3-gatsu no Lion – 31

Rei is enjoying a big feast with the Kawamotos before he heads off to Osaka for the Newcomer Tournament final, but Hana isn’t. She can’t eat a bite; her stomach hurts. It’s because she’ll be heading off too: to Kyoto, on a multi-day class trip.

Rei immediately knows why Hina is feeling the way she is, and gives what advice he can to help ease her pain, since he’s felt it too. He vividly imagines the hell she’ll have to face while on the trip, ostracized by her peers. She’s going into battle just as much as he is. And like him, she wants to win.

When Rei meets Kawasaki Junko, the game records of his semifinal match with Nikaidou have already said a lot about the guy (except that he looks really old for someone 26 and under). Knowing he couldn’t beat Nikaidou in a quick game, Kawasaki did everything he could to lengthen it, knowing Nikaidou’s health would give out and the match would be his.

Knowing this is how Kawasaki wins fills Rei with rage, and he almost plays right into his opponent’s hands when a voice inside him stays his hand: it’s Nikaidou’s words ringing out: don’t attack, defend; take care of your shogi and yourselfPerservere. It’s what Nikaidou did, even though he failed. It’s what Hina is doing in Kyoto.

Back on course, Rei contains his anger and focuses it on persevering, on enduring the mind games Kawasaki is playing, and by focusing on the shogi, and when the match is over, Rei is the new Newcomer King, while Kawasaki is a fief in the land of losers where he deserves to be for his callus, unchivalrous play.

Rei does not savor the victory long, because he knows Hina’s still out there battling. After a fellow player gives him some stomach medicine Shimada recommended, Rei races to Kyoto by bullet train, and using Hina’s class trip schedule, combs the shopping venue where her class is supposed to be.

Then he remembers his own times of loneliness during such trips, and how a mall full of laughter and fun would be the last place he’d be. Instead, he searches the river, the place back home where she’s always run to be alone.

Her reaction to Rei suddenly appearing there, just when she was about to start crying, is hard to put into words. Poweful? Sure. Heartlifting? You bet. When he was younger, Rei had to face many battles alone.

Now he knows how much better he’d have fared if he had someone beside him to make things even a little more endurable, and happens to have someone in Hina who he can ensure won’t endure her battles alone.

All it took was being there—in that particular time and place—to be hugged, to be a font for her tears, to remind her she isn’t fighting in vain, and that it’s going to be alright.

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3-gatsu no Lion – 30

“All you can do is what you can do, one thing at a time.” That’s the advice Hayashida-sensei gives Rei after another consultation about Hina’s predicament. Hayashida is as outraged by the attitude of Hina’s homeroom teacher—and as rearin’ to go give her a piece of his mind—as Rei, but neither of them can.

Hayashida is a total stranger in the matter, while Rei took a path of isolation that won’t work for Hina…though I maintain that his plan of “at least have lots of cash sitting around” isn’t a bad one, though Hayashida is right that the Kawamotos would not easily accept it.

Akari’s emotionless tale of their father’s whereabouts—he left them to start another family—was suitably heartbreaking. But so is the sudden news that his self-appointed rival Nikaidou lost the semifinals in the Newcomer Tournament, and is apparently now too ill to leave his home.

Rei wants answers, so Shimada provides them—by telling Rei the story of how his master took on one more disciple after him: a tiny, round, sickly boy. Shimada dismissed him, as most did, as a pampered rich boy, but in him raged a burning passion the equal of any shogi player, even if he lacked adequate skill to match.

Due to his (undisclosed, incurable) illness, Nikaidou couldn’t have a normal childhood any more than Rei could with the loss of his family and turbulent years with his stepsiblings. But back then, as now, Nikaidou only ever “did what he could do, one thing at a time,” staying in every match until he had nothing left. He was doing it because he could, but also so Rei could have a worthy rival to keep him on his toes.

Now that Rei knows how weak Nikaidou is, one could be forgiven for thinking he’d go easy on him next time. But Rei understands what devoting oneself to shogi means, even if his path to the game was much much different. That understanding demands he show Nikaidou no mercy next time. And hopefully there’ll be a next time.

3-gatsu no Lion – 29

This week is all about dealing with unpleasant or unreasonable people. It would be nice if such people didn’t exist in the world, but they do, hence the dealing.

Hina has to deal with a teacher who hasn’t learned anything from what happened with Chiho, only this time Hina makes her anger about the situation known.

Akari is nervous about being called in and having to face off against other parents. She’s heard horror stories about how forcefully they take their own child’s side, and wonders if she’ll need backup in the form of Grandpa or Auntie.

Rei yells, perhaps too loud, that he’s there for her too, and that’s all it takes for Akari to pull out of her worry-spiral and start thinking the right way: she’s not alone, and it will all work out. Probably!

Rei wants to help in any way he can, but is well aware of his shortcomings. His heartfelt desire is to be needed; he believes continuing to fight and win in his chosen field is the best way to do so.

