Spy x Family – 04 – True Elegance

From the moment the Forgers enter the gates of Eden College, they know they’re being observed. Loid and Yor’s respective special sets of skills tell them that Eden instructors are watching from every angle, failing families just for walking or looking sub-elegant. Loid leads the way in putting on as elegant a show as possible, while warning Yor and Anya to keep their guard up.

The pre-interview trials continue with a plump Eden student stuck in a muddy drainage canal. If the Forgers help the kid they’ll get their clothes soiled and won’t be admitted inside the school. But Loid prepared for a number of contingencies, and the three of them have a change of clothes ready once the planted fatty has been extracted.

After that, the Forgers face an even more ridiculous test when the school’s farm animals escape from their enclosures en masse. Once Loid identifies the lead cow, Yor springs into action, leaping over the charging animal and hitting its pressure points to stop it dead in its tracks. Anya then notices the cow is scared, and uses her esper powers to comfort it and send it on its way.

These feats of heroism move one of the housemasters watching the Forgers, a walrus-bearded, monocled gentleman obsessed with elegance. He’s doubly impressed by the fact that the farm animal escape was not intentional, but a legit accident, and that a number of important people were among those the Forgers saved. He rushes out and declares the Forgers have earned the right to interview for Eden.

After Loid and Yor change their clothes a second time, the interview commences. Loid remarks that even though he’s dealt with infiltrating terrorist groups and deactivating nuclear bombs, by far the most nervous he’s been is this pauncy school interview. But the Forgers have practiced this ad nauseum, and both Loid and Yor are ready with detailed, elegant answers to the three housemasters’ questions.

Anya, being a little kid, is the weak link in the family, partly because she only barely passed the written exam, but also flubs her words and makes some questionable improvisational choices when unexpected follow-up questions are asked.

I love the detail that goes into their responses, and how the three very different interviewers react, how Yor reacts to Loid’s praise, and how both of them react to how Anya wants to be with them forever. Anya’s ability to read Loid’s mind also gives her access to quick (if out-of-context) answers that the interviewers accept…but only to a point.

The Forgers are undone by the Eden housemasters’ Good Cop-Bad Cop-Elegant Cop strategy. The kindly housemaster and the elegant housemaster are all but won over, but the third is Murdoch Swan, arrogant, callous, and recently divorced  son of the former housemaster.

He has an axe to grind, and does everything he can to trip up this disgustingly perfect family. And he succeeds, asking Anya whether she loves her old or new mamas more. Yor almost kills him, and Loid smashes a table and storms out.

It looks like everything’s over, but with Anya clearly in Eden uniform in the end credits, Swan probably wasn’t going to have his way. In fact, Mr. Elegant, Henry Henderson, does what Loid wanted to do and punches him for disgracing the school.

Back home, the Forgers are in a funereal mood, certain that not only did they fail the mission, but apprehensive that it could spell the end of their family. It’s ultimately Yor who pulls Loid out of his funk. The three will leave it in the hands of the two good housemasters. Hopefully fate will smile on these three beautiful people.

Heroines Run the Show – 04 – Two Grooms

Clearly more moved than she expected by their princely defense of her against the vile Yumeru, Hiyori has a dream about marrying Aizou and Yuujirou, and the two of them almost kissing her. Naturally, the first time she sees the two she can’t quite look them in the eye. They seem genuinely miffed by this, as who averts their eyes from an idol? But it’s also because they know something’s up with her.

While Yumeru was thoroughly unpleasant, the result of their collab is a lot more fangirls flocking to the boy’s desks at school. Aizou is so overwhelmed he seemingly passes out, and Yuujirou makes mention of some “trauma” that makes Aizou especially lady-averse. While grabbing lunch for herself and Aizou, she meets his big brother Ken, who assumes Hiyori is Aizou’s GF and explains that both he and their mom are super-comfortable with the opposite sex, which might contribute to the straight-laced Aizou.

Hiyori proves her manager mettle by securing the counseling room for Aizou and Yuujirou to hide out whenever things get too hot. Aizou is clearly still a little off after being so surrounded by fans, and clearly loathing leaving the room to buy lunch, so it’s a good thing Hiyori bought him a cutlet sandwich! Yuujirou shares some of the massive lunch his mom made with Hiyori.

The day somehow gets worse for LIPxLIP when an article comes out exposing Yuujirou as the heir to a famous kabuki actor and living national treasure. Hiyori volunteers to shoo away the reporters, but Yuujirou decides to face and fight them head-on with his famous smile and politeness. Hiyori is literally moved to tears when she watches Aizou come in at just the right time to have his partner’s back.

Yuujirou and Aizou come up with a piece of rosette ribbon swag for their fans at their next outdoor concert, and were clearly inspired by their track-running manager-in-training; a way of making every fan “1st Place in their hearts”. But when it’s time for the show, the staffers forgot the ribbons. No matter, Hiyori uses those track legs to race to the nearest taxi, and when the taxi gets stuck in traffic on the way back, runs the rest of the way and gets the swag there in time for the boys to distribute it.

