is, really is a good person who would make a great friend. Sarasa is ready to accept Ai’s rejection, but Taichi insists she keep trying with Ai.

Sarasa does so, by escorting Ai home, which leads to the scene I was hoping for: the gigantic Sarasa spreading that massive wingspan to form an impenetrable shield for Ai against the smelly stalker.

Never mind if he’s not there to “get back” at Ai like she fears, but just wanted to return her bookbag and talk to her. The fact is he had absolutely ZERO right to meet with or speak to her after following her there.

Ai may have been rude to him at the fan event, but being rude isn’t a crime, and he doesn’t get to play the victim after committing the actual crime of stalking. While it wasn’t always easy to watch, I’m glad we gained new insight into Ai’s twisted childhood and coming of age, which only makes someone like Sarasa seem more, not less, suitable to be her friend.

My only gripe is that we’ve still gotten very little actual musical theatre education in, with the exception of a brief tap class in which the teacher berated the objectively scrawny Yamada a “fattie” and all but ordered her to give up food. Fuckin’ yikes! I also wish the stalker situation had been fully resolved, instead of us being left hanging.

Even Sarasa looked a little uncomfortable confronting the guy, and no single high school girl, no matter how big or small, should have to go up against someone like that alone. I just hope that as we learned a lot about Ai, Ai also learned more about Sarasa, and how she’s someone she can lean on in times of strife.

Working!!! 3 – 13 (Fin*)

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GODDAMNIT, WORKING!!!. Would it kill you to resolve what has remained a romantic standstill for three seasons?!! Don’t get me wrong; I love Working!!!…but I fucking HATE WORKING!!! sometimes. And as good a start as it gets off on, this episode is unfortunately one of those times. I know, Japanese anime usually tend to focus more on maintaining a status quo than progressing relationships, but Working!!! proved it could buck the trend by finally bringing Yachiyo and Satou together. Is it so much to ask that they do the same with Takanashi and Inami?

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Apparently it is; at least in a 13-episode span. And wouldn’t you know it, it isn’t any particular problem between the two that causes the impasse from continuing. Rather, it’s freaking parents. First, Inami’s estranged father, who crashes Inami’s date with Takanashi when she forgets her wallet, then calls into question Takanashi’s fitness to date his daughter due to his transvestite tendencies (for which his mother can be blamed). Thus, the date goes pear-shaped, returning the two to their status quo of being cordial, even affectionate with one another, but not yet a couple.

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This displeased me. What displeased me even more was that precious minutes of this supposed finale were spent revisiting whether Inami has been cured of her androphobia, or exploring Souma’s scopophobia, or Popura’s atychiphobia. These phobias are all well and good, but the resolution of Yachiyo x Satou gave me hope the same would be done with Inami x Takanashi. Only yet again, Working!!! is dilatory; skittish about resolving its most compelling romantic entanglement, for no other reason than it need to keep going a little bit longer.

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That “little bit longer”, it seems, will come in the form of an hour-long special, in which hopefully the fact that Takanashi flakes out on another get-together with Inami due to the intervention of his mother will be resolved. I certainly hope it does, because frankly, I’m sick of the status quo. I know this is slice-of-life, and it’s a comedy, but I didn’t introduce these serious romantic elements, the show did, and it’s the show’s responsibility to follow through and stop leading me on, damnit!

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Working!!! 3 – 10

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Souta and Kozue both have dreams about unpleasant experiences with their infamous mother Shizuka this week. Souta remembers being dressed as a girl against his will (perhaps a reason he has a fetish for cute things) while Kozue laments that her mother never remembers her name (perhaps a reason she drinks so much). However, she has a couple of friends who care about her (even if they have trouble always dealing with her) in Mitsuki and Youhei.

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The reason both siblings dream of their mother is that she’s apparently on her way to visiting her children after an untold amount of time away working. She reminds me of Chitoge’s mother, only we find out a lot less about her other than the fact she’s extremely busy and powerful and she seems to have a unique way of messing with her kids, from laughing at Kazue’s marriage, divorce, and reconciliation, to making Izumi cook despite protests she’ll die, to persistently forgetting Kozue, the middle child, even exists.

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While there still may be a part of her that still wants Souta in women’s clothing (and indeed, he’s dressed in drag independently for various reasons throughout Working’s run), his primary concern is that she’s found out he likes a girl, and he worries she’ll put said girl (Inami) under undue scrutiny. He vows to protect Inami no matter what, but his mixed reactions to her (bouncing his head off a wall, then walking her home with their hands closer together) continue to confuse Inami. One of these days, these two are going to figure it out. But then again, maybe they never will. Still, any glimmer of progress is appreciated.

