Zombieland Saga: Revenge – 05 – Always Be Twinkling

This week is a Lily episode, as she decides she wants to shine even brighter by entering herself in the Saga regional of the awkwardly-titled national TV talent competition Japan’s Got Performance. If she wins, she’ll move on to the finals in Tokyo. I love how the pint-sized Lily announces this by shaking up Koutarou’s usual dungeon briefings. This is a choice she made—not him—and she’s going to do it.

But upon arriving at the venue for the competition, Lily learns she’ll be facing stiff—and very familiar—competition in the form of Oozora Light, the latest child prodigy star. While his meeting with Lily is friendly, Sakura and Tae later discover that unlike Lily he’s an arrogant, cynical little shit, spoiled by and abusive to his manager and expecting an easy win in the “sticks” of Saga.

While much of the competition before him seems to support that assessment—none more than Koutarou’s own baffling impersonation of a mudskipper—Lily brings some class, charm, and heritage to her multi-faceted rakugo performance, proving she can do whatever she wants on stage and excel.

Both the crowd and celebrity judges are eating out of her hand, laughing at the comedic bits and crying at the dramatic ones. Lily is an expert at working the crowd, but it’s always about shining as bright as she can and entertaining them, not manipulating them. If she isn’t having as much fun as they are, there’s no point.

Light follows it up with…sigh…juggling. It’s here where we see that he’s more concerned with tricking the crowd into siding with him with his on-stage performance, since they’d probably loath his true self. He does this by pretending to mess up, only to yell Never Give Up! and get back on track. As juggling acts go it’s pretty good, but in all honesty he’s riding his celeb status here; Lily’s act was far superior.

Unsurprisingly, the two finalists for the Saga Regional are Lily and Light. Lily stops by his green room to wish him good luck, and predictably Light throws her good wishes back in her face, calling her out for putting on such a syrupy sweet and cute act that they both know isn’t going to last once they’re out of elementary school.

Of course, Light isn’t aware that Lily was once a bigger star than him, and also will never grow up, because she’s a zombie. But even if she wasn’t, Lily is still a veteran of show business, and doesn’t rise to his trash talk, keeping things friendly and cordial. Even so, Sakura, who overheard Light laying into Lily, has her back, reminding her all of Franchouchou are with her.

When Light inadvertently steals “Life”, Lily’s signature song from her past, she once again shows what a multitalented consummate professional she is, re-arranging her music for the band and altering her costume, all in the time it takes for Light to perform his song. It’s also not lost on me that her light blue hair and pink and white ribbons match the transgender flag, a lovely personal touch.

Lily counters with “Life”, but rather than the classic bittersweet version, her vivacious arrangement integrates addictive scat-singing and dancing that get all the kids in the crowd and on TV dancing with her. She also basically turns all the adults into kids as the clap along, swept up in her sparkling, twinkling awesomeness.

As I expected, she still loses to the Next Big Thing, but not only is she perfectly gracious in on-stage defeat, but she tracks down Light to cheer up and encourage him off-stage. While he technically won, he knows full well Lily put on a performance he couldn’t have hoped to match, especially in the compressed time frame she had.

Lily reminds him that show business is about who wins, not always who’s best, but all either of them can do is keep shining as brightly as they can. She manages to thaw his cold, dark heart, and when he points out she’s in the boys bathroom, her response is pitch-perfect: “It’s fine…it’s just me after all.”

A lesser show would have had Lily put Light in his place by beating his ass and moving on to Tokyo (something Koutarou wasn’t going to be happy about—Tokyo isn’t Saga!). Instead, Light is given extra depth and humanity, which is gratifying because being a child star in any era is not easy…just ask Macaulay Culkin!

They part ways on good terms, with Light inviting Lily to Tokyo sometime so they can work on something together. And while Lily didn’t make it to the national final, a kid doing her scat performance of “Life” becomes a viral sensation all over the country, netting Franchouchou thousands of new fans. Let it never be said the shrimp doesn’t pull her weight!

Irina and Crow’s discussion of this episode has dropped. Check it out here!

Those Snow White Notes – 04 – New Guide, New Goal, New Sound

It’s all thanks to Sakura’s onigiri. When she greets Setsu and he enters the boarding house without responding, she can tell he’s out of sorts, and the only thing for that is food. When she delivers it, he’s on the phone with Wakana, and she gets the idea he’s talking about a girl he likes.

