Sakurako-san no Ashimoto – 07

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To Shou’s apparent amazement, Sakurako graces his school festival with her presence—in a skirt, no less!—though it could have more to do with the fact she’d have access to delicious pancakes than any particular urge to see or hang out with Shou. Or is that being too harsh? In a show full of mysteries, Sakurako remains the largest, though we’re now 7/11ths into the show.

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Suddenly disappearing after her meal, Shou finds her in the one place in a school she’d go: the lab, to check out skeletons. She couldn’t care less about rudely off and going without saying something, either because she just doesn’t conform to social norms, or because she knew Shou would be able to find her if he needed to. Far more important to Saku once she inspects the bones, is that a grave injustice is taking place.

The skeletons are gathering dust as decor rather than being handled by students for educational benefit. I loved her matter-of-fact indignation and scolding of Professor Isozaki who maintains the lab but is more of a plant guy, but promises improvement, which matters to Saku more than apologies.

Things take a very Sakurako-san-like turn when Isozaki offers Saku the job of organizing a prep room full of unorganized bones left there by the former teacher who is now deceased. Saku agrees in exchange for three pumpkin Mont Blancs from Patisserie Dandelion, a very specific but also delicious-sounding (and fair) price.

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During the long, dusty process of organizing the prep room and taking inventory of the bones, Saku comes across the skeleton of a dog and a cat, which disturbs Shou quite a bit due to their status as pets. He also remembers seeing a cat skeleton with the name “Ulna” in Saku’s house, and she tells him Ulna was the name of her pet cat, who died an “unnatural death.” She wanted to learn the cause, so she performed an autopsy.

This really unsettles Shou, who gets frustrated when Saku reacts so differently than him. He feels she’s being cold and heartless, even if that’s not really quite the case. It’s another depressing sign to him that Saku is so very different than him, which more than the fact she has a fiancee (that’s more of an excuse not to pursue her, not a true obstacle, as Isozaki opines), keeps him from making a closer connection, to say nothing of pursuing a romance.

They also find a chest full of the bones of a cremated human named Sone Natsuko, who judging from the writings among Sasaki’s personal effects, had at least some connection with him, possibly a close one. Alas, it isn’t a case for Sakurako-san, as the police are called and take the remains away.

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The next day, Shou is confused by the lack of a cat skeleton in the inventory, when he could swear Saku was stroking a cat skull, just as he was talking about her petting Ulna. Because of the way Shou thinks and makes connections to interactions, he believes he might have upset Saku with his in hindsight over-the-top reaction to her comments on Ulna.

But of course an analytical person like Saku would want to find out why her cat died. That, not burying her in the yard and burning some incense, is how she processes the pain of her loss. And when Shou comes to her mansion to deliver her Mont Blancs, the gate is locked. Not because Sakurako is angry, but because she’s gone to visit her uncle, Shitara.

Shitara’s a professor of forensic medicine, now confined to a bed and requiring some kind of SGD to communicate. Saku, perhaps inspired by Shou bringing up Ulna, has come for Shitara’s unsolved case, which she wants to investigate, and she has Shitara’s blessing, provided she doesn’t do anything dangerous. I wonder if Saku will let Shou in on this. She’d better, if she wants those Mont Blancs…

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Sakurako-san no Ashimoto – 03

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Sakurako-san is a weird one, preferring bones to people and all, but she’s full of wisdom and thinks and looks like no one else around her. Yet she also has her own brand of empathy, seeing even emotions like happiness, relief, and comfort as brain chemistry reacting to external stimuli.

She’s also quite human and thus fallible herself, which is what makes her so endearing as a character. She persists in calling Shoutarou “boy” (shounen) as a way to distance herself from him, despite their growing bond that, at times, treads into romantic territory.

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Sakurako persuades her self-professed “guardian” to accompany her through some caves, then to a park where they’re pointed in the direction of human remains by a far more normal couple. Saku’s delighted at the find, and gives a beautiful description of how a corpse out in the open is briefly a “paradise of life” as flies lay eggs, maggots feed, and predators feed on the maggots, etc. She has a deep appreciation for the circle of life and the food chain, things humans don’t need to think about in daily life.

