Higehiro – 12 – We Have to Talk

So yeah, things are not off to a great start when the first thing Sayu’s mom does upon laying eyes on her for the first time in half a year is slap her in the face. It’s super awkward, and continues to be so, because they’ve entered Sayu’s mom’s castle and she’s in charge. Issa, as much of an independent and successful adult as he may be, still shuts up when his mom tells him to, which is often.

The discussion moves to the dining room, where it becomes clear Sayu’s mom isn’t interested in empathizing with Sayu as the young woman she is, let alone see her as a daughter to unconditionally love. Instead, she immediately airs her grievances, citing all the rumors that have cropped up since she disappeared.

She’s not glad her little girl is home, but still angry she left, because of how it affected her. It’s also clear she suspects Yoshida of taking advantage of her. Sayu does her best to state her case and demonstrate how she’s grown, but her mom has long since developed cloth ears to anything she says, no matter how true or perceptive it may be.

Once she inevitably declares that she wishes she had never given birth to Sayu, which, just fuck you, you despicable c-word—Yoshida, who had been sitting calmly and quietly the whole time, almost picks up his glass of iced tea and throws it in the bitch’s face. But rightly realizing that would accomplish nothing and possibly even hurt Sayu more, he does the opposite.

He calmly speaks from the heart about how just as a parent can’t choose the child they have, the child can’t pick the parent either. The difference is, a parent is (usually) an adult, and thus responsible for their life. Children aren’t. They need to be cared about and for by parents, or they can’t become proper adults themselves. If Sayu’s mom doesn’t want that responsibility, Yoshida would happily take it from her, adopting Sayu and raising her until she’s a real adult.

But he can’t do that, because Sayu has a mom, and she will never not be her mom. So he prostrates himself and begs her to take care of Sayu. Issa follows his lead and does the same. Faced with this unexpected groveling, Sayu’s mom simply freaks out, and Yoshida and Sayu have to leave the house while Issa tries to calm her down.

As Sayu and Yoshida sit outside and wait, Yoshida can’t fight back tears, lamenting just how much worse the situation between Sayu and her mom turned out to be. Sayu is surprised, but also can’t stop herself from crying once she sees him doing it. But it’s a good cleansing cry that transitions into looking up at the beautiful night sky and holding hands in solidarity.

Even though things are not great, they’re going to be alright. Sayu feels forgiven after Yoshida’s groveling, and after making her piece with her friend on the rooftop last week, feels confident in being able to stand for herself. She also admits that things aren’t going to get better with her mom overnight, but neither of them have even given it a try, so that’s really the first step.

Issa comes out, telling Yoshida that bowing before their mom seemed to do the trick. She’ll insist Sayu live there until graduation, and as long as she doesn’t cause problems for her, she’ll “leave her alone.” It sounds like more selfishness and an inability to see Sayu as anything other than a burden and a hassle, but again, we’re at the start of something. Sayu and her mom will have to adopt and entirely new way of interacting with each other, and that will take time.

What’s important is that not only Sayu is willing to put in the work to give it a try, but Sayu’s mom is too. After Yoshida meets with her again to apologize for lecturing her before, she asks if nothing really went on, he answers truthfully, and she seems to believe him. What puzzles her is why he’d go so far for her daughter, to which he can only say “because I met her that night, in that moment.”

Surely Sayu’s mom must understand how something like that might work; she was, after all, presumably in love with Sayu’s father. She simply didn’t know of any way to keep him around other than the hail mary of having Sayu. When it didn’t work and he left anyway, she put all of her scorn into her.

But she seems to finally understand that it can’t go on like that anymore. Sayu ran away to get away from her, but now she’s back, and she’s grown a little more. It’s up to her, the parent, to ensure that growing up is completed. So she’ll talk with Sayu about their future together, however much of it there ends up being, and go from there. And Yoshida will go back to Tokyo in the morning. But it’s a good thing he came.

 

Higehiro – 11 – Someday Is Here

This week begins with Sayu saying goodbye to Asami and Tokyo and taking a plane to Hokkaido with her brother and Yoshida, and ends with her returning home after more than a half a year of running away. If that sounds to you like not enough material to fill a whole episode, well, that’s when I must bring up one of the major cons of this penultimate outing: it’s padded within an inch of its life.

Whether its on the oddly-proportioned plane and its odd-looking seats, or during the two to three hours when Issa is off doing business and Yoshida and Sayu hang out in a café, scenes just feel artificially far longer than they either need to be or should. Granted, it’s Sayu’s first time on a plane or in a café with a friend, but when she held up an hourglass, I couldn’t help but think Can we maybe get a move on?

