Uchouten Kazoku 2 – 03

The Gist: Benten returns and crushes Tenmaya, who is both obsessed with and terrified of her. Yasaburou and his mother Tousen visit Tousen’s mother, an ancient white fluffy tanuki, and ask for help turning frog-brother back to normal. The grandmother is blind, kind, and cryptic, but offers some medicine.

Later, Yasaburou and his little brother visit Nadaime’s new location, which is a lovely roof top mansion, and share some afternoon tea. Benten shows up and completely fails to dominate Nadaime. Major magical conflict can not be far off now…

As is often the case, Uchouten Kazoku wandered us through several lovely, dialogue-heavy scenes that straddle the line between inconsequential and deeply magical. However, because Uchouten Kazoku treats its magical settings and characters as everyday occurrences, exposition is kept to a minimum.

What is grandmother’s place in tanuki culture? What are the other tanuki doing around grandmother? Is it a ceremony simply because she is old or is she part of the shrine or something else? Leaving us with a heavily detailed but unknowable scene renders it dreamlike. Captivating.

The rise and fall of Benten is more or less the defining arc this week. As with Nadaime, she abruptly falls from the sky full of power and crushes Tenmaya. While we learn no details about their rivalry, and Benten is almost as interested in Yasaburou’s moon (stolen by Tenmaya) as she is in Tenmaya himself.

Here Benten is full of power and flaunts it. Yasaburou has no course but to ask very nicely for his moon back and Tenmaya has no choice but to shed his fake skin and flee. Benten casually rolls the moon around her fingers and, when she tires of it, simply throws it back into the sky before demanding even more courtesy from Yasaburou and wandering off to visit her master.

That domination comes to a quick end when Benten arrives at Nadaime’s new house and arrogantly lays down on the couch Nadaime had planned to use for his afternoon nap. Always polite, Nadaime asks her to leave and when she will not, he spreads a sheet on the floor and dumps her out. Paying her no mind, he thanks everyone for their visit and gets ready to nap.

The contrast between Nadaime and Benten is rather interesting. Both are powerful and throw their weight around but it is hard to figure out which is ‘good’ or not. Despite her malice and abuse, Benten seems to care for Yasaburou. (At least she cares enough to want his attention) Where as Nadaime, despite being generally polite in dialog, is obviously dismissive of Tenuki in general. He’s tolerant of them, but does not especially desire to have them around.

The Verdict: Despite the masterful craft poured into Uchouten Kazoku, it is not always an exciting nor engaging show to watch. Again, as last week, episode three was full of action, characters and conflict, but it lacked a sense of purpose. Nadaime’s shirt ironing, Yasaburou’s grandmother, and Benten playing with the moon were all interesting curiosities but, not counting Nadaime and Benten’s cliffhanger showdown, nothing consequential actually happened.

Uchouten Kazoku 2 – 02

The Gist: Akadama and Nidaime’s top-dog Tengu fight ends before it even begins, with Akadama falling off the building and Nidaime not seeing his father being worth the effort to fight. For whatever reason, Akadama takes this as a victory, which Yasaburou thinks is patently absurd.

Though perhaps that’s Nidaime’s point in not calling himself a Tengu? The very definition of Tengu may project an arrogance that he finds unnecessary and unproductive.

Meanwhile, a noodle shop opens on the roof of the shopping arcade and the owner wont take it down. Apparently, he can extend his chin as a whip, amongst various other illusions and even Yasaburou’s foolishness is not enough to win the day. Actually, Yasaburou ends up a hypnotized bear, and is nearly shot by the police…

This conflict leads to a few passing confrontations between Yasaburou and his formerly betrothed, who’s angsty at him for a variety of things but, most obviously, that they are no longer engaged. Even though Yasaburou is the only one who doesn’t realize there’s no reason for them not to be engaged anymore…

It also leads to the introduction of a painter who doesn’t want to sell his paintings and reveals the name and identity of the noodle shop owner. Tenmaya, who appears magical but is also consistently referred to as just human, apparently climbed out of a painting of hell because the painter illustrated a Buddha holding a spider’s thread out to the damned… it’s unclear who the painting belongs to or what the significance of all of this is. (Tenmaya doesn’t seem to want anything from life except amusement)

What is clear is that Yasaburou probably shouldn’t have tried to scare Tenmaya by turning into a demon, which is where the episode ends. A shotgun pointed right in our poor foolish hero’s face…

The official theme this week is that we are in the age in which Man plays tricks on Tenuki. However, for me, the story was more about the world not being able to move forward. (or not being aware of its lack of forward development)

Akadama is not only stuck in the tradition of Tengu, but also stuck on his conflict with his son. Despite his rejection of Tengu, Nadaime hasn’t moved ahead himself, which is evident from his characterization of Akadama being pathetic because he interacts with Tenuki, and Nadaime’s somewhat vaguely contradictory like/disrespect of Yasaburou throughout their encounters.

