Great Pretender – 20 – One Mistake and You’re Gone

The fake princess job turns out to be the last job, but not in the way Dorothy’s crew had hoped. Of course, at first things unfold exactly as planned: a few doctored pictures are sufficient to convince Liu to part with $10 million for the Ethiopian princess.

Chen accompanies Kim and Oz to Osaka to abduct her while she’s being driven home from college classes. Laurent visits Dorothy, who is sleeping soundly in her tawdry cell despite the rats and foreign insects. They share a kiss before they part for the night. It turns out to be their last kiss.

The next morning, the worst thing that can happen to con artists dealing princesses-in-exile happens: pure dumb coincidence. There’s a prominent story in the paper about an Ethiopean princess-in-exile—the real one. Dorothy ends up on a boat anchored offshore.

Laurent is helpless to save Dorothy, but Dorothy doesn’t sweat matters, sticking to her code till the end by repeating “make a mistake and you’re gone.” Liu’s men go after Kim, who is apparently killed in a car chase, while Oz gives up the location of the cash in hopes of currying favor with Liu.

All Laurent can do is interpret between Liu and Dorothy…until Dorothy tells Liu to go fuck himself in his native tongue. He has an underling shoot her, and she falls overboard. The bullet just happens to break the chain holding her good luck ring, which lands on the deck at Laurent’s feet.

In the aftermath, Laurent can’t hide his pain, and envisions stabbing Liu right there in the middle of their game. He lies to Liu about his mother in France falling ill, and Liu gives him leave to visit her. The moment he’s in the air, however, he regrets not killing Liu.

Back at Paris HQ, Laurent goes down a spiral of guilt and grief when Dorothy doesn’t magically reappear. Despite watching her get shot and fall off the boat, he still held a small hope it was an expertly faked death, but while Kim did manage to pull that off, Dorothy did not.

In her last moments, she knew the time had finally come when she made a mistake, and that was it; she just wished it hadn’t been their very last job. Laurent hears a pot breaking outside and rushes out to the patio. For a moment he spots Dorothy, alive and well…but it’s just one of the cats from the end credits.

Fast forward a few years. Laurent meets Cynthia when she tries to scam him. Ozaki, who intentionally got himself arrested and put in jail for his mafia activities, is now out of jail, and we see how close he comes to bumping into his son when he visits the hospital. Laurent meets Abby right after she’s beaten up three would-be rapists. And, of course, Makoto approaches Laurent with his wallet con, which brings us back to the beginning.

I imagine those first episodes (and indeed first arcs) where his background remains so opaque would have quite a different vibe to them, now that we’ve learned so much more him. Building the team he has in the present was an effort to create a con job that would make Dorothy proud and honor her unwavering adherence to their noble thieves’ code.

And now we know why $10 million is a plenty large score this time. It was never about the money—It was about the people they were taking it from.

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 06 – Doubling Down

Despite her strict warning that any attempt at hanky-panky and Chizuru will see him in court, Kazuya can’t sleep in the same room as her. Not sure whether she’s still awake, he starts talking about how while he’s ready to tell the truth to their grans, he likes the person he’s becoming with her, and doesn’t want to stop renting quite yet. To his surprise, she agrees but “ending the lies” must remain a top priority. If he doesn’t want to hurt his gran, he’ll need to find a real girlfriend.

Unfortunately, since Kibe is close to his gran, Kazuya and Chizuru have to maintain the lie for now. That means his friend Kuri also believes Chizuru is for real, and invites the two to a double date with his new girlfriend. While walking by himself, wondering how Kuri could score a girlfriend, he bumps into a girl who I was sure from the start was that girlfriend. Of course Kazuya accidentally gets a peek at her underwear, so her first impression of him is that he’s a perv.

The next day it’s confirmed: Kuri’s girlfriend is Sarashina Ruka. Kuri’s date involves a rock-climbing session that enables him to show off his skills—he believes manliness is key to winning a woman’s heart). The climbing also has the side-effect of having the girls in unconventional positions while wearing tight pants, something Kazuya doesn’t think was accidental on Kuri’s part.

At one point Ruka asks for Chizuru to go with her, and she comes right out and accuses Chizuru of being a rental girlfriend. Chizuru dismisses the idea, and later even demonstrates they’re a real couple by “kissing” in front of Ruka (in reality her hand kept their lips apart). But Ruka ain’t buying it, and when Kazuya later tails her in an attempt to explain matters, she’s buying it even less.

And then of course, there’s the suspicion I harbored since learning Ruka and Kuri were dating: that she is also a rental girlfriend. The question is, if she is indeed a fellow rental, why is she so determined to ascertain the truth about Chizuru and Kazuya? Does she not want Chizuru on her terf…or is she vexed by the sense the two are something more than a rental and a client?

 

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 05 – Grandma Gambit

Kazuya dives in and rescues Chizuru from drowning, which is a big deal, even if the two weren’t in a complicated relationship that has long since blown past professional detachment. They wash up on an islet, and Chizuru wakes up first and realizes what Kazuya did for her…then notices Kazuya isn’t breathing.