While a detriment early on, I’ll fully admit that Sayu’s trip to her school, which neither Yoshida nor Issa knew she’d request, is actually very effectively paced, as we feel with her the precise and growing dread of drawing closer and closer to the spot on that damned rooftop where her only friend’s life ended—and her life changed forever.

Honestly, I don’t know if or how she’d have been able to do this without Yoshida, so it’s very much a good thing he came along. Even an adult would have a hard time returning to the spot where their friend died for any reason. Add to that the fact Sayu witnessed Yuuko jump and blames herself for it, and you have yourself a brutal veritable trifecta of trauma.

When Sayu blames herself for Yuuko jumping, Yoshida had to be there to tell her she was wrong, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t that she didn’t really care about Yuuko, but cared too much. Her desire to help her fight the bullies wasn’t a bad instinct, even though things went terribly wrong. And frankly, Sayu wasn’t Yuuko’s entire life and can’t be expected to be such…she had her own life, and problems.

Thanks to Yoshida’s support, Sayu is able to wail with grief, letting it all out, until a stiff wind reveals the nearly-full moon and seemingly blows away the ghost of Yuuko that was haunting her. On their way back to the car, Yoshida asks if she’s okay now, and she answers quite correctly “not at all”…but she will be. She’s going to work towards the time when she can remember Yuuko and smile, rather than cry.

After such an emotionally draining experience at school, it almost seems cruel to then drive Sayu back home, even though she says she’s ready to go. After all, nothing in that house is worse than what happened on that rooftop, except for her mother’s last words to her before she ran away, which was to ask if Sayu killed her friend.

For all of the learning and growing up Sayu has done in the last few months, at least at first blush it looks like her mother has learned absolutely nothing. Issa tries to stand purposefully in front of both Sayu and Yoshida, but their mom pushes him out of the way to give Sayu a vicious slap to the face. That’s how she chooses to greet her. Not a great start!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Higehiro – 09 – The Things She Carried

Like Sayu, I was dreading the day someone from her family finally found her and forced her to come home…but that isn’t what happens. It turns out Issa is just as decent and kind a person as Yoshida, and doesn’t jump to conclusions even when Yoshida and Sayu greet him at the door in their PJs.

Instead, he’s the latest in a long line of refreshingly reasonable, level-headed human beings that populate Higehiro and make it feel more real. He’s not simply doing their mother’s bidding; he wanted to be the one who found Sayu, because he loves her and is worried about her.

Issa is greatly relieved Sayu managed to find a good soul who took her in without asking for anything inappropriate, and takes both of them at their word when they say nothing’s happened. As a high-achieving corporate type, I imagine Issa trusts his instincts when it comes to reading people.

But that’s not all: Issa can also tell, even if Sayu can’t, that she’s taken some important steps forward as a person. He notes how she’s more able to speak her mind, as she explains why she needs a few more days to think about things. He’s proud and caring n a way only a big brother can be, and grants her one more week.

I have to say, I never imagined in a million years that Issa would be such a good guy, especially considering the uncomfortable way the series has handled the bastard who took her in for sex and ended up her co-worker. But it’s not the show’s fault I automatically expect the worst…it’s because men, and especially anime men, are so often just that…the worst.

Of course, women are the worst too, as we learn when Sayu invites Asami over and sits her and Yoshida down to finally tell them about everything that’s happened that led her to run away. In effect, she’s unloading all of the burdens she’s carried before two friends who are all too happy to help share that load. Her first step in getting ready to go back is telling the people important to her about where she came from.

Sayu and her mother never got along. Her mother put all of her hopes and aspirations into her firstborn son Issa, and never had a kind word for Sayu. Because she never received love, Sayu didn’t bother putting any effort into anything, be it academics or socializing. She was alone, emanated a “stay away” aura, and came to prefer it that way.

But along came another outcast in Yuuko, for whom Sayu’s repelling aura had the opposite effect. Yuuko always told Sayu she was pretty and cool—as pretty and cool as Yuuko claimed not to be—and the two became fast, close friends. But Sayu’s looks and unimpeachable “goodness” kept the other girls from bullying her directly when she turned down a guy one of them liked, so they started bullying Yuuko instead.

Yuuko always said Sayu looked best when she was smiling and happy. But as the bullying intensified and Sayu dug in her heels, determined to stand beside Yuuko and fight for her, she stopped smiling and laughing, and was always depressed, because she felt responsible for her friend’s suffering and felt powerless to stop it.

Yuuko, however, felt differently. When Sayu told her she’d support her and fight for her against the bullying, it hurt Yuuko more than anything, as she believed she was ruining Sayu’s happiness by deigning to become friends with her in the first place.

