Super Cub – 03 – Calling Out to the Universe

Koguma notes how it’s been a few days since her “life of emptiness” was suddenly filled by her Cub, and then by a fellow Cub rider. She acquired the Cub by actively visiting a dealership, while befriending Reiko happened more by chance when Reiko approached her. Koguma is gradually getting more comfortable with both of these things.

During lunch (the running gag of Koguma never being able to microwave her meals is great and very relatable) Reiko announces her intention to go touring during summer vacation, and is glad to have the big luggage box that comes with the Postal Cub. Koguma would like one too, so Reiko reaches out to a fellow Cubber and finds another box within walking distance.

Reiko has Koguma remove the box from the worn-out Cub, and using tools on a Cub for the first time must feel satisfying. That feeling is repeated when a teacher gives her a free front basket from his Cub he doesn’t need anymore. As she vicariously revels in Koguma grinning like a goofball, Reiko tells Koguma that whenever she needs a part of something, the universe will provide if you “call out” to it.

As Koguma tries opening up the pipes on her Cub, she learns she’ll have to call out for something else: a means of blocking the wind from hitting her face. I must say these three episodes have been an absolute face clinic, and Koguma’s wind-in-her-face face is as priceless as her satisfied grins. It’s great watching Koguma discover the simple but powerful joy of upgrades.

That night, Koguma considers how to solve this problem as she cooks a dinner of fried rice—not a microwave packet—perhaps indicating she’s taking more pride in the process and effort of all things, not just her Cub. Reiko takes Koguma to the library to search the web for a face shield, but even the cheapest are around $40.

Then, as if the universe were answering Koguma’s call for an alternative, she spots a custodian wearing safety goggles, which are both cheaper than a mask and tough enough to withstand the rigors of riding. Koguma had to go to the hardware store to buy a chain lock anyway, so kills two birds with one stone. Goofy grinning ensues, and that night Koguma dreams of riding her Cub on a road through a flower-strewn meadow. She’s officially got the Cub Bug.

Koguma’s mood extends into the morning, and Reiko notices her friend’s extra pep. After school, both of them want to go riding, so they do, although I was a little confused when Reiko left first, because I thought they intended to ride together. Another time, perhaps. In the meantime, Reiko gives Koguma her cell number, tells her to call if she needs anything, and to be careful on the road.

Koguma admits that getting her licesne wasn’t a particularly emotional moment, but getting Reiko’s number was another thing entirely. She isn’t sure yet if she and Reiko could be classified as friends, but that doesn’t matter, because they’re something she considers deeper and more profound: they’re both members of that ancient and noble tribe of Honda Cub owners, and they are legion!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Tokyo Revengers – 04 – Crybaby Hero

So far Takemichi’s mission has been all about saving Hinata, and just in case we forgot, she demonstrates that she’s a hero in her own right, using her cuteness and forwardness to make some boys make space for an old lady to sit down on the train. From this display, to how embarrassed she is by her mom, to the way she watches fireworks, she is unassailably one of the Best Girls.

It’s not a question of if Takemichi can save her…he has to, or this show and I are going to have some words. But of course, it’s not so simple, just as Takemichi trying to hold Hinata’s hand somehow goes wrong and he ends up shaking young Naoto’s instead, thus torpedoing a beautiful romantic scene he never experienced the first time around. Heck, he’d never even been in Hinata’s room before.

It’s for the best that Takemichi return to the present, even if it was on accident. For one thing, it confirms that no matter which timeline he’s in, shaking Naoto’s hand sends him to the other, and his body ends up in a state of “suspended animation”, meaning they shouldn’t do it again except in the safety of Naoto’s apartment.

Takemichi also learns that while there’s still much more to be done, he did manage to change history again; specifically, Akkun’s fate. Originally, Akkun did stab Kiyomasa and ended up being arrested and convicted at sixteen. But now that Takemichi’s bravery stayed Akkun’s hand, he went on to join the Toman Gang, meaning they have a potential in for meeting with present-day Mikey.

After tracking down his old contact book, Akkun’s old phone number amazingly still works, and leads him and Naoto to a hostess club Akkun runs. There, Akkun introduces himself and his new, close-cropped and life-worn appearance. Honestly upon seeing him I worried he was dying of a terminal illness, or had become a drug addict.

Instead, Akkun is simply haunted. Takemichi is right that Akkun considers them friends for life, but he admits that he was the one who pushed Takemichi onto the tracks. That should have killed him, but Naoto saved him, which planted the seed in Akkun’s head that Takemichi can travel through time.

Takemichi tries to deflect Akkun’s ideas as insane ravings, but the bottom line is Akkun had been waiting for him. You see, it may look like he made the big time and has anything and anyone he wants, but the one thing he doesn’t have is freedom. He’s one of Kisaki Tetta’s soldiers, and the way he talks about him, disobedience is death. As for Mikey, Akkun hasn’t seen him in years.

Akkun must’ve been following Kisaki’s orders when he pushed Takemichi, but between failing to kill him and telling Takemichi all these things now, Akkun has already sealed his fate…at least in this timeline. So as Takemichi watches in horror, Akkun climbs up to the ledge, tells his “crybaby hero” Takemichi to save everyone, then jumps to his death. As Takemichi cries out in anguish, Kisaki is on that same rooftop, utterly unmoved.

It must’ve been tough to witness what he did, but in doing so Takemichi finally realizes this is about far more than Hinata. Hinata died because Mikey turned evil, but he turned evil because of Kisaki Tetta after Ryuugjuu Ken died. If Takemichi wants to have any chance of saving Hinata, he’ll have to save Akkun and Draken too. He has to stand his ground, tears and all, and keep fighting for a brighter future for everyone.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

SSSS.Dynazenon – 05 – Hurry Up, But Don’t Run

Chise is honing her piloting skills while suggesting Yomogi and Koyomi combine Soldier and Striker, which turns out to be too top-heavy. There isn’t time for further training, as everyone has plans. Yomogi accompanies Yume to the next choral alumnus, who shows them video of Kano. Yomogi is glad to be by her side, but as she investigates her sister, he’s more intent on learning more about her.

