Great Pretender – 06 – Earning His Wings

After an enticing stinger in which a terrified Makoto is along for the ride in a plane piloted by a crazed-looking Abby—which then blows up—we rewind a bit to see Makoto serving the remainder of his sentence at a Japanese penitentiary. The warden notices he’s good with a wrench, and decides to put in a good word for him with Nakanoshima, a grizzled old mechanic who runs a successful garage.

Makoto’s prison sentence really has changed his perspective on things. He no longer believes it’s justified to scam people, whether they deserve it or not. He wants to pay his debt to society and live life on the straight and narrow, rejecting any further collaborations with Laurent’s crew. Of course, that stinger of him in a plane with Abby indicates he will ultimately fail.

From there, we shift to a woman being fired by her boss for refusing his advances, and that same boss meeting Cynthia (AKA “Jennifer”) at a bar in Las Vegas. Jen clues the man in on unlicensed underground fights where the real money can be made, and even spots him cash to wager.

She tells him to put the money on Abby, who ends up winning despite her opponent being twice her size. Jen tells the businessman the outcome of the fight—and subsequent fights—was rigged so Abby would win, getting him to bet more and more of his own cash on a sure thing, night after night.

Meanwhile, far from his past con man life, Makoto works his ass off for two months, learning his way around his boss Nakanoshima’s true passion, propeller planes. Eventually Nakanoshima informs him of a racing team that needs a mechanic, encouraging him to “leave the nest.”

This mention of a racing team, along with the abrupt shift to working on planes, should have tipped Makoto off in some way, but perhaps his con man instincts were dulled by prison and his focus on “breaking good”.

As for Mr. Businessman, he ends up withdrawing all of his liquid assets and wagering them on another Abby victory. Only this time, Abby doesn’t win…though after taking a couple of blows to the head, she tries her damnedest not to lose, going into MMA punishment machine mode against her hulking opponent.

Ultimately she loses, as there are no rules to break to achieve victory. Businessman loses everything, and in a very Robin Hood move, Cynthia ends up delivering his duffel of cash to the very woman he fired. She may be a ruthless con artist, but she still has a sense of honor, and isn’t above pulling off jobs to right injustices.

Shortly thereafter (and once Abby’s battle damage heals) is when Makoto finds himself on an island that gives him quite a bit of deja vu, and before he knows it he’s being introduced to the plane racing team for whom he’ll serve as mechanic: Cynthia, Abby, and Laurent. They paid

The next scam involves a race in Singapore, where they’ll work to take everything a pair of oil magnate heirs for everything they have—two hundred million dollars, or double what they made in the LA job. Makoto wants nothing to do with them or any more crimes, so Laurent insists he’ll be on the level as a mechanic, and not be involved in anything else.

Abby, who will apparently be the team’s pilot, goes up with Makoto in a plan he himself serviced, returning us to the events of the stinger. That’s when we learn Laurent and Cynthia paid Nakanoshima to train Makoto just enough to pass as a plane mechanic, but obviously there’s only so much he can learn in two months, right?

Even so, the plane Abby and Makoto are in blows up (they’re able to safely eject) not because Makoto didn’t service it correctly, but because Laurent sabotaged it, in order to convince Makoto that he’s not a mechanic, but a con man.

I’ll give Great Pretender credit: it closed the book on the LA job before it got stale and then immediately shifted gears to something entirely new, fresh and exciting, with ever higher stakes and moral implications in store for Makoto. Just when he thought he was out…

Great Pretender – 05 – Cooking Up Something Good

Turns out Dickens wants Salazar in cuffs, so Makoto’s efforts to keep him free to care for his son goes nowhere, and Makoto has no choice but to cooperate lest he end up in prison himself. So as Eddie, Laurent, Abby, and a camera watch closely, Makoto cooks up his very first batch of Sakura Magic, a drug that doesn’t really exist.

Having watched sufficient instructional videos, Makoto is able to pull it off, though the candy is a little rough-looking. Abby is ready to taste-test and offer another performance, but first Eddie presents Laurent with the ten million dollars in ten suitcases, and Agent Dickens’ troops bust in, automatic weapons drawn.

Dickens makes no effort to conceal the fact that Makoto was her mole. She also promised no one would get killed in the raid, but that’s before an enraged Abby suddenly pulls a gun on the cops. Laurent dives to shield her, but the two end up riddled with bullets and die in a puddle of blood on the floor, to Makoto’s absolute shock. Naturally, I immediately questioned whether they had actually been killed, or if this was simply a larger con in play.

If it is, Makoto goes off script and takes Dickens hostage, forcing the cops to back off. He urges Salazar to escape, but in the confusion Eddie sneaks off and overloads the pressure on a tank, blowing up the entire lab. Makoto ends up under a wounded Salazar, and ends up chasing a hobbled Eddie. Eddie gets the jump on him and starts beating him with a traffic cone before Salazar, okay after all, punches him out.

