Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 3 – Sweet Dreams are Made of Tease

My dreams were answered: Master Teaser Takagi-san has returned for a third wonderfully warm, fuzzy season; the perfect balm for the bracing cold of a mid-Atlantic winter. After last season ended with Nishikata taking Takagi’s hand, this newest outing starts with them holding hands almost right away! After sensing she intended to beat him at the grip exercise tool, rather than hand it to him he took her hand instead.

Suddenly, Nishikata and Takagi are transported back to the steps of the shrine on that night. Then Takagi vanishes, and then he finds himself at the pool, with Takagi taking a dip. Then a number of his friends pretend to be Takagi. Then the main couple from their favorite manga/anime transfer to their class, and Takagi falls for the MC. Then Takagi in cowgirl cosplay shoots him with her six-gun. I believe she also appears in cow-full-stop cosplay, complete with moos.

Turns out the show was teasing us; it was all a dream. Nishikata hasn’t even been back to school since his festival date with Takagi; it’s still summer break. For a few moments, Nishikata panics: what if the festival, and with it all the good times he had with Takagi, was a dream too? He sees the robot mask he bought at one of the stalls and breathes a sigh of relief. It’s a welcome moment of honesty for Nishikata: He doesn’t want that night to be a dream. It happened, and he’s glad it did.

In the next segment, it’s the last day before school re-opens. Nishikata shows off the tan he got from going to the beach, remembering too late that his back was sunburnt and that Takagi would be quick to pat said back if she found out. Not only does she find out instantly, but challenges Nishikata to a guessing game: if he can tell her the reason she asked him to join her today, he wins. For each incorrect guess, he gets a pat on the back.

Nishikata eventually guesses that it was just so Takagi could tease him, but he’s only half-right. She gives him a telling hint: they’ve already been doing what she wanted to do. Even a simpleton like Nishikata can put two and two together: she just wanted to see him. But the challenge is to say the reason, and Nishikata is just too gosh-darn bashful to say it out loud, even if he’s secretly quite happy about it!

After an interstitial involving the trio of girls (who also got tanned and contemplate being three wrinkly grannies together due to the skin damage), the third segment announces itself as the first day of the new semester…yet both Nishikata and Takagi’s tans are gone, which I found odd. What isn’t odd is that Takagi is able to deduce that Nishikata wanted to spook her with a new dino-themed jack-in-the-box he meticulously hand-crafted rather than doing his summer homework.

When she finally opens it, she lets out a little yelp of surprise, thus handing Nishikata one of his only true wins against her! Then the two are transported onto a beach full of fireworks, and then to those same shrine stairs Nishikata dreamed of. Takagi holds out her hand, and as Nishikata reaches out to take it, they’re once more transported to a grove of cherry trees. Then Nishikata seemingly confesses to Takagi…and then she wakes up in her bed.

She throws open her window and basks in the morning sun and summer breeze, happy Nishikata said what he said in her dream, but also hopeful he’ll someday say it to her for real. I may have dreamed for a third season of the sweetest romance committed to television; little did I know dreams would play such a large role in the premiere.

Takagi and Nishikata are well and truly in each other’s heads, but I’m looking even more forward to watching their tender love continue to grow in the waking world in this season to come.

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 23 (Part 2 Fin) – Be Strong and Wait

My interpretation of Eris’s reasons for deciding to sleep with Rudy and then run off with Ghislaine is twofold: First, she wanted her first time to be with Rudy, whom she loves more than anyone else. Second, her note about not being “well matched” should be taken literally: she is overmatched by him. Their encounter with Orsted proved it. So off she goes.

She couldn’t have imagined this would cause Rudy to revert to his old self, the one who, once shamed at school in one of the worst ways possible, could no longer leave his room, despite being surrounded by love, understanding, and kindness—first his parents, and later his neighbors. He rejected them out of paranoia they were all laughing at him. So in he stays.