Yuujirou and Aizou can’t help but be impressed by Hiyori going the extra mile for her. They all exchange “good works” and are ready to part ways, but the boys notice that Hiyori is reacting like she’s in pain. Indeed, she sprained her ankle while racing there in time, and now that her adrenaline levels are dropping, she’s feeling the pain even more. So she’s working so she can run track in Tokyo, but now she can’t run. Hiyori doesn’t deserve such misfortune. Maybe the boys can carry her around like the queen she is on a palanquin until she recovers!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Spy x Family – 03 – A Grand Ooting

Yor arrives at her new home and the Forger family is complete. Loid is surprised by how little luggage she has and how quickly and efficiently she puts it away; Yor is surprised by how clean the place is and how good a cook Loid is. Anya almost opens up Yor’s box of death, but is warned by Yor’s own thoughts not to.

While the three get along just fine to start, once they actually have to start practicing the Eden interview, things go sideways fast. Anya’s answers are too honest (she’s ordered to stay home and watch TV all day) while Yor’s are all over the place (and strangely bloody). Loid begins to doubt if this mission can work.

That said, they all go out for the kind of outing (mispronounced “ooting” by Anya) that upper class families go on. They certainly look the part. First up is the opera, then a museum (where Anya gets a kick out of the classical nudity while Yor digs the guillotine). In the kids section Anya scribbles her parents’ true identities (which, again, they don’t know she knows), but since they’re just that—kid’s scribbles—Loid and Yor chalk it up to her vivid imagination.

When a political rally turns out to be too much for Anya (she’s overwhelmed by the combined negative thoughts of the hundreds of people assembled)  the three head to a café for some lunch. There, Loid’s doubts about the viability of the mission resurface, as Anya has terrible table manners for a purported upper class child, and Yor is again way too blissed out on cutlery.

Yor suggests they have a nice after-lunch rest at a quiet park with a great view of the city (I got a kick out of Anya saying the people look like “tiny bits of trash”—now that’s upper class thinking). But when one of those people turns out to be a thief stealing a purse from an elderly woman, Yor springs into action, though quickly loses the culprit in the crowds.

Anya scans those crowds for the thoughts of the thief, and when she finds him, rather than expose her power she simply points at a restaurant near to where the thief is, and Loid does the rest. Yor watches Anya while he chases him down and retrieves the wallet. Then they take the grandma, who has quite a strong handshake to the hospital to be checked out.

When the three start interacting naturally in front of the granny, she remarks what a lovely family they are. That’s when Loid starts to think that maybe, just maybe they can pull off this academy admission plan. That, and after a day full of upper-class activities (and one citizen’s arrest), Anya’s answers in the next mock interview are a lot more convincing.

They may be an odd family who are keeping profound secrets from one another (with only Anya knowing the truth about everyone), but they also happen to be adorable, and their interactions throughout this episode were a pure joy to watch unfold as they take their first tentative steps to being a family.

Love After World Domination – 02 – We Are Who We Are

After showing us the current state of their relationship in the premiere, Koiseka takes us back six months ago to when Desumi and Fudou first met. Standing atop a building and looking down on him, backlit by a crescent moon, he found himself immediately captivated by her gleaming green eyes shining through her cartoon skull mask.

From there, we’re given more world-building through action as the Gelato 5 battle Gecko while “Hero TV” copters hover and record. Under the pretense of going somewhere to duel where collateral damage would be minimal, Desumi and Fudou are almost caught, but Desumi wisely plays dead as he and his comrade Misaki (Yellow Gelato) are interviewed by a reporter.

When they’re alone again, Desumi is feeling a little lonely since she just saw how popular Fudou is with the ladies. Then he asks how he can make it up to her, and she says she wants to go on an ordinary date. The only problem is, neither of them have ever been on a date, so Fudou relies first on Google and then a drunk Misaki to help him plan one.

The two meet on a lovely day in the park, with Fudou wearing glasses and his hair different as a “disguise”, and he marvels at how resplendent Desumi looks in normal clothes. However, under the assumption that the best date is one where they do something they both enjoy, Fudou has planned a date mostly of weight training and running.

By the time Fudou breaks out a backpack full of sugar-free protein bars, Desumi excuses herself to “go to the bathroom”, and it sure looks like she’s noped out on Fudou’s sorry excuse for a date. A sober Misaki calls him from a hot spring to tell him to ignore all the advice she gave him while drunk, then proceeds to tell him he’d better not do all the things he just did on his date.

Fudou, suddenly an emotional wreck, wanders the park looking in vain for Desumi, whom he’s sure took off because his date plan sucked, and just wishing with all his heart that she’d give him a second chance…and then he feels a cold drink on his temple, and Desumi is there, wondering why he’s acting so strange. When he tells her, she laughs. Of course she’s been having fun on their date, because she’s on a date with her sweetheart!

