Zombieland Saga: Revenge – 09 – The Legend Continues

As those who share Kiichi’s views grow in number, he still finds time for tea with Yuugiri, who whips up a medicine for his ailing grandfather. Kiichi and Itou pose with Yuugiri for a photograph, which for me meant that somewhere in the present day there’s a very old black-and-white photo of the Legendary Courtesan out there—assuming it survived the war.

However, those who have joined Kiichi don’t necessarily want a new Saga for all; they want their old Saga back, and as many of them are veterans of the war lost eight years ago, they’re willing to take up arms and spill blood to do it, which is far beyond the peaceful return of Saga of which the idealistic Kiichi dreams.

Itou, in between ripping down Kiichi’s flyers and passing messengers disguised as vagrants, gives his friend one final warning to give up his crusade now that it is poised to become a violent one beyond his control. But Kiichi isn’t quite ready to give up on Saga, either for himself or the comrades he’s gathered.

Unfortunately, those comrades armed themselves and planned an armed rebellion behind Kiichi’s back. On the snowy night when they spring into action, Itou meets them in a quiet street…and cuts them all down on orders from the government.

By the time Kiichi catches up to his comrades, Itou has already slaughtered them all. It turns out he was watching out for spies all along, and while he knew Kiichi didn’t mean for things to turn out this way, he’s crossed a line he can’t un-cross, and now it’s Itou’s duty to kill him.

Yuugiri doesn’t let him, whipping a katana out of her shamisen to meet his, saving Kiichi’s life. When the local police approach with whistles blaring, Itou flees one way while Yuugiri and Kiichi go another. All the while, Kiichi’s gramps is having some kind of attack and collapses before he can reach the medicine.

After losing the fuzz, Kiichi starts to sob and whine, and Yuugiri slaps him, telling him he’s come this far for Saga’s sake and can’t give up now. As we saw in a previous scene, she’s already written to some of her many powerful friends who have sworn to protect Kiichi until things cool down. Kiichi doesn’t want to leave the Saga he loves, but he listens to the legendary savior whom he loves.

By the time Itou finds a casually smoking Yuugiri, Kiichi is long gone. Yuugiri forewarns that she was trained by someone called the “Sheathed Kichiemon”, whom Itou knows as “The Demon of Hibiya,” and thus knows he can’t go easy on her. In the ensuing one-slash duel, Yuugiri bests Itou, killing him, but is shocked that he let himself be killed.

No doubt if Itou failed to kill Kiichi, he was as good as dead anyway; he simply let Yuugiri take care of him for him. And with the snow ceasing and the clouds opening up to reveal a majestic full moon, Yuugiri accepts her fate. The next morning, Gramps wakes up and finds a letter from Yuugiri amongst the medicine.

In it, she says by the time he reads it she’ll likely be dead; beheaded by the military in a unilateral execution for killing Itou, a government official. Interspersed with her beautifully lit and solemn execution scene, she tells Gramps that if he’s truly “Saga” (as in, the human embodiment of Saga) as claimed, he’ll guide the new Saga Kiichi creates.

The following spring, May 1883, Saga re-gains independence from Nagasaki thanks to a peaceful appeal from supporters in the prefecture, and by August, unilateral execution was banned, and just nine days after that, Kiichi’s dream officially came true, as the first Saga prefectural assembly is held. Yuugiri’s death, and that of Kiichi’s comrades, weren’t in vain.

With that, we find ourselves back in the present, as Yuugiri takes center stage in a bopping swing-style concert, resplendent in period-inspired garb as her fellow idols support her. This particular concert hits different now that we’ve seen everything Yuugiri’s been through to come to this part of her (after)life.

In a very cheeky epilogue, she has some very nice whiskey in a very classy bar tended by a man who looks and sounds like a younger version of Kiichi’s gramps. He is aware that Yuugiri was alive in the Meiji era, and the black-and-white photo of her with Kiichi and Itou is behind the bar, so this guy must really be the immortal Saga.

Not only did this two-parter give the legendary Yuugiri the epic backstory he deserved, in which she was revealed a hero, martyr, and unsung founding mother to the new Saga—it also expands the mythos of the show by introducing an undying character who has been on the margins of this whole story all along, and may well be behind the necromancy that brought Yuugiri and the other idols back. In any case, I’m eager to see where this goes!

Crow and Irina talk episode 9 here!

Zombieland Saga: Revenge – 08 – The Celestial Maiden

Note: This episode was originally accidentally labeled episode 7. It is episode 8.

This is it, the much-anticipated backstory episode(s) for the oldest (by more than a century), wisest, and most elegant and domestically capable members of Franchouchou. One and a half seasons seems like far too long without Yuugiri being the focus, but good things come to those who wait.

The clock turns all the way back to 1881 (Meiji 14), when the proud proprietor and madam are meeting with the Legendary Courtesan Yuugiri at the very height of her powers. Such is her beauty and talents of entertainment, she literally priced herself out of her market!

Her richest and most devout patron showed his gratitude for her services by setting her up with her own household in Saga. I imagine he intended to live with her, but he died of an illness, and a year later, Yuugiri arrives in Saga completely alone and knowing no one. She spends her days giving the local girls dance lessons, and her evenings staring wistfully at the gorgeous Saga sunsets.