Koyomi takes Inamoto up on her offer to have a drink together, even if he’s weary of drinking with a married woman. She doesn’t seem to see the harm, but she’s clearly always been less inhibited, as evidenced by a flashback from the two in middle school with Inamoto making Koyomi promise not to tell anyone about the window she broke, before offering to show him…something.

After their meet-up, Chise is there to warn Koyomi about past women, and informs him and everyone else that she won tickets to a water park. Yomogi had just been thinking about trying to maybe ask Yume out on a date, so Chise inadvertently does Yomogi a solid here. Thus begins Dynazenon’s pool / beach episode, with Gauma having the ulterior motive of capturing Shizumu.

This means more skin, as well as the opportunity to shed inhibitions, but Yume takes a long look at the black sleeve Chise keeps on her arm, perhaps wondering if Chise is hiding the marks of self-harm. Once everyone is in their swimsuits, Gauma urges Yomogi and Yume to pretend to be lovers, and even at first when she’s munching on a churro and he’s not sure what to do or say, they really do pull it off! It’s not always non-stop excitement for couples, after all.

Once she has some food in her stomach, Yume cuts loose as Yomogi and Shizumi keep her company. There’s a particularly sweet moment when Yomogi grasps Yume’s inner tube to keep them close in the wave pool.

But Yume’s mood sours when she hears a surprised woman scream after her boyfriend accidentally knocks her into the water. Dark images of her sister’s fate flash in her eyes, and she just can’t continue the fun.

That’s fine with Yomogi, who stays with her as she recovers in a kind of calming grotto. He’s not sure quite what she’s feeling, but knows it’s not the best, and simply wants to be there for her. Shizumu also turns up there, unfazed by Gauma’s half-assed attempts to grab him.

He asks Yomogi if he and Yume are dating, then mentions he considers it “sad” that people seek freedom by “constraining themselves” with labels like dating, influencing and being influcence by others. None of that sounds that bad to Yomogi, however.

Unfortunately, there’s a kaiju on the way, and it’s Shizumu’s turn to pilot. Amusingly, his comrade Mujina would prefer to just stay at the water park; naturally the Eugenicists are also in their swimsuits. This new kaiju can melt metal, and also has a nasty laser beam that threatens Yume’s Dyna Wing.

With Chise joining Yomogi in Soldier, they combine with Koyomi to form Soldier Striker, then everyone eventually merges into Dyna Rex and blast the shit out of the kaiju.

I loved the souped-up Inky-from-Pac-Man look of this week’s kaiju, and the fact he can flip upside down into a more menacing form. But as with previous battles, the Dyna Team doesn’t really run into that many problems, while Shizumu isn’t that miffed about losing, and joins the other Eugenicists at the water park.

After the battle, Yume thanks Yomogi for “back there”, which I took to mean him being there for her in the grotto when she was feeling blue, not just dealing with the green laser attacks. I love all these little interactions between the two, punctuated as they are with little silences.

But before she can join the others in diving off the cliff into the water, she gets another message from Kano’s club-mate saying he’s gotten ahold of Fuuma, the club president. Yume and Yomogi meet with Fuuma, who starts off with something that’s hard to say, especially with Kano’s sister present: there’s a rumor that what happened to Kano wasn’t an accident, but suicide.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Tokyo Revengers – 03 – A Rare Thing

Once Takemichi calls out Kiyomasa, he’s determined not to let him win. No matter how many crushing blows he lands, the pain can’t compare to the pain of having failed to save Hinata. So he tells Kiyomasa straight up: unless he literally kills him, he’s not going to lose.

That’s just fine with Kiyomasa, who asks for his bat, but his fun is interrupted by his bosses, Koman Vice-Commander Ryuuguuji Ken and Commander Sano “Mikey” Manjirou. After beating Kiyomasa for making Koman look bad, Manjirou declares Takemichi his friend.

This is precisely what Takemichi was hoping for in fighting Kiyomasa. Honestly, it’s a little too tidy, except for the part where Takemichi put his very life on the line with no guarantee he wouldn’t lose it. There’s also something about the eccentric “Mikey”…for one thing, he can’t believe Takemichi is really a middle schooler, which…well, he’s not.

After heading to school on time Takemichi encounters Hinata, who arranges a date before her cram school. Then Mikey and Ken barge right into his class despite being from a different school, and insist Takemichi hand out with them. Hinata intervenes, slapping Mikey and vowing to protect Takemichi from the bullies who keep beating her beau up.

As Hinata tries to flee with Takemichi, Ken  puts his hand on her, but while Takemichi notices her shaking, she stands her ground. Takemichi then puts his hand on Ken and warns him to get his off off Hinata. Mikey says it’s a shame Takemichi doesn’t want to be friends, but now he’ll have to kill him. Again, Takemichi doesn’t back down, and Mikey turns out to simply be messing around.

Hinata’s misunderstanding is cleared up, and both Takemichi and Hinata gain respect from Mikey and Ken. Hinata, glad they’re his friends, tells him to go hang out with them, and after a bike ride they end up watching the sun set from an embankment while Mikey talks about creating a new kind of delinquent—one who will need people like Takemichi, who are willing to put everything on the line for something they need to do.

After this encounter, Takemichi can’t imagine Mikey or even Ken bringing about the kind of Koman Gang that would kill Hinata in the future. But that’s because he hasn’t met Kisaki Tetta, of whom Takemichi catches his first glimpse without quite realizing. One look at Kisaki and you can tell he’s the kind of sadist and bad influence who could one day corrupt Mikey’s heart. Befriending a pre-Kisaki Mikey was no problem for Takemichi. The true challenge will be preventing a post-Kisaki Mikey.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

SSSS.Dynazenon – 04 – Dyna Dizzy Fever Day

Wrested from her previously stagnant state by her new Dyna-duties and co-pilot comrades, Yume commences her investigation into her sister Kano in earnest. She meets with a member of the chorus club during Dyna-training, and Yomogi is distracted because he’s developed a little thing for her.

His boss Inamoto teases him about it, while that same Inamoto reaches out to Koyomi for dinner. Yume and Mei lie on the Karaoke couches cheek to cheek, posed like stylish Monogatari characters but simply living their ordinary lives and basking in their deep friendship. I like how we see parts of Yume with Mei we see nowhere else. But Mei can tell Yume has changed, and wants to know what caused it.

