Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 04

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After each episode, and after announcing the next, a character thanks us for our “continued support,” and my continued support of Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu has never gone unrewarded.

Case in point: another absolute gem, combining lovely family slice-of-life (with a very unique and cool family), the clouds hanging over Yakumo’s head, and Konatsu getting to do something, out of the blue, she never dreamed of actually doing.

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That adorable little kid up there is Konatsu and Yota’s kid. Some time has passed, but not too much: he’s only in kindergarten, and yet, he’s already surprising and delighting all, even his parents, with his nascent rakugo skills. They may have a genius on their hands.

He’s every bit as charismatic as Konatsu was. Even Yakumo can’t stay mad, going quickly into Grandpa Mode. By the way, how often does a show come around where so much time passes, we get to watch both Konatsu and her son at the same age? It’s a generational show.

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It’s generations that Higuchi Eisuke wishes to discuss with Yakumo, who grudgingly gives him a ride home and his ear for the five or so minutes. Eisuke doesn’t waste them, almost going too far in proclaiming he won’t let Yakumo kill rakugo off, or even define it as something dead or dying. With Yota, Eisuke aims to keep it alive, changing to suit the mood of a generation, just as it always has.

Ever the rigid bamboo, Yakumo won’t hear of any of that, nor will he have any part in Eisuke’s project. And when Yakumo says rakugo is dead, he’s not just talking about how it would die with him, but perhaps how it already died with Sukeroku, someone Yakumo has always believed to be better than him.

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Yota is very much the progressive, without even being that aware of it, because he knows how good “Sis” is at rakugo and thinks if she loves it so much she should just do it. What’s the harm in going out there and trying it? Such an idea is unspeakable to Konatsu, however, and considering the man who raised her, her attitude is hardly surprising. Instead, she’s being trained in shamisen, so she can play her husband and others in and out.

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But when they both go to their kid’s school to perform, Yota gets inspired by the scenario, warms the crowd of mostly little kids up, and then…hands the show over to Konatsu. All of a sudden, she’s doing something she hasn’t done since she was a pint-sized urchin, living with her father.

While initially flustered and overwhelmed, a switch flips and all of a sudden Konatsu us that urchin in the bar, without skipping a beat. Scratch that; after years with Yakumo as a father, she’s gotten better, despite having never performed in public. She’s also, in my opinion, better than Yota, at least in terms of better differentiating between the characters she voices (all kudos to the great Kobayashi Yuu here).

“Jugemu” is a simple story that’s not too raunchy or complicated for the kids, and it involves quite a bit of linguistic limberness to repeat the overly-long name of the titular child over and over at increasingly faster speeds. But it’s a cakewalk for Konatsu. She’d have brought down the house no matter what the makeup of the crowd was.

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And holy crap, the surging of emotions going through Konatsu before, during and after her impromptu performance were just a delight to behold, right up until she embraces her hubby with tears of relief and joy, and he essentially says “See? Rakugo’s hella fun, right?”

The next morning, Konatsu’s back to “usual”, and despite Yota’s protests, she still won’t commit to ever doing rakugo again. It just doesn’t seem right to her to crash something that’s been a “boy’s-only” affair for so long.

It’s an old-fashioned view of a very old-fashioned art, but par for the course for someone with her upbringing, which may have been laissez-faire with Sukeroku, but got real conservative real fast with Yakumo. So while, like Yota, I’m disappointed, and think it’s a waste, I understand why she feels the way she does.

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Yakumo, meanwhile, holds Sukeroku’s fan – old Sukeroku’s; not Yota’s. And as he holds it, a figure appears behind him – Sukeroku’s ghost, I presume. There’s no hint of arrogance or superiority in this moment, as Yakumo seems haunted by the fact a someone as loathsome and untalented as he is “all that’s left” of rakugo.

Yota will probably never be able to impress him, just as he won’t be able to impress himself. Eisuke may be right that rakugo needs to evolve, and Yota may be right that someone of Konatsu’s talent should be a part of that evolution. But you’ll never convince Yakumo of that, and Konatsu will never think it’s appropriate to be anything but musical accompaniment.

That leaves the youngin’. Who knows what future he’ll see that no one else will be around to see. What I hope we do see is Yota’s rakugo continuing to be popular, and that rakugo continuing to grow into something his son can inherit. But Yakumo’s warning about how quickly a fall can come makes me weary of too many good times to come.

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 03

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The fireworks fly in this episode of SGRS2, both in the night sky and later, in the private room of a restaruant where Konatsu worked before she went on maternity leave, run by a friend of her mother Miyokichi.

But first, we get to soak up a gorgeous, festive night, with Konatsu, the baby, and the mistress relaxing on a bench while Yota practices his ranting on a boat with his patron.

