Zombieland Saga – 09 – True Guts

Aw, HELL yeah! Saki is probably my favorite idol in Zombieland Saga, so I’ve been awaiting the telling of her backstory with great anticipation. That telling finally comes this week which opens with her and her right-hand woman Kirishima Reiko having just finished conquering another rival bike gang way back in 1997.

Fast-forward to the present, and Tatsumi deploys Franchouchou to a public park to practice the Kashima dance with some old folks. Since the elderly make up the vast majority of Saga’s population, gaining them as one of their fanbases is key. And as the idols discover, the fogies have quite the moves once they switch on the cassette tape.

Their dancing actually attracts the attention of one Kirishima Maria, who along with her two henchgirls, wears the same long red coats as Saki and Reiko back in the day. It would seem Saki’s bike gang Dorami is still alive and well, but in a kind stunted, pee-wee state (even Lily critiques Maria’s ride, a pink scooter, as lame).

Against Sakura and Lily, who don’t want any trouble, Maria and her goons believe they have the upper hand…until Tae bites one of Maria’s buns. Then Saki shows up, and all it takes is a glare and grunt to scare Maria off. After all, Saki’s the genuine article and they’re just wannabe poseurs.

Maria almost gets herself in some real trouble with Dorami’s perennial nemesis Korosuke, and Saki jumps out of Tatsumi’s van just in time to break up the fight, though predictably Maria is furious that Saki interfered in her business. The leader of Korosuke also promises this isn’t over and will be settled “soon.”

Maria’s eyes remind Saki of Reiko’s, and that connection is confirmed when Maria comes home. Reiko is no longer in the game, having gotten married and had Maria as part of wanting to live a “normal life”, something Saki never knew anything about, and never got to experience.

Saki died riding her bike off a mountain road while playing a game of chicken with Korosuke’s then-leader. She won the game, since she never hit the brakes, but paid for it with her life, and Reiko lost her best friend.

When Reiko discovers Maria has snuck out of the house to answer a fresh challenge from Korosuke (which involves an identical game of chicken) she dusts off her steed and hits the road to stop it. She doesn’t care how embarrassed her daughter gets; she’s not going to let her end up like Saki.

Saki also heads out to intervene (hilariously all she has is a bicycle, so she’s a little late), and ends up reuniting with Reiko, but when she recognizes her as Saki, she pretends not to know who she’s talking about.

Saki appoints herself “Captain for a Day” and assumes the Korosuke challenge, sparing Maria from participating. And since she’s already dead, she can replicate the fiery crash that made her a legend. When she emerges unharmed from the flaming wreckage, Reiko slugs her, showing a side Maria had never seen. Turns out she has guts after all…and always did.

Only she wasn’t a legend; not really. All the dangerous stuff Dorami and Korosue are doing is nothing more than cheating death, and it’s only a matter of time before Death decides to settle the score. Instead, Saki invites Maria, Korosuke, and the old folks to a concert where she and the rest of Franchouchou put on a dynamic biker gang-themed show.

Chio-chan no Tsuugakuro – 05 – When You Gotta Go…

Both of the two stories that unfold in this week’s episode are focused, polished, and consistently hilarious. Chio faces a dilemma we’ve all faced: having to pee really bad. She fortunately finds a bathroom, but doesn’t realize until after she’s gone in and relieved herself that she went in the Men’s bathroom, near a busy bus stop to boot.

As we’ve learned, Chio is far more proactive, resourceful, and athletic than a below-average high school girl would be, but that’s what makes her so imminently watchable. We’re there with her as she susses out the best way to escape, finally making use of “mysterious bright-colored balls” that one would never find in the ladies’ room (because they’re for urinals).

One of those balls excites the nearby cat, who starts playing with it in the street. Two girls in miniskirts lean over to watch the cat, and two older men lean over to watch the two girls in miniskirts, giving Chio the opening she needs. It’s a brilliant tactic that almost goes terribly wrong when Chio’s momentarily stuck in the window, but manages to get out.

She even explains away her sudden and surprising appearance to the two men and girls by pretending the cat is her pet “George”, who clearly has no idea who she is and runs off again, allowing her to follow and extricate herself from the situation as everyone shrugs it off as a girl really liking cats…which a lot of people do!

The next episode begins from the perspective of Shinozuka Momo, member of the Disciplinary Committee and deep admirer of its faculty advisor Gotou-sensei. In an effort to be “useful” to him, she takes it upon herself to discover what student(s) from their distinguished academy have been chronically misbehaving in the vicinity of the campus.

This leads to her tailing Chio and Manana, who at first appear to be carrying themselves with “calm and grace”…until Chio pulls a long root out of a flower bed and whips Manana in the bum, setting off a good old-fashioned plant duel. The mortified Momo continues shadowing the two girls, and watches as Chio climbs a wall to see if she can beat Manana up a hill.

She can’t, and Manana rubs it in by denying Chio water, instigating another grappling match. Momo can’t hold her tongue anymore, and orders the two girls to stop hanging out, as they’re terrible influences on each other, going on to describe “true friends.” That leads Manana to correctly assert that Momo…has no friends. Poor Momo!