When Shoutarou does the responsible thing and phones the police, it doesn’t stop Sakurako from offering her expert opinion on who the corpse was and what happened. The police, however, aren’t so much impressed by her expertise as annoyed by her interference and what they perceive as arrogance (and hey, she is a bit arrogant).

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Back home, when Shou thinks Saku is sulking, she’s actually concentrating on building a skeleton. That’s when she finally tells him what he’s been meaning to ask about: her dead little brother, Soutarou, just one syllable removed from his name. It’s not much, but it’s the start of a dialogue and a sign she’s willing to gradually let Shou in.

The next day, Shou goes to a cafe at the request of his classmate Kougami Yuriko. Her purpose is to thank him for helping to find the corpse, which was that of her grandmother, who the police believe jumped to her death. When she invites both Shou and Saku to her house to thank them properly, we learn her grandma was taking care of her husband, who was suffering from severe dementia and required round-the-clock care.

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That burden is something the police used as a motive for Yuriko’s grandma’s suicide, and Yuriko even understands and doesn’t hold it against her. On the contrary, she’s ashamed she and the rest of her family didn’t see how tough it was for her until it was too late. But when she asks Saku to show her where and how her grandmother died, she gets an entirely different and more plausible story than the police came up with.

When they return to the site where her grandmother’s remains were found, Sakurako presents that story, which is this: her grandmother didn’t go there to die, she went there to live. She just stumbled and fell off the cliff in an unfortunate accident.

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The reason she left in the middle of the night was so that she could reach a certain spot so she could see the same sunrise her husband painted back when he was healthier. Sakurako points out how exposure to the morning sun releases serotonin, which calms and soothes the mind. She tempers her conclusions as mere speculation, but they fit the facts, the timing, the motive, and the details.

These conclusions also provide comfort and closure to Yuriko. Now that she knows her grandmother didn’t give up on her grandfather, she has that much more reason to be strong and provide care in her granny’s place. Another satisfying mystery that respectfully delved into a specific (yet under-represented in anime) circumstance in modern human society—caring for those who can’t care for themselves—and built logically to a life-affirming finish.

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Sakurako-san no Ashimoto – 02

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This was a tough one to watch, but it still felt good to watch it. Though I don’t have any kids, I could feel my latent parental instincts kick in on multiple occasions. What I do have is a little niece going on three, the same age as the girl who serves as a conduit for this week’s murder mystery, which turns out to be a lot more involved than last week’s century-old skeleton or the suicide-not-suicide.

The little girl, who only has the most basic grasp of communication, and will default to “no” when confronted with strong direct demands, is like a lock that Sakurako and Shou must pick in order to figure out who she is and where she came from. I like how such a lockpicking must be undertaken by a lad too young for kids and an older but still young woman too involved in her work to bother with things like husbands or children of her own.

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In spite of this, Sakurako and Shou become the kid’s surrogate parents for the duration of their investigation. Shou is the one who brings her to Sakurako, who quickly notices the child is suffering from a poorly-healed bone injury; the likely result of abuse. As luck would have it, a classmate of Shou’s knows the kid and her real name, leading them to her house: a pigsty strewn with bags of garbage and a likely den of neglect and abuse. Then they find the corpse of the mother, and a new story emerges.

The mother is dead of an apparent stab wound, with only one defensive wound, and died in a very strange position that turns out to be one best-suited for covering a trap door in the kitchen where she hid her other child, an infant boy. When Sakurako moves the mother’s body and finds the babe, she wastes no time attempting to revive it, pumping his tiny heart to provide his brain with enough oxygen to stay alive.

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Before help can come, the father does: a knife-wielding drug addict looking for “butterflies.” Saku is unable to move to protect herself, lest she risk losing the baby, and the cop who accompanied her and Shou is the first one stabbed. That means Shoutarou has to step up and save everyone, which he does thanks to some karate he learned from his gramps.

