Steins;Gate 0 – 04 – Another Girl Lost in Time

Okabe experiences a number of strange flashes in various world lines before waking up in bed, only to eventually return to the roof of the lab with Maho. They include running from enemy forces (likely in the bad future) and answering a mysterious phone call. He wonders if he somehow experienced Reading Steiner, and fears for the worst.

Thankfully, both Mayushii and everyone else are fine, so if there was a world line change, it was a subtle one, at least in terms of how it affected his life. Later, Amakurisu suggests Okabe give his mismatched present (a sexy red dress) to Maho, saying she’d likely be “surprisingly happy.”

Okabe doesn’t do that, but both Maho and Leskinen can tell he’s gotten close to Amadeus in not much time at all, feeding Leskinen’s hope that the AI will be able to fall in love, which would obviously be a huge breakthrough.

It seems like fate that they’d find the person who just happened to be in love with the real Kurisu. Maho just wants to know more about the side of her good friend and colleague that she never knew, lamenting that she “knows nothing”, despite the fact she is not Jon Snow.

Meanwhile, as Suzuha tries to get her eventual dad to go on a date with her eventual mother, Daru senses Suzu is hiding something, and isn’t thrown off by Suzu’s weak “it’s nothing.” What Daru learns is that Suzu did not board the Time Machine alone, but took Future Mayushii’s adopted war orphan daughter, Kagari.

In 1998, Suzuha and the 11-year-old Kagari were separated in Akiba, meaning in the present she’s a 22-year-old woman. Suzuha has been busy searching for her, with no success. Daru relays this information to Okabe, along with a request to help with the search.

Okabe quickly agrees, and when Amakurisu gets word of his task, she offers to search the vast networks she has access to in order to assist him. He pockets that offer for now, not wanting himself or Amakurisu to get into any unnecessary trouble (doing what she proposed may not be legal, strictly speaking).

After a flashback to 1998 when Kagari pulled a gun on Suzu in order to stop her from changing the future (the one in which her mother Mayushii lived), we’re back in the present, where Okabe asks Rukako and Feyris (who both grew up in Akiba) to put feelers out about a girl.

Feyris gets back to him about a “ghost with braids” asking people about a lost little girl (obviously Suzuha), but nothing concrete about Kagari. As Okabe is receiving Feyris’ call, he spots Dr. Leskinen turning a corner, but when he follows him he hits a dead end of boxes. Weird.

When Okabe returns to the lab, Daru has called someone he apparently knows who may have information for them. While waiting for this person to arrive, Okabe gets a call from Rukako with an urgent request to come meet him at his house, and no other time will do.

Then there’s a knock on the door, and who should be on the other end but Kiryuu Moeka, the sight of whom triggers all of the awful dealings Okabe had with her in other world lines. Oddly, I knew with some certainty that it would be her, partly because there was just something off about the suddenness of Daru’s connection.

Of course, this may not be a Killer Kiryuu…but from the glimpse of the hair of Rukako’s guest, it’s pretty clear her assistance isn’t needed to find Kagari…Kagari is that guest. All Okabe has to do is go to Rukako’s and he’s found her. The question is, will he be able to?

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Steins;Gate 0 – 03 – Easy to Be Deluded

As Mayushii organizes a huge Christmas bash to cheer up Suzuha, Okabe is finding Amakurisu’s constant calls a nuisance. But she insists he keep his promises to her by showing her the lab. While her first impression is that it’s a dump, she admits she always yearned to share a room with people, with “forks and spoons and stuff.” She already feels so much like Kurisu, it’s almost as if Okabe’s Facetiming the real thing.

As Suzuha is visited by her benefactor Feyris to try to convince her to come to the party, all Suzu can think about is how to convince Okabe to accompany her to the Steins Gate.

At the Brain Institute, Leskinen is excited to see what comes of Okabe convering with Amakurisu, while Hiyajou is more weary, thinking of displacement behavior and knowing firsthand how easy it is to replace the Kurisu she lost with Amakurisu in her mind.  Leskinen has an answer for that as well: go out with Okabe for Christmas Eve.

The next day Leskinen and Hiyajou meet with Okabe, but before they do, Okabe and Amakurisu have a crucial conversation on her true nature as an “incomplete AI” due to the fact everything she sees and hears is logged, meaning she can never “forget” by anything resembling the same methods real humans forget, which is not so much about missing information as information that slowly changes over days, months…or decades.