They make a deal where if they can prove their friends, Momo won’t record or report what she’s seen today. And boy, do they ever prove it, performing a thoroughly embarrassing (and long un-practiced) dance of friendship they devised back in grade school. It moves Momo to unironic tears, and the girls get off scot-free.

In fact, Momo asks them for advice on how to get closer to someone they immediately infer to be Gotou-sensei. As we know, Manana isn’t the person to ask about such things as she has no relationship experienced, but Momo doesn’t know that! As a result, next time she’s with Gotou, Momo acts mysterious and attempts to keep her blondie rival in check…with mixed results. That closes the book on a pair of very strong stories.

Chio-chan no Tsuugakuro – 04 – Cigs & Papers

An harmless question about what you want to do before you die turns into trip down Bad Girl Lane, as Chio makes half-good on her dream of grabbing a cigarette that’s been tossed from a car.

Half, because there’s no time to toss it back and wryly say “you dropped something!”—which would have been awesome—and hurts her shoulder. BUT…she holds on to the barely-smoked cigarette, and immediately becomes fascinated by its seductive allure.

Manana, always thinking ahead of ways to advance her social position, snaps some photos of Chio holding the cigarette oh-so-close to her mouth (the creator’s more adult roots are evident here).

But then Chio suggests Manana pose for some shots, and the two get super into it, with Manana snapping an EPIC shot of Chio with some crows taking flight, while Manana does a pretty badass pose herself—were it not for the cat in the background throwing up!

Chio wants to take more pics, but they have to get to school (the interior of which we still have yet to see…and hopefully never will!). That means smuggling the cigarette onto school grounds, and getting past the teacher in pink Crocs who guards the entrance.

She fails—the teach smells the tobacco immediately—but with nothing to lose Chio simply tells the truth, and he pats her on the head for a job well-done. This doesn’t sit well with Chio, who doesn’t like the fact it never occured to him she would actually smoke (particularly that brand), and when she says she’s a bad girl and strikes a pose, the students around her only laugh. Poor Chio!

One person who has always taken Chio seriously is Andou, who still calls her Bloody Butterfly by habit when they encounter each other quite by chance. Manana hates the prospect of ever having to work for a living, and bets Chio the first adult they see will tell them they hate their job.

Unfortunately for Manana, that first adult is Andou, who won’t go so far as to say what Manana wants him to say. Having seen him fall so far, Chio decides to help him out with his newspaper delivery, and she and Manana learn how grouchy Showa-era people get when their paper is late (this is an excellent Japan-o-centric joke an outsider can still appreciate).

It’s looking like, former bike gang leader or no, Andou’s job just plain blows any way you look at it, but Chio remains optimistic throughout, not letting Andou resort to despair. She uses her surprising athleticism to sneakily drop a paper in a particularly prickly customer’s mail slot, relying on Andou to catch her when she has to leap over a second-floor balcony.

Before long, all the papers are delivered, and far from still wanting to hang it up, Andou is inspired enough by Chio’s support to keep the job for a little while longer. The end result of all this is, of course, that Chio wins the bet and vociferously demands her 100 yen from an exasperated Manana who had no idea Chio would take it this far.

But that’s Chio: at the end of the day she’s a very passionate, intense person who will do whatever it takes, whether it’s getting to school on time or convincing a former bike gangster not to quit a delivery gig. She’s not the ordinary, quite, below average girl she always says she wants to be.

Manana proves just as adept at greeting a classmate in the most ambiguous way possible…at least until that classmate worries that Manana is sick, Manana takes the play-acting further, and draws more classmates to her. At least in this, Chio decides to be passive, running away from the increasingly unpleasant spectacle.

Chio-chan no Tsuugakuro – 03 – This Suddenly Turned Troublesome

On one of the instances when Chio is early for school, she likes to walk through the park, but this particular morning she comes afoul of Andou, the biker gang member she managed to defeat through bluffing and luck, and his gang, who is incredulous about their leader’s claims of the “Bloody Butterfly’s” prowess.

After making a suitably ominous entrance, Chio takes Andou aside and tells him it was all a misunderstanding. However, Andou is so tickled pink at the fact he was so completely hoodwinked by a normal high school girl, he actually keeps the game going with his subordinates, making it seem like she beat him up again and forcing them to flee without their bikes.

Chio didn’t ask for any of this…but she also didn’t simply walk away from the situation, because she was worried it would adversely affect her reputation in violation of her “below average philosophy.” That, and using her online handle IRL also backfired.

 

Despite her desire to live a “peaceful life”, word of the “Bloody Butterfly” even comes to her friend Manana (who I just realized this episode was voiced by Soul Eater’s Maka Albarn’s seiyu. The two end up play-fighting but Chio easily wins because she’s actualy very athletically gifted; she just chooses not to exhibit those skills when she can help it.

