Eromanga-sensei – 08

Whether she likes it or not, Sagiri can’t have Masamune all to herself, not matter how adorably she dresses. And though he technically rejected her, the fact Masamune compares Sagiri’s yukata to Muramasa means she’s still in his thoughts, because she was the first person to say what she said about his novels.

Elf also tries to nab her share of Masamune’s attention by dressing like Muramasa; in her case, a school uniform. But despite the fact she and Muramasa are rivals in love and novels, Elf offers the advice she’d offer Masamune even if she didn’t like him: stop worrying about what may or may not be, and have one little chat that settles it all. Of course, she’s clearly not happy at all when he says he wishes she was his big sister.

She is, right, however, that being direct with Muramasa is the best strategy, as her feelings for him haven’t changed since he turned her down, nor is she too uncomfortable to attend the short story competition wrap party he’ll be hosting. They also both acknowledge that they’ve only met each other three times—not enough to get to know each other—and so would both welcome a fourth, fifth, and more.

The fifth wheel, Shidou, arrives first, and has no idea what he’s walking into until Elf and Muramasa arrive at the same time and start immediately fighting over Masamune until Sagiri starts pounding on the floor above them. Elf is also sporting her most ridiculous outfit yet – a frilly lolita-style yukata and flamboyant hairstyle.

The initial awkwardness of the party eventually smooths out, especially when Masamune breaks out all the festival themed food, hoping to create a festival-like atmosphere for Sagiri, who can’t go outside. Everyone shares their ultimate dreams, including “Eromanga-sensei”, who says she wants to be the bride of the one she loves. Oh, girl…

After everyone else files out to go see the fireworks, Masamune stays with Sagiri, and confesses that he’s always been afraid of being alone ever since his birth mother died in an accident. He’s also truly thankful for Sagiri, his new family, for putting up with such a pathetic brother, but she feels no less pathetic for losing the will to leave the house.

As they watch the fireworks from the window of her room, Sagiri reiterates that she never considered Masamune family or her brother; her love has always leaned more towards romance, insomuch as she knows what that is.

Still, if Masamune wants or needs her to just be his little sister, she thinks she can “pretend…for a bit”, only to later remark somewhat ruefully to herself while lying in bed how she’s “gotten much further away”, presumably from her dream of being the bride of the one she loves.

I dunno if that’s a bad thing, Sags! Get over him, get out of that bed, that room, that house; go to school, meet someone whose father didn’t marry your mother. Is that so much to ask?

P.S. Kuroneko Sighting. Repeat: Kuroneko Sighting!!! With her adorable sisters too. That confirms Masamune, Sagiri, & Co. live in the same world as Oreimo, whose MC also had to grow a spine and pick someone, anyone, as long as it wasn’t his damn sister. Obviously, Kuroneko was his best choice.

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 05

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Yota is stoked. He’s flying high. He’s learned how to command a crowd, the theaters are full, his material is killing. He owes much of this to a lifting of a weight of uncertainty since Yakumo performed “Inokori” for him. Yakumo maintains that mastering that—and in just they way he instructs, by summoning one’s ego—is Yota’s next step.

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But Yakumo is no longer Yota’s sole source of instruction or inspiration. Whether he knows it or not, Yota has also fallen under the influence of Higuchi Eisuke, the outsider who shows Yota the wider world of rakugo, not just the venerable but narrow Yuuakutei canon.

The implication is obvious: like a smattering of gutted clans in days of yore, an alliance must be formed – a new rakugo – in order to survive modern times, and Yakumo’s death.

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Yota seems to rarely leave the open entrance to his home, sitting their first listening to his predecessor Sukeroku, then to all the myriad versions of Inokori provided by Higuchi, no two of them alike. It’s strong enough stuff for him to laugh and react loudly deep into the night. He’s so immersed, Konatsu has to snap him out of it so he can get some sleep for the family performance.

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And it is truly a family performance, as Konatsu will be at the shamisen per her father’s bidding. Of the three family members, she’s by far the most nervous. Performing rakugo for a bunch of kindergartners and a smattering of their parents is one thing: playing pros at the very top of the game in and out to a giant packed theater is another. But Yota (and indirectly, Yakumo) know she’ll be fine.

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Damn…when Yota offered to give Mangetsu an pregame audience with Yakumo and I saw that loooong foreboding hallway, for a few moments I feared for the worst: that Yakumo was keeled over dead in his dressing room, just like that. Blame the seductively creepy OP in which the ghost Sukeroku opens Yakumo’s cloak to reveal nothing but dry bones, and the earlier mention by someone that his voice has lost something.

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Thankfully, Yakumo is fine, but everything I mentioned before still casts a pall on him. Yota’s meeting with him is another great one, as Yota proudly shows what he’s really been up to in the red light districts: getting his carp tattoo finished. This is Yota literally not letting things go unfinished; not apologizing for who he was and who he is.

Yakumo may think rakugo is finished once he dies, but he’s wrong. His rakugo won’t even be finished; it’s not his call, but history’s. So even though he’s pissy about the fact Yota is taking into account other methods for “Inokori” (likely aware this is Higuchi’s influence), you can’t expect someone who claims, and is pretty certain, they don’t have an ego to use that ego.