Along those lines, Okabe and Hiyajou are at the mercy of their memories of Kurisu, which are constantly meshing with Amakurisu, to the point she feels more and more real.

Hiyajou looks the tiniest bit disappointed when Okabe says he has plans for the Eve (even if she likely wasn’t going to take Amakurisu or Leskinen’s advice and ask him out), but Okabe presents a third way: he invites them both to the party.

Everyone ends up turning up—even Suzu, whom Daru fooled and who nearly killed her mother when they all surprised her—and it’s a jolly good time, bringing back life and vitality to the lab. They even get in another “Hiyajou is kid-sized” gag when Nao asks her what grade she’s in, while Leskinen mistakes Ruka for a girl (though he’s dead sexy regardless).

Okabe’s participation in the party is interrupted by a call from Amakurisu, which he goes to the roof to answer. When he takes a while, Mayushii follows him up there, and after overhearing him talking with someone (whether she knows it’s Kurisu), heads back to the lab. Poor Mayushii, who had to tell her cosplay buddies that despite how close they are, Okabe likes someone else…without mentioning that someone else is dead, of course.

One thing Amakurisu will never forget is that Okabe called her Christina when they first met, and one of her three theories is spot on: it’s the name he used to call the real Kurisu (whom she calls “Original Me”). She didn’t think that theory was likely because of the way she knew she’d react, and says the exact same words she always said to him, and in the same way. He confesses he used to call Kurisu that because he was too embarrassed to use her real name.

The problem is, he’s talking to Amakurisu as if she were Kurisu. Escaping a Santa costume photo shoot, Hiyajou, who came to the roof to check on Okabe right after Mayushii, snatches his phone from him and turns off the app. The Amadeus app. Not a Facetime call with Makise Kurisu, whom she tells Okabe “isn’t here anymore.”

This upsets Okabe greatly, as if suddenly lifted from some kind of spell, and triggers a torrent of muddled memories from other world lines. Hiyajou may have thought Okabe was just another good friend of Kurisu’s who’d be all-too-easily deluded by Amadeus, but there’s a lot more going on than she knows or would quickly believe.

Like, say, the fact that Suzuha is from the future and her father is inventing a time machine.

Steins;Gate 0 – 02 – Okabe Chooses Not to Run While He Still Can

When Dr. Leskinen (through Hiyajou Maho) announces he’s about to demonstrate an AI developed from memories stored as data, and there’s a bit of a delay before the Amadeus program starts up, a skeptic stands up and deems such a venture “insanity,” calling into question the research of a 17-year-old like the late Makise Kurisu.

He’s quickly rebuffed, not by Leskinen or Hiyajou, but by Okabe, who won’t stand by silently and let such slander pass. All scientific advances are borne from a desire to make the impossible possible, after all. With his outburst he gains the attention and applause of Leskinen.

Then the Amadeus demonstration proceeds, with an AI version of Hiyajou using her memories from four days ago splashes across the screen, making discreet observations about the room around her and also forgetting certain information. It really is Hiyajou from four days in the past…sort of.

At the social event that follows the seminar, Okabe and Hiyajou both end up in an isolate corner together, neither very good at such functions…and they find an easy, casual chemistry together. Hiyajou is an adult, and thus able to overlook Okabe’s initial misunderstanding about her age due to her stature.

When she discusses some of the problems she and Leskinen are still having with Amadeus, Okabe is reminded of Kurisu’s lecture about Top-down memory search signals, impressing Hiyajou. He then admits he can converse about such things because he was a friend of Kurisu’s.

She was more of a kohai to Hiyajou, but when they discuss her at length she can’t help but tear up, as it’s clear she cherished her kohai deeply; Okabe doesn’t look far behind with the tears, but manages to maintain his composure.

Leskinen then cuts into the conversation, and when he learns Okabe was a friend of Kurisu, he suggests to Hiyajou that they should introduce him to another Amadeus AI program they’re working on…using the eight month-old memories and taking the form of none other than Makise Kurisu.

Okabe thought he’d never see or hear Kurisu ever again, but after seeing how closely Hiyajou’s version of Amadeus emulated her living counterpart, it’s a stunning proposition. Hiyajou warns that the closer he was to Kurisu, the crueler meeting her Amadeus version will be.