Yasaburou is stuck in last season’s position of servitude to the community, pranking around without purpose, and with not advancing his relationships with family and his love interest. He doesn’t exactly have a strong narrative reason to have changed, but he hasn’t changed regardless.

The Verdict: Uchouten Kazoku takes a casual approach to narrative. It just sorta wanders all over the place, touching on many different story threads, but without any sense of specific purpose. This very much fits the nature of Tenuki, and the experience is enjoyable enough due to the odd and specifically weird situations, but it does risk becoming so whimsical as to lose my attention.

It’s already somewhat hard to follow, due to the gigantic cast, many of which can shape-change and many others who simply don’t get enough story time for me to remember who they are or what their objectives may be.

For now, the magic has me under it’s spell. However, like Akadama, I too miss Benten and the sense of specific adversarial focus she brings. Hopefully, we’ll see her sooner than later…

Uchouten Kazoku 2 – 01 (First Impressions)

The Gist: the stage is set some time after the events that closed the first season, with the cast serving mostly familiar roles. The Shimogamo brothers are an eclectic, often disrespected, but equally relied upon members of the Tenuki community.

Yasaburou continues to take care of the elderly Akadama-sensei, who appears a bit depressed now that Benten is on an extended vacation. Yasaburou’s older brother is still vying for the position of leadership amongst the Tanuki, the youngest brother is immersed in books and his own world, and the second brother is still a frog at the bottom of the well. Fools’ blood all around but fools’ blood where we would expect it.

One day, while Yasaburou is searching for a mythical snake, a couch falls from the sky. Eventually, this leads him to meet Akadama-sensei’s son, who’s returned after over a hundred years in exile. While their exchanges are guarded, the two wayward sons seem to bond over clever and polite banter. However, it’s obvious that Akadama’s son will be a source of major conflict.

Sure enough, by the end of the evening, Father and son stand on a roof ready to duel…

At it’s core, this opening episode is a leisurely exploration of nostalgia and the challenges of tradition (or, perhaps, generally grappling with the past).

Yasaburou’s snake-hunt is something his father own father played at long ago. It’s even how his father and mother met, which Yasaburou attributes as the singular reason he and his four brothers exist.

Meanwhile, Yasaburou’s older brother is attempting to revive the town’s shoji tournament, which has not been run since their father was cooked in a hot pot. Not only does this repeat the shadow of the father motif, but it reinforces the older brother’s need to retain the family place as an upstanding leader in the community. It’s strongly implied this will let him tanuki-bang the wide eye’d girl at the clinic too.

Double meanwhile, Akadama and his son have an unavoidable need to battle, due to their traditional pride as tengu. However, neither seems up for that tradition (Akadama physically and his son emotionally). It’s comical to see the modern tengu, a classless lot, dressed like dime store mobsters, egg them on from afar. As Akadama’s son says when he first meets them: if you’re tengu, at least put some pride in it.

You should probably watch Uchouten Kazoku’s second season because the first was a lovely, whimsical tale of weirdness. While the narrative buildup and payoff, and the tension along the way lacked the emotional impact of other weird-genre shows (Tamako Market, Tatami Galaxy, Mr.Despair), Uchouten Kazoku absolutely rules the roost for world-building. Only Durarara!! comes close.

You may choose to skip Uchouten Kazoku because it’s destined to be a slow build with an all-too-uneventful finish. While the high concepts appeal to me, and pose a creative challenge to tease out and express via review, I must admit that academic focus creates a barrier between the story and emotionally resonant action and conventional drama.

The Verdict: Uchouten Kazoku is solidly enjoyable to look at and confidently cool. Despite being a slow burn, it presents a lot to absorb; at times, too quickly for me to read without pausing.

But that’s hardly a complaint, as re-watching and rewinding lets me revel in its wonderful camera angles, solid color work, imaginative facial expressions, character designs and gestures. The music choices haven’t stuck with me but that also means I have no complaints about them either.

Ao no Exorcist: Kyoto Fujouou-hen – 12 (Fin)

With the Impure King defeated and the Kyoto Saga all but in the books, I was up for pretty much anything Ao no Exoricst wanted to do in the post-battle epilogue episode. It turned out to be chock-full of nice character moments, and felt like a thank you to the audience for watching. For instance, there’s no such thing as too much Mamushi, and her lovely scene in which Juzu comforts her kicks things off nicely.

Rin comes to in a room with Kumo resting beside him, but he soon spots Shiemi lying right next to him. They have a nice exchange, until she seemingly permanently friendzones him, and we learn that Renzo, Izumo and even the ventriloquist kid are also in there. It’s a need little gradual reveal.