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Working!!! 3 – 09

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Working!!! starts off with a typical scene—Yachiyo talking about Kyouko to Satou while Souma smirks—with the added element of a rapt Popura. Turns out she’s noticing something different about the two, surprising Inami, who assumed Popura already knew Satou was in love with Yachiyo.

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One person who barely gets noticed ever is Otoo’s wife Haruna. Her almost nonexistent presence, and the fact she needs to be chained up in order to avoid losing her again, remains one of the more entertaining teritary characters in the show. Even better, ever since Otoo married her, his own presence has gradually diminished, making them a “stealth couple”, which considering how rarely they show up in the show, makes perfect sense.

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Another tertiary character who hasn’t appeared in a while is Minegishi, who comes to Wagnaria to report Yamada’s mom is “back on track” as one of Takenashi’s mom’s executive assistants (a job he lets slide involves assassination, among other things).

Souma sent a vague report about Takenashi and Inami to her, but Takenashi sends him away before he can mention something important to him. When he comes back to try again, he encounters Inami out back, and when he touches her to get her attention, something happens that hasn’t happened seemingly all season: she slugs someone.

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Minegishi runs off, and Inami is mortified and ashamed, but Takenashi is there to assure her that not only did Minegishi of all people deserve to be punched (and he actually enjoyed it due to his masochism) but it inspired Minegishi to seek out a punch he had missed: that of his ex-wife, Takenashi’s oldest sister Kozue. He rather embarrassingly re-proposes to her at work, and she says yes!

Besides all that, Takenashi takes Inami’s hands in hers, and when she doesn’t feel the compulsion to punch him, he takes it as evidence she’s still cured of her androphobia, and her fists merely struck someone who both deserved and didn’t mind being struck. It’s a nice acknowledgement of the progress she’s made personally, and in her relationship with Takenashi, even though neither of them have yet to be clear about their mutual feelings.

Minegishi comes back not to scold Inami, but to thank her, as well as to tell Takenashi that his mother, a powerful politician and VIP who is on the news (his co-workers never watch), is returning home, much to his consternation. Considering the myriad personalities of her kids, Mama Katanashi could be literally anyone…I look forward to meeting her and watching everyone I know bounce off of her!

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Btooom! – 02

Himeko was an ordinary school girl until she made a mistake: she invited her friends to join her at an apartment where a popular band is hanging out, but she’s late arriving, to find the band beating and raping the other girls, and she’s next. She flees them, and the case makes the news, and her friends move away after abjuring her. She is then parachuted to the island, where she meets three other players: a teacher who is promptly killed by the soldier, and an otaku who pretends to be nice then tries to rape her. She uses a bomb to scare him off, then goes to a pond where she washes herself, when she meets Sakamoto.

We kinda feel bad for Sakamoto: his introductory episode wasn’t nearly as good as Himeko’s. Her past is woven nicely with the present, as we follow her right up to the moment Sakamoto bumps into her in the first episode. We really how this was executed: in both times, she goes through hell and is gradually hardened against any interaction with men, since men have been so horrible to her of late. She may hate herself for running for it when her friends were in danger, but there was no way she’d be able to hold off four men. She did what she had to to avoid getting raped or worse. It sucks, but that’s how it goes.

This episode also gives us a possible reason people are being sent to this island: a chain letter is being passed around asking people to vote for someone they want to disappear from their lives, and they’ll get paid. The episode indicates Himiko’s friend Miho did just that with her, and it’s not unrealistic to think the other three players and even Sakamoto had enemies who could’ve voted for their…relocation. But most interesting is how Himeko has already met Sakamoto within the digital version of Btooom! – they just aren’t aware how closely they both resemble their avatars. Also, Himeko really really hates men.


Rating: 8 (Great)

Car Cameos: As the girls cross the street, there are three cars:
A Honda Fit, an Audi A4 (B5), and a Honda CR-V.

Kokoro Connect – 12

Yui, Aoki, Iori and Inaba continue reverting to earlier ages, with Iori reverting to a baby. Mihashi confronts Yui again, calling her weakling who broke her promise; they fight and Yui loses, and becomes distraught. Later, she reverts to the moment after a man tried to molest her. When Hisashi comes calling again, Yui tells her off; Aoki tries to help and he and Yui get in a fight. Aoki decides to visit Nana with Taichi to confirm his love. When he returns, he tells Yui she’s the one he loves now. He gets her out of her funk, and she gives Aoki a big hug.

