SAKUGAN – 08 – EASIER TO RUN THAN REGRET

Rufus was going to be Gagumber’s last partner. When things went sour with Memenpu last week, Gagumber remembered why he didn’t want, didn’t need, and shouldn’t have a partner, even if it’s his daughter. While Memenpu wanders off to sulk in his old hometown, Gagumber drinks with a recovered Yuri and reconnects with the old man who ran the marker shop.

Zackletu, who had been by Yuri’s bedside, tracks down Memenpu and treats her to the local specialty of tea-in-a-plastic bag. She gets Memenpu to open up about what’s troubling her: about the dream that felt like more than a dream where Gagumber died, and how she can never really hate Gagumber. But once we get a good look at Rufus’ little “brother” Zack, I felt like things were going to take a turn.

And turn they do. Turns out the tea Zackletu gave Memenpu was drugged, and she kidnaps her and uses her as bait for Gagumber. Zack was actually Rufus’ kid sister, not brother, and when she became convinced Gagumber was responsible for Rufus’ death, she spent a huge sum of money for Yuri to track him down so she could get her revenge.

What finally pushed Zackletu into carrying out her plan was seeing how blithe and callous Gagumber was being to his new partner and daughter Memenpu, after what she saw as him abandoning her after Rufus’ death. It was definitely shitty for Gagumber not to follow up with Zack. Does he deserve to die over it? Even Zackletu isn’t sure, as she fires a lot of bullets and detonates a lot of bombs in his general direction, but never seems able to deliver the killing blow.

It’s this episode where I understand why Hanazawa Kana was cast as Zackletu: in addition to being able to credibly voice a young boy, who was actually a young girl hiding her true gender to protect herself from her rough environment, Hanazawa really brings out her pathos and rage. Through all the violence she’s exacting upon Gagumber as Memenpu is forced to watch, you never get the feeling Zackletu is enjoying this.

Rather, she just doesn’t know what else to do, so she’s lashing out. It’s only when all the explosions and Memenpu’s struggling causes her rope to break, and Gagumber overrides the stopper on his “Gale” device to save her and then apologize to her, that Zackletu stops her attack. She couldn’t easily kill Gagumber knowing his daughter still loved him in spite of all his flaws; once he admitted those flaws to Memenpu, she definitely couldn’t kill him.

Instead, Gagumber is admitted and then discharged from the hospital, while Zackletu prepares to depart…only Memenpu won’t let her. She forgives her for trying to kill Gagumber, and insists she stay with the group as they head to her dream place. Memenpu just warns Zackletu, in the same way Rufus did, that next time it happens, she’ll really let her have it.

Do I buy that someone as hell-bent on getting revenge as Zackletu would not only stand down, but remain with the man she believed killed her brother for years? I do, it all comes down to buying that she tried to be a heartless avenging baddie, but couldn’t go through with it because she still had a heart, and wasn’t all bad.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

SAKUGAN – 07 – FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS SUEÑAS

After the last few episodes took place in colonies or on a mission in a stationary place, this week is all about the journey. Memenpu, Gagumber, Zackletu and Yuri embark upon a road trip that soon grows monotonous in both scenery and routine. Yuri tries to spice things up a little with some lovely red flowers.

The only problem is, he picked flowers that look just like the flowers he wanted to pick, but these flowers happen to have psychotropic effects. As such, things get a little Hunter S Thompson, as the higher the rest stop numbers get, the higher Gagumber, Zackletu, and Yuri get. Memenpu, the one who is most with it, gets rid of the flowers and uses a native cactus to whip up an anecdote.

Alas, Memenpu mistakes the cactus for one that looks just like it that only makes the symptoms of the flower worse. This is hilariously depicted as everyone continues to get nuttier, with the three acting like they’re at the Mad Hatter’s tea party. They repeat the same lines but their words get more and more slurred. Their driving gets more wild and reckless. They can’t stop barfing.

Memenpu determines the only way for the other three to recover is water, rest, and luck. They do eventually find themselves (after she slaps them in the face several times) but Memenpu is having her own rough time. When under the influence of the flowers her dream got psychedelic, but when she buried the blooms they got more intense and violent, depicting Gagumber bleeding out and dying in the flower fields of her dream.

When Memenpu tries to get the others to hurry up and get to the place, Gagumber tells her to chill out and stop taking her dreams so literally, even saying “I thought you were smart.” When she tries to climb aboard their mech on her own, he pulls her knapsack and she loses her footing and falls hard, getting all scraped up.

Gagumber doesn’t apologize an the two drift apart as the trip continues, but Memenpu’s dream of him dying is obviously extremely upsetting, and she believes the only way to prevent it is to go there and check things out, and possibly meet Urorop, who always appears in the dreams. Only Urorop is already there, at their camp.