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When the mistress and Konatsu rush to the restaurant Yota follows—as does Eisuke, hungry for details about rakugo life, which he learns is surprisingly similar to thug life. Yota finds his old mob boss, as well as that boss’ boss, who happens to be close to the mistress.

Yota decides to intrude, and after making courteous, verbose apologies, kinda lays into the old man, seemingly unconcerned that he has the power to kill him if he doesn’t like him.

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Fortunately, the big boss is not only a fan of rakugo, but Yota’s rakugo in particular. Even when Yota picks a fight, and even wonders out loud whether the boss is the father of Konatsu’s child, the boss merely tosses him into a koi pond to “cool off”; he doesn’t rough him up.

Yota doesn’t back down, instead belting out an elaborate rant he was practicing before, only customized for the boss, who is entranced and charmed. Yota is starting to realize he’s not just some punk anymore; he’s a shin’uchi…and he’s a father.

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After a night where some doubted if Yota was going to be able to keep his promise to outlive his master, and some goldfish scooping with Eisuke, he returns home, having quite accidentally found “his rakugo” with his elaborate, animated ranting style.

Mind you, Yakumo hasn’t heard it yet,  but agrees to do a family performance, if Yota learns and masters “Inokori,” a Sukeroku classic. To inspire him, Yakumo performs it himself, seemingly flipping a switch and channeling Sukeroku. Yota is spellbound. When he’s finished, Yakumo looks like he’d just climbed twenty flights.

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Yota scared the crap out of Konatsu by confronting the father of her child, but everything worked out for the best. The episode’s parting shot is what Konatsu wants in a nutshell: to live in a comfortable house, to hear Yota’s/Sukeroku’s rakugo, and to have her son hear it as well.

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 02

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Yotarou gets what he wants: the whole family under one roof (a trial period, at least). But he also gets something he doesn’t: a scandal related to the very old news that he once had yakuza ties. The timing couldn’t be worse: Yotarou is already out of sorts due to the pressures of family he put on himself and the burden of having to innovate beyond Yakumo’s rakugo.

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As for Konatsu, she sometimes feels she’s taking care of three children, not just her own. Yotarou means well but he’ll have to deliver or the trial period ends with his expulsion from the house. And when the baby barges into Yakumo’s room while he’s playing music, it’s Yakumo who throws a mini-tantrum with his inimitable Yakumo pissiness.

When he tries to pawn the kid off on Konatsu, he finds her sleeping, with tears streaming down as she dreams. Here Yakumo the Tender comes out, even if reluctantly, reciting one of her father’s stories that always used to put her to sleep (in a good way!).

It’s an especially beautiful moment that isn’t taken away from simply because Yakumo gets more pissy afterwards about having to stay alive so Konatsu’s kid can hear his rakugo (which is also the main reason she hasn’t killed him as she’s promised to do.)

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As for Yotarou, earlier in the episode he seems to be letting all the Yakuzagate stuff slide off his line-tattooed back, but the pressure is clearly building for that back to be revealed to his audience, and after his colleague bombs, the pressure finally bursts.

Listening to an extended scene of rakugo in this show can be an almost hypnotic experience, much like BBC’s Shipping Forecast, but with the added visuals of every little hand gesture, shift of a foot, bead of sweat on the head, or other ways humans try to stay sitting in one place.

In this case, his story, which isn’t going over that well with the paltry crowd anyway, builds to an exceedingly misguided attempt to diffuse the tension by stripping to reveal that tattoo, getting up, and dancing around. This wasn’t just bad rakugo…it wasn’t rakugo.

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When Yotarou and Yakumo cross paths with Higuchi in the middle, we learn that the writer, like Konatsu, wants Yakumo to stay alive, so that they can work to keep his rakugo alive. It’s stiking to see the lengths to which people go for a true master’s own rakugo, contrasted with just how damn far Yotarou has left to go.

But rather than pile on, Yakumo takes a more gentle tack, forgiving Yotarou for his impropriety and advising him to embrace his past, and not try to hide it, with or without outlandish stunts. The more pressing problem, however, is whether doing that will bear fruit.

Yakumo is, to be blunt, on the way out, and seems content to let rakugo die with him; at least the rakugo he knew. But Yotarou needs to find a way to get the crowds to trust him again; to see the character he plays and not just an ex-yakuza. Because he’s got a family to provide for now. Breadwinning must come before soul-searching…unless you can get one with the other.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 31

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Even Takaki can feel it: something’s not right. Something hasn’t been right since Chad was injured, Radice took over, and Galan was brought on. But that “something” is impossible for him to grasp, at least to the point it alters the course he and the other Earth Branchers of Tekkadan, which is precisely the course Galan wants them on: the path to ruin.