Of course, the desire for attention and validation leads Chio to exhibiting her athletic skills, darting left and right while chanting “Kabbadi”…but ends up attracting the attention of her school’s Kabbadi club, third-year Kushitori Madoka. Also, her school has a friggin’ Kabbadi club…and no, Kabbadi is not a sport the show made up!

Kushitori explains it to her polite kohai who actually don’t care, but also can’t get out of the hole they’ve dug lest they admit they were just making fun of the sport their senpai loves. This results in a quick lesson and a quick game for good measure.

Because Manana is not particularly athletically gifted, she’s tagged out immediately, but Chio not only hangs in there against two jocks in Madoka and Yuki, but uses the knowledge she attained by carefully observing Madoka’s play to come up with a strategy to defeat her.

Once Madoka grabbed her in a defensive move, Chio used her knowledge that Madoka likes girls to tangle her up with Yuki, making Madoka choose between holding on to Chio or releasing her so she can grope Yuki. It’s a brilliant plan that relies on the perversity of her opponent while at the same time requiring a certain measure of perversity to devise.

One thing is crystal clear three episodes in: Chio is not as below average as she claims or labors to be. She has both the skills and the luck to rise to the top of her school, only she just…doesn’t wanna. And that’s fine!

Hinamatsuri – 03 – Shaken AND Stirred

This week three of Hinamatsuri’s young women learn the value, rewards, and pitfalls of hard work from three very different vantage points, starting with Anzu. Anzu is unable to return to her mystery home, so she is homeless. She resorts to petty theft in Utako’s shopping district, but the constant chasing is getting exhausting, and one never knows when she might accidentally cut loose with her powers.

The hobo that once gave up her location to Sabu takes Anzu under his wing and shows her how to make honest money to pay for food. It’s a lot of work for a pittance, and even when she and Yassan show up to the hobo camp with sake to share, the mostly old men there treat her like crap…until she sings them an old nostalgic song that brings many of them to tears.

Anzu is rewarded with a canned drink and membership into the tribe, with all the benefits that entails. But the next day it’s back to the drudgery of searching for stray coins and collecting cans, during which time she runs into Nitta. Seeing her situation and seeing through her half-hearted explanations, Nitta assumes the worst and attempts to solve it with money.

The same stubborn pride that keeps Anzu on the streets also makes her angry at the handout, and she throws the 40,000 yen back in his face. However, when she remembers the hobos talking about how steel and aluminum price drops will cut deeply into their haul, she swallows her pride, chases Nitta’s car down, and accepts his gift.

When she’s immediately surrounded by Usako and the other proprietors she stole from, she loses more than 39,000 of it as repayment, and returns to camp dejected and ashamed. But Yassan assures her it’s for the best: she’s no longer wanted for theft; she has a fresh start as a “homeless girl.” If she keeps working hard as she can (and accepts gifts like Nitta’s when they come), she’ll be able to survive, as they have. Without using her powers.

Next we move on to Mishima Hitomi, who already knows the value of hard work and has applied it to studying, resulting in her position as top student in class, a position she takes great pride in. However, after her impromptu go at bartending last week, Utako wants her to keep working there, and is willing to blackmail her with an incriminating photo to make it happen.

Hitomi counters with a recording of Utako blackmailing her, and Utako takes a different tack, suggesting they both delete their data on each other…but Utako had already downloaded the photo to her PC, so it’s Game, Set, and Match Utako: Hitomi starts working at her bar for 1,500 yen an hour. She is a hit, not because she’s a middle schooler, but because she’s just too damn good at mixing drinks.

Just as at school, she works hard, takes no shortcuts, and comes to take great pride in her good work at the bar. But her two world collide when her homeroom teacher comes into the bar with the vice principal (who is already drunk), trying to nab the position of head teacher.

The teacher is not drunk, and quickly recognizes Hitomi, but decides its in both their best interests to keep the secret to himself. But he still doesn’t let Hitomi off the hook: as something of a mixology aficionado, he challenges Hitomi to make him a Million Dollar, and then a Bartender, to test her shaking and stirring skills. Hitomi passes with flying colors, and he’s duly impressed in her skills, as Usako and the other patrons knew he would be.

While a misunderstanding and her own passivity got her into the job to start, and she was blackmailed into continuing it, her natural talent for the job keeps her coming back…and the mad stacks she’s depositing into the bank account her parents don’t know about don’t hurt one bit! Not only that you watch Hitomi work behind the bar, you can tell she’s in her happy place.

Anzu expanded her world by transitioning from theft to a modest but honest living, while Hitomi expanded hers by adding paid labor to a repertoire that had once been unpaid study, though that will pay off when she needs to get in a good high school and college. And because she’s making so much bank, she needn’t worry about burdening her folks with tuition.

That brings us to the young woman at the top of the social ladder, simply by having her egg land in a rich yakuza’s apartment and that yakuza having a heart of gold…in other words, privilege and luck. Though she may have helped Nitta out off-camera, since the first episode she hasn’t really worked. Having seen Anzu surviving on the streets, Nitta wonders out loud why Hina couldn’t try to do the same thing (is he half-joking? quarter-joking?)

