Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 08

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As we return to Kikuhiko’s tale, he’s just finishing up his tour with Master Yakumo, having steamed up many an audience in Kyoto with his seductively funny rakugo. Talk of making him a shin’uchi is no longer presumptuous; as even his own master was too enthralled both with his performance and the reaction of the crowd to notice the mistakes he made.

Kiku is rapidly progressing on the steam locomotive to greatness, but there are sacrifices that need to be made on the way – both those imposed upon him, and those he imposes on himself.

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Back in Tokyo, Miyokichi sits in the back of another full house as Sukeroku performs and effortlessly drawing huge laughs. But she’s not laughing; she’s there to catch a glimpse of the man she loves who’s currently giving her the cold shoulder.

Her presence didn’t go unnoticed by Sukeroku (she was the only one there who wasn’t “ancient”), and he proposes a commiseration session: she gets to vent to him about a subject he’s very well versed in – Kiku-san – in exchange for buying him a drinkypoo.

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Their ensuing conversation, a thing of beauty, offers many insights into Miyokichi’s character and the nature of her love of Kiku. She doesn’t even like rakugo; she prefers movies. Hearing his voice is the only reason she goes to the theater. She endures the stodgy, old-fashioned practice she wouldn’t otherwise give the time of day…for Kiku. She also endures his constant brush-offs, including this most recent unannounced trip of his.

Miyo can endure this because she’s strong. She had to be. Abandoned by a man when in Manchuria, she had to sell her body to survive, until Master Yakumo brought her home. But because she’s become so tough, neither the good Master nor Sukeroku are her type. She doesn’t go for nice guys, she likes cold guys, and Kiku has certainly been that to her.

Miyo doesn’t want the moon; she just wants to be able to stand beside the man she loves and support him as a woman. But she suspects, and Sukeroku can’t convince her otherwise, that Kiku intends to break up with her. When she takes her leave on that somber note, Sukeroku, ever the nice guy, can’t help but draw her into a hug.

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It’s while she’s struggling to get out of that hug that Kiku appears, suddenly back as quietly as he left. His exchange with Miyo is brief and probably the coldest yet, but there’s a reason for it; Kiku indeed intends to break up with her, and doesn’t want to be cruel by being kind beforehand.

Kiku can admit to Sukeroku that he loves Miyo, but the Master has told him he needs to find a “proper woman” to settle down with a family. Disobeying would mean expulsion from Yurakutei, and in this case, with his rakugo future so bright and his identity and place in that world so clear…Miyokichi is second fiddle to all that.

In fact, Kiku would rather simply be alone than be with anyone, a sentiment that quickly evolves into an agreement for Sukeroku to move out of his apartment. Kiku relays to Sukeroku all of the flaws their master mentioned that are making it hard to promote him, but Sukeroku is in this business because he loves rakugo, and he has bigger plans than the Yurakutei orthodoxy could ever accommodate.

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His position is legitimized by the simple fact they’re in a packed jazz hall filled with Japanese in Western clothes, listening to American music. The times they are a changin’. He acknowledges that a part of rakugo must always endure, but that’s Kiku’s duty. Sukeroku intends to be the part of rakugo that evolves by changing to suit whatever the people want, which is never fixed.

Kiku is a traditionalist; Sukeroku the innovator. But they are alike in two important ways: they both love rakugo and they both respect each other’s place in that world. At the same time, Sukeroku didn’t want to end up like his previous “master”, the one from which he took the name Sukeroku, who ended up dying penniless.

That night, Master Yakumo celebrates with Matsuda his hard-won success in getting both Kikuhiko and Sukeroku promoted to shin’uchi, he takes the Yurakutei family record from the alter to let the past generations share in the celebration, even as he laments he wasn’t quite able to achieve what his forebears did.

Unaware of his promotion, Sukeroku roams the streets, gently kicked out of Kiku’s place, backlit by the bright lights and the winds of change. Kikuhiko, also unaware, but now alone in his apartment like he wanted, pauses his practicing to inspect the old fan Sukeroku gave him. They’ve started on very different paths for the same love of rakugo. It was an amicable parting, but that doesn’t make it any less sad!

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 07

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Now that he’s found his rakugo, Kikuhiko works like man possessed – or a man who thinks his success will be snatched away if he rests for a moment. He has increasingly less patience with Sukeroku’s easygoing lifestyle (though continues to spend the lion’s share of his free time with him, and seems to enjoy it).

