Tokyo 24th Ward – 05 – Dark Mode


Last week we learn that among the two paths Kunai believes lie before him—art or crime—Kunai has chosen the latter. This week we learn why, starting over a decade ago when he and Ran were just kids. Ran, inspired by fellow Shantytown native Zeroth, quickly asserted his artistic talent. Kunai knew he couldn’t keep up in the realm of graffiti, so he became a hacker.

But he soon learned, to his unending despair, that despite both his best friend Ran and his eventual business partner Tarki calling his hacking ability “art”, his work could be corrupted into something awful. To whit: Drug D isn’t a physical drug at all, but the result of his theraputic music app being modified so that its users go nuts, resulting in the huge rise in Shantytown crime.

Kunai may have been shortsighted when he sold the IP of his app to the suspicious-looking businessman, but Tarki offered him everything he wanted: financial freedom and comfort for his grandmother suffering from dementia. He always admired Ran’s art’s ability to change the world, but Kunai knew that change wouldn’t come quickly enough to save Shantytown from Tarki and the developers. So he made a bomb.

Ran eventually tracks down Kunai’s hiding spot on a train car Zeroth tagged on the outside, preserved like a museum piece. It happens to be the same car where Kunai first launched a “bomb”, hacking all the video advertisement screens with DoRed tags. Ran wants to stop Kunai, but it’s too late; all of his words sound like lip service to Kunai. Ran would have been too late to stop Kunai from detonating the bomb that destoryed the cruise ship…but Kouki found the train car too, and a SARG sniper takes Kunai out before he can hit the “detonate” button.

Shuuta, who didn’t really play much of an active role in the operation (beyond almost getting shot up by Tarki and Win’s goons), learns that the terrorist was killed and the people aboard the ship saved. Yet he still feels uneasy, and he should: most of the people on that ship are bad people.

Absent any contact from Ran or Kouki, he instead hangs out with Kozue, who has posted her photos of Ran’s tags and written about her father as a means of processing her grief in a healthy way. As for the rift that the death of Kunai is sure to cause for the R and G of RGB, it will likely be up to Shuuta to bridge his old friends’ differences.

As for Shuutas father, he seems ready to put the KANAE System into “full operation”, thus creating some kind of “revolution” in the 24th Ward. Will Kouki go along with this, or will RGB be the check against his pops’ unbridled corporate and political power? And what of Carneades, who makes no appearance this week?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Tokyo 24th Ward – 02 – Fifth Wheel

Shuuta, Ran, Kouki, Mari, and Asumi have been friends since they were little, but in a flashback to those halcyon days, we see that even then Mari was in a state of turmoil rising out of the fact that…well, she wasn’t Asumi. Asumi was the glue that kept them all together; indeed, she was the one who declared RGB was a thing. And now she’s gone.

After years of being a kind of fifth wheel, Mari suddenly found herself one of four, and the estrangement of RGB resulted. That said, she’s still close to all three, especially Shuu, who is her neighbor. Their rooms are even across from one another, so she can leap between their houses to hang out—an arrangement I’ve always longed for. But Shuu is still convinced Asumi could still be alive, shuttering a window Mari can’t leap through.

As Mari meets with each of the members of RGB currently having a post-memorial fight, we also get flashbacks centered on each member. Asumi, who established RGB, deploys them where she believes their skills are most needed—even if it’s conscripting Shuu for goalkeeper duty on the sports field. As a grade schooler Mari joked that she “just can’t win” against Asumi…and that’s seemingly borne out in both past and present.

When Mari checks in on Ran and DoRed, he shows her a mural honoring Asumi while also depicting her as a badass avenging angel, a glimpse of a possible Asumi that never was since her life was snatched away so early. This mural reminds Mari of the time Asumi had Ran paint a mural in the bathhouse. Asumi was always taking the initiative and inspiring action; Mari was always in the background smiling.

Last but not least is Asumi’s actual big brother Kouki. She’s ostensibly there to gather info on a restaurant at the big modern mall administered by Suidou’s family’s Zaibatsu, which is not only her home shopping district’s main rival for the upcoming Gourmet Festival, but also a threat to her district’s very survival. But she’s also kinda sorta there to mediate RGB’s latest  tiff.

Her meeting with Kouki coincides with a Kouki-centric flashback, in which he is utterly failing to hand out flyers for a previous GourFes. Asumi, assigned to another section and having already passed out all of her flyers, urges her brother to wear a smile and appear more friendly if he wants to pass his flyers out. Before long, all the major players in the district are out to help market the Festival. Asumi, bursting with energy and charisma, simply drew everyone towards her, like a magnet-girl.

Back in the present, while walking the dog that got her in so much trouble last week, Mari ends up overhearing a conversation between her old teacher Mr. Shirakaba and SARG officer Chikushi. She learns that Mon Jungle, her family’s restaurant Itadaki’s rival at the new mall, is run by a shady quasi-gang called Yabusame. She emerges from her hiding spot after Chikushi leaves, and Shirakaba assures her the GourFes won’t be rigged.

This leads to a flashback involving Shirakaba, whose students (RGB, Asumi, and Mari) want to keep the old elementary school they attended from being demolished. Mari may not be the nucleus of their group, but it’s clear Itadaki is the group’s base of operations.

