Yuru Camp△ Movie – Adulting Outdoors

Rather than chronicle another fun camping trip in a new place with the Outclub while they’re still in school, Yuru Camp’s first movie takes place in the not-to-distant future, when Rin, Nadeshiko, Aoi, Aki, and Ena are now full-fledged young adults with jobs (though notably no romantic partners).

They stay in touch through chat, but compared with their time at school they’re very far flung and their daily routines have changed. Rin’s at a publishing office in Nagoya, Nadeshiko works at a camping store in Tokyo, Aoi is a grade school teacher, Ena is a pet groomer, and Aki works with the local tourism department after her life in Tokyo didn’t pan out.

It’s Aki who is the catalyst that brings the five Outclub members back together with a bold proposal: take a derelict outdoors youth center with a great view of Fuji-sama and turn it into a campground. After Aki has (lots) of drinks with Rin (all drunk by her; she’s predictably now the lush of the group), she takes them to the spot, and at sunrise, Rin gets it; it’s a good spot.

The challenge, then, is how the five of them are going to navigate their day job obligations and distances and make this thing happen. Aki assigns everyone a role and wisely picks Rin as the team lead, as she’s the most experienced camper and thus perhaps the best organizer of the group.

They start small and realistically; trimming the overgrown grass and removing errant shrubs while discussing ideas for what they want on the grounds. Once a farmer friend of Aki’s shows them the proper way to to these things, and they get their hands on some machinery, the cleanup work accelerates.

It’s exciting watching the adult versions of these characters, already having eased into their new adult lives, banding together once more over something they always loved sharing with each other—camping—with the goal of now sharing that love with others so those people will share it, and so on and so forth.

It’s also comforting to know that both the chemistry and the comedic banter among the young women is still alive and well. A different movie could have had its individual members much more isolated and/or estranged (or even having families of their own) but this is rather the evolution of Cute Girls Doing Cute Things—Cute Women Doing Cool Things.

Once all the major cleanup and grading is complete, they decide to give the grounds a whirl by being the first to camp there. They find areas for improvements, and also ease back into their old dynamic of preparing a perfect campsite and cooking the perfect camp feasts.

The fact that these five young women are now old hands at camp cooking—not to mention they have a lot more cash than they did as kids—means Nadeshiko and Aki really go all out with the (still on sale!) salmon, with a light yet hearty cream soup and a full-on hot pot. The fact that these five young women are now old hands at camp cooking.

But like Yuru Camp’s first two seasons, the movie is not entirely without conflict, which comes in the form of a setback. Ena’s now-old pup Chikuwa brings her an odd piece of broken pottery, which eventually leads to a full archeological survey and excavation, which first delays and then completely nixes the campground plan. Aki, who brought everyone into this plan, has to make the call to everyone saying all their hard work may have been for naught!

And yet, because they’re adults, this isn’t the end of the world for any of them. It’s definitely disappointing, even deflating, but everyone aside rom Aki finds solace and stability in their day jobs. Rin finds out her senpai at work has been supporting her a lot behind the scenes so she could work on the campground project (both as team lead and covering it as a print and online serial for the magazine) and vows to work harder.

Aoi’s work story might be the most bittersweet, as the school where she’d started teaching just a couple years ago is closing down (possibly due to there simply not being enough kids to fill it), but gives the kids who are there all the love and attention she’s got. And I love how three high schoolers from Bizarro Yuru Camp come into Nadeshiko’s store again, looking to dip their tows into camping. Nadeshiko truly was born to get people into camping!

Those three kids’ simple but very doable plan to have a day trip with cup noodles inspires her to invite Rin to a special new spot: Rin has to endure a lot of climbing in the snow and ice, but the reward is the highest hot spring in Japan, which is tiny, but also breathtakingly beautiful, not to mention the absolute best thing after all the exertion.

There, the two old friends discuss how they really have become proper adults, who can do a lot more than they used to, not just regarding camping, but life in general. Nadeshiko also notes that even adults can’t do anything, but they can do what they can. She doesn’t regret the time they spent trying to get the campground off the ground, even if it didn’t work out. Neither does Rin.

It’s fortunate, then, that the campground plan isn’t entirely dead. With help from Ena, Aki prepares a new proposal that integrates the archeological site with the campground. The video presentation shows footage of the five women working hard and also relaxing and enjoying the outdoors, and is extremely persuasive.

The council votes to approve the plan, which means the Outclub is back in business, having only lost a couple of months. They cut the grass back down, the dog run is completed, they put a coat of paint on the distinctive aviary frame, and Aoi procures all the stuff they’ll need for the kid’s area.

When Aoi brings the fancy and very professional sign made by Akari (who is now in art school) and the five mount it to the entrance, it lends an immensely satisfying feeling of completion. They adulted the hell out of shit, and weathered the challenges that came their way. They did it!

Mind you, while getting caught up in all the excitement, they forgot to post the signs leading to the campground, so their first group of campers (many of them family and friends and thus more forgiving) get lost on their way there!

Not a problem, as the women work together to communicate with Rin while she rides out (not on her gramps’ motorcycle, which is in the shop, but her old moped) to locate and guide everyone safely to their destination. Crisis averted!

Once the sun sets and everyone is settled in, the five women stand at the top of the hill and admire what they’ve accomplished. Earlier, Rin’s Gramps gave the site his blessing. The group makes plans right then and there to reunite and camp there for New Years, when the sun rises out of Fuji-san’s peak. Rin, to the surprise of the other four, says she’ll also be joining them (albeit tentatively). Of course, she told Aki she’d “think about” helping with the campground too!

As the credits go by we get snapshots of that trip, on which Rin indeed accompanies the others, while we also get snapshots of them continuing their adult lives at their jobs. Aoi’s at a new school, Nadeshiko is still being the best dang camping store clerk ever, Rin is hard at work at the magazine, Ena’s grooming pups, and Aki is sticking with the local tourism.

A planned third season of Yuru Camp will likely return us to the present when they’re all still in school. But it was great to see everyone doing so well in the future. I got the same warm, fuzzy, cozy, calming, healing feelings I got from the show, only a little more adult-y. I honestly wouldn’t mind if season 3 picked up from here!

