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.

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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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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 08

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After a taste of Kyoto-style rakugo (which has a lot more props than Tokyo style…not sure I like it) courtesy of Mangetsu, who is trying to make a comeback after ten years out of the game, We see a frail and withered Yakumo showing his grandson one of Sukeroku’s albums.

Higuchi and Matsuda then come in to show Yakumo the veritable bonanza of recordings and memorabilia the professor has collected over the years. Higuchi leaves it up to Yakumo whether the recordings and such were ever to be released to the public, or destroyed. Yakky says he’ll think about it.

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In a really, really lovely scene, we see the happy couple of Yotaro and Konatsu relaxing on a warm night, and Konatsu rests her head on Yotaro’s broad back and asks him to perform some rakugo, and is no doubt soothed by the vibration of Yotaro’s voice as he does so. It’s personal rakugo; not for a crowd, but for someone close.

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Yotaro can’t get far in his story before the couple notices Yakumo walking onto the nearby bridge; he feigns a desire to get out and about and a bout of sickness, but Konatsu knows what he’s up to: he was trying to off himself, something she won’t allow until he “atones.”

Or at least, that’s how she chooses to label her love for the man who brought her in when she lost both her parents and raised her into the fine woman she is. Yakumo concedes that fate may not be ready to let him die.

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Yakumo visits Kido Isao, an old friend and who owes him a “debt that can’t be paid”, knows how to keep quiet, and longs to hear Yakumo perform again. Then, one night, after seeing a play with Matsuda, Yakumo finds himself the victim of his loyal servant and family’s machinations.

To wit: he’s being forced into a performance before a small, select audience of old friends, colleagues, and patrons. When he threatens to leave, the lady of the Yanashima Inn “insists” by hilariously shoving him onto the stage.

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But before Yakumo has to perform, he yields that stage to his “dunce” of a student, who performs “Shibahama” to his master’s shock. When asked how he learned it, Yotaro confesses to having watched the film, though doesn’t go so far as to hear the truth of what happened at that inn so many years ago.

As for his “Shibahama”, Sokuroku’s was, in my opinion, far superior. But to Yotaro’s credit, he uses his tendency to weep easily well here.

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When it’s finally Yakumo’s turn, he introduces himself with an air of “whelp, I guess I can’t rest easy yet, so despite my dry tongue here goes”…only to be rudely interrupted by a police raid that has come to arrest Kido Isao. Have those coppers no decency?! 

One also wonders if, like when his suicide was thwarted by the sudden appearance of Yotaro and Konatsu, if there’s something to the fact that he was so harshly silenced just when he was about to do rakugo again.

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 07

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It’s Autumn, and getting chilly, but Yakumo goes out to sit amongst the gingko trees on hospital grounds in thin robes. Konatsu finds him and wraps him in a scarf. He’s in a dark place. When he first collapsed, he thought he wouldn’t “have” to do rakugo anymore.

Now that he’s returned from that hall of candles and from his encounter with Sukeroku…wherever he was, he feels he’s lost both the voice and the desire to ever take the stage again. Konatsu, who still blames him for her father’s death, calls it karmic retribution.

The deep-seated bitterness remains. Yet if anything, Konatsu is even bitterer to see the ultimate antagonist in her life brought so low.

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Konatsu and Yakumo’s meeting among the Gingkos, and the tragic past that binds them, is re-investigated and all but rewritten this week, as Higuchi invites Yotaro and Matsuda to join him in the countryside where everything ended and began: the hot spring inn where Sukeroku and Miyokichi Yurie died.

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It’s where Higuchi, only a boy and accompanying his father, an inn regular, first met (and pretty much fell for) Miyokichi. A few years later he encountered her in Tokyo, and she’d only grown more beautiful and refined.

When Higuchi heard the way she spoke the name Kikuhiko, he had to see what kind of man could snatch this gorgeous woman’s heart. When he went to see the future Yakumo perform, he found himself in awe like many others, and asked if he could be a rakugo apprentice.

Obviously, Kiku refused, and now we know that young man from episode 10 of last season was Higuchi, who since then has immersed himself in rakugo, not as a performer, but a student, and may just be positioned to help steer its future with Yotaro.

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But this episode is concerned mostly with the past, specifically the last days of Sukeroku. Yotaro obviously wasn’t there, but Matsuda was, and throughout the episode Matsuda is overcome with nostalgia for the barely-changed place.

More to the point, Higuchi has brought them here to view film reels of Kiku and Shin’s performances, which despite their degraded quality put everyone right back in that state of awe. The Kiku in the film is younger than Yotaro, and yet he’s so much better, and more to the point, seems so much happier to be performing rakugo. All Yotaro needs to do is close his eyes, and he sees the young master in color, performing all the roles within the world of his story.

Then the innkeeper loads the reel of Shin performing “Shibahama”, the story of the wife’s lie that made her husband’s life better, and there isn’t a dry eye in the darkened room, including my own. It’s a story told and performed so well that it simply gets me every time. And Yotaro can tell how happy Shin was.

