Fire Force – 11 – Flowers of Edo

On Captain Oubi’s order, Hinawa regales the newer members of the 8th with the tale of how the 8th got started. Hinawa was a sergeant in the Imperial army at the time (as was Maki, a general’s daughter), and his lieutenant was a kind fellow named Tojo who had his sidearm “baptized” in case he has to put an Infernal to rest.

Well, Tojo is the one to be infernalized, and when the time comes to put him down, Hinawa can’t pull the trigger because his gun isn’t baptized. While off duty, he comes upon the scene of a fire where Oubi, head of the amateur firefighters, takes exception to the Fire Force soldiers who delay putting a docile Infernal to rest because it won’t “score enough points.”

Hinawa and Oubi decide to team up and put the docile Infernal to rest, and Oubi eventually starts the 8th Company as a different kind of Fire Force, one primarily concerned with putting Infernals to rest as respectfully and properly as possible while ensuring the safety of the living.

The company starts with just the two of them, but Hinawa urges Oubi to recruit Maki, whose work ethic, compassion and dedication to her duty make her the perfect match for the company they want to create. When Maki hears this in the present, she’s overcome with happiness, as she initially thought she was just brought in as a “meat shield.”

The reason for all this reminiscing? Aside from the fact it’s fun to learn about how the 8th got started, it was their first call that brings them to the present matter at hand, as it’s likely that the first Infernal they put to rest was artificially created by the Evangelist.

The location of that first call was Asakusa, the jurisdiction of the 7th Company, headed up by Captain Shinmon Benimaru. Beni does things a bit differently too, as his company doesn’t officially answer to the empire, and they dwell and work with traditional technology.

Oubi and the 8th visit the 7th’s HQ unannounced, and meet Benimaru, his lieutenant Sagamiya and two tiny twin fire soldiers Hinata and Hikage. But Beni doesn’t like another company stepping on his turf, and won’t hear them out. Just as Shinra is challenging him to a fight he’ll likely lose, fire bells sound outside—an Infernal has been spotted.

Shinra and the 8th then bear witness to the way Beni does things, as well as demonstrates his compound 2nd/3rd-gen abilities to both create and manipulate flames. He uses them in much the same way firefighters of the hikeshi system of old Edo: to demolish buildings and even entire blocks in order to stop the spread of the fire. His ability just enables him to do it on his own and with great efficiency (not to mention style).

The people in his jurisdiction, much like the people of Edo during those fires, aren’t outraged by the apparent wanton destruction. On the contrary, they know Benimaru is doing what must be done to protect the city, and hope that if they ever Infernalize, he’ll be the one to put them to rest. Fires and the destruction caused to stop them are a fact of life for them. For as the saying goes, “Fires and quarrels are the flowers of Edo.

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Sarazanmai – 05 – A Nostalgic Scent

Not long after Haruka was born, Kazuki gleaned from his grandfather’s dying words that his mother wasn’t his biological mother, and ever since felt disconnected from the family as a non-member, despite all the love they gave him.

It’s not so much that he hated his brother, as he said last week, but he hated the whole situation of him and his brother not actually being related by blood. Why it matters so much to him that they are connected by blood, but there it is.

In the present, Toi captures Sara’s manager and escorts her away from her fan meet-up event, but finds she’s not quite human, and thus capable of transforming into a little critter who can squeeze out of any confinement.

Kazuki fares rather well as Sara’s double, at least where Haruka’s concerned, but things go pear-shaped fast when both the manager and the real Sara arrive in the hall and the former removes Kazuki’s wig. And that’s it: his secret is out. Now Haruka knows all those texts were just from him.

As all this is going on, the Otter Cop Duo wrings the desire from a man obsessed with sachets of a very specific smell, creating a new Kappa Zombie boss.

The three kappaboys do their song-and-dance, but when the Sarazanmai comes, and Kazuki’s memory of finally reuniting with his true mother in secret, the smell of her sachet he remembers is the same as the sachet Haruka always carries.