That’s when things get weird. Dickens conducts an interrogation that ends with her accepting a bribe of 100 million dollars, again to Makoto’s shock. This cleans Eddie out of his international assets, but he’s free to leave and make it all right back. Naturally, Makoto is disgusted with Dickens’ shady conduct, but before he can protest too much he’s knocked out.

When he comes to, he learns what I expected: Laurent and Abby were fine, and Dickens and her team were fellow con artists, part of a much larger scheme to take Eddie for all he’s worth. “Dickens”, who really goes by Cynthia, hosts a huge celebration for the whole team on her private island, and everyone receives a cut in the numerous millions of dollars.

It’s understandably quite the surreal experience for Makoto. Despite the predictability of the outcome, Makoto being in the dark for the majority of the long con nevertheless lent an air of suspense, which helped the proceedings feel like more than the sum of their elemental parts. When people start going their separate ways but Laurent offers to take him under his wing, Makoto asks them to wait three or four years for him to get his affairs in order.

They agree, and Makoto returns to Japan. But just as soon as he arrives, he dumps his sack of American cash on the front desk of the nearest police station, confesses to having conned people out of it, and indicating his wish to pay back those he scammed. Looks like he’s going for a clean slate, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some of those years he told Laurent to wait would be spent behind bars (again). In any case, the LA designer drug adventure comes to a satisfying conclusion.

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.

Fruits Basket – 35 (S2 10) – Squaring Off Against a God

Tooru can tell that both Yuki and Kyou have changed on this beach trip, and believes that they must have changed for the better. But what about her? They’re going home the day after tomorrow, and Tooru feels like she hasn’t been done enough self-improvement of her own. Yuki is content to finish the trip with the fun memory of fireworks on the beach.

Tooru happens to listen in as Kyou confides in Momiji. He now realizes why he and the other Zodiac members obey Akito without complaint or argument: for Tooru’s sake. By letting Akito have his way, they’re sparing her more of his ire. Momiji laments that they’ve been doing it “all wrong” due to their selfish desire to have it both ways. Tooru just wants to do more for them.

As for Akito’s ire, Tooru already has it, and it’s built up every day of his trip until he can even sense that Shigure has fallen under the “ugly girl’s” spell. When Kureno interrupts Akito’s ranting with a report from the main house, the two begin to depart, but Akito gives Kureno the slip after changing.

The next we see him, Akito is in the yard, and Momiji grudingly receives him. When Akito announces he’s there for Tooru, Momiji blocks his path, and pays for it with a vicious punch to the face that draws blood. That’s when Tooru who couldn’t sleep anyway and was out on a walk, puts her body between Akito and the thoroughly cowed Momiji. I can’t decide if it’s the bravest or the stupidest thing she’s ever done, but hey…why not both?

Akito holds back on neither the invasion of personal space, the gaslighting, or the plain ol’ acidic vitriol. He accuses Tooru of being “not a very nice person”—which would be laughable if he wasn’t so menacing—and proceeds to dictate how things are going to go: after high school graduaction, Kyou is going into confinement for the rest of his life, and the other Zodiac members will return to the estate with him for the rest of theirs.

Does Tooru give in to the finality and despair of these words, despite learning that Akito is not the rooster but the literal GOD of the Zodiac, and after receiving nasty gashes to the face? My friends, she does not. While it must no doubt be disconcerting to be told a future by someone with the power to make it a reality, Tooru is just as certain in her own commitment to prevent that future, because she doesn’t think it’s what the Zodiac members want.

As with Kyou and Yuki before him, meeting with Akito changed Tooru. She’s no longer uncertain about what to do, and it was Akito’s quintessential rottenness that finally solidified that plan. Tooru is going to protect them. She’ll protect their freedom to choose where to seek their happiness. Their freedom to move forward, not stay stagnant in some dusty estate at the whims of a loathsome wretch.

As Yuki tells Hatsu (who stopped both him and Kyou from interfering in the confrontation), it’s not easy to protect someone, let alone a whole group people with myriad problems in addition to the common one of Akito. But Tooru doesn’t care if it’s hard, or if it’s impossible and will result in Akito tearing her limb from limb.

She’s going to break that goddamn curse, and won’t hear a single syllable from anyone urging her to reconsider. Her arsenal will include light, love, kindness and hope…but will it be enough? And can she hope to fight effectively without reckoning with her own murky past and its constituent traumas? I don’t know, but I’m not about to bet against her!

Fruits Basket – 34 (S2 09) – A Too-Perfect Monster

Rin’s story is placed on hold as this episode is entirely given over to the fated rematch between Kyou and Akito. On the way in, Kyou castigates Yuki and the others for letting Tooru be all alone at the beach house, two which Yuki throws a “what about you?” back in his face. As much as they might hate Akito, obeying him is “how it’s supposed to be.” And yet how unusual is it for Akito to give the Cat another audience? Akito’s looking to head off any further intrusions from Tooru by appealing directly to Kyou.

