Sarazanmai – 04 – Only The Bad Ones Survive

That’s the mantra a younger Kuji Toi learns from his older brother Chikai at a seminal moment in his life, along with the lesson that those who can’t survive can only perish and be forgotten. It’s when Toi is thinking about these things that Enta calls him to meet. Enta wants him to give his Dish of Hope to Kazuki…again for Haruka’s sake.

We learn along with Enta that Toi’s relatives run a soba shop that used to be run by his and Chikai’s parents before they ran into debt and committed suicide. It’s from those shadows that Toi finds himself in the position to give someone some light: in Kazuki’s case that means kidnapping the real Sara Haruka is poised to meet so he’ll meet Kazuki instead, preserving his secret identity.

Kazuki is so dedicated to his Sara persona, Toi can’t help but blush when he watches him eat soba, even though he sucks at eating soba! Watching Kazuki work to protect his weaker brother dredges up more memories for Toi, even to when he and his brother were not on the best of terms.

Chikai joined a gang to make money, cursed their folks for offing themselves, and spitting on Toi’s quaint sentimentality. But he also takes care of Toi, even if Toi doesn’t think what he’s doing is good or right. He produced enough cash to prevent the soba shop from leaving the family, and put their relatives to work running it. It was as if Chikai was sacrificing his goodness for Toi’s sake.

Kazuki’s crazy Sara-kidnapping plan is sidelined by a Zombie Kappa alert, also soba-themed. Specifically, Sobatani, a soba shop owner who was charged with stealing bathwater from a female regular. The Flying Object of the Week is soba and soba dishes, drawn by the Zombie Kappa’s insatiable desire.

Since some of the soba he draws in comes from Toi’s relatives’ place he has a personal stake in defeating the Zombie Kappa, and so takes the lead, demanding Keppi transform him, then uncovering the truth after their song and dance: Sobatani wanted to make soba out of the bathwater. Weird!

With Sobatani’s secret out and Shirikodama extracted, Sarazanmai occurs, and Kazuki and Enta watch along with Toi as the missing pieces of his tragic flashback fall into place. When Toi learned that both his and Chikai’s lives were in danger after stealing the money to buy the soba shop, he takes the handgun he finds in a drawer and shoots Chikai’s gang senpai.

Chikai arrives on the scene, and puts too more bullets in the man, claiming he was the killer, not Toi. Even when Toi sought to share some of the burden of badness in order to survive, Chikai was there to cover for him; to, in a way, save his soul. If only the two of them knew the truth, no one in the world would ever suspect the little brother of murder.

But Toi still concedes he killed someone, his brother’s save aside. He claims not to be too haunted by it—it was a necessity to ensure both his and Chikai’s survival, in keeping with his bro’s mantra. But it’s still his secret, and he threatens Enta and Kazuki with deadly retribution if they ever spill the beans about what they’ve learned.

Having gained new insight into Toi’s upbringing and motivations, Kazuki decides to offer up his Dish of Hope to him, believing he’s more deserving of it than he. ‘But what about Haruka’, Enta protests? Well, for Kazuki, that’s why Toi is more deserving: Kazuki claims to hate Haruka.

Does he mean Kazuki finds looking out for him and doing these things for him a burden? A mere excuse to indulge his own desires? Or would he never kill, even for Haruka’s sake? It’s a declaration that seems to come out of left field, but I’m sure there’s more context to come.

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Sarazanmai – 03 – The Golden Duo

Kazuki wakes up, but is too out of it to notice that Enta was just kissing him. Enta is direct with the audience: he’s in love with Kazuki. He has been for a long time, ever since they were the unstoppable “Golden Duo” in soccer, complete with a signature pose. Enta has to contend with a lot of kissing the next day, as his big sister Otone is going on a fishing trip with her boyfriend.

The episode plays with the fact that kisu is not just how you say “kiss,” but the Japanese name for Sillago japonica, or Japanese whiting. The city idol declares it’s kisu day, and in lieu of someone to kiss (that he knows of), Kazuki tries in vain to go to a fishmonger for a “kisu selfie” for Haruka.