It’s there where Mari’s creative okonomiyaki depiction of a blank chalkboard gives Asumi the idea to cover the school in graffiti and spread the word of its historical, cultural, and sentimental importance to the 24th Ward. Of course, as soon as the school and the graffiti idea came up, I thought of the cold open to the first episode and I was suddenly filled with dread.

That’s because Asumi’s idea, unwittingly sparked by Mari, ended up being the death of her. As an old building in disrepair, the school was vulnerable to fire. When that fire finally happened, Mari had Asumi by the arm, outside. All she has to do is not let go and insist they wait for the firefighters. But Asumi insists on being a hero, lets go of Mari, runs into the school to try to save others…and ends up perishing in Shuu’s arms.

The flashbacks make it feel like so long ago, and yet it was so not long ago Mari still has a video on her phone of the aftermath of the fire, admonishing her future self to never forget what happened that night. Even since then, Mari has kept striving to keep up with Asumi, trying to fulfill that role as glue and nucleus, and has found herself sorely lacking. She looks up at the night sky and tells Asumi she can’t handle RGB…not on her own.

However, Mari’s three meetings with the three members of RGB inadvertently bear fruit: they’ve all gathered at Itadaki…for her sake; to make GourFes a success. They snipe at each other a bit, but they still gathered at that same table they always gathered, even though Asumi isn’t there anymore. As different as they all are, and as deep as their wounds are, they still love Mari, and want to support her.

The strategy meeting itself isn’t all that productive as Mari manages to get the boys so stuff on okonomiyaki they get food comas, but it doesn’t matter. Mari managed to get RGB back together, through their stomachs. It’s then when Asumi appears before Mari as she’s washing dishes, offering her blessing going forward while also affirming how important Mari and Itadaki are to the circle of friends.

After one week, I was a little miffed that this show seemingly focused on three dudes. But this week Sakuragi Mari was the undisputed protagonist. Forget tough; Mari felt like Asumi was an impossible act to follow, but she ended up surprising herself, as much as this episode surprised me with its ability to plumb the depths of envy, love, longing, yearning, loss, grief, regret…and redemption. It didn’t feature a single moment of madcap superpower action. It didn’t need to.

Tokyo 24th Ward – 01 (First Impressions) – The Third Way

Aoi Shuuta, Suidou Kouki, and Akagi Ran were once-inseperable childhood friends, with Shuuta in particular training to one day become a “hero”. Then one horrible night the school burned down, and Kouki’s sister Asumi died saving the life of a classmate. When he most needed to be a hero, Shuuta was too late to save her.

Fast-forward a year, and RGB have graduated and gone their separate ways, only to reunite for the memorial held at the one-year anniversary of the fire. We learn Ran leads a guerilla multimedia group, standing in cheeky defiance of the cold order represented by Kouki’s wealthy businessman and politician father, the 24th Ward’s mayor. Shuuta…helps out at his folks’ bakery, but is otherwise listless.

When the three end up convening by chance at their mutual friend Mari’s for okonomiyaki, the three lads’ phones suddenly ring at the same time. It’s no ordinary call, traveling up into their ear canals and “hacking” their brains with the voice and image of the dearly departed Asumi, who tells them to “guide the future”, showing them two scenarios: allowing a runaway train to kill someone caught on the tracks, or switch the track and derail the train, killing 150 people. Classic Trolley Problem.

In an added instance of the universe being particularly cruel, the person who ends up caught on the tracks is Mari, who was taking her puppy to the vet when she got caught up in the crowds surrounding the ceremony celebrating the new fully-automated train. The pup got free and ran straight onto the tracks, and Mari loses her phone while pursuing it.

Suddenly realizing they feel lighter and tasks come easier to them, the team of RGB pools their skills and resources to avoid either of the futures not-Asumi presented, and instead create a third in which no one is hurt. Suidou, the politician’s son and intern for the 24th’s emergency service SARG, relies on his dad’s trusty underling Tsuzuragawa to track him down and give him a motorcycle so he can rush to his father and make sure he decides not to risk derailing the train.

Ran, the hacker of the trio, chugs a dozen energy drinks and manages to activate the train’s emergency brakes, which are designed to stop in 600 meters no matter what—an instance of the artist actually saluting government efficiency and rules. He’s helped by Kinako, a chipper member of his guerilla art/media team.

Finally, there’s Shuuta, who is simply extremely fast and strong; the muscle of the group. Whatever not-Asumi’s call did to them, it enhanced his already considerable athletic ability, enabling him to basically Spider-Mans/Neos his way to the train long before anyone else can. Kouki and Ran know this of their friend, and after they do everything they can, they leave the rest to him.

Shuuta is very nearly derailed form his mission himself when he’s suddenly dropped back in the middle of that hellish night when he was too late to save Asumi. But he shakes it off, accelerates ahead of the train, then kicks off and launches himself at Mari, plucking both her and her dog out of harms way. Before Mari even knows what the heck is going on, Shuuta runs off, asking her not to tell anyone he was there.