After Mephisto has a chat with Yaozou (who gives all credit for the victory to Rin), a seemingly tipsy Shura comes onto him, but he sniffs out her intent, and soon she has a kunai at his throat, wondering if the Impure King was yet another test for Rin (which it most certainly was). Mephisto isn’t forthcoming with details, but his polite threat sends Shura flying off him, then warning him she has her eye on him…from a safe distance.

The next morning, Bon is headed to the room where his dad is resting, only to find him in an inn uniform sweeping the floor. It would seem Master Tatsuma has hung up the sutras, and wishes to live a simple life helping out around the inn. This irks Bon, who thinks it’s up to Tatsuma to re-unite the Myoda sect.

Turns out, neither Tatsuma nor Bon had to do anything for that to happen, as Juzu announces his intention to marry Mamushi. I’ll admit I wasn’t really shipping these two, but I can’t deny they work as a couple, and the scene in which he convinces her to agree to the marriage represents a nice melding of tradition and modern sensibilities. The protesting from Mamushi and Juzo’s siblings are also delightful, while Mamushi’s eyepatch is very chuunibyou.

The students have the day off, so they spend it together, this time not fighting for their lives, but sightseeing in Kyoto, the city they all helped to save from turning into the toxic forest from Nausicaä. It’s mostly a montage of stills, but they’re pretty stills that contain a lot of nice little character moments. I also liked how Rin’s friends did a running gag of having to do what the “son of satan” says, or else he’ll fry them.

Finally, Yukio meets Rin by the riverbank so Rin can tell him he’s still committed to becoming an exorcist and leaving his little brother in the dust, despite being the son of satan. Yukio doesn’t approve, and he has lots of good reasons, but Rin’s going to keep training nonetheless. So he tells Yukio he can go ahead and keep having his back, and he’ll have Yukio’s in return. With that, the brothers return to the group and they continue their pleasant, and well-earned, day off. Not a bad way to end.

91 Days – 12 (Fin)

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With Avilio’s grand revenge plan all but complete (but for Nero), this final episode is not a lot more than an extended epilogue in which the remainder of the Vanettis are wiped out, Avilio is captured by Nero, and the two kind of dance around each other until Nero finally does what he needs to do.

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I’ll be honest: I’ve never been fully emotionally invested in any of the characters, even Avilio, and was never all that big a fan of Nero, so watching all of the underlings, whom I often couldn’t tell apart from each other, was a bit of a bore. Not to mention the tommy guns in this show were way too reliable (not a serious criticism, just sayin’).

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I’ve also expected for a while now that Avilio would eventually end up succeeding but feeling utterly unfulfilled, in the same way Vincent was when he killed the Lagusas seven years ago, so the campfire confrontation isn’t all that impactful. These are two people who have been set up from the start to be unhappy and alone, and they’ve done too much to each other for there to be any outcome but one or both of them ending up dead.

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The bottom line: any and all hope this show had was wiped out back when Avilio killed Corteo, believing that last shedding of his humanity would be worth it, but it wasn’t. Avilio and Nero have a pleasant final road trip to the seaside, but only Nero gets back in the car and drives away, and we have no reason to believe he’ll be alive long with the new Don Strega and the long arm of the Galassias after him.

As their two pairs of footsteps are washed away by the waves, the lesson of 91 Days is clear: if you’re going to kill a family in a mafia coup, make sure you get all that family’s members. Nero can blame Avilio all he likes, but it was his nervousness/mercy that kept Angelo alive, leading to a life spent—wasted—planning only revenge.

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91 Days – 11

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Avilio’s time in Chicago was productive; he was able to strike a deal with the Galassias – just not the one Nero thought. Don Galassia takes a shine to Avilio, as the capable inside man who could help him get rid of the Vanettis.

But it’s also painfully evident that killing Corteo took a bigger chunk of Avilio’s soul than most of the killings. He’s barely keeping it together, catching glimpses of Corteo’s ghost off in the distance.

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The stage for the final act of Avilio’s revenge couldn’t be more appropriate: the grand opening of Vincent’s opera house in Lawless. One gets the feeling like Vincent is willing himself to stay alive just to get to this evening. Little does he know Avilio has been looking forward to the evening just as much, if not more.

Avilio, Ganzo, Don Galassia and his nephew Strega all know the game plan, but things don’t go according to that plan, as Del Toro takes longer to bring down and Barbero gets wise to Avilio’s treachery.

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It matters not, as Ganzo is able to free Avilio, killing Barbero in the process, and give Avilio a free path to Vincent and Don Galassia’s royal box, even as Nero is running off to stop a potential sniper all the way on the other side of the theater.

Avilio manages to do worse than simply kill Vincent: he kills Don Galassia, which is a death sentence to the entire Vanetti family. Strega takes out Ganzo, leaving Strega, Avilio, Nero…and not many others still alive.