Compounding Yomogi’s sudden heartsickness is a steadily developing cold, as well as one of the Eugenicists—the pretty boy Shizumu—enrolled in their class as an “exchange student” and is give the seat right behind Yume. However, like Juuga, he’s not looking for a fight; rather trying to get a read on Gauma’s new co-pilots. Gauma attacks Shizumu on school campus, which gets him fired from his job.

The next day, Cardcaptor Sakura Yomogi’s fever worsens and his mom deems him unfit for school. When he doesn’t show for training, Gauma sends Yume to check on him, unwittingly bestowing upon Yomogi a great gift: having the girl he likes visit him when he’s sick. A warm, cozy, earnest little scene between Yomogi and Yume follows, in which Yomogi realizes he doesn’t know Yume that well at all, but wants to.

Meanwhile, the sole female Eugenicist Mujina takes command of a new Kaiju with a very Kaiju-power: it can change objects from three to two dimensions, rendering them inert in the three-dimensional world. I like to think there’s a little symbolic parallel between that ability and Yomogi’s skin-deep understanding of Yume, but there’s a more pressing matter: Dynazenon can’t combine without Soldier.

Yume takes Yomogi’s Soldier toy and joins Gauma and Koyomi in battle. Unbeknownst to Koyomi, Chise stowed away his Striker, and when Yume arrives she volunteers to pilot Soldier. All the while the ill Yomogi looks left out and lonely, especially knowing Yume will be meeting with another chorus club member…this time a guy.

Chise’s avid video game skills serve her well at first, but she’s soon overwhelmed as she just doesn’t have the same rapport with Soldier as Yomogi, who calls Yume to get a progress report. Things aren’t good, so Yume has to fly back to Yomogi and pick him up, fever and all. Even if he feels like shit physically, he’s gotta feel good she came back for him.

Yomogi, all coughs, sniffles, and sneezes, joins the others and they combine into Dragon Dynazenon to soften the kaiju up, then upgrades to Super Dragon Dyna Rex for the coup-de-grace. It’s another loss for the Eugenicists, but other than Onija none of them are that miffed about it, probably because they gained more info on Dynazenon.

Chise apologizes to Yomogi and promises to train to become a better backup Soldier pilot, which Yomogi says isn’t necessary. I’d honestly wondered why Chise alone didn’t have a Dyna-toy to pilot, and I’m still not quite sure she’s not hiding something big. But while it’s fun to theorize on what twists are yet to come, it’s honestly just as good to watch Yomogi and Yume’s delicate dance as it unfolds onscreen.

While Yume is giving him a ride home in Wing, Yomogi asks if he can come with her when she meets the chorus guy. Notably she doesn’t respond by asking why he’d want to, but says “sure” first, then asks “but why”. Yomogi says it’s because we wants to know more about her, but unfortunately she sneezes just as he’s saying it, and he’s too bashful to repeat it.

Sure enough, Yume is absent for the next Dyna-training session, as she’s caught Yomogi’s cold, and we’re treated to a parting sight of her curled up under thick covers, her face surrounded by all manner of stuffed animals. As crazy and otherworldly as the Dyna/Kaiju battles get, SSSS always returns to the familiar and relatable realism of the characters and the lived-in places they inhabit. It continues to be an irresistible combination, impeccably produced by Trigger.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Those Snow White Notes – 03 – It’s Fine if It’s Different

This week Setsu becomes raveled in the web of the adorable Maeda Shuri and her childhood friends Kaito and Yui. Yui tries in vein to get Setsu to join Shuri’s club, leading him to ask why she won’t join. Then Kaito asks Shuri if Setsu’s bothering her, even though we later learn he’s the one who bullied her when she was little!

Everything chances when Shuri gets lost in a recording of her grandmother’s humming a tune on her phone and misses the bell. She gets reamed out by the teacher, who unplugs her earbud, and the whole class can hears the tune. Setsu recognizes it: his own grandfather’s “Shungyou (Spring Dawn).”

Setsu boldly approaches Shuri in the hall and asks her about it; turns out the whole reason Shuri started the club was that she hoped to meet someone who could tell her what song it was her grandmother heard some decades ago, a memory that no longer has any sound. Kaito who has an unabashed crush on Shuri, grabs Setsu, who says he was mistaken and storms off.

Then it’s Shuri’s turn to be unexpected, as she grabs Setsu’s arm with both of hers. She answered his question, now he has to answer hers: Could she someday play the piece her granny hummed? “Impossible”, he says flatly, drawing the ire of both Kaito and Yui. Koyabu-sensei breaks up the tussle by suggesting all five of them go listen to a live performance by the former owner of the shamisen in Shuri’s care.

Meanwhile in Aomori, Kamiki Seiryuuu, formerly Ogata Kousuke, shamisen player extraordinaire, plays for the Tanuma siblings’ father, who is impressed by his progress but still assures him that his son Souichi will beat him. Kamiki politely replies that that ain’t gonna happen.

While on the way out Kamiki runs into Tanuma Mai, who may be the only one outside the Sawamura family to hear Setsu’s playing. And he was so skilled, his distaste for competition made her mad. She’s been mad ever since, and doesn’t quite buy that it’s “fine” for Setsu to not want to seek recognition.

Speaking of recognition, Koito and Setsu arrive at Kamiki’s performance with Shuri, Yui, and Koyabu-sensei, and a crowd full of adoring ladies. Shuri asks Setsu what he meant by impossible, he says even he wouldn’tbe able to play it, as his “emotions would get in the way”. Yui wonders to herself why he can’t simply try to play it.

Then the lights go out, and a dramatically silhouetted Kamiki begins his performance, pulling the crowd in with a clarity of sound Setsu didn’t think possible from a futozao. As Mai’s dad said, his playing is like a breath of mountain air; crisp, bracing…even a little frightening. Again Snow White Notes delivers another awesome shamisen performance, and due to the performer being Kamiki, it’s unlike any of the previous ones.

Koyabu-sensei gets everyone backstage so Shuri can ask Kamiki about the shamisen he left behind, but Setsu gets uncharacteristically chippy about the fact Kamiki basically abandoned such a kingly instrument to the tender mercies of a school that could have easily thrown it out.

