Birdie Wing: Golf Girls’ Story – 08 – Live Your Own Life, Then Die

Moments after Rose’s prosthetic hand and wrist shatters after one too many Crimson Rose Bullets, we learn how she ended up with it in the first place: she got in too deep with the underground, and one day (or probably more appropriately, night) she lost, and the price was her hand. Leo only visited her to tell her she was stupid and he was having nothing more to do with her. He found someone new.

Rose meets this someone new, watches her fire a Blue Bullet, then tries to get her to work for her, but Eve isn’t about that. In fact, she didn’t show up on Rose’s doorstep until she wanted to play against Aoi. Fast-forward to the present, and Rose is going to play golf with one arm. Yes, you heard me. And she does.

Not only that, she comes heart-crushingly close to sinking the ball on just her second shot, a perfect shot from 140 yards away. But close is no cigar, which opens the door for Eve to take the win. The episode then jumps forward, to when the construction vehicles are about to level Klein’s bar while she, Lily, and the kids watch.

That’s when Eve shows up in Vipére’s car (and Vipére does a J-turn waaaaay too close to the children) and tells them to hop in, even though the car in question is tiny. Their problems are solved. She opens her new briefcase full of cash (again, a questionable decision in an open convertible traveling at high speed). She won. Rose lost.

From there, things start flying high. Vipére, as a treat, gives Klein’s whole family new identities (a snake keeps her ear to the ground), which allows Klein to buy a new bar, Lily to help out there, and the three refugee kids (from Palestine, Syria, and Somalia, by the way) to go to school for the first time.

Vipére herself ends up on a yacht, seemingly retiring both from golf and from wearing fangs. But while her family’s future is secure, it’s not all gravy for Eve. She meets Rose’s underling Anri on a rooftop, where Anri tells her that as a result of her victory, Catherine has put hits out on both Rose and her. Anri can’t quite kill Eve herself, even though she wants to. Instead, she runs away in tears, telling her to live her life however she wants, then die…with emphasis on the “die”.

Certain for some reason that A., Catherine won’t go after her family and B., Catherine will never know to send hitmen to Japan, Eve gets on a train to the airport bound to Aoi’s homeland, to fulfill the promise she made to meet her on a legit golf course. It’s the promise that drove her stunning victory, bouncing her ball of Rose’s and landing in the cup.

Mind you, shit like that probably won’t fly in above ground golf. But knowing her best years were behind her, Rose always intended for Eve to surpass her, and is glad her ass was kicked so thoroughly. She sits by the water with a cig, having summoned Leo to ask why he gave up on Eve. He tells her because he didn’t believe he could awaken her full potential.

But that time is seemingly coming. As if to underscore the official changing of the guard, Leo’s departure is immediately followed by the arrival of Catherine’s hitman. Before he pulls the (real, not metaphorical) trigger and ends her life, Rose briefly glimpses an ideal possible life when she was on the pro tour, with Leo as her proud caddy. Maybe in another life. This tragic moment is followed up by Eve is on a plane bound for Japan and to her beloved Aoi, who just can’t believe the drinks are free.

I will savor and treasure this episode for a long time, and you should too: it’s about as good as anime can get. Engaging, deadly serious, and absolutely window-lickingly bonkers in the same breath. And with only 4-5 episodes left, I desperately hope we get a second season, as it seems Eve’s golf story is only beginning now that she has emerged from the shadows and leapt into the light. The world would be a better place with more Birdie Wing in it.

Birdie Wing: Golf Girls’ Story – 07 – Around the Bend

When you consider that Nicholas and Catherine are using Eve and Rose to settle a score that might’ve taken a lot more time, cost a lot more money and spilled a lot more blood on the streets, you can’t help but think that her $100 million underground golf course is worth every penny of her money—both dirty and legitimate.

Of course, Eve and Rose don’t particularly care about their bosses; they’re doing this for pride. Rose even told her underling to leave Eve alone a year ago, when she was only six months into her betting golf career. Only now that “the fruit is ripe” does Rose want to pluck it from the branch and sink her teeth into it.