The two then hold hands and lean in for a kiss, but are rudely interrupted by their respective alarms calling them to duty. In the ensuing battle between Gelato and Gecko, both the Reaper Princess and Red Gelato are understandably out of it, still soaking up the pure bliss of their wonderful date…no doubt the first of many!

While a gold-standard series like Kaguya-sama blows Koiseka out of the water in both comedy chops and production values, Koiseka is by no means a slouch in either department. It looks as good as it needs to, and the chemistry and sweetness of its couple is impossible to resist. I also enjoyed the cute little post-credit segment introducing Desumi’s kitty Hellko, who is glad her mistress is smiling and laughing more.

The Day I Became a God – 04 – Slapping the Winds Together

After a virtually incomprehensible cold open in which Suzuki watches an interview between two scientists that left me scratching my head, we’re back to the Narukami residence, with Youta catching the beautiful, brilliant lawyer Tengan Kakou on the TV.

Before he knows it, Hina is winning an online mahjong preliminary in his name, stamping his ticket to the in-person tournament organized by his TV crush! Even Izanami, a mahjong buff herself, attends along with his best mate Ashura.

I’m just going to put this out there: I don’t know jack-squat about competitive Mahjong, having only played the solitaire version that’s just matching up like tiles. Narukami is similarly a complete novice, but received precise divine instruction from Hina. His resulting tactics in the game do not conform to the traditional competitive play—which just happens to be what Tengan Kakou wants.

This episode seems like a case of me enjoying watching Narukami fall far behind as if he had no idea what he was doing (because he didn’t, he’s just following Hina to the letter) then come roaring back with some frankly ludicrous bending of the rules, which even leads to the adoption of Uno rules. At the same time, I kept feeling a bit left out due to my aforementioned ignorance of Mahjong’s rules and terminology.

Fortunately, what we saw probably couldn’t be described as anything resembling a “normal” game, and indeed there were times when it seemed the show was parodying serious obscure game competition shows like Chihayafuru. Youta simply kept bastardizing the obscure terms until he adopted a game language all his own.

Not only does he win fame (and likely a tidy cash prize), but the attention of Tengan Kakou, who is initially cordial in her congratulations but before long is macking strongly on someone I assumed hasn’t quite reached age 18. Those uncomfortable undertones aside, their use of Mahjong terms as double entendres makes for quite the side-splitting exchange between the two:

“I’d like to see your infinite reiichi.”

“But you can score! An incredibly high-value hand! It’s an extraordinary yaku you may never encounter again!”

“I’m in unrequited love with another woman, which earns me the furiten penalty. Therefore, I am unable to score!”

Sadly for Youta, the unrequited love for whom he spurned the Great Tengan Kakou (leading to her sic’ing her bodyguard on him, who tears off the sleave of the suit he borrowed from his dad) took off for home without waiting for him, rendering this entire enterprise somewhat pointless.

There are thirteen days left until the end of the world. Unless something of genuine substance comes from the hacker-and-scientist side of things, it’s looking like Hina’s goal isn’t for Youta to help her save the world from ending, but simply living his life to the fullest until it does end. Or perhaps these experiences are somehow preparing him to save the world when the time is right?

All we know is, Youta has performed a piece of music for Izanami, rescued a family ramen joint, and won a mahjong tournament all in the same summer, with more to come. He’s having himself quite a summer. Like the ridiculous mahjong match he played, I’m fine just enjoying the crazy ride for now.

The Day I Became a God – 03 – Shouting for the Future of Ramen

Youta’s little sister Sora has a strong sense of justice, since she feels obligated to help her senpai (and film club alumnus) Jinguuji Hikari out at her struggling ramen restaurant. Sora ended up getting chased by an unscrupulous debt collector, but her family and Hina won’t let her fight this fight alone. And by that, they all agree Youta should help her out.

Hina is supremely confident in her plan from the start, almost as if she knows how it will turn out—which I guess she does, seeing as how she’s a god and all. But it requires more strenuous work from Youta, who poses as a babyfaced 40-year-old “revitalization contractor” who promises to turn Hikari’s business around in a week—for the low price of ¥300!

Following Hina’s instructions to the letter, Youta practices tough love as he picks apart all of the flaws in Hikari’s menu and business model, and gets her to reformulate her ramen and develop a cold noodle substitute. He does this while shouting quite a bit, as if to shake the lovely Hikari from complacency.

Youta’s seiyu Hanae Natsuki is up to the task of strict taskmaster, and his detailed explanations for the changes Hikari is making—even changing the name from “Heavanward Ramen” to “Fallen Angel”—are delivered with hilarious conviction and intensity.