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Avilio is pretty happy with how things worked out, as he sits in an alley as sirens blare. The Vanettis have lost everything, just as he did the night his family was taken. But the cost is high, and his decision to kill Don Galassia made him an enemy of Strega, who finds him in the alley. Is he there to thank Avilio for getting his uncle out of the way for him, or to kill him for it?

While the animation continues to be a serious liability, the overall experience this week was some thrilling and heart-wrenching mob drama. Avilio did most of what he set out to do, but he’s even more of a wreck than when he first got that letter. All of this, like Vincent’s murder of his family, might end up being for nothing.

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91 Days – 10

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Ever since his reunion with Avilio, Corteo has been marked for death, and this week that finally comes to pass. Such is the fate of someone who can’t help but feel a brotherly responsibility to someone who does not truly intend to survive his quest for vengeance.

While having one last day of fun together outside Chicago, leaving Corteo behind represents a lasting shred of hope they’ll meet again when this is all over, but they meet much sooner than that, with fatal results.

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As Nero plans the future of the family with his Dad Vincent, whose debilitating illness seems to be hampering motor function. But as we know, it wouldn’t be enough for Avilio if nature killed Vincent for him; he has to do the deed, and once he’s finished, he can finally be with his family.

Maybe it’s that drive to be reunited with them that leads to him and Corteo being so extremely careless at the pier, not even trying to conceal the fact that they’re there from eyes that Barbaro later bribes. Barbaro thinks he finally has the evidence he needs to get rid of Avilio, but he underestimated Corteo’s loyalty not just to his brother, but to his quest for revenge as well. After all, he’s come this far.

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Nero will no longer suspect Avilio now that he’s shot Corteo (The ‘kill your friend and we’ll trust you’ is an old trope, but it works well enough in this case). But with Corteo gone, there is nothing left for Avilio but his revenge. His expression of barely-contained fire becomes that much more unhinged, as Avilio vows to join Corteo before long.

Just as Corteo has been marked for death all this time, so too has Avilio. But as he told Corteo, before he got the letter, he was an “empty shell”, merely surviving of picked pockets. The truth is, Angelo died when his family was killed. His body survived, but he’s nothing more than a ghost roaming the earth, seeking release to the hereafter. And that release is coming soon. I wonder, after all this, if he curses his younger self for running.

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 13 (Fin)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 12

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The day of the dual performance arrives, and the atmosphere is fizzing with anticipation. Sukeroku is noncommittal at first, even when Matsuda arrives, lonely after the passing of his wife. But Konatsu is super-excited at the prospect of getting to watch her dad do what he was meant to, while Kiku sees this little makeshift theater as the venue for re-stoking Sukeroku’s fire and enticing him to come back to Tokyo with him.

Matsuda isn’t the only lonely one. Miyokichi may be with Sukeroku, and Konatsu may be their child, but one gets the idea only one thing—one person—is on her mind, and that’s Kiku. It’s ironic that this theater was once a place for geishas like Miyokichi used to be. But now she’s in Western clothes and sneaking in incognito, and the room is now a place for a different kind of performance.

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We only see and hear snippets of Kiku’s whole performance rather than a single continuous story, as if to underscore the point that this episode isn’t really about Kiku’s performance He’s become one of the best performers alive; his talent is undisputed, and he’s a consummate professional. There was never any doubt he’d knock it out of the park. 

The real question is how a rusty Sukeroku will fare. He becomes more motivated after Kiku goes first (Kiku’s intention, no doubt), because by watching Kiku he was able to observe the quality of the audience, about whom he was initially dubious.

But Kiku’s rakugo was good not just becaue Kiku is good, but because the crowd is good. Rakugo is a far more collaborative process than it seems, with a performer feeding off the crowd as the crowd gets sucked into the performance. Notably, Miyokichi leaves before Sukeroku begins, and there’s never a shot of her listening in the hall, so I assume she really left.

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No matter: with Matsuda, Konatsu, Bon, and a good audience at his disposal, Sukeroku goes all out with a rare (for him) sentimental tale about an alcoholic fishmonger who finds a purse of cash washed up on the beach. He celebrates with a lavish party, but awakes from his stupor to learn he only dreamed of the purse, but not the party.

The contrite man promises his wife he’ll quite drinking and pay back all the debts he has, in addition to the added debt from the partying. For three years, works his ass off, until every debt has been paid off. Then his wife confesses the purse wasn’t a dream after all; she merely gave it to police, who held it for a year with no one claiming it before passing back to her.

The wife is beside herself with guilt for deceiving him for so long, but he’s not upset. In the past three years, her lie made him a better man, and when she offers him sake to celebrate, he puts the cup down without taking a sip, lest everything that happened turn out to be a dream.

The crowd leans in, laughs, cries…and leaned in, laughed, and cried. It was a powerful, mesmerizing performance, and at its heights gave me the same chills and goosebumps as the musical performances in Shigatsu kimi no Uso.