Make no mistake: Rose is good. Like Eve, she was trained by Leo (who makes a rather baffling appearance at the bar while Klein is packing up) and also calls her shots “bullets” (though in her case she has only one color: crimson rose). The two play hole after hole to draw after draw. Since the stakes are their lives, this is a double-edged sword.

There is certainly a level of suspense, especially the way the balls just miss the holes. But that’s tempered by the inescapable knowledge that Eve is most certainly not going to die as a result of this match, and I’m not even convinced Rose will either.

This episode is also let down a bit by two factors: the ridiculousness of the underground configurable golf course was already established for the duel with Vipére, so its novelty and shine wear off a bit (especially as they use all the same shots as the first time we saw it, only in a different order).

When Catherine cheats and has a hole made that requires a slice, she does so believing, Wile E. Coyote-style, that the Road Runner isn’t capable of learning. Turns out Aoi taught Eve a new “Purple Bullet” that does indeed slice. Worse for Cathy still, there’s a very concerning crack when Rose hits her shot.

When Rose tries to match Eve’s 287-yard Blue Bullet bomb, she manages to do so, but there’s that cracking sound again, and it’s followed by Rose clutching her right arm and screaming in pain. Then, and mind you this is after the credits, something happened that made me cackle like Catherine after something goes her way.

Turns out Rose’s freaking arm is a bionic arm, and it shatters. I’d say that’s the end of the game…but this is Birdie Wing. It’s possible she has a spare, or just plays with one arm. Either way I can’t see her outright dying … but by golly that arm was one hell of a surprise.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Birdie Wing: Golf Girls’ Story – 06 – Deep in the Sand Trap

In a rather nasty twist of fate, the land for a new casino that Eve was golfing for on behalf of Catherine is the very land on which her found family presently squats. I had assumed Klein owned the bar they live in, but nope. We also learn that the three little ones are immigrant orphans who will be deported. Eve can’t help but think she’s responsible for potentially destroying her family.

She visits Rose to voice her outrage, as Rose most certainly knew full well that Eve’s fam lived on the future site of the casino. But Rose has no sympathy for Eve; she did her a favor by letting her play against Aoi, while Eve repaid it by beating Vipére. Eve goes over everything that’s happened in the episode so far, and decides that the solution to this crisis is, of course, hitting a ball with a stick…in a way only she can.

As luck would have it, Vipére just happens to stop at the very spot Eve is doing her reflecting. Eve asks for golf betting gigs, but if Snake Woman had any, she’d take them. After she lost to Eve, Nicholas took everything she had (except, oddly, her Morgan roadster…). I must say, the speed with which Vipére became a comic book villain to a charming and likeable (temporary?) ally to Eve is truly impressive.

Aoi’s sole scene in this episode is a brief one, as we follow her on her extended press junket. The scene makes clear two things: 1.) No matter how cutthroat the Japanese high school golf circuit is, Eve has a lot more shit to deal with than Aoi, and 2.)  Eve is still foremost on her mind, so much so that she confuses journalists by insinuating she lost to someone in a tournament she won by 12 strokes.

Much to Catherine’s consternation, Nicholas does not honor their proxy golf deal and assassinates her politician so that the council votes for him to maintain control of the Casino. When Cathy won’t accept a 70-30 split in Nick’s favor, it comes down to another game of golf (though why either party would believe the other again escapes me). One of his underlings is, ahem, good friends with Vipére, who gets the lowdown on the impending game.

Knowing that Eve will give her a better chance of crawling out of the abyss, Vipére basically takes her in (to what I assume is a safe house) and puts her on a grueling training regimen. Or at least the thought it would be grueling; instead, she’s astounded by Eve’s stamina. Turns out Eve already underwent even more grueling training under Leo, the man who taught her how to golf with a lot of tough love.

The name Eve, AKA Evangeline, is the only thing Eve remembers when she suddenly woke up with bandages on her head. She was saved by Klein and Lily, who were then living and working at a brothel at the tender age of 14 and 10, respectively. Eve accepted Leo’s tutelage so she could golf her new sisters out of that brothel and into a life of safety and comfort. But now that life is back on the line.

