Kino no Tabi – 06

This week is spent “up in the clouds” and barely involves Kino at all—she and Hermes only bookend the episode. In their stead, we get a lovely, beautiful, and heartwrenching semi-allegorical tale up in the mountains involving a new character, an orphan girl (voiced by Minase Inori, who is everywhere), sold into servitude, constantly treated like crap by her merchant owners, adult and child alike.

The episode wastes no time portraying those owners as a complete waste of life; they never let off the gas pedal of abuse, both verbal and physical, and the girl just…takes it all. They ask if she hates them, and she says she doesn’t. She doesn’t hate, resent, or wish harm on anyone; to do so would be a sin. They mock her piety, believing only humans who act inhuman survive in this ugly world.

Of course, part of the title of this show is The Beautiful World, with the understanding that the world is beautiful because it isn’t…but the mountaintop environs are ironically utterly gorgeous. If only the girl had better company.

She realizes too late that the herbs she picked and added to the soup for dinner were poisonous, and all attempts to warn her owners fall on deaf ears. She steels herself to drink the soup and die with them rather than live as a murderer (however unintentional), but a boy seals his fate by knocking her bowl out of her hands; she’s later hit with a rock and knocked out.

When she wakes up, the merchants are still alive, and the boy has convinced his father to sell him the girl so he can take his time killing her in order to “become a man”, which is what we’d call overkill. What the hell is this kid, the Devil’s Spawn? In any case, the poison kicks in and they all die before the girl’s eyes.

The only survivor is the man who told his younger colleague, essentially, that the girl being a slave while they’re free comes down to luck; “there but for the grace of God go I” kinda deal.

He believes that until his death, which is semi-self-inflicted, as he pretends to instruct the girl on how to use his rifle to kill herself, but fixes it so she shoots him instead. Before he dies, he unchains her, and with his last breath, tells her to live her life; she’ll understand someday why things happened this way.

To the girl’s shock, there’s a voice coming from one of the wagons. It’s a talking motorrad (in the form of an adorable Honda Motocompo) who has been listening to everything going on, and congratulates the girl on her freedom.

The girl still wants to die, but in the same vein as the last man to die, the motorrad tells her the only way to die is to live life. No one knows how or when death will come, but it comes for everyone. The circumstances that led to the girl’s current position shouldn’t be considered grounds for immediate death. Indeed, it was clearly her fate to survive, escape the shackles of bondage, and strike out on her own. Why else would she meet a talking motorrad immediately after her last captor died?

We see Kino and Hermes arriving at the camp where the bodies of the merchants remain; not much time has passed since the girl and the motorrad left. But as the credits roll we learn what became of her: she was accepted as an immigrant in a new country after telling them her story, took up photography, and became successful and esteemed.

She took on the name Photo, and kept her first friend, the motorrad whose name is Sou, close by the whole time. Sou believes she’s happy. She certainly looks content. I wonder if she’ll ever meet Kino…

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 08

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After a taste of Kyoto-style rakugo (which has a lot more props than Tokyo style…not sure I like it) courtesy of Mangetsu, who is trying to make a comeback after ten years out of the game, We see a frail and withered Yakumo showing his grandson one of Sukeroku’s albums.

Higuchi and Matsuda then come in to show Yakumo the veritable bonanza of recordings and memorabilia the professor has collected over the years. Higuchi leaves it up to Yakumo whether the recordings and such were ever to be released to the public, or destroyed. Yakky says he’ll think about it.

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In a really, really lovely scene, we see the happy couple of Yotaro and Konatsu relaxing on a warm night, and Konatsu rests her head on Yotaro’s broad back and asks him to perform some rakugo, and is no doubt soothed by the vibration of Yotaro’s voice as he does so. It’s personal rakugo; not for a crowd, but for someone close.

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Yotaro can’t get far in his story before the couple notices Yakumo walking onto the nearby bridge; he feigns a desire to get out and about and a bout of sickness, but Konatsu knows what he’s up to: he was trying to off himself, something she won’t allow until he “atones.”

