Sakurako-san no Ashimoto – 11

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A night at Sakurako’s moves Minami to tell her Hitoe’s location, and when they find her covered in butterflies the worst is feared. Alas, “only” her dog is dead and attracting the insects; she merely took a non-lethal dose of sleeping pills and soon wakes up. Not shortly thereafter, Hector barks from outside, announcing he’s found what Sakurako was hoping to find: more bones. Specifically, the bones of a young woman; Minami and Hitoe’s friend Futaba. And that’s far from all that’s unearthed this week.

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Minami recounts the tale of how Futaba showed her and Hitoe this abandoned cabin in the woods, and they made it their home, their place where they belonged. All three of them had their problems, but Futaba was the worst, and soon wanted to enter a suicide pact with the other two. Hitoe agreed, but Minami didn’t want to die, so she ran. When she returned later, Futaba was dead, having hung herself, while Hitoe injured her hands trying to save her.

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Minami buried the body, and that was that. Only…Sakurako-san wasn’t born yesterday by any stretch, and Futaba’s bones tell her a far different story. Not a story of Futaba hanging herself as Hitoe struggled to stop her, but a story of being strangled to death, as indicated by bones that would not have been broken by hanging, and the dubiousness of dying while hanging so low her feet touched the ground.

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Hitoe can’t keep up the fiction any longer, though she kept it hidden within her memory for so long, it flows out like a river through breached dam, all anger and despair. Futaba gave her an ultimatum: she’d either help her kill herself, or she’d kill her, then commit suicide. It was an impossible situation for Hitoe, who comes out and blames Minami for running. Had she been there, maybe Futaba would have kept it together a little longer (though considering both she and Hitoe were already considering suicide when Minami fled, I doubt it).

Isozaki is able to calm Hitoe, and puts all the blame on himself, not for failing to see the pain his three students were in, but for seeing the pain, and turning away, not wanting to be hurt himself.

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After burying Futaba, Minami and Hitoe drifted apart, partly because Hitoe started seeing other friends, partly because Hitoe reminded Minami of what happened to Futaba. Then she met Hanabusa, who she waxes poetic about as if her mind had been programmed to say these things. But it wasn’t; she simply fell victim to the honeyed words of a criminal mastermind, just as Hitoe would, and just as many other victims have.

Sakurako knows Hanabusa never loved Minami—that he’s incapable of loving anyone unless they’re bleach bones—and that Minami was just another pawn in his game. The thing is, she doesn’t really need to be so blunt about all these things at this particular time. For someone so good at detecting, she fails to read the room, and turns her back on Minami, who can’t handle what she’s saying and tries to stab her with a palette knife.

But Sakurako doesn’t get stabbed, because Shoutarou comes between her and Minami, catching the knife in his side. Remembering her brother, who apparently drowned in a rainstorm, she shouts out Shoutarou’s name.

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But it’s all okay; the stabbing wasn’t precise, nor was it lethal. Shou will be fine. But Sakurako isn’t. It was too close a call for her. As she hits the home stretch on tracking down the “abyss” that is Hanabusa, Sakurako has unilaterally decided she and Shou must part ways. It almost feels like a breakup…because it is, and Shou is heartbroken. But the bottom line is, Hanabusa is a dangerous, brilliant son of a bitch, and while Sakurako loves bones, she never wants to see Shoutarou’s.

Will Shoutarou really accept this? He’s too shocked and overwhelmed to protest here, but once he’s discharged, I wonder how Sakurako will keep him away, and whether he’ll honor her selfish desire to go it alone with Hanabusa. I’m hoping he won’t, because as the tear Sakurako sheds indicates, these two people belong together. Call them soul mates, if you will.

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Sakurako-san no Ashimoto – 10

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While on a bonehunt with Sakurako and Shoutarou, Isozaki-sensei gets called away by news that his former student Hitoe has disappeared. Sakurako offers to give him a lift, but is really interested in the mystery sticking with him offers. Hitoe is the second of three once-inseparable friends who were students in Isozaki’s homeroom.

Saku instantly notices how personal he’s taken the disappearance of the first and how he couldn’t bear to lose another. He also sees how he atones for not being able to do anything about the first girl who disappeared, Minami. When they visit Hitoe’s rich and haughty parents who know nothing about their daughter, Saku is disgusted, gathers all the clues she can about where Hitoe may be headed (a few days’ clothes and a phone battery away) and gets the hell out of there.