Back down in her high-tech underground course, Madame Catherine learns that Nicholas, through Vipére, has hired Eve to be his golf proxy this time around, with Vipére serving as her caddy. Catherine, in turn, has picked Rose to be her proxy, and clearly this is something Rose has set up from the beginning…and something tells me she’s immune to Vipére’s stinky charms.

The stage is thus set for the most over-the-top, high-stakes golf game yet: one that may decide whether Eve’s friends have to return to prostitution to survive while the little ones get shipped back to their home countries. As halfway points of cours go, it’s not a bad place to be. I can’t wait to watch Eve potentially struggle but ultimately prevail over a too-arrogant-by-half Rose…and wish nothing but the best for dear, déar Vipére.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Birdie Wing: Golf Girls’ Story – 04 – Snakebit

When Aoi missed her putt, Eve confronts her angrily, thinking she let her win. But Aoi admits the miss was “her mistake”—apparently no one noticed Anri flashing a laser into Aoi’s eye before she putted, including Aoi herself. But she wants to have another go at a real game with Eve, so they agree to meet back at the course at 5 AM so they can play until her flight back to Japan.

Normally Eve would be able to keep such an appointment, but Catherine cashes in on Rose’s favor to her for letting Eve into the tournament that very night, and Rose and Anri deliver her to a massive configurable underground golf course. This is just the window-lickin’ craziest shit.

Eve is Catherine’s golfer, while her opponent in a real estate deal, fellow mobster Mr. Nicolas, has hired the thoroughly corny Vipère, a vampy minx in a leather catsuit. In addition to their employers’ bet, Vipère makes it interesting for her and Eve by saying whoever loses becomes the personal property of the other for a day.

Eve is neither amused nor impressed by all this nouveau riche and faux-vampiric posturing, and simply wants to get on with the game. But every other shot she makes is totally off, and she has no idea why…until she notices the same thing most of the audience probably noticed immediately: Vipère stinks. Not at golf, but literally.

Every time Vipère unzipped the front of her catsuit near Eve, she messed up. Turns out her perfume is a sublt poisons that threw her game off just enough to almost lose. Not about to lose to a cheater with fangs and a way too active tongue, Eve uses her Yellow Bullet to drive her ball out of a bunker and straight into the hole, beating Vipère and fulfilling her favor to Rose and Catherine.

What follows is a lot of plot malarkey, unfortunately. First, Eve has Vipère drive her to the course to meet with Aoi…in Vipère’s slow antique car. Aside from it not being Vipère’s style at all (why is it yellow?) Anri was right there in the parking lot with a Jaguar XJS, which if I know Rose had a V12. Combined with the fact the distance from the underground course to the above-ground one wasn’t revealed until it became a problem, and my eyes were rolling like a Titleist on the green.

Just as Anri manufactured Aoi’s loss and Vipère almost manufactured Eve’s, the the plot tomfoolery ends up manufacturing the first major interpersonal conflict between Aoi and Eve, as Aoi waits as long as she can but has to board her flight before Eve gets there. She leaves her Pac-Man ball on the tee, but drew a tear in its eye and “Liar” on the other side.

As her plane takes off, Aoi spots Eve and her Blue Bullet taking flight. So, I guess the airport is right next to the golf course? What with that crazy golf bunker, I half-expected Eve’s golf ball to go into the jet engine, forcing it to land and giving the two a chance to play.

Of course, there’s a good chance that would have ended in fiery tragedy, so maybe it’s best Eve didn’t hit the plane….I just hope their budding friendship hasn’t been shattered irrevocably. After all, Aoi began the episode with a mistake caused by others; now that Eve was late, the two are even par, as they should be.

SAKUGAN – 04 – COLONY OF PASSION

We go from Gagumber and Memenpu parachuting into Jolly at the end of last week to the two in the custody of one Merooro of the Labyrinth’s “Bureau of Regulation.” They’re guilty of Crimes, and they will be Punished, but he doesn’t offer details about what either of those things were or are.