As for poor Miyokichi, every time Kiku is with her he only seems halfway there and in a hurry to get away. It’s not that he dislikes her, per se, just that for all the stories related to romance he knows, he may not realize he’s in the middle of one, and he’s not pulling his weight. Or maybe he’s well aware of Miyokichi’s intentions, and simply can’t devote any time or thought to them, so caught up in his rakugo.

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Of one thing I am certain: Kiku doesn’t notice the hypocrisy he exhibits in spending so much time with Sukeroku (while complaining that he can’t stand him the whole time) while insisting he has no time for Miyokichi. This results in a confrontation when Kiku puts Sukeroku to sleep in his usual way, and Miyo finds Sukeroku’s head in Kiku’s lap.

It’s intolerable to her that these two are so deeply, effortlessly close, but such are brothers. Even if they’re nothing alike, they’re also everything alike in that they need and feed off one another. They are family; she isn’t, and she just isn’t finding any kind of success in squeezing her way into Kiku’s heart or his life.

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Yakumo’s dedication to his professional and artistic success and his unconscious monopolization by Sukeroku is isolating him from everything else out there in life. When his master chooses him and not Sukeroku to accompany him on a sprawling tour, he becomes singularly focused on that. Miyokichi, desperate for his company, asks him to come whenever he can.

Her intense frustration and his cold reaction causes her to break into tears, causing her geisha makeup to run. I’ll admit, I wanted to punch Kiku right in his foxy face for so treating such a beautiful, complex creature with such frosty disdain.

This is who he is, who he’s always been, and shameful displays such as this certainly help his future ward’s case that he’s a prickly, self-involved wretch of a man, undeserving of Miyokichi’s tender love. But there’s a difference between being this way on purpose and not knowing any other way to be.

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Sure enough, the Kiku we see hanging out with an already-drunk Sukeroku probably doesn’t know how cruel he’s being to Miyokichi, who waits all night and probably many nights for him to come, when in fact he’ll be away for a long time. He’s so excited for his trip and pleased that the master chose him, nothing else matters.

Well, not nothing. At the end of the day, Kiku cares for his brother, and clearly worries about what will happen if he’s gone. Without him there to scold him about dressing better and eating solid food and bathing and cleaning up the place, Sukeroku will go full feral on him.

Kiku promises he’ll join Sukeroku in an independent two-man show that will capitalize on their newfound popularity. But that will be later rather than sooner. Deferred, just like his next meeting with Miyokichi, in favor of further aggrandizing himself.

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Akame ga Kill! – 14

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For those among you who don’t particularly care about the Tatsumi+Esdeath romance thread, this episode was probably a bit of a slog. However, I don’t mind it in the least, so it was a lot of fun. I couldn’t tell you why; but there’s just something very endearing about such an otherwise heartless, cruel villaness having such a tender side to her; aside only Tatsumi can bring out.

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She’s not even mad about him running away the first time; she’s just happy they’e reunited…and on a remote and deserted island, no less. She treats it as a date, with the two of them enjoying fun activities like bringing down colossal danger beasts, harvesting fruits, hunting for game, and relaxing on the beach. She’s so into Tatsumi, she’s even taken to drawing crude but adorable sketches of the two of them.

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Tatsumi manages to hold back her amorous advances, and instead uses the opporunity to learn more about Esdeath. Tatsumi doesn’t really tell her much of anything about his past, but she tells him the lot: how she was originally from the Paltas clan, daughter of the chief, who taught her that the strong die and the weak perish every time, and that’s just the way it goes.

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When she returns to find her village and her father attacked and killed by the Northern tribes, it’s merely another case of that fundamental philosophy. All she could do was continue to be strong, get stronger, and survive, because that’s what life is. When prey grew scarce, she joined the military, and simply applied the same tactics to humans as she did beasts.

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Everything she’s done since has been to serve the Empire, including her subjugation of the Northern tribes—not revenge. Even her father saw that something was “missing” in Esdeath; that she seemed to enjoy dissecting beasts a bit too much, which then turned into a taste for torture. It was all in service of the universal truth she’d seen in action firsthand: death is the fate of the weak.

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When it came time for her to choose an Imperial Arm, she chose an urn of demon elixir that had made every previous taster insane. But because she was already a bit loopy, and felt the drink “calling to her”, she chugged it down without reservation, and a powerful ice danger beast merged with her body, which she is able to control.