Hina gets the message, and after a frightening dream in which she’s filthy and destitute on the street while Nitta walks past with a glamorous Anzu on his arm, Hina adopts a more genial and eager-to-please attitude that understandably throws him off. When he goes off to work late, she attempts to work hard so he won’t throw her out.

But unlike Anzu and Hitomi, Hina’s hard work ends up working against her goals, not towards them, while her attempt to expand her skills through various household chores ends in one huge mess after another. Her comedy of errors, while predictable, is nonetheless cleverly depicted. I especially liked her attempt to air out a blanket, only for it to fly away into the Tokyo cityscape like a  magic carpet.

Worse, when things get messy, Hina simply gives up and moves on to the next chore, and when she finds a bowl of ikura in the fridge marked “rewards for Hina” she unilaterally decides she’s worked hard enough to give herself the reward.

Fittingly, as Nitta tells his associates, it’s been so long since Hina has done anything to earn a reward, the ikura in the fridge has gone bad, something Hina’s stomach suddenly realizes while she has every dish in the house levitating and dripping soapy water all over the hardwood floors. The dishes shatter, she goes down, and Nitta, who was impressed by how nice she was being before he left, is poised for a rude surprise.

Basically, Hina could learn a lot from Anzu and Hitomi about the importance of being competent at the hard work you are attempting. She did it before with the forestry (and the raid of Nitta’s rivals); she can do it again. She just needs more practice! Ultimately, everyone, even Hina, wants to feel needed, and to strike a proper balance between taking and giving.

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 08

Thanks to his consulting network, Eizan Etsuya is one of Totsuki’s greatest wheeler-dealers, and his profits greatly exceed the combined tuition fees of the entire enrollment. He has connections with everyone, including the three Shokugeki judges. He also has a fifty-strong eviction force about to knock down Polar Star’s doors. Souma doesn’t have a chance in hell, nor do the Polar Star residents…right?

Well, not so fast. Food Wars didn’t back our friends into a corner just to hit the trap door and send them plummeting to their doom. Simply put, neither Souma nor his dorm-mates are going to take this raw deal sitting down. Even if Eizan and the judges say it’s hopeless, Souma just has to believe…it isn’t.

He finds a degree of support in Rindo, who clearly sees something in Souma, and wouldn’t want to see him expelled. Of course, he wouldn’t have been worth supporting if he does lose; she seems to be waiting for him to show what he can do, which is more than you can say for the dismissive Eizan and his puppet judges.

Satsuma chicken is the ingredient, and Eizan shows that yes, he can still cook by preparing some exquisite Haianese Chicken Rice, a dish as much of strict orthodoxy as it is a dish of elegance and restraint. The judges go nuts over it, and Souma is also impressed by the taste, which is most definitely refined.

But he isn’t going to win this thing, or even get to a point where the judges taste his dish, by trying to surpass Eizan in refinement or sticking to a script. If Eizan is classical, Souma’s got to bring the jazz. Fell deeds awake. Now for wrath, now for ruin, and the red dawn! 

His resulting dish, gyoza made with boned wings and a sauce composed of, among other things, ketchup and Parmesan, does indeed sound like a desperate cobbling together of disparate ingredients that will only do the noble Satsuma fowl a disservice. That’s what everyone thinks, at least.

The judges were in Eizan’s pocket. There was no way they were even going to entertain picking up a fork to taste Souma’s food. They were that sure Eizan’s dish was superior. And yet…I guess the smell was just a bit too irresistible, or maybe Eizan’s rice wasn’t quite filling enough.

Whatever the case, after Eizan tastes the gyoza and is left speechless, one of the judges digs in, then another, then another. And all of sudden, Souma has won 3-0, and the eviction (which had been thwarted by Polar Star in riot gear) is called off. Suddenly, the impossible is possible.

It’s a win for all of Polar Star, not just Souma, as he wouldn’t have stumbled upon the flavor combinations that beat Eizan’s competent but by-the-book cuisine were it not for their input and collaboration. Erina, having witnessed this dorm-as-a-culinary-think-tank, can’t believe such a chaotic system could work. And yet…it did. I wonder what her father will say about this.

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 01 (First Impressions)

Food Wars is back, baby! FWIII. It’s a brand new autumn, Souma’s got a brand-new scooter (which he rides at low speed so Megumi can keep up—nice!), and it’s almost time for something he’s never heard of: Totsuki’s Moon Festival, which will feature many a food booth, including some from the Elite Ten.

Souma picks out one of the friendlier-seeming of the group—Eighth Seat Kuga Terunomi, voiced by Kaji Yuki—and gets him to agree to a Shokugeki with his seat on the line if he can cook him something good. Megumi, Erina, and many of Souma’s other peers can only sigh at their poor friend displaying his appalling naïveté once more; trying to go up against Kuga and outsell him with half a plan is like simply walking into Mordor: One Doesn’t Simply Do That.