Ay, but there’s the rub: the region she moved to was once known as Saga (and will be again in the present day), but in 1882, the Meiji government considered it a nuisance prefecture, and after losing a regional war to Meiji, Saga was split up between Mizuma and Nagasaki, effectively erasing it from the map.

Local boy Momozaki Kiichi is determined to “Bring Saga Back”, making him the spiritual (if not biological!) descendant of Tatsumi Koutarou (he’s even voiced by Miyano Mamoru) . He tries to pass out flyers urging others to join his cause to create a new beginning for Saga, but he’s stopped often by the local cop, and just as often bailed out by his more jaded friend Itou.

One day, Yuugiri’s students urge her to leave her stately roost and view the cherry blossoms. She purchases a windmill, and the wind—and possibly fate—blow it out of her hands, landing at Kiichi’s feet. Kiichi is understandably bowled over by her beauty and politeness.

They’re almost both bowled over by a rickshaw, but when he leaps to push her out of harm’s way, she deftly dodges the ride on her own, and in the opposite direction, while he lands in a muddy bog. To his continued shock and shame, she soils her yukata to dry his face. We get another gorgeous shot of Yuugiri staring at the sunset, but because the red pinwheel is there, it feels significantly less lonely than the first shot.

The woman aboard that rickshaw looks just like Tae, just like many extras in the background resemble characters from the present day. It’s an fun artistic choice that reminds me of Farscape’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and Star Trek: DS9’s “Far Beyond the Stars”—two episodes that placed the casts in totally different roles.

Kiichi learns who he met from Itou, who is more up to speed with gossip in the prefecture formerly known as Saga. It’s rumored Yuugiri was so good, it almost brought down the Meiji court. Kiichi comes calling at Yuugiri’s house to offer a humble comb as thanks for her help; it’s then he learns he’s the first person to actually visit her other than her dance students.

Itou says that Yuugiri and Kiichi are “from different worlds” and thus hopelessly incompatable, but Kiichi rejects that cynicism and begins to build a friendship with Yuugiri, which isn’t hard because she’s incredibly nice and he’s her only adult visitor.

And then, one day, Yuugiri is in the kitchen when she feels what she charitably describes “a fresh presence” that turns out to be Itou. From this point on, and really before that too, something seemed off and sinister about this guy. That he perfectly blocks Yuugiri’s chopstick strike doesn’t dispel that notion!

The aura around Itou is so menacing, in fact, that I half believed he drugged Kiichi in order to be alone with Yuugiri. Instead, he has her put down the shamisen, offers her a drink (she graciously declines), and the two talk about Kiichi. As Yuugiri learned from Kiichi while visiting him at his “gramps”,  he was taken in by an old man after he was orphaned in the Saga war.

While Itou thinks Kiichi’s wild dreams and guileless optimism will lead to heartbreak and despair, Yuugiri admires the lad’s capacity for dreams. For all of Yuugiri’s comfort and luxury, in this era she remains the proverbial bird in a cage, idolized by all and avoided by all. Yet Kiichi, with his wild dreams, visits her and talks to her like they’re equals, and Kiichi-han’s Saga is a Saga where she truly can be free.

Before taking his leave for the night, Itou insists Japan is still too “twisted” and “barbaric” a nation for Kiichi’s dreams to ever come to fruition. Yet the next morning, a hot one, two strapping young lads approach Kiichi with his flyers in hand, interested in a new Saga themselves.

That glimmer of hope Kiichi has finally found some like-minded folks is all but snuffed out when Itou tosses a scrap of paper to an beggar who moves a lot faster and with far more purpose than you’d expect. This elicits a host of suspicions in me, from Itou plotting something horrible for Yuugiri (perhaps on orders from the Meiji court), to those two lads interested in Kiichi’s cause actually being hired muscle waiting for their chance to silence Kiichi, possibly for good.

And then there’s the overarching pall hanging over this look back: it is a look back. We know Yuugiri is already dead. I feel we just may have experience the happy half of the Legendary Courtesan’s saga. One way or another, the second half will end in tragedy as Itou predicted (and could well be an architect in that tragedy), and more than a century will pass before Yuugiri is revived by Koutarou and actually gets to see the New Saga Kiichi-han dreamed about.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Read Irina and Crow’s discussion of episode 8 here!

TONIKAWA: Over the Moon For You – 07 – Matrimonial Proof

As she and the maids observe the happy couple from a bush, Chitose declares without evidence that Tsukasa and Nasa’s honeymoon will end in divorce. Each time she believes the first crack in the armor has appeared, Tsukasa and Nasa quickly make up and continue being lovey-dovey.

TONIKAWA is many things: cute, endearing, heartwarming, pure…but is also very often quite funny, consistently delivering some of the better jokes of a Fall 2020 season that’s light on comedies. For instance, I enjoyed Tsukasa scolding Nasa for settling for a chain restaurant at the food court while ordering something local and bold, only to be thoroughly disappointed in her choice.

Does Nasa gloat to her? Nope! He tastes it (she feeds him) and agrees with her, then snaps a cute photo of her sour face after biting into a lime. Even when she’s cross about this and demands he “regain her favor”, he proceeds to do just that. As the maids observe, the couple’s micro-arguments only serve to make them a closer, cuter couple.