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After that, they go to the graves of Sukeroku and Miyokichi, whose happiness—and ultimately lives—Higuchi said were destroyed by Yakumo. But Matsuda knows the truth of what happened that night, and it isn’t the story Yakumo told Yotaro last season. Likely because it was such a good and well-told story, I never questioned whether Yakumo was a reliable narrator.

But overcome by all the memories the town, inn, and film reels surfaced in him, and the sun not only setting on the day, but on his and Yakumo’s lives, Matsuda reveals all: Miyokichi stabbed Shin. Kiku was holding him and got covered in his blood when Matsuda and Konatsu came in, and Konatsu then tried to push her mother out the window. Shin grabbed Miyokichi and the two fell to their deaths, while Kiku held Konatsu back.

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That misleading image—of Kiku holding her father, the two stained in blood, and Kiku wearing a fiercely hostile expression—is pretty much all Konatsu remembers of the ordeal; her memory is hazy from passing out from the shock of the events she witnessed. But it’s an image that still haunts her to this very day, as she smokes alone in her jammies when Yotaro returns home.

When she looks up at him, wondering why he was out late, she sees the tears in the big guy’s face (not an uncommon occurrence) and assumes Yakumo must have done that to him. He did, but not directly. Those are the tears of someone who has heard the truth and come across someone who still doesn’t, and has gone through a lot of pain because of it.

He doesn’t relay to Konatsu what he’s learned on this night. Instead he embraces her…while she keeps smoking. But I imagine the truth will come out at some point, as Matsuda begged Yotaro and Higuchi not to let the master leave the world believing rakugo will die with him.

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Macross Delta – 25

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The predictable patterns of Macross Delta continue into the penultimate episode, where the action and daring of last week transitions into a relatively quiet, exposition-filled outing (well, quiet until the ending).

Berger Stone shows up again and again launches into a wordy infodump that includes references to other Macross shows. The Windermereans (mostly blindly) rally around Lloyd, including King Heinz, who shows his knights how little time he has left.

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Stone basically lays out that if Lloyd uses the Star Singer to create an interconnected humanoid network, it will be very bad, but we already knew that. When Freyja hides her bandaged hand, she hides it way too obviously to not be noticed by Mirage and Hayate. Walkure is wounded and scattered, but Kaname intends to step up to the plate, and if she has to go down, she’ll be going down swinging for the fences.

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Mirage once again gives way so that Hayate can hang out with Freyja. Though Freyja is literally marked for death, the events of the final episode will be instrumental in confirming whether her hand crystal will kill her, or if the limited age of Windermereans will continue to be a problem.

The show takes the effort to bring Hayate and Freyja closer together by revealing that his Dad once visited Windermere and gave lil’ Freyja the little device she still carries with her, and ends with the classic Macross theme “Do You Remember Love?”, once sung by Lyn Minmey and other singers.

But it’s telling that it’s Freyja’s laugh, not her song, that helps ease his heart. After all, Stone just told everyone songs are a weapon.

 

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Not just a weapon, but the weapon. After some peaceful space credits, the episode upshifts, raising the stakes for the endgame, as the giant NUNS fleet I initially thought Chaos would have to somehow stop, falls under the spell of Mikumo’s Song of the Stars (sung under duress/hypnosis).

Thus brainwashed, the captains and crew of the ships activate the dimensional weapons in their weapons bays, utterly destroying the fleet in a matter of moments. Thousands of souls cry out, and Lloyd looks on approvingly, apparently that much closer to his ultimate goal of galactic domination.

The remnants of Walkure, and Chaos’ handful of ships and fighters now seem hopelessly outmatched against the terrifying might of Lloyd’s newest and most powerful weapon: their friend and comrade.

We’ll see if and how they manage to defeat him, and who will join their cause, and who among those we’ve come to know will be sacrificed in the name of galactic peace.

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ReLIFE – 05

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Last week’s cliffhanger portended a rough road ahead for all parties involved, and a galaxy of possibilities in terms of if, and how, the conflicts would be resolved. But judging from the first four episodes, I was confident ReLife would resolve everything relatively quickly, but in the most narratively and emotionally satisfying way. The right way: no shortcuts, no lies, and no running away.

As it turns out, both Kaizaki and Kariu were knocked out by their fall down the stairs, so there was no immediate confrontation between them and Hishino. Instead, Kaizaki wakes up in the infirmary. Hoshino and her bag are gone, so the mystery of where she went and how she feels about what she saw is always hanging in the background, adding tension to an already tense scene.

Before Kariu comes to, Kaizaki pieces together what happened, and he remembers back when he was training at his job. When the woman training him started out-performing the men, they turned on her and started working to knock her down, sullying all the hard work they’d done to get to where they are.