When it’s over, Kiku and Sukeroku spend some time relaxing like they used to do in their little apartment, only this time the latter’s daughter is sleeping on his chest, and the two brothers actually deign to agree on something Kiku says:

People can’t understand everything about each other. And yet people still live together. The love of sharing trivial, meaningless things with others is human nature. I suppose that’s why humans can’t stand to be alone.

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Being in this small, close-knit town, being with Sukeroku again, meeting Konatsu, and Sukeroku’s latest and maybe most soul-bearing performance—it’s all had a profound effect on Kiku. He once thought all he needed in his life was rakugo, but he’s human, and he doesn’t want to be alone anymore. Their late master’s house has fallen to him, but it’s too big for just him. He wants Sukeroku, Konatsu, and Miyokichi to move in with him.

But when Kiku is summoned to a room at the inn where Miyokichi meets him, we learn that all she wants in that particular moment is Kiku…and only Kiku. In all the time they’ve been apart she never stopped pining for him, and the fact he’s there gives her cause to believe he wants to change things, perhaps even make amends for knocking her and Sukeroku’s lives off track with his shortsighted insistence on solitude.

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Kiku can’t quite resist Miyokichi’s embrace, but things take a dark turn when she leads him to the open window and starts to push, contemplating both of them dying together.

That’s when Sukeroku barges in, and in a gesture that’s appreciated but perhaps too late to be worth much, promises Miyokichi he’ll get a real job, that he’ll do right by her by abandoning the rakugo that makes her feel so  insecure. He wants to be the husband in that tale he told with a happy ending, in a dream he doesn’t want to wake up from.

If he has to choose between Miyokichi and rakugo, he’s choosing Miyokichi. But the wooden balcony gives way, and Miyokichi starts to fall. Sukeroku dives after her, leaving Kiku to grasp him to keep the two from falling. But Sukeroku breaks his grip, and he and Miyokichi fall to their apparent deaths together.

Now Kiku is alone, and so is Konatsu—though we know he’ll end up taking her in. While it wasn’t as if Kiku took a gun and shot her parents, he most definitely played a role in their demise. No wonder he’s so bitter in the present day, and that Konatsu has always doubted his car accident story.

Yet, even without Sukeroku or Miyokichi, Kiku was able to continue performing excellent rakugo and being adored for it over the years. After all this talk about not being able to do it alone, one could deduce that it was the presence of Konatsu in his life that kept him going. And now, as we know, he has an apprentice, who brought back all these memories of Sukeroku in the first place. I’m eager to see how this ends.

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 11

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What started out as a simple errand (retrieve Sukeroku and bring him back to Tokyo) becomes much, much more for Kikuhiko, due in no small part to Sukeroku’s daughter, Konatsu. The girl is pretty hostile to Kiku right up until she learns who he is, and then her demeanor rapidly shifts to tearful veneration, and she insists Kiku come with him to see her Dad.

I’ve always loved Konatsu, and lamented how little of her we’ve seen (albeit out of necessity) since Yakumo’s story began. Kobayashi Yuu isn’t quite as convincing as a five-year-old as say, Kuno Misaki, but it doesn’t matter: by the end of the episode, I was in love.

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On the way to her Pops, we learn from her that her mom has run off, abandoned them, and I take her at her word (we later learn Miyokichi does this often, but always comes back eventually). She also says her mom forbade her dad to perform rakugo, and when we arrive at Konatu’s domicile, we see just how well Sukeroku functions without it.

I mean, a frikkin’ five-year-old is the breadwinner here! Things are bleak. The only thing that rouses Sukeroku from his mid-day nap is Kikuhiko’s voice, which sends him flying out of the filthy house. In a perfect reunion moment, Kiku smacks him in the face with his bag, but Sukeroku pounces on him anyway.

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Kiku gets down to brass tacks, but Sukeroku is initially unwilling to hear him out: he’s done with that part of his life; rakugo has gotten “boring”; he’s out of practice; the raft of excuses is almost unending. But Kiku cuts through all that with one simple fact: ”

If people want you, you have to do it.” And Kiku is one of those people. After hearing and being envious of Sukeroku’s rakugo—and being unable to replicate it—Kiku needs it back. He’s starved for it, and wants to hear it again, and continue striving to match it, even if he never will.

Kiku doesn’t come out and say he’s been gliding along without Sukeroku around, because he hasn’t—he’s been working his ass off—but when his brother compares how he looks to a shinigami (which sends a shiver up a listening Kona’s spine), it’s clear he’s missed him.

Until Sukeroku reconsiders, Kiku is staying. He fronts cash for Sukeroku to pay off all his debts, but fully expects him to repay him by acquiring jobs in town. He’ll live with them, but insists they clean the house thoroughly. In this manner, Kiku is like a stiff, purifying breeze that blows out the cobwebs.

