Rokudenashi Majutsu Koushi to Akashic Records – 04

After its best episode yet, I wasn’t under any assumptions that the show would keep getting better and better, but last week is followed up by a solid, satisfying outing that explores the new status quo among the class now that Glenn is actually giving a shit; this is something that couldn’t be explored last week because of the far more pressing terrorism.

It’s Magical Competition time, and the games will be performed before the queen herself (and Rumia’s biological mother) Alicia VII, but Class 2 is unenthusiastic. Glenn assures them he’s after nothing less than Victory, and appoints those he believes are the best in the individual fields the various events focus upon.

Because the whole class is involved, and Glenn is so confident, everyone becomes engaged and motivated, and Sistine becomes his very active advocate of his strategy. Only Rumia and we know the truth: Glenn actually would have preferred to use only his best students for all the events.

But he can’t go back now; he’s in too deep. I appreciate that he’s bearing the discomfort that comes with knowing he’s dug himself in a big hole, but is willing to stick it out for the good of his students. In fact, he doubles down by entering a bet with Class 1’s instructor Halley involving three whole months of salary…and the bastard is already hungry!

The competition prep is punctuated nicely by a B-plot involving Queen Alicia’s guilt over abandoning Rumia (even if it was for her own good), as well as a glimpse of family life with the Fibels. For her part, Fibel considers Sisti’s parents her mom and dad, and Sisti her sister, so that’s all there is to it.

We later learn on the day of the competition that Celica is an old friend of Alicia’s, meaning not only does the queen tolerate her familiar manner, but she also trusts Celica’s faith in Glenn. That trust is validated when Class 2 goes on to place in all the events thus far, surprising everyone, including themselves and Glenn.

I believe a non-trivial amount of their success is thanks to the confidence Glenn instilled in them all, backed up by Sistine and Rumia, which allows them to focus and maximize the skills they need to harness. It’s also great to see Glenn put Rumia in the Mental Defense event, knowing full well from the past couple episodes how tough she is (more than Sisti, to be sure).

When Glenn sees Rumia’s badass Class 5 competition, Jaill, he starts to sweat a little, especially when the instructor in the even turns out to be a real perv. But to Jaill’s credit, he’s not an overly aggressive or disrespectful opponent; he simply believes he’s the best and Rumia is as frail as she looks.

He’s mistaken, and the revelation that he ends up unconscious while standing while Rumia is still awake to take the win was another great surprise. Competition episodes can be a bore, but this one excelled by leaning on its characters and their relationships. It was a lot of fun.

Eromanga-sensei – 03

When Masamune investigates the abandoned, possibly haunted house next door, he’s surprised to find Yamada Elf has just moved in: and likes to play the piano naked after a shower to get inspired to write.

After the standard accusations of peeping tommery, she invites him in, and most of the episode is given over to making Elf a little more dimensional, if still grating in her intense, obnoxious arrogance.

As Sagiri’s bedroom window faces Elf’s office, you’d think it wouldn’t be long before she found out who Eromanga-sensei is, but Elf sees Masamune’s sister and thinks she’s just that: a little sister who has fun drawing, not the person whose services they’re fighting over.

It’s also a bit shitty of Masamune not to even mention to Sagiri his little wager with Elf, considering Sagiri is the ‘prize’. Then again, it’s a good thing that Masamune isn’t the perfect MC while everyone around him is flawed in some way.

Indeed, Masamune’s flaw seems to be that in spite of Elf’s toxic personality, incessant pretentiousness, and pronunciation of ahhh-neee-may, he can’t help spending time with his new neighbor, nor indeed being a fan himself, even if meeting Yamada-sensei wasn’t what he expected.

For a time, it doesn’t seem like Elf invited Masamune in just to rub his nose in her superior success, but to spend time with a fellow author. She earnestly asks why he’s a fan, and he earnestly answers: after a death in the family, her books cheered him up. They taught him that novels can “save lives” of some readers, and for that she has his heartfelt thanks, competition or no.

Elf’s reaction betrays a softer, more genuine side to her, even if it’s short-lived and she’s back to being awful the next day. But it’s also clear that she’d rather have Masamune around than not, and also strongly disagrees with his workaholic approach to authoring, as she considers her job a “hobby” and only writes if her motivation is maxed out.

Despite knowing nothing of their competition involving her, Sagiri is uneasy anyway because her big brother, who has been All Hers up to this point, is suddenly ‘in the web’ of a cute, rich next-door neighbor.

While her music and online fans keep Eromanga merry, I feel one of the factors that drives her motivation to draw is knowing Masamune will always be there in the house, serving her meals and protecting her.

Yamada throws a thorn in that arrangement, and it will be interesting to see whether that motivates Sagiri to explore beyond her room. But yeah…Masamune really should tell her about his wager with Elf.