Kamiki says he trusted someone would find it who would be able to ascertain its true value…and that turned out to be true! Then Kamiki hands Setsu his current shamisen and asks him to show him what he’s got. Setsu plays, and Shuri, Koito, and Koyabu-sensei are impressed…but Yui isn’t. Nor is Kamiki.

Yui finds his playing boring. Kamiki had an even meaner word for it in his thoughts…insipid. He recognizes Setsu has some skill, but he was just striking away recklessly.

Setsu runs off. Yui follows him and asked why he phoned it in. She heard him play properly online during the rock show and was blown away despite having zero interest in the shamisen before. But Setsu wasn’t sucking intentionally…he just couldn’t play. Shuri listens in around the corner as he laments not being able to play for Shuri even though she’s so desperate to hear that mystery tune.

A rain-soaked Setsu arrives on his block to find Sakura outside the boarding house, and he asks her upfront what she’d do if someone asked her to do something she thought was impossible for her. Sakura says she’d give it her best shot on her own terms, even if she knew she’d fail. It’s just what Setsu needed to hear to come out of his funk.

The next day, when Shuri is along in some supply room strumming out some basic shamisen notes, Setsu appears from behind and corrects her posture. He asks if it’s okay if the song he plays is different from the one her grandmother remembers, and she says of course it will be fine; like Sakura, she’s more concerned with trying than not trying. If anything, it’s better if it’s different, because that makes it his sound. That’s what he’s scared of, after all: his sound never shaping up to his gramps’.

But his grandfather didn’t want him exactly copying him anyway! Setsu thought his sound didn’t exist at all without gramps around, but by bringing sound to the silent memories of Shuri and her grandmother, he’s one more small step towards discovering that he always had a sound separate from his master’s—everyone does, and everyone should. I’ll close by saying way to go, Setsu, for totally making Shuri’s day!

Those Snow White Notes – 02 – Let Loose and Take Flight

Setsu remembers back when a girl in his class was mad he dropped out of a shamisen competition, calling him a coward who was running away with tears in her eyes. She wanted to beat him, but it was more than that: she clearly admired and respected his play as someone worth working to defeat. When he tactlessly tells her he only cares about his grandfather’s sound, she slaps him.

It’s that same cheek—along with the other one—that Setsu’s mother is grasping when he finally comes to after being gassed. Umeko, would never win Mother of the Year, but she’s at least concerned enough about her son to establish some structure to his new home in Tokyo, setting him up in a boarding house in the vibrant old town (Shitamachi) and enrolling him in school.

When Setsu tells his mom he’s lost his sound, Umeko asks how far it went, and insists he answer with his shamisen. Beside the boarding house room’s open window that overlooks a bustling street, Umeko challenges Setsu to make everyone down there turn and look as he accompanies her singing, warning she won’t tolerate disgraceful play.

It’s then, during his playing and her singing of “Tsugaru Ohara Bushi”, that we learn that while she’s by all appearances a pompous, arrogant, and overbearing force of nature, Sawamura Umeko is perfectly able to offset those traits with her singing talent. Tetsu says he “hates” her, but her voice has always made his heart tremble. You and me both, bud!

Unlike her personality when not singing, Umeko’s voice is more than a force of nature: it’s all four seasons. It’s apropos that her song can be interpreted as the life cycle of an apple tree…and a woman. From the first note she sings, the unyielding power, confidence, and beauty of her voice is plain…and terrifying.

For a bit under four minutes, I was transported to nirvana, experiencing winter, spring, summer, and autumn, feeling the wind blowing, smelling the blossoms and ripening fruit. Every single person in the crowd below stops what they’re doing, turns to the window, and listens. A girl seemingly falls in love before our eyes.

Umeko and Setsu put a spell on everyone, including me…and then Setsu breaks a string before he can finish his big solo, and it’s all over but the ovation below. Umeko admits she did this so Setsu would make a good first impression on the neighborhood, ensuring he could practice whenever he wants.

But that night, all of the praise and promised freebies from his neighbors amounts to nothing in Setsu’s angsty thoughts. All Umeko has done is ensure he can continue drifting along and going with the flow, accomplishing nothing; amounting to nothing. Methinks our boy doth protest too much…I think he’s got a pretty sweet deal here!

The next morning at the boarding house restaurant run by a father-daughter pair, Wakana arrives as promised to see Setsu to his first day at his new school. Umeko gave Setsu a choice: continue his education, or return to Aomori. The brothers’ breakfast and tense discussion is interrupted by their mother in a cosmetic ad on TV.

As they walk to Setsu’s school, Wakana tells him about the competition he just came from, in which he placed third. First Place went to Kamiki School master Ogata Kousuke, while Second Place went to his kohai, third-year high schooler Tanuma Souichi. Setsu recognizes the name Tanuma, as his little sister was in the same year as him, and indeed girl who slapped him in his flashback.

While Setsu gave up on competition to try to pursue his gramps’ sound, Tanuma Mai won in the competition’s women’s division, telling Wakana prior to the performances that he was no match for the Kamiki School…and turned out to be right. With Wakana and Setsu’s master deceased, it’s as if they’ve hit a brick wall and are “stuck in the dark”.

Between his good looks and refreshing accent, Setsu is well-received by his classmates despite his cool introduction. Wakana learns Umeko told some tall tales (and signed a fat check) to get Setsu enrolled so quickly. While in the faculty lounge with his homeroom teacher Kobayu-sensei, Setsu meets Maeda, a girl in his class who also happens to head up the school’s shamisen appreciation club.

She also happens to have a shamisen left at the school by one Ogata Kousuke. Setsu is initially troubled by the idea of a tourist like Maeda handling such a honed instrument, but lowers his hackles when she looks at him forlornly with trembling eyes and asks “Is it wrong for me…to touch it?” Phrasing!

He helps her assemble the shamisen, which has a torn skin as a result of disuse and neglect. But other than that correctable flaw (at the not insignificant cost of ¥40-50k!) he recognizes it as a particularly exquisite specimen. Maeda is smitten with it, and with Setsu, who clearly knows his shamisens. Alas, before she can properly thank him, Setsu has executed a perfect Batman exit.