Is she just there to watch in the shadows, or will she engage with the others? The chaotic goofiness of the drug tripping combined with the dark turn Memenpu’s dreams have taken made this an edgy, unpredictable episode—befitting a proper road trip.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 18 – The Most Important Thing

After a brief scene showing a seasick Rudy and Eris (and a very unseasick Ruijerd) headed to the Central Continent by ship, the rest of the episode belongs to Roxy, who is always either a step ahead or behind her apprentice. We learn she was once in a party with Bojack…er, Nokopara, who has cleaned up his ways since getting burned by Rudy two years ago.

Nokopara, who is a bit older than Roxy, tells her to go visit her damn family already, citing his own family he built since they last met as evidence that family is the most important thing. He would do anything for his wife and three kids, and suspects Roxy’s parents would do the same for her. I must say I appreciate the softening of the initially assholeish horseman.

When Roxy arrives at her home village, she’s immediately given a painful reminder of the main reason she left: in this village, she is “deaf”, i.e. unable to hear the telepathic communication of the other villagers. When they try to greet her, she’s just hit with a static-y feedback accompanied by pops of light—which to the show’s credit is almost as unpleasant for us as it is for Roxy.

Even when she makes a connection with three kids by healing one of them, when they try to thank her telepathically and she doesn’t respond, then a parent shows up and tries to do the same, everything goes pear-shaped. This is a place where Roxy has always felt oppressed by her difference, and the reluctance of anyone there to accommodate it.

It’s a bad start to her return, made worse by a stilted reunion with her parents. Clearly still off from her previous interactions before arriving at her old home, Roxy is noncommittal about how long she’ll stay. When her parents tell her she can stay as long as she likes, then immediately settle into their usual telepathic banter, they unintentionally exclude her out of force of habit.

At this point Roxy has had about enough, and as much as I want her to reconnect with her folks, whom we know to be so loving and kind and caring of her from when Rudy visited, I can’t blame her for wanting to go. She feels like an interloper, an outsider, and always has.

But then her mother starts to cry, after Roxy agrees to visit once in the next fifty years. Even that extremely loose promise is enough to bring tears to her mother’s eyes. Then Roxy catches in the corner of her eye the doll her mother made for her, which she’d clutch while she taught her to read and write, all the while speaking verbally.

One day, lil’ Roxy encountered some kids who she would have been able to befriend, if only she could hear what they were saying telepathically. When they don’t answer her, she understandably feels like she did something wrong, that she was somehow wrong herself, and didn’t belong. That’s why she ran away: so she wouldn’t cause problems for her parents.

But remembering what Nokopara said about parents (good ones anyway) doing anything for their children, and seeing her mother weeping and her doll on the shelf, Roxy can’t help but start crying herself. Oh, she tries to stave off the tears, but that just makes them fall in a great sobbing torrent all at once, in a wonderfully beautiful moment where the camera simply rests on her contorting face.

Roxy gathers her mother into a hug, they both apologize, her dad, getting misty-eyed himself, joins that hug. You have to hand it to Mushoku Tensei, because two straight episodes with these kinds of tearful, cathartic embraces might’ve come off as repetitive and even emotionally manipulative. Instead, I felt right there in that hug, where Roxy suddenly realized this place is still her home, because the people she loves and who love her, are there.

She also learns that Rudy had visited with Eris and a Superd, which enables her to finally connect the dots: Rudy’s the one who revived the Dead End name, and if a Superd is in his party, he must be doing just fine. Roxy rejoins her own party and continues the search for the missing, buoyued by the strides she made with her family and relieved that her apprentice is fine, wherever he is.

SAKUGAN – 06 – CRIME FOR JUSTICE

For his assistance in restoring the God of Wind, Gagumber comes into some money, which he quickly turns into a lot more money at Jolly Jolly’s casino. It’s all going quite well for him (unbeknownst to Memenpu)…until he loses everything on a bum hand. Shoulda quit while he was ahead. Gagumber Gambling Problem? Call 1-800-Gagambler.

He and Memenpu then end up captured by, essentially, a band of punks, led by Yuri, who calls his crew the “Yuri team.” They’re gentlemen (and ladies) of fortune, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor like Robin Hoods in the colony of AreYaar, whose university president Trevi claims to be a colony of “equality” but is really anything but.

Because Yuri was hired by Zackletu to do a hacking job for something like a million gold, both Yuri and Zackletu want what’s owed them from Gagumber, who it’s established is broke after flying too close to the sun at the casino. So instead he and Memenpu will work off their debt doing domestic labor for the Yuri team, who lives in an undertown under the already underground colony.

Memenpu and Yuri soon form a bond as the former learns the latter is a pretty good hacker, while she may be one of the first to tell him she thinks his prosthetic hands are cool. She and Gagumber accompany the Yuri team on a number of Robin Hood heists. They’re riding high, but Yuri doesn’t want to just make money; he wants to make Trevi and all the haves of AreYarr actually hurt and hurt bad.