He makes sure his colleague Nikaidou gets some rest before the next day’s match, assuring him he’ll do fine as long as he takes care of himself.

As for Rei, actively working to fulfill his own desires constitutes taking care of himself; always a welcome development.

In order to win, he must play—and defeat—Subaru Hachiya, an opponent he almost immediately finds offensively irritating. The 23-year-old up-and-comer stomps around, clicks his tongue, shakes his legs, taps his fingers, slams pieces onto the board with a rude force. He also plays comically fast, as if he has a bus to catch.

Rei doesn’t seem to have much trouble beating Hachiya, but he’s later blamed by the older players for “poking the hive” and allowing Hachiya’s worst behaviors to assert themselves rather than trying to “contain” him.

While far less serious, it’s the same basic situation as Hina, as Rei was a victim of Hachiya’s rudeness as Hina was a victim of the bullies, yet here they are, being blamed for their comparatively far better conduct.

Maybe Hina’s teacher sucks, but maybe she’s also seen enough Chihos and Hinas to know that the bully/victim class dynamic isn’t going away, any more than Hachiya’s buzzing can be tamed. Neither Hina nor Rei chose the easy way that would be “better for everyone”, and that’s their choice to make.

3-gatsu no Lion – 28

Hina is the focus again this week, and the show is all the better for it; it’s good to see that while he still has plenty of doubts, in this situation Rei is the one who isn’t emotionally at sea, and even has a concrete path he’s following for the sake of the girl who saved her. Hina has been all but a co-protagonist this season, giving Hanazawa Kana some really good material to work with and simply letting her do her thing.

In case her middle school life can never return to its former normalcy (and even that was a bit of a charade), Rei continues to familiarize Hina with shogi, which served Rei well in the past as an escape from unfavorable conditions, and is now the game that pays his bills. Rather hilariously, Rei proves as bad at going easy on Hina (even though he’s trying) as he is good at competing professionally.

Sitting alone with Hina in her room (for the first time), Rei feels it’s a suitable time to ask Hina to tell him, in small bits, in her own time, what’s going on at school. Hina describes, among other things, an oppressively awkward and hostile atmosphere and “an invisible hierarchy” in which “your ranking decides how loud you can laugh or how much freedom you’re allowed.” In other words, every damn middle school classroom, ever.

Of course, not all classrooms are like that, but by no means an uncommon atmosphere, and both Hina and Chiho are partly victims of bad luck, and partly victims of their own selfless personalities. While changing that atmosphere may be nigh impossible, it’s much easier to bypass it.

Takahashi asks for Hina by name and invites her to play catch with him during lunch. He tells her Rei came by his house to play shogi with his dad and granddad—a granddad usually bedridden, but a spring chicken before Rei and a shogi board.

In any case, Takahashi understands the situation, and tells Hina if the classroom is ever too much, they can simply play catch. Hina is overjoyed.

The joy—and the prudence of Rei involving Takahashi—is short-lived, and the bullies escalate by scrawling slurs on Hina’s desk (albeit in chalk; these girls aren’t yet to the point where they’re gouging the wood).

Their leader also calls Hina a bitch under her breath, but Takahashi seems to hear it, or at least can read the room, then invites the three hellions to join him and Hina in their game of catch.

Before I could ponder whether Takahashi was trying to quell the conflict through inclusion, he unleashes some game-level heat at the fawning bullies, sending them running off.

Then Takahashi tells Hina why he did what he did: Chiho once gave him half of her lunch when his bento box fell in the dirt. He knew then, as he knows now, that anyone who shares their food with you is a good person, and he doesn’t think Hina should be afraid to show she has allies in this war.

It’s sweet, sweet revenge and a wonderful sentiment, but I knew its effects would be temporary, and perhaps even cause further escalation. That night, while playing shogi with Hina, Rei apologizes for introducing another element into her problem so recklessly.

But Hina is grateful for everything Rei has done, and is happy he is always asking her what she wants. She’s just frustrated that she doesn’t know…or that she does know, but knows there’ll be no turning back if she does that, because two wrongs don’t make a right and such, right?

Rei has always felt that Hina is stronger than him, and he’ll never surpass her in that regard. The bullies may be having their fun drawing awful stuff on the chalkboard, but they’re not just causing Hina pain…they’re making her madand toughening her. Rei realizes that his pacifist nature may not apply to Hina, and that simply becoming invisible, shuffling off to stare at bushes or play shogi may not be the best options for her.

So when the teacher asks Hina for an explanation, she stands tall, proud, and tearless, and tells the truth: she doesn’t know; she didn’t write that; it was written there before she came to class. The teacher seems to remember the Chiho situation she handled so badly (Chiho is now in psychological rehab, unable to even respond to Hina’s letters). One can hope she’ll handle things a little better this time.

3-gatsu no Lion – 27

As part of repaying his debt he feels he owes her, Rei wants to help Hina in anyway he can, and that means getting a new perspective on the matter of bullying. Hayashida-sensei misunderstands at first. Rei isn’t the one being bullied. Indeed, he proudly proclaims his hard-won and long-standing invisibility at school.

