Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 07

During an exceedingly rare instance of Yukihira and the others actually being in class, new Totsuki boss Nakiri Azami gives another inaugural speech, this time laying out the nature of his “revolution.” And hey, it really is a revolution—a authoritarian one.

He immediately bans all groups, clubs, and research societies, then sets up a paramilitary organization called Central to enforce his strict culinary dogma. No more pockets of like-minded weirdos, and no more individual creativity. Azami and the Elite Ten will decide what is food and what is “animal feed.”

Azami believes that by eliminating the meritocracy and replacing the current system with his, Totsuki will be a more just and equal place, and a few low-level plebs can kinda dig it if it means they get to learn how the Elite Ten cook. But a lot of people are unhappy and unwilling to accept this.

Worse still, the banning of all autonomous entities in the school besides Central includes Polar Star Dormitory! I should have known such a warm and fluffy rendition of dorm life experienced by Erina was a bit of a danger flag, and now we see the beloved home and melting pot of the central core of the shows characters is in the crosshairs.

Many, including Souma, intend to challenge these edicts with Shokugekis, but Eizan buys off all the judges, who don’t even eat his challenger’s food before declaring Eizan the winner. It’s meant as a warning: challenge the new system, and you will be expelled.

Rather than break Souma’s spirit, Eizan only draws the redheaded kid’s ire. I’m not sure what Souma’s game plan will be, other than cooking chicken that smells so amazing even bought judges can’t help but eat and judge it, but Eizan has also arranged things so that in the three hours Souma is occupied with cooking in what could be another farce of a shokugeki, a band of delinquents is dispatched to evict Polar Star immediately.

I’m telling you, everything the good guys know and love has been turned on its head. #THISISNOTNORMAL. How in the heck are they going to get out of this awful mess?

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Houseki no Kuni – 06

We meet Yellow Diamond and Zircon as they battle Lunarians. Zircon’s head is cleaved off, but Yellow performs repairs, letting Rutile rest. Yellow is the oldest of the gems, and one of the costs of being the oldest is that you’ve seen the most Gems taken to the moon.

The reason we haven’t met Ruby, Sapphire, Green Diamond or Pink Topaz? They’re all on the moon, and they were all former partners of Yellow. As such, Yellow doesn’t like or feel deserving of the respect and veneration given by the other Gems simply for knowing when to run.

Phos has incredible speed now, but can’t yet control it, leading to an amusing encounter with the also speedy Yellow, who thinks Phos is intentionally running away. Yellow catches Phos without harming them by grabbing the fabric of their robe.

Despite the lack of control, Phos still wants to join the fight against the Lunarians. Master Kongou asks why Phos is hell-bent on participating despite a thorough lack of fighting ability; Phos says out loud what all the other Gems think: Kongou has a special place in Phos’ heart. I believe it’s the first we’ve heard of the Gems loving their master.

Kongou agrees to let Phos join the battle. But as Phos can barely hold the lightest sword in the armory, a pairing with Amethyst is most suitable, since Amethyst is actually two twin Gems—#84 and #33—and they can handle themselves on the battlefield.

What Phos quickly learns is that 90% of patrolling is waiting around, doing nothing, and anticipating. Every little sound or movement in the sky, on the ground, or in the water, spooks Phos, who expects the Lunarians to pop up at any time.

The constant stress levels quickly exhaust Phos, who is sluggish at a most inopportune time: when the Lunarians suddenly pop up. I will never tire of their elaborate entrance from the sky, otherworldly beautiful, ethereal, and deeply unnerving in equal measure.

The Amethyst twins (voiced by Itou Kanae) seem to have things under control…at least initially, springing into action, tossing their sword sheaths and working in tandem to eliminate all of the Lunarian minions before cross-cutting the larger “leader” in the center of the cloud.

But the twins are just a bit cocky, and in showing Phos How It’s Done, they turn their backs on the Lunarians, who break out a new trick: Venus Fly Trap-like jaws with blue crystal teeth that may well be the remnants of the late Sapphire. Since Sapphire is harder than Amethyst, the twins are shattered to pieces.

Only the timely arrival of Bort, Dia, Yellow, and finally Master Kongou—who obliterates the Lunarian cloud with a flick of his hand in an impressive demonstration of his power—saves Phos. We see pieces of Amethyst being collected, so the twins are probably okay, but Bort is furious, and has questions, like why Phos sat by and did nothing, not even running away on those new legs to alert others.

In Phos’ defense, it was their very first battle, freezing up can happen, and even the Twins were caught off-guard by the Lunarian’s new weapon. But regardless, will Phos’ first battle also be the last?

3-gatsu no Lion – 27

As part of repaying his debt he feels he owes her, Rei wants to help Hina in anyway he can, and that means getting a new perspective on the matter of bullying. Hayashida-sensei misunderstands at first. Rei isn’t the one being bullied. Indeed, he proudly proclaims his hard-won and long-standing invisibility at school.

