The aquatope on white sand – 11 – The storm

All the color and light of previous episodes is sapped from this one, both fitting Kukuru’s mood and due to a nasty typhoon rolling into Okinawa. It’s in this dim, gray, gloomy soup that we watch Kukuru go through the Five Stages of Grief. First up is Denial and Isolation. The handmade sign says it all—NO CLOSING!as Kukuru shuts herself in Gama Gama.

Ironically, this means closing the aquarium, but due to the typhoon there won’t be any visitors anyway. Gramps decides to let Kukuru be and give everyone the day off. Fuuka goes home with him, but during lunch, decides she’s not going to leave Kukuru to endure the coming storm alone—either the literal one or the emotional one. Just as she gets up to leave, Grams has bento ready for Fuuka to take to Kukuru.

From there, Kukuru goes into the Anger stage, though to her credit she puts the energy that comes with the anger to good use, going about the daily business of feeding, maintaining, and checklisting. She enters a kind of utilitarian trance, losing herself in the work, until suddenly snapped out of it by Fuuka rapping on the door.

Not long after Fuuka arrives at Gama Gama, the typhoon arrives in force, totally blocking out the sun, and bringing sheets of diagonal rain and vicious winds to the battened-down island. These establishing shots—and the white noise of the storm—really capture how dark and spooky a really bad storm gets. Day becomes night, and the outdoors themselves become a threat to life and limb.

Kukuru’s anger re-surfaces at the arrival of Fuuka, as she’d prefer to do all of this herself. But Fuuka is as obstinate as she is, and wants to stay by Kukuru’s side to help her with her dream like she promised. Her movie role doesn’t matter right now. Before they can get deeper into their discussion, the power goes out, leaving the aquarium with only seven hours of generator power before the more sensitive sea life starts to die en masse.

Just as Kukuru can’t turn Fuuka away when the storm is at its worst, she can’t turn down her help when there’s so much to do to save the fish and creatures they can. With two pairs of hands, they can do double the work. When the wind breaks a window, Kukuru’s Bargaining stage officially begins. If she can just bar the window, just Do What’s Right, everything will work out, as her daily prayer to Kijimunaa goes.

But it’s not enough. She can’t hold back the storm from causing the power to go out, the roof to leak, the windows and pipes to break, and the sea life to gradually die in the suddenly unfavorable water conditions. Her only memory of her mom and dad was here at Gama Gama, but now, just as they were taken from her, so too is the aquarium, in slow and deliberate fashion, piece by piece.

When Fuuka sees Kukuru giving up on bargaining and entering the Depression stage, she runs over and holds her tight, telling her that even if it’s the end of Gama Gama, and of her dream, it’s not the end of the future. And if they get back to work, there’s still a future for the marine life. Only they can protect them and save them from oblivion.

Kukuru snaps out of it just as Gramps, Kai, Kuuya, and Umi-yan arrive onces the winds die down. Gramps goes into Legendary Aquarium Keeper Mode (if only whatsername was here to see it!), as he knows exactly what to do in what is clearly not his first (or fiftieth!) typhoon. Now six strong, there’s enough manpower to do what needs to be done to buy time until the power comes back on. As far as we know, they don’t lose a single fish.

That said, Gama Gama took a beating, and really showed its age. Gramps promised the man who build the aquarium that he’d close it if it ever got too old, and that time has surely arrived. Having gone through the emotional and meteorological wringer, even Kukuru realizes that it’s probably beyond token repairs or improvements, and can’t keep the precious marine life safe anymore. It’s time has simply come, as it does for all things. Thus she arrives at the final stage: acceptance.

There are few skies more beautiful than those you see after a bad storm. For one thing, you’re relieved the sun is back, while the swirling remnants of clouds and other various optical effects  give the sky a more dramatic look. The color and light slowly returns by the end of the episode. In this light, Fuuka comes to realize she wasn’t just helping Kukuru achieve her dream. By letting Fuuka help her, Kukuru was giving Fuuka strength.