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We finally see Hitoe, the girl from last week’s cold open, still in a kind of trance, or possibly drugged, with her little dog and a bed covered in bandage wrappers, talking to her “sensei” about her “wings.” Shou learns from Yuriko that Hitoe modeled for a painter and was rumored to be dating him as well. So there’s the “sensei.” (Speaking of senseis, Yuriko makes sure to apologize for her harsh words to Isozaki, now that she knows he does know what it’s like to suddenly lose someone.)

They then visit Minami’s apartment, a far more downscale affair than Hitoe’s, and Sakurako gets a lot more out of Minami’s mom, who is at least in tune with her daughter’s life than Hitoe’s mom, even if she doesn’t know the full picture. When Saku finds the painting Minami modeled for—with a butterfly on her back just like a painting Hitoe modeled for—that picture starts coming together: we have a predatory artist who lures girls in with the promise of “wings” that will take them away from their awful homes and lives.

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Saku finds multiple receipts for a particular restaurant (not Wagnaria) in Minami’s dustbin, and that leads them right to her, where she’s anemic, exhausted, and clearly still traumatized by what she’s been through. Still, she tries to hold onto her secrets as long as she can, though Sakurako sees through her physical tics and decides a change of venue is better.

She takes Minami into her house and has Gran fill her belly. Perhaps, when she’s ready, she’ll be able to say more about Hanabusa-sensei, the painter both she and Hitoe loved.

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After a day when he got a good look at Sakurako’s ass when she was rummaging under Minami’s bed, Sakurako continues to surprise Shoutarou by personally inviting him for breakfast in the morning, a first for her. But in his monologue as the episode ends and we see the butterfly design etched into the showering Minami’s flesh with a painter’s knife, a future Shou recalls that while he was happy about Saku’s invitation, he had no idea at the time what her true intentions were, and the bones she truly sought.

This was another strikingly different episode from an anime that has always confidently blazed its own trail, exploring unique specific themes such as friends from different backgrounds, how friendships crumbled when they desired the same thing; the differences in their relationships with their mothers; the fact that ennui, depression, and the desire to rebel stretches across class and status.

This episode took a look into the secret world of young people most adults including their parents never see nor hear, and so may as well not exist to them; entire galaxies of hidden ideas and dreams, and one insidious little mini-cult of three, all worshiping this Hanabusa fellow who still lurks about in his coat and hat. He has much to answer for.

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Sakurako-san no Ashimoto – 09

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Sakurako-san holds back from revealing more about it’s titular character’s central mystery, while hinting at some similar themes that drove whatever it was that happened. The wonderful Yuriko returns, who bumps into Saku and Shou at the pastry shop and solicits the detective’s help in determining which painting her departed grandmother would have chosen to give her on the occasion of her wedding. Note that Yuriko isn’t actually getting married (though let’s not forget that Saku is technically betrothed).

What follows is a wonderful train of thought as Sakurako explains the choices she made based on the information she knows. Her best bet for Yuriko is a painting of Kamuishu Island, which means “God-Grandmother” in Ainu. Sakurako refers to the story that the island is actually the remains of a grandmother who collapsed looking for her lost grandson. Her body gave out, but her spirit never will.

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Sakurako believes it’s best because it reflects Yuriko’s grandmother’s desire to always watch over her with love, while dismissing the whole painting enterprise as “pointless sentimentalism” she claims not to understand. Shoutarou chastens her after a fashion, telling her some things have value because they are pointless.

That’s a remark that Sakurako is able to return to Shoutarou, when the young lad pays her a visit on a rainy day with the gift of several flavors of his favorite brand of pudding, embarrassed both Saku and her Gran laugh at the oversized clothes he has to borrow to dry off, but well aware of Saku’s well-honed sweet tooth.

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Like Yuriko’s story, Shou reminices about his grandmother, who in his case was dying of bone cancer. He recalls coming to visit her in the hospital, and how she’d always ask him to pick up pudding beforehand, which perplexes him, because she never liked the stuff before. But Saku’s Gran figures it out even before Saku. No surprise there, since her life experience more closely matches Shou’s gran.

While Yuriko’s mystery involved which painting would bring her closer to her gran, Shou’s mystery of why her gran wanted pudding for their visits is solved by taking both what is known about the subject and what one’s own wisdom and experience provides. Gran and Saku settle on the notion that Shou’s gran asked him to buy pudding because it would allow her painkiller injection time to kick in before he arrived.

Just as Yuriko’s happiness was her gran’s happiness, so too was Shou’s. Shou’s gran left this world on her own terms, spending time with someone she loved. Shou can’t initially fathom how his presence at his grandmother’s bed did any good or had any point, until Saku repeats his line about pointless things having their own value.

