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.

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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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Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge – 03

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Tanaka may be always listless, but I’ll tellya what else he’s becoming: popular. After a very filling meal makes him more listless than usual, the person who left a letter of challenge in his shoe cubby confronts him.

This week marks the introduction of Echizen, a blonde Yankee sporting a super-long skirt, slipped-on school shoes, and multiple piercings. She wants to fight Tanaka, to find out what kind of person he is.

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Fortunately, Echizan is far more than a delinquent, and the show quickly molds her into a three-dimensional character I truly wish to root for, even if she’s hassling Tanaka…nay, because she is. She’s also Ohta’s childhood friend, so he knows her from before she became…this way. She also doesn’t overdo it, and her manner of speaking is actually quite refreshing.

When Tanaka discourages her from starting a physical fight she’d easily win, she challenges him to Othello (AKA Reversi) instead.  She wins handily, but hold on: Tanaka was playing by different rules, and because he spelled out the character for “white” on the board with his white pieces, it stands to reason he won a game in which the winner had to do just that.

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An attempt to beat him at cards also fails, as he’s so intent on showing off his mad shuffling skillz, the wind on the rooftop blows all the cards away and they’re left one card short of a deck. It’s as if nature itself is allied with Tanaka against engaging in a serious challenge with Echizen.

But then the person on whose behalf Echizen is fighting appears: Miyano, or “Myaano” as “Ecchan” calls her. We learn both from her reluctantance to eat Osha’s bunny-shaped bread to her friendship with the tiny, cute Miyano that Echizen loves cute things.

The Skirt swap bumper was hilarious.

Exhizen’s love of cute things, and inability to eat them, gets her in trouble in the next segment, which results in a row with Miyano. She can’t eat the cute bunny cookie Miyano baked for her, so it gets old and grows white fluffy mold.

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Miyano is PISSED (in an adorably similar way to Popura in Working!!)—as is Ohta, who shares Miyano’s love of sweets and belief that wasting them is sacrilege.

Interestingly, Echizen enlists Tanaka of all people to help her, first acting as a shield (which fails when Miyano goes cold when peaking out from behind him) then writing a letter to express her feelings (which Miyano misinterprets as a challenge).

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Throughout Echizen’s crisis (which is really just an honest misunderstanding), she forms a nice rapport Tanaka, depending on his open ear and honest responses as she bounces ideas off him. He comes up with things she’s too wound up to consider, and comforts her when she suspects Miyano never wanted to be friends.

Tanaka, rightly, believes it’s a waste of time to let things fester with a friend (he considers himself and Ohta to be as steady as an old married couple…which they are!), while Miyano is listening in while they talk (it’s a school, there’s only so much privacy).

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Miyano is still angry about her cookie going to waste, but she doesn’t want to make it any bigger than it is; it’s certainly not as important a matter as the fact that she is deeply in love with Echizen (She has good taste!). Yes, Echizen is the one Miyano wanted to train with Tanaka to become more listless and mature.

The thing is, Echizen likes her the way she is, as Tanaka said, and upon hearing such wonderful news, the two make up nicely. The next time Miyano makes sweets for Echizen (as well as for Tanaka and Ohta), the makes them “not cute at all”, resulting in chocolate bodybuilders. Ecchan has no problem wolfing them down, but now the boys are the ones with a thing about eating things that look like certain things.

As they converse, now a genial quartet, Shiraishi, the cutest girl in class, walks by. I presume she’ll be the next likable, rootable, well-rounded character to make it a cool quintet. I look forward to whatever distinct quirkiness she’ll bring to the show.

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Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge – 02

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I thought messing with the golden goose that is the Tanaka/Ohta dynamic so soon by adding a tiny, annoying-looking girl would upset the serene magic of the opening episode, but I worried needlessly: Miyano isn’t annoying, she’s adorable, whether it’s while trying hard in vain to become just like Tanaka, or becoming even more Tanaka than Tanaka by accident.