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But Sukeroku and Kona aren’t the only two benefitting from Kiku’s stay. Kiku decides to do small performances at dinner parties and the like to pay for food and his fare home, and gets really into it. The master of the inn even presents him with a more formal performance space (ironically formerly a geisha prep room).

In a bath scene that hearkens back to one of the first between the two brothers (something Sukeroku points out but Kiku claims not to remember), Kiku does confess that he’s never felt this way abotu rakugo before; this good.Sukeroku knows why: Kiku can see his audience; there’s less physical and emotional distance between them, motivating him to strive do his best.

At times it seems like Kiku himself could settle down here as Sukeroku did, and if not thrive in the upper echelon of his craft, at least lead a happy life.

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But that’s not really the case. Kiku still wants to return to Tokyo, with Sukeroku taking his rightful place as Yakumo. As always, Kiku is looking out for Sukeroku, striving to put him on the path he thinks is best. That means getting him out of debt, cleaning his house, and cutting his little girl’s hair so it’s out of her face.

In one of my favorite scenes of the whole show, Kiku scolds Kona for badmouthing her mother, then discourages her from taking up rakugo, since he earnestly believes it’s a man’s job to be on the stage performing. He then goes into a pretty woman’s crucial role as the rakugo performer’s muse, drawing out their best performance.

Konatsu then puts Kiku in checkmate by getting him to admit she looks pretty with her new haircut, so now he has to do rakugo for her!

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If Kiku was enjoying himself at all the small informal gigs in town, he seems even more at ease and in the zone with an audience of just one. The story Kona makes him do—an at times creepy, at times hilarious story involving sexy ghosts or some such—is one of the best I’ve heard, and it’s made even better when Sukeroku, who can’t help himself, joins in and turns the solo performance into a duet; their first.

These are two brothers who haven’t seen each other in five years, and yet here they are, a perfect comedy duo. Perhaps the performance is technically a little rougher and unpolished than it sounded like, but who cares? Konatsu is over the moon, and Kiku is hopeful he’s shown Sukeroku why he can’t give up on rakugo. It’s not just Kiku who needs it, it’s his daughter too.

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We don’t hear Sukeroku’s answer, but their performance, and Konatsu’s elation, clearly has a powerful effect on him. Then Miyokichi enters the picture, at the very end of the episode, having been handed a sign announcing a public dual rakugo performance starring Sukeroku…and Kiku-san.

Miyokichi’s reaction suggests she’s still carrying a torch for her old boyfriend after all this time, which goes a fair way in explaining why she’s not home with Sukeroku or Konatsu; perhaps the former reminds her too much of the man she really loved. The question is, will she attend the performance?

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 23

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Commander Carta Issue is ready to accept the consequences for her latest humiliating failure at the hands of Tekkadan, but Lord Iznario says she’s being given one last shot to redeem her pride honor. It’s thanks to an unlikely benefactor: McGillis himself, whom Carta can’t help but blush before when they meet on the stairs.

Carta may believe herself a worthless, humiliating failure, but she forgets that when she and McGillis were kids, she always treated him as an equal, despite everyone around them saying they weren’t because of Gill’s low parentage. All that mattered to Carta was that McGillis was a Fareed, and he should always stand proud and strong.

Now McGillis is simply asking her to do the same, and she will. But who knows the true reasons he wants her to fight Tekkadan once more, and how that coming battle fits into his grand plan to reform Gjallarhorn.

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As the Edmonton Express proceeds unabated, Merribit is increasingly concerned that the orphans of Tekkadan, including Orga, have gone mad in their thirst for revenge, and that it can’t possibly end well. But those same kids she wants to keep out of the fight tell her to back off. They’re fighting for Biscuit, and they will not be denied.

If only Gaelio could fight for his dead friend Ein. We see the toll Ein’s transformation into essentially a half-Gundam takes on Gaelio. Just as the Tekkadan kids are being metaphorically hardened into killers (which Merribit hates), Ein has been literally weaponized. He no longer has the luxury of choice, nor does he want it; he is still “alive” to avenge Crank and his other fallen comrades.

I never thought I’d be comparing Gaelio and Merribit, but here we are: both are appalled and scared of the sudden turn things have taken, but I don’t think either will be able to resist the force of the currents they’re caught up in.

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Even more unsettling is that Carta is, on some level, being thrown to the wolves by McGillis, with Gaelio and Ein sure to follow. Carta doesn’t realize the extent to which killing Biscuit radicalized Tekkadan.

She also quite wrongly assumes their patience and willingness to have a good old-fashioned 3-on-3 duel to decide whether they may pass or whether they hand over Makanai and Kudelia. Mika, in particular, isn’t having it. Why should they? Chivalry in this situation doesn’t do them a damn bit of good.

