Astra Lost in Space – 05 – The Kids Are Alright…Right??

Even after last week’s harrowing ordeal, the crew is not yet ready to pack up and leave Shummoor—not until they’ve gathered enough food. Thanks to a successful hunch from Charce, they learn that the pole trees, once their nemesis, are actually the yummiest food on the planet, and with the stores filled, the Astra departs from Planet #2.

The crew are also grateful to Yunhua, whose voice had both physical and psychological healing effects for all who were poisoned. That gratitude quickly shifts to straight-up admiration when they learn she’s the daughter of the superstar singer Lucy Lum. She then enlists Luca to give her a haircut, and Quitterie bristles as all the guys swoon.

Meanwhile, back home, Aries’ mom Emma listens to her daughter’s last video message to her, saying all is well—and probably isn’t watching it for the first time. It’s been over forty days since Team B5 was last seen on McPa, and Ulgar’s father has gathered all the other parents to decide whether to call off the search and declare their children permanently lost.

Emma is not ready to make that determination, and even correctly conjectures that the reason there’s neither remains nor luggage on McPa is because their kids are somewhere in space, still alive. But many of the parents are past the “denial” phase of loss (or don’t love their kids as much as her) and are ready to give up.

Meanwhile, at the very same time, many thousands of light years away, not only are their kids perfectly fine…they’re living it up on a tropical beach.

Planet #3 is Arispade – which is 99% water with one tiny islet that features a wealth of food and a sugar-white beach on which to break out and show off one’s swimsuit. It’s paradise. It’s so paradise, Quitterie almost loses it; after all they’ve been through, why are things suddenly so easy and comfortable that she can totally see herself living out the rest of her days on that beach?

Since this is, in fact, Kanata no Astra‘s beach episode, it wastes no time delivering the goods, as Quitterie insists on comparing boob sizes with Aries and Yunhua, and also assures Aries she’ll have no problem attracting Captain Kanata with her “spicy” bikini. The implication flusters Aries.

Back on the ship, there’s more good slice-of-life, with Quitterie pressing her attack upon Aries, urging her to go ask Kanata out, or at least find out if he already has a boyfriend. Aries actually musters the courage to ask him if he’s popular with girls (he says he’s popular with “all humans”) and then asks if he has a girlfriend (he says all girls are his friends). Neither Aries or Quitterie are happy with Kanata’s lame replies. Quitterie exacts swift punishment by sticking Kanata’s toothbrush up his nose; Aries goes to bed early; dejected.

Meanwhile, Luca thinks he’s making progress becoming friends with Ulgar, having fashioned a bow, arrow, and fishing poles for him to do what he apparently does best: shoot and hunt. Yet Ulgar remains aloof and hostile, and becomes…something else entirely when he learns that Luca’s last name is Esposito, and that he’s the son of a senator back home.

Ulgar’s reaction—like a switch had been flipped in his head, combined with the image of the gun we saw a couple weeks back, spell nothing but dread for the final scene of the episode, an otherwise placid sunset repast among the crew members, with only one person absent: Ulgar.

After waxing romantic about the time they have and how neither photos nor medically secured memories will ever adequately convey the emotions they’ve felt in the last fifty-or-so days, and Luca remarks that he doesn’t even believe there’s an enemy among them, that enemy finally reveals himself, and points his gun at Luca’s head, warning he’ll shoot if he moves.

And that my friends is how you go from a solid “8” episode that lacked any danger or difficulty for twenty-two minutes, to a solid “9” in the twenty-third. The good-old cliffhanger. It doesn’t even matter if the most likely of the crew to be the bad guy is the bad guy (unless he isn’t, and there are more twists afoot); that was marvelously done.

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Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 2 – 02 – Breaking the Ice

It may be Summer IRL, but the days are getting colder in the world of Takagi-san, such that puddles made by rain a day ago are frozen solid the next morning. Takagi can tell Nishikata has an unbearable urge to pick that ice up, and so makes a contest out of it.

Naturally, despite Nishikata’s extensive activity in such training, she gets him to drop it by declaring whoever breaks their ice first loses, and has to warm the hands of the winner. He’s about to take her hand when she asks for the hand warmer he offered earlier. A reprieve!

Another morning, Nishikata believes he has a surefire way to get Takagi to lose, by telling her he changed something about his appearance and challenging her to correctly identify that change. This backfires spectacularly when Takagi gives him a thorough visual examination, even tickling his side and getting very close up to smell him.

In the end, Takagi correctly concludes he trimmed his hair, though whether she was going with the answer with the best odds is a mystery. Nishikata’s punishment is to try to guess how she’ll change her appearance tomorrow, knowing full well he’d never look her over as thoroughly as she just did.

After an in-between in which Mina laughs at Yukari’s bangs which she trimmed too far, Valentine’s Day arrives, and Nishikata, while telling himself he doesn’t expect any chocolate from Takagi or anyone else, is still expecting chocolate.