Whatever that means, the three kappaboys are ripped out of the tunnel of water, their work to extract the shirikodama still incomplete.

Keppi is so mad he can boil tea on his belly, and asserts to the boys that they won’t get their human forms back or get a dish of hope until they defeat the Sachet Zombie. Kazuki shares more about his meeting with his mother with Toi and Enta, culminating in him deciding to stay with Haruka and his non-biological parents.

Even so, before he returns to them, Haruka runs (that’s right runs on his functioning legs) to beg Kazuki to come back, fearing he’s going away. Kazuki spurns him rather harshly and walks off, but Haruka follows him…and gets hit by a car.

Now, every time Kazuki sees Haruka in his wheelchair, he’s reminded of what he did to him, and simply can’t bear it, which is why he adopted the Sara clone routine to make a faux connection with him from a safe distance. But odds are Haruka already forgave Kazuki a long time ago, and couldn’t care less if they have different mothers.

Sarazanmai – 04 – Only The Bad Ones Survive

That’s the mantra a younger Kuji Toi learns from his older brother Chikai at a seminal moment in his life, along with the lesson that those who can’t survive can only perish and be forgotten. It’s when Toi is thinking about these things that Enta calls him to meet. Enta wants him to give his Dish of Hope to Kazuki…again for Haruka’s sake.

We learn along with Enta that Toi’s relatives run a soba shop that used to be run by his and Chikai’s parents before they ran into debt and committed suicide. It’s from those shadows that Toi finds himself in the position to give someone some light: in Kazuki’s case that means kidnapping the real Sara Haruka is poised to meet so he’ll meet Kazuki instead, preserving his secret identity.

Kazuki is so dedicated to his Sara persona, Toi can’t help but blush when he watches him eat soba, even though he sucks at eating soba! Watching Kazuki work to protect his weaker brother dredges up more memories for Toi, even to when he and his brother were not on the best of terms.

Chikai joined a gang to make money, cursed their folks for offing themselves, and spitting on Toi’s quaint sentimentality. But he also takes care of Toi, even if Toi doesn’t think what he’s doing is good or right. He produced enough cash to prevent the soba shop from leaving the family, and put their relatives to work running it. It was as if Chikai was sacrificing his goodness for Toi’s sake.

Kazuki’s crazy Sara-kidnapping plan is sidelined by a Zombie Kappa alert, also soba-themed. Specifically, Sobatani, a soba shop owner who was charged with stealing bathwater from a female regular. The Flying Object of the Week is soba and soba dishes, drawn by the Zombie Kappa’s insatiable desire.

Since some of the soba he draws in comes from Toi’s relatives’ place he has a personal stake in defeating the Zombie Kappa, and so takes the lead, demanding Keppi transform him, then uncovering the truth after their song and dance: Sobatani wanted to make soba out of the bathwater. Weird!

With Sobatani’s secret out and Shirikodama extracted, Sarazanmai occurs, and Kazuki and Enta watch along with Toi as the missing pieces of his tragic flashback fall into place. When Toi learned that both his and Chikai’s lives were in danger after stealing the money to buy the soba shop, he takes the handgun he finds in a drawer and shoots Chikai’s gang senpai.

Chikai arrives on the scene, and puts too more bullets in the man, claiming he was the killer, not Toi. Even when Toi sought to share some of the burden of badness in order to survive, Chikai was there to cover for him; to, in a way, save his soul. If only the two of them knew the truth, no one in the world would ever suspect the little brother of murder.

But Toi still concedes he killed someone, his brother’s save aside. He claims not to be too haunted by it—it was a necessity to ensure both his and Chikai’s survival, in keeping with his bro’s mantra. But it’s still his secret, and he threatens Enta and Kazuki with deadly retribution if they ever spill the beans about what they’ve learned.