With the restaurant now serving food that’s tasty and cheaper to make, Hina’s next phase involves Youta the “40-year-old contractor” doing an interview for TV in order to create media buzz. The resulting segment is extremely well-produced, with Youta not just sitting in a chair between two ferns but in thematically-appropriate settings.

Like the film spoofs last week, Kamisama ni Natta Hi knows when to let its hair down and get silly, but here gets silly with such a stern straight face it accentuates the absurdity of, say, Youta’s claim to have worn the same one suit for ten years, even during his climb up Mt. Everest!

In an interesting segue, we meet a new character while he’s watching Youta’s interview in the back of a car. His fingers are bound and he’s being driven by a MiB handler, and we learn why when a mom calls out for her lost child: he’s some kind of master hacker who uses computer gloves to create a Minority Report-style floating 3D interface wherever he happens to be.

The silver-haired (and silver-tongued) lad quickly locates the lost daughter and reunites her with her mom, after which his handler re-locks his hands and return to the car. How exactly this hacker kid will connect with Youta and Hina, we’re left to speculate.

Meanwhile, Hina’s plan is a huge success, as there’s a line going outside Fallen Angel for its grand re-opening. That only leaves one more matter her plan must account for: the predatory lender. When he arrives to throw his weight around, Hina has Youta fight him.

While this would normally be impossible, as Youta is far more into basketball than martial arts, Hina laid out a sequential series of steps on the floor for Youta to follow so he’s able to dodge the low-level gangster’s punches and land a couple of his own, hastening the tough’s retreat.

With Hikari’s family business saved and the threat of the loan shark neutralized, Youta comes clean about being Sora’s brother, not uncle, and having never won a baby-face contest (as, he hilariously puts it, such contests don’t exist).

Hikari admits she already knew he was putting on an act (thanks to her film club experience) but adds that his efforts were real, as were their effect the restaurant. Youta, in turn, urges her to direct all praise to Hina. He’s not sure if she’s really a god, but is she isn’t that was a lot of coincidences, right down to his fight!

The episode closes with our learning the hacker’s name—Suzuki—as he’s been conscripted to find dirt on a preeminent quantum physicist and computer scientist. Could that be the guy who causes the end of the world, which is now in just seventeen days? We shall see. Until then, this was a fun “project” episode that gave Youta another chance to demonstrate he’s an uncommonly capable lad when following a divine plan.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Hinamatsuri – 11 – Just a Regular Nice Guy

TV journalist Seta Daisuke looking for an exciting, violent, and profane yakuza story and thinks he’s found one in Yoshifumi Nitta, who, after all, is known to have taken down an entire rival group single-handedly. Seta steels himself for a tough assignment, even writing his will.

As we know from watching Nitta, that might’ve been, ah, a bit premature. While Seta initially believes Nitta is just putting up a calm front to hide the unhinged savage within, Nitta’s daily life leads to Seta coming to the crushing conclusion that his vicious yakuza is just…a regular nice guy.

His mom and sister all but confirm it when they burst into rude laughter upon being asked whether there are any “exciting” stories about their son and brother. My friends, there are not. Nitta is as cool a cucumber as one can get in his business.

Mind you, we the audience know that he’s actually had some pretty spectacular moments that any journalist would sell non-vital organ to cover, but most to all of those involve Hina in some way, and Nitta has no intention of revealing anything about her besides the fact she has no one else so he takes care of her.

Seta resorts to staging a scene where Nitta loses his temper and brains Sabu with an ashtray. While it’s true he went a bit to far, Sabu kinda had it coming considering he almost got Nitta killed during the group’s now amicably-resolved succession crisis. That’s some good unspoken continuity!

When Seta surveys his amassed footage and concludes that he will be fired the moment he shows this to his boss at the station, he decides to abandon his journalistic integrity and resort to clever editing, narration, and flat-out fake news.

Nitta and Hina watch the farce of a yakuza profile, in which a pixel-faced Nitta’s completely tepid responses are made to sound like he’s the monster Seta’s voiceover claims him to be. Ironically, he ends his piece by lamenting the end of the decent, respectable yakuza in favor of “monsters” like Nitta (or the completely phony Nitta he created); despite the fact Nitta actually is that guy.

And not just him. His yakuza associates don’t hesitate to tease him with memorized lines from the show they knew was a bunch of bologna. Combined with Hina doing the same (and asking, bemused, who exactly was the subject of the profile they watched, ’cause it wasn’t him!), Nitta ends up running away, barely holding back tears. I guess it’s for the best the yakuza aren’t portrayed exactly like him…

 

In the second part of this episode, Nitta hosts Anzu while her parents are away at a hot spring. With Hina away on her middle school’s ski-training trip(?), it’s just him and Anzu, and in Anzu he finds a girl much better suited for his life than Hina, in terms of her ability, and enthusiastic willingness, to help out with domestic chores.