As Mina learns the hard way, Tanabe-sensei doesn’t tolerate the distribution of chocolate on his watch. Mano almost works up the courage to hand Nakai some non-obligatory chocolate, but his ever-present friends ruin her timing and she runs off.

Nakai may be dense but has the good sense to chase after Mano, who is able to successfully give him the chocolate (which he tells Tanabe-sensei is a book she borrowed). As for Nishikata, he goes the whole day without being given any chocolate, only to find a box in his shoe locker, obviously left there by Takagi, who tries to get him to identify her as the one who put it there.

Nishikata doesn’t give in, so Takagi keeps the mind games going by offering him a small piece of obligatory chocolate, while strongly implying that not all the chocolate she gave him is obligatory. Her status as giver of the shoe locker chocolate remains unsaid, but like many things between these two, it doesn’t really have to be said.

There’s no one else from which Nishikata would get non-obligatory chocolate, and there’s no one else to whom Takagi would give chocolate.

3-gatsu no Lion – 44 (Fin) – From Darkest Depths to Highest Heights

The eight minutes that kick off 3GL’s final episode (for a while at least), in which Rei visits the Kouda household, were some of the most hauntingly beautiful, unsettling, and emotionally gutting eight minutes I’ve ever seen. He is received only by the mother, who narrates the entire segment.

Rei was always capable—more capable than her children, which is why he had to go—but she finds him even more so now; he’s become an adult. Meanwhile, Kyouko and Ayumu (seen but never heard here) continue to flounder; they remain children, seeking immediate enjoyment.

Rei’s visit confirms to Mother Kouda that it was for the best for Rei to leave, and she is grateful that he did it of his own volition. Rei was such a genuinely good boy, it was a weight the rest of the family could not bear. When she dreams of Rei being her real son, he’s a sassy layabout like the others.

I was already in tears before the OP, but this episode wasn’t done, as Rei takes Takahashi and Rina out for monja to congratulate their graduation and bid farewell to the brawny baseball kid. Going pro is no longer a dream for him, it’s a goal, and leaving the home he loves was something he had to do to achieve it.

As they talk about how there won’t be monja where Takahashi is going, and that he’ll simply bring it with him to represent March Town, it dawns on Hina that while people may move away, they remain children of the town.

As the minutes and seconds left with Takahashi tick implacably down to zero, Hina savors those remaining moments with everything she has before saying goodbye. Again I held back tears…watching her hold back tears.

Takahashi leaves for his new school the day of the cherry blossom festival, which means he’ll miss it, but Hina doesn’t see him off. For one thing, the previous night’s farewell was just fine; for another, she’s got work to do, working at the Crescent Moon food stall.

She, Akari and Gramps clean up, capitalizing on the slight remnants of the winter chill by selling hot red bean soup and dumplings. Like so much with the Kawamotos, it’s warm, tasty, cozy, and fun.

And as Hina remembers a younger, smaller Takahashi sitting on the steps with an ice cream bar in his baseball uniform, she commits to doing her best where she is, just as he’ll be doing his best farther away.

Soon thereafter, just before she starts high school, Hina decides she’s going to get her hair cut. Privately (or rather in the presence of their aunt), Akari has bittersweet pangs about Hina’s choice to give her childhood self a “proper sendoff” and take a step forward as “the new me.” Akari is sad that one stage of her little sister’s life is ending, but excited and even a little envious of the next; Hina’s “springtime of life.”

However, that first step forward seems to go horribly awry when only an older hair stylist was at the salon. Hina asked for an “adult-like bob”, but once she get it, Akari can barely contain her shock, while Gramps, in his most hilarious reaction to date, thought on first glance that Hina was the household deity. Momo thinks she looks like a kokeshi doll, while Akari asks her to pose with a box of candy.

But when’s all said and done and we get a decent look at it (from numerous intimate close-up angles) I’m in agreement with Rei’s first impression: it’s nice. It’s a really nice new look! Despite the references made by her family, she looks a little more mature and serious, especially in her new high school uniform.

The more Rei looks at it, the more he likes it…and the more embarrassed Hina gets. But let’s not forget what’s happening: the two are walking to school together! This is huge. What will his classmates think? What will they say? How will Rei and Hina handle the fact that they look like one of history’s most perfect couples, straight out of the gate?

Unfortunately, all of that must be left up to my imagination, because 3-gatsu no Lion closes the book on the life of Rei, Hina, the Kawamotos, the Koudas, and all of the shogi folk. Hopefully it will be back, but if this is truly the end of the anime, it couldn’t have ended on a higher, brighter note, rising from the sullen depths of the Kouda household.

Koi wa Ameagari no You ni – 08

The opening moments of this week’s episode almost felt like a dreaded recap, but thankfully was just meant to establish the fact that Akira and Kondou are FRIENDS! Yes, JUST FRIENDS.

After that hug, the show—and Kondou!—wisely slows things way down while the episode spends a lot more time with the secondary characters that populate the couple’s life, to very pleasing effect. Also, Akira has a big pimple on her right cheek!

