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.

Made in Abyss: Dawn of the Deep Soul – Trials Make Love Stronger

I finished the first season of Made in Abyss three years and a week ago, commenting that while I ached to know what would happen next, a long rest was in order, so that I might recover from the emotional wounds throughout that first run, culminating in the shockingly brutal story of Mitty and Nanachi.

Turns out no amount of time would heal those wounds to the extent they wouldn’t be re-opened and—very soul freshly re-crushed—upon watching the continuation of the Abyss story. That’s because the deeper Riko, Reg, and Nanachi descend, the more acute and devastating the horrors they encounter.

This is the third of three Made in Abyss films; the first two were a retelling of the first season, while the third is a direct sequel As such, spoilers throughout.

Case in point: upon arriving at one of her mother’s favorite spots in all of the Abyss, the Garden of Flowers of Fortitude, they encounter one of Bondrewd’s delvers, the Umbra Hands, harvesting tissue from other delvers who have been infected by a parasite that not only feeds off you while you’re still alive, but feeds itself to you in order to keep you alive. Lovely!

Few anime do soaring vistas like Abyss, and there’s something just so otherworldly and dread-inducing about the sight of the Fifth Layer’s Sea of Corpses, along with Idofront, Bondrewd the Novel’s domain. But as cold and unyielding and inhospitable as the spinning ghost city seems on the outside, within resides one of the sweetest, warmest, most human souls they’ve yet encountered: an adorable little girl named Prushka.

Prushka is Bondrewd’s daughter (voiced by Minase Inori), who is initially suspicious of outsiders coming to help her dad when she thinks she should be enough. But once she meets Riko, Reg, and Nanachi, they open for her a whole new world of questions and information about the Surface (she was born in the Abyss).

It’s so strange to see Prushka acting so lovey-dovey with Bondrewd, perpetrator of countless acts of sickening biological crimes, especially since he and his Umbra Hands resemble evil robots. And yet that evil robot still has a strange gravitational pull Nanachi finds hard to resist. Nanachi can’t forgive Bondrewd, but something still draws them toward him. Nanachi was something of a child figure to him, after all, so Nanachi sees Prushka as a younger self.

Bondrewd has bad news for Riko: while she may have her mother’s White Whistle, only the person for whom the whistle was made can use it to activate the altar that will take her down to the Sixth Layer. He offers them accommodations to “think things over”, but there isn’t any doubt his intentions for them are about as far from harmless as they’re all far from the Surface.

Despite her cozy room, soon Riko wakes up alone, and upon exploring, finds that she’s trapped in a small area with the only exit being a stair Prushka warned will cause “strains of ascension” if climbed. When Riko attempts to climb them anyway, she loses all sense of touch and balance, grinds her baby molars away and falls down the stairs, gaining cuts here and there. But she hallucinates far worse: as the very concepts of what and where are gradually eaten away by white light.

Ultimately, the reason Bondrewd does anything all comes down to curiosity and the aspiration to reach the bottom of the Abyss and learn its infinite secrets, same as Riko. It’s just a matter of scope and scale. Riko has managed to retain her humanity throughout her descent. But while has the affable dad voice and general form of a man, there is simply nothing left of Bondrewd’s humanity.

After Nanachi offers to stay with him and help him continue his research in exchange for Riko and Reg’s safety, Bondrewd tells them that, uh, unfortunately, he’s already tossed Reg to his Umbra Hands, who restrain him, slice off his right arm (along with Incinerator) and start collecting his bodily fluids. That’s when Riko, who was helped up to the upper level by Prushka, intervenes, and Prushka learns the truth about her father for the first time.

With Bondrewd showing his true horrific colors loudly and proudly, Nanachi, the most experienced with how he operates, comes up with a plan to take him out. This involves luring him into a nest of giant seven-tailed scorpions, trying to infect him with parasite larvae, and finally Reg crushing his body with a giant boulder.

Naturally, Bondrewd praises both Reg and Nanachi every time they toss a new tactic at him, saying things like “wonderful” and “I’m surprised.” After all, Nanachi is one of the creations of which of which he is most proud, one who unlike Mitty and the others was able to receive the “Blessing” of the Abyss rather than fall victim to the Curse. You’d could mistake it for fatherly pride if, again, Bondrewd had a shred of humanity. But his willingness to offer love and pain and suffering in equal measure disqualifies him as both from being either a parent or a human.

None of the tactics against him end up working, because the Umbra Hand who escorted Prushka simply takes the mask off of the crushed Bondrewd and places it on his head, thus transforming into a new, untouched Bondrewd. Turns out all of his Umbra Hands are him—and his immortality is tied to a relic called Zoaholic. The fight ends for now, and Bondrewd returns home with Prushka.