Wakana meets up with him after school and presents him with the parting gift of a genuine kiri wood case, which Setsu clearly loves. Wakana also says he now understands more why Setsu left home, considering the burdens left for him there. Setsu tells Wakana how, like penguins and seals can recognize the call of their young out of a group of hundreds, he’ll always be able to pick his brother’s sound out of a chorus of shamisens.

Before Wakana takes his leave, Setsu suggests they go somewhere and play something together. They invite the boarding room father and daughter (Sakura) to join them, and they pick out a nearby Inari shrine where Sakura assures them the kitsune won’t mind their music.

Talk about it! Once again a musical number sends me straight to heaven. The two brothers play a piece with no title they came up with when they were younger and “just messing around”. As Sakura and her dad stand absolutely rapt, the brothers’ music summons images of a golden light-soaked Aomori evening. Wakana recounts how Setsu would always follow him. He’d run ahead, or climb a tree, and Setsu would fall behind and cry.

But then Wakana would take Setsu’s hand and bring him along, making sure he didn’t fall too far behind or feel lonely. Back and forth they’d go, just as their dueling shamisens chase each other. The piece gets very quiet for a bit, then they both cut loose and take flight like birds.

Sakura recognizes that this is no idle strumming, but the melody of the two brothers; the vocalization of their love and devotion; a dialogue of souls bound by blood far stronger than words could manage. With fresh strings on Setsu’s shamisen, the piece ends properly with a two-note exclamation point: blang-blang. The duet is the perfect cap to another perfect episode of Those Snow White Notes. Now the wait begins for the third episode, when Maeda will no doubt attempt to recruit Setsu into her club.

Those Snow White Notes – 01 (First Impressions) – Challenge Issued

AOTS Alert. Repeat, we have an Early AOTS Alert. Those Snow White Notes is an absolute joy to experience from beginning to end. Its absolute banger of a first episode tells a story of inspiration, loss, loneliness, listlessness, self-worth and self-actualization, jealousy, love, and much more—so much it feels like a little self-contained mini-film.

Oh yeah, did I mention it centers around a shamisen player, so the show’s music is supervised by The Yoshida Brothers, in addition to being directed by the fellow who not only gave us the tone-setting first episode of Rakugo Shinjuu, but both seasons of the excellent Master Teaser Takagi-san, of all things? We’re clearly dealing with some talented folks, so it’s amazing it doesn’t feel nearly as pretentious as it should.

A lot of that has to do with how simply and how efficiently the story is laid out and how easily it is to slide into the lives it follows. We start with Sawamura Setsu and his big brother Wakana listening through a cracked door as their grandfather plays to a transfixed crowd. An aside: I’m probably not alone when I say the sound of a well-played shamisen activates my sense of musical awe in addition to my ASMR, resulting in persistent goosebumps every time I hear it…or even think of it!

That said, as soon as the sweet music is over, the warm scene is replaced by a face-slap of a bitter winter scene, in which the Setsu is leaving home. When his gramps died, his “sound” disappeared too, so he’s going “somewhere loud” in hopes he can get it back. He doesn’t know if Tokyo is that place, but he knows he can’t stay home, saying “there’s nothing here anymore.”

We’re only two minutes in, and we’ve already learned so much while being treated to what is the first but hardly the least shamisen number. (It’s also clear I’m going to end up writing way too many words in this review! If only we had an editor around here…)

SWN’s next efficient-yet-effective character portrait is of Tachiki Yuna, an actress/model who is paying the bills with a hostess club job, having to keep smiling and pretending to be happy to be there even after her agency notifies her that she was passed over for a role. After her shift she’s encouraged by her boyfriend Taketo’s texts, and she considers herself fortunate to “have a man who’s talented.”

Yuna happens to be in the bustling streets of Roppongi when Setsu literally bumps into her after getting temporarily dazed by the sheer brightness of the city lights. The two part ways, but Setsu immediately bumps into some less savory characters who start to beat on him. It’s here we learn that Yuna has a heart of gold, as she comes to the Setsu’s rescue with some karate kicks.

After dreaming about his grandfather essentially telling him to stop playing the shamisen if he dies, Setsu wakes up in girly pajamas in Yuna’s cozy apartment, and she cooks the two of them breakfast. Setsu learns that Yuna is a 22-year-old gravure model. Yuna learns Setsu is a Tsugaru shamisen player, but he can’t play for her because he’s “empty inside”, which just happens to be how she’s been feeling lately.

When Wakana hears from Setsu in a letter, he assumes his little brother just went to Tokyo to get laid. But seeing in Setsu a kind of kindred soul, she proposes he continue living with her and doing the housework until he can get his sound back. Before long, a week passes, the longest he’s ever gone without playing since first picking up a shamisen.

Yuna takes Setsu to a restaurant to meet her great and talented boyfriend Taketo along with his band, and Taketo is revealed to be a preening, self-involved jackass who is far beneath Yuna. Setsu intervenes when he sees Taketo trying to extract some serious cash from Yuna to pay for studio he’s renting. He then tells her he’ll be too busy writing music to hang out later that night.

When Yuna and a bandmate have to hold Taketo back, Setsu peaces out, running through the crush of people and noting just how much noisier Tokyo was than a bumpkin like him could have imagined. He gets caught up on a word his gramps used about his sound—”disgraceful”—not because Setsu sucked at shamisen, but because all he ever did was imitate his gramps.

But right here and now Setsu is mad and wants to express it. He wants to play. So he sits down beside the river and plays. Yuna happens to pass by as he’s starting to play, and while he’d later describe the performance as rough and ugly due to the rust of a mere week, but Yuna and I become entranced.

As someone who can only understand between 1-10% of any given spoken Japanese sentence, the language itself is a kind of music, although I know enough words and phrases to know that it isn’t, so it remains separate from the real thing. But pure music like Setsu’s strumming transcends words as it expresses emotions, ideas, and memories of both player and listener.

In Yuna’s case, she’s transported back to her meeting with her agent, who was trying to get her to audition for racier movies and TV. Rightfully insulted by the insinuation she’s nothing but a pretty face and body, she throws a glass of water in his face, and is warned that she won’t go far if she turns such jobs down.

