Great Pretender – 04 – The Candyman Can’t

Let’s start with the basics: Makoto has no idea how to cook drugs, yet Eddie is now spending millions to renovate a lab where he’ll be…cooking drugs. Laurent (through Abby, who sneaks into Salazar’s house in the night) provides video lessons in how to cook.

It’s pretty much the best he can do; the rest is a result of the various rash choices Makoto made that got him so deep into this mess. But it still seems rather unlikely Makoto would be able to learn how to make even a marginally passable product after a week of watching videos.

In the week the renovations will take, Eddie lets Makoto enjoy the sights of L.A., provided his bodyguard Salazar is always around. When Makoto learns that Salazar’s wife is dead and he only sees his son on Sundays, he insists on Salazar keeping to that schedule with his kid.

The three have a lot of fun together; the son knows his samurai, and also considers a bodyguard to be a much cooler job than cops or FBI. If he knows what his dad truly did for a living beyond bodyguarding, he’s not talking about it. Makoto wonders if it’s genuine ignorance or simply putting on a brave face.

During a bathroom break, Makoto is accosted by Anderson, who then introduces him to Dickens, who offers Makoto a deal: if he serves as their mole and helps them apprehend both Laurent and Cassano, he’ll be sent back to Japan without any jail time.

It’s probably as generous an offer as he’ll get from law enforcement, though it certainly doesn’t ensure his safety; Eddie’s reach, even outside of prison, is likely vast. Not to mention the last time he tried to pull one on Laurent and Abby, he ended up hanging out to dry on the Hollywood sign.

At a big lavish “sushi party” at Eddie’s celebrating the completion of the lab renovations, Eddie formally welcomes Makoto into his “family”, while also announcing he’s found a rat. It turns out to be a random guy who gets the bat to the balls.

This, despite the fact Makoto didn’t notice a video camera in the teddy in his room until he’d already had a couple meetings with Abby. The thing is, Salazar doesn’t care what scam Makoto, Abby, and Laurent are pulling on his boss. His job is to protect Eddie’s personal safety, not his money.

Salazar’s situation hits home for Makoto. He grew up thinking his dad was a cool, moral lawyer protecting the rights of the downtrodden. He’d later learn, the same time as his mother, on TV, that their father and husband was scamming them all along, and was really the linchpin of a despicable international child trafficking operation.

Makoto also wants Salazar’s dream of getting his kid in college to come true. Like Makoto himself, his son is an innocent who doesn’t deserve to have his life destroyed—or the stigma attached to his name by his criminal dad. So Makoto puts on the glasses with the built-in two-way bug, and agrees to assist Dickens—but only if they leave Salazar out of it.

Great Pretender – 03 – Burrowing Deeper

Makoto manages to win Eddie Cassano over by first spending the night watching his movies at a motel, then intentionally getting caught by Eddie’s men. Once he’s before Eddie himself, he flatters him by declaring his love for his movies—which he considers art rather than RedLetterMedia fodder—and likens it to his drugs, which are like precious children to him.

Eddie will pay $10 million not only for an exclusive license for Sakura Magic, but all of Makoto’s lab notes on the formula, enabling any chemist to make it themselves. Still, Eddie wisely withholds the exchange of cash until his lawyers have been to Makoto’s lab in Japan. Thankfully Makoto’s pals are there just in time to greet them and corroborate Makoto’s story.

However, it’s still too risky to hand over millions in cash at Eddie’s house, which is under LAPD surveillance, while Eddie himself has been hounded by Chief Inspector Anderson for over a decade. They try to give Anderson the slip with a false limo, but Anderson sends a decoy tail after it and chases Eddie’s shitty Malibu instead. A pretty nifty car chase ensues, though it’s marred somewhat by the clunky CGI car models.

Anderson turns out to be on Eddie’s payroll, and simply had to make it look good for both his team and the higher-ups. Eddie then shows Makoto, Laurent, and Abby to one of his top drug labs, presents Makoto with everything he needs, and asks him to whip up a batch of Sakura Magic right then and there.

Makoto never designed for his researcher story to endure under this level of scrutiny, and he’s able to save his skin for the time being by dismissing the lab as too filthy to work in. In response to this, Eddie vows to completely renovate the lab to Makoto’s exact specs. Each time he squirrels out of trouble the lie he uses ends up burrowing himself deeper into this increasingly lethal situation.

Pretty soon he’ll be out of moves, but that may not end up mattering. That’s because Anderson’s case has been suddenly taken over by infamous mob-buster FBI SA Paula Dickins. However, she’s not even after Cassano, but Laurent Tierry & Co., purveyors of international fraud. Getting arrested by the feds is far from ideal, but it’s probably better than whatever Eddie will do to Makoto when he finds out he’s being scammed.