But this is Souma we’re talking about: he does things whether they’re done or not, sometimes without even knowing the significance of his actions. Since Kuga’s specialty is Chinese cuisine (specifically Sichuan) Megumi introduces him to Hojo Miyoko, who then takes him to Kuga’s well-oiled machine of a club where legions of identical baldies cook perfect Sichuan mapo tofu (one of my personal faves) perfectly before Souma’s eyes.

While a supremely confident fellow, Kuga’s team’s performance does finally impress upon Souma the weight of what he means to accomplish. It also helps to learn certain important details about the festival he means to dominate, like, say, the number of expected daily servings (>1,000) or the different sections of the festival (ranging from low-cost, high-volume main street to the rarefied air of the no-limit Yamanote area.

Souma, antagonizing Erina without even trying as usual, spends the days leading up to the application deadline mulling over how he can possibly compete seriously against an immensely powerful and popular force like Kuga, but it’s his proximity to Erina that allows it to dawn on him: he’ll leech excess customers off Kuga, like he did with Erina.

SnS settles back into a groove almost as effortlessly as Erina gets pissed off by Souma. While focusing on Souma, Kuga, and the upcoming festival, it casually reintroduces the core and a few key secondary and tertiary characters from last season. The intro to the complete Elite Ten was a bit overwhelming, but obviously Souma will only be dealing with one at a time.

Oh yeah, and if his booth loses money, Souma will be…EXPELLED. *GASP!* Hmm…now where have I heard that before? That’s a hollow threat and I won’t fall for it, show. Nevertheless, for Souma and his challenge of the master of spicy Sichuan cuisine, the heat…  ( •_•)>⌐□-□. (⌐□_□) will be on.

Tsuki ga Kirei – 12 (Fin)

Going into the finale, I held out a glimmer of hope that Kotarou would be able eke out a high enough score to get into Akane’s school, and even if he wasn’t accepted, they’d figure something out.

Well, the finale wastes no time giving us the answer, dropping the news that Kotarou was not accepted in the first minute. It’s a crushing blow, especially knowing how many “first loves” like this are ended by long distance.

Still, if he had passed and been able to attend high school with Akane, where would the drama be? Kotarou’s mentor tells him that nothing an author goes through is for naught; one could say the same of lovers.

One person who hopes long distance will change things is Akane’s sister, who reasonably asks Akane if she’ll take the move as an opportunity to break up with Kotarou and turn the page rather than endure the pain of the distance. Akane is adamant that that’s not what she wants…and that her sister is a jerk.

Another is Chinatsu, who is ecstatic when Kotarou is accepted to the municipal school and takes it to mean fate has worked out in her favor. She decides the time is right to confess to Kotarou; to tell him she’s always like him, and ask if she’s good enough.

And she’s just…not. Everything worked out in her favor except the most important thing: that Kotarou is able to return her feelings. He’s not. She accepts the loss (again) and tries to look forward to the next year with Kotarou as just a friend.

Chinatsu tells Akane about her confession attempt, but Kotarou doesn’t, which makes their last date together before her move more fraught. When Kotarou tells her all the ways HE will make this work—getting a job to afford train fare to Chiba as many times a week as he can manage—she becomes overwhelmed by the burden she believes she’s putting on him.

This is another case of these two being in uncharted territory with no map compass, or experience. Kotarou’s a great guy who loves Akane, but she needs more than for him to say HE’s got this; she has to be a participant in making their relationship survive, and because she’s anxious by nature (doubly so when it comes to him), his unceasing niceness actually works against him as she becomes overwhelmed, cries, kisses him, and runs off.

That meeting on the river is the last time they see each other…before the move, but Kotarou decides to take the advice of friends and start writing as a way to process his feelings. He posts the stories of his first tender love to an online board, where they resonate because everyone has been there, and many even wish they could go back to a time when love was so simple.

Ironically, he’s posting these stories at the end of those simple times. From here on out, things will get more complicated by all of the things in life that interfere or threaten what we want most: to simply be with the person we love.

Yet even though he’s too late to say goodbye to Akane in person either at her now-vacant house or at the train station, Kotarou’s feelings, and the fact they’ll never change, manage to get through to her, and they’re the same feelings she has for him: a deep, warm love that is poised to endure the challenges of growing into adulthood.

And so ends the first stage of the romance between Kotarou and Akane. It turns out not to be fleeting, as thanks to the magic of LINE they stay in touch almost constantly, and also meet up quite a bit once Kotarou makes enough money.

As the credits roll, we see the couple enjoying more firsts like movie night alone (with the parents coming home too early); their first trip together alone; missing out on chatting when Akane gets home too late; Kotarou having drinks with Akane’s parents; Akane being fitted for a wedding dress.

It may seem like jumping ahead, but Tsuki ga Kirei isn’t about these moments and days and nights years…it was the story of how these two found each other, fell in love, and never stopped loving. It was a foundation, and it was a damned strong one.

By the end, after the challenges of long distance and high school and entering the workplace and more hard work and more distance, Kotarou and Akane come out of it wonderfully, get married, and have a child.