Not only is his right-hand man Fidelio not okay with this, who understands that becoming more extremist or violent will only have the authorities cracking down on them harder, but Gagumber sees quite a bit of his old self as having big, bold, and ultimately reckless dreams, having left his friend Rufus’ side when Rufus wasn’t prepared to go so far. It ended in tears.

Gagumber is older and wiser and doesn’t wish the same of Yuri (i.e. losing everything, like Gagumber did both years ago and again at the casino), so he and Fedelio literally hang on to Yuri’s bot as he makes an ill-advised attempt to take over AreYaar’s central tower, which is also the center of the colony’s power. Yuri wants to “change the world” like the Labyrinth-widely infamous Shibitu, but Shibitu are pretty much just terrorists.

Ultimately Gagumber, Memenpu and Fidelio succeed in keeping Yuri from doing something that could get him and all of them arrested and at worst killed. Instead, Yuri and Memenpu use their hacking skills to embarrass Trevi by broadcasting his dalliances with the casino bunny girls to the whole colony.

The episode ends by teasing a new dynamic: both Zackletu and Yuri sticking close to Gagumber and Memenpu on their travels, making it a full-on adventuring party. I can’t say yet whether Zakletu has either wife or big sister potential, but Yuri makes a good big bro for Memenpu, and it will be fun to see them interact more.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Takt Op. Destiny – 06 – Rhapsody in New Orleans

Cosette may not be Cosette anymore, but she is definitely forming a new bond with Takt, day by day. So much so, in fact, that he’s caught off guard when she understands enough about him to make a stupid joke about calling the D2 to their location. She knows he’s not restless about there being no battles (and there are no battles this week), but because he wants to play music. Tapping out notes on the window glass just ain’t cutting it.

It’s fortunate, then, that their next destination of New Orleans happens to be one of the most musical cities on Earth…or at least it was. Now it’s on the verge of being a ghost town. The entire population is senior citizens, as everyone else left long ago when they were younger, and either settled elsewhere, or were killed by the D2 attacks.

While Anna, Cosette and Takt are ostensibly here to stock up on provisions, the former two end up performing one kind task for elderly people after another, starting with delivering groceries, fixing an old front step, and rescuing a kitten. In what seemed like a barren husk of the city turns out to be full of friendly, warm souls you can’t help but want to help.

Takt elected to wait in the car, but eventually had to stretch his legs. While walking down Bourbon Street, he sees someone enter a club from which he can detect the faint sound of music. Turns out it’s an underground jazz club where a handful of cool cats drink and vibe out on the substantial tune collection.

All of them remember the conductor Asahina Kenji, “The Rooster”, who visited the city to perform only once. We learn in dribs and drabs that Kenji, Takt’s father, was also killed in some kind of calamity in Boston. When the audiophiles learn that he’s none other than the Rooster’s son, the entire place goes still…not with resentment…but with veneration.

These people assumed that the “Asahina sound” died with Kenji, so they’re eager to hear if his son can reproduce that sound. They show him to a soundproof studio/concert space where everyone gathers around tables with little lamps…reminders of a “golden age” that’s now gone.

One of the men in the club played the tuba in the orchestra when Ken visited New Orleans. But since the D2 disaster, he feels he’s done nothing but let time go by; without music, he has no purpose in life. Then Takt comes along, brings a sound everyone thought dead back to life, and instills a little hope; reminds everyone of the Pride of Bourbon Street.

As Takt found his spot and his people, Anna was flagged down in the street by another older woman who mistakes her for her daughter, Maria. Initially Anna is too nice to drop the truth on the mother, but even when she does, the mother pretends she didn’t hear anything.

As Cosette gives a very heartfelt speech in her robotic meter about how dear Anna is to her as a big sister and protector, the mother’s husband comes home, and tells Anna that their daughter left with her young family years ago and later died. Maria’s mother couldn’t accept that loss, and as her husband heartbreakingly puts it, Maria “lifes on” only in her mother’s mind. I’d like to think both Anna and Cosette enjoyed having a mom, if only for a very short time.

When it’s polite to do so, Anna and Cosette eventually take their leave of the husband and wife, having both given and received something out of the interaction. Then Cosette uses her Takt Detector (Detakter?) and they find him exactly where he belongs, doing what he loves.

Cosette says, with genuine affection behind the cold logic of her voice, that she loves when Takt gets to play music. So do I…especially when it’s Rhapsody in Blue, one of the first pieces of music I remember listening to on our baby Fisher-Price phonograph. Like Peter and the Wolf and Beethoven’s Ninth, Blue was one of the formative pieces that made me truly understand the power of music.

