The Fire Hunter – 01 (First Impressions) – A Girl and Not Her Dog

Before any narration, we’re thrust right into a battle in the forest, or rather the end of one. A hunter has killed a great black beast to protect a girl named Touko, but at the cost of his own life. His last words are to tell Touko the name of his dog: Kanata, who is wounded. Touko takes the dog, the hunter’s sickle and warding stone back home to her village.

It’s then we learn that the people of this world no longer use naturally-occurring fire; to do so would cause them to spontaneously combust. The fire they use is sourced from the beasts killed by fire hunters. Touko is also living with neighbors after a fire tore through the tiny village. Touko’s “sister” Rin rejects her as cursed.

Neither Kanata nor the hunter’s effects are Touko’s to keep. She must take them back to his family in the capital. To travel there she must board the collection truck that comes periodically to the town twice a year. None of this would have happened if Touko hadn’t entered the black forest, but her adoptive mother knows Touko did it for her sake: to find medicine for her eyes partially burned by the fire.

I’m glad for the little moment of tenderness between Touko and her de facto mom. This is a harsh world where every seemingly innocuous action could carry disastrous consequences that can affect the entire village. Touko has a good heart—and clearly good luck—but is regarded as a burden by her adoptive sister Rin: an extra body taking up space; an extra mouth to feed.

The heavily-armored collection train arrives and sets up a two-day bazaar, the village comes to life. The day both it and Touko depart it’s raining heavily, adding to the brooding atmosphere. This is not just a quick trip to the big city. It’s a circuitous odyssey that will take Touko away from the only home she’s known for a minimum of two years, with no guarantee she’ll survive the myriad dangers along the way.

But when Touko is told about these risks—both in sugarcoated mode by the kindly Enji and in cold-hard-truth mode from his boss Sakuroku—Touko simply says, in her slightly trembling yet resolute voice (deftly provided by Kuno Misaki), that she’s ready to go. She goes up into the turret to watch her village and her family recede away, possibly never to see them again. Rin wears a mask—is it one last eff-you to Touko, or to conceal tears?

From here the story shifts to the capital Touko is heading to, where a young man named Koushi resides with his sister. Their mother has just passed away, poisoned by the toxic waste at the factory where she worked. Unlike the village that has basically regressed to ancient times, the capital is still in a semi-industrial state, but without fire disease and short lifespans are widespread.

If you like bleak yet meaty stories in beautiful environs, The Fire Hunter is for you, as it is for me. I was reminded of Attack on Titan, and especially the wonderful, and dark-as-hell From the New World. There’s a Girls’ Last Tour look to the capital. This is a fallen world, but the people endured, so it’s not all doom and gloom.

With a veteran cast led by Nishimura Junji and Oshii Mamoru, there’s a great sence of both competence and confidence in the story being told, while the visuals are stark yet lush. Whether the following episodes will chronicle Touko’s six-month journey to the capital, or fast-forwards to when she and Koushi meet, I’m excited to see where this goes.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 24 (S2 Fin) – Dream On

All of Chizuru’s aspiring acting peers marvel at how hardworking and dedicated she is, but the truth is she’s a surging ball of doubt and anxiety. If she doesn’t pass auditions and get this next role, her dream of having her grandmother Sayuri see her performing on screen before she dies is in serious jeopardy of never coming true.

One night, she gets one more friendly rejection text, cries in her dark apartment, and asks the picture of her late grandfather Katsuhito to stop smirking and tell her what she should do. We then go seven years into the past, to when Chizuru was a surly seventh grader with no real driving force except “men are idiots”.

Chizuru’s gran was once an up-and-coming actor, and when Chizuru watches a rented DVD of her performance, that’s it: the dreamless kid suddenly has a dream: she wants to be an actor too. Her gran starts warning her just how goddamn difficult that will be, but her gramps is all optimism and gumption…remind you of someone in her present day life?

Chizuru spends her years of middle school and high school learning how to act, and seems well on her way, until Truck-kun claims her gramps’ life. Remembering how her grandparents told her the name “Chizuru” comes from a thousand paper cranes and that she was meant to be a talisman of good luck, she runs up and down the local shrine one hundred times to pray for Katsuhiro’s recovery.

He doesn’t make it, but he is conscious long enough to say his last words to her: dreams always come true. He knew this would be the worst moments of her life, and wanted her to know that she couldn’t give up no matter what; no matter how much frustration and tragedy and pain got in the way. But now, faced with yet another rejection for a role and her gran growing frailer by the day, Chizuru is wavering once more.

Enter Kazuya, who blessedly had no screen time or lines for over half of this episode, the better to make this all about Chizuru and not him (for once). He comes to her door with a proposal: crowdfunding a movie for them to make and for her to perform in. It technically would fulfill her dream, and there’s actually a better chance of pulling it off than of her getting a role in the same two-month time frame.

Chizuru retreats to her dark apartment to mull it over while Kazuya returns to his and wonders if he just made a huge blunder once again. Naturally, Chizuru sees in Kazuya the same idiotic optimism as her grandfather, but also realizes that his gramps happened to be right: dreams only truly die if you give up on them, and now life is offering her a chance to revive it just when she thought it was all but dead.