When he brings up Hina, then describes her personality in such great detail and then presents his passion and motivation on the matter (“my duty as a human being” and such) Hayashida starts thinking that there is someone Rei likes. Of course, Rei isn’t thinking that way at all; Hina is not just a dear friend, but close to family, and his lifesaver to boot.

Hayashida gives Rei some good advice, including to tread carefully and not make a big fuss at school, lest it just make things worse for the victim, but to instead listen very intently to her feelings on the matter; how she’d like the matter resolved.

You know Rei is super-serious about this endeavor because he has a back-up plan: if Hina has to change schools or get a private tutor, he means to support her, not just emotionally, but financially. To that end, Hayashida spots a stack of shogi tournaments into which Rei has entered, calculating all of the winnings he’ll amass, which makes him a bit worried.

Despite saying he (literally!) can’t afford to lose again, he does inevitably lose, and is so angry he wrangles an all-to-willing Nikaidou to strenuously train with him. Nikaidou thinks Rei finally has fire in his belly and is utilizing his Best Friend; Rei just wants money to repay Hina!

The next day, Rei helps Akari lug home a whole mess of groceries she got a big sale. When Rei tells Akari his weight, she hurries home to start cooking, and won’t hear of Rei leaving.

There’s something about Rei, perhaps in part his personality; and the experiences he’s had (the loss of loved ones being something they share), that has Kawamotos pour their hearts out at him. Akari feels she can talk to him, and criticizes herself for the job she’s done as surrogate mom to Hina, lamenting she’s “no good.”

Only nineteen herself when their mother died, Akari had barely lived any life before suddenly becoming a mother of two. She did her best, but in hindsight worries she instilled “ham-fisted” ideals into Hina, which led to her predicament with her friend and the bullies.

Akari admired Gramps simply praising Hina’s courage, but she hates the part of herself for wanting Hina to simply run away rather than do something that would cause her to be unhappy or alone. This is, of course, silly; Gramps has lived a long-ass life, of course he’s going to have more wisdom on these kinds of things. Akari is too hard on herself here.

Rei reassures Akari that just as Hina did nothing wrong in fighting the good fight, neither did Akari. After all, Akari raised the girl who saved Rei’s life; that makes Akari his savior too. Had Hina been raised not to be as kind as she is, or to think of herself before others, Rei might not even be there talking to her.

His honest words cheer Akari up, and she fixes a big ‘ol pot of curry for dinner. When Gramps returns from the theme park with Hina and Momo, he complains that Rei is there “again”, but he’s only joking around, and orders him to sit, eat, and stop making him feel like the bad guy.

While stepping back into the house, Hina hands him a cartoon cat phone strap that somewhat resembles him, as thanks for everything he’s done. Hina expects Rei to think it childish, but he tells her he’s moved, and thanks her. It’s such a nice, quiet, warm moment shared between two people who will hopefully be thanking each other for being there for one another for a good long time to come.

Houseki no Kuni – 05

When Phos can’t be found, Kongou musters the entire group to go perform a search. Diamond encourages Cinnabar to assist, but Cinnabar demurs. Meanwhile, Phos, weak and with smashed legs, is fished out of the sea by the Lunarians, who circle Phos like a bunch of ravenous customers at the local buffet.

Ventricosus would like to be on her way with her brother Aculeatus, but the Lunarians alter the deal, and basically tell Ventri to pray they don’t alter it any further. They want more Gems before handing over her brother. These guys are straight-up jerks, but it’s only fair that a betrayer get betrayed. When Ventri protests, they attack her, and Acule awakens and smashes them to bits, showing his admirabilis form (which Phos finds adorable) before taking humanoid form and assisting Ventri.

Acule is ready to continue using Phos as a bargaining chip to free their family members still imprisoned on the moon. But Ventri seeing a literally broken Phos who won’t even offer words of resistance (Phos is exhausted and immobile; why bother?) causes Ventri to have a change of heart.

Phos has forgiven Ventri after the betrayal, and Ventri sees it as an opportunity to not be like the Lunarians. She and her brother escape, and set Phos free. Just as Kongou prepares to send everyone under the sea to search for Phos, Phose washes ashore…right beside Cinnabar.

Phos apologizes for going another day without keeping the promise made to Cinnabar, and promises to try harder tomorrow. For some reason, rather than call out to Kongou and the others, Cinnabar sneaks into HQ and leaves Phos in the infirmary, to be found later by Rutile.

Kongou’s rage is something to behold, as every step he takes creates cracks in the building; all of the Gems scatter for shelter from his wrath. But while he calls Phos an insolent fool with a force that almost causes Phos to shatter, he then catches Phos before that actually happens—a nice moment of compassion from the master.

He’ll have Rutile do whatever can be done to repair Phos, then hear a report tomorrow. He also summarily cancels Phos’ encyclopedia-writing assignment, leaving Phos once more without a job.