So one day, Sayu found Yuuko standing on the wrong side of the balcony, waiting for her. Yuuko told her what happened was her fault, but it would be better if she were no longer in her life. Before leaping to her death, Yuuko asked Sayu to keep smiling, obviously in no mental state to realize how hard that would be if she killed herself.

Witnessing her first and only friend commit suicide for her sake would have been plenty of trauma for any teenager or adult to bear, but that wassn’t the end of Sayu’s suffering. As the Ogiwara household became besieged with press and stories and rumors of the true cause of Yuuko’s death, her mother did all the exact wrong things, only exacerbating Sayu’s despair.

Rather than support her daughter and help her grief, she blamed her for their predicament, and even went so far as to ask, seriously, if Sayu really did kill Yuuko. That despicable question is the last straw for Sayu, and you really can’t blame her for not wanting to spend one more second inside that house with that despicable woman. Instead, it’s Issa who offers Sayu a shoulder to cry on as she prepares to run away on foot.

Demonstrating he was just as empathetic and kind back then as he is in the present, he actually helps his sister get the distance and time she needs, giving her $3000 for a decent hotel and food for two weeks, if she promises to call him if she ever gets into trouble. If there’s a right way to run away, this was it: acknowledging and respecting what Sayu needed, but building checks into the arrangement.

But even with those measures in place, Issa would still need Sayu to actualy call him if she got in trouble, and she never does that. As she burns through her cash, she continues to be crushed by isolation and self-loathing, with no one there to help pull her out of her downward spiral. Issa’s mistake wasn’t getting Sayu away from their mom, it was sending Sayu away all by herself when she was in no condition to be entirely alone.

The episode includes a scene we previously saw only a flash of, in which Sayu masturbates and looks down at her hand afterwards. As this happens before she first sleeps with a man, I’m not sure why such a graphic scene was included, except to underscore that there was really not much for Sayu to do during this time but sleep, eat, and pleasure herself, and none of it was helping.

When Issa calls Sayu to check on her, her battery dies, and she tosses her phone out, believing in that moment that his kindness was merely pity she didn’t want or deserve. She wanders the streets, bumps into a man, and when she explains her situation he offers her a place to stay. He eventually asks for sex in return, and Sayu gives in, though doesn’t even remember the name of her first. She then went from guy to guy, trading sex for shelter, until ending up on Yoshida’s doorstep. The rest, we know.

The first to speak after her tale of woe is Asami, who gives Sayu the affection she needs and tells her just how hard she hung in there all this time. Having gotten all of this out, Sayu breaks down, having a much-needed cathartic cry. Once she’s calmed down and in bed, Asami asks Yoshida on the balcony what he’s going to do about her.

Yoshida says it’s up to Sayu’s family to figure this out and it’s not his place to interfere. Asami points out that’s not what she asked, idiot, and again asks: what does he want to do? He may say he’s a stranger, but he’s not; he and Asami are as much family to Sayu as Issa, and certainly more than Sayu’s mom.

What they want matters too, especially if it aligns with what Sayu herself wants. But first those things must be said, just as the things Sayu carried needed to be said to fully understand where she’s been, and determine what she should do. It’s not just Sayu who needs to think about things in the week she has left.

TenSura – 31 – Bad News First

I never want to hear the good news first. The positive effects of hearing it would be nullified by the bad news, and who wants that? So here it is, a bad news-packed episode of the usually light and fancy-free TenSura with the title “Despair.” Subtle it ain’t, but the more serious shift in tone and heightened stakes are just the shot this show needed after a sputtering start.

First, kudos for presenting an opponent in Hinata so tough she not only makes Rimuru resort to the last trick up his slimy sleeve, but she seemingly obliterates him even in his final form with an apocalyptic Ultima-like spell. For a second there it looked like Rimuru had been taken off the board. While that was only a second, it was a wonderfully tense one!

We learn that when he summoned Ifrit, Rimuru made a doppelganger of himself to take the punishment, deeming retreat to be the better part of valor and turning out to be exactly right: had it been him under that Desintegration, he estimateshe’d have been toast, Holy Field or not. Ranga pops out of his shadow and greets his master like the good dog he is.

One detail we’ll just have to live with is the fact that someone as otherwise shrewd as Hinata simply left the scene without inspecting the crater where Rimuru apparently met his end for possible remains. Then again, she only told Rimuru she sold him short, not that he was anything to worry about. That arrogance led to her getting sloppy in this instance.

Rimuru and Ranga are perplexed when they can’t teleport to Tempest because the “destination doesn’t exist” due to the barrier. Instead they teleport to the nearby caverns, where he meets with Souei and his scouts, Gabiru, and Vesta, who explain the situation as they see it; Souei, bless him, immediately calls out Falmuth as one of the culprits.