Far from impressed, Saku is angry at Shou for acting so recklessly. As he acted, she remembered a young boy running from her in a similar fashion, and being unable to stop him. A younger brother she lost, perhaps? In any case, all’s well that ends well. The baby wakes up (thank GOD) and the police and ambulance arrive. And throughout all of this, the three-year-old has been kept safe by Shou’s classmate in the other room, shielding her from further trauma.

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The house may be the dump of a destitute couple unable to properly care for their two young children, but in Sakurako’s reconstruction of what happened (which happens with all of the pieces having been previously, carefully laid out), the mother is redeemed as a Mother, one who did not hesitate to sacrifice her own life to save both of her kids from her insane, homicidal partner. She may not have been the best mother in life, but she did the one fundamental thing required of her, and all mothers, when it mattered: she protected her children.

This was more than just a rich spoiled genius girl solving a another mystery for her own satisfaction. The show successfully drew me even further in by upping the stakes considerably. This was about continuing the work the murdered mother started: making sure those innocent kids survive. And Saku couldn’t do it alone; she needed the help of her “Watson” and the plucky cop, and they delivered.

With this latest case closed, a deeper mystery remains: the truth of Saku’s memory.  Shoutarou is surprised when she calls him by his first name in the aftermath of their ordeal, but also remembers her shouting “Soutarou” during it. Calling him Shoutarou is a sign of intimacy, yet when he asks her to confirm calling him that, she backs away, careful to maintain the same distance between them. Something haunts her; something Shou wants to uncover; and I want to see him uncover it!

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Sakurako-san no Ashimoto ni wa Shitai ga Umatteiru – 01 (First Impressions)

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The title is a mouthful (the English dub is shortened to Beautiful Bones), but Sakurado-san is a modest yet intriguing little show centered on a rich, gorgeous, brilliant, and very (justifiably) immodest young osteologist in Kujou Sakurako. She loves bones and is always on the lookout for new ones, even, nay, especially if they’re of the human variety, and even more especially if they’re of the murdered human variety.

In fact, Sakurado seems to prefer the bones of the dead to other human beings, as she seems a bit of a misanthrope. Her only regular contacts seem to be Gran, her housekeeper, and Tatewaki Shoutarou, who is the Watson to her Sherlock, only he’s not a veteran of Afghanistan, nor is he a doctor. He’s more of a student; a kohai.

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The unconventional relationship between Sakurako, who looks to be in her mid to late twenties, and the high schooler Shou, looks to be the ongoing “mystery” running parallel to the mystery-of-the-week (or weeks). Shou is our conduit to Sakurako; we know a little more about what’s going on in his head because he’s narrating, adding to Sakurako’s mystique.

Despite her being older, Shou seems the more responsible and attuned to society and bureaucracy, calling the cops when they find human remains. Yet Shou is still enough of a kid to allow the prospect of an Alaskan shrimp feast dangled ahead of him like a carrot.

Whether it’s the fact Shou’s so young and non-threatening and malleable, or that she probably doesn’t want to marry her actual fiancee (being from a wealthy family, that’s probably an arranged thing), Sakurako not only tolerates but seems to enjoy Shou’s company, and the feeling is mutual, even if she sometimes goes too far and causes trouble.

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So those are the characters, to my mind the most interesting aspect of the show. Plot-wise, the opening episode is an introduction to them and a kind of “ridealong” to one of their typical days scrounging for bones.

It’s also demonstrated that Sakurako’s analytical and investigative skills and instincts outstrip the average country detective, though she has no interest in actually entering law enforcement. There’s a great sense of occasion and drama to the moment she locks into “investigation mode”, when she’s surrounded by light and hundreds of reconstructed skeletons.

This show also has going for it: a Wednesday timeslot, so it’s more likely to be retained than if it aired during the always busy weekend. Plus, it’s a fairly pretty, undemanding show that invites you to sit back and get lost in the wake of Sakurako for a spell, as Shou obviously delights in doing, despite his protestations. Heck, I even learned a few things about bones I didn’t know. Very nice; I’ll see where it goes.

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