Phos washed ashore with two spikes from Acule’s shell, and Rutile notes they contain agate, which is more than twice as hard as Phos’ structure. Rutile manages to craft new legs for Phos, which have a distinctive iridescent black-and-white striped pattern (pretty cool-looking), but upon standing up, Phos finds the legs useless. Phos has also lost a good deal of memories—including those of Jade—as a result of the loss of the original pair of legs.

As the others leave one by one to attend to their other duties (which will be harder to attend to after that exhausting search), Phos laments being worse off than before all of this started and sulks in the grass, but after thinking of Cinnabar (who is in a worse situation than Phos anyway you look at it), Phos suddenly jumps up and finds that not only do the legs work, but Phos is now unbelievably fast.

Perhaps Phos’ latest brush with destruction has now produced a better situation, and those new legs will give Phos new hope of being useful to Cinnabar, Kongou, and the others.

3-gatsu no Lion – 26

As Hina cries in her big sister’s lap, Rei catches us up on the reason for her tears, as well as her missing shoe. It’s a harrowing, all-too familiar and common story: some girls in her class with nothing better to do started bullying her longtime friend Chiho. While everyone ignored it or pretended nothing was happening (even the teacher), Hina, like a Fire Sister, kept talking and eating with Chiho.

Eventually, the bullying got so bad Chiho stopped coming to school, and her mother decided they’d move to where her father works, pulling her out of school. When the girls who started all this make light of that in gym class, Hina pounces on their queen bee in vicious rage, to no avail.

Now Hina is the target of their bullying, and she’s terrified of going back to school and being alone, just as she’s distressed that she couldn’t do anything for Chiho. After scaring Momo with her crying, Hina runs out into the night, and Rei very slowly chases her (what can you say; kid’s not an athlete).

Rei makes no bones about it: Hina is the reason he’s above water; she is his lifesaver; and after gently taking her hand, he promises he’ll always stay with her, no matter what. After all, for all the distress and pain it’s caused her, Hina is quite correct that she did absolutely nothing wrong in trying to defend Chiho. That it was beyond her ability to stop the bullying, or that she’s the new target, does not change that simple fact that she’s a good person.

Fully appreciative of her fragile state and need to not be alone, Rei spends the day with her at the libarary where they look at books, something he’s been doing a long time and the reason he’s so good at shogi at his age.

While she’s looking at Japanese sweets books, Rei is looking for the name of the “ladybug bush” of his dark earlier years: “Silverthorn.” He also finds the scientific name of the Asian Ladybug that populated those bushes, and Hina notices the kanji for that name also means “heavenly path.”

Rei takes her to the bush and places a ladybug on her hand, and it climbs as high as it can before flying off toward the sun, demonstrating why, long ago, people gave the bug that name.

As the beetle flies heavenward, Rei would wish nothing more than to unleash hell upon those who have done this to Hina; but just as she walks the heavenly (i.e. just and rightous) path, he knows so must he. Tearing those bullies limb from limb won’t solve anything, and probably onlu make things worse for Hina.

Evening arrives, and Rei escorts Hina home, where Akari and Momo are waiting for them and invite Rei to join them for a sumptuous dinner consisting of all of Hina’s favorite foods. Their Gramps is there too, and gravely asks Hina to sit down and listen.

Akari told him everything that happened…and he praises her heartily for what she did. He knows from the papers how serious bullying can be, so he has nothing but joy and pride in knowing Hina would go to bat for her friend despite the dangers involved; something most adults wouldn’t do. He echos her own earlier words that she did nothing wrong, and should be proud of herself.

Now, I watched his monologue in a very dusty room, so you can imagine I needed a lot of Kleenex nearby, just as the Kawamoto sisters did. Both Gramps’ words of encouragement and Akari’s meal were things they knew they could do for Hina. Rei wracks his brain over what he can do, but simply being there for her, by her side, and assuring her he’ll never leave it, is already enough.

3-gatsu no Lion – 25

After Matsumoto and Smith mess around with the towering Kumakura’s huge shoes, we see a shogi den settled down for lunch in June…when I guess it’s to hot to eat outside? As he munches on his healthy yet high-class meal, Nikaidou rants about how Rei must get to the finals of the Newcomer Tournament so they can face one another, then proceeds to analyze Rei in a manner that’s far too accurate for Rei’s taste.

When Nikaidou tells him it stands to reason he’d know his deepest depths like no one else, because they’re not just rivals but best friends, Rei, a paragon of stoicism to that point, freaks out and books it out of the room. “Leave him be,” an older player says, “it’s funnier that way.” And to a geezer like him who was one, teenagers are funny, with their needless emotional outbursts and poor organization of priorities.

But what I took out of the first half of “June” is that Hey, Rei is his Nikaidou and Nikaidou is Rei’s. Rei has a friend. Not the only one, either! That fact might embarrass him, but that’s progress, and it took a lot for him to get to that point.