Chizuru administers CPR—and mouth-to-mouth—and Kazuya comes to, none the worse for wear. Both Chizuru and Kazuya appear to have difficulty separating the romantic from the practical (in the case, from a kiss of life). On the way to hospital Chizuru later recalls Kazuya’s heroism and can’t help but turn beet red.

Things are relatively simple on at least one front: Mami’s. She doesn’t take kindly to being stood up (especially after hearing how Kazuya was indisposed) and rolls up her window without speaking to him. That’s probably not all, but it suffices for now.

In a masturbation scene that goes on way too long, raunchy images of him with Mami are gradually replaced in his head by much purer images of Chizuru. He concludes that he’s fallen for her beyond the point of no return, which means their imminent “breakup” will hurt him more than he’d hoped.

Leave it to Kazuya and Chizuru’s grandmas to make sure things don’t get any easier for the kids. Kazuya joins his gran at a hot springs hotel in Gunma to celebrate her discharge from the hospital, and the moment Chizuru’s grandmother appears, it’s clear the two set things up so their grandkids would have a room all to themselves, to enjoy their youth and have sex—both old ladies lament how reserved the kids are.

After simmering in anger and frustration, Chizuru decides to let go, at least for the duration of the trip, and enjoy herself to the fullest. That means availing herself of the baths (where she and Kazuya’s gran have a nice heart-to-heart), and lowering her guard so she and Kazuya can have a pleasant meal together.

This is a new Chizuru who is neither pretending to act like his girlfriend nor the “off-duty” version of herself who openly loathes him. As a result, Kazuya gets to see and hear a genuine laugh from Chizuru. When bedtime arrives, Kazuya proactively starts to make himself scares before she asks him “what the big deal” would be if they slept in the same room.

This episode much clinches it, if it wasn’t already pretty obvious: Chizuru doesn’t dislike Kazuya, nor is she indifferent towards him. I’d go so far as to say she likes the guy, and realizes that Kibe is right that he’s not a bad guy. That may all be true, but it doesn’t mean she wants to be his real girlfriend, nor does it mean she should feel obligated to do so, grandma angle or not.

This isn’t a matter of her not being honest with her feelings or stubborn in giving into them, but a matter of her having a good thing going with her rental business and not wanting any boyfriend at the moment.

I initially assumed she had the job so she wouldn’t be a financial burden on her family. But the fact she mentions she’s a low on funds suggests she’s paying for something expensive and important to her (either that, or maintaining her girlfriend persona is an expensive business, which it most likely is).

For all the sides of Chizuru we’ve seen, there are still things we don’t know. As a new character is introduced next week, I hope we don’t lose sight of her.

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 04 – Don’t Let Reality Win

As Mami and Kazuya kiss, all of his time with Mami flashes before his eyes, from the moment they meet to their first kiss. As Mami’s “lost” bracelet lies in a very intentional spot for her to pick up at will, she asks Kazuya to forgive her, as she just “couldn’t control herself anymore.”

This keeps the possibility alive in Kazuya’s head that a reunion with Mami isn’t just possible, but also what Mami wants. Even if this encounter is 100% a calculated move by Mami as part of her breakup scheme, a part of me couldn’t help but wonder if a part of Mami really does want him back.

When Kazuya gets a call from his gran telling him she’ll be out of the hospital soon, it gives him another opportunity to properly end things with Chizuru. His friends also give him an opening when they pepper Chizuru with questions about where she lives and plans to hang out.

But when he sorta-half comes clean and tells them they’ve been planning to break up, his best friend Kibe won’t let it slide. He starts beating Kazuya up, accusing him of fawning over Mami and generally being a wishy-washy, self-centered dirt bag. He tosses out this exquisite line: “Yes, your brain’s a dumpster fire, but at least make it burn for your current flame!”

Kibe also puts some of the blame at the feet of Mami, accusing her of leading on a guy she dumped despite knowing full well he’s a fool who will fall for it every time. Mami’s eyes narrow without going “empty” as they’ve done in the past, and half-heartedly pleads ignorance, but Kibe seems to have her pegged despite her attempts at subterfuge.

The issue is, Kibe doesn’t know the whole story, which is that Chizuru didn’t choose Kazuya, but the other way around. Chizuru knows this, which is why she regrets the beating Kazuya took but is proud of him for taking the first step to separating the two of them.

She calls what he did a bold move, and that he can be a man when he tries. When he apologizes for all the trouble he caused her, she rebuts that being a rental girlfriend is her job, and she had fun. When he walks off, ready to cut ties with her, there’s an unmistakable look of doubt in her face. She’s not doubting whether Kazuya will really go through with it, but whether that’s she truly wants.

Things get more complicated—again (don’t they always?) when Kibe takes Chizuru aside for a chat. He explains how he’s known Kazuya since they were little kids, and so knows full well what a dumbass he can be. He describes his friend to an absolute T that Chizuru can’t help but recognize. Then Kibe tells a story about a supposed weed that grew in Kazuya’s school planter.

