Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 10

While there are certainly important stories to be told, the true genius of SGRS is the realism and intensity of the world in which those stories take place. While there was a soapy vibe to Yakumo’s inadvertent arson, this week grounds the even for what it was: something that was likely to happen to the tinderboxy theater sooner or later, regardless of who or what started it.

Even if Yakumo was trying to deal a blow to rakugo by sending the place up, the fact is, the theater is just a thing. You don’t really need it to perform rakugo. All you need is people to perform, people to support those performers, and an audience. And those things can be found anywhere. They’ll be okay…even the kid who worked at the theater to try to get closer to rakugo.

When we see Yakumo in the hospital, Shin and Matsuda are crying by his side, but Konatsu is sitting off at a distance, with a look that conveys both suspicion (both she and Yota had to stop him from jumping off a bridge, after all) and uneasiness.

As much as she has always hated her adoptive father for killing her birth parents, the window for hashing things out with him once and for all is quickly closing. Sooner or later Yakumo, like the theater, is going to go up-either by his own hand or by nature.

Still, even as Yakumo lies there in bed with a hell of a face burn, we know that when it came down to it, he’s terrified and not at all interested in dying. He’s not ready to leave the family he’s made, which we learn is about to get larger: Konatsu is pregnant again, and this time it’s Yota’s.

Since Yota is always calling Konatsu “nee-san”, its easy to forget that these two are married, let alone sleeping together. But I loved the way Konatsu drops the news—by mentioning how she craves sweet things when she’s expecting. I also loved Yota’s total obliviousness until she actually spells it out for him too.

You can feel the love and joy in this little scene. The RABUJOI, if you will ;)

As for her scene with Yakumo, it’s steeped in a combination of loathing and tenderness. It’s not the same love that she has for Yota at all, but it’s still love, and arguably a deeper one. As she helps him into the sun and combs his hair, he tells her how his mind wanders to things he never thought about when rakugo was his life, like how he never planted a cherry tree in his garden, or all he missed out on for rakugo.

Konatsu doesn’t let the opportunity to ask him why he never followed her parents to the grave, and there’s no need for any more pretense: Yakumo was too busy raising her to think about killing himself, and in any case, being a parent has a way of simultaneously overwhelming and soothing you. Raising Konatsu kept his regret at bay, and made it possible to live as long as he did.

Upon hearing all this, Konatsu softens, her eyes well up, and she does something it’s probably been very hard for her to consider doing: thank Yakumo, for not abandoning her.

Of course, she’s very welcome, and doesn’t even have to thank Yakumo, since she did as much for him as he did for her by being in his life. It’s a marvelously executed and acted scene; the epitome of bittersweet-ness.

Then Yota comes on the radio, Shin pops out of the bushes and recites the story Yota is telling (while tossing sakura petals in the air), Konatsu asks Yakumo if she can be his apprentice, and he says “yes” without any pushback whatsoever.

Yota and Shin’s story is accompanied by a montage of imagery that matches their words, though that imagery is coming not from the imaginations of the listeners, but in the city and world living and breathing around them during a warm, pleasant sunset. It looks like a moment of almost perfect contentment for Yakumo…

Which also makes it the perfect time to leave that world, if he was going to do so. When petals on the floor are suddenly picked up by a sudden wind and dipped into darkness, Yakumo wakes up on the planks of zig-zagging, seemingly endless boardwalk flanked on either side by countless candles. Sukeroku greets him, and this time welcomes him to the land of the dead.

Tellingly, Sukeroku doesn’t tell him he’s not yet supposed to be there. So is this it for Yakumo? Did that perfect moment signal his exit from the living world? Did he agree to train Konatsu to avoid stirring rancor so close to his end?

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 09

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When his former big boss goes away for six years’ hard labor, Yotaro has a notion to do a prison show, which is incidentally how he first heard his master. Yakumo performed “Shinigami” at that show, because he liked the chilly, somewhat hostile atmosphere.

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This time, Yakumo performs “Tachikiri”, and he moves many inmates and guards alike with the sad tale of a geisha who died because the letters from her lover stopped due to incarceration.