It also had some low-key poignant commentary on the preservation and revitalization of existing things—as well as the need to preserve and occasionally revitalize one’s old friendships! What better way to do that then to go camping, when we can be one with ourselves, rely on one another, and of course indulge in lavish outdoor feasts!

More than a married couple, but not lovers. – 12 (Fin) – Double rainbow

Akari knew she faced an uphill battle to win Jirou’s heart before he and Shiori arrive back at the beach house looking very suspicious. As summer break continues after the beach trip, She offers a thousand-yen bill to the shrine of romantic success. But because Shiori’s sudden kiss in the rain wasn’t a 100% confession of love (she apologized profusely after it happened), Akari isn’t as long a shot as she fears.

Shiori can think of nothing but that kiss, even smelling the dress she wore when it happened, and wants to know what Jirou was feeling. Jirou, in turn, wants to know what Shiori was feeling, and why she apologized. In any case, both of them realize they need to talk about this more, which is definitely the right instinct! They just didn’t expect to bump into each other at the manga store.

Remembering Mei’s advice, Shiori once again takes the initiative, inviting Jirou to her practice dorm. The fact the furniture and layout is the same as his lends a built-in comfort just like the one he has with his childhood friend. When she goes in to make sure it’s not a mess and returns to the door with a “Welcome Home, Darling!”,  I just about squee’d out of my chair.

When Jirou says [the tea] “smells so good”, Shiori briefly thought he was talking about her. They proceed to just hang out on the couch and read, but neither is actually reading their books so much as one another. When she notices him watching her closely, she has to retreat to her room, where she looks in the mirror and worries whether he might hate her, he worries the exact same thing.

The building awkwardness is softened by the auspicious appearance of a double rainbow in the sky, which Shiori says brings happiness. The selfie of the two of them with the rainbow behind certainly brings it too, and Jirou is about to take a step and bring up their kiss in the rain when Shiori shows him another photo: a photo of all of them. A photo of friends.

Presented with a photo like this where it’s not just the two of them, Jirou admirably asks himself the right questions: Which feeling is friendship? Where does love start? He knows he has feelings, but can’t quite understand them yet. But he should also know he’s not alone in this.

After a Jirou x Shiori summer break segment, it’s Akari’s turn. She’s bored, Jirou’s bored, so she LINEs him and nonchalantly schedules a date. He has no earthly idea just how nervous she really is, or how important it is that she look just right for him, which is why she’s fifteen minutes late.

But when she arrives, she’s wearing the kind of demure (for her) dress she believes to be more his taste (which is also generally how Shiori dresses). It’s a little thing, but the fact she wants to suit his tastes while remaining fundamentally Akari is sweet as all-get-out, and even he starts to realize that this gyaru isn’t just messing with him.

Jirou also shows he’s a Good Boy Who Remembers Things, as Akari takes them to a café she’d mentioned before was a favorite of hers. Akari is touched that he remembers, as it bodes well for her overall mission.

She also casually leans in for an indirect kiss (“there is some bitterness, but it’s good” is a resonant line) and when she calls Jirou out for being embarrassed about it, he’s honest, and so is she: she’d rather they get used to this kind of thing than lose their minds about it, because if all goes well they’ll be doing a lot more of it!

The date continues at a cat café, where Jirou gets to see the side of Akari who squees to the max in the presence of fluffy animals. When she shows him a picture of them as she’s holding a cat, he notes that it looks kind of like a family photo, which makes Akari laugh rather than creeping her out (she’s also clearly elated to hear him say that).

While he hews to his standing opinion that spending summer days gaming is best, he admits days like this are nice too. And it’s weird when they prepare to say goodbye at the station, since they’re so used to going home together. That’s when she suddenly heads back to the shrine, and as he follows behind her they run into Shiori. What a coincidence!

Shiori can see what’s going on here, and what needs to be done, but is aggressive and assertive in the best, sweetest, most Shiori way. She happens to be on her way to the shrine too, and challenges Akari to a race to the shrine. Akari, of course, is game, they make Jirou schlep their stuff, and off they go.

As they run with everything they’ve got, they pass a number of people who reflect their past, present, and future. Two childhood friends, a boy and a girl; a young couple, a couple getting married, having kids, and finally, at the top (where the two tie, of course), and old elderly couple, the husband of which is named Jirou!

I love how their competitive pursuit of Jirou goes unspoken, but is clear to both women all the same, even if it’s still somewhat irritatingly less clear to Jirou: this isn’t really the finish line, only the end of the first leg. And both Shiori and Akari are in it to win it.

Thus Fuukoi ends without a clear resolution to who Jirou will choose, and it’s to the episodes credit that it does not try to rush towards one after so much careful deliberation and development. Rather, this feels like a solid culmination of the episodes that came before.

It’s also a credit to the series that after twelve episodes I am myself still on the fence about whom Jirou should end up with, as both women make very strong cases for themselves this week, and there isn’t the slightest hint of mean-spiritedness to their competition. While not a tearjerker, my heart felt fuller for watching Fuukoi, and hopefully we’ll be blessed with a second season in which the three face their next adventure.

Love After World Domination – 09 – Become Strong, Then Fall in Love

One minute you’re alone with your girlfriend in her dorm, the next, you’re staring down her eccentric, fanatical father and taciturn yet hostile little sister. The latter, Magahara Urami, is basically the protagonist of this episode, and she’s in crisis.

This…man, who is dressed as a common Gekko foot solider, seems to have turned her invincible sister into a weak, girly softie. The main flaw with Urami’s position is that she couldn’t be more wrong, but she has to learn that the hard way.

When Fudou, who makes up the fake name Mudou, assures Desumi’s dad that she only turned down the monster promotion after careful consideration, then insists he allow Desumi to attend college, both Urami and Pops are furious that an “outsider” is interfering in family matters.

Pops even starts a fight with Fudou, and demonstrates his carefully-honed “Art of Defeat”; i.e. the most stylish way of taking a hit. Pops leaves impressed with Fudou’s devotion to a cause and will table the university discussion, and Desumi sees him off with a smile.