We learn that the enemies have taken off, leaving the barriers in place, and while Gabiru’s men managed to save the young children, the city is wrecked and filled with casualties. Rimuru passes through the barriers without a problem, and is shocked by the sights he’s seen, which we must note he’s never seen…not against his capital, his nation, or his people.

Everyone seems to want to keep him away from something horrific in the central plaza, but before he can check it out he hears Benimaru’s attack. He rushes to the ally to find that Beni was attempting to capture Mjurran, but she was being protected by Grucius and Youm. Rimuru ends the confrontation before Beni can do any permanent harm, and when he’s told of Mjurran’s role, he asks to tell him exactly what she did.

She shows him instead, leading him to the plaza, strewn with dozens of dead goblins. Mjurran’s guilt over conjuring the barrier pales in comparison to the guilt Rimuru feels after having given standing orders to the Goblins not to attack humans. Mjurran seems to want to be the fall girl for everything, but Rimuru knows and the Great Sage confirms that there’s plenty of blame to spread around.

This Mjolmire guy from Blumund…he just puts off a very suspicious vibe, doesn’t he? The episode seems to go out of its way to make him far more prominent than he’d otherwise be. Sure, his task to send word to Blumund of Tempest’s situation is an important one; Rimuru should also contact Dwargon. But yeah…I wouldn’t be surprised if he betrays Rimuru at some point.

In an emergency meeting, Rimuru gets the remaining details about the situation, including the fact that the Knight Commander from Falmuth declared the capital “contaminated by monsters”, and that he’ll return accompanied by King Edomalis himself in seven day’s time to accept their surrender and dispersal from the city, or else be “eradicated.”

After his interactions with Hinata, it’s clear now to Rimuru that Falmuth and the anti-monster Western Holy Church have been conspiring to bring his nation down. Mjolmire points out the economic reasons Falmuth is determined to eliminate Tempest. Judging from that knight’s ultimatum, there could already be far too much distance between the two sides for anything other than all-out war.

But what of Mjurran? Rimuru demands to know everything she knows, and she’s happy to tell him, starting by telling him she serves the Demon Lord Clayman. As the ultimate puppet-master swirls his wine and smirks as he glances out the window of his gaudy castle, all the bad news has been laid out on the table and spilled over the edges.

It’s a long, hard road ahead for Rimuru & Co., but knowing they’re in a mess was the first step to getting them out of it. Soon it will be time to start making some good news, and it will be all the more satisfying thanks to the depths of despair plumbed here.

Tada-kun wa Koi wo Shinai – 10 – The Larsenburgian Princess Makes an Irish Exit

This was a simple, quiet, beautiful episode focused mostly on Teresa and Mitsuyoshi’s date (there’s no other word for it) to the Rainbow Samurai show, which begins with the two meeting where they first met, by the gates of the Imperial Palace.

It’s an episode with a beginning and middle that will warm your heart and an ending that will break it—assuming you’re invested in these two.

It’s obvious how much fun both Mitsuyoshi and Teresa are having, but while they’re both smiling, there’s an underlying romantic tension that neither of them is bold enough to remark on with words.

Instead, they simply enjoy their time together, winning each other prizes at the cork gun stand (Teresa hitting hers thanks to an assist from the Yakuza-ish cafe regular), interact in the live show as “hostages”, and enjoy a rainbow-themed meal.

Meanwhile, in a rare cut from their date, Kaoru asks Alec if she’ll go on a date with him, expecting her to reject him for the umpteenth time…only she doesn’t! Not immediately; she gives him a chance to choose where they’ll go, but he’s too consumed in utter shock to suggest anything, and she retracts her offer.

The two encounter one another at the Tada cafe, where Alec delivered a letter to Gramps from Reiko, AKA Rachel, Teresa’s nanny, who introduced her to the Rainbow Samurai in the first place. What a weird coincidence…

When Mitsuyoshi and Terea scale the Sky Tree to the observation deck, it’s suddenly all gray and rainy, as it tends to be whenever the two meet up (or so Mitsuyoshi jokes). The weather, and the sight of a happy family beside them, reminds him of the last time he saw his parents, on a day just as gray and rainy.

He tells Teresa how he blames himself for not telling his father his true feelings; delaying them just a little could have prevented the accident. This is something he knows is ridiculous, but he’s always felt that way regardless, and hasn’t been able to tell anyone…until Teresa.

As the clouds part to reveal a humongous double rainbow, Teresa tells him if he regrets not sharing his feelings in the past, simply try to share them from now on. If that’s meant to be a hint, Mitsuyoshi doesn’t take it.

After that, the two part ways at the cafe, and Teresa can barely hold back tears when thanking Mitsuyoshi for their wonderful day together, for a souvenir he got her, and for the photo of them posing with the Rainbow Samurai. He asks if she wants some coffee, and she shakes her head and returns to her hotel next door.