He kept lovingly tending to until it bloomed into a different and more beautiful flower than everyone else’s morning glories. It was a combination of dumb luck and Kazuya’s refusal to stop dreaming and give in to reality. It’s also a touching enough story to make Chizuru a little glassy-eyed. Kibe certainly has a way with words!

Kibe basically gives Chizuru the extra opportunity her previous moments of doubt seemed to be searching for, in the form of ferry tickets. That said, she decides to use one ticket and five Kazuya the other simply because she can’t not after Kibe’s speech. The rest of their plan holds: they’re going to separate and not interact anymore.

Kazuya seems increasingly enthusiastic about putting all the fakeness aside, even as Chizuru is experiencing not second thoughts, but apparent seasickness combined with the fever that had been brewing throughout the episode. She asks Kazuya to let her be, despite that not being the best thing for her in her current state, on a boat.

Kazuya gets a call from Mami, who tells him she’ll wait as long as she has to for him to join her at the pool on the fourth floor of the hotel. She’s blushing heavily during the call despite not having to put on a physical performance for him. Is this a means of cynically ensuring he breaks up with Chizuru, a case of her genuinely desiring more romantic contact…or both? I see ambiguity, but that doesn’t mean it’s there.

What isn’t ambiguous at all is that Chizuru is not well. She stumbles to the railing for some fresh air when the ferry hits a wave, she loses her balance, and then dramatically falls overboard. Thankfully Kazuya is in the vicinity when it happens, and he dives off the boat to save her. Risking his life to save hers…so much for a clean break!

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 03 – The Lies Will Continue Until Morale Improves

Mami goes back on her offer to take Kazuya to her place, as she claims her brother is home (her text relays no such thing), but that offer leads Kazuya to ask if she wants to go to his place instead. Mami blames that offer on the alcohol, then continues to rag on Mizuhara as someone prone to flying off the handle.

Despite his intense desire for Mami’s continued approval, Kazuya finally challenges Mami’s barbs and defends Chizuru, throwing her off balance, then runs off. He eventually encounters Chizuru on the balcony, and the two mostly make up, but a blubbering Kazuya once again blows past the client-rental girlfriend boundaries.

Kazuya ends up going on a beach trip to Shimoda, Izu with his friends, including Mami, who said it was okay for Kazuya to come with his girlfriend. Of course, it’s not okay at all, but since as far as she knows they’re a legit couple, Mami has made it her mission to break the two up.

Judging from what we’ve seen of her and her “dark side” when she pounds toxic vitriol into her private Twitter identity “Numa”, Mami is only still interested in Kazuya because he’s acquired a hot girlfriend. If he were still single, she probably wouldn’t acknowledge his existence. It’s not about her getting him back, it’s about taking him from an opponent.

And darn it all if Mami is not an absolute master at using the tools at her disposal, what she knows of Kazuya, and how she knows he felt about her to keep him in a constant state of imbalance. He can’t take his eyes of her adorable stars-and-stripes bikini, and she even brings up the good times they had together, going so far as to lament the unborn “Maya”, the name they said they’d give their firstborn child.

Just then, Mizuhara appears in the form of the braided, glasses-wearing Ichinose, and since this is that kind of show it seems even Mami knows she and Mizuhara are one and the same. Still, the fact one of their friends knows one of her friends makes the rental girlfriend and college classmate identities way too close for comfort.

The universe would seem to be having fun continually bringing Kazuya and Chizuru together, because they not only end up in the same supermarket, but the same bathroom within that supermarket. Kazuya informs her he and Mami are getting along, but tells her he feels bad even though she’s not his real girlfriend; after all, there were moments when Chizuru has stuck her neck out not out of her professional obligation, but because she’s a good person.

Of course, there’s nothing more humiliating or cringe-inducing to Chizuru than hearing Kazuya doing something resembling having pity on her for pursuing his ex, so they end up in a shouting match…which gains the unwanted attention of Mami, who came to help Kazuya with shopping.

When Chizuru is trapped and Mami isn’t buying Kazuya’s half-baked lies, Chizuru comes out in her bikini so as to at least take Ichinose off the board. Of course, the result of this surprises everyone, as they thought she couldn’t make it to the trip with Kazuya.

After “stealthily” zipping up her jacket after catching a sight of Chizuru’s swimsuit, Mami switches to conciliatory mode, apologizing for her words the other day. But then she’s off alone by herself, unleashing another twitter-storm of pure disgust, and the expression on her face scares away a random guy who tries to hit on her. It seems the account is a release valve for her true emotions, so Kazuya isn’t the only one hiding things.

Chizuru tells Kazuya she’s leaving and tells him to make an excuse for her, and they bring up the fact that this could all have been avoided if Kazuya told everyone they broke up. Of course, it’s too late for that. Mami is close by, but seemingly doesn’t hear the specifics of their chat.

