Kageki Shoujo!! – 04 – Opening of Borders

I was both fully expecting and looking forward to Sarasa either scaring Mr. Stalker away with her imposing stature or showing off her jujitsu moves if he persisted. Thankfully something completely unexpected and much better happens. Truly great art tends to challenge the viewer in some way, rather than giving them what they expect or predict.

That kind of narrative and thematic creativity really suffuses this, the best episode yet of Kageki Shoujo and the one that finally had me coming around hoping there’d continue to be less actual on-stage performance and more human drama. Like last week, there are some tough-to-watch moments, but also moments of great joy, goofiness, and redemption.

Mr. Gross Otaku, one of Sarasa’s many hilarious, unintentionally insulting nicknames for the guy, didn’t come to exact “revenge” on Ai; he came to apologize for being the one who ruined her career. He was a shut-in NEET who had lost hope until he first saw Naracchi on-screen, and it fascinated him how she was trying so hard never to smile.

In one unguarded moment, Naracchi does smile, and there’s video evidence, but that little smirk at the sight of her favorite mascot shattered Mr. Gross Otaku’s hermitic existence, inspiring him to get a job and make friends (naturally, other admirers of Naracchi). At the in-person event, he was so nervous about properly thanking her for helping save his life, he held on her her hands too long, leading to her making the remark that ended her idol career.

Taichi, who had been observing from a close distance in case Mr. Gross Otaku was a Mr. Total Perv, tells the guy that it wasn’t anything personal; in fact, it was likely only the straw that broke the camel’s back. Like Otaku Guy once did, Ai has given up on the world, and it led her to shut off her emotions. And yet, running away and leaving Sarasa alone invokes very strong emotions indeed, to the point Ai works up the courage to go back.

Naturally, her timing is terrible, and when she sees Sarasa doing goofy dance moves with the would-be tormentor while Taichi watches, Ai’s concern immediately curdles into something resembling hatred, and she storms off once again. The only problem is, poor Sarasa doesn’t know what she did to engender such hate!

Sarasa is persistent, and Ai finally makes a deal: she’ll tell her why she’s mad if she leaves her alone from now on. But when she does, Sarasa still doesn’t get it: if she came back out of worry for her, she should’ve been happy she was alright! As usual, Sarasa is right, but too blunt, and Ai retreats behind her curtain. Both girls seem incredibly unsatisfied where things end.

Sarasa, understandably getting a little fed up with being treated like this, declares that they’re “through”, though later confesses that might’ve been too harsh via Twitter to her friend Akiya—whose fellow Kabuki actor-in-training is tweeting more profound responses on his behalf. He tells Sarasa not to rush until they know each other, to be prepared for her feelings to be entirely one-sided, and appreciate that that’s beautiful in its own way.

The next day, Hijiri, Kouka’s Shit-Stirrer-in-Residence, confronts Sarasa with the pic she snapped of her with a guy (Mr. Gross Otaku), but Sarasa doesn’t have any time for this nonsense, as Ai is skipping classes and Taichi is worried about where she ended up. Sure enough, while staring at the sea, Ai is harassed by a couple of guys who recognized her, and one of them grabs her arm.

I have scarcely felt more fear and apprehension for a character than I did for Ai in this moment, but that was tempered by the knowledge that somehow in short order, Ai would be rescued. I just didn’t know it would happen by Sarasa calling Mr. Gross Otaku, who predicted Ai would go to the ocean to calm down (as she once stated in an interview) then run a social media search and locate her .

From there, all Mr. Gross Otaku has to do is buy a little time by haplessly trying to attack Ai’s harassers. He fails, faceplants, and gets a bloody nose, but still wins, as Taichi and Sarasa arrive and the latter screams for the police, who come running. There are no words for Sarasa’s transformation above as she voices satisfaction for scaring off the jerks.

What’s even more heartwarming about this entire scene that lets me forgive its many contrivances—as well as the entire premise of using stalking methods to save the target of stalkers—is that at this point, Sarasa is sticking to her guns when she said they were “through.” Yet even if she’s uncertain Ai will ever want to be her friend, she rescued her anyway, because it was the right thing to do.

