The aquatope on white sand – 10 – You can’t go home

Only a damn week left in August. A week of Summer Break. Until reopens, the aquarium closes, and Fuuka goes back to Iwate, among other things. After staring at the downtown monstrosity that reminded me of the Olympic Stadium in AKIRA, Kukuru is staring at that damn calendar with only seven days left.

Kai, whose first memory of Kukuru is watching her back tremble as she wept in her front yard, sees that back again. It’s not trembling, but he knows it’s troubled. But he can’t, because he’s just a little too slow and Kukuru is so distracted by her problems she doesn’t even notice Kai is there, and certainly doesn’t see him as a potential source of healing.

Kukuru isn’t really seeing Fuuka either. Fuuka did commit to supporting Kukuru’s dream when her own dream ended, but thanks to the call from Ruka, that dream is suddenly alive again if she wants it: a goddamn starring movie role. Of course she can’t share this news with Kukuru, who has no time or headspace for anything but her beloved Gama Gama. Seeing how Kukuru flails near the finish line really accentuates just how grown up and mature Chiyu was by comparison last week.

Chiyu can see her future and she’s lunging forward and grasping at it with everything she has. Kukuru is trying to keep her past her present and future. She’s so desperate, she resorts to asking Udon-chan’s mom to see if there’s a way to exploit the inscrutable magical realism moments she, Fuuka, and others have experienced. She thinks if she can put it out there on social media that Gama Gama is a “place of miracles” and a “healing power spot”, she can save it.

But just look at everyone’s faces. Kukuru’s desperation is clear to see. Udon-chan is the only one humoring her with a half-hearted, almost patronizing smile. Fuuka is quietly neutral. Karin is like this girl is going off the deep end.

During what was without doubt the most depressing watermelon-eating scene I’ve ever seen committed to the screen, Fuuka can’t hold in what’s bothering her anymore, even if it only adds to Kukuru’s problems. When Fuuka doesn’t enthusiastically say she’ll turning the movie role down, Kukuru cant stomach any more watermelon, or Fuuka’s presence.

In a way, it’s not fair. Fuuka has pretty much had to couch all of her issues while August has worn on and Kukuru’s various ideas to save Gama Gama have come and gone with the same middling success. But Fuuka isn’t sure what she’s doing anymore, which means she’s not committed to helping Kukuru salvage her dream. There’s no point in lying, and I’m glad Fuuka doesn’t, nor does Kukuru hide her disappointment.

Kai, who it’s clear has been working himself way too hard just so Kukuru has an extra strong back at the aquarium, finally gets a chance to spend some time alone with Kukuru, but it’s strictly business: she needs him to be her guinea pig to see if the “illusions” will occur for him. Kukuru’s obsession with saving Gama Gama is flattening all of her relationships. She only noticed Kai when she needed him.

Why she thinks sitting three feet away and leaning towards him with a notebook will put him in the right state to see said illusions…but like I said, Kukuru is desperate…almost as desperate as Kai is to help and console and comfort her. But once again, he’s a little to slow to call her name and reach out, as she buzzes off on her motorbike after their failed illusion session. He keeps getting so close! 

Back home, Kukuru’s Gramps gives her a talking-to about how it was wrong to try to lure supernatural otaku to the aquarium with promises of miracles and illusions. In effect, this week is when Kukuru’s illusory world finally comes into focus. Everyone but her isn’t saying Gama Gama is doomed because they’re being assholes. It’s because Gama Gama is doomed. Barring some serious Kijimunaa divine intervention, of course.

I don’t know of Kijimunaa is directly responsible for the illusions, but the reason for them is made plain (if it wasn’t already) when Kai, distraught over his inability to reach present-day Kukuru, finds himself behind the shoulder of his younger self when he first met her. Audio is added to this scene and it’s brought into context as one of countless times young Kukuru ran out of her grandparents’ house declaring through tears that she’s going home to “mommy and daddy.”

This was, predictably, the point at which I broke down in tears, and basically unconditionally forgave Kukuru for all of her transgressions both this week and in previous episodes. Kukuru lost her parents at a tender age, but not so tender that she was shielded from the weight of the loss. She was old enough to know, but wasn’t ready to accept, that they were gone. The home she knew and loved was gone too.

Past Kai hesitates just like Present Kai did three times prior, but Present Kai is there to give Past Kai a push towards Kukuru. He whips out a big, gorgeous fish he just caught, and Kukuru’s tears stop almost immediately.

Kai comes out of his illusion to a Kukuru hopeful she just witnessed him experiencing what she experienced. But to both her dejection and my own, Kai softly shakes his head. It was a beautiful memory, but just a memory. It was the past, and just the illusion of it. He doesn’t want to feed her any more illusions. Instead, rather than gathering her into a big hug, he puts up his hands so she can punch them and yells “Come!”

Kukuru cries as she punches, but Kai tells her to keep punching, as hard as she can, into his palms. I’m sure if he had a big beautiful freshly caught fish, he’d give her one to cheer her up. We later see that Kukuru posted a retraction on social media, so even that last-ditch plan ended in failure.

If I were her, I’d also be grateful for a friend willing to absorb my punches, my failures, my despair—all of it, for my sake. And when my fists (and their palms) were sufficiently red and stinging, I’d feel better, and maybe even be ready to take a step forward.

RABUJOI WORLD HERITAGE LIST

 

Demon Slayer the Movie: Mugen Train – All Aboard

In 2020, and what I believe to be the first time ever, the highest grossing film of the year wasn’t American. It wasn’t Chinese, either, which one could reasonably expect to be the first non-American film to take the crown. No, it was Demon Slayer the Movie: Mugen Train. That’s an achievement that may never be matched. It also broke the record for home box office gross, now reigning over both Spirited Away and Your Name.