Eromanga-sensei – 02

The beautiful girl at the door turns out to be Sagiri’s classmate and class rep at school, Jinno Megumi. After a joke about how much she loves dicks, the very flirtatious “Megumin” states her purpose for being there: she wants Sagiri to come to school so she can be friends with her, like she’s friends with everyone.

Well! That’s a strong personality to contend with, but she doesn’t get her way, at least today. Sagiri never meets her in person, but only overhears her conversation with Masamune through his phone—and later, without his knowledge, through Megumi’s, leading him to say some very nice things about his “pride and joy”, Sagiri.

After that new girl encounter, Masamune jumps into an old one, Takasago Tomoe, who seems to be a classmate and/or childhood friend whose family runs the bookstore where his manga are sold.

Well, they’re offered for sale, but to Masamune’s horror, it doesn’t look like any have actually been sold. He wants Tomoe to help him out by putting them in a more prominent spot, but she doesn’t bend: if he wants better placement and sales, he has to write better stories that touch people’s hearts.

The third girl Masamune encounters is perhaps the worst, Yamada Elf, a thoroughly unpleasant, petulant, arrogant young author who couldn’t be more different from Masamune (or Sagiri for that matter). She lets her “#1 on Oricon” standing go straight to her head, believing she isn’t just the Savior of LNs, she IS light novel. Yikes!

Masamune encounters Elf trying to poach Eromanga-sensei away, something even Masamune feels would benefit his little sister, so when he goes home he’s extremely contrite and gives an offering of not-so-tasty (according to Sagiri) snacks. I don’t see Sagiri abandoning her brother anytime soon…at least until the fourth girl arrives, whom I am predicting is another artist who tries to poach Masamune, the way Elf wants to poach Sagiri.

Until then, a tiny bit of progress seems to have been made in Sagiri; she asks if her brother’s heard back from Megumi, and also tells him she’ll wash her own underwear from now on, which means she’ll have to leave her room, however briefly.

Boruto: Naruto Next Generations – 02

Last week I felt bad for Hinata stuck at home as a housewife and mom when she, Naruto, and their friends once did battle side-by-side on the front lines…but I just might have it all wrong. This peaceful life, both for themselves and for their children, is what they fought for in the first place. But some youngins are restless, and long for a time they probably romanticize since they weren’t even alive for the worst of it.

One such knucklehead, Aino Iwabe, picks on Denki, leading to Boruto challenging him. It’s the second straight week Boruto saves Denki from a bully or bullies, only this week there’s much more emphasis on Boruto as a brat riding his illustrious dad’s coattails. After all, he crashed a train into a mountain and just got a slap on a wrist.

Between that incident, the lenient punishment, Yamanaka Inojin’s shade, and Iwabe’s taunts, Boruto has to work for acceptance by his peers (at least the ones who aren’t Denki or Shikadai). That means the class dismisses itself for a good old-fashioned schoolyard duel.

Boruto is able to keep up, but gets thrashed around quite a bit by the older and clearly more advanced Iwabe. Even Uchida Sarada, who had put up a haughty dismissive front to that point, seems to fret over the outcome of her childhood friend’s fight with the older kid.

In the end, Boruto all but convinces Iwabe that everyone has their individual circumstances, but blaming “the times” for one’s failures, not to mention picking on those weaker than you, is way uncool.

When Iwabe loses his temper and readies an earth-based weapon, he is quickly stopped by Inojin, who despite his earlier shade, gained respect for Boruto for defending Denki and proving through his skills that he’s not simply riding coattails.

When class reconvenes, Iwabe is right there behind Boruto, and they exchange cordial greetings. And Boruto is no longer unpopular, getting lunch invitations from many a classmate. Another peaceful resolution in a peaceful world. No one knows how long such peace will last, but they certainly can enjoy it while it does.

Eromanga-sensei – 01 (First Impressions)

Izumi Masamune is a popular light novel writer despite still being in high school. He lives with his stepsister Sagiri, whose face he hasn’t seen in over a year. One day while he’s watching a livestream of Eromanga-sensei, the mysterious illustrator of his works whom he’s never met, he notices the note he left with Sagiri’s meal, proving that she is Eromanga-sensei.

She finally lets him see her face, and even invites him in her room to talk, but despite having collaborated with each other on light novels for three years, the road to re-connection won’t be a smooth one.

Eromanga-sensei’s value isn’t in the twist that the siblings are artistic collaborators. I figured that out the moment Masamune said he’d never met his illustrator. Rather, it lies in excitement bred from the sudden disruption of a long-standing status quo; a stalemate between Masamune and Sagiri that had no end in sight.