For what it’s worth, Tooru is ecstatic that Kyou was finally invited in. Little does she know all Akito wants is to stamp out the beautiful thing she and Kyou have, and turn him against her. The visit goes about as well as you’d expect, considering how little experience Kyou has dealing with Akito. He tries his best to keep his temper in check, but Akito knows exactly how to push his buttons and make him erupt into a scattered emotional mess.

This is in sharp contrast to Yuki’s last couple meetings with Akito, in which he proved to himself that Akito’s taunts and mind games are of little utility. When Kyou’s eyes widen and he trembles as Akito’s proverbial tentacles surround and restrain him, it’s in large part because Akito is tapping into Kyou’s long-held guilt that his mother committed suicide because of him, and thus is undeserving of love, happiness, or hope.

But what really pushes Kyou into the deep end from which he may never return is when Akito starts insulting Tooru as a fellow “monster”, an angel far too perfect to be normal or real. Kyou sets the record straight, telling Akito just how scared Tooru was when she saw his true form, yet still held onto his hand lest she lose him forever. Akito derides Tooru as a monster, while Kyou’s Shisho made him think of her as a little flower in the dirt.

No matter how many times one might trample that flower—that hope—it always blooms anew after periods of nurturing sun and rain. As we see in a flashback involving Lil’ Kyou meeting Kyouko, Tooru became that little flower for him.

In their previous meeting Akito and Kyou made a bet: if he defeated Yuki by graduation, Akito would stop calling him a monster and welcome him into the Zodiac. But if he failed, Akito would confine Kyou just as he did previous Cats. It’s a terrible bet; one Akito can far too easily rig in her favor by poisoning Kyou’s all-too-fragile mind. Just bring up the guilt about his mother, and he starts wondering why he was even kept alive this long.

And yet, when he reunites with Tooru on the beach, the little flower he loves so much he can’t let her get any more involved with him, he resolves to stay with her until “the end”, when he’ll go quietly into confinement and save her from being trampled.

Of course, there’s no way in hell Tooru would want him to do something like that for her sake or anyone else’s. And I predict the more we learn about what she’s keeping under the still-closed lids in her heart, the more we’ll find she harbors very similar guilt about the fate of her parents as Kyou does, which will only draw her closer to him as he plans for a gradual separation.

In any case, quietly making such choices without consulting her is just plain bad form and walking backwards by Kyou. Hopefully Tooru will learn about what he has planned for himself before it’s too late to change anything, and find a way to help reconcile the guilt over the past that continues to press upon both of them.

Wave, Listen to Me! – 09 – The Ecstasy and Agony of the Man-Child

When Minare gets a friendly text from Mitsuo after her bear attack broadcast, her first instinct is to borrow Mizuho’s laptop so she can Google “how to buy a gun” (much tougher in Japan than the U.S.) with which to shoot him as she promised herself.

Mizuho calls for amiability, which Minare translates as “murder him socially instead via doxxing.” When Matou and Mizuho both pooh-pooh that idea, Minare agrees to a date at Mt. Moiwa…with no apparent plan in place. Her only prep involves an “aggessive” outfit and dark red lips, knowing he prefers light pink. It’s the little things!

No doubt Minare’s first question going into the date is “what gives with the sudden contact after months of nothing?” and in that regard, it’s fitting that her outfit includes a sleuthy fedora. It should be noted that Minare has possibly never looked hotter than she does here, and that’s definitely intentional. It’s provocative, yet also self-conscious.

When they first meet up, she can’t help but blush while thinking how he hasn’t changed a bit. It hasn’t been that long, Minare! He then proceed to throw her off-balance, first by paying for his cable car ticket (1700 ye/person—not cheap!), then offering up her favorite torimon, and then handing her a brown envelope containing 250,000 yen, half of what he owes her. What gives, indeed!

While pondering the possibility of becoming ensnared in an eternal limbo of debt repayment, Minare’s first word in edgewise is an accusation of infidelity by Mitsuo (she heard from a friend he was walking with another girl). That’s when Mitsuo owns up to the fact he indeed befriended a girl, but totally glosses over the particulars of that relationship and goes straight to the story of her trying to stab him.

Mitsuo is hungry and wants curry, and lets it be known by a kind of specific man-child whine that has an almost Pavlovian effect on Minare. However shlumpy this guy looks and how possibly insincere he’s acting, it’s obvious Minare had legitimate feelings for this guy, and there are parts of him that are still thoroughly disarming.

Here’s someone who planned to kill him when he became an abstract bogeyman, but now, in the reality of their reunion and his M.C.T. (Man Child Terror) field, her homicidal designs all but evaporate. Yet once she hears the details of Mitsuo’s brush with death, it doesn’t take long for Detective Koda Minare to forge a theory about the other woman’s motive: she must have also lent Mitsuo money.

There’s a constant push-and-pull going on throughout Minare and Mitsuo’s date that is both all-too-realistic and extremely fascinating. The pain of his past betrayal and her suspicion over his present motives is always on one end of the scale, rising and falling from prominence as Mitsuo works his practiced Suga charm.