When Sarasa explains to Ai how they found her and the role Mr. Gross Otaku —real name Kitaouji Mikiya—played, it’s Ai’s turn to do something completely unexpected: offer her handkerchief for Mikiya’s bloody nose. During the hand-off she drops the cloth on the ground, but it wasn’t intentional or meant as a slight.

As Ai says with tears welling up in her eyes, “this is the best I can do right now.” But Mikiya, being uncharacteristically cool, tells her to dry her eyes; all he and her other fans wanted was to see those rare and amazing moments when Naracchi genuinely smiled. Because that meant their idol was happy. He promises to return to see her perform on the Kouka stage.

Ai and Sarasa take the long walk back to their dorms, where they’ll face consequences for the incidents that transpired. While they walk, Ai opens up to Sarasa, asking her what she should do about something she wants to forget but can’t (though not going into detail). All Sarasa can tell her is to keep having good memories that will eventually cause the bad to fade from prominence.

Notably, Ai can’t see Sarasa’s face when she says this, but it sounds like a new invitation to make some of those memories with her, if she’ll have her. At this point, it’s safe to say the cat-and-mouse game between these two girls will continue, but they’ve definitely already made one of those memories Sarasa speaks of, and I’m looking forward to them making more.

As for poor, Yamada Ayako, who is now purging regularly and barely has the energy to sing, all I have to say is that every one of her upperclassmen and every adult on the faculty are totally failing her, and I’m terribly worried about how bad things will get until someone helps her. It shouldn’t have to fall to someone like Sarasa and/or Ai, but if it does I won’t complain. I just want Ayako to be happy and healthy!

Ikebukuro West Gate Park – 09 – Trouble in Paradise

There is a lot to sift through this week, but I’ll give IWGP this: there’s no other current show that makes people sitting at tables and talking quite so dang compelling! We begin with Makoto and Takashi being hired to guard an anti-immigration group during a particularly distasteful demonstration.

They’re doing it not for the money, but to keep the peace; in fact, an anti-hate pro-immigration group is paying them so their more radical elements won’t start anything. Even here, everyone thinks it’s a bit odd that the hate group is in Ikebukuro, where the ship has already sailed.

Makoto knows this all to well, as the new brother of a Chinese immigrant. Guo makes her return this week, and we learn she’d been working elsewhere and presumably living on her own, explaining her absence in previous episodes. She introduces Makoto to another mixed family: a Japanese husband and his Chinese wife.

They own a Chinese restaurant in building called Ikebukuro Paradise, and have been the recent victims of harassment. The perps were masked, but the couple suspects the anti-immigration group that’s in town. Makes sense. Makoto gets more insight walking with Guo, who tells him how much it hurts to hear people tell her to “go home” when she is home.

The Chinese restaurant incident isn’t the first at Ikebukuro Paradise; previously a café burned down, though its owner insists it was an accident reacted to the cafe’s audio system, and he basically curtly asks Makoto to stop digging. Of course, Makoto doesn’t, contacting his pal Saru, who tells him a Chinese fund linked up with a Japanese corporation.

Lin fills in more blanks, saying the Chinese real estate company intends to redevelop the Paradise by knocking down the old building. It seems the immigration kerfuffle and harassment could be unrelated strings, but only so far. Then the latter problem escalates when a member of the anti-hate group is attacked and its more radical elements want an eye for and eye.

Then the Paradise problem reasserts itself, as a fire breaks out, killing a resident and at least temporarily shutting down the restaurant. It’s to early to ascertain if it was an accident or arson, but Takashi has seen enough, and urges Makoto to “figure out who needs crushing” so his G-Boys can crush them.

In a nice scene with Makoto, Takashi acknowledges the need for Ikebukuro to change and grow the way it’s doing, but also laments the Ikebukuro he grew up in, and fears the town will lose its unique character if the change and growth go too far and “hate and indifference” continue to rear their ugly heads.

Makoto arranges a full-on summit between the pro- and anti- immigration groups. While testy, the anti leader insists they weren’t behind the fire, and the pro leader is willing to take her at her word. Takashi believes the leader, warped as her views are, but gets an odd unsavory vibe from her second-in-command, Tsukamoto, whom he suspects is into some shady shit.