Urami spends the night, presumably hiding in the closet from a big sister she no longer recognizes, thanks to “Mudou” “ruining” her. Growing up, Urami’s problems with communicating and resting emo face made her an easy target for bullies, all of whom were obliterated by Desumi. It’s no surprise Urami developed a sister complex.

When the sisters visit Gekko’s HQ and Desumi receives a royal greeting befitting her rank, Urami briefly believes that the badass sister she knows is still in there…only for Desumi to scold the foot soldiers for going out of their way, and get upset they don’t notice her new (adorable) hairdo. Urami is in awe of HQ and particularly Desumi’s co-workers and superiors, but Desumi would rather go shopping with her in Harajuku.

Urami is beside herself with frustration…how could the sister she loved and idolize become thus? She storms off in a huff and sulks in a dark alley, where she’s cornered by three lunkheads who aren’t at all concerned with age limits. She’s about to clobber them, but when they call her an “emo kid” like the bullies of her past and present, she freezes up.

That’s when Desumi appears, two delectable crepes in hand, and ignores the dopes entirely. When they warn her that they’re “bad guys”, Desumi puts on her game face and ethers all three of them so easily the show doesn’t bother showing the carnage, only the aftermath. Urami may think Desumi has “gone soft”, but the fact of the matter is she’s as strong as she’s ever been.

She realizes she once told Urami that one must become strong to survive, but now that she’s older she knows that’s not enough. If you want to survive and thrive, you have to fall in love. Urami returns home wearing the hairband her sister bought her. She hated the new version of her big sister at first, but having seen that she dole out carnage and be cute at the same time, maybe this new Desumi isn’t so bad after all.

“Mudou”, on the other hand, will be the first to be purged when she rises up in Gekko.

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 3 – 05 – The Ultimate Prize Catch

We begin with a girl who looks like Takagi beside a boy who doesn’t look like Nishikata sitting in the same part of the classroom as our two lovebirds. The girl is upset about having green peppers in her lunch, so the boy eats them. Her friend tells the girl he doesn’t like peppers either, but ate hers, and teases her, because he likes her.

The girl reacts just like Nishikata would, which makes sense, as she’s his daughter. That’s right, our cold open (which is actually quite warm) takes place in the future when Takagi and Nishikata have a kid. We even see Takagi from behind hanging laundry as the scene ends. Note I didn’t say “a possible” future. I said the future—because this is a sure thing. It’s only matter of time!

Back in the present, we see where their daughter gets her dislike of green peppers. Nishikata had to eat some for breakfast, and it’s enough to let out a big sigh. Because Takagi knows him, she immediately identifies what’s eating him (or rather what he doesn’t like eating).

He, in turn, proceeds to ask her what she dislikes as a new challenge, and she even offers him a number of hints…but not too many. Here’s how she  puts it: “You’ll eventually get it right if I just keep giving you hints forever.” The same can be said of their relationship.

Nishikata guessed wrong this time, but he won’t stay wrong forever about what matters, and Takagi won’t have to keep giving him hints forever. Why am I so sure? Well, why else would we get a glimpse of their adorable daughter?

Mina, Yukari and Sanae have a similar discussion about food dislikes, with Mina eating Yukari’s carrots and offering Yukari a gyoza as thanks. While Mina and Yukari bicker, Sanae snatches it up and eats it. Rather than apologize, she walks off, but soon returns with some melon bread, which she offers to exchange for the rest of Mina’s gyoza.

After that intricate transaction, Sanae, Yukari, and Mina take center stage, as they are the writer, director, and costume designer for the play the class will perform for the culture festival. After their presentation of the story, a mélange of the Princess and the Frog and role-reversal Cinderella, they immediately appoint Takagi for the role of the princess. Naturally, there are no objections.

That leaves the crucial role of the Prince. Naturally, all eyes fall upon Nishikata, as the three girls running the play clearly have him in mind for the role, at least initially. He’d have had it, too, had the girls not been distracted from his heartfelt and very real performance that moves Takagi.

They’re distracted by Nishikata’s own friend Kimura, who is still so verklempt from the class not having a karaage café, switching “karaage” for “hime” instantly wins him the role. Nishikata is consigned to the role of “dumpling A”—unfortunate, and yet oddly appropriate.

While both Takagi and Nishikata are disappointed in their ways, it’s hardly the end of the world. In fact, they’ve shaken it off completely by the next segment, when Nishikata leads Takagi to a fishing pond for their next challenge. Nishikata went out of his way to get up early to prepare the bait and tackle, so Takagi honors that effort by giving it her all.

For some time after they both cast, they’re simply sitting by the pond together, taking it easy, something Takagi points out is super-nice. She’s clearly overjoyed that Nishikata has decided to share something he loves with her.

Then she gets a bite, catches a fish, then shows Nishikata she knows how to unhook it, tosses it back, and catches another fish! She may not have fished before, but she is comfortable handling them since she deals with fish often in the kitchen at home.

A frustrated Nishikata suddenly gets a bite—a big one—and it appears to be the prize catch of the pond: a giant koi. It pulls so hard he gets pulled forward, and would have certainly fallen in the drink…if Takagi doesn’t rescue him in the nick of time by grabbing him from behind.

She tightens her grip around his waist, his line snaps, and the two linger in this embrace for a few moments before Takagi withdraws with catlike quickness, once she realizes just how close she and Nishikata are.

She seems to shake it off and even manages to gently tease Nishikata about it as they walk home during the golden hour. But Nishikata’s heart is thumping like a death metal bass drum. When his inner voice asks “what is this?” Takagi, seemingly hearing his thoughts, says “love”. Well, she says koi, which means both love and the kind of fish that got away from him.

As for his “penalty” for losing the fishing challenge, Takagi decides that he’ll help her prepare for her role as the princess. Nishikata doesn’t protest—it’s her win, so it’s her call. So it’s settled: even if the two won’t share the stage, Takagi will ensure her prince—her koi, her dumpling—is closely involved.