In the second half of “June” we get a welcome cut to the Kawamoto residence, where Grampa makes his first appearance this season (his love of and fawning over Momo will never get old, because let’s face it, Momo deserves all the love). He’s holding a brainstorming session for new sweets after the success of the last one.

When Momo is asked what goes in the water, she first says “duck”, but a duck on top of an agar sweet could easily fall off, while a duck encased in that agar would look like a dead one. Then Momo suggests a sandal, recalling a time she lost one while Akari was walking with her near the water. Gramps instantly declares her a genius and a prodigy.

But there’s something off about this scene: Hinata. She doesn’t say a word, and has her head down as she scribbles into a notebook. At bathtime, Akari finds her sitting alone on the stoop, and when asks what’s wrong, Hina says “nothing” and shows her sister a smile that’s probably forced, because it’s gone again when she’s alone in the bath, looking up at the moon.

So what’s up with Hina? I can guess, considering she’s entering adolescence, but little did I know the next segment would serve as a dark preface to that question’s answer. In the present day Rei notices a plant with the same leaves as a “ladybug bush” he noticed when he was a little kid being teased, bullied, and ostracized at school.

As we know, Rei chose shogi to please his stepfather, willing to endure the hate from the man’s biological children because he had no choice. Now we know to the extent Rei, Shogi Prodigy is not the product of a nature or nurture, but pure, elemental survival.

Rei had no safe haven from the hatred of classmates or stepsiblings. He made himself more invisible and indifferent to prevent escalation at school, but trying to ingratiate himself with his stepparents and not feel like a burden only intensified his siblings’ resentment towards him.

As much as Kyouko’s been humanized in the present, the villainous version reappears in these flashbacks, as someone who couldn’t give a shit Rei’s problems, either the loss of his family or the continued abuse he faces at school. He’s a creepy eyesore to her. No wonder it’s still hard for him to talk to her today!

Shogi wasn’t a dream or aspiration, it was a life raft. Instead of reacting to the horrible things in his life, he buried his nose in shogi books, studied feverishly, and played like his life depended on it, because he thought it did. A perfect and devastating visual is of him desperately treading water in a dark sea, with nothing to cling to but a floating shogi board.

Things are much better for Rei now; he has friends, a surrogate family that loves him unconditionally, and even a place to hang out at school—but though he still carries wounds and scars that may never heal. More importantly to the closing act, a product of his ordeal is that he can spot the warning signs of others enduring the same from a mile away, as he instantly does when Hina enters the room.

She’s missing her left shoe (in a weird, prophetic echo of the shoe Momo suggested for the dessert), the sock is filthy, and her face is a raw mess of tears. For the show to so quickly and concisely reassert all the crap Rei had to go through, only to visit it upon one of the kindlest, gentlest souls in the show in Hina, is almost too much to bear, especially when the episode ends before we’re able to learn the details or see her be comforted.

I guess the details don’t matter; it would seem she’s now going through the same thing Rei did. I can only hope that if she cannot find a solution at school, at least going home won’t just add to her shit sandwich. Unlike Rei, who only had shogi, she has Rei, Akari, Momo, and Gramps. Being a teenager is usually terrible for everyone, but it’s still worse for some than others.

Aho Girl – 12 (Fin)

The final episode of Aho Girl falls on the tenth anniversary of A-kun and Yoshiko meeting when she and her mom moved in next door. Yoshiko sought a playmate, and it was derision at first sight for A-kun, a stoic, studious five-year-old. She treats every attempt to avoid or get away from her as a game, and never wants to stop playing. When she gives him a big long kiss, he uppercuts her into the sky for the first time.

Realizing the key to keeping Yoshiko away is physical superiority, A-kun begins rigorous training, Rocky-style. Alas, he ends up training too hard and passes out. He wakes up with Yoshiko on top of him, she stayed by his side for an entire day while he was out with a cold. He almost allows that she’s “not that bad” until his mom tells him she was kissing him the whole time. To add insult to injury, his punches can’t even faze her!

If fighting her doesn’t work, A-kun considers other options; after all, he can’t let this go on, lest he end up marrying Yoshiko and having idiot kids with her. So he turns into a demented pervert and chases her around, flipping her skirt, until she cries and he feels guilty for going to far. But even here Yoshiko manages to get the wrong idea, and apologizes for making A-kun “hold back”, removing her panties and putting them on his face.

Ten years later, she’s wearing those same panties (which don’t fit her anymore at all), still trying to play with A-kun when all he wasnts is peace and quiet; and after all these years he still wants to kill her. But if he’s honest, isn’t he glad there’s someone in his life to make things interesting? No. He hates her guts. But does he? Yes.