After some awkward conversation on the beach, Kazuya goes off on his own, leaving Chizuru with his friends, but Mami lures him to a rock outcropping where she apparently lost her expensive bracelet. While he looks with her, she slips on a stone, falls into his arms, and Mami makes her move, pulling close and kissing him. He doesn’t recoil. This, just as Chizuru is being asked how she can let her boyfriend go on a trip with other girls, and her responding that she “trusts” Kazuya.

Of course the only thing he can be trusted to do is maintain this increasingly complicated, ultimately untenable limbo! He knows Mami would laugh him into the stone age if she learned Chizuru was a rental girlfriend. And yet, he just can’t resist Mami’s flirting and advances, despite her thinking Chizuru is his legit GF, thus making anything he does with Mami cheating.

It remains to be seen if Chizuru simply doesn’t want to hurt Kazuya’s gran, or if she actually developing feelings for the guy. I’m pretty confident that if Kazuya “dumps” Chizuru for Mami one afternoon, Mami will dump him later that evening, her objective achieved. Then again, I’m starting to think Kazuya and Mami deserve each other. It’s all kinds of wonderfully, horribly messy, and I am freaking here for it.

SSSS.Gridman – 10 – Akane’s in Her Heaven, All’s Wrong with the World

Akane has a dream in which Tonkawa and all of the other people she killed are back, but wakes up in the dark in her room, the weird “ceiling city” in the background, and Alexis looming over her, waiting for her to complete her next kaiju.

Yuuta, Rikka, Shou, and Neon Genesis all determine that if Akane is being controlled by an alien, they have to at least go to her house to talk with her. Somewhat hilariously, that means simply walking out the door to the junk stop and going next door to Akane’s house, but when the door is forced open, there’s nothing on the other end but…more “back-end” city.

Writing the slogan of NERV from Eva in his notebook, Shou gets back to his studies, saying that even if he, his world, and everything in it was made by Akane, there are still things that need to be done, like studying for midterm exams. After all, there are no kaiju attacks for several days in a row.

Yuuta, Rikka, and Gridman muse about why Akane built this world: was it to find tranquility, or refuge from the world of the other gods? Rikka thinks it wasn’t because Akane was/is weak, merely that she’s sensitive, and as she says so, the very sunset she beholds seems to speak to that sensitivity.

When a frankly fucked-up-looking kaiju suddenly disturbs the peace, I was wondering if Alexis had simply used one of the incomplete kaiju models Akane didn’t seem motivated to finish.

It certainly doesn’t take much for a full-powered Gridman to take it down, while a determined Anti in kaiju form doesn’t give him much more of a fight. Later, we learn that unique to all the other kaiju she’s created, Anti alone has “life”, which makes it possible for him to read the hearts of others, even think about or look out for them, something true kaiju would never do.

But Akane doesn’t seem to have a use for a kaiju with feelings, and so basically tells him to buzz off and do whatever he wants. Later that night, out of the husk of the dead weak kaiju, another, more aggressive-looking kaiju emerges.

It proceeds to chop the heads off all of the massive “custodian kaiju” that dot the city, and the pall of fog/poison gas they emit is lifted. When Gridman sorties once more, this new kaiju is more than a match, he can read all of Gridman’s moves and outmaneuver and outgun him.

It isn’t until this pointy-headed monster is looming over a trashed Gridman flat on his back, surrounded by flames, that Anti springs back into action, this time saving Gridman from the kaiju. His logic is that in order to crush him, he must fight together with him to defeat that which would crush him first. He doesn’t just want Gridman crushed by anyonehe wants to be the one do it.

Anti then transforms into a Gridman clone, or “Gridknight”, and with a shimmering purple energy donut, cleaves the kaiju—which represent’s Akane’s heart—in two. Perhaps that’s why Akane seems so down when she appears in the Junk Shop and inspects the computer used to interface with Gridman: one could say Anti just “broke her heart”.

In return, now knowing that Yuuta and Gridman are separate entities, she suddenly embraces Yuuta, then pulls away, revealing a bloodied knife as Yuuta falls to the ground.

For the first time, she’s foregone the use of kaiju or other godly powers and bloodied her own hands to rid her world of someone messing everything up. It would seem, then, that she’s made her choice, even if she doesn’t seem particularly happy about it.

SSSS.Gridman – 09 – Don’t Wake Up! , Or: The Intolerable Dilemma of Shinjou Akane

This week things start out different…and weird. Well, weird-er by SSSS standards. A new kaiju appears in the city, from the POV of a random passerby on the phone. We know there’s something fishy going on when Yuuta wakes up in Rikka’s apartment and Akane is there instead, even calling Rikka’s mother her’s.

There’s too much fog; too little activity; and in the glare of many a shiny object, Gridman can be seen for an instant, but goes unnoticed by a confused, amnesiac Yuuta, who at first takes it on face value that he and Akane is dating.

Meanwhile, at school, Rikka goes to the nurse’s office to find Akane already there. The two are friendly together, as friends are (and much like the end credits unfold), then Akane takes her to her house, as friends do. There are no parents, just Alexis, whose odd appearance Akane explains away as elaborate cosplay.