Every week Nishikata seems to make another encouraging stride in the right direction: closer to Takagi. Not only will that likely culminate in their ferry date from the OP and promo art, but also in that cute daughter, carrying on her dad’s tradition of taking a while to realize someone likes them.

Tokyo 24th Ward – 05 – Dark Mode


Last week we learn that among the two paths Kunai believes lie before him—art or crime—Kunai has chosen the latter. This week we learn why, starting over a decade ago when he and Ran were just kids. Ran, inspired by fellow Shantytown native Zeroth, quickly asserted his artistic talent. Kunai knew he couldn’t keep up in the realm of graffiti, so he became a hacker.

But he soon learned, to his unending despair, that despite both his best friend Ran and his eventual business partner Tarki calling his hacking ability “art”, his work could be corrupted into something awful. To whit: Drug D isn’t a physical drug at all, but the result of his theraputic music app being modified so that its users go nuts, resulting in the huge rise in Shantytown crime.

Kunai may have been shortsighted when he sold the IP of his app to the suspicious-looking businessman, but Tarki offered him everything he wanted: financial freedom and comfort for his grandmother suffering from dementia. He always admired Ran’s art’s ability to change the world, but Kunai knew that change wouldn’t come quickly enough to save Shantytown from Tarki and the developers. So he made a bomb.

Ran eventually tracks down Kunai’s hiding spot on a train car Zeroth tagged on the outside, preserved like a museum piece. It happens to be the same car where Kunai first launched a “bomb”, hacking all the video advertisement screens with DoRed tags. Ran wants to stop Kunai, but it’s too late; all of his words sound like lip service to Kunai. Ran would have been too late to stop Kunai from detonating the bomb that destoryed the cruise ship…but Kouki found the train car too, and a SARG sniper takes Kunai out before he can hit the “detonate” button.

Shuuta, who didn’t really play much of an active role in the operation (beyond almost getting shot up by Tarki and Win’s goons), learns that the terrorist was killed and the people aboard the ship saved. Yet he still feels uneasy, and he should: most of the people on that ship are bad people.

Absent any contact from Ran or Kouki, he instead hangs out with Kozue, who has posted her photos of Ran’s tags and written about her father as a means of processing her grief in a healthy way. As for the rift that the death of Kunai is sure to cause for the R and G of RGB, it will likely be up to Shuuta to bridge his old friends’ differences.

As for Shuutas father, he seems ready to put the KANAE System into “full operation”, thus creating some kind of “revolution” in the 24th Ward. Will Kouki go along with this, or will RGB be the check against his pops’ unbridled corporate and political power? And what of Carneades, who makes no appearance this week?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Tokyo 24th Ward – 04 – There is Nobody Else

Last week’s tornado disaster was ambitious, but awkwardly executed and punctuated as it was by the introduction of Carneades, (AKA Goofy Anime Clown Villain #5,000,406), I didn’t feel the weight of those twelve deaths until here, when RGB are attending Kaba-sensei’s memorial service.

Shuuta blames their inability to properly work together to create a future whre no one got hurt, and now doubts his ability to be a hero to anyone, and thinks this is something to be left to someone else. Ran points out that there is no one else receiving calls from “Asumin”. They’re it. They can’t get discouraged—too many more lives are at stake.

Three months pass with neither a call from Asumi nor a message from Carneades, but there is an uptick in the distribution and use of a mysterious Drug rather unimaginatively called “Drug D”. This coincides with an impending deal with a foreign casino magnate (not Trump) to re-develop the 24th Ward’s near-lawless Shantytown.

While Kouki investigates from one side of the law with SARG, Ran, a Shantytown native, and his crew takes action from the other side, locating and neutralizing users and searching for the source of the drugs. It’s likely Ran & Co. suspect the drugs are being brought in specifically to facilitate the redevelopment venture at the cost of Shantytown’s culture and identity.

While Kouki and Ran are busy with the Drug D case, Shuuta stays on the sidelines baking bread, until one day at closing time Mari spots Kozue wandering off on her own and tells Shuuta to go after her. It’s here were we finally see how Kozue is doing, having lost her dad just when she was starting to get over Asumi’s death.

Kozue is standoffish with Shuu even as she calls him Shuu-ni-chan, even threatening to scream or report him as a stalker if he doesn’t buzz off. She also says he shouldn’t have saved her, which is just heartbreaking. But Shuu stays with her, because a big brother from another mother can’t let a young girl walk the mean streets of Shantytown all alone.

There’s every indication that Kozue is up to no good or, dealing with her pain by seeking dangerous situations due to her lack of regard for her safety illustrated by her comment Shuuta. But it turns out she’s on an errand of love, braving Shantytown to locate the latest tag from DoRed depicting a rocket powered “Kaba”, or hippo. Celebrating these tags is helping her work through her grief.

While Kozue and Shuuta are separated, she soon encounters Kunai, nominally part of DoRed, though someone Ran notes hasn’t shown up in a while. Kunai tells Kozue that Red from DoRed painted it, but he can’t divulge Red’s true identity any more than the people of Oz can know the real Wizard. Kunai also beleives there to be only two paths for those born in the Shantytown…a life of criminality, or a life of art like the one Red leads.

After Shuuta encounters Kouki apprehending a Drug D dealer, he bumps into Kouki, who sets his mind at rest by locating Kozue with his friend Kunai, then enlisting him to film him paint his latest Kaba tag. While he works, Ran reinforces Shuuta’s misgivings about turning the Shantytown into another surveillance district.

Kouki is all on board with such a transformation for the greater public good, but I’m glad Shuuta has another friend in Ran who can argue for the other side of the debate, which is that there are some fish who can only live in murky waters. The government and business interests are just looking for another way to tread upon the poor and disadvantaged by taking what little they have. There is certainly ugliness in Shantytown, but also beauty.

After Ran splits, Shuuta lingers by the new tag for a while, and eventually Kozue comes to him by seeking out said new tag. Her attitude towards him has softened now that she’s seen not one but two beautiful artistic tributes to her dad, and shows him the photos she’s taken of all the tags so far, though she wonders why Red is painting these when he knows the government will erase them by painting over them.