This episode seems to hint that the isekai world is merely in Rudy’s head, and that he wasn’t actually hit by a car as he would have us believe. If that’s the case—I have no idea, and I’m also fine if it’s meant to be ambiguous—the isekai world is no longer an escape. He may have been reincarnated and given a second chance, but he’s the same depressed, paranoid, emotionally stunted man he was in the old world. Eris leaving him and him not being able to understand why was the straw that broke the ground dragon’s back.

He may not be surrounded by the same support system as the old world, but things are definitely looking up in Fittoa. I realize that part of why it looked so wasted and bleak last week was because Rudy and Eris (and we) were comparing it to how it once looked before the disaster. But also the bleak washed-out look reflected Rudy’s post-Eris leaving mood. But color is slowly returning to the land, and there’s hope in the voices of the survivors as they plant new crops.

As they  toil and sweat, the people of Fittoa long for a “return to normal”, but the old normal is gone and never coming back. That’s true for everyone, as Ruijerd confirms that the curse that makes humans afraid of him is gone. I’m so glad we got to see the big guy one more time, and his exchange with the three friendly townsfolk is one of som many scenes this week that moved me to tears.

Another one of those scenes is where Eris confirms my interpretation of why she left Rudy (not that it was very much in doubt), with touching details like observing how the hands of the one she relied on for so long were smaller than his. The wind blows her cat-hood off her freshly short-cropped hair as she climbs atop a rock to shout out her love of Rudy to the mountaintops, and her resolve to become strong enough to protect him when next they meet.

We also get brief check-ins with Tona, Zoruba, Geese, and the young adventurers they met in the Demon Continent. Everyone is moving forward, with their experience with Rudy and Dead End being something they’ll always treasure, even if they never see them again. Roxy, meanwhile, inadvertently becomes Kishirisu Kishirika’s newest savior when she pays the tiny troublemaker’s bar tab from the rowdy night before.

love how we get the briefest peeks of that party that pack a punch when we see how drunk Roxy got and how bad her hangover must be. But she’s rewarded for her generosity to Kishirika by learning that Paul, Lilia, Norn and Aisha are safe and sound and reunited in Millishion. We get to see—and cry from—this reunion scene. But Norn still wants to know where her mama is, and we learn that Zenith is alive somewhere in the Labyrinth City of Rapan on the Begaritt Continent.

Roxy also learns from Kishirika that Rudy is in emotional turmoil, but rather than go to his student, she trusts that he’ll pick himself off and be able to move forward without her assistance. She and her party are headed to Begaritt. At the same time, it’s a beautiful memory of Rudy, taking over the end-of-the-evening chores for Zenith when he sees she’s tired, that finally gets Rudy to sit up, get out of bed, and step outside his tent with his cloak and spear.

He’s able to push past the fear of everyone laughing and mocking him, because Zenith is family, alone, and in need of help. Unaware that Roxy is also headed there, almost ensuring a reunion, he has to go find her. For that, he has to get up and take one step, and then another, past the pain of being left alone.

In the real world, Rudy does the same thing, and while it’s a mystery whether this is symbolic look back at his past life or his actual life running parallel to his fantasy life, it’s a major breakthrough for our protagonist. Like the people of Fittoa planting new crops, Rudy doesn’t give in, stays strong, and looks toward a future where his family is reunited.

Meanwhile, at Ranoa Magic Academy, Sylphiette, sporting Oakleys and whose hair is now white, makes the case for the academy recruiting Rudy. It’s clear he too will need to be stronger if he’s going to defeat the Dragon God. But with Sylphy here and Eris working to become stronger, he won’t be alone in that effort. He just doesn’t know it yet, but hopefully he can follow the advice of his original parents and continue to be strong and wait, just as we must all be strong and wait for Part 3.

SAKUGAN – 11 – THE PRINCESS AND THE MARKERS

Memenpu, Gagumber, Zack, Yuri and Merooro arrive in the bustling Dream City, which true to its name is apparently a place where people can live out their dreams. Merooro got everyone tickets for a recital from the Diva Sina, who is also the colony’s princess. When Memenpu catches Gagumber trying to ditch the recital for a gentleman’s club, Sina literally drops in on them and basically declares asylum from her lofty role.