Because Cosette wants Takt to play more, she’ll keep fighitng until all the D2s are gone and everyone can play music. In the meantime, Takt is given some blank musical sheets with which to finally commit his window glass-tapping reveries to paper. The break from D2 battles was perfectly timed after last week’s barnburner. New Orleans wasn’t just some random stop on their journey, it felt real and alive, and as we see, it’s strength enduring in the people who remain. Their next stop will have big shoes to fill!.

SAKUGAN – 05 – UNBROKEN CHAIN

At first, it looks like Merooro is transporting Gagumber and Memenpu to some off-site labor facility as punishment for their crimes, but that site turns out to be a lush forest brimming with flora and fauna known by the Bureau of Regulation as Windy Hill, which sounds like a Sonic level. There’s only one problem: the forest is dying. The genius Memenpu soon diagnoses the problem: not enough wind in Windy Hill.

That wind is produced by a labyrinthine ancient industrial metropolis that looks like a cross between Midgar and the world of Girls Last Tour. It’s packed with technology contemporary humans can only dream of, but a piece of that technology is failing, resulting in Windy Hill being in jeopardy. Fortunately for Merooro, Memenpu is a certified genius with seven doctorates from Pinyin University.

Having memorized the map of the complex after a glance, Memenpu leads the way, possessed of an eternal wellspring of curiousity and awe of her surroundings. The place is hella cool, but her reputation for having an excellent sense of direction is threatened when the trio run into one dead end after another.

That’s when Memenpu consults Urorop’s map, which of course includes the complex, and determines that the dead ends are a result of all the various pieces of the complex constantly shifting and moving to alter the wind speed and flow. The bright lines on the map represent the flow of the “animus”, the inscrutible element that provides the complex its power.

The gaps in those lines are where the animus isn’t getting, due to leaks from the aging pipework. After some shogiand tea—both things Memenpu had never experienced, as they’re part of the world of yore but Merooro’s stock and trade—she leads the other two on a confident march through the complex, tracking down leaks and making repairs.

When those repairs cause a buildup of pressure, Memenpu knows just what sequence of things to do to release that pressure. But she wouldn’t have even made it this far if Gagumber hadn’t caught her when her jump across a ravine was short and she almost plummeted to her death. She also relies on Gagumber and Merooro’s elbow grease to turn a crucial valve that happens to be very rusty.

Merooro admires Memenpu’s insatiable curiosity and Gagumber’s determination to nurture it by accompanying her, but curiosity killed the cat, and Merooro worries that if Memenpu doesn’t choose a safer way of life, her curosity will claim her life far too soon. Almost on cue, a big pipe cracks above Memenpu as she descends a ladder, and she gets absolutely doused in deadly, acid-like animus.

Fortunately, both her hazmat suit and her stuffed goat hold up. I mean, it’s not like this show was going to kill Memenpu! Still, it was a close call, and not the first of this mission to restore Windy Hil. With Memenpu determined to find her dream place, it likely won’t be the last close call, or the closest. Gagumber’s role as her safety net will only grow more crucial as their journey continues.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

SAKUGAN – 04 – COLONY OF PASSION

We go from Gagumber and Memenpu parachuting into Jolly at the end of last week to the two in the custody of one Merooro of the Labyrinth’s “Bureau of Regulation.” They’re guilty of Crimes, and they will be Punished, but he doesn’t offer details about what either of those things were or are.

Instead, the father-daughter duo is set loose in Jolly Jolly pending the handing down of sentencing or some such. And Jolly Jolly is…fine. It’s fine! It’s one big Italian Disneyland, complete with canals filled with LCD “water”, a Leaning Tower Colosseum, and ristorantes galore. Memenpu, sick of noodles, decides to sightsee. Gagumber hits up the nearest bar.

After twelve straight rejections by women at said bar, Gagumber finally meets someone who’ll give him the time of day—the woman on the motorcycle we saw a couple episodes ago, whom I assumed was Memenpu’s mom and Gagumber’s ex. Turns out she’s neither, but she is voiced by Hanazawa Kana in Sultry Mode, demonstrating her considerable range.

Turns out this lovely lady, rather inelegantly named Zackletu (sounds more like the name of a kaiju, if I’m honest) is wanted by Jolly Jolly’s mafia, who shoot up the bar just as Memenpu arrives. Gagumber covers Zack and Mem’s escape, only to be captured and almost tortured by the mafia don, only to be saved by Zack because his cell conveniently has a window.

Numerous chases and shootouts ensue, which oddly require more suspension of belief than the action of previous episodes. For one thing, I am not a big fan of characters in like Jumbo who are too impossibly huge to be actual human in shows where everyone else is normal sized. For another, the mafia guys and their don are pathetically dull, and have suspiciously bad aim.

Once the mafia is predictably foiled thanks in part to Memenpu arriving to save her dad and Zack in Zack’s own motorcycle, Zack takes her leave, promising to be back one day for the million Gagumber promised her. Like Jolly Jolly as a concept, this episode was…fine…but after the first three episodes I was expecting something more adventurous than generic colony mob chases.