When he brings up Hina, then describes her personality in such great detail and then presents his passion and motivation on the matter (“my duty as a human being” and such) Hayashida starts thinking that there is someone Rei likes. Of course, Rei isn’t thinking that way at all; Hina is not just a dear friend, but close to family, and his lifesaver to boot.

Hayashida gives Rei some good advice, including to tread carefully and not make a big fuss at school, lest it just make things worse for the victim, but to instead listen very intently to her feelings on the matter; how she’d like the matter resolved.

You know Rei is super-serious about this endeavor because he has a back-up plan: if Hina has to change schools or get a private tutor, he means to support her, not just emotionally, but financially. To that end, Hayashida spots a stack of shogi tournaments into which Rei has entered, calculating all of the winnings he’ll amass, which makes him a bit worried.

Despite saying he (literally!) can’t afford to lose again, he does inevitably lose, and is so angry he wrangles an all-to-willing Nikaidou to strenuously train with him. Nikaidou thinks Rei finally has fire in his belly and is utilizing his Best Friend; Rei just wants money to repay Hina!

The next day, Rei helps Akari lug home a whole mess of groceries she got a big sale. When Rei tells Akari his weight, she hurries home to start cooking, and won’t hear of Rei leaving.

There’s something about Rei, perhaps in part his personality; and the experiences he’s had (the loss of loved ones being something they share), that has Kawamotos pour their hearts out at him. Akari feels she can talk to him, and criticizes herself for the job she’s done as surrogate mom to Hina, lamenting she’s “no good.”

Only nineteen herself when their mother died, Akari had barely lived any life before suddenly becoming a mother of two. She did her best, but in hindsight worries she instilled “ham-fisted” ideals into Hina, which led to her predicament with her friend and the bullies.

Akari admired Gramps simply praising Hina’s courage, but she hates the part of herself for wanting Hina to simply run away rather than do something that would cause her to be unhappy or alone. This is, of course, silly; Gramps has lived a long-ass life, of course he’s going to have more wisdom on these kinds of things. Akari is too hard on herself here.

Rei reassures Akari that just as Hina did nothing wrong in fighting the good fight, neither did Akari. After all, Akari raised the girl who saved Rei’s life; that makes Akari his savior too. Had Hina been raised not to be as kind as she is, or to think of herself before others, Rei might not even be there talking to her.

His honest words cheer Akari up, and she fixes a big ‘ol pot of curry for dinner. When Gramps returns from the theme park with Hina and Momo, he complains that Rei is there “again”, but he’s only joking around, and orders him to sit, eat, and stop making him feel like the bad guy.

While stepping back into the house, Hina hands him a cartoon cat phone strap that somewhat resembles him, as thanks for everything he’s done. Hina expects Rei to think it childish, but he tells her he’s moved, and thanks her. It’s such a nice, quiet, warm moment shared between two people who will hopefully be thanking each other for being there for one another for a good long time to come.

3-gatsu no Lion – 26

As Hina cries in her big sister’s lap, Rei catches us up on the reason for her tears, as well as her missing shoe. It’s a harrowing, all-too familiar and common story: some girls in her class with nothing better to do started bullying her longtime friend Chiho. While everyone ignored it or pretended nothing was happening (even the teacher), Hina, like a Fire Sister, kept talking and eating with Chiho.

Eventually, the bullying got so bad Chiho stopped coming to school, and her mother decided they’d move to where her father works, pulling her out of school. When the girls who started all this make light of that in gym class, Hina pounces on their queen bee in vicious rage, to no avail.

Now Hina is the target of their bullying, and she’s terrified of going back to school and being alone, just as she’s distressed that she couldn’t do anything for Chiho. After scaring Momo with her crying, Hina runs out into the night, and Rei very slowly chases her (what can you say; kid’s not an athlete).

Rei makes no bones about it: Hina is the reason he’s above water; she is his lifesaver; and after gently taking her hand, he promises he’ll always stay with her, no matter what. After all, for all the distress and pain it’s caused her, Hina is quite correct that she did absolutely nothing wrong in trying to defend Chiho. That it was beyond her ability to stop the bullying, or that she’s the new target, does not change that simple fact that she’s a good person.

Fully appreciative of her fragile state and need to not be alone, Rei spends the day with her at the libarary where they look at books, something he’s been doing a long time and the reason he’s so good at shogi at his age.

While she’s looking at Japanese sweets books, Rei is looking for the name of the “ladybug bush” of his dark earlier years: “Silverthorn.” He also finds the scientific name of the Asian Ladybug that populated those bushes, and Hina notices the kanji for that name also means “heavenly path.”

Rei takes her to the bush and places a ladybug on her hand, and it climbs as high as it can before flying off toward the sun, demonstrating why, long ago, people gave the bug that name.

