Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 06

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The play was a sensation, sure enough, but it also awoke something in Kikuhiko; he really liked the reaction of the audience, and wants nothing more than to get that same feeling while performing his rakugo. But at the start of this week, he’s still lacking certitude and confidence, despite the fact he has his own little fan club at the cafe where he works, not to mention the persistent attention of the lovely Miyokichi, who seems to want to be someone whom he can lean on for support.

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Kikuhiko’s latest interactions with Sukeroku involve a lot of the latter stumbling into their apartment late at night wasted, then laying down some uncharacteristic wisdom before passing out. By doing so, Sukeroku inadvertently reinforces Kiku’s frustration with sharing his home and his calling with someone so different from him, who found out who his rakugo was for and how to do it in a way that played to his strengths.

Kiku has had to work hard and struggle and worry his entire life, whether it was when he was struggling to dance before being “gracefully expelled” (with women lamenting he wasn’t born a woman), or struggling to discover who his rakugo is now, when it’s too late to go back, with no other way to survive but rakugo.

Just as Sukeroku sometimes voices characters who seem like him – one bad move away from a sticky end – when Kiku begins a story about a “lover’s suicide” there’s a distinctly personal and dark subtext.

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But one night, with both his fan club, Miyokichi, Sukeroku and a decent crowd watching (and already warmed up by Sukeroku’s energetic performance), Kiku finally figures it out, building on what he learned during the play, but also gaining new insights while he’s performing. As his performance changes – and improves greatly – the audience changes in turn, and he notices it.

Mind you, his method of rakugo is totally different from Sukeroku. Kiku doesn’t try to use a big booming voice. Instead, he plays to his strengths: his femininity, grace, and sex appeal. He makes the crowd laugh, but also has them feeling worried for the would-be suicidal woman, finally rewarding them for following along by releasing the tension at the end, revealing no one died after all.

In his “eureka” performance, we see glimmers of the venerable Yakumo in the young Kikuhiko, finally able to shrug off his inferiority, relax on the stage, and command a crowd with a firm but elegant touch. When he leaves the theater for home, he’s practically giddy.

As a boy he heard words of pity from those who believed he couldn’t cut it. Now, nearly everywhere he looks there are admirers eager to praise him. And this is only the beginning.

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 05

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As we return to Yakumo’s saga, which is already suffused with a constant underlying melancholy borne from the knowledge these events have long since passed, a young Yakumo is desperate to be good at whatever it is he’s doing, be it rakugo or a more straightforward play.

To that end, he’s far more concerned with practicing than women, who a drunk Sukeroku brings home one night. It’s just the latest iteration of something Sukeroku has done since he and Yakumo first met as boys: trying to get him to loosen up.

Sukeroku believes you have to be “a little stupid” in order to survive in rakugo, something Yakumo is not only virtually incapable of being, but would be betraying who he is if he tried. The audience will always know if his heart isn’t in it. We’ve seen how bad that can go!

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Speaking of his heart, it’s in a state of turmoil over the prospect of not being “cut out” for rakugo, turning an intimate little make-out session with Miyokichi into a pity party. For her part, Miyo loves Yakumo’s rakugo, which should tell him it’s worth pursuing.

Yakumo remains depressed, but puts his head on Miyo’s shoulder when she offers it. It’s notable that things don’t ever seem to go anywhere sexually between the two, something Miyo herself might’ve confirmed by telling her senpai essentially “it’s not like that;” in other words, platonic.

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Nevertheless, it’s a strong, warm friendship, and Miyo is excited for the lovely, elegant Yakumo to be portraying a man disguised as a woman for the play, and offers her services as makeup artist gratis. She does good work; the transformation is striking.

Sukeroku laughs his ass off when he first sees Yakumo’s somehow even foxier fox face, when he sees how terribly nervous his bro is (to the point of threatening to flee), he tells him to steel himself, knowing full well with his looks and talent he’ll have the audience eating out of his hand.

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Sukeroku turns out to be exactly right, which shocks Yakumo. When he starts feeling the rapt audience following his every move, his confidence builds more and more. His progression from initially jittery suits his role as meek ‘wife’ to the more boisterous Sukeroku’s ‘husband’, and makes it that much more of a shock when the time comes for him to reveal he’s a guy. His change in voice, posture, and level of dress; it’s all pretty much perfect.