While playing cards with Haruka (who “Sara” texts to apologize for the selfie being late), Enta learns that Kazuki isn’t laughing around his little brother either ever since quitting soccer. Enta wants to use the wish from the next dish of hope to reunite the Golden Duo.

Enta even fantasizes about Kazuki coming around on his own and letting him tie the miçanga to his ankle – the symbol of their soccer brotherhood as well as a token of affection. But no—it’s just Otone, who runs off with the anklet for her date.

As Enta defends the spot by the river where he and Kazuki used to practice by getting into a fight with two other players, the two “Otter” cops create another Kappa Zombie, this one from Otone’s kisu-loving boyfriend. His head takes the form of a kisu, but he’s a Don Juan who has many women and many kisses, obsessed with quantity over quality.

Enta fantasizes again that Kazuki comes to rescue him, but it’s just Kuji, who doesn’t get why Enta got in a fight he had no chance of winning. Enta is committed to protecting the Golden Duo’s practice spot…in the off-chance Kazuki comes back to him.

The Kappa Zombie alert is then sounded (with Sara doing a wonderful homage to Castle in the Sky), and rather than cats last week the sky is full of brides, all of them drawn to the zombie, who turns them to kisu with a kiss. The three lads are transformed by Keppi, do their attack song and dance, and extract the zombie’s shirikodama.

All three parts of the ensuing sarazanmai are related to Enta’s long-standing secret crush on Kazuki. We see Enta smelling Kazuki’s clothes, playing his recorder (for an indirect kiss), and finally his more recent kiss with a sleeping Sara!Kazuki.

The zombie thus vanquished and its desire assimilated, Otone and all the other women wake up and completely forget Mr. Kisu…as if he had never existed. He even disappears from photos, Back to the Future-style! Enta confesses his love to Kazuki and just when they seem poised to kiss, it’s only another fantasy; “Kazuki” is just Keppi.

Thanks to Kazuki’s obliviousness and Kuji’s lack of really caring, Enta’s secret seems to be secure—or at least emotionally tabled—for now. The next time he’s with Haruka (who we see in a wheelchair for the first time), Enta declares he’s going to “give up” on trying to win Kazuki over.

Part of that is that he saw a random mouse making off with the miçanga meant for Kazuki as a sign that it’s not to be. But then Haruka produces Kazuki’s original miçanga, saved from the trash, and asks Enta to keep trying to get Kazuki back into soccer.

Meanwhile, the Otter Cops are scolded by their boss, who is “otterly” furious at their lack of progress due to kappa-related interference (I hope he’s just a giant talking otter, for the record). With his frustration in mind, I wonder how much longer the kappa zombie fights will remain as easy as they’ve been.

Sarazanmai – 02 – Let Slip the Cats of War

As a reward for defeating their first kappa zombie, Keppi bestows upon the boys a silver “Dish of Hope” they can use to wish for anything. Enta snatches it and accidentally wishes for a hatchback-sized cucumber roll, shattering the dish and leaving the three with no reward (unless they’re going to eat that roll…which is on the ground).

Kazuki is eager to earn another dish that he can use not to fulfill his own wish, but that of his little brother Haruka. We learn that he is the “Harukappa” to whom Kazuki is sending selfies of himself-as-Azuma Sara. Kazuki’s only wish is that Haruka is happy, and a dish can only help that cause.

Meanwhile, Kuji Toi is up to more criminal mischief on behalf of his older brother, while Enta receives a Kappazon package meant for Toi—containing a handgun of all things—strengthening Enta’s belief he’s Bad News

When Nyantaro, the fat, awesome neighborhood cat Haruka adores, sneaks into Toi’s weed-growing lab and steels a shipment hidden in cat treats, another ludicrous chase ensues. Kazuki (dressed as Sara again) stops Toi when he threatens Nyantaro with his metal ruler, and refuses to get out of his way or stop following him.

The chase leads them to a couples-only theme park, an employee of which dresses the two up in bee costumes and insists they hold hands the entire time they’re in the park. Kazuki and Toi hold hands and chase Nyantaro on ride after ride, but can’t manage to close the distance, since we’re talking about a neighborhood cat here: if he doesn’t want to be caught, it’s not happening.