As the beetle flies heavenward, Rei would wish nothing more than to unleash hell upon those who have done this to Hina; but just as she walks the heavenly (i.e. just and rightous) path, he knows so must he. Tearing those bullies limb from limb won’t solve anything, and probably onlu make things worse for Hina.

Evening arrives, and Rei escorts Hina home, where Akari and Momo are waiting for them and invite Rei to join them for a sumptuous dinner consisting of all of Hina’s favorite foods. Their Gramps is there too, and gravely asks Hina to sit down and listen.

Akari told him everything that happened…and he praises her heartily for what she did. He knows from the papers how serious bullying can be, so he has nothing but joy and pride in knowing Hina would go to bat for her friend despite the dangers involved; something most adults wouldn’t do. He echos her own earlier words that she did nothing wrong, and should be proud of herself.

Now, I watched his monologue in a very dusty room, so you can imagine I needed a lot of Kleenex nearby, just as the Kawamoto sisters did. Both Gramps’ words of encouragement and Akari’s meal were things they knew they could do for Hina. Rei wracks his brain over what he can do, but simply being there for her, by her side, and assuring her he’ll never leave it, is already enough.

3-gatsu no Lion – 25

After Matsumoto and Smith mess around with the towering Kumakura’s huge shoes, we see a shogi den settled down for lunch in June…when I guess it’s to hot to eat outside? As he munches on his healthy yet high-class meal, Nikaidou rants about how Rei must get to the finals of the Newcomer Tournament so they can face one another, then proceeds to analyze Rei in a manner that’s far too accurate for Rei’s taste.

When Nikaidou tells him it stands to reason he’d know his deepest depths like no one else, because they’re not just rivals but best friends, Rei, a paragon of stoicism to that point, freaks out and books it out of the room. “Leave him be,” an older player says, “it’s funnier that way.” And to a geezer like him who was one, teenagers are funny, with their needless emotional outbursts and poor organization of priorities.

But what I took out of the first half of “June” is that Hey, Rei is his Nikaidou and Nikaidou is Rei’s. Rei has a friend. Not the only one, either! That fact might embarrass him, but that’s progress, and it took a lot for him to get to that point.

In the second half of “June” we get a welcome cut to the Kawamoto residence, where Grampa makes his first appearance this season (his love of and fawning over Momo will never get old, because let’s face it, Momo deserves all the love). He’s holding a brainstorming session for new sweets after the success of the last one.

When Momo is asked what goes in the water, she first says “duck”, but a duck on top of an agar sweet could easily fall off, while a duck encased in that agar would look like a dead one. Then Momo suggests a sandal, recalling a time she lost one while Akari was walking with her near the water. Gramps instantly declares her a genius and a prodigy.

But there’s something off about this scene: Hinata. She doesn’t say a word, and has her head down as she scribbles into a notebook. At bathtime, Akari finds her sitting alone on the stoop, and when asks what’s wrong, Hina says “nothing” and shows her sister a smile that’s probably forced, because it’s gone again when she’s alone in the bath, looking up at the moon.

So what’s up with Hina? I can guess, considering she’s entering adolescence, but little did I know the next segment would serve as a dark preface to that question’s answer. In the present day Rei notices a plant with the same leaves as a “ladybug bush” he noticed when he was a little kid being teased, bullied, and ostracized at school.

As we know, Rei chose shogi to please his stepfather, willing to endure the hate from the man’s biological children because he had no choice. Now we know to the extent Rei, Shogi Prodigy is not the product of a nature or nurture, but pure, elemental survival.

Rei had no safe haven from the hatred of classmates or stepsiblings. He made himself more invisible and indifferent to prevent escalation at school, but trying to ingratiate himself with his stepparents and not feel like a burden only intensified his siblings’ resentment towards him.

As much as Kyouko’s been humanized in the present, the villainous version reappears in these flashbacks, as someone who couldn’t give a shit Rei’s problems, either the loss of his family or the continued abuse he faces at school. He’s a creepy eyesore to her. No wonder it’s still hard for him to talk to her today!

Shogi wasn’t a dream or aspiration, it was a life raft. Instead of reacting to the horrible things in his life, he buried his nose in shogi books, studied feverishly, and played like his life depended on it, because he thought it did. A perfect and devastating visual is of him desperately treading water in a dark sea, with nothing to cling to but a floating shogi board.

Things are much better for Rei now; he has friends, a surrogate family that loves him unconditionally, and even a place to hang out at school—but though he still carries wounds and scars that may never heal. More importantly to the closing act, a product of his ordeal is that he can spot the warning signs of others enduring the same from a mile away, as he instantly does when Hina enters the room.

She’s missing her left shoe (in a weird, prophetic echo of the shoe Momo suggested for the dessert), the sock is filthy, and her face is a raw mess of tears. For the show to so quickly and concisely reassert all the crap Rei had to go through, only to visit it upon one of the kindlest, gentlest souls in the show in Hina, is almost too much to bear, especially when the episode ends before we’re able to learn the details or see her be comforted.

