Ikebukuro West Gate Park – 05 – The Golden Land

IWGP has done a great job mixing up Majima Makoto’s cases-of-the-week thus far, underlining how valuable someone with his skills and relationships can be to a diverse array of people. This week he’s approached by Lin Gaotai, an advisor to immigrant labor trainees from China. He is looking for 19-year-old trainee Guo Shungui. If she’s not found within a week, she and all 250 of her fellow trainees will be forcibly deported back to China.

This isn’t just a case-of-the-week for Makoto, but a kind of wake-up call, as he puts it prior to the OP. He’d never thought of himself or the people of Ikebukuro and Japan in general as “blessed”, but they most certainly are compared to the crippling  poverty of rural China from where both Lin and Guo hail. The lure of life-changing pay leads to fierce competition; Lin and Guo are where they are only due to working themselves to the bone.

At first, Makoto isn’t sure what to make of Lin, a “trainee advisor” who not only knows enough kung fu to scare off some Dongleng toughs, but has a keen enough grasp of Japanese to speak appropriately formally and modestly to the local Dongleng boss. He even bails the less courteous Makoto out of what could have been serious trouble. The boss is loath to give up Guo, but when Lin asks the boss’ boss in Shanghai for a favor, Guo is freed from her position at the China Doll Hostess Club.

When Makoto finally meets Guo, she looks quite a bit more glamorous than the photo provided by Lin, but the look of “the incurable illness of poverty” is still in her eyes. Turns out she didn’t know leaving her sweatshop would cause 250 people to be deported; she accepted the Dongleng hostess job because her father’s health back in China was worsening and she needed more money fast. For a 19-year-old to have to sell her body to save her family is a heartbreaking choice, but Makoto respects it’s her choice to make.

Ultimately, Guo weighs her father’s life with those of the 250 and, knowing firsthand how hard they all worked to make it to Japan (and their financial reasons for doing so), decides she’ll return to the factory. The day before she’s to leave, Makoto takes her out on the town. Guo marvels at everything from the beauty and vitality of Tokyo’s people to the newer cars and cleaner streets. Makoto can’t help but see it all in a whole new light. She even meets Kyouichi, who dances for her.

That night when Makoto’s mom feeds him, Lin, and Guo, we learn that when Lin brought up the Japanese woman who adopted him, he was planting the seed for Makoto’s mom to adopt Guo, which is what she decides to do. Guo, obviously, is overwhelmed with joy and gratitude, as she didn’t want to leave Tokyo but also really didn’t want to work in the sex industry. Makoto’s mom took one look at Guo’s hardworking hands and knew she’d be a good addition to her produce stand.

Makoto not only gains some welcome perspective on his extremely fortunate lot in life relative to other parts of the world, but gains an lovely sister as well! I am one am glad the episode ends on a high note, and hope we’ll get to see more of Guo. Rather than ending up like the first pen she used to learn Japanese—devoid of ink without anything to show for it—Guo will be free to realize her potential and live the life she deserves.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Ikebukuro West Gate Park – 02 – New Kids on the ‘Bukuro

It was just the G-Boys in Ikebukuro, until one night at the Global Ring a young lad with fiery red hair and angel wing tattoos captivated a crowd with his flawless, shirtless ballet. That lad is Ozaki Kyouichi, and his upstart Red Angels are positioned to be the most serious rival to the G-Boys yet.

The question isn’t whether the G-Boys’ hegemony will be challenged, but when and how. But like last week’s IWGP, things don’t develop quite as predictably as I initially expected, once again demonstrating a preference for nuance and realism over black-and-white conflict.

But first, it’s lunchtime, and Makoto joins G-Boy King Takashi for a meal at OK Curry, a suddenly popular restaurant in the ‘Buro that also treats its mostly young, impressionable employees like shit. That, combined to the okay-but-not-great grub, suggests a company only concerned with maximizing its profits, not helping their community.

There’s an interesting choice to juxtapose the almost too-enthusiastic smiling employees in the front of the shop with one being mercilessly berated in an alley by OK’s suspiciously burly “management”. Since many of OK’s employees are G-Boys, Takashi suspects this is the Red Angels’ doing, and wants Makoto to investigate.

He starts with G-Boy Masaru, who knows Mitsuki, the blonde kid who was being abused by OK’s suspiciously burly “management”. Masaru doesn’t like how he and others are being treated, but he used to be a useless delinquent and his job at OK Curry put him back on the right track and made his parents happy, so he’s loath to mess that up.

Makoto also tries to meet the Red Angels’ ballet virtuoso leader, Ozaki Kyouichi, but is blocked by a bunch of thugs in red. Fortunately there’s someone among them with a level head—not too dissimilar to Makoto—who politely tells him Kyouichi isn’t currently around. Makoto says he’ll try again later.

That night, Mitsuki climbs to the top of the OK Curry building and prepares to jump to his death, believing he simply isn’t cut out for life. Masaru tries to talk him down with a police megaphone, but Mitsuki doesn’t want to trouble his friend, and jumps. Uh, killing yourself when he tried to stop it will definitely trouble him, my guy!

Fortunately, he only falls a few stories and the fire brigade catches him on a trampoline; his injuries aren’t life-threatening. But the two OK thugs were present for the incident, and before long Makoto gets a call from Takashi: Masaru was jumped, and ends up in the hospital beside his friend.

Makoto and Takashi visit Masaru, and then Kyouichi soon joins them, flanked by two toughs and a bouquet in hand. For a moment it seems like Masaru was attacked just to get Takashi’s attention, but as the two sides draw closer, Makoto wisely talks first, addressing Kyouichi’s friendly lieutenant to de-escalate.