Now that they ‘know who each other are’, so to speak, they have an opening that I imagine they’ll be ever-so-slowly exploring throughout the show. A show with a crisp, clean, airy look and theme of emotionally distant siblings that viewers of he Oreimo series will find familiar, due to the two shows sharing the same character designer, Kanzaki Hiro, and writer, Fushimi Tsukasa (the two collaborated on the source novels of both shows).

The moment Sagiri finally opens her door is a momentous moment, but the Schrodinger’s Cat-style tension it releases is replaced by the long, difficult, and outright awkward road ahead.

As Sagiri says, this is all very sudden, and it’s hard for adults to wrap their heads around and process such sudden changes in life, let alone a kid who hasn’t left her room in three years.

It’s far easier for, say, Masamune to wrap his mind around this, because the mystery of who Eromanga-sensei was always irked him, and he never suspected for a minute it was his sister (Sagiri, on the other hand, seemed to harbor some vague suspicions, as his pen name is the same as his regular one, albeit in katakana).

Masamune also has the benefit of being able to leave the house at will and interact with other people face-to-face rather than exclusively through technology. Sagiri’s voice-amplifying headset is a nice touch for illustrating how ill-prepared for social interaction she really is. Even having Masamune in there is so strange, on more than one occasion she cuts off their encounters so she can return to the normalcy of solitude.

This is all to say that I really admired the way Sagiri’s condition is portrayed. She’s not slob; her room is neat and tidy, and there’s no denying she’s an immensely gifted artist, especially considering her age. She just…can’t leave her room, nor has she been able to since her mother (who encouraged her to draw) passed away. We all process grief in different ways, she did so by shutting herself off from the world that took her mom away.

Learning her brother is Izumi Masamune doesn’t change any of that. She still feels trapped in that room because of her mother’s death. And unlike Masamune, she doesn’t think they’re family just because they live in the same house and he serves her meals. It’s a combination of frustration over her self-confinement and shame that she’s been such a ‘troublesome sister’. Masamune’s unconditional love is confusing and frightening, and Masamune does come on a bit too strong with his enthusiasm over learning the truth at times.

But one thing’s for sure: Sagiri loves drawing for the enjoyment of fans and readers, just as Masamune loves writing for the same reasons. She likes the interaction her livestreams and blogging allow. She is every inch a child of the 21st Century, in which even self-imposed prisons still contain windows to the world. It will be interesting to see if, when, and how Sagiri is able to emerge from her room, and from the house to see the world again with her own senses.

…It will also be interesting to see if Masamune ever asks Sagiri where she’s been stashing the cash she’s made illustrating, and why she hasn’t contributed to living expenses!

Boruto: Naruto Next Generations – 01 (First Impressions)

This spin-off of and semi-sequel to Naruto starts at the end, and in a pretty dark place with Naruto’s grown-up son Boruto fighting some baddie among the ruins of Konohagakure. Looks pretty serious and hardcore, but it is only a small taste of what will supposedly come to pass many years hence.

Rewind to when Boruto is just a little punk kid, on the eve of the Academy entrance ceremony. He spots a boy being bullied and later learns his name is Denki and he’ll also be attending the academy, but only because his father is making him as part of his duty as heir to the family business empire. Boruto can probably relate to dad’s casting long shadows, as his own is none other than the Seventh Hokage.

Back home we check in on Boruto’s little sister Himawari and his mom and Naruto’s wife Hinata. Seems like a nice enough house but if I recall correctly Hyuuga Hinata was and is a pretty large badass kunoichi, and frankly looks rather bored looking after the ol’ homestead while Naruto is buried under paperwork at Hokage HQ. But this show ain’t about the parents; they had their time in the limelight…fifteen years and 720 episodes’ worth, to be precise.

Naturally Boruto and Denki don’t simply arrive at the opening ceremony on time and get on with classes, because that wouldn’t be that exciting. Instead, Denki’s bitterness at being rejected by his dad causes him to be possessed by an evil aura, which Boruto is able to see with his trick right eye.

Denki sets it up so the bullies will get killed in a head-on collision of two trains (built and run by his dad’s company). Boruto gets him to snap out of it and cast off the evil aura, and with Boruto uses his clones’ combined reach to pull the switch that avoids the collision. Everybody’s safe and sound, and both Denki and the bullies learn a lesson and bond a little through their shared ordeal.

With that, all that’s left is to get to the ceremony on time, and Boruto and Denki just make it, by making one hell of a ridiculous entrance, aboard the derailed train car, which crashes into the side of Naruto’s face. Not his real face, but the colossal stone face carved into the mountain with the other Hokage. Symbolism, much?

This week is the Boruto & Denki show, sprinkled with a bit of Nara Shikadai, with naught but a cameo by Sakura and Sasuke’s daughter Sarada. The episode gets the job done: introducing the title character, demonstrating his considerable but still very-raw abilities and very familiar personality, and giving him a mission-of-the-week to carry out with Denki.