I guess the details don’t matter; it would seem she’s now going through the same thing Rei did. I can only hope that if she cannot find a solution at school, at least going home won’t just add to her shit sandwich. Unlike Rei, who only had shogi, she has Rei, Akari, Momo, and Gramps. Being a teenager is usually terrible for everyone, but it’s still worse for some than others.

Inuyashiki – 03

As soon as Hiro realizes the old man he killed wasn’t effected by his “air gun”, he bolts, and by bolt I mean launch into the sky and scream off like a fighter jet. Thus, the big standoff between him and Ichirou is postponed. But as he wakes up from a nightmare of the death he witnessed, Ichirou knows he’ll have to find and confront him sometime.

This boy is like him, but whether his powers have twisted him into a monster, or he was always a sociopath and only now has the means to do as he pleases, Ichirou knows he’s the only one who can stop him. Essentially, some whippersnapper needs an ear-boxing.

Hiro isn’t the first evil, nor is he the only evil in the world, or even in the vicinity of Ichirou’s home and work; far from it. You don’t need to be killed and reconstructed by an advanced alien race to be a dickbag that doesn’t care about anyone or anything, as evidenced by the kids who attacked a homeless man, or a group of athletic young toughs who plan to kill a man for daring to tell them to wait in line.

Like any and every great hero, Ichirou doesn’t buy into a world where the strong unrelentingly prey on the weak. Why should he? He may be one of the two strongest beings on the planet. No, with strength comes not carte blanche, but noblesse oblige. Just as Hiro was a bad person before getting reconstructed, Ichirou was always a good and just man.

It’s only now, like Hiro, that he’s able to act on his kind and virtuous nature. When it looks bad for the poor man surrounded by much larger ones, Ichirou takes out the trash. But he doesn’t kill anyone, nor is there any malice in his actions; only a desire to stop a great wrong from being committed, and ensure the safety of those who cannot ensure it themselves.

Once his “Grampy-sense” detects a family struggling to escape a house fire, he wills the machinery within his back to come out and propel him to the danger in time to save them. He does so by singing the theme to Astro Boy.

At first, his built-in jetpack is a little too much to handle; he screams bloody murder as he’s flung every which way, a scene that’s as awesome as it is frikkin’ hilarious. In a show that gets as intense as this one, it’s nice to know we’ll always have some moments of levity.

He gets the hang of it pretty quickly, and manages to save not only the crying children’s father, but their grandmother as well. Instead of thanks and praise, he asks that they not mention him to the authorities, and having just been miraculously saved by him, one hopes they would respect his wishes.

Ichirou is an unconditional hero to all, not because he can, with his wondrous new powers, but because he feel he must. He wouldn’t be able to live with himself if he stood by and did nothing when his actions can make a positive difference in the world. Compare this to his pre-transformation, when he was just trying to maintain, and was diagnosed with terminal cancer for his trouble. A man of inaction, no longer is he.

Hiro, while a monster, seems to remain tied to his humanity through his best friend Andou, whom he finally convinces to come to school, promising to protect him. He is, or at least is trying to be, a hero of one…unfortunately for the rest of the world, not to mention Andou.

When the bullies return to Andou’s desk and threaten him, Hiro wastes no time taking the wrist of their strongest and squeezing it hard enough to make him cry, apologize, and insult himself and his friends.

I can’t tell whether Hiro is using laser-sharp precision to apply just enough pressure to the guy’s wrist, or struggling as hard as he can not to squeeze to hard, snap his arm off and expose himself at school. I like how there’s uncertainty in something like that.

Hiro takes Andou to the roof where the bullies initially told them to meet, but they already left with some girls. Hiro gives Andou some binoculars and starts pointing out into the distance and saying “BANG.” Eventually, Andou pans to where Hiro was “shooting”, and finds the four bullies dead, all shot in the head with invisible bullets that leave no trace; the scared-shitless girls having no idea what just happened.

It’s too far. Andou is a gentle soul; he can’t take this shit, and wastes no time rejecting Hiro and warning him to stay away when Hiro refuses to turn himself into the police. All of the things Hiro did to that point to impress Andou—humiliate then kill bullies, boast of his ability to nuke China with US missile, steal thousands of dollars from the ATM—only serve to disgust Andou and push him further away.

Their friendship is over, but Hiro reacts the same way he does to everything, save his brief encounter with Ichirou: calmly. Too, calmly, if you ask me. Without Andou to provide even a semblance of a tether, Hiro’s monstrous acts may only increase in scale and scope.

Inuyashiki likes to punch below the belt, as when an adorable mama cat and her kitten walk past a charmed Ichirou, only for the mom to get hit by a car right in front of him. Exhibiting uncommon goodness that makes one’s eyes well up, he takes the cat into his arms, even though he can’t do anything for her…then learns that he actually can.

Ichirou scans that dead cat and fixes her right up, and she and her kitten stride off like nothing ever happened, giving Ichirou the one thank-you he wished he always got: no thank-you at all. Ichirou is overcome with joy and gratitude for the gift he has been given, and immediately stops by a hospital to heal as many people as he can.