Kazuya hears Chizuru’s door open and close, her footsteps in the fancy shoes of her rental girlfriend outfit she has yet to change out of, and then a ring on his doorbell. She has one question: Can you really do it? And after thinking about it and saying that he, that they can, Chizuru has to cover her face to hide the flow of emotion. Her dream, now so cracked and fragile by the rigors of reality, is suddenly mended into something she can carry once more.

Kazuya, who took a suggestion of Sumi’s and rode with it, fully understands the hard work he’ll have to put in. When her gramps was injured, Chizuru knew she could do more for him than sitting around and crying in the hospital, so she ascended the shrine stairs one hundred times until her feet were scratched and black with dirt.

And in the end, the result of that effort was only fleeting—her gramps woke up for only a moment before expiring. Whether she’s conscious of it or not, the same qualities in her gramps are apparent in Kazuya seems like big part of why she’s falling for him as a romantic partner. But it could also be why she’s so hesitant to go down that road: what if she gave her heart to Kazuya, only to lose him? Truck-kun is still out there…

Getting a movie funded and actually making it is sure to make that running up and down the steps barefoot seem like a gentle walk in the park. Kazuya knows it. Chizuru knows it. It could end in failure too, but failure is all but assured if they give up. Kazuya (via Sumi) gave Chizuru the “loophole” she needed to scale down her dream into something more manageable than becoming a movie star before her gran dies.

Will that cause the already nascent feelings she’s developed for him to grow? Will they merely maintain the increasingly sturdy friendship they’ve forged this season? Whither Ruka, Sumi, and above all Mami, the last glimpse of whom is her smirking and asking herself if she has a life (she doesn’t)?

Will Kazuya get them involved in this “let’s make a movie” venture? Finally, who is that fifth girl, apparently moving into the same building as Kazuya and Chizuru? (At first I thought it was Ruka, but this person has an ahoge, and the blue in her hair is color, not a bow.)

We’ll have to wait for a season 3 to find all this out. Until then, I’m glad the focus was on Chizuru for this final episode, learning the full story of her dream, and that the Kazuya we get is a man who proposes strong and achievable action, not moping or fumbling about with his myriad romantic prospects in his head.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 22 – More than a Lie

Kazuya probably feels like Ruka’s kiss, complete with tongue and the requisite saliva strings, lasted the entire week between the last episode and this one. But Ruka felt threatened by Chizuru and didn’t want to lose, so she marked her man. She also hastens to notify Kazuya that it was her first kiss, and despite the saying that the first taste like strawberries or lemons, hers just tasted like booze.

A frankly obscene amount of Kazuya inner dialogue ensues as he tries to deal with having been wall-slammed and made out with by Ruka only to have to return to the table with his mom, grandma, and Chizuru, who can all tell something’s off about both of them. Gran then produces her gift to Chizuru: her heirloom engagement ring. Chizuru says she couldn’t possibly accept it, as one does, but Gran and Kazuya’s mom insist.

Having seen how backed in a corner and desperate Ruka is and seeing Chizuru struggle, Kazuya decides he’s going to come clean, right then and there, or at least say what needs to be said to shatter the charade. Both Ruka and Chizuru can tell he’s about to say something to the effect of “Chizuru and I broke up”, but before he can get the works out, Chizuru gets a call…from the hospital.

Her gran is unconscious, so she, Kazuya, and Kazuya’s gran take a taxi to the hospital, where they find Chizuru’s gran not unconscious, and her usual tough, cheerful self. The grans have fun talking about their young grandkids, and when the doctor asks Chizuru to come with him to talk, she leaves them in Kazuya’s care in a very relationship-y way.

After torturing Kazuya a bit, the grans send him to a konbini for snacks, and he meets Chizuru in the dark corridor, where she tells him that things aren’t great, and despite her smiles and laughs she doesn’t have much time left. Kazuya asks if she’s okay, and she puts on a brave front. When he heads to the hospital room to finish coming clean and making things right, Chizuru grabs his sleeve and tells him not to.

She knows her gran is worried about her being along when she’s gone, so telling her she and Kazuya broke up on her deathbed simply isn’t something she’s willing to do.  I don’t think she’s using this as a pretense to remain in…whatever it is she and Kazuya have.

But when she says that whatever is now “more than a lie”, it feels like she’s saying that more for just her gran’s sake. She and Kazuya head home and go their separate ways, and Kazuya curses himself for not being able to do more for her, while also finding himself in a spot where revealing the truth will cause more harm than good.

That said, the lie is still doing harm to Ruka, but when she and Kazuya go on a grammable pancake date, she shows genuine empathy when she asks about Chizuru and her gran. She also decides to call a truce, as with Chizuru’s family situation it’s just not an appropriate time to continue her “offensive”.

That said, she’s now convinced that now that they’ve had their first kiss, they can now kiss whenever. Kazuya’s not so sure about that. He’s also even more flummoxed that not only Chizuru but also Ruka have decided that the status quo should be maintained until further notice. And that’s even before he’s aware of whatever it is best girl Sumi is planning to celebrate his birthday…

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 21 – Scents of Hokkaido

It’s time for the annual family birthday party Kazuya’s grandmother and parents always throw for him, and when he informs gran that her beloved Chizuru’s birthday has already passed, she hits him with an air-to-grandson cruise missile of anger and then insists that he invite Chizuru to a shared party.