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Miyano may be tiny, but she has more energy (and can put away more donuts) than Tanaka and Ohta combined…and that’s the problem. When he reluctantly takes her on for a day as his apprentice (believing it the best way to be rid of her quickly), Tanaka corrects her not to “do her best” but to just do whatever.

Whether its observing and mimicking Tanaka’s listless face, or attempting to hide her emotions, or getting upset over how little Tanaka enjoys strawberry milk, or preparing an exhaustive research paper on listlessness, Miyano just can’t fight her natural instinct to do her best and work as hard as possible.

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When Tanaka tells her this probably isn’t going to work out, Miyano is disheartened and morose, but it’s not his intent to hurt her, just to express his opinion that he, Ohta, and whoever this boy she likes prefer it when Miyano is just being herself, not trying to be him.

As long as she keeps being her, she’ll be fine. As for Tanaka, he wants to take the train to the main temple to complain about praying and paying for a peaceful day…and ending up with Miyano.

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If Tanaka was truly annoyed or put out by the addition of Miyano to his life, further complicating what was to his mind already too complicated a life (he’d prefer being able to tend to all primitive human needs in one room…like a prison cell!), he has a funny way of showing it the next day.

Rather than Miyano the student following Tanaka the master, the opposite transpires, as Tanaka and Ohta notice Miyano seems to have mastered listlessness, and even surpasses Tanaka, blowing a hole in his book and writing a whole new one on woozy, detached fugue state of listlessness.

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That seems plausible on some level—both guys suspect she culd be feeling this way because the boy she liked rejected her—but the real reason she’s this way is ever more inventive and crazy: Miyano simply got to thinking about mascots on TV, how they’ve gotten smaller, who or what’s inside them, whether they intend to take over the world, and whether she’s the only one who can stop them.

All that stressing made it hard for her to get good sleep, hence her listless state. When she suddenly snaps out of her ‘stress cycle’ (realizing it’s probably just small people like her inside), she’s back to her old energetic self.

But when Ohta and Tanaka tell her how they thought she’d reached listless Nirvana, she doesn’t know what they’re talking about. She was so busy worrying about imminent mascot hegemony, she never noticed how listless she was acting! So what does she do? Well, try to think of something else to stress out about so she can return to that state. This girl’s a riot, and I hope to see more of her.

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Dimension W – 09

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I can’t say I fully grasp all of the metaphysical aspects of Dimension W, but as Kyouma delves deeper into Easter island, both he and I are getting the answers we wanted, and things are starting to make a tentative kind of sense.

Take the sudden confrontation with Loser. He’s not there to kill Kyouma, just stop him. Kyouma has no memories of went on there, so Loser feels he has no right to desecrate the ground where he lost his wife. Then one of those mysterious spheres appears and Kyouma makes contact with it, and passes out. We didn’t know until this week what happens next.

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Kyouma wakes up to Al looming over them; he’s in a memory of training with Grendel. Then news comes of a revolt in the African Union, where Kyouma and Prince Salva’s lives overlap. War is official declared by the leader of the scientists rebelling against the New Tesla execs, a guy named Haruka Seameyer, who looks like a Bleach villain and demands “scientific freedom” to shape the world how he sees fit.

Prince Salva is set upon by an assassin, but Lasithi takes a bullet for him. When Salva orders the assassin killed, Lwai shows up right behind that assassin, and Salva ends up blasting both of them. Seameyer was there too; always present when “confusion” crops up.

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Hell, we even get some Loser backstory, as a younger, strapping Julian Tyler—who has all of his skin!—is working at Central 61 (AKA Adrastea) with his wife Sophia (Ellie’s mom) when Seameyer starts his rebellion and makes Julian choose a side.

While not in one of those weird spheres like Kyouma or Salva, the place itself is filled with memories for Loser. Only when he reaches ground zero of the dimensional calamity, there is only nothingness. He presumes he still needs at least one more Numbers to proceed.

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Kyouma continues reliving the past, and when he spots Mira for a moment sitting beside his dying wife Miyabi, he realizes he’s being made to relive his past, perhaps in order to get him to question the choices he made and the possibilities that resulted from those choices.