Take Yoshizawa: He’s spent many an episode trying to befriend Akira, to absolutely no avail. When Yoshizawa hears Kondou is friends with Akira he wants to be friends too, but Kondou sidesteps the issue by scolding his long bangs, threatening termination before they have a chance to be friends. It’s a joke, but Yoshizawa takes it seriously.

Enter Akira’s other co-worker of similar age, Nishida, who likes Yoshizawa and wants to get closer. She finds one in offering to cut his hair for him after work, which he’s a lot more enthusiastic about than she expected. After he leaves, she and Akira engage in “guy talk” for the first time, to the benefit of both.

Nishida stresses the importance of taking things step by step, which Akira needs to hear, while Akira tells Nishida that a friendship can turn romantic given enough chances for them to get to know one another and deem them more than friends. But there’s no rush!

What’s nice about this post-hug transition is that Kondou doesn’t avoid or ignore Akira; he’s not even bothered or uncomfortable by her presence. This is to be expected: we know, especially from last week, that Kondou is a decent sort, along with being, you know, a full-fledged adult.

As such, Akira uses his loud proclamation of their friendship to take a very logical step: she says “friends text each other”, and successfully acquires his contact info. A little step that brings them closer; now she can converse with him and learn from him even when he’s not around.

As she leaves work she’s practically floating on air, but so are Nishida and Yoshizawa, clearly hitting it off as he’s given a haircut. There’s just good vibes all ’round, and Akira finally gets to dance in giddy delight without being interrupted by a self-important Kase!

The second half expands the show’s horizons to a very satisfying scene between Haruka, arguably Akira’s best friend, and the recently-retired captain of the soccer team, Yamamoto. At first his presence displeases her, especially when he brings up Akira (imitating her almondlike eyes). But when she runs away, he follows, and he gets hurt.

Like Akira, Yamamoto had to leave the club because of a leg injury. Haruka wonders if Akira doesn’t love running anymore. Yamamoto asks if Akira said as much, and if she didn’t, it means that’s not the case. He considers Akira far more talented than him, so while both he and she might still want to play soccer or run, respectively, the high expectations the track star has from both within and without make her extra-cautious.

Yamamoto thinks Akira will be fine, especially when she has friends like Haruka who care about her. It’s just what Haruka needs to hear, and he manages to cheer her up considerably. Like Nishida and Yoshizawa hitting it off, Yamamoto and Haruka simply feel right together, showing that After the Rain isn’t just a one-couple pony!

From there we’re back in the office with Akira doing her homework. She’s unfortunate enough to be applying ointment to her pimple right as the manager comes in, but much more fortunate that the subject of her homework is in Modern Japanese, specifically Rashomon, which he’s recently read, and not for the first time.

I love how into it Kondou gets, calling the very question she’s stuck on a bad one, unless it doesn’t count towards her grade, because it’s a question with many answers depending on the individual. It’s almost fate that Akira has a pimple in the same place as the servant-thief of the story.

The end of the story—with the servant running into the RAIN towards a town to commit a robbery—finishes with the words “what happened to the lowly servant, no one knows,” which Akira believes is the perfect opportunity for a sequel, something Kondou had never considered.

Kondou also says that if he were the thief he’d likely stay under the rashomon, out of the RAIN, to avoid causing trouble, since he’s old and lives timidly. He also sees her pimple as a sign of youth, since he doesn’t get them anymore. It’s all him trying to maintain his stance that he’s not worth Akira’s affection, and that she’s better off with some guy who still gets pimples.

In any case, the discussion is cut short when, while flipping through her book, Kondou finds the same doodles that first got her in trouble with Kase, and the manager retreats. In the meantime, Nishida is on cloud nine and Yoshizawa gets the praise he so desperately wanted from the manager.

While watching a potential couple blossom before her, one of whom she can consider a new friend in Nishida, Akira looks at all the Summer Festival posters Kondou put up and thinks about her older friend Haruka. A couple taps on her phone, and the next we Akira she’s positively resplendent in her yukata, meeting up with an overjoyed Haruka and taking her hand.

Akira has apparently decided to take her time and trust the process vis-a-vis Kondou, having faith that in time a friendship can become more, but not to worry about it so much she can’t enjoy that friendship with him or anyone else. It’s very encouraging that she can contact and hang out with Haruka. Like Haruka, I was worried about her for a little bit there!

Just Because! – 09

Whew, there’s a lot to unpack this week. A lot happened!…or at least a lot seemed to happen. Morikawa’s new ‘do causes an unexpected sensation from just about everyone in her class, except for the one guy whose reaction mattered most to her—Souma, because he’s an idiot.

After her not-confession (which Izumi mutters to himself had the exact same effect as a not-not-confession), Komiya is awkward with him, and all the times they naturally bump into each other always end with her retreating wordlessly.