$500 million gross is a lot of cash to rake in, especially during a global pandemic. But after finally getting around to watch Mugen Train, which is essentially “Season 1.5” of the series, I totally understand why: it is an absolute crowd pleaser stuffed with action, comedy, and drama. I laughed; I cried; I may have pumped my fist and shouted “Fuck yeah!” once or twice.

But! Mugen Train is merely a very good movie. It is certainly a very good movie watching experience. What it is definitely not is a great film, and falls far short of the masterpiece status of the anime films whose records it broke. There is no single big reason for that, but several smaller ones which become evident throughout its prestigious 117-minute runtime.

* * * * *

First, as we know from the end of the first season (yes, you really should watch it), a Kasugai crow ordered Tanjirou (with Nezuko on his back), Zenitsu, and Inosuke to join Flame Hashira Rengoku Kyoujurou aboard the titular Mugen Train, which has a demon problem. Rengoku is, as most high-ranking warriors in these kinds of shows, a bit of an eccentric, but has heard about Tanjirou and Nezuko and is even willing to train him.

Their demon opponent is Enmu, a member of the Lower Six and the group’s resident “gross body horror” expert, a niche occupied by the likes of Bleach’s 12th Captain, Kurotsuchi Mayuri (or more recently, Jujutsu Kaisen’s Mahito). Enmu spends much of the movie standing atop the front of the train, talking about how much he’s looking forward to devouring its 200 passengers but never actually doing so despite having ample opportunity. Ya know, typical big bad behavior.

Enmu’s preferred way of rendering his prey helpless is by putting them to sleep. He has made four regular human passengers plus the conductor into his minions: the tickets the conductor punches contain a bit of his blood which is used to put the slayers to sleep along with everyone else. In exchange, the minions are promised wonderful dreams in which to lose themselves.

With all the demon slayers asleep, we take a look into the dreams they’re having, none of which come as much of a surprise. Tanjirou’s is a very happy dream in which he’s reunited with his family, who act like they were never slaughtered by a demon. Suffice it to say, it’s an easy dream to get lost in.

Zenitsu’s dream involves frolicking through forests and fields with Nezuko, which would be touching were his relationship with her in the show not so easily boiled down to “one-sided obsession” or simply “toxic.” Inosuke’s dream is aggressively weird and surreal, like him, but like Zenitsu and Tanjirou’s doesn’t offer any further insight into the character.

Rengoku’s does, but only because aside from a couple of brief scenes last season, we don’t really know who the guy is. What we do get is pure hero boilerplate: following in the footsteps of a former Hashira father who gave up the life and doesn’t care anymore, while having to be both big brother and father figure to his younger brother to keep him from falling into despair. Also, their sainted mom is dead.

Ultimately the dreams aren’t supposed to be particularly enlightening to us, as long as they keep the dreamers occupied and distracted. The minions then go in, find the edges of their dreams, tear them open with what look like icepicks provided by Enmu, and pass into the subconscious where their spiritual cores lie. Obviously, none of the minions succeeds.

Tanjirou already has an inkling he’s in a world of illusion, since his default thoughts are that his family is dead and Nezuko is a demon, so his senses must be wrong. His subconscious actually reaches out to him through a reflection in the water, telling him he needs to wake up, even if it’s being made very difficult to do so because it means running away from his confused and upset family.

His minion, by the way, sought relief in his dreams because in the waking world he was wasting away from Tuberculosis. When he reaches Tanjirou’s gorgeous (and very Spirited Away-esque!) subconscious, he doesn’t have the heart to go through with destroying his core. Tanjirou ends up waking up by slashing his neck with his own sword—call it the equivalent of the “kicks” in Inception that wake you up from dreams (or dreams within dreams).

Tanjirou is the first to wake up. Rengoku’s survival instinct kicks in and he chokes his minion before she can destroy his core (a very graphic depiction of violence against a woman that’s very oddly scored as triumphant) but he remains asleep. Tanjirou sees that Nezuko burned away the rope connecting him to his minion, and asks her to burn away the others’ ropes while he goes topside to meet the boss.

After exchanging some standard big-bad/hero dialogue, Tanjirou manages to behead Enmu, but of course his head isn’t really his head, nor his body his real body. Turns out he’s merged with the train, meaning the entire train his his body, with his head hidden…somewhere (the head of the train).

Enmu then continues to put Tanjirou to sleep, taking the same route as the Farscape masterpiece “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, turning the dreams into increasingly disturbing nightmares to throw the hero off his game. Tanjirou counters this by continuously slashing his neck as soon as he enters his dream.

With every surface of the train suddenly erupting with reddish-purple goo, suddenly all 200 passengers have to be protected at once. Fortunately, thanks to Nezuko burning their ropes the others start waking up, starting with Inousuke, who is ready to rumble. Nezuko slashes at the tentacles attacking passengers, but is quickly overwhelmed and restrained.

Enter Zenitsu, who gets to have a seriously badass moment with his thunder breathing assault, rescuing her from her doom. Let it be said this film does nothing to make Nezuko more than the bit character/mascot she devolved into in the anime, and outside of Tanjirou and Zenitsu’s dreams, she never speaks, which remains odd as there are plenty of demons who can talk.

All the commotion caused by Zenitsu’s thunder and lightning finally wakes up Rengoku, who has does his whole “how have I been sleeping through all this” line, and fills the cars with tentacle-burning flames (which naturally don’t affect the passengers). He orders Tanjirou and Inousuke to find Enmu’s head while he protects the passengers in five of the eight cars and Zenitsu and Nezuko handles the remaining three.

When his best water breathing technique can only tear away the flesh of Enmu’s “neck” to reveal the bone, Tanjirou employs his dad’s Hinokami Kagura breathing, which does the trick. Enmu’s real head is separated from his body (the train) and in his death throes, the train is derailed and crashes…which really should kill a lot of the passengers, yet doesn’t.