The next morning at school, the teacher announces that Teresa and Alec have returned to Larsenburg for “family reasons.” Mitsuyoshi and Kaoru are stunned. His entire day with Teresa turned out to be the last they’d spend together, and he didn’t even know it.

There were ample chances for Mitsuyoshi to take Teresa’s advice and share his feelings. On the other hand, every time she shared hers, it was through muttered words he never quite heard, and followed with “oh, it’s nothing at all.”

I would’ve gone a different way than basically ripping off a relationship like a band-aid, but ultimately it was her choice to decide how to say goodbye to Mitsuyoshi. Perhaps anything more would have only made it harder for her to leave at all…and she has to leave, for he good of her country.

Violet Evergarden – 12 – The Train Has Left The Station

As Violet flies south from her mission, her intended destination is not home, but the town of Distery. That’s where Cattleya, Benedict, and a group of peace envoys will travel north to Gardarick via the completed transcontinental railroad. The military puts Gilbert’s brother Captain Dietfried Bougainvillea in charge of security for the mission. The troops Violet encountered up north were only the tip of an Anti-Peace spear that is not as decimated as the south believes.

This means that at some point Violet and Dietfried, her harshest critic despite knowing very little of who she’s become, will cross paths. Before that happens, he interacts with Cattleya and [], who bristle at his harsh words for Violet, who like everyone is doing her best…and her best means letters that “slip right into people’s hearts”. Diets can’t believe it.

Violet and her pilot are among the first to notice the first stages of the Anti-Peace faction’s plan, involving fires along the railroad. Their next stage involves infiltrating the envoy train with troops. When Violet spots the train halted in Distery, she has the pilot drop her off.

Vi reports what she saw to Dietfried and requests orders, rejecting the notion that doing so means she’s still just a military tool that needs orders to follow. She’s doing what she wants, and what she knows she can do: avoiding war and protecting her friends.

Once the Anti-Peacers execute their plan to separate the front and backs of the train (a nice microcosm of their larger goal to keep the continent divided), Violet is a half-step ahead…fortunately for Dietfried, who must rely on her in the absence of his troops. He heads for the engine to regain control, and orders her to protect the civilians. Atop the moving train, she encounters the very same unit that she encountered in the forest.

Their commanding officer bears the physical and emotional scars of the fall of Intense, the battle where Violet lost Gilbert. He wants the fort back, and while his monologue to Violet is tinged with the thirst for vengeance and the burning of the world, he argues his side’s case well. He and his comrades have been abandoned. Everything was taken from them. Under those circumstances, you can’t blame them for wanting to burn everything down.

Violet resolves not to kill ever again, no matter what, in doing so making her battle atop the railcar that much trickier. Between the need to refrain from fatal blows, keep fallen opponents from falling off the train, and her attachment to the green pendant Gilbert gave her, there’s simply too many variables working against her.

She’s eventually subdued by the general’s superior numbers. But before he can behead her, his saber is shot away by Dietfried, who proceeds to dispatch the bulk of the troops and their general, using deadly force Violet wouldn’t.

Upon saving her, Diets is furious that she attempted to stop the troops without killing. “What’s the use of a battle doll that won’t kill?”, he fumes, blaming that kind of foolish thinking for his little brother’s demise. No doubt he gifted Gilbert Violet so that someone (something in his mind) would always be by his side to protect Gilbert in his stead.

Diets can holler all night about Violet being the one who killed Gilbert for failing to protect him, but he’s the one who decided that Violet was a tool and nothing else. Gilbert didn’t see his dynamic with Violet as user and tool, or brother and protector. He made it his goal to make amends for what was done to Violet; to restore the humanity, individuality, and emotions he knew still resided within her. Her orders were to live, not kill.

In the middle of this spat, a suriving enemy soldier gets a shot off before falling off the train, and Violet dives in front of Diets, deflecting the bullet with her metal arm. The ricochet causes an explosion, which in a crucial railroad tunnel connecting the north and south, may mean Vi inadvertently did the Anti-Peace faction’s work for it, but the ramifications will have to wait.

For now, Violet is committed to following Gilbert’s last orders. And considering she intends to stay alive, she might as well keep putting her skills to use keeping others alive. If she couldn’t protect him, then she’ll protect Dietfried…even if he never stops hating her.

A lot of great reflected themes swirled around this episode. The war between north and south reflecting the war between Dietfried and Violet; in each case with a latter party that doesn’t want to engage. The fragility of the peace efforts reflecting the fragility of the railroad, tunnel, and bridge that peace must travel on.

Making Dietfried and Violet temporary allies of necessity was a great move to get them together, while the train setting gave the episode an excellent surging momentum—as train episodes tend to do.