Then, in a repeat of an older scene, Akane strikes up a conversation with Shou in the bookstore about mecha and kaiju and the two hit it off, much to Shou’s delight. While walking home to or from school, we see Akane happily walking with Yuuta, her watch on his wrist. She leans in to hold his hand…and everything pauses.

These three scenarios involving Akane and the three members of the Gridman Alliance are all occurring in dreams. In “real life” (whatever that is) the three are unconscious on the couch in the junk store. The kaiju stands menacingly outside, striding about, but isn’t destroying anything.

As Anti learns when he tries to attacking it (being told by Neon Genesis that its keeping Gridman from appearing), it is a kaiju out of phase: unable to affect anything; unable to be affected. Akane is atop a construction crane with Alexis, watching the dreams…and hoping.

Not hoping to defeat Gridman, or kill someone she doesn’t like…but hoping these three can be re-made to be her friends, as they were originally programmed by her to be.

But the longer the three dwell in the dream, the more they feel like something’s not right. In a graveyard, in the glint of the gravestone of the family of one of the classmates Akane killed, Gridman appears again. In a flash, Yuuta’s memory has returned; at least the bit where he can be confident he’s currently in a dream.

After showering him with attention and rare swag, and about to be invited to Akane’s place to spend the night, Shou also snaps out of it; this is all just too good to be true; too ideal. On the bus, Rikka also quietly comes to the realization she’s not on a real bus and this isn’t her real life…and Akane just might not be a real friend.

She pleads for all three not to wake up; not to go. But they go. Three times she must watch someone get up and three times she must hear the sound of receding footsteps. Three times she’s left alone. Three times her hopes are shattered. The friends she made for herself have abandoned her and allied with each other. No matter what she tells them, or what she gives them, they’ll leave her for each other.

As the kaiju materializes and begins its march of destruction in the real world, the three friends run toward one another, and towards Gridman, in his time of need. Neon Genesis mobilizes on their own, de-scaling and combining into a kind of “substitute hero mecha” to bring down the kaiju.

What’s left is a cloud of dust, and Akane, in her created world, still profoundly, intolerably alone. She asks no one in particular what she should do before jumping from the tower and plummeting hundreds of feet. She lands on her feet, physically unharmed but clearly mentally spent.

At first, Akane was a one-dimensional villain: create kaiju to defeat Gridman every week. But after who-knows how many iterations of that scenario, Akane seems tired, worn out, and above all, lonely and miserable. If it was Alexis who gave her the powers she possesses, perhaps she was excited about having them….at first.

But now those powers have created a cycle without end with no friends to comfort her. A dream from which she cannot wake. A prison from which there is no escape—not even suicide.

As Yuuta, Rikka, and Shou wake up in the shop, and thank Gridman for bringing them out of their dreams, Gridman informs them there’s still a fourth human who must wake from their dream. Then Rikka tells everyone there’s something she wants them all to hear. I for one can’t wait to hear what that is.

So ends the best Gridman episode to date; one that harkens to the weirdest headspaces and corners of Evangelion (the background sound of clanging we hear at one point is straight from Rei’s ‘hood); and even one that seems to take some steps in its own directions after drawing from Gridman lore for so long.

Even if this is more of that borrowed and reimagined mythos, you couldn’t ask for a more gorgeous, cerebral, unnerving, and ultimately  heartbreaking execution. I’ve never felt more for Akane’s plight than I do now, which is quite a feat considering the wrongs she’s committed. And I hope that Rikka, Yuuta and Shou can help her escape her prison and wake from her dream.

Golden Kamuy – 18 – Kanemochi with Walnuts

This episode puts the chase on hold in favor of a deep dive into Tanigaki Genjirou’s eventful and tragic past, as told to Lt. Tsurumi several months ago. It all starts with a description of the kanemochi his people made to serve as last-resort rations, and how his had a special ingredient to set them apart from others.

Tanigaki had a need for such rations when he and another member of his hunting party got stuck in a blizzard for many days. He and this man, Kenkichi, shared the rations, the secret ingredient for which was walnuts, and they survived. Eventually, Kenkichi married Tanigaki’s sister Fumi and the couple moved into a remote place in the mountains.

Then Tanigaki got word that something happened, and rushed to Kenkichi and Fumi’s home. There he found only charred remains of the house and of Fumi, who had a stab wound in her heart; Kenkichi’s knife, “the soul of a matagi”, not far from her body.

Tanigaki abandoned his family and his village to find Kenkichi and seek revenge. That led him to the same battleground as Sugimoto, who asks for food. Tanigaki gives him some kanemochi, and Sugimoto recognizes Tanigaki’s dialect because someone he fought beside had the same one.

In one coincidence, just as the Russians started running into the Japanese trenches with lit grenades strapped to their bodies, Kenkichi leapt out to stop one of them, saving everyone in the trench, including Tanigaki.