We learn a little more about the two bishounen cops from the end of last week, who appear to do an elaborate song and dance of their own to extract desire and create a new cat-based kappa zombie boss.

It’s apparent these two and Keppi’s three young helpers are working at cross purposes, but the cops’ specific motivations, beyond their commitment to “wring out the desire”, remain mysterious.

Not soon after their “performance”, thousands of cats start to float up into the sky, including Nyantaro, and Enta and Keppi (disguised as his date) meet up with Kazuki and Toi to discuss the situation. Enta warns Kazuki to stay away from the kid he’s currently holding hands with, but in order to get his little brother’s favorite cat back, he needs Toi’s help.

Events from there follow a pattern now familiar after the first go-around last week (in what I like to call the Ikuhara Formula): Keppi turns the three lads into kappa, they attack the zombie boss (this time a giant cat), and when they determine its secret (he kidnapped cats and shaved them to give himself a coat of fur so his girlfriend would take him back! Of COURSE!!), they  break through and extract its shirikodama.

Once that’s done, the guys go through the titular sarazanmai, during which it’s revealed that Nyantaro was owned by another family before Kazuki stole it so Haruka could have a cat (even if it was only a neighborhood cat). He defends what he did because he did it for his brother’s sake; his happiness trumping all other considerations.

With the second boss defeated, the lads receive another silver dish of hope, and Kazuki and Toi immediately argue over it, with Toi even brandishing his gun. Since both have brothers they want to make happy, and Keppi informs them they’ll need five to grant a real wish, Toi cedes the dish to Kazuki, but he’s getting the next one.

That night, Kazuki finally completes his mission to take a Sara selfie with a cat (specifically the rescued Nyantaro), to Haruka’s delight. Exhausted from the day of activity, he passes out right there in the park, where he’s approached by none other than Enta…who promptly kisses him! Looks like he’s got a secret too—one that re-contextualizes why he was so concerned with Kazuki hanging around Toi.

The two cops also now realize somebody is out there working against them. It’s likely only a matter of time before the two opposing groups clash. In the meantime, on with the hope-dish collecting!

After two episodes, I now have a better grasp of the beats and rhythms of a show that definitely dances to the beat of its own drum. With less head-scratching to do I could concentrate better on all the little details that contribute to making Sarazanmai such a fun and exciting little show that’s unafraid to challenge contemporary “norms”of gender and sexuality.

Banana Fish – 09 – Dino’s Inferno

If it wasn’t clear last week, it certainly is now: things are going to get a whole lot worse before they get better. Ash is in custody, on his way to New York. Eiji and Shorter are already there. Shorter is injected with Banana Fish and comes to think of Eiji as the manifestation of all his worst fears.

Eiji just manages to escape becoming just another one of Dino Golzine’s sexual conquests (he’s called away by Ash’s arrival). Yut-Lung, like Ash, is far more willing to get on with it for the sake of survival, and tells Eiji he should start thinking that way if he likes breathing.

Dino has a bit of a flair for the theatric, and so dresses up all of his hostages in black tie for a sumptuous dinner before getting to the “main event”, Ash having to watch Shorter kill Eiji with a knife. This is all just thoroughly unpleasant, especially with the younger Dawson brother doing his Mad Scientist thing and Arthur smirking and laughing through it all, having a blast.

The only—and I mean only—two glimmers of hope for any of the “good guys” are Yut-Lung escaping from the bedroom (though he doesn’t do anything this week, he only watches) and Shorter’s and Ash’s gangs deciding to join forces to spring their leaders.

But those glimmers of hope are too little, too late, as Ash’s chains are loosened and he’s given a gun with one bullet. He shoots Shorter before Shorter can kill Eiji, and to add insult to injury, Dawson drags Shorter’s body away to dissect his brain.

If it wasn’t already obvious, Ash and his misfit friends are so far out of their depth it’s not even funny (except to Arthur, who finds all of this hilarious.) It sucks to see Shorter go, and awful to see it happen by Ash’s own hand.