3-gatsu no Lion – 23

In a relatively slow, uneventful, yet still thoroughly enjoyable episode, we revel along with Rei in the warm camaraderie and cool science of the Shogi Science club. By school club standards, it’s small, but packs a punch in terms of the transfer of knowledge and even life perspective.

His fellow club members, for instance, had no idea how nerve-wracking defeat could be, how bitter it tastes as opposed to sweet victory, and how those intense emotions never go away and indeed grow more intense still as one plays shogi professionally for years. Rei may look slight, but he’s actually a pretty tough young man.

After playing shogi, his clubmates and advisor join him in watching a very serious and intense televised match between Souya and Kamakura Kengo, and watching how they recharge their brains in-game with concentrated doses of glucose—Souya preferring soft glucose cubes with lemon in his tea; while Kamakura quickly houses three delicious-looking slices of cake. Neither takes their eyes of the board.

The use of glucose to recharge provides a nice segue for the club to move from shogi to science, as the mustachioed Noguchi shows Rei how to make ramune candy from scratch and invites him to make some of his own. Rei is over the moon, participating in club activities and interacting with other humans who aren’t professional shogi players.

As for the Sisters Kawamoto, like citric acid in the ramune, we only get a miniscule amount of them this week, but what little we do see of them is adorable as usual. There’s something so heartwarming about Rei leaving one rewarding social activity and then going straight to another one; he’s only alone in the opening moments of the episode, on his way to club, but he looks a lot more together and less depressing.

Rei looks well on the way to living a more balanced and happy life, and even if he can’t quickly answer whether he finds shogi fun, there is thankfully stuff in his life now he can quickly and categorically describe as fun.

Subete ga F ni Naru: The Perfect Insider – 02

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Professor Saikawa leads a group of college students on a camping trip to Himaka Island, but as far as Moe is concerned, it’s a golden opportunity for just the two of them to spend some quality time together outside of the university, smitten as she is for the young professor.

As much as she was looking forward to this trip (according to her butler), she gets pouty whenever the subject of the island’s most (in)famous inhabitant, Magata Shiki, comes up. Could it be she pulled strings to contacte Magata and had that recorded conversation just to get to better know the person she’s battling for Saikawa’s attention and enthusiasm?

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Once they arrive at the island and set up camp, Saikawa is quick to branch off on his own, as is his wont, while Moe is just as quick to join him, the two of them alone like she prefers. Here Moe shows a little more dimension beyond infatuation when she calls Saikawa out, asking straight up why he keeps her around “if he doesn’t like her.”

Saikawa’s frank response—that he doesn’t do anything he doesn’t want to outside of work hours, such as the present time—appeases Moe, but also emboldens her to want to go to the beach at night and drink alone with him; but Saikawa demurs, pulling the age card, even though he knows full well despite her looks Moe is nearly twenty, and capable of making these kind of decisions.

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Then there’s a raven-haired maiden in a white shift being driven by the director of the Magata Lab. Curiously, she demands the same basic things that Moe demands: to see the beach at night, drink alcohol, and the like. Furthermore, she inquires as to what the director’s wife is up to and what his own obligations for the evening are, then places her hands upon his as he clutches the gearshift and gives him a look that’s equal parts seduction and menace.

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To be honest, I have no idea what’s going on in that car, or even who the girl is: is it Magata’s little sister, whom the lab’s second-in-command helpfully informs Moe and Saikawa is off retrieving when Moe’s fake headache grants them access? Or is it Shiki herself? We see that Moe is either also interested in learning more about Magata, or is doing what she feels is the best way to get to Saikawa: by helping him meet his idol.

As for the lab itself, arriving there, exploring it, and being introduced to the various employees, it all has the flavor of an Agatha Christie novel, complete with shifty expressions, mysterious loyalties and backgrounds…and a locked room, wherein Magata Shiki herself has apparently dwelt for fifteen years without stepping outside…

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…A streak that appears to end after an apparent system-wide bug dramatically flashes the lights as a white-veiled, red-lipped Shiki, or something looking just like her which Moe insists is Shiki, blasts out atop one of the robotic trays that carried headache medicine to Moe not ten minutes earlier.

Naturally, Moe uses this frightening experience to grasp her beloved professor’s arm tightly, but something tells me that despite Shiki’s murderous past, she’s not going to be a physical threat so much as a psychological one, a possibility reinforced by the director’s monologue about his life being “ruled…and toyed with”, or rather wanting it to be “ruled…and toyed with”, by the girl in his car.

Again, still not entirely clear what’s going on, but I’m definitely intrigued, if a bit bemused.