Instead, the father-daughter duo is set loose in Jolly Jolly pending the handing down of sentencing or some such. And Jolly Jolly is…fine. It’s fine! It’s one big Italian Disneyland, complete with canals filled with LCD “water”, a Leaning Tower Colosseum, and ristorantes galore. Memenpu, sick of noodles, decides to sightsee. Gagumber hits up the nearest bar.

After twelve straight rejections by women at said bar, Gagumber finally meets someone who’ll give him the time of day—the woman on the motorcycle we saw a couple episodes ago, whom I assumed was Memenpu’s mom and Gagumber’s ex. Turns out she’s neither, but she is voiced by Hanazawa Kana in Sultry Mode, demonstrating her considerable range.

Turns out this lovely lady, rather inelegantly named Zackletu (sounds more like the name of a kaiju, if I’m honest) is wanted by Jolly Jolly’s mafia, who shoot up the bar just as Memenpu arrives. Gagumber covers Zack and Mem’s escape, only to be captured and almost tortured by the mafia don, only to be saved by Zack because his cell conveniently has a window.

Numerous chases and shootouts ensue, which oddly require more suspension of belief than the action of previous episodes. For one thing, I am not a big fan of characters in like Jumbo who are too impossibly huge to be actual human in shows where everyone else is normal sized. For another, the mafia guys and their don are pathetically dull, and have suspiciously bad aim.

Once the mafia is predictably foiled thanks in part to Memenpu arriving to save her dad and Zack in Zack’s own motorcycle, Zack takes her leave, promising to be back one day for the million Gagumber promised her. Like Jolly Jolly as a concept, this episode was…fine…but after the first three episodes I was expecting something more adventurous than generic colony mob chases.

The World’s Finest Assassin – 01 (First Impressions) – One Last Job

From it’s bold, brash OP, TWFS has the confident swagger of a James Bond film, placing us right in the middle of a highly distasteful Rich Guy Girl Auction, run by the diabolical Lady Collide. Little does she know that two of her lots are undercover magical assassins, who make it a point to kill every last dusty pedo in the joint. It’s stylish fantasy pulp, and the action and teamwork keeps me interested…

…But then the story takes a 90-degree turn off to an entirely different world—our own. There, an elite but grizzled assassin is on One Last Job that he completes to the letter, not hearing a word of his young apprentice’s desire to be a hero of justice and kill all the mafia guys. This guy may be old, but he’s still sharp as a diamond-cutter, as he demonstrates again and again that his student has indeed much to still learn.

But between an unexpected drone/car chase and the presence of the relative newbie, “Allen Smith” is sufficiently thrown off his game enough to board a commercial airliner not thinking the “Organization” who raised him would kill everyone on that plane to assassinate him. That’s just what goes down, and the sardonic assassin can only chortle and admire the “marvelous coffin” his employers arranged for him

But when he dies and ends up in a deep ocean of darkness (naked, thus balancing out the fanservice quota somewhat) all he feels is bitter frustration. He was prepared to end his career as an assassin, but wasn’t done training others.

Fortunately for him it’s not the end: an aloof and somewhat eccentric goddess (Tamura Yukari) plucks him out of oblivion and prepares to drop him into a world of swords and sorcery. She’s got a new job for him, which provides a great hook for the second episode: assassinate the hero of that world. After the baffling choices and disappointing visuals of The Detective is Already Dead, I’m game for something like this.

Great Pretender – 19 – The Interpreter

Laurent could hardly have envisioned that his failed revenge mission in Paris would set him on the path—and connect him with the people—that would define the rest of his life. No one person is more important than Dorothy, the woman he accidentally stabbed when trying to kill the man who scammed his mom.

Turns out Dorothy is working a scam on the scammer, as Laurent learns when he meets her, Kim and Oz, a trio of confidence artists looking for a fourth operative who is good with languages (and other stuff too).

Dorothy’s natural charisma and the lure of scamming bad guys proves irresistible to Laurent—He’s in, and the jazzy theme plays over their first jobs together, which span the globe and capitalize on their ability to pose as international dealmakers.