Sina happens to have a stack of drawings she’s made throughout her life, her means of escaping to the world of dreams and possibilities when her actual future was fixed. But just for today, she wants to experience all of the things she dreamt of and drew. Memenpu notes how simple all of these things are, but like any member of royalty, the little things of normal life are what they often yearn for.

A sweet and lovely adventure ensues, as Memenpu secures the three of them disguises (the colony authorities and Bureau have branded the father-daughter a duo dangerous Shibito kidnappers) and Sina gets to wear regular clothes, gets a haircut to blend in, rides the packed rail transport, drinks beer in a bar, and plays video games with kids. Things take a turn when Memenpu tries to ask the kids what their dreams are and they don’t understand.

Turns out Dream Colony has a very strict system wherein your family determines your job. If your parents are electricians, that’s what you’ll become. Obviously this is anathema to Memenpu’s spirit of freedom and self-determination, and is frustrated both by the kids’ inability to get what she’s on about, and Sina’s insistence she can’t follow her dream to be an artist.

Memenpu moves heaven and earth to secure canvases and paint supplies so the two can paint together, and Sina gets into it, and starts to sing, revealing to the bystanders that she is indeed their Princess and Diva. That also attracts her secret service, who secure her and roughly arrest Gagumber and a very upset Memenpu. Sina flexes her political muscle by ordering they unhand her friends, but also agrees to return to the concert venue to perform. Her day of realizing her little dreams was fun, but it’s over.

Memenpu and Gagumber rejoin the others in their box and Diva Sina performs as planned. Sina’s seiyuu Hayami Saori sings a gorgeous song that moves Merooro to tears, but Memenpu remains upset. Even when Gagumber shows her drawings Sina made of being the very Diva she’s become, for Memenpu those only represent a small part of what Sina dreamed of. She can’t understand why Sina has to “lie” and remain in her current unfulfilled life. She may never understand.

I say that, because Memenpu might not have a lot of time left. Even though the episode seemed to end on a wonderfully bittersweet note, after the credits SAKUGAN brings down the hammer it didn’t bring down last week. Shibito attacks as everyone expected, yet still manage to get close enough to Sina to assassinate her. Even so, Muro is singularly focused on Memenpu, and this time she seems to capture her for real.

Muro also says Memenpu neither knows who and what she really is and who her real father is. Could Memenpu be a Princess like Sina? Or an even more powerful “child” that Shibito is resolved to either control or destroy? You could say Shibito is an organization takes Memenpu’s philosophy to a deadly extreme, while Dream City is the ultimate haven for people supressing their dreams in favor of maintaining the societal structure. Surely there’s a happy medium to be found…

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 22 – Home Alone

Following his extremely close brush with death by Orsted’s hand, Rudeus has a series of disturbing dreams while unconscious, which are something of a culmination of his journey and his yearning. All this time he’s not only sought to keep his beloved Eris safe and restore Ruijerd’s rep, but to return home to his family. These dreams give him a glimpse of what that might look like, but also show him his old reality of being alone in a dark, cluttered room, only to be impaled once more by Orsted.

He awakes to find Eris dozing peacefully beside him as usual, and Ruijerd sitting by the fire keeping watch. Ruijerd is still trying to wrap his head around a Man-God and the fact the Seven Gods of ancient times are still kickin’ it. For a second, I thought Rudy was going to tell him that he came from another world. Instead, he says the Superd curse has been fading since Ruijerd shaved his head, and is all but gone; this moves Ruijerd to tears. Ruijerd!

After many travels and trials and tribulations, Dead End have come to their destination, Rudy and Eris’ home, only to find it a grey, dreary ruin, lacking all the green vitality it had before the disaster. As Rudy walks pasts spots where he, his mom, dad, Roxy and Sylphie once shared simple moments made so much more meaningful by the fact those moments are no longer possible; only in memory. Again, it feels like the series summing things up.

Now that Rudy and Eris are home, and no longer children, Rujierd declares them them as no longer needing a babysitter. He treats them like children once more by patting them on the head, then says goodbye, hoping they’ll meet again someday. It’s a perfect farewell for Ruijerd, as there’s little more he can teach Eris. Now that she and Rudy are back home in their new, more adult-ish form, it’s time for them to stand on their own, just as Ruijerd must walk on his own, after Rudy helped him take the first step.