With the passive approach not working, Chitose reveals her presence to Tsukasa and reprimands her for being “in such a place” and falling for “such a guy”. Tsukasa retreats back to the bus with Nasa, but not because of Chitose; she wants to avoid appearing in the same morning show that burned her with the lime udon.

In a nice bit of irony, the maids enjoy the honest grub of the food court as much as Tsukasa and Nasa, and are in no hurry to pick up the chase (their luxury car can easily catch up to the bus). In the payoff of the morning show joke, someone declares the lime udon to be great…even though it wasn’t anything special!

Still, the words Nasa heard Chitose yell: “Why did you marry that guy?” still ring in Nasa’s ears. Tsukasa chalks it up to a marriage rarely involving only the two people getting married, but with the insinuation that you can’t please everyone; particularly Chitose.

The next morning Nasa wakes up on Tsukasa’s shoulder to find they’ve arrived in Kyoto. Calculating that they have a half-day of sightseeing in Kyoto before taking the train to Nara, Nasa asks Tsukasa where she’d like to go first, and she suggests a bakery or café. In a fun reversal, Nasa is as passionately opposed as she was to him ordering chain beef bowl at the rest area.

He beseeches her to avail herself of Kyoto’s unique attractions, which leads to her suggestion of visiting the Manga Museum, so he resorts to rapping to tell her Kyoto’s all about the history and culture. She relents, and decides to look the part by dressing traditionally. Unsurprisingly considering her still-unknown true age and origin, she knows exactly how to put on the kimono without assistance.

Just when she and Nasa are ready for sightseeing, Chitose arrives, flanked by her maids, resembling a trio of old-timey anime villains (which anime I am not sure). If Chitose’s goal is to judge Nasa’s worthiness to be married to Tsukasa, Nasa suggests they have a talk so he can provide what she needs. Charlotte and Aurora agree to take Tsukasa to the cafe and Manga Museum.

While going into the episode I was dreading the constant interruption of the happy couple’s honeymoon by an interfering brat, I’m actually really glad Chitose showed up in Kyoto! For one thing, it shows that Tsukasa and Nasa can and really should split off at times and do their own thing; independence is key to a lasting marriage.

More importantly, Nasa is able to demonstrate to Chitose that Tsukasa didn’t choose him on a whim; he truly is a prepared, thoughtful, and positive fellow, i.e. precisely Tsukasa’s type. The fruits of his extensive research of Kyoto leads to an enjoyable fake date for Chitose…even if she doesn’t openly admit it to him.

Charlotte and Aurora aren’t particularly tactful in asking Tsukasa about why she married Nasa, but they’d prefer to stop hounding her, so anything that will get Chitose off her back would help. Tsukasa starts by blushing up a storm and simply saying Nasa is “just…really cute”, and as she describes Nasa the maids realize that yup, he’s exactly her type.

But that’s not enough for Chitose, who knows a whole lot more about Tsukasa than he does, and ultimately feels it comes down to her having been in Tsukasa’s life first, and it’s not fair that an interloper should “claim” her. Yet even when Nasa learns for the first time that Tsukasa is athletic, he isn’t disheartened; he’s delighted!

When Nasa tells Chitose that Tsukasa saved his life, Chitose replies that Tsukasa saved hers as well—whether she means literally and how remain to be seen. Then Nasa tells her he felt—and feels—lucky, not because she saved his life, but because he met her. Then he launches into a monologue about math—but not to prove his love of Tsukasa to Chitose!

The Drake Equation, used to determing the likelihood of extraterrestrial planets, was modified to express the likelihood of finding the person you’re “fated to be with”. In both cases, the likelihood is 0.0000034%. But the moment he met her, he knew he’d beaten the odds. He’d found someone he felt he’d been searching for since before he was born.

He then mentions concepts like prime numbers and gravitational waves, which were intuited by scientists long before they were scientifically proven. In that same vein, he didn’t marry Tsukasa because he’d already proven his love for her, but because he intends to spend his entire life proving it, day by day. Chitose may yet still be swayed by the bitterness of “losing” Tsukasa to Nasa, but after that presentation she doesn’t have much of a logical argument to oppose the marriage.

Nasa’s worthiness to be with Tsukasa and vice versa is not in question, except for those like Chitose who are driven by personal interest and emotion. And Nasa assures Tsukasa that if his parents aren’t sure about their marriage, then he’ll simply convince them. It’s all part and parcel of his lifelong effort to prove his love is real. Anyone doubting his commitment or discounting his track record do so at their peril!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Oregairu 3 – 02 – This Has to Be Done Now

The tipsy Haruno invites everyone upstairs so Yukino can say what she wants to say, and even pops out some solo champagne as she listens. The  operative word there is listen: she actually does so, now that she can tell Yukino has something to clearly say.

Haruno says she’ll support Yukino in her efforts as a big sis should, but warns that if she goes back home, she may not be able to leave for a while. Yukino already knows the difficulty of what she’s doing, but she can’t win (her independence) if she doesn’t play, so she’s decided to finally take the field.