This newest phenomenon continues to stir up past memories, and in Aoki’s case, past feelings of another love. He remembers that after losing a close friend in a car accident, he decided he would live life carefree and have fun so he wouldn’t regret when his end came. Yui, meanwhile, remembers she promised (a very pushy and annoying) Mihashi she’d face her in the national karate tournament, but never followed through. She stopped caring about winning all the time, to the point she now sees herself as worthless, pathetic, and unworthy of love.

Of course, none of that is true, and while Aoki’s pep talk/re-confession is a touch platitudinous, he tells Yui everything she needs to hear in her vulnerable state, and lets her decide to take a chance and embrace life – and Aoki, too. Her tearful, trembling hug with Aoki is a nice touch and represents progress both in their relationship and in her dealing with her fear of men and refusing to lose. But while some good has already come out of this phenomenon, it isn’t something that can be allowed to go on forever, so Taichi needs to be exceedingly careful how he responds to Inaba’s demand to tell her what he knows.


Rating: 8 (Great)

 

Working’!! – 12

Inami has gone a record number of days without hitting a guy, but Yamada wants to challenge her further. She gets her a guys uniform – later revealed as Takenashi’s – so she can look at herself in the mirror, but it has no effect. Takenashi goes home and eagerly awaits a text from Inami saying she’s home while his sister observes him. Yamada is locked out of the restaurant, but Sato helps her. In another effort to challenge Inami, they put her in proximity to Sato, then Soma, and nearly punches him when he slips and gets too close. Sato saves him by sacrificing Yamada’s teddy.

When Yamada’s brother hears the chronology of Takenashi’s exploits with Inami Mahiru, he reacts like anyone would to the other guy’s ignorance of who she likes. She likes him. He even comments to himself that with all this progress being made – no punching, exchanging texts – what is Inami becoming to him? Of course, it’s understood he may not be capable of fully reciprocating her feelings for him, since he only cares about young, tiny, cute things.

Still, we’re liking the very gradual but noticable development explored here. The only time Inami throws a punch is when Soma nearly falls on her as a result of Yamada tripping him; an accident. But what if a guy came too close to her on purpose – like Takenashi, for whatever reason? It would probably require Yamada’s teddy to take another one for the team…


Rating: 3.5

Working’!! – 10

To save her from a stack of boxes, Takanashi has to get dangerously close to Inami; he’s only saved by her being knocked unconscious. The next day, she’s more nervous than usual because of the encounter, and Yachiyo makes her take a nap in the break room. Takanashi enters and sees her asleep, and pats her head until she wakes up, and runs out of the room screaming. She stays home sick until he pays her a visit as Kotori and they both apologize and exchange phone numbers for future contact.

So, after all that androphobia training, after all those walks home, after all that interaction, Inami and Takanashi have never exchanged numbers? Inconceivable! Still, that’s remedied this week, after a series of extraordinarily close encounters send Inami packing, not out of fear of Takanashi, but out of fear of punching him to death. Their interactions are nothing new, but regardless of the lack of progress made, Inami seems quite happy to finally have Takanashi’s digits.

We’ve always harbored a fear of walk-in freezers. Alongside kitchen burns or slippery floors, they’re a genuine potential threat to one’s life if disrespected. While the ones we’ve always dealt with had releases on the inside, it always worried us that while we’re in there, such a release could malfunction or break, and there we’d be, stuck in a mini-Antarctica with no coat and a ticking clock. Of course, we’d last longer, as we’re bigger than Popura, but still…


Rating: 3

Working’!! – 01

This pre-air episode follows Takanashi, Inami, Popura, Aoi, and all the other employees around at a typical day at Wagnaria family restaurant. Jokes are told, tiny things are declared cute, punches are thrown, and dishes are broken. Like I said, typical.

From the looks of it, the new, aprostrophe’d Working’!! will not diverge considerably, or at all, from the original Working!!, but will be a vehicle for new material in the same setting with the same ensemble cast – and perhaps a new face here or there (a girl with Leia-like buns in her hair is glimpsed only for a moment but not heard). That’s okay, as the first season was very watchable, lightweight slice-of-life in which the quirkiness of the characters lent spice to the proceedings.

We’ll have to wait until October to see if new material will indeed be infused in the formerly successful recipe of the Spring 2010 series. If things get too repetitive vis-a-vis Takanashi and Inami, or too tedious vis-a-vis Yamada (the former new kid) and the new new kid (whoever she is), well, there are potentially a lot of series more worthy of RABUJOI’s undivided attention. But from what was seen in this sneak peek, we’ll probably be watching.


Rating: 3