Of course, after last week’s outburst, part of me was weary of Yakumo being interrupted once again, perhaps this time by an unruly convict. That doesn’t happen, but the sound of Konatsu’s shamisen and voice remind Yakumo of Miyokichi, and she haunts his own visuals of the story.

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After Yakumo tries to see Yotaro’s big “Inokori” show, but leaves because it just…isn’t very good to him (no matter how entertained the crowd is), the old master clears out the old theater and performs “Shinigami” alone by candlelight, in the creepiest scene in the show since he saw those rows of candles after his collapse.

When he completes his tale, one person claps, or rather, one ghost: Sukeroku himself. It isn’t long before his youthful, vital form gives way to the skeleton, revealing a real shinigami has come for Yakumo, and he may get his wish: to die doing rakugo. “Sukeroku” compels Yakumo to toss a candle into the seats, and the whole theater goes up like a tinderbox.

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This would certainly be the end of Yakumo if it weren’t for Yotaro and good timing, who just happens to come by the theater after his performance. Upon the burning stage, with a death god pressing him down, Yakumo admits he doesn’t want to die, and Yotaro stretches to reach his master’s hand and pull him out of the inferno.

Yakumo may not succeed in “taking rakugo with him” when he dies, but he did manage to claim a theater rich in rakugo history in an attempt. What else will he destroy, whether he wants to or not, prior to exiting the stage for good?

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Trickster – 02

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Yup, she’s the culprit

It happens so often, especially in old detective stories: a beautiful, seemingly pure and innocent “Dame” walks into the private eye’s office, claiming they’re the victim of some heinous crime…only to end up being the femme fatale using the P.I. to frame someone else for crimes she’s committed.

That’s the case here (literally), and despite the dame’s attempts to misdirect (not reporting a crime, only suspecting her boyfriend of possibly being up to something illegal), the episode couldn’t keep up the charade for long.

Indeed, when she reached for her bottle of mineral water rather than touch the coffee, I knew she was up to something. It was pretty darned obvious.

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“Get down!”

Before I pat myself on the back for correctly suspecting the woman, I’d just note that the episode put that clue there for a reason, which is to get us questioning her motives. Her obsession with the pure and organic is revealed to extend to a hatred of anything non-organic, and she targets the genetic scientist whose activities go against her ideology.

So even though the big “twist”, when it comes, comes far too late, I still enjoyed the journey to get there, which included some key assists from Kobayasahi, who is convinced this week that if he wants to die, he should stick with the kid in yellow.

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“I’ve always wanted…sniff…to attend a catered affair.”

Kobayashi’s ravenous hunger (and the unsettling threat of “food being stuffed down his throat” if he tried to starve himself) lead to him tasting poison soup meant for the scientists.

It was poisoned not by the client’s boyfriend, but by the client herself, without the boyfriend’s knowledge. Hanasaki, not the worst judge of character, initially determined the guy’s face was too “pure” to be capable of those letters. And he was right.

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Personal space!

When the time comes to stop the scientist from drinking the poison water the client personally serves to him (indicating she didn’t care what happened to her as long as he died), the door is barred, but Kobayashi uses his power to break it down so Hanasaki can save the scientist and nab the perp.

Thus the case-of-the-week is wrapped up with an almost too-neat little bow. Ultimately, this case wasn’t that important, or high-stakes, and the criminal this week, unlike Twenty Faces, was extremely dumb for not cutting her losses and staying far away from her failed, overly convoluted plot.

But the case didn’t matter so much as how it affected the characters. When he places his hand on the stage where the scientist had thrown a glass, a shard of it sticks in Kobayashi’s hand, and he bleeds. That’s the second time that’s happened hanging out with Hanasaki, so his best chance yet to get what he wants (death) is to join the club.

Hansaki, on the other hand, is starting a race with himself: will he find a way to kill Kobayashi first, or find a way to get him to not want to die instead? It’s an intriguing challenge; I look forward not just to the results, but the events and means by which they were achieved. But yeah, there was definitely an old-fashioned flavor to this story.