She doesn’t subtly mock or shade Nitta (as Hina is wont to do) either! Anzu is such a consistently, relentlessly good girl throughout her visit, Nitta has to run into another room to scream and curse the chinese restaurant owners for getting the good girl-in-a-metal-egg, while he’s stuck with…with Hina.

In fact, Nitta experiences a bit of what Seta did during the interview in the first segment. All of Anzu’s pleasantries and smiles sound fake to him after the ruthless “realness” of life with Hina, whom he regards as the typical spoiled brat of a kid who is a pain in the ass to their parent or guardian just ’cause.

But he’s wrong; just as Seta was wrong. This Anzu is the real Anzu. She may have been a lot more like Hina in the past, but her experiences and environment since have changed her, for the better.

Eventually, Anzu unconsciously manages to wear Nitta down until he dissolves into a cloud of sand, re-coalesces in mid-air, and flies away in formation with several Anzu-angels, leaving the Hina-demons crawling along the ground far behind.

After an incredible night in the “Ideal Father’s World”, the day arrives when Anzu’s folks return and she returns home, and the dream is over. Nitta decries that fact that “Reality is coming home.”

All the time he was shitting on Hina, something in the back of my head was telling me the show was going to teach him a lesson about not knowing what he’s lost until he lost it…even though it kinda already did that. My intuition turned out to be correct.

He gets an ominous call from the school ski trip informing him that Hina has been “lost in the mountains.” Now, you, me, and Nitta know that with her telekinetic abilities she’ll probably be just fine, and could easily deal with any threat she might come across.

That’s perhaps why Nitta responds so nonchalantly. But it’s still upsetting to hear that she’s lost, just when Nitta was dreading her return. Here’s hoping the final episode is devoted to his search for her and their reunion, perhaps with some assists from his various friends.

Juuni Taisen – 12 (Fin)

 

In the finale, we spend virtually the entire time inside Nezumi’s head as he ponders which of the one hundred wishes he has will be the one he asks Duodecuple to grant as a reward for his winning the Juuni Taisen.

For all that inner monologue, we don’t learn anything about Nezumi’s past, only his very mundane present, in which he attends high school and stands out mostly due to how antisocial he is.

We see his ability in action on more than one occasion as he weighs his options, and early on these are mostly frivolous, such as wishing for everyone in his class to die, or for the skirt of only girl who talks to him to flip up in front of him.

But the more he wracks his brain trying to think of a proper wish, the more rationales he comes up with to render those wishes undesirable—living forever; remaining young forever; making everyone happy; gaining the ability to survey a thousand possibilities instead of a hundred—they all have their cons that leads to their dismissal.

He considers the wishes of the other, now-slain warriors, which is interesting because throughout his ninety-nine failed attempts to win, he manages to interact peacefully with each and every one of his eleven adversaries. In a way, that’s rather apropos, since at one point or another everyone has to deal with rats.

In one of those deleted possibilities, Tora tells him how her wish is to fight beside (or possibly against) Ushii; it’s a wish that’s actually granted in the timeline Nezumi ultimately goes with. Tora turned out to be my favorite of the twelve warriors, so it’s gratifying to hear that despite losing the competition, her wish was fulfilled and she died without regrets.

If there’s one thing this final episode makes clear, it’s that Nezumi’s ability is a curse, since he remembers everything that could have happened but didn’t. So the wish he ultimately comes up with—to be able to forget everything that’s happened, or might’ve happened—seems like the best way to go. After all, his memories of all those countless deleted possibilities hampered his ability to choose any other wish.

By the time he’s counted up to 99, he’s an exhausted fellow seemingly on the verge of mental breakdown. Being allowed to forget it all is a tremendous relief even his classmates notice when he’s happily dozing at his desk.

With a RABUJOI Score well under 7.5 and a MAL Score of barely 7, Juuni Taisen was never in danger of winning any “Anime of the Year” awards. Of the shows we haven’t dropped this Fall, it’s the lowest-rated.

The reason I stuck with JT was its efficient and reliable structure: twelve episodes, twelve characters, eleven all-but guaranteed deaths, and one winner. Many of those characters and their backstories were serviceable, particularly those of Niwatori, Sharyu, and Tora. The CGI-assisted combat was also a strong suit (though IMO there wasn’t enough of it).

I wish Ushii and Usagi had gotten proper backstories. The wish-granting ability of Duodecuple was way too broad. Nothing really came of the silly oligarch gambling angle. But Juuni Taisen was still a fun, if flawed, ride.

 

Juuni Taisen – 11

After giving Tora a proper death to deny her corpse from becoming another one of Usagi’s slaves, Ushii ponders how best to deal with a necromantist so hell-bent on victory, he somehow managed to enslave himself before dying.

“Burning him to ash with fire” is as good a plan as any, but Usagi, or rather, the grotesque undead creature crudely reconstructed by Zombie Sharyu, catches up. When Ushii tries hacking Usagi to bits again, Sharyu jumps out from inside Usagi’s body to pin Ushii down.

