Kakegurui – 09

Yume-Yume was soooo confident her victory was a lock with this idol gambling competition with Yumeko, she already planned details for her opponent’s future such as sleeping up the corporate ladder and having a porno debut. It’s not really personal; Yume is trying to get to the top of the celebrity mountain, and she needs stepping stones.

So it comes as a shock when Yumeko beats her , just because the competition included just enough luck to favor her over Yumemi. Yumeko’s luck is so conspicuous, it even gets in Yumemi’s head, as thoughts of Yumeko’s doomed future are replaced by the very real present possibility that rant recording will be played and ruin her career.

But here’s the thing: after handing over 50 million yen, and after Yumeko plays the recording to the entire crowd of 100—most of them in Yumemi’s fan club—and afterwards when she confesses and thanks those fans for cheering her on thus far…they don’t abandon her.

Of course they don’t, what self-respecting super-fan would be put off by the discovery of another layer of their idol? They love her unconditionally, and don’t ask for her love in return. In fact, they love her even more because she was honest!

Throw in the fact more than a few of those fans quite enjoy Yumemi yelling at them and telling them they’re scum, and you can see why there weren’t any shots of Yumeko’s reaction to their collective shrug: she too knew that real fans wouldn’t care about Yumemi’s rant.

Well, the game’s over, the money’s been paid, the ‘blackmail’ material backfired as planned, Yumemi’s idol career is safe, and she learned a valuable lesson. Time to SING! And hey, credit where it’s due: Kakegurui actually bothers to animate the two Yumes dancing and singing through the credits.

After that, Yumeko reveals the reason she fought Yumemi at all, besides the thrill of the gamble: she wants to have another gamble with a superior foe: Manyuda Kaede, the Sudent Council member who put the whole idol competition together.

When Kaede pleads innocence and demands proof he “deceived” Yumemi with the fan letter that set her off, Yumeko rightly points out they’re not in a court of law, but in a gambling school. She challenges him to a gamble in which the winner’s story will be deemed the truth.

Kaede refuses…but Yumeko to use her Miké tag to request an official match; one Kaede cannot refuse. Looks like Yumeko was using Yumemi as a stepping stone to Kaede, and eventually, the president herself.

Masamune-kun no Revenge – 12 (Fin)

Last week I predicted that Masamune would fill in for Kanetsugu in the Class-A play—a safe prediction, since that’s what came to pass. The show tries to be coy about it, what with showing Masamune arrive in the auditorium to see Aki already on the stage performing, and not immediately revealing his plan. But really, we all knew where this was going.

What I did not know was how much I would enjoy the performance scene, telegraphed as it was. Simply taking Kanetsugu’s place is no mean feat for Masamune in his ill and weakened state, but the well-rehearsed cast (which includes his master) catches on fast, as his fatigue is explained as the result of his “long journey.”

Back to another safe assumption: that Masamune would, in fact, give Aki a real kiss. I mean, how could he not, that’s what the role demands! But when Aki said the kiss would be “pretend” while waiting in her coffin, it all but confirmed to me that it wouldn’t be. It wasn’t a bad kiss at all, and it even compels Aki to do a little improvisation of her own, by decking him for stealing a kiss. Because he’s so weak, he’s out for the count.

Fast Forward to the conclusion of the festival (thankfully) as reps from both classes meet at a karaoke joint for the after-party. This is where the episode kinda stretches out and relaxes, and where it was clear, if it wasn’t in past weeks, that this whole Masamune’s Revenge thing wasn’t going to be wrapped up in just twelve episodes. The last half feels more like a self-contained OVA.

Which, yeah, makes sense. Masamune feels a lot of tension at the karaoke bar, and when his turn in the sing-off approaches, he’s hassled by Sonoka and Kikuon, warning he won’t be able to run away from humiliating himself at the mic in front of their mistress. But it’s Aki who scolds them and sends them off, taking his side. She later regrets it, as Masamune’s singing is so bad everyone looks dead by the end, and quickly clear out afterward.

At least that leaves Masamune and Aki alone together for one last scene, which is as nice way as any to close out the show. They exchange thanks and apologies, and Aki earnestly asks him what she should do as far as tokens of appreciation go. Masamune swings for the fences and asks for a kiss, and to his shock, she accepts.

Aki’s lips do come within less than an inch of Masamune’s, but she stops short and pops a baked yam (I think) in his mouth, provided by Yoshino, who just showed up to feed Aki. Aki feels they got “close enough for now,” and strides off, far more playful than aloof.

Thus, Masamune and Aki end this 12-episode run on pretty good terms. However, obstacles still exist. We know Kanetsugu is deceiving both Aki and Masamune, something Yoshino hasn’t informed her of. Neko doesn’t quite seem ready to give up now that she’s been given a new lease on life. And then there’s the whole matter of whether Masamune wants to actually exact his titular revenge and dump Aki once he’s earned her favor (eh, likely not).

I assume Masamune-kun no Revenge will be back…someday, to resolve these remaining issues. If it does, the show has earned my loyalty, so I’ll be taking a look. If it doesn’t, well…it was a nice, if incomplete, ride.