In the midst of listening to Setsu’s raw and angry performance, Yuna takes comfort in knowing even if her career doesn’t amount to anything, at least she has a good man in Taketo. She stops by the good man’s place to find him with having slept with some other woman, to whom she says “you can have him” and leaves as Setsu’s piece comes to a bitter, final note.

When Setsu comes home, Yuna is still awake, and tells him she heard his music. When she did, she realized they’re not alike at all. Setsu isn’t a “sad person with nothing going” for him like she is, and so she can’t help but feel jealous of him. She says she’ll be going away for a while, and asks him to vacate her apartment while she’s gone.

Another day, Setsu encounters Taketo on the street, who is preparing for a concert with his band. Taketo decides to use Setsu as a hostage, telling Yuna he’ll break his arm if she doesn’t show up. For this shitbaggery, Taketo is promptly punished with a Karma Kick from Yuna, coming to Setsu’s rescue once more.

She apologizes for involving Setsu in her drama, but with the wind kicked out of Taketo, she needs to ask for him to be involved a little bit longer. They need someone to go out there and entertain the crowd until the scumbag recovers. Just like that, Setsu finally gets a stage and a crowd on which to test whether he can get his lost sound back. Three guesses as to whether he manages this.

The ensuing powerhouse of a performance by Setsu calls to mind the best music scenes of Your Lie in April, only in this case the crowd was expecting a rock band, not a Tsugaru shamisen player. As he nervously tells the initially confused crowd, he plays “Jongara Bushi”, and as he does, he recalls in black-and-white memories what his grandfather had to say about the peice.

Gramps described the beginning as passionate and hot-blooded, but it starts to calm, grow progressively sadder and heartrending, weakening and waning. He’s basically describing a life. But, unlike a fiery youth who calms down in middle age and eventually withers and passes away, “Jongara” claws its way back, refusing to be beaten down, issues a challenge with its final furious crescendo.

The crowd watches in dead silence, just as Yuna did, and you can’t help but think of what is flashing through their heads while they listen; while they’re being taken on this roller coaster ride of powerful emotions. Just like April, the stage lights illuminate dust motes to give the simultaneous appearance of snow and magical sparkles. Setsu is casting a spell on everyone in that hall with his sound, and not even Taketo can deny its power.

Not only that, but the performance is being live-streamed on the internet, where even if it doesn’t go viral, it’s being watched from home by someone Setsu is sure to meet at some point; perhaps someone who like him has been around shamisen music enough to know that by their standards his performance was just okay. But I’m with Yuna, Taketo, and rest of the crowd: that was fucking awesome.

Also awesome? Yuna doesn’t take Taketo back. They’re done, and he knows he “lost himself a good woman”, even if Yuna would argue that she’s good at anything. Also, while I’m sad to see her go, Yuna does go on her trip to find her…well, not sound, but I guess to find what it is she can contribute to the world and feel good about it. Modeling and porn were decidedly not those things, but I hope the show won’t lose sight of her journey.

Setsu continues to live in her apartment after she leaves, but Taketo tends to come by a lot, so it’s clear that while he’s an asshole, he and Setsu will probably continue to interact with each other, if not outright befriend each other. While Setsu has the kettle on, he recalls walking Yuna to the train station, gives him a kiss before pushing him away and boarding the train with a final wave goodbye. Assuring him that whatever girl he ends up with “will be very happy”.

Back at her apartment, Taketo says that Setsu seems most alive when he’s playing, but if the shamisen is what gives him life, then sooner or later that world will “drag him in.” Taketo is hitting the nail on the head when their talk is abruptly interrupted by the most ridiculous occurrence in the episode: on the snap of a woman’s fingers, the door to Yuna’s apartment is forced open, a smoke bomb goes off, and two SWAT officers flank a glamorous woman with silver hair, blue eyes, and an April O’Neil jacket.

She’s here for Setsu, whom she calls “Baby-chan”, and Setsu calls her Umeko, but I know from the initial description of the show that this is his mom…who it’s immediately clear is a lot. Looks like however much of his sound Setsu believes he’s found in Tokyo, Umeko will have an unnegotiable say in his life…at least as long as he’s still a kid.

Talk about a mood-changing, enticing record-scratch of an ending! And it’s followed by an end theme that positively slaps: Miliyah Katou’s Kono Yume ga Sameru made, featuring the Yoshida Brothers. This was an opening episode that scratched all of my itches and then some. If you’re tired of my incessant gushing, go give it a watch yourself! I for one am probably going to go watch it again!

Otherside Picnic – 12 (Fin) – No Longer Alone Together

Everyone opens up on the Kakandara, who is indeed a half-human, half-snake urban legend. She proves a nasty customer, using painful sound waves to cause everyone to drop their guns, but Sorawo refuses to break eye contact with the monster. Bullets aren’t of much use against the Kakandara, so she asks Toriko to find “something bigger” they can hit her with. That something is the modified MRAP.

Toriko launches the huge truck into the monster and strikes its true form repeatedly with the onboard robotic arm. Combined with focused firepower, the Kakandara shrivels up and vanishes. Sorawo asks Toriko to touch the now-unguarded offertory box, opening a gate back to Okinawa. As the elated marines walk through the gate, they salute and offer their thanks to “The Girls”. And just like that, it’s over; Mission Accomplished.

An exhausted Sorawo is steadied by Toriko, and starts to cry despite herself; perhaps just now feeling the magnitude of what they just pulled off. Sorawo says didn’t really care about the marines until Toriko brought them up in the café, but she summoned the courage to help rescue them for Toriko. When Sorawo says she’s only interested in herself and doesn’t care about others, Toriko begs to differ. On the contrary, Toriko feels that things she could never do herself are possible when she’s with Sorawo.

Back in Tokyo the girls are given an ultimatum from Kozakura to move the AP-1 off her property within three days. After a search around the vicinity for potential new gates, they luck out when Sorawo locates one right next to the machine, left behind by those unpleasant women who tried to break into Kozakura’s house. Sorawo figures how how to drive the thing, Toriko opens the gate, and they go on through just as Akari stops by to hang out.