The good news: Ghislaine is in town, as is Alphonse, both alive and well. The bad news: Eris’ family is dead. We know her gramps was executed, but her parents passed away after being teleported. Alphonse is primarily concerned with the future of the Boreas family and the fate of their lands and people. To that end, he mentions an alliance whereby Eris becomes the concubine of a neighboring lord in order to secure that future. Ghislaine is against it. Eris needs time alone…not even Rudy can stay by her side.

Later that day Rudy learns that Sylphie is among the missing, but not confirmed dead, so she’s out there somewhere. That was the first hint that his and Eris’ paths would diverge, but it didn’t come into focus until later that night when Eris visits Rudy in his tent wearing a flowing nightie. Eris mentions that she just recently turned fifteen—of age in her society—and for her birthday she wants a family. She wants Rudy to be that family; she wants them to sleep together.

Rudy hesitates, his head swimming with all the reasons he shouldn’t; Eris is feeling hopeless and needs connection; he’s not fifteen yet…but then Eris draws closer and tells him all the reasons they should, and so they do. What ensues is one of the more tasteful lovemaking scenes you can pull off considering the ages of the participants. In any case, it’s a long, long time coming, considering how much these two have come to love each other.

Alas, that night was just another dream. In the morning, Rudy only gets a few magical moments of having “gotten it made” as a normie before he realizes Eris isn’t in the bed, has chopped off her hair, and left him a note stating “You and I aren’t well-matched right now. I’m going away.” Rudy learns from Alphonse that Eris set out on a journey with Ghislaine, and told him not to tell Rudy where.

So Rudy finds himself back home, totally alone but for Alphonse, with whom he never had the closest or warmest relationship. No more Ruijerd, and more devastatingly, no more Eris, on whose proximity day and night he’d become so accustomed. He wanders the tent city aimlessly, wondering what Eris meant in her note. I suspect she meant for it to sting so he wouldn’t follow, as she has things she needs to do without him at her side to rely on.

But Rudy doesn’t know. He’s not back in his smelly apartment in Japan, but he’s just as alone now as he was then. The question is, what will he do and where will he go next? His mother and Sylphie, for instance, are still missing; does he set out alone to search for them? Does he rejoin his dad and Norn and aid their efforts?

His possibilities are as endless as the horizons of this sprawling world, but just right now he’s paralyzed with sudden, crippling loneliness—the end of one journey marks the start of a new and far more difficult one.

SAKUGAN – 03 – THAT LITTLE VOICE

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4/5 Stars

86 – 14 – Northern Lights

We rejoin Shin as he’s in the midst of officer training where he’s paired with Eugene. Two of their comrades almost crash into him, so he jumps and backflips out of the way. It’s cool as hell, and it did save the mech, but the drill sergeant still gives him a zero score. It hardly matters; Shin, like the other former Eighty-Six, are shoo-ins for the next officer class.

Lt. Colonel Grethe Wenzel, commander of the 1028th Test Unit, Nordlicht (Northern Lights) squadron, introduces herself by taking them to the now silent battlefield where they were found. It had been under Legion control, but Giad won it back, and built a memorial to the fallen, including a wall of granite engraved with all 575 of the names they found in the toolbox.

Shin and the others must feel odd, seeing the wreckage of their machines of war encased in a jeweled glass and iron gazebo. They loosen up a little more when Frederica presents a resurrected and better-than-ever Fido, who immediately demonstrates that he is indeed the original Fido by recognizing Shin and running around him like a four-ton excited metal puppy.

The third and final “gift” presented to Shin is his pistol—the scythe of the proverbial grim reaper. Ernst can’t very much keep it out of Shin’s hands now that he’s officially an officer in the Giadian military. That the gun is presented by Frederica, who announces she’s officially Nordlicht’s “mascot” (an old Giadian tradition) and will be accompanying them on their tour.

