Dororo – 08 – Black Skies Are Gonna Clear Up

There’s no shortage of accursed demons out there, and this week’s nasty customer happens to periodically terrorize a village by casting a giant black cloud of miasma and then threatening to eat everyone unless they provide it a “bride” in the form of a young woman…willing or not.

In this case, the young woman is willing to sacrifice herself for the rest of the village, but her “brother” (from another mother) Saru doesn’t agree. Dororo and Hyakkimaru agrees to help him deal with the monster, so they can free his sister, even though she’s already resolved to die.

When the demon, a giant centipede called Nokosaregumo, casts its black cloud, it presents a unique challenge to Hyakkimaru: the entire cloud reads to him as a demon, so he’s completely blind when he’s inside it. While he tries in vain to locate it, the monster goes after Saru, but his sister pushes him out of the way and gets swallowed up, defiant smile and all.

Saru is devastated; other than his deceased mother, no one other than his sister ever treated him with as much kindness. Dororo assures him he and Hyakkimaru will stick around, though due to the latter’s blindness in the cloud, the two boys will have to get the job done without the most skilled warrior.

Again Dororo demonstrates his ease at making friends, especially those around his age, though after hours of casting rocks at the same spot, Hyakkimaru checks on the lads and discovers that both of them are crying in their sleep.

The next day, Dororo poses as a bride, tricking the Nokosaregumo and drawing it into an area of flammable gas that Saru ignites with a lit arrow. However, the centipede’s carapace protects it. It’s up to Hyakkimaru to take care of the rest, using arrows and then the sound of his and Dororo’s voices to locate the proper direction to rush at the monster and take out its eyes with his arm-sword.

With one of the heads destroyed, the second head on the other end snaps Hyakkimaru up whole, but he simply slices the guy clean in half from within, completing yet another imaginative, unique battle that required overcoming his inability to properly see while using his still-new hearing.

As an added bonus to the demon being defeated, Hyakkimaru gets his sense of smell back—just in time to enjoy the harsh stink sulfur. Saru’s sister also survived—they killed the monster before it could digest her—and the two decide they’ll live together in the village from now on, after both being alone for so long.

Dororo and Hyakkimaru’s payment may be modest—a small nugget of gold, some grubs, and a flower from the woman—but the flower proves quite the treasure for Hyakkimaru, considering he’d never smelled anything like it before. He’s so excited, he actually says Dororo’s name when he passes it to him, bowling Dororo over. Here’s to Hyakkimaru finally adding to the conversation on their future wanderings.

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Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry – 12 (Fin)

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The night before her fight with Ikki, Touka asks Shizuku to ask him to withdraw, a request she never ends up relaying. Touka makes the request out of concern for Ikki’s health after all he’s been through. But even if he doesn’t withdraw, she’s not sure she can be proud of the outcome, since it’s all been fixed by the adults.

But she can only control what she can control, which is having a fight she can be proud of, something Uta is sure Ikki wants as well. There may be one-dimensional adversaries in RKC, but Touka is most certainly not one of them, and no matter what the peripheral circumstances, she wants to fight Ikki.

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It’s nice to see even fleeting doubt in Touka, whom Ikki places on a pedestal as the paragon of self-assuredness and conviction, while he wallows in despair following his father’s quiet but devastating takedown of him. He’s never been lower, not knowing what he can do with his “empty worthless sword.” Never underestimate the power of a father’s candid words to his son.

At the main arena, Ikki’s battle with Touka is the Main Event, with a packed house, helicopters circling, and TV cameras rolling. It’s all been arranged, Gladiator style, to maximize Ikki’s humiliation should he be defeated, which Akaza believes is a foregone conclusion, after the “softening up” they did on him…and the fact if Ikki fails to show up in fifteen minutes, he forfeits.

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But Ikki is on his way, filthy and beaten and exhausted as he is, he still manages to remember his master’s advice: if he’s frustrated about the fact he’s the weakest, hold onto the feeling, since it’s proof he hasn’t given up. He always chose to take those words as the Gospel, and he’s not about to stop now.

Then he faints, but he wakes up to Shizuku smiling above him. She’s not going to tell him to withdraw from the fight; instead, she’s assembled all of the people rooting for him, who put their dreams in his hands. He’s responsible for taking their defeats and going as far as he can, for the sake of those dreams. Oh yeah, and Stella advanced to Seven Stars, so if Ikki wants to keep his promise, he must, too, even if the odds are extremely against him.