As Yui stays over to help Yukino pack her things, Haruno walks with Hikigaya, and expresses her astonishment over her little sis finally making herself clear. The ol’ Haruno cynicism is still there, citing that “nothing will change” whether thing works out Yukino or not, but that giving up on “various things” is part of becoming an adult, and it’s good to see Yukino take those first steps.

She also confides in Hikki that she’s not actually drunk, even though her face is flush and she’s favoring his shoulder. The flushness suddenly fades and she stands straighter, and her demeanor and voice suddenly more closely resemble Yukino’s.

No matter how much Haruno has drunk, a part of her has always been able to stay calm and observe and temper herself. And she has a sneaking suspicion Hikki is the same, whispering “you can’t get drunk” in his ear.  Whether it’s alcohol…or love.

The next day at school, after a slight problem unlocking the club room, the trio are back at their places sipping tea when Isshiki Iroha makes her first appearance this season. She hooks up a portable projector and plays a TV drama, but not to just goof off. Instead of the end-of-year “thank you” party for grads, she wants to throw a prom, like Western high schools.

With so little time to prepare, it’s going to be a close call whether Iroha can actually get such an undertaking off the ground, and it wouldn’t even be for her class, but she’s determined to make it happen, stating her desire to be Prom Queen to be her primary motivator.

When Yukino tells her she’ll be queen for her own prom in two years even if she doesn’t “lay the groundwork”, Iroha stands her ground, insisting the prep is crucial to achieving her goals. Left unsaid is that within her selfish motivation there likely lies a desire to see Hikki, Yukino and Yui have a prom.

Yukino can probably sense this, and considering she has a lofty goal of her own, she’d be hypocritical if she pooh-pooh’s Iroha’s. So she agrees to help Iroha, but as an individual, not a Service Club member. She also tells Yui and Hikki they’re under no obligation to help her since it’s not an official request, but a personal one.

While they realize she wants to try to do this on her own, they’ll always be around to help out when needed (which is certain to be the case).

When Yui comes home and sees the photo of her between Yukino and Hikki, she frowns, and tells herself to forget the thing she saw while helping Yukino move: a photo of Yukino holding Hikki’s arm on the water ride, hidden behind the stuffed animals on her bed. Of course, Yui can’t forget what she saw, because it’s just another confirmation of the “place she can’t get into”, no matter how many times she stands in front of the door.

She interprets Yukino’s treasuring of that photo as further evidence she has feelings for Hikki. Yui has feelings for Hikki, but also loves Yukino, thus leaving her perpetually on the outside looking in. She’s had to be content with that limbo, in which her and Yukino and Hikki’s genuine feelings—and the conflicts they create—have been left unsaid, clearly or otherwise.

But with Yukino starting to speak clearly, that’s coming to an end. There’s an unavoidable element of destruction inherent in all acts of creation—in this case Yukino’s New Start, but also the overarching physical and psychological transition into adulthood. Yui sees that on the horizon and fears she’s unprepared…but isn’t everybody?

Oregairu 3 – 01 – Robot Tears

In the park, in the gentle snow, Yukino submits her request to Hachiman and Yui, a request non-readers have been waiting to hear for five years. When Haruno once asked her if she even has a “self”, Yukino pondered an answer and found the results disheartening. She wants to find that self, a self that isn’t following in the footsteps of Haruno or her mother.

While she’s enjoyed faux independence to this point, now she seeks the real thing, even when it means moving back home. Her request, then, is for Hachiman and Yui to support her in her efforts. They accept, walk with Yukino back home, and encounter a tipsy Haruno. Yukino wastes no time getting things moving, telling her big sis they need to talk.

The next morning, Hachiman stows Yui’s much-improved cookies in his desk and greets Komachi, who has already made him breakfast and is preparing for a strenuous day of interviews for entering high school. Their semi-antagonistic banter may feel a tad performative to an outsider new to their interactions, but that’s mitigated by the fact the banter flows so organically and is studded with moments of genuine sibling affection.

While waiting for Komachi to meet up with him for some shopping, Hachiman runs into Kawasaki Saki and her own imouto, Keika, who’s a lot younger than Komachi. Saki remarks how Hachiman is so used to spoiling his little sister, he’s totally unaware he’s doing the same to hers. Then again, at a time when Komachi is growing up fast—entering high school, ye gods!Hachiman is happy to pamper a little sister without pushback.

Hachiman brings up Saki’s brother Komachi shows up, elated and hyper, then when Komachi arrives, Saki observes more of their brother-sister banter. Considering her extreme reaction to Hachiman’s offhand “I love you” during the cultural festival, and her reactions to Hachiman here, I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s developed a teensy little thing for him.

From there, Hachiman and Komachi go on a multi-vector shopping trip, though Komachi earlier remarked that any attempt by her bro to call it a date was “creepy”. Still, the two clearly have a ton of fun flitting from one place to another, culminating in buying groceries for dinner, which Komachi prepares after doing all of the house chores without Hachiman’s help.

These are all efforts by Komachi to make up for slipping in her chore duties during her high school entrance prep. Hachiman never made a big deal out of any of it, but the fact Komachi wants to make it up to him, and he doesn’t resist, says a lot about how much their relationship has improved even as the two go through such major changes in their lives. She then kneels, bows, and formally thanks her brother for taking care of her to this point; she’s to a large degree the person she is thanks to his care and love.