They scam a developer into buying overvalued land in Brazil, then scam a mafia boss into buying a soccer team in Milan. It’s basically what we watch Makoto go through in the first arcs of the show, but compressed into a montage.

The jobs keep coming, and with them the cash and security Laurent and his mom lacked. He also falls for Dorothy, despite her saying at the very beginning that they’re neither partners nor lovers, just a collection of lone-wolf strangers working towards the same goal from job to job.

Even so, in one of the loveliest-looking scenes of the whole series, Laurent tries to convince a just-awakened Dorothy to give up the increasingly dangerous life of conning powerful assholes and settle down together as husband and wife.

In another gorgeous scene, Laurent leads Dorothy up a frozen hill in Finland to see the Northern Lights. The combination of the reflection of the light ribbons in her cool jewel-like eyes and her rosy nose and cheeks is adorable, and brings an earnestness to someone who has played so many roles it’s hard to determine who is real.

That brings us to one of many meetings the con artists have in their Paris headquarters. Both Kim and Oz are considering retiring and enjoying the cash they’ve made (with Oz contemplating returning to the wife and son he abandoned). Laurent wants to retire with Dorothy, but she wants to do One Last Score. And wouldn’t you know it, that score involves Liu Xiao and the Shanghai mafia.

Laurent ingratiates himself with Liu by proving an adept Mahjongg player, but also a capable and loyal fellow who jumps in the way when an unknown assailant tries to stab Liu in the elevator. This is, incidentally, the same trick Dorothy pulled on him when they first met. Liu quickly hires Laurent as his interpreter.

Laurent introduces him to Oz, posing as a Japanese buyer of refugee kids at the auction, as well as Kim posing as a broker. They get Liu interested in the prospect of selling royalty, with Dorothy ultimately posing as an Ethiopian princess living in exile in Japan (a place she chose because she wanted to visit).

This episode gets the job done introducing Dorothy, who has more than a little bit of that Manic Pixie Dream Girl energy that can be simultaneously endearing and annoying (ennoying? andearing?) Mostly, it shows us a Laurent who would very much like to get out of the con artist business, marry Dorothy, and settle down, thank you very much. Of course, we know how that turned out, so tragedy is sure to strike at some point in this “one last job”.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Great Pretender – 18 – The Pressure is the Reward

Makoto, Abby, and Cynthia are bound, fitted with weights, and taken out to sea to be executed. However, Oz begs Suzaku Akemi to spare his boy. Oz tells Makoto to kill Abby and Cynthia to prove his loyalty, and the two women tell him they’re neither friends nor family, and would kill him if they were in his shoes.

Makoto doesn’t believe that, and in any case can’t hurt either of them, so Oz shoots them instead, and they fall overboard and under the waves, apparently dead…but quite possibly not? What matters is Makoto thinks they’re dead, and when Akemi offers him Oz’s life, he takes it.

For several days Makoto neither talks nor eats, but turns a page when he’s able to grieve his losses in Akemi’s welcome arms. Two months pass, and she’s taken him under her wing like a surrogate son—replacing the one who walked away from the family business.

Because Makoto is a highly capable person who increases Akemi’s profits, she puts him in charge of the human auctions without hesitation and arranges for him to have a room at her house, deepening their relationship. Ishigami has never seen the boss like this, and fears she’s taking it too easy.

He makes sure Makoto understands that the pressure he’s feeling is both the reward and what keeps one on their toes enough to hang in there. He also warns him that while Akemi won the last round, Shanghai problem isn’t going to go away. Makoto comes home to find Oz outside his apartment. (If he faked his death, it stands to reason Cynthia and Abby are probably fine too, though that’s left up in the air for now).

From a slick office overlooking a futuristic, fluorescent Shanghai, Liu has his fortune told by a famous fortune teller—whom we later learn was paid by Laurent to give him a particular fortune that will accelerate his plans to “resolve” things with their Japanese parent. After the teller leaves, Laurent walks in asking for Liu.