If Zoaholic didn’t make Bondrewd insane, the act of splitting his soul and essence into multiple bodies still removed what was left of his empathy or humanity, which is why he ends up having Prushka cruelly vivisected just like all of the other orphan children before her. He’s satisfied her experiences with Reg, Riko, and Nanachi helped “perfect” her, and this is the natural next step. She is never told this would happen, and never asked if it’s okay.

Her body is marked with “X’s” to signify the parts that will be cut away and discarded (most of it) until all that is left is a mass of “fleshy curse repellant” to be placed within a suitcase-sized cartridge. It is in this way that Bondrewd staves off the curse; using the pain and suffering of still technically-living children as his strength.

It’s truly skin-crawling, horrible, horrible stuff, and even though I had a reasonable suspicion that Prushka was doomed to a Mitty-like fate, I was still not ready to see even a little of that fate carried out, nor would I ever be. No one would!

By the Riko, Reg, and Nanachi return to Idofront to rescue her they’re way too late, while the sight of the “processing” room brings back Nanachi’s memories of assisting with said processing. When Bondrewd arrives, Riko and Nanachi they buy time for Reg, who hooks himself up to Idofront’s power supply and ends up rebooting in Berserk Mode.

Bondrewd tells Riko that his own White Whistle is the result of sacrificing his own body and soul, and that all White Whistles are made in this way—with a willing human sacrifice, not carved stone.

It’s then when Berserk-Reg arrives and fights on the same level as Bondrewd, ultimately blasting a huge sphere-shaped chunk out of Idofront. He lands in a pit of Mittys—material for Bondrewd’s cartridges, and we’re reminded of all those lights on the wall representing their lives are labeled: he remembers the name of every child, their unique qualities, and how cute they were. Shudder…

As Bondrewd and Reg are locked in an epic battle, we hear Prushka’s disembodied voice as she recounts her life with Bondrewd, starting as a failed subject. He decided to raise her as his daughter, gave her Meinya as a pet, and gave her a fun and happy childhood, ultimately culminating in her helplessly watching as pieces of her are removed one by one on the operating table.

We hear Prushka because she’s now a cartridge that Bondrewd is currently using in his fight, and ends up being his last cartridge. Even after what he did to her, she still wants to help her dad achieve his dreams—even if it means helping him fight against Reg, Riko, and Nanachi.

Thus aided by Bondrewd, Reg can’t defeat him with one arm, which is why he was buying time for Riko to retrieve his other arm. Even disconnected from his body, she’s able to aim it at Bondrewd and fire it, blasting him to pieces.

As this is happening, Prushka pleads with everyone not to fight, because they’re all going to have adventures together. An image of that dream appears in the climax of the battle, and is pretty much the most heartbreaking goddamn thing I’ve ever seen.

Then Bondrewd falls to the ground, finally beaten, and Nanachi stand over him. True to form, Bondrewd isn’t bitter about losing; on the contrary: he’s never been happier to find someone with stronger aspirations, will, and love defeat him. It means they, not him, are worthy of exploring the greater depths of the Abyss, and all the curses and blessings therein.

Riko holds the spent cartridge of what’s left of Prushka, simply red liquid that spills everywhere, and very understandably begins to bawl in absolute despair. But then she notices an object lying in the puddle of liquid: a White Whistle. Turns out Prushka’s soul willingly became the sacrifice necessary for Riko. Now her dream of going on adventures together can be realized.

With that, Riko gains the means to make her Last Dive, along with Reg (who learned a great deal about what his relic body can do) and Nanachi (who found a degree of closure in her vendetta with Bondrewd). Bondrewd, oddly enough, is still alive (after a fashion), but no longer a threat to them, and indeed is happy to see them off as they enter the “elevator” that will take them to the Sixth Layer, that much closer to Riko’s Mom, whatever’s become of her.

Quite appropriately, the end credits pull double duty as an illustration of that elevator descending ever deeper  into the Abyss, accompanied by an achingly gorgeous song that is a collab between MYTH & ROID and Kevin Penkin. Penkin, of course, also contributed the score and outdoes himself in the task; his music has been and continues to be a vital piece of what makes Abyss so unique an special.

It doesn’t look like I’ll be able to end this in less than 1500 words, but whatever; this was basically four episodes of the anime comprising a Fifth Layer arc, enshrining Bondrewd the Novel as one of anime’s all-time most monstrous and compelling villains, exploring the ways ambition can mutate “love” into a heartlessly destructive force.

It also ably reinforced Abyss’ uncanny ability to tear its viewers’ hearts and souls to bloody shreds before painstakingly sewing them back together with delicate threads of hope. And with a second season in the early stages of production, the story of Riko, Reg, and Nanachi is far from over.