Minare is happy and excited to just be on another date again, after much drinking alone, and self-commiserating, and breaking-and-entering of Oki’s place. She even considers the possibility that even a creature like Mitsuo could change for the better after nearly being offed by the latest victim of his adorkably breezy treachery.

For all his faults, Mitsuo is Minare’s type, whether he’s being “cute”, commenting on her lip color, suggesting they do one activity after the other, demonstrating growth by paying his fair share, or telling her the words “there’s no one better than you.” It must feel so good for her hear words like that from someone with whom she’s shared so much history, both good and bad.

Minare is sufficiently hungry for domestic affection that she slips easily back into the comfort and familiarity of Mitsuo’s place, even reflexively making coffee when they’ve already had a ton of it throughout the day. She also takes comfort in his very specific preferences, like what drink goes best with what food.

But when Mitsuo toasts their reunion and “reconciliation”, Minare’s dormant rage re-surfaces, vowing to keep her heart shut tight until the full amount is paid back. He assures her he borrowed it to be a co-signer for a friend’s debt and always meant to pay her back.

Having presented himself as a Good Guy who helps people in need, Mitsuo’s head finds Minare’s thighs, which he admits he’s missed dearly. Minare, in turn, fishes out the ear pick she left there which is so beloved she gave it a name—Onikirimaru!—and proceeds to clean Mitsuo’s ears “for her own sake and pleasure!”

Since it’s been a while since they’ve done this, she’s elated to find a “gold rush” in there. How adorably disgusting! Not to mention intimate. And despite having planned to kill him only yesterday, she still falls for his upside-down face as he once again points out his preference in lip color, and Minare removes the deep red with a tissue.

It is here, where Minare realizes how Mitsuo’s Man-Child nature seemingly encourages her to take the lead while in reality making her the subservient one. It’s a shtick he probably does without even thinking. But the spell is immediately broken when she spots a strange bit of trash when tossing her tissue.

After a sip of coffee, Mitsuo references the “coffee kiss” they’d often do another lovely detail that speaks to the specific intimacy of these two people. Minare leans down for a kiss, but stops mere inches from his lips. Suddenly, she’s Detective Koda again, she has Mitsuo in the box, and he’s not getting out until she’s heard the truth from his un-coffee-kissed lips.

He admits he lost the 500k at the tracks, but came into the 250k after helping out the relative of a rich oil executive (again implying his charitable good-guy nature). Minare admonishes him for his get-rich-quick nature, urging him to live more frugally by, for instance, learning to cook.

It’s a lure the Man-Child can’t resist; he assures her everything will be fine; why should he cook when there’s so many good, cheap restaurants? Quite literally taking matters into her own thighs, Detective Koda locks Mitsuo’s face in a leg-lock and shows him the suspicious piece of trash: a free magazine full of recipes with a single dried bell pepper seed stuck to the cover.

It’s evidence not just that someone interested in cooking was in the room, but made Mitsuo’s favorite stir-fry recipe, indicating an intimacy with the other woman he had been concealing from her. No need for a judge or jury; in Minare’s eyes, Mr. Suga is guilty. His sentence is what must be some kind of professional wrestling throw that drives his head hard into the floor.

No longer under the influence of Mitsuo’s smile after seeing him lie once more while wearing it, Detective Koda puts her fedora back on and tells him she’ll forgive the remaining half of the money she lent him. It’s preferable to letting him to betray yet another woman to pay him back.

While she harbored abstractly (and ultimately impossible) murderous designs prior to their reunion, this Minare is wiser and more level-headed in her condemnation and handing down of punishment. Mitsuo may be glad to be off the hook for the 250k, but if he was being honest when he said there’s “no one better” than Minare, her refusing to take him back is harsh punishment indeed.

This episode was a thrilling, layered, ultimately bittersweet tour-de-force depicting the games played, battles fought, and lies told behind easy smiles and flirtations of two people. You really get the feeling Minare would prefer being in a happy loving relationship with Mitsuo, but she just can’t trust the bastard, and there’s no indication he’ll ever stop fucking up and lying about it.

As Minare enjoys a decisive moral and tactical victory, the episode doesn’t overlook the bitter tragedy of that. If she’s the hard-boiled private dick in an old noir crime novel, Mitsuo is the “homme fatale”. In the end, her loyalty to the truth and her solidarity with women prevailed.

If nothing else, it should make for a hell of a broadcast…

Fruits Basket – 33 (S2 08) – Quiet Voices

In summoning the Zodiac members to the annex, Akito intends to gradually isolate Tooru, the “Ugly Girl” with whom Akito locked is in a one-sided competition. Tooru isn’t trying to take anyone from him, just get along and help out with their problems if she can.

Of course, simply by existing and being kind-hearted and caring, Tooru is an affront to Akito’s authority as “god” of the Zodiac. The members and their souls are Akito’s property. To put it crudely, Tooru is fuckin’ with Akito’s shit, and he will only tolerate it so far.