Fuuka doesn’t hate working hard for someone else…especially Kukuru. So when Kukuru turns to Gama Gama’s façade, again admits it is closing, and then bursts into tears, Fuuka is all too happy to be her shoulder to cry on. What comes after acceptance? Catharsis, adaptation, struggle…and maybe—Kijimunaa willing—new dreams, and happiness.

RABUJOI WORLD HERITAGE LIST

The aquatope on white sand – 10 – You can’t go home

Only a damn week left in August. A week of Summer Break. Until reopens, the aquarium closes, and Fuuka goes back to Iwate, among other things. After staring at the downtown monstrosity that reminded me of the Olympic Stadium in AKIRA, Kukuru is staring at that damn calendar with only seven days left.

Kai, whose first memory of Kukuru is watching her back tremble as she wept in her front yard, sees that back again. It’s not trembling, but he knows it’s troubled. But he can’t, because he’s just a little too slow and Kukuru is so distracted by her problems she doesn’t even notice Kai is there, and certainly doesn’t see him as a potential source of healing.

Kukuru isn’t really seeing Fuuka either. Fuuka did commit to supporting Kukuru’s dream when her own dream ended, but thanks to the call from Ruka, that dream is suddenly alive again if she wants it: a goddamn starring movie role. Of course she can’t share this news with Kukuru, who has no time or headspace for anything but her beloved Gama Gama. Seeing how Kukuru flails near the finish line really accentuates just how grown up and mature Chiyu was by comparison last week.

Chiyu can see her future and she’s lunging forward and grasping at it with everything she has. Kukuru is trying to keep her past her present and future. She’s so desperate, she resorts to asking Udon-chan’s mom to see if there’s a way to exploit the inscrutable magical realism moments she, Fuuka, and others have experienced. She thinks if she can put it out there on social media that Gama Gama is a “place of miracles” and a “healing power spot”, she can save it.

But just look at everyone’s faces. Kukuru’s desperation is clear to see. Udon-chan is the only one humoring her with a half-hearted, almost patronizing smile. Fuuka is quietly neutral. Karin is like this girl is going off the deep end.

During what was without doubt the most depressing watermelon-eating scene I’ve ever seen committed to the screen, Fuuka can’t hold in what’s bothering her anymore, even if it only adds to Kukuru’s problems. When Fuuka doesn’t enthusiastically say she’ll turning the movie role down, Kukuru cant stomach any more watermelon, or Fuuka’s presence.

In a way, it’s not fair. Fuuka has pretty much had to couch all of her issues while August has worn on and Kukuru’s various ideas to save Gama Gama have come and gone with the same middling success. But Fuuka isn’t sure what she’s doing anymore, which means she’s not committed to helping Kukuru salvage her dream. There’s no point in lying, and I’m glad Fuuka doesn’t, nor does Kukuru hide her disappointment.

Kai, who it’s clear has been working himself way too hard just so Kukuru has an extra strong back at the aquarium, finally gets a chance to spend some time alone with Kukuru, but it’s strictly business: she needs him to be her guinea pig to see if the “illusions” will occur for him. Kukuru’s obsession with saving Gama Gama is flattening all of her relationships. She only noticed Kai when she needed him.

Why she thinks sitting three feet away and leaning towards him with a notebook will put him in the right state to see said illusions…but like I said, Kukuru is desperate…almost as desperate as Kai is to help and console and comfort her. But once again, he’s a little to slow to call her name and reach out, as she buzzes off on her motorbike after their failed illusion session. He keeps getting so close! 

Back home, Kukuru’s Gramps gives her a talking-to about how it was wrong to try to lure supernatural otaku to the aquarium with promises of miracles and illusions. In effect, this week is when Kukuru’s illusory world finally comes into focus. Everyone but her isn’t saying Gama Gama is doomed because they’re being assholes. It’s because Gama Gama is doomed. Barring some serious Kijimunaa divine intervention, of course.