Shuuta counters that the art won’t be erased, because he’ll remember it, and the one who made it. Just like a loved one dying, a part of them will always remain in one’s memory and heart. She tells Kozue not to say things like she should have died in her dad’s place, and Kozue smiles and asks Shuuta to keep protecting her. He’s her hero, after all.

That would have been a lovely way to end the episode, but 24-ku demonstrates narrative efficiency by using the final few minutes to set up next week’s Trolly Dilemma. Carneade’s sigil appears in the skies over the ward and he hacks everyone’s TVs and phones, and shortly thereafter, RGB’s phones ring with “Asumi” on the other line. They were expecting her.

This time, it’s the cruise ship owned by the casino magnate that is the setting of the dilemma. A terrorist has rigged it with bombs. She offers two futures: kill the terrorist and save the ship and all the people aboard, or let the terrorist go and let everyone die? Shuuta and Kouki don’t understand…it doesn’t seem like that hard of a choice. But it is for Ran, because the terrorist they see in the vision—the one he’ll have to kill—is his friend and wayward ally: Kunai.

Just as Kunai is wrong about there only being two ways for someone from the Shantytown to live, Asumi is wrong about these being the only two outcomes. With what they see as a 1-and-1 record guiding the future so far, RGB will be extra-determined to manufacture a third outcome. The question is, will Shuuta, and more importantly Kouki, respect Ran’s desire not to kill Kunai?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Tokyo 24th Ward – 03 – Cross Purposes

The Third Annual Gourmet Festival is upon us, but Shirakaba-sensei’s daughter Kozue won’t be attending. Presumably as a result of the fire that claimed Asumi’s life, she been loath to leave her room. But that doesn’t stop her dad from checking in to make sure she’s good. He says he’ll wait as long as it takes.

As for the GourGes, Mari’s family’s restaurant has a problem: their competiton at the Takara Mall has bought up all the fancy cabbage they need for their okonomiyaki. When RGB locate the vegetables, Ran is ready to take a crowbar to the storage unit and have at it. Kouki, basically a kind of cop-in-training, vetoes the idea. It’s up to Shuuta to keep the two from bickering with each other and keep them focused.

Thanks to ‘Kaba-sensei, they’re able to acquire the needed cabbage without resorting to breaking and entering. Unfortunately, that isn’t the only dirty trick the gangsters try to pull, going so far as to place weights in their box of chopsticks to ensure they’ll win GourFes. They threatened Kaba-sensei by ensuring Kozue would get kicked out of her school for not attending, but he exposes their cheating anyway.

It just so happens to be the same day Kozue decides to leave her room and go to GourFes, to see both her Dad and her friend Kinako. But after a simultaneous phone call fakeout earlier in the episode, the real thing happens to RGB again: an “Asumi” gives them a choice: lead people across the bridge when a tornado hits the island venue of the festival, or help them into cargo containers for shelter.

One plan will result in the deaths of the weak, the other in the sacrifice of the courageous. Naturally, RGB needs to find a third way that saves everyone, and there’s every indication they will…until it all goes pear-shaped. Oh, it starts out well, with both Ran and Kouki ordering Shuuta to clear the bridge of traffic by literally pushing cars into Tokyo Bay, which honestly looks like a lot of fun.

From there, however, Ran and Kouki’s plans diverge, and without proper communication, they end up working at cross purposes. Ran hacks some tractor trailers to shelter the weak, while Ran persuades those who are able to hurry across the bridge…just when the trucks arrive. Shuuta has to try to clean up the resulting mess, but ends up blocking the bridge.

As the tornado rages, RGB does what it can, but the damage caused by their lack of teamwork is done: 21 deaths, over 130 wounded. Among the presumed dead is Kaba-sensei, though Shuuta was able to rescue Kozue, now she has to deal with a fresh round of crippling trauma. Looks like the first episode’s train dilemma was just a warm-up; the difficulty level has officially been ratcheted up.

While I’ll admit I missed both Mari and Asumi as the focus of the show, I also knew that this episode was probably going to return that focus to RGB. I wrongly assumed they’d save the day without anyone getting hurt, but it wasn’t to be, and that was a particular downer, just as it’s a downer that the Asumi we met last week is gone forever, no matter who is on the other side of RGB’s phones.

As for the bizarre Danganronpa-looking Carneades taking over the television feed to declare he is the one “thrusting choices upon the world for the future”, well, his aesthetic is certainly…a choice.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Tokyo 24th Ward – 01 (First Impressions) – The Third Way

Aoi Shuuta, Suidou Kouki, and Akagi Ran were once-inseperable childhood friends, with Shuuta in particular training to one day become a “hero”. Then one horrible night the school burned down, and Kouki’s sister Asumi died saving the life of a classmate. When he most needed to be a hero, Shuuta was too late to save her.

Fast-forward a year, and RGB have graduated and gone their separate ways, only to reunite for the memorial held at the one-year anniversary of the fire. We learn Ran leads a guerilla multimedia group, standing in cheeky defiance of the cold order represented by Kouki’s wealthy businessman and politician father, the 24th Ward’s mayor. Shuuta…helps out at his folks’ bakery, but is otherwise listless.

When the three end up convening by chance at their mutual friend Mari’s for okonomiyaki, the three lads’ phones suddenly ring at the same time. It’s no ordinary call, traveling up into their ear canals and “hacking” their brains with the voice and image of the dearly departed Asumi, who tells them to “guide the future”, showing them two scenarios: allowing a runaway train to kill someone caught on the tracks, or switch the track and derail the train, killing 150 people. Classic Trolley Problem.

In an added instance of the universe being particularly cruel, the person who ends up caught on the tracks is Mari, who was taking her puppy to the vet when she got caught up in the crowds surrounding the ceremony celebrating the new fully-automated train. The pup got free and ran straight onto the tracks, and Mari loses her phone while pursuing it.

Suddenly realizing they feel lighter and tasks come easier to them, the team of RGB pools their skills and resources to avoid either of the futures not-Asumi presented, and instead create a third in which no one is hurt. Suidou, the politician’s son and intern for the 24th’s emergency service SARG, relies on his dad’s trusty underling Tsuzuragawa to track him down and give him a motorcycle so he can rush to his father and make sure he decides not to risk derailing the train.