7

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 11

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What started out as a simple errand (retrieve Sukeroku and bring him back to Tokyo) becomes much, much more for Kikuhiko, due in no small part to Sukeroku’s daughter, Konatsu. The girl is pretty hostile to Kiku right up until she learns who he is, and then her demeanor rapidly shifts to tearful veneration, and she insists Kiku come with him to see her Dad.

I’ve always loved Konatsu, and lamented how little of her we’ve seen (albeit out of necessity) since Yakumo’s story began. Kobayashi Yuu isn’t quite as convincing as a five-year-old as say, Kuno Misaki, but it doesn’t matter: by the end of the episode, I was in love.

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On the way to her Pops, we learn from her that her mom has run off, abandoned them, and I take her at her word (we later learn Miyokichi does this often, but always comes back eventually). She also says her mom forbade her dad to perform rakugo, and when we arrive at Konatu’s domicile, we see just how well Sukeroku functions without it.

I mean, a frikkin’ five-year-old is the breadwinner here! Things are bleak. The only thing that rouses Sukeroku from his mid-day nap is Kikuhiko’s voice, which sends him flying out of the filthy house. In a perfect reunion moment, Kiku smacks him in the face with his bag, but Sukeroku pounces on him anyway.

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Kiku gets down to brass tacks, but Sukeroku is initially unwilling to hear him out: he’s done with that part of his life; rakugo has gotten “boring”; he’s out of practice; the raft of excuses is almost unending. But Kiku cuts through all that with one simple fact: ”

If people want you, you have to do it.” And Kiku is one of those people. After hearing and being envious of Sukeroku’s rakugo—and being unable to replicate it—Kiku needs it back. He’s starved for it, and wants to hear it again, and continue striving to match it, even if he never will.

Kiku doesn’t come out and say he’s been gliding along without Sukeroku around, because he hasn’t—he’s been working his ass off—but when his brother compares how he looks to a shinigami (which sends a shiver up a listening Kona’s spine), it’s clear he’s missed him.

Until Sukeroku reconsiders, Kiku is staying. He fronts cash for Sukeroku to pay off all his debts, but fully expects him to repay him by acquiring jobs in town. He’ll live with them, but insists they clean the house thoroughly. In this manner, Kiku is like a stiff, purifying breeze that blows out the cobwebs.

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But Sukeroku and Kona aren’t the only two benefitting from Kiku’s stay. Kiku decides to do small performances at dinner parties and the like to pay for food and his fare home, and gets really into it. The master of the inn even presents him with a more formal performance space (ironically formerly a geisha prep room).

In a bath scene that hearkens back to one of the first between the two brothers (something Sukeroku points out but Kiku claims not to remember), Kiku does confess that he’s never felt this way abotu rakugo before; this good.Sukeroku knows why: Kiku can see his audience; there’s less physical and emotional distance between them, motivating him to strive do his best.

At times it seems like Kiku himself could settle down here as Sukeroku did, and if not thrive in the upper echelon of his craft, at least lead a happy life.

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But that’s not really the case. Kiku still wants to return to Tokyo, with Sukeroku taking his rightful place as Yakumo. As always, Kiku is looking out for Sukeroku, striving to put him on the path he thinks is best. That means getting him out of debt, cleaning his house, and cutting his little girl’s hair so it’s out of her face.

In one of my favorite scenes of the whole show, Kiku scolds Kona for badmouthing her mother, then discourages her from taking up rakugo, since he earnestly believes it’s a man’s job to be on the stage performing. He then goes into a pretty woman’s crucial role as the rakugo performer’s muse, drawing out their best performance.

Konatsu then puts Kiku in checkmate by getting him to admit she looks pretty with her new haircut, so now he has to do rakugo for her!

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If Kiku was enjoying himself at all the small informal gigs in town, he seems even more at ease and in the zone with an audience of just one. The story Kona makes him do—an at times creepy, at times hilarious story involving sexy ghosts or some such—is one of the best I’ve heard, and it’s made even better when Sukeroku, who can’t help himself, joins in and turns the solo performance into a duet; their first.

These are two brothers who haven’t seen each other in five years, and yet here they are, a perfect comedy duo. Perhaps the performance is technically a little rougher and unpolished than it sounded like, but who cares? Konatsu is over the moon, and Kiku is hopeful he’s shown Sukeroku why he can’t give up on rakugo. It’s not just Kiku who needs it, it’s his daughter too.

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We don’t hear Sukeroku’s answer, but their performance, and Konatsu’s elation, clearly has a powerful effect on him. Then Miyokichi enters the picture, at the very end of the episode, having been handed a sign announcing a public dual rakugo performance starring Sukeroku…and Kiku-san.

Miyokichi’s reaction suggests she’s still carrying a torch for her old boyfriend after all this time, which goes a fair way in explaining why she’s not home with Sukeroku or Konatsu; perhaps the former reminds her too much of the man she really loved. The question is, will she attend the performance?

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Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 22 (Fin)

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BRAVO. Violin Girl had its ups and downs this cour, but really came through with a stirring and satisfying finale that looks back upon where Kousei has been, explore where he is in the present and what he’s become, and hints at where he’s poised to go, not long after a certain devastating yet inevitable development comes to pass.

