Koe no Katachi – (Film Review)

Koe no Katachi isn’t just the redemption story of a guy who bullied a deaf girl in elementary school, got caught, became ostracized, and came a hair’s length from offing himself. It’s more than just the tale of a deaf girl trying to do the best she can to fit into a world in which everyone else can hear. It isn’t just the story of a little sister being so worried about her big sister that she neglects her own life.

It’s all of those things, and far more. It’s really a story about all of us, because we all have flaws. We can’t always fix those flaws, either due to lack of understanding or guidance. All of us have at some point or another hurt others, or been selfish, just as others have hurt us or been selfish themselves. These are not unique qualities to have, they are the things that make us human.

Can people truly love themselves, or anyone else, completely unconditionally? Rarely. There are always conditions and compromises, and transactions. Words fly and are heard or not heard, but actions are felt, and ultimately they define us. Not one action or two, but all of the actions in one’s life, good or bad. And the sequence of those actions are crucial.

Ishida Shouya WAS a colossal dick in elementary school. He DID bully Nishimiya Shouko mercilessly until she had to transfer out. When confronted with his crimes, he DID lash out at his friends, who then turned on him one by one. But he’s trying to make things right; he’s trying to make amends. And he’s lucky; Shouko is as kind and forgiving in the present as she was in the past; almost to a fault.

And yet meeting Shouko again, seeing that she harbored no ill will, and even seemed interested in being friends with him aftrer all that happened, changes everything for Shouya. One by one, he makes friends again, through acts of kindness, forgiveness, and selflessness. Yet he learns that friendship isn’t a right attained by fulfilling qualifications or conditions, but about the simple gesture of reaching out and grasping someone else’s hand.

Of course, friendships can and almost always do get a lot more complicated. Back in elementary school, Shouya likely did what he did not just for personal amusement, but for approval and acceptance. When those things suddenly didn’t work, and in fact had the opposite effect, he was suddenly un-moored, and left with nothing but his own regret for all of the pain he caused.

But as long as there are other people in the world who will even consider sharing the same space or breathing the same air, recognizing pain and sharing it is the best way to go. We are social creatures. We may hurt each other sometimes, but we need each other to survive; to help each other live.

Whew…that’s probably enough pretentious babbling like I’m some kind of expert in psychology or sociology for one sitting! It’s just that Koe no Kotachi, as I said, is far more than the sum of its parts, and even those parts are phenomenal in their construction and presentation, be it its fully-realized and complex characters, KyoAni’s seemingly more obsessive-than-usual attention to human and environmental detail, marvelous dialogue, voice acting, music, etc.

Koe no Kotachi is BIG, and it’s often messy, much like life. There are moments of despair and disgust, but also moments of grace and astonishing beauty. Scenes filled with hate and loathing mixed with scenes of love, understanding, and camaraderie.

It’s immensely though-provoking and impeccably performed. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry (probably more than you’ll laugh) but mostly it will tear your heart to pieces and then meticulously reconstruct it, bigger and better than ever. Mostly it’s just really really good. I highly recommend it!

3-gatsu no Lion – 38

3GL is delivered in chapters, not episodes, so it’s not unusual for chapters that go long to pour into the next episode. That can sometimes seem random, but it also keeps the rhythm of the show fresh. And while we get three very different chapters, they all contain the same theme: Rei getting over his match and subsequent evening with Souya and rejoining mankind.

The Chairman gives Rei a call and is relieved both that Rei is fine and that he’s taking care of Souya. The Chairman throws a little dig at Rei for being so good at caring for others for his age, but he doesn’t know how much of an affect the Kawamoto sisters have had on him, and Rei may not even know he’s paying their kindness forward.

 

The Chairman also lets Rei in on a little-known fact: Souya’s hearing comes and goes, and the doctors can’t pinpoint anything other than “stess” as the cause.

There’s a great melancholy in the Chairman saying “just leave [Souya] alone and he’ll be fine”, but he’s proven right the next morning, when not only has Souya taken off before Rei, but paid for his room as thanks for assisting him yesterday.

Rei has a tendency to see Souya as some kind of god roaming the earth, unaware of its strange customs; one could also call him (shogi) royalty; a young king who has never had to live in the real world.

And when Souya is gone, the storm is gone as well, replaced by an almost fake-looking blue sky. The blinding white light of his “Souya Storm” match is back up in the sky, hanging there as the sun. It all feels like a weird dream, and Rei gets lost in it.