Time passes, and as elite battle-hardened veterans of the war with the Legion, there is absolutely no shortage of work for Shin and the others. So much so that Nordlict has to be split up in order to answer all the calls for their tactical assistance. Eugene just happens to be in a unit that calls for their help, and he is a second or two from being obliterated by a Legion tank when Shin swoops in aboard his new state-of-the-art rig and mows the Legion down.

Despite singlehandedly saving dozens if not hundreds of soldiers, they still regard him with disdain and even suspicion, as with all his superiors dying he’s now the commander of an entire battalion. Despite others warning him to stay away, Eugene has lunch with Shin and Frederica, so he can toss all manner of death flags out.

This sequence could have come off as cliché, but I cared enough about Eugene and his adorable sister that when there’s a smash cut from him saying goodbye to Shin to that same hand holding the locket lying bloodied, it hits hard, in true unblinking 86 fashion. Then we learn that arm isn’t even attached to Eugene anymore.

The last two weeks were hardly all about Shin and Eugene bonding as comrades, and yet his arrival and sudden departure from Shin’s life echoes what has happened 575 times already. The grim repetition of war rears its ugly head, and Shin is already sending off Number 576.

When another soldier uses “86” as a racial slur, his commanding officer scolds him, apologizes to Shin, and tells him he still has a chance to leave the military and “live a happier life.” Giad, after all, doesn’t force children to fight.

Shin waves off the offer as if it was never given. Never mind that with the war going as badly as it is, Giad needs Shin more than he needs them. Shin has his own reasons for staying on the battlefield. Among them may be an utter visceral inability to not inhabit the battlefield as long as it exists.

Even so, there’s a distinct Hello darkness my old friend look to Shin as he hesitates for a moment after Frederica asks if he’s “okay”. It’s not that he’s lying about being “okay”. It’s that he’s never really known “okay.”

SAKUGAN – 02 – SEEKING STABILITY

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

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

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

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

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

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

86 – 13 – Tired of Resting

In a wonderful, succinct yet detailed montage, we see that the surviving members of Spearhead have settled into normal life in the Giad Federacy.

Raiden got a job with a moving company and made some buds; Theo draws his surroundings and gains praise from passersby; Kurena frequents the shops and boutiques, Anju takes up cooking classes, and Shin studies up in the library. There he meets Eugene Rantz and his little sister Nina, who has befriended Frederica.

After their horrible ordeal getting to the Federacy, followed by the roller coaster of being confined to a facility until being adopted by Zimmerman, the five former child soldiers have certainly earned some peace and respite.

But while they’re living in peace, they’re still not at peace. There’s a restlessness lurking behind their mundane days in Giad. These are kids who never considered what their futures might be, suddenly being given the opportunity to choose whatever futures they want.

But especially for Shin, it’s a false choice. At least his immediate future seems to be returning to the battlefield, for many reasons, not the least of which is freeing all of his colleagues whose souls remain at the mercy of the Legion. They call to him in his dreams, but when he raises the pistol he used to end their lives and spare them further torment, his hand is empty; Ernst returned his scarf, but not his pistol.

Shins new friend Eugene is poor, and in order to provide for and protect Nina, he’s enlisting in the service. The military is lauded in Giad the same as San Magnolia, and Eugene is eager to see the new mechs in the Christmas Eve military parade.

In a wonderful piece of cinematography, Shin looks down at The Skull Knight book, then looks up, and we see laundry flowing behind him through the window, emulating the knight’s cape. There is no pageantry to the military for Shin or the others; only necessity, purpose, pride, and obligation.

After each of them witness the military parade and are each quite put off by the pageantry, it’s Kurena who firsts breaks the dam of complacency. She’s seen and heard enough of this “peace,” and now it’s time to return to where she belongs: the battlefield. The other four quickly concur, glad someone was able to finally vocalize that they’ve all simply spent to much time “resting.”

Ernst objects to their sudden decision, but there’s nothing sudden about it, the five have said from the beginning that this is they always intended. And we the audience can play the concerned parent figure like Ernst and say that they only feel that is all they can do because it’s all they’ve done, and because the Republic and the Legion took everything else.