I don’t know of Kijimunaa is directly responsible for the illusions, but the reason for them is made plain (if it wasn’t already) when Kai, distraught over his inability to reach present-day Kukuru, finds himself behind the shoulder of his younger self when he first met her. Audio is added to this scene and it’s brought into context as one of countless times young Kukuru ran out of her grandparents’ house declaring through tears that she’s going home to “mommy and daddy.”

This was, predictably, the point at which I broke down in tears, and basically unconditionally forgave Kukuru for all of her transgressions both this week and in previous episodes. Kukuru lost her parents at a tender age, but not so tender that she was shielded from the weight of the loss. She was old enough to know, but wasn’t ready to accept, that they were gone. The home she knew and loved was gone too.

Past Kai hesitates just like Present Kai did three times prior, but Present Kai is there to give Past Kai a push towards Kukuru. He whips out a big, gorgeous fish he just caught, and Kukuru’s tears stop almost immediately.

Kai comes out of his illusion to a Kukuru hopeful she just witnessed him experiencing what she experienced. But to both her dejection and my own, Kai softly shakes his head. It was a beautiful memory, but just a memory. It was the past, and just the illusion of it. He doesn’t want to feed her any more illusions. Instead, rather than gathering her into a big hug, he puts up his hands so she can punch them and yells “Come!”

Kukuru cries as she punches, but Kai tells her to keep punching, as hard as she can, into his palms. I’m sure if he had a big beautiful freshly caught fish, he’d give her one to cheer her up. We later see that Kukuru posted a retraction on social media, so even that last-ditch plan ended in failure.

If I were her, I’d also be grateful for a friend willing to absorb my punches, my failures, my despair—all of it, for my sake. And when my fists (and their palms) were sufficiently red and stinging, I’d feel better, and maybe even be ready to take a step forward.

RABUJOI WORLD HERITAGE LIST

 

Ikebukuro West Gate Park – 10 – Moving Past the Hate

You have heard that it was said, “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.” But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.—Matthew 5:38-39

One day, a serious young woman named Hayama Chihiro approaches Makoto at his fruit stand, shows him a photo of a young man, and flatly asks him to ruin that guy’s knee. Makoto learns why: a year ago the young man, Otokawa Eiji, kneecapped her brother Tsukasa and robbed him.

For all of ¥3,000, Tsukasa’s dream of opening his own restaurant was crushed along with his knee. Since Eiji was a minor, he got seven months in juvie, and is now wandering free. Chihiro has been tailing “the beast”, as she calls him, ever since his release, and now wants him to suffer as her brother suffers. A knee for a knee!

Makoto remarks that if Chihiro were okay with Eiji’s knee being smashed, she’d be no less of a beast that her brother’s attacker. But as with so many other issues with Makoto becomes entangled, there is much more information to be learned before a final decision is made. To that end, he contacts one of his mates, Chief Rei.

When Rei calls back, Makoto has tracked down Chihiro, who is watching Eiji at an arcade. He lends her one of his earbuds and they listen together as Rei goes over the particulars of the crime. Eiji was being extorted by a group of bullies in high school, and was warned to secure the money (any amount) by the day after the attack, or they’d ruin his knee.

Eiji only attacked Tsukasa because he needed money to give to the bullies, but only he was convicted and sent to juvie for the attack, while the bullies only received a scolding. As Chihiro learns more about Eiji and the context of the attack, her once pure and unwavering hatred suddenly becomes diluted with pity for the kid’s situation, and guilt for nearly making it worse. Now she’s not so sure she wants Eiji attacked.

Now that Makoto knows Chihiro’s feelings on the matter, he wants to know those of Eiji’s victim, her brother Tsukasa. Makoto visits to their home under the guise of Chihiro introducing a new boyfriend. Chihiro’s reaction to Makoto’s suit is priceless. Tsukasa is voiced by Ishida Akira, a seiyu so very skilled at projecting the vulnerability of his characters and the weight they carry.

Tsukasa admits that for a long time he thought about finding and stabbing Eiji for what he did, but when he stops to think about what that would make him, his certainty and thirst for such revenge wavers just like his sister’s. Now he feels it would be better if he were to meet Eiji, look him in the eye, and talk to him about what happened.