I’ll admit to dropping Naruto: Shippuden about two years in after completing Naruto, but there’s a nice fresh-start feel about Boruto, a newly-revamped take on an old, familiar world. The production values are higher than I remember (granted, back when Naruto started there was no widescreen or HD). It’s nothing fancy, and is by definition unoriginal, but there’s a inscrutable easy watchability to it nonetheless. Whether you’re a big fan of the franchise, a complete noob, or somewhere in between like me seeking ‘shounen comfort food’, it’s worth a quick glance.

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 50 (Fin)

Once the tunnel digging is complete, everyone falls back except for Akihiro and Mika, who stand their ground and continue to buy time for their family. And while Tekkadan’s two toughest pilots put up a hell of a fight, even initially surviving a direct Dainsleif attack from orbit, they’re sufficiently softened up to allow Julieta and Iok to go in for the kill.

Akihiro gets Iok in his giant binders and crushes him, but he in turn is killed by Iok’s subordinates. Julieta, who has vowed to remain human while being as ruthless as Rustal needs her to be, beheads the bestial Barbatos Lupus Rex and raises it in triumph before her elated comrades. It is over. Mika, Akihiro are dead, and so is Tekkadan.

But life goes on, and those who survived thanks to their fallen brothers continue to follow Orga’s final order to keep moving forward. And what to you know, things end up working out both for Gjallarhorn (which reforms from within to a more democratic system under Rustal) and Mars (which gains nominal independence from Earth, as a new union under the chairmanship of Kudelia).

Kudelia and Rustal work together to end the practice of turning destitute orphans into human debris once and for all. Even without the main actors who set the stage alive to see it, and very few people remember who they even were, a measure of their ideals were realized anyway. Atra’s powerful monologue about how one doesn’t notice a flower blooming by the side of the road really drove that point home.

It helps that the “bad guys” who “won” are interesting and likable enough that years after they brutally took Orga, Mika, Macky and Tekkadan down, it’s still satisfying to see Gaelio returning to his old “frivolous” self, only now far more wiser, while Julieta has steady-competenced herself to being the likely successor to Rustal for leadership of Gjallarhorn.

Meanwhile, some survivors, among them Ride, can’t move forward without taking revenge, as he does when he assassinates Nobliss Gordon while he’s sitting on the toilet.

As for Kudelia? She’s overjoyed to learn Merribit and Yukinojou are expecting their second child soon, but can’t go out drinking with Chad and the guys. She heads home to the Sakura Farm, where an older, taller, and very badass Atra is waiting with their kid, with the unmistakable blue eyes and vacant expression of Mikazuki. The kid’s name is, naturally, Mikazuki, and unlike his father, he’ll have a childhood full of love and kindness, not desperation, and violence.

While chatting with Gaelio, Julieta admits the fighters of Tekkadan weren’t devils; she knew that the moment she saw an unconscious Mika when his cockpit cover sheared off. They were, in fact, the most human of us all, belonging on the battlefield for no other reason than to keep living and fighting. So it’s fortunate that there’s civilization to filter out some of our raw, instinctual humanity.

Thanks to the sacrifices of Tekkadan, McGillis and their allies, that civilization has been improved and made available to the next generation of youth, so maybe there won’t be a need for another Tekkadan ever again.

And that’ll do it. Whether you just checked in this week or have been following them since the very beginning, thanks as always for reading my reviews of what I believe to be one of, if not the best Gundam yet. It was a fantastic ride, and the franchise will be hard-pressed to surpass the greatness it achieved in these fifty episodes. But if they make a (non-SD) attempt down the road, I’ll be there to review it.

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 49

Orga is dead, but he succeeded in giving Tekkadan one last chance to survive. Eugene and Mika agree (without saying anything) that Orga’s orders to not stop and keep moving forward stand. The way Mika works, he doesn’t need Orga around to tell him what to do; his final words were broad enough to last Mika the rest of his days—which hopefully aren’t too few.

While some Tekkadan members are thirsty for blood and revenge (unaware it was Gordon’s men, not Gjallarhorn, who gunned him down), but in a rare instance of Mika gathering everyone ’round, he stands atop Barbatos and informs/warns everyone of the consequences of getting in the way of Orga’s orders. Eugene flashes a downward gaze, realizing he could never hold a candle to Mika’s charisma any more than Orga’s. But everyone’s roles are clear. All that’s left is to execute Orga’s orders.

When Rustal is informed of Orga’s death in a convo with Gordon, a healed Julieta is present to hear it. She laments that Tekkadan must fight in such a desperate fight after being used by so many “shady adults.” Rustal reminds her that he’s one of those adults; she understands, but perhaps she’s just as trapped as Tekkadan. Meanwhile we see two of the best adults in the series, Yukinojou and Merribit, saying a tearful goodbye.