It’s the precocious Frederica, exhibiting surprising maturity and clarity, who tells Ernst that if he keeps these kids from doing what they want to do he’d be no different than the Republic. She also decides to reveal that she is the last surviving Empress of Giad and carries the responsibility for unleashing the Legion in the first place.

The thing is, that was ten years ago when she was even wee-er than she is now, so Shin and the others don’t hold it against her. It was really the Republic that took everything from them. Ernst grudgingly agrees to allow the five to do as they please, but only if they enter officer training, so that they’ll have more options when the war is over.

Of course, none of them were thinking about that possibility, even though he says it’s a certainty that the war will end. As for Frederica, she’s determined to join them, that they might help her find and put to rest her valliant Knight Kiriya, who was taken by the Legion just like Shin’s brother.

Lena takes the week off, and that’s a boon here in terms of portraying Shin, Anju, Kurena, Raiden and Theo’s transition from acceptance of their new lives to the realization that here, for once, they can choose what to do and where to go, and a mundane peaceful life in the Giadian capital just isnt’ their scene.

Whether next week focuses solely on Lena or is another split episode of the kind the last cour did so well, I’m simultaneously happy and terribly worried for our Eighty-Six. Part of me wishes they would just stay in that capital and live quiet peaceful lives…but that’s not up to me, or anyone else but them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The aquatope on white sand – 13 – #aquadulting

We return to Aquatope with Kukuru in a new apartment, in a smart pantsuit, saying her usual prayer (this time to her parents’ shrine), starting her very first day at the brand-spankin’-new Aquarium Tingaara. Umi-yan and Kuuya are already working there, while Kai is in the same group of new hires as she is. But while Kai is assigned to the fish team, Kukuru is assigned to…marketing.

The director has high hopes for her in PR, where Karin is already working. Have you ever, due to various circumstances, ended up in a job you had no idea you’d be doing? Well, that was me about five months ago, and it’s Kukuru here.

Working at an aquarium, but not tending to the marine life? It almost seems like a cruel joke, and Kukuru doesn’t get it. That said, when Karin frees her from the mountains of manuals her director Suwa gave her and takes her on a tour of the modern, impressive facilities, the little kid in Kukuru immediately resurfaces. (This still, by the way, is my new desktop wallpaper, the previous one being the sky after the typhoon).

But she gradually learns that kid has no place at Tingaara. Here, not even Umi-yan can keep ice pops in the feed freezer. Gama Gama was loosy-goosy, and a lot of outsiders like Suwa and Chiyu (who is magnificently smug throughout this episode) believe that had a lot to do with its failure. Tingaara is a strict, by-the-book, professional enterprise, perhaps wound a bit too tightly.

Even so, after dinner at the restaurant where Udon is now working and training, Kai reminds her that Fuuka dove into the world she knew nothing about when she started working at Gama Gama. He himself didn’t originally really want to work there, but did so because he wanted to help her, and eventually came to like it. He thinks if she tries something new and sticks with it, she might have a change of heart.

Reinvigorated by his words, Kukuru goes back to work with her head held high, doing the work that’s in front of her. It seems like preparations are ready for a behind-the-scenes tour Suwa assigned to her, but as he puts it in a very public dressing-down in the office, she really only did the work she knew how to do. He suggests she cease relying on experience working at a failed aquarium and nicknames her Plankton…smaller than small fry.

After getting chewed out and again having her commitment and seriousness questioned by Chiyu, Kukuru leaves the aquarium exhausted and discouraged, declining Karin’s dinner offer and instead sitting on the beach alone. She starts to cry, not knowing how much more of life at Tingaara she can take.

Then, out of nowhere, Fuuka arrives, precisely when Kukuru needed her the absolute most. While they were still together in last week’s episode, the way Aquatope totally turned Kukuru’s life on it’s head and everything she endured made it feel like months had passed…which indeed they did! All of that also makes their reunion that much more heartwarming.

Kukuru has had a rough couple of days, but there’s a reason Tingaara’s director assigned her the role he did. Hopefully seeing Fuuka will remind Kukuru of how rough she was on her in her first days at Gama Gama, and how Fuuka didn’t give up, and ended up thriving.