Souma and Natsume encounter one another at the shoe lockers justs as Morikawa starts to play her trumpet, which sounds like it’s beckoning Souma, particularly when Natsume tells him he should go to her. Souma doesn’t want to be a bother…but he is.

No matter, Natsume goes to Morikawa instead; she wants to know how she decided on her future. Morikawa answers earnestly as always, citing her devotion to her family and paying them back for their kindness, but also wanting to taste life on her own for a bit, hence a woman’s university.

Morikawa wonders if it’s just a matter of her not wanting to be an adult, but Natsume thinks Morikawa really has “her act together”, especially compared to her.

After some unintentional synchronization after school (after which she exclaims “this day sucks!” with a smile), the third time turns out to be the charm for Komiya, as she runs into Izumi again while he’s on a run. She runs into the konbini and buys him a cold tea; he goes in and buys her a hot one in return.

There’s a Valentine’s Day sign in sight, and Izumi tells Komiya it’s almost time for his least favorite time of the year. Komiya coyly replies that even if Natsume never got him chocolate, he should expect some this year. Did I mention how fun these two are to watch?

Before leaving hastily yet again, Komiya expresses hope they can “get along like this from here on out!”; after she leaves Izumi mutters that that’s impossible. I think Komiya kinda knows that; Natsume still probably enjoys a lead in Izumi’s heart, regardless of how few nice interactions they’ve had.

The next day, Morikawa’s brothers spot Souma on the baseball field and run out to meet him. Souma finally has the opportunity to compliment Morikawa, and while she seems grateful, there seems to be something on her mind.

That gets back to the continuation of her talk with Natsume, after she asked how Natsume if she had feelings for Souma. Natsume responds that she liked him, past-tense, in a one-sided middle school crush, but locked the feelings away, but they eventually dispersed naturally.

Natsume was satisfied with “nothing coming of it” and “not trying to let anything come of it.” She also says there’s someone else she likes anyway, and when on her way home, she can’t resist buying chocolates for that person…and has made the decision to change her university to Izumi’s recommended school.

That means, of course, Izumi’s now studying for enrollment to the wrong school! It’s an object lesson in why you should really be more open about their plans, especially with someone you has feelings for. It would have obviously been a nice surprise if Natsume had stayed put, but that’s no longer the case.

I definitely dig Natsume’s bold move in escaping her sister’s orbit, even if neither she nor Izumi are making it easy for each other to come together. Still, while I’ve instantly come to love the idea of Izumi and Komiya, that “impossible” from him certainly leads me to assume Natsume is the one he’ll choose, even if they attend different universities.

I’m okay with that; I like both girls but there has to be a winner and a loser. All I’m sure of is that the next two-three weeks are going to be a roller coaster.

Net-juu no Susume – 05

Last week, Sakurai seemed to have all but figured out that Hayashi is Morioka, and comes so tantalizingly close to asking her about it…only to back away at the last second. AAAARRRRGGGGHHHH!

Ah well, I guess it is bad online manners to guess someone’s identity out of the blue, and who knows how she’d react if he guessed correctly. But while he harbors serious doubts that such a series of coincidences could occur, his suspicions about Hayashi being Morioka IRL still remain (Also, the show apparently wasn’t quite ready to open up that can of worms).

Also, what’s this? Koiwai casually telling Sakurai he can come along? Saying the whole reason he arranged this was for his sake? This is the friend I knew Koiwai was; trying to jump-start a relationship that is stuck in, well, MMO-land (little does he know).

Morioka, meanwhile, tries to relax about the whole prospect of drinks with a guy, realizing it’s no big deal…but when she starts listing in her head all of the things she needs to do regarding her makeup, hair, and attire, she quickly becomes overwhelmed.

She’s snapped out of this state by the friendly clerk Fujimoto, who formally introduces himself. When he learns she and Morioka are on the same server, he comes right out and tells her his name…Kanbe. A guy finally does learn who “Hayashi” is…just not the right guy.

That being said, neither Kanbe nor Lilac (who doesn’t know, but partakes in a rhetorical discussion on the matter) would judge any friend for switching their gender online. Heck, Lilac’s friend at university plays a guy. Morioka is sorry to Kanbe for lying, but Kanbe tells her it’s up to her whether to tell anyone else, including Lily.

When Hayashi mentions he’s going out for drinks tomorrow, Sakurai starts to think maybe he isn’t Morioka, since she and Koiwai aren’t going for drinks until the day after tomorrow. When Hayashi asks Lily what to wear, he gives the best answer he can, only to be pressed further by Kanbe, backing Morioka up.

Kanbe and Lily get into a pretty heated argument about what length of hair is best, and Morioka settles on a medium length. The haircut, along with a new outfit matching Lily’s advice, runs Morioka a pretty penny, and she can’t help but itemize it in terms of loot boxes. She also realizes how rusty she’s become at things like applying mascara.