Like Yukino, Komachi doesn’t want to be pampered and spoiled forever as she ends up following a pre-determined path. The two women seek to strike out and prove to themselves they’re capable enough stand on their own and choose their own road to travel, while still accepting moral and practical support from their family and friends.

Hachiman can’t help but tear up over Komachi’s mature display. Rewarding days, months and years lie ahead as Komachi will continue to make him proud…but his days of wiping chocolate from her face are over.

Arte – 05 – Art as Capital

This week Arte meets Leo’s oldest patron with whom he shares “an inescapable bond” despite not being able to stand the guy. Ubertino is a hugely wealthy merchant who presents a detailed order to Leo.

With the work and expensive media required there’s no way he’ll make a profit. Not eager to negotiate, Leo accepts Arte’s offer to go in his stead, hoping a pretty young girl might warm the old coot’s frigid heart.

Arte ends up failing completely, but asks Leo to give her another chance. Seeing that this is a valuable opportunity for someone who wants to someday go independent, Leo lets Arte keep trying. She first seeks advice in how to get what you want out of a negotiation from her new friend Veronica.

In normal circumstances an artisan’s apprentice would never dream of seeking help from a courtesan, but as we’ve seen Arte is hardly normal! Veronica’s advice helps Arte in Round Two, even though Ubertino immediately detects a courtesan’s manners in her constant smile, straight posture, and slow, steady manner with him.

The most important advice Veronica offers is for Arte to show Ubertino that’s she’s worth paying a high price for her work. Arte doesn’t use her noble status to demand a higher payout, but cites the crochet skills she learned as a noble as evidence of her value to him as an artisan.

Ubertino claims not to care about art in the least, but understands its value as capital; that is, as gifts to rich business partners or donations to the church. Thus, Arte must come to terms with the fact that not all of her future customers commission work out of a love for art, but out of an appreciation for its monetary value.

Arte also learns Ubertino’s salon is full not just of Leo’s work, but that of his master’s, then learns that Leo was a beggar whose natural talent and hard work was nurtured by that master. When the master passed, Ubertino’s patronage passed to Leo (hence the inescapable bond).

Learning about Leo’s modest past excites Arte, since as we’ve discussed, she’s in a similar underdog situation, and like Leo must reach out and take what she wants from life; it will never be given to her. She’s also amused that while Leo and Ubertino claim to not stand each other, they’re a lot alike—especially when it comes to never spending money on themselves.

Arte – 04 – The First Step to Hell

When Arte first experiences heartache, she has no idea what it is, just that it is negatively affecting her work and making her absent-minded. All of that makes Leo annoyed with her. Fortunately, his regular patron Veronica, who requests that Arte paint her portrait, is a font of wisdom in matters of love.

Arte comes right out and says she doesn’t necessarily respect Veronica’s profession, but does respect the hard work and resolve Veronica puts into it. Veronica is flattered, but makes it clear that her job and success is only possible because she avoids falling in love. If she falls for one of the men she entertains, she could end up ruined and in the gutter like one of her former contemporaries.

When Arte learn part of Veronica’s routine with men is to play hard-to-get and intentionally make them wait for days so they’ll be more devoted when they do see her. This angers Arte because she knows what heartache feels like and can’t imagine someone being okay with causing suffering on purpose.

While Arte was initially smitten with Veronica’s smile and charms, she soon see’s it’s to a large degree by design. Veronica and her manner is a brand, and the portrait is part of that—posing in a library with a book to evoke intellectualism). But Arte’s condemnation of how she manipulates men doesn’t preclude their becoming friends who can talk to one another anytime.

As for avoiding love, Arte tries to bury herself in her work and not let Leo distract her. It may seem like cynical advice from Veronica, but in their day and age women who want to live by their own power must fiercely maintain that power, and not cede it to others. Of course, in Leo’s case, maybe clearing the air could be advantageous?

Arte – 03 – Different Kind of Animal

It’s Carnival in Florence, and Leo has Arte dress like a boy so they can sit in on a hospital dissection. On the way, Arte meets one of Leo’s patrons—a courtesan—and sees him smiling in a way she’s never seen before. While normally forbidden by the church, Carnival time is an exception. Some guys go pale or faint from the sight of a cadaver being carved up, but Arte is just fine…she truly has the guts to draw guts!

What the church apparently will not abide is to have a woman at a dissection, so when Arte loses her hat and lets out a very feminine yelp, Leo has to get them both out of there lest they get into some serious legal trouble. It ain’t fair, but that was the time. In the process of running and hiding from their pursuers, Leo draws Arte so close that she notices for the first time how a man’s bone structure and skin differ greatly from a woman’s. She also feels an unpleasant pain in her chest that she’s never felt before. Hmmmmm…I wonder what that could be?????

Arte dismisses such sensations as temporary illness and moves on. She also moves up, as Leo is willing to accelerate her progression through the artisan ranks by assigning her the task of a journeyman: creating a background for a real commissioned painting. Arte sets out and braves the cold, comes back with a fine sketch of a cityscape, and it’s rejected.

