Ikebukuro West Gate Park – 12 (Fin) – The Troublesome Troubleshooter

With Takashi out of commssion the G-Boys are rudderless and eager for revenge, and Kyouichi isn’t above acquiring guns from the yakuza in order to gain the advantage in an otherwise bats-and-clubs fight. Meanwhile, we meet one of the usually unseen victims of the fighting, a young girl whose brother was injured who will play a larger part in the episode’s climax.

Makoto remains in the shadows, relying on his trusted friends in Saru and Lin to get a bigger picture about what’s going on. He learns the Kyougokukai Group from Kansai is trying to make a move against Ikebukuro and the Hidaka Group, providing firearms to both Red Angels and G-Boys. The kid gangs will soften each other out, and Kyougokukai, will stomp them all out and take over.

Makoto still has allies in the G-Boys, including Masaru, who owes him a debt for helping him save Mizuki, only for Mizuki to end up in trouble and missing now. When some less friendly G-Boys spot him and give chase, he’s saved by a more unlikely ally in the recently banished Hiroto.

Hiroto is setting up new turf outside Ikebukuro, but can’t stand by and let his old turf go to shit, especially if it’s due to the machinations of outside yakuza groups. We later learn he and his men, like the little girl, have a crucial role to play in the endgame.

Then there’s Isogai, quite obviously the mastermind behind everything based on clues from last week’s episode. Makoto gives him a call still believing he’s someone who can be trusted, and they meet by a secluded shrine. Isogai gives him a new phone, which Makoto quickly checks for the spying app that confirms Isogai is indeed the mastermind.

Isogai goes on to explain his motivations. A native of Ikebukuro, he was bullied in school and had to stop going to classes. He ended up joining the Kyougokukai, and knowing their interest in Ikebukuro, volunteered to serve as a sleeper agent until the conditions were right to blow everything up.

For all his hatred of punks both red and blue, Isogai still sees value in Makoto as a good guy and troubleshooter, and asks him to join him, Makoto refuses, there’s a scuffle, and Isogai ends up putting five bullets in him. At the same time, Takashi wakes up in the hospital, wondering what’s keeping Makoto.

The two sides form battle lines in West Gate Park, and Takashi not only makes a surprise appearance, but starts a fight with Kyouichi despite still bleeding through his bandages. It would seem all the pieces are arranged on the board the way Isogai and his Kyougokukai superior Yoshimatsu want (the latter, Glasses Guy from last week, even watches the battle from his car).

The G-Boys and Angels are about to slam into each other when suddenly a video starts playing on the park’s Jumbotron: a video expertly recorded by Makoto’s film director buddy, capturing Makoto’s entire incriminating conversation with Isogai, exposing him as a traitor to the Angels and Ikebukuro itself. Everyone stops fighting, takes in the scope of Isogai’s treachery…and stews.

Isogai responds by pulling out his gun and shooting Makoto again, but as with the last time he shot him, it was with harmless blood rounds (lent to him by his director friend). Makoto switched the guns out when they scuffled at the shrine. Kyouichi delivers a  devastating, balletic kick to Isogai’s head and threatening to dance on him until he’s a pile of crushed bones—but Makoto begs him not to go too far.

As Hiroto’s men deal with Kyougokukai’s Yoshimatsu, who is invited to a nice chat with Saru of Hidaka Group, Makoto tries to do what he does best: call for all the warring parties to stand down, go their separate ways and think about whether they really want to fight a battle they were manipulated into fighting. Also, the riot cops are about to come in an arrest everyone.

He urges everyone to remember that while can sometimes lie and hurt each other, they also have the capacity to forgive. Everyone stands down…except that wild card little girl whose brother was injured. She isn’t satisfied until she’s able to stab Takashi, and he lets it happen, drawing her into a hug even after she sticks him in the kidneys.

Because Takashi is so gentle with his would-be killer, the avenging girl must sense that he had forgiven her before she even stabbed him, and thus can forgive him and those who cause her brother’s injury. Before passing out, Takashi tells Makoto to take over the G-Boys if he doesn’t make it.

While that would have been an thoroughly interesting development, Takashi pulls through, and even has the sister and her recovered brother visit him, completing the cycle of forgiveness and healing. Kyouichi disbands the Red Angels and moves into a house his parents left him just outside the Yamanote Line.

Makoto’s mom re-opens the produce stand, where Guo continues to help out. And finally, Makoto sits in West Gate Park when he’s approached by someone who has a problem that needs solving. In other words, life goes on in the town he loves. It’s not often a series concludes by bringing together most of its previous narrative elements into a satisfying whole, but IWGP pulled it off beautifully.

Don’t believe the low MAL score or lack of ANN reviews: IWGP was a strong Fall 2020 dark horse candidate. ambitious in its concept, resourceful with its protagonist and setting, involving at every turn (one iffy Youtuber episode aside), and realistic in its depiction of the complex social structures that make up a town, and the importance of maintaining relationships and balance.

Hand Shakers – 01 (First Impressions)

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Jist: Tazuna is a quiet high school student who loves to tinker with and fix things, getting so focused he loses track of time. One day he comes across a hospital bed not unlike the one where he watched his younger sister die.

Tazuna takes the girl Koyori’s hand, and receives the “Revelation of Babel.” He’s then attacked and chased by a pair like him and Koyoti, Break and Bind, but with Koyori he learns to summon millions of gears he can fashion as shields and swords with which to fight back.

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First of all, this show is very elaborate and shiny. Those who watched K or its sequel are no strangers to Suzuki Shingo’s baroque style that employs sweeping camera angles that fly around not one but many animated characters, nearly photo-realistic settings, and super-saturated colors.

There isn’t a single shot in this that doesn’t have something going on, whether it’s highlighted dust motes, lens flares or sun rays, or any other number of tiny details. I’ll be honest: it was a little overhwelming, especially after the relative stillness of ACCA.

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It also reminded me a bit of the Star Wars prequel films. Let me explain: their producer, Rick McCallum, spoke with pride about how dense every frame is, how much is going on at once. But while a little bit of chaos is nice, put too much shit in every single frame, without any kind of hierarchy, and the audience’s eye can’t focus on any of it and basically throws up its eye-hands. In other words, too much stuff and too much excitement can be static and boring.

There’s no denying Shingo’s ambition, or the fact he makes a damned impressive and distinctive-looking show here. But there are many instances where the cracks show, and where frame rates slow to the point we’re back in the mid-nineties, watching PSOne cutscenes.

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Not only that, Break and Bind’s rain of chains simply aren’t interesting enough to occupy as much screeen time as they do. It’s fun watching Tazuna and Koyori dart through a tripped-out alternate dimension of the city, dodging the chains from the BDSM couple…until it isn’t.

There’s more to dislike: Tazuna’s inner stream-of-consciousness to open the episode (and his running commentary throughout) was generic, uninspiring shonen-speak. Break is your typical loud-mouthed one-dimensional villain (ironic considering how much in this show is 3D), and female characters’ busts are a size too big and bouncy for my personal taste.

Hand Shakers is big on jargon (babel, ziggurat, nimrods) but small on telling us what the heck is going on and why. So far, the characters of Hand Shakers are being literally and figuratively out-shined by their environment. And like Lily’s reverse tower card, that’s not a good sign.

There were some nice isolated moments of music/animation/character synergy; that and the overall scope of the visuals are good enough for a 6, but—and I can’t believe I’m saying this about this show—I’m going to need a lot more.

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