The sounds of school and other people around him gets muffled, replaced by the crisp sounds of the shogi pieces smacking against the board…almost like a tinnitus.

With the epic “White Storm” over, we get a titular—literal—”Restart” that gives us a fresh dose of the always-wonderful Kawamoto sisters.

Their half of the chapter plays like an after-episode omake, as they give us step-by-step instructions on how to make the perfect pork juice-marinated soft boiled egg, accompanying delectably tender braised pork.

It was nice to check into the sisters’ warm little world—particularly now that Hana (her hair up in a mature bun) is over her bullying ordeal and looking forward to seeing Chiho soon. But I couldn’t help but feel a bit worried by Rei’s text declining the dinner invite.

The last thing we need is him starting to follow in Souya’s footsteps, making the Fausitan deal of shogi divinity in exchange for utter and profound lifelong loneliness as the sounds of the world around him fades out. Let’s not go there, please!

When the chapter returns to Rei, who is so deep in the notes of his match with Souya Shimada has to stop him from getting trucked, my weariness for such a development lingered. However, once Shimada brings up Nikaidou, I was pleased to discover I had nothing to worry about.

Rei is at first shocked Nikaidou is already out of the hospital and playing matches, then worried for his classically shaky health. Shimada also tells him it’s likely Nik is feeling depressed since his absences have forced him to forfeit some matches, making rank demotion a possibility.

But Nikaidou isn’t depressed; he’s right where he wants to be, and when Rei checks in on him, he’s defeated an 8-dan with an all-new move he’s hopeful they’ll name after him. Seeing Rei there only compounds Nikaidou’s manic joy, and when Rei sees how wrong Shimada was and how happy his friend is, he can’t help but smile and laugh—something Souya could never do. I reckon Rei will be fine!

3-gatsu no Lion – 37

Rei has known Souya for years, but like everyone else, has regarded him as some kind of shogi diety, floating above the ground on a higher plane of existence…and shogi. But thanks to his win in the Newcomer Tournament, here he is, sitting opposite Souya, a real, living, breathing human being. Rei isn’t sure if Souya has strayed into his world, or if he has strayed into Souya’s.

As their commemorative match progresses, it’s pretty clear it’s the latter. And you know what? Rei likes it in Souya’s world! It’s a pretty chill place where he doesn’t feel the same pressures or emotions when facing previous opponents.

He’s in the eye of the white storm, where all is quiet, and where there is nothing but shogi, the next move, and the moves after that. Calm, tranquil, and refreshing almost to the point where Rei feels bad for insulting an opponent who defeated him.

And Souya does defeat him, mostly due to an error Rei knows he made the second he placed the piece. In the review, he makes the right move instead, and the Meijin nods. When Rei looks at the palm of his hand, Souya speaks the words “that’s what it’s like.”

Whether Rei can now feel the game through his fingers, the fact remains it was a good match. I’m glad Rei didn’t pull out a miracle win, because that frankly would have not lined up with all we know about Souya, mostly that he’s nigh unbeatable.

Rei doesn’t like losing, but at least he knows when a win simply isn’t in the cards; the gap is too wide, and he hasn’t figured out how he’ll catch up, if that’s even possible. And it wasn’t by any means an embarrasing loss; his match with Souya engendered much lively discussion among their shogi peers.

Last week Rei got his first taste of Souya-attempting-to-act-human at the pre-match reception, and was somewhat troubled by the fact Souya has always been profoundly alone.

Rei, as we know, has a fair amount of Kawamoto in him, and so when the bullet train service is suddenly suspended, he takes care of a disoriented Souya, who proceeds to follow Rei around like a lost puppy.

That being said, Souya has been on this earth longer than Rei, and so whenever Rei can’t find what he’s looking for among the chaotic crush of the station, Souya always seems to quietly point out the proper way forward, be it the ticket booth, finding an inn for the night, and finding an exit that won’t get them drenched.

But yeah, if Souya isn’t physically deaf, he’s certainly close to it…as if he cast off the need to hear sounds because sound isn’t required in shogi.

GANGSTA. – 11

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As Corsica’s hunters (AKA the “Destroyers”) begin bombing the Paulklee district to dull Twilight senses, Delico leaves Monroe’s mansion to find his sister Erica and deal with her, with his colleague Yang tagging along. Doug tries to get back to base, but gets an X-slash across the chest. And the axe girl with the everlasting lollipop and funky manicure is unimpressed with the quality of opponents, calling them “a pile of crap.”