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Subete ga F ni Naru: The Perfect Insider – 01 (First Impressions)

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Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? is the title of a painting by Paul Gaugain, painted in Tahiti.  He considered the work his magnum opus, and he intended, tried, and failed to take his own life upon its completion. The title is an inscription in the top left corner of the piece, and may have been painted only after the attempted suicide. The three questions paraphrase those asked in a lesson by his liturgy teacher in school, which clearly stuck with the painter.

Those same three basic questions are asked several times in Subete ga F ni Naru: The Perfect Insider, an intriguing mystery show full of precise compositions, dramatic lighting, subtle facial expressions, complicated emotions, philosophical discussion, a striking opening image of a girl sitting beside a beached and decaying shipwreck, and a cute college student who drives an slick new Alfa Romeo 4C to work at the office of her professor, whom she is pretty obviously in love with.

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The cute college student with the bob is Nishinosono Moe. The object of her attentions and affection is Saikawa Souhei. We first see “Where They Were” separately: Saikawa in some kind of awful meeting, Moe getting up and driving to work. Then we see “Where They Are”: simply coexisting in the office; Saikawa reading something on his computer and smoking while Moe makes coffee and waters the plants. Then we go back to “Where Moe Was”, when she “meets” the enigmatic Professor Magata Shiki.

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I say “meet” because Magata communicates through a video feed. But Moe’s encounter with her establishes Moe as academically and philosophically sharp. She’s in over her head with someone of Magata’s towering academic stature, but she comes in confident and with a plan of action, and Magata notices.

Back in the present, Saikawa goes off somewhere, and a lady named Gido arrives whom Moe is pretty sure is her romantic competition, and her mood changes considerably as a result when Saikawa returns. She tries to hash it out with him, but is interrupted by another student, Kunieda.

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When Saikawa goes out to lunch, he invites Moe, who reveals she spoke to Magata, something Saikawa hasn’t done, despite his esteem for the famous professor. Magata also happens to be infamous, due to the allegations she murdered both of her parents (she tells Moe what she told authorities: “A doll did it,” but then she does look very doll-like).

Once again Moe’s alone time with Saikawa is disrupted by interlopers (students Hamanaka and Kushieda). But Moe exploits their presence to plan a trip to the very island where Magata self-exiled herself and now studies at her lab in seclusion. And so now we know “Where They’re Going.”

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Once there, they’re sure to learn more about Magata, who asked the big existential questions—and asked some of her own—when she was only five. Normally, that’d be an indication Magata now has a brain the size of a planet, were it not for Saikawa’s continuing assertion throughout the episode that everyone is born a genius, and grows progressively stupider as they age and learn to interact with others.

Magata, who is a hermit, may have avoided some of that society-driven degradation, and hence Saikawa considers everything he’s accomplished (and he’s a top young mind himself) to only be a drop in the ocean of Magata’s greatness. In other words, the perfect rival for Saikawa’s intellect, as well as Moe’s rival for Saikawa’s attention.

A quiet, mature, contemplative show about very smart adults, morality, mortality, intrigue, and a weird love triangle?—I like where Subete ga F ni Naru is. Will I like where it’s going?

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No. 6 7

Ah, now this is more like it! Instead of characters, relationships and motivations all essentially milling around in a holding pattern as they seem to have done the past couple episodes, Shion finally has a reason to do something, Nezumi finally takes up a position, and, with four episodes left, we may be starting to see sunshine at the end of the pseudo-utopian corridor.

As I’ve said, I really like Safu. She’s pretty, she’s very bright, and she’s very forward and to-the-point where sex is concerned. Unfortunately, last week she was captured by DHS right when she was about to go after Shion. While bright, she underestimated the level of surveillance in No.6, as Shion’s mom’s house was bugged. Safu only has one brief scene this week, but that’s all we need to see that she’s in peril and in dire need of rescue. Whenever you wake up naked and suspended in liquid-filled glass tube in a lab, things are not going well (Just ask Bill Clinton).

Nezumi keeps the knowledge that Safu is imprisoned from Shion, at least initially. But despite his outward mocking and loathing of the white-haired mother hen, he starts scheming behind his back to save Safu himself, using the dogkeeper’s prison connections. I love his interaction with the dogkeeper here: we’ve never known why the two hate each other so much they’d wish each other dead, but they seem to have reached a truce here. Meanwhile, Shion finds out anyway, when he find’s Safu’s coat in a thrift store of all places. So he’s off to save her…alone.

After exchanging a “goodnight kiss” (on the lips?) that’s really a goodbye kiss, Shion is off. But Nezumi follows, and the two exchange punches, thankfully no more kisses, and Nezumi finally voices exactly what Shion means to him, going all the way back to when he saw him screaming from his balcony in a rainstorm. Shion is his savior, the reason he draws breath today. These two clearly have feelings for each other, and they have for a long time. But Safu still needs saving. They’ll save her together.


Rating: 3.5