And yet, as he’s been going around left and right saving lives, his opposite Hiro is out there taking them, as if the universe itself were maintaining the balance from suddenly having two such immensely powerful beings in such close proximity. If both were evil killers, humanity would be toast, but Ichirou is as good as Hiro is bad.

Witness the ending, in which the camera mercifully doesn’t follow Hiro inside another house for another routine family-killing. It just stays there, frozen, and we realize just how goddamn quickly Hiro purges the house of all life before walking out, spotting two passing boys—clearly friends—running past, and thinks long and hard about killing them too.

By holding his fire, was he trying to prove to himself that he can control himself when he needs to even without Andou? Perhaps he still has a degree of restraint, owing to the same sense of self-preservation that induced him to escape from Ichirou. But that restraint can’t last.

The first two episodes introduced our characters: the third explored their powers further and illustrated how far they can take those powers—in both moral directions. Hiro seems to be on the path to ruin; Ichirou, on the path to sainthood. But in a universe of balance, perhaps neither will ever reach their destination.

Kakegurui – 06

Following her stunning victory, Mary is approached by her former entourage, who offer a half-hearted apology…that she accepts, and things are back to the way they were before she became a Miké.

She doesn’t seem to hold a grudge for how they treated her; written or unwritten, they abided by the rules and traditions of the school with regard to treatment of livestock.

But they also revealed something about the school’s enrollment: one need not be in debt to be livestock. These three girls aren’t technically Mikés, but they are another kind of livestock: they never lead; they only follow, even unto the slaughterhouse.

Momobami and the council seem interested only in those who break out of that mold; in someone like Yumeko, who has yet to pay her debts and be relieved of Livestock status even though she has the funds…and like Mary, the “girl who became a human.”

No one truly knows why Yumeko maintains her Miké status, but it’s assumed its so she can challenge the council to another offical match, and it’s assumed the one she wants to gamble with the most is the president, Momobami Kirari. But she doesn’t get Momobami; not this time.

Instead, she’s intercepted and arrested by the council member she’ll have to play with first in order to get to Momobami; Beautification Committee chairman (and noted gun nut and lunatic) Ikishima Midari.

Midari has her stylish gal-goons take Yumeko (and Ryouta) to a dank interrogation chamber in the bowels of the school, where they’ll play an “ESP card game” in which they guess which cards will be drawn in the adjacent room. Each correct guess means a point, and the person with the most points gets to fire one of two .357 Magnum revolvers loaded with anywhere from zero to six bullets.

Knowing what we know about Midari, it’s a very Midari game (what with the large amount of pure chance involved), and if Yumeko is worried, she doesn’t let on, keeping her calm, cool face throughout. However, Midari also sees in Yumeko a slightly more buttoned-up version of herself: a pervert who gets off on gambling to fulfill her appetites.

Making Ryouta deal the cards that he believes will determine the fate of two women is a great exercise to toughen him up (or just make him a nervous wreck), while Midari agrees that if she loses, she’ll pay Yumeko a cool billion yen ($9 million).

Following a fairly routine pattern in this show, Yumeko loses the first of three rounds by one point, giving Midari the first shot. Since she fully loaded her pistol, Midari has at least a 50-50 chance of shooting her. If Yumeko loaded any bullets into hers, the odds are better. Of course, either of the guns could backfire, which could be why Yumeko warns Midari not to fire when the time comes.

Yumeko always seems to gamble like her life (and certainly her enjoyment) is on the line, so as theatrical and wild as Midari is, this is simply a more raw and concentrated version of the feeling Yumeko craves. I forsee both parties coming away from this not only alive, but…satisfied.

As for Mary, she’s the one intercepted by President Momobami, who doesn’t mince words over tea: she wants Mary to join the council. Clearly, she sees potential in her. Mary may not be as nuts as Yumeko, but she’s definitely going places.

Kakegurui – 05

I may have bristled at least week’s structure (spend the entire first half introducing Ikishima, someone not involved in the second half’s gambling) but it was a blessing in disguise, putting a welcome kink in the gamble-a-week rhythm of the show to this point. Also, a poker game this layered with lies, deceit, and glorious twists needed more than two halves of an episode; it needed three.

Liberated from the need for setup (ably achieved in the first half) the crazy-faces showed up early and often here, as did the twists, the most important one being that the moves of the seemingly superfluous fourth player, Tsubomi, are being controlled by Kiwatari, the only non-livestock in the game.

Tsubomi and Mary are aware of this (Tsubomi isn’t so great at hiding the cheating), but in the tenth and final game, when Kiwatari tells Tsubomi she’s not allowed to beat him, Tsubomi does her stuff: painstakingly picking and peeling back the emotionless facade Tsubomi had built to repress the trauma of losing her beautiful locks of hair, roughly hacked off by Kiwatari himself once she became livestock.