Kazuya invites Chizuru to the shindig on their balconies, and while she can’t make the 5 PM time, she can come later, after she visits her ailing gran in the hospital. Shortly thereafter, Ruka calls Kazuya to wish him a happy birthday, and catches wind of the party. That afternoon she shows up all dolled up, ready to join the party.

Since Kazuya’s fam knows Ruka as “Chizuru’s friend” it’s not that strange that she shows up with him, and Ruka is quite right that however Kazuya feels for Ruka, he did agree to be her boyfriend (rather than reject her) and making her cover for him and Chizuru isn’t fair.

Thus ensues a wonderfully lively sitcom scenario where conceits like the fact Ruka’s yelling at Kazuya in the kitchen can’t be heard by the fam in the next room. Ruka sees she’s started out with a deficit, imagining a virtual Reversi game of who can be the best future daughter/granddaughter.

But Ruka has no shortage of charm, and quickly ingratiates herself with Kazuya’s fam. This sucks for him in terms of maintaining the fiction of him and Chizuru for his gran’s sake, but it also shows a nice what-if if only he had genuine romantic feelings for Ruka rather than Chizuru…things would go pretty smoothly!

Instead, Ruka comes within mere seconds of telling Kazuya’s fam that she’s his actual girlfriend when he’s saved by a text from Chizuru asking what’s up. Kazuya sucks it up and adds her as a friend, then calls her on her personal line—unthinkable in the first season, but accepted as a necessity here.

When she says she’s still at the hospital, Kazuya does what’s right and tells her she doesn’t have to come, but then a jealous Ruka rips the phone out of his hand and demonstrates to Chizuru that it really is a good idea to show herself before things get messy.

I totally get Ruka’s anger, but if her goal was to keep Chizuru away from the fam tonight, her rant to Chizuru had the opposite effect. Chizuru surprises Kazuya’s fam by showing up and immediately being her perfect professional girl self, even asking to pray at the family shrine, something Ruka didn’t even think of.

As Kazuya’s gran learns he and Chizuru live in the same area (but not that they’re next-door neighbors) she asks why they don’t just live together, Chizuru blushes and says she’d lean on him too much. Ruka spots the lipstick on Chizuru’s glass and heads to the bathroom without saying anything.

When Kazuya heads to the bathroom, Ruka, who is getting absolutely slaughtered by Chizuru out there, decides to resort to drastic (and readily available) measures, i.e. her lips. She gets on her toes, pulls Kazuya in by the goofy gaudy tie she bought him for his birthday, and gives him a long lasting smooch.

It’s given all the weight of a climactic romantic development, but lest we forget, at this moment Kazuya simply likes Chizuru more, and the fact the two of them can call and text each other whenever constitutes Reversi discs that can’t be flipped back over.

This episode featured some fun and genuinely funny girlfriends-family sitcom action, but also made me hope that at some point before this cour is out we get some kind of legitimate development towards untangling some of the romantic knots Kazuya has made. I realize I may be setting myself up for disappointment, but it’s always nice to dream.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Those Snow White Notes – 04 – New Guide, New Goal, New Sound

It’s all thanks to Sakura’s onigiri. When she greets Setsu and he enters the boarding house without responding, she can tell he’s out of sorts, and the only thing for that is food. When she delivers it, he’s on the phone with Wakana, and she gets the idea he’s talking about a girl he likes.

Setsu is terrified of not being able to live up to Shuri’s grandmother’s memory of gramps’ magnum opus, “Shungyou (Spring Dawn)”. But Wakana reminds him that Shuri didn’t know Gramps, and Setsu doesn’t know her grandmother. It’s impossible to try to exactly copy what she heard so many years ago, so he suggests Setsu rewrite her memory, using his own song.

Kamiki calls Mai to tell her he heard Setsu play, and while he clearly couldn’t show him his “sound”, he still heard the dizzying potential Mai always believed to be there, and so desperately wants to do battle with. Setsu gets a recording of “Shungyou”, but it’s on an ancient cassette tape. No problem; Kaito’s a vintage audiophile!

When Kaito asks why they can’t just play the tape for Shuri’s gram, Setsu says there’s no comparison between a taped performance and a live one. That makes it all the more impressive that even a cassette recording of Setsu’s gramps playing is able to fully transport both him and Kaito into the story of the song, ending with the titular and redemptive spring dawn.

Even a layman like Kaito can tell how God-level Setsu’s gramps was, and Setsu acknowledges he simply doesn’t have hands quick enough to match the picking at the climax of the piece. While he tries to play it, a passing young man declares Setsu’s sound “pinched and sharp”, i.e. frustrated and confined. He hands him a handmade Tamapiyo chick: something simple anyone can make, yet still causes peoples’ hearts to skip a beat.

Speaking of skipping a beat, Shuri’s heart does so as she watches the stream of Setsu playing that Yui first saw. When Kaito learns she had been keeping it from Shuri, he gets angry at Yui, provoking her into kicking him, saying “Shuri’s all you think about!” and storming off, blushing and mad. Clearly there’s a love triangle in play here, and the addition of Setsu makes it a rhombus.

Sakura forms still another vertex, as she welcomes the acerbic young man who told Setsu to simplify. He learns his name is Rai, he plays hosozao shamisen, and is the son of a rakugo performer. They’re also neighbors! Setsu followed his advice and thanks Rai for giving it.