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As such, Takaki finds himself very nearly back to where this all began: human tools of CGS; cannon fodder for endless, pointless battles between Arbrau and the SAU. And it’s all in service of weakening McGillis’ position and reputation. As he stares in his coffee, McGillis knows exactly what’s going on, as he’s probably been expecting concerted resistance to his reform movement. It’s strange to see him on his heels, almost forced to make a move.

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I’m not yet sure if McGillis is being played here, but Takaki and Aston are being played like fiddles. Galan treats them decently, but behind their backs calls them dogs he’s helpfully trained for Rastal. He tells Takaki again and again that this is it; the last battle; just one more push and he can go back home to his normal happy life with Fuka and Aston. Only they’re just words, and in reality there is no end to the war in sight.

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That’s just how Galan, Radice, and Rustal want it. It’s another case of the adults getting one over on the kids; manipulating their emotions to keep them pliable. Galan even goes out of his way to save Takaki’s life, not just to keep up the charade but to build more trust; trust Galan has every intention of betraying when the time is right.

It’s an episode that establishes a terrible situation for Earth Branch, and makes me question the wisdom of splitting Tekkadan’s forces across two planets in the first place. Mika, Kudelia, Eugene & Co. are on their way, and may be able to provide some relief but Galan won’t make it easy for them to interfere in his plans. Will it be too little, too late to save Takaki?

Meanwhile, McGillis takes the stage in his mobile suit, determined after a matter of weeks to nip this sprawling yet low-boil conflict in the bud. A rematch with the masked Gaelio seems imminent.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 30

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Note Orga tucking his tie to keep it clean – nice little detail
With so much opportunity for prosperity and stability on the horizon, Orga’s not one to go soft: When he’s late for dinner, he doesn’t ask Atra to heat it up, preferring to “deal with whatever’s in front” of him, be it food, work, or trouble.

Mika, always one to both notice and speak up about things no one else does, notices Orga is looking a little skinny, and drops some of his weird nut things on top of Orga, who isn’t a fan of the taste. But by episode’s end, Mika’s coat lint-garnished snacks are the least troublesome thing he must deal with.

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Julieta and Iok report their failure back to Rastal, who already has plans to open a front against McGillis on Earth, using some “bearded gentleman” Iok isn’t comfortable with but Julieta seems to be fine with, as long as he serves her master ably.

Julieta also meets with Mask Gaelio, who seems to be trying to warn her about trusting someone, even a superior, too closely. After all, all he and Carta ever were to McGillis were loyal and admiring, and he repaid them by screwing them royally. His only mistake was not making sure Gaelio was dead.

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McGillis’ enemies are joining forces out of a shared desire to see him fall, and McGillis’ enemies are now Tekkadan and Admoss Co.’s enemies. They reaped the benefits in last week’s battle, but Tekkadan’s Earth Branch represents its soft, vulnerable underbelly, and Radice has already given up on the ragtag Tekkadan Earth crew he deems “uneducated animals”.

Mere minutes before a commencement address, Makanai’s office is bombed, and Radice is in on it. Chad is injured along with Makanai, leaving Radice in charge of Tekkadan Earth, and he wastes no time showing his contempt for his underlings in keeping them in the dark.

Radice is having a drink with the “bearded gentleman” when the bomb goes off, and this is only the beginning, as rumors start to swirl everywhere that the SAU is responsible for the incident, and Gjallarhorn is brought in to arbitrate.

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It’s a chaotic situation and the last thing Orga, Chad, and Takaki wanted. Takaki, the ostensible leader of Tekkadan Earth with Radice having turned against them (still unbeknownst to them), must way everyone’s selfish desire to avenge Chad with Chad’s actual orders to keep things under control. It’s a lot for the gentle-hearted Takaki to take on, and just when he was hoping he could give Fuka a better life on Earth.

He at least has Aston on his side, who may share the others’ thirst to avenge Chad but considers his duty to his superior more important. What ticks Takaki off is that in interpreting his duty to him, Aston goes straight to fighting or dying for him.

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Tekkadan was supposed to be moving past such desperate measures, but McGillis’ and their foes are determined to keep them dragged down in the mire. On a hunch, Orga rushes the delivery of weapons and new mobile suits to Earth, and sends Eugene and Akihiro to make sure they get there.

Mika and Kudelia also tag along for the journey, and with such big names it looks like Earth is going to play a bigger role than I thought…once they get there. It’s a three-week trip, and a lot can happen on the ground in that time.