Setsu is terrified of not being able to live up to Shuri’s grandmother’s memory of gramps’ magnum opus, “Shungyou (Spring Dawn)”. But Wakana reminds him that Shuri didn’t know Gramps, and Setsu doesn’t know her grandmother. It’s impossible to try to exactly copy what she heard so many years ago, so he suggests Setsu rewrite her memory, using his own song.

Kamiki calls Mai to tell her he heard Setsu play, and while he clearly couldn’t show him his “sound”, he still heard the dizzying potential Mai always believed to be there, and so desperately wants to do battle with. Setsu gets a recording of “Shungyou”, but it’s on an ancient cassette tape. No problem; Kaito’s a vintage audiophile!

When Kaito asks why they can’t just play the tape for Shuri’s gram, Setsu says there’s no comparison between a taped performance and a live one. That makes it all the more impressive that even a cassette recording of Setsu’s gramps playing is able to fully transport both him and Kaito into the story of the song, ending with the titular and redemptive spring dawn.

Even a layman like Kaito can tell how God-level Setsu’s gramps was, and Setsu acknowledges he simply doesn’t have hands quick enough to match the picking at the climax of the piece. While he tries to play it, a passing young man declares Setsu’s sound “pinched and sharp”, i.e. frustrated and confined. He hands him a handmade Tamapiyo chick: something simple anyone can make, yet still causes peoples’ hearts to skip a beat.

Speaking of skipping a beat, Shuri’s heart does so as she watches the stream of Setsu playing that Yui first saw. When Kaito learns she had been keeping it from Shuri, he gets angry at Yui, provoking her into kicking him, saying “Shuri’s all you think about!” and storming off, blushing and mad. Clearly there’s a love triangle in play here, and the addition of Setsu makes it a rhombus.

Sakura forms still another vertex, as she welcomes the acerbic young man who told Setsu to simplify. He learns his name is Rai, he plays hosozao shamisen, and is the son of a rakugo performer. They’re also neighbors! Setsu followed his advice and thanks Rai for giving it.

The day arrives, and Setsu is clearly nervous because when he first meets Shuri’s grandmother he asks if she’s dead, then warns her not to die before he finishes playing. That’s gotta be nerves! But then he sits down, begins playing a sparser, more stripped down “Shungyou” that he can actually play, thus demonstrating his own new sound based upon his gramps but no longer an attempted perfect facsimile.

The sound transports Shuri’s grandma back to when she was a six-year-old evacuee shunned by those who took her in. She met a poor and starving boy slightly older than her, and she gave him her ration of potato to play something for her. That boy, Setsu’s grandfather, wept after playing, because he ate a starving girl’s potato. When she says it’s okay for her to die because her parent is dead, he said no, you have to keep living.

As Setsu’s streamlined performance moves everyone to tears, especially Shuri, who witnesses her gran smile for the first time in a long while. Setsu and Kaito saw the Spring Dawn over the mountains that turned a new page in the life of the unnamed subject of the piece—who could be anyone.

Gran’s eyes are also dazzled here by the rising sun over deep blue waves and a purple sky, the night dissolving into darkness. The image of her sitting and listening to Setsu’s gramps playing Shamisen is etched in her mind. It’s a cot-damn tearjerker, I tellsya; a new high watermark for the series in terms of emotional impact.


When it’s over, Shuri’s gran says it sounded different. That’s because the sound she heard back in the day was a very humble sound on a shabby shamisen, and yet it gave her the courage to live. She describes Setsu’s sound as a gentle sound that can heal pain, as it healed hers. She declares that she’ll be able to sleep again without becoming lost in colorless, soundless painful memories.

Setsu’s performance was a great success, and Shuri reminds him, Yui, and Kaito that they’re all in her Shamisen Club going forward. Setsu’s mom, being massaged and pampered by an army of servants, gets word from “the unit keeping an eye on Setsu” that he’s joined the club, and she takes the liberty of entering him into the National High School Tsugaru Shamisen Koshien—the Matsugurou Cup! Looks like Mai might just get her wish of going up against Setsu…

GODDAMN TEARJERKER™ CERTIFIED

This is a re-post from last week’s episode. Episode 5 review coming soon.

Higehiro – 01 (First Impressions) – Inadvertent Guardian

Yoshida had the evening with his attractive co-worker Gotou all planned out in his head. They’d have a nice dinner at a fancy restaurant, and if things went well, he’d ask if she wanted to come home with him. He hadn’t banked on the possibility Gotou was already seeing someone for years, and simply never mentioned it at work because she wanted to keep life and work separate—which is perfectly reasonable.

