Just Because! – 02

Izuki reacts the way he does to Souma’s text about Natsume being at the school because, as we learn in another flashback, he liked her in middle school. Unfortunately for him, Natsume liked Souma, something Souma never knew.

Back in the present, Izuki and Natsume reunite in a similar situation, with Souma nearby with another girl, this time Morikawa. He’s unable to properly confess his feelings to her, but instead manages to invite her, along with Izuki and Natsume to the aquarium on the weekend.

Morikawa accedes to the wishes of her two little brothers and brings them along, further muddying the “date” waters for Souma, but he comports himself well, even earning the brothers’ trust and showing Morikawa he’s good with kids, which is definitely something she’d look for in a man…were she looking.

It’s a pleasant, cozy trip to the aquarium, and by the end Morikawa and Souma are virtually exuding warmth. As for Izumi and Natsume, well…they’re less warm together, even if I got the sneaking suspicion that Izumi still likes Natsume despite his aloof manner with her.

Similarly, the more time she spends with Izumi, the more comfortable she seems interacting with him. It’s far from lovey-dovey, but it’s a nice low-key resumption of their relationship.

While Souma and Morikawa have a kind of “talent anchor” (baseball and trumpet, respectively), I appreciate how Izumi nor Natsume don’t really have those anchors, and are also alike in being on the wrong side of an unrequited love.

With the benefit of future episodes—as well as the flashbacks they’ll likely contain—we’re sure to learn more about these kids and who likes whom, and what Komiya plans to do with Izumi now that she literally has him in her grasp. I like that JB! is taking the time to flesh out the various characters and not rushing things.

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Uchouten Kazoku 2 – 05

If I had to pick a single episode from last season that sold me on Uchouten Kazoku’s magical setting and ability to project care free fun, it would be the flying tea house battle. While I have mixed feelings about this season’s episode being about the same thing, there is no doubt that the format works tremendously well. The event pulls many characters into one space, the inevitable fight between Yasaburou and Kinkaku and Ginkaku provides enjoyably silly action, and fireworks (and flight) make for a lovely background for many introspective and contemplative scenes.

In many ways, the festival and action is secondary to a great deal of character development. While Sensei has always shown a soft spot for the tenuki (under his gruff old man treatment) this week puts him at the center of their lives as a wise figure deserving of the respect they always show him. Simply, he makes the older siblings get over their hesitation and confess their affections for each other. It’s gruff but also kind, and includes a brief telling that he did this for Yasa’s parents too. Cast in the warm light of the train car, surrounded by food and family, its a lovely scenes.

Speaking of the train, it was great to see Yajiro’s ability to change into a train looped back to. Not only is it great to see a throw away joke pay off, but it gives Yajiro a vehicle to participate in the narrative when he otherwise would be restricted to the well.

It was also a good choice to have Yajiro totally screw up the beginning of the event, by blasting off too quickly and spilling much of the meal inside his belly. Nothing really goes right for the tenuki. Not even when they are trying to be classy or show their power. It’s a great reminder of their place in the pecking order.

But the big loud emotional turn was Benten’s fight with Nadaime. Having stolen his couch for her own amusement and having never had anyone stand up to her, Benten really went into this with a target painted on her back. Yasaburou even remarks that he knew she would lose the second she lunged at Nadaime. (and it was foreshadowed by the mid episode card, showing ‘where Benten fell’ on the city map)

And as loud as that short fight was, Uchouten Kazoku immediately returns to the quiet, tender, introspection it does so well. Yasaburou and Sensei go to find where Benten has landed and sensei gives her a stern but fatherly speaking to. You are angry. Use it to get stronger. That is all.

The Verdict: Finally, a must watch week! It loops so many threads in together and it does so elegantly. So elegantly I’m not even sure I can put my finger on any one character dominating the story. So elegantly that I’m not sure there really is a antagonist in a traditional sense, as Benten is as much at fault (if not more) than Nadaime. (and in his own way, Nadaime is a far nicer person than she)

The formula is setting in, too, with a repeat of last week’s fake-out ending conflict opening as a non-conflict. (Everyone sucked into the Shoji board just ends up in sensei’s closet) While a strict formula isn’t necessary for a good show (or even good for most shows) having a rhythm is, and that was something Uchouten Kazoku has been sorely lacking.

Uchouten Kazoku 2 – 04

The Gist: Benten stomps on Nadaime’s freshly ironed shirts, but otherwise leaves without incident. Yasaburou’s older brother’s love interest is revealed and a bit of backstory unfolds revolving around Shoji. Tousen nudges Yasaburou to help his brother hook up with the girl, which he does, and all ends well… except that the love interest is magically sucked into a Shoji board right at the end. Dun dun duuuunnnn.

The Verdict: Despite being a mostly contained ‘drop’ in the story bucket, and not carrying over anything serious from the week before, Uchouten Kazoku brought the magic this week. All the build up to the Shoji tournament, and the final match itself, just worked nicely side-by-side with the character building. I don’t have much else to say I’m affraid — just go watch it!

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.

10_sesRABUJOI World Heritage List

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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