During his struggle with Enmu the minion conductor stabbed Tanjirou in the abdomen, but Rengoku quickly teaches Tanjirou how to use Total Concentration, Constant to staunch his broken blood vessel. Even so, Tanjirou is in no condition to fight anymore, with more than forty minutes left in the film. Enmu slowly disintegrates after lots of whining, including about how he was never able to enjoy his meal (which was all his fault) or rise to the ranks of the Upper Ten.

Right on cue, one of the members of that Upper Ten shows up completely out of the blue: the Upper Three, Akaza, covered in tatts and slightly resembling an evil Tanjirou with his short-cropped red hair. And while the ensuing duel between Akaza and Rengoku is pretty cool, the combat animation isn’t appreciably better than that of the TV show. More importantly, Akaza and the battle feel tacked on rather than a natural escalation of the conflict.

It also begs the question of if an even bigger demon big bad could show up willy-nilly, why couldn’t the same be true of other Hashira? The answer is, because the movie needs Rengoku to die, even though he was being set up as Tanjirou’s new mentor and big brother figure. At the end of the day, Akaza can regenerate almost instantly, while Rengoku is a mortal human of flesh and blood, and the wounds he suffers prove fatal.

The climax of the film also plays with the timing of the rising of the sun, which begins to light Akaza’s face as Rengoku tries to hold him in place so he’ll disintegrate. Instead, he flees into the forest to fight another day and provide Tanjirou with a future opponent with whom to avenge Rengoku. Like Demon Slayer reinforcements, the sun doesn’t show up when you’d think it should.

The final act consists of Rengoku providing Tanjirou the same encouragement as his little brother in his dream (and presumably in real life), as well as meeting his force ghost sainted mother, who tells him she’s proud of him (he did reject Akaza’s repeated offers to turn him into a demon, after all). Tanjirou is naturally very upset over losing another important person in his life.

As for the impact it had on me…the film just didn’t do the adequate legwork to make Rengoku anything more than a passing guest star. He had a few goofy moments, a few badass moments, and a very long and melodramatic death scene, and then he was suddenly gone, seemingly as soon as he arrived.

So as much of a funny, thrilling and sometimes genuinely moving crowd-pleaser as Mugen Train was, as a sequel to the series it fulfilled a merely utilitarian role, establishing how tough the Hashira can be, while establishing that the most powerful demons are even tougher, on the biggest screen possible. There’s not much else that’s new here.

It also gave Tanjirou both further motivation to fight the demons, though considering what he’s lost so far, I’d say he already had plenty, as well as the direction to the next nugget of info about his pop’s Kagura, which he’ll surely pursue in the second season. Mugen Train had no shortage of faults to go with its merits, but one thing at which it unassailably succeeded was making me excited for the second season, for which my ticket is already punched.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Otherside Picnic – 08 – Ninja Cat Attack

One day while having lunch Sorao is approached by freshman Seto Akari, who has heard from the grapevine that Sorao has “the sixth sense” and specializes in supernatural incidents. Akari’s current problem is she’s being attacked…by ninja cats. Sure, why not?

This isn’t really something Sorao can laugh off, as they’ve experienced far worse in the Otherside. Sorao discusses it with Toriko at Kozakura’s house, only to be interrupted by the delivery of a “tobacco farming vehicle” the partners in crime ordered when they were super drunk together. Note to Sorao—Alcohol is a drug!

Sorao’s main concern in taking on Akari’s job is that she loves cats, and doesn’t think she’d be able to harm one if it came down to it. Toriko assures her she’ll do the violence this time, if necessary. While meeting with Akari at a (non-cat) café, the two ninja cats appear behind them as the three suddenly find themselves in what Sorao calls “Space-Time Man’s world.”

Before pulling their guns, Toriko says they’ll have to make Akari a fellow “partner in crime”, but Sorao objects, as that’s the term she’s landed on to describe their relationship. No one else can be their partner in crime, so they settle on Akari as a “victim” instead.

In this kind of conduit between their world and the Otherside, one of the ninja cats charges Sorao with a sharp blade, but Akari blocks it with a menu. The three flee the café, only to find a surreal “cat world” outside, and the ninjas still in hot pursuit.

When the ninja prove too quick for Toriko’s gun, Akari, who knows “some karate”, puts her purse down and busts out some moves. I didn’t expect any cool martial arts combat animation, but that’s what we get for a glorious sixty seconds or so. Unfortunately, Akari ends up hitting nothing but air, suggesting to Sorao that they may not have a truly physical form.

When she turns her blue eye on Akari, the girl’s personality suddenly turns twisted, and Sorao sees the source: some strange object inside her abdomen. Sorao lifts up Akari’s shirt, grabs Toriko’s hand, and plunges it into Akari, and Toriko produces a cat-themed good-luck charm, the true reason the cats were chasing Akari. Sorao tosses it away and the ninjas chase after it, leaving them alone.

Sorao wakes up back in the real world, not having had to hurt any kittys, Otherside or otherwise. When asked about the charm, Akari says she got it from her tutor, Uruma. Uruma Satsuki. It’s hardly going out on a limb to say that’s not a coincidence, considering Akari reached out to Sorao and Toriko.

Otherside Picnic – 07 – Queens of the Seaside

Those curious about what became of the American Marines get no answers this week, as the girls are on to their next adventure, this time on a beach. Sorao wakes up in a posh hotel room, having shared the bed with a naked Toriko. She can vaguely remember going shopping and bar hopping, and is proud of her drunk self for plugging in her phone.

While taking a taxi to the beach, both Sorao and Toriko nod off, and when they come to, the taxi is derelict and covered in plants and sand, as if it had been sitting there for years. It looks like they’re still in the Otherside, though with a very Spirited Away vibe with a lush blue and green palette.

The duo do a thorough search of a long-abandoned beach shop that, while creepy, contains no active threats, so on Toriko’s urging they change into the bikinis they bought yesterday(?) and proceed to have a fun time on the beach, drinking beer and practicing shooting. The Okinawan afterlife of Narai Kanai is also referenced as the two discuss the Alcatraz-like ruin on the horizon.