It’s clear that deep down Dietfried indeed blame himself for getting his brother killed, but keeps using Violet as a scapegoat. That Violet was capable of moving on from the past makes him even angrier, because he hasn’t figured out a way. But if he can’t forgive himself and move on, he’s no different than the Anti-Peace faction, and their general was right: the war will never end.

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 13 (Fin)

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After a dominating emotional one-two punch of the last couple of episodes, the last episode of Shouwa Genraku Rakugo Shinjuu was bound to be quiet and uneventful by comparison. The first half or so is the aftermath of the death of Sukeroku and Miyokichi. Kikuhiko takes Konatsu on as a ward and after making arrangements for the internment of her parent’s ashes, he takes her to Tokyo.

There, he’s officially named Yakumo, since, well, there’s no one else to take it. No matter how good I or anyone else think he may be, he’ll never believe he deserved the title. Were it not for the war, or the events that led to his brother’s death, someone better would have inherited it. That being said, he knows someone has to take it, so he accepts.

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After we witness a smidgen of Yakumo’s (lack of) parenting skills, as a young, grieving Konatsu soothes her heart with rakugo (in spite of her guardian’s displeasure with the practice), we return to the present, with a futatsume Yotaro getting a haircut as penance for letting slip that he’s to be promoted to shin’uchi soon.

The now-grown Konatsu is proud of the lug, and probably a little jealous too (what with her wish to do what he’s doing). At the end of the day there was no need to go right back to that night Yakumo forgave Yotaro and started his long epic tale that came to comprise the lion’s share of the series. Suffice it to say, Yotaro did what was asked of him, and is on the cusp of making it in a world many have now forgotten.

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Sharing some congratulatory tea in the doorway of their home, Konatsu asks Yotaro to do some rakugo for her. Not just any story; the same one she tearfully performed to herself years back, which led to Yakumo’s scolding. It brings tears to her eyes again, surprising Yotaro, and she suddenly tells him she’s preggers.

What she won’t say is who the father is, only that she wants to carry on the Sukeroku bloodline for her father’s sake. Yotaro, saying the first thing to come into his head, offers to be the kid’s father; she reacts with anger and exasperation and storms off, but notably without outright refusing the offer.

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As for Ol’ Yakumo, he’s washing the family grave on the anniversary of the seventh generation’s death, and pondering his own eventual demise as disconcerted Matsuda stands by. Yakumo can’t believe Yotaro is about to become a Shin’uchi, but like his masters before, he has little choice.

It’s as if the deterioration of rakugo has only accelerated, with Yakumo only being able to carry it on in its purest—but least flexible—form. Only one theater remains open in Tokyo, and it’s rarely full. With someone like Yotaro under his wing, rakugo’s future is that much brighter. But then, Yotarou asks to inheret the Sukeroku name, not moments after Yakumo saw the ghost of the man himself.

So ends the first act of Shouwa Genraku Rakugo Shinjuu. There would seem to be plenty of material for a second, for which this episode serves as a kind of entre’acte. And indeed, after the end credits, Yotaro apologizes for not being able to tell more, but they simply ran out of time. If and when an Act Two comes, I shall emphatically seek it out!

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Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 11

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We’re still in the middle of our journey.

That’s true, both for Kousei, and for us, as this is the eleventh in a 22-episode series. It’s right where we want to be, too: Kousei has, by ‘defiling the sacred garden of competition’, found himself, but he still sucks at the piano right now. He is, in the parlance of Whisper of the Heart, a rough stone that needs polishing to become a gem. That polishing will take time, blood, sweat, and tears…far more than he’s already expended to this point!

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In a shock to precisely no one, Kousei didn’t even make it through the preliminaries; his performance was a train wreck after all, and he stopped in the middle. But he doesn’t care…and that’s what vexes Takeshi so…at first. Tak had always seen Kousei as his HERO; someone who always took the stage alone, never gave up, did amazing things, then left the stage alone. This new, ‘human-like’ Kousei is strange and foreign to him, but in the end, it’s better that he is the way he is now.

Emi certainly sees this as an improvement. As bad as Kousei played, she could hear clearly that he was playing FOR something, or someone, that there was a purpose to him being on that stage beyond playing the sheet music perfectly like a robot. She liked the mischievous Kousei that peeked his head out from behind the curtain, and wants to hear more. And I’m sure she will!

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On the way home from his own loss, Kousei puts on a brave and stoic face, knowing he did his best. But just as Ryouta and Tsubaki did before him, the pang of defeat catches up to him and he has no choice but to run screaming as the train passes. It’s a cheesy scene, but a powerful one, and well-earned.