Or at least, that’s how she chooses to label her love for the man who brought her in when she lost both her parents and raised her into the fine woman she is. Yakumo concedes that fate may not be ready to let him die.

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Yakumo visits Kido Isao, an old friend and who owes him a “debt that can’t be paid”, knows how to keep quiet, and longs to hear Yakumo perform again. Then, one night, after seeing a play with Matsuda, Yakumo finds himself the victim of his loyal servant and family’s machinations.

To wit: he’s being forced into a performance before a small, select audience of old friends, colleagues, and patrons. When he threatens to leave, the lady of the Yanashima Inn “insists” by hilariously shoving him onto the stage.

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But before Yakumo has to perform, he yields that stage to his “dunce” of a student, who performs “Shibahama” to his master’s shock. When asked how he learned it, Yotaro confesses to having watched the film, though doesn’t go so far as to hear the truth of what happened at that inn so many years ago.

As for his “Shibahama”, Sokuroku’s was, in my opinion, far superior. But to Yotaro’s credit, he uses his tendency to weep easily well here.

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When it’s finally Yakumo’s turn, he introduces himself with an air of “whelp, I guess I can’t rest easy yet, so despite my dry tongue here goes”…only to be rudely interrupted by a police raid that has come to arrest Kido Isao. Have those coppers no decency?! 

One also wonders if, like when his suicide was thwarted by the sudden appearance of Yotaro and Konatsu, if there’s something to the fact that he was so harshly silenced just when he was about to do rakugo again.

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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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Fune wo Amu – 07

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After another scene illustrating how hemmed-in Nishioka feels, having to force his girlfriend to walk far ahead of him on the way to work, and decline the squid ink paella place lest they be seen there together, we get into the nitty-gritty of manuscript editing.

Matumoto proudly listens as Nishioka and Majime work like a two-part well-oiled machine as they sift through Professor Oda’s extraneous verbiage and cut to the core of what a certain Great Passage word definition should consist of and why.

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It’s just a shame they only have one more month together. This is a show that seems to shift between Majime and Nishioka; the former too often a prisoner within himself, the latter too often a prisoner to outside forces, like the ones that enabled the Passage to survive.

But while Majime is sad to see Nishioka go, as Nishioka seems sad to be leaving something he felt at the time was very important, they’re still pulling for each other in the future, even if that immediate future doesn’t involve working together.

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We simply don’t see any of the aftermath of Majime and Kaguya connecting; only the indication that things are moving along fine, with Majime going to Apricot to sample the first dinner she has full control over; essentially to support her on her next step on the long road to realizing her goals.

Nishioka has a nice girlfriend in Remi, but definitely seems to dislike how careful they have to be in public (not sure why this is, so I’m assuming it’s company policy). It’s nice to see their domestic scenes together as a contrast to the distance they must flub when out in the world, but it can’t go on this way if Nishioka is to be truly happy.

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When Professor Oda calls Nishioka in to bitch at him about the extreme editing to his manuscript Majime has done, as well as to complain about the lateness of his transfer announcement, Nishioka turns up the charm, flattering Oda by saying most other writers need far more editing than he.

It’s when Oda tries to get Nishioka to kneel down in apology to him that Nishioka finally demurs. He feels such grovelling beneath the noble builders of The Great Passage, and instead essentially blackmails Oda with his knowledge of his young student mistress.

With Oda back under control, Nishioka goes a little further, rebelling against the same structures that give weight to his threats against Oda by texting Remi to meet him for dinner at the squid ink paella place. Appearances be damned: he’s going to live and enjoy himself.

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Fune wo Amu – 06

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Majime barely seems to sleep through a night when he’s waiting for Kaguya to reply to his letter, but early in the morning when they finally meet in the hall, he runs away, scared of rejection. If she has bad news for him, he doesn’t want to hear it.

For Nishioka, the time to announce his impending departure from the department comes at an awkward time, but his hand is forced when the elders take stock of the group’s difficulties but looks to the first modern Japanese dictionary, the Genkai, for inspiration, knowing the five of them can do it. Nishioka makes sure they understand it’s four, not five now.