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Trickster – 01 (First Impressions)

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Ahh, if only real city skies were like anime city skies

What is it: Trickster, based on the stories of Edogawa Ranpo, focuses on the “Boy’s Detective Club” as they pursue the famous master thief Twenty Faces (Gackt) and attempt to learn what he’s plotting. One member, Hanasaki Kensuke, meets Kobayashi Yoshio, a barefoot, suicidal boy with an invisible bubble around him that makes him invincible.

After Kobayashi comes to rescue him at a fire at a heavy industries facility, Hanasaki offers him a job at the detective club. In the incident, Kobayashi recieves a cut on his hand that starts to tingle.

Why You Should Watch: The Ranpo pedigree aside, this was a well-paced, well-plotted, and well-directed lark, which starts out super-dark (due to the initial Kobayashi POV) but is brightened by Akechi’s cavalier attitude and Hanasaki’s infectious optimism. The agency, its members, and its activities (another stalemate with Twenty Faces) are efficiently laid out while the story of the invincible kid takes the spotlight.

 

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ENHANCE

Rather than come off as annoying or arrogant, Hanasaki just seems like a decent kid who is always trying to see the best in people and situations, even when they can’t see it themselves. His crossing paths with a boy in Kobayashi who definitely sees his “ability” as nothing but a cruel curse seems to instill new purpose in the kid’s life…even if he promises to grant his wish by killing him someday.

To be specific about the animation, Trickster is definitely on a lower frame rate than ‘good’ anime. However, the gestures and the quality of the character designs (being stylish and specific but not over designed, which would break up gestures) make it a gem to watch  hear, with awesome music, including an OP sung by Gackt.

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Obligatory Quirky Hacker Girl

Why You Shouldn’t Watch: Twenty Faces’ part of the story feels more like a B-plot here; little more than a taste of what’s to come and a vehicle introduce how the detective agency operates and who they’re after.

The other characters perform their roles competently but no one other than Hanasaki really stands out yet. With 24 episodes ordered, if you’re in this, you’re in it for the long haul. That’s about all I can think of in Devil’s Advocate mode.

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—”Nice Bruce Lee jumpsuit.” —”Nice…whatever the heck you’re wearin’ over there.”

MagicalChurlSukui’s Verdict: Trickster is off to a slick, stylish, understated start, and I’m fully on board after just one episode. It can spin a good yarn, and there’s certainly a lot more where that came from.

Oigakkosan’s Verdict: its very easy for me to draw comparisons with Ronpo’s Bungou Stray Dogs, which feels very similar. However, Stray Dogs ultimately (and quickly) fell apart because it was ‘too quirky for it’s own good.’ I do not think that will be the case here. The mood is just more serious – Not brooding or drama-grim – TAKEN more seriously.

Thumbs up!

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91 Days – 01 (First Impressions)

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Seven years after his family is killed in a mob power struggle, Avilio returns to the town of Lawless, reuniting with his friend Colteo to sell his quality moonshine to discriminating customers on the “Island.”

They end up facing the Orco family’s new attack dog Fango, but manage to escape with their would-be-buyer, who turns out to be Nero Vanetti, the son of the man who killed Avilio’s family.

91 Days wastes no time establishing Avilo’s backstory and resultant vendetta, and the title leaves no doubt as to how long he’ll have to get his vengeance.

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What might be lacking in complexity or surprise in the story is made up for by 91 Days’ rich, detailed, earthy prohibition-era setting. There’s a pall of melancholy and fallen grace everywhere, no more overt than a church on an island converted to a bar.

Unlike GANGSTA, this is a show that sticks to realism; no magical super-beings here, just good old-fashioned blood, brawn, sweat, and smoke. The weapons are bats, bullets, but exclusively knives in the case of Avilio, who has clearly been honing his mind and body for this quest for revenge thes last seven years.

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Even a wild dog like Fango doesn’t faze Avilio when the guy interrupts his negotiations. In fact, he uses it as an opportunity to show his worth to some people who seem important, and turn out to be the very people he wants to get close to.

Avilio is a man with nothing to lose, since he already lost it all, so he’s no someone you want to bet against. That being said, there isn’t much else to his character, at least not yet in this first episode. His childhood pal Colteo welcomes him back in his life, but I wonder how long he’ll last, as he’s not as hard or strong as Avilio has become.