Turns out Mitsuki is a new member of the Red Angels, and Kyouichi was just there to visit a member, just as Takashi came for Masaru. They also learn that OK Holdings are pitting the G-Boys and Angels against each other with rumors that each are moving against the other, thus keeping the two gangs off-balance enough to be ineffective at curtailing OK’s appalling labor practices.

But while there are a lot of ragged toughs on both sides, the two gangs are led by cooler heads; even Kyouichi comes off as far more reasonable and less aggressive than his hair portended. Makoto comes up with a plan whereby he uses his press credentials to enter an OK Holdings shareholder meeting and confronts the president with their former employee Masaru.

Mitsuki’s near-miss convinced Masaru to do everything he can legally to put a stop to OK Holdings’ crap before anyone else gets hurt, and the G-Boys find him a lawyer to give his threat teeth. He’s then immediately surrounded by the black-clad toughs, who are themselves surrounded by an alliance of G-Boys and Red Angels—Masaru was acting as bait to draw out OK-hired mercenary goons, who are too violent and unscrupulous for either gang.

While Takashi and Kyouichi were able to talk things through and discover they had no real beef, talking won’t work against these goons, which means both gangs need to back up their words with action. It’s not a long fight, as the free-agent goons are no match against Takashi’s boxing prowess or Kyouichi’s balletic kicks.

The G-Boy/Red Angel team-up may have been a one-time thing, but as long as both sides put the well-being of Ikebukuro and their respective guys above pointless turf squabbles, coexistence is possible. That’s underscored when Makoto and Tomomi Isogai, the Red Angels’ friendly lieutenant, watch another one of  Kyouichi’s performances together in a mixed crowd of red and blue.

IWGP is as unflashy as Akudama Drive is flashy, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call it boring. It’s confidently presenting very down-to-earth scenarios that you’d see in any big city district anywhere, where open dialogue and compromise can and should always come before violence and destruction. Makoto keeping all possible channels of communication open in his town isn’t always thrilling, but it is admirable. So far that’s enough to keep be invested.

Deca-Dence – 07 – Doing What You Can Do

Before Kaburagi dives back into Deca-Dence on a rogue account, Jill tells him there aren’t any battles going on, but he returns to the tank to find there’s an absolutely gigantic hole through which Gadoll are attacking, taxing the Tanker fighters. It’s hard for Kabu to move and fight in his new novice Gear avatar, but he quietly does what he can to defeat the invading monsters.

The interior of the Tank is not usually a battlefield, which means this is the first time Natsume’s former classmates Fei and Linmei have seen her in action; they’re about as slack-jawed as you’d expect after she singlehandedly brings down a big Gadoll and gets thanked by an admiring little kid.

Kabu also witnesses Natsume’s heroics, but considering he looks like a completely different person, actually approaching her as Kaburagi is a tricky proposition, so he keeps his distance. Instead he makes contact with Commander Minato, who doesn’t want Kabu to risk getting into any further trouble…but also wants to help him.

We also learn from Minato that the hole was “stagecraft”—a means of “tactfully culling” the growing human population. With the Gadoll threat over for the time being, Kurenai and the Tankers ponder how they’ll be able to patch such a massive hole in the armor. Natsume proposes they try to enlist the help of the rest of the people in the Tank, and gather their house repair kits.

At first, Natsume’s mission seems hopeless. Even if she gets everyone’s kits and they all agree to help, the hole may not be patched before the Gadoll return. But rather than anyone agreeing to help, everyone turns her down, declaring they’re already doing all they can and can’t do any more. She tries to convince Fei, but Fei resents the fact Natsume ever wanted to change; Fei liked things the way they were.

Discouraged and exhausted after canvassing the entire town, Natsume returns to find some people changed their minds and decided that they actually could do a bit more: even the gruff butcher, Fei, and Linmei. Honestly, it’s pretty silly for them to go about their jobs when the Gadoll could come back through the open hole at any time.

Instead, in such a time of crisis, everyone steps outside their normal duties and routines and come together for a single cause. After Natsume gives Fei a grateful hug, repairs commence and the Tankers make enough progress to gain the attention of the command center. Minato orders his crew to let the Tankers be; there’s no way they’ll be able to fully repair the wall. But Minato isn’t human, so he’s probably underestimating them.

That night, a tired Natsume returns home to play with Pipe, and is approached by a strange and somewhat handsome orange-skinned Gear who offers her a skin of her favorite milk. At first Natsume is freaked out—especially at the prospect of a Gear seeing Pipe—but when she sees how the guy interacts with Pipe, she momentarily sees Kaburagi. Alas, he doesn’t open the can of worms that he actually is Kabu here; he just says he’s a good friend.

Drinking the milk outside as the sun sets, Natsume laments that Kaburagi isn’t around, but knows that someone as amazing as him is surely needed elsewhere. Kaburagi mentions how he saw her running around all day, never giving up, and wonders if that part of her isn’t what ultimately saved Kaburagi.

Natsume starts to cry as she states how weak she still is and how much more “useful” she has to be, but the tears fall even harder when she wonders if Kabu was right and the fighting will never end; that peace will never come no matter how strong everyone is. I honestly thought Kaburagi was going to pull Natsume into a comforting hug and reveal who he really is and how. Instead, he simply stews.

When he logs out and returns to the prison, he announces to Donatello and his crew his intention to eliminate all the Gadoll by destroying the factory that produces them. He doesn’t tell them his ultimate reason, but it needn’t be anything other than so Natsume can live, and won’t have to fight or cry anymore.