RokuAka – 08

When the students finally get to the White Alchemy Research Lab, the resulting tour is somewhat interminable and clunky, full of characters explaining things (or interrupting others to explain things), then discuss how dangerous it is to resurrect the dead before saying such practices would never be carried out nowadays.

It all feels like foreshadowing for what Eleanor and the RDW have up their sleeves for their next attempt to nab Rumia. And with her supposed bodyguard Re=L in an extended snit borne from her jealousy over her and Sistine’s closeness to Glenn, Rumia is particularly vulnerable, especially when Glenn goes off to find Re=L, who stormed off in a huff.

The boring lab tour nonetheless succeeded in placing me in a false sense of security, just as RokuAka’s first episode so ably did, sacrificing a consistently dark tone, but resulting in a satisfying emotional roller-coaster as shit hits the fan.

Just as Re=L is approached on the beach by her apparent brother (who I immediately assumed was RDW), Eleanor faces off with Albert, Rumia’s actual bodyguard, albeit a long-distance one. It’s time and distance that screw him over, as the increasingly unhinged Eleanor is merely creating a diversion; keeping Al away from where he should be.

Glenn leaves Sistine and Rumia alone to go look for Re=L, obviously lulled into a false sense of security. He clearly isn’t aware of how easily Re=L can be turned to the dark side by her “brother”, who uses some kind of eye-contact hypnosis/brainwashing to turn her against Glenn, running him through with her massive sword.

Another who is caught completely off guard by what the RDW has in store for them is Sistine, who cheerfully gathers food for Glenn and Re=L’s return, certain Sensei will come back and everything will be fine…until she hears glass breaking, enters the room, and finds Re=L standing over a severely wounded Rumia with blood everywhere.

As we know, Sistine is not a professional soldier or warrior. She can be a badass, as we saw at the competition, but she’s still a kid, and this week we get another realistic reaction to the horrible fucked-up shit she has to deal with: When Re=L (who is a pro) basically dares her to use offensive magic, poor Sisti, scared shitless and worried about hitting Rumia, freezes, and Re=L escapes with her captive.

When Albert comes in with the half-dead Glenn, and Sisti sees how bad his wound is, she goes into a fit of despair…also quite appropriate for an ordinary, well-adjusted young civilian. Fujita Akane has done great work with the voice of Sistine all Spring. Of course, Sisti isn’t a complete wuss either, nor is she immune to the proverbial glass of cold water, which Albert provides by starting to leave if she doesn’t buck up and help him save Glenn. While he prepares the reviving magic, Sisti must administer CPR.

It’s the old ABC method (rather than the present, AHA-prescribed CAB method), which means locking lips with Glenn. But the show doesn’t treat it as a romantic moment or a joke, but as a life-and-death necessity, which I appreciated. Where RokuAka does joke around is after the credits roll, with another pleasant palate-cleansing preview, which is the proper time to do so.

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Sakurako-san no Ashimoto – 03

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Sakurako-san is a weird one, preferring bones to people and all, but she’s full of wisdom and thinks and looks like no one else around her. Yet she also has her own brand of empathy, seeing even emotions like happiness, relief, and comfort as brain chemistry reacting to external stimuli.

She’s also quite human and thus fallible herself, which is what makes her so endearing as a character. She persists in calling Shoutarou “boy” (shounen) as a way to distance herself from him, despite their growing bond that, at times, treads into romantic territory.

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Sakurako persuades her self-professed “guardian” to accompany her through some caves, then to a park where they’re pointed in the direction of human remains by a far more normal couple. Saku’s delighted at the find, and gives a beautiful description of how a corpse out in the open is briefly a “paradise of life” as flies lay eggs, maggots feed, and predators feed on the maggots, etc. She has a deep appreciation for the circle of life and the food chain, things humans don’t need to think about in daily life.

When Shoutarou does the responsible thing and phones the police, it doesn’t stop Sakurako from offering her expert opinion on who the corpse was and what happened. The police, however, aren’t so much impressed by her expertise as annoyed by her interference and what they perceive as arrogance (and hey, she is a bit arrogant).

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Back home, when Shou thinks Saku is sulking, she’s actually concentrating on building a skeleton. That’s when she finally tells him what he’s been meaning to ask about: her dead little brother, Soutarou, just one syllable removed from his name. It’s not much, but it’s the start of a dialogue and a sign she’s willing to gradually let Shou in.

The next day, Shou goes to a cafe at the request of his classmate Kougami Yuriko. Her purpose is to thank him for helping to find the corpse, which was that of her grandmother, who the police believe jumped to her death. When she invites both Shou and Saku to her house to thank them properly, we learn her grandma was taking care of her husband, who was suffering from severe dementia and required round-the-clock care.