After this first heroic mission dropped in their hands by the mysterious not-Asumi, the three visit the real Asumi’s grave to pay their respects, only to end up in an argument that highlights how far apart they’ve become in the ensuing year. Shuuta wants to believe Asumi is still alive, but just saying that makes Asumi’s brother Kouki want to punch him. Ran, the artist who nevertheless isn’t about to believe in magic, agrees with Kouki; Asumi is gone. But then…what the heck was that call?

We return to the opening moments of the double-length episode, where something is going on involving the somehow-preserved brain or soul of Asumi … or something. The framing device with the strange, fantastical machinery appeals to me less than the prospect of watching three scarred old friends who couldn’t be more different come together to make their beloved 24th Ward a better place…and possibly solve the Asumi mystery. This was a strong start to an intriguing new winter series.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro – 02 – Vampire’s Kissu

This second outing’s segments add more nuance, context, and even turnabout to what was largely a one-sided, antagonistic first episode. For one thing, Nagatoro doesn’t make her senpai cry once! Still, in the stinger, she upsets his zen-like art room calm by hula-hooping in, a veritable Tazmanian Devil of energy.

Nagatoro playfully invites him to find the right moment to jump into the hoop with her, but when he actually tries to do so, ends up accidentally catching a glimpse of her underwear. It showed that she’s not always certain or prepared for how her senpai will respond to her teasing…which is clearly part of the fun for her.

When Naoto buys the newest issue of Big Boob Vampires, Nagatoro catches him making a lewd face. I’m not sure what Naoto was thinking even bringing such a book to school, let alone whipping it out in a room Nagatoro frequents, but after a physical stalemate she embarrasses him with dirty talk and snatches it away.

But here’s the twist: while BBV definitely has some pervy bits, it turns out she genuinely loves vampire stuff, and agrees with him that it’s pretty well written! This builds on her harsh but constructive criticism of senpai’s own manga, but also confirms the two have a shared interest.

When the electricity of the school goes out all too conveniently, a tomato juice-sipping Nagatoro starts to ponder what it would be like to be a vampire, showing Naoto her larger-than-average canines and insisting he let her bite his neck. When she mounts him, he says others might get the wrong idea about “things and stuff”, but it’s his post-yakisoba garlic breath that gets her off him.

Within seconds, she pounces on him again, but awkwardly, and her hand lands right on his crotch. For once, Nagatoro is precisely as flustered as Naoto, as she definitely didn’t mean to put her hand there. But she makes lemonade with crotch-grabbing lemons by congratulating Senpai: he got “accidentally lucky”, just like the MC of BBV!

On their walk home (during another lovely sunset) Nagatoro slowly lurks and stews behind Naoto, asks if it was the first time he was “touched”…as it was most likely the first time she touched. She gets in position to grab him again, only to go for his ribs before bidding him goodbye.

As he tries to read the vampire manga at home, his real-life interactions with Nagatoro that day intrude upon his thoughts. She may not have actually bitten his neck or drank his blood, but she’s gotten under his skin for sure…as if he were in thrall to a vampire.

The next day, Nagatoro interrupts his drawing session to play a game to determine if they can guess the precise location of one another’s nipples. There’s a funny cutaway to her in traditional archer’s garb hitting two bullseyes, followed by swirling her fingers around his nipples.

She doesn’t expect Naoto to even try to do the same to her, but he does agree to try, and the closer he gets to her, the more nervous she gets, until she gets a text alert and runs out of there. Naoto can’t see her face as she leaves, but she’s clearly flustered again; her tomfoolery getting her in over her head once more.

The final segment represents the first time since Nagatoro and her three friends were introduced that Naoto was observing her without her being aware, meaning he gets to see a different side of her. This time, she arrives at the same family restaurant he’s working on his manga, joined by one of her girlfriends and two guys. It’s clear her friend is trying to set her up with one or both of them.

Naoto stays hidden, and watches with relish, expecting Nagatoro to tear both guys a new one. But to his shock, she doesn’t tease either of them; rather, she firmly puts each of them in their place: the first guy for being a pretentious musician, and the second guy for bringing up groping a girl’s boobs when they’ve just met.

Nagatoro’s friend is disappointed she scared them off, but as Nagatoro says, “it’s just that those guys are boring.” Meaning she saw no point in messing with them. You could say that just as Naoto is in her thrall, when it comes to having fun with a boy, no one but her thrall will do.

As he walks home, bathed in gorgeous purple and pink light, Nagatoro ponders what looks to be a very distinct possibility Nagatoro toys with no one but him. Right on cue, Nagatoro appears and slaps him on the back, asking what’s up. Thankfully, she never noticed he was at the family restaurant. I wouldn’t have particularly liked that, since there would’ve been no way to tell if she’d adjusted her behavior knowing he was watching.

Instead, Naoto got the real unvarnished Nagatoro. She begins by teasing him for his unique and “creepy” silhouette, then goes on calling him “squiggly”. It seems like he’s about to ask her why she only toys with him, but decides not to, and she just calls him gross over and over as he denies it and tells her to stop.