All we know is, none of the Zodiac members dare oppose Akito…except for Yuki, who thanks to Tooru has developed a more rigid spine and thicker skin. Tooru is worried about what Yuki said to her on the beach, especially the part spoken in such a “quiet voice” she couldn’t hear it even when she strained to do so.

The next day Yuki apologizes for making her worry, but won’t apologize for the kiss. In exchange, he’s fine with her forgetting everything he said, but she won’t. What was said (what she heard anyway) was important, after all.

Kyou is a little different in that he’s no so much in open rebellion against Akito as simply not worth his time or trouble, being the Cat and all. It’s because of this Akito doesn’t summon him, allowing him to continue hanging out with Tooru. What Akito doesn’t realize (at least until witnessing the two having fun on the beach) is that as long as Tooru has Kyou, she won’t be lonely and miserable, which is what Akito wants.

Previously, Akito assumed Kyou was a monster who even Tooru couldn’t have fun with, but he is ignorant to just how much growth Kyou has gone through. Rather than be tight-lipped about his rosary, for instance, Kyou tells Tooru how it’s made of bone and blood of “some great monk”, making it a constant reminder that someone was sacrificed so that his true form could be controlled. Just telling Tooru this, and letting her comfort him, is immense growth.

Meanwhile, someone who is clearly not only an emotional prisoner of Akito but of her own emotional complexes is Isuzu AKA Rin, whom Tooru finally meets by chance while chasing down a sheet.

She meets Rin in her Horse form, as Rin is exhausted from walking to the beach. In the cold open we see she’s crashing at Kagura’s house, but like virtually everyone else she has no intention of letting anyone know about her desires or problems.

Despite being exhausted, Rin transforms back into human form through sheer willpower after nearly kicking Tooru’s head in as a horse. She takes Tooru’s change of clothes, but otherwise doesn’t give her the time of day, and not-so-kindly asks Yuki to butt the hell out of her business. Seeing her as she is now reminds me of much earlier versions of Yuki and Kyou, but without the slightest interest in knowing Tooru.

When Rin calls Yuki Akito’s toy and Yuki doesn’t so much as flinch, it angers her even more, and she storms off in a rage, later stomping the sand castle Tooru and Kyou built. Yuki assures Tooru he’ll take care of Rin, but for now has to return to the annex from which he snuck out. He’s continuing to play Akito’s game, even as his hold on him is diminishing by the day.

But now that Akito has seen how well Kyou and Tooru have gotten on, which means a new avenue for antagonism. Thus he finally orders Hatori and Shigure to summon Kyou, in an effort to complete her isolation. Shigure is excited at this development as it no doubt fits within whatever twisted scheme he has, while Hatori is not amused.

As for Kyou, he has no idea what’s coming down the pike. Yuki warned him not to risk hurting Tooru by being too impertinent if and when Akito summoned him. Hopefully he got the message even though he hates the messenger…

Fruits Basket – 32 (S2 07) – So Hard Because It’s So Simple

This week’s cold open features Akito, who has followed Shigure’s advice and arrived at the seaside, confronting Yuki and whispering something in his ear. While we can’t hear what hesays, Akito is likely using the exact same ammunition he’s used in the past—trying to cover Yuki in a hopeless pitch black, warning him any glimmers of happiness or warmth are mere delusions.

But there’s something different about Yuki here from previous confrontations with Akito, and the fact Yuki’s voiceover is all we here is key to that. First of all, he’s not having a goddamn panic attack, so that’s good! While Akito approaches and launches his attack, Yuki is testing a new “armor” he has developed as a result of “opening the lid”—the armor of his memory of saving Tooru.

When Momiji proposes a watermelon splitting contest, Tooru starts to bring up her mother, but stops herself, awkwardly saying “gumshoe” instead of “mom”. She doesn’t want to trouble people with stories of her mom when she knows nothing about their own.

Hiro, who learned that morning that his mom is pregnant, can now see the effect of his harsh words to her, while Kyou can again sense something off in Tooru, and suspects it’s Hiro’s fault.

While Momiji, Hiro and Kisa are napping, Kyou asks Tooru about it, and she in turn asks Kyou about his parents. As expected, there’s not much to say: his mom was killed in an “accident” (holding back that it was suicide) when he was very small and he and his biological dad are estranged.

Tooru then shares the details of her watermelon splitting contest with her mom. Neither of them had any aim to speak of, as her mom smashed both a flowerpot and Tooru’s dad’s shrine, but they still had a lot of fun, and the warmth and love of that memory brings a smile to Kyou’s face.

But amidst all these happy feels, you can’t help but wonder: what is missing from Tooru’s almost impossibly ideal childhood with her mom prior to her death? Why doesn’t she remember (or claims not to remember) anything about her dad, from whom she inherited not only her kindness but her very manner of speaking?

Akito, Kureno, and Hattori arrive, and arrangements are made for the Zodiac members to formally greet her at the annex. Before that, Akito spends some time by the ocean, with Kureno not far away. Yuki encounters them while on a walk, and we’ve now reached the events of the cold open.