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He leaves the stage to enthusiastic applause, a very different man than the one he walked onto it as. He was depressed, but now he’s seen with his own eyes and by his own efforts that there is hope after all, not only in theater but in rakugo as well. His performance showed everyone out there what he’s capable of, and the elegant “racy stuff” he can do so well; as effortlessly as Sukeroku pull of his unwashed galoot bit.

Finally, to once again remind us we’re only looking into the past, of two people who were still so close but whom we know will one day be separated once more and for good, the theater manager takes some candid black-and-white photographs of the two brothers, preserving the joy and victory of that night for posterity.

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 04

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This week we stop in on Bon and Shin as they’ve moved out of the master’s house and into their own apartment together. Shin has a job serving women he charms without trying and pinches every penny, while Bon spends all his non-rakugo time drinking away his earnings.

Shin continues to struggle to find his own rakugo, while Shin oozes confidence on the stage and has every crowd before him eating out of his hand immediately, including Bon. He’s even given himself a new name: Sukeroku. These two continue to be completely different in every way, yet they remain friends.

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It’s also this week that one of the few things that could strain their long-standing and deep friendship/brotherhood is formally introduced – by their master, no less. I speak of the lovely Miyokichi, whom the master has taken as a side-project, getting her a job as a geisha, likely in exchange for, ahem…other favors.

Miyokichi takes an instant liking to the serene, doll-like Bon, and isn’t subtle about her desire to meet with him alone, using a dance lesson as an excuse. Even in a show chock full of marvelous voice acting, Hayashibara Megumi (who voiced both Ayanami Rei and Faye Valentine) stands out; every line from those red lips oozes sex appeal.

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I’d say Bon was immune to her charms, either due to having lost his first love many years ago, or due to being so preoccupied with how he’s going to continue to do rakugo whilst his roommate rubs his apparently effortless yet immense success in his face every day. But he isn’t immune. Few would be.

He returns to Miyokichi’s (a rare subject that shuts Shin – sorry, Sukeroku, up), where he gives her a dance lesson, plays the shamisen while she sings (beautifully), and share some sake. Bon becomes more and more desirable as the evening progresses, as Bon’s not the typical kind of man she deals with, which must be refreshing.

Bon leaves before things get that far, but when she insists he promise to return again, he cannot resist drawing her closer. I don’t think the master introducing him to Miyokichi was an accident. Bon needs to learn to loosen up and have a good time if he’s to make any headway with erotic rakugo. What better way to do than in the company of a beautiful, complex, charming woman who may well actually want him?

Miyokichi, like his rakugo, is something Bon is still trying figure out. But if Sukeroku’s reaction to his interest in her is any indication, this is probably going to lead to some conflict between the brothers.

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 03

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SGRS has played a clever trick. I thought this show would be about Yotarou, the reformed thief, but he hasn’t been present the last two episodes. Instead, it’s been young Yakumo’s, or I should say, Bon’s show.

And that’s totally all right, as he puts immense craft, care, and detail into his quietly epic life story, a large part of which contained Sukeroku (AKA Shin) who is absent from the present world. In hindsight, that absence and the events that let up to it (which have yet to be told) are given greater weight with each new section.

Bon is struggling with the same boisterous kind of rakugo Shin performs and gets reliable laughs from, and having to balance school means he feels like the gap between them is growing. So Shin suggests he try rakugo that makes the most of his weak voice: bawdy and erotic stories. On that note, Shin suggests they go to a brothel and get laid…once they have the scratch, of course.

In the midst of hanging out offstage with the “house band”, Bon, who had no prior interest in or time for girls, meets Ochiyo, a girl he becomes interested in and spends lots of time with. The warm fondness and melancholy in present-day Yakumo’s voice makes the couple’s inevitable separation really sting.

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That hurt is somewhat mitigated by present-day Yakumo keeping Ochiyo’s promise to never forget her, because here he is telling us about her! The reason she has to leave Tokyo is basically the same reason people start leaving Tokyo in droves: World War II is about to break out. The dread of that fact is underlined by highly effective use of loud white noise, which swells and cuts out suddenly, creating tension and foreboding.

The government starts censoring rakugo just at the time Bon sees the raunchier stuff as his way in, almost as if the universe were blocking his path. Soon it’s just the master and his two students, and he only takes Shin with him to a kind of USO tour in Manchuria, sending Bon and his bad leg to the country with the mistress. But the night before Shin leaves, Bon has his brother pinky-swear that they’ll see each other again.

Bon gets a job in a factory, meets another nice girl, and settles into a provisional life, a life without Rakugo he never thought he’d have to deal with until it came. Sure, he’s not exactly on the front lines or anything, but his suffering is borne of not being able to take the path he wishes due to, well, history itself.