Sorao’s been letting her have her way so much, Toriko is worried Sorao could get sick of her, but that’s not the case. Indeed, Sorao again tries to bring up her feelings, only to miss her chance once again. Regardless, she’s happy to be having fun on the beach, a place she never felt was her scene. It’s also a welcome deviation from the standard Otherside aesthetic.

Their solitary fun is cut short when they hear odd noises and discover zombie-like punks beating up little kids. When Sorao and Toriko are rushed, Toriko freezes up, but Sorao shoots them all down before they can get to them. Toriko is impressed: Sorao can shoot and kill to protect herself and Toriko, but she credits Toriko with helping steel her resolve.

Sorao can also see with her eye that the punks weren’t human, but reanimated piles of washed-up beach detritus. Suddenly, the skies turn blue and brooding, which Sorao remembers the captive Toriko saying was the most dangerous time to be in the Otherside. A legion of creepy child-dolls bursts out of the beach shop while huge walrus-like beasts appear on the beach. The girls are well and truly freaked out.

They also don’t have enough ammo to deal with all of these creepy monsters great and small, so Sorao arranges for their exit, using her eye, Lady Hasshaku’s hat, and Toriko’s hand to open a portal. A great light flashes from the dissolving hat, turning all of the monsters back into garbage, and the girls fall through.

They emerge back in the normal world, apparently still on the beaches of a populated, non-ruined Okinawa, and perhaps where they had their day and night of shopping and drinking. Before the portal closes, Sorao spots a woman with flowing black hair. Could it be Uruma Satsuki, mentioned by one of the monster boys as part of the “Queen of the Beach” urban legend?

If it was, Toriko didn’t see her, and Sorao doesn’t bring it up. Instead, they have some beers and enjoy the fireworks, even though they’re broke and not sure how they’ll get home. As always, because they’re living in the moment together, nothing else seems to matter as much.

With its fun girls trip to the beach-turned-freaky seaside monster convention, Urasekai Picnic again scores high marks for its mastery of mood and atmosphere, and the cozily-infectious chemistry of Sorao and Toriko.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Cardcaptor Sakura – 40 – Tower of Dreams

Sakura, Tomoyo, Syaoran and Meiling go on a shopping and sightseeing trip to Tokyo…on their own. Wait, aren’t these eleven-year-old kids who require supervision during such a trip? Apparently not! I guess all that cardcapturing has forced them to grow up fast. In any case, I was definitely vicariously living through them as they did ordinary city things now made far more difficult during the Covid ordeal.

As the quartet darts around the metropolis, they are shadowed by a glowing blue butterfly that is most definitely a Clow Card that starts having an effect on them one by one. First there’s Tomoyo, who is happily recording their day when all of a sudden an entire squadron of Sakuras in battle costumes surround her. As you would expect, Tomoyo enjoys this hallucination immensely.

When the group catches a movie and it gets to a romantic scene with a seaside sunset, Syaoran shows himself out of the theater to grab some drinks as Sakura and Meiling both swoon. Unfortunately, upon reaching the theater door he finds himself within the movie as its protagonist and Sakura as his love interest, flustering him even more than if he’d just kept his seat.

From there, the group heads to the Tokyo Tower to get some birds-eye views of the city. Despite having never been there in person before, as we know Sakura has been dreaming of the tower on-and-off ever since Syaoran showed up, with the dreams increasing in frequency when Mizuki-sensei arrived. Upon entering the tower’s base, Sakura feels…off? Then she encounters both Touya and Yukito working up in the observation deck, even though they’re supposed to be playing soccer.

Night falls, and Sakura watches her dream unfold from a different viewpoint, and it’s confirmed beyond doubt that Mizuki is the woman perched on the tower. Sakura starts to wig out, not sure what to do, but “Dream” Sakura approaches Sakura and tells her everything will be alright and work out in the end. From there, Sakura wakes up to find she never left the tower’s lobby, with Syaoran supporting her with one hand while pinning the Dream card with the Time card.

Sakura manages to seal Dream, which flies into Syaoran’s hand as the one who subdued it, and the four continue their trip without the threat of slipping into any more dreams. Then we cut back to one more wide shot of the tower and there is Mizuki-sensei, in broad daylight, magic bell in hand, smiling her inscrutable smile. Kero warns Sakura that the dreams she’s experiencing foretell events that will come to pass in the real, waking world. But the nagging question remains…What the heck is Mizuki up to?

Sing “Yesterday” for Me – 03 – No Demands? No, Demands!

Yesterday starts with Haru following Rikuo in the rain. He basically tells her she could do better than the likes of him. She tells him she has no particular hopes or demands about the likes of him anyway. She also feels like she’s playing catch-up to Shinako, but her war declaration freed her to act.

In the space of a few minutes, Rikuo suddenly knows a lot more about how Haru feels…but he still doesn’t know much about Haru the person, which she’s intentionally keeping vague as a long-established way to remain at enough of a distance to run away if things get too painful or messy.

As a result of their chat, Rikuo catches cold from the rain. Haru ends up with his phone number from Kinoshita unbidden, but she hesitates to call him (with her rotary telephone!), for the same reason she hesitates to reveal too much about herself. As a result, Shinako get the jump on her, as it were, by stopping by Rikuo’s to give him some hardy leftovers to keep up his strength.

When Rikuo is better and back to work, Haru invites him out to a monster movie on Sunday. Rikuo bites, and Haru is so happy a the prospect of a date she shares her happiness in the form of free coffee for Rou, whose change was eaten by the vending machine.

Haru also gets excited about looking her best for the date, after visiting her mom for the first time in three months (the two are cordial but hardly close) and stopping by the konbini to say hi to Rikuo and voice how much she’s looking forward tomorrow.