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Yota warms up the crowd, getting them “laughing like fools”, which might be fine in a solo show, but Yakumo needs to put them in a different, more nuanced mood; Yota’s winding them up makes it tougher. Still, he’s more than up to the challenge, and performs “Hangon-ko” with both musical accompaniment from Konatsu (who he says he’s counting on, and who doesn’t let him down despite her nerves) and an extra prop: streams of incense.

The significance of the titular incense to the story—that it brings back the soul of a dead loved one—is all too apropos for Yakumo’s darkening state of mind as the days ahead of him dwindle. And even though at this part in the story he tells, the widower buys the wrong incense and burns way too much of it, the incense still has the effect of summoning the ghost of Miyokishi before Yakumo, in one of the most chilling and intense moments of the show’s entire run.

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Yakumo manages to finish the story to polite but not raucous applause, and Yota quickly orders the curtains dropped. Yakumo collapses and enters what must seem like the afterlife. Miyokichi is nowhere to be found. Instead there are off-kilter shelves after shelves of countless burning candles – no doubt signifying lives.

Like the end of the deliciously haunting OP, Yakumo’s candle must be burning very low indeed, flickering, and threatening to be snuffed out. Sukeroku also comes before him, as young and vital as the day he was killed. He asked him why he’s there, ignores his questions of whether he’s in paradise or hell, and starts to choke him.

As we ponder what medical malady struck Yakumo on that stage, an attack that will most likely result in the cancelling of the remainder of the family performance, including Yota’s “Inokori”, but more importantly, may mark the commencement of the trial of Yakumo’s soul.

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 04

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After each episode, and after announcing the next, a character thanks us for our “continued support,” and my continued support of Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu has never gone unrewarded.

Case in point: another absolute gem, combining lovely family slice-of-life (with a very unique and cool family), the clouds hanging over Yakumo’s head, and Konatsu getting to do something, out of the blue, she never dreamed of actually doing.

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That adorable little kid up there is Konatsu and Yota’s kid. Some time has passed, but not too much: he’s only in kindergarten, and yet, he’s already surprising and delighting all, even his parents, with his nascent rakugo skills. They may have a genius on their hands.

He’s every bit as charismatic as Konatsu was. Even Yakumo can’t stay mad, going quickly into Grandpa Mode. By the way, how often does a show come around where so much time passes, we get to watch both Konatsu and her son at the same age? It’s a generational show.

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It’s generations that Higuchi Eisuke wishes to discuss with Yakumo, who grudgingly gives him a ride home and his ear for the five or so minutes. Eisuke doesn’t waste them, almost going too far in proclaiming he won’t let Yakumo kill rakugo off, or even define it as something dead or dying. With Yota, Eisuke aims to keep it alive, changing to suit the mood of a generation, just as it always has.

Ever the rigid bamboo, Yakumo won’t hear of any of that, nor will he have any part in Eisuke’s project. And when Yakumo says rakugo is dead, he’s not just talking about how it would die with him, but perhaps how it already died with Sukeroku, someone Yakumo has always believed to be better than him.

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Yota is very much the progressive, without even being that aware of it, because he knows how good “Sis” is at rakugo and thinks if she loves it so much she should just do it. What’s the harm in going out there and trying it? Such an idea is unspeakable to Konatsu, however, and considering the man who raised her, her attitude is hardly surprising. Instead, she’s being trained in shamisen, so she can play her husband and others in and out.

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But when they both go to their kid’s school to perform, Yota gets inspired by the scenario, warms the crowd of mostly little kids up, and then…hands the show over to Konatsu. All of a sudden, she’s doing something she hasn’t done since she was a pint-sized urchin, living with her father.

While initially flustered and overwhelmed, a switch flips and all of a sudden Konatsu us that urchin in the bar, without skipping a beat. Scratch that; after years with Yakumo as a father, she’s gotten better, despite having never performed in public. She’s also, in my opinion, better than Yota, at least in terms of better differentiating between the characters she voices (all kudos to the great Kobayashi Yuu here).

“Jugemu” is a simple story that’s not too raunchy or complicated for the kids, and it involves quite a bit of linguistic limberness to repeat the overly-long name of the titular child over and over at increasingly faster speeds. But it’s a cakewalk for Konatsu. She’d have brought down the house no matter what the makeup of the crowd was.

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And holy crap, the surging of emotions going through Konatsu before, during and after her impromptu performance were just a delight to behold, right up until she embraces her hubby with tears of relief and joy, and he essentially says “See? Rakugo’s hella fun, right?”

The next morning, Konatsu’s back to “usual”, and despite Yota’s protests, she still won’t commit to ever doing rakugo again. It just doesn’t seem right to her to crash something that’s been a “boy’s-only” affair for so long.

It’s an old-fashioned view of a very old-fashioned art, but par for the course for someone with her upbringing, which may have been laissez-faire with Sukeroku, but got real conservative real fast with Yakumo. So while, like Yota, I’m disappointed, and think it’s a waste, I understand why she feels the way she does.