Seameyer reveals he is the energy sphere, and like Loser seems to think Kyouma is uniquely suited for this kind of dimensional speculation or some such. This is the harder shit to understand, but suffice it to say a ghostly Miyabi reassures Kyouma that his choices were sound, and to trust in himself and not let Seameyer push him around.

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Back in the real world, Mira sees the picture of Miyabi, and remembers Mary telling her that her own body was once meant for Kyouma’s wife, which is why they have the same exact height, measurements, and shoe size. With this in mind, and knowing Kyouma can’t help but be reminded of his dead wife and what could have been every time he looks at her, Mira comes to an understanding with herself.

She may not be Miyabi, but she wants to be someone worthy of having the body meant for her. She also wants Kyouma to know he can rely on her. So when another killbot descends into the tunnels, and their escape is cut off by nothingness pocket, Mira resolves to protect Kyouma until he wakes up.

It’s the least she can do for someone who, however indirectly, was responsible for her being able to exist, and who despite his rough manner with her, has given her a chance to be a productive individual.

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Dimension W – 08

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Al gets Kyouma, Mira, and the Lexus (with its sweet-sounding hi-revving V10) to the island without any issues, but Prince Salva, Lasithi, and Sanchos are out cold as the other collectors wash up on the shore. Lwei remembers his (adoptive) brother’s dream–to make the world so that Lwei an sit in it–and takes charge, insisting that despite Salva’s incapacitation, the game is still on for anyone able to participate.

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Elsewhere on the island, Loser and Ellie carefully make their way to the believed location of the coil, while the survivors of the plane crash find shelter and deal with the wounded. It’s a truce between collectors who would otherwise stab each other in the back as soon as look at each other, but after Lwei proves he can defend his unconscious brother and Lasithi, Jason Chrysler, KK, Antonov split off to seek the coil on their own.

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Everyone’s arrival on the island has already begun “re-starting” people and objects that were practically frozen by the dimensional calamity, resulting in the discovery of a zombie-like human as well as the island’s defensive killbots. On top of that, there are still “mystery spheres” flying around, but don’t seem interested in women, so they must be after a specific person.

Kyouma almost immediately regrets not bringing a 4×4 to the island when they hit road littered with boulders, but thanks to Mira’s immense strength, the road is cleared in no time. When they encounter two robots blocking their way, Kyouma uses a flash grenade to sneak by, but doesn’t warning Mira to close her eyes. Mira tries to bring up the subject of why he’s not kinder to her, but there are bigger fish to fry.

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Mira detects a battle up ahead, and she and Kyouma manage to arrive in the nick of time to save Harry and Debbie from a killbot, using teamwork in combat for the first time. They’re a gas to watch: Kyouma with his daggers and wires, Mira with her strength and speed.

Kyouma thinks the best way to the coil is to get to the tunnels Grendel used in their mission years ago. Harry and Debbie pay him and Mira back for saving them by digging the holes they need to access those tunnels. Of course, since the LFA only has two seats, the siblings have to hang on to dear life from the outside. Kyouma also makes it clear when he finds the coil he’ll “break it so it can never move again.”

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Before long, an obstacle in the tunnel approaches in the form of an 800-meter pocket of nothingness they have to drive through. When they do, Mira totally freezes while in the process of tearfully expressing her apprehension with what was about to happen, and Kyouma and the siblings start losing consciousness as well. It’s very dark (black, in fact) and creepy, and it’s a relief when they come out unscathed (and Mira completes her thought).

But as soon as they’re through one obstacle in this increasingly bizarre and hazardous gauntlet to the coil, they are stopped by another one in the form of Loser. Above ground, KK knocks Yuri out with drugs and prepares to perform a “simple operation” on him. Captain America Chrysler isi doing his own thing too.

Things are getting cutthroat, but I wonder of Loser and Ellie will join Kyouma and Mira’s party, at least temporarily. After all, this is an unforgiving, unpredictable island where going it alone may not work out.

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