Uzaki-chan wa Asobitai! – 03 – Slow-Roasted for Rich, Deep Flavor

This week we’re introduced to a new voice in this show’s “chorus”, the cafe owner’s daughter Asai Ami, who is also a senior and thus Sakurai’s senpai at college. Like her dad, Ami is an enthusiastic observer of people, but in her case that observation sometimes descends into ogling.

Sakurai’s tall frame and swimmer’s physique highly attractive, and can tell other women who frequent the cafe feel the same. When she meets Uzaki-chan and gets a taste of her dynamic with Sakurai, her desire to observe more of their hijinx quickly outweighs her carnal interest in his muscles.

After a frankly ridiculous instance of Sakurai spilling an entire pitcher of ice water on himself and Uzaki, he catches a bad cold and can barely move. Thankfully the cafe owner gives Uzaki his address, and she comes by to assess the situation. With no medicine or food in the house, Uzaki is eager to roll up her sleeves and show she can nurse as well as she can tease.

Between straightening out his kitchen and preparing some tasty rice porridge, wiping down his sweat, and sticking around after giving him medicine until he falls asleep, Uzaki proves quite capable of taking care of him in a pinch. As such, Sakurai’s opinion of her improves greatly…even if her frustration with a video game keeps him awake a bit.

To celebrate his quick recovery (not to mention the passing of an important step in their relationship), the cafe owner and Ami take Sakurai and Uzaki out for Korean BBQ, where Uzaki again makes sure he as many cuts of grilled meat as he can handle. While Uzaki is washing up, Sakurai assures his boss and Ami that “it’s not like that” between him and Uzaki; he values his solo lifestyle and doesn’t want to cause trouble for Uzaki vis-a-vis rumors.

The owner and Ami can communicate telepathically, so they agree that rather than meddling they should be patient and let things play out. It’s like Ami’s pops says, it’s like coffee: letting the beans slowly roast than painstakingly brewing them for the best flavor.

The next day at college, Uzaki tries to hypnotize Sakurai with a 5-yen coin to call her by her first name, like he calls his co-worker Ami by hers. She feels that considering how long they’ve known each other (regardless of how much contact they had earlier on) the least he could do is not address her with “heys” and “look heres”.

It’s one of the first times Uzaki mellows from her usual bubbly hyperactive manner, and Sakurai responds seriously, by getting down on a knee and apologizing sincerely. That said, he’s not usually comfortable calling girls by their first name.

As for not gathering a crowd hypnosis antics, he is unsuccessful, as the consensus of observers is that they’re a couple of “love dummies”. The fact he can so easily hypnotize her means she trusts him a great deal, and he no doubt trusts her more after she took care of him when he was sick. With that mutual trust established, the careful slow-roasting of their relationship can proceed.

Kakushigoto – 12 (Fin) – Lifting the Veil

Kakushigoto’s finale is truly a crowd-pleaser, and I mean that in the best way. It spends its entire runtime in the “future” and painstakingly reveals all of the mysteries and answered all of the questions we might’ve gathered from the slow trickle of information throughout the season. It expertly released and justified all that built-up anticipation to deliver one satisfying reveal after another—including several secrets we didn’t consider!

For one thing, neither we nor Hime had any idea Kakushi was the love child of a kabuki actor and his mistress (though it explains a lot!). We didn’t know he had a half-sister, who had a son the same age as Hime, who visits her at the Kamakura house.

Among the other blanks of Kakushi’s story are also filled in, we learn that for ten years after his wife was lost at sea he spent a significant amount of his income on continued searches, not believing she was gone. When Hime was in middle school the tabloid article came out that killed his confidence in ever being able to make readers laugh again.

After finishing Tights and putting his pen down for good, Kakushi took on a number of menial labor jobs, culminating in perhaps the most ironic and symbolic accident imaginable: in a forklift accident he was crushed by a palate full of the very manga publication he quit drawing for.

Kakushi has been in a coma for over a year, but he same day Hime’s cousin visits her, he regains consciousness, and Ichiko and the Detective Agency escort Hime to the hospital, where they learn that he has amnesia—specifically,  he has no memories of the last seven years.

For Hime to finally see her father awake only for him to not recognize her seems almost too cruel, but I was confident Kakushigoto would find a clever way for things to eventually work out. Sure enough, the key to restoring Kakushi’s memories is the thing he loved doing for a living, despite keeping it secret from Hime.

Kakushi’s seven-year gap means he’s stuck in the time when Hime was ten (i.e. all those episodes that felt like the present at the time but are now the past). As such, he believes Tights in the Wind is still in publication…and he’s eager to get back to work.