Predictably, Akito fires shoots some lies Yuki’s way—telling him he’s “all alone as usual” and “such a lonely boy.” Akito’s idea of Yuki as an individual might as well be frozen in amber. That’s who Yuki was, and those barbs don’t cut nearly as deep as they once did, when Akito’s influence on him was stronger.

Shigure rounds up Momiji, Hatsu, Kisa and Hiro, and all of them are gloomy because none of them are in a particular hurry to meet with Akito, especially if it means leaving Tooru behind (not to mention Kyou, who never sees Akito). Momiji in particular seems at peace with the fact he’s “disliked” by Akito, but he can deal with that if he can continue having fun with Tooru.

Back at the beach house, Tooru is determined not to be glum, and stirs into action making pancakes with Kyou, who’s never had them before. Kyou can sense Akito’s reason for coming as putting a damper on their good times.

When Shigure arrives with the Zodiac members, he’s received by Akito, Kureno, and Hattori. Akito sends Kureno away without meeting with anyone (deeming it “unnecessary”) and proceeds to launch into a villainous rant, boasting about how she discouraged Yuki and laughing about his attempts to separate from her.

Shigure takes all this in stride, and is his usual polite self as Akito goes to receive the others. While Hattori isn’t pleased with Shigure’s methods (i.e. “scheming” and “shaking things up”) he lauds him for at least trying to do something to exact change.

I may not know exactly what Shigure is up to, but I do know that Akito is more a means and not an end to his plans. That Akito doesn’t seem aware he’s being manipulated seems to be working in Shigure’s favor.

While Yuki weathered his latest confrontation with Akito well, it still left him feeling as gloomy as everyone else who has dealings with the pale little shit this week. So it’s fortuitous that he and Tooru meet on the beach at dusk, just when he’s feeling his most alone.

Just then, there’s a beautiful meteor shower in the sky above them. They’re only visible to Yuki because he was able to survive dark clouds and pelting rain of Akito’s bitter mind games, which in turn was possible due to both his memory of and friendship with Tooru, twin totems in his efforts to cast away the darkness.

Akito tried so hard to make Yuki think he was useless, but when Yuki encountered Tooru and helped her out, it was the first time he felt needed. In that regard, she saved him just as much as he saved her, because it turned his world upside-down and let him dream of a better one, of which he’s now privileged to be a part.

Akito’s dark clouds never stood a chance against the dazzling showers of kindness, warmth and joy that Tooru so generously shares with him every day. They’re why he won’t lose to Akito. When Tooru asks why he looks sad, Yuki tenderly takes her shoulders, kisses her forehead, and tells her she’s “so dear” to him. So it’s official: Tooru is the Dear of the Zodiac!

Puns aside, Yuki compares Tooru to the sky: i.e. something he’ll never reach. It’s clear Kyou is making more progress with Tooru, and Yuki knows if he becomes bitter or possessive about it, he’s no better than Akito. Just as he’s liberated himself from Akito’s now-hollow lies an manipulations, he must move past the memory that helped him do so, and shrug off the comfy blanket that is Tooru in order to keep moving forward.

Sing “Yesterday” for Me – 05 – Miss Never Number One

Rikuo ends up at a new part-time job at a photography gallery, only to encounter co-worker Minato Kouichi, who was in the same third-year class as Haru before she dropped out. He joins them for lunch and exhibits how pretentious he is about photography. Rikuo takes an instant dislike to him.

That leads to yet another coincidence in which Minato is walking Haru home at the same time Rikuo is walking a slightly tipsy Shinako home. Both Haru and Rikuo are irritated by what they see. Shinako tells Rikuo that she’s done walking in circles, while Minato not to subtly hints that he had a crush in Haru in high school, only for her to be completely oblivious.

Minato visits Haru as often at the bar at least as often as Haru visits Rikuo, and eventually asks if she’ll spend a day with him. He formally asks her out, and while she replies with a rant about how much of an asshole Rikuo is, she’s not ready to give up on him, even if she’s “just the backup”, or she’d be lying to herself. Minato expected a rejection, and reveals he dropped out of college to pursue a life of freelance photojournalism.

When Haru says of her pet crow “I kept feeding him, and he got attached to me,” I couldn’t help but notice how similar that is to her approach with Rikuo, intentional or not. Rikuo so often comes off as irritated or annoyed with her (or is so often spotted with Shinako after dark), Haru’s adopted the misconception that he doesn’t care how she feels.

In reality, her reliable and persistent “feeding” of her charming personality to him has made him attached to her, to the extent he’s jealous when he sees her with Minato and even gets into an artistic competition with him. It’s fitting that while Rikuo loses, it’s because Minato’s photo was simply more compelling.

The photo depicts Haru in high school, which stands in contrast to Minato’s earlier screed against portraiture as the photographer forcing his feelings on the viewer. Sure enough, Minato’s affection for the subject suffuses the image, and even Rikuo can’t resist the portrait’s candid beauty and longing. It’s a Haru Rikuo had never seen before, and can never unsee.