I thought this was an improvement on the first episode, as some of Nagatoro’s pranks backfire, while she inadvertently demonstrated that the only guy she seems to pay any attention to is him. It may rarely be the kind of attention he wants, but there’s no doubt that their time together is never dull.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Episode 2 “Senpai” Count: 43
Total: 94

Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro – 01 (First Impressions) – Not Just for the Fun of It

This is going to be one of those shows most viewers will either hate with a steaming passion from the moment the titular Nagatoro first speaks, or follow with a kind of morbid curiosity about just how much teasing, taunting, and straight-up abuse our MC Hachiouji Naoto is ready, willing, and able to endure before he snaps and…asks her out!

Nagatoro’s way with Naoto can be very stressful at times, even for someone who wasn’t bullied as a youth. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is just not a pleasant time for some people, and would totally understand if they want to wash their hands of this show after its first outing made clear what it’s going to be about.

All that said, I came away from Nagatoro thoroughly entertained, and I think a lot of that has to do with tuning into its very particular wavelength. It certainly helps that Uesaka Sumire is so good in voicing Nagatoro’s role, and the visuals are gorgeous and sometimes downright stunning. You have to buy into the idea that for as horrible as she is for much of this episode, this is all really Nagatoro’s way of engaging—and flirting—with Naoto.

Nagatoro is first introduced as one of four faceless gyaru-esque types loudly carrying on in the library, where none of the shyer people around them have the guts to tell them to shut up or leave. Naoto is intimidated by their mere presence on the opposite end of the room, thinking he’s never going to have anything to do with “that species”.

When one of the girls picks up a manga drawing he dropped, Nagatoro seems more interested than the others, and stays behind while they go hang out elsewhere. This is key, as no one else is around during all of the teasing that ensues when she has a flustered Naoto reenact the scene from his manga with her. That’s not an accident; I think she likes it that way.

Nagatoro may be ridiculously irritating and invasive and almost utterly contemptuous of personal boundaries, but she is this way to Naoto and no one else, and with no one else around. It’s the same in the art club, when she makes sure they’re alone before teasing him by offering to be a nude model.

I daresay Nagatoro gets off on dominating the year-older Naoto. Her face does a lot of things throughout the episode, but one thing that stands out is that she’s often blushing just as much if not more than he is while she’s engaged in her teasing. When he’s knocked backwards when she unbuttons her top, she blushes. When she relents and agrees to draw her normally (with her clothes on) she blushes.

She’s loving every minute of this, and seems to be fueled by Naoto’s passivity and submissiveness. Her criticism of his manga and his portrait of her is actually pretty constructive when you think about it, as her goal seems to be to get him to either draw a manga with a character more like him or to become more like his character. She also wants him to draw her better, which means she wants him to draw her again. She was, after all, the first girl he ever looked at so closely.

When Nagatoro makes Naoto cry in the library and she offers him a handkerchief, it almost feels like rubbing salt in the wound. But then when she makes him cry again—after she physically overpowers him and says he’s “so weak”—her demeanor softens considerably and she apologizes while gently drying his eyes, admitting she “had to” mess with him again.

More like she couldn’t resist, because she gets so much pleasure out of riling him up…and also out of drying his eyes. It’s like she’s breaking him down so she can build him back up. In any case, it’s a very cute and tender moment when she realizes she might’ve gone too far there.

That said, Nagatoro continues to pester Naoto as he leaves school, and they apparently share a route home. It’s here whre Nagatoro may actually be hiding a genuine request to go out with her behind a layer of teasing. Sure, even if Naoto straightened up and said “yes”, she’d laugh it off as a joke, but the simple fact that Nagatoro won’t leave him and only him alone means there’s something there.

When she accidentally pushes him into the river (due to some creative physics on the part of the episode) and he comes out soaking but still not letting her have it, she remarks how he never seems to get angry. The thing is, Naoto is used to bullying and used to dealing with it by looking away and closing his mind. Because of that, he doesn’t remember the faces of his previous bullies.

When prompted, he tells Nagatoro that she ticks him off and gets on his nerves, but “he doesn’t hate it that much…talking with [her] and stuff”. Having called her simply “miss” throughout their interactions, Nagatoro finally gets him to ask her for her name, and for good measure, she writes it on his chest with her finger, never passing up a chance to get a rise out of him.

The episode ends with her trademark devilish smirk, but also flushed cheeks as she says “Let’s get to know each other, Senpai.” I’m willing to give Nagatoro the benefit of the doubt because Naoto is, and has dealt with worse treatment before, and to him Nagatoro simply feels different. Perhaps it feels less like a bully and victim, and more like a dom/sub or top/bottom relationship? And it also feels safer because so far all of the humiliation she’s brought upon him has been private?

I doubt at this point that Naoto perceives that Nagatoro harbors genuine attraction to him precisely because he lets her drive him to tears, but as he said, he doesn’t entirely hate it that much. Will the D/s dynamic continue, or will Naoto start to try to assert himself more as he grows more comfortable around her? I’m eager to see where this goes. Your mileage may well vary considerably.