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The fight itself? It ends surprisingly quickly. After exchanging their mutual excitement for fighting one another and Ikki vows to “beat her strongest with his strongest”, he casts Itto Shura immediately, but puts everything he has into one swing, while Touka banks everything on her undefeated Raikiri. Like AsteriskRKC breaks out a special animation style for the singular occasion, but its battle is, as I said, far briefer, but still plenty exciting.

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Then there’s the traditional long pause before we know who won, but c’mon, we knew Ikki was going to win, right? …Right? Well, that’s what he does, he wins, in front of a crowd of thousands and an audience of millions around the world. Akaza tries one last-ditch attempt to deprive Ikki of what he is due (and, incidentally, his life as well), but Stella closes on him fast, blast him out of the way, and embraces Ikki before he falls.

He’s able to stay conscious long enough to publically propose marriage to her in front of those cameras, achieving what he had always dreamed to: present Stella as the one he wishes to share his life and soul with, in front of everyone who matters, along with everyone who doesn’t. The display is enough to move Stella’s father to call Ikki’s, insisting they no longer use their children as pawns in their games.

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Touka, who looked pretty rough after the fight, recovers along with Ikki, who regains his freedom and the admiration of his school. Touka names him school flag-bearer for Seven Stars, and wishes him well. No bad feelings here; he really did beat her strongest with his. Of course, even after the tournament, there’s still two more years of school, during which time Shizuku promises to teach Stella how to be the ideal Kurogane bride, having already assessed her fitness to join the family and determined Stella a worthy match for her big bro.

As far as I know, RKC isn’t continuing for a second season like Asterisk, despite the possibilities for further epic battles and romantic progression. That’s a shame, because I thought RKC was the better show. But I’m also not choked up about it, because the show built up the finale well and delivered a solid payoff. It truly reached the greatest heights of chivalry!

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Yuri Kuma Arashi – 09

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The cutting-out of the dialogue (not to mention taking a week off!) was certainly irritating in a “Goddamn It I Wanna Know What Happens!” kind of way. But I was confident when Yurikuma  returned, much would be revealed, including the contents of the conversation that led to Kureha shooting Ginko off the roof, to the delight of Yuriika, who’d manipulated both Kureha and Lulu against Ginko.

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What is revealed is not entirely surprising, which is to say it makes sense based on everything that’s come before…which is good! Kureha shoots Ginko, but doesn’t kill her. Ginko ends up in “the center of the sky that divides the worlds of the moon and forest,” in other words, limbo.

Her wounds are tended to by someone that appears to be the late Yurizono Mitsuko, but is really(/also) the manifestation of Desire, the surrender to which has governed the actions of many a girl and bear alike on this show.

With Desire’s help, we explore the particulars of grave crime Ginko committed, which as suspected was not the direct killing or eating of Sumika, but the act of doing nothing to stop it despite having the power to do so.

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Ironically, Ginko had the perfect opportunity to stop Sumika’s demise when she found her hairpin on the ground. The last time Sumika lost that pin, it was Kureha who found it, which led to their friendship and eventually far more. For Ginko to have come so far to reunite with Kureha, only to find she had given her love to another while she was away, created a crack in Ginko’s heart, more than large enough for Desire to slip in. Her desire for Kureha at any cost kept her from warning Sumika, and led to her murder.

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Getting shot was punishment not just for letting Sumika get eaten, but abandoning Lulu, whom Ginko knew loved her but abandoned her anyway, at a crucial moment. That allowed Yuriika to create a wedge between them. Lulu’s revelation that Ginko was an accomplice in Sumika’s death, along with a very guilty Ginko’s admission that she killed Sumika, period, caused Kureha to fire.

As Ginko heals, Desire isn’t quite done with her, nor she with Desire, who disrobes and “becomes one” with her. The red spark in Ginko’s eye suggests Kureha’s bullet (whether it’s a love bullet or not more on that later), has only heightened Ginko’s desire for her. Being deprived of that which one desires can twist a person, as we clearly see with “Bride-in-a-Box” Yuriika.

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As Kureha’s class, now led by Chouko Oki, prepares to vote on whom they believe to be the bear residing among them, flouting social cues and eating them, we find that Kureha’s exclusion seems to have been commuted for the time being.