The day arrives, and Setsu is clearly nervous because when he first meets Shuri’s grandmother he asks if she’s dead, then warns her not to die before he finishes playing. That’s gotta be nerves! But then he sits down, begins playing a sparser, more stripped down “Shungyou” that he can actually play, thus demonstrating his own new sound based upon his gramps but no longer an attempted perfect facsimile.

The sound transports Shuri’s grandma back to when she was a six-year-old evacuee shunned by those who took her in. She met a poor and starving boy slightly older than her, and she gave him her ration of potato to play something for her. That boy, Setsu’s grandfather, wept after playing, because he ate a starving girl’s potato. When she says it’s okay for her to die because her parent is dead, he said no, you have to keep living.

As Setsu’s streamlined performance moves everyone to tears, especially Shuri, who witnesses her gran smile for the first time in a long while. Setsu and Kaito saw the Spring Dawn over the mountains that turned a new page in the life of the unnamed subject of the piece—who could be anyone.

Gran’s eyes are also dazzled here by the rising sun over deep blue waves and a purple sky, the night dissolving into darkness. The image of her sitting and listening to Setsu’s gramps playing Shamisen is etched in her mind. It’s a cot-damn tearjerker, I tellsya; a new high watermark for the series in terms of emotional impact.


When it’s over, Shuri’s gran says it sounded different. That’s because the sound she heard back in the day was a very humble sound on a shabby shamisen, and yet it gave her the courage to live. She describes Setsu’s sound as a gentle sound that can heal pain, as it healed hers. She declares that she’ll be able to sleep again without becoming lost in colorless, soundless painful memories.

Setsu’s performance was a great success, and Shuri reminds him, Yui, and Kaito that they’re all in her Shamisen Club going forward. Setsu’s mom, being massaged and pampered by an army of servants, gets word from “the unit keeping an eye on Setsu” that he’s joined the club, and she takes the liberty of entering him into the National High School Tsugaru Shamisen Koshien—the Matsugurou Cup! Looks like Mai might just get her wish of going up against Setsu…

GODDAMN TEARJERKER™ CERTIFIED

This is a re-post from last week’s episode. Episode 5 review coming soon.

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 02 – A Beautiful Nightmare

Rent-a-Girlfriend is an absolute shitshow, and I mean that in the best way. Two episodes in a row, Kazuya and Chizuru dig themselves into deep holes and then, rather than climb out when it’s possible, decide at the last second to just keep digging.

This isn’t 100% their fault; part of it is the universe’s. Not only do the two attend the same college, they’re effing next-door neighbors! Do I buy that Kazuya never once saw Chizuru enter or exit her apartment? I do not, but who cares—it ups the absurdity wonderfully!

I will never tire of these crazy kids’ primary motivation for engaging in these ridiculous rom-com roleplaying scenarios (rather than digging themselves out of the holes they’ve dug) is…the desire not to hurt their grandmothers’ feelings. That tells you right there that both Kazuya and Chizuru are fundamentally good people. Stupid, stupid good people! XD

That’s also why despite putting up a hard line against further unsanctioned interactions with Kazuya, in violation of the terms and conditions of their Diamond contract, Chizuru still stops by his place to say hi to his gran, even bringing food she made to wow her even more. And this is after Gran already assumed Chizuru dumped Kazuya!

Had she just stayed in her apartment for ten more seconds it would have been over; she’d have been in the clear. And yet, for all the inconvenience and irritation it causes her, Chizuru isn’t the kind of person to hurt an old woman’s feelings. Even if that’s no fault of her own, she has the power to prevent it and uses it, to the tune of agreeing to visiting Kazuya’s gran with him for an hour every Wednesday.

Once again, I thought 24 minutes had passed and we’d come to the end—such is the amount of detail Rent-a-Girlfriend packs into its A-part. B-part brings Kazuya’s ex Nanami Mami into the picture with a vengeance, as he bumps into her on campus and has a not entirely torturous interaction with her. Just like that he has Mami on the brain, and is about to go for the tissues when his doorbell rings.

It’s Chizuru, ready for their trip to see his Gran. The moment money is exchanged, a switch flips and she’s in Girlfriend Mode. After the visit, they’re walking home when Kazuya’s two buddies spot him. They hilariously assume someone as attractive as Chizuru is a cult member trying to recruit or scame Kazuya, and beg her to release them.

Kazuya, digging the hole deeper, tells them she’s his girlfriend, and Chizuru has no choice but to play along. Then the two get pulled into group drinks, something they definitely could have politely refused and called it a day. What Kazuya couldn’t do is say he was merely renting Chizuru, since his best friend is close to his Gran, who is close to Chizuru’s Gran, and Chizuru wants to keep her job secret.

So they’re stuck! And as luck would have it, Mami is among the others in the group at the group drinks, and even though she masks it well, it’s clear she has feelings about Kazuya suddenly dating someone. For a minute I thought Mami might be another rent-a-girlfriend with Diamond and recognize Chizuru that way.

Instead, things go south in a hurry, as Mami switches seats so she’s across from Chizuru and proceeds to loudly run Kazuya down, describing him as pathetically horny. Seiyu Yuuki Aoi can pull off bitchy and manipulative as well as she can pull off sweet and innocent (i.e. Madoka), and puts on a tonal clinic here.