Cut to the shadiest but also one of the toughest and wiliest adults of the series, Todo, who we learn arranged a shuttle for McGillis so he could rejoin his flagship, which he quickly evacuates. The final stage of his battle will be fought alone, for he believes it will give him the most freedom.

Contrast that with his wife Almiria, who towers over her towering father in proclaiming she will stand with her husband, and that they’ll bear their sins together…just so long as he returns home safe. She wears the mantle—or, if you will, shackles—that bind her with Macky with pride and nobility. All I can say is…Poor Almiria.

Meanwhile, true to McGillis’ style, he puts on a hell of a show, ramming his flagship into one of Rustal’s ship (unfortunately, not the ship Rustal is on), bursts out of the wreckage with Bael, and starts menacingly hacking away at the fleet, one ship and suit and pilot at a time. He’s slowed down by Gaelio, whom he warns he’ll truly kill this time if he impedes him. But Gaelio is intent on showing his former friend and comrade that being alone isn’t freedom, it’s a death trap.

Gaelio has what’s left of Ein by his side, and Carta in his heart. When he delivers a coup-de-grace to Bael, McGillis bails out and boards Rustal’s flagship, bleeding out from a shrapnel wound. He’s met in a corridor by the masked Gaelio, but he removes his mask and insists McGillis really look at him. McGillis demurs almost to the last, telling him that as wonderful as it was having him and Carta in his life, being with them clouded his resolve.

That might be Macky’s fatal flaw: his inability to trust even those closest to him (or as close as he ever let anyone get to him). Just think if he had confided in his friends, and instead of tattling, they joined him? McGillis’ plan to reform Gjallarhorn would have been bolstered by his friends’ family fleets. Instead, he treated them like parts of the system he had to destroy, but only led to him isolating himself into a checkmate.

What’s worst of all is that it’s plain he never entirely gave up his friendships. Gaelio can see this in Macky’s face and words, and killing him gives him no joy. Gaelio says Farewell, but as is the case with so many supposed death scenes (including…Gaelio’s), it’s not 100% certain Macky will succumb to his wounds.

One thing is for certain: McGillis Fareed has lost. His crusade to wrest control of and reform Gjallarhorn has failed spectacularly. In his wake he leaves hundreds of his loyal officers and men, as well as the orphans of Tekkadan, whose only slim hope now is to scurry under ancient tunnels and trade their identities for their lives.

Even that is not so easily done. Mika, Eugene, Akihiro, Dante, and Hush buy the tunnel-diggers time, but Hush seems to buy it, fighting hard until the end, and it seems like the best the rest can manage is be “ground to dust” as slowly as possible by the seemingly endless Gjallarhorn onslaught.

We can only hope Mika’s words of reaching the place Orga was headed is a place of the living; a place where they belong and won’t have to fight; and that his words won’t end up ringing as hollow as Macky’s.

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 12 (Fin)

Its first season shows us the past, and most of its second season showed us the present. This week is all about the future, both of the Yakumo and Sukeroku names, the families connected to them, and of rakugo itself. In all cases, that future looks bright, thanks to the inspiration of those who came before.

First, we have a Shin in his late teens or early twenties, and he’s the spitting image of his grandfather Yakumo, even though they’re not related by blood…or are they? The resemblance is uncanny, Konatsu is committed to taking the truth to the grave, as is her prerogative.

In other news, Konatsu has become the first female rakugo performer in history, which is awesome, because it’s something we know she’s always wanted to do, and she’s also very very good at it (sadly though, we don’t get to see her perform).

Interestingly, it doesn’t seem her and Yotaro’s daughter (and Shin’s little sister) Koyuki is interested in following the path the rest of her family has walked, and is content to listen to them work their craft.

As far as Shin is concerned, Yotaro, now the Ninth Generation Yakumo, is his Dad—he helped raise him, after all. That is very clear in a quiet, private scene between the two. As it’s very possible he carries both the blood of Sukeroku and Yakumo, Shin seems to strike a nice balance between their two extreme styles. And the little boy Shin we’re accustomed to comes out when his dad encourages him before one of the biggest performances of his life.

That performance is part of the grand re-opening of the Uchikutei theater, which had burned down years ago but now has been completely rebuilt (only now, no doubt, is up to code). Seeing the new Yakumo IX on the stage with his wife and son (and Master Mangatsu) is a triumphant moment, and the full crowd suggests Yotaro has succeeded in restoring rakugo from the brink it was dangling from when Yakumo VIII died.

Now it’s a more inclusive, less stodgy, and more welcoming place, without sacrificing the things that made it unique. Even Konatsu realizes she was foolish in her earlier thinking that she’d upset some kind of “harmony” by entering the world of rakugo.

It must be that much more encouraging for Matsuda, the only character to inhabit all three timelines. He’s 95 and wheelchair-bound, but seems as warm and cheerful as ever.