Kaizaki remembers his trainer saying she wasn’t mad, but sad that they had given up trying to fight fair. Now we know one reason Kaizaki quit his job; rivals had twisted into vindictive enemies. It happens all the time.

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Kaizaki knows this, because he’s 27. He’s lived ten years more life than Kariu or any of his other classmates. And so, without even thinking, when Kariu comes to he lectures her the way a 27-year-old would lecture a 17-year-old.

His own baggage comes into play, as he makes the connection between what the “filthy adults” stooped to at his workplace and what Kariu is doing; telling her he’s not mad, but “very, very sad”, and that she’s too young to be acting like this. Kariu blows up at him, caling him too self-righteous and too self-assured, considering they’re the same age. But much of what he said still hit home, even if it was delivered with a bit too much, shall we say, adult authority.

Kaizaki tells her what she’s overlooked: sure, she hasn’t been able to beat Hishiro or Honoka, but she’s still bettered herself. Her hard work wasn’t for nothing, and she shouldn’t give up. Not only that, she has the wrong idea about Hishiro, because they’ve barely ever spoken. Kaizaki delivers this advice knowing full well he himself gave up, but like both Hishiro and Kariu, he’s trying to change. And he is!

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That wonderful exchange (with more baller work from Tomatsu Haruka) would be about all we could reasonably expect from a good episode…but this is a great episode, which means Hishiro is waiting at the gate when Kaizaki, and later Kariu, leave the infirmary.

Kaizaki initially lies about Kariu taking the bag because it was “dangerous to have it in the hall”, but changes his mind and tells the truth, remembering Yoake telling him not to clear all the thorns. Hishiro reacts as one would expect: with calm, cool logic. She doesn’t know the right answer, so she’ll ask Kariu upfront. (There’s also the matter of her heart panging when she saw Kaizaki hugging Kariu, but she wisely tables that issue for now).

Kaizaki may be hiding in the bushes to watch how it goes (with Yoake), but both of them stay out of it when Kariu comes out and sees Hishiro. Kariu doesn’t run, nor does she try to lie and say she doesn’t hate Hishiro, because at the moment, she kinda does.

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The source of that hate had been cultivated each time Hishiro flashed her one of her scary mocking smiles, so when Hishiro assures her she never meant to mock her, and Kariu talkes Kaizaki’s advice and asks her to smile on demand, it dawns on her that she misunderstood; Hishiro is simply very socially awkward.

It was Kariu’s own issues with her than caused her to interpret it as mocking. Also, well, it really does look like she’s mocking her, but hey, that’s why you talk things out with people!

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When Hishiro tells her all those smiles were meant to help them become friends, Kariu lets out a hearty laugh; part in relief, part in amazement. She also realizes Hishiro wasn’t ignoring her handshake, and when Hishiro puts out her hand this time, Kariu takes it and agrees to be friends…as long as it’s clear they’re also academic rivals.

That’s fine with Hishiro, who is so happy to have made a new friend, she smiles for real, surprising and dazzling Kariu in the process.

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So, all’s well that ends well in the Kariu/Hishino Conflict! The operative word there being end, as the show had the guts to lay all the cards on the table and hash everything out in this one episode. Dragging out the misunderstanding would have only kept us from what are sure to be other great stories involving, say An.

I really enjoyed Kaizaki and Yoake celebrating like adults with beer and cigarettes, as Kaizaki gets a thank you from Kariu for ratting her out to Hishiro, realizing it was in her best interest. Kaizaki still isn’t sure he didn’t spare her the ugly truth about life, the truth he saw firsthand and drove him from the workplace.

But Yoake assures him he didn’t lie, either. There’s a happy median between blatant sugarcoating and outright nihilism. And even though Kariu won’t remember Kaizaki in a year, she’ll remember what he said to her if and when she runs into the same obstacles he did later in life. The episode closes with a triumphant shot of Kari sitting with Hishiro at lunch, the rest of the group happy and relieved. On to the next high school crisis!

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ReLIFE – 04

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ReLIFE takes things to the next level by delving deeper than ever before into a character other than Kaizaki, namely Kariu Rena. We’ve been able to infer since we met her that she considered her silver pin more than just a mark of status, with all of its perks and privileges, but a symbol that she was “good enough” to stand beside Oga.

It’s the kind of subject no one dare even bring up in her presence, but we’re privy to it because we’re in her head. She can’t hide how she feels there. But now Hishiro has the silver pin, and Hishiro is beside Oga and calling him “Kazu-kun,” while casting sneering, haughty, and/or victorious smirks at Kariu, as if to rub salt in the wound.

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Obviously, it’s not Hishiro’s intent to antagonize Kariu—quite the contrary; she thinks she’s on the cusp of starting a friendship with her—but all that matters is how Kariu is interpreting Hishiro’s faces and overall behavior, and because Hishiro isn’t aware she’s doing any harm, she can’t stop the vicious cycle that builds and builds like a knot in Kariu’s stomach.

It’s not just Hishiro, either: Kariu would