Kazuya simply sits and simmers as Mami goes off, so when he won’t defend himself, Chizuru does, and Mami is ready to counter, shrugging off her words as “part of the group dynamic” a stranger wouldn’t understand before finally turning to Kazuya himself with a cutesy-voice and asking him to stand up to her, which he does, leading a rightfully disgusted Chizuru to leave.

It’s an instance where Mami, who almost seems to revel in stirring up shit like this (or possibly punish Kazuya for having the audacity to date someone else) has way too much leverage on Kazuya. Nothing of what she says is actually strictly untrue, so Kazuya hesitates to dispute it. But he’s already sitting on a throne of lies with his fake girlfriend, so suddenly hewing to the truth here is counterproductive.

When it’s time to head home, Mami flags Kazuya down, telling him her “awkward side” got the best of her and she’s happy he “stood up” for her. She even tells him her place is close by, if he’s interested. Again Yuuki Aoi shines, portraying Mami as a cat with a mouse in its jaws, content to play around with him before making the kill.

Kazuya comes to think maybe this is okay; Chizuru was only a rental, after all. Not only did he and Mami really date, but from his perspective Mami seems interested in possibly maybe rekindling something, like she’d made a mistake in dumping him. As long as he has a girlfriend, his gran won’t be sad.

All of that is almost certainly not the case, but regardless Kazuya is overlooking one important thing: Chizuru is an unassailably good, kind person, while the jury’s very much still out on Mami. I forsee more wonderful cringeiness in the near future!

Chihayafuru 3 – 18 – Right Now is Everything

As her grandmother surfs her regular TV in vain, (somehow) unaware the tournament is streaming online, Shinobu loses her focus. She can’t hear the cards, and loses to Haruka, tying them at one game apiece.

It’s the first game in Queen tournament play she’s ever lost, and everyone is shocked. A lethargic Suo drops the second game in a row to Dr. Harada, meaning both Master and Queen are in check: one more loss means losing their titles.

During the two-hour break for the women, Haruka experiences acute morning sickness. The timing sucks, but she’s hoping this means her third child will be a daughter. As she tells Rion, this may be her last chance, but she’s not going to let a little nausea keep her from making the very most of it.

Shinobu tears off her gaudy kimono and rushes to the shrine to pray. Chihaya, sensing Shinobu is out of whack, follows her without a coat, leading Shiobu to lend her her Snowmaru scarf. Later, before the match, Chihaya insists upon fitting tatsuki to improve the Queen’s movement.

Shinobu may have gotten to where she is in part due to abject loneliness, and she doesn’t resent that trade-off, as she proceeds to win the third game with relative ease, restoring her focus. But it must nevertheless be heartening to have a so-called rival/maybe friend in Chihaya by her side when she needed someone, anyone.

Suo feels a solidarity with Shinobu, but only because of their statuses at the top of the karuta food chain (and possibly due to their shared social awkwardness and eccentricity). But there’s nothing he can really do to help Shinobu. In the third game, he trounces Harada by 17 cards, but Harada essentially threw the game.

Indeed, drawing from Chihaya’s final intel report, Harada is pulling out all the stops to attack and confuse the defending Master at every turn. This presents itself to the crowd as showing complete and utter contempt for one’s opponent, but considering the gap between their age and raw talent, and the ticking time bomb that is his leg, Harada can’t afford to play nice.

Unlike Suo, he has a wife, and he wants to make her proud. I’d be surprised if this doesn’t go to the fifth game, but hopefully he can.

Iroduku: The World in Colors – 04 – Fewer Colors, More Understanding

When Kohaku arrived she looked so bright and confident I feared her light would completely envelop Hitomi. But instead of a bright sun blinding everything else in its vicinity, Kohaku proves to be a warm sun, embracing Hitomi just as her granny would…because she is her granny. She takes that role very seriously without pulling herself out of her own present.

Immediately, Kohaku attracts a lot of attention, especially when she “transports” her class to England by casting an illusion spell that puts the class into a photo. It would seem her penchant for causing mayhem at school rears its head when an illusory steam locomotive covers everyone with soot and smoke.

That night, at the ridiculously awesome Tsukishiro residence, Hitomi and Kohaku talk before bed, about how Hitomi not knowing precisely why she’s there or for how long, in other words not knowing what will come next, is exciting. She also shows Hitomi a photo of a train that was in the album she held; the magic train was her doing; she has magic power, it’s just hidden and dormant, only coming out under certain circumstances.

And for all the havoc she’s wreaked over the years, Kohaku maintains that magic should only be used to help people and to make them happy. She considers magic to be a gift from God, and its the duty of every mage given such a gift to give it back to the world through happiness.

The photography arts club is a happy bunch, with Chigusa and Kurumi slowly growing together (though Kurumi puts on a front of loathing and Chigusa pretends to be aloof). They go on the high school roof at night to take photos of the skyline.

Yuito tells Hitomi that seeing only in monochrome can have its advantages. She’s able to see or understand things color normally obscures for everyone else. The gang also learns that Hitomi is Kohaku’s granddaughter from sixty years into the future…and they’re perfectly fine with it (for the most part).