As Life Sexy creepily spies on two girls going at it in the nurse’s office, he states that the girls’ exclusion of what they deem to be “evils”—be they bears or girls—is a ritual that bands them together and gives them a sense of connection. Desire is not merely an individual vice, nor a collective vice; but also a potentially destructive yet effective means of forming communities and societies.

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Recognized as a victim of the bears they believe she’s already been too friendly with, Kureha’s peers offer Kureha a chance to re-enter the fold, by voting Ginko the bear among them, which will undoubtedly lead to a concerted hunt. But now that she’s had time to cool off, Kureha isn’t so sure Ginko deserves to be “ruined.”

Despite Yuriika’s warning about the wearer of the pendant and Lulu’s snitching, Kureha knows it was Yurizono, not Ginko, who killed Sumika. Far from being ready to deliver a guilty verdict, she’s desperate to learn the whole truth. Up on that roof, flanked by Yuriika and Lulu, there was neither physical nor emotional room for elucidation. Heck, even Ginko didn’t give Kureha the chance to forgive her, preferring to take the bullet as punishment for her sins.

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But Desire isn’t wrong when she says everyone in the world sins at some point in their life to achieve or gain something they desire. Everything is up for grabs; it takes desire to identify what you want and take it, which means others will go without. It’s what Reia did when she gave her love to Kureha instead of Yuriika. It’s what Kureha did when she gave her love to Sumika instead of Ginko. And it’s what Ginko did when she gave her love to Kureha instead of Lulu, and let Yurizono eat Sumika. (Whew…Still with us?)

Interestingly, the Judgemens, perched dramatically upon girders overlooking the city, observe everyone below them with a distinct neutrality and their own desire to see how things shake out. They approved Ginko and Lulu’s plans of action, but before them they also approved Yuriika’s. All, as they say, shall be as Kumaria wills it.

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When Kureha rushes to the lily bed, lured by a call from Yuriika posing as Life Sexy (a nice inclusion of specific modern technology in an otherwise very elemental story), she can’t find Ginko, I got the distinct feeling that anything could happen, not knowing Kumaria’s particular will any more than the Judgemens.

Yuriika comes so very close to putting Kureha “in the box that is her,” but it would seem her own Desire betrayed her. Eating Reia didn’t fill the emptiness inside her, because at that point Reia had already given her love to Kureha.

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So for years, Yuriika kept her true nature secret from everyone and waited as Kureha, the box that contained Reia’s love grew up. But in her hour of victory, Yuriika suddenly becomes incredibly reckess, and falls victim to her own food source: Kureha’s classmates, on Full Bear Alert ever since Kureha shot Ginko.

I have to say, to have so much go right for Yuriika by the end of previous episode, only to snatch it all away due to what amounts to overzealousness, actually ends up making Yuriika a tragic figure; as much an unfortunate victim of Desire as Ginko risks becoming.

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That tragedy is driven home in Yuriika’s final moments, as she apologizes to her beloved Reia, and confesses that she stole and locked away the ending to her book, which contains the rightful future for Kureha and Ginko. As Yuriika passes away, Reia assures her they’ll be friends forever…even if that friendship only goes so far.

Interestingly, while Reia is portrayed as an almost angelic if not Virgin Mary-esque figure throughout Yuriika’s end; the very Kumaria who determines the future of others, one could also interpret Reia as a mere hallucination, as it’s actually Kureha she’s talking to. Thus, Kureha is able to find the rest of her mother’s story, but like last week, Yurikuma only reveals so much in one episode.

The “impossible future” Kureha has uncovered, and the consequences of Ginko absorbing Desire, will have to wait until at least next week.

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Yuri Kuma Arashi – 08

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Is it just me, or are we getting our money’s worth? I can’t remember the last time Yuri Kuma Arashi wasted a spare moment; probably because it essentially hasn’t. Eight episodes in, and while things are hardly ideal for Ginko, Kureha, and Lulu, most of the big mysteries have been revealed. That’s the efficiency of a one-cour, 12-episode run: pleasantly brisk storytelling that engages and excites without feeling rushed.

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One mystery that wasn’t was whether Yuriika was a bear baddie; what remained to be known was just how bad of a baddie, and why; the latter of which would determine her quality as a baddie. In her flashback, it’s revealed she was an abandoned orphan bear cub picked up by a man in high heels he likes to click (like Dorothy), who regards the school as his “box.”