Tsubomi tells her that losing intentionally here, when she has a perfect opportunity to prove she’s not “lifelong livestock”, would be like a “motionless pig in an open cage.” Unable to accept that, Tsubomi’s facade cracks, beats Kiwatari in the round, and becomes a human again.

The game would have ended with Tsubomi in first place, if the chip count, which we’d been getting from Kiwatari, was accurate. Turns out that is the last and final twist in the game: Mary and Yumeko falsified their debt reports (just like Kiwatari did), then swapped them, so the boards in front of them at the card table gave Kiwatari the wrong figures to do his math throughout the game.

It’s a total defeat brought on by Kiwatari’s confidence in his control over Tsubomi, as well as his hard-headed belief he can judge everyone as if they were cut from the same cloth. Meanwhile, Tsubomi may still technically be livestock, but regained her will to live and fight for solvency.

The council secretary Igarashi worries about what Pandora’s Box President Momobari (whom she seems to love) has opened by allowing someone as inscrutable as Jabami Yumeko to roam free. However, when Igarashi says “the usual things” that one can use to control a person don’t work on her; she’s not entirely right.

I have no doubt if Yumeko’s friends were threatened, she wouldn’t stand by and do nothing. And now Yumeko has two friends—Ryouta and Mary—who may be leveraged against her in the future. We’ll see how she deals with that as she faces off against more and stronger opponents.

Kakegurui – 04

Gentleman that he is, Ryouta offers Yumeko a small contribution of 1 million yen ($9000 US) but she tells him she’s got cash on hand; the council hasn’t yet come to collect her massive debt. Instead, she, Mary, and other livestock are presented with “Life Plans.”

With these, the council is “collecting” by taking ownership of Yumeko and Mary’s futures and planning them out accordingly, stripping them of all human agency. In Mary’s case, she’ll marry a lolicon Diet member and have three kids, grow old, and die. Yumeko is likely in for a similar fate.

We also learn there’s yet another downside to being livestock: non-livestock like towering brute Kiwatari feel empowered to demand, say, that Yumeko strip in a dark corner of the school.

When she refuses, he threatens to violate her. With Kiwatari and his two goons to deal with, the noble Ryouta is hopelessly outmatched, but still looks ready to try rescuing her.

That’s when the “fun” is interrupted by piercing and accessory-laden student council member and Beautification Committee chairman Ikishima Midari. Rather than outright stop Kiwatari’s assault, Ikishima challenges him to a round of Russian Roulette with a massive revolver. Kiwatari retreats, so she retires to a bathroom stall to play alone.

Ikishima (voiced by unhinged-girl extraordinaire Ise Mariya; see Aku no Hana), like Yumeko, literally gets off on the thrill of gambling, but takes it to a very visceral extreme, playing with her very life rather than chips or cards. Yumeko promises she’s repay her for saving her, and Ikishima seems very excited at the chance to collect.

That first half is to introduce Midari, but she plays no role in the remainder of the episode, which is given over to the “Debt Adjustment Assembly.”

Livestock are invited to play Blind Man’s Bluff (AKA Indian Poker) in order to try to transfer their debt to someone else in exchange for a lower sum—a much lower sum in Yumeko’s case. And just Mary’s luck: she ends up in Yumeko’s group…and Kiwatari’s there too.

Two issues: First, so much time was spent on the intro of Kiwatari and Ikishima that this game is left unfinished. Unless Ikishima plays a role in this gamble next week, it would have made more sense to save her intro for later, establish Kiwatari as a rapey dick quickly and efficiently during the game, and have the whole game contained within this episode.

Second, while BMB is a fairly simple game, the way it’s employed here, and the way it’s explained, threatens to sap all of the enjoyment out of the proceedings. It’s very convoluted and requires a lot of words—too many, in fact—to get the point across of what is going on.

Still, I enjoyed watching Mary utterly reject the life plan the council (and that stupid “kiddy” council member in the bunny suit) laid out for her, as no matter how comfortable and happy a life it might be, it’s not a life she chose. This motivates her to put in an effort to try to claw out of her situation.

She even breaks out her crazyface, as does Kiwatari (the latter looking for all the world like he wouldn’t be out of place in Attack on Titan), but Yumeko doesn’t join the party. She remains quite calm as the episode pretty abruptly ends without any resolution.

Surely more wrinkles will be added to the game as things escalate, but of all the ways Kakegurui could shake up its formula, giving half an episode over to two character intros and then rolling credits before a game can finish didn’t quite work for me, especially when the game itself required so much narration to lay out.

Kakegurui – 03

Upon watching the “official match” between Mary and porcelain-faced council member Nishinotouin Yuriko, Yumeko becomes excited at the prospect of the chouhan bakuchi style game they play, in which swords are used rather than dice, and how they land determines the distribution of chips to a wild extent.

It’s not a gamble for the weary, but as Yumeko is a compulsive gambler, it’s perfect. However, if I didn’t know better, I’d say there was more to her facing off against Yuriko than simply wanting to play or win, and that gets back to Saotome’s humiliating, devastating loss to Yuriko in the episode’s opening moments.