However, she gets herself made up, dressed, and together, and heads to the agreed-upon meeting place…on the wrong day. Koiwai is away on business until tomorrow, and Sakurai is worried. He’s worried Morioka got the day wrong, wait there, get shown up, and take it the wrong way.

So in the middle of a quest with the other members of the guild, Lily suddenly logs out, and Sakurai heads to the site of the date. I dreaded the fact he might not recognize her after her makeover, but thankfully he does notice her walking away looking sad, and calls out.

Now, this encounter doesn’t immediately, definitively prove to Sakurai that Morioka is Hayashi, nor to Morioka that Sakurai is Lily. But it comes pretty damn close! The question is, did Morioka really get the day mixed up, or did Koiwai arrange it so that only the two of them would meet?

If that’s the case, good-intentioned or not, and even if Sakurai’s a better fit for her, Koiwai will owe Morioka an apology and explanation for his machinations. After all, she expected, and waited an hour, for him, not Sakurai.

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 11

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Both Kuromukuro and Kabaneri managed to reignite my passion for watching them in their eleventh episodes. I didn’t really know what to expect after last week cliffhanger would have had us believe Ikoma had been stabbed through the heart and tossed into the sea for dead by a Mumei now lost to him. This week quickly debunks the first assumption and paves the way to debunk the second, even though shit is still hitting the fan, as it were.

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First, Kongokaku: it’s a grand, peaceful, and impressive place when the Kotetsujou arrives at its gate, but we see from the shogun eliminating a messenger with knowledge hat could sow public panic, theirs is clearly an uneasy peace, especially with Kabane lurking right outside those “impregnable” walls.

Biba doesn’t need to besiege his father’s seat, however; he comes in through the front door; a “captive” of Ayame; a role she’s forced to play because he’s holding her people hostage. Of course, going by his script only proves to Biba that’s he’s weak, and it’s become painfully apparent that the weak don’t live long once they meet him.

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To his credit, the shogun immediately knows Biba is up to something; he just doesn’t know what until it’s too late. Biba uses the same fear his father used as an excuse for stabbing him in the dark as a child to destroy his father. The dagger he gave him contains a hidden needle that infects the shogun with the virus, and his own men gun him down in a panic.

Biba need only deal the killing blow with his sword, and just like that Kongokaku is his. The Kabane in his hold are released onto the city to stoke up fear, paranoia, and people killing people, but he simply sits on the throne, not smirking an evil smirk, but remembering a day when he rode a horse with his father. Do I detect a hint of…weakness, AKA love? No matter; there’s no one around to punish Biba for it.

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While all that excitement is going on, Ikoma, having washed up on a shore not in the greatest shape but very much alive, is temporarily incapacitated by the immense weight of the guilt and regret over what went down, including Takumi’s death. He didn’t run, he was tossed out, and he’s right that at the time there was nothing he could do.

Kurusu, who has one of Biba’s scientists captive, finds Ikoma, and is actually patient with him as he goes through various stages of grief. In the end, Kurusu makes Ikoma set aside all the reasons he should simply die, and asks him why he’s still alive in the first place: his chest wound is so precise, Mumei must have intended to miss his heart, meaning she is not totally lost.

Granted, as we cut back to the capital, we see that Mumei is considerably more lost than the time she spared Ikoma. And she’s just as helpless here as Ayame, or as Ikoma was back on the train. Biba controls every aspect of her life, and despite all he’s done she still harbors loyalty to him, because she’d have died long ago (and been “beckoned by the butterflies”) were it not for him.

That combination of coercion-by-obligation, as well as the reality that Biba has kept Mumei weak and unable to oppose him even if she wanted to (and she did try), have led to her simply giving up. She will let the butterflies come, with the small consolation that at least she was able to free Ikoma a similar fate.

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Only thing is, Ikoma hasn’t given up, thanks largely to Kurusu and the captive he has for some reason (I forgot why; sue me). That scientist just happens to have on hand two serums: one is white, and could save Mumei; but to get to her Ikoma knows he needs to be stronger (and apparently, less scruffy) than he is.

So he injects the black serum, an accelerant that indeed causes him to undergo yet another transformation. When we leave him, he seems that much less human, and particularly stable, but fueled by his resolve to stop Biba and save Mumei, odds are he’ll be able to endure. I certainly hope so, because Mumei deserves better than the same fate as Horobi—who also didn’t deserve it.

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(Almost a 9 based solely on the new Aimer ED, “Through My Blood”, which brought it)

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 11

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What started out as a simple errand (retrieve Sukeroku and bring him back to Tokyo) becomes much, much more for Kikuhiko, due in no small part to Sukeroku’s daughter, Konatsu. The girl is pretty hostile to Kiku right up until she learns who he is, and then her demeanor rapidly shifts to tearful veneration, and she insists Kiku come with him to see her Dad.

I’ve always loved Konatsu, and lamented how little of her we’ve seen (albeit out of necessity) since Yakumo’s story began. Kobayashi Yuu isn’t quite as convincing as a five-year-old as say, Kuno Misaki, but it doesn’t matter: by the end of the episode, I was in love.