Tingaara may seem like a cold, cruel, nasty, grown-up place—or at least most of the humans who aren’t Kukuru’s circle make it feel that way—but that doesn’t mean it will stay that way. Kukuru may struggle and fail a lot more before she finds the right wavelength in which to thrive, but I’m excited to watch her find it!

Bokutachi no Remake – 12 (Fin) – Back to Hard Times

Now that we know that Tomioka Keiko has the ability to send Kyouya back and forth through time, the question becomes, does Kyouya want to go back to the past or remain where he is? As Keiko says, there are few people who can claim they’re as happy and successful as he is. But Kyouya concludes that he didn’t want to go back in time to make a happier future; he wanted to experience pain and struggle alongside the talented creative people he idolized.

So even if, say, Aki decided she wanted to start drawing again, the fact remains that she, Tsurayuki, Nanako and Eiko all had their futures changed by Kyouya’s over-meddling, and that will never sit right with him, so it’s back to the past with him. It seems Keiko, whoever or whatever she is, brought Kyouya to this alternate future to teach Kyouya a lesson, in addition to giving him the choice to go or stay.

After a heartfelt sequence of final scenes with Aki and Maki, Kyouya is ready to go back. Keiko sends him back to the same time he left, when Tsurayuki dropped out. Aki and Nanako aren’t sure what to do about it, but Kyouya adivses that they all stay the course. If there’s a way to bring Tsurayuki back into the creative world, he’ll find one, but this time he’s not going to be so forceful and so certain.

Just as the members of the Platinum Generation put their trust in him, this time Kyouya is going to trust in their ability to shine and fluorish without undue interference or compromise. When Nanako is given an offer to work for another doujin group, she sheepishly asks him if he’ll proverbially hold her hand. Having seen what becoming overly dependent on him did to Nanako’s future, he insists she try being independent on this project. Even if he comes off as rude or mean, it’s in Nanako’s best interest.

He’ll still support her, but he won’t let her rely on him entirely again. Aki proves trickier, as she hits the very same rut that would define her future self as she transitioned from a creative life to a domestic one. Kyouya realizes that asking her to work so hard and compromise her artistic vision for the game took a toll, and that coming out of the rut won’t be a fast or easy process, but it will and does eventually happen, and without undue meddling from him.

Kyouya ends up literally bumping into the girl who will one day become Minori Ayaka, sporting her natural black hair color. Akaya seems embarrassed when Kyouya sees she has the game he made along with some promising sketches, but there’s no disputing she’s dedicated to being the best goshdarn illustrator she can be, inspired as she is by Shinoaki’s work. This must feel gratifying to Kyouya, as by abandoning that possible future he also feared he undid the good he did for Ayaka’s future.

But then, that’s just his ego talking; the same ego that thought he was singularly, personally responsible for upheaving everyone’s lives, when in reality it was a whole host of variables. It’s the same with Ayaka; she’s going to be alright, especially if the artist she adores continues to draw, as Aki does.

As for Eiko, Kyouya now realizes that she considers herself more than just a friend, creative colleague, and confidant. The future Eiko loved (past-tense) Kyouya, that means this past Eiko is in the process of falling for him, if she hasn’t already. Her blush as she admits she’d drop everything to help him if he was ever in trouble says a lot.

But Kyouya isn’t interested in dating Eiko, at least not at the moment. His primary goal is to undo the damage he did to Tsurayuki’s creative motivation. His confronting Tsurayuki as he exits a theator marks the beginning of his Remake Version 2.0, and even hints at a possible second season (though there hasn’t been any announcement of one, so who knows).

If this is the end, it’s a moderately satisfying one, as it has Kyouya on a sustainable path where he’s aware of his “power” and no longer breathlessly achieving happiness at the cost of others’ success. Even as he’s reverted to a younger version of himself, he’s grown as a person and a friend to these talented people. And so the struggle continues.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The aquatope on white sand – 12 – Everything becomes the ocean

It’s the last day of Gama Gama, and admission is free. The place is packed with people, which has Kukuru asking why they didn’t come earlier. But even so, she understands that Gama Gama has gotten too old to properly care for its sea life. The logic doesn’t make the last day any less melancholy, but there’s a hint of hope, as Kukuru is offered a job at Tingaara when she’s done school.