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Yakumo, meanwhile, holds Sukeroku’s fan – old Sukeroku’s; not Yota’s. And as he holds it, a figure appears behind him – Sukeroku’s ghost, I presume. There’s no hint of arrogance or superiority in this moment, as Yakumo seems haunted by the fact a someone as loathsome and untalented as he is “all that’s left” of rakugo.

Yota will probably never be able to impress him, just as he won’t be able to impress himself. Eisuke may be right that rakugo needs to evolve, and Yota may be right that someone of Konatsu’s talent should be a part of that evolution. But you’ll never convince Yakumo of that, and Konatsu will never think it’s appropriate to be anything but musical accompaniment.

That leaves the youngin’. Who knows what future he’ll see that no one else will be around to see. What I hope we do see is Yota’s rakugo continuing to be popular, and that rakugo continuing to grow into something his son can inherit. But Yakumo’s warning about how quickly a fall can come makes me weary of too many good times to come.

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 03

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The fireworks fly in this episode of SGRS2, both in the night sky and later, in the private room of a restaruant where Konatsu worked before she went on maternity leave, run by a friend of her mother Miyokichi.

But first, we get to soak up a gorgeous, festive night, with Konatsu, the baby, and the mistress relaxing on a bench while Yota practices his ranting on a boat with his patron.

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When the mistress and Konatsu rush to the restaurant Yota follows—as does Eisuke, hungry for details about rakugo life, which he learns is surprisingly similar to thug life. Yota finds his old mob boss, as well as that boss’ boss, who happens to be close to the mistress.

Yota decides to intrude, and after making courteous, verbose apologies, kinda lays into the old man, seemingly unconcerned that he has the power to kill him if he doesn’t like him.

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Fortunately, the big boss is not only a fan of rakugo, but Yota’s rakugo in particular. Even when Yota picks a fight, and even wonders out loud whether the boss is the father of Konatsu’s child, the boss merely tosses him into a koi pond to “cool off”; he doesn’t rough him up.

Yota doesn’t back down, instead belting out an elaborate rant he was practicing before, only customized for the boss, who is entranced and charmed. Yota is starting to realize he’s not just some punk anymore; he’s a shin’uchi…and he’s a father.

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After a night where some doubted if Yota was going to be able to keep his promise to outlive his master, and some goldfish scooping with Eisuke, he returns home, having quite accidentally found “his rakugo” with his elaborate, animated ranting style.

Mind you, Yakumo hasn’t heard it yet,  but agrees to do a family performance, if Yota learns and masters “Inokori,” a Sukeroku classic. To inspire him, Yakumo performs it himself, seemingly flipping a switch and channeling Sukeroku. Yota is spellbound. When he’s finished, Yakumo looks like he’d just climbed twenty flights.

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Yota scared the crap out of Konatsu by confronting the father of her child, but everything worked out for the best. The episode’s parting shot is what Konatsu wants in a nutshell: to live in a comfortable house, to hear Yota’s/Sukeroku’s rakugo, and to have her son hear it as well.

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Hibike! Euphonium 2 – 01

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Ah, no more messing around. Here comes a properly good Autumn hump day show that immerses you in its gloriously naturalistic and precise world. Granted, I was pre-immersed last year, but it takes no time at all in this sprawling-yet-measured 47-minute season premiere to fall back under the spell of Sound!

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Oumae Kumiko and Kousaka Reina have never been closer, literally or figuratively. Perhaps it’s a factor of Reina being satisfying with their level of success: they placed first in Kyoto and are representatives at the Kansai competition, the next step to the Nationals she dreams of winning someday. Right there with her, kind of in her wake, is Kumiko, who is more open and affectionate to Reina than anyone else, even, no especially her mom and big sister.

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Kumiko and Reina are relatively steady variables in this opener: all of the conflict comes from the uneasy atmosphere being created by still-open wounds among the upperclassmen.

Specifically, one former member who quit in the great second-year purge wants back in, but Asuka won’t budge. The first years are kept out of the loop, and it hurts their focus. As usual, KyoAni is impeccable at not just telling but showing the subtle but increasingly assertive effect of the senpai drama.

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Kumiko is a great protagonist because she’s so good at being in the middle of things while not dominating those events with her personality. She’s a deceptively very “normal” girl hiding multitudes beneath her exterior, brough to life with a skilled performance by Kurosawa Tomoyo (in a total 180 from her character of Sylphy in Amaburi). I love how drastically Kumiko’s tone changes when she’s talking to her fam, as if it’s a huge imposition to do so, which makes perfect sense since she’s a teenager.

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But most gratifying in a sea of senpai uncertainty and a looming life-altering competition is to see the collective rock that is Kumiko and Reina. They’re far past their troubles of past years, and both value one another’s company and conversation above all others.

They are proof that previous bad blood can not only be corrected, but flourish into a beautiful friendship. As the assistant instructor (a pro in the music industry) says to the band: be more imposing. Make more of an impact. Don’t be reticent, because it all comes through in their music.