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When Majime hears of this, and of all the extra work not suited for him he may have to take on in Nishioka’s absence, he has a little bit of a freakout, as the pleasant dusk turns dark and foreboding, waves lap at his feet, then solidify into a thick mud into which he slowly descends. All of a sudden he’s become overwhelmed with doubt in both love and life.

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That night, at the boarding house, he goes into the library, a lovely cozy space positively packed with books, to both calm and steel himself. He finds the house copy of the Genkai, and finds an archaic word for chef (translated as “kitchener”).

He realizes a dictionary’s value, like the words within it, change with time. The Genkai is now a repository of Japanese linguistic history. He re-asserts his determination to complete The Great Passage, come hell or high mud.

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He also gains the confidence to ask Kaguya, who has just come home, for an answer to his love letter. Kaguya is caught off guard by his use of that term, and runs up to her room.

Majime is almost certain this means rejection, but it’s the opposite: she merely wanted to read it again, certain that it was a love letter (she wasn’t sure before). In truth, she has feelings for him too.

I loved the subtlety of her motions and the quietness and warmth of this scene. We’ll see how the happy couple proceeds from here.

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Prison School – 08

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Yours truly should have known, but my “manly feelings” were also manipulated, as I, like Shingo, stopped worrying about what was or wasn’t too good to be true and actually roll with the idea of a random girl at Shingo’s school being legitimately into him. After all, Chiyo can’t be the only one who likes having the guys around, right? Well, it’s not really a yes or no question.

But let’s just say for most of the episode and all of last week, Anzu was putting on an act. Unlike Chiyo, who puts herself at risk trying to warn Kiyoshi of the impending plot afoot (writing it in Go stones…so refined!), Anzu is acting on behalf of the Underground Student Council, in exchange for Mari’s recommendation she be named to the executive committee next year. She was a part of DTO…but by the end, she’s almost responsible for foiling it.

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Why does she do that? Well, everything was going according to plan, with cheek-pinching about to move on to something else, until Shingo just cant sit there and watch some random kid in the park get sand thrown at him by his friends. When he yells at them too harshly, they cry, and the kid who was getting bullyed throws sand on him. 

This isn’t just a show about T&A. It’s a show about fate and justice; friendship and forgiveness. The confessions that take place in that park aren’t of love between Shingo and Anzu. Shingo confesses to being a snitch, and can’t betray his friends anymore. But then Anzu ‘fesses up about being appointed by Mari to seduce him as part of a plan to get the boys expelled.

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Of course, Anzu was only one of Mari’s variables in her devastatingly intricate scheme, which involved using Meiko’s voluptuousness and lack of punishing Andre to drive him mad until he’s chasing cardboard cutouts, and finally, the real thing. When Meiko offers to whip him if he just comes through the fence, Andre can’t help himself, pushes through the wire (which had already been cut), and is guilty of the boys’ second breakout. If Shingo doesn’t get back in time, that will be three strikes, and they’ll be out. Baseball Metaphor!

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In the time Anzu’s spent with him, culminating in those shared confessions, she can no longer play him any more than he can play Kiyoshi and the others. So she does everything she can to get him back to school on time. At first, their getting along seemed all to easy, then was revealed to be an artificial fondness that then became real. I just hope this isn’t the last we see of these two.

If Mari and the council have their way, however, it will be…and the boys won’t get to experience “seaside school” in the summer, when the girls hold a wet t-shirt contest. While I’m almost positive that’s just bullshit to get them riled up, the fact they believe her so intensely is pretty hilarious.

In fact, it’s that dream of transparent tops that move Kiyoshi, Gakuto, Andre and Joe to put their wishes and hopes together and chant for Shingo’s on-time return. Shingo is almost hit by a truck, but avoids it, and that truck happens to be the laundry truck for the school! Almost as if the universe is rewarding him for his honesty, eh?

Well, not quite: the kicker in DTO is that the other four inmates were put to work adjusting how the door to the stockade opens so it slides rather than pushes in, so Shingo can’t open it, and he’s outside when his time runs out. Dayum, that is one ice cold checkmate.