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Where the originality comes into play is Colteo’s mad distillery science, and the decisive blow to Fango is a chemical reaction that harkens to seven years ago, the night Avilio’s fam was murdered, when then-Angelo put out a candle with his finger, showing it was the paraffin burning.

Colteo hoped to make money off his quality hooch so he could go to school, but now that he’s swept up in Avilio’s plans, that’s probably not going to happen.

For all the looming stone buildings and iron bridges in Lawless, There’s a distinct sense of impermanence to 91 Days. Avilio probably doesn’t want to be on this earth any longer than he needs to take care of business, and he probably won’t be. I’m looking forward to seeing how he uses his 91 days.

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Owarimonogatari – 07

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With Sodachi’s arc completed, we rewind a couple months to before Araragi met Oshino Ougi in the first episode. Araragi has Kanbaru Suruga to meet him at the cram school. Kanbaru is her usual bright, cheerful, sexually aggressive self (she assumes she was summoned so Araragi can take her virginity, and she arrives braless).

Sawashiro Miyuki knows this character through and through and really sinks her teeth into her portrayal of a girl we haven’t seen in some time and, frankly, missed. Noting her pre-Hanamonogatari long hair, it fascinates me how Araragi’s girls seem to swap hairstyles through time.

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Things couldn’t be more affable as Araragi struggles to tell Kanbaru the real reason for their meeting: to ask her if she’ll help him out with something, and to go to another rendezvous point to meet someone. Flirting and clever wordplay ensues, but then the two hear some loud noises, and a giant suit of samurai armor enters the classroom.

Kanbaru wastes no time tossing Araragi aside and charging at the armor, but every time she touches it, it grows stronger and she grows weaker, until she passes out from an energy drain, something Araragi knows to be a vampire power. The transition in atmosphere from happy and playful to dark and dangerous is nicely handled. It’s also the first time in a while Araragi is up against a physical threat, unless you count Oikura’s slaps.

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With Kanbaru down, Araragi steps up to the plate, but there isn’t much he can do and the armor starts to choke the life out of him. Kanbaru prepares to sacrifice herself for her beloved senpai, despite his wanting her to run, there’s no way she will. The impasse is broken by pink flames that surround the armor, which Kanbaru believes are the work of Hanekawa.

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The armor retreats, but Araragi and Kanbaru are stuck in the burning building. Kanbaru asks him to take her virginity before she dies, but Araragi shoots that idea down, as he has a better idea: try not to die, by jumping out a window together. That somewhat reckless action is preempted by an explosion that extinguishes the fire: an explosion caused by one Ononoki Yotsugi, whom we last saw in Tsukimonogatari (which also takes place after this episode).

This episode got off to a slow-ish start that was mitigated by the return of Kanbaru, then became a tense test of Araragi and Kanbaru’s mutual devotion to each other, which they naturally aced. And with the title of “Shinobu Mail” and the armor demanding Kiss-shot (AKA Shinobu Oshino) return the sword she borrowed from him centuries ago, I imagine the blonde vampire herself will be making an appearance before all’s said and done.

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Ore Monogatari!! – 04 (Belated)

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Gosh dang…it is indeed Spring…and that might be the best episode I’ve watched all Spring. There’s certainly no more adorable and rootable couple than Takeo and Yamato. I get on people for taking selfies, but Yamato is allowed, dammit!

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The episode starts off with Takeo still reeling over the happiness in his heart over snagging an honest-to-God girlfriend in Yamato who is herself utterly devoted to him. She derives as much joy from telling her friend on the phone “I’m with my boyfriend!” as Takeo derives from hearing the words.

Yamato asks if Takeo would be okay with doing a Single’s Meet with her; all he has to do is wrangle five of his single friends. He has way more than five, because he’s a great guy. And when Yamato’s five friends lay eyes on Takeo for the first time, their reactions are…understandable, considering they’re products of society, naturally attracted to Suna.

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Whether it’s saving Yamato from falling by plucking her up like a ragdoll, carrying huge loads in their way, or opening a non-twist-off bottle, Takeo’s feats of strength don’t impress them so much as…well, scare them. Like the mom with the baby whose stroller Takeo took to the top, the mom is scared of the big bad-looking guy, while the hot guy next to him gets all the love, even though he doesn’t want it. Suna only smiles and laughs in reaction to something Takeo is doing, which makes the girls swoon.