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Summer approacheth, but Kaori isn’t going to let Kousei rest on his moral laurels. There’s a concert gala at Towa Hall, and they’re going to play together again; this time, Kreisler’s Liebeleid (and I noticed and enjoyed Kaori breaking into German now and then)

Kousei’s mother’s (and, really, his) friend Seto Hiroko, Japan’s top pianist, is an interesting and welcome addition to the cast. Hiroko is super-cool and just happened to be present for Kousei’s self-finding experiment. She’s surprised he went back to the piano, and he tells her about the weird violinist who brought him back into the musician fold, Hiroko was clearly heartened.

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In the flashback, we see a non-evil Kousei’s mom who wasn’t going to make Kousei into a pianist at all “if she could help it”, but it was Hiroko who noticed he had a special gift and insisted his mom nurture it. We know what happened after that. Now, two years later, Kousei’s come out of limbo and wants her to teach him how to play properly again. He owes it to Kaori.

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That brings us to the episode’s climax and the true middle point of the show, in which Kousei finally tells Kaori directly (in a field of fireflies) that it was her that gave him the power and the strength to play. As she had probably gathered, he was playing only for her; sought only her approval and endorsement. This isn’t one of those romantic scenes where the two throw themselves into each others’ arms and kiss, but it was still pretty damn rousing.

So ephemeral and weak. But it’s shining with all its might.

That being said, the show is determined to rain on its own parade by reiterating that NO, Kaori will NOT be around forever for Kousei to lean on. She led him back to the world of music, but no doubt her health won’t allow her to stay on the same path as him much longer. As much as I hate to say it, I just don’t see Kaori lasting until the end of this show.

Which begs the question: how will he deal with her inevitable demise? What or whom will he choose to replace what now seems utterly irreplaceable?

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Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 10

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Well, let’s just get this out of the way: Kousei’s performance STINKS. He’s literally all over the shop; shifting wildly from the same old soulless human metronome, to banging on the piano like a child wailing in pain, to stopping completely. But none of that matters. This was still a HUGE leap forward for Kousei; life-changingly huge. And it all came down to Kaori.

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The ‘ghost’ of Kousei’s mom kept going on about his “punishment” for rejecting her and her dreams, but more than before, the cuts of her and the deep dark sea are interspersed with cuts of Kaori. She’s in his head more and more as the performance goes on, all but replacing Mom. He keeps his head up, looks at the lights as if they were the shining stars, and tries to finish the performance, even if he can’t be proud of it.

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It’s still a struggle, but after he stops, he again remembers Kaori turning around and saying “Again!” At this point he’s lost the audience completely and disqualified himself from the competition, but his pause in the music is a crucial ‘reboot’ of sorts for his psyche. He fell, but he gets back up and gets back to the ivories, with Kaori constantly in his heart.

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Once he’s playing again, albeit very badly, it occurs to him that Kaori and only Kaori is the one he’s playing for; the only one he wants to reach, just as she reached him so powerfully, both through her performances, but also simply by being there for him, guiding him out of the dark. He starts to channel those emotions through the piano, and his notes ‘shimmer’ as he begins to project to the crowd the imagery of the practice room as Kaori softly dozes.

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Again, his playing changes. It’s not enough to make everyone forget the ugliness before, but it’s still plenty compelling, which is a lot to say for a pianist with a reputation for sticking to the sheet music. Everyone has this priceless “Huh? WTF is going on?” look on their faces, except for the few in the crowd who matter.

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Now that he’s found something to replace the ragged gaping hole in his heart his mother left, Kousei can play with confidence and passion, although perhaps still too raw to make any headway with the judges. But again, that doesn’t matter: this was never about Kousei jumping right back into contention; that’s still a ways off. It was about breaking free, severing his puppet strings, and going his own way, for the sake of the girl he loves.

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It would appear his music did in fact reach Kaori, who is moved to tears along with the little girl with the cat. Heck, even his Mom seems to be proud of him moving on in the end. After all, the villainess in Kousei’s mind was a ghost of his own making, forged from guilt and regret over how things with her. That ghost wasn’t something to be defeated, but rather transformed, as Kousei transformed himself this week.

It doesn’t do justice to say he’s merely ‘back’; thanks to Kaori, he’s been reborn; better than ever. Births may be messy and harrowing, as his performance was, but both herald the start of something new, amazing, and full of possibilities. As long as Kaori remains alive.

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Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 09

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Let’s dig right in, shall we? First of all, I was not expecting the cold open return to the middle of Emi’s performance, and some of it was simply elaborating upon things that were already made clear last week. That being said, the extra attention paid to Emi, and in particular her childhood, provide a baseline with which to compare the very, erm…different childhood Kousei experienced. The modern arrangement of the Chopin matches her past self’s bright-eyed outlook nicely.