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Happily, as they await their impending expulsion, Shingo prostrates himself and apologizes profusely for what he’s done…and he’s forgiven, just like that. Well, until he mentions details of what happened with him and Anzu; then they lay into him, but when they’re done, they’re all of them satisfied and even. Mari may have gotten them expelled, but she failed to break their brotherly bonds.

Mari all but smacks her dad in the face with the official school regulations and how the boys are indeed guilty of breaking out three times. Chiyo is there to argue their case, but her pleas are shouted down by Kiyoshi and her confederates. This is one of those times you’d really wish her dad the chairman had some backbone, but considering how awkward and awful he feels about Mari seeing so many overt glimpses of his fetish, he probably feels he has no moral ground to stand on, even if Chiyo were to back him up in the pro-boys corner.

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So, is that that? Will the end of the week after next be all she wrote for our lads? Or is the festive victory celebration by the council—complete with cake, sparkling cider, and Meiko getting her thong caught on the door after doing fingertip pullups—premature? For her part, Anzu tells her boss how she ended up failing her mission when she fell for the target, but Mari lets her off the hook, while ordering surveillance on her as soon as she’s out of the room.

As for the boys, because their bonds have never been stronger, and their hopes somewhat miraculously reached Shingo, they belive anything is possible. They’re not done yet. They’ve got allies in Chiyo and maybe Anzu and the director, they have each other, and they have at least a couple of weeks. Can they somehow overturn the verdict of the council? Will they turn DTO’s victory into a defeat? I hope so.

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Prison School – 06

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You wouldn’t think a day in which Kiyoshi was shanked in the ass by a tree branch and almost peed on by Hana would end up being a good day for him, but that’s the kind of crazy world Prison School is. There’s no situation too inappropriate or absurd that won’t befall its protagonist, and yet he remains resolutely human and moral.

Knowing a rift has formed between Kiyoshi and Shingo, Mari aims to drive a large, voluptuous wedge right through that rift, widening it. That wedge is Meiko, who begins giving Shingo special attention treatment, plying him with sweet treats and panoramic views in order to make him a snitch. Shingo, still pissed about his extended sentence, obliges all too easily.

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What’s weird and kind of endearing about Meiko is that while she’s built like a brick shithouse, the show makes sure to keep ambiguous whether she’s aware of how seductive she is. Her inner thoughts are more interested in making sure she doesn’t say something to upset Mari, who will then sic her crows on her. Regardless of her self-awareness, the sound effects employed whenever she’s doing something are pretty amazing.

With an inmate who will do whatever they want, Mari decides to implement a plan to stir up trouble, after intentionally applying more stress and punishment to the other inmates (or, to Andre’s detriment, less punishment). Her target is Joe, the least stable of the quintet, who loses it when it appears a crow is killing his beloved ants.

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He’s just waking up when he notices Meiko and Shingo talking in the shadows, but Kiyoshi still finds it odd that the entire council is out in force in the schoolyard. Then Joe produces a branch-as-shank and lunges at Mari, and something happens the president did not expect: a man protected her from harm. And in front of half the school watching from the windows. Unfortunately, his good deed is overshadowed by the fact the branch went up his ass, creating a great deal of blood. …And the fact Mari still despises men.

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Joe is thrown in solitary (after being told the crow was only “bathing” in ants as a grooming exercise, not killing them; a neat bit of ornithology mixed into our ecchi comedy!), and Kiyoshi is escorted to the nurse’s office…by Hana. Last week Hana promised she’d pay Kiyoshi back, and after being unable to force him to pee into a jug, she decides to accelerate her plan and pee on him herself. Things get pretty far, with her shedding her leggings and panties, but Chiyo inadvertently, temporarily saves Kiyoshi when she pays a visit to the nurse’s office.

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Unfortunately, that also means Hana and Kiyoshi have to hide from her, under the bed, occupying as little space as possible to avoid detection. As neither Kiyoshi or Hana are wearing underwear, Hana is a girl, and Kiyoshi is a guy, things outside his control start to happen. He’s bailed out again when Hana passes out, either due to the heat or from overexcitement.