Everyone has to be more open with one another to succeed and become the best band they can be, as well as the best people. Unpleasant things like resentments and grudges and infamous incidents can’t be allowed to fester. And most importantly, life shouldn’t be a constant struggle. You gotta stop and ogle the fireworks in rapt awe once in a while.

This was a baller premiere that reminded me why KyoAni is so good with such regularity. It doesn’t just nail the fundamentals, but sweats the details to the extent there are gestures and tones you won’t see anywhere else, to say nothing of the complexity of the emotions in play. A very solid and confident start.

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Orange – 06

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This week, as Naho and Kakeru grow closer and Naho learns more about the future, the enormity of her “mission” begins to weigh on her once more, and she again starts to doubt her ability to make the changes that needs to be made to save Kakeru. After all, she’s already failed the letters twice: when she invited Kakeru to hang out the day his mother died, and when she let him start dating Ueda-senpai.

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Since those failures, and the extra problems they created, Naho has been careful to carefully follow the bullet points in the letters. They are saying she has to watch the fireworks with Kakeru alone by the pool, and so that’s what she aims to do.

Knowing that these two are gradually becoming a couple and eager to help them out when they can, Azu, Tako, Hagita and Suwa all work to assist the two in getting together in the ideal time and place. Kakeru brings up his past regrets when asking Suwa if it’s really okay to be in love with Naho and to pursue her.

Suwa’s answer is that it has to be, because being in love isn’t a choice (and also because he has a pretty good idea how Naho feels).

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The consequences of Naho’s second failure almost derail the entire op, but Azu and Tako thankfully find Naho on the steps lugging Ueda’s contest prizes and take over the task, while Suwa and Nagita keep Ueda away from the pool in a way that will surely mean Ueda isn’t done fighting with the group. If she can’t have Kakeru and be happy, no one can. That could prove deadly to Kakeru later on.

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But we’re allowed to forget about Ueda and all her bullshit for a few wonderful, beautiful moments, as Naho and Kakeru are united before the fireworks end. In the courageous mood her future self told her she’d be in, she answers his question about which boy she’d most want to as her out (him), and he in turn answers hers (via Azu): that he’d want her to ask him out. The night ends as one neither will forget for the rest of their lives.

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Future Naho asserts that Kakeru’s regret stems from being unable to save his mother, while her regret comes from not being able to save him from the accident. Wondering why she can’t simply save Kakeru on the day of the accident, Naho reads ahead, and learns it wasn’t an accident – Kakeru rode his bike into a speeding truck on purpose, so he could go to where his mother was and apologize.

Knowing when it happens is irrelevant. Naho can’t save him from something his mind is set on anyway. Her true mission is to save his heart. That means learning more about his regret, which means asking about his mother. When Naho and Kakeru’s friends again arrange it so the two are alone for the Matsumoto Bon Bon, she gets plenty of opportunities, while also enjoying each other’s company.

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Despite their ongoing denial about not being a couple (at least not yet), the two look the part, and the camera captures them in a number of gorgeous isolated shots. Most affecting is when they pray to the shrine, which gives Naho her in.

After he evades her question of what he said to his mother at the shrine, Naho resolves to get him to answer her properly, even if he ends up hating her. Saving his heart is more important than preserving their romance, underscoring Naho’s role as a reluctant heroine.

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Turns out, Kakeru doesn’t hate her for pressing, though it’s clearly a painful subject to discuss. Indeed, he was worried she’d hate him if he told her the truth: that his mother, psychologically unstable, committed suicide the day he blew her off to hang out with Naho. That makes Naho’s first failure the reason Kakeru carries the regret that will ultimately destroy him if unchecked.

It’s an overwhelming blow for Naho, who can’t muster the words to comfort him. Suddenly, saving Kakeru’s heart seems like an impossible feat, especially all on her own. So she boldly reaches out to Suwa about her mission, and he seems to already be in the loop. You see, he also got a letter. BOOM.

That’s an explosive revelation right there, delivered with impeccable timing right at episode’s end. But it’s not so shocking, because we’ve seen Suwa and the others working so hard for Naho and Kakeru’s sakes.

I wouldn’t be surprised if everyone had letters, but it stands to reason if Naho could write a letter to her past self, she’d also write one to her future husband. It also explains why Suwa isn’t challenging Kakeru. In any case, now Naho knows his isn’t a mission she has to undertake all on her own. Everyone wants to save Kakeru’s heart.

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Momokuri – 11 + 12

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Another week, another familiar rom-com scenario: the Summer Festival. While Momokuri’s didn’t come close to the heights of, say, ReLIFE’s festival, it was still Momokuri’s best episode to date, because it progressed, and characters came in contact with one another, so naturally and effortlessly. Not only was it a fine bit of slice-of-life, it also developed Rio’s relationship with Yuki.

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Momo and Yuki are having a fine time as a couple at the festival until they become separated, and Momo’s phone dies. Momokuri subverts the typical instance of a cute girl left alone falling prey to some wolves. In this case, the wolves are older women, and it’s diminutive-for-his-age Momo who is the prey.

Not only that, it’s “Prince” Rio who swoops in to save him from the “panthers”—more androgynous than ever due to her tan and boy’s clothes (provided so she could serve as protection for Ikue and Yuzuki.