Box, hive, whatever you want to call it, it’s where Yuriika had instilled in her the idea that only unsullied things kept in boxes had value. Somewhere down the road, her father lost interest in her and tried to leave, so Yuriika killed him.

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Abandoned a second time in her life, a very beautiful Yuriika fell in love with Reia, who didn’t care whether Yuriika was a bear and urged her not to keep everything locked inside, for that’s pretty much the same as not having those things at all. But whereas Yuriika’s love for Reia went beyond friendship, even past their school years, Reia grew up and had a baby. To Yuriika, Kureha becomes a squirming, cooing symbol of Reia’s betrayal.

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That’s the third time Yuriika is abandoned, and it’s the last straw, as she decides to give up on love, and return to being a box. It is Yuriika who eats Reia, trying to fill the box that is her by force. She ate her just moments after Reia gave a departing Ginko her pendant, in hopes she and Kureha will one day reunite. And getting back to the idea that putting something in a box forever is the same as not having that thing, eating Reia only left Yuriika empty, still starving and yearning.

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Enter Kureha, herself a box containing Reia’s love. Yuriika considers that love rightfully hers, stolen by Kureha, and proceeds to formulate an intricate and devastating life-long con on her; a scheme that makes Kaoru’s bullying seem like child’s play, which it was. Kureha is her titular “bride in a box;” hers to do with what she pleases at her own pace.

Only Ginko and Lulu can interrupt those plans, but she has Kureha believing Ginko is her mother’s killer, restoring the blind rage with which Kureha dispatched Yurizono. Lulu takes this opportunity to suggest she and Ginko run back to the other side of the wall; that Kureha is a lost cause; that Ginko at least has Lulu, and she her. Ginko isn’t ready to throw in the towel. She’s so determined to win Kureha back, she abandons Lulu in an important moment, ignoring her pleas not to leave her.

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The court orchestrates a confrontation on the school rooftop, and it’s interesting how they’re perceived as ageless, having delivered a very similar verdict to Yuriika years ago that they delivered to Ginko and Lulu, only with different stipulations. Yuriika gave up on love, Lulu on kisses, but Ginko gave up on neither.

Things don’t go as smoothly as Yuriika hopes, as even though Kureha is in Full Bear-Ruining Mode thanks to the incorrect information on her mother’s killer, Kureha hesitates to shoot Ginko, because Ginko isn’t backing down. It’s dawned on Ginko that perhaps the only way to get a kiss from Kureha is through a bullet…a LOVE Bullet…which explains that part of the title.

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Ginko awaits that bullet as the only way Kureha’s love for her, lost when they parted ways, will reawaken, which is obviously the absolute last thing Yuriika wants in her moment of triumph over the one who stole Reia’s love from her. It’s as if someone is opening all the boxes and dumping the contents on the dirty ground, sullying them all. But there’s also a distinct pathos to Yuriika on that roof, egging Kureha on; whether those boxes are full or not, she’s empty, and this is all she has left, and no matter the outcome, it won’t fulfill her either. She’s as tragic a figure as everyone else on that roof.

But then, suddenly, Yuriika gets a surprise assist—from Lulu. Obviously hurt from Ginko flat-out abandoning her, she hurts her right back by relaying to Kureha the what she learned from the anonymous note (which was written by Yuriika, making Lulu her trump card), which is the particulars of Ginko’s “grave crime”, which we had thought to this point was doing nothing as Yurizono ate Sumika.

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The sound of the rain drowns out everyone’s voices (a little heavy-handed, but effective), but we do hear Lulu say that Ginko “is Sumika’s…” and it’s clear from Kureha’s reaction (re-training her gun on Ginko, her rage renewed, and firing) that Lulu’s next word was something like “killer.” That could be another of Yuriika’s lies, but like so many of she’s told Kureha, this lie got her the desired effect.

At the same time, Ginko wanted Kureha to shoot her, and she did. But I doubt Kureha killed her. She may have even missed. But whatever happened when that shot was fired, Kureha, Ginko, and Lulu have never been further apart, through a combination of their own choices and Yuriika’s conniving. With three quarters of the show complete, it’s tempting to believe these girls have reached their nadir, but one shouldn’t underestimate Ikuni’s capacity for plumbing new depths.

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Tamako Market – 10

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RABUJOI apologies for the delay of this review.