His old team of assistants (including Rasuna, who is now an accomplished mangaka in her own right, with Tomaruin as her editor) gets back together, and turn the hospital room into a studio. Assuming Hime is a new assistant, he asks her to go to his house and make sure his daughter isn’t lonely. Of course, her daughter will always be least lonely when she’s with her dad.

Seeing her dad working for the first time is momentous for Hime; so much so that seeing him so happy doing what he loves makes her hesitant to continue efforts to restore his memories. He’ll get back the good times in the last seven years, but also all the heartbreak and despair.

What ultimately sways her is when she asks him if he’s happiest being able to continue drawing his manga, and he says no; the one thing that makes him happier than anything would be Hime growing up big and healthy. Hime rushes back to Kamakura, the Detective Agency in tow, and returns to the room with all of his manuscripts of the last seven years.

As Kakushi looks them over and remembers drawing them, he also remembers moments of Hime’s life that took place when he drew them. As the veil on those seven years of memories is pulled back, he watches Hime grow into the 18-year-old woman before him and finally recognizes his daughter. His first instinct, of course, is to try to hide the manga from her; to maintain the secret.

Now, as Kakushi prepares a comeback (perhaps with a story very similar to what we just watched…very meta!), we see the tables have turned: Hime has secrets of her own, like the fact that while she’s an accomplished and award-winning painter following her mother’s father’s footsteps, she also has a passion for drawing manga, something she’ll keep secret from her dad for a while. It’s only fair!

Kakushigoto was a beautiful blending of the clever, sometimes goofy, sometimes artfully intricate “miscommunication” humor of author Kumeta Kouji with genuine and powerful emotional stakes. It never felt too melodramatic or goofy because the drama and levity were always so well balanced. Indeed, that made it feel more real, despite how convoluted some of the mysteries and secrets turned out to be. The wit was sharp, while the heart was always warmed.

No matter how many walls or veils or feints Kakushi put up to keep his precious daughter from the truth of his livelihood, he couldn’t hide his true passion from her forever. Nor could the truth that whether he could feed that passion for a living or not was immaterial in the face of his overarching priority: ensuring Hime had a stable, happy childhood full of laughter and fun.

Hime is as stunningly awesome and beautiful an adult as she was an adorable, air-headed kid, and she has a bright future whether she pursues painting, manga, both, or neither. It can be said without reservation: Papa did good.

Kakushigoto – 11 – Out With a Bang

When Hime calls for a “family meeting”, the fact there’s no dedicated meeting room in their house becomes an issue. As Kakushi goes on a walk to ruminate about it, he encounters two others dreading their own meetings in Tomaruin and Ichiko.

Of course, when all three converge at a disused well (the ancient equivalent of a water cooler), they each assume the other two are talking about their own meeting, and come away with heightened opinions of each other. Tomaruin’s editor’s meeting results in him securing a fancy dinner for himself, Kakushi, and the Editor-in-Chief.

Kakushi interprets this as a signal that his manga is about to get the axe. The conversation remains vague and never gets to a point where Kakushi’s misunderstanding is resolved. When it does enter details, such as the EIC mentioning “colored pages”, Kakushi believes that’s finally being offered as a way for him to “go out with a bang”; in reality the EIC just thinks Kakushi wants colored pages after a long time without.

Kakushi then relays this misunderstanding to his assistance, and they not only take it well, they all believe the timing is perfect for them to travel, finish school, or work on their own thing. Because everyone thinks this is it for the manga and there’s nothing to lose, Kakushi goes all out, and both editors and readers respond favorably.

It isn’t until Hime’s friends’ detective agency locates a suitable spot for a meeting with her dad (i.e. another well) that Kakushi learns the manga isn’t going anywhere, and never was. Tomaruin loses the manuscript pages down a well, and when he’s counting them as he retrieves them, he sounds for all the world like a ghost.

This freaks out both Hime and Kakushi, postponing their meeting, and Kakushi has Roku pull Hime to safety before discovering it’s just his editor. Once he has the right of things, he informs the assistants, who were all gung-ho about moving on, and a dark cloud settles over their heads.

Ultimately the meeting Hime wanted was about learning to make karaage to bring to a friend’s birthday. Since she’s too young to deep-fry, she wants her dad’s help, and Kakushi warmly accepts. Fast-forward six months, and the eleventh episode portrays not one but two parties for Hime’s eleventh birthday.

The first one is a cookout with both Hime’s and Kakushi’s friends and associates, and a good time is had by all. The second is just for Hime, Kakushi, and Roku, with a cake and a gift of a music box. Hime looks forward to spending more years with her dad, thinking these good times will never end.

But at some point, we know they did, and Hime and Kakushi became separated…somehow. The show is still coy about the particulars, but the day Hime turns eighteen is decidedly grey and morose.  With a big old Roku beside her, Hime wistfully flips through the album of good times past and secures her music box.