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Like Orga, Takaki isn’t fully aware of the depths of Radice’s betrayal when he shakes the hand of Arbrau Defense Force’s new commander, the hulking “bearded gentleman” Galan Mossa. But he’s certainly uneasy about the future, and his future self narrating admits this was the time a trap began closing around Tekkadan; one that they could not escape from without more fighting and dying. It’s a cold dinner, but all they can do is deal with it.

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Kantai Collection: KanColle – 12 (Fin)

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Well, you have to hand it to KanColle, it wasted no time whatsoever declaring it was going to pour all of the compelling drama and peril and promise of the previous episode down the drain. Within the first thirty seconds, Fubuki arrives in the nick of time to save Akagi, as does the main battle force led by Yamato.

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As such, this entire episode is, at its heart, a complete re-writing of history, which makes you wonder (or possibly not wonder at all) why the heck they bothered to set up battles with real-world parallels when they were only going to turn the result of those battles upside down.

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But revisionism aside, this was never that exciting an ending at all because that early taking away of the stakes came with it the knowledge that this episode wouldn’t even be sorta adhering to reality. The show failed to rise above its somewhat unsightly core reason for being: to promote the video game it’s based upon, as well as its sundry characters.

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Thus, the result isn’t just a foregone conclusion (the Fleet Girls win it all without suffering any casualties), but the battle itself feels pointless and needlessly drawn out, infused with setbacks we know will be overcome by the time the credits roll. It’s an extended victory lap, as well as a showcase for every Fleet Girl character.

As for the Abyssals, they disappoint to the last, as one finally actually says something, but only simply phrases like “SINK!” Gee, I sure wish a show in which the good guys fight the bad guys had bothered to, you know, give us something, anything, with which to understand what the bad guys were about. But nope, they’re just evil.

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Looking back, Mitsuki’s loss of Kisaragi was the only remotely significant casualty the Fleet Girls suffered, other than the fancypants Admiral we neither saw nor heard for the extent of the show, and therefore wasn’t any more a character than the Abyssals. I kept watching this show because it had the guts to take Kisaragi out. Unfortunately, that’s all it had guts for.

Still, this episode is saved from total inanity by some nice moments between characters who actually were characterized in the past eleven episodes. Bonds like Nagato and Mutsu, Akagi and Kaga, Kaga and Zuikaku, and the core trio of Fubuki, Mitsuki, and Yuudachi, while nothing particularly special, got some pleasant closing beats.

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As for this admiral dude, I’m just not sure why I should care about him, considering we never see or hear him. I guess the Admiral is really you and me, huh? Well, excuse me if I’m not going to get all that excited about myself, nor a great host of Fleet Girls getting all hot and bothered about me. Simply put, I’m not that special.

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Kantai Collection: KanColle – 11

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I’ll preface this review by stating I knew the result of the real Battle of Midway, and which ships were lost in it. Suffice it to say, it was a devastating defeat for Japan, one from which they would never truly recover. So I entered this episode wondering: how would KanColle play this?

They’ve been more-or-less faithful to history thus far, a few details aside. The ships may have pretty faces and cute outfits, and the creators may have a game to sell, but I hoped that wouldn’t lead to any major revision of that battle. It made sense in the context of the story so far, after all, that things should go very badly for the Fleet Girls.

What’s interesting is that KanColle seemed well aware of my foreknowledge and anxiety, and seemed to play off of them in the tense build-up to the battle.

Take the super-dark cold open, in which the battle unfolds just as it did in real life: Akagi’s task force is decimated and she is so badly damanged she has to be scuttled. The show even takes the unprecedented step of portraying Akagi as an actual listing ship.

It’s only Akagi’s (recurring) dream, but the episode immediately grabs our attention, announcing it knows what we’re expecting. What it doesn’t answer yet at that point is, how close will it stick to history? Is Akagi’s dream only one possibility?

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As the episode settles into Naval District life as usual, but Akagi’s nightmare, along with the imminent battle, casts a pall on the bright and cheerful surroundings with girls drinking milk to prepare.

The episode is also punctuated by titles indicating how many hours remain until the battle, accompanied by percussive booms that reminded me of Akira’s iconic, chilling opening. This isn’t just Life As Usual…for many, it’s most likely the last of it.

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Not one to shrug off such disturbing dreams, Akagi considers them a warning and an omen of what is to come should things unfold as planned. She takes her intuitive concerns to Nagato and recommends slight alterations in the order of battle, which Nagato approves.

Both elite Fleet Girls get the strange feeling like they’re drifting down a river fate, perhaps one they’ve even been down before. Akagi has seen her doom in dream after dream, but she intends to break that destiny. She wants that more than ever after her escort Fubuki thanks her simply for being so awesome and inspiring her to achieve greatness.