Notable in their total (rather than partial) absence from the episode? Nic and Worick. And yet the episode does just fine without the Handymen, giving the supporting cast room to breathe and be fleshed out a tad more (though without any lengthy flashbacks).

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Central to the episode is the semi-secret romance between Marco and Connie, the latter of whom says goodbye with sign language in a way that suggests she’s going to end up in danger before the day is done. Yet between this, Ally taking care of the kid at the Handymen’s, and Delico’s Erica-Hunt, the Destroyer’s chaos isn’t as far reaching as last week suggested…at least not yet.

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It doesn’t take long for Sig to carve her way to Gina Paulklee’s bedroom window, where she’s just waking up (with Ginger, who we now know is also her lover). But Gina ends up agreeing with Sig that the place is a cesspool. Her point is, so what? Now that Sig has come to this point, neither she nor her Destroyer partner are authorized to act, and even when her partner does go after Gina, Ginger snaps his knife with her bare hand. Sig’s axed her way through soft wood, but now she’s up against tougher stuff, and it’s good to see the doubt in her eyes for the first time.

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That particular standoff ends in a Destroyer retreat, but the rest of them continue to move, and the damage is done. Delico and Yang run into Heather, the sister of a six-year-old killed by Erica, hoping she’ll lead them to her, and Doug bleeds out in Gal’s arms rather than accept a downer Celebrer. It would seem Doug has had enough of the Gangsta life, and is content to take his chances in the afterlife.

One Destroyer is a raven-haired beauty who wants smokes, and the town tobacconist just happens to be Connie’s grandmother, who is out. Connie gets her the smokes, but the woman can’t help but smell Marco on her. Marco, sensing Connie is in danger arrives only to find her hat. If the Destroyers are going to start taking normal hostages, the Twilights care about, that’s only going to make things more difficult in the finale next week, where I’m guessing Nic and Worick will pop back out of the shadows.

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GANGSTA. – 10

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No Summer show is better at setting a specific mood and atmosphere and flow to its episodes than the sometimes painfully hip GANGSTA., and a lot of the credit has to go to the super-smooth hip-hop stylings of Tsutchie, also known for his work on Samurai Champloo.

And while there’s certainly dread in the air in the aftermath of the first of many battles in Ergastulum, the mood the score evokes tends more to the tentative, and to a status quo everyone is struggling against fate to maintain. Many Twilights died, but many more remain alive, many of them children, who need to be protected here, in the only place there is for them.

That’s definitely going to be more difficult with a fresh squad of serious-looking Twilight Hunters entering the town, ready to continue what Erica and Mikhail started at Bastard.

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Rather than a calm before a storm, we’re in the relatively calm eye for much of this week. Connie reveals she’s Marco’s lover as the two embrace in Dr. Theo’s clinic, while Connie also embraces Ally as thanks for protecting Miss Christiano. Ally takes care of the orphaned baby of a Twilight killed in the fray as Loretta rests. Nina makes sure Nicolas rests up and heals. Everyone is waiting for the other shoe to drop.

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That shoe starts to drop, as the eye of this storm begins to drift away from Ergastulum and the clouds and rains of violence proceed. Worick accidentally bumps into one of the new Hunters in town, whose look and smirk he doesn’t like one bit, while a scantily-clad, crazy-eyed blonde with an ax in her hands and a lollipop in her mouth, begins a one-woman assault.

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As Loretta assures Ally in the Handymens’ office that Bastard will open for business tomorrow, without delay, because it has to—as Al says, the people who rely on Loretta have nowhere else to go—Doug is sent out to meet the ax girl, and the guys who go with him are quickly taken out. While I’ve seen my fair share of cute homicidal girls, I can’t remember a time when a guy was viciously hacked in half to the tune of such chill music.

Once again, the bad guys have fired the first shots. At this point, I’d advise putting Ginger on the front line and letting her have at it. But I know no one Twilight will be able to stop this brash new posse of overpowered super-hunters, of whom Ally’s bro is a member. It’s going to take more teamwork, and a lot of luck.

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GANGSTA. – 09

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Alex’s gorgeous song, and the momentary tranquility it brought, is over less than a minute before the Corsicas attack Bastard, first with a token B-rank twilight whose daughter is being held hostage, then with the two twilight hunters, Mikhail and Erica, who prove more than a match even for Loretta’s best men, Galahad and Marco.