Then there’s a sound at the door, and when she answers, a key and a map were left behind, along with a note stating “secrets lie here”, referring to the marked location on the map. With just one episode left, we’re sure to get the last pieces to make the clearest picture yet of What Exactly Happened between her eleventh and eighteenth birthdays, and—hopefully—What Will Happen Next.

Kakushigoto – 10 – Prayers, Secrets, and Ghosts

Kakushi gets his team to aim for completion of a new issue in order to score a longer period off, but he only becomes truly motivated when Hime wins an Izu hot springs trip for the period he was aiming for. We get a glimpse at the class division between artists (who can only manage “cheap, close, and short” vacations) and editors (who can go overseas, like Tomaruin to Hawaii). Kakushi ends up working so hard for Hime’s sake, he comes down with a fever, something not at all uncommon among artists who put their work before their health.

When Hime wrote the kanji for “crab” a hundred times and then won a vacation that includes all-you-can-eat crab, Kakushi’s friends decide to draw up some sutras, choosing to believe in the power of prayer. Mind you, Hime wasn’t trying to write a prayer, but punish herself for eating all the chocolate butter biscuits (which, for the record, never last long in my house). But the crab connection was too enticing to ignore particularly for Kakushi’s three suitresses, whose sutras are marriage themed.

Once the Gotou party of three arrives at the Izu onsen (the inn graciously allows pets, so Roku gets to come), the dog starts growling at the adjacent room, which has a suspicious “under renovation” sign and strange aura. Kakushi is also anxious about Hime going to the woman’s side of the baths all alone, and so recruits Rasuna and Ami to accompany her. Only when they’re about to go in, Hime comes out, having already enjoyed a nice bath, and showing that she’s a more responsible girl than her dad gives her credit.

Kakushi observes that inns such as this that once hosted classical Japanese writers and other people of note must have its share of secrets. However, while in the restaurant he watches as everyone starts confessing their secrets one by one, from revealing they’re older or have had work done or that a dog is a mutt and not a Chihuahua. Peer pressure starts building around Kakushi, but he’s saved by a scream from Rasuna, who saw a creepy shadow in the empty room where the famous writer died.

Both the shadow and Roku’s interest turn out to be an ordinary civet peeking in the window. In the morning, Hime learns of the ghost sighting, and while she maintains she’s scared of ghosts, she’s also glad they’re around. She then muses on the reason ghosts are rarely seen and can’t be touched, one of the possible reasons being there are so many ghosts of those who died the world would simply be too crowded for their corporeal forms. It’s Hime’s usual childish whimsy combined with a wisdom and a poetry beyond her years.

Speaking of beyond years…Future Hime remembers all the times her dad came through the veranda trying to put up a brave front, but her being able to sense that he was anxious or depressed about something. Now that she knows of his manga, she assumes that was the job he quit. Then we return to Future Tomaruin and Rasuna. Tomaruin mentions the book that said Kakushi quit because he wasn’t popular, but in reality, he put his pen down willingly.

Why? Simple: his wife was lost at sea in a highly-publicized accident. Rasuna posits that such a horrific tragedy was anathema to a gag manga artist’s mystique, and Kakushi came to believe he couldn’t make anyone laugh anymore due to the tremendous grief in his heart from the incident in his private life. Yet, as we see in the present day, he kept creating gag manga after his wife’s death, hid his grief from his readers (which obviously tracks with both his name and the show’s title).

So did the public reveal of his wife’s loss not come until the period between the present and future timelines? And if he’s not dead in the future, could he be searching for her? With two episodes remaining, some key connecting pieces of this bittersweet puzzle have yet to be revealed.

Kakushigoto – 09 – The Time Traveling Virtuoso

We’re nearing the end of June IRL, but in the world of Hidden Things December has come. That means the harrowing end-of-year grind when editors crack the whip on the creatives. So why is Kakushi’s team so upbeat? Because they’re expecting the reward of a fancy hotel Christmas party at the end of the tunnel. Kakushi was originally not going to go, but will use whatever methods of motivation are needed to get through the grind.

Leave it to Tomaruin to pop everyone’s balloon of motivation by informing them that due to the publishing recession the company will only be holding a modest bar-and-karaoke gathering. Still, Rasuna scrounges up an invite from a rival publisher Kakushi worked for a while ago, and they are having a fancy party they can attend. Kakushi can even bring Hime, since it’s unlikely anyone there will recognize him as a mangaka.

Throughout this talk of parties is a discussion on the use of titles like “sensei” or “virtuoso” to describe mangakas. Those on the rungs below a manga artist use them as terms of respect; editors use them mockingly or as an expression of resentment. Naturally, Tomaruin calls Kakushi both, and for both reasons!