Sagrada Reset – 17

Another week, another dense, intricate Sakurada Reset. Let’s wade in, shall we? First of all, Souma’s second voice message to Kei leads to another incident involving abilities – specifically, an entire supermarket breaks out in laughter, including Kei and Haruki, which is actually pretty momentous considering how subtly the two usually express emotion.

That night, Hitsuchi calls just when Kei is about to call him, asking him for a head shot of Souma Sumire. He also tells Kei about about the Bureau’s current fear of every ability user in Sakurada using their abilities simultaneously.

Kei then remembers what he read in Manuscript 407, which is about the events of 40 years ago when the Bureau was first founded by the only three ability users who were aware of their abilities. Two were a married couple; the husband could “take something” from the entire world at once, and the wife could “retain” something. The third would later be known as the Nameless Witch.

Because of the husband, none of the people in Sakurada know of their abilities, but when he dies, the “spell will be broken”, and there will be chaos. So the Witch proposes they work together to expand the boundary of the wife’s ability (which negates memory loss the husband is causing worldwide), so that when the husband does die, people will know about abilities and they’ll be in a position to keep them under control; thus the Bureau was born.

Back in the present, Hitsuchi eventually sends Kei info on the ability users involved in the last two incidents, then calls Kei to report that after seeing Souma’s photo, he remembered certain things about two years ago. before Souma died, she went to Hitsuchi, who she used to borrow the ability of Tomoki to create voice messages without Tomoki remembering what he did. The messages, then, are from the Souma of the past, before she died.

Traveling with Sakuin, Souma engages with the human lie detector in non-superficial conversation, asking her opinion on the Bureau. Sakuin believes the Bureau’s foundation has started to crumble, even going so far as to call her boss Urachi a “monster” that nothing can be done about. Urachi’s plan is to eliminate information on abilities from the town, which would, after all turn Souma back into a “normal student,” which is her intent.

Despite knowing Urachi’s methods may not be the most moral, Sakuin is of the mind that abilities are “unnecessary,” but as she lacks the means to remove them from the town, she leaves it in Urachi’s hands. As for Kei, all the remembering of information—including the realizaiton Souma may have died for him—has led to him having a rough time; something Haruki can sense when he visits her house.

Why does he visit her house? No, not for a booty call…Souma’s third voice message instructs him to deliver a copy of his favorite book to Haruki. We don’t learn what that book is, nor does Haruki (he left it in her mailbox to look at later), but when Kei opens up about his problems to her, Haruki is heartened. She suggests he rests, but there’s more he needs to do, and Haruki isn’t about to stop him that.

That ‘something more to do’ apparently involves returning to Haruki’s dreamworld, where he finds both Michiru and Chiruchiru “locked” by Urachi’s underling. According to a blue bird Chiruchiru created to tell Kei what happened, the Bureau entered the dream world and locked Michiru, Chiruchiru, and the world’s Souma.

The bird implores Kei to help Michiru escape the lock, and also gives him the name of his “nemesis”, which he hadn’t known was Urachi until just then. It’s a name he knows, because two of the three founders, the husband and wife, had the same name, making Masamune their son.

After his parents basically kicked the abilities can down the road, Masamune is looking for a permanent fix, and seems to be getting closer. It remains to be seen if he’ll succeed, or what succeeding will mean for Kei, Haruki, Souma, and everyone else in Sakurada.

Sagrada Reset – 16

Urachi has a plan. His plan is to wipe out all of the abilities of Sakurada and start everything anew as if the last forty years of people with abilities never happened. In effect, it’s a plan to “fix” something that is not in its natural state. Sakurada should be a normal town, and yet it isn’t, and hasn’t been for four decades. He merely plans to fix that.

Considering it’s the job of our protagonists, or ‘heroes’, Kei and Haruki, to use their abilities to help people and improve lives, Urachi’s plan would seem to be at odds with their reason for being…and yet I can’t regard Urachi as a ‘villain’, no matter how much he may smirk (in his sleep or otherwise).

For if there were no abilities, Kei and Haruki would no longer have the responsibilities that come with them; they could merely carry on as normal humans, as a normal couple, in normal love with each other. What’s so wrong with that?

Nothing, IMO, which is why I won’t be “held hostage” emotionally by this latest four-episode arc, in which Souma believes “everything will end in a few more days.” I’m game for any outcome. I’m along for the ride.

Souma reaches out to Urachi, agreeing to identify herself (though only as the “second witch”) if he halted investigations into her (and Kei) for one month; he agrees. Meanwhile, Kei takes stock of his relationship with Haruki, and concludes that while she has progressed a great deal despite all the resets (they save all the time, after all), he has “stopped”, keeping what they have as a collaboration of ability users.

He is his own worst enemy, so during the cultural festival at school (in which he and Haruki will play lovers on stage despite not really being lovers), he makes a concerted effort to get moving again; to progress, as Haruki has progressed. Meeting her on the rooftop, Haruki is the first to speak, apologizing for the reality that she has come to hate Souma as a rival for his attention, both ability-wise and romantically.