SAKUGAN – 03 – THAT LITTLE VOICE

Memenpu takes to the untamed Labyrinth like a fish to water, locking Gagumber out of the controls so she can try her hand at salvaging crystals to exchange for money. But while following the routes of the map jewel and taking some more perilous shortcuts pays off, her natural talents, intellect, and guile, if untempered by experience, could quickly spell the end of her.

Despite basically watching her best friend Lynda die, Memenpu doesn’t seem to be showing the Labyrinth the proper respect. She insists She’s Got This, and while Gagumber is initially willing to indulge her, when increasingly strong, mysterious earthquakes rend the aptly named base camp “Troll’s Palm”, playing it safe and getting some rest are the order of the day.

As a former elite Marker, Gagumber is someone Memenpu should really be listening to and trying to emulate, as the fact he’s still there annoying her is proof he knows what it takes to survive in the Labyrinth, a place whose beauty can lull you into a dangerous false sense of security or comfort. Memenpu literally leaps down a freshly-created crevice and lands on her inflatable goat doll in a dark frozen cavern.

She should be scared, all alone down there with no backup and no idea what lurks in the shadows. When those whats start lurking, shining their many red eyes at her, and then chasing her, Memenpu probably wishes she’d gotten a little more rest so she could run a little faster. The swarm of horseshoe crab-like creatures don’t care how smart she is, or how badly she wants to reach the “Dream Place.” They just want dinner.

It’s in Memenpu’s most dire hour of need, holed up in a cargo container the creatures are slowly but surely smashing into, that she finally calls out for her dad to rescue her. Thankfully, he does, even if it strains credulity a bit that he was able to find her in the nick of time. Suffice it to say, Memenpu needs Gagumber here in the Labyrinth, even if she didn’t in Pinyin.

At the same time, Gagumber needs Memenpu too, at least if they’re going to reach their destination, they’re going to have to take the occasional calculated risks or unorthodox routes. Their latest one ends with them parachute-dropping before Jolly Jolly Base Camp, where a debonair mad sips tea, nibbles cookies, follows up his earnest praise for the father-daughter pair with what sounds like a threat…

Rating: 4/5 Stars

SAKUGAN – 02 – SEEKING STABILITY

Gagumber has to hit it a few times, but his dusty old Mark Bot shudders to live and he and Memenpu engage in a protracted chase against a kaiju that seems oddly drawn to them. While old and dusty, the Mark Bot is still highly tuned and modified for maximum performance, which means Gagumber and Memenpu are able to keep a step or two ahead of certain doom.

After last week established how deadly the kaiju are, that creates an excellent nervy tension throughout the chase, which combined with the diversity of the environs (from the underground Chinese-style city to the darker depths of the mines) and the top-notch Cowboy Bebop-esque soundtrack make for one hell of a crowd-pleasing 23 minutes.

Even when one pursuing kaiju becomes two, Memenpu soon finds her Mark Bot legs (even if they can’t quite reach the pedals) and uses her inventive genius both to plot the best course out of the colony, but precisely where to place charges around the trapped kaiju so it causes the ground beneath them to crumble in a neat circle shape, where they become fish in a barrel to shoot at…with fireworks that just happen to be stowed in the cabin.

Gagumber and Memenpu’s heroics end up on the radio, and someone we’re sure to meet sooner or later—possibly their ex-wife/mom?—hears the broadcast. The two pay their respects to Walsh and Lynda, and Gagumber impresses upon his wee daughter how shit is not going to get any easier, but when you’re out there in the Abyss Labyrinth you’ve gotta learn to roll with the punches…even if one of those punches is the death of someone you love.

With that, the two pack their bags, take care of the paperwork necessary to leave the colony, and then strike out into the Labyrinth proper. The scenery is stunning, like a dream you never want to leave, as well as highly reminicent of Made in Abyss. Suffice it to say I don’t mind SAKUGAN’s cosmetic similarities to an all-time masterpiece. Let the subterranean father-daughter adventure begin.

P.S. In a truly weird, random easter egg, one of the ramen cups says “Tubular Bells”, the name of the theme to The Exorcist by Mike Oldfield.

SAKUGAN – 01 (First Impressions) – SOMEDAY IS RIGHT NOW

The all-caps up top are no mistake—this is a big, loud first episode, starting with a father-daughter quarrel through an impossibly complex subterranean metropolis that’s shot like a Mission Impossible film. The precocious Memenpu wants to become a “Marker”, one of the elite group who trek through the Labyrinth to parts unknown. Her father Gagumber is content to keep her home and safe as they work menial jobs in the colony.

Their home, Pinyin, is basically one big nest where Memenpu’s father never wants her to leave…at least not yet. But Memenpu, despite being only nine years old, is already a college grad and distinguished inventor. It’s only a matter of time before Pinyin—and her dad—just can’t hold her back from grander, more dangerous future.