Episode 1 “Senpai” Count: 51

Arte – 03 – Different Kind of Animal

It’s Carnival in Florence, and Leo has Arte dress like a boy so they can sit in on a hospital dissection. On the way, Arte meets one of Leo’s patrons—a courtesan—and sees him smiling in a way she’s never seen before. While normally forbidden by the church, Carnival time is an exception. Some guys go pale or faint from the sight of a cadaver being carved up, but Arte is just fine…she truly has the guts to draw guts!

What the church apparently will not abide is to have a woman at a dissection, so when Arte loses her hat and lets out a very feminine yelp, Leo has to get them both out of there lest they get into some serious legal trouble. It ain’t fair, but that was the time. In the process of running and hiding from their pursuers, Leo draws Arte so close that she notices for the first time how a man’s bone structure and skin differ greatly from a woman’s. She also feels an unpleasant pain in her chest that she’s never felt before. Hmmmmm…I wonder what that could be?????

Arte dismisses such sensations as temporary illness and moves on. She also moves up, as Leo is willing to accelerate her progression through the artisan ranks by assigning her the task of a journeyman: creating a background for a real commissioned painting. Arte sets out and braves the cold, comes back with a fine sketch of a cityscape, and it’s rejected.

She goes back out and does it again, and again…and many more times before Leo has her look at the painting and discern what it is the client truly wants. The woman subject should be the focus, which means the background should have less detail.

That Leo doesn’t spell it out for her, but lets things dawn on her naturally, speaks to his growing respect not just for her work ethic, but artistic instincts. It’s why he’s drawn up a new contract that gives her both a promotion and a raise, and why he rejects her feeling that in obsessing with art she neglected her womanlike charms. Like her father, Leo is one who prefers an independent woman with a strong will and drive to the period’s ideal of a woman: quiet, complacent, and above all idle.

That’s why I’m not the most enthusiastic about Arte suddenly developing a crush on Leo. In her defense, she’s been so absorbed in art in her life she’d never felt romantic feelings for anyone before. The only other person who didn’t look at her like something was wrong with her was her dad. It makes sense that the first man not related to her not to treat her like “just a woman” would make her heart beat a little faster.

Arte – 02 – Put Your Back Into It!

This week Leo gives Arte a sack of money to go out and purchase the materials needed to fix her rooftop shed. Seems simple enough, except that Arte has never had to do any of this before. Every man she interacts with treats her coldly as she goes about business they wouldn’t give a second thought to if she were male.

This kind of misogyny is nothing new to Arte: most men around her assume she’s less than (or biologically unsuited) to do the work they do, and hence they treat her with aversion. The other side of the coin is someone like Angelo Parker. Unlike most of the other men, he treats women with kindness and is eager to help them. That’s nice and all, but it comes out of a sense that women are weak and unsuited to most tasks, and require his help.

It’s paternalism, which he learned from his father (obviously). Angelo has many sisters and as soon as he arrive home they line up to be pampered by him, and he’s all to willing to do so. Now I’m not saying Angelo is a bad guy or a bad brother and son—he’s neither. But he has the wrong mindset for anyone who might want to get involved in Arte.

Compare how Angelo treats Arte throughout this episode to Leo. Thus far, Leo hasn’t made an issue of Arte’s gender, only her worthiness as a person to be his apprentice and an artisan. Arte may be clumsy at times, but at no point has she slacked off given Leo any reason to doubt her commitment. He works her hard, but it’s because he’s setting challenges so she can prove to herself what she’s capable of.

A concept like this is foreign to Angelo, not because he hates women, but because he sees them as too different to be capable of what men are capable of. It explains his quizzical looks when Arte reacts negatively to his gestures of goodwill. Case in point: his master refuses to let Arte sketch a sculpture in his studio, Angelo offers to sneak her in.

But that defeats the whole purpose of striking out as her own independent person. Sure, you’ll need helping hands from people now and again. But Arte is determined to change the master’s mind on her own, and sketch his sculpture with his knowledge and approval. Even if that means lifting ten of what look like 60-pound bags of clay all by herself. Sure enough, watching “a girl do it” in practice convinces the master, as well as endears her to him.

Arte likes Angelo, but doesn’t need him to save her or spoil her. Instead of confused or quizzical, his parting look after Arte explains this is one of revelation. He realizes he doesn’t have to do everything for his sisters, and more importantly they shouldn’t want him to. When he comes home, he asks them to try doing things for themselves, something that might not have ever occured to them. I look forward to Angelo’s feminist conversion!

This week’s Arte can come off a bit preachy at times, but at the end of the day the messages it’s conveying shouldn’t be construed as special or strange, any more than Arte should be considered weird for being an apprentice. Of course, in 16th century Florence seeing a well-dressed young woman hiking up her skirt and pulling a cart full of lumber is an incredible sight because it’s such a rare one.

For Arte and pioneering women like her, there’s no blueprint for how to do this. In addition to working her ass off, Arte also has to endure the reactions of a society that has yet to embrace the idea that men and women are equal. The fact that the battle for equality is still being waged half a millennium later speaks to the sheer weight of Arte’s burden. But like the cart and the bags of clay, she’s putting her back into that ongoing fight.