It’s as devious a tactic as it is fucked up, and Ushii knows he’s hosed, and has been hosed since the moment Usagi turned Sharyu.

Ushii would prefer death to becoming a part of  Usagi’s menagerie, and Nezumi, appearing at precisely the perfect moment, grants him that preference, using Hitsujii’s bomb to blow up Usagi, Sharyu and Ushii to win the Juuni Taisen, just like that.

It turns out that “perfect moment” was no coincidence, but rather the only “route” Nezumi could have taken in order to win; the other 99 out of 100 ended with him getting killed and losing.

This week we learn that he possesses the skill “Hundred Paths of Nezumi-san”, but to the episode’s credit, we’re shown how it works before it’s explained, in a bizarre, Groundhog Day-style sequence in which Nezumi keeps refusing to submit to a post-victory interview with Duodecuple and ends up killed in various, often grisly ways, only to reset back in Duo’s office.

It’s apropos for a warrior of the rat—one of the ultimate survivors on earth—to not only have more than the “nine lives” of the cat, but be able to look at one hundred different routes in order to pick the one that will lead to his continued survival. Even weirder, he remembers all of the routes he “deleted” by “locking in” to the “winning” route.

After sitting down and talking with Duo about Sharyu’s role in creating a route for Nezumi to live (which he repaid by killing her as she requested down in the sewer), his alliances with Tiger and even Usagi in other deleted routes, and other matters, before the sun comes up and Nezumi is excused to rest and come up with a wish to be granted.

As is his style, Nezumi will come up with 100 wishes, then go through each one as Duo grants them to determine which one would be most beneficial. That should make for an intriguing finale.

Sakura Quest – 03

When a television interview exposes Queen Yoshino I’s dearth of knowledge about the very town she rules (mentioning only its natural scenery and manju), Ushimatsu insists she go out into the town and “feel the wind”…which she does, literally, no no effect.

Shiori then accompanies her on a series of increasingly demoralizing interviews with Manoyama’s salt-of-the-earth residents, who either can’t hear what she’s saying, don’t trust her, or say there’s nothing she can do.

However, the bus driver (who was the prince when she was first crowned as a little girl) is one somewhat-heartening voice: if someone’s going to revamp the town, it will either be someone young, someone foolish, or an outsider. Yoshino’s all three, so she should be fine!

She also actually learns a few things about the town. One, it used to be just plain ol’ Kabura Kingdom, without the chupa- , and that Ushimatsu and his tourism board and the board of merchants (led by Ririko’s grandma) have always been at odds with the switch to UMA.

At the apparently super-important mascot contest, Ushimatsu finds his chupakabura mask has gone missing. Little do they know Yoshino’s new friends Shiori, Maki, Sanae and Ririko are ON IT. They put a ridiculous amount of time into tracking down the town’s previous mascot, Kabura Kid, then mending it in time.

It’s a real group effort, though the particulars of their motivation, beyond helping Yoshino out, escaped me a bit. I guess they really did all have a bunch of time on their hands!

They arrive at the contest with the Kabura mask the same time Ushimatsu’s underlings arrive with the chupa mask, soiled by spending time at the garbage dump.

(I’ll mention that I love that Mrs. Oribe takes such pleasure in taking Ushimatsu down a peg whenever possible, talking about how he’ll be saved by the very kingdom he once destroyed. It’s such gloriously big language for such a petty subject!)

But hey, maybe it’s not so petty. As Ushimatsu and the others bicker over which mask he’ll wear, the Queen finally puts her royal foot down, and says it doesn’t matter. (But she choses the kabura mask, since it’s not covered in shit).

In a stilted, serious speech probably not quite appropriate for the audience of mostly kids, she says she doesn’t yet know what Manoyama has that no other town in the world has, but she’ll spend the next year hoping to find out (assuming the entire town doesn’t die of old age by then).

The one condition she gives Ushimatsu is that she be allowed to perform her duties with the assistance of the combined force of Shiori, Maki, Sanae and Ririko, who all agree to be her “council of ministers.”

Again, because I guess they just don’t have a lot going on? It’s not made clear whether they’ll be paid like Yoshino is, but one would hope. What kind of kingdom can’t pay its subjects a fair wage for their services?

Watched with a hearty helping of suspension of disbelief, Sakura Quest is a pleasant enough place to spend time, if pretty much average in looks and sound. So I’ll stick with it for now. Can that sustain me for…25 episodes? That remains to be seen.

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 07

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It’s Autumn, and getting chilly, but Yakumo goes out to sit amongst the gingko trees on hospital grounds in thin robes. Konatsu finds him and wraps him in a scarf. He’s in a dark place. When he first collapsed, he thought he wouldn’t “have” to do rakugo anymore.

Now that he’s returned from that hall of candles and from his encounter with Sukeroku…wherever he was, he feels he’s lost both the voice and the desire to ever take the stage again. Konatsu, who still blames him for her father’s death, calls it karmic retribution.