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First of all, Kousei draws power from everyone who has helped him (most of whom are in the audience) and finds the sound within him, delivering by far his best performance. Entering a serene environment of still water and deep blue sky, the Kaori inside of him coalesces, not just to cheer him on, but to play violin along with him…one last time.

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It’s an exceedingly beautiful, sad, but ultimately uplifting performance, and to the show’s credit, everyone shuts up for a few minutes so we can simply listen and get lost in the wall of sublime sound. Now, if you’re not a Chopin fan, you’re probably not going to like this, but I’m just fine with him, and it was a transcendent sensory experience I hoped would never end.

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But at one point in the piece Kaori lowers her bow and begins to fade away, then light explodes violently from her core, to Kousei’s despair. Yet he doesn’t freeze. He keeps his head up and watches her disappear. He’s no longer playing with her, he’s playing for her, and for everyone else who got him to where he is: once again pouring his heart and soul into a Steinway.

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When the piece ends at the episode’s halfway point, there’s no delayed applause nor the usual post-performance victory fanfare. There’s only silence, and Kousei’s tears streaming down his face. He says goodbye.

And that’s it.

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When the B-part begins, there’s no mention of who won (probably Kousei), nor how Kaori’s operation went. The first scene is of cars trudging through the snow (something I’ll probably have to do tomorrow, despite the fact it’s the first day of Spring!). The second is Kousei in a graveyard with Koari’s parents. The operation didn’t work, and she has passed away.

Yet Kousei isn’t so overcome by grief that he cannot function as a person; he’s grown up. He also got to play with her one last time, if only in his head.

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Kaori’s folks give Kousei a letter from Kaori, affixed with the telling black cat sticker, her narration (and Kousei’s reaction) to which comprises the rest of the episode. This letter provides Kousei closure, but also fresh insight into his dearly departed love.

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Kaori first saw Kousei long before he spotted her in that playground. As a five-year-old, she was an aspiring pianist herself, who was affected so powerfully by lil’ Kousei’s performance, she ran straight home (Unattended five year olds! Japan!) and asked her parents to buy her a violin. Kousei was the reason she played a violin at all.

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Kaori continued to admire Kousei when they started attending the same school, but only from afar, as she was intimidated by the strong bond between him and Tsubaki. But the fact that Ryouta was beside them meant she’d have a chance to make Kousei notice her. To make that happen, she told the titular Lie In April: the lie that she liked Ryouta.

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Like the fact that she started playing violin so she could play beside Kousei, this lie comes as more of a confirmation rather than a surprise: it was clear pretty early on, despite all the teasing and flirting to the contrary, Kaori and Kousei had a lot more going for each other than Kaori and Ryouta, who was fun and nice and attractive, but not much more than that. Ryouta knew this too; he could never hold a candle to the power beyond words that music brings to the table.

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For all of the cursing of music for tearing Kousei’s mom away from him, or Kousei away from Tsubaki, or Kaori away from Kousei, Kousei doesn’t give up on music just because Kaori passes away. To do so would’ve meant he’d learned nothing from her. Instead, as we see, he’s grown into a cooler, more mature musician.

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In the end, music brought Kaori to him from the start; and though she was only “passing by”, she was able to bring him back to it, and it brought them together once more in his last performance with her. And as she wished, he will never forget her. If he does, she’ll haunt his ass.

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That brings us to Tsubaki, who isn’t sure how to approach Kousei after Kaori’s passing, knowing he loved her deeply. Kashiwagi, armed with 108 BL books’ (and zero boyfriends’) worth of romantic wisdom, tells Tsubaki to simply stop turning the gears in her head and simply listen to her heart and act the way she usually does with him.

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It works. In one last violent slapstick act that actually felt appropriate and earned, Tsubaki kicks Kousei in the shin and tells him in no uncertain terms that he’d better not ever think he’s alone ever again, because she’s never going to leave his side. Kousei is just fine with that, and so he should.

Kaori was the love that, rather than never was, was only a corporeal thing ever so briefly, like trees blossoming at the start of spring. Tsubaki was in his life before Kaori appeared, was there throughout his fleeting romance with Kaori and remains there for the long haul. I wish them both all the best.

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The show closes with a look at the random old photo Kaori included with her letter, of her posing with a friend. But it’s significant because a little Kousei is in the background walking past, with his mother’s stern foot just in the frame.

Ten years ago, this photo captured a moment when Koari and Kousei were so very close together, and both looking at the camera, and yet neither knew the other was in it, and in Kousei’s case, didn’t even know wouldn’t even formally meet the girl until ten years later. But not only did they meet, but she lifted him out of his deep soundless sea, he gave her a stirring sendoff and vowed to continue playing with everything he has as long as he has it.

Ill fate tore them apart too soon, but even if that photo and all other photos fade away with time, she’ll always live on in Kousei, the year or so they spent together and the music she made and helped him make etched eternally in his heart.

Once again: Bravo.

10_sesRABUJOI World Heritage List

Final Series Score: 9.05