Arte – 01 (First Impressions) – Her Own Power

Arte, an artistic girl approaching marriageable age in sixteenth century Florence, loves nothing more than capturing the world around around her on paper. The “caged bird” metaphor is immediately put into play: with her father deceased and her noble family barely clinging to solvency, she’ll have to work hard to make a man like her enough to accept a modest dowry. Just one issue: Arte doesn’t want to marry and be caged for life. She wants to be an artisan.

As is the case of oppressed groups throughout history, Arte has to work twice as hard to be noticed half as much, if at all. The sheer difficulty of her task becomes clear when all eighteen of the workshops angrily dismiss her without so much as glancing at her drawings. She’s so frustrated she cuts her hair and threatens to cut off her breasts, but she’s stopped by Leo, who ends up being the first and only man to take a look at her art.

Leo miraculously agrees to let Arte be his apprentice (he currently has none), but sets her on a seemingly impossible task: cleaning, sanding, and priming a huge stack of wooden boards by tomorrow morning, something even he and his fellow masters would be hard pressed to pull off. Yet Arte doesn’t see it as an intentionally undoable feat, and spends all night doing the undoable, ruined noble hands be damned.

Leo, returning home from a bender, is shocked she actually finished the boards, and admits he never intended to give her a real chance. But rather than overt sexism, it’s classism that drives his dubiousness and resentment towards Arte. He became an artisan to avoid a live of begging on the streets, while this rich girl initially tells him she wants to become one because she “loves drawing.”

Then Arte comes clean and tells him that was just putting on airs. In truth, she wants to live through her own power—not just some rich dude’s—Leo realizes he read the girl wrong. After all, even a former beggar like him had a better chance of becoming an apprentice than even the richest girl in Florence. He decides to give her a chance.

With that, Arte moves out of her family’s estate, against her mother’s explicit wishes (we’ll see if there are consequences for that) and into a decided fixer-upper of a shed atop Leo’s workshop. She initially finds the level of repairs and cleanup needed daunting and draws herself to sleep as the walls barely keep out the cold night rain. But in the morning the rising sun peeks through the cracks in those walls and she opens the shutters to reveal a glorious view of the Duomo that would make any master jealous.

Arte is as straightforward and earnest as its heroine. Her situation isn’t sugar-coated; most artisans in Florence are insulted by the mere idea of a woman in their line of work. But nor is it punishingly bleak. It simply took one person giving her a chance…her relentlessly working her ass off, but she’s on her way.

Arte’s dogged determination and optimism is both compelling and inspiring. Komatsu Mikako is well-cast for the role. That her character is loosely based on the real-life female artisan Artemisia Gentileschi lends the show a measure of historical legitimacy. I’m looking forward to watching her tough but rewarding journey towards self-actualization and independence.

Senryuu Shoujo – 04 – A Very Sketchy New Friend

Eiji gets the feeling he and Nanako are being followed. When Amane suggests it could be a cute girl stalking him, Nanako springs into action to “protect” him. Turns out Amane is half-right: it is a cute girl, but she’s not stalking Eiji. She’s been trying to return his student handbook, but could never find the right time to approach him.

Making matters trickier? Kino, like Nanako, is too shy to talk, but instead of senryu, she draws what she wants to say, like a live manga. The ensuing totally silent conversation between Kino and Nanako is a delight to behold, and Kino turns out to be quite the chatterbox (speaking abstractly). Her inner voice is provided by the immensely talented Kuno Misaki, making this a mini-reunion of Kawamoto sisters.

Because Kino makes it look so fun (not to mention easy due to her skills) the whole club has a drawing session, and we learn the sketching styles of Amane (everything is naked), Eiji (everyone looks sinister) and Nanako (everyone looks adorable).

When Eiji stares at Nanako to draw her she becomes bashful, but when she tells him she hardly has to look up from her sketchbook because she knows his face so well from seeing it every day, he gets bashful, much to Amane’s amusement!

Happy Sugar Life – 08 – How We Got Here, Where We’re Going

Now the picture of Matsuzaka Satou is that much more complete. Room 1208, the cage in which she now keeps Shio, was once the apartment where a loner artist resided. He didn’t want anything from Satou except for her to pose, and let her talk about whatever she wanted.

In the minimalist first half, it’s just Hanazawa Kana as Satou talking. The artist responds, but we only hear static, and never get a good look at him. It doesn’t really matter who he is, but what he wanted. He wanted Satou to remain incomplete and unsatisfied, so he could keep drawing her.

That changed when, one day, for reasons unexplained, Satou brought Shio to 1208. Before long, she started to feel something around her she felt for no one else; she became complete; satisfied. In other words, everything the artist didn’t want.

So he tried to get rid of Shio in the most reckless fumbling way: trying to choke her to death when Satou was out of the room. Of course, she enters, and the atelier becomes a violent murder scene.

Since Shio was a witness to it—albeit likely dazed/disoriented by the choking—it sure looks like the creepy figure she’s drawn in the closet is Satou herself. Shio carries the trauma every day, and it occasionally surfaces. That’s a problem!

Taiyo comes to a kind of revelation: he needs to give up on Shio and try to become a normal guy again. He’s content to keep the wanted poster in his pocket as he puts the pieces of his past life back together, not letting the trauma of the abuse he endured further mire him.