Kakushi likes the idea of showing Hime the “dignity” of his fake office job through a fancy party, and to correct her misapplication of the word “chandelier” to more lowly disco balls. He even digs himself a bit of a hole by calling December by its old Japanese name, Shiwasu, describing it as a time “when all the senseis are running” (due to the end-of-year grind).

Hime’s penchant for misinterpreting words means she starts to believe that all runners she sees are senseis, even though all senseis are runners—including her dad when he runs to get her after a misunderstanding regarding party invitations.

Tomaruin (perpetual thorn in Kakushi’s side, him!) invites Nadila to the lame party, so she take Hime there instead of the fancy hotel. Having already seen a “chandelier” at the karaoke, Hime assigns the term “Cinderella” to the real chandelier at the hotel, since it resembles that character’s flowing dress.

Kakushi learns he’s safe in his suit (no higher-ups at the rival publisher will suspect a mangaka of wearing one), but he has a different problem: that’s right, Tomaruin. He crashes the party hoping to poach an artist, and looks for one based on their outward appearance. In this case, since female artists are popular, a girl in a frilly dress flanked by a man in a suit.

The first such person to match that description…is Hime. She thankfully doesn’t recognize Tomaruin, but by taking back the business card given to her, Kakushi learns that it’s not the first Hime has gotten. Despite Hime’s misgivings, she actually attracts a lot of attention as a child magazine model.

When word spreads that there’s a poacher from a rival publisher, the exits are blocked. Tomaruin is dressed up dingily by Kakushi and the assistants in order to escape safely, but Kakushi himself is briefly suspected as the poacher—he’s wearing a suit, after all!

The misunderstanding is cleared up when a higher-up recognizes him. He’s reimbursed for his destroyed suit, but the bare-chested Kakushi needs some covering to leave, and must settle for the same embarrassing loli shirt Tomaruin wore to pose as a mangaka.

It’s a night of books incorrectly judged by their covers, but Hime still had a lot of fun, and Kakushi’s true profession remains a secret, so we’ll call it a win for him. Before heading home, the father and daughter encounter the “virtuoso” of chandeliers: a dazzling LED stylized Christmas tree Hime calls a “Super Cinderella.” Kakushi wisely doesn’t try to correct her…let her have her own adorable terms for things!

The ever-so-brief obligatory flash forward provides one more clue about Kakushi’s future status in the form of another incorrect term: “disappeared”. His former assistant Shiji, now working at a bookstore, sells a book to a customer about three mangakas who disappeared, one of whom is Kakushi, before quietly declaring that a lie. My first thought? He kept drawing, but merely changed pen names. In any case, I’m fearing the worst about this future less and less.

Kakushigoto – 08 – Surpassing the Rough Draft

This episode’s first half concerns rough drafts of all kinds, starting with the rough draft of Hime’s new Puppy, whose name is still accompanied by (Tentative). Hime wants the puppy’s name to be perfect, but if she waits too long, it won’t know what name to answer to.

Hime’s own name wasn’t chosen by Kakushi—it was unveiled in a calligraphy ceremony to which he was just another spectator. Still, he can’t deny it’s a damn good name, regardless of where it came from. Similarly, Hime picks “Gotou Roku” after misunderstanding the pet registrar.

Kakushi has actually attached (Tentative) to the title of all his manga, only for the (Tentative) to be eventually dropped in the absence of a better name. Once a name is chosen, even a tentative one, it becomes harder to justify changing it as time goes on.

This phenomenon also applies to rough drafts, in which Kakushi can never quite match in ink the full essence of the original pencil-drawn line. This, despite the fact that finished manga requires ink, leading him to attempt to submit the rough drafts—a submission quickly rejected by the brass.

While on a visit to the storage house in Kamakura to return the painting of his wife and her dog, Kakushi stumbles across another painting by his father-in-law: a portrait of him, his wife, and Hime enjoying a meal in that very house. It’s titled “Ordinary Future Plans (Tentative)”, but the title isn’t what’s tentative, the future is.

It’s a beautiful, idealized initial vision Kakushi feels he’s not yet been able to surpass, and  may never be able to do so. But simply returning home to Hime to find she’s made a friend, Kayo, who claims Hime “saved her” by reaching out with a hand of friendship, helps puts things in perspective for Kakushi.

The second half of the episode is about anniversaries, be they weird random ones like the 38th anniversary of the comic book in which Kakushi’s manga appears (which can sometimes spell desperation and trouble ahead), to something more round and substantial, like the 100th chapter of his manga. The former has a fancy crest and heavy promotion; the latter goes largely un-celebrated, but for a “flash mob” frame Rasuna snuck in.