Thus rejected, Yoshida goes and gets drunk with a friend until that friend has to head back home to his wife. Yoshida blabbers about how Gotou “tricked” him, and stole his heart and won’t give it back, but I’ll forgive his attitude as he’s allowed to wallow in defeat, drunk and horny as he is. The bottom line is Yoshida didn’t want to look past sleeping Gotou, and now he’s a little lost at sea.

He most certainly didn’t plan to encounter a runaway teenage girl (voiced by Ichinose Kana) outside his apartment, nor for this girl to offer to let him sleep with her in exchange for a roof over her head for the night. But even when her other options are seemingly ruled out, Yoshida makes it quite clear that he’s not sleeping with a “little kid”, nor is he prepared to leave her to the tender mercies of the night.

So, in his drunk and staggering state, he invites her in, then collapses into his bed to pass out. The girl, no stranger to crashing at men’s houses in exchange for sex (though she is thankfully not shamed for this), sits on the bed and asks matter-of-factly “Hey, are you sure you don’t want to do me?” He’s sure. When asked if there’s anything else he wants, before passing out he mumbles “miso soup.” The next morning, that’s what he gets: miso soup, made by the girl he flat-out forgot he invited in last night!

When he hears how he rejected her offer of sex, he salutes his last-night self, relieved nothing sordid happened. She also mentions how he mumbled about being rejected by someone named Gotou, and whether he wanted her to make him “feel better”. Once again, he declines, saying he’s not so far-gone he needs “a tiny little teenage girl” to do that.

When she points out that her breasts are quite big and asks “aren’t F-cups you can touch better than H-cups you can’t?” he flat-out asks why she’s trying to seduce him…and if she even wants to sleep with him. She says she doesn’t, but then embraces him and says she’s never met a man willing to let her stay for nothing in return, so maybe he’s the “abnormal” one. That’s when Yoshida, God bless him, asks for her ID, a gesture that again makes clear he’s not interested in her in that way.

He learns her name is Ogiwara Sayu, that she ran away from high school in Hokkaido six months ago. When he tells her to go home already, she says she’s sure they’re happy she’s gone, Ichinose Kana’s voice breaking ever-so-slightly. The more Yoshida thinks about Sayu, the worse he feels about it. He takes it out on her to a degree by calling her “stupid”, “dumb as a rock”, and “a spoiled brat”.

But beneath those harsh barbs, he understands that Sayu is not “fine” as she says in the slightest; that what she’s had to do to survive since leaving home is not right or okay. More than she’s an idiot, she’s a victim: both of a home that she felt she had to leave, and to a world apparently full of men who taught her all the wrong lessons and twisted values and standards. He’s also angry that such a kind and sweet young woman couldn’t have a “normal life” and a “normal love”.

Obviously, Yoshida’s positions are showing both his privilege and paternalism. The former was a result of his own upbringing and life experience; the latter was learned through both, just as Sayu learned a certain way of living the last six months. But I can forgive the motives behind his fundamentally principled choice to stop this child from being harmed anymore by offering her a safe, clean place to stay.

I’m not going to pretend that in the real world this isn’t his choice to make. As a matter of law, he should probably go to the police, right? And yet who’s to say Sayu wouldn’t be harmed anyway if he took that route? Considering what she’s been doing to stay away from her home, it’s clear going back there isn’t what’s best for her. Being placed into an overworked and uncaring social services system also wouldn’t be much better.

The fact there are no easy answers or cut-and-dried solutions add a lot of welcome emotional heft to the whole scenario. Yoshida, whom I mentioned is somewhat lost at sea, has encountered a fellow castaway adrift and rudderless, who has the added disadvantage of being far too young to have to endure the waves. So for now, he decides to lash their ramshackle rafts together and chart the course of least harm.

The more time he spends with Sayu, the more disappointed in his fellow man he becomes. When he heads out to the patio to smoke, she calls him “nice”, but our boy Yoshida is not so deluded to think he’s some saint, and makes it clear to her in perhaps his best line of the episode: “Listen up! I’m not nice. They were shit.” He contemplates the environment that put Sayu in such an unfairly precarious situation, and even implicates himself for “letting her stay spoiled” by giving her a place to run to.

But even as he checks headlines about an unrelated case of a man arrested for kidnapping a teenager, and Sayu walks over him, inadvertently giving him a look up her skirt, Yoshida isn’t about to cut the ropes of her raft free. He found her on those waves, which means he feels responsible for her well-being. That doesn’t just mean a roof under her head, but more appropriate clothes, pajamas, and a futon to sleep on.