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Saku’s detective skills can’t help but notice her own gran’s back is ailing, and tells her they’re going to the hospital. But that ain’t happening; her gran, like all the other grans before her, aren’t going to be pushed around by youngins. Speaking of gran, she seems to be aware of Saku’s deep dark secret, and the significance of Shou’s name.

As for Sakurako, she seems to have gotten quite a bit of something pointless yet valuable from Shoutarou, but makes mention of bringing it all to an end, which this show has to do soon. The “cold ending”, if you will, does not do much to clear up her mystery, as we watch a girl who looks similar to Saku but whose name is Hitoe tighten up her boots and head out as her parents loudly argue about her, and she looks at the moon and momentarily grows butterfly wings as she tells her “sensei” she’ll “fly up to him.”

I have no earthly idea what any of this is about, only wild speculation, but as usual, I’m interested to learn the truth.

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Sakurako-san no Ashimoto – 08

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In this, the finest episode of Sakurako-san to date, One solved mystery leads to a second, than a third, and opens up the possibility of the larger, deeper truths involving Sakurako and her brother, whom Shoutarou reminds her of so much. Shoutarou feels he’s created a rift between him and Sakurako after his outburst about her cat Ulna.

Asking if she’ll accompany him to personally deliver Sasaki-sensei’s effects to his surviving relative is a way for him to reestablish contact, but she claims she’s just “tired”, not avoiding him, and must have been mistaken when she mentioned cat bones at the school, noting quite pointedly “Even I make mistakes, sometimes.”

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Sasaki’s sister, the wheelchair-bound Haruma Sayuki, greets them warmly and thanks them for bringing her brother’s belongings. She’s also able to confirm the identity of the bones in Sasaki’s office, those of Sone Natsuko. The alleged child of a sex worker who came to live with Atsurou and Sayuki, her brother fell for “Nacchan”, but she had a baby out of wedlock—not by him—that was born premature and died soon thereafter.

It was the bones of that baby—whom Natsuko buried that very night many years ago—Sayuki had hoped Shou had brought, so she could lay them and her mother’s bones to rest in the family grave, something her family would probably never have allowed back in the old days.

Sakurako has all she needs to deduce the location of the babe’s bones: in the vicinity of a monument to Mistletoe, a book both Natsuko and Atsurou loved. Sure enough, they find bones, but she also discovers a different truth that differs from Sayuki’s account, and all because Sayuki happened to be wearing open-toed sandals when she first met her and Shou.

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Sayuki has “Celtic-style” feet, with the index toe taller than the big toe; the same kind of foot Sayuki has and Atsurou had. Combined with the extremely high risk of a woman who just gave birth exerting herself buring a child, Sakurako believes Sayuki is the mother, which she finally admits. Natsuko had helped her get in touch with a man she fell in love with, and she got pregnant out of wedlock.

Because her father had arranged a marriage for her, she could not keep the baby, so the fiction was created that it was Natsuko’s, thus preserving Sayuki for marriage, but destroying any chances of Natsuko and Atsurou getting marrying. Natsuko died alone, and Sayuki was going to as well, but now she’ll be reunited with Natsuko, whom she loved as a sister, and her own child, before she dies.

It is strongly hinted at that Sayuki didn’t give birth to a premature child, but rather aborted her, the means for which must have been crude and dangerous.

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It’s a heartbreaking change to an already heartbreaking narrative, in this show that deals with themes and events in real life that few anime bother to. When Shoutarou wonders why Sasaki-sensei never married Natsuko even after being disowned by his family for pursuing a life of education, Sakurako has a simple answer: he believed Natsuko herself may have been a half-sibling by blood, with a shared father. That may not have been the real truth, but it was still a truth he believed in until his death. “Sometimes there’s more than one truth,” Saku remarks.

Back when Shou gave Sayuki her brother’s effects, he kept the photo with the poem, fearing it meant something bad or sad. But with all this new information coming to light, he does further research, and gives the photo to Sayuki, who identifies the poem as one by Roka, and concluding Natsuko wrote it to express her own grief when she was close to death. For a moment, Sayuki transforms into her younger self, filled with grief but also a sense of closure and catharsis. It’s a very moving scene, and it’s thanks to Shou for not closing the case too early.

But that’s not the end of Shou’s sleuthing this week. Staring at a diagram of a skeleton in his school’s lab and thinking about Sakurako’s comment about “more than one truth”, it dawns on him that Sakurako indeed stole the cat bones, and knows why: Because the ulna is only one of two bones in the forearm: the other is the radius. Sakurako had two cats.