Yumeko takes exception to Yuriko “showing a weakened human a glimmer of hope than beating them into despair” and calls the councilperson a loan shark, the lowest of the low, and a piece of shit to her face. She even messes with the characters in her distinguished name to show that her favorite numbers are right there, but missing a couple in the middle, a “perfect name for an airhead.”

This is Yumeko exercising psychological warfare on a highly accomplished and studied opponent—and largely succeeding. And while there is a practical purpose for getting Yuriko riled up, I don’t doubt Yumeko also takes satisfaction in putting Yuriko in her place, suggesting she won’t let people like her have their way with livestock unchallenged.

Add to that the fact that, naturally, Yumeko’s opponent is cheating (with the dealer using magnets to manipulate one—but only one—of the metal swords), and it looks like this gamble will take the same shape as the previous two, with Yumeko prevailing at the last second and Yuriko’s mask finally cracking and breaking.

However, we get a different outcome, and notably no overt “gamblingasm”. Instead, Council President Momobami enters with two other council members, to oversee the result of the sword toss, which is something neither Yumeko or Yuriko expected, and puts Yumeko 310 million yen (over $2 million) in debt to Yuriko.

Momobami’s presents makes Yumeko suspect she was not only the victim of magnets, but a “badger”, and that this was a multifaceted cheat that may have required the ignorance of both players. Yuriko may have won, but she certainly doesn’t look or seem to feel like she won. Meanwhile, despite her immense new debt, all Yumeko is focused on is facing off against Momobami, which is her right as newly-minted livestock.

As for the hazing and bullying that results from her initiation into the livestock, it runs off Yumeko like rain from a fireman’s hat; when they call her the common cat name “Mike”, she simply gets on her knees and starts talking and washing herself like a cat, completely immune to the students barbs and, on the contrary, scaring them off with her bizarre antics. Here’s hoping this is a preamble to Yumeko becoming an inspiration to all livestock.

Kakegurui – 02

Yumeko considers Ryouta a friend—even to the point of first-name terms—but he doesn’t seem like her romantic interest. At the moment, that seems to be gambling itself, with only the highest of risks giving her any kind of pleasure. But the OP strongly suggests a very close relationship to come with the yuki-onna-looking student council president, Momobari Kirari.

In a bit of necessary exposition, Ryouta tells Yumeko that ever since Mombari rose to power (winning her position from the predecessor with gambling, natch) the bullying of the “livestock”—the 100 or so students with the least luck and hence most debt—has intensified exponentially. Thanks to Yumeko’s gift, Ryouta is no longer a “Fido”, but after her defeat Mary is a “Lassie”, and doesn’t take to it well.

But Yumeko has little time to concern herself with those she’s already beaten; she seeks a stronger opponent, and this week they come to her: the youngest member of the council, first-year Sumeragi Itsuki, daughter of a multi-billion-yen toy company CEO.

Itsuki challenges Yumeko to a game of “Double Card Memory” involving two freshly-opened decks of cards provided by Itsuki and—as I figured—also manufactured by her dad’s company so that she can cheat people.

For the second straight week, it would appear that those at the top of the pile at Hyakkaou Academy aren’t there by playing by the rules or even being exceptionally lucky—it’s more a matter of creating a way to make your own luck.

In the case of Sumeragi Itsuki, she uses a tiny part of the back-of-card design to let her know which deck is which on the table. Once she beats Yumeko in the first match—winning the 20 million she fronted Yumeko—Yumeko tearfully begs her for a rematch, even agreeing to go along with what Itsuki wants Yumeko to front: her fingernails and toenails, which Itsuki obsessively collects and decorates. Ew!

Unfortunately for the freshman, Yumeko not only has exceptional memory, but saw through her trump, and never gives her an opportunity to flip a single card in the rematch. It’s only when Itsuka goes a bit mad that Yumeko gladly joins in the madness. And when she recommends Itsuka wager her nails, it reduces her opponent to big soppy tears.

Yumeko responds to the shameless display with disgust; after a second “gamblinggasm”, Yumeko has been made officially “bored” by the simpering Itsuka. On to the next victi-er, opponent.

President Momobari quickly hears of Sumeragi’s defeat and Yumeko’s quick rise, and instructs the rest of the (very eccentric) student council to start “meddling in her affairs,” clearly intrigued by this newcomer and eager to test the limits of her prowess—if they indeed exist!

Ryouta accompanies Yumeko to the after-hours games at the traditional culture research club, and come upon yet another pathetic scene: Saotome Mary digging her debt-hole over 49 million yen deeper. I wonder if this will be an ongoing thing with Mary losing more and more, or if Yumeko will find it in her heart to save her first victim the same way she saved Ryouta, who was only ever nice to her.

In any case, I’m enjoying the friendliness and politeness with which students challenge one another, a facade which gradually devolves into face-contorting madness, over-the-top posturing and yelling, and the aforementioned “gamblinggasms.” Kakegurui can be thick on the explaining, but is generally just flat-out fun.