Sayu isn’t ready to accept all this without worrying about not being able to repay him in some way. Yoshida is again disheartened by the fact a kid has to think that way, but indulges her by insisting that the cooking and cleaning she’s done constitute more than adequate payment, and that arrangement will serve for the time being.

The next morning over breakfast, Yoshida explains to Sayu that it isn’t the act of shaving that makes him feel old, but becoming too lazy to shave every day. Sayu spares no tact in saying he doesn’t look good with stubble, so he decides to shave after all. The exchange indicates this won’t be a one-way street. Perhaps in helping keep this lonely damaged girl safe, Yoshida can find a new course in life post-Gotou rejection.

Higehiro is fraught with potential problems, as all series involving an adult and a child always are. And yet unlike the horrifically skeevy KoikimoHigehiro presents its situation, questions and arguments in good faith, and from a place of human decency and empathy. It’s a compelling, hopeful tale of an imperfect person trying to do the right thing for someone who has already been wronged far too much. Unlike Koikimo, I don’t feel like I need a shower after what I saw, but rather want to see what happens next!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

No Guns Life – 05 – More Faces, More Problems

This week introduces a number of characters who have been previewed in the OP and ED (the latter sporting very different character design). We start with Juuzou’s new landlady Christina, his “barber” who is best at cleaning his gun components and calls him “Zippo-chan”, and the barber’s daughter Scarlet, who seems to have a thing for the big guy but often stumbles on her words.

The more the merrier, I say, particularly where quirky colorful characters are concerned. They add depth and dimension to this cyberpunk world, and this week underscore how tenuous Juuzou’s grip on his freedom and the safety of the civvies he knows is, especially now that he discharged his head to defeat Spider-Ende.

The woman in charge of keeping Over-Extendeds in line, immune or otherwise, is the blue-(and very full)-lipped EMS director Olivier, who storms the barbershop in the blink of an eye with her Extended SWAT team. Juuzou pretends she’s not even there and asks the barber to keep cleaning his parts.

When Tetsuro and Mary come with leftovers for the Barber and Scarlet, they end up in the middle of things, and all of them end up arrested along with Juuzou. But turns out it’s all for show: Olivier and Juuzou have an arrangement where she smooths out any legal problems he causes, and in exchange she does something for him.

In this case that means capturing two of the seven prisoners who escaped from a van during transfer from the remote, supermax Over-Extended prison Wunder Bender to Berühren (a different arrangement between EMS and the megacorp in exchange for tech EMS needs). One of the two makes it easy and shows up to disrupt the EMS convoy, sending the wagon with the civilians (which Juuzou asked to be brought along for their protection) over a bridge. Somehow they all survive…I guess people are just tougher in this world.

Anyway, the escaped prisoner is called Hug Bear, and loves to give his victims bear-hugs with his meat grinder-like Extended muscles. He takes out some of Olivier’s men and is about to turn on Scarlet, Mary and the others when he is immobilized by yet another new character, Section Chief Kronen. That leaves just one prisoner remaining, who happens to be the most dangerous. What a coincidence!

Isekai Shokudou – 03

When tuning in to Isekai Shokudou, I find it’s best to come hungry. I actually altered last Thursday night’s dinner plans, so enticed was I by the depiction (and description) of some nicely fried shrimp. In the first segment, the chef simply throws some stuff together—cream, pancetta, mushrooms, parsley—and serves over pasta. Aletta calls it “Knight’s Pasta.”

This week’s first customers are Thomas Alfade (far from his first time) and his grandson Sirius (his first). Thomas is known in his world as a culinary genius, but the fact is he merely lifted all the recipes for pasta and pasta sauce from Nekoya and its chefs.

Is he a fraud, and his legacy a sham? Sure, but who cares? He did it so he could enjoy Nekoya’s food in his world. At any rate, it looks like spaghetti and homemade meat sauce may be on my menu in the near future…but I never thought to add toasted nuts to my gravy…

The next customer is Princess Adelheid, who like Sirius also first visited with her grandfather, who just happened to be a “Grand Emperor.” It’s a memory she barely remembers, and in the present day she’s all but alone and suffering from a tricky illness that’s hard to shake.

One day the door appears, and Adelheid visits Nekoya for the first time in years, and knows exactly what to order; the same thing she got the last time: “clouds,” i.e. a chocolate parfait. Turns out that’s what it takes to restore her energy and vitality, and upon returning home her maids are shocked to see her outside and feeling much better.