After driving around for a while, Sorawo parks the AP-1 under a tree on a picturesque grassy hill, and Toriko asks the questions “Why do you hang out with me?” and “Are you alright with me having you all to myself?” To the first, Sorawo says it’s because they’re friends. To the second, she’s not interested in broadening her horizons or making lots of new friends if it means reducing their time together.

Sorawo wondered if anyone would notice if she was gone, and then before she knew it she was in Toriko’s “mystical, sparkly embrace.” Toriko admits that she once thought it would be okay if everyone in the world but Sasaki were gone, only to lose just Sasaki. When she did, she was afraid, but she’s not anymore…because she has Sorawo.

They cover the AP-1 in a tarp and return to Tokyo, where they end up treating Kozakura and Akari to a big dinner. It’s a warm, sweet way to end a series about two crazy kids who found each other and found courage, peace, and strength in one another. When it comes to exploring the Otherside with someone, no one but Toriko will do for Sorawo, and vice versa.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Otherside Picnic – 11 – Return of The Girls

Sorawo and Toriko continue to exhibit positive change, as evidenced by their commitment to return to the Otherside and rescue the American marines they left behind. Simply saying “it’s not our problem” doesn’t enter into their thoughts on the matter.

It all comes down to whether their Lady Hasshaku hat trick will work again, and fortunately it does, transporting them back to the side of the train track. While they’re initially shot at on sight, Toriko fires off “SOS” in Morse, and the marines stand down, realizing they’re dealing with humans.

While Greg, their contact the last time around, was killed in the battle that continued after the girls transported away, the new guy in command speaks Japanese and is both friendly and grateful to “The Girls”, as they’re called, for coming back to help them. They’re also happy to provide all the weapons and ammo they need.

Toriko, whose mom was in the Canadian military and tought her how to shoot and maintain firearms, teaches Sorawo the proper way to hold and aim a rifle, getting all close and personal in the process. The two of them take their place atop one of the customized MRAPs the marines prepared, and the entire unit heads out, blowing up their improvised base behind them.

Sorawo, buoyed by the fact Toriko is right beside her, ably guides the convoy around glitches. Enemies first approach under the guise of fellow marines, but Sorawo’s eye sees through the illusion; they’re monsters, soon joined by the two boss-level beasts. Sorawo serves as spotter for the marines, but even after a successful headshot, the antler-branch monster’s head simply grows back.

When they reach the forest form which the marines first emerged upon arriving, their enemies suddenly cease their advance. After some driving through the woods they eventually come upon a roped-off glowing offertory box, perhaps the very gate through which the marines came. Their memories are hazy, clouded by the fear of the “nightmare” they endured upon arriving.

Sorawo and Toriko investigate, and spot a pale woman in tattered robes and blood-red toothy grin, whom Sorawo identifies as Kakandara—no doubt from another urban legend with which she’s familiar. Now that they’ve come so close to accomplishing their mission of bringing the boys home, hopefully The Girls can defeat, delay, or otherwise repel this Kakandara woman, and not give in to her fear-inducing aura.

Yuru Camp△ – 07 – Good Neighbors

The identity of Cool Campin’ Gramps is quickly revealed: he’s Rin’s grandfather, which makes sense as Rin must’ve caught the camping bug from him. It also explains why Rin has a loop-style tent rather than the commercially ubiquitous sleeve-style; we learn it’s a hand-me-down from her gramps. As for camping, she’s been doing it since her first year of middle school.

Rin and Nadeshiko have the lakeside to themselves but for one other couple: a friendly young lad (or possibly lass) with a wealth of fancy cooking gear and a woman in a hoodie surrounded by cans of beer and flanked by twin bottles of rum. While walking around to take some photos, Nadeshiko introduces herself but doesn’t pry too much, assuming they’re a couple couple and repsecting their privacy.

Nadeshiko returns to find Rin surrounded by a dark miasma—she’s used all of her firestarter but has no fire to show for it. Turns out starting her new grill isn’t as easy as the videos indicated. Nadeshiko immediately proves her value and asks the lad she met earlier to help them out. He lends them a couple instant-light briquettes to get the more fussy Binchoutan coals going.

They thank their camping neighbor and start cooking immediately, starting with grilled skewers and haddock hot pot. We learn from their conversation that the woman accompanying the lad is his older sister, who will soon start work as a high school teacher. If it’s at Rin and Nadeshiko’s school, I can see her ending up the Outclub’s faculty advisor…she’s certainly got Laid-Back down!

As thanks for helping them start their fire, the girls head back to their neighbors to offer some of their completed food, and the lad in turn offers some of his jambalaya, as too much was made for just two. The older sister offers rum, but her brother asks them to ignore her. They’re both pleasantly surprised by the high schoolers cooking skills.

After stuffing themselves on skewers, kalbi, and Hamburg steak, Rin uses the still-glowing coals to start a little wood fire to warm their bones before bed. Rin then learns Nadeshiko is originally from a town near Hamamatsu, where she had a view of Fuji-san, but he was tiny. The day they moved to Yamanashi, she fells asleep in the car and missed a much closer view, which is why she biked up to the campground where she and Rin met.

Now we know that were it not for Nadeshiko’s nodding off, they wouldn’t have met at Lake Motosu and had that lovely first taste of camping together that they’re now fully realizing. The hour grows late, and Rin starts nodding off first, so she heads into her tent, refusing to let Nadeshiko sleep with her as it would be too crowded. I dunno…it looks pretty roomy in there!

After sharing some face lotion with Nadeshiko, knowing from experience what campfire dries out the skin, Rin turns in, but thanks Nadeshiko through the tent for inviting her to go camping. Next time, she’ll be the one to invite her.

Rin wakes up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, and is rewarded with a gorgeous and serene view of the lake at night. All of Nadeshiko’s talk about the bull oni that sometimes appears on the lake causes Rin to mistake the drunk, vomiting sister for the oni, causing her to  freak out and book it back to the campsite.

And so, even though Rin wouldn’t let Nadeshiko sleep in her tent, a spooked Rin ends up slipping into Nadeshiko’s. The next morning, Nadeshiko wakes up first, notices Rin is there, and rolls herself over so they’re closer together, in what could be the cutest moment of the show to date. Once they’re both up and ready to break camp, Rin elects to go back the way they came, while Nadeshiko rents a boat to get to the other side. To each their own!