After Shin opens with a very good performance that demonstrates why he will be an excellent Sukeroku and/or Yakumo one day, Yotaro performs “Shinigami”, a Yakumo VIII original, as a tribute. And what do you know, the old man visits him at the climax of his performance, leading me wondering momentarily if Yotaro had been taken to the far shore himself!

Thankfully, Yotaro is fine, and he and his family and friends celebrate after the show with a flower viewing by the riverside. Matsuda mentions how he saw his master to the far shore (apparently during a near-death experience of his own back then), and Higuchi waxes poetic on Yotaro’s contributions to helping prevent rakugo from dying with Yakumo.

Yotaro, however was never concerned that rakugo would go anywhere, with or without his help. It’s too good for that. And I tend to agree: various humans can argue over whether the art of rakugo is something that must be vigilantly protected from disappearing, like tending a delicate fire.

But fires can be rebuilt and reignited, and there will always be those who want to sit in an old theater (or a newly rebuilt theater) and hear someone tell a funny, raunchy, or moving story that will transport them somewhere else. Rakugo is eternal.

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 48

McGillis, sporting a slightly less ostentatious look goes to the hangar to ask Mika what he wants to do, and whether he wants to join him in fighting the Gjallarhorn forces surrounding them. But no matter how he phrases it, Mika’s answer is the same: He’ll do what Orga wants, no more, no less.

Ever since the two met as boys, their relationship has been defined by utter dependence on each other, a bond no one, even Atra, could break. He is the hand; Orga is the will. But what happens if one dies before the other?

Yukinojo decided that now is the time to bring up the only remaining potential means of Tekkadan’s escape: underground tunnels and comms equipment left over from the Calamity War. Orga’s new order is not to fight, but survive, even if they have to dig themselves out by hand.

In order to ensure a future for everyone, even if it’s a future where they’re able to keep on living and nothing else, Orga has to contact Makanai. So he, Chad, Ride, Kudelia and Atra leave HQ in an unassuming armored car.

Notably, Orga does not take Mika along, saying he has another task for him. Mika is weary of what Orga “might mess up” if he’s not with him, but still gives him his pistol when he asks for it; the same pistol Orga watched Mika kill at his command with years ago.

At first Mika scared him; but he soon realized that there was nothing to fear, because if Mika was your friend, you couldn’t lose against anyone. Who would have thought Mika would be right about Orga messing up, and that this would be the last time they saw each other?

I greatly appreciated the little scene in which Kudelia and Atra kiss Mika goodbye, much to the discomfort of Ride and Hush. I personally have never had any problem with their weird lovey-dovey triangle (indeed, it’s been a nice change of pace from the usual kind), but this is an acknowledgement of that weirdness in the eyes of other Tekkadan members, who either don’t quite understand, or are jealous, or both. It’s really the only funny moment in the episode, but I’m glad it’s there.

And how will Orga’s little road trip get to Chryse without being attacked by Gjallarhorn? McGillis has that covered, though he doesn’t deploy, defeat Iok in three strokes, and fight the entire force on his own merely as a diversion for Orga. He still speaks of destroying Rustal, but Rustal isn’t even on the planet.

Whatever scheme is still in motion for McGillis, he seems resigned to the fact that he isn’t a wolf in a pack like the members of Tekkadan; he’s always been alone, and if that’s how he has to achieve his goals, so be it.

Orga & Co. get to Chryse, where they learn that those they’ve helped survive in the past are ready and willing to return the favor, like Makanai, who despite being one of the older adults on the show, continues to favor the youngins of Tekkadan who are the only reason he’s still around.

And what a nice reveal of Takaki, who is doing fine, working as Makanai’s aid, and implying Fuka’s doing fine too. One could argue as long as one member survives Rustal’s purge, Tekkadan wins.

Makanai and Takaki aren’t their only allies, for they are providing haven, but not the means to get there. Enter an email from an awesomely-suited Azee and Eco, stating that they have the okay from McMurdo to assist Tekkadan in any way they need, at any time. All of the fighting and dying wasn’t for nothing; Tekkadan made important friends whose loyalty isn’t wavering when it counts the most.

With that, Orga says goodbye to Kudelia and Atra in a hallway gorgeously lit by the setting golden sun. They’ll hole up in the Bernstein residence and await good news from Earth. I’m sure Atra would have liked to stay with Mika until the end, but he wouldn’t have wanted that for her or their baby, and Kudelia promised Mika she’d protect them.

After a long walk down that almost eerily lit hall, with Ride all but shouting death flags about everything working out, the seething tension was almost unbearable. It didn’t get any better when they step outside to the waiting car and there’s no Gjallarhorn soldiers, or anyone around at all. It’s too quiet, too calm. Something was going to happen.