In any case, Kiyoshi and Hana continue their very bizarre kinky physical relationship rooted in dominance and tit-for-tat; the precise opposite of the wholesome romance he desires with Chiyo (or, in his own words, “coming on to her just enough that she doesnt’ think he’s a creep”). While that’s going on, Mari’s dad the Chairman has his own close call when Mari visits him in his office…just as he’s opening a latin ass jerk-off device he ordered from Amazon(ess). That latest blunder from her dad kills any goodwill Kiyoshi might have created by saving Mari from Joe.

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But his heroism wasn’t all for naught: he didn’t just save Mari from a shanking; he saved Joe from possible arrest and internment at a real prison, something Joe thanks Kiyoshi for, being the first inmate to break the “shunning line” set by Shingo. At this point, even a weirdo like Joe can tell something not quite kosher is up with Shingo, and Kiyoshi lets him know that whole lunch break situation was similarly odd.

This is good, because it means Kiyoshi’s instincts aren’t entirely blind to the council’s DTO machinations. But he still doesn’t know what’s going on, only that things are off. With Meiko offering Shingo a uniform and two hours of freedom off-campus, Shingo remains in the council’s pocket. Whether he knows it or not, he is the weapon Mari intends to use to get all the guys kicked out—something, by the way, Hana seemed reluctant to agree with at first; I must look out for that, as she has her own agenda.

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Prison School – 05

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Rarely has an anime made me feel so goddamn down as when Kiyoshi’s house of cards crumbled. So very much was riding on him performing the mission perfectly, and more to the point, the first nine tenths of the episode, with its sense of optimism, occasion, and essentially adolescent paradise, perfectly set us up to be as devastated as possible when the curtain fell.

But the show was cleverer than simply having Shiraki kicking in the door to find an empty stall. Instead, it played us once more, juxtaposing two scenes without indicating their exact timing with regard to one another. By the time the jig is up and Shiraki kicks in that door, Kiyoshi not only got back, but got back with Gakuto’s prized figurines.

Then Kiyoshi walks outside, and Mari is waiting for him, and she knows everything. Not because she realized he was the girl she stopped at the gate, but because her sister Chiyo texted her and their dad a picture of her with him. Pretty damning evidence, right there! But crucially, Chiyo didn’t send it in scorn or spite; she sent it before she found her uni in Kiyoshi’s bag, back when she was so overjoyed by the experience she was having she couldn’t resist sharing it. She also assumed Kiyoshi got permission from her sister and father.

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Chiyo’s intent, however, doesn’t change the fact that Kiyoshi is in deep shit, and not just with Mari and Chiyo, but with his comrades in stripes. Shingo in particular is extremely hurt and upset Kiyoshi didn’t trust them enough to tell them of his plans; had he done so, they wouldn’t necessarily have stopped him, but things might’ve gone smoother. He’s also extended everyone’s sentence another month, so they have every right to feel mad and betrayed.

As for Kiyoshi, Mari informs him he’ll be expelled, but we later learn behind closed doors she technically lacks the authority to do so and would prefer not to involve other parties. Whatever Kiyoshi’s intentions (and she of course assumes the worst, in part because of how her dad has shaped her opinion of men in general), his predicament is just what Mari needs to further her agenda of making her school all-girls once more.

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Mari can probably tell Kiyoshi feels terrible about what he did (which would indicate he’s not the degenerate she’s make him out to be—of course, that doesn’t serve her needs), and what lies in store for him in the next three years now that rumors of his misdeeds are already being spread. She intends to use that fear and despair to induce him to sign a withdrawal form, giving her the legal cover she needs to dispose of him. He’s ready to sign it, too; but he’d regret one thing from doing so: never having the opportunity to clear up the misunderstanding with Chiyo over her uni.

It would seem fortune wasn’t done smiling on Kiyoshi, and his inherent kindness and goodness thus far comes in to play as much a role in his fate as his badness. Chiyo, you see, is mostly upset that she stormed off without hearing an explanation, delivering a verdict with the barests of cases. Sure, her uniform in his bag looks bad, but she feels he deserves the chance to explain himself nonetheless.