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On the way to her Pops, we learn from her that her mom has run off, abandoned them, and I take her at her word (we later learn Miyokichi does this often, but always comes back eventually). She also says her mom forbade her dad to perform rakugo, and when we arrive at Konatu’s domicile, we see just how well Sukeroku functions without it.

I mean, a frikkin’ five-year-old is the breadwinner here! Things are bleak. The only thing that rouses Sukeroku from his mid-day nap is Kikuhiko’s voice, which sends him flying out of the filthy house. In a perfect reunion moment, Kiku smacks him in the face with his bag, but Sukeroku pounces on him anyway.

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Kiku gets down to brass tacks, but Sukeroku is initially unwilling to hear him out: he’s done with that part of his life; rakugo has gotten “boring”; he’s out of practice; the raft of excuses is almost unending. But Kiku cuts through all that with one simple fact: ”

If people want you, you have to do it.” And Kiku is one of those people. After hearing and being envious of Sukeroku’s rakugo—and being unable to replicate it—Kiku needs it back. He’s starved for it, and wants to hear it again, and continue striving to match it, even if he never will.

Kiku doesn’t come out and say he’s been gliding along without Sukeroku around, because he hasn’t—he’s been working his ass off—but when his brother compares how he looks to a shinigami (which sends a shiver up a listening Kona’s spine), it’s clear he’s missed him.

Until Sukeroku reconsiders, Kiku is staying. He fronts cash for Sukeroku to pay off all his debts, but fully expects him to repay him by acquiring jobs in town. He’ll live with them, but insists they clean the house thoroughly. In this manner, Kiku is like a stiff, purifying breeze that blows out the cobwebs.

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But Sukeroku and Kona aren’t the only two benefitting from Kiku’s stay. Kiku decides to do small performances at dinner parties and the like to pay for food and his fare home, and gets really into it. The master of the inn even presents him with a more formal performance space (ironically formerly a geisha prep room).

In a bath scene that hearkens back to one of the first between the two brothers (something Sukeroku points out but Kiku claims not to remember), Kiku does confess that he’s never felt this way abotu rakugo before; this good.Sukeroku knows why: Kiku can see his audience; there’s less physical and emotional distance between them, motivating him to strive do his best.

At times it seems like Kiku himself could settle down here as Sukeroku did, and if not thrive in the upper echelon of his craft, at least lead a happy life.

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But that’s not really the case. Kiku still wants to return to Tokyo, with Sukeroku taking his rightful place as Yakumo. As always, Kiku is looking out for Sukeroku, striving to put him on the path he thinks is best. That means getting him out of debt, cleaning his house, and cutting his little girl’s hair so it’s out of her face.

In one of my favorite scenes of the whole show, Kiku scolds Kona for badmouthing her mother, then discourages her from taking up rakugo, since he earnestly believes it’s a man’s job to be on the stage performing. He then goes into a pretty woman’s crucial role as the rakugo performer’s muse, drawing out their best performance.

Konatsu then puts Kiku in checkmate by getting him to admit she looks pretty with her new haircut, so now he has to do rakugo for her!

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If Kiku was enjoying himself at all the small informal gigs in town, he seems even more at ease and in the zone with an audience of just one. The story Kona makes him do—an at times creepy, at times hilarious story involving sexy ghosts or some such—is one of the best I’ve heard, and it’s made even better when Sukeroku, who can’t help himself, joins in and turns the solo performance into a duet; their first.

These are two brothers who haven’t seen each other in five years, and yet here they are, a perfect comedy duo. Perhaps the performance is technically a little rougher and unpolished than it sounded like, but who cares? Konatsu is over the moon, and Kiku is hopeful he’s shown Sukeroku why he can’t give up on rakugo. It’s not just Kiku who needs it, it’s his daughter too.

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We don’t hear Sukeroku’s answer, but their performance, and Konatsu’s elation, clearly has a powerful effect on him. Then Miyokichi enters the picture, at the very end of the episode, having been handed a sign announcing a public dual rakugo performance starring Sukeroku…and Kiku-san.

Miyokichi’s reaction suggests she’s still carrying a torch for her old boyfriend after all this time, which goes a fair way in explaining why she’s not home with Sukeroku or Konatsu; perhaps the former reminds her too much of the man she really loved. The question is, will she attend the performance?

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Ushio to Tora – 25

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Okay, now that I’m aware that this show isn’t ending with 26 episodes, I’m a lot more on board with episodes like last week’s which deepen the bonds of the characters through conflicts not directly related to facing and defeating Hakumen no Mono (also, Ushio isn’t quite ready to face the boss yet).

Last week was Mayuko’s time to shine, and shine she did; but I’ve also been itching for a proper Asako-centric episode, and this week delivered. It also re-integrated Hakumen into its conflict by introducing a new adversary not yet seen in the world of Ushio to Tora: Sthe anti-Hakumen scientific organization H.A.M.M.R. (it’s a tortured acronym).