Haru’s anticipatory cuteness is particularly heartbreaking because I knew there was just  no way that movie date was going to unfold without a hitch. Sure enough, Rikuo learns Shinako has come down with her own fever while calling her about returning her Tupperware.

Rikuo proceeds to return the favor by taking care of her, and ends up falling asleep at her kitchen table. By the time he wakes up and realizes what’s happened, the rain clouds have returned (they really know when to show up for maximum effect) and Haru believes Rikuo either forgot, stood her up, or chose Shinako over her.

A contrite Rikuo eventually finds her soaking away in the rain and apologizes profusely, but is way too blunt about where he was, even if he insists it was all innocent. Because of the timing of his standing her up and the fact he didn’t have her contact info, even having cell phones wouldn’t have solved this matter.

Despite having clearly said she had “no demands”, Haru realizes later that she still had expectations with Rikuo. She then determines that if she stops going to the konbini, that will be the end of things. She has an exit ramp…right up until she yells out at a stop light and Rikuo hears her and comes over, blocking her escape.

Their exchange is tense at first, but Haru decides to drop the Mysterious Girl act and start over fresh with a proper introduction (including height and weight!). Rikuo reiterates his regret at standing her up, and Haru accepts his regrets, making him promise to take care of her should she ever come down with a fever, then immediately feigning one.

Miyamoto Yume’s performance in this scene (and just prior when she was alone on her bike), and the animation of Haru’s face, are the highlights of this episode. The murky muddy palette returned with a vengeance, but that only made the eventual reconciliation at the end, when the rain clouds had finally passed both literally and emotionally, that much more powerful. After so much darkness, some healing light.

At this point I don’t even care if Haru is a MPDG (and for the record I don’t think she is)—she’s winning my heart!

Sing “Yesterday” for Me – 02 – Switching Gears

When I first saw Shinako’s new shorter hairstyle, my mind momentarily went to competing with Haru, but that’s far to simplistic, and was immediately swatted down as a motivation when her silhouette in the barber’s chair is set against an austere blossoming cherry tree. There’s another reason, perhaps related to moving forward (or at least appearing to do so).

This week marks the introduction of the fourth member of the love polygon: Hayakawa Rou, who is in love with Shinako, his older childhood friend. Turns out he’s transferring to her school and may even end up in her class. Again, my immediate reaction was well, he and Haru are both high-school age, they’d be perfect together and the adults could go do their thing. But again, that’s making things way too easy for the parties involved!

It’s striking how much more vivid the colors are this week than last, but hey, trees blossoming in the spring will do that (indeed, it’s happening right outside my window and it’s wonderful!). It turns out Shinako doesn’t much like cherry blossoms. But after her post-graduation faculty after-party (she doesn’t attend he after-after party) she still takes some time to sit among the blossoms for a spell.

Her alone time is interrupted by Rikuo, and Shinako uses the opportunity to tell him she knows she’s asking a lot by wanting to remain just friends. But despite Rikuo’s belief she’s forward-thinking, Shinako reveals she’s nothing of the sort. If anything, she’s just good at making it look like she’s moving forward, when it’s more like walking in circles.

Then Haru walks by after her shift at the bar, assumes she interrupted something romantic, and runs off home in a mild huff. If that wasn’t enough, Rou also witnesses the tail end of Rikuo and Shinako’s talk. That’s…a lot of coincidences!

The next day, while Rikuo is discussing the potential difficulties of friendzoning with Kinoshita, Rou shows up and demands to know who Shinako is to Rikuo. At practically the same time, Haru shows up after school to have a chat with Shinako, offering dango as an olive branch.

Despite that olive branch, Haru is here to do battle, and not on an empty stomach. She wants to hear who Rikuo is to Shinako, and Shinako is quite clear that all they’ll ever be is good friends. Haru isn’t satisfied with this, because she doesn’t want to be a “compromise” Rikuo is nudged towards by Shinako.

When Shinako asks what exactly Haru likes about Rikuo, she doesn’t have a good answer beyond her belief that love is “a trick of the mind” that demands a beginning, a middle, and some kind of conclusion, be it good or bad. That’s when Shinako tells Haru she can’t be more than friends with Rikuo because there’s someone she already loves…or rather loved.

Rou mentions it to Rikuo as well: Shinako keeps a flame burning for his older brother, who died six years ago of a heart condition. Shinako took care of him until his death, which occurred during…the cherry blossoms. When most people see rebirth and the future in them, Shinako sees death and a past she can’t let go of.

Rou’s brother’s death wasn’t the “conclusion” Haru said is needed to stop that “trick of the mind” that is love. Shinako’s love endures, superceding any other opportunities (i.e. Rikuo). Even so, Haru still decides to declare war on Shinako, and will prepare for anything, including Shinako coming around with Rikuo. Having heard about Rou’s brother, Rikuo waits by Shinako’s place to talk to her, but can’t properly organize his thoughts and starts to walk away.

Shinako, for her part, is sorry she never brought the brother up, but didn’t want to use him as an excuse to reject him. Then the two decide it would be best if they weren’t friends anymore, due to the significant imbalance in effort. He’d rather wait than be friends, indicating he hasn’t given up on her (and why it was wise for Haru to declare war). Shinako is relieved…but hates that she is.

So far I’m liking this fairly brisk pace of events. Less wallowing and introspection, more communication and firm decisions. Rikuo is still being shamefully dense about Haru’s intentions—though he may yet be justified in doing so.

The progress made this week was worth the occasionally questionable coincidences. I also like how this takes place in the 90s, where the cassette is king and there are no cell phones, necessitating more face-to-face interaction. And both the animation and voice acting are terrific. It may not be the happiest story, but I’m in my happy place.

Sing “Yesterday” for Me – 01 (First Impressions) – Fine the Way They Are

When I visited Tokyo, I’d always naturally wake up very early in the morning, when the only people up were crows and convenience store clerks. One of those clerks could have been a guy like Uozumi Rikuo, who feeds the crows rejected bentos on his break. He’s approached by a cute young lady named Haru (Miyamoto Yume) who has a pet crow named Kansuke and a pointed interest in him, though he internally dismisses her as eccentric.

