Grand Blue – 03 – Stepping into a New World

Diving involves a lot of equipment in good order, which means it’s quite a costly activity for a college club to be involved in; far costlier than, say, the tiddly winks club or the pogo stick club. Iori and Kouhei are informed of this in a matter-of-fact way, meaning they will have to help contribute to club funds.

They already have a way for them to contribute right away: by participating in the Izu Spring Festival’s Inter-Club Men’s Beauty Pageant. But before that, Ryuu takes Iori out for his very first scuba-diving lesson. Before he departs, he gets words from encouragement from Chisa.

Chisa is clearly excited that her old friend is about to experience something she’s already familiar with—and which she loves. Things start out a bit rough, as Iori isn’t used to the kind of breathing one does in scuba gear, and when his mask floods he panics.

But once everything is readjusted, he remembers what Chisa showed him at the aquarium, and it’s like stepping through the doorway into a new world. You can see the switch flip in Iori’s head from panic to nirvana, and the look of joy and wonder on his face is plain to see—and something that delights Chisa. “Good, he gets it now,” she seems to be thinking.

The wonder and joy lead to excessive celebration, which is nothing new to Iori and Kouhei, but what is new is the manner in which Iori finds himself waking up: beside a buxom half-naked woman a couple years her senior. This is how he meets third-year student and fellow diving club member Hamaoka Azusa.

Azusa is the kind of girl who doesn’t mind sleeping in the same room with a bunch of guys, but she’s also a good cook, and teaches Iori, Kouhei and Chisa how to make okonomiyaki to raise more funds for the club at the festival. The festival where, in exchange for not having to compete in the boy’s pageant, the boys must convince Chisa to compete in the girls’ pageant.

The lads, likely still hungover, decide the best way to convince Chisa is to liquor her up so she’ll be more open to the pageant. However, each time they try to slip her a spiked drink, she either already has one, politely declines, it’s taken by Azusa, or one or both of them have to take the drink. Before long, they’re drunk as skunks.

Azusa also reveals she knows what they’re up to—to the heretofore unaware but now horrified Chisa—and forces them to confess their true goal. They ask Chisa to enter the pageant; she refuses; and they reveal that they’re trying to get her to enter so they don’t have to.

That night, the lads play naked rock-paper-scissors, which Azusa joins in but doesn’t have to shed a single article of clothing as she whoops everyone. She gets Chisa to admit that it’s not that she doesn’t want to enter, but more that she doesn’t want to bear the embarrassment of the pageant all alone. Azusa also points out that the only reason they asked her at all is because they were supremely confident all she’d have to do is enter and her victory would be assured.

So Chisa agrees to enter…but only if Iori and Kouhei enter too. Thus the embarrassment is shared, if one loses one of the other two could still win, and if all three win, the club funds are tripled, so everyone wins. When the means with which to enter a new world are so expensive, sometimes you just gotta shake what your mama gave ya…proverbially!

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Saekano 2 – 01

“Why are things so bad between them?” asks Mr. Awful Thick-Headed Deaf Protagonist, AKA Aki Tomoya, referring to the near constant bickering and fierce competition between Eriri and Utaha. Cue a flashback to a year ago when the two rivals first meet, and Eriri learns Utaha is not only the author of the “Metronome In Love” novels she enjoys with Tomoya, but that she’s trying to snatch her Tomoya away.

Eriri tries in vain to steer Utaha away from Tomoya, while Utaha is irritated to learn how well Tomoya knows his childhood friend Eriri. Utaha brings Eriri up to Tomoya because she’s “interested in knowing more about her”, meaning she’s eager to gather info on a foe.

For all the contempt Eriri and Utaha have spewed at one another throughout last season, they are nonetheless connected by a strong underlying mutual respect. They’re not just foes, but worthy foes. And however much they may differ in creative philosophy, neither can deny the other’s obvious talent, or even be a bit envious of it, considering they excel in different areas (Eriri art, Utaha words).

Utaha learns that Eriri’s motivated by revenge for all the frustration she’s suffered having to hide her talent away beneath a pristine social facade; while Eriri believes she has the haughty Utaha figured out as a cold, calculating ice queen who looks down upon and manipulates her fans with her technique. Neither is wrong!

So back in the present, while they’re still bickering as fiercely as when they first met (with Tomoya as the totem of their rivalry), they can still acknowledge one another’s skill and passion for their craft, and can agree with Tomoya when he says theirs could be a collaboration for the ages.