Having gained new insight into Toi’s upbringing and motivations, Kazuki decides to offer up his Dish of Hope to him, believing he’s more deserving of it than he. ‘But what about Haruka’, Enta protests? Well, for Kazuki, that’s why Toi is more deserving: Kazuki claims to hate Haruka.

Does he mean Kazuki finds looking out for him and doing these things for him a burden? A mere excuse to indulge his own desires? Or would he never kill, even for Haruka’s sake? It’s a declaration that seems to come out of left field, but I’m sure there’s more context to come.

Sarazanmai – 03 – The Golden Duo

Kazuki wakes up, but is too out of it to notice that Enta was just kissing him. Enta is direct with the audience: he’s in love with Kazuki. He has been for a long time, ever since they were the unstoppable “Golden Duo” in soccer, complete with a signature pose. Enta has to contend with a lot of kissing the next day, as his big sister Otone is going on a fishing trip with her boyfriend.

The episode plays with the fact that kisu is not just how you say “kiss,” but the Japanese name for Sillago japonica, or Japanese whiting. The city idol declares it’s kisu day, and in lieu of someone to kiss (that he knows of), Kazuki tries in vain to go to a fishmonger for a “kisu selfie” for Haruka.

While playing cards with Haruka (who “Sara” texts to apologize for the selfie being late), Enta learns that Kazuki isn’t laughing around his little brother either ever since quitting soccer. Enta wants to use the wish from the next dish of hope to reunite the Golden Duo.

Enta even fantasizes about Kazuki coming around on his own and letting him tie the miçanga to his ankle – the symbol of their soccer brotherhood as well as a token of affection. But no—it’s just Otone, who runs off with the anklet for her date.

As Enta defends the spot by the river where he and Kazuki used to practice by getting into a fight with two other players, the two “Otter” cops create another Kappa Zombie, this one from Otone’s kisu-loving boyfriend. His head takes the form of a kisu, but he’s a Don Juan who has many women and many kisses, obsessed with quantity over quality.

Enta fantasizes again that Kazuki comes to rescue him, but it’s just Kuji, who doesn’t get why Enta got in a fight he had no chance of winning. Enta is committed to protecting the Golden Duo’s practice spot…in the off-chance Kazuki comes back to him.

The Kappa Zombie alert is then sounded (with Sara doing a wonderful homage to Castle in the Sky), and rather than cats last week the sky is full of brides, all of them drawn to the zombie, who turns them to kisu with a kiss. The three lads are transformed by Keppi, do their attack song and dance, and extract the zombie’s shirikodama.

All three parts of the ensuing sarazanmai are related to Enta’s long-standing secret crush on Kazuki. We see Enta smelling Kazuki’s clothes, playing his recorder (for an indirect kiss), and finally his more recent kiss with a sleeping Sara!Kazuki.

The zombie thus vanquished and its desire assimilated, Otone and all the other women wake up and completely forget Mr. Kisu…as if he had never existed. He even disappears from photos, Back to the Future-style! Enta confesses his love to Kazuki and just when they seem poised to kiss, it’s only another fantasy; “Kazuki” is just Keppi.

Thanks to Kazuki’s obliviousness and Kuji’s lack of really caring, Enta’s secret seems to be secure—or at least emotionally tabled—for now. The next time he’s with Haruka (who we see in a wheelchair for the first time), Enta declares he’s going to “give up” on trying to win Kazuki over.

Part of that is that he saw a random mouse making off with the miçanga meant for Kazuki as a sign that it’s not to be. But then Haruka produces Kazuki’s original miçanga, saved from the trash, and asks Enta to keep trying to get Kazuki back into soccer.

Meanwhile, the Otter Cops are scolded by their boss, who is “otterly” furious at their lack of progress due to kappa-related interference (I hope he’s just a giant talking otter, for the record). With his frustration in mind, I wonder how much longer the kappa zombie fights will remain as easy as they’ve been.