Something did: in an incident just as quick and merciless as Lafter’s muder, Orga is gunned down by a bunch of suits in a passing car. Chad and Ride escape mortal injury, and Orga kills one of the assassins with Mika’s pistol, but he’s riddled with bullets and leaking his life’s blood on the pavement.

Still, he wears a wry smile, gets up, doesn’t slip on the blood puddle, and moves forward. Not towards the car, just forward. His last order to Tekkadan before collapsing: don’t stop. “As long as you don’t stop, I’ll be at the end waiting for you.”

Before heading off on his own, McGillis told Mika the power he saw in him, and once thought would bring about a bright future, turned out to have “no ideals, no objective, no destination,” any more than a pistol has such things. A defiant Mika derided Macky’s use of too many words and insisted “We’ll get there.”

But at least for Orga, Mika’s will, the definition of “there” has shifted, from a happy, ideal, peaceful life they always fought for, to whatever comes after that life ends. Barring a medical miracle, Orga has already reached “there.” Mika must now decide what to do all on his own; whether to join Orga now, or stay alive and chart a new course with Atra, Kudelia, his kid, and the others.

Until then, R.I.P. Orga Itsuka. You died well.

3-gatsu no Lion – 22 (Fin)

The more I watched this episode, the more I wished it didn’t have to exist. I mean…I already KNOW Rei’s a really lonely guy with no friends whatsoever at school. Do I really need the show to drill it into my head with more lonely montages? No, I do not.

It’s doubly frustrating to see Rei fail so hard at interacting with his peers because last’s week’s episode felt so good, and this is like having cold water poured on you; it’s just…unpleasant to watch Rei at school, as it always has. Seriously, Hayashida-sensei and those four weird burner club guys who aren’t really characters—those are the only people he ever speaks to!

At certain breaks in his inner monologue, I kept hoping against hope that someone, anyone resembling a normal high school student would approach him, maybe having seen or read about him. But no one ever comes.

The second half, which starts as a flashback to really drive home the point that Rei is awkward and lonely, again feels like a redundant detour that illustrates what I already know: Shogi is the “ticket” that ensures someone will always sit by him.

Rei envisions himself on (and the show is very intent on repeatedly showing) a magical floating CGI train in the sky; a train he shares with many other people headed towards the same destination.

Call me bitter because the previous episode was a perfect ending to the series as a whole, not just the Kawamoto side of Rei’s story. I guess, like all those high school kids, the actual shogi was never that interesting too me; too arcane to get too far into with its alphanumerical nomenclature.

Fortunately, everything else was not only interesting but endearing, charming, and relatable. So while it’s regrettable the series ends on a meh note, it doesn’t take away from last week’s loveliness, nor do I regret getting into the show.

Average Rating (22 episodes): 8.14

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 11

For all the sorrow and tragedy and pain in his life, things turned out pretty well for Yakumo, AKA Bon, and as it turns out, he really did die under ideal circumstances: he died in his sleep, peacefully, painlessly, surrounded by those who loved him, listening to his grandson doing rakugo.

This episode, perhaps the finest in the entire run of the show, takes place entirely in the purgatory-like place the recently deceased go before crossing the Sanzu River to the hereafter. This requires a fare, which, big surprise, Sukeroku hasn’t been able to afford yet.

The show had always teased an interest in depicting a more fantastical world than that of the living, and in this place people can change their age at will, time is kinda hard to put a finger on. Yakumo is initially annoyed that once again Sukeroku is sponging off him, even after death, but once he’s a boy again, he quickly falls back comfortably into the very deep brotherly bond they shared.

The afterlife is suitably lush and otherworldly, but also borrows heavily from traditional Japanese aesthetics, which makes sense considering the characters we’re following. Sukeroku makes sure Yakumo understands how grateful he is for raising Konatsu.

The reunions don’t stop with Sukeroku, as Miyokichi died at the same time. While she’s cast away the “role of a woman”, she and Sukeroku are still a married couple, working together to earn fare across the river. It feels like, from their perspective, they only recently got here, just like Yakumo.

Yakumo wanted more than anything to apologize to Miyokichi for dumping her so heartlessly, but she holds no grudges in this place. In fact, she can now reflect on the mistakes she made in life, namely latching onto one person rather than rely on, and be there for, others. She’s also amused to no end by Yakumo talking like an old man, since he died as one.

The three travel together for a bit along that seemingly endless scaffolding, and Yakumo mentions the food is tasteless and unsatisfying. Sukeroku says it’s because they’re dead, but if he wants to be satisfied, he knows just the place: the very theater that burned down two episodes ago has arrived in the afterlife as well. It had a soul, after all. Even better: it’s a packed house with the biggest billing ever: All the masters of all generations…and Yakumo is on the bottom. He’s gone from grizzled old master to fresh new arrival in this place.