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Despite looking like most like a boy (and a delinquent at that), Momo remarks how he’d rather see Rio in a yukata. Rio has spent much of her most recent years enduring those who say she could pass a a boy, so she’s heartened by Momo treating her like the girl she is.

Rio heads off on her own to look for Yuki, because a part of her wants to be one-on-one with her. It’s just as good, because when being with Yuki, Rio learns a little more about her rival-in-love, and determines maybe she’s not as weird as she thought. Indeed, she helps Yuki come to grips with feelings she’s not able to understand all on her own.

Like Momo and Yuki, she too was a bit lost early this week. But by the end, her stated desire for Momo to be happy above all else is evidence enough for Yuki that what Rio has isn’t just a like for someone, but love. Of course, Yuki isn’t aware that it’s Momo Rio likes. I doubt she’ll ever find out, either; this isn’t a drama, after all!

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ED of the Week – ReLIFE 12 – “Summer Festival”

The summer I spent with you, is like a faraway dream
the fireworks display that disappeared into the sky

That’s pretty much the perfect refrain for ReLIFE, which ends with Hishiro likening Kaizaki to those vanishing fireworks, in addition to decribing similar moments between Kariu and Oga. I can see why the producers dusted off a sixteen-year-old single to bridge the gap between the 12th and 13th episodes.

Also, Whiteberry is singing about a Summer festival, so of course they’re donning yukata while playing. How badass is that?

DISCLAIMER: RABUJOI is not responsible for any ear bleeding caused by this song.

Here’s a more contemporary version of the song, covered by the vocaloid Hatsune Miku (based on the voice of Fujita Saki, AKA Inami from Working!!).

This version was used in the ED of Watamote Episode 6, but I never watched that show:

I like both, but I think the original has more charm.

Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge – 10

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I never though it would be possible: a pool scene with no girls in bikinis flitting about! Just a shirtless Ohta and Tanaka, surveying a very nice public pool filled mostly with kids.

A couple of said kids discover Tanaka can’t swim, try to tease him, and incur the wrath of Ohta. They make peace, however, and Tanaka inadvertently teaches them how to float perfectly along the water, a talent he owes to his listlessness.

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It was fun to see Miss Wac at her other part-time job as pool lifeguard, criticizing Tanaka and Ohta from a place of ignorance, this time in aquatics.

It’s left to out imagination how exactly Tanaka gets home when Ohta reports he’s too tired and listless to carry him, but I loved the fact Tanaka’s floating method became a trend with grade schoolers, much to the dismay of their swim teacher.

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The second half is all about girls in yukatas, making up, if you will for a first half that was mostly ‘beefcake’. Miyano wants to attend the fireworks festival with Ecchan in a sexy yukata, but thinks she needs to grow 10cm to do so.

Tanaka and Ohta decide to help Miyano out: not with rapid growth, which ain’t gonna happen, but by helping her choose a cute yukata. Shiraishi also joins them, and we learn that, just like Tanaka, she’s more used to watching the fireworks on TV in an air-conditioned room. Frankly, part of me wanted to see these two doing just that at episode’s end.

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Instead, Shiraishi regrets to inform the others that her two girlfriends already invited her, but it’s no big deal. Shiraishi gets all the joy and satisfaction she desires when Tanaka heartily endorses her yukata.

Miyano…is a different story: even the smallest-size yukata off the rack fits…poorly. So Shiraishi, reciprocating all the good Miyano did for her, decides to dust off another one of her wrecklessly-perfected skills, in this case sewing, to make a custom yukata that wil fit Miyano properly.

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The result is…well, adorable, but also with an air of maturity. It’s a complete success, and Echizen is so charmed by the sight of her cute friend, she allows Tanaka and Ohta to join them.

Not moments after Echizen internally remembers when she and Ohta used to go see fireworks in matching yukatas, Ohta asks her if she remembers that very memory; and when she denies, he’s suspicious.

Ohta starts off well by properly complimenting Echizen’s yukata, which isn’t what he or Tanaka expected. But things take a turn for the worse when, in the middle of Echizen working up the courage to compliment his yukata, Ohta runs off at the mention of unlimited syrup at the water ice stall. But then, I guess we always knew Ohta’s priorities.

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Tensions lesson once the fireworks start, and we see Shiraishi with her two friends enjoying them in one spot, and Echizen, Ohta and Tanaka in another, united in their awe of the fireworks’ magnificence.

But wait…where’s Miyano? She’s so short she can barely see the fireworks over the taller masses around her. Someone put her on your shoulders, already!

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Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 08

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Before he even meets him, Ikoma isn’t subtle about his reticence towards Biba-sama. But the show is willing to give him a chance in our eyes when the two do meet, because Ikoma wastes no time calling out the twisted philosophy Biba ingrained in his sister who isn’t really his sister (he just lets her call him brother).

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We’ve seen a lot of sides of Mumei these past seven weeks, but one thing is for sure: being with Ikoma and Ayame and other normal humans has somewhat softened her previously hard line against all forms of weakness. She’s gone from someone with no need for a name (mumei means “anonymous”) to someone with friends who use that name as if it were Yuki or Haru-chan.