But while Akagi’s mods to the battle plan are meant to change their course in that river of fate, the fact remains she was fated to make those mods, which will lead her exactly the fate she aimed to avoid.

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The battle begins, and things take a turn for the worse almost immediately as the main assault force led by Battleship Yamato fails to rendezvous with Akagi’s four-carrier task force, sitting in dreadful weather. Aware that they could be spotted by the Abyssals at any moment, Akagi decides to proceed to MI without the main force, leaving an initially protesting Fubuki and Kongou to stay behind and wait for them.

Akagi’s force detects an “airfield princess” on MI, and they launch sorties that do her considerable damage at the loss of only a few planes. Things are going okay, but the force fails to detect the other Abyssal forces who sneak up from behind and throw everything they’ve got at them. Just like that, the ambushers become the ambushed.

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Just like the real-life battle, carriers Akagi, Kaga, Soryu, and Kiryu all take damage. Akagi’s bow breaks early on, so she can’t launch any planes to defend herself or her fellow ships. The girls’ eyes are full of bewilderment, fear, and panic as the explosions around them multiply.

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And for once, there’s no rescue in the nick of time by reinforcements. There’s no cavalry in sight, or even on the way, as far as we know. Last time we saw Fubuki and Kongou, they were still waiting to no avail.

Things look very very bad for Akagi in particular, who has a torpedo/bomb flying straight at her when the episode goes to black. Her nightmare, or rather vision, is coming true. She wasn’t able to escape the river of fate.

While this is awful on an emotional level, it’s also precisely the kind of episode I was hoping for: one that wouldn’t hold back on history just because it didn’t deliver a happy ending to the show’s good guys.

But the battle is only halfway through. The challenge that faces KanColle next week is: Will it maintain this faithfulness to its terrible but ultimately dramatically satisfying conclusion…or will it chicken out at the last second and let the Fleet Girls snatch victory out of the jaws of defeat?

I’m not saying I’ll automatically be put off by the latter possibility. But it will be a lot tougher to achieve, because the pull of that river is awfully strong, and this episode contributed mightily to that.

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Kantai Collection: KanColle – 10

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Now that Fubuki knows the reason she was recalled to the Naval District was to be remodeled, she starts training like Rocky, if Rocky was a female Japanese anthropomorphic WWII-era destroyer, hoping to start glowing so she can become taller and more powerful, like Yuudachi, whom she inspired.

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Mutsuki is worried that Fubuki is taking things too far, too fast. She doesn’t want Fubuki to end up in a position where she’s trying so hard she gets hurt, or even sunk. Not to mention I’m sure she harbors worry about being left behind as Fubuki and Yuudachi get remodeled, leaving her in the dust.

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When Nagato sends the reunited Torpedo Squad Three for a recon mission and they’re attacked by Abyssals, Fubuki, eager to prove herself, rushes ahead and very nearly gets herself sunk, which is exactly what Mutsuki feared. It’s one thing to come out of your shell and start believing in yourself; it’s quite another to break formation and rush at the enemy head-on without thinking.

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Fubuki is lucky, as the Abyssal’s kill shot barely misses her. But what’s telling is that Fubuki doesn’t realize how lucky she is. The incident really puts a scare into Mutsuki, who’s so happy Fubuki is okay she jumps into the bath to embrace her while still in her uniform. Even after such a close call, Fubuki isn’t throwing in the towel; but Mutsuki worries as we do that if she keeps going like this, she’s going to end up like Kisaragi. And Mutsuki doesn’t think she could bear to lose someone else.

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Fubuki tracks Mutsuki down on the moonlit cliff where heart-to-hearts were meant to take place, and explains how the Commander, whom we’ve never gotten a clear look at and whose voice we’ve never heard, told her he brought her to the Naval District to join the fleet because he saw her in a dream…

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…Here’s where things get a little weird, because that dream features Fubuki in a wedding gown, with a wedding ring, on a rooftop in modern Tokyo. She also starts to say she loves him, before saying she “trusts” him instead.

Considering Mutsuki seems to want a romantic friendship with Fubuki, like many other sister ships seem to have with one another, this sudden inclusion of a nebulous male-female romantic dream-story is a little confusing.

Anyway, Fubuki promises she’ll never leave Mutsuki, but for some reason it sounds like a death flag, if not for Fubuki, than for Mutsuki.

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After watching Fubuki train so hard, Akagi decides to ask her be her escort, but Kaga challenges her to a test of her AA skills first. Fubuki agrees, and takes a serious beating from both fleet carriers, but keeps getting back up until all the practice planes are shot down.