Rikuo just isn’t sure what to do with the energy Haru provides in that brief moment in the early morn, because he’s been in low-energy mode since graduating from university. He never engaged in any serious job hunting, and seems resigned, if not content, with a modest existence in a modest apartment with a modest part-time job. His former classmate Fukuda informs him of their upcoming six-month reunion, and also that Morinome Shinako (Hanazawa Kana), with whom Rikuo was good friends, is back in town teaching high school.

Rikuo skips the reunion, but Shinako comes to him at the konbini, and she waits at nearby a family restaurant until after his shift. There, the two pleasantly catch up, and visit their old stomping grounds. Rikuo admits he’s become what most in the world would call a failure, due to not living up to his potential and education. Shinako doesn’t judge, deeming him more “someone who needs taking care of” rather than “working his ass off in a suit”.

Shinako pops by more so the two can walk and talk after work. Rikuo’s co-worker assumes he’s some kind of smooth operator to have the attention of such a “mystery beauty”, on top of the quirky-cute Haru—who definitely gives off a mild MPDG vibe. One night the two women cross paths, and Rikuo learns Haru was once in Shinako’s class, but dropped out after being suspended for working at a bar.

While chatting in the park Haru makes it clear she comes to the store to see him, and that they met before. When he can’t recall, she tells him it was a momentary exchange five years ago. She’s harbored a crush on him ever since, but considers all relationships “illusions” anyway.


After getting a frank but salient lecture from an amateur punk rocker co-worker (of all people!) about being so self-deprecating and keeping the stakes of his life so low as to avoid getting hurt. Rikuo knows that while he can’t lose anything going through life like that, he can’t gain anything either. So he decides to breaks that pattern of behavior (for once) by meeting Shinako outside her house and confessing his feelings…and promptly gets shot down. Shinako just wants to be friends.

Rikuo urges himself to buck up—after all, he just did something he should have done before graduation—but still crashes his bike, and has himself a little weep in the pile of garbage bags that broke his cushioned his fall. The next day he reports having “closed the book on an illusion”, lamenting that while he attempted a “personal transformation”, it didn’t get him anywhere.

Haru can relate. As she talks about how she lives her life he realizes they’re alike; self-professed “social outcasts” who tell lies to escape hurt. In meeting Rikuo, Haru suddenly wanted to be liked, though now that she’s aware of his feelings for Shinako perhaps that’s no longer a viable escape. Even so, Rikuo snaps a photo of her for his co-worker’s album cover, and Haru beams at the camera.

Yesterday wo Utatte’s a wonderful realistic portrait of grown-ups looking at what they should do and not. Its detailed, lived-in atmosphere draws you in and envelops you. It can be melancholy and brooding at times—okay, most of the time—but that’s balanced by moments of brightness and warmth like that smile that closes out the episode. Haru calls it “basic” but it wasn’t 100% insincere.

After years of losing nothing, Rikuo and Haru have gained something valuable: a new friendship and understanding. Will they be able to give each other the courage to move forward, or at least pick a direction and go, or just hurt each other more than they already are? I’m eager to see how this shakes out.

Boogiepop wa Warawanai – 16 – My Dad’s A Kaiju

Boogiepop is on the job…they just aren’t sure what the job is, at least not yet. Niitoki Kei assumes that because Boogiepop is there, there is a threat that requires elimination, but Boogiepop isn’t detecting a threat worth acting on, only that whatever is at work in the Moon Temple is trying to “draw some kind of reaction out of people.” She then offers Kei the lunch Touka made for Keiji, which Kei doesn’t feel right eating, but eventually starts to eat anyway.

Kei recalls what Suema said to her about dissociative identity disorder of the kind Touka might be suffering; about how it was merely a theory, and that there was no ironclad proof that anyone claiming to have DID isn’t simply acting. Furthermore, those multiple personalities are born out of a person’s desires, and because everyone has desires, everyone can conjure multiple personalities as conditions warrant.

In the Moon Temple, that other personality is manifested as the King of Distortion, be it Kei and Saotome, Sakiko and the Hinako who never was…or Makoto and the giganic kaiju “Zooragi.” That last one is creating a lot of problems.

Even though not everyone can see him, the fact of the matter is no one’s King of Distortion as grown as powerful and separate than Zooragi from Makoto. He apparently once drew him as he imagined his dad was, which is interesting since his mother suspected Teratsuki to be his father.

As for Keiji, he’s just worried about Touka, whose own alternate personality of Boogiepop may be a product of her desire to protect humanity from existential threats. As the ground around the Temple buckles (due to the invisible Zooragi), Keiji runs towards the danger, in order to help his girlfriend.

Boogiepop finally finds something to do when they meet Makoto, who is about to be eaten by his own alternate personality made flesh. They actually relish the opportunity to fight a kaiju for the first time.

Holding Makoto close to protect him, Boogiepop uses her trusty wire and vaunted nimbleness to spin around Zooragi’s neck and garrote its head clean off—a superhero move if ever there was one.

Relieving Zooragi of its head causes Makoto to pass out, then reveals a second head beneath, a Zooragi that’s more Stegosaurus than Tyrannosaurus. But a portion of Zooragi’s power still manages to “cross the boundary”, putting the Moon Temple structure—and everyone still in it, both asleep and awake—in mortal danger. A Boogiepop’s work is never done…

Boogiepop wa Warawanai – 15 – Dream Prisons

This week’s Boogiepop is a series of disorienting vignettes in which various visitors to the Moon Temple end up inhabiting old memories, first as their younger selves, then as their present selves. This enables them to do and say things they wanted to at the time, but didn’t.