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Mind you, there was almost enough time after Alex’s song for Loretta to finish inviting her to stay at a room at Bastard if she needs a place, but then the club proceeds to be torn apart as Loretta’s men battle the hunters. Gal and Marco are able to restrain Mikhail, but when Erica is ordered in by Ivan Glaziev, the tables turn quickly, and are then turned into kindling.

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The Handymen get word of the chaos unfolding at Bastard, and Worick sends Nic in to buy him five minutes while he fires a flare that the Paulklee Guild, Dr. Theo, and the police all see. I liked how the flare was reflected in so many different windows, connecting all the people in various parts of Ergastulum’s labyrinth and drawing them to the action.

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When Erica is about to kill Marco, the honorable Loretta can’t help but defend her man, but both she and Alex empty their clips at Erica, she deflects them all and they end up on the wrong side of her sword. That’s when Nic arrives to save Alex and Loretta and buy Worick five minutes to assemble backup, during which Galahad tells Ally that Nic is only an A/0 when he overdoses on Celebrer Uppers; otherwise he’s a B/5 at best. In other words, a “faker.” Nic also pegs Erica as Delico’s estranged sister.

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A/0 or no, Nic gets Worick his five minutes, but no more, as Erica’s about to kill him too when Ginger blasts in and shuts Erica and Mikhail down, with Doug in tow. There’s every indication Ginger is one of if not the strongest twilight in Ergastulum, and her presence forces the hunters to retreat as the police also arrive.

We then see Uranos Corsica talking with Ivan, who has Erica licking her wounds in his lap, when the newest member of their little team, эсминец (“Destroyers”), arrives, and it’s yet another sibling: Alex’s brother. Emilio. Now one of her primary rationales for leaving Ergastulum has followed her there, and he’s with the bad guys.

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GANGSTA. – 08

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GANGSTA.’s finest episode yet gets off to a wonderful start, as the Handymen are…actually doing handyman work, fixing up Constance’s shot-up gun shop. They’re even wearing matching overalls. It shows us that their service to their community isn’t just “dirty work” involving intimidation, violence and/or bloodshed.

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This show sometimes runs the risk of getting too serious, stodgy, or sappy, but avoids all of them by getting a little cheeky this week, from Constance grabbing what she thought was Ally’s fake boob (it isn’t), to her Granny sticking her cane into Worick’s buttcrack for loafing. These little moments of incidental comedy keep the darker stuff going on from taking over completely.

When Constance starts asking Ally innocuous questions about her family, Ally remembers she has a little brother at East Gate, but her memories of him are blurred and transition into more hallucinations of bloody Barry, indicating she needs to take her stabilizer. When her hands are shaking too much, Nic is there to calm her.

As you can see, the screencap can be very misleading; a big burly guy suddenly coming from behind would usually spell trouble, but here it’s Nic saving Ally from descending in a more serious episode. He brings her back.

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Worick apologizes for letting Ally out of her sight, but it’s telling that Nic has his back even in this instance. He also tells Ally that her memories will return as the drugs leave her system. Ally really is in a kind of purgatory right now, without sufficient information to go one way or another. What Worick suggest, however, is that whatever her memories are, when she gets them back would be a good time to leave Ergastulum.

He can’t promise her she won’t end up back under the control of drugs or the heel of another pimp if she stays, because he’s not sure if he’s going to still be alive tomorrow. It’s a volatile place that just happens to be calm…now.

Also for now, Ally is for all intents and purposes, one of the Handymen, so Worick brings her along to a Christiano soiree at their nightclub, Bastard; a fitting name for a club where Twilights—essentially the bastards of science and humanity’s hubris—are welcome.

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Once at the club, Ally curls up in a balcony window and loses track of Worick and Nic, who are busy rescuing Twilights from Anti-Twilight hunters. But on this otherwise clear, serene night, with her gorgeous evening dress and glass of wine, Ally feels perfectly at ease for the first time in a long, long time.

When she starts to hum the song being played downstairs, Loretta’s right-hand Twilight Galahad lets her in on Christiano’s under-the-table protection of Twilights, using the club as a front of sorts, just as the soiree is a front of sorts for the Handymen’s activities. Then he insists she take the stage and sing, which is why Worick brought her, having heard her humming before.

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I don’t know if this is what Worick planned for all along (he’s a pretty sharp, chess-playing kinda guy after all), but when Ally is literally put on the spot, she doesn’t disappoint, giving a gorgeous, soulful rendition of a song that almost plays like a lullaby, a song about putting your fears aside because everything’s going to be okay, and a new day will come. The show expertly cuts from her singing to Worick and Nic brawling, and I drew a parallel between the soundless fighting and how it’s a lot like how Nic lives in the world.