If Tsukasa did that, he could learn whether Eiji was a “beast” or just a human (the vast majority of criminals being the latter). If he learned Eiji was the latter, his hatred would subside. Above all, Tsukasa doesn’t want to “stand in a  place of hatred” forever. He wants to move past it, and into “tomorrow.”

Tsukasa’s noble words move Makoto to arrange just such a meeting. In order to get Eiji to agree, he offers membership into the G-Boys. To both Eiji and Makoto’s surprise, Takashi shows up with a couple of his boys, as he’s curious to see how Makoto resolves this situation. He makes Eiji a G-Boy on the spot and promises he’ll never be hassled by his extorters again.

But first, Eiji must endure the trial of his life: sitting down across the table and looking the man he attacked a year ago in the eye. It’s a gloriously tense scene that grows more and more cathartic as Eiji and Tsukasa and Chihiro learn more about each other. The siblings learn that Eiji, like them, lost a parent at an early age, though they don’t sympathize with how he handled it. Eiji learns that his attack cost Tsukasa his dreams.

Finally, Eiji learns that nothing he says can undo or make up for what he did, any more than Tsukasa and Chihiro’s hatred or revenge exacted upon the pathetic Eiji will truly satisfy them. Chihiro’s description of how she “never gave in” to criminality as Eiji did due to her brother’s love and cooking is matched by Eiji’s description of all the un-scalable “high walls” he faced once outside of juvie.

Once the accusations and grievances have flown, the time comes for Eiji to accept that his wrongdoing will never disappear and think about what he can do from now on. Tsukasa reveals he knew all along Makoto was the famous troubleshooter, and thus had an inkling that a meeting like this was in the works.

The bottom line is, the meeting does work: Tsukasa has learned conclusively that Eiji is not a beast, and as such Eiji’s remorse will probably never disappear. Tsukasa then chooses to forgive him, and they shake hands while Makoto and Takashi exchange approving glances.

What Makoto accomplished by having the Hayamas and Eiji meet and talk things out amounts to what Chief Rei calls “restorative justice”, a reunion that serves both victim and perpetrator by aiding the former’s recovery and the latter’s rehabilitation. Knowing Makoto can pull such justice off without even knowing what it’s called, Rei is confident Ikebukuro can remain a safe and peaceful town.

Having passed his trial, Eiji is aided by the G-Boys, who convince his extorters to return all the money they stole from Eiji. No blows are landed or blood spilled, as the tacit power of the G-Boys community and its “King” is more than sufficient, proving the value of a well-balanced network of groups with shared interests as a deterrent to escalating violence.

Makoto continues to see the Hayamas, who plan to buy a food truck outfitted with equipment and modifications that will enable Tsukasa to stand less while cooking. They also plan to hire Eiji to work for them, since they’ll need help running the truck, and he needs a job. Who better to work for than the people you wronged, but ultimately forgave you? That cooperation will likely allow him to forgive himself one day.

That famous Matthew passage up top is highly instructive of how society can and often must go. In most cases, it isn’t productive for victims to vilify or dehumanize criminals who did them wrong, nor seek empty, self-defeating vengeance. Often there are humans on either side and beasts on neither, and understandings can be reached by direct interaction, learning from one another who they are and why things were done.

Often…but not always. Enter the unpleasant spectacle that follows the atmospherically moody but hopeful end credits. G-Boys and Red Angels are brawling in an alley, staining the streets with their blood. Still, I see this display not as a rebuttal or repudiation of the more peaceful and conciliatory tactics employed by Makoto.

Rather, this kind of scrimmaging is the inevitable other side of the double-sided sword: a scenario involving large groups of restless young people, each with their own histories. At some point they’ll grow large enough to butt up against the turf of another group, with the resulting enmity bringing out the beasts in everyone.