Still, Okabe can’t resist accepting the invitation to the Brain Science Institute, where Hiyajou is waiting outside for him and guides him inside, all the while continuing to warn him that he may be in for a thoroughly heartbreaking experience—especially if he knew her better than Hiyajou.

The venue in which Okabe is poised to meet the digital “ghost” of Kurisu couldn’t be more spartan: a drab room empty save for an unassuming PC station with a single shortcut on the desktop. Hiyajou clicks on the application and steps aside for Okabe to behold.

Okabe reacts how one expected him to, and how anyone who’d just seen a ghost of a loved one might react. Part shock and despair, but also part wonder and relief. Leskinen and Hiyajou really did make the impossible possible; at least what Okabe had concluded would be impossible.

However, this Kurisu of the Beta World Line of eight months ago does not remember Okabe. Considering Miyajou’s Amadeus counterpart couldn’t remember the pajamas she wore a week ago, perhaps that’s part of the human flaws inherent in the program? Then again, perhaps not; it’s likelier the Kurisu whose data they used simply hadn’t met him yet—to say nothing of falling in love.

Speaking of love, “Amakurisu” is sharp enough to sense the nice vibes coming off of Hiyajou and Okabe, and briefly takes Hiyajou aside to address that observation, much to Hiyajou’s chagrin. Her blushing at the party and here suggest she has at least a passing affinity for the former Mad Scientist, something Amakurisu picked up on almost immediately; a testament to the program’s sophistication.

Amakurisu’s response to Okabe’s first question put to her—about what she thinks about the possibility of constructing a time machine—is actually different from the answer he got from the real Kurisu. The late Kurisu dismissed such machines as impossible, but Amakurisu adds the caveat that her belief in their impossibility doesn’t mean they actually are impossible, just that the crucial discovery that would make them possible has yet to be found.

Were she willing to dismiss the possibility of such a discovery, she’d be scarcely better than the skeptic Okabe took down back at the seminar. Okabe wonders if the difference in views is a matter of the difference between world lines, but it could also be a product of Amadeus having learned through conversations with Leskinen and Hiyajou, thus making her a being distinct from the person whose memories form her foundation.

When Leskinen makes an appearance and greets Okabe in English, Okabe’s attempt to respond in English nets him criticism from Amakurisu, causing him to instinctively call her “Christina”, something he does a couple more times, confusing everyone around them but also piquing their curiosity.

Ultimately, Leskinen wants Okabe to be a “tester”, talking with Amadeus on a semi-regular basis so they can collect more data than if just he and Hiyajou continued chatting with her (plus they’re running out of things to talk about, so “fresh blood” is crucial to the program). To that end, they give him an app that not only allows him to contact Amakurisu, but allows her to call him whenever “she” likes.

And she does just that…calling him eight times; the last few attempts occurring while Okabe is on a walk with Mayushii, who is planning a Christmas party to cheer Suzuha up and thinks Okabe should attend so he and Suzuha can make up. Mayushii notices someone calling him repeatedly and steps aside to let him address it.

When Okabe finally answers her call, Amakurisu is not pleased, and Okabe can’t help but admit that she really is Makise Kurisu, all stubborn and moody and spunky and wonderful. Sure, it’s not really her, but it’s most definitely a version of her, and having lived the last few months with a grey cloud over his head, there’s surely overwhelming comfort in the “next best thing”.

I’m frankly bowled over by the amount of material just the first two episodes of Steins;Gate 0 has managed to cover, and how deeply involved and invested I already am in this very bittersweet story. Yahagi Sayuri does some really fine work as Hiyajou, and just hearing Imai Asami’s voice again nearly brought tears to my eyes. We’re off to a stirring start.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 13 (Fin) – Ten Thousand Times More Beautiful

With no more conflicts or catharses left to have, the girls enjoy their final days in Antarctica. They’ve settled into such a routine and gotten so used to the astonishing environment, one adult jokes they won’t be able to reintegrate into society, presenting Shirase and the other Mahjong junkies as evidence.

Their final journey to the frozen sea affords them the opportunity to taste snowcones made from ice with thousand-year-old air pockets, which Mari attests to be delicious. They also learn that much of the winter team’s activities will include sleeping, drinking, and games to pass the time.