Sure enough, the former café owner Torii, hearing about the fire and death, comes forward to Makoto and the restaurant owners about the true reason he closed up shop: he was harassed by land sharks. The owners thought they were targets of racial and cultural hatred, but they and the other tenants were rather victims of cynical corporate goons.

Tsukamoto, it turns out, was the director of the company that forced Torii out, the missing link Makoto needed to tie the two problems together. Tsukamoto and his superiors intended to use the anti-immigration group as cover for their land-sharking activities.

But by the time Makoto informs the anti-immigration group’s other leaders of Tsukamoto’s intentions, it’s too late to cancel the demonstrations. It’s a tense moment the next day when the red and blue groups march past each other, but it’s a third group, a hastily-assembled gang led by Tsukamoto himself, that tries to incite violence.

Makoto expected this, and so hired his buddy Shadow to take Tsukamoto out before he could achieve his goal. Takashi’s G-Boys mop up, and all the would-be escalators are arrested. The demonstration ends peacefully, and the restaurant owners and other residents of Ikebukuro Paradise can breathe a sigh of relief, as they’re no longer in the crosshairs.

That said, Lin warns Mikoto and Takashi that some shady Kansai organization that was behind Tsukamoto’s company as well as the smoke shop many weeks back is still looking to plant a foothold in Ikebukuro and destroy the harmony Makoto & Co. have been fighting for so hard.

It’s clear IWGP holds the anti-immigration hate group in pretty low regard, as they should. But it’s also upfront about the reasons people have to join and participate in such groups—people who might start out like Takashi, yearning for The Way Things Wereand becoming more radicalized by the growing influx and influence of immigrants.

At the same time, IWGP is just as clear in promoting the proper way forward, and it obviously isn’t brawls in the streets, but respectful, considered conversations between groups who come to the table in good faith. Makoto once again demonstrates his keen ability to mediate tough issues and keep inevitable brush fires from spreading too far.

Koi wa Ameagari no You ni – 04

Akira’s straightforward, iron persistence wears Kondou down almost immediately, and he promises they’ll go on a date. This fills Akira with joy, but she tries to hide it in the restaurant, with good reason; in the wrong hands, the knowledge she’s into the manager and that he’s indulging her desire to date him could be bad, bad news.

So naturally that information falls into the hands of Kase, one of the kitchen staff, and he’s definitely the wrong hands. Not about to let Old Man Kondou get one over on him, Kase uses Akira’s secret to leverage a date of his own with her. It’s flat-out despicable conduct, perpetrated against someone who clearly has no romantic interest in him whatsoever. He doesn’t care. She’s hot, and he has dirt.

Akira, clearly not wanting things with Kondou blown up before they’ve even begun, quickly accepts his proposal: a date for his silence. All because she drew a cute little drawing depicting her love for Kondou, and let Kase get his grubby mitts on it. But just because Akira slipped up early and badly doesn’t mean she deserves the trying farce Kase puts her through.

She throws something on, an immediate signal she doesn’t give a shit about this date (though still manages to look stylish, btw). She sits through a bad movie, and afterward, when she voices her intent to leave after paying him back, he grabs her arm and pulls her into a cafe for tea.

He presumes to have her all figured out: She’s fallen in love with someone because she can’t be on the track team anymore. Then he says it’s “creepy” that that someone is 45. The irony of someone who just forcefully extended his “date” with a girl against her will calling someone else creepy…the irony is too much.

He grabs her again when she tries to leave again, just as Kondou is calling, and Akira has to wrench herself loose. Words can’t express how goddamn worried I was when, in her haste to talk to Kondou (who grudgingly agrees to pick someplace for their date), she wanders into a dark and isolated place; perfect for an ambush.

Because Kase is an utter piece of shit, of course he kept following her, and watched her very private moment of giddiness. This is a man who is not happy, and so will not let anyone else be happy, or even safe. He assures her it won’t work out with Kondou, and that she’s better off with him, leaning in for an unwanted kiss and telling her this isn’t over before finally fucking off.