One could also look at this photo as a portent for Haru’s eventual dropping out. She looks restless, and her gaze is pointed elsewhere—somewhere more painful yet more rewarding, scarier yet inevitable: adulthood and independence.

Sing “Yesterday” for Me – 04 – His Lingering Shadow

After three episodes Hayakawa Rou is by far the weakest of the characters, but only because all we’ve known is that Shinako loved his late older brother Yuu, and Rou loves Shinako. She tries to be a good big sis to Rou by cooking him meals, but she can’t give him the one thing he wants from her most. In his frustration, he blames it not necessarily on his faults as a person, but because she can’t let go of a dead guy.

This week we learn why Rou is the way he is. This goes a long way towards making his character more sympathetic—even if he remains the least interesting of the four leads. Since Yuu was always the center of not just Shinako’s but everyone’s attention, Rou had to seek attention elsewhere: by being “the kid who can draw” in his class. Only now he’s in a tougher class in which everyone is that person.

Hell, I was that person in high school, then went to art college and got a rude awakening. It’s an understandable hit to the ego of someone who’d taken for granted one’s superiority in a smaller pool. Still, Rou worked hard to be as good at art as he is, so he’s going to rely on that work ethic to pull him through this phase.

One thing he wants to avoid at all costs is ending up like Rikuo, whom he still can’t believe Shinako even gave the time of day to. Worse, he learns of Haru and Rikuo’s “deal” rudely labeling her a “backup” when the two meet in context at the konbini. Kinoshita insists Rikuo help out in the back, so it falls to Rou to walk the young lady home.

Haru, who it must be said still sees love as in illusion, wonders what Shinako is doing so differently that she is so beloved by both Rou and Rikuo. Ruo rebuts by pointing out how not interested in him that way Shinako really is, but Haru doesn’t want Rou discouraged.

If Rou were to find a way to win Shinako’s heart, that frees Rikuo up for Haru, so she’s firmly on team Rou X Shinako, so gives him a supportive back on the back and runs off with her pet crow, which leads Rou to call her a weirdo.

Rou returns to find his dad and Shinako have already returned to Hanazawa. Once there, his dad informs Shinako that he’ll be renting out the house where they lived with Yuu, and presents her with a box of Yuu’s assembled belongings. In the room where she tended to him until the day he died, Shinako breaks down when she finds the eraser he lent her the first day they met, with the message “baka” concealed by its sleeve.

Outside cheery blossoms glow and she catches a glimpse of Yuu as a student, and she transforms into her younger self to approach him, only for him to disappear behind the tree. In a heartwrenching scene Shinako weeps bitter tears of loss, the shadow of Yuu still looming. It may be “okay to forget” as Yuu and Rou’s dad puts it, but Shinako can probably never fully erase Yuu’s shadow—nor would she want to.

Sing “Yesterday” for Me – 03 – No Demands? No, Demands!

Yesterday starts with Haru following Rikuo in the rain. He basically tells her she could do better than the likes of him. She tells him she has no particular hopes or demands about the likes of him anyway. She also feels like she’s playing catch-up to Shinako, but her war declaration freed her to act.

In the space of a few minutes, Rikuo suddenly knows a lot more about how Haru feels…but he still doesn’t know much about Haru the person, which she’s intentionally keeping vague as a long-established way to remain at enough of a distance to run away if things get too painful or messy.

As a result of their chat, Rikuo catches cold from the rain. Haru ends up with his phone number from Kinoshita unbidden, but she hesitates to call him (with her rotary telephone!), for the same reason she hesitates to reveal too much about herself. As a result, Shinako get the jump on her, as it were, by stopping by Rikuo’s to give him some hardy leftovers to keep up his strength.

When Rikuo is better and back to work, Haru invites him out to a monster movie on Sunday. Rikuo bites, and Haru is so happy a the prospect of a date she shares her happiness in the form of free coffee for Rou, whose change was eaten by the vending machine.

Haru also gets excited about looking her best for the date, after visiting her mom for the first time in three months (the two are cordial but hardly close) and stopping by the konbini to say hi to Rikuo and voice how much she’s looking forward tomorrow.

Haru’s anticipatory cuteness is particularly heartbreaking because I knew there was just  no way that movie date was going to unfold without a hitch. Sure enough, Rikuo learns Shinako has come down with her own fever while calling her about returning her Tupperware.

Rikuo proceeds to return the favor by taking care of her, and ends up falling asleep at her kitchen table. By the time he wakes up and realizes what’s happened, the rain clouds have returned (they really know when to show up for maximum effect) and Haru believes Rikuo either forgot, stood her up, or chose Shinako over her.

A contrite Rikuo eventually finds her soaking away in the rain and apologizes profusely, but is way too blunt about where he was, even if he insists it was all innocent. Because of the timing of his standing her up and the fact he didn’t have her contact info, even having cell phones wouldn’t have solved this matter.