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The result of learning all this is that despite all the fun times they had on the island, Tatsumi has come to realize Esdeath isn’t someone who would ever defy the empire or join the rebellion. But the jury is still out for me: after all, he affects her like nothing else does. He’s not merely a boy toy to her, he completes her. If the demon within her is an internal covenant, she seeks an external one with him. She’s not messing around.

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But again, rather than stay by her side, Tatsumi hides again. They are separated once more, and Tatsumi is all but certain the next time they meet they’ll be enemies. If that’s really how it’s going to go down, I guess this episode was a means of convincing Tatsumi (and us) that as nice as it would be for Esdeath to be on his side, it’s just not to be; she’s far too set in her ways. It sucks, but that’s the way it is.

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Oh yeah, and the guy who teleported the doomed couple to the island in the first place is Honest’s son. He seems like a real swell fellow!

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Akame ga Kill! – 13

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Like Brynhildr a season ago, AGK is not afraid to infuse comedy into any situation, whether it’s supposed to be serious. I actually don’t mind that, as at the end of the day the show is full of ridiculous characters and situations that frankly shouldn’t be taken too seriously. That’s not to say there aren’t any scenes wholly serious scenes to be found—this episode started with the brutal killing of a couple living outside the capital by the new humanoid danger beasts. But the show seems to know when to use laughs and when to not.

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It’s also wise in not having every single chracter cracking wise. The show is largely split into those who are primarily the butt of jokes or subject of snarky observations, and those who make said observations. Oftentimes this week we get pairs representing both groups: Minister Honest and the Emporer; Wave and Bols (I just like how Bols has a perfect, loving family); Tatsumi and Akame. I also appreciate how even-keeled in its portrayal of both sides of the conflict while they’re in relative down-time.

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For contrast, let’s look at the villains in Sailor Moon Crystal, which I’m also watching. When we get scenes with them, they’re really just plotting evil stuff; they’re not really interacting as people the way the good guys are. We also know next to nothing about them, their pasts, or their motivations, so they come off as a bit dull and dry. In theory, showing the lighter sides of Esdeath, the Jaegers, etc. could potentially minimize their power as villains, but that’s not really an issue for me here.

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It’s also interesting that even though the empire is working to eradicate all rebels including Night Raid, they actually share the mission to eradicate the new danger beasts, though that doesn’t make it a case of “the enemy of my enemy”. Tatsumi, taking the moral high road, rejects Chelsea’s position to simply hang back and let the Jaegers take care of the beasts, because there are people in danger as they speak and the more people on the job, the more people can be saved.

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Chelsea, who has already lost a unit and knew how kind Bulat and Sheele are, is worried Tatsumi may be headed down the same road. At some point every assassin has to preserve his or her own life, even at the costs of innocent lives. She’s also uneasy about how lovey-dovey Night Raid is in general, but that’s to be expected of someone with her past; it doesn’t necessarily make her right. Tatsumi’s cool speech being ruined by the fact his fly is open: that’s AGK in a nutshell.

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Like last week, this episode squeezed a fair amount of material into its runtime. Night Raid finds a new hideout (pretty much the same as the old hideout; by design, says Akame); we learn that Lubbock was a rich, entitled ass who one day met Najenda, fell in love with her (which I can’t blame him for; she’s gorgeous) and enlisted on the spot, and his loyalty to her is still based on the hope that she’ll one day return his feelings. Lubba’s been the least developed of the original Night Raid, and this was an example of a short but sweet little nugget that helps enrich his character.

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In terms of surprises, I was not expecting Tatsumi and Esdeath to reunite so soon, but here we are. I still wish he got to spend more time with her before, and now that they’re together again I am very happy. Only good stuff happens when these two are together, but comedically and dramatically speaking. I continue to enjoy Esdeath’s earnest regard for her feelings and the way Tatsumi affects her moods and behaviors, but it isn’t a case of her love for him weakening her in any way. On the contrary, when danger beasts interrupt their reunion, she’s as focused and vicious in dispatching them as ever.

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FInally, the shadowy grinning guy who calls the Jaegers’ Imperial Arms “his toys” is looking like someone who will be giving them trouble soon; trouble which Tatsumi may be in the middle of now that he’s been re-captured. I wouldn’t even be opposed to Night Raid and the Jaegers holding a truce so they could join forces to defeat this guy, if he turns out to be that big of a threat.

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