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The song takes up a lot of time, but rather than feel like too long, I almost didn’t want it to end. I love GANGSTA.’s penchant for giving parts of its episodes room to breathe, drawing us deeper into its world. And Ally’s song turns out to be a form of therapy when the blurry images of her little brother come into focus and she remembers singing it to comfort him when he was sad.

So her memories did come back just as Worick said they would, and faster than I expected. She’s also found out quite by accident that she’s not a bad nightclub songstress, further excising her of the persistent self-hatred and perceived worthlessness the drugs induced. So, will she stay or go…or go, find her bro, and come back?

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Worick isn’t wrong when he says Ergastulum isn’t the best place for souls such as Ally’s, because the guys he and Nic were fighting were merely ineffectual foot soldiers. The elites have yet to strike, and when they do, they will surely destroy all of the peace and serenity Ally got a well-needed taste of that night.

Ally isn’t a Twilight, nor is she a soldier, but before she knows it, her present residence will become a battlefield, and Worick and Nic may not have an eye to spare for her in the impending chaos.

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GANGSTA. – 07

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Another night, another nightmare Worick has about the day his life changed and became inextricably tied with Nicolas’. Only this time, Ally is there to give him a comforting hug to calm him down. This week fills in most of the remaining blanks of that fateful day, giving us a full picture of that early scene of a blood-soaked Nic standing over Worick, missing an eye. In short: it isn’t quite what I thought went down, but that’s a good thing.

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But first, both thanks to Theo and Nina, Nic and Doug are all fixed up, and Nic thanks Nina by taking her on a ride as he does his flying-between-buildings thing, which looks terrifying and hella fun at the same time. It’s a great little scene, because it shows how close Nina and Nic are, and how much Nina trusts him, but also that neither Doug nor Nic hold any grudges against each other. If anything, Doug is embarrassed most of what he said during the fight went unheard by his one-time opponent. Doug also learns that Nic is a rogue, like him, and from the West Gate, which is a big deal.

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As Monroe, Paulklee, Corsica and Christiano (whose boss is a schoolgirl) meet in a dark smoky room trying to maintain balance in Ergastulum, Ally is with Dr. Theo trying to do the same thing with her head. He has her on mild tranq to keep her calm and is optimistic she’ll eventually recover now that she’s not seeing her dead pimp anymore.

Ally also gets to break out her newly-learned sign language to thank Nic and ask if she can hang around for the time being. Does Nic really not understand her “weird” signs, or was her message fully received, with Nic essentially replying that of course she can stay; that she didn’t even have to ask. Thus Ally really connected with both of her handymen roommates this week.

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That brings us to that day, or rather that night the show has given us glimpses of for many weeks now. Turns out Nicolas didn’t randomly kill Wallace’s family in some kind of contract job. In reality, Wallace saved Nic’s life by buying a supply of Celebrer to keep him alive. The mercenaries fired him, leaving him with Wallace.

When Wallace’s abusive father found out Wallace was smoking, he puts the cigarette out in Wallace’s eye, a scar he still carries on his face. Nic made the sign for “kill”, and saw Wallace’s lips word something, which he took as an order to kill…everyone, including himself, when he was done with everyone else. Wallace stops him, telling him he can’t die until he’s suffered more; much more.

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So there you have it: Wallace sic’ed  Nic on his father and family, not knowing the full extent Nic would go, and unable to undo what he did, took it upon himself to stay with Nic to ensure he’d endure the punishment of a long, tortured life. But has the life Nic has lived really been worse than a quick death? In reality, it hasn’t been all bad, what with he and Worick developing a friendship and symbiotic business relationship…not to mention getting to hang out with Good People like Nina and Ally.

These years have proven Nic hasn’t just been pretending to act like a human. He is one, albeit a deeply damaged one. Still, every time his bad eye hurts, Worick remembers that night, and remembers the hatred he had for Nic and all Twilights, while simultaneously pitying him/them. And there’s a nasty, efficient-looking pair out there hunting down and mutilating great numbers of Twilights. Nic is almost certainly one of their targets. And it’s clear there’s a part of Worick—perhaps residing in that festering eye socket—that doesn’t care if this is where Nic finally exits.

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GANGSTA. – 06

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Nic spends the episode recovering from his injuries (Paulklee shot him with drugs, not bullets) under Nina’s admirable ministrations as the clouds continue to dump rain on Ergastulum, as if to wash away the blood of the last battle. But the duel with Doug and the shootouts that accompanied it may only be a taste of what’s to come, as the Corsicans are about to throw off the delicate balance that has been sustained by going after the Christianos, a family beholden to Monroe.