Shirase finally gets her wish to be surrounded by adorable penguins, but she’s locked in a cycle of being disgusted by the smell and delighted by being in their presence while asking for some unspecified form of help. I imagine many of us would feel the same way.

Mari is getting cold feet about leaving, and wonders out loud to the others why they can’t just stay. Hinata flicks her forehead and doles out reality; they have to get back to their homes, their families, and their school. But all four promise that they’ll come back together someday.

They then present their final request to the rest of the team: that they play a game of snow softball. Captain Toudou is, naturally, the ace, but just like Takako, Shirase is not only able to hit her pitch, but drive it out of the “park.”

On the eve of departing, Shirase decides to have her hair cut short—her heart wasn’t broken by a guy, but such a change makes sense after her catharsis with the laptop (she also wisely chooses Hinata to cut it, not Mari). The whole team musters for the girls’ farewell ceremony, and after a heartfelt speech by Gin that starts everyone crying, Shirase confidently delivers and even more heartfelt, tear-jerking speech.

In it, she expresses the understanding she reached in this place beyond the universe, and why both her mother and her love it so much: It’s a place that strips everything bare, with nothing to protect you and nowhere to hide. It’s a place where someone can come face-to-face with who they really are…and she did that.

Before embarking for home, Shirase hands Gin her mom’s laptop, stating she no longer needs it. Later, Gin discovers there’s still a message from Takako in the outbox; the last she ever composed. The quartet waves goodbye to their Antarctic summer home where they experienced and learned so much about the world, each other, and themselves.

Yuzu wonders if maybe they all got a little stronger during the journey. A ‘little’? I think she sells herself and the others short here. They were the first high school-age students to explore Antarctica, and they made it. Now, all of a sudden, they’re headed back to the normal world. Even if and when they come back, it will never be the same as their first time.

When night falls, Mari finally gets to experience the one thing they couldn’t due to the laughably short Antarctic nights: view the aurora. Just when they do, Gin sends the last email Takako wrote to Shirase, stating how the real thing is “ten thousand times more beautiful”—something of which, in that moment, Shirase and the others are all to aware.

The four friends, having forged their bonds in the coldest and harshest crucible on the planet, go their separate ways with confidence and return to their lives that were with a serious sense of accomplishment, self-awareness, and maturity.

They discovered as much about themselves in Antarctica as they discovered about the place itself, like how there are no “nothing” days but there’s still more to discover upon returning, like the smell of one’s house.

And in a perfect capper to a marvelous series, Mari texts Megumi that she’s home, and gets a near-immediate response, along with a photo of her posing with the aurora: “Too bad. Right now, I’m in the Arctic.” Well played, Megu-chan; well played.

 

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 12

Shirase vividly remembers the day she was suddenly pulled out of class and informed of her mother’s death. How can she not? We all carry days like that in our memories. For her, it was the end of life feeling as it had before, and the beginning of a dream; an awful dream from which she hoped every day to wake up from.

She’s worked so hard, endured mockery, made and fought with friends, and arrived at the place where she lost her mother. Yet she still doesn’t feel like the dream is over. Now Gin has invited her and the other girls to join the team that will press inland, to the observatory site from which Takako never returned.

Shirase tells her friends it’s not so much that she’s depressed to stressed out about her mother. Rather, she’s weary that if and when she gets to the end of the road, there will be nowhere left to go. If nothing changes, the way it hasn’t thus far, what if she keeps feeling the way she does the rest of her life? What if she can’t wake up?

The girls decide to give Shirase space, proof, according to an adult colleague, that they’re truly good friends. Shirase sits with Gin, who tells her that neither of them know what Takako felt, or whether she wanted them to return to Antarctica, where she’d be waiting in some form.

All Gin can say for certain is that she came because she wanted to come: “At the end of the day, those ideas we latch on to aren’t enough to motivate us. But when we run around on the injustices of reality, they’re the only things that can break through, make the impossible possible, and allow us to proceed on.”

After laying out all of her cash and listing all the ways she made it, Shirase regains the idea that brought her to Antarcica, and joins Gin and the other girls on the inland trip…because her mother is waiting there.

Along the slow, cold slog of a trip, Shirase and he girls experience the harshest conditions so far, but still have to work in them, because there’s no other choice. They also experience some of the most otherworldly sights, like a sun pillar.