As Liu tells Chen, how a book was translated made the difference in which received the Nobel Prize. It’s the same with international business negotiations. Flashback to when Laurent was a boy in Brussels, and intrinsically understood the value and the power of being a good interpreter…as well as the cost of not having adequate skills.

Laurent’s mother, who is severely dyslexic, gets swindled and ruined by a businessman, all because she couldn’t read what she was signing. While cooking dinner for her and Laurent while out of sorts, the pan slips out of her hands and we can speculate that she was killed by oil burns.

Flash forward several years to Paris when Laurent is a poker hustler and womanizer. The men who lost to him beat him unconscious, but when he wakes up in an alley, filthy and bloodied, he spots the very man who swindled his mother years ago—and whom he blames for her death.

Laurent buys a knife at the hardware store and follows the man, but when he chooses the time to stab him, a dark-complexioned, white-haired woman steps in front of him and the blade plunges into her instead. In seeking revenge for his mom, Laurent accidentally stabbed the wrong person.

Makoto is hearing about Laurent’s past from his suddenly-not-dead(again) Oz. I wouldn’t be surprised if the two were in cahoots, while Makoto is yet again an unwitting pawn in an even longer con, even as he and Akemi grow closer as surrogate mother and son.

Great Pretender – 17 – Coward of Oz

Edamame is moving up in the Scarlet Company thanks, in part, to the Chinese lessons his late mother insisted he take. Back then, he idolized his valiant attorney father Seiji, as did his mom, whose only complaint was that her husband worked too much. Both were completely unprepared for the news that he was helping the mafia traffic children.

While Makoto responded to his dad’s betrayal with rage and resentment —and eventually turning to a life of crime just like the ol’ Pops, only pettier. His mother collapsed from the shock, and was bedridden the rest of her days, but she never gave up hope in her Seiji.

The flashbacks to good times abruptly turning bad then worse for Makoto are efficient but particularly well-done. His mom warmth and forgiveness despite the harsh betrayal she endured—something it’s clear Makoto never understood.

“Sleepy Princess” Abby and her reluctant jailor Makoto is such a bizarre scenario, such is her keeping-it-real ethos, Abby doesn’t treat her jailor any differently than the guy with whom she jumped out of a building in Singapore. Their growth as something like friends is evident when she asks him if he’s alright working for such a despicable business, and isn’t just asking, but is genuinely concerned.

She should be! Suzaku Ikemi’s Scarlet Company is on the brink of war with their satellite organization in Shanghai, which due to China’s economic boom has grown more profitable than its parent and unilaterally declared independence. Their disdain for their Japanese bosses is expressed when their boss, Liu, sends his second-in-command—the boorish Chen—instead.

Chen is accompanied by his interpreter, whom Makoto recognizes is his damn dad, who now goes by the name “Oz”. So that’s where he slithered off to!

Suzaku isn’t impressed by Shanghai’s little power move and declares an ultimatum, claiming 80% of Shanghai’s profits, even she must know won’t be forthcoming without a degree of bloodshed. Still, her options are limited; with their Chinese cash cow’s leash becoming slacker by the day, she can’t appear weak, lest they regard her as a paper tiger.

Makoto, meanwhile, is furious with the news of his dad’s participation in this job, and suspects it was kept from him on purpose by Laurent, who is flirting with a couple local women when Makoto violently confronts him. That leads Laurent to ask: if the geezer truly “means nothing” to Makoto, why get so worked up about him?

In his next meeting with Abby in her cell (where she’s playing way too many video games), she raises the possibility Seiji did what he did “out of necessity”, got in too deep. She suggests he compare his “loser scumbag” critique of his dad to what he himself was, before he met her and Laurent. Perhaps Seiji has returned to his life because he wants to be forgiven.

Makoto tests that theory by visiting Seiji in his hotel room. Seiji reveals he was actually just outside the door of Mom’s hospital room, but was too ashamed to walk inside. If he walked inside, she might forgive him, and he wasn’t sure he deserved that. But seeing what a shell of a man his dad has become, Makoto decides to be like his mom, and give him that second chance to be in his life. After all, Seiji is still wearing his wedding band.