Once she’s back in her beloved brother and savior Biba’s shadow, however, she slips back into Heartless Battle Mode all too quickly. It’s a testament to how much history she has with Biba, and how carefully he molded her into a weapon. She’s not the only one, either: Biba’s force of elite Kabane fighters deal with a seven-horde raid with relative ease.

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In the aftermath of the battle, Enoku seems to simultaneously threaten Biba with assassination and offer his services, one among many assassins after Biba’s life. Biba has no use for him; he’s pretty sure Enoku will betray him no matter what, and that falls under his very strict code against all forms of weakness, including treachery, so Enoku buys it.

Unfortunately for Biba, Ikoma witnessed him kill Enoku free of the context of their particular situation. All Ikoma saw was Biba killing someone calling for help. The fierce sympathy Ikoma exhibits also seems to turn Biba off, as if feeling for other people is another form of weakness to be excised.

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Let’s also talk about that little smirk he gives Ayame, shall we? I’ll be honest…it kinda made my skin crawl. What villainy does that tiny grin portend?

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This week confirms what was already fairly obvious: Mumei didn’t become a Kabaneri by being bitten by a Kabane; she chose to become one and let Biba infect her with the virus to make her stronger. Biba’s train has medical facilities where Mumei and other weapons of his like Horobi undergo maintenance.

He also keeps a fair number of Kabane locked in captivity, and seems quite interested in a very bizarre and in no way altruistic experiment that looks like a giant Kabane heart cage. It’s pretty clear everything he does is for one purpose: to make himself stronger and surround himself with stronger weapons in order to protect himself.

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He knows exactly how much power he has over Mumei (all of it), and doesn’t hesitate for a moment in wielding it by asking her to collect Ayame’s master key. Once in Key Retrieval Mode, Mumei has no patience for Ayame’s questions, and even flashes a kunai to show she means business. It’s a chilling scene.

I shudder to think what would have transpired had Yukina not defused the situation with the boiler room key, but it’s only a temporary solution to a very very big problem: Biba’s train is right in front of Ayame’s leading the way, so in a way, Ayame and her train are already his to do with what he will.

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When Ikoma senses the captive Kabane, he races to the freight car, but Biba warns Mumei they’ll have to kill him if he gets in, so Mumei is as short and hostile with Ikoma as she needs to be to keep him away. There’s certainly a part of her that feels bad for what went down with Ayame, and a part that doesn’t want her shield Ikoma to be killed needlessly. But those parts are quickly being consumed by her unswerving loyalty and obedience to her brother.

As Ikoma says to Ayame after being shooed away, Biba is “no hero.” Indeed, he’s the first legitimate human villain; not a passive, ignorant ingrate who won’t hear the likes of Ikoma out, but an active user of people and things with potentially frightening plans.

He’s more dangerous than the Kabane right now, not only because he and his warriors are so good at dispatching them, or because he has Ayame & Co. in his clutches already, but because he has such a devastatingly complete hold over Mumei.

Still, he’s not a Kabaneri (at least as far as I know), which means Mumei could actually be stronger than her brother. Deep down, she could have a better moral compass, too. She just doesn’t know it, because he has her all twisted around his little finger. The key to defeating him, which may be necessary very soon, is to break that hold.

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Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 07

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It had to happen sometime: you can only develop characters so much when their backs are constantly against the wall. Thankfully, the next station the Koutetsujou arrives at is not only populated by living people, but thriving; a veritable paradise compared to the various infernos the inhabitants of the train have gone through.

This brief but welcome period of piece is marked by what you would expect: the characters embracing the opportunity to kick back and relax for the first time in a long, long time. The train has stopped in the station, everyone is out in the open air, in clean new threads. It’s great to see.

It’s also a lot of fun. We’ve been in the frying pan and the freezer with these guys, so it’s highly satisfying to see them lower their guards, however briefly. I particularly enjoyed how impressed Mumei was with Kajika’s haggling skills, and Tatsumi using his newly super-strong best mate to teach a rude Bushi a lesson.

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Even secondary characters get their dues, as Sukari breaks it to a kid that the train his dad was on was overrun by Kabane, overriding Yukina’s attempts to spare him the grief. Sukari tells the kid the truth because it’s what he wanted to be told, but wasn’t.

Perhaps most amusing is Kurusu’s embarrassment at barging in on Ayame shamelessly stuffing her face while waiting for the station’s minister, or how that initially stingy minister offers Ayame all the food, provisions, and medical care she needs when she piles on the charm while demonstrating the power of the jet bullets.

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While we see Enoku meeting with Shitori, leader of the station, portending a possible rough political patch in the near future, and the occasional dive into melancholy (in the case of the kid), the show remains upbeat thanks in part to one guy: it’s protagonist Ikoma, whom I haven’t said anything about yet.

My favorite scene in the episode, and one of my favorite in the show, is when Ikoma tracks down Mumei, who feels blue after suddenly remembering she once celebrated Tanabata, which today just happens to be. Ikoma and Mumei have wonderful chemistry and it’s on full display in their exchange here.