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More on that later. I do like how Emi storms off the stage, grabs Kousei by the scruff, and is on the cusp of saying…something important to him, but almost seems to chicken out and runs off to change, disappointing Takeshi. Still, her mission was accomplished; Kousei did hear her, and he was moved to the very core.

Meanwhile…damn, Kaori takes a lot of drugs! Did you put that scene in there to remind us she’s a very sick girl who’s going to die just when Kousei loves and needs her the most? Is the titular “lie” ultimately the lie that everything will turn out just fine? You’re a cruel show, Uso.

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Cruel, perhaps, but also the king of building tension and anticipation to the point our stomachs hurt right along with Tsubaki. Takeshi and Emi may be disappointed in the relatively ‘simple’ Chopin piece Kousei will play (chosen at random by Kaori) but even they’re smacking their lips at the opportunity to see him play again for the first time in years. His slow walk to the stage is full of triumph, as Kousei’s heart and soul and musical will all seem to have been jump-started by the other performances.

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But those of you who thought this would be the day Kousei shook off all of his past trauma regarding the piano thanks to both his friends and admirers…well, you were probably disappointed, but tough noogies. Shame on you anyway; we’re not even halfway through the series; it’s way to early for Kousei to be getting over anything.

There’s an interesting symmetry that further supports why Emi’s story occupied the cold open: Emi was a little girl in the crowd who got extremely inspired by Kousei in the past. Kousei spots a little girl in the crowd and gets extremely rattled in the present. Nice!

But long before Kousei saw the girl with the cat I knew Kousei was going to have a rough time this week. There’s no doubt that Takeshi, Emi and Kaori have moved him deeply, but in the blinding light of their awesomeness, he only temporarily forgot about the darkness lurking even deeper in his psyche that kept him away from the piano in the first place.

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Far from a tale of how Kousei gets his groove back, this episode intercuts Kousei’s initially competent but emotionless performance with scenes of his past when he was abused by his ailing mother (note the same ridiculous pile of drugs Kaori had).

And let’s not beat around the bush here: Kousei was and remains a victim of brutal, unyielding physical and emotional child abuse, and his mother was a coward and a brute undeserving of such a loving, devoted son. Maybe she knew that herself, and so worked so intently on beating that love out of him.

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Takeshi and Emi’s stories of how they got so good at the piano were full of envy, resentment, and longing, but they had it way easier than poor Kousei. And they were embracing music as a means to better themselves (so they could stand on the same level as Kousei), while Kousei purely played to make his mother better, a notion borne from emotion, which his mom hated above all else.

To her, emotion could only corrupt composer’s intended notes. The sheet music had to be followed precisely without the slightest error or embellishment.

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She finally succeeded in making Kousei snap. After a public performance she attended that he had been looking forward to making her happy with, she has nothing but scorn and cane blows for him, and he tells her to just die already. And so complete was her abuse, Kousei blamed himself and those words for her ultimate death shortly thereafter.

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Initially, he kept practicing like nothing was amiss, but one day his ‘punishment’ arrives in the form of his mother’s ghost, taking away his ability to hear the notes and plunging him into the sea. That is again where he finds himself during his attempted comeback.

It’s all in his head; it’s all scar tissue built up by his awful mom, but as long as he blames himself for her death, as long a part of him believes he deserves this punishment, no amount of inspiring peer performances will help him recover what he’s lost. We saw both Kaori and his mother in possession of pharmaceutical galaxies, but it might be Kousei who’s most in need of medication…not to mention therapy.

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Ikoku Meiro no Croisée 11

Claude forbids Yune to join Alice for a trip to the department store, and she obeys, once again saying one thing while possibly thinking another. Instead Claude, Yune and Oscar go to the park for a picnic. Oscar impresses her with a “spell” that stops the rain and sleight-of-hand tricks, but they remind her of a similar “spell” she put on her older sister that she believes made her blind and weak.

Who would’ve though Yune had a Dark Past She’s Not Proud Of, eh? Well, a dark coincidence at least. Yune’s sister Shione had pale blue eyes, which would have been no big deal in Paris, but in Japan, people gave her looks and even feared her. Lil’ Yune insisted that Shione only look at her, and otherwise keep her eyes closed, sparing her from the looks. Anime eyes tend to be all the colors of the rainbow, but in this realistic period piece, color matters.

It’s an innocent enough sentiment from a concerned lil’ sister, but when Shione grew frail and went blind, Yune blamed herself out of superstition. Shion’s plight is a dreadful shame – but not Yune’s fault. It turns out every time she sees Claude’s eyes, she thinks of Shione. She finally stopped holding everything in, let it all out, and experienced a catharsis. Another cute chapter of a cute series that has just one more cute episode to go.


Rating: 3