When Shirase asks Gin if her mother saw the same thing, Gin answers in the affirmative. Later, Gin has Shirase check in with Syowa Station. From then on, as Shirase realizes she’s following in her mother’s last footsteps, the journey adopts an increasingly melancholy mood.

When a punishing blizzard arrives identical to the one that suddenly claimed Takako, Gin remembers Takako’s last call on the radio, saying “it’s beautiful” but not telling Gin where she was, because if Gin went out to attempt rescue, nature would likely have claimed her as well.

The girls are snug in their sleeping bags as the winds lash against the snowcat, and Shirase sees a vision of her mother sitting nearby, working on her laptop. Mari wakes up to thank Shirase for taking her for allowing her to get the most out of her youth.

It doesn’t matter to her whether they went to Antartica or the Arctic or anywhere else; what made the trip special was that they took it together, as friends. Shirase then tells her mother that she, who thought she’d be fine alone forever, now has friends: slightly weird, frustrating, and broken friends, but friends who were willing to come this far with her.

Now, there’s only a little further to go, and once the snowcats arrive at the observatory site, those same friends rush into the underground complex to try to find something, anything that serves as proof Shirase’s mother was there. And boy do they ever find it: Takako’s laptop, with a photo of Takako and Shirase taped to the back.

Again Shirase’s friends recede to the hallway as Shirase fires up the laptop. She gets the password right on the second try, and when Takako’s inbox opens, it immediately starts updating, with a dozen, then a hundred, then a thousand emails gradually pouring in…and Shirase loses it. Her friends hear her anguish and then they start crying.

In a show that’s had no shortage of episode climaxes that tug at the heartstrings, no scene to date has tugged quite this far (I pretty much lost it too!). It truly feels like Shirase has finally awakened from her hazy three-year-long dream, having experienced a profound measure of closure from this. In any case, her fear of not feeling anything once she came to the end of her journey didn’t come to pass. She didn’t just feel something; she felt everything.

3-gatsu no Lion – 40

I realized something this week. Whenever 3GL strays too far from the core cast of Rei, the Kawamotos, and Niakidou, my interest flags. We’re now in episode 40 of 44, and the show (granted, based on the manga) has seen fit to spend not just one but two episodes on the grizzled 9-time Kishou champion Yanagihara, looking to beat a revitalized Shimada for his tenth to make him an “eternal champion.”

Which is fine; that’s all fine…if I really cared about Yanagihara as a character…and I don’t. Aside from bickering with the comic relief chariman, I hadn’t really thought much of the guy, and while we certainly get a portrait of the kind of man he is and the burdens he carries (all his old retired friends see him as a proxy in this match), the “old man raging against the dying of the light” is, to be generous, a well-tread path.


From a technical standpoint the execution is all there, as is Shinbou’s usual eclectic visualizations of the players’ emotional states. The trips into Yanagihara’s psyche in which he’s bound and pulled by the hundreds to thousands of strips of cloth, or burning like a human torch, or standing in a one-burnt but now verdant field, are all visually arresting.

And yet…I was still left mostly cold, in part because he ends up winning (and delivering Shimada yet another loss), and in part because, as I said, Yanagihara just isn’t on my list of characters I’m emotionally invested in, and two episodes simultaneously felt like not quite enough to get invested in, and too much time to spend on a tertiary (at best) member of the cast.

Mostly, I think I’ve just got Kawamoto withdrawal. So congrats, Saku-chan, for winning the tenth and becoming eternal with one hell of a game of shogi—a game no one who knows shogi (or thought they knew it) expected a man of his years to play. But with just four episodes left, I’m ready to get back to our core characters’ lives.

3-gatsu no Lion – 39

Returning from an Olympic break, 3GL turns its attention away from both Rei and the Kawamoto and focuses on two other shogi players. Shimada is going up against Yanagihara Sakutarou in the Kishou Championship; Rei and Nikaidou will only be giving commentary.

Yanagihara has won the championship fourteen times, and at 66 is the oldest active Class A player. As one of the elder statesmen of his sport, he seems to effortlessly surround himself with supporters and pals, all of whom call him “Saku-chan.” This irks Shimada, who really really wants to win his first title, even if he has to end Yanagihara’s warm reunions.

What Shimada might be too focused on winning to understand is that Yanagihara isn’t interested in passing the mantle of Kishou champion to anyone. Why would he? What comes next after he’s been knocked off the top of the pyramid?