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After all this, Mutsuki peels her off the dock, and she starts glowing the same way Yuudachi did, and it’s off to the factory. Rather amusingly, while her armaments and outfit are slightly different, her body is exactly the same, much to her disappointment, and Mutsuki’s relief. And Akagi officially appoints Fubuki as her escort for the coming battle.

That battle will take place at “MI”, which I have to suspect stands for “Midway Island.” If the battle there goes anything like it did in real life (and considering it’s implied the Abyssals have broken the Fleet Girls’ codes), Fubuki and the rest of the fleet are in for a rough time.

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Kantai Collection: KanColle – 09

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This week’s KanColle was another satisfying character-driven piece in which our plucky, “Bucky” protagonist Fubuki faces her latest trial: watching a friend surpass her. It happens very suddenly, as these things tend to do: one minute, regular old Yuudachi is inexplicably glowing and complaining of a light fever; the next, she’s in the factory being refitted into a new, improved, and more mature Yuudachi.

The physical transformation is pretty significant; Yuudachi is now taller, bustier, and wearing an upgraded uniform, and sporting a more detailed hairstyle. This may just be me, but it also seems like her speech patterns are now less childish, and she uses her trademark “-poi” punctuation less frequently.

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On the one hand, Fubuki is impressed and proud of her friend. On the other, well, she’s understandably jealous, and it makes her wonder why Yuudachi was chosen for a refit before her, the flagship of Mobile Unit Five. She’s not so much looking down at Yuudachi but at herself, believing some kind of inadequacy made the admiral pass her by.

Her two heavily-eating senpais, Akagi and Yamato, both assure her that she’s done well so far and tell her not to worry about such things and to keep up the good work; if she’s chosen for a refit, she’s chosen; if she’s not, she’s not. Akagi even pats her on the head, a simple gesture that nonetheless sends Fubuki into a fit of beaming an joyous dancing (if you wanna call it that); so much love and respect she has for the lovely Fleet Carrier.

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Then she hits another speed bump (or should that be land mine?) while on a run. She bumps into Yuudachi, who’s practicing her shiny new weapons, and they’re both summoned to Nagato, who issues them new orders. Yuudachi is reassigned to the First Carrier Group—meaning she’ll get to sail with Fubuki’s beloved Akagi—while Fubuki is relieved as the MU5 flagship and ordered to return to the Naval District.

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It’s a new low for Fubuki, who assumes this is punishment for screwing up somewhere, someway. Mutsuki tries to tell her not to jump to conclusions, and praises her as Akagi had, but only manages to make Fubuki believe people are simply showering her with praise to be nice, and it’s gotten to her head. Walking on the beach with her head down, she bumps into Kongou and collapses into her arms sobbing.

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That night Fubuki has a dream in which she can’t catch up to Akagi and Yuudachi no matter how hard she tries; a dream she knows she shouldn’t be having. At dawn she visits the waterfront, where Yuudachi is practicing tirelessly under Jintsuu and Sendai’s supervision.

As Sendai explains, Fubuki inspired Yuudachi to want to try harder and aim higher, so she went out every night practicing like this, until it paid off. One could say she maxed out her stats in her previous state, necessitating the refit. This snaps Fubuki out of her funk, as she realizes she isn’t the only one working so hard; everyone is, both for themselves and for each other. She then cheers for Yuudachi, who is happily responds with a hearty “POI!”

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Feeling a lot better about things, she travels with Mutsuki and Mogami to the Naval District, which turns out to have been bombed by Abyssals who took advantage of the thinner defense. Fubuki’s character work segues nicely into this resumption of the war storyline, because it’s likely she was ordered to step down as MU5 flagship and return to the District for a higher purpose, not as punishment. The Admiral (whom we’ve never actually seen) goes missing, but no one else is hurt, and the rest of the fleet is right behind Fubuki, and they all work to repair the base.

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Nagato also finds the Admiral’s standing orders, which confirm my theory that Fubuki wasn’t being punished: she is ordered to undergo remodeling, just like Yuudachi. Mind you, she’s not glowing the way her friend was, and her cold staring reaction almost makes her resemble an Abyssal, but it’s one thing for your friend to suddenly be re-fit. It’s another entirely for it to be you. She’s going to undergo some major changes, and change is always a little scary. Still, I look forward to seeing what mods she receives.

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Zankyou no Terror – 11 (Fin)

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The perpetrators of the failed Athena Project meant for its child subjects to be discarded and forgotten. Nine and Twelve’s plan wasn’t about revenge, but about making sure they and the others weren’t forgotten; that those still alive who were responsible were plucked from beneath the rocks they’d hidden under. With increasingly stunning yet nonlethal attacks, they gradually built up their stature, until no one would be able to forget what they did, and by extension, that they lived.