We begin with a woman who knew Teratsuki Kyouichirou, who offered her money to care for her son Makoto before dying suddenly two years after he predicted. In the present, the King of Distortion takes Teratsuki’s form, but it was the past Teratsuki who spoke of leaving “one last parting gift”—most likely the Moon Temple.

We move on to Sakiko, walking along a train track with her best friend Hinako, who is tall and gorgeous…but Hinako never got to grow up into the woman Sakiko sees. She died in a car accident with her family before Sakiko could apologize for lashing out at her in jealousy. The King of Distortion offers her a chance to turn her bitter regrets into gold.

Next up, a younger Habara Kentarou, friend of Tanaka Shirou and student at Shinyou Academy. He used to hack into companies, but was caught by Kirima Nagi, in whose palm he was dancing all along. Suddenly Nagi, actually the King, turns into Saotome, who like Kentarou had unrequited feelings for Nagi.

The King presents Kentarou with a riddle: if the world is a nightmare, how does one escape? To drive the nightmare point home, the ground starts to shake and windows crack; a giant kaiju appears in the streets. Kentarou finds Makoto, recognizes him from the Moon Temple, and they escape to the one place Kentarou believes he’ll be able to escape the nightmare…the Temple itself.

Upon arriving there, Kentarou finds…himself lying asleep on the ground, gives himself a kick, and wakes up. He wakes up Shirou next to him, and the two are surrounded by sleeping people, every one of them trapped in their dreams by the King of Distortion.

Clearly it was the will of the King, or Teratsuki (or both, if there’s no difference between them) to entice a large number of people to come to the Moon Temple so he could put them to sleep and explore their memories, particularly those containing their regrets. But it remains to be seen where Boogiepop fits into all this. It the King simply another enemy for them to eliminate, or is there more going on here?

Boogiepop wa Warawanai – 14 – Don’t Get It Twisted

Keiji is lonely. Touka is lonely. So they arrange a date at the grand opening of Moon Temple, AKA The Temple of Babylon, AKA “Teratsuki Kyouichirou’s Folly,” a massive, bizarre, twisted tower in the center of a postmodern park, the final legacy of a once hugely-successful CEO who died suddenly at 56.

The lovebirds aren’t the only ones to attend the unveiling: there’s a massive throng waiting in line hours before the opening, among them a mother and son, who upon leaving the bathroom finds himself face-to-face with a Teratsuki claiming he was “just born.”

Despite assuring Keiji she won’t be late, Touka is made late by the emergence of a fresh threat to humanity, and so Boogiepop takes over her body to intervene. Keiji, waiting for Touka in a cafe, encounters “Boogiepop”, but something’s off; it’s a fake, calling themselves the “King of Distortion.”

A girl named Sakiko on a date with a guy she’s not particularly interested in spots the real Boogiepop rushing past, but she only knows of the legend of the Boogiepop who kills women at the peak of their beauty. Niitoki Kei, who knows better, also spots Boogiepop and chases after them into the tower.

Kei ends up in the schoolyard, the same place and time of day Saotome Masami was killed. Saotome appears before her, calling himself the “King of Distortion.” A guy who was working at the tower but now finds himself in a restaurant with that same King, in the form of a girl he wanted to whom he wanted to say something but never did.

In all these cases, the King of Distortion seeks to turn the world to gold (hence the threat), and apparently seeks to do so by creating elaborate illusions and take the form of people that will help them remember something lingering in their hearts—in other words, distortion in those hearts.

When the King and Boogiepop meet, he warns them that he won’t allow anyone to interfere with his “experiment to turn everything to gold.” What we have, then, is a bizarre but intriguing new adversary who uses peoples’ memories, relationships, and insecurities against them and twists their very reality. In light of all this, Boogiepop wonders for the first time if she’ll actually be able to protect Kei & Co.

Owari no Seraph 2 – 08

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No doubt motivated by her feelings for Yuu, and her desire to not see him in pain, Shinoa agrees to attempt to save Guren and Shinya. Had she fully comprehended how impossible it would be to snatch from Eusford Crowley something he does not intend to give up willingly, she would never have agreed even to the few minutes of attempted rescue.

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The Shinoa Team puts their absolute best, perfectly-coordinated product on the field, and still get trounced by the mere sidelong glance of Crowley. Not that surprising; even Guren and Shinya only lasted so long until they were exhausted heaps unable to stay upright without a wall nearby to lean on. Rescuing Guren simply isn’t possible. They can only run, live another day, and hope to get another shot later.

(It was good to hear a vocal arrangement of Sawano’s “scaPEGoat”, which not only gave this scene gravitas, but also made me miss the first season’s ED; this season’s OP and ED are pretty weak by comparison.)

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The extent of the futility continues when Guren’s team shows up. Goshi gets his illusory fog going, and even Crowley is plunged into a lava-filled cavern, but none of the surprise attacks from Sayuri, Shigure, or Mito trouble Crowley at all, nor does the illusion. Rather, he’s bemused that the humans have amassed even this much power, even though they remain thoroughly powerless compared to him.

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Guren orders everyone to retreat and leave him behind, and everyone obeys, though nobody is happy about it. Both Shinya and “Guren’s Girls” are particularly broken up about it, but with the exception of Sayuri, maintain their composure and set their sights on completing the mission, linking up with Narumi’s squad and working as a team. But Yuu can’t do it.

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No matter what anyone, even Shinoa, says to him about family or how much better they know Guren, Yuu is simply incapable of letting Guren go as long as he’s still alive. He remembers the first sleepless, nightmare-ridden nights after Guren rescued him. Even back then they’d developed a rather combative sheen to an otherwise deep brotherly bond, and for the first time, we see how much Yuu meant to Guren as a means of making up for the person he lost.

He also spoke of a day Yuu never thought would come: when the pain of living would give way to purpose: finding someone who needed help, as Yuu needed Guren’s. Yuu believes that time has finally come, and he’d rather die than pass it up. So he takes two more pills than he should, then starts to convulse and bleed and pass out, to everyone’s horror; particularly Shinoa’s.