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That’s right, Asako and Tora: these guys are trying to Science the Shit out of the Hakumen problem. But they’ve apparently gone rogue, or so (as Atsukawa, from ep 8, reports to Ushio’s dad), and this week let their hubris get the best of them, believing they can do whatever the hell they want in the name of scientific advancement.

They also don’t fight by the same rules as Ushio and Tora’s former foes, employing unsporting tricks like tranquilizers on the former and a “Kirlian oscillation device” on the latter. But while Ushio is passed out when he’s captured, Tora lets himself be captured, certain they’ll take him and Asako to their base where they can then rescue him.

Ushio uses his magic hair to create a distraction, then make a double of Asako, letting the real Asako loose in the facility, determined to save Ushio.

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Everything about the scientists’ approach once they have the Beast Spear offends Ushio; poking and prodding with machines what he knows was a labor of love and sacrifice. He knew the people whose souls went into the damn thing, and these white coats are desecrating it; but he’s too hopped up on tranqs to do anything about it.

With Tora locked up as well, that leaves it all up to Asako. She’s temporarily sidetracked when she enters a lab where numerous youkai and ghosts are being restrained and experimented on, including a gentle, blue-haired humanoid, Bel-chan, but this is a good opportunity for Asako to show off her profound decency for all beings, be they alive or dead. Like Ushio, everything about this place is just…wrong.

The Scientists have Ushio fighing a robot to test his levels and the spears when Asako is finally reunited with him, but a particle of Hakumen they collected goes berserk, and all their fancy tech can’t bring it down, Ushio has to take a stab at it. And in true Ushio fashion, while the scientists are pretty awful people, he still protects them from the monster they created, because that’s his job.

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Even so, he has to be careful, because Asako’s new friend Bel-chan is among the entities absorbed by the Hakumen fragment, giving him all their powers and abilities. Even though Bel is fine being killed and the scientists don’t know a way to separate the good from the bad, neither Ushio or Asako are keen on the idea of killing him.

That hesitation almost gets them all killed, but Asako still has Ushio’s hair tied around her finger. Once she pulls it, Tora—who’d been waiting impatiently in his cell, wondering if “that woman” forgot him—blasts out of his confinement in a very badass sequence. TORA-KUN HAS ENTERED THE BATTLE.

At first I was a little surprised the fight didn’t get wrapped up this week, but any resolution would’ve been so quick as to diminish the threat of the Hakumen beast. Also, it’s not inconceivable that Ushio’s dad could still show up to help out, since he’s aware of H.A.M.M.R.’s treachery. Finally, I’m game for a part two if it means I get to watch more Asako!

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Hanamonogatari – 05 (Fin)

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A revitalized Suruga returns home from her awesome mini-road trip with Araragi to find she has a package: a mummified monkey head, with a note from Kaiki telling her to do with it what she will. Armed thus with the Pièce de résistance of the devil, she returns to the gymnasium to find Rouka there. Both she and I now see her in a different light, now that we know she’s a ghost.

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Even so, Suruga challenges that ghost to another one-on-one match, this time consisting of just one play. If Rouka prevents Suruga from making a basket, she wins, and can have the head. If Suruga makes the basket, Rouka loses, and has to give up being a collector of misfortune and a gatherer of the devil. If Rouka refuses the challenge, Suruga will destroy the head, essentially ending Rouka’s quest anyway.

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Admitting it’s not much of a choice, Rouka accepts, warning she won’t hold back this time, though we know at this point Suruga has a plan to defeat her. Rouka doesn’t quite comprehend what Suruga aims to get out of this, but it’s clear to us: she wants to save her friend from becoming the devil. It’s also apparent to Suruga that Rouka doesn’t know she died and became a misfortune-collecting apparition/oddity. This delves into a common but poignant phenomenon in fiction where the dead don’t know they’re dead and keep living their lives as if they weren’t.

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I loved how the gym was dark and the court markings were backlit as Suruga brought forth the challenge, lending a very “final boss” atmosphere to the setting. When Rouka goes to the locker room for some shoes, the gym enters “Showtime Mode”, with the grandstands extending, the retractable roof opening to reveal the azure sky (Naoetsu is one swanky high school!), and a few inches of water flooding the court – perhaps a reference to Rouka’s “swampy defense” but also a metaphor for cleansing and renewal.

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The thrilling, intricately built-up duel between the two is over almost as soon as it starts. Suruga rushes ahead as usual, but then does something Rouka could never have predicted: she passes the ball to her, quickly stealing it back before she has full possession. In the moment of confusion she created, Suruga elevates and dunks over Rouka’s rushed block attempt. The two end up laughing in a heap on the (now dry) floor, with Suruga now on top of Rouka (the opposite of their last such encounter). Here, Suruga realizes how cute Rouka is, and considers kissing her.