Ran, the hacker of the trio, chugs a dozen energy drinks and manages to activate the train’s emergency brakes, which are designed to stop in 600 meters no matter what—an instance of the artist actually saluting government efficiency and rules. He’s helped by Kinako, a chipper member of his guerilla art/media team.

Finally, there’s Shuuta, who is simply extremely fast and strong; the muscle of the group. Whatever not-Asumi’s call did to them, it enhanced his already considerable athletic ability, enabling him to basically Spider-Mans/Neos his way to the train long before anyone else can. Kouki and Ran know this of their friend, and after they do everything they can, they leave the rest to him.

Shuuta is very nearly derailed form his mission himself when he’s suddenly dropped back in the middle of that hellish night when he was too late to save Asumi. But he shakes it off, accelerates ahead of the train, then kicks off and launches himself at Mari, plucking both her and her dog out of harms way. Before Mari even knows what the heck is going on, Shuuta runs off, asking her not to tell anyone he was there.

After this first heroic mission dropped in their hands by the mysterious not-Asumi, the three visit the real Asumi’s grave to pay their respects, only to end up in an argument that highlights how far apart they’ve become in the ensuing year. Shuuta wants to believe Asumi is still alive, but just saying that makes Asumi’s brother Kouki want to punch him. Ran, the artist who nevertheless isn’t about to believe in magic, agrees with Kouki; Asumi is gone. But then…what the heck was that call?

We return to the opening moments of the double-length episode, where something is going on involving the somehow-preserved brain or soul of Asumi … or something. The framing device with the strange, fantastical machinery appeals to me less than the prospect of watching three scarred old friends who couldn’t be more different come together to make their beloved 24th Ward a better place…and possibly solve the Asumi mystery. This was a strong start to an intriguing new winter series.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

86 – 20 – Still Here

The airing of 86 has slowed to a crawl, and first episode since December 4 is primarily a slow and brooding resting episode. Still, with three episodes left to wrap up the story (or at least the story so far; the source material is ongoing) it can afford reflective episodes like this…but probably just this one more.

After a quick check-in with that Giad officer whose name I can’t recall, Raiden confronts Shin about his reckless behavior in the past battle, and a lot of familiar beats are repeated: Shin doesn’t seem to care if he goes back “home”; the others are worried about him and want to support him.

There’s even a moment of levity when Frederica is a bit too on-the-nose in her assessment of Shin’s present feelings towards Kurena, which is like a little sister and not a real woman. This invokes the ire of Anju, who would prefer if Frederica left things unsaid in that arena, but the humor of the exchange breaks through her, Kurena and Theo realizing that they’ve been relying on Shin all this time while he, the Reaper, fully expected them to leave him someday in death, like all the other Eighty-Six before them.

The group’s Reginleifs are looking particularly ratty at the moment, and everyone has problems that require replacement parts, repairs, or both. But they only need to hold together long enough to catch up to Morpho, which Shin estimates to happen before any of their rigs kick the bucket.

They pause their pursuit to admire the sun setting over a vast grassy plain that looks like the sea, which everyone in the group admits they’ve never actually seen before. Frederica wants to see the sea, and swim in it, with everyone there. Kurena and Anju second the idea, but Shin, set apart from the others as usual, doesn’t say anything.

That night while the others rest in an abandoned warehouse, Frederica hears Shin verbalize the fact that he feels like he should have died before reaching Giad, and still feels dead ever since. Because he feels dead, he hasn’t had anything he wants to do or anywhere he wants to go, like the others. He could smile an nod, but he can’t fake his disinterest.

Frederica calls Shin out as much warmer and softer than he lets on, while admitting that she herself doesn’t feel like she has much use as an empress in a republic, but felt she should at least stay alive long enough to deal with her knight Kiri. After that, who knows…but she’s convinced Shin is scared to move forward because he tried to see the future “for what it is”.

Kuno Misaki continues to do excellent work as the precocious and surprisingly wise and astute Frederica. I was also appreciative to see the five Eighty-Six get one more break before resuming their pursuit of Morpho. Unfortunately for them, Morpho learns that he’s being pursued, which means the element of surprise is out.

Either next week or the week after that, the showdown with Kiri will continue. Will Shin once again get “lost” in the ensuing confrontation, or will his comrades be able to keep him alive and himself?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The aquatope on white sand – 24 (fin) – Fishness as usual

The eight-word review? It stuck the landing with heart and soul. Aquatope wraps with three big events, the first of which is the most workmanlike. The entire staff is mustered to stock the new White Sand Dome, and it unfolds mostly without dialogue, just showing us just how complex such an operation is, and how speed and efficiency is balanced with the utmost care and delicacy with the living things they’re welcoming to Tingarla.

The second big event is the first wedding ceremony. We start with Kaoru and Chiyu joining Kukuru, Fuuka, and Karin in preparing the little personal touches that make the ceremony special and memorable, like name cards that feature a sea creature that matches the personality of the named. The barefoot magical affair goes off without a hitch; even Suwa can’t help but smile at the success, both in terms of getting a couple married and getting their family and friends interested in aquariums.

The third big event is the Grand Opening of the White Sand Dome, for which there’s a line going out the door and all the staff are out on the floor to greet them. Karin is now an attendant, and Kukuru’s grandparents attend and are proud of the growth they see in Kukuru. That said, she still wonders if she made the right choice to stay in PR and asks her gramps what she should do. His wise-as-usual advice: do yourself the favor of turning the path you chose into the correct one.

Kukuru and Fuuka take a break at the White Sand Dome, and Fuuka recalls how when she first got to Gama Gama she felt like she was drowning in a dark sea, which is just how Kukuru felt after Gama Gama was razed. But neither of them feel that way anymore. They love Tingarla, and right on cue, the same “effect” once thought to only occur at Gama Gama happens in the White Sand Dome, as Kukuru’s parents and twin sister join her and Fuuka in reveling in the sea life.