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Just as Yuu is apparently dying of an overdose as his friends stand around him, helpless, Mika arrives with his squad of vampire underlings, who he promptly kills. He’s not here to “check on Crowley”, after all. He’s here for Yuu, and it doesn’t look good for Yuu’s friends right now.

As for the larger battle, Kureto, on the front line and feeling directly responsible for the survival of the entire human race, hasn’t quite let the power get to his head, but he has certainly grabbed all the power he can. Despite the arrival of a brother closer to the Hiiragi patriarch, Kureto is going his own way with his own means and methods, and no one can judge him, because if he fails everyone will be dead anyway.

His own means include the deployment of a “test subject” ominously stored in something resembling the Jurassic Park raptor crate. What devilry lies therein? Will it make a difference? Is Yuu really dead of an overdose? (No, he’s not.) The preview for next week shows Shinoa holding back a line of vampires…for Mika’s sake. I am definitely intrigued.

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Gakkou Gurashi! – 07

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Mii-kun’s friend Kei was fond of the author/poet/essayist Kamo no Chomei (1153-1216), and his serene masterpiece An Account of My Hut (Hojoki):

The flow of the river is ceaseless, yet the water is never the same.

The girls of the School Life Club travel that river; the river of life. Even holed up in that room at the mall, Mii-kun was like a leaf drifting atop the surface river; living but nothing else. Now she has encountered other leaves on the river; now joined in a clump, they travel along the flow together. Sometimes the currents are arduous, but they’re stronger together, both in body and mind.

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The foam that floats on stagnant pools, now vanishing, now forming, are not long in their duration. So, too, it is with man and his dwellings in the world. They are the blink of an eye.

How true is that statement in the world of our club: one moment life in their world is normal, the next, everything has changed. A great number of bubbles in that foam popped that day, and continue to pop, but the girls’journey continues.

Those who are powerful are filled with greed; and those who have no protectors are despised.

The “powerful” of Gakkou Gurashi are the zombies, who are the embodiment of greed (they want only flesh…no doubt including brains). They prey on those who have no protectors. Rii-san, Kurumi, and Mii-kun protect each other, as well as Yuki and Taroumaru.

Possessions bring many worries; in poverty there is sorrow.

You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t, eh? The girls’ possessions are few, but those they retain—from Rii-san’s hot plate; Kurumi’s shovel; Mii-kun’s Discman; Yuki’s hat; to the materials for letter-writing and distributing to a mysterious key that belonged to Megu-nee—as well as the friendships they share, bring them worry every day. Their greatest poverty is being the only living humans they know about, even as they assure themselves there are others out there.

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He who asks another’s help becomes his slave; he who nurtures others is fettered by affection. He who does not, appears deranged.

Mii-kun is only a “slave” as a result of being saved insofar as she has agreed to nurture Yuki’s illusions along with Rii-san and Kurumi. Rii-san, the mom of the group, is deservedly admired and loved by the others.

Wherever one may live, whatever work one may do, is it possible even for a moment to find a haven for the body or peace for the mind?

The club lives in the school, which is both a haven and a prison. They must ration food to keep their bodies alive, and they must kepe Yuki lucid and happy so that her smile can keep their minds at peace. Yet Mii-kun remarks this can’t go on forever; they ask too much of Yuki.

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It is a bare ten feet square and less than seven feet high. … I laid a foundation and roughly thatched a roof. … I have added a lean-to on the south and a porch of bamboo. Along the west wall I built a shelf for holy water and installed an image of the Buddha. The light of the setting sun shines between its eyebrows. … On the wall that faces the north I have built a little shelf on which I keep three or four black leather baskets that contain books of poetry and music and extracts from the sacred writings. Beside them stand a folding koto and lute.

The school by any other description; a shelter of modest dimensions and modest appointments, but full of thought and love and care. Solar panels, desk barricades, designated sleeping and eating facilities…

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Outside the hut is a fenced garden to the north and a rock pool to the south with a bamboo pipe draining water. The woods are close, providing plenty of brush-wood, and only to the west is a clearing beyond vines and overgrown valleys.

The garden where the club grows vegetables to supplement their packaged rations is on the roof of the school. The “woods” are the devastated, potentially lethal city beyond the school’s walls; the “clearing” is the schoolyard where the zombies roam much like wild animals; predators to be respected and avoided, but ultimately to coexist with. They too flow within the river, only they lurk below it, having drowned.

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Knowing myself and the world, I have no ambitions and do not mix in the world. I seek only tranquility; I rejoice in the absence of grief.

The club members could easily lapse into a state of hermitry, never venturing too far form the school or too long in the woods, where they know they could meet their death. Yet Rii-san, Kurumi, and Mii-kun all purport to have ambitions vis-a-vis the world. Things won’t be like this forever. It is a dream they will one day wake up from. That hope keeps them going.

Meanwhile, Yuki rejoices in the absence of grief; inadvertantly refusing to fully acknowledge the real world. She is the ideal of tranquility and peace of mind no undeluded person in this world will ever hope to achieve. There’s a close call when Yuki thinks about who was in the car after rescuing Mii-kun, but a few white lies and she finds Megu-nee right where she should be.

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The dew may fall and the flower remain, of the flower may wither before the dew is gone.

The girls, Yuki excluded, face their mortality every day, see places and things that may, and in all likelihood will, outlast them. The choice they face is whether to despair at their seemingly inevitable end, or to embrace the relative beauty and peace of their present. situation.

The fact that Hojoki, words written by Chomei eight hundred years ago, is a testament to the fundamental truth of the ceaseless river upon which we only drift a short while. But hopefully Rii-san, Kurumi, Mii-kun and Yuki will see many more evenings together.

The question is, will Yuki ever emerge from the hut of tranquility her mind created, where she currently resides?

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