He now stands alone, while everyone else has put their faith and their hopes in his continued success, and he wears those wishes like a mess of heavy white sashes, constantly threatening to smother him.

We see the weight both of those sashes and the realities of old age, as he takes every morning extra slow to ensure he takes all the medicine he needs to take. Once the match begins, Shimada is determined and uncharacteristically fiery, but Yanagihara is no slouch.

On the contrary, when an old friend told him early retirement “scared him” and was like “standing in a burnt field”, Yanagihara summons the flames that burned the field to begin with, and uses them to propel himself along in the match, which so far looks like the liveliest and most aggressive Kishou final match in years. Poor Shimada…he has the worst luck with opponents!

Sagrada Reset – 04

Occasionally, I like a show that keeps me engaged; that challenges me; that even leaves me in the dust if I’m not sufficiently aware. Sagrada Reset is all of those things so far, and there’s a genuine thrill in not knowing just what the hell is going to transpire from one episode to the next, in addition to being emotionally invested in the characters—something that didn’t seem feasible in episode one.

Sagrada is also dense, and if you blink you might miss a reset or a vital piece of information. For all its seeming randomness, it builds, so far, off every little event and detail it’s presented thus far. It doesn’t insult the audience’s intelligence, it demands it, and it won’t hold your hand. That can make it hard to follow, even frustrating at times, but despite getting a little lost at times I felt it still holds together.

This week is a particularly bloody and violent episode, as Asai promptly learns that Minami Mirai was killed by Hisuchi-kun, hence her becoming a ghost that haunts him to start the episode.

Of course, she wasn’t just shot or strangled, she was killed when Hisuchi, who gains nourishment not from food (he’s an intense germaphobe) but from information he sucks out of others like an intel vampire. Minami had too much, and he went to far. He didn’t mean to kill her; it just happened.

But just when Asai and Haruki are wrapping their heads around the murder, they are confronted by Murase Youka, whose sudden violent, homicidal outburst would be out of character if we knew her character. I didn’t realize it at the time, but we later learn there’s a very good reason for her very odd, violent behavior, and it all comes down to Haruki’s Reset ability.

Asai orders Haruki to reset before Murase kills him. Back at school, Haruki is glad when Asai tells her they haven’t gone to the festival yet (girl wants her DATE). They visit Tsushima for answers, and he tells them more about the “MacGuffin”, which enables anyone who possesses it to control all the special abilities in Sakurada…only to then tell them exactly what and where it is, obviously trusting his students won’t take it.

Someone does take it…or rather, ends up with it by chance. That person is Minami, who isn’t killed by Hisuchi-kun this time because Asai and Haruki visit him. They’re joined by Murase, whose knowledge indicates to Asai that she’s able to remember two resets back, but not one. He also learns about her M.O.—her desire to destroy and remake the bureau into something more effective after it failed to save her brother.

Indeed, it’s Murase who helps them find Hisuchi’s house, using her ability in a way I didn’t expect (while explaining the hand-shaped hole in the wall last week). Hisuchi tells them about Minami ending up with the stone, and he helped her because he was guilty for killing her.

I’d say that that never happened, but it actually did, and Haruki’s ability didn’t negate that fact, it merely rewound and, well, reset things to her last save. Murase ends up stealing the MacGuffin from Minami, lightly wounding her in the process, but Asai assures Haruki they don’t have to go after her. All will be taken care of in due time.

In the meantime, Tsushima gives Asai a new job: to convince a truant, Murase, to come back to school. To do that, Tsushima believes Murase needs to be utterly defeated, to show her that she still has more to learn before starting a revolution against the Bureau.

Asai visits Nono Seika with some takoyaki, to muse over the Murase situation in a calm place. And he thinks of Souma Sumire, who told him its better to say something than nothing, even if it’s bad, and to not be afraid.

After that, it’s his big little date with Haruki, who is resplendent in her yukata, and doesn’t just smile but blushes upon receiving the gift of a hairpin. It didn’t look like Asai was paying attention to her when she spotted it, but clearly he did. I loved that little detail.

He asks Haruki for a favor, and the next day we see she’s joined him beside the river to confront Murase. She thinks they’re ready to join her cause, but Asai wants to test her abilities first. Haruki saves, then she obliges, and Asai offers almost no resistance as she puts her finger through his hand. During the fight he suspects she attacked them the first time because she wanted a reset for herself, to forget Minami Mirai’s death.