Mumei feels safe with Ikoma, and opens up to him, telling him the dread she feels every morning, knowing one morning she’ll be a full-on Kabane and kill everyone around her. Now that Ikoma knows this, he immediately decides on a bold course of action: he’ll make Mumei human again.

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Her given name (another share) helps him make this decision, as well as his desire for her not to feel that way every morning. He believes her name, Hodsumi, was given by her mother in hopes her belly would be full of rice, and Ikoma is dead set on making sure that happens. He’ll kill all the Kabane, take back the stations and rice paddies, grow rice again, and full Hodsumi up, as her name, in its way a wish, demands.

Mumei is flattered by the offer, unrealistic as she may think it is, but Ikoma is so serious and charismatic, both she and everyone else gathered for Tanabata that night start to believe that simply wishing to survive isn’t enough; humans should strive for more, and more is what he wants to accomplish. It inspires everyone else to dream big. This is Ikoma starting to take on the mantle of leader.

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After some lovely fireworks and a restful sleep, Ikoma and Mumei awake to the sound of to jubilant crowds outside: the Scouting Legion—I-I mean, Hunters have arrived, along with some guy called the “Liberator”, Biba-sama, who is tall, beautiful, and tough as folded steel.

He’s also, as it happens, Mumei’s brother, and even though they greet each other warmly, Ikoma is suspicious. This is the guy who taught his sister that the weak are only good for dying, made her abandon the name Hodsumi, and who knows what else.

Just as I needed—and appreciated—an episode’s worth of rest and peace to get to know the shows characters better, Ikoma needs to spend some time with this guy to see if he’s right to suspect he’s not the gallant hero everyone worships.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 13

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While this is officially the last episode of the Fall 2015 season, Gundam IBO’s second half will continue without a long hiatus. Despite that, this really felt like the turning of a page, full as it was with both endings and beginnings. One first: Shino’s Tekkadan commandos getting attacked by the Brewers’ Human Debris kids when they turn their backs, forcing them to fire back.

It speaks to the fierce reality and lack of shortcuts in this show that the kids aren’t simply happy their saviors have arrived. They know what will happen if they don’t do their jobs as proscribed by their Brewer masters. While that goes on, Akihiro leaves his cockpit to say goodbye to his brother on better terms than I’d expected, with Masahiro “going ahead” of his brother to see if what he heard about souls being reborn is true.

Finally, as Mikazuki methodically takes down Kudal in his Gusion, a strange feeling comes over him as he masters his sword. From the way he’s fighting, Kudal thinks Mika is someone who enjoys taking human life. Mika isn’t sure, but it’s clear he’s comfortable in such a hazardous situation, and Kudal ultimately didn’t even pose much of a challenge to him.

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Speaking of challenges, you can almost see McGillis Fareed gritting his teeth at the umpteenth evening gala full of an equal measure of snobs, gossips, and syncophants who don’t even bother keeping their voice down about either his dubious parentage or the youth of his betrothed Almiria. When Ally comes out, repslendent in her party dress, the first thing her eyes wander to after McGillis are the fully developed bodies of the ladies surrounding him, wanting to dance (and probably more, as Gaelio suspects).

McGillis knows he could take any and all of those women if he wanted, but he doesn’t want to. Instead, he goes to his future bride, still a child but desperately wanting to dance cheek-to-cheek, and takes her into his arms. She’s embarrassed and worried people will laugh if they’re seen, but McGillis doesn’t care, and he doesn’t want her to care either.

She’s the finest lady there, as far as he’s concerned, and her happiness is far more important than the idle chatter of people with nothing better to do. This adorable gesture didn’t feel like another calculated move by McGillis, but a genuine act of kindness and love. He and Alimiria will make this work, together.

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Speaking of kindness, the Brewer kids have never known it, so they’re on edge after being rounded up by Tekkadan, like caged feral animals. However, Orga’s charisma and decency shines through in his informal chat with them about how they’ll be taken care of from now on, and not in a sinister way.

Masahiro may not have survived the battle, but it’s good to see the other kids being integrated into Tekkadan. I’m sure some will integrate better than others, but they’ll also be able to do what they want and realize their own unique potential, with no more beatings.

Shino was much closer to Mika to the comrades that were killed, both physically and emotionally, so it makes sense to see Shino breaking down before Mika and the corpses of those comrades. But when Shino he says he wishes he’d died too, Mika reproaches him. To wish for death disrespects those who died so others could live, even if that’s not the only reason.

Regardless, everybody is down in the aftermath of this battle, moreso than any previous one, so after all the business is complete, Merribit suggests they hold a funeral for the dead. Orga is particularly dubious of the concept, but once the benefits both to the dead and the living who survived are laid out, he agrees.

The subtle dance of Orga and Merribit continues, as she catches him calling her “old lady”, and shoots right back by calling him a “child”; both being more playful than nasty about it.

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Everyone deals with grief in different ways, but even for those who are able to keep it all bunched in are struggling, so the funeral really does the trick in terms of being a release valve for the crews’ collective pain; the space fireworks were a particularly nice touch. And because most of this crew are still children, sometimes simply being held by a mother figure is required, something even the usually-stiff Fumitan (who is hiding things other than pain deep within her) is able to do for one of the younger orphans.