Sarazanmai – 02 – Let Slip the Cats of War

As a reward for defeating their first kappa zombie, Keppi bestows upon the boys a silver “Dish of Hope” they can use to wish for anything. Enta snatches it and accidentally wishes for a hatchback-sized cucumber roll, shattering the dish and leaving the three with no reward (unless they’re going to eat that roll…which is on the ground).

Kazuki is eager to earn another dish that he can use not to fulfill his own wish, but that of his little brother Haruka. We learn that he is the “Harukappa” to whom Kazuki is sending selfies of himself-as-Azuma Sara. Kazuki’s only wish is that Haruka is happy, and a dish can only help that cause.

Meanwhile, Kuji Toi is up to more criminal mischief on behalf of his older brother, while Enta receives a Kappazon package meant for Toi—containing a handgun of all things—strengthening Enta’s belief he’s Bad News

When Nyantaro, the fat, awesome neighborhood cat Haruka adores, sneaks into Toi’s weed-growing lab and steels a shipment hidden in cat treats, another ludicrous chase ensues. Kazuki (dressed as Sara again) stops Toi when he threatens Nyantaro with his metal ruler, and refuses to get out of his way or stop following him.

The chase leads them to a couples-only theme park, an employee of which dresses the two up in bee costumes and insists they hold hands the entire time they’re in the park. Kazuki and Toi hold hands and chase Nyantaro on ride after ride, but can’t manage to close the distance, since we’re talking about a neighborhood cat here: if he doesn’t want to be caught, it’s not happening.

We learn a little more about the two bishounen cops from the end of last week, who appear to do an elaborate song and dance of their own to extract desire and create a new cat-based kappa zombie boss.

It’s apparent these two and Keppi’s three young helpers are working at cross purposes, but the cops’ specific motivations, beyond their commitment to “wring out the desire”, remain mysterious.

Not soon after their “performance”, thousands of cats start to float up into the sky, including Nyantaro, and Enta and Keppi (disguised as his date) meet up with Kazuki and Toi to discuss the situation. Enta warns Kazuki to stay away from the kid he’s currently holding hands with, but in order to get his little brother’s favorite cat back, he needs Toi’s help.

Events from there follow a pattern now familiar after the first go-around last week (in what I like to call the Ikuhara Formula): Keppi turns the three lads into kappa, they attack the zombie boss (this time a giant cat), and when they determine its secret (he kidnapped cats and shaved them to give himself a coat of fur so his girlfriend would take him back! Of COURSE!!), they  break through and extract its shirikodama.

Once that’s done, the guys go through the titular sarazanmai, during which it’s revealed that Nyantaro was owned by another family before Kazuki stole it so Haruka could have a cat (even if it was only a neighborhood cat). He defends what he did because he did it for his brother’s sake; his happiness trumping all other considerations.

With the second boss defeated, the lads receive another silver dish of hope, and Kazuki and Toi immediately argue over it, with Toi even brandishing his gun. Since both have brothers they want to make happy, and Keppi informs them they’ll need five to grant a real wish, Toi cedes the dish to Kazuki, but he’s getting the next one.

That night, Kazuki finally completes his mission to take a Sara selfie with a cat (specifically the rescued Nyantaro), to Haruka’s delight. Exhausted from the day of activity, he passes out right there in the park, where he’s approached by none other than Enta…who promptly kisses him! Looks like he’s got a secret too—one that re-contextualizes why he was so concerned with Kazuki hanging around Toi.

The two cops also now realize somebody is out there working against them. It’s likely only a matter of time before the two opposing groups clash. In the meantime, on with the hope-dish collecting!

After two episodes, I now have a better grasp of the beats and rhythms of a show that definitely dances to the beat of its own drum. With less head-scratching to do I could concentrate better on all the little details that contribute to making Sarazanmai such a fun and exciting little show that’s unafraid to challenge contemporary “norms”of gender and sexuality.