The deep-seated bitterness remains. Yet if anything, Konatsu is even bitterer to see the ultimate antagonist in her life brought so low.

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Konatsu and Yakumo’s meeting among the Gingkos, and the tragic past that binds them, is re-investigated and all but rewritten this week, as Higuchi invites Yotaro and Matsuda to join him in the countryside where everything ended and began: the hot spring inn where Sukeroku and Miyokichi Yurie died.

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It’s where Higuchi, only a boy and accompanying his father, an inn regular, first met (and pretty much fell for) Miyokichi. A few years later he encountered her in Tokyo, and she’d only grown more beautiful and refined.

When Higuchi heard the way she spoke the name Kikuhiko, he had to see what kind of man could snatch this gorgeous woman’s heart. When he went to see the future Yakumo perform, he found himself in awe like many others, and asked if he could be a rakugo apprentice.

Obviously, Kiku refused, and now we know that young man from episode 10 of last season was Higuchi, who since then has immersed himself in rakugo, not as a performer, but a student, and may just be positioned to help steer its future with Yotaro.

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But this episode is concerned mostly with the past, specifically the last days of Sukeroku. Yotaro obviously wasn’t there, but Matsuda was, and throughout the episode Matsuda is overcome with nostalgia for the barely-changed place.

More to the point, Higuchi has brought them here to view film reels of Kiku and Shin’s performances, which despite their degraded quality put everyone right back in that state of awe. The Kiku in the film is younger than Yotaro, and yet he’s so much better, and more to the point, seems so much happier to be performing rakugo. All Yotaro needs to do is close his eyes, and he sees the young master in color, performing all the roles within the world of his story.

Then the innkeeper loads the reel of Shin performing “Shibahama”, the story of the wife’s lie that made her husband’s life better, and there isn’t a dry eye in the darkened room, including my own. It’s a story told and performed so well that it simply gets me every time. And Yotaro can tell how happy Shin was.

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After that, they go to the graves of Sukeroku and Miyokichi, whose happiness—and ultimately lives—Higuchi said were destroyed by Yakumo. But Matsuda knows the truth of what happened that night, and it isn’t the story Yakumo told Yotaro last season. Likely because it was such a good and well-told story, I never questioned whether Yakumo was a reliable narrator.

But overcome by all the memories the town, inn, and film reels surfaced in him, and the sun not only setting on the day, but on his and Yakumo’s lives, Matsuda reveals all: Miyokichi stabbed Shin. Kiku was holding him and got covered in his blood when Matsuda and Konatsu came in, and Konatsu then tried to push her mother out the window. Shin grabbed Miyokichi and the two fell to their deaths, while Kiku held Konatsu back.

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That misleading image—of Kiku holding her father, the two stained in blood, and Kiku wearing a fiercely hostile expression—is pretty much all Konatsu remembers of the ordeal; her memory is hazy from passing out from the shock of the events she witnessed. But it’s an image that still haunts her to this very day, as she smokes alone in her jammies when Yotaro returns home.

When she looks up at him, wondering why he was out late, she sees the tears in the big guy’s face (not an uncommon occurrence) and assumes Yakumo must have done that to him. He did, but not directly. Those are the tears of someone who has heard the truth and come across someone who still doesn’t, and has gone through a lot of pain because of it.

He doesn’t relay to Konatsu what he’s learned on this night. Instead he embraces her…while she keeps smoking. But I imagine the truth will come out at some point, as Matsuda begged Yotaro and Higuchi not to let the master leave the world believing rakugo will die with him.

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 06

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When Yakumo suddenly collapses, Mangetsu is able to administer first aid before the paramedics arrive. Konatsu goes with Yakumo, and Yota is ready to follow…but instead elects to stay behind. The sound of the crowd comes back into focus: the show must go on.

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And it does, as we are presented with Yota’s rendition of “Inokori” (which was performed by Sukeroku in episode 9 of last season). This isn’t another fiasco like the time Yota cast off his robe; he basically knocks it out of the park, proving he was ready to perform it. The only problem is that as good as he was, his master wasn’t there to hear it.

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The moment the curtain falls, Yota, who had been keeping it together splendidly, starts to tear up. Matsuda can’t help but tear up too. The only one who doesn’t tear up is Shin, but he seems on the verge of doing so simply because it’s what the adults are doing. At the hospital, Yakumo remains unconscious. Matsuda takes Mangetsu home, praising his rakugo on the way. Maybe he’ll get back into it?

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A couple of weeks pass, with Yota filling in for Yakumo, all but doubling his already formidable workload and feeling the strain. He continues to proclaim master will wake up and be fine, but not even he is a sure as he sounds about that.

Meanwhile, time goes on, and the proprietor of the Uchikutei theater tells him about plans to “rebuild” it, which one would think would mean demolishing the Taisho-era venue. We get a bit of a tour of the empty place as he runs down all of the little charms and foibles that make it as unique and irreplaceable as, well, a performer like Yakumo.