Talk of bull oni aside, this was a particularly laid-back and relaxing Yuru Camp. Other than the brief scene with Rin’s mom and granddad it’s just Rin and Nadeshiko plus their amenable camping neighbors. With their chemistry, there was never any doubt that Rin and Nadeshiko would make great camping companions. I also tend to agree with Rin that while all camping locations have their charms, there’s no substitute for the unique coziness of a wooded lakeside.

Yuru Camp△ – 06 – Girls with Grills

Rin should close up the library, but the heater is so nice she’s hesitant to leave. She realizes she has a package in her bag, and opens it to reveal a collapsible compact portable grill, which is a pretty nifty bit of kit. She also has yet to bump into Nadeshiko in order to give her her gift of chocolate buns from Nagano, but as she tells Ena, she just “can’t get used to the vibe” in the Outclub room.

Rin’s reluctance will soften at some point, what with the opening scene of the series showing both Rin and Ena camping with the Outclub. And her gateway drug to the Outclub is Nadeshiko, whom Rin finds sleeping in the stacks, also enjoying the library heat. Rin can’t help but smile watching Nadeshiko quickly house the chocolate buns.

Knowing that watching Nadeshiko eat something makes that thing look at least twice as delicious, she agrees to go with her on a camping trip, which will also be an opportunity to put her new portable grill—which both Ena and Nadeshiko initially mistake for a metal offertory box—through its paces.

After five episodes of beating around the bush, it’s finally happening: Rin and Nadeshiko are officially taking camping trip together. It was nice to see Sakura, apparently the only fam Nadeshiko has, meeting Rin’s mom, who may be Rin’s only fam. Rin is also struck by Sakura’s beauty, especially in contrast to her “blah” kid sister!

Sakura has agreed to drive them to the Lake Shibire Campgrounds, a little-known spot among the five lakes recommended by Chiaki for their autumnal splendor. Rin and Nadeshiko hit up the supermarket first, and while they’re initially crestfallen by the lack of pork jowl, horumon (offal), skirt, tongue, and ribeye, they do find some convenient and tasty pork and chicken skewers, while Nadeshiko plans to make a mini hot-pot as well.

Their feast thus purchased (and rung up by none other than Aoi, who just so happened to get a job at that particular supermarket), Sakura drives them the rest of the way. Meanwhile, Chiaki is already scouting out another campground for the Outclub’s next excursion, and meets one classy grandpa living his best life in the woods with a single pole tent and a big steak cooking on a cast-iron skillet.

Rin and Nadeshiko arrive and soak in the lovely foliage, then head to the other side of the lake where their campsite is located. Sakura orders a hot chai and takes in the scenery on her own before heading back, planning to return tomorrow at noon. Nadeshiko insists her big sis loves driving—and with that ultra-cool Rasheen, I can’t blame her!—but I felt she put out kind of a lonely vibe this week.

Maybe I’m just misreading her neutral expression. At any rate, I’m super-excited for Rin and Nadeshiko’s first official camping trip. Nadeshiko may crumple at the mere mention of ghosts, such as that of a cow believed to haunt the lake, but with someone as tough as Rin as her campmate, she has nothing to worry about. If anything, that ghost cow should worry about being turned into ghost barbecue!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Otherside Picnic – 10 – Tenth Floor Barbecue

Looking in the mirror without her glasses, Sorawo sees a longer-haired version of herself. She’s still clearly troubled by Akari’s comment about her perceived resemblance to Uruma Satsuki. That night she goes out for barbecue in Ikebukuro with the gang, and the American soldiers trapped in the Otherside come up for the first time since she and Toriko left them there.

That doesn’t sit right with either of them, particularly Toriko, and Sorawo wonders if Lady Hasshaku’s hat (which apparently still exists) can still provide them with a way to get back there to rescue them. But that’s put on hold when they get a call from Akari. She’d gone up ahead to get their table, but the elevator started strangely, and now she’s lost.

More worryingly, while on the phone with Toriko and Sorawo, she sees an illusion of them and assumes it’s them, drawing her even deeper into the rabbit hole. The other two conclude that the elevator of this Ikebukuro building operates the same way as the one in Jimbocho—as a gate to the Otherside. And Akari got off early.

They head to the elevator and go through the same process as in Jimbocho they’ve executed dozens of times, if not more. They’re joined at the last minute by Kozakura, who unlike them is not used to this stuff and is scared out of her wits the whole time, a far cry from the collected demeanor when she’s home.

Eventually the elevator opens on the floor where a monstrous girl tries to get on, but instead they see Akari. Sorawo decides to get off here to follow her, and Toriko and Kozakura follow her. Eventually they find Akari seated at a vanity mirror, only to vanish. Sorawo uses her eye and Toriko’s hand, but end up shattering the mirror.

That seems to take them from the In-Between world to the Otherside, which takes the form of a dark corridor full of shuttered stores. Sorawo finally gets Akari to turn around; from her perspective she was chasing them, not the other way around. Suddenly, Sorawo’s eye and Toriko’s hand start to tingle—call it their Othersidey Sense.

The white glowing form of a woman, probably Satsuki, appears from a distance, then creates a thick blue cloud of smoke. The four turn tail and run for it, initially finding themselves in a continuous loop before emerging at the In-Between. Kozakura starts to fall behind, but urges the others to keep running and not slow down.

The four manage to get to the elevator, and shoot the smoke until it retreats, but after a few moments of rest it comes back with a vengeance. Sorawo wakes up to find everyone else unconscious, and the elevator doors open to reveal Satsuki standing over what looks like a volcano…or possibly just a massive barbecue? Sorawo directs her eye and the unconscious Toriko’s hand at the two, and she’s out again.

This time, everyone comes to, and the doors open to reveal the barbecue restaurant; they’re back in the normal world. Akari heads over, having made a reservation for four in Sorawo’s name. When Akari asks her what the heck just happened, Sorawo says “Don’t ask me. I have no idea,” which is both fair and accurate.

But with stomachs growling impatiently, perhaps it’s best for everyone fill up with grilled meats, knock back a couple brewskis, and count their blessings. Whatever happened, they survived it together. And now they know that any building of ten or more floors could potentially be a gate to the Otherside.