Sukeroku decides to warm the place up with a performance that really does seem to give flavor to the sake, meat, and onions he pretend-drinks and eats (never has his jaunty entrance theme, which Yotaro inherited, sounded better or more significant). “You can’t take this taste with you when you die!” also has new meaning. He’s still got it, in this place, which has gone back to exactly the same as it was in the old days.

There’s also a magic cushion (I’ll allow it) which brings the person from the living world the performer wants to listen the most. In Sukeroku’s case, it’s his daughter Konatsu, who appears the age she was when he and Miyokichi died. For Yakumo, it’s his grandson Shin, about the same age as his mom, and just as enthusiastic to hear Yakumo’s rakugo.

Yakumo takes the stage as his old self, but has never looked happier, beaming at his reunited family and full of energy. In a playful mood, he performs “Jugemu”, and Miyokichi and Shin “sing” along the comically long name. His story continues as the camera leaves the old, drafty, but brightly glowing theater, which slowly fades out of focus.

Yakumo then finds himself in a fine boat, packed and ready for his journey across the Sanzu. Sukeroku sees him off, and Yakumo makes him promise he and Miyokichi will join him soon, once they save up enough for their fare (the one thing he apparently can’t share with his friends, even if he wanted to). That could be a year from now, or it could be yesterday.

While en route, the ferryman reveals himself as Matsuda, who may have followed his master into death after nodding off himself, and he couldn’t be happier to be by his side again, chaffeuring him to the very gates of heaven.

It’s a fitting end to Yakumo’s story, and a achingly gorgeous episode full of joyful and tear-jerking moments, from Miyokichi first seeing Yakumo, to Konatsu hugging her mother, to Yakumo taking the stage one last time and meeting Matsuda on the boat.

The preview indicates the last episode will be an epilogue that jumps forward in time, perhaps to an older Shinnosuke with a red-haired young woman who may be his younger sister. That should be fun, even if it doesn’t come close to approaching the greatness of this, Yakumo’s farewell.

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 47

This is an episode of small consolations and comforts before the apparent End of Everything arrives in the form of a Gjallarhorn mop-up crew (including but mercifully not led by Iok). The Mars branch of Gjallarhorn won’t join forces with McGillis and Orga, but they will overlook their arrival and claim ignorance as to their whereabouts. Like so much that happens, it just isn’t enough.

Mikazuki, perhaps sensing the end of Tekkadan as they know it, literally stops to smell the flowers at Sakura Farm. Once all the news outlets start proclaiming Tekkadan as a brutal criminal organization led by the rogue McGillis, who Iznario now claims was never his legitimate child or heir, even Biscuit’s twin sisters get ostracized at school.

Acknowledging that his promises of a better life came to nothing, and that with Tekkadan’s assets frozen, he can’t even pay his people well, or at all, Orga has an all-hands, and says anyone who wants to leave won’t be stopped, nor will less be thought of them. Obviously, Voice of Reason Zack is the first to volunteer to split.

He certainly wants to save his own skin, but we see how it pains him to no end that hardly anyone else has the same good sense to know that the end has already arrived, and there’s nothing to “give up.”

Of course, Zack still can’t understand that so many Tekkadan members like Dane don’t have the life fallbacks he enjoys. Dane is a murderer; Tekkadan was the only organization that let him in.

Kudelia calls her odd but sweet triangle with Mika and Atra “awkward”, and she’s not wrong, especially when Atra, who has already tried to conceive with Mika (off-camera, natch) and is waiting to see “if it went well”, enthusiastically asks her to have a baby with Mika as well.

She has to settle for another group hug, the first, and possibly last one in a long time, and Kudelia’s promise that she’ll protect them: Mika, Atra, and the baby, with everything she’s got.

Orga, who has reverted back to old All On Me Mode, calls McMurdo to beg him to put him in touch with Rustal so he can beg him to spare his men in exchange for his life. But Rustal has all the cards and needs a scapegoat to raise Gjallarhorn back up into a place of legitimacy. Orga alone won’t be enough, no matter how awfully they kill him.

After the pathetic call that gets him nowhere, Eugene tries to shake some more sense out of him, and glimmers of hope start to appear towards the end of the episode, as Dexter and Merribit are able to scounge up a fifth of Tekkadan’s funds from secret unfrozen accounts. Kudelia adds to the hope by suggesting everyone in Tekkadan simply take on new identities, evacuate to Earth, and live on, leaving Mars behind but saving their lives.

But all of those little glimmers are quickly stomped on by the arrival of the Gjallarhorn task force, which surrounds Tekkadan HQ. All communications in and out of HQ are cut off, including, presumably, what’s left of their cash. Just like that, a jumping-off point for a future of peace becomes a siege that could consume everyone. At best, many more members of Tekkadan will die if anyone is to escape.

But hey…at least Macky has Bael, right?