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On the train to another gig, Eisuke encourages him with two bits of information: that unlike the precise technique of Yakumo and raw reality of the last Sukeroku, Yota has his own kind of rakugo: in fact, he is a vessel for it. No “ego or hunger” on display, Yota fades away, leaving only the rakugo to be absorbed by the crowd. It’s a rare gift.

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The episode ends with Yakumo opening his eyes, and though he still doesn’t look or sound too good at all, he’s still alive, which is surely enough for his family. Whatever happened in that sliver of afterlife he tasted, we see no more of it, adding to its mystique.

All I know is Yakumo looks tired, and while he doesn’t look like he enjoyed what he witnessed, he may not be particularly happy to have not died when he did, taking rakugo as he knows it with him.

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 05

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Yota is stoked. He’s flying high. He’s learned how to command a crowd, the theaters are full, his material is killing. He owes much of this to a lifting of a weight of uncertainty since Yakumo performed “Inokori” for him. Yakumo maintains that mastering that—and in just they way he instructs, by summoning one’s ego—is Yota’s next step.

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But Yakumo is no longer Yota’s sole source of instruction or inspiration. Whether he knows it or not, Yota has also fallen under the influence of Higuchi Eisuke, the outsider who shows Yota the wider world of rakugo, not just the venerable but narrow Yuuakutei canon.

The implication is obvious: like a smattering of gutted clans in days of yore, an alliance must be formed – a new rakugo – in order to survive modern times, and Yakumo’s death.

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Yota seems to rarely leave the open entrance to his home, sitting their first listening to his predecessor Sukeroku, then to all the myriad versions of Inokori provided by Higuchi, no two of them alike. It’s strong enough stuff for him to laugh and react loudly deep into the night. He’s so immersed, Konatsu has to snap him out of it so he can get some sleep for the family performance.

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And it is truly a family performance, as Konatsu will be at the shamisen per her father’s bidding. Of the three family members, she’s by far the most nervous. Performing rakugo for a bunch of kindergartners and a smattering of their parents is one thing: playing pros at the very top of the game in and out to a giant packed theater is another. But Yota (and indirectly, Yakumo) know she’ll be fine.

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Damn…when Yota offered to give Mangetsu an pregame audience with Yakumo and I saw that loooong foreboding hallway, for a few moments I feared for the worst: that Yakumo was keeled over dead in his dressing room, just like that. Blame the seductively creepy OP in which the ghost Sukeroku opens Yakumo’s cloak to reveal nothing but dry bones, and the earlier mention by someone that his voice has lost something.

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Thankfully, Yakumo is fine, but everything I mentioned before still casts a pall on him. Yota’s meeting with him is another great one, as Yota proudly shows what he’s really been up to in the red light districts: getting his carp tattoo finished. This is Yota literally not letting things go unfinished; not apologizing for who he was and who he is.

Yakumo may think rakugo is finished once he dies, but he’s wrong. His rakugo won’t even be finished; it’s not his call, but history’s. So even though he’s pissy about the fact Yota is taking into account other methods for “Inokori” (likely aware this is Higuchi’s influence), you can’t expect someone who claims, and is pretty certain, they don’t have an ego to use that ego.

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Yota warms up the crowd, getting them “laughing like fools”, which might be fine in a solo show, but Yakumo needs to put them in a different, more nuanced mood; Yota’s winding them up makes it tougher. Still, he’s more than up to the challenge, and performs “Hangon-ko” with both musical accompaniment from Konatsu (who he says he’s counting on, and who doesn’t let him down despite her nerves) and an extra prop: streams of incense.

The significance of the titular incense to the story—that it brings back the soul of a dead loved one—is all too apropos for Yakumo’s darkening state of mind as the days ahead of him dwindle. And even though at this part in the story he tells, the widower buys the wrong incense and burns way too much of it, the incense still has the effect of summoning the ghost of Miyokishi before Yakumo, in one of the most chilling and intense moments of the show’s entire run.

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Yakumo manages to finish the story to polite but not raucous applause, and Yota quickly orders the curtains dropped. Yakumo collapses and enters what must seem like the afterlife. Miyokichi is nowhere to be found. Instead there are off-kilter shelves after shelves of countless burning candles – no doubt signifying lives.

Like the end of the deliciously haunting OP, Yakumo’s candle must be burning very low indeed, flickering, and threatening to be snuffed out. Sukeroku also comes before him, as young and vital as the day he was killed. He asked him why he’s there, ignores his questions of whether he’s in paradise or hell, and starts to choke him.

As we ponder what medical malady struck Yakumo on that stage, an attack that will most likely result in the cancelling of the remainder of the family performance, including Yota’s “Inokori”, but more importantly, may mark the commencement of the trial of Yakumo’s soul.

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