It’s the happy ending I hoped for, but with the added bonus of having been earned due to the challenges endured and sacrifices made. And brothers and sisters, if any of you came out of this episode—and that beautiful closing montage in particular—with totally dry eyes, you may want to check your pulse!

3-gatsu no Lion – 16

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While it could be argued Hayashida-sensei got Rei in this hole by miscounting his absences, he gets resourceful in a bid to dig him out of it, including introducing Rei to the After School (Bunsen) Burners Club, a group of passionate nerds happy to help Rei out with science-y stuff. This was a lot of fun and engendered the most laughs; the mustachioed guy in particular was hilarious, somewhat Excalibur-like.

It’s a relief to the teacher to see Rei interacting and laughing with fellow students. The lesson he imparts upon Rei is that when he cannot overcome something alone, seek out someone to help; otherwise no one will ever seek him out.

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After a brief fake-out with a too-confident looking Gotou, we learn that Shimada was the victor in the third and final match, making him the challenger against the ethereal reigning champion Touji Souya. Gotou was prepared to give remarks on his loss, while Shimada is so spent from the exertion he can barely stand or talk. His spirits are buoyed when Rin asks if he can join his shogi workshop.

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Back at the Kawamoto’s, the girls and gramps are making special boxes for the girls festival and planning what kind of meal to prepare for the special occasion. Hina is frustrated that Rei hasn’t been by, and doesn’t understand why he’d deprive himself of food (and their company) for so long. Gramps understands, though; it’s a matter of pride. He’ll come back when he’s ready.

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The workshop is at Shimada’s house, a modest but gorgeous little home dramatically perched atop a hill in the oldest part of town. There’s a sense Rei has climbed a mountain to reach some kind of temple in order to aid him on his quest to enlightenment. In reality, he doesn’t spend enough time playing in non-competitive matches with peers, which is why Shimada was able to run roughshod over him.

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Shimada is glad to host three gung-ho shogi players in his home for the workshop, but once the three start getting defensive, digging in their heels and barking like petty feudal lords, the toll Shimada’s matches exacted upon his body are amplified, and he cuts the ‘shop short, blaming a stomachache.

Nevertheless, Rei is being exposed to different forms of play, with nothing on the line except his still-narrow personal view of shogi play. Nikaidou even follows him home, as their argument over use of certain pieces at a certain time inspires him to want to demonstrate to Rei what he’s on about on a shogi board.

Overall, this was a pleasant (if a bit thin-feeling) episode that shows some of the incremental steps Rei is taking towards…well, growing up, becoming both a better shogi player and a better man. Notably, there were no scary flashbacks (or scary Kyouko) to be had, but like Hina I too hope he’ll end his self-imposed exile from the Kawamotos soon.

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3-gatsu no Lion – 15

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Rei gets back to analyzing Kyouko, likening her to a glass with cracks that can never be fully filled. Rei blames himself and Kyouko’s and his dad for creating those cracks. Dad might’ve been the instigator, but Rei puts just as much weight in his role as object of favoritism, whether it was justified or not.

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The new wrinkle here is that Kyouko didn’t want Rei to go away, leaving her even more lonely. But he did. He felt he had to. Considering what Kyouko and her brother had to pay for Rei to be in the position he’s in, he felt it necessary to become an adult as soon as possible so he could “protect them”.

But leaving didn’t end Kyouko’s suffering, it only created a new void in her heart; a new crack. We also learn she first connected with Gotou because his wife is in the hospital, and the loneliness she perceives in him mirrors her own. I wonder if Kyouko ever expected Rei would up and leave the way he did – that he would challenge the status quo so forcefully, at such a young age.

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But leave and challenge it he did…and he failed, and got humiliated, and had his whole world turned upside down. And you know what? Even Grandpa Kawamoto knows (from experience) that failure is good; failure is necessary. No one ever knows that when it’s happening, because it feels terrible, as losing to Gotou in the first of three final matches feels to Shimada.

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Rei already shows some growth by ceasing his skulking and going back to the shogi hall to watch Shimada and Gotou in action with his colleagues. Unfortunately, due to a clerical error by Hayashida-sensei, Rei finds himself two attendance days in the red and heaps of schoolwork to do in order to prevent repeating the grade. Again, he faces potential humiliation and failure, but it will ultimately make him a better person.

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Shimada regathers himself and expends a great deal of his charisma in the second match, in which he manages to defeat Gotou and bring the series even. Afterwards Shimada walks with Nikaidou, who tells him why he wanted him to kick Rei’s ass so soundly.

Nikaidou’s many victories against uninspiring opponents who clearly didn’t work as hard as he did left him “reduced to a lump of ego”, with a head to match. That big head was split in two when he faced off against Rei, but Rei also pulled him out of the dirt and offered him water in the searing heat. Rei saved him, and he repaid the favor with Shimada’s help.

In an interesting merging of the two plot lines, Shimada spots Kyouko yelling over being rejected once more by Gotou on his way home. Seing the young, beautiful woman so strongly affected by the far older Gotou serves as another means of indirect psychological warfare (to go along with Gotou’s impressive arsenal of the direct kind).