Memenpu finds inspiration in Lynda, a Marker who works side-by-side with her dad Walsh. Lynda is initially fine stoking that fire of adventure and discovery in Memenpu’s diminutive abdomen, acting as a big sis and role model and encouraging her little sis to dream big. As it so happens, Memenpu has dreams about and draws pictures of a surface with a boundless sky. A mysterious master Marker named Urorop seemingly eggs her on by leaving a photo at her door of that very surface.

While Memenpu and Lynda bond, Gagumber and Walsh drink. It’s pretty clear that Gagumber used to be a Marker like Walsh, and probably a good one,  but gave it all up (including all the esteem and preferential treatment) the moment his daughter entered his world, and then became it. But Walsh, as someone with an older daughter who has already been through this, tells his friend that there comes a time when a father has to put trust in their child to become their own person.

While I have no doubt that Gagumber is immensely proud of his little girl, that’s tempered by a great sadness that she grew up so damn fast. When he teeters home drunk as a skunk and she pretends to be asleep, he’s still lucid enough to make his thoughts clear. It’s not that he never wants her to grow up, only that he wishes she’d stayed a kid a little longer.

But it’s not just Memenpu’s natural intelligence and talent that is pushing her towards adulthood and independence, but seemingly Urorop as well. Along wih the photo of the surface, Memenpu is given a jewel that when its intricate cracks are projected on a larger surface reveals a map of the Labyrinth around Pinyin…and a route to the surface in the picture.

Then a kaiju bursts through the walls of the colony and wreaks havoc, sending Memenpo, Gagumber, and Lynda on a mad dash to safety. When they’re cornered, Gagumber draws his pistl and shoots the monster in the face, asserting that he won’t let it hurt his beloved daughter. Memenpo is shocked by her usually deadbeat-ish dad’s sudden change in demeanor.

Speaking of changes in demeanor…at first the kaiju chase is played as tongue-in-cheek; the kind of whimsical lunacy you’d find in Durarara!! or Gatchaman. But the kaiju threat is real, and even Lynda curtly orders Memenpo to keep back as she and her dad Walsh board their Mark Bot to do battle. Just as Walsh is complimenting Lynda on having grown up, the two of them instantly get blown up. Memenpo is frozen in shock…as was I. I did not expect shit to get so real so quick.

Fortunately, her dad’s composure isn’t so easily shaken, as he scoops her up and takes her to safety. But if this day’s events taught him anything, it’s that Walsh (RIP) was right: when “someday” becomes RIGHT FUCKING NOW, all a father can do—all a father must do—is trust in their child. But, again, she’s only nine.

So he compromises: she’ll let her strike out into the vast underground unknown towards her destiny—heck, he’ll even supply their transport in the form of his old Mark Bot—but he’s coming along for the ride to protect his little girl. So begins a father-daughter adventure for the ages. I can’t freakin’ wait to see where it goes.

Bokutachi no Remake – 10 – No Stopping the Train

As I mentioned last week, it’s a bit incredulous to say Kyouya hit “rock bottom”. He has a beautiful wife and daughter, a comfortable home, and a good job where he’s relied upon. At some point he’ll need to stop thinking about the past, and alternate future in which people important to him were more important in the world, and start thinking about the people important to him here and now; his family.

Thankfully, this episode addresses that disconnect between how bad things Kyouya perceives things have gone for the others and how good things actually are if he takes a step back. His old life of failure and loneliness is no match for this life; it’s just a matter of what had to happen to the others to make this world. For instance, Aki no longer draws, but now she’s good at cooking, and she takes pride in this.

Meanwhile, his steady hand at the helm has earned his Team B the reputation as a team that can get things done, though they are still dealing with a dearth of illustration work from Minori. When he and Morishita pay her a visit, she’s not expecting them, as she’s changed into black maid cosplay as  “change of pace” only for it not to work.

Minori isn’t slacking, she’s blocked, which is a harder thing to tackle. Kyouya’s suggestion for her to look at more of Shinoaki’s art doesn’t look like it will work, either. Worse, that’s the least of the problems for what is looking like a make-or-break game for Attraction Point, a social media game that is to be released in synch with the company going public.

As a result of the delays piling up due to unreasonable but unmovable deadlines, Team A is working on fumes without sleep; never a good formula for work devoid of errors. An uncharacteristically flailing Eiko is just barely keeping things together, but in a rare lunch with Kyouya admits both her team and the company is “making every possible mistake”.

When Kyouya says she isn’t the Eiko he remembers back at school, and that there’s always a way to figure things out, she tells him he’s the only one who thinks like that anymore. She seems resigned to some kind of failure on some front that will have huge fallout.

Attraction Point has talented teams working on games, but those in charge never gave those teams a fighter’s chance of succeeding, and are only compounding their original mistakes with new bad decisions. Eiko and Kyouya’s boss is constantly yelling at Eiko in front of the overworked and under-rested staff, creating a toxic environment.