A parting shot of the Nekoya dining room shows us all of the customers whose little stories we’ve heard thus far—including Sirius and Adelheid—along with a couple whose stories we’ve yet to hear…and simple-yet-delectable dishes we’ve yet to hear described in loving detail. I’ll be back in seven days!

Isekai Shokudou – 02

When treasure hunter Sarah finds a door in a cave, she finds the “final treasure of the ultimate treasure hunter”, William Gold: the door to Nekoya. The late Will turns out to have been a regular at the restaurant.

While initially weary that the food in this otherworldly place won’t be up to snuff, one bite into the succulent daily special of fried minced-meat cutlets sends Sarah straight to Flavortown.

I enjoyed details like Sarah’s amazement even with the lemon water, bread, and soup, and the exquisite detail with which she described her wonderful dining experience. Definitely shades of Food Wars, without the wars! It’s also good to see Aletta doing well in her new role as waitress.

As a matter of habit he started with William, the Chef prepares take-out cutlet sandwiches for Sarah to take with her. Thus “Minced-Meat Cutlet II” is born in the eyes of the other regulars; William Gold—likely Sarah’s father or grandfather—was MMC I.

In part two, one of the grizzled regulars, the master swordsman Tatsugorou, visits a knight-captain in his dramatically-perched mountain fortress, bearing a sword the knight thought he lost three years ago on a desperate mission to save the Duchy.

In his haste to complete his mission, the knight, one Heinrich Seelemann, neglected to pack any food. When his horse collapsed, he had to continue on foot, until he simply couldn’t go on. Just then, he spotted a cabin with the now all-too-familiar door to Nekoya.

Like Sarah, Seelemann was initially weary of the sudden new, strange surroundings, but the Chef has a way of winning people to his side with his incomparable down-home cuisine. In Heinrich’s case, it’s the friend shrimp that remind him of his hometown delicacy.

He was so hungry he forgot he had no money, so left his sword with the Chef (who refused it, but Heinrich insisted). When he returned to the cabin later, the door was gone, but he was missing one key piece of the puzzle: the door only appears once every seven days.

Tatsugorou leads him back to the restaurant, where we see Sarah already enjoying Minced-meat cutlet, and Heinrich knows exactly what he wants: the simple-yet-sumptuous meal that ultimately fueled the success of his mission, the saving of the Duchy; after which he was rewarded with the mountain fortress. Pretty spiffy!

After two episodes, we now have a fairly stable pattern of two separate people from another world finding the door to the restaurant and having life-changing meals. Whether the show will choose to alter that pattern or not, I already think I prefer this to Youkai Apartment.

Isekai Shokudou – 01 (First Impressions)

This anime’s title—Restaurant to Another World—is also its premise. An ordinary bottom-floor western-style restaurant closes at midnight on Saturdays to welcome clientele from other worlds who come in through the magical front door.

The food is clearly good, as we glean from a group of burly warriors, some of them demi-humans, all of whom believe the dish they’re eating is the one that goes best with rice.

But when things get too rowdy and the chef asks for calm, they obey. They’ve all got a good thing going with this place; the last thing they want is for the chef to stop cooking for them.

One night, Nekoya appears to be closed but for a single important client: a red dragon who transforms into a voluptuous woman before arriving for her usual: a simple yet sumptuous beef stew.

After a bowl in human form, she returns to her gold-filled nest in her world with some take-out: a tall pot full of stew she gingerly laps up; simply unable to wait until next week to experience the sublime taste.

The third vignette, if you will, involves Aletta, a demon with prominent goat’s horns recently fired from her job working at an inn in her world, who stumbled upon the door and, believing herself to be dreaming, ate an entire pot of corn potage and fell asleep on the kitchen floor.

The chef is a decent sort of chap, so after hearing her story and ensuring Aletta’s belly is full with a delicious staff breakfast, he offers her a job as a waitress and busser at Nekoya.

Aletta gratefully accepts before discovering the wonders of a modern shower, cleaning up, and helping him. Later, the red dragon takes notice and appears to cast a protective spell on Aletta when she returns to her world, as the dragon is very protective of her “treasure.”

Cons include mediocre production values, including a few instances of distorted perspective, character designs are merely serviceable, and the story’s a little all over the place.

Pros include a neat general concept, a pleasant, genial atmosphere, and decent-looking food, while magic door provides the opportunity for many more colorful customers from far-flung lands. Execution is a bit meh though, so it’s a solid “maybe.”

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