Ikebukuro West Gate Park – 05 – The Golden Land

IWGP has done a great job mixing up Majima Makoto’s cases-of-the-week thus far, underlining how valuable someone with his skills and relationships can be to a diverse array of people. This week he’s approached by Lin Gaotai, an advisor to immigrant labor trainees from China. He is looking for 19-year-old trainee Guo Shungui. If she’s not found within a week, she and all 250 of her fellow trainees will be forcibly deported back to China.

This isn’t just a case-of-the-week for Makoto, but a kind of wake-up call, as he puts it prior to the OP. He’d never thought of himself or the people of Ikebukuro and Japan in general as “blessed”, but they most certainly are compared to the crippling  poverty of rural China from where both Lin and Guo hail. The lure of life-changing pay leads to fierce competition; Lin and Guo are where they are only due to working themselves to the bone.

At first, Makoto isn’t sure what to make of Lin, a “trainee advisor” who not only knows enough kung fu to scare off some Dongleng toughs, but has a keen enough grasp of Japanese to speak appropriately formally and modestly to the local Dongleng boss. He even bails the less courteous Makoto out of what could have been serious trouble. The boss is loath to give up Guo, but when Lin asks the boss’ boss in Shanghai for a favor, Guo is freed from her position at the China Doll Hostess Club.

When Makoto finally meets Guo, she looks quite a bit more glamorous than the photo provided by Lin, but the look of “the incurable illness of poverty” is still in her eyes. Turns out she didn’t know leaving her sweatshop would cause 250 people to be deported; she accepted the Dongleng hostess job because her father’s health back in China was worsening and she needed more money fast. For a 19-year-old to have to sell her body to save her family is a heartbreaking choice, but Makoto respects it’s her choice to make.

Ultimately, Guo weighs her father’s life with those of the 250 and, knowing firsthand how hard they all worked to make it to Japan (and their financial reasons for doing so), decides she’ll return to the factory. The day before she’s to leave, Makoto takes her out on the town. Guo marvels at everything from the beauty and vitality of Tokyo’s people to the newer cars and cleaner streets. Makoto can’t help but see it all in a whole new light. She even meets Kyouichi, who dances for her.

That night when Makoto’s mom feeds him, Lin, and Guo, we learn that when Lin brought up the Japanese woman who adopted him, he was planting the seed for Makoto’s mom to adopt Guo, which is what she decides to do. Guo, obviously, is overwhelmed with joy and gratitude, as she didn’t want to leave Tokyo but also really didn’t want to work in the sex industry. Makoto’s mom took one look at Guo’s hardworking hands and knew she’d be a good addition to her produce stand.

Makoto not only gains some welcome perspective on his extremely fortunate lot in life relative to other parts of the world, but gains an lovely sister as well! I am one am glad the episode ends on a high note, and hope we’ll get to see more of Guo. Rather than ending up like the first pen she used to learn Japanese—devoid of ink without anything to show for it—Guo will be free to realize her potential and live the life she deserves.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Owari no Seraph – 12 (Fin)

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The final Seraph of the End episode until October was quiet, contemplative, and suffused with unease and a kind of restlessness that’s understandable considering what everyone just went through and how still things stand now.

The only battle being fought is Yu’s slow but apparently certain recovery. It’s a battle we don’t see, because most of the episode is from Shinoa’s point of view. She’s an uneasy, impatient, somewhat outraged Shinoa who wants to know what the hell was in the pills Guren gave her to give Yu.

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When she uses her family name to get into a top-secret installation where the army is experimenting on vampires and wants to have words with Guren on the matter of Yu’s little transformation, Guren has no words of comfort for her, except that if she thinks she’s fallen for Yu, all she can do is stay by his side and wait for him to wake up.

Since Yu’s well-being is more important to her than whatever devious mad-scientist shit Guren is up to, she does as Guren recommends, pleading with the comatose Yu to please wake up soon.

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Unfortunately for Shinoa, it’s Yoichi’s turn to sit by Yu’s bed when he finally does wake up, though Yoichi has the good sense to let Shinoa have some time to herself with him before calling the others in. The camera slowly pans from Yu, crying over having seen Mika alive and well, to Shinoa lurking in the doorway, snapping into smartass mode, hiding the worry she wore on her face while he was out and teasing him for crying, even though she’d do the same thing in his case.

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Being a Hiiragi whose sergeant rank is lower than it could be if she played the game, and the fact she got into Guren’s lab, we know Shinoa knows more than any of the others the dark directions their duty could take them, and in the brief flashback as Shiho carries Yu away, there’s a hint of guilt in her face, as if she’s facilitated Yu’s transition into something way bigger and nastier than he’s aware of.

Yet none of that matters when Yu places his hand on Shinoa’s shoulder, voicing concern for her bitten, bandaged neck. She doesn’t want to be in love with her underling, but as she learns more about the person Yu is, that’s increasingly the case, as her blushing betrays.

Even better, Yu makes himself to be someone worthy of being fallen for, as once everyone is assembled in his hospital room, he takes the time to earnestly thank everyone from the bottom of his heart, and express how blessed he feels to have such good friends. Mitsu and Shiho are taken aback by this change in him, but Yoichi and Shinoa less so, as they know him better and have seen hints of this side before.

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Yu isn’t just happy because he’s okay and his friends are okay; he’s also elated that Mika is alive, an attitude I’m frankly glad for. There’s no angst in the way things are. Friend or foe, Mika is alive, and that’s enough for him, for now. It’s the first time in a while that something has been enough for him, and while he yearns to see Mika again (and Mika him), his provisional inner peace is clear to see. He’s realized his live isn’t that bad, and is worth preserving, both for his friends’ sake and Mika’s.

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I was totally on board with the peaceful end to this first rousing cour of Owari, especially all the scenes of people on both sides just kicking back and enjoying their hard-earned break from death and destruction. But judging from the final scene, that peace will be short-lived. Lord Ferid is apparently exchanging research with, and I’m just guessing here, Guren, both motivated perhaps by their mutual disgruntlement with the higher-born higher-ups.

Just as it wasn’t 100% clear it was Guren on that rooftop (we never see him), I’m not sure if Ferid is working against the vamps, Guren is working against the humans, or both of them are just working towards their own goals. But whatever it is, Ferid believes it’s going almost too smoothly, and it definitely stirs up intrigue for the second cour this Fall, in which everyone continues to be sinners, doing sinner shit.

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