Early in the morning, Makoto executes a modified version of the prison break plan, this time threatening the kids with his dad’s handgun; a necessary tactic to get them to go with him. Cynthia arrives with a bus big enough to hold them all, and seems both amused and heartened to see not one but two Edamuras in her presence.

Everything seems to be going smoothly until they get off the main highway and are immediately sandwiched and forced to stop by two mafia cars. One of them carries Ishigami, who while so charming and friendly before suddenly exudes cruel menace. He laments that both he and Suzaku saw something in him, and are disappointed it “didn’t work out”—i.e. that now he’ll have to murder him for his treachery.

Speaking of treachery: Seiji is the one who ratted Makoto, Abby, and Cynthia out to Ishigami, identifying them as the same group of con artists who have been causing trouble in the underworld. When Makoto can’t contain his rage and rushes at his dad, Seiji puts a gun to his forehead, reminding him he’s not his dad anymore…he’s “Oz.”

It’s possible he’s playing a longer game that requires he betray his son so he could save him later. Or he could just be a bastard. We shall see. In the meantime, Makoto & Co. are in deep shit!

Great Pretender – 16 – Surly Princess in the Demon Castle

Makoto knowing he’s in on Laurent & Co.’s latest scheme doesn’t make coming to work at Scarlet every day any easier. He cooks tasty food for the captive children, who then leave it untouched—one of their only available acts of defiance. It wears on him, but Laurent tells him Cynthia is about to make her move.

The next day, she does just that, posing as a wealthy foreign “dealer” who speaks English—I’ll note some of the best English I’ve ever heard in an non-dubbed anime. I’m glad they didn’t skimp on that detail, as the language barrier makes Makoto’s role as Ishigami’s (and later Suzaku’s) interpreter crucial to the deal.

Cynthia and Kim take Ishigami and Makoto out to the UAE, where they situate themselves at a vantage point from which to watch their services in action. They use Clark and Abby to stage a desert kidnapping, with Abby posing as a royal princess.

As is typical of a GP episode, this scene wears its Hollywood action influence on its sleeve, and is quick and well-executed—like a Hollywood action movie, only animated. Makoto also notes how convincing Abby appears during the staged attack, considering she’s not one to panic when a gun is pointed in her face.

More importantly, the charade and “Princess Abigail” convince Ishigami, who brings Cynthia, Kim, and Abby before Suzaku Akemi herself for inspection. Suzaku treats Abby no differently from any other human trafficking victim: like a piece of meat to be stripped down and viewed from all sides. Makoto wisely averts his eyes to avoid Abby’s ire.

Suzaku indicates her interest without strongly expressing it, and initially low-balls Cynthia with an offer of 100,000,000 (Cynthia hopes that’s not yen, since that would amount to less than $1 million). When Cynthia forces the issue, Suzaku blows smoke in her face and cops a feel, stating that if Cynthia were a little younger she’d get a pretty good price.

Cynthia doesn’t react to the abuse, which is clearly Suzaku testing her mettle, because she revises her offer to a cool billion. While that’s over $9 million US, it still feels like small potatoes compared to Laurent and Cynthia’s previous con jobs.

The deal is struck, and Princess Abby gets Ishigami’s winddown room as her cell, complete with TV and video game console. Meanwhile, Makoto continues to switch out the kids’ untouched food, and urges them to eat for their own sakes. But their looks indicate they don’t care about their sakes.

Hanging his head the whole way back to his apartment, Makoto is shocked to find Laurent, Cynthia and Kim waiting to surprise him with celebratory drinks. Makoto rightfully suggests this is sloppy on their part (who knows if Suzaku is following any or all of them since they arrived?) and they leave.

The plan from there is to spring Abby after they get their money. To do so, Makoto needs the key to her room, which Ishigami all-too-easily offers up when he falls asleep after drinking too much beer. Makoto presses the key into a bar of soap, and Kudou makes a copy.