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That fierce sense of decency and empathy leads her to storm into the office where Mari has Kiyoshi in her clutches, having heard rumors of him being expelled for what he did. She won’t stand for that, as she played a considerable role in getting him in the mess he’s in. Mari wants this situation to be seen as her looking out for her poor, naive, victimized sister, but Chiyo is a lot less messed up than Mari. She has a clear head and knows exactly what she’s saying and doing.

When Kiyoshi is about to fall for Mari’s bluff, Chiyo descends like an angel from on high, to call that bluff: if she makes Kiyoshi leave, she’s leaving too. Kiyoshi tells her—honestly—that he just grabbed her uniform from among hundreds by chance, and she believes him. And she doesn’t seem naive in doing so. Instead, she only ends up putting Mari in a tighter and tighter corner (even bringing up Kiyoshi’s affinity for Mari’s beloved crows), until she has to basically concede this battle.

But the reason I’ve come to love Chiyo so much—and why Kiyoshi probably only loves her more after all this—is not because she pressed his head to her chest, but because she showed us what she was made of. She’s not just some shallow pristine angel to be placed on a pedestal; she’s a fully fleshed-out individual with all manner of motivations and desires, ideals, and an iron will. She is Kiyoshi’s rock and his salvation. Now he must strive to be worthy of her.

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Mari may have lost this round, but she intends to wage a full-scale war on Kiyoshi and the other four boys, officially forming the “DTO”, or Boy’s Expulsion Operation. Shiraki, so strong and dominant towards the boys, cowers and sweats profusely in her president’s presence, and will do whatever she commands in service of this operation. I wouldn’t be surprised if they bend or break all the rules that are necessary; the ends will justify the means.

As for Kiyoshi, he managed to remain enrolled at school thanks almost entirely to Chiyo, but he immediately starts to see the effects of the means he employed to reach the ends (his sumo date). They seemed so innocent and logical and perfect at the time, but failure wouldn’t just mean more jail time or possible estrangement from Chiyo.

It also fundamentally damaged his relationship with Shingo, Joe, and Andre—but mostly Shingo, who forces the others to ostracize Kiyoshi. These wounds won’t be easily healed, if ever, but regardless Kiyoshi intends to bear the consequences of what he did.

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And that brings us, impeccably logically, to the Return of Hana. I said when they last parted that she wouldn’t be above pissing on him as payment for him pissing on her, and here we see her present that very idea to Kiyoshi in the bathroom, where she all but orders him to prove he doesn’t find her “dirty” by allowing her to do this at some point in the near future.

This could mean several things, or a combination of them, and more: Her sense of justice and equatability may be so rigid and literal, that this is the only way to settle the score. She could be a Mari plant, working towards inducing him to slip up again, in a way that will get him yet another month in jail and only one more infraction away from official expulsion.

Or perhaps Hana simply liked how things went down and wants to reciprocate, furthering her dominance of Kiyoshi (similar to Nakamura’s relationship with Kasuga in Aku no Hana). Last week everything seemed to be over for Kiyoshi. But everything—from his struggles in prison to his enduring relationship with Chiyo to Mari’s war agains the boys—is only just beginning.

With every episode of Prison School I watch, I feel dumber for not giving it a look when it was airing. The title scared me away, of all things! But it’s far more than its title, and it’s far more than silly ecchi comedy (though there is plenty of that); it’s a rich and dynamic exploration of the complexities of morality and adolescence. The two most compelling, relatable characters in Kiyoshi and Chiyo are also the most balanced on both fronts.

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Prison School – 04

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It doesn’t take long to reveal what Gakuto intended by assaulting both the vice president and president: he wanted the latter to “punish and forgive” him. At first, this is played out as Shiraki sodomizing Gakuto with a pixelated vibrator…but turns out to be just harmless electric clippers (thank GOD), with which she shaves his head, the clippings of which Gakuto offers to Kiyoshi as the all-important pigtails he’ll need to complete his girly look. Gosh, what a friend! If only his powerful intellect were used to better humanity…

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His wig thus acquired, he must grab a girl’s uniform from the laundry; no mean feat. This show is a master of portraying suspense and stress, and dangling everything on whether someone comes out of a doorway, or turns around, or, later, spills tea on a backpack.