Unfortunately, his resolve to reform is brittle, and Satou finds him at the perfect time to shatter it, offering Shio’s still-warm sock to prove she’s serious about letting the “knight” meet the “angel” and let her “purify” him. All he has to do is get rid of the person trying to take Shio away from her.

I first thought Satou wanted Taiyo to get rid of the teacher, but I rethought that conclusion when Asahi gets a call from someone offering him a clue as to Shio’s whereabouts. I immediately thought that this was the first step in the plan Taiyo is carrying out for Satou.

Complicating matters is that Asahi is the one who finds Shouko at her lowest point, cursing herself for rejecting Satou when Satou needed her most and wanting to “disappear.” Asahi assures her she’s a kind and good person—the type of person prone to always laming themselves.

Asahi comforts Shouko and cheers her up, and they now seem to be friends, since she’s still by his side when he gets that phone call. If Asahi is Satou’s target via Taiyo, I doubt Shouko will escape uninvolved.

Happy Sugar Life – 07 – What are Friends? What is Love?

Satou’s teacher sees her with Shouko and doesn’t like the fact that she seems to be sharing “dirty little secret.” Of course, Sensei is operating under the assumption that Satou’s parents died early and she was brought up by her aunt in an environment devoid of the love humans need to grow up to become “normal.”

He believes Satou snapped one day, murdered her aunt, chopped her into pieces, and gave the bags to him to incinerate. It’s as good a theory as any judging from the evidence he has…but he doesn’t quite have enough for the whole picture, and as a result, he’s dead wrong.

Satou doesn’t take Shouko to the apartment where she lives with Shio; she takes her to her aunt’s apartment. Her aunt turns out to be very much alive, and the cops are at her door answering reports of a “suspicious smell” emanating from the apartment.

Satou’s aunt may be alive, but to the horror of both Shouko and the cops, she’s completely whacked out of her gourd. Seiyu Inoue Kikuko, a grizzled veteran of anime who’s played dozens of mothers, balances the sweet kindness of her voice with an underlying malaise.

Everyone who enters her apartment, and sees horrid room in which she sleeps, immediately wants to leave and take a shower. But before the cops can leave, having found nothing law-breaking, she literally jumps on the male cop, senses he’s lonely, and tells him he can do whatever he wants to her and she’ll accept it—sex, violence, violent sex…anything.

This, Satou later tells Shouko, is how her aunt considered “love”, being a receptacle for whatever other people wanted to give her, good, bad, and ugly…all of it. And she’s never changed, and likely never will, as the cops (and you could say society at large) are neither properly equipped or empowered to “do anything” about her.

The female cop manages to wrest her partner away (and turns down the aunt’s invitation to her), and then turns to Shouko, who she also senses is “lonely” and is looking for her “prince.” Satou comes between them and ushers Shouko out of the apartment. Halfway to walking her home, Shouko expresses herself honestly; that she thought Satou’s aunt was hella weird.

When Satou asks if, now knowing the woman who raised her and how she sees love, if Shouko will still be friends with her. When Shouko hesitates to answer, Satou tells her they can go back to being “just friends at work.” and leaves. Shouko wanted to know the truth, and she only got a small taste, and it was way too much, but she’s still ashamed.

After shedding her tail, Sensei, with some properly dominating language, Satou leaves her aunt’s apartment’s front door, marked 305, and walks up to her apartment with Shio, number 1208, where she continues her Happy Sugar Life, untroubled by what went down with Shouko.

But then we flash back to the rainy day she didn’t want to go home to her aunt anymore. Someone chatted her up, invited her to their apartment (1208), and asked her to model for them (they were apparently an artist). Now we know who she murdered: that artist and 1208’s previous occupant.

Inuyashiki – 08

Hiro never bothered to cover his tracks that well, and so it was only a matter of time before a SWAT team showed up. In their attempt to capture him, Shion and her grandmother are killed, and the ostensible sociopath, who has chosen them as tethers to his humanity, is clearly very upset and guilty about that.

The police empty clip after clip into him but of course cannot penetrate Hiro’s skin, and he’s able to escape with Shion and her grandma and, I assume, heal them. Still, he leaves them behind, with words of apology, and will likely never let them get in harm’s way again—which means never coming near them again.

It’s a busy episode of Inuyashiki that checks in on just about everyone, even a random cop duo who hope to catch Hiro soon. But its focus is on Ichirou’s daughter Mari, who gets some welcome development beyond the thin outline we’d gleaned thus far of a girl ashamed to have such a poor, pathetic old-looking man for a father.

Turns out that was not nearly the whole picture. Mari’s grades aren’t great, and isn’t that interested in going to college. Instead, she wants to strike out as a mangaka, utilizing a craft she’s honed in secret since elementary school. She’s motivated by her neighbor and classmate, the rich and entitled son of the famous mangaka Oda, and she resents that he’s trying to follow in his footsteps simply because it seems like the natural thing to do.

Meanwhile, Ichirou continues to explore and refine his abilities with the help of Andou, another classmate of Mari’s, and it isn’t long before she spots the two walking and talking together. She stalks them, and dismisses the wild (and hilarious) theories that initially enter her mind (Andou is asking for permission to pursue Andou; her dad is into younger boys; Andou is his bastard son).