Now he, Eiji, Ibe and Max will have to hope either Yut-Lung makes a move on Dino, and/or Ash and Shorter’s men can turn the tables. But it is not looking good at all for our brash, handsome, precocious young gangster.

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 50 (Fin)

Once the tunnel digging is complete, everyone falls back except for Akihiro and Mika, who stand their ground and continue to buy time for their family. And while Tekkadan’s two toughest pilots put up a hell of a fight, even initially surviving a direct Dainsleif attack from orbit, they’re sufficiently softened up to allow Julieta and Iok to go in for the kill.

Akihiro gets Iok in his giant binders and crushes him, but he in turn is killed by Iok’s subordinates. Julieta, who has vowed to remain human while being as ruthless as Rustal needs her to be, beheads the bestial Barbatos Lupus Rex and raises it in triumph before her elated comrades. It is over. Mika, Akihiro are dead, and so is Tekkadan.

But life goes on, and those who survived thanks to their fallen brothers continue to follow Orga’s final order to keep moving forward. And what to you know, things end up working out both for Gjallarhorn (which reforms from within to a more democratic system under Rustal) and Mars (which gains nominal independence from Earth, as a new union under the chairmanship of Kudelia).

Kudelia and Rustal work together to end the practice of turning destitute orphans into human debris once and for all. Even without the main actors who set the stage alive to see it, and very few people remember who they even were, a measure of their ideals were realized anyway. Atra’s powerful monologue about how one doesn’t notice a flower blooming by the side of the road really drove that point home.

It helps that the “bad guys” who “won” are interesting and likable enough that years after they brutally took Orga, Mika, Macky and Tekkadan down, it’s still satisfying to see Gaelio returning to his old “frivolous” self, only now far more wiser, while Julieta has steady-competenced herself to being the likely successor to Rustal for leadership of Gjallarhorn.

Meanwhile, some survivors, among them Ride, can’t move forward without taking revenge, as he does when he assassinates Nobliss Gordon while he’s sitting on the toilet.

As for Kudelia? She’s overjoyed to learn Merribit and Yukinojou are expecting their second child soon, but can’t go out drinking with Chad and the guys. She heads home to the Sakura Farm, where an older, taller, and very badass Atra is waiting with their kid, with the unmistakable blue eyes and vacant expression of Mikazuki. The kid’s name is, naturally, Mikazuki, and unlike his father, he’ll have a childhood full of love and kindness, not desperation, and violence.

While chatting with Gaelio, Julieta admits the fighters of Tekkadan weren’t devils; she knew that the moment she saw an unconscious Mika when his cockpit cover sheared off. They were, in fact, the most human of us all, belonging on the battlefield for no other reason than to keep living and fighting. So it’s fortunate that there’s civilization to filter out some of our raw, instinctual humanity.

Thanks to the sacrifices of Tekkadan, McGillis and their allies, that civilization has been improved and made available to the next generation of youth, so maybe there won’t be a need for another Tekkadan ever again.

And that’ll do it. Whether you just checked in this week or have been following them since the very beginning, thanks as always for reading my reviews of what I believe to be one of, if not the best Gundam yet. It was a fantastic ride, and the franchise will be hard-pressed to surpass the greatness it achieved in these fifty episodes. But if they make a (non-SD) attempt down the road, I’ll be there to review it.

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 49

Orga is dead, but he succeeded in giving Tekkadan one last chance to survive. Eugene and Mika agree (without saying anything) that Orga’s orders to not stop and keep moving forward stand. The way Mika works, he doesn’t need Orga around to tell him what to do; his final words were broad enough to last Mika the rest of his days—which hopefully aren’t too few.

While some Tekkadan members are thirsty for blood and revenge (unaware it was Gordon’s men, not Gjallarhorn, who gunned him down), but in a rare instance of Mika gathering everyone ’round, he stands atop Barbatos and informs/warns everyone of the consequences of getting in the way of Orga’s orders. Eugene flashes a downward gaze, realizing he could never hold a candle to Mika’s charisma any more than Orga’s. But everyone’s roles are clear. All that’s left is to execute Orga’s orders.