The fourth and final big event is, of course, Fuuka departing for Hawaii (specifically Oahu, as we later catch a glimpse of Honolulu). The difference between their last airport farewell and this one is like night and day. There’s no frowns or tears, all smiles and heads held high. Kukuru says “off you go” to Fuuka like she’s leaving for school for the day, not two years. “I’ll be back,” Fuuka replies in the same casual way. By the time Fuuka is in the air, Kukuru is already back to work at Tingarla.

As I suspected, the two years practically fly by, both in that we get a time jump to Tingarla’s third anniversary and the day Fuuka and Kaoru return home. There are a lot of subtle changes you’d expect, both in Kukuru’s hairstyle to her more confident demeanor at her desk. You can tell she’s taken on what’s in front of her with all her heart, and thrived.

She’s not alone: Kuuya has embraced his role as chief attendant and senpai to his old friend Karin. Udon-chan is now Tingarla’s chef. Kai is back as an attendant, and Choko has found a pretty young mate. Suwa has promoted her from Plankton to Nekton…though honestly I would have been a lot happier if he just called her by her damn name.

While in the taxi back to Tingarla with Kaoru, Fuuka gets out to stop by the shrine to Kijimunaa that she and Kukuru set up in a little wooded area not far from the aquarium. Fuuka gives the deity an offering of Hawaiian Macadamia nuts. These last two years, she and Kukuru have continued to do what’s right, and everything has worked out.

In scene where the two run straight at each other and embrace, I had all the feels. I could feel the love between these two young women; I could feel the relief they were back on the same island together; and I could feel the strength and wisdom they’ve both amassed, finding and nurturing their new dreams. The spirit of Gama Gama lives on in both of them, and as Gramps said, the hardships they both endured eventually led to wondferful rewards.

The aquatope on white sand – 23 – Big sisterhood

This episode began with Kukuru at a crossroads: does she fill the attendant spot being left by Kai, or does she stick with marketing, where she could inarguably play a larger role in helping far more animals for longer. But thanks to Tingarla’s director announcing the “Aquatope Project”, which will focus on environmental research and conservation, Fuuka is also at a crossroads.

The difference is, one of Fuuka’s two directions leads all the way to Hawaii for two years of training. No matter which job Kukuru picks, she’ll remain where she is. Both are hesitant for being tempted—not without good reason—to go in opposite directions: Fuuka going forth  to expand her horizons; Kukuru back to where she feels safe…but unchallenged.

The Aquatope Project seems perfectly timed to match with Fuuka’s recent come-to-Fish-Jesus moment regarding the harsh reality of mankind’s effect on sea life. Similarly, the return of Choko seems perfectly timed to match with Kukuru’s return to attending. Choko and the other penguins remember her! More to the point, they just know instinctively she’s a good human! Oh, hey Kai! Bye Kai.

Their big decisions are given further context by the state of Kukuru and Fuuka’s present day-to-day lives. When their schedules match up, Fuuka cooks for Kukuru, and they walk to or from the aquarium. But more often than not their schedules aren’t in synch, which means Kukuru and Fuuka are alone, but doing just fine. Kukuru overhears Fuuka telling Chiyu she can’t go to Hawaii because she “doesn’t want to leave Kukuru”, which makes Kukuru feel like she’s holding her friend back.

Just as Kukuru withholds her decision about what she’ll do as long as possible for dramatic effect, Fuuka goes through the candidate process (there are five vying for just two slots) while contemplating whether she can or should actually go if chosen. And while I predicted she would go, and Kukuru would stay in marketing, knowing so before it was official did not lesson my enjoyment of watching things play out.

What really made me very confident in my prediction was Fuuka’s final  presentation to the Aquarium’s brass and her fellow candidates. While everyone else gave perfectly nice and well-researched lectures at Tingarla, Fuuka takes everyone to Ban’s cove, dresses in a dolphin costume, and introduces the audience—which includes a bunch of kids and their parents on the beach—to Ban, and in doing so revealed her passion both for sea life and desire to learn more about them…which means making sure they don’t disappear.

While the panel deliberates over which two candidates will go to Hawaii, the grouchiest of them says Fuuka put on a “kid’s show”, while another points out that appealing to children early on will get them to care about the ocean. After all, they’re inhereting the future. Director Akira follows that up with an impassioned speech about the possibilities of the future that would make his shisho Gramps proud.

Later that night, Kukuru meets up with Fuuka at Ban’s beach to congratulate her for getting one of the spots. Kukuru also announces she’ll be staying in marketing, to gain the skills needed to protect the animals on a macro scale. She also admits that she turned Fuuka into her big sister, but has to learn to stand on her own two feet, which is why it’s okay for Fuuka to go.

But for Fuuka, it isn’t about big sister obligation, or Kukuru needing her. It’s about her needing Kukuru. Kukuru pats Fuuka on the head and says she’ll just have to be her big sister, seeing Fuuka off on an exciting adventure. While it’s sad to see these two parting, it’s also gratifying to to see them choosing paths that will help them grow as both people and professionals.

Not to mention, if these two take their jobs seriously, they’ll be too busy to miss each other; those two years should fly by! The question is, will we get to see any of those two years in the final episode, or will jump forward to beyond them? Either way, it’s sure to be a joyful tearjerker.

86 – 13 – Tired of Resting

In a wonderful, succinct yet detailed montage, we see that the surviving members of Spearhead have settled into normal life in the Giad Federacy.

Raiden got a job with a moving company and made some buds; Theo draws his surroundings and gains praise from passersby; Kurena frequents the shops and boutiques, Anju takes up cooking classes, and Shin studies up in the library. There he meets Eugene Rantz and his little sister Nina, who has befriended Frederica.

After their horrible ordeal getting to the Federacy, followed by the roller coaster of being confined to a facility until being adopted by Zimmerman, the five former child soldiers have certainly earned some peace and respite.

But while they’re living in peace, they’re still not at peace. There’s a restlessness lurking behind their mundane days in Giad. These are kids who never considered what their futures might be, suddenly being given the opportunity to choose whatever futures they want.