An increasingly agitated Murase is certain she has Asai in checkmate, even noting that if Haruki resets, he’s only two steps away from her, and she could easily defeat him before he had time to do anything. But it’s Murase who’s in check, as Asai moves his head into her hand, which goes through it, killing him horribly. He does this before ordering Haruki to reset…so she doesn’t.

Then something I didn’t expect happened: Nanako Tomoki beams his voice into Haruki’s head, then Asai’s voice comes through—in that moment, a ghost, just like Minami was—giving Haruki the reset order. She resets, and Minami remains where she is: exactly in a location where when Asai said “Bang”, it looks like he struck her down.

Stunned by this course of events, Murase promptly concedes defeat, which means she’ll honor the terms of their agreement, return to school, one day join the bureau, and make it better that way. Asai also tells her the cat is fine, chilling with Nonoo. He holds out his hand to shake hers in order to celebrate their new friendship.

He’s quite sure that her ability has worn off, making it safe to touch her, but the episode still ends just before they touch, so good it is at messing with us. Still, it’s mission accomplished—and what a baller mission it turned out to be.

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 05

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 04

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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WWW.Working!! – 04

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This fourth episode of WWW.Working!! seems content to continue running three gags firmly into the ground: Hana is really bad at cooking, Shiho is extremely vindictive, and Rui likes Higashia but can’t tell him.

Everyone else is kinda just around, and Higashida exhibits a stubborn cynicism about just about everything that makes him a hard guy to root for. He has a couple choice rejoinders, but it’s not enough.

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By the episode’s end, Hana has made more chocolate for Higashida, and it’s just as bad as her first attempt, sending Higashida into an unimaginative psychedelic trance. Shiho buys Yuuta dog food, because she’s horrible, and Rui makes chocolate for Higashida, but gives it to Miri instead (who goes on to give Higashida a surprise taste).

Back when I started this show, I took solace in the fact the characters showed promise, such that the lack of a plot that moved forward quickly might not be a problem. But to stay invested, the characters need to be more than just their quirks (or in Higashida’s case, his attitude). This week they weren’t, and the episode suffered.

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WWW.Working!! – 03

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This week the last two characters who appeared in the initial promo art are introduced, starting with Yanagiba Miri, who is not a staff member but a customer Daisuke initially believes is a ghost.

Turns out she’s just a truant from his very class, who got sick earlier in the year and is now worried she won’t make friends. Daisuke’s numerous protests for her to “Go to school!” are good for a chuckle in an otherwise par-for-the-course episode.

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There was initially some potential in the pairings of Daisuke/Hana and Shiho/Yuuta in the forest “test of courage” segment, but aside from learning her parents are just as “weird” as his, not much happens on the former front, while Yuuta’s insistence he and Shiho start over merely as friends only makes her more hungry for pain-and-suffering damages.

Adachi and Maranushi barely register, and the discovery of a raccoon is neither here nor there, though it seems Daisuke will be fostering it at his home, meaning Hana will be by more often than before.

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The second character introduced is the adorable Nagata Rui, who like Yanagiba is Daisuke’s classmate but actually attends school. He tries to get Rui to be friends with Yanagiba, but she instead gets fixated on the fact that Daisuke and Hana seem to be close.

It’s clear Rui sees Daisuke as a potential mate, and Hana probably wouldn’t mind if they dated, while he sees neither girl that way. In this regard, he’s the same somewhat oblivious romantic lead as Takanashi, but with one key, merciful difference: he’s not obsessed with small cute things.

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Rewrite – 02

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After reflection, I revised by rating of Rewrite’s first episode to a seven, as I suspect its nearly hour-long running time lulled me into a kind of trance in which it seemed like a better show than it actually was.

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But the first episode was still gobs better than the second, which eliminated most of the fantasy elements and atmosphere I liked for silly antics and discussion of boobs. As such, all my enthusiasm for sticking with Rewrite has evaporated.

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It doesn’t help that the characters are drawn with only the broadest of strokes based on well-worn archtypes that are better executed elsewhere on the Summer spectrum…or that the animation leaves much to be desired.

With 91 Days and Alderamin now on my list, in addition to being the worst of the three current shows whose titles begin with “Re”, Rewrite has been relegated to my recycling bin.

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