When Rustal is informed of Orga’s death in a convo with Gordon, a healed Julieta is present to hear it. She laments that Tekkadan must fight in such a desperate fight after being used by so many “shady adults.” Rustal reminds her that he’s one of those adults; she understands, but perhaps she’s just as trapped as Tekkadan. Meanwhile we see two of the best adults in the series, Yukinojou and Merribit, saying a tearful goodbye.

Cut to the shadiest but also one of the toughest and wiliest adults of the series, Todo, who we learn arranged a shuttle for McGillis so he could rejoin his flagship, which he quickly evacuates. The final stage of his battle will be fought alone, for he believes it will give him the most freedom.

Contrast that with his wife Almiria, who towers over her towering father in proclaiming she will stand with her husband, and that they’ll bear their sins together…just so long as he returns home safe. She wears the mantle—or, if you will, shackles—that bind her with Macky with pride and nobility. All I can say is…Poor Almiria.

Meanwhile, true to McGillis’ style, he puts on a hell of a show, ramming his flagship into one of Rustal’s ship (unfortunately, not the ship Rustal is on), bursts out of the wreckage with Bael, and starts menacingly hacking away at the fleet, one ship and suit and pilot at a time. He’s slowed down by Gaelio, whom he warns he’ll truly kill this time if he impedes him. But Gaelio is intent on showing his former friend and comrade that being alone isn’t freedom, it’s a death trap.

Gaelio has what’s left of Ein by his side, and Carta in his heart. When he delivers a coup-de-grace to Bael, McGillis bails out and boards Rustal’s flagship, bleeding out from a shrapnel wound. He’s met in a corridor by the masked Gaelio, but he removes his mask and insists McGillis really look at him. McGillis demurs almost to the last, telling him that as wonderful as it was having him and Carta in his life, being with them clouded his resolve.

That might be Macky’s fatal flaw: his inability to trust even those closest to him (or as close as he ever let anyone get to him). Just think if he had confided in his friends, and instead of tattling, they joined him? McGillis’ plan to reform Gjallarhorn would have been bolstered by his friends’ family fleets. Instead, he treated them like parts of the system he had to destroy, but only led to him isolating himself into a checkmate.

What’s worst of all is that it’s plain he never entirely gave up his friendships. Gaelio can see this in Macky’s face and words, and killing him gives him no joy. Gaelio says Farewell, but as is the case with so many supposed death scenes (including…Gaelio’s), it’s not 100% certain Macky will succumb to his wounds.

One thing is for certain: McGillis Fareed has lost. His crusade to wrest control of and reform Gjallarhorn has failed spectacularly. In his wake he leaves hundreds of his loyal officers and men, as well as the orphans of Tekkadan, whose only slim hope now is to scurry under ancient tunnels and trade their identities for their lives.

Even that is not so easily done. Mika, Eugene, Akihiro, Dante, and Hush buy the tunnel-diggers time, but Hush seems to buy it, fighting hard until the end, and it seems like the best the rest can manage is be “ground to dust” as slowly as possible by the seemingly endless Gjallarhorn onslaught.

We can only hope Mika’s words of reaching the place Orga was headed is a place of the living; a place where they belong and won’t have to fight; and that his words won’t end up ringing as hollow as Macky’s.

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 48

McGillis, sporting a slightly less ostentatious look goes to the hangar to ask Mika what he wants to do, and whether he wants to join him in fighting the Gjallarhorn forces surrounding them. But no matter how he phrases it, Mika’s answer is the same: He’ll do what Orga wants, no more, no less.

Ever since the two met as boys, their relationship has been defined by utter dependence on each other, a bond no one, even Atra, could break. He is the hand; Orga is the will. But what happens if one dies before the other?

Yukinojo decided that now is the time to bring up the only remaining potential means of Tekkadan’s escape: underground tunnels and comms equipment left over from the Calamity War. Orga’s new order is not to fight, but survive, even if they have to dig themselves out by hand.