The two Tsukishiro mages cap off the night by transcribing Yuito’s tablet drawing of a train into the sky. They’re using magic to help their friends by making them happy. The next day while going over their shots, Kohaku officially joins the club and adds “magic” to its name,  making it the “Magic Photography Arts Club.”

Rather than someone who was going to shove Hitomi out of relevance, Kohaku is a net positive to the group, strong and self-assured in every way Hitomi is not, but also warm, generous, and loving. Knowing Hitomi is from the future worries Yuito, because he doesn’t know if or when she’ll return there. I imagine such worries are premature; Hitomi still has a lot left to experience in the past.

Iroduku: The World in Colors – 03 – Someday Works Just Fine

Yuito’s words echo in Hitomi’s mind, as she now has a reason to explore her magic—so she can “someday” show it to him again, as he showed her his art. Each of them did something that made them vulnerable but came with the reward of growing just a little closer.

Still, the fact is Hitomi really isn’t that good at magic, even if she has the potential within her. To unlock it she’ll need to practice; her great-grandmother suggests she use a “wand” in the form of a Pocky to help focus while doing so. No harm in trying something new a little at a time.

She’ll also need practice finding a place at the school, which is practically fanatical about clubs. Both faculty and students insist she join one, but believes her achromatopsia precludes her from joining Yuito & Co’s photography arts club; conveniently forgetting the existence of black and white photography (though to be fair, she is from sixty years in the future).

When Yuito has her dive into the arts part of the club by painting a picture, her treatment of color all but confirms to him her inability to see them, at least as others do. Still, he’s quite sincere in his appraisal, and considering she’d “never drawn a picture” before, she did quite well!

From there she gets drawn more and more into the photo/arts club’s activities that day, from accompanying them as they recruit potential new members, to serving as a model during a dreamlike shoot at the pool.

While she fails to use the star sand that enables one to walk on water, she isn’t aware she picked the wrong color, and her own magic allows her to walk on it anyway…until one of the club members tells her she picked the wrong one, and she plunges into the drink.

Upon drying herself, Yuito comes to apologize, but she believes it just as much her fault for not refusing strongly enough (I don’t know, I thought she refused pretty dang strongly; they just ignored her!) Indeed, her tendency to so easily say there’s “no way” she can do something, or that she stay out of people’s way to make it “easier for everyone.”

Thankfully, she does decide that she can join the arts/photography club, and even helps them with their punishment of cleaning the pool into which they weren’t allowed to let anyone jump. Meanwhile, her grandmother Kohaku is almost home, and she seems to be someone who doesn’t just think, but knows she can do anything, and does it. In other words, she’s someone Hitomi could probably use in her life right now.

Iroduku: The World in Colors – 02 – A (Little) Star Is Born

Hitomi wants to see Yuito’s vivid drawing again, but he’s preoccupied with the fact she broke into his room. Fair enough; it is a crime, not to mention a hassle for someone who clearly hates hassles. Hitomi has no choice but to tell the truth—it’s the magic’s fault—and hope he believes her.

Fortunately, he does, and accepts her apology without further trouble. Unfortunately, he scoots off before Hitomi can ask about his drawing. In the meantime, Hitomi isn’t sure what to do now that she’s in the future past, so her great-grandparents enroll her at Kohaku’s high school for the time being.

We only see a still image of Kohaku, but I found it exceedingly amusing that the mild-mannered granny of Hitomi’s time was such a wild child menace sixty years in the past, her presence is felt even in her absence, like some kind of Sauron-like supervillain!

Kohaku, with her frequent destructive exploits, has single-handedly given all mages a bad name, so it’s only natural that the students at school would be weary of Hitomi. If only they knew how much she can’t stand magic!

Well, they get a slight demonstration of that contempt when, in front of dozens of witnesses, among them her new acquaintances with the photography club, Hitomi proves she’s a mage by creating a very tiny, dim star that only sparkles for a moment.

And yet, even that poor showing represented the best Hitomi had probably done in months if not years. As a self-styled loather of magic, she never practiced, so whatever natural magical ability may dwell within her, she stinks at it because it’s like a totally unused, atrophied muscle.

Hitomi finds Yuito drawing on the rooftop after school, and offers an apology for causing such a stir. Yuito apologizes right back for forcing her to prove she was a mage when he could have simply trusted her word. Hitomi is surprised by his contriteness, but also uses it to ask to see his drawing one more time, as it’s something “special” to her.

This week I came to identify both Hitomi’s latent magic and Yuito’s private drawings as representing parts of themselves they’re loath to reveal to others, as if they were parts of their hearts or souls. Even though Yuito loves drawing while Hitomi hates magic, both of them would rather not show it to others…right up to the point they met each other.

Now, as one of Yuito’s friends observes later, Hitomi might not find magic to be that bad after all, as she’s practicing her star-making and has clearly already improved markedly from her previous attempt. In her case and in Yuito’s, all about who you show it to, and why.

I’m kinda glad Kohaku didn’t appear for at least one more week; I feel like her blowing in like a storm would have disrupted the delicate initial bonds forming between Hitomi and Yuito, not to mention even more adversely affect her first impression at school. We’ll see how the dynamic shifts when young Kohaku returns.

Irozuku Sekai no Ashita kara – 01 (First Impressions) – Modest Magic

That term up top, modest magic, is used by the protagonist Tsukishiro Hitomi to describe her practice of repeating the same thing over and over in her head—in this case, that she’ll be fine alone—until it eventually comes true. It’s a spell, but a very simple one, and yet, it’s done all the time and it often works.