She goes back out and does it again, and again…and many more times before Leo has her look at the painting and discern what it is the client truly wants. The woman subject should be the focus, which means the background should have less detail.

That Leo doesn’t spell it out for her, but lets things dawn on her naturally, speaks to his growing respect not just for her work ethic, but artistic instincts. It’s why he’s drawn up a new contract that gives her both a promotion and a raise, and why he rejects her feeling that in obsessing with art she neglected her womanlike charms. Like her father, Leo is one who prefers an independent woman with a strong will and drive to the period’s ideal of a woman: quiet, complacent, and above all idle.

That’s why I’m not the most enthusiastic about Arte suddenly developing a crush on Leo. In her defense, she’s been so absorbed in art in her life she’d never felt romantic feelings for anyone before. The only other person who didn’t look at her like something was wrong with her was her dad. It makes sense that the first man not related to her not to treat her like “just a woman” would make her heart beat a little faster.

Arte – 02 – Put Your Back Into It!

This week Leo gives Arte a sack of money to go out and purchase the materials needed to fix her rooftop shed. Seems simple enough, except that Arte has never had to do any of this before. Every man she interacts with treats her coldly as she goes about business they wouldn’t give a second thought to if she were male.

This kind of misogyny is nothing new to Arte: most men around her assume she’s less than (or biologically unsuited) to do the work they do, and hence they treat her with aversion. The other side of the coin is someone like Angelo Parker. Unlike most of the other men, he treats women with kindness and is eager to help them. That’s nice and all, but it comes out of a sense that women are weak and unsuited to most tasks, and require his help.

It’s paternalism, which he learned from his father (obviously). Angelo has many sisters and as soon as he arrive home they line up to be pampered by him, and he’s all to willing to do so. Now I’m not saying Angelo is a bad guy or a bad brother and son—he’s neither. But he has the wrong mindset for anyone who might want to get involved in Arte.

Compare how Angelo treats Arte throughout this episode to Leo. Thus far, Leo hasn’t made an issue of Arte’s gender, only her worthiness as a person to be his apprentice and an artisan. Arte may be clumsy at times, but at no point has she slacked off given Leo any reason to doubt her commitment. He works her hard, but it’s because he’s setting challenges so she can prove to herself what she’s capable of.

A concept like this is foreign to Angelo, not because he hates women, but because he sees them as too different to be capable of what men are capable of. It explains his quizzical looks when Arte reacts negatively to his gestures of goodwill. Case in point: his master refuses to let Arte sketch a sculpture in his studio, Angelo offers to sneak her in.

But that defeats the whole purpose of striking out as her own independent person. Sure, you’ll need helping hands from people now and again. But Arte is determined to change the master’s mind on her own, and sketch his sculpture with his knowledge and approval. Even if that means lifting ten of what look like 60-pound bags of clay all by herself. Sure enough, watching “a girl do it” in practice convinces the master, as well as endears her to him.

Arte likes Angelo, but doesn’t need him to save her or spoil her. Instead of confused or quizzical, his parting look after Arte explains this is one of revelation. He realizes he doesn’t have to do everything for his sisters, and more importantly they shouldn’t want him to. When he comes home, he asks them to try doing things for themselves, something that might not have ever occured to them. I look forward to Angelo’s feminist conversion!

This week’s Arte can come off a bit preachy at times, but at the end of the day the messages it’s conveying shouldn’t be construed as special or strange, any more than Arte should be considered weird for being an apprentice. Of course, in 16th century Florence seeing a well-dressed young woman hiking up her skirt and pulling a cart full of lumber is an incredible sight because it’s such a rare one.

For Arte and pioneering women like her, there’s no blueprint for how to do this. In addition to working her ass off, Arte also has to endure the reactions of a society that has yet to embrace the idea that men and women are equal. The fact that the battle for equality is still being waged half a millennium later speaks to the sheer weight of Arte’s burden. But like the cart and the bags of clay, she’s putting her back into that ongoing fight.

Arte – 01 (First Impressions) – Her Own Power

Arte, an artistic girl approaching marriageable age in sixteenth century Florence, loves nothing more than capturing the world around around her on paper. The “caged bird” metaphor is immediately put into play: with her father deceased and her noble family barely clinging to solvency, she’ll have to work hard to make a man like her enough to accept a modest dowry. Just one issue: Arte doesn’t want to marry and be caged for life. She wants to be an artisan.

As is the case of oppressed groups throughout history, Arte has to work twice as hard to be noticed half as much, if at all. The sheer difficulty of her task becomes clear when all eighteen of the workshops angrily dismiss her without so much as glancing at her drawings. She’s so frustrated she cuts her hair and threatens to cut off her breasts, but she’s stopped by Leo, who ends up being the first and only man to take a look at her art.

Leo miraculously agrees to let Arte be his apprentice (he currently has none), but sets her on a seemingly impossible task: cleaning, sanding, and priming a huge stack of wooden boards by tomorrow morning, something even he and his fellow masters would be hard pressed to pull off. Yet Arte doesn’t see it as an intentionally undoable feat, and spends all night doing the undoable, ruined noble hands be damned.