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Carta magnanimously gives Tekkadan 30 minutes to prepare, but Mika doesn’t need one. He rushes Carta and curb-stomps her two McGillis lookalikes. He doesn’t just disable their suits, he kills them, and then starts mercilessly whaling on an overwhelmed Carta. Even Lafter gets a little squemish at the sight of the carnage.

She rants about how this can’t be and who she is, but Mika doesn’t care about any of that, and neither do the kids who are watching (and won’t let Merribit send them away). Carta and Gjallarhorn are the enemy, and they’re in the way, so they’ll get crushed.

For a few moments, Mika is the bully, the antagonist in this fight, and Carta is like a lamb in the snow I’m feeling sorry for, even though she shouldn’t have expected anything else. It was a little hard to watch.

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A weeping, utterly defeated Carta is only spared from death at the last minute by Gaelio, but her injuries draw comparisons to Ein’s when he was last defeated. Could Carta end up the brain of another Gundam, like him? I don’t know, but Gaelio doesn’t have the heart to tell her he isn’t McGillis. McGillis, presumably, has moved on to other steps in his big plan.

The train makes it to the gleaming city of Edmonton, on time and ready to deposit their passenger right smack-dab in the parliament when the time comes for elections. Orga calls the city “the enemy’s grounds.” Mika listens, as he pops a snack in his mouth, unsurprisingly none the worse for emotional wear after his 3-on-1 beatdown.

But he used to just follow orders; take out those who he’s ordered to take out, because orders were orders. Now he’s finally seeing those he takes out not just as targets, but as enemies; those who stand in the way of Tekkadan getting to a place where they belong. If anything, this realization only makes Mika a more potent weapon.

As for Merribit, she seems to have taken on the thankless mantle of Tekkadan’s conscience, thinking about a future beyond the next battle’s outcome, like Biscuit did before. But is that future the “Final Lie” of the episode’s title?

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 10

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Five years have passed. Sukeroku and Miyokichi are long gone. They don’t even appear this week at all, and their absence is felt. I missed them, but whatever Kikuhiko feels about this, he’s soldiering on during these years.

He’s gained fame as a Shin’uchi, with the power to make total strangers leave their families and homes and burn bridges behind them just to get a shot at begging him for an apprenticeship, which he always refuses.

He feels he has nothing to teach apprentices. The successful formula he’s grasped and run with, he still scarcely knows what to make of it himself, let alone how to pass it on to others. It, being the rakugo business, is like a soap bubble; he daren’t disturb it.

However, Kiku cannot stop the march of time from taking its toll on his master Yakumo, who isn’t taking his wife’s death well. One could say she’s calling to him, and now that he has a reliable successor in Kiku, there’s little point in keeping her waiting any longer.

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On his deathbed, Yakumo confesses to Kiku something new, but something that in hindsight makes sense: the “old man” who taught Sukeroku (and had that name before him) was a rival of Yakumo’s from his youth; someone he knew was the better talent, but used nepotism to snatch his father’s name from the interloper.

Obviously, Yakumo managed to become a great and revered storyteller, worthy of the name, but it’s clear, especially after taking in the young Sukeroku, that the possibility of blocking a greater talent than himself for the sake of his own pride, weighed on him greatly.

After tearlessly leading his father and master’s funeral ceremonies, Kiku gets back to work the next day. Taking the stage to new, gentler (and thus more suitable) entrance music, he eschews a sentimental story for one about an old man meeting a shinigami, who says magic words and shows him candles that represent lives, including his own, which eventually goes out.

The peformance ends with Kiku literally sprawling out on the stage as if he himself had died. And in a way, a part of him did die with his master: the part that was tied to others. When lying there soaking up applause, Kiku isn’t tearful or distraught, but relieved and elated by his new-found—and in his mind, hard-won—solitude. It’s a solitude he’ll use to hone his craft and become someone he believes worthy of being the Eighth Generation.

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Before that, however, he wants to see Sukeroku. Not just to inform him of their father’s death, and recover the money Miyokichi stole, but to see how his brother doing. Kiku never had much faith Sukeroku could take care of himself, and didn’t think running off with a woman and raising a child would suddenly make him more capable of doing so.

So soon after achieving clarity through complete solitude—no master, no rival, no apprentice, no family—Kiku sets out to find old connections once more, no matter how briefly. In a town far from Tokyo, he asks an old man where rakugo is performed, and gets a predictable answer: strange for a young person such as himself to be asking about rakugo; there are far fewer such venues in town; television has taken over the hearts of most, making the world more boring.

Kiku probably agrees with all of that. But the old man also steers him in the direction of a soba restaurant, where he finds something…not boring at all: the entire crowd of diners is being entertained (and later squeezed for change) by a five-year-old girl with fiery red hair who is performing rakugo that Kiku immediately recognizes as Sukeroku’s. A little girl named Konatsu.