Yet even this can be mitigated by those who lead these groups, namely Takashi and Kyouichi, sitting across a table, with mediators observing. Even if wars can’t be outright avoided, their duration and the amount of blood spilled can be minimized, as long as all concerned parties remember that they are all human, and always were.

Steins;Gate 0 – 09 – Peaceful for All Eternity?

After the powerhouse of Steins;Gate 0’s episode 8, episode 9 had some big shoes to fill. Would Okabe find himself back in the Beta world line where he had been, in which Kurisu was dead but Mayuri was alive? If so, what if anything would have changed as a result of his visit? What fresh emotional torment would be in store for our most Promethean Mad Scientist?

When Okabe wakes up in the hospital, the show milks the suspense, as there’s no one in his room or in the hallway at first. Just hearing Mayuri’s voice and seeing her there with Daru and Maho warmed my weary heart. He asks them if they know the name Makise Kurisu; Mayuri says she does; she’s the girl in Amadeus.

So he’s back in Beta. Strangely, in this world line both he and Mayuri’s cosplay friend Nakase lost consciousness at the exact same time. Nakase had a dream where Mayuri was gone and she was working with Feyris in the cafe. I guess she traveled to the Alpha along with Okabe…either that, or they’re soulmates (as Kurushima muses).

Amadeus is safe from “takeover” for the time being, but that could change without warning. Okabe still needs to find out what happened, and vows to protect this Beta line that has and alive-and-well Mayuri in it alive and well.

That means putting the apparently non-evil Moeka busy with sleuthing (her nearly wordless visit to the lab and text convo with Okabe was vintage Moeka), as well as leaving Maho in the safety of Feyris’ well-protected home.

Okabe is about to get to work trying to discover who raided the lab and what they wanted (besides Kagari) when he gets a text from Suzuha saying she needs to talk. I somehow knew it wasn’t going to be a friendly chat, and when Suzuha pulls a gun on Okabe, I’m proven right.

Suzu is in a desperate state, especially when Okabe confirms that there was a world line change, even if brief and temporary. The earthquakes (and possibly the fevers and collapses that have been going around) are most likely the result of Russia and America’s “time machine race”, which will lead to WWIII.

Suzuha can’t allow that to happen, and is ready to force Okabe to get in the time machine with her so they can travel back to July 28th, when he first learned he could send D-mail.

Okabe tells her the torment and the nightmare that awaited him once he started trying to toy with the past to affect the future, and warns her that forcing him to do it all over again does not guarantee anything; if anything, it could result in a future somehow worse than the one she knows and is so afraid of repeating.

Ultimately, Daru comes in to talk Suzuha down. I can’t blame her for acting as she did, as she considers herself one of the last people standing in the path of WWII occurring. But perhaps she’s over-inflating her role: as Okabe says, there’s only so much they as humans can do to influence things. The universe is most likely going to have its way, no matter what they do.

After the rooftop standoff, Okabe goes back to Tennouji for more clues and insight on who was behind the lab raid. “DURPA” and “Stratfor” are names he researches, and a Makise Kurisu in his head helps him out. For instance, no group could steal future time machine tech to build their own time machine without causing a massive paradox.

Meanwhile, Suzuha and Daru settle in for a night guarding the Time Machine, with Daru assuring his daughter that one day Okabe will be reborn as the delusional chuuni Hououin Kyouma, take command, and lead them all to the ideal future. It exhibits great deal of confidence in his friend.

Having calmed down some, Suzu brings up their critical fuel situation, which will only allow them one or two jumps of half a year. It could even result in them getting caught between world lines for all eternity, though she wonders if that would really be the worst thing if it means things could be as (relatively) peaceful as they presently are; an eternal calm, and never any storm.

Okabe checks in on Maho at Feyris’ and discovers how messy Maho can be when she’s hard at work researching. Okabe posits that the groups trying to acquire time travel are after Kurisu’s theory, which may well be contained in the memories used by Amadeus.

Maho refutes that, but also stares at a login screen with Kurisu’s name. What secrets lie beyond that security wall…and is that wall any match for the powers that desire her secrets?