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Sakurako and Shou, who looked so cold and grey and distant during the car ride at the start of the episode, are enrobed in the warm, sensual light of the setting sun as Shou argues his case and she listens attentively. He further deduces that because she knew her way to the lab so quickly, and the school was once all-girls, that she was an alumna at his school. Sakurako heartily applauds Shou’s skills of observation: he is correct.

Someone poisoned her two cats, Ulna and Radius, when she was little. She went to Sasaki-sensei with the corpses, who understood what she wanted to do. In life, the cats were always inseparable, so she wanted to reunite them in death as well once she found Radius again, if only briefly.

She hid the theft from Shou thinking he wouldn’t understand, but ironically it’s because she acts like, as she says, an “emotional, foolish human being” that he can finally realize there are some things about the two of them that are alike; that it isn’t hopeless to be friends with her; that he can understand her, sometimes. When he says she can keep the cat in exchange for fox bones, she shows more of that emotion.

That brings us to the relationship we now know of between Sakurako and Sasaki, who taught her osteology and considered her an apprentice. And to Saku admitting “even she makes mistakes sometimes.” Did Saku and Sasaki’s relationship go even deeper into “absurd emotional human” territory?

Could the titular “bones under her feet” (and the small skull that orbits her in the ED) be not her brother’s, but those of her son? All speculation on my part, but I don’t think it’s that wild. There are many more truths and mistakes and motivations to unpack in the final three episodes.

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Sakurako-san no Ashimoto – 07

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To Shou’s apparent amazement, Sakurako graces his school festival with her presence—in a skirt, no less!—though it could have more to do with the fact she’d have access to delicious pancakes than any particular urge to see or hang out with Shou. Or is that being too harsh? In a show full of mysteries, Sakurako remains the largest, though we’re now 7/11ths into the show.

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Suddenly disappearing after her meal, Shou finds her in the one place in a school she’d go: the lab, to check out skeletons. She couldn’t care less about rudely off and going without saying something, either because she just doesn’t conform to social norms, or because she knew Shou would be able to find her if he needed to. Far more important to Saku once she inspects the bones, is that a grave injustice is taking place.

The skeletons are gathering dust as decor rather than being handled by students for educational benefit. I loved her matter-of-fact indignation and scolding of Professor Isozaki who maintains the lab but is more of a plant guy, but promises improvement, which matters to Saku more than apologies.

Things take a very Sakurako-san-like turn when Isozaki offers Saku the job of organizing a prep room full of unorganized bones left there by the former teacher who is now deceased. Saku agrees in exchange for three pumpkin Mont Blancs from Patisserie Dandelion, a very specific but also delicious-sounding (and fair) price.

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During the long, dusty process of organizing the prep room and taking inventory of the bones, Saku comes across the skeleton of a dog and a cat, which disturbs Shou quite a bit due to their status as pets. He also remembers seeing a cat skeleton with the name “Ulna” in Saku’s house, and she tells him Ulna was the name of her pet cat, who died an “unnatural death.” She wanted to learn the cause, so she performed an autopsy.

This really unsettles Shou, who gets frustrated when Saku reacts so differently than him. He feels she’s being cold and heartless, even if that’s not really quite the case. It’s another depressing sign to him that Saku is so very different than him, which more than the fact she has a fiancee (that’s more of an excuse not to pursue her, not a true obstacle, as Isozaki opines), keeps him from making a closer connection, to say nothing of pursuing a romance.

They also find a chest full of the bones of a cremated human named Sone Natsuko, who judging from the writings among Sasaki’s personal effects, had at least some connection with him, possibly a close one. Alas, it isn’t a case for Sakurako-san, as the police are called and take the remains away.

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The next day, Shou is confused by the lack of a cat skeleton in the inventory, when he could swear Saku was stroking a cat skull, just as he was talking about her petting Ulna. Because of the way Shou thinks and makes connections to interactions, he believes he might have upset Saku with his in hindsight over-the-top reaction to her comments on Ulna.

But of course an analytical person like Saku would want to find out why her cat died. That, not burying her in the yard and burning some incense, is how she processes the pain of her loss. And when Shou comes to her mansion to deliver her Mont Blancs, the gate is locked. Not because Sakurako is angry, but because she’s gone to visit her uncle, Shitara.

Shitara’s a professor of forensic medicine, now confined to a bed and requiring some kind of SGD to communicate. Saku, perhaps inspired by Shou bringing up Ulna, has come for Shitara’s unsolved case, which she wants to investigate, and she has Shitara’s blessing, provided she doesn’t do anything dangerous. I wonder if Saku will let Shou in on this. She’d better, if she wants those Mont Blancs…

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