But Kei makes it clear to her that he’d want to be with her even if she didn’t have her ability. I think that’s huge, becaue all signs seem to be pointing to that anyway. It’s not Souma he wants to be with; it’s Haruki. Upon hearing these words, out loud, and not having to worry or create scenarios in her head, Haruki blushes and beams…while Souma stews in a dark bedroom, accusing Haruki of being in a place where she “can’t get hurt” while she, Souma, feels all of that hurt. She’s tired.

After Kei and Haruki save (not wanting to risk resetting their time on the roof), Kei receives a voice message from Souma that Tomoki says he didn’t send, suggesting someone else out there can send such messages. She tells Kei to go to a very specific intersection with Haruki and collect trash.

Souma then meets with Urachi in person, and he brings along not just his lie detecting underling, but another who can “lock things” in time, whether to give them a private instance in which to talk over things, or to prevent his notes from being reset. Urachi’s notes are key, because his ability is “memory cancellation,” making it hard for a precog like Souma to use her ability on him specifically.

However, Urachi and Souma seem to be in agreement that abilities should disappear from the town; and she says she’ll do nothing to impede him. When his lie detector confirms Souma is speaking the truth, he’s satisfied his plan will succeed. Will it actually succeed? Well, we’ll just have to keep watching, won’t we!

The next morning Kei and Haruki do clean up duty and…a very odd sequence of events occurs: A girl trips on the sidewalk, a car backs into another car, causing minor damage and minor injuries to one man…but neither Kei nor Haruki can turn their heads to see the actual accident, almost as if they’re being prevented from doing so by some unknown ability.

Souma is as close to Urachi and his associates as she can be, and his lie detector is always confirming she’s being truthful…but that’s only because Souma didn’t tell Kei anything face-to-face; she relied on a voice messaging ability. She uses it again to instruct Kei to go shopping with Haruki at a certain mall, at a certain time. It’s almost as if she’s lulled Urachi into a sense of supreme confidence…but she’s clearly up to something she’s not telling him.

 

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 12 (Fin)

Its first season shows us the past, and most of its second season showed us the present. This week is all about the future, both of the Yakumo and Sukeroku names, the families connected to them, and of rakugo itself. In all cases, that future looks bright, thanks to the inspiration of those who came before.

First, we have a Shin in his late teens or early twenties, and he’s the spitting image of his grandfather Yakumo, even though they’re not related by blood…or are they? The resemblance is uncanny, Konatsu is committed to taking the truth to the grave, as is her prerogative.

In other news, Konatsu has become the first female rakugo performer in history, which is awesome, because it’s something we know she’s always wanted to do, and she’s also very very good at it (sadly though, we don’t get to see her perform).

Interestingly, it doesn’t seem her and Yotaro’s daughter (and Shin’s little sister) Koyuki is interested in following the path the rest of her family has walked, and is content to listen to them work their craft.

As far as Shin is concerned, Yotaro, now the Ninth Generation Yakumo, is his Dad—he helped raise him, after all. That is very clear in a quiet, private scene between the two. As it’s very possible he carries both the blood of Sukeroku and Yakumo, Shin seems to strike a nice balance between their two extreme styles. And the little boy Shin we’re accustomed to comes out when his dad encourages him before one of the biggest performances of his life.

That performance is part of the grand re-opening of the Uchikutei theater, which had burned down years ago but now has been completely rebuilt (only now, no doubt, is up to code). Seeing the new Yakumo IX on the stage with his wife and son (and Master Mangatsu) is a triumphant moment, and the full crowd suggests Yotaro has succeeded in restoring rakugo from the brink it was dangling from when Yakumo VIII died.

Now it’s a more inclusive, less stodgy, and more welcoming place, without sacrificing the things that made it unique. Even Konatsu realizes she was foolish in her earlier thinking that she’d upset some kind of “harmony” by entering the world of rakugo.

It must be that much more encouraging for Matsuda, the only character to inhabit all three timelines. He’s 95 and wheelchair-bound, but seems as warm and cheerful as ever.

After Shin opens with a very good performance that demonstrates why he will be an excellent Sukeroku and/or Yakumo one day, Yotaro performs “Shinigami”, a Yakumo VIII original, as a tribute. And what do you know, the old man visits him at the climax of his performance, leading me wondering momentarily if Yotaro had been taken to the far shore himself!

Thankfully, Yotaro is fine, and he and his family and friends celebrate after the show with a flower viewing by the riverside. Matsuda mentions how he saw his master to the far shore (apparently during a near-death experience of his own back then), and Higuchi waxes poetic on Yotaro’s contributions to helping prevent rakugo from dying with Yakumo.

Yotaro, however was never concerned that rakugo would go anywhere, with or without his help. It’s too good for that. And I tend to agree: various humans can argue over whether the art of rakugo is something that must be vigilantly protected from disappearing, like tending a delicate fire.