Sarazanmai – 01 (First Impressions) – Secrets, Lies, and Butt Stuff

“The world is full of connections,” muses Yakaza Kazuki at the start of things. Yeah, no duh, Kierkegaard. That’s especially true in Tokyo (Asakasa specifically), where many people are connected both by technology and the relatively small amount of space they share. There’s one connection in particular Kazuki never wants to lose.

Turns out that connection is a ritual exchange of selfies with the local idol, Sarakappa, who is constantly keeping the folk appraised of the latest Asakusa news via the public video screens. While Sara herself is taking a selfie, she happens to catch someone breaking into a car. That someone is Kuji Toi, who chases after her.

Instead, Toi encounters Kazuki, notices he has the same phone strap as the girl, and lunges at him with his ruler-cum-slimjim. Kazuki happens to be grabbing at statue of the Prince of the Kappa Kingdom, and in the ensuing violence, the statue is destroyed, releasing a great gust of wind.

The next day at school the two lads hear a clear ringing bell no one else can, and start compulsively acting like kappas, dousing themselves with water, doing a sumo dance, or eating cucumbers. Neither knows what the heck is going on.

The ringing leads them back to the destroyed statue (now a crime scene), where they are introduced to the actual Prince of the Kappas, Keppi, whom they awoke with their roughhousing. Keppi seems level-headed enough…until Toi dares to call him a “frog.”

Keppi reaches into their anuses (yep) and extracts their shirikodama, an organ containing desire, then gobbles them up and transforms them into kappas themselves. When Kazuki’s best mate Enta arrives to see what’s up, he ends up calling Keppi a frog, so he’s transformed as well. It’s a very gross process!

The gross weirdness continues when Keppi assigns them their mission: extract the shirikodama from a “zombie kappa” in the “Field of Desires,” a realm between life and death where no humans can see them, but where the kappa and zombie kappa dwell.

This particular zombie is hoarding stolen “Kappamazon” packages, and his deep dark secret is his compulsion to empty the boxes and place them on his head while naked. The three kappa-lads work together to sing a musical number, blast through the zombie’s defenses, reach and enter his anus, and successfully extract his shirikodama. Again, quite gross!

After the extraction, before they pass the shirikodama to Keppi, the three undergo the titular “Sarazanmai”—a connection of mind and soul between the three. Within that state, Toi learns that Kazuki and the girl he saw were one and the same, and Enta learns his best friend cross-dresses as an idol, all to send selfies of himself as Sara religiously.

The other two learn Toi is a car thief, but Toi isn’t outwardly ashamed by that, but after the initial embarrassment has passed, neither is Kazuki. Even when Enta tells him he’s cool with his “quirk”, Kazuki insists he isn’t asking for understanding, only for his secret to remain his and his alone…which is fair.

Post-ED (a lush merging of live-action footage, augmented reality lightwork and animation with a very catchy peggies song) there’s another strange incident involving two very pale, stylish cops extracting something from their prisoner, but that will have to wait until next week.

Sarazanmai is nothing if not visually bold and doggedly inventive with its madcap brew of mythology, symbology, philosophy, and sociology you tend to get from the work of Ikuhara Kunihiko. Its narrative isn’t always the easiest to follow but you can be assured it’s going to look and sound cool and explore ideas few anime do (especially when it comes to contemporary social issues), which definitely helps.

Non-fans of kappas (or, incidently, Ikuhara) probably need not apply, nor should anyone who is uncomfortable with the occasional…stylized anal extraction. But there’s a lot to like here so far.

Tokyo Trip Journal 6

9 June, Heisei 22 (Wed)

I’m a sucker for landmarks, which is why I went to Asakusa on this slightly rainy Wednesday. Asakusa has some awesome-looking old-fashioned Japanese architecture, along with a couple of honkin’ huge red lanterns that mark the portals to a bazaar-market type thing. Were it not for all the schoolgirl sailor suits and other tourists (both Asian and Western) the place would be a dead ringer for a Samurai Champloo setting.