The praise and enthusiasm of the guy they both like makes it easier for them to look past their surface hate for one another, and the value in working together, even if it’s not always, or ever, smooth sailing.

When Tomoya requests an illustration by Eriri autographed by both her and Utaha as Kashiwagi Kazumi, Eriri, Utaha, and Megumi also requests autographed illustrations. The apparent mortal enemies proudly hang them in their homes, proving their respect and admiration for one another beyond any doubt, even if they’d never ever say it to each other’s faces.

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 05

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As we return to Yakumo’s saga, which is already suffused with a constant underlying melancholy borne from the knowledge these events have long since passed, a young Yakumo is desperate to be good at whatever it is he’s doing, be it rakugo or a more straightforward play.

To that end, he’s far more concerned with practicing than women, who a drunk Sukeroku brings home one night. It’s just the latest iteration of something Sukeroku has done since he and Yakumo first met as boys: trying to get him to loosen up.

Sukeroku believes you have to be “a little stupid” in order to survive in rakugo, something Yakumo is not only virtually incapable of being, but would be betraying who he is if he tried. The audience will always know if his heart isn’t in it. We’ve seen how bad that can go!

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Speaking of his heart, it’s in a state of turmoil over the prospect of not being “cut out” for rakugo, turning an intimate little make-out session with Miyokichi into a pity party. For her part, Miyo loves Yakumo’s rakugo, which should tell him it’s worth pursuing.

Yakumo remains depressed, but puts his head on Miyo’s shoulder when she offers it. It’s notable that things don’t ever seem to go anywhere sexually between the two, something Miyo herself might’ve confirmed by telling her senpai essentially “it’s not like that;” in other words, platonic.

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Nevertheless, it’s a strong, warm friendship, and Miyo is excited for the lovely, elegant Yakumo to be portraying a man disguised as a woman for the play, and offers her services as makeup artist gratis. She does good work; the transformation is striking.

Sukeroku laughs his ass off when he first sees Yakumo’s somehow even foxier fox face, when he sees how terribly nervous his bro is (to the point of threatening to flee), he tells him to steel himself, knowing full well with his looks and talent he’ll have the audience eating out of his hand.

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Sukeroku turns out to be exactly right, which shocks Yakumo. When he starts feeling the rapt audience following his every move, his confidence builds more and more. His progression from initially jittery suits his role as meek ‘wife’ to the more boisterous Sukeroku’s ‘husband’, and makes it that much more of a shock when the time comes for him to reveal he’s a guy. His change in voice, posture, and level of dress; it’s all pretty much perfect.

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He leaves the stage to enthusiastic applause, a very different man than the one he walked onto it as. He was depressed, but now he’s seen with his own eyes and by his own efforts that there is hope after all, not only in theater but in rakugo as well. His performance showed everyone out there what he’s capable of, and the elegant “racy stuff” he can do so well; as effortlessly as Sukeroku pull of his unwashed galoot bit.

Finally, to once again remind us we’re only looking into the past, of two people who were still so close but whom we know will one day be separated once more and for good, the theater manager takes some candid black-and-white photographs of the two brothers, preserving the joy and victory of that night for posterity.

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 04

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This week we stop in on Bon and Shin as they’ve moved out of the master’s house and into their own apartment together. Shin has a job serving women he charms without trying and pinches every penny, while Bon spends all his non-rakugo time drinking away his earnings.

Shin continues to struggle to find his own rakugo, while Shin oozes confidence on the stage and has every crowd before him eating out of his hand immediately, including Bon. He’s even given himself a new name: Sukeroku. These two continue to be completely different in every way, yet they remain friends.

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It’s also this week that one of the few things that could strain their long-standing and deep friendship/brotherhood is formally introduced – by their master, no less. I speak of the lovely Miyokichi, whom the master has taken as a side-project, getting her a job as a geisha, likely in exchange for, ahem…other favors.

Miyokichi takes an instant liking to the serene, doll-like Bon, and isn’t subtle about her desire to meet with him alone, using a dance lesson as an excuse. Even in a show chock full of marvelous voice acting, Hayashibara Megumi (who voiced both Ayanami Rei and Faye Valentine) stands out; every line from those red lips oozes sex appeal.