When Hime hides something she’s reading from Kakushi when he comes home, he suspects she may have received a love letter, and tells her to politely decline while following her to see what swine would try to ask his Hime out. It turns out to be an invite to a birthday party, which Hime actually wants to go to. She only wavers because she’s worried about all the extra work Pops would have to do for her birthday party.

Doing his best to realign her priorities from “not troubling daddy” to “celebrating milestones while she still can”, Kakushi assures her that not only will he be honored to work his butt off throwing an awesome party to which she can invite anyone and everyone she wants, but they’ll also have a party that’s just the two of them (plus Roku).

That last bit is important, because as soon as Hime sees Kakushi with the pretty cooking tutor in the kitchen, she becomes weary of losing her very important and exclusive father-daughter bond. That bond may not have been planned, nor did Kakushi plan on “being saved” by Hime like her new friend Kayo. But before he knew it, the (Tentative) became the final.

As Hime learns upon discovering a house in Kamakura just like the one she grew up in Nakameguro, which has a stained glass window depicting a happy family of three, a great deal was planned out prior to her awareness, from methods of upbringing to clothing and celebration guides. But it dawns on her that this house, which was initially meant to be her home, was abandoned in favor of the other house.

An older Tomaruin and Rasuna muse over the practicalities of Kakushi moving to an identical house closer to the city, in part so his assistants wouldn’t have to travel so far to work on manga with him. But despite not growing up in that first draft house in Kamakura, it’s clear Hime still had a happy childhood in its second draft in Nakameguro.

Kakushigoto – 07 – What They Grow Beyond

Hime voices interest in a puppy, and researches a bunch to prepare, she comes across the “ten commandments of dog ownership”, one of which is to spend as much time as possible with your dog, as chances are they’ll only live ten years. Having any lifetime put in such stark terms is particularly upsetting to Kakushi, who later equates it to the life of a manga artist.

Kakushi comes around to having a dog when he learns through Ichiko how having one will help an only child feel less lonely (though Ichiko is not an only child), just as Hime learns from some mothers in an alley that they (i.e. what she and Kakushi don’t have) are necessary to properly care for a dog. If they knew Hime’s situation they probably wouldn’t have said that within earshot. Meanwhile, the original litter of puppies all found homes, but Kakushi’s father-in-law produces one for Kakushi to present to Hime.

It’s not just any dog, but the descendent of the dog Hime’s mother had (and the subject of her father’s painting, which one of Kakushi’s assistants find at the ocean house). While the moms discouraged Hime a bit, the sight of the new puppy erases those doubts, and she vows to sleep beside the puppy on its first night home (though later ends up kind of between her dad and the puppy).

Kakushi’s father isn’t done with anonymous gifts for Hime: Kakushi comes home to find a baby grand piano has been delivered. Like the dog with the long and distinguished lineage, the piano is a kind of inheritance. That gets Kakushi and the assistants thinking about how assistants inherit some of their masters’ style, but because they end up doing most of the physical work, it’s more of a new synthesis. Similarly, as master age their skills often wane while their apprentices rise.

In the midst of all this talk of lineage, and inheritance in the present, some new clues are presented in the obligatory flash forward. Hime’s classmates tailed her to the seaside house, continuing their detective club from school, but also because they’re worried about her. Then Ichiko appears, shockingly not in a tracksuit, bearing “good news and bad news.”

This got me thinking: perhaps Kakushi isn’t dead yet in this timeline? Maybe he’s just ill, bedridden, and possibly near the end. Maybe during this time he told Hime about the house, finally revealing the hidden thing he’d kept hidden so long even at 18 she had no idea what he did for a living. And maybe the good and bad news relate to his present condition. Or maybe not.

In any case, the consistent trickle of future information is starting to create a conflict: While I’ve enjoyed the present-day adventures of Kakushi, Hime & Co. (and the ensuing comedy), I’m beginning to care more about these more drama-oriented future events. There are essentially two shows here running in parallel, with the future one by far getting the short end of the stick runtime-wise. We’ll see whether and how the show manages to bridge these two times.

Tower of God – 07 – Her Only Niece

When Endorsi’s heel breaks, Anaak takes advantage and pushes her off the edge, only for Endorsi to grab Anaak, ensuring her “niece” shares her long drop. Endorsi was taught that Princesses of King Jahad can never bear children (using the metaphor of fancy shoes that will never be worn).

But faced with the product of defying that taboo, knowing her mother treated her kindly, and knowing there’s nothing Anaak can do about her parentage softens the enmity between the two.

Funnily enough, their assured mutual defeat makes them rip targets for Shibisu and Hatz, who were stressing over finding two more friends. Khun devises a scheme whereby Bam will offer food in exchange for friendship.

Endorsi is broke and flattered by Hatz’s (canned) compliments and so can’t turn down food, while the specific dish Bam offers (chicken pie) just happens to be Anaak’s favorite. Thus the two princesses join the rest of the crew for lunch.