Leo, returning home from a bender, is shocked she actually finished the boards, and admits he never intended to give her a real chance. But rather than overt sexism, it’s classism that drives his dubiousness and resentment towards Arte. He became an artisan to avoid a live of begging on the streets, while this rich girl initially tells him she wants to become one because she “loves drawing.”

Then Arte comes clean and tells him that was just putting on airs. In truth, she wants to live through her own power—not just some rich dude’s—Leo realizes he read the girl wrong. After all, even a former beggar like him had a better chance of becoming an apprentice than even the richest girl in Florence. He decides to give her a chance.

With that, Arte moves out of her family’s estate, against her mother’s explicit wishes (we’ll see if there are consequences for that) and into a decided fixer-upper of a shed atop Leo’s workshop. She initially finds the level of repairs and cleanup needed daunting and draws herself to sleep as the walls barely keep out the cold night rain. But in the morning the rising sun peeks through the cracks in those walls and she opens the shutters to reveal a glorious view of the Duomo that would make any master jealous.

Arte is as straightforward and earnest as its heroine. Her situation isn’t sugar-coated; most artisans in Florence are insulted by the mere idea of a woman in their line of work. But nor is it punishingly bleak. It simply took one person giving her a chance…her relentlessly working her ass off, but she’s on her way.

Arte’s dogged determination and optimism is both compelling and inspiring. Komatsu Mikako is well-cast for the role. That her character is loosely based on the real-life female artisan Artemisia Gentileschi lends the show a measure of historical legitimacy. I’m looking forward to watching her tough but rewarding journey towards self-actualization and independence.

Youkai Apartment no Yuuga na Nichijou – 02

This week Yuushi settles into his strange new life in the titular Youkai Apartment by meeting several of its eccentric tenants, from a painter with an awesome dog and some kind of wizard to a beautiful hard-drinking woman who’s “not ready for heaven.”

Yuushi also meets Ryuu-san, a psychic whom everyone, human and youkai, seems to greatly revere. When he speaks, everyone listens, including Yuushi, and he points out to Yuushi how long his life is, how far out the world stretches, and that the most important thing is to relax, man.

Since losing his parents, Yuushi adopted a resting aggro face that kept most people away, especially women, but Yuushi finds that since he moved into the YA he’s able to speak with people more easily, like his classmate and clubmate Tashiro.

He also learns about a power he didn’t know he had: a kind of precognition that Tashiro is about to be hurt, then a “synchronization” that allows him to take the pain from Tashiro when her leg is injured by a passing motorbike. Akine then takes his pain and disperses it.

What had seemed like a six-month chore has become a kind of journey of self-discovery for Yuushi, as he learns to befriend people other than Hase, whom he is writing to throughout the episode but is certain he’ll find the conditions he describes crazy. YA remains watchable Monday feel-good fluff.

Youkai Apartment no Yuuga na Nichijou – 01 (First Impressions)

Inaba Yuushi, newly graduated from middle school, intends to move out of his aunt, uncle, and cousin’s house, where he’s lived since his parents were killed in a car accident. When his high school’s dormitory burns down, he moves into a grand old apartment building that turns out to be populated by both humans and  youkai, which he didn’t know existed. Thus, Yuushi’s “first step toward independence” has landed him “somewhere incredible.”

That’s a pretty elegant premise, and the simplicity works in Youkai Apartment’s favor. The enjoyment of this premise is to be found in the details, like a seemingly normal, cute Kuga Akine who is actually an exorcist-in-training, or Yuushi’s favorite author being a resident, or his gradual realization that things in these apartments are something other than normal.

There’s a distinct Spirited Away atmosphere to the apartment, especially once the youkai start to appear, mill around, and interact with each other and Yuushi. But rather than not belonging in this nook of the “spirit world”, Yuushi and other humans (albeit weird ones) are welcome to coexist.

At the same time, while Chihiro learned what it meant to grow up, the message to Yuushi, who has always felt like a burden to his relatives, needs to relax and not worry about growing up too fast. He’s just a first-year in high school, after all!

The pleasant, easygoing, whimsical world of Youkai Apartment is, despite the presence of a few scarier youkai, a very warm and cozy place to spend time, and the slice-of-life nature of the narrative makes YA perfect Summer comfort food.

We’ll see how things go with Yuushi, his best friend/rival Hase Mizuki, Akine, and all the other characters human or otherwise we’re sure to meet in future episodes. This first one was an effective hook to draw us into its world.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 01 (First Impressions)

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One thing I’ve learned about Gundam over the years is that no one show or OVA with its name slapped on it can ever wholly ruin its legacy, nor prevent me from checking out the next project with an open mind. Reconguista was an unqualified disaster in part because it was so in love with itself, it built a towering wall of self-congratulatory retrospection around itself, leaving me out in the cold.

Recon in G was also spearheaded by Yoshiyuki Tomino, whose specific style came off as both out-of-touch and proudly, stubbornly exclusionary of anyone but the most die-hard fans of his work, ignoring all Gundam that had followed, most of which improved on the original.