In order to ensure a future for everyone, even if it’s a future where they’re able to keep on living and nothing else, Orga has to contact Makanai. So he, Chad, Ride, Kudelia and Atra leave HQ in an unassuming armored car.

Notably, Orga does not take Mika along, saying he has another task for him. Mika is weary of what Orga “might mess up” if he’s not with him, but still gives him his pistol when he asks for it; the same pistol Orga watched Mika kill at his command with years ago.

At first Mika scared him; but he soon realized that there was nothing to fear, because if Mika was your friend, you couldn’t lose against anyone. Who would have thought Mika would be right about Orga messing up, and that this would be the last time they saw each other?

I greatly appreciated the little scene in which Kudelia and Atra kiss Mika goodbye, much to the discomfort of Ride and Hush. I personally have never had any problem with their weird lovey-dovey triangle (indeed, it’s been a nice change of pace from the usual kind), but this is an acknowledgement of that weirdness in the eyes of other Tekkadan members, who either don’t quite understand, or are jealous, or both. It’s really the only funny moment in the episode, but I’m glad it’s there.

And how will Orga’s little road trip get to Chryse without being attacked by Gjallarhorn? McGillis has that covered, though he doesn’t deploy, defeat Iok in three strokes, and fight the entire force on his own merely as a diversion for Orga. He still speaks of destroying Rustal, but Rustal isn’t even on the planet.

Whatever scheme is still in motion for McGillis, he seems resigned to the fact that he isn’t a wolf in a pack like the members of Tekkadan; he’s always been alone, and if that’s how he has to achieve his goals, so be it.

Orga & Co. get to Chryse, where they learn that those they’ve helped survive in the past are ready and willing to return the favor, like Makanai, who despite being one of the older adults on the show, continues to favor the youngins of Tekkadan who are the only reason he’s still around.

And what a nice reveal of Takaki, who is doing fine, working as Makanai’s aid, and implying Fuka’s doing fine too. One could argue as long as one member survives Rustal’s purge, Tekkadan wins.

Makanai and Takaki aren’t their only allies, for they are providing haven, but not the means to get there. Enter an email from an awesomely-suited Azee and Eco, stating that they have the okay from McMurdo to assist Tekkadan in any way they need, at any time. All of the fighting and dying wasn’t for nothing; Tekkadan made important friends whose loyalty isn’t wavering when it counts the most.

With that, Orga says goodbye to Kudelia and Atra in a hallway gorgeously lit by the setting golden sun. They’ll hole up in the Bernstein residence and await good news from Earth. I’m sure Atra would have liked to stay with Mika until the end, but he wouldn’t have wanted that for her or their baby, and Kudelia promised Mika she’d protect them.

After a long walk down that almost eerily lit hall, with Ride all but shouting death flags about everything working out, the seething tension was almost unbearable. It didn’t get any better when they step outside to the waiting car and there’s no Gjallarhorn soldiers, or anyone around at all. It’s too quiet, too calm. Something was going to happen.

Something did: in an incident just as quick and merciless as Lafter’s muder, Orga is gunned down by a bunch of suits in a passing car. Chad and Ride escape mortal injury, and Orga kills one of the assassins with Mika’s pistol, but he’s riddled with bullets and leaking his life’s blood on the pavement.

Still, he wears a wry smile, gets up, doesn’t slip on the blood puddle, and moves forward. Not towards the car, just forward. His last order to Tekkadan before collapsing: don’t stop. “As long as you don’t stop, I’ll be at the end waiting for you.”

Before heading off on his own, McGillis told Mika the power he saw in him, and once thought would bring about a bright future, turned out to have “no ideals, no objective, no destination,” any more than a pistol has such things. A defiant Mika derided Macky’s use of too many words and insisted “We’ll get there.”

But at least for Orga, Mika’s will, the definition of “there” has shifted, from a happy, ideal, peaceful life they always fought for, to whatever comes after that life ends. Barring a medical miracle, Orga has already reached “there.” Mika must now decide what to do all on his own; whether to join Orga now, or stay alive and chart a new course with Atra, Kudelia, his kid, and the others.

Until then, R.I.P. Orga Itsuka. You died well.