Calling Kase scum would be an insult to scum, but it’s a testament to Akira’s toughness that she’s able to so quickly shake off the unpleasantness of her forced date, but I’m still gravely worried. After all, Kase made it clear he’s by no means done harassing her.

The logistics of her date with Kondou are all but identical to those with Kase—same meeting spot, same movie, same cafe—but the fact she’s on a date with someone she actually likes, who would never pull the shit Kase pulled, makes all the difference in the world.

Akira dresses to the nines and does her hair all fancy, and while the date doesn’t seem to be the best ever or anything, that doesn’t matter in the slightest because all she really wants is to spend time with him. Kondou, meanwhile, can’t see any way that this girl is enjoying herself, and when he sees how young everyone is in the cafe, he freaks and bolts.

Akira stays with him, even when he has a lengthy phone call on a bridge at sunset—bad form, but then this guy hasn’t dated in decades—and he spots her waiting patiently as the light catches her just right (such a beautiful sight), and he’s not so much ashamed to be on a date with someone so young and innocent, but ashamed and depressed because he’s so old and worn out and pathetic.

Of course, that’s just, like, his opinion, man, because Akira enjoyed her date quite a lot. She even fantasizes about running to the turnstile where Kondou is departing and kissing him on the cheek from behind, but does not do so. Again, we have a stark contrast between how Akira, as the instigator of the date, treats Kondou, and how Kase treated her.

When Akira gets home to find her mother didn’t throw out the movie pamphlet from her date with Kase, and mixed it with the identical pamphlet with Kondou, her mom doesn’t understand why she’s so furious; they’re the same, what does it matter?

But it does matter; the two dates she had were the difference between night and day. I earnestly hope there’s more day to come, while being very cognizant of the fact there’s the night of Kase lurking nearby. Of course, it’s ultimately not as simple as night and day, or black and white.

In Kase we clearly have a guy who has demonstrated he is not at all a good guy, while Kondou has given us no reason to doubt he’s anything but the kind, self-effacing man he appears to be. Indeed, we see he’s scared of getting close to anyone, regardless of age, because he doesn’t want to get hurt again.

On the other hand, assholishness aside, Kase does have a point regarding Akira suddenly crushing on someone virtually the moment she loses her place on the track team. I just wish he didn’t have to deliver that point while on a date into which he blackmailed her.

But the questions remain: how sustainable is her crush? How long can she divert all of her energies to thinking of Kondou? How much is Kondou willing to indulge her? Is she in love with Kondou, or the idea of Kondou in her head?

Amnesia – 09

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After the heroine’s hair is cut by the Ikki fans at the mall, Toma grows increasingly protective, insisting she stay at his place and not go out anymore. Orion appears and tells her he’s drugging her food and drink to keep her asleep. Shin shows up, and she learns Toma isn’t really her boyfriend. Eventually, Toma locks her in a cage to keep her safe, but doesn’t feel good about it. Desperate to know how she feels about him, she escapes and heads to her apartment to see if there’s anything in her diary – but Toma pursues her.

Whoa…okay then! Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome aboard the crazy train. Your conductor is none other than Toma, who takes his commitment to protecting the heroine a bit too far, to say the least. Granted, she is being mercilessly bullied by the fangirls, and her contact information has been distributed online, which can’t be good. She’s having garbage stuffed in her mailbox, flower pots dropped on her, and her lustrous locks are sheared every chance the bitch squad gets. And more importantly, she’s utterly incapable of dealing with any of this do to her disorientation with the timeline.

But still – and we don’t give a rat’s ass whether Toma’s “heart is in the right place” – you cannot kidnap, drug, and imprison someone in a cage and expect us to be okay with it. The heroine shows a surreal amount of passivity to this situation, and even seems on the verge of forgiving him for this sickening treatment (the episode never explains, for instance, how she goes to the bathroom in there). But we don’t care how many memories she’s missing or how much she may actually love Toma. He has to go to jail for this. In any kind of sane world, he would. This apparently isn’t that world, but at least Toma admits what he’s doing is, indeed, quite fucked up.


Rating: 7 (Very Good)