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I’d say Bon was immune to her charms, either due to having lost his first love many years ago, or due to being so preoccupied with how he’s going to continue to do rakugo whilst his roommate rubs his apparently effortless yet immense success in his face every day. But he isn’t immune. Few would be.

He returns to Miyokichi’s (a rare subject that shuts Shin – sorry, Sukeroku, up), where he gives her a dance lesson, plays the shamisen while she sings (beautifully), and share some sake. Bon becomes more and more desirable as the evening progresses, as Bon’s not the typical kind of man she deals with, which must be refreshing.

Bon leaves before things get that far, but when she insists he promise to return again, he cannot resist drawing her closer. I don’t think the master introducing him to Miyokichi was an accident. Bon needs to learn to loosen up and have a good time if he’s to make any headway with erotic rakugo. What better way to do than in the company of a beautiful, complex, charming woman who may well actually want him?

Miyokichi, like his rakugo, is something Bon is still trying figure out. But if Sukeroku’s reaction to his interest in her is any indication, this is probably going to lead to some conflict between the brothers.

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 03

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SGRS has played a clever trick. I thought this show would be about Yotarou, the reformed thief, but he hasn’t been present the last two episodes. Instead, it’s been young Yakumo’s, or I should say, Bon’s show.

And that’s totally all right, as he puts immense craft, care, and detail into his quietly epic life story, a large part of which contained Sukeroku (AKA Shin) who is absent from the present world. In hindsight, that absence and the events that let up to it (which have yet to be told) are given greater weight with each new section.

Bon is struggling with the same boisterous kind of rakugo Shin performs and gets reliable laughs from, and having to balance school means he feels like the gap between them is growing. So Shin suggests he try rakugo that makes the most of his weak voice: bawdy and erotic stories. On that note, Shin suggests they go to a brothel and get laid…once they have the scratch, of course.

In the midst of hanging out offstage with the “house band”, Bon, who had no prior interest in or time for girls, meets Ochiyo, a girl he becomes interested in and spends lots of time with. The warm fondness and melancholy in present-day Yakumo’s voice makes the couple’s inevitable separation really sting.

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That hurt is somewhat mitigated by present-day Yakumo keeping Ochiyo’s promise to never forget her, because here he is telling us about her! The reason she has to leave Tokyo is basically the same reason people start leaving Tokyo in droves: World War II is about to break out. The dread of that fact is underlined by highly effective use of loud white noise, which swells and cuts out suddenly, creating tension and foreboding.

The government starts censoring rakugo just at the time Bon sees the raunchier stuff as his way in, almost as if the universe were blocking his path. Soon it’s just the master and his two students, and he only takes Shin with him to a kind of USO tour in Manchuria, sending Bon and his bad leg to the country with the mistress. But the night before Shin leaves, Bon has his brother pinky-swear that they’ll see each other again.

Bon gets a job in a factory, meets another nice girl, and settles into a provisional life, a life without Rakugo he never thought he’d have to deal with until it came. Sure, he’s not exactly on the front lines or anything, but his suffering is borne of not being able to take the path he wishes due to, well, history itself.

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And yet, he never fully gives up on rakugo. He stuffs the books in the closet, but he still tells stories to himself when he feels down. He finds the rakugo heals and fuels his troubled heart; it gives him vitality and hope. And then, one day, just like that, the war is over.

More white noise, and a few well-chosen sights like a cloud in the sky and the sight of a radio broadcasting the emperor’s surrender mark that new event. When it comes to depicting the parts of the war we know well, the show doesn’t show much, because Bon himself doesn’t see any of the horrors.

More than anything, both Bon and the Mistress miss Shin and the master terribly, and even some time after the war continue to live in a kind of limbo as they await a return that may never come. The good news is, rakugo roars back into popularity, including the kind best suited for Shin, who gets a promotion and gets very busy very fast.

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He gets so busy, he’s totally caught off guard when one dusk, just as suddenly as Ochiyo, and country life, and the war, and loneliness, came and went, Shin, Bon’s brother and other half, returns. Five years had passed mercilessly, heartlessly, but by the end of it their promise was fulfilled and they were together again. They ease back into theater life; rakugo life; and peace. Only now, no doubt, with so much time spent apart, this family understands and appreciates far better what it means to be together.

And speaking of reunions, who should show up at their door but Miyokichi, a beautiful young woman. The brothers have competed in rakugo, and endured separation for an entire war’s length. Will their next trial be a love triangle?

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