It was not a step, but a zero-gravity leap backwards, one even more troubling because a full 26-episode season’s worth of resources were committed to an sugary, empty love letter to itself. But like I said, I wasn’t going to let past failure prevent me from catching something new and exciting from the Gundam brand…and Iron-Blooded Orphans (which I’ll shorten to GIBO from here on) is just what the doctor ordered.

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One reason I had reason to believe GIBO wouldn’t be another dud was staff: Putting Gundam in the hands of Tatsuyuki Nagai (AnoHana, Railgun, Toradora) pays immediate dividends. Nagai retains much of the charming Gundam milieu, but rather than keep it exactly as it was in the Carter Administration, he updates and refines the flow of the action.

Okada Mari (AnoHana, Hanasaku Iroha, Nagi no Asukara, Toradora) tweaks and humanizes the classic Gundam dialogue style and brings it into the 21st century, while Yokoyama Masaru (Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso, Yamada-kun to 7-nin no Majo) brings a fresh musical perspective to the sweeping score.

Compared to Reconguista, there’s young blood at work here, but their impressive CVs and relevance in the current anime world shines through in their collaboration here. While Reconguista shut me out, GIBO drew me in, with a slightly dirty hand.

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So what’s GIBO about? Well, there are many thick, juicy layers to excavate, but it’s all pretty organically unfolded. On the Martian colony of Chryse you have the titular Iron-Blooded Orphans like protagonist Mikazuki Augus, who serve at the bottom rung of the private security company CGS.

The citizens of Chryse are starting to demand independence form the Earth Sphere, but their own cowardly president intends to save his own skin by throwing his people to the wolves. Those he betrays include his own daughter, Kudelia Aina Bernstein, a well-loved, charismatic young agitator who Earth Sphere wants out of the picture.

To make that happen, Aina’s dad Norman lets her handpick the CGS Third Group to serve as her bodyguards for her trip to Earth. Doing so appeals to her desire to “see and feel the truth” and feel the pain of the victims of the Earth Sphere’s rule over Chryse. But in actual truth, the irregular child soldiers, used as cannon fodder by the greedy CGS president Maruda, aren’t expected to stand a chance against Earth’s elite Gjallarhorn unit, which is being deployed to put down the Chryse rebellion in its infancy.

It’s a cowardly, dastardly plot by the self-involved old guard to retain power by snuffing out the flame of youth and hope. It also shows that these old guys know how to play the game far better than Aina, at least at the moment.

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The main couple, Mikazuki and Aina, are from the opposite extreme ends of Chryse’s social spectrum, but unlike your typical aloof princess character, Aina wants to be “on equal terms” with the CGS grunts protecting her, so as to better understand the people she leads and serves. In a clever bit of misdirection, Mika refuses her repeated attempts to shake his hand not because he resents or distrusts her, but becaused his hands are filthy.

Even as Aina tries to reach out to those below her, they’re so conditioned to keep their distance they politely decline her entreaties. Aina’s seiyu Terasaki Yuki often voices boys and younger versions of adult male characters, but her robust pipes lend the pretty Aina some gravitas.

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The same night Aina arrives at CGS headquarters, Gjallarhorn springs into action, but in their arrogance their stealth attack is quickly sniffed out. CGS soldiers like Biscuit Griffon (whose retro design I really dug) whisk Aina to safety as the bullets start to fly. She’s constantly insisting that she can help out, and no one refutes her claim, but she has infinitely more value as the leader of the Chryse resistance than an exposed front-line soldier.

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Mind you, it isn’t CGS as a whole that is sacrificed in this operation, but the Third Group members composed of Mika, his “big brother” Orga Itsuka, Biscuit, et al. The higher ups try to use them as a decoy and human shield to cover their retreat, but they’re foiled when Biscuit remotely launches signal flares, giving the retreating brass and First Corps’ position away to the enemy, which eases off the Third. Still, it isn’t long until Gjallarhorn stops messing around and fields a mobile suit, which can outrun and outgun anything the Third Group has…with one very notable exception.

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In the cold open, we see a sight not out of place in a previous Gundam series, 00, in which a young Mika has just killed on apparent orders from Orga. He turns arond and nonchalantly asks Orga “What should I do next?” It’s a dream of a memory Orga wakes up from, which is revisited when the present-day Mika asks him the very same question. In the memory, Orga replies “We’re going…somewhere not here…to the place where we truly belong.” Their lives aren’t just about surviving when the deck stacked against them at every turn. It’s about finding purpose to those lives they’re fighting for tooth and nail.

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So how do they get there? By fighting the man. Gjallarhorn’s cocky young commander Orlis swats at the CGS bugs with his mobile suit until he’s challenged by a second, stronger suit, a Gundam, piloted by Mika as the Third Group’s trump card. Mika brings Orlis’ suit down in iconic fashion, creating a symbol of what must be done in order to find that place where the iron-blooded orphans belong.

No doubt Mika, Orga, Biscuit & the rest of CGS’s third group will serve as a vanguard for what will become Aina Bernstein’s Chryse Independence movement. Their deeds will change the history of Mars and will affect the lives of many, from Danji, the would-be rookie hero who got too close to the enemy and paid the ultimate price, to the too-adorable-for-words shop girl who seems to carry a flame for Mika, all the way to the most powerful sniveling old white guys in the galaxy.

I can’t wait to see what comes next.

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