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It’s fitting in an episode called “THORN” that everyone deals with various literal and emotional thorns in their sides or minds. Both Nic and Worick carry a lot of baggage from their highly traumatic pasts. Nic was the son of a prostitute shanghaied into mercenary service; Wallace is the unwanted and unloved son of a drunk, violent crime boss whose light we know is destined to go out.

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Wallace got over his prejudice for his perceived low-rent bodyguard and befriends Nic and even teaches him to read and write, most likely out of a desire to have one friend in his life; someone who doesn’t curse his existence. While we’re still missing a couple of bits and pieces in the middle, the genesis of their friendship, which would persist for decades to the present, is making more and more sense.

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Ally has her own thorn in the form of  withdrawal due to an appalling drug her pimp plied her with regularly in order to keep her submissive and in line. The horror movie scene that ended last week’s episode turned out to be hallucinations from that withdrawal, and Dr. Theo informs Worick that Ally has yet to fully recover, though it will happen with time. Some thorns can’t be removed too quickly.

When a shoeless, rain-soaked Ally kisses Worick on the street, it’s filmed as if it were a climactic, passionate romantic scene, right up until she tries to undo Worick’s pants and we realize she’s still hallucinating Barry, and is ready to do anything to him if only he doesn’t hurt her. Ironically, Worick does technically hurt her—by head-butting—in order to snap her out of it (not sure how that works medically, but whatever), but since her head’s harder than his he ends up hurting himself more.

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At any rate, it’s one of the show’s best scenes, and combined with Nic’s recovery, the Handymen and their administrative assistant are back in business…just in time for another war. Even in his hospital bed, Nic looks as ready as ever to take on whole battalions on his own, but a part of me thinks Worick would really rather just kick back in his apartment and talk about his crappy day with Ally-chan.

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GANGSTA. – 05

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As fellow A/0 Tags Nic and the dreadlocked kid fight furiously up on the rooftops, the normal gangsters take bets below. but when Worick arrives, he determines not only that Nic is depending on an overdose of Celebrer to fight and shrug off his stab wounds, but that the kid words for the Paul Klee Guild, and Nic shouldn’t even be fighting him.

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Of course, the kid, Doug, took the job to take out Monroe for the opportunity to fight a fellow A/0, and is loving the fight, but when he’s winded and Nic hasn’t broken a sweat, he realizes the fight is tainted. This is drugs, not merely natural talent and skill, at work. Finally, Doug’s master, Gina Paulklee of the guild, arrives with her very able assistant Ginger, to break up the fight and punish both Doug and Nic with multiple gunshots.

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Such is the price of going against the “Three Laws” instituted once Tags were freed from slavery. We finally learn what they are thanks to Gina: “Don’t take action against Normals”, “Obey your master”, and “Defend Yourself”. To break one of those laws is to upset the delicate balance of Ergastulum, which Gina and her guild work to maintain.

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Doug is left for dead, but Worick can and wishes to only carry one person, and that’s the wounded Nic, to Dr. Theo’s, where Nina looks after him. Meanwhile, Alex is seeing her old pimp in the alley even though he’s supposed to be dead, and even hears him coming up the stairs to the Handymen’s office. When Worick calls, the office is abandoned.

Did the pimp survive, or is Alex merely hallucinating due to PTSD? I’m guessing the latter. Either way, the fifth episode ends with our trio of protagonists roughed up physically and emotionally. I’m guessing next week won’t be the beach episode…

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GANGSTA. – 04

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Another day in the life of GANGSTAs reveals new details about Worick (formerly Wallace) Arcangelo and his partner (formerly his bodyguard). Notably, Worick wouldn’t make a bad detective, owing to his preternatural talent for memorization. Chad, who’s known these men since they were 17-year-old boys, periodically brings them in to appease the higher-ups, but makes use of Worick’s skills in identifying some suspiciously cleanly carved-up bodies.

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As far as the present-day goings-on, Ally continues to wring her hands over whether to stay or go (knowing the last girl who lived with the Handymen almost died) and one of their clients, Danny Monroe, and his men end up in a spot of trouble with a kukri enthusiast. Those events are punctuated by flashbacks going back to the day Wallace met Nicolas. Back then, Wally could basically read any book in a minute, and grew bored and restless with his education and stifling living situation.