But especially for Shin, it’s a false choice. At least his immediate future seems to be returning to the battlefield, for many reasons, not the least of which is freeing all of his colleagues whose souls remain at the mercy of the Legion. They call to him in his dreams, but when he raises the pistol he used to end their lives and spare them further torment, his hand is empty; Ernst returned his scarf, but not his pistol.

Shins new friend Eugene is poor, and in order to provide for and protect Nina, he’s enlisting in the service. The military is lauded in Giad the same as San Magnolia, and Eugene is eager to see the new mechs in the Christmas Eve military parade.

In a wonderful piece of cinematography, Shin looks down at The Skull Knight book, then looks up, and we see laundry flowing behind him through the window, emulating the knight’s cape. There is no pageantry to the military for Shin or the others; only necessity, purpose, pride, and obligation.

After each of them witness the military parade and are each quite put off by the pageantry, it’s Kurena who firsts breaks the dam of complacency. She’s seen and heard enough of this “peace,” and now it’s time to return to where she belongs: the battlefield. The other four quickly concur, glad someone was able to finally vocalize that they’ve all simply spent to much time “resting.”

Ernst objects to their sudden decision, but there’s nothing sudden about it, the five have said from the beginning that this is they always intended. And we the audience can play the concerned parent figure like Ernst and say that they only feel that is all they can do because it’s all they’ve done, and because the Republic and the Legion took everything else.

It’s the precocious Frederica, exhibiting surprising maturity and clarity, who tells Ernst that if he keeps these kids from doing what they want to do he’d be no different than the Republic. She also decides to reveal that she is the last surviving Empress of Giad and carries the responsibility for unleashing the Legion in the first place.

The thing is, that was ten years ago when she was even wee-er than she is now, so Shin and the others don’t hold it against her. It was really the Republic that took everything from them. Ernst grudgingly agrees to allow the five to do as they please, but only if they enter officer training, so that they’ll have more options when the war is over.

Of course, none of them were thinking about that possibility, even though he says it’s a certainty that the war will end. As for Frederica, she’s determined to join them, that they might help her find and put to rest her valliant Knight Kiriya, who was taken by the Legion just like Shin’s brother.

Lena takes the week off, and that’s a boon here in terms of portraying Shin, Anju, Kurena, Raiden and Theo’s transition from acceptance of their new lives to the realization that here, for once, they can choose what to do and where to go, and a mundane peaceful life in the Giadian capital just isnt’ their scene.

Whether next week focuses solely on Lena or is another split episode of the kind the last cour did so well, I’m simultaneously happy and terribly worried for our Eighty-Six. Part of me wishes they would just stay in that capital and live quiet peaceful lives…but that’s not up to me, or anyone else but them.

Bokutachi no Remake – 12 (Fin) – Back to Hard Times

Now that we know that Tomioka Keiko has the ability to send Kyouya back and forth through time, the question becomes, does Kyouya want to go back to the past or remain where he is? As Keiko says, there are few people who can claim they’re as happy and successful as he is. But Kyouya concludes that he didn’t want to go back in time to make a happier future; he wanted to experience pain and struggle alongside the talented creative people he idolized.

So even if, say, Aki decided she wanted to start drawing again, the fact remains that she, Tsurayuki, Nanako and Eiko all had their futures changed by Kyouya’s over-meddling, and that will never sit right with him, so it’s back to the past with him. It seems Keiko, whoever or whatever she is, brought Kyouya to this alternate future to teach Kyouya a lesson, in addition to giving him the choice to go or stay.

After a heartfelt sequence of final scenes with Aki and Maki, Kyouya is ready to go back. Keiko sends him back to the same time he left, when Tsurayuki dropped out. Aki and Nanako aren’t sure what to do about it, but Kyouya adivses that they all stay the course. If there’s a way to bring Tsurayuki back into the creative world, he’ll find one, but this time he’s not going to be so forceful and so certain.

Just as the members of the Platinum Generation put their trust in him, this time Kyouya is going to trust in their ability to shine and fluorish without undue interference or compromise. When Nanako is given an offer to work for another doujin group, she sheepishly asks him if he’ll proverbially hold her hand. Having seen what becoming overly dependent on him did to Nanako’s future, he insists she try being independent on this project. Even if he comes off as rude or mean, it’s in Nanako’s best interest.

He’ll still support her, but he won’t let her rely on him entirely again. Aki proves trickier, as she hits the very same rut that would define her future self as she transitioned from a creative life to a domestic one. Kyouya realizes that asking her to work so hard and compromise her artistic vision for the game took a toll, and that coming out of the rut won’t be a fast or easy process, but it will and does eventually happen, and without undue meddling from him.

Kyouya ends up literally bumping into the girl who will one day become Minori Ayaka, sporting her natural black hair color. Akaya seems embarrassed when Kyouya sees she has the game he made along with some promising sketches, but there’s no disputing she’s dedicated to being the best goshdarn illustrator she can be, inspired as she is by Shinoaki’s work. This must feel gratifying to Kyouya, as by abandoning that possible future he also feared he undid the good he did for Ayaka’s future.

But then, that’s just his ego talking; the same ego that thought he was singularly, personally responsible for upheaving everyone’s lives, when in reality it was a whole host of variables. It’s the same with Ayaka; she’s going to be alright, especially if the artist she adores continues to draw, as Aki does.

As for Eiko, Kyouya now realizes that she considers herself more than just a friend, creative colleague, and confidant. The future Eiko loved (past-tense) Kyouya, that means this past Eiko is in the process of falling for him, if she hasn’t already. Her blush as she admits she’d drop everything to help him if he was ever in trouble says a lot.

But Kyouya isn’t interested in dating Eiko, at least not at the moment. His primary goal is to undo the damage he did to Tsurayuki’s creative motivation. His confronting Tsurayuki as he exits a theator marks the beginning of his Remake Version 2.0, and even hints at a possible second season (though there hasn’t been any announcement of one, so who knows).

If this is the end, it’s a moderately satisfying one, as it has Kyouya on a sustainable path where he’s aware of his “power” and no longer breathlessly achieving happiness at the cost of others’ success. Even as he’s reverted to a younger version of himself, he’s grown as a person and a friend to these talented people. And so the struggle continues.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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