Despite having clearly said she had “no demands”, Haru realizes later that she still had expectations with Rikuo. She then determines that if she stops going to the konbini, that will be the end of things. She has an exit ramp…right up until she yells out at a stop light and Rikuo hears her and comes over, blocking her escape.

Their exchange is tense at first, but Haru decides to drop the Mysterious Girl act and start over fresh with a proper introduction (including height and weight!). Rikuo reiterates his regret at standing her up, and Haru accepts his regrets, making him promise to take care of her should she ever come down with a fever, then immediately feigning one.

Miyamoto Yume’s performance in this scene (and just prior when she was alone on her bike), and the animation of Haru’s face, are the highlights of this episode. The murky muddy palette returned with a vengeance, but that only made the eventual reconciliation at the end, when the rain clouds had finally passed both literally and emotionally, that much more powerful. After so much darkness, some healing light.

At this point I don’t even care if Haru is a MPDG (and for the record I don’t think she is)—she’s winning my heart!

Sing “Yesterday” for Me – 02 – Switching Gears

When I first saw Shinako’s new shorter hairstyle, my mind momentarily went to competing with Haru, but that’s far to simplistic, and was immediately swatted down as a motivation when her silhouette in the barber’s chair is set against an austere blossoming cherry tree. There’s another reason, perhaps related to moving forward (or at least appearing to do so).

This week marks the introduction of the fourth member of the love polygon: Hayakawa Rou, who is in love with Shinako, his older childhood friend. Turns out he’s transferring to her school and may even end up in her class. Again, my immediate reaction was well, he and Haru are both high-school age, they’d be perfect together and the adults could go do their thing. But again, that’s making things way too easy for the parties involved!

It’s striking how much more vivid the colors are this week than last, but hey, trees blossoming in the spring will do that (indeed, it’s happening right outside my window and it’s wonderful!). It turns out Shinako doesn’t much like cherry blossoms. But after her post-graduation faculty after-party (she doesn’t attend he after-after party) she still takes some time to sit among the blossoms for a spell.

Her alone time is interrupted by Rikuo, and Shinako uses the opportunity to tell him she knows she’s asking a lot by wanting to remain just friends. But despite Rikuo’s belief she’s forward-thinking, Shinako reveals she’s nothing of the sort. If anything, she’s just good at making it look like she’s moving forward, when it’s more like walking in circles.

Then Haru walks by after her shift at the bar, assumes she interrupted something romantic, and runs off home in a mild huff. If that wasn’t enough, Rou also witnesses the tail end of Rikuo and Shinako’s talk. That’s…a lot of coincidences!

The next day, while Rikuo is discussing the potential difficulties of friendzoning with Kinoshita, Rou shows up and demands to know who Shinako is to Rikuo. At practically the same time, Haru shows up after school to have a chat with Shinako, offering dango as an olive branch.

Despite that olive branch, Haru is here to do battle, and not on an empty stomach. She wants to hear who Rikuo is to Shinako, and Shinako is quite clear that all they’ll ever be is good friends. Haru isn’t satisfied with this, because she doesn’t want to be a “compromise” Rikuo is nudged towards by Shinako.

When Shinako asks what exactly Haru likes about Rikuo, she doesn’t have a good answer beyond her belief that love is “a trick of the mind” that demands a beginning, a middle, and some kind of conclusion, be it good or bad. That’s when Shinako tells Haru she can’t be more than friends with Rikuo because there’s someone she already loves…or rather loved.

Rou mentions it to Rikuo as well: Shinako keeps a flame burning for his older brother, who died six years ago of a heart condition. Shinako took care of him until his death, which occurred during…the cherry blossoms. When most people see rebirth and the future in them, Shinako sees death and a past she can’t let go of.

Rou’s brother’s death wasn’t the “conclusion” Haru said is needed to stop that “trick of the mind” that is love. Shinako’s love endures, superceding any other opportunities (i.e. Rikuo). Even so, Haru still decides to declare war on Shinako, and will prepare for anything, including Shinako coming around with Rikuo. Having heard about Rou’s brother, Rikuo waits by Shinako’s place to talk to her, but can’t properly organize his thoughts and starts to walk away.

Shinako, for her part, is sorry she never brought the brother up, but didn’t want to use him as an excuse to reject him. Then the two decide it would be best if they weren’t friends anymore, due to the significant imbalance in effort. He’d rather wait than be friends, indicating he hasn’t given up on her (and why it was wise for Haru to declare war). Shinako is relieved…but hates that she is.

So far I’m liking this fairly brisk pace of events. Less wallowing and introspection, more communication and firm decisions. Rikuo is still being shamefully dense about Haru’s intentions—though he may yet be justified in doing so.

The progress made this week was worth the occasionally questionable coincidences. I also like how this takes place in the 90s, where the cassette is king and there are no cell phones, necessitating more face-to-face interaction. And both the animation and voice acting are terrific. It may not be the happiest story, but I’m in my happy place.