Once the last visitors head home and the doors close for the last time, the staff plus Karin and Udon-chan have a little party celebrating 48 glorious years. When everyone learns Kukuru has a job at Tingaara if she wants it, and that Umi-yan and Kuuya are also taking jobs there, a tipsy Karin urges Kukuru to go for it. But Kukuru just isn’t sure, and that’s understandable: the offer came on the day she believes her dream to have ended.

Gramps makes a very awesome and tearjerking speech, and then Kukuru and Fuuka spend some time on the moonlit beach. After the emotional roller coaster of the typhoon, they’ve fully made up. In fact, Kukuru believes it’s now her turn to support Fuuka’s dream, by urging her to take the lead actress job in Tokyo. Fuuka books a flight there for tomorrow.

The next day, Gama Gama is “hollowed out”, as all of the sea creatures are placed in portable tanks bound for either Tingaara or other aquariums that requested them. Kukuru is shook by just how lonely it is with the lights on and the tanks empty…until she goes into the room where all the visitors left notes on the wall.

It’s a room full of warm gratitude, and Kukuru can’t help but smile and feel grateful for everyone who came to Gama Gama and were changed forever. Then, while walking past one of the empty tanks, Kukuru experiences another illusion, once again involving someone who looks like her sister, who gives her a loving pat on the head as if to say “you’ll be alright.”

Back home, during Kukuru and Fuuka’s last meal together for some time, Kukuru mentions the illusion she experienced, believing she’d met her “doppelganger”. This is when Gran finally decides to tell Kukuru something they were going to tell her when she grew up.

As she’s already been an aquarium director for a summer and then lost that aquarium, Gran decides she’s grown up enough. Kukuru had a twin sister…but only Kukuru was born.

I understand Gran not wanting to keep Kukuru in the dark any longer, but the timing couldn’t be worse when it comes to Kukuru and Fuuka having to say goodbye so soon. At the airport, Kukuru tries to put on a brave face, as she feels she owes it to Fuuka, who supported her dream for so long.

Airport goodbyes always get me, and Aquatope really nails it, from the awkwardly formal handshake to watching from Kukuru’s POV until Fuuka disappears into the terminal.

But that is not goodbye, because before she boards her plane, Fuuka thinks about how she only cried when she was alone after her dream ended. She thinks about how Kukuru must be crying alone right then, and decides she can’t board the plane; not now. She runs dramatically through the airport, calls Kukuru and asks where she is, and meets her out on a patio where she is, indeed crying alone.

The bottom line is, making sure Kukuru didn’t have to cry alone was far more important to Fuuka than a movie role in Tokyo. She had to be in the position where she had to choose to learn that the job wasn’t really a new dream. You could say she’s torpedoing her career simply because Kukuru’s gran got talkative about things past at the worst possible time.

Still, Fuuka simply couldn’t let the person who helped her find strength and happiness after losing everything cry by herself. After sharing some big ol’ sobby hugs like two close friends should (seriously, WTF was with that handshake earlier guys!) Kukuru decides she’ll work at Tingaara after all.

The aquarium and its fragile micro-ecosystems taught Kukuru over the years that life can be difficult, and being alive isn’t a given. It was basically a coin toss that Kukuru got to live and her sister didn’t, so she now feels doubly motivated to make those who love her proud; that includes Fuuka.

Fuuka ends up on a plane back home to Iwate as planned, but as she settles into the cozy night flight she reads the poem Gramps read during his farewell speech, about how everything eventually becomes the ocean, which is probably why whenever someone peers into “the ocean within”, they find peace. Kukuru joins in, and they finish the poem in one voice, telling each other see you tomorrow.

It’s a bold and gorgeous way to end the first half of Aquatope, and I couldn’t be more excited to see what new innovative ways the show will cause me to bawl my eyes out when the second half comes around.

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.

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