But Shimada quickly snaps out of it: it’s just another momentary humiliation; another fleeting failure; either of which will only serve to make him stronger. So too will Rei grow stronger from such things. Now, Shimada, for the love of God: beat that pompous gangster!

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 04

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After each episode, and after announcing the next, a character thanks us for our “continued support,” and my continued support of Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu has never gone unrewarded.

Case in point: another absolute gem, combining lovely family slice-of-life (with a very unique and cool family), the clouds hanging over Yakumo’s head, and Konatsu getting to do something, out of the blue, she never dreamed of actually doing.

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That adorable little kid up there is Konatsu and Yota’s kid. Some time has passed, but not too much: he’s only in kindergarten, and yet, he’s already surprising and delighting all, even his parents, with his nascent rakugo skills. They may have a genius on their hands.

He’s every bit as charismatic as Konatsu was. Even Yakumo can’t stay mad, going quickly into Grandpa Mode. By the way, how often does a show come around where so much time passes, we get to watch both Konatsu and her son at the same age? It’s a generational show.

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It’s generations that Higuchi Eisuke wishes to discuss with Yakumo, who grudgingly gives him a ride home and his ear for the five or so minutes. Eisuke doesn’t waste them, almost going too far in proclaiming he won’t let Yakumo kill rakugo off, or even define it as something dead or dying. With Yota, Eisuke aims to keep it alive, changing to suit the mood of a generation, just as it always has.

Ever the rigid bamboo, Yakumo won’t hear of any of that, nor will he have any part in Eisuke’s project. And when Yakumo says rakugo is dead, he’s not just talking about how it would die with him, but perhaps how it already died with Sukeroku, someone Yakumo has always believed to be better than him.

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Yota is very much the progressive, without even being that aware of it, because he knows how good “Sis” is at rakugo and thinks if she loves it so much she should just do it. What’s the harm in going out there and trying it? Such an idea is unspeakable to Konatsu, however, and considering the man who raised her, her attitude is hardly surprising. Instead, she’s being trained in shamisen, so she can play her husband and others in and out.

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But when they both go to their kid’s school to perform, Yota gets inspired by the scenario, warms the crowd of mostly little kids up, and then…hands the show over to Konatsu. All of a sudden, she’s doing something she hasn’t done since she was a pint-sized urchin, living with her father.

While initially flustered and overwhelmed, a switch flips and all of a sudden Konatsu us that urchin in the bar, without skipping a beat. Scratch that; after years with Yakumo as a father, she’s gotten better, despite having never performed in public. She’s also, in my opinion, better than Yota, at least in terms of better differentiating between the characters she voices (all kudos to the great Kobayashi Yuu here).

“Jugemu” is a simple story that’s not too raunchy or complicated for the kids, and it involves quite a bit of linguistic limberness to repeat the overly-long name of the titular child over and over at increasingly faster speeds. But it’s a cakewalk for Konatsu. She’d have brought down the house no matter what the makeup of the crowd was.

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And holy crap, the surging of emotions going through Konatsu before, during and after her impromptu performance were just a delight to behold, right up until she embraces her hubby with tears of relief and joy, and he essentially says “See? Rakugo’s hella fun, right?”

The next morning, Konatsu’s back to “usual”, and despite Yota’s protests, she still won’t commit to ever doing rakugo again. It just doesn’t seem right to her to crash something that’s been a “boy’s-only” affair for so long.

It’s an old-fashioned view of a very old-fashioned art, but par for the course for someone with her upbringing, which may have been laissez-faire with Sukeroku, but got real conservative real fast with Yakumo. So while, like Yota, I’m disappointed, and think it’s a waste, I understand why she feels the way she does.

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Yakumo, meanwhile, holds Sukeroku’s fan – old Sukeroku’s; not Yota’s. And as he holds it, a figure appears behind him – Sukeroku’s ghost, I presume. There’s no hint of arrogance or superiority in this moment, as Yakumo seems haunted by the fact a someone as loathsome and untalented as he is “all that’s left” of rakugo.

Yota will probably never be able to impress him, just as he won’t be able to impress himself. Eisuke may be right that rakugo needs to evolve, and Yota may be right that someone of Konatsu’s talent should be a part of that evolution. But you’ll never convince Yakumo of that, and Konatsu will never think it’s appropriate to be anything but musical accompaniment.

That leaves the youngin’. Who knows what future he’ll see that no one else will be around to see. What I hope we do see is Yota’s rakugo continuing to be popular, and that rakugo continuing to grow into something his son can inherit. But Yakumo’s warning about how quickly a fall can come makes me weary of too many good times to come.

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 03

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The fireworks fly in this episode of SGRS2, both in the night sky and later, in the private room of a restaruant where Konatsu worked before she went on maternity leave, run by a friend of her mother Miyokichi.

But first, we get to soak up a gorgeous, festive night, with Konatsu, the baby, and the mistress relaxing on a bench while Yota practices his ranting on a boat with his patron.