When he learned Nic was deaf, he felt insulted to have a “defective” guard, but at the same time, Nic gives off an irresistible aura of wildness and freedom (even if Nic is far from free). We also learn more about the “Twilights” and why they’re called that: as the victims (or children of victims) of combat doping gone wrong.

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Whatever the case ends up being, the two seem pretty tight in the present, as both professional partners and brothers of a kind. These scenes also bring up the question: did Nic just snap and kill Wally’s fam and take his eye…or did Wally ask him to blow up his life? There are still key gaps in their backstory, but the show is doling them out at a pretty good clip, and with Nic facing off against a fellow “A/0” ranked Twilight (and a sprightly one at that), I wouldn’t be surprised if Worick will lend a hand next week.

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GANGSTA. – 03

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GANGSTA’s first two episodes were anchored by big confrontations with Bad Guys, or at least people who are darker grey than our lead guys Worick and Nic, but this week is more of a Day-in-the-Life-in-Ergastulum affair as we shadow Ally as she helps out with deliveries of Dr. Theo’s drugs throughout the town. In the process, she learns a lot more about the town she apparently didn’t know too well before, and much more about her two employers; almost more than she probably wanted to know.

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But before that, we get a glimpse into Woricks (likely periodic) dreams in which he relives the night he met Nic: when Nic came to murder his family and stab his eye out back when he was thirteen. This puts their relationship in an entirely new light, introducing the possibility that Worick could be long-suffering Stockholm victim who simply went with the flow of where events took him.

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Worick shoos Ally out along with Nic because he has a lady caller; apparently one of his many jobs is gigolo, and apparently a well-regarded one as his client seems pretty well-off and discriminating (she also drives an old Jag…or is that an Alfa?)

It makes sense that he wouldn’t want to upset clients by having another woman around his pad…but perhaps he also didn’t want to make a federal case out of his other job to Ally, and would rather she figure it out organically from clues and the words of others.

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He eventually joins up with Nic and Ally. The latter gets to witness a variety of Ergastulum happenings, like a mobster trying to win Nic back into the fold (saying he can bring Worick along too) while disposing of bodies. They also visit a brothel where Worick once worked (and likely learned his trade after his kidnapping by Nic), where the madame treats him with some degree of maternal tenderness.

Dr. Theo’s drugs are for a very ill woman who doesn’t seem to be getting better; someone Nic seems close to. Ally agreed to work for the Handymen; now that the curtain is being pulled back a bit, there are still some doors that close in front of her she dare not push back open.

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And that gets to the advice of the old shop woman who knows what brand of cigs Worick sent Ally out to buy for him. She tells Ally not to linger around these two chaps too long. Heck, even Worick warns her not to stay in Ergastulum too long, or she’ll be stuck there just like everyone else.

For a second, it looks like Ally takes the woman’s advice, but she doesn’t go far; just to the alley where she and Worick first met. There, she asks Worick if he ever thinks about the “why”…whether it’s why Nic killed his family and kidnapped him, or why he’s a gigolo, or a host of other whys. But all Worick can say is “good question.”

Does this life make him happy? Is he weak, or passive, or complacent? Who knows. But Ally could probably answer Worick if he asked: “Why stay?” Because where else is there to go? The way Ergastulum is presented to us, there may as well be an empty void beyond its walls. Something is better than nothing, and the knowable and inscrutable are less frightening than the unknown.

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Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 04

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I think I’m still in shock. Happy shock. My heart is still racing. What the hell just happened? What did I watch? What did I just experience? I’ll tell you what that was: It was far more than a violin competition entry with piano accompaniment, play-by-play, and color commentary. That was a frikkin’ journey with no clear destination. That was nothing less than one of the finest and most riveting episodes of anime I’ve ever seen.

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Perhaps so strong a reaction is a product of having sat through most of half hour with almost no dialogue whatsoever, aside from the occasional comment from a stunned onlooker. We’re in that audience along with them, in this vast dark, dusty chamber that’s only a room until someone picks up an instrument and starts to wield a kind of wordless magic.

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That pure sound emanating from piano and violin taps into our most fundamental emotions of joy and pain. The silence is a canvas; Kaori and Kousei are charged with filling it. And fill it they do. But first, the buildup. Oh, God, the build-up before the Big Game. Once off that bike and miming the sheet music, things start to get real for Kousei, and he starts to get lost in that black and white.