Moving along, I took the Ginza line to Ueno, then the silver Hibiya line to Akibahara (Akiba), which was once know for being a center for electronics, but has become a haven for otaku, or lovers of the anime/manga/video game culture. I didn’t want to miss seeing such a massive concentration of a specific culutral phenomenon unique to Japan. Even the vending machines, numerous here as well, contained “dinner in a can” for those who were too busy gaming, gambling, or gawking at the maids or whatever obsessive activity to sit down to a proper meal. I saw a lot of posters and flyers advertising the imminent video release for many anime I’m currently watching, which strangely enough was a nice connection to home.

For lunch, I headed to a familiar place, another McDonalds. This one had an eating area in the basement as well as one floor above ground level; I went up. What is amazing about fast food in Japan is that while it is incedibly fast, it still manages to be neat and tidy, exactly how it looks in the pictures, not like someone sat on it. It’s perhaps a little thing, but I appreciate it nonetheless. I didn’t buy that canned soup, though because I was scared of it.

Done with Akiba, I backtracked to Ueno. Ueno is characterized (by me) as being dominated by a huge park. Containing gardens, a zoo, and several museums. Unfortunately the Metropolitan Museum of Art was closed for repairs, but the Japanese National Museum was opened, so I took a look. Its exhibitions chronicled the roughly 5,000 years of arts and culture of Japan, from simple pottery to impossibly detailed and accurate map scrolls to early modern Japanese art influenced by the West. There were also some exquisite swords and armor.

After a leisurely walk around Ueno’s park, I head not back to Shinjuku, but to Ikebukuro for supper. Today’s choice of eatery was much easier for some reason, despite being just a random one. I got a whole roasted fish with some kind of horseradish-type garnish, rice, and miso. After dinner I checked out the nearby Toyota Auto Salon, the second-largest in the country. I saw such unsurprising models there as the Camry, Corolla, and Prius, but also many quirky and interesting models not sold anywhere but Japan, or at least not in America. Six floors of tire-kickin’ goodness. Probably only an automotive fanatic such as myself would car about such a wealth of proverbial fresh meat.

From the Auto Salon, I made for the nearby Sunshine 60 building in Sunshine City. This building is prominent in both the beginning and ending credits of Durarara!! and shown throughout, and is so-called because it has 60 floors. It was also built on the site of a former prison where prisoners such as HIdeki Tojo were executed, and is believed by some to be haunted. Anyway, an elevator shoots you up at 600 meters a second…which is fast. It puts on a very dramatic show, too, as the elevator’s lights go dim and switch to a cool blue planetarium atmosphere with constellations and dreamy music; why I don’t know but it’s cool. I imagine Hitachi or someone makes them. Can’t imagine them letting Koreans build their elevator, but who knows. The top floor had excellent views of the city, from a different perspective than Shinjuku or Roppongi, as well as an elaborate display for an anime I haven’t seen called Hetalia World Series.

When I came back down to earth I wandered around Ikebukuro a bit more. It really is something to behold when the sun is down and the lights are up. Most people seem to be wandering around like me too, sometimes stopping at some store like Bic Camera, which seems to sell nothing but white signs with tons of red or blue writing on them. Also everyone seems to always be in need of a new phone from Docomo, SoftBank, Apple, or the like, despite the fact everyone already seems to be covered phone-wise.

The typical cell phone in Tokyo is a flip-phone; rather large and rectangular with squared-off edges and stuff hanging from it like charms. Anyway, I think I may know why everyonee’s out wandering around, eating, drinking, buying big cells and playing Pachinko: because Japanese TV is, on the whole, not that great (at least the analog feed I was getting in my hotel room; an HDTV would have cost extra.) To avoid it, and the creative if structurally repetetive ads, they go out. Such practical people.

Anyway, from Ikebukuro I take the long way home on the Marunouchi line. Shinjuku is 18 stops away, but I paid for unlimited subway service and I’m going to get it; not like I’m in any particular hurry.