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The most stunning yet is the high-altitude detonation of the stolen atomic bomb, which ended up not harming anyone but disabled all electronics in Japan. While it was yet another means of gaining attention and exposure among the masses, it also served as a firm counter-riposte to the efforts of the members of the Athena project to use technology to artificially enhance mankind. For at least a time, the EMP emitted from the bomb reverted the country to a far simpler state.

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Shibazaki became the Oedipus to Nine and Twelve’s Sphinx, looking past easy answers to solve the riddles of where they came from, what they were doing, and why. They unwittingly helped him to solve the case that had ruined his career, and finally learn what those he suspected of wrongdoing were up to, and putting them away for it. Justice tastes a lot better when it is acknowledged not just by oneself or amongst a few individuals, but by the same system that once helped shelter the wrongdoers.

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I will say that even in a series of a mere eleven episodes, Five’s arc was ultimately a bit of a detour, though as the only other surviving Athena subject, her actions tore Nine and Twelve apart, threatening the whole enterprise, only to bring them back together as strong as ever following her demise. She represented an alternate effect of Athena: that of unchecked chaos and rage. It’s also worth noting that after the end of the facility, she was and remained alone right up until her final confrontation with the others, while at least Nine and Twelve had each other, which had a grounding effect.

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Even so, just before the bomb goes off, when Lisa isn’t sure whether the world is about to end, Twelve tells her he and Nine were never needed by anyone until they met her and everything changed. Neither were ever ones for true, honest human interaction, let alone feeling what it was like to care for someone so much that you’d do anything to save them, which Twelve got that with Lisa. Even if he and Nine didn’t (nor intended to) survive the gestation of the better world they sought to build, they didn’t take Lisa down with them.

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On the contrary, through her adventures and their many rescues of her and acts of kindness towards her, Twelve and Nine instilled a fresh appreciation for life, and while many will ask her what it was like to be “Sphinx’s hostage” for all that time, she could never tell them much, because they’d never fully understand: she wan’t their hostage. She was their friend; their little sister whom they kept safe without fail. And they gave her hope.

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Zankyou no Terror – 10

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Twelve deals with the guilt of betraying Nine, while trying to have fun with Lisa. Nine rolls the dice and surrenders to the police. Five makes one last desperate grasp at Nine, who “belongs to her.”

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Shibazaki comes face to face with Shunzo Mamiya, who orchestrated the Athena Project and the investigation of whom led to his demotion. An atomic bomb is released into the sky, to go off at 10pm. This episode isn’t messing around, expertly setting up the endgame.

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Interestingly, this episode is Five’s last. For those of you who tired of her relatively petty and nebulous vendetta and terrible English, rejoice, for she ends up doing herself in. Physically deteriorating, she senses the end is near, and after a harrowing chase and crossing the line with her American handlers, all that’s left to do on that highway is thank Nine for being the reason she stayed alive this long at all; to pursue him.

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She has him in her sight, but doesn’t pull the trigger, knowing she’s been beaten. Instead, she gives Nine a chaste parting kiss and ignites the pool of gasoline she’s standing in. This explosion was brought to you by the number Five.

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With Five now gone, all that’s left is for Nine to expose Athena to the world, if that was indeed his plan. The only problem is, the press conference he demanded the police allow him to hold is interrupted by Five’s meddling, and the atomic bomb is loosed, unable to be stopped by anyone.

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While meeting with Shunzo, who was convinced the spirit of Japan was “that of a loser, without a shred of dignity”, and thus pushed forward with Athena, Shibazaki can fathom the scale of the backlash, which looks tenuously close to being realized.

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In his final broadcast, transmitted automatically when Nine doesn’t get to the Hyatt at 8:00 PM, Sphinx One warns that nothing can stop the bomb. If he’s right, then we’re in for a catastrophe in the finale. But I’m not entirely convinced he’s not bluffing at this point.

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I’m not even sure his entire plan from the start was to draw out Five so that she could, well, finish herself off. Also, Twelve even ends up redeeming himself somewhat by interfering in Five’s pursuit of Nine, and I like how he does so on Lisa’s urging, telling him how happy she was when he saved her, and how Nine will probably feel the same way. Five may be gone, but there’s a lot left to sort out.

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Zankyou no Terror – 09

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Betray your brother, run away, or die with the girl he’s come to care for. The day Twelve had been dreading, when things go bad and he has to make an impossible choice, arrives much earlier than he probably hoped. With a ton of bombs strapped to her and not enough time to defuse them, Twelve ultimately makes a choice based on where he is there and then. Giving up the location doesn’t mean Nine’s certain death, just the destruction of their alliance (in all likelihood) and the jeopardizing of their grand scheme.