However, it doesn’t seem to be working too well for Hitomi; ever since her best friends in life left town, the color in the world has slowly drained from her sight. Even on a dazzling night of fireworks, she sees everything as a flat, even monochrome.

Classmates invite her to join the festivities, but Hitomi has promised to meet her grandmother Kohaku at a certain spot. There, Kohaku presents her with a device that will enable Hitomi to travel back in time. Why exactly she’s having Hitomi doing this (and why Hitomi doesn’t seem to have a say in the matter) are not explained.

But perhaps, like in Kiki’s Delivery Service, this is just the right time for a mage of Hitomi’s age to do what her granny is having her do; an initiation of sorts. The time travel is depicted as a ride aboard a bus driving through a glittering blue either of countless floating images.

Continuing the whimsical transition, after paying the strange magical creature that’s driving the bus a fare of cookie sticks (or something?) Hitomi alights and falls straight through the ground—which is made of clouds—and lands hard in the bedroom of some random guy (or is it random that she lands there?)

What doesn’t seem to be random is when she is. Her grandmother’s spell was aimed at sending her back to when she herself was in high school, which was about sixty years ago…in other words, our present year 2018. Once there, granny promised, Hitomi would eventually learn why she had to go, ostensibly by learning from her granny’s own high school-age self.

When the guy comes home and enters his room, Hitomi hides under the bed, and when he steps out, she escapes out the window (the mechanical latch for which briefly flummoxes the girl from the voice-activated future). While escaping, a classmate of the boy to which room belongs captures video footage, presuming the boy (whom she identifies as Aoi) was up to no good.

Once she escapes, it’s confirmed: Hitomi has traveled to the past. The glittering, skyscraper-packed skyline of her time has been seriously downsized. It looks a bit different, but it feels the same.

Those same classmates who saw her go out Aoi’s window spot her looking lost and confused, but don’t judge, and happily lead her to her destination: the town magic shop. Whatever the condition of the shop sixty years in the future, in 2018 it’s bustling, with folk young and old availing themselves of the wares.

Hitomi is disappointed to learn that Kohaku, her grandmother, is currently away on a trip to England, with no certain return date. But Kohaku’s grandmother—i.e., Hitomi’s great-great grandmother—is there, and believes both Hitomi’s letter and her story.

She sets Hitomi up in the spare room in the attic of the house, which Hitomi learns is practically brand-new in 2018. She remembers the house and the room as being much older of course, and a cozy, comforting place where she was once read bedtime stories.

There’s a coziness to the show at this point that pervades her interactions with her relatives. It may be a different time, but it’s the same family, and they’re just as warm and kind back then as they are in 2078.

The next morning, Hitomi sets off to initiate a search for her azurite earring. Turns out it’s already been found—by Aoi’s nosy mother, who heard rumors of a girl jumping out his son’s window. She’s not mad at Yuito (Aoi’s first name), but as a single mother would prefer her son’s girlfriend properly left out the front door. The thing is, Yuito has no idea what she’s talking about…and he’s not lying!

Yuito’s house is where Hitomi decides to start, but just as she approaches it he exits, and she decides to follow him instead. Keep in mind, her whole world remains stubbornly monochrome at this point…until she finds him sitting in a park, drawing on a tablet.

His drawing is the first thing in a long time she’s seen in color, and the shapes spill out and dance around, adding vivid color back to the entire world around her. It’s only temporary, however, and once she snaps out of it, Hitomi finds she was dancing and twirling in front of Yuito like a total weirdo, and he asks her who the heck she is.

Thus begins P.A. Works’ latest original series, which proves to be a different kind of modest magic, as many their works tend to be. Irozuku isn’t overly flashy (despite having literal fireworks in its opening moments), but rather so far is a quiet and delicate, yet rich and sumptuous affair. Animation, character design, and soundtrack are all top-notch; even KyoAni-esque.

Personally, the moment she saw color on the tablet caused goosebump-inducing. That was also the moment I was sold on this show. Its solid technical bona fides are there, but Hitomi herself isn’t as immediately charming as, say, Shirahane Yukina (though Ishihara Kaori has the chops to remedy that). In any case, I’m definitely going forward with this.

Golden Kamuy – 04 – The Grim Reaper vs. The Immortal

While retrieving his knife to help Asirpa gut some sculpin for dinner, Sugimoto very nearly walks into a poison arrow trap, but is stopped by Asirpa’s uncle. It’s almost as if there’s a guardian spirit watching over him, keeping him from being killed before he’s done what he has to do in life.

The Ainu truly believe in such spirits, which they call turenpe, and they’re believed to be what gives people different personalities and abilities. And even though Asirpa herself doesn’t offer things to her turenpe by presenting it to the back of her neck, as it’s more something the older villagers do, Sugimoto respects his elders by following the tradition.

Between the turenpe and the kisarari game with the children, combined with the uncle’s talk of the gold being cursed because Ainu panned for it in a sacred river to collect war funds, there’ quite a bit of Ainu culture displayed in the episode’s opening act.