Kyouya tries to suggest that the only option is to delay the game, as the consequences of launching a lemon could be catastrophic for the company’s reputation. But the boss digs in: timing is everything, and the release date is set in stone. He believes it will be more harmful to miss that date than release a buggy mess.

And maybe that boss might’ve been right if a freak occurrence of a famous voice actor got a favorable “SSR”. I won’t pretend to fully grasp the technical intricacies of social media games, as I don’t play them, but suffice it to say people started to think the company was playing favorites, and the company bungled their response by blaming bad-faith users, making the PR situation worse.

Bad PR is one thing, but the game is bad too, thanks to the untested internal engine Eiko’s team was forced to use. Delays, apologies abound, while revenue and corporate reputation sinks. The boss and Eiko go at it in front of the teams desperately going at 110%, but the problems and errors keep outpacing them. Kyouya is about to step in and help Eiko, but then remembers what happened when he meddled with Tsurayuki, and stops himself from meddling again.

He got it in his head that “nothing can be done” about any of this, and if he tried, he’d only make things worse. But as fortune would have it, he just so happens to open up a brand-new video clip in which Kogure Nanako, AKA N@NA, announces that she’s not giving up on singing after all. She tells her online audience about someone at school who told her to sing, and credits him with setting her on this path to begin with.

She also faults him for being so supportive and involved that when it came time for her to stand alone, she slacked off, and her art suffered. Even so, she declares that she doesn’t want to be the one who “invalidates” everything he did for her, so she’s going to keep singing. Her memory of what Kyouya did for her was the trigger that puled her out of her creative rut.

Watching this “small salvation” in his “world of failures”, Kyouya too decides to rise up from his desk, slamming it hard for everyone’s attention and stopping the boss’s incessant chewing-out of Eiko, and decides that there actually is something to be done about this horrible broken game situation, and they’re going to figure it out together, damn it!

Again I must take slight issue with Kyouya’s so-called “world of failures” as, being husband to Aki and father to Maki are quite the opposite of failures! But I will grant that this world was seemingly grinding Kyouya’s natural tendency to Do What’s Right and Help His Friends Out When They Need it until his refrain became There’s Nothing that Can Be Done.

I’m glad he managed to pull himself out of that tailspin of apathy, but there’s still no guarantee his meddling will help Eiko; she and the company could be doomed either way. But for Kyouya, not trying to fix the mess they’re in would be even worse. Until all possible avenues have been exhausted, he’s going to keep searching for something to be done.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Bokutachi no Remake – 09 – The Price of Success

Kyouya has no idea why he’s now in 2018 any more than he knew why he jumped back from 2016 to 2006, but one thing’s certain: it’s not a dream. Aki is his loving wife, Maki is his darling daughter, and he has a job as a troubleshooter for a decent mid-tier game company. He may not want to admit it, but he was successful in remaking his life. He should be happy, and he would be…if only he never found out how he achieved his success.

Despite being suddenly thrust into a new life and job, the details of which he can only guess, Kyouya comports himself well, serving as a troubleshooter and talent whisperer on behalf of Eiko, who is also still in the business. The talent in question is Minori Ayaka, an illustrator with 200k followers, but who has seemed to lost her motivation and passion for drawing. When Kyouya praises a piece of her work that strongly resembles Shinoaki’s style, Ayaka seems to build a new head of steam for her work.

A good day at work, and the realization he’s fortunate to have such a cute wife and daughter, is soured when Kyouya brings up Comiket and asks if Aki will submit anything. The truth is, she hasn’t drawn in years…and the reason is the same as Ayaka: there was “nothing she wanted to draw anymore.” That’s now two members of the Platinum Generation from his original timeline who are now completely out of the creative world.

While having lunch with Eiko, Kyouya realizes she’s much the same, only even she seems to have suffered due to his success: she’s working at a smaller company in a lower-ranking position than his original timeline. He also learns that Nanako’s last song online has less than 2,000 views and she’s decided to retire from singing, stating she “doesn’t know what she’s singing for.” I half-expected Tsurayuki to show up as a doctor on Google, but all Kyouya finds is some blog entries.

Learning that by directing HaruSora with the Platinum Generaion, he inadvertently ruined their futures as creatives by sapping their creativity and passion for a greater commercial good, Kyouya is understandably beside himself. He gets completely boiled, lands in a literal pile of garbage, than stumbles home where his wife and young daughter have to console his tears. Knowing what lives Aki, Nanako, Tsurayuki, and Eiko would have lived without his interference, he can’t accept the lives they live now.

And yet, IMO, that’s exactly what he should do. BnR has not shed one single diode of light on the precise supernatural mechanism that shot Kyouya back ten years or forward eleven. Kyouya did what he thought was best, and while he did get a bit caught up in wanting to make something with the creatives who would end up celebrities in his present, he had absolutely no idea the damage he’d do.