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That burden is something the police used as a motive for Yuriko’s grandma’s suicide, and Yuriko even understands and doesn’t hold it against her. On the contrary, she’s ashamed she and the rest of her family didn’t see how tough it was for her until it was too late. But when she asks Saku to show her where and how her grandmother died, she gets an entirely different and more plausible story than the police came up with.

When they return to the site where her grandmother’s remains were found, Sakurako presents that story, which is this: her grandmother didn’t go there to die, she went there to live. She just stumbled and fell off the cliff in an unfortunate accident.

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The reason she left in the middle of the night was so that she could reach a certain spot so she could see the same sunrise her husband painted back when he was healthier. Sakurako points out how exposure to the morning sun releases serotonin, which calms and soothes the mind. She tempers her conclusions as mere speculation, but they fit the facts, the timing, the motive, and the details.

These conclusions also provide comfort and closure to Yuriko. Now that she knows her grandmother didn’t give up on her grandfather, she has that much more reason to be strong and provide care in her granny’s place. Another satisfying mystery that respectfully delved into a specific (yet under-represented in anime) circumstance in modern human society—caring for those who can’t care for themselves—and built logically to a life-affirming finish.

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Sakurako-san no Ashimoto – 02

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This was a tough one to watch, but it still felt good to watch it. Though I don’t have any kids, I could feel my latent parental instincts kick in on multiple occasions. What I do have is a little niece going on three, the same age as the girl who serves as a conduit for this week’s murder mystery, which turns out to be a lot more involved than last week’s century-old skeleton or the suicide-not-suicide.

The little girl, who only has the most basic grasp of communication, and will default to “no” when confronted with strong direct demands, is like a lock that Sakurako and Shou must pick in order to figure out who she is and where she came from. I like how such a lockpicking must be undertaken by a lad too young for kids and an older but still young woman too involved in her work to bother with things like husbands or children of her own.

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In spite of this, Sakurako and Shou become the kid’s surrogate parents for the duration of their investigation. Shou is the one who brings her to Sakurako, who quickly notices the child is suffering from a poorly-healed bone injury; the likely result of abuse. As luck would have it, a classmate of Shou’s knows the kid and her real name, leading them to her house: a pigsty strewn with bags of garbage and a likely den of neglect and abuse. Then they find the corpse of the mother, and a new story emerges.

The mother is dead of an apparent stab wound, with only one defensive wound, and died in a very strange position that turns out to be one best-suited for covering a trap door in the kitchen where she hid her other child, an infant boy. When Sakurako moves the mother’s body and finds the babe, she wastes no time attempting to revive it, pumping his tiny heart to provide his brain with enough oxygen to stay alive.

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Before help can come, the father does: a knife-wielding drug addict looking for “butterflies.” Saku is unable to move to protect herself, lest she risk losing the baby, and the cop who accompanied her and Shou is the first one stabbed. That means Shoutarou has to step up and save everyone, which he does thanks to some karate he learned from his gramps.

Far from impressed, Saku is angry at Shou for acting so recklessly. As he acted, she remembered a young boy running from her in a similar fashion, and being unable to stop him. A younger brother she lost, perhaps? In any case, all’s well that ends well. The baby wakes up (thank GOD) and the police and ambulance arrive. And throughout all of this, the three-year-old has been kept safe by Shou’s classmate in the other room, shielding her from further trauma.

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The house may be the dump of a destitute couple unable to properly care for their two young children, but in Sakurako’s reconstruction of what happened (which happens with all of the pieces having been previously, carefully laid out), the mother is redeemed as a Mother, one who did not hesitate to sacrifice her own life to save both of her kids from her insane, homicidal partner. She may not have been the best mother in life, but she did the one fundamental thing required of her, and all mothers, when it mattered: she protected her children.

This was more than just a rich spoiled genius girl solving a another mystery for her own satisfaction. The show successfully drew me even further in by upping the stakes considerably. This was about continuing the work the murdered mother started: making sure those innocent kids survive. And Saku couldn’t do it alone; she needed the help of her “Watson” and the plucky cop, and they delivered.

With this latest case closed, a deeper mystery remains: the truth of Saku’s memory.  Shoutarou is surprised when she calls him by his first name in the aftermath of their ordeal, but also remembers her shouting “Soutarou” during it. Calling him Shoutarou is a sign of intimacy, yet when he asks her to confirm calling him that, she backs away, careful to maintain the same distance between them. Something haunts her; something Shou wants to uncover; and I want to see him uncover it!

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