We also learn more about Retar, a white wolf Asirpa and her father found on a hunt one day, and whom she raised from a pup. One day, after her father was killed, a grown Retar heard the call of the wild and trudged off to where he belonged. Asirpa understood why he did it—he couldn’t be a pet dog—but it still devastated her, especially considering her father had just left her.

Asirpa is lonely, and as long borne the weight of grief, but her uncle has noticed that she’s smiling more, and believes it’s because of Sugimoto. Since he regards Asirpa as a smart young lass, he concludes that Sugimoto is a good man. Her grandmother even tells him to stay with Asirpa forever, but while he says he understands her words, he ends up doing the opposite, leaving her alone as she sleeps in the night.

Perhaps he simply doesn’t want to involve her in anything that will cause her to lose more loved ones. Considering what a trouble magnet he is, he kinda has a point.

But the next morning, it’s not even a question of Asirpa tracking Sugimoto down, if only to smack him upside the head with a ceremonial stick. She also must know that without her he’s likely up to no good, and of course, he isn’t. Retar comes to her aid, and she uses Sugimoto’s old smelly sock to give the wolf a scent to follow.

After a tasty bowl of soba, he’s accosted by members of the 7th and brought before Tsurumi, who knows full well who Sugimoto is and what he’s after. He also tests Sugimoto’s toughness by skewering him through the cheeks. Sugimoto, not one to shrink before tough handling, maintains his ignorance of the map skins and endures the physical punishment.

Asirpa and Retar enter town under cover of darkness, but to her surprise (and disgust) the sock wasn’t Sugimoto’s, but the Escape King Shiraishi’s. He manages to escape—briefly—before having his head gnawed on by Retar once more.

Meanwhile, perhaps not a block away, the twins Sugimoto fought at the soba house pay him a visit in the night hoping to come away with some of his fingers, but one of them gets too close, and Sugimoto headbutts him viciously, then flips himself in the air, breaking the chair he’s tied to and freeing himself.

He’s locked in a struggle with the knife-wielding twins, but something tells me his guardian spirit will continue protecting him. That, and his friend Asirpa, who upon reuniting should impress upon him the futility of trying to ghost someone with a wolf for a friend.

Golden Kamuy – 03 – An Ainu Girl for a New Era

We begin this week with another demonstration of Ainu field cuisine, with Asirpa whipping up a sumptuous soup out of rabbit meatballs, mushrooms and leeks. All it needs, in Sugimoto’s opinion, is a bit of miso paste, but when he takes it out Asirpa mistakes it for poop—a perfectly reasonable reaction considering she’s never seen it before!

After that light fare, the morning brings heavier troubles: Asirpa spots something else she’s unfamiliar with—the glint of binocular lenses—and she and Sugimoto find themselves on the run from the 7th Division, who close in on them quickly thanks to their skis. Sugimoto decides he and Asirpa will split up, and if caught she’ll not resist and pretend to know nothing.

Asirpa is caught, and as Sugimoto assumed, the soldier isn’t interested in harming a little Ainu girl…until he learns she was hiding treasure maps and can understand Japanese (her initial dialogue with him involved telling the soldier in Ainu that the man she was with puts poop in his soup and eats it). Fortunately, Asirpa’s Ezo wolf buddy Retar comes to her rescue.

Meanwhile, three men surround Sugimoto, who has no choice but to bet on his Immortal status and believe Asirpa’s assertion that a bear won’t kill a man who enters its den by diving right in. When the soldiers fire into the opening, the bear pops out and mortally wounds them all before dying.

While both the bear and wolf CGI stand out in a not-so-good way, it’s not enough to pull me out of the action; both seem very much ferocious threats to the humans.

Sugimoto emerges unscathed and reunites with Asirpa (giving Retar a nice belly rub for his assistance), but he’s worried she won’t let him keep the orphaned bear cub he carried out of the den. Rather than eat it like he fears, she decides they’ll take it to her village, or kotan, where they often raise orphan bears.

There, Sugimoto finally steps out of the wilderness and into a different world entirely—the world of the Ainu. Asirpa’s grandmother is the most venerable member of the kotan, and the villagers are more curious about Sugimoto than scared of him.

Granny promptly asks him to take Asirpa for his wife so she can die happy…but she says it in Ainu, and her interpreter, Asirpa herself, does not translate for him.

Asirpa further explains the way of life of her people, which is largely shaped by their belief in kamuy, or gods, coming to them in various forms, including animals. If they come across a baby bear, for instance, they take it as a sign that the bear should be loved and cared for, and eventually “sent back” to where the kamuy reside.

In exchange for the sending, they get the bear’s meat and pelt, while the care they gave the bear prior to the ceremony is to convince the kamuy to keep returning and providing resources. In this way, it’s not a matter of offerings or sacrifice, but of merely assisting the kamuy in their travels back and forth between the two planes. It’s all quite fascinating and engrossing.

I just hope that Asirpa’s village will survive what could well be a good deal of collateral fallout from her and Sugimoto’s dealings with the 7th Division, as well as the prisoners themselves who seek the treasure of gold.

There’s a lot of competing interests in play, and among their rivals are characters with colorful personalities, from Tsurumi (missing the front of his skull, but otherwise a picture of health) to Hijikata (still a boy with a sword at heart, with no qualms about interrupting his comrade’s, er…lovemaking). Sugimoto and Asirpa will certainly have their hands full.

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