Rachel remains apart from the others, no doubt to remain as far out of Bam’s orbit as possible, and keeps buying bruised apples to save points. In the lavatory Endorsi admits she doesn’t really understand why Rachel is doing all this.

She won’t say anything about Rachel to Bam, but hopes what she seeks at the top of the tower is “worth more than” him. Rachel seems angered by the presumption, but her insistence on staying away from Bam is about to be tested.

The next test is an elaborate game of “tag” set in a large purpose-built venue. Rak and his counterpart passed their spear trials, so they get to sit the game out. Bam and Khun are on different teams (a first), while Bam is on Rachel’s (AKA Michelle Light’s).

Sure, she’s one of three Light Bearers on his team so who knows how much they’ll interact, but one imagines at some point they’ll come in contact and need to cooperate. How much longer can she keep up this thin charade?

While everyone gets individual points based on their performances, each team will get a windfall of 100k points if their “it” person reaches the goal and 200k if they capture Quant. As is typical of Tower of God, we get right down to business, with Khun orchestrating a multi-layered trap for Quant, one of the “it” people and a ranker.

Khun is also certain that Bam will fail in this game. Whether it’s because he and Khun aren’t on the same team, or because Bam and Rachel will inevitably sabotage each other again, or both, who can say, but Khun is rarely wrong. Then again, if anyone can prove him wrong, it’s Bam, the ultimate wild card.

Read Crow’s review of Episode 7 here.

Kakushigoto – 06 – Pride and Privilege

Someone keeps giving Hime expensive backpacks every year, despite the fact her dad already bought her one. Because she’s a kind and gentle soul, Hime tries to wear both at once, inspiring Kakushi. But to him, giving a kid a backpack is a privilege that must be earned and appreciated, not an obligation to be fulfilled.

When this philosophy is applied to the manga industry, Kakushi imagines a kind new world where everything is a privilege to be grateful for, whether it’s the artists being grateful for the privilege of having their art published, or the readers being grateful for the privilege of that art. But when taken too far, Kakushi ends up overextending himself, having accepted the privilege of too much extra work. Rasuna thinks he sounds like a corporate slave, but as he’s self-employed he’s more of a “man-slave”. 

We eventually learn that the mysterious serial backpack provider is Kakushi’s father-in-law, who judging from the Toyota Century is some kind of big shot. Kakushi still seems to hold a grudge for the man’s reluctance to allow his daughter to marry a gag manga. But now that Kakushi has been a father for ten years, he would feel the same way if Hime brought someone like him home. As Kakushi says, he’s “a freakin’ paradox.”

One of the extra tasks Kakushi took on to realize his Kind World was an autograph session, which is booked the same time as his day-date with Hime at the very popular and sought-after Kidzanira, where kids get to try out a bunch of adult jobs in a controlled environment. Fortunately, the bookstore where he’ll be signing autographs and the Kidzanira are in the same mall. But that also means a risk of Hime finding out his job, so his assistants take turns keeping an eye on her.

During the morning session Kakushi is convinced everyone in line is either someone he knows (Ichiko), a friend of someone he knows, or people paid by his editor to stand in line. The way he phrases his questions to the latter group furthers his misinterpretation of events. It’s not until after spotting a poster for a famous painter that he realizes that those in the line are there because they are legitimate fans who love and respect his work. Even a father and young son are united in their love of Balls of Fury.

Just as his confidence returns and he yells “I’m a manga artist, damnit!”, his exuberance accidentally knocks down a partition, revealing Hime in a cloud of smoke. For a moment it looks like the gig’s up, but Ichiko swoops in with a tremendously creative save, telling Hime she and Kakushi are at the “Kidzanira for adults” trying out different jobs. Even so, Hime doesn’t even recognize her dad in his manga uniform, so he didn’t have to worry. What he may have to worry about? Hime wanting to work in a bookstore!

Fast forward to the future, where the older Hime opens the “17” box to reveal envelopes full of manuscripts. At first she seems unmoved by the manga, which is about a father, mother, and daughter. It’s all so boring and ordinary…which is why as she continues to read the tears start welling up. There may not be swords or magic on those pages, but there is a bunch of real life; a life very familiar to Hime.

This closing scene is one more emotional “bomb” that had been intricately constructed in the “past” sequences that preceded it. All those mundane moments of her and Kakushi just living life together given gain deeper resonance in the future where he’s suddenly absent.

Despite Kakushi’s reservations—not to mention his father-in-laws about him—Hime may well fall for someone like him. Not because that person will be a gag mangaka, but because they’ll be kind and loving, and consider loving and caring for her to be an honor and a privilege…because that’s exactly what it is.