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Takeo is also a somewhat naive guy who thinks Yamato’s friends will be good people because she’s a good and genuine person. Suna warns him about such assumptions, and then they’re shattered altogether when Takeo and Yamato overhear two of her friends talking shit about him behind her back, calling him “barely human” and a “gorilla.” It’s cutting stuff, and to it’s credit the episode doesn’t hold the elephant in the room back. On the surface, to most people, Takeo is a frightening bear-man.

This is a fact Takeo knows all too well, to the point that the insults roll right off him; he’s heard it all, both to his face, behind his back, and in people’s eyes. He’s more upset about Yamato being hurt, causing her to exclaim to them “He’s really super-cool!” before running off.

Fortunately, Takeo is able to head her off in no time, as his gait is significantly longer, and assures her everything is fine. He brings out one of his simple yet powerful sayings, about their being “all kinds of people”, without whom they wouldn’t have met. Yamato, bless her, finally wonders if maybe she just didn’t properly explain to her friends how cool Takeo is, blaming herself for their ignorance.

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Then…the frikin’ cafe EXPLODES.

I must say, I really wasn’t expecting that, but there was foreshadowing earlier, what with the bucket and boxes blocking the hall and the locked emergency exit. This establishment has lots of fire code violations, which lessened the randomness of the incident. In any case, with the two girls who talked shit about him still inside the burning building, Takeo doesn’t hesitate to rush in to save them.

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He’s able to carry one of the girls out to safety, then uses his big body as a shield to protect the second from getting smashed by debris, allowing her to run out on her own. After calling fire and ambulance, Suna calls Takeo, and tells him he’d better come out of the cafe soon, because Yamato has to be held back from going in after him by her two friends.

There’s true love in action here, people. Not only between Yamato and Takeo, but Suna and Takeo, who tells him with a voice that almost breaks that his life will be too boring without him. Like the Hulk, Takeo summons an extra reserve of strength to slip out from under the debris and blast out of the cafe window in dramatic fashion.

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Yamato rushes over to him and is almost lost in his arms as they embrace, with Takeo completely oblivious that his back is still on fire. The girls he saved thank him, and all the girls’ hearts skip a beat when he shoots them a look of affirmation, in spite of themselves. Takeo may not be their type, but now they know he’s a great guy and the right match for their Yamato. And they know they were wrong to insult him.

I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to have a non-harem romantic comedy in my stable; one where the guy and girl don’t get lost in tangled webs of misunderstandings and omission and hesitations and love triangles. This couple is alright; heck, Suna sees them old and wrinkly talking about how much they love all four of the seasons.

But more than taking the roads less traveled, no other show this Spring captures how gosh-darn good it feels to be in love and be loved back. Food tastes better, the air smells fresher, and the sun shines brighter. Things that are indisputably awesome: Takeo; Yamato; Suna; and this show.

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Tiger & Bunny 6

The three men who were Barnaby’s first arrests end up murdered in prison by some kind of flame, and Fire Emblem is suspected. He isn’t the deepest character in the world, nor the least stereotypical gay, but Fire Emblem is a good guy with a good heart, who we the audience know would never take a life unless absolutely necessary. It’s very odd how he and Kotetsu just happen to be at the prison in question, testing his powers, when the true culprit strikes again. What was the point of implicating Emblem if he didn’t do it? Superpower profiling?

Anywho, this who mystery runs deep within Barnaby’s memory, as there was a man with an Ouroboros tattoo who killed his parents in a fire. The big bag black guy from the bomb scare also makes a fresh appearence, this time in a Porsche-tossin’ battle mecha. How he got this mecha, who he is, and what he’s up to are all things we don’t learn here. Barnaby suspects he’s somehow in league with his parents’ killer, and lays into him a bit before he takes their producer as a hostage. Then the baddie gets toasted with the same flame that claimed the inmates – coming from a next perched atop the Empire State Building a ways away. Perhaps the first supervillain has arrived at the scene – as his fire is more powerful than Emblems, he’ll be a force to be recokned with. Rating: 3