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Rouka, in accepting defeat, voices her surprise, and ultimately, is grateful that Suruga passed to her, considering how rarely anyone on her team passed to her due to her choice to focus on defense, a choice not made due to lack of talent or skill, but to appease those less talented, just as she sought misfortune from those as unfortunate (or more) than her. Rouka also tells Suruga to stop drifting and get back on the active roster as soon as she can. With that, she vanishes into the aether while Suruga is crafting a comeback with her back turned, leaving behind the mummified monkey parts she had collected.

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Before the duel, Rouka and Suruga agreed on one thing: that it’s better to regret the lack of action than to regret what you’ve done. But Suruga tells her it’s better still to do something and not regret it. If there’s an overarching moral to be had from this story, that’s as good as any. Whatever else Kanbaru Suruga has been, she’s been a doer; on the offense. Sometimes, Suruga’s actions are reckless and/or lead to regrets, like wishing to the monkey paw, for instance. But her most recent actions freed Rouka from her torment. In a dream, she and her mother converse more as equals, as Suruga puts forth her own opinions rather than simply absorb those of others.

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Suruga wakes up from that dream to find Araragi in her room. As she sleeps in the nude, she’s taken aback for a moment, but Araragi isn’t there for “that”, but to help her clean her room, something she requested during the road trip. She also has him cut her hair, as she plans to return to basketball. Between the yellow bug, not being turned on by Suruga, and hairdressing, one might wonder if the producers are trying to say something about Araragi, but these are merely cosmetic characteristics that happen to match a certain stereotype, but aren’t meant to be read too much into, so I won’t. One thing’s for sure, though: the dude is good at setting up dominoes!

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As he shears off her flowing purple locks, returning her to the way she looked when we first met her in Bakemonogatari (a rare aesthetic rewind) he offers some closing words of solace to Suruga (It’s also worth mentioning that Suruga’s other idol, Senjougahara, also sports a short hairstyle when last we saw her). He tells her not to worry about what she did and whether it was right or wrong…because it was neither: It was just adolescence.

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Sukitte Ii na yo – 12

In the first half, Yamato and Momo go to Megumi’s house, but she won’t come out. Yamato tries his best, but it’s ultimately heartfelt words from Momo that coax her out. Megumi goes back to work, weathers the storm of hate at school, and gets a hair cut to represent her new life without lies or shallow friends. In the second half, the summer festival arrives, and Yamato and Mei go with Asami and all their friends. They part ways early, but Mei’s mom insist she put on a yukata and go back. She meets Yamato at the shrine, who is very happy to see her, despite their missing the fireworks.

Megumi’s catharsis, while important, didn’t need a whole episode all to itself. Nor did the summer festival. Realizing this, the series shrewdly combined them to make this episode. We like the choice, because it made both stories move quickly and efficiently, without losing any of their emotional impact. Megu-tan had simply had her fill of the way she interacted with people and swerved off the road. Yamato and her best friend Momo are able to restore her confidence and get her back on track. She can’t live her life concerned with what others think about her. And her wild new hair rocks, so there’s that.

The second half shows us how far this circle of friends has come, and it’s nice to see them as one big happy group simply enjoying the summer festival (also efficiently illustrated via montage). Asami is the glue that brought them all together, and when she eats to much and gets sick, everyone kinda drifts away, though the night is still young. Mei, ever going with the flow, misses the opportunity, but we’re glad her mom gives her a well-needed nudge back out to see Yamato alone. The sight of her in traditional dress utterly floors him, and they share a kiss – the perfect ending to an episode that is equal parts redemptive and feel-good.


Rating: 8 (Great)

Boku ha Tomodachi ga Sukunai – 11

At the end of summer vacation, the club attends a festival, where Kodaka samples various inferior takoyaki, Rika wins an XBox, adn Sena and Yozora are constantly competing over the games. They settle down, regroup, and fire off some fireworks, but Yozora’s hair catches fire. Kodaka douses her with water, but Yozora goes home in a snit, and isn’t seen again until she arrives in class on the first day of the new school year, with a new ‘do that makes Kodaka instantly recognize her as his old friend, Sora. Yozora is overjoyed he finally remembers.

The first four fifths of this episode were nothing to write home about, nor write much of anything about; it was pretty standard festival fare with a couple tired rivalries mixed in. But it foreshadowed what was to come when Kodaka has a dream the previous night about his childhood friend. They give each other unique names; she calls him Taka, he calls her…well, the name is “sparkled” out, but at this point, you know he’s just on the cusp of remembering.

What elevasted this episode from mediocrity and into standouthood was the final scene in class. It was a very touching moment that was a long time coming. In the end, all it took was a haircut! Of course, with only one episode left, the series can go one of two routes: continue from this moment, with Kodaka and Yozora/Sora reconnecting, or with a silly, self-encapsulated episode that takes place before or independent of this payoff. Rewinding would truly be a shame, though…we want to see this development further explored, as it totally changes their relationship.


Rating: 3.5