It turns out Tanigaki was wrong: Kenkichi didn’t kill her sister in cold blood. He took her life in order to spare her a worse fate. Fumi contracted smallpox, and didn’t want her family finding out or for Kenkichi to stay and die with her.

Kenkichi didn’t want to leave her to be attacked by animals. And so the compromise was struck: put her out of her misery, then burn the house so the pox wouldn’t spread. It was pretty much the best option out of a host of terrible ones.

Kenkichi tells this to someone he can’t recognize, since his eardrums are shot and his eyes blown out. But Tanigaki knows how to get him to understand it’s his brother-in-law he’s speaking to—by giving him a piece of kanemochi with walnuts; his last meal.

Tanigaki tells a rapt Lt. Tsurumi that he admires Kenkichi for finding a role in life and carrying out that role, and that he sought a similar role, since vengeance was no longer an option. Tsurumi offered him a place with his unit, but as we know, that wasn’t the role for him either.

Now, in the present, flanked by Inkarmat and Cikapasi, Tanigaki finally reunites with Asirpa and Sugimoto. And since he’s not working for the nefarious likes of Tsurumi, he can feel a lot better about his latest role.

Leave it to Golden Kamuy to take something like a regional food and create an entire tragic drama around it. It may not have moved the main plot forward too far, but it did greatly enrich one of its characters.

Banana Fish – 05 – No More Quitting

Ash is on his best behavior when interacting with Max’s lawyer, who manages to score a conditional release for the kid, checking off one of the items on my wish list for this week: Get Ash Outta Jail. Max, thanks to his time inside with Ash, isn’t fooled, but Charlie and Ibe are when, after telling him Griff was killed, he breaks free of their custody. Though that’s only possible when Eiji decides to commandeer the car. Ash wants to take care of everything by himself, but between Eiji and Shorter, he’s destined to be disappointed.

Having to quit pole vaulting has never sat well with Eiji, and now that he’s involved (feeling responsible for getting Griff killed since he was followed), he’s done quitting. Shorter too doesn’t trust Ash to do anything on his own but get himself killed. Thankfully, he listens to reason, and the trio are harbored by the “banker” Mr. Lee, who is cool with anyone trying to bring Dino down. Ash knows where Dino will be…but so does Max, and he tells Ibe.

Everyone converges at “Club Cod”, a restaurant front for a dastardly child sex trafficking operation that once included Ash himself and still ensnares bigwigs the nation over, who end up in Dino’s pocket (for the record, the Mafia aren’t that powerful in America anymore…though they certainly once were!). Unsurprisingly, things go pear-shaped: Dino takes a bullet, but it’s not fatal, and Ash and Shorter get shot too (though also not fatal).

Max and Ibe arrive in the middle of the fracas, and decide the best move is for all the good guys to take a swim in the river, which, East or Hudson, ain’t a pleasant experience. But it’s certainly better than getting killed, which no one important to Ash is, notably. Max knocks Ash out and takes him to his hideout where he fixes Shorter’s wound and plots the next move: heading to Cape Cod, where Ash and Griff grew up, hoping to find more clues in the Banana Fish investigation.

Banana Fish – 04 – Thoroughly Punished

Arthur gives Eiji a choice—tell him what he knows or watch one of the white coats die—but even when Eiji relents, he still orders the woman’s death, only cementing the axiom that a traitor like Arthur can never be trusted. Shorter manages to rescue Eiji and the two white coats, but at great cost: Griffin is shot when he bursts into the middle of the standoff, and eventually dies from his wounds.

It seemed like a great deal of what Ash was doing was for the sake of his brother, but he doesn’t learn until after he defeats his new bunkmate Bull. Ibe feels responsible for Eiji and wants him to return to Japan now that his life is in danger, but Eiji wants to stay put; he can’t leave Ash now. Ash is also attacked by convicts loyal to Golzine but he manages to handle them thanks to a fork he hid. After that, Max lets him know about Griff’s death, and the two have it out, each giving in to the grief.

As Ash and Max reach a kind of detente, bunkmates once more, the wheels of justice may be slowly turning in Ash’s favor. I certainly hope he’s out of prison soon; the fights and threats of rape have grown stale, especially since it’s clear Ash can handle himself. Even with Griffin dead, Ash probably won’t stop scratching at this itch of a mystery once he gets out, and Eiji will no doubt be by his side in the search for the truth, no matter how many dangers accompany their path.

Hanebado! – 04 – A New Challenger Approaches

After her playground epiphany, Ayano joins the badminton club, and before she knows it she’s on a bus with the rest of the club to a summer practice facility. While on the ride, the classically alone Ayano has her hair tended to by Yu, resulting in a photo and a warm feeling of belonging; of finally not being alone, but part of something bigger: a team.

But wouldn’t you know it, the facility is already occupied by another badminton team, and not just any team, but the “FreGirls” of Frederica, one of the country’s top teams. One of their players wanted very much to play Ayano’s school. Ayano heads out to a konbini to buy water, but ends up lost thanks to Nagisa’s kiddy, nigh worthless map.