But fires can be rebuilt and reignited, and there will always be those who want to sit in an old theater (or a newly rebuilt theater) and hear someone tell a funny, raunchy, or moving story that will transport them somewhere else. Rakugo is eternal.

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 11

For all the sorrow and tragedy and pain in his life, things turned out pretty well for Yakumo, AKA Bon, and as it turns out, he really did die under ideal circumstances: he died in his sleep, peacefully, painlessly, surrounded by those who loved him, listening to his grandson doing rakugo.

This episode, perhaps the finest in the entire run of the show, takes place entirely in the purgatory-like place the recently deceased go before crossing the Sanzu River to the hereafter. This requires a fare, which, big surprise, Sukeroku hasn’t been able to afford yet.

The show had always teased an interest in depicting a more fantastical world than that of the living, and in this place people can change their age at will, time is kinda hard to put a finger on. Yakumo is initially annoyed that once again Sukeroku is sponging off him, even after death, but once he’s a boy again, he quickly falls back comfortably into the very deep brotherly bond they shared.

The afterlife is suitably lush and otherworldly, but also borrows heavily from traditional Japanese aesthetics, which makes sense considering the characters we’re following. Sukeroku makes sure Yakumo understands how grateful he is for raising Konatsu.

The reunions don’t stop with Sukeroku, as Miyokichi died at the same time. While she’s cast away the “role of a woman”, she and Sukeroku are still a married couple, working together to earn fare across the river. It feels like, from their perspective, they only recently got here, just like Yakumo.

Yakumo wanted more than anything to apologize to Miyokichi for dumping her so heartlessly, but she holds no grudges in this place. In fact, she can now reflect on the mistakes she made in life, namely latching onto one person rather than rely on, and be there for, others. She’s also amused to no end by Yakumo talking like an old man, since he died as one.

The three travel together for a bit along that seemingly endless scaffolding, and Yakumo mentions the food is tasteless and unsatisfying. Sukeroku says it’s because they’re dead, but if he wants to be satisfied, he knows just the place: the very theater that burned down two episodes ago has arrived in the afterlife as well. It had a soul, after all. Even better: it’s a packed house with the biggest billing ever: All the masters of all generations…and Yakumo is on the bottom. He’s gone from grizzled old master to fresh new arrival in this place.

Sukeroku decides to warm the place up with a performance that really does seem to give flavor to the sake, meat, and onions he pretend-drinks and eats (never has his jaunty entrance theme, which Yotaro inherited, sounded better or more significant). “You can’t take this taste with you when you die!” also has new meaning. He’s still got it, in this place, which has gone back to exactly the same as it was in the old days.

There’s also a magic cushion (I’ll allow it) which brings the person from the living world the performer wants to listen the most. In Sukeroku’s case, it’s his daughter Konatsu, who appears the age she was when he and Miyokichi died. For Yakumo, it’s his grandson Shin, about the same age as his mom, and just as enthusiastic to hear Yakumo’s rakugo.

Yakumo takes the stage as his old self, but has never looked happier, beaming at his reunited family and full of energy. In a playful mood, he performs “Jugemu”, and Miyokichi and Shin “sing” along the comically long name. His story continues as the camera leaves the old, drafty, but brightly glowing theater, which slowly fades out of focus.

Yakumo then finds himself in a fine boat, packed and ready for his journey across the Sanzu. Sukeroku sees him off, and Yakumo makes him promise he and Miyokichi will join him soon, once they save up enough for their fare (the one thing he apparently can’t share with his friends, even if he wanted to). That could be a year from now, or it could be yesterday.

While en route, the ferryman reveals himself as Matsuda, who may have followed his master into death after nodding off himself, and he couldn’t be happier to be by his side again, chaffeuring him to the very gates of heaven.

It’s a fitting end to Yakumo’s story, and a achingly gorgeous episode full of joyful and tear-jerking moments, from Miyokichi first seeing Yakumo, to Konatsu hugging her mother, to Yakumo taking the stage one last time and meeting Matsuda on the boat.

The preview indicates the last episode will be an epilogue that jumps forward in time, perhaps to an older Shinnosuke with a red-haired young woman who may be his younger sister. That should be fun, even if it doesn’t come close to approaching the greatness of this, Yakumo’s farewell.

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 10

While there are certainly important stories to be told, the true genius of SGRS is the realism and intensity of the world in which those stories take place. While there was a soapy vibe to Yakumo’s inadvertent arson, this week grounds the even for what it was: something that was likely to happen to the tinderboxy theater sooner or later, regardless of who or what started it.

Even if Yakumo was trying to deal a blow to rakugo by sending the place up, the fact is, the theater is just a thing. You don’t really need it to perform rakugo. All you need is people to perform, people to support those performers, and an audience. And those things can be found anywhere. They’ll be okay…even the kid who worked at the theater to try to get closer to rakugo.