Finally, after the funeral, at the meeting where the plan to continue on to the Colony is agreed upon, Naze and Amida seem to put a punctuation mark on the whole Brewers/Shoals affair by starting to make out, startling and embarrassing the young men present, Orga included. Naze says it’s simple: years with high death rates have high birth rates. After seeing lots of death, men look at the women next to them, who are suddenly “even prettier than normal,” and can’t help but kiss them.

Whether he’s 100% correct on the brain chemistry, it’s true that after battle men tend to reflexively seek out the opposite sex, be it a matronly embrace to feel safe within, or the lips of a woman you want to make babies with. Such a phenomenon is perhaps best immortalized in that famous photo of V-J Day in Times Square, a spontaneous reaction casued by the sudden release of so much tension and despair the war caused, and unreasonably high levels of jubilation over its ending.

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Mika seems to take that to heart when he encounters Kudelia, who, having seen how effective Fumitan managed to calm the younger kid, hugs Mika when she sees his hands shaking. Mika, suddenly seeing the beautiful woman in front of him for the first time, takes some liberties and kisses her. Some bad graphics editing unfortunately obscures this kiss with end credits, but the music editing was perfect, as the soulful refrain “or-or-phans” is belted out in the moment of that kiss.

I must say, I knew Mika withheld multitudes of emotions behind his calm exterior, but I was just as suprised as Kudelia by that kiss. At the same time, the kiss made perfect sense, and I hope it leads to a deepening of their relationship, which has had some nice moments but had remained pretty distant until now.

The show doesn’t forget about Atra, who sneezes alone in the kitchen while this is going on. There’s also an interesting parallel between Mika and McGillis: both didn’t do what was expected, but simply what they wanted and what they felt was the right thing to do.

The show also doesn’t forget about Nobliss, who seems to be planning for Kudelia’s death at the Colony in the show’s second half – and continues to portray Fumitan as someone who has a role those plans, yet looks conflicted as she admires the necklace Kudelia gave her.

Hopefully things won’t Nobliss’ way. But whatever happens, this show is sure to continue to surprise and delight in its second half. It’s already the finest Gundam I’ve laid eyes on. If it were the opposite sex, I might just be inclined kiss it…or at least cut a rug with it.

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Nagato Yuki-chan no Shoushitsu – 16 (Fin)

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Back at the start of this Haruhi spin-off, Nagato Yuki’s goal was clear: work up the courage to confess her feelings to Kyon. Well, it took a car accident and a case of temporary dysmnesia, but she achieved that goal, back in episode 13. I say she did so, even though she had a different personality at the time and doesn’t remember it afterward, because it was Nagato Yuki who said those words, and it was most definitely Kyon who heard them and didn’t forget them. Ever since then, the ball’s been in his court. And that would be the case even if Yuki remembered confessing.

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In his monologues, Kyon is constantly updating us as to where he stands on the Fujiyama of Summer: he’s somewhere around the middle; somewhere where he’s sure he’ll have plenty of time to talk to Yuki normally. As for the show, this is the last episode, so when so much time is spent on Haruhi-mandated Summer activities without progress and the Summer passes by, I got a little nervous.

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But since the episode is called “fireworks”, I knew we’d get some in one form or another, and when the night of fireworks festival showed up, and after more awkwardness Kyon asks Ryouko what he should do, she makes him realize he’s distancing himself from Yuki without telling her why, which is hurting her. That revelation, that he’s personally detracting from Yuki’s—this Yuki’s—happiness, motivates him to suck it up and take that wonderfully-yukata’d girl aside to talk.

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You see, Kyon uses the fireworks to mask his words, so while he’s technically saying them to Yuki and thus clearing the air in his mind, she doesn’t hear anything, and so isn’t upset. When he tells Yuki he could’ve seen himself falling for her, even though he never considered the possibility of being liked that way, he sees New Yuki, in her sailor fuku, smile in recognition; not the yukata’d Old Yuki not hearing anything he’s saying.

What he does let her hear is his apology for being distant, and his promise he’ll start treating her like he always has, which doesn’t preclude the occasional romantic moment. So in the end, Yuki confessed her feelings and Kyon knowing she’d forget, and Kyon confessed to Yuki knowing she couldn’t hear. Hmm…let’s call it a draw, shall we?

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But hold on…what are all these knowing, possibly heartbroken, near-tearful expressions on adorably hair-bunned Haruhi’s visage? Why, it’s her giving up on Kyon; accepting Yuki’s won with grace…right? But what if, that night, Haruhi decided she never wanted the Summer to end; never wanted to come to the point where she’d have to concede defeat? In another show, she had that power…

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Oh show….you had to go there, didn’t you? Post-credits, we get the second “Kyon-kun Denwa!” of the episode, and suddenly we’re back in “Endless Eight” territory (full disclosure, I loved that arc). It would seem, unconsciously or not, that Haruhi managed to reset time. Has Kyon been being distant and awkward with Yuki for 594 years??

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