The Usagiyama High Cultural Festival approches, and the Baton Club gets a primo spot in the schedule, when they’re assured the largest audience. Captain Midori designs the uniforms and volunteers to come up with the choreography. However, she can’t think of anything, and hides her creative block from the others. When she misses a day of school with a fever, Tamako, Kanna, and Shiori visit her, and she admits she has nothing. They decide to come up with choreography as a team, and perform splendidly. When the festival concludes, Choi, having noticed a mark on Tamako’s neck, declares her the Prince’s Bride.

Virtually every school-themed slice-of-life series is going to have a Festival episode or two that gives the characters defined goals and challenges them to rise to the occasion and meet them, and Tamako Market is no different. What’s admirable about the series is that the core characters are in a club (the baton club), but it hasn’t been a particularly integral part of the series. The show hasn’t lived and died by their…er...batoning; which is nice, because far too often it seems like series are dominated by club activities. And far more important than the actual performance (which was pretty good), was how the Baton Club arrived there.

Midori, the Fearless Leader, turns out to have quite a bit of fear after all. She cannot come up with choreography she promised, but maintains a  false facade of control and confidence as long as she possibly can. Ultimately breaks down when presented with all of the evidence she’s failing. She’s afraid of looking bad, even for a moment, but her team don’t want her to cry or hold anything in. There’s no shame in asking for help, or crying, for that matter. This episode is a feast for the eyes, with a plethora of nice little gestures, close-ups, hair-falling, leg-twisting, and eye-glazing. The characters really feel alive. We also liked the generous use of jump-cutting. Very, very nicely directed and animated.


Rating: 8 (Great)

P.S. Choi finally confronts Tamako with her belief she’s the one who must marry her Prince. Whether this goes anywhere at all, we’ll have to see.

Tamako Market – 07

Choi Mochimazzi arrives at Usagiyama in search of both Dera and her prince’s bride. Distressed by his increased girth, he blames Tamako, who set up a “trap” that cost him the will and ability to leave the town. As a suspicious Choi spends more time with Tamako and experiences the hospitality of the shopping district, she concludes there is no such trap, and that the townsfolk are merely kind and generous people. When Tamako asks whom Choi is looking for in a bride, Choi suddenly reacts as if Tamako is that bride.

Throughout the show’s run, Dera has been the wild card that’s kept it from being just another shopping district slice-of-life in which guys never get the girl. Now Dera’s boss, of sorts, is in town, and combines the exotic foreignness of Dera with the relatability of a human. After all, Dera is at the end of the day, a bird, and a tool of sorts. One wonders why a society that can put circuitry into a bird to turn it into a communications device would walk around in bare feet and wear such primitive clothing, but to each their own.

Choi serves well enough as a fresh fish out of water, and even buys into Dera’s lame excuse that he was trapped into staying…or is that lame after all? While they mean no ill will, Tamako, her family, and the shopping district have nonetheless conspired to create an environment so comfortable and welcoming, that it’s hard for anyone to leave…or remain thin. And then, at the end, we’re faced with something we probably should have seen coming long ago: that lil’ Tamako may (may, mind you) be the bride the Mochimazzis have been looking for all along. But that would mean leaving everything she knows.


Rating: 7 (Very Good)

 

Mawaru Penguindrum 9

From the aquarium gift shop, Himari follows Threetie to a massive, bizarre library where she meets the librarian Sanetoshi, who reads from numerous books stories that reflect events in Himari’s past, focusing on her former best friends Hibari and Hikari, who she broke up with. They are now famous idols.

Well, for those who wanted a dedicated Himari episode (and I count myself among them), look no further. Beginning, middle, and end, this was all Himari. That’s because it was all a dream…but what a dream! I learned things about her I never knew. I credit the series for including so many little foreshadowing visual puzzle pieces which this episode proceeded to assemble to create a picture of her past. The fact it was all a dream allowed for some cool Willy Wonka-esque visuals.

Now I know who the girls in the subway PSAs are! Now I know the significane of the three girls in the ending sequence! Now I know that pink-haired girl in the opening…isn’t a girl! Himari was a spoiled brat who scarred her mother for life. She also could have been in a idol trio named Triple-H (seriously, does the WWE ever tour in Japan?). So much new information, so many new questions. Sanetoshi is real, despite appearing in a dream. And he calls Himari the “Bride of Fate.” Himri wakes up to the news that Shoma has been hit by a car.


Rating: 4