I loved Kiku’s little eye twitch upon their meeting. His late father believed young Sukeroku came to him as “karmic retribution” for maneuvering the older Sukeroku out of his father’s favor so many years ago.

Kiku may not know it yet, but Konatsu will end up being another kind of retribution: the kind that not only deprives him of the solitude he yearned for so dearly (not that being alone was what was best for him), but serves as a daily reminder of the brother he always believed was the greater talent. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 22

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This episode doesn’t stray far from the familiar patterns associated with the aftermath of the death of a major character. Rain clouds gather. Tekkadan’s march forward is suddenly halted. Their leader Orga withdraws to his room to be alone, racked with grief and guilt over the decisions he made that cost Biscuit’s life. The iron flower’s petals are wilting.

As predictable as this reaction and its resolution may be, it’s important to remember why they’re predictable: because they’re realistic. The loss of someone both dear to the Tekkadan family and integral to the Tekkadan business reveals that yes, indeed, these are still a bunch of kids. Even Orga can’t deny how few years he’s been alive, nor can he conceal the fact this is the largest loss in his life to date.

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Naturally, as the other kids of Tekkadan deal with their grief without their leader around to share in it, the adults don’t skip a beat. Fareed’s father orders Carta home, telling his chosen pick for Prime Minister that Carta has only proven to be a “worthless tomboy,” which is pretty harsh but not inaccurate. Carta’s job was to stop Makanai, period. She could not attain that result even with superior manpower and equipment. Carta is furious over her latest defeat and wants to keep going after the “space rats”, but follows orders.

The other two, non-shamed members of Carta’s childhood triangle, McGillis and Gaelio, are busy as well. McGillis makes Gaelio confront his prejudice and ignorance over the A-V system (the only thing at this point that can save Ein) by showing him the A-V research that continued even after the war. Gaelio laments the “loss of humanity” needed to embrace A-V, but McGillis remarks, not wrongly, that every time the world has changed, either for better or for worse, it was because someone abandoned or exceeded their humanity.

Revealing a squadron of new (or really old?) mobile suits, McGillis reveals his “plan”: Ein and Gaelio will both undergo the A-V procedure, and together with him eliminate Tekkadan and prove that they should be the ones running Gjallarhorn. In reality, McGillis intends to keep propping up Tekkadan and Kudelia as a relevant threat in order to use them as a stepping stone to power, i.e. overthrowing Gjallarhorn. In other words: he may only be their ally as long as they do what he wants them to do.

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Meanwhile, aboard the Montag ship, one of the “kids” is also moving forward without stopping. That’s Kudelia, and it’s no surprise: she already went through the pain Orga and the others are enduring after the loss of Fumitan. She decided long ago that no matter how much blood ended up on her hands, she wouldn’t stop fighting to become Hope.

That’s an important distinction from becoming a leader, as Makanai suggests after hearing her plans to get him to Edmonton via a train in Anchorage. A leader is just a person. She wants to be more than that, more than a mere human agent whose power is extinguished when she dies. She seeks an enduring transformation and influence. That’s the same area where McGillis is operating.

The adults on the Montag ship are powerless to do anything about the low morale. Merribit wants to do or say something to Orga, but isn’t confident she can get through to him. Laffter and Azee are more comfortable with their role right now, unable to fix the morale, but still committed to doing what they came there to do: support Tekkadan on behalf of Naze.

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As I supected, it’s Mika who breaks Orga out of his funk. Merribit is inches from knocking on his door, but Mika appears, and she suggests they both simply leave him be. But Mika comes right back and crashes Orga’s pity party with some cold hard truths. Way back when they were kids, they had an agreement, one that predates even meeting Biscuit: Mika would do anything, kill anyone for Orga, as long as Orga took the both of them to that place where they belong. That place was never simply an abstract concept for Mika: it’s a place.

Up to this point, since Biscuit died, Orga hadn’t been telling Mika anything. That ends right here and now, with Mika grabbing Orga and asking again and again what he wants him to do. He stands there, ready and waiting to carry out his will. He also puts it to Orga: are they there yet? No. So they must keep going. After bringing Orga back into the present with his eyes re-fixed on the future, lightning strikes; a nice, if on-the-nose touch.

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Orga emerges from his room, musters his boys, and tells them the best way to honor Biscuit is to make sure he rests easy knowing they’re continuing the job they have to do. At the same time, he makes it more about a job, which he probably has to considering how much of a jolt the kids need to keep going; he makes it as much about revenge.

After Orga’s pep talk, Tekkadan gets back to work, and the iron flower’s petals re-sharpen. As the credits roll, we see Makanai and Tekkadan already aboard the train bound for Edmonton, meaning they didn’t have any trouble getting to Anchorage or securing transport. That indicates the next three episodes are going to start taking care of business in earnest.

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