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And yet, he never fully gives up on rakugo. He stuffs the books in the closet, but he still tells stories to himself when he feels down. He finds the rakugo heals and fuels his troubled heart; it gives him vitality and hope. And then, one day, just like that, the war is over.

More white noise, and a few well-chosen sights like a cloud in the sky and the sight of a radio broadcasting the emperor’s surrender mark that new event. When it comes to depicting the parts of the war we know well, the show doesn’t show much, because Bon himself doesn’t see any of the horrors.

More than anything, both Bon and the Mistress miss Shin and the master terribly, and even some time after the war continue to live in a kind of limbo as they await a return that may never come. The good news is, rakugo roars back into popularity, including the kind best suited for Shin, who gets a promotion and gets very busy very fast.

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He gets so busy, he’s totally caught off guard when one dusk, just as suddenly as Ochiyo, and country life, and the war, and loneliness, came and went, Shin, Bon’s brother and other half, returns. Five years had passed mercilessly, heartlessly, but by the end of it their promise was fulfilled and they were together again. They ease back into theater life; rakugo life; and peace. Only now, no doubt, with so much time spent apart, this family understands and appreciates far better what it means to be together.

And speaking of reunions, who should show up at their door but Miyokichi, a beautiful young woman. The brothers have competed in rakugo, and endured separation for an entire war’s length. Will their next trial be a love triangle?

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Ao no Exorcist 25 (Fin)

Shura, Triple A, Yukio, and Rin join forces to attack the Gehenna gate, but there are too many small fry in the way. Bon, Izumo, Renzo and Co. execute a plan to telegraph sunlight from the Vatican in Rome to Japan, in order to weaken the demons. Rin and Yukio ride Kuro up to the now-cleared gate and envelop it in flames, closing/destroying it. One month later, things have returned to normal at the True Cross Academy, though Rin is more proactive in interfering in higher-ranking exorcist operations. They also visit their mother’s grave – their birthplace – in the forest.

This was a somewhat disappointing finale. I was having a hard time staying invested in the face of a lack of any significant peril, and lots of strange, random things. I mean, wtf was the deal with those mirrors? Where did that come from? Throughout the episode, you see swarms of small black demons flying around, but not attacking their prey, but simply flying by as people yell “there’s too many of them!” With Shiemi out of harm’s way and Yukio back to his old self, no characters were in immediate mortal danger this week. No suspense. Also, Yukio is suddenly able to hear Rin’s cat now, and transforms like his bro when he unsheathes the sword? Huh?

The “everything’s back to the way it was” epilogue wasn’t the best move either. It only reinforces the fact that nothing that happened in that big climax was any big deal. Even visiting the place where their mom gave birth to them fell flat for me; I mean how is someone who slept with Satan a “wonderful person?” Offspring bias, I suppose. And while Kuro is proof that some demons can be tamed, why is Rin rushing headlong into battles he’s not authorized to fight? Or, more to the point, if he’s capable of taking care of demons, why’s he still in school? I dunno…not a great ending to what was a pretty decent series.


Rating: 2.5

Ao no Exorcist 19

*Clicks tongue*…surprise birthday party episode. But hey, I didn’t mind it nearly as much as the previous filler ep, the one with the kitchen demon. Perhaps because, like the best episodes of any series with a vibrant ensemble cast, it gives everyone something to do and allows for some very nice character interactions. Considering how much everyone’s been through the last three weeks, a break was inevitable, but also far better than expected. Also, by this point, we know everyone a lot better, making them more fun to watch even during filler.

When else would we learn that Bon is good at papercraft? Or that Konekomaru could work out his awkwardness with Rin by helping him bake? Or that Renzou and Paku have such great chemistry? The party is being planned for Izumo, who then keeps bumping into her friends as they plan. Most distressing is when she keeps seeing her best friend on an apparent date with Renzou, and her ill-fated undercover spy mission is cute, if misguided. I enjoyed the increased role of Paku; she may not exactly stand out, but she was fun to watch this week.

There are a whole lot of nice character moments in here, and I’m not going to pretend the episode was much more than that…but it did have at least a minor twist: the surprise was ruined (thanks to Izumo’s spying), so the party becomes one for everyone, not just her, by her request. Meanwhile, Yukio observes the festivities from a far, still having told no one about his ominous, worsening malady. Just to segue back to business, the episode ends with a report Rin and Yukio’s monastery is under attack. Wash down that X-mas cake and get movin!