Thanks again to Gakuto (who literally pisses himself distracting the laundry service guy), Kiyoshi gets away with a uniform undetected. With that, he has everything he needs for the sumo date, and tries to get some sleep, promising he won’t fail Chiyo. Meanwhile, Chiyo seems super-psyched for tomorrow.

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The day arrives: so full of potential pitfalls and foreboding, but also ample hope that all will go according to plan. As Kiyoshi and Gakuto collect the purses of the girls of various girls who have come for track day, Chiyo makes huge amounts of onigiri for Kiyoshi, assuming all boys eat several times more than girls…not to mention believing Kiyoshi got permission to leave.

As Kiyoshi enjoys a bento and some “fine asses” as noon and zero hour draws nearer, a sense of calm seems to settle over the two. Everything has been set into motion, and everything they worked and shat and pissed and sweated and bled for is finally about to come to fruition. Kiyoshi also remarks on how close a friendship he and Gakuto have achieved in the last three weeks. Gakuto says its all for the Three Kingdoms figurines.

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The bell rings. Zero Hour. From this point on, Prison School becomes a taut, elegant thriller, complete with a first-person perspective of Kiyoshi placing the fartbox on the toilet, slipping out the window, into the drainage channel, through tunnels, beneath Shiraki beating his comrades, and out to his changing zone.

He’s barely done transforming into “Kiya-tan” when Shiraki, no longer busy beating the others, calls out to him. He has a choice: run and risk being exposed, or stay put and hope he’s a convincing enough girl from behind to fool the glasses-wearing Shiraki. Somehow, some way, it works, and Shiraki moves on. Is this fortune smiling on Kiyoshi’s Big Day?

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Oh no! Mari grabs him by the backpack before he can step outside of school grounds! But wait, she just wants “her” to take her backpack off her back. When she spots the tear in Kiyoshi’s jacket, she apologizes and lets him go, showing Mari’s empathetic side for once. After that, it’s smooth sailing till the rendezvous point.

Chiyo truly outdoes herself in the adorableness department, between her outfit, the way she sneaks up on an overjoyed Kiyoshi, and her intense enthusiasm over watching a student sumo match with him. Her seiyu Hashimoto Chinami is one of the few voices in this show I’m not familiar with, but she does a great job projecting Chiyo’s warm and genial personality, along with her excitement with the whole affair.

Kiyoshi and Chiyo are just plain infectious to watch here; it’s like he’s died and gone to heaven. Sure, he doesn’t give a shit about sumo, and she sucks at cooking, but HE DOESN’T CARE IT’S CHIYO, for cryin’ out loud. He eats every bite of plain salted white rice, and gets rewarded with a close-in selfie with her, as if they were already boyfriend and girlfriend!

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Then…heaven turns to HELL, and so heart-rippingly fast it made my head spin. I was rooting so hard for Kiyoshi and his success, but in the back of my head I still remembered that he’d done things for which a penance would someday be exacted. I just didn’t think it would happen so fast! From peeping to peeing to stealing and fleeing, to so easily allowing Gakuto to sacrifice his dignity and high school years…Kiyoshi is no pure angel.

And yet, it’s nothing in particular he does or says that leads to him so harshly receiving his “karma” and being driven into the ground. It’s something that just happens, as a result of what he’s already said and done, along with what he failed to do, like check to see whose uniform he stole.

Turns out, he stole CHIYO’S. And because he ate too much of the rice to be “nice”, and had to go to the bathroom (for real this time), he leaves Chiyo alone with his bag, and when she spills tea on it, she notices her uniform in that bag, and it’s over. It’s ALL OVER. She manages to get “You’re disgusting” out before storming off.

Meanwhile, back at the school, his cover is about to be blown, as Shiraki loses patience, goes into the mens room, and prepares to knock down the door where the now-malfunctioning m-poop-3-player sits. It looks like the boys are in for another month of prison. But far, far worse, Kiyoshi’s aspirations with Chiyo are in tatters. It’s going to be tough to come back from all that.