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Kaori headbutts him, even a little harder than she intended; she’s nervous too! But neither of them are going out there alone. They’re going to play together, and she belives the two of them can do it together. She leaves no room for protest as she grabs his hand and leads him to the stage. We, and Kousei, don’t know it, but this is the moment of departure on the journey Kaori takes him on. He says she’s “freedom itself,” out loud. “I’m not,” she rebuts. “Music is Freedom.”

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With that, they take the stage, and Kousei endlessly adjusts his bench as some in the crowd starts to recognize him. They’re voices he can hear; they sound similar to the voices he heard when he was a prodigy, when his mother had essentially placed him in a hermetic prison with musical bars he could not hope to bend. But back then, just as now, he does not blame his mother. He felt honored to be the recipient of her wisdom and guidance; whatever pain he felt, it was the price of being able to bear that greatness.

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Trying to remember Kaori’s words — music isn’t a prison, it’s freedom — the two begin, and Kaori goes easy on him at first. Her initially docile play gives him time to find his bearings. Almost like riding a bike, his body remembers what to do, and the fact he can hear his own notes encourages him. Then Kaori gives him a look, and he knows she’s about to turn off the main road of their journey and enter some dense brush. He can keep up like she knows he can, or he can get lost.

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I knew as soon as the started playing that things could go south at any time without warning, like they did at the cafe, so I watched with a lump in my throat and a slight weight in my chest. The brilliance of the episode is its depiction of Kousei getting lost back in his deep sea, the water and darkness washing around him and us. The gradual and increasing distortion of the music is as emotionally effective as it is technically impressive.

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Eventually, things get so bad for Kousei, he can barely hear anything at all, and he stops, worried he’ll ruin Kaori’s playing. Then Kaori stops too. When they both stop, everything from a competition standpoint is over. But this isn’t about a competition, it’s about Kaori and Kousei’s journey. He’s tripped and fallen and can’t – or won’t get up, but Kaori isn’t going to leave him behind. She doesn’t want to continue on alone.

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But wait…we’re only a little over halfway through the episode. Things are bleak, but a comeback is still possible! Lest we forget, a tearful Kaori begged Kousei to help her prove she could do this, that they could do this. She’s not annoyed Kousei stopped; she’s scared. He has to get up and they have to keep going. “Again,” she says. They start playing again, but Kousei is still in the trippy sea, the currents choking the notes.

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Then Kousei remembers his mother singing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” during a happier time. He remembers her telling him “The Piano Is You.” Caress it like an infant and it coos; bang its keys and it roars. Kousei digs deep and changes his strategy: he’ll stop worrying about hearing the notes and merely imagine them, playing with his whole body.

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He starts playing like a man possessed; like a man one with the piano, and he even starts getting into it with Kaori, as he stops being her accompanist and morphs into her opponent. He’s back on his feet and racing ahead; and she’s more than game to chase him!

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He’s no longer behind the musical bars. Kaori, and the music, has sprung him, and sprung him righteously. He’s no longer looking down, he’s looking up, looking at Kaori, smiling, full of joy, and Kaori’s looking right back at him, no less overjoyed that they’ve recovered so splendidly. This is what she saw in him.

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POOR TSUBAKI!!! T_T

And as they get lost in each other’s eyes and music, they put the whole of the audience under a spell. Tsubaki, who jumped up and cheered when he started playing again, adopts a pained, defeated expression when she realizes what’s going on between the two. Next to her, Ryouta becomes ever more lovestruck with Kaori.

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The episode realizes that just because they’re both musicians doesn’t mean this performance makes them a couple now. She even still calls him “Friend A” up there, though at this point it could just be an ironic pet name. It’s not as if Ryouta is done; in fact, he still probably has the inside line. A harrowing love rhombus has been built this day.

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But that doesn’t matter to Kaori or Kousei right now; Spring has Sprung and they’re on Cloud Nine; the change of Kousei’s scenery effectively illustrates that point. Things are getting brighter and more saturated until they finally bring the piece to a stirring close, bringing the house down…

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But the performance, which was perhaps as long and energy-draining a performance as she ever gave, brings Kaori down as well. She left nothing left in her tank. Kousei got bloodied while dismounting from Tsubaki’s bike, which provided a measure of symmetry to this closing shot, But while that was a joke, this isn’t. It suddenly, ruthlessly imparts the episode’s title – “Departure” – with unspeakable dread and foreboding. The episode plummets from the dizziest heights to the lowest depths. Not again, Kousei may be thinking; God, don’t do this to me again.

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P.S. That up there is a 1,158-word review. When I really like something, I tend to ramble.