She keeps following them, watches them go into hospital rooms, then Googles the “miracle worker” who has saved over 120 lives. Then she sees her father launch himself into the sky like a rocket, and nothing will ever be the same.

By that, I mean Mari immediately starts to think of her father in a different way. Not much time is spent on her processing what she’s seen—it would understandably take some time—but when her mother confronts her on her low grades and insist she abandon the manga hobby and go to college, expense be damned—Ichirou walks in and immediately takes her side. 

Granted, Ichirou probably has no idea Mari knows anything about his abilities, so there’s no leverage at play here. Indeed, a pre-transformation Ichirou may have taken his wife’s side instead, because he struck me as a bit of a pushover. But not now. Now he’s willing to let his daughter embrace her dream, because he wants her to be happy.

As for Shion and her Grandma? They’re alive and well, in a new apartment, receiving payments from “him.” He healed them, but apparently could not wipe their memories. My money is on Shion trying to reach out to Hiro again, perhaps to her peril…again.

But being apart from Shion, her grandmother, and their quiet, simple life, not to mention the reason he had to leave it, has an immediate and strong negative impact on Hiro, who slips back into his old homicidal ways. The ones he cares about may still be alive, but it doesn’t change the fact that the police killed them, obviously lacking the knowledge he could repair them.

Had the police left him alone (whether that was the right thing to do or not), he may have continued on his peaceful course. But now he wants revenge, and to lash out at those who dared hurt Shion and her grandma. So he heads to the station and starts systematically slaughtering every policeman he sees—including the two cops we saw earlier.

When he’s done inside the headquarters, he goes outside to find a huge force waiting for him. A sniper knocks him down, and SWAT teams riddle him with bullets anew, but they can only slow him down; they can’t stop him, or really even hurt him. Even when “unconscious”, his defensive systems deploy and eliminate all threats with grim efficiency.

All of this unfolds before the video cameras of the media, which it seems Hiro doesn’t kill. Indeed, he leaves one defiant policeman alive so he can witness him killing all the other police around him, to prove to him he will always win in the end.

But because those cameras are capturing him, Ichirou and Mari are watching on the news, and Ichirou doesn’t see the boy who fought to protect Shion and her grandmother, or saved as many lives as he killed (though he’s now clearly “in the red” again). Ichirou just sees a butcher only he can stop.

Saekano 2 – 07

It’s been two months since Winter Comiket, and Cherry Blessing has done well in both sales and critical reception. But with their first game released, Blessing Software is at a crossroads. Utaha is finishing up her newest novel, while Eriri is still blowing past art deadlines (what she’s painting, we never see).

Tomoya’s rival Iori surmises that Cherry was able to surpass his game in reviews (if not in sales) because both writer and artist grew and surpassed themselves. Now that the trio has been through it all together, the girls are far less careful about how they act at school around Tomoya.

Tomoya, Eri, and Utaha are all getting along swimmingly post-Comiket, but Tomoya has been unable to make any progress whatsoever in making up with Megumi. She gives him a listless “good morning” and doesn’t answer her phone when he calls her.

That ignored call is the beginning of Tomoya starting to actually stop and carefully consider everything Megumi had done for and with him, and the manner in which treated her in return. Because he took her commitment lightly and shut her out at a crucial moment, she’s not picking up now to discuss with him the pros and cons of a new, second game.

Valentine’s Day arrives, and when he brings up the possibility of giving her more work, Eriri simply wants more time to relax, not worry about such things, give him chocolate, take his arm and walk with him.

To her chagrin, he has lunch with Utaha, who also gives him chocolate, and offers to sign her real name (not her pen name) “all over his body”, in a classic Utaha tease that’s probably more sincere than Tomoya is willing to realize.

Utaha also released her latest novel, and plans to start another soon. Since she’s already in university, she won’t be coming to school anymore after today. So Tomoya asks her, almost desperately, if she’d write for him again.

Despite her resentment of Tomoya’s protectiveness with Eriri, she bashfully admits she wants to make another game with her. Eriri, out in the hall making sure Utaha doesn’t make any moves, hears Utaha’s warm tone.

If Tomoya can come up with an idea, it looks like Utako Kasumi and Kashiwagi Eri are all on board. Which leaves Megumi (sorry Hyoudou, you’re not a main!). Tomoya makes an effort to track her down, but she slips out just as school ends. He spots her eating alone in a cafe, texts her a request for a circle meeting, and watches her not ignore it, giving him hope that maybe their friendship hasn’t “run its natural course” quite yet after all.

Then he goes home, and late into the night, he plays Cherry Blessing through. Playing it brings up all of the memories he has of Megumi working tirelessly by his side to make the game such a success, and how little appreciation he showed in his words, actions, or lack thereof. So Tomoya curls up in shame. At last—a glimmer of self-awareness from the guy.

Thinking of her also inspires Tomoya to come up with a title for the upcoming game he’ll aim to release in time for Summer Comiket: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend. Meta! Here’s hoping he can make proper amends—and Megumi is willing to take the fool back.

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