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But with Lisa sitting there—covered with bombs, initially trembling with fear; but after comforting words, becomes calm and accepting of her impending death—there’s no choice. Twelve can’t let her die. If he could give his life to save hers, he probably would have, but that wasn’t one of the options Five gave him. I must say, Five really did make good use of Lisa, and I’m alternating between the great risk she took and the reality that Twelve had already demonstrated to her that he would do anything to protect her, even sell out Nine.

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But despite being fairly certain, as Five was, that Twelve and Lisa weren’t going to blow up, did nothing to deflate the raw, horrifying, virtuoso tension of that Ferris Wheel scene. Yes, Ferris Wheels are a goofily poetic place to stage such a scene—as they’re supposed to be a place where joy is experienced, rather than despair (Deadman Wonderland FTW)—but the music sells the shit out of it, as does the animation of the characters’ faces. Not to mention, with two episodes left, it’s not impossible for them to die now—just highly unlikely. I’m glad they didn’t.

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This episode’s awesome continues as Shibazaki and Hamura pay a visit to Aoki, one of the researchers who participated in Project Athena, in which human pharmacological experimentation was performed on 26 numbered orphan test subjects, with the goal of synthesizing an artificial “savant syndrome”; an exercise in eugenics that went far beyond the pale of any acceptable human conduct. Aoki gives a weak “Befehl ist Befehl” defense, but he knows he’s a monster; in fact, he’s glad someone came so he could make his confession before he died.

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What brings everything together isn’t just that Shibazaki is now aware of Twelve and Nine’s past, and that they have a very good reason to be pissed off; nor is it merely the fact that Twelve and Nine didn’t steal plutonium, but an experimental and probably highly destructive nuclear weapon. No, it’s that the one who gave Aoki his marching orders to poke and prod helpless kids to death, was none other than the politician who Shibazaki came so very close to bagging before he was demoted for peering to deeply into the abyss.

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Shibazaki can add thus add this to his heavy satchel of regrets: all those years ago, he might’ve had an opportunity, however small, to expose and put an end to Athena, had he rejected his demotion, gone rogue, and continued his investigation outside the law, as he is doing now. How far will he go this time? How far will the powers that be let him? It’s also implied from talk of “being out of time” and Five collapsing, that the remaining three subjects wont live much longer, even if they put aside their troubles. Now I’m thinking maybe Lisa outlives everyone else.

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Zankyou no Terror – 08

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Following the Battle of Haneda, Five proves not particularly gracious in defeat, but she’s intent on winning the war, no matter how many rules she has to break or how much blood is spilt. To that end, she targets Sphinx’s weak link—Lisa—just as a lion goes for the weakest prey.

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Her attack isn’t exactly subtle: delivering a timed bomb to Sphinx’s apartment that Lisa barely evades, but it gets the job done: without their hideout, Nine and Twelve feel more vulnerable than ever. More importantly, Five makes that situation all Lisa’s fault, so rather than stick around and cause them more trouble, Lisa decides to run off…right into Five’s clutches.

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On the other end of things, Shibazaki’s colleagues are thrown off the case entirely and get suspended for three months, while he’s all but fired, having to turn in his badge. I like how the show doesn’t let them off the hook for their blatant insubordination last week, but I also like how his lack of a badge doesn’t stop Shibazaki from pursuing the case anyway, even going to his semi-estranged daughter for insight into nuclear weapons.

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Between the public record, police archives, an interview with a politician tied to the organization that instigated the “Athena Project”, and orphanage visits, Shibazaki starts to piece together who Sphinx (and likely Five) are orphans the government spirited away and basically fucked with. The more he learns, the more he starts to feel for Sphinx; while they’re called “terrorists” in this day an age, there was a time when they’d be, as he says, “something else.”

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Nine and Twelve are doing what they’re doing because they’re evil and hate civilization, but because they were wronged, and the government that wronged them must reap what it has sown. Twelve entertains the possibility of backing out, forgetting that they’re in far too deep to back out. But when Lisa runs off, his mission with Nine becomes secondary. At the end of the day, asking someone to join them or die wasn’t much of a choice, as Lisa fiercely wants to stay alive no matter what.

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As such, Twelve is guilty for involving her and won’t allow her to be a casualty in their feud with Five and the government. It’s not exactly love, but it’s concern; a degree of genuine humanity that all of the horrors of Athena Project couldn’t tear away in the end. If Twelve is going to die, he’ll die protecting Lisa. I gotta say, things aren’t looking good for them, but Shibazaki is close to blowing the whole thing open; it’s a matter of how far he can (and will) go to pursue the justice the higher-ups won’t.

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