On the appointed night, everything goes smoothly except for Makoto’s not-so-sudden crisis of conscience. (I particularly liked Abby hesitating to escape because she was in the middle of a game—it really nailed her character’s nonchalance in a crisis) He’s not prepared to simply hurt Scarlet by taking their money then stealing Abby back; he wants to free all ten kids being held there too. But when he and Abby try to do so, the kids don’t budge. Just like they wouldn’t eat because they have nothing to eat for, they won’t escape because they think they have nowhere to go.

They might reconsider that once they’re sold off to people who will use them for unspeakable purposes, but the bottom line is these kids’ spirits have long since been broken. They were already abandoned by their families for cash, after all. They don’t care what happens to them, and care even less about helping Makoto realign his moral compass. When a kid asks where they’d go from there, Makoto doesn’t have an answer. As Rachel Menken said to Don Draper: “You haven’t thought this through.”

Due to a security guy Makoto initially relieved returning when he forgot his phone, Makoto is unable to free Abby, so the op will have to wait for another day. But it feels like even if they do free Abby and get the money, this isn’t the whole job. Or maybe it is, and the job that follows may lead us more into Laurent’s past—the apparent focus of this final arc.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Great Pretender – 15 – The Brutal Return to Reality

It’s been four months since the Wit Studio-produced, Netflix-distributed Great Pretender closed the book on its satisfying London art dealing/Cynthia romance arc, and I’ve been eagerly awaiting its return for its final and by far longest arc, involving the ever-mysterious Laurent. But at least in its first of nine episodes, it’s an almost completely Edamame-POV episode.

After a ~5-minute recap (as narrated to his mom’s grave) of his adventures so far, we learn Makoto considers his latest job with Laurent, Cynthia, Abbie, et al will be his last. He returns to Japan to seek honest gainful employment, and Laurent seems to wish him well, urging him to “do what feels right”.

While his criminal record would seem to be a massive obstacle to getting a job, Makoto snags a job at a “trading company”, with the very expressively-faced Ishigami as his immediate boss and mentor. Makoto proves a natural at the job, using the people-reading and interacting skills normally used to con people to instead sell them stuff.

He rises literally to the top of his company’s tower, where he and a select group of model employees await the arrival of their chairman, the cool and fearsome Suzaku Akemi. Her lazily muttering “do your best” to Makoto upon meeting him signifies her approval of him, making his employment official.

Not long after meeting the big boss, however, Makoto learns that while gainful, this employment may not be quite on the level. That’s made painfully clear when, while in Hanoi with Ishigami for a pickup, he learns that the merchandise freaking children.

That’s right: Suzaku Akemi, Empress of the Underworld, has a large controlling interest in human trafficking, buying orphans and refugees for cash and auctioning them off to the super-rich. And Makoto thought the art dealing business was cutthroat! It’s a wonder he doesn’t vomit in disgust as the poor kids are dressed up and paraded out like lambs to the slaughter.

Then it dawns on him: if this “Sacrlet Company” Laurent recommended to him is a front for the mafia, than Laurent has had Makoto infiltrate the company for a job….his biggest yet. While the focus is on Makoto for the lion’s share of the episode, the fact of the matter this is Laurent’s show, because Makoto went and did exactly what he hoped he’d do. The Puppet-master’s strings extend across oceans!

Laurent fesses up to this job to an outraged Makoto, who is as angry with himself as his French friend, having let himself be played yet again. But Makoto isn’t the only one Laurent has in mind for this job, which is presumably to bring Scarlet and Suzaku down while pocketing a tidy profit. Cynthia, Abbie, and Kim are in, as is a welcome face from the Singapore arc, Clark, the nicer of the Ibrahim brothers.

With the recaps over, the broad strokes of the new job drawn, and the awfulness of the mark made crystal clear, all that remains is to actually dig further into Laurent’s past, which this week only amounted to a brief but beautiful dream where he and an unknown lover gaze up at the Aurora Borealis. Eight eps should be more than sufficient to do that, and they’re sure to look just as fantastic as the previous fifteen.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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.

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