Rating: 3

Ao no Exorcist 18

Konekomaru’s fear of Rin leads him to reluctantly make a deal with a crow-like demon called Gale to kill him. Honestly I didn’t think Koneko had it in him. Frankly I didn’t think he had anything in him, since he is one of the more underused supporting esquires, although not as mysterious as puppet kid.

Here’s hoping there will be no more doubts about Rin’s loyalties. Even after Konekomaru tries to kill him more than once, and makes it look like Rin’s attacking him, all but trashing whatever trust Bon had in him, Rin still comes to Koneko’s rescue, wasting Gale and catching him in mid-air. I’ll admit I’d be pretty annoyed if Rin was my classmate, but deep down he’s a nice guy, and as he says, it isn’t like he got to choose his father.

Heck, Rin even lets Koneko save face when he finds him at a bus stop ready to quit and take off. The bald shrimp fails to realize that fear is necessary in this line of work, and while it can be used to protect you and it can work for you in other ways, it can and should never be totally eliminated. Those without any fear whatsoever are the ones who can’t be trusted.


Rating: 3.5

Ao no Exorcist 17

Ao no Exorcist keeps impressing, to the point where I almost wish it were a series the length of say, Soul Eater. The chemistry between characters – both positive and negative – is that good. And it would only get better with time…like wine. This week the big cliffhanger is resolved relatively quickly – Rin wakes up and is reunited with his sword and quickly dispatches Amaimon.

But while the Vatican is willing to go along with Phele’s gamble for now, Rin is going to have to win back the trust of some of his friends, namely Bon and Konekomaru. I like how everyone reacts differently to this new truth about Rin, and those reactions fit their characters. Particularly good is Izumo’s little pep talk at the end, which hints that she too may be half-human.

There’s even some nice moments between Yukio and Shura (no, not that nice), as the two were siblings of a kind in the past. Yukio has a lot on his plate: not only will his brother be killed if he goes berserk again, but he also has to make sure Rin passes the Exorcist’s exam six months from now, or…be killed.

Even better is Bon’s complex reaction. He did a lot to save Rin, but that doesn’t mean he won’t kill him hesitationless if he hurts anyone he cares about. The people most uneasy about Rin are those who lost loved ones to Satan. Can they trust his son? Can Rin control his powers? Hopefully, they can. We’ll see.


Rating: 3.5

Ao no Exorcist 16

The last fifteen weeks have basically been building up to this: Rin’s friends now know the truth: Rin is the son of satan. I honestly didn’t know how all the various characters would react to this news, but fortunately for him, most of them sided with Yukio and Shiemi, who want to save him. The new Paladin, Arthur August Angel, shows up to take Rin into custody and put Pheles on trial with the Grigori court for treason.

This episode keeps two distinct story points – Rin’s trial and his friends’ efforts to repair the sword that seals his blue flames – and it keeps them both interesting. During the trial, Mephisto Pheles goes to bat in Rin’s defense, and though we still aren’t sure we can trust him, it’s clear he’s the only one who can save Rin. He and his angry brother Amaimon, who shows up just in time for Pheles to suggest they sic Rin on him to prove he will be useful fighting against Satan & Co.

Yukio also does Rin a solid by telling everyone the whole story, and how Rin himself has only known about his lineage for a few months. Shiemi in particular is, predictably all for saving him no matter who is dad is, but it was good to see at least one dissenting voice…but to my surprise it was neither Izumo or Bon! In fact, Bon recognizes the sword as once belonging to his temple, and suggests a trip to Kyoto to get it fixed by the 11th Yoshikuni, a girl with purple hair and a really weird accent.

The mission to retrieve jewel steel for the repairs is interrupted by a battle with Mara demons who try to lead Yukio and Bon astray, but Renzo and Izumo are right there to snap them out of it. In all, this was one of the best Ao no Exorcists to date. It was action-packed, well-paced, never boring, and was a very good payoff to all the building up to date. But it isn’t over: Rin still has to wake up and defeat Amaimon, and his sword still needs to be fixed. But so far so good.


Rating: 4

Ao no Exorcist 15

Rin is released from the grip of the giant moth demon that grabbed him last week, thanks to some quick thinking from Bon. Bon is getting increasingly frustrated with Rin’s puzzling behavior: how can such a loser keep saving the day?