Add on top of that the fact that everyone in this timeline has most likely moved on, and all he does by bringing it up is reopen old and long-healed wounds. While it’s sad that Nanako is quitting singing, she’ll be fine. Tsurayuki, who comes from money, will be fine. Aki, who has Kyouya and Maki, will be fine. In exchange, Kyouya got a second chance with his past, did something admirable with it, and now has a loving family and solid career. Maybe he needs to be fine too.

Bokutachi no Remake – 08 – How It Oughta Be

Team Harusora‘s time grows short as the deadline draws near. Nanako, Tsurayuki, and Shinoaki are falling behind, and encouragement isn’t enough to get them back on track, so Kyouya has to do what all directors have to at some point: unilaterally make the changes necessary to get the product out on schedule.

This means cutting and changing parts of the music, art, and story. Nanako is easy to convince, as she’s open to trying a new method of composing that also happens to be quicker. So is Shinoaki, as she trusts Kyouya (and not without good reason). But Tsurayuki bucks. If Kyouya is changing the story now, what is he even contributing, creatively?

Kyouya manages to get Tsurayuki to fall in line with his silver tongue, and the team sprints towards the finish line with a focus on progress. Compromises had to be made due to the compressed schedule, and since the bottom line is that the game has to make money so Tsurayuki can pay his tuition.

Thanks to help from the art club, Keiko, and Eiko, and many an all-nighter right up to the 10:00 AM deadline for sending the ROM master to the printer, Bokutachi no Remake really ratchets up the tension, urgency, and excitement of bringing a project to completion in the nick of time.

There’s also a wonderful release once Keiko heads to the printer with the master, as everyone but Kyouya literally passes out from exhaustion. When the brand-new shiny newly-printed game arrives, with Shinoaki’s gorgeous, inviting art on the cover, the sense of accomplishment is only heightened.

They made this; all of them. It could not have happened without their individual contributions and without them hanging in there and relying on each other when things got hectic. But Nanako, Shinoaki and Tsurayuki also all agree that there’s absolutely no way Harusora would have seen the light of day without Kyouya’s confident, diligent direction.

Of course, none of them know that one day, in the future Kyouya came from, that they’d be known collectively as the Platinum Generation, three elite creative at the top of their respective fields. And that they were the ones who inspired Kyouya to remake his life when given a chance.

Yet while out on a crisp evening walk with Shinoaki, she stops and asks something she later apologizes for for sounding “weird”: “Is this really how it oughta be?” The team achieved great success, the game manages to sell the event at Tokyo Big Sight (thanks in no small part to Keiko’s doujin group’s clout). Everyone even makes bank!

But no sooner does Tsurayuki have his tuition money he himself made in his hands than he asks Kyouya to take a walk, stopping somewhere random where he has no other memories, good or bad, in order to tell him he’s dropping out of art school after all, and returning home, no doubt to be a doctor and husband this family and Sayuri want him to be.

The entire point of this project for Kyouya was to help Tsurayuki become the Kawagoe Kyouichi he’d become in the future, but he never stopped to think that Tsurayuki—that all of the Platinum Generation—achieved their greatness without Kyouya’s help. Having seen what Kyouya is capable of and how hard it is to make it writing for a living, this project had the opposite intended effect: Tsurayuki decided he can’t make it.

It’s a devastating scene that perhaps doesn’t need the gathering clouds, thunderstorm, or Kyouya on his hands and knees shouting his lament into the ground. But the added melodrama doesn’t really take away from the fact Kyouya’s entire life-remaking exercise ended up building him up, while erasing the future of one of the Platinum Generation.

The person who encounters him on the ground isn’t Nanako or Aki, but Keiko, who has this knowing tone and look that suggests she’s aware of what has been going on with Kyouya…and could even have a part in it. She smiles softly and asks what the future would be like after all that’s happened in this version of his past.

And then, just like that, Kyouya wakes up back in 2018, his present. Before he knows where or when he is, a tiny Shinoaki runs in and jumps on the bed; her kid’s drawings scattered on the wall behind him. It’s not Shino Aki at all, but Hashiba Maki, his daughter, and Shino Aki is her mother and his wife.

This is the life Kyouya remade. Is Aki even an artist anymore, or is she a housewife and mom full-time? There’s not enough evidence to see, but I wouldn’t be surprised if another member of the Platinum Generation never was due to Kyouya basically interfering in her past. No doubt Tsurayuki is a doctor in this future, while Nanako could well still be a singer.

Whatever their circumstances, and whether this is a future Kyouya is able or willing to correct once more, this is a tremendous time-shattering cliffhanger for next week, breaking the easy slice-of-life nature of the past art school episodes and launching us into the home stretch of the cour with panache.