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Kimi no Iru Machi – 12 (Fin)

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Asuka calls Haruto a liar and storms off. In the middle of the night he tells Rin about his situation, and she offers herself as a third choice, not helping. Back in Tokyo, Haruto dumps Asuka, who is crestfallen. He meets with Yuzuki and gives her his answer: they both desire the same thing: to be together. After thanking Rin for helping him come to a decision, he tells Yuzuki he’s planning to move out of his sister’s place. He encounters Asuka, who can’t bring herself to hate him.

That’s right, folks, in this series, the archetypal “good guy” dies of an unspecified illness and the loyal, trusting, devoted “good girl” gets her heart broken. The two people who caused everyone else the most pain – and therefore earned the most disdain from us – end up with each other, putting their happiness first. Is this selfish? Sure. But it’s also understandable. Haruto always did love Yuzuki and never fell out of love for her. No matter how profound Asuka saw her relationship with Haruto or how much she loved him, he never loved her as much as he loved Yuzuki. Their breakup was inevitable, and it was better to do it quickly than to draw it out. That’s not to say that the breakup wasn’t tremendously brutal to watch – it was…and we felt even worse when she said she’d take him back if it didn’t work out with Yuzuki.

Everything that happened came down to which town everyone lived in and when, making the title fitting. Rin drove Yuzuki out of their town and into Haruto’s, which is how the two met. When Yuzuki left, the distance cause them to drift apart. When Haruto followed her, his timing was off. When she rejected him before and after Kyousuke’s death, he went to Asuka. Then Yuzuki’s love for Haruto resurfaced, and the two reconnected in the town where they first fell in love, dooming Asuka. Several hearts were shuffled throughout this series’ run, but it just wasn’t in the cards for her. Rin too, for that matter: no matter how much she bad-mouthed him, she wanted Haruto too, but lost out to her sister, which was kinda karmic justice for mistreating Yuzuki.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Chihayafuru 2 – 07

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At home, Chihaya sulks in a pile while her sister Chitose thinks about quitting acting and getting into a college, based on bad reviews she reads online. When they see the concert band struggling with tight accommodations  Chihaya tells her Miyauchi to let them use the second floor for storage, as a gesture of solidarity with another school club. Chihaya’s mother takes her to the Oe’s store to buy her her own hakama for the coming nationals. Chihaya’s improved mood inspires Chitose to giving acting another try. The concert band plays an impromptu four-verse school anthem for the karuta club as thanks and to fire them up for the tournament. The eve of the nationals arrive and the club is at an inn, Sumire asks Chihaya who she likes; she calls Arata later, as Taichi looks on.

Chihayafuru’s second season is really hitting its stride. After a string of tournament episodes and the nationals coming up next week, this week stock was taken in both Chihaya’s character and the collective character of the karuta club. You’d think the last think you’d want to do on the eve of a national tournament is to allow a band to store instruments on the floor above you, especially while practicing a game that requires silence and concentration. However, Chihaya sees it as good for karma, and one thing they didn’t have in the regionals was luck. We love her arc in this episode. She is so extremely down in the dumps, she affects both her sister and mother, motivating them to action in response of what they’re witnessing.

Her mom, a little guilty about ignoring her for so long, buys her a hakama (and Kana’s mom hooked her up with a boss payment plan!), which really helps lift her spirits, which then lift Chitose’s when she sees her nutty karuta freak of a little sister isn’t giving up. Sumire’s upfront question also seemed to get Chihaya thinking for the first time (maybe…a little) about who exactly Arata is to her. Sumire obviously wasn’t trying to manipulate Chihaya into calling Arata so it Taichi could watch and get upset about it (she’s not that diabolical), that was the result of her questioning. But she’s not giving up on Taichi, and this trip is a good way to take action on that front, if she so desires.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

P.S. Great little comic moments we wanted to mention: Oe breaking the fourth wall – adorably – when Chihaya asks about the show’s title; and Miyauchi having zero patience for Sumire’s horny preening.