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When the mistress and Konatsu rush to the restaurant Yota follows—as does Eisuke, hungry for details about rakugo life, which he learns is surprisingly similar to thug life. Yota finds his old mob boss, as well as that boss’ boss, who happens to be close to the mistress.

Yota decides to intrude, and after making courteous, verbose apologies, kinda lays into the old man, seemingly unconcerned that he has the power to kill him if he doesn’t like him.

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Fortunately, the big boss is not only a fan of rakugo, but Yota’s rakugo in particular. Even when Yota picks a fight, and even wonders out loud whether the boss is the father of Konatsu’s child, the boss merely tosses him into a koi pond to “cool off”; he doesn’t rough him up.

Yota doesn’t back down, instead belting out an elaborate rant he was practicing before, only customized for the boss, who is entranced and charmed. Yota is starting to realize he’s not just some punk anymore; he’s a shin’uchi…and he’s a father.

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After a night where some doubted if Yota was going to be able to keep his promise to outlive his master, and some goldfish scooping with Eisuke, he returns home, having quite accidentally found “his rakugo” with his elaborate, animated ranting style.

Mind you, Yakumo hasn’t heard it yet,  but agrees to do a family performance, if Yota learns and masters “Inokori,” a Sukeroku classic. To inspire him, Yakumo performs it himself, seemingly flipping a switch and channeling Sukeroku. Yota is spellbound. When he’s finished, Yakumo looks like he’d just climbed twenty flights.

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Yota scared the crap out of Konatsu by confronting the father of her child, but everything worked out for the best. The episode’s parting shot is what Konatsu wants in a nutshell: to live in a comfortable house, to hear Yota’s/Sukeroku’s rakugo, and to have her son hear it as well.

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Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge – 04

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Tanaka-kun has done a wonderful job establishing its cast so far, starting out with just Tanaka and Ohta and a bento box of small skits that gradually, hilariously paint the picture of what makes ’em tick.

Then it’s branched out with more in-depth, emotionally satisfying stories, introducing one new character at a time, until eventually the full group we see in the OP and ED will be fully assembled. It’s something Marvel does well with its movies.

This week Miyano and Echizen take the week off so that the show can focus methodically on someone new, namely the class rep Shiraishi. She truly takes center stage, as the episode shifts to her perspective the more we learn about her.

It’s icing on the cake that the official start of the development of her friendship with the boys starts out with two classic anime images: running to class (or in Tanaka’s case being carried by Ohta) with toast in the mouth, and (almost) bumping into the pretty girl. And because it’s been well-established Tanaka and Ohta are nice guys, they help her out with replacing the printouts they accidentally ruined.

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Everyone knows Shiraishi; she’s damn near perfect, and every guy wants a wife like her someday. Smart, kind, beautiful, she inspires jocks depicted as bears to protect her every move. She literally sparkles, and yet has such an easy, down-to-earth manner with everyone, no one envies or resents that perfection, they simply bask in it.

But as the episode title indicates, Shiraishi has a secret: that secret is that the idol-like school princess she portrays at school is naught but a carefully-wrought fiction; a mirage; a skin she puts on and maintains with great difficulty. When the day is done and she sends Tanaka and Ohta off, it’s not just because she’s being nice: her contacts hurt, her skirt’s too short, and her hair isn’t comfortable.

She’s cultivated her Matrix-like reverse-“residual self-image” so long, when her “resting-dweeb-mode” is finally found out—by Ohta and Tanaka, who forgot his bag—she panics, because she believes her idol skin is the only thing allowing her to have a beautiful high school life.

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Of course she’s wrong. Not just wrong about needing to doll herself up so obsessively, but wrong to stress out and stalk the boys to make sure they don’t spread the word of her secret. In fact, Ohta and Tanaka have nothing but nice things to say about her, even behind her back, and Ohta mistook her dweeb mode for another girl altogether, so her secret is safe.

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A wave of relief washes over her, and that relief makes her bold and ‘reckless’ enough to try to walk around school looking like herself. Most everyone doesn’t take notice of her non-sparkly self, until she passes Tanaka, who recognizes her—of all things—due to her bust size (something Ohta hilariously warns him never to tell her).

She’s initially devastated and ready to be mocked and laughed at, but of course Tanaka and Ohta don’t think that way at all. In fact, knowing Shiraishi has flaws is a relief to Tanaka, who wasn’t sure how such a perfect person could exist, and admires the effort to change herself; an effort he’d never bother with.

Tanaka doesn’t get away with calling himself worthless scum, however. Neither Ohta or Shiraishi (or even Echizen) genuinely believe that, because through all his unapologetic listlessness, he’s a kind, perceptive, supportive friend to them all.

The next day, Shiraishi wears her glasses to school, eschewing painful contacts, and to her surprise her friends don’t abandon her. She’s learned a valuable lesson about what it is to be loved and admired and be a friend to others, and it’s about far more than just surface. The real sparkling comes from within.

Shiraishi is a wonderful addition to the circle of friends, and I look forward both to her interactions with the others, and the addition of yet more members of that circle.

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