As we know, he misunderstands Rin’s desire to fight alone. Rin doesn’t want him to see what he is: a son of satan. But this week, it becomes impossible for Rin to keep it secret. Amaimon crashes their training party, sticks a bug in Shiemi that puts her in a docile trance, and threatens to have his way with her. Rin ain’t gon’ stand for that.

So Mephisto Pheles finally gets what it seems he wanted: Rin draws his sword and goes all out against Amaimon, proving to be more than a match for him. He also does this in full view of his friends (though some are conveniently un- or semi-conscious). Still, it looks like the cat sith is out of the bag…and even worse, Rin seems to have lost all control.


Rating: 3.5

Ao no Exorcist 14

Going camping in ordinary school uniforms? That’s just weird. But anyway, this turns out not to be a throwaway camping episode, but the start of a major challenge that will determine which three of the class of esquires gets to take on missions first. However, that turns out to be a conceit, as the mission cannot be carried out without teamwork and rock-solid strategy.

It also requires Rin’s superhuman strength, which is starting to cause heads to be scratched. When he senses Shiemi is in danger, he even spews a few blue flames that catch Bon’s attention. Rin really needs to learn to relax. He also should find a good time to explain exactly what he is, in conditions he can control. Bon and Co. will either understand or they won’t…but if he continues to keep it a secret and the powers come out right in front of all, there will surely be…issues. Friends will feel betrayed. They may even attack him; he is the son of Satan, after all.

I love it when everyone on the show is working together to make something happen that couldn’t happen if they worked alone, and this episode is another good example (though this time, Shiemi is only useful as bait). By episode’s end, two esquires are still on their own; one has lit their fireworks, signaling they retire, Rin’s about to be eaten by a giant moth, and everyone is watching. Mustn’t…summon…blue flames…Rating: 3

Ao no Exorcist 8

This was another great episode of Ao that kept the tension high and offered a lot of action and bonding. Izumo makes peace with Rin, but she and Bon nearly come to blows in a battle of egos, with Rin in the middle. Yukio punishes them with rocks, and the young group of Exwires has to work together to deal with a resurgent ghoul. One weak link and its game over for everyone.

Under duress, feuds are thankfully forgotten. Bon recites the Gospel of John in hopes of finding the ghoul’s fatal verse; protected by Shiemi, who seems to have mastered her little tree spirit, Ni, and can form huge barriers of roots. Even Izumo gets her surly fox spirits to listen to her and buys Bon and everyone else a little more time. I like how they were able to defeat their enemy, but only by a hair. It underscores how they’ll have to improve greatly both as individuals and as a team if they have any hope of being long-lived exorcists.

As for Rin, he tried to lure the ghoul away, but it split in two. Also underscored is just how much stronger Rin is than any other student, as he is able to easily dispatch his ghoul-half when he realizes no one is in sight and he can use his blue son-of-satan flames. It turns out the demon summoning teacher wanted to test Rin’s strength, and it would appear he passed. Rating: 3.5

Ao no Exorcist 5

Oh dear, the fiery rival who has the same goal. Where have I seen this before? Oh yeah, just about every shonen anime that exists. So does Ao no Exoricist succeed in differentiating the rivalry between Rin and Bon? I’ll say mostly…for now. Bon’s been giving Rin the stink-eye since he first entered Yukio’s cram class, and this is the episode where they literally butt heads.

Bon’s story is also fairly cliche: he comes from a trod-upon, “cursed” temple that his fellow townspeople now avoid like the plague. He wants to restore the temple to its former glory and, like Rin, kick Satan’s ass (whatever that entails). His initial assumptions of Rin are that he’s some kind of rich coddled kid who got special dispensation from the headmaster to even be here, and is always sleeping in class. I’m with Bon here; I came close to dozing off many times in class, but you’re in the front row. Count sheep at home, son. Shiemi is new to class, but she doesn’t seem interested in waking Rin up.

Still, Bon is wrong if he thinks he’s more serious about his goal, but that doesn’t stop him from challenging Rin to a potentially deadly duel with enormous frogs while the teacher bails out for a booty call (seriously?) I like how Rin doesn’t take the bait, but only steps in to stop the frog when Bon nearly gets eaten by one. Bon thanks him, and even gives him a hairpin (don’t ask), and a friendship is forged.

As for that headmaster? Well, we knew Mephisto wasn’t human, but we didn’t know he had other brothers in Gehenna, and that he considers Rin one of his brothers as well. Must be the pointy ears and magic. What he has planned for Rin and Assiah (his “playground”) may not be altogether savory… Rating: 3