When we see Yakumo in the hospital, Shin and Matsuda are crying by his side, but Konatsu is sitting off at a distance, with a look that conveys both suspicion (both she and Yota had to stop him from jumping off a bridge, after all) and uneasiness.

As much as she has always hated her adoptive father for killing her birth parents, the window for hashing things out with him once and for all is quickly closing. Sooner or later Yakumo, like the theater, is going to go up-either by his own hand or by nature.

Still, even as Yakumo lies there in bed with a hell of a face burn, we know that when it came down to it, he’s terrified and not at all interested in dying. He’s not ready to leave the family he’s made, which we learn is about to get larger: Konatsu is pregnant again, and this time it’s Yota’s.

Since Yota is always calling Konatsu “nee-san”, its easy to forget that these two are married, let alone sleeping together. But I loved the way Konatsu drops the news—by mentioning how she craves sweet things when she’s expecting. I also loved Yota’s total obliviousness until she actually spells it out for him too.

You can feel the love and joy in this little scene. The RABUJOI, if you will ;)

As for her scene with Yakumo, it’s steeped in a combination of loathing and tenderness. It’s not the same love that she has for Yota at all, but it’s still love, and arguably a deeper one. As she helps him into the sun and combs his hair, he tells her how his mind wanders to things he never thought about when rakugo was his life, like how he never planted a cherry tree in his garden, or all he missed out on for rakugo.

Konatsu doesn’t let the opportunity to ask him why he never followed her parents to the grave, and there’s no need for any more pretense: Yakumo was too busy raising her to think about killing himself, and in any case, being a parent has a way of simultaneously overwhelming and soothing you. Raising Konatsu kept his regret at bay, and made it possible to live as long as he did.

Upon hearing all this, Konatsu softens, her eyes well up, and she does something it’s probably been very hard for her to consider doing: thank Yakumo, for not abandoning her.

Of course, she’s very welcome, and doesn’t even have to thank Yakumo, since she did as much for him as he did for her by being in his life. It’s a marvelously executed and acted scene; the epitome of bittersweet-ness.

Then Yota comes on the radio, Shin pops out of the bushes and recites the story Yota is telling (while tossing sakura petals in the air), Konatsu asks Yakumo if she can be his apprentice, and he says “yes” without any pushback whatsoever.

Yota and Shin’s story is accompanied by a montage of imagery that matches their words, though that imagery is coming not from the imaginations of the listeners, but in the city and world living and breathing around them during a warm, pleasant sunset. It looks like a moment of almost perfect contentment for Yakumo…

Which also makes it the perfect time to leave that world, if he was going to do so. When petals on the floor are suddenly picked up by a sudden wind and dipped into darkness, Yakumo wakes up on the planks of zig-zagging, seemingly endless boardwalk flanked on either side by countless candles. Sukeroku greets him, and this time welcomes him to the land of the dead.

Tellingly, Sukeroku doesn’t tell him he’s not yet supposed to be there. So is this it for Yakumo? Did that perfect moment signal his exit from the living world? Did he agree to train Konatsu to avoid stirring rancor so close to his end?

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 09

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When his former big boss goes away for six years’ hard labor, Yotaro has a notion to do a prison show, which is incidentally how he first heard his master. Yakumo performed “Shinigami” at that show, because he liked the chilly, somewhat hostile atmosphere.

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This time, Yakumo performs “Tachikiri”, and he moves many inmates and guards alike with the sad tale of a geisha who died because the letters from her lover stopped due to incarceration.

Of course, after last week’s outburst, part of me was weary of Yakumo being interrupted once again, perhaps this time by an unruly convict. That doesn’t happen, but the sound of Konatsu’s shamisen and voice remind Yakumo of Miyokichi, and she haunts his own visuals of the story.

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After Yakumo tries to see Yotaro’s big “Inokori” show, but leaves because it just…isn’t very good to him (no matter how entertained the crowd is), the old master clears out the old theater and performs “Shinigami” alone by candlelight, in the creepiest scene in the show since he saw those rows of candles after his collapse.

When he completes his tale, one person claps, or rather, one ghost: Sukeroku himself. It isn’t long before his youthful, vital form gives way to the skeleton, revealing a real shinigami has come for Yakumo, and he may get his wish: to die doing rakugo. “Sukeroku” compels Yakumo to toss a candle into the seats, and the whole theater goes up like a tinderbox.

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This would certainly be the end of Yakumo if it weren’t for Yotaro and good timing, who just happens to come by the theater after his performance. Upon the burning stage, with a death god pressing him down, Yakumo admits he doesn’t want to die, and Yotaro stretches to reach his master’s hand and pull him out of the inferno.

Yakumo may not succeed in “taking rakugo with him” when he dies, but he did manage to claim a theater rich in rakugo history in an attempt. What else will he destroy, whether he wants to or not, prior to exiting the stage for good?

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