While lost, she meets a foreigner who’s also lost: a blonde from Denmark who offers her a lolly when they make progress with the map.

Things are going swimmingly until the foreigner learns the identity of the cute little girl she’s walked with. The moment she hears the name “Hanesaki” she freezes and drops her change, then accuses Ayano of playing mind games with her by “pretending to be friendly.”

The next they meet, the tall blonde, Connie C, is one half of Ayano and Riko’s doubles opponents, and promises to show her how “meaningless” Ayano’s “team” is. She warns her partner not to interfere and let her play alone. Clearly, what she really wants is a one-on-one match against Ayano.

When her partner does interfere, Connie quits in a huff, letting the other girl struggle alone in a two-on-one match until she basically taps out. Connie doesn’t believe in teams, after all; she’s a team of one, and gets what she wants. As for why her captain and coach do nothing to stop her selfish behavior, who knows?

Connie takes over, effortlessly turning a 10-3 deficit into an 11-10 lead with mammoth vertical leaps and a smash that even the guys doubt they could return. Neither Ayano or Izumi can do anything. It’s Serigaya Kaoruko all over again.

Only…it’s actually worse than Kaoruko. “Connie C” Is Connie Christensen, a Danish prodigy who has already won the world championship in her age group. In every physical measure pertinent to badminton, she’s Ayano’s superior, and wants to make it clear she’s superior in every other aspect of the game as well. Tachibana knows her, and doubts Ayano will be able to hang.

Connie is also the blonde girl in the magazine article in which Ayano learned her mother had basically replaced her as daughter, which makes this even more fucked up. Connie even ties back her hair the same way as Ayano’s mother, adding insult to injury.

Apparently not satisfied with everything she’s already taken from Ayano, Connie now seems to want to crush Ayano’s spirit, such that even being in a fun high school team won’t give her joy or relief. That said, she relied on an awful lot of coincidences to end up in the match. Among them:

  • She knew Ayano had joined the badminton club, even when Ayano herself wasn’t sure until very recently;
  • Her school’s team ended up at the same facility as Ayano’s club;
  • Ayano ended up going out for water, and ended up meeting Connie first;
  • They ended up playing against each other.

Coincidences aside, one has to wonder what Connie’s true motive is, and why she is so intent on psychologically crippling a stranger. I mean, isn’t the fact that Ayano’s mom abandoned Ayano for Connie enough proof for Connie that’s she’s better? Did she really travel all the way to Japan just to beat someone who had already ‘lost” to her? Apparently! And that makes Connie a garbage person…until further notice.

Banana Fish – 03 – Survive, But Never Repent

When Ash is thrown in the slammer indefinitely, without a trial, Eiji, Ibe and Charlie reach out to Max Lobo, a rough-and-tumble guerrilla journalist who happens to be in the same prison for punching a cop. Max isn’t confident he can actually protect Ash, and when he meets the kid, that confidence withers even more, though he’s impressed that he’s read his column in the Bulletin.

Ash doesn’t particularly help his own case while in prison, lashing out at the first guy who lays hands on him and earning a night in solitary. When he’s out, that same guy finds Ash and rapes him, with Max finding him naked and bruised.

It’s very likely Max had an impossible job; he can never be in the same place as Ash at all times, and even if he is, he’s just one man; easily outnumbered and out-muscled. As for Ash, he takes the assault he’d been dealt out as just doing what had to be done to survive; he’s not dyin

While in medical eating a banana, Ash mutters “Banana Fish”, a term Max knows about and has been researching for the last decade. He’s been able to learn is that it’s the name of a person or organization related to a drug route, but unfortunately the man he was going to meet with after release was the man Ash watched die muttering the words “Banana Fish.”

Max also learns that Griffin—whom he knew while in Iraq and who wigged out from the drug and attacked him, forcing him to shoot back—is Ash’s big brother. Ash is not pleased with how Max handled things with Griffin, and vows to kill him when he gets out. Max seems halfway willing to let him.

During a visit, Ash makes a big show of French kissing Eiji to conceal the fact he used the kiss to get Eiji a message written and rolled into a medicine capsule. That message leads Eiji on a fruitless search for Ash’s at-large ally Shorter Wong…and eventually, right into the clutches of Ash’s betrayer and new boss of the gang, Arthur. D’oh!

I wonder what Ash was thinking, having Eiji go on such a dangerous mission alone (if that was his intention). The kid’s greener than Ed Begley Jr.! Now Ash’s enemies have someone in whose well-being he is invested.

Citrus – 11

Best Girl Harumin always has a way of coming in at the perfect time in this ridiculous show about sisters loving other sisters who love their sisters to splash water on the whole affair. She makes a down-in-the-dumps (and at this point disgustingly self-involved) Yuzu pay dearly for her negative aura in the form of a ruthless tickling.

I love how quickly and casually Harumin moves on to reveal yet another thing to love about her—she’s a history buff! But also, she’s just got other things going on…unlike Yuzu, who has let this Mei situation consume nearly every waking moment.

The next day, the class trip visits a “relationship-forming shrine”, a decision made at Himeko’s urging, still fighting to get closer to Mei. Sara’s sister Nina gets wind of this, and despite knowing Mei and Yuzu are “already invovled”, as a fiercely loyal sister, she’s committed to doing all she can to help Sara.

That also means bringing Sara to the same shrine. It also means keeping Sara in the dark about Yuzu and Mei, something I see coming to bite her later.

Both Yuzu and Himeko are enthusiastic about visiting the shrine and offering their very long prayers that make Harumin wait. Once the three are back together, it’s not five seconds until Sara appears, to Yuzu’s surprise. Since neither is aware they’re in love with the same girl, they each offer one another their blessings and hope to hear of their success later. Oh dear.

On a brighter note, Himeko’s underlying good-girl nature meshes well with Harumin’s innate maternal aura, as the two conspire to offer Yuzu charms to aid her future beauty and luck and success in love. Harumin also hilariously shuts down Himeko’s tsundere act – Himeko cares about Yuzu as a friend.

If only Yuzu pulled her weight, especially in her friendship with Harumin. Any way you look at it, Harumin gives and gives while Yuzu simply takes and takes. But the thing is, if Harumin didn’t want to be friends with someone like Yuzu, she wouldn’t be. So I’ll respect her choice.

When the weather turns, Nina makes sure she’s in the same place as Mei. She informs Mei of her sister Sara’s affection for her, and asks whether she’d consider entering into a relationship with her. Mei declines, but Nina asks her to think it over.

Clearly, Nina did not intend for Mei to have more than a minute or so to think it over, because it isn’t long after she leaves that Sara appears. Determined not to let her chance slip by, Sara confesses her love. When Mei asks if Sara would “need” her, Sara answers of course she would; she loves her, after all.

It’s a directness Mei wanted from Yuzu, but didn’t get, and doesn’t get even later that evening when Yuzu confronts Mei once more and can’t get the words out. Mei interrupts her to say she was already confessed to that very day, and decided to start dating that person.

Having reached a new low, Yuzu get’s “sauced” on orange soda and rants to herself in the hotel lobby, making a big scene. Her shot, it would seem, was at the end of last week. She blew it, and left the opening for someone else (who she still doesn’t know is Sara).

Nina isn’t about to tell her…at least not until she gets an ironclad promise from Yuzu that she’ll support Sara in her love, no matter what. She secures that promise when Yuzu is at her most miserable and vulnerable. I tellya, this Nina is one cool operator.

After another unpleasant run-in with Mei over hitting up the bath too late— breaking both school and hotel rules, *gasp*—Yuzu ends up encountering Sara in the bath. A very happy, if nervous Sara. Yuzu is happy for Sara, but when she reports her own failure, Sara urges her not to give up. Even if she’s dating someone else, Sara believes Yuzu has to tell her how she feels.

Yuzu tries to do just that, waiting until Mei’s roommate Himeko leaves to sneak in and talk. Mei isn’t having it, but when Himeko suddenly returns, she turns out the lights and pulls Yuzu under the covers with her, literally covering for her.

This time, Yuzu doesn’t squander her chance, embracing Mei, blowing on her neck, and preparing to kiss her, perhaps in hope her actions will speak louder than her thus-far lack of words. Mei stops her and orders her to leave, but the experience emboldens Yuzu. The time wasn’t right to say what she wanted to say, but now she’s committed to finding that time.

Yuzu was hoping that would be the next day, but Mei has already gone off on a date. Yuzu rushes to the location of that date and tries to determine where Mei might be, but she’s intercepted by Nina, who finally tells her the truth: Mei is Sara’s girlfriend, and she’s going to keep it that way.

Nina’s statuesque physique was played for laughs last week, but both when she squeezed a promise from “drunk” Yuzu (hugging her just a bit too hard) and when she’s backing her into a railing here, Nina’s size becomes a threatening proposition—one Yuzu simply never saw coming.

Meanwhile, atop an observation tower, Mei spaces out. Last night after the bath, Sara found Yuzu’s dropped student ID, saw the same last name as Mei’s, and remembered Yuzu saying she was in love with her stepsister. Even so, she can’t deny her heart, which is telling her she wants to kiss Mei.

With Sara wanting to go all in,  Mei simply wanting someone to need her for who she is, and Yuzu cowering in a tight corner, everything seems to be coming up Nina…except of course if the ultimate truth is that Nina harbors an unrequited love for Sara.

The stigma of incest combined with Sara falling for someone else seem to have helped Nina decide to give up on Sara for herself and instead use every resource at her disposal to ensure her sister’s happiness, even at the cost of her own.

I appreciated the added layers given to both Tachibana twins. Like Yuzu, Sara is the purer of the two sisters, more easily manipulated for good and ill, while Nina, due in part to the world denying her the love she chose, is the more cynical sister who doesn’t believe in fate, only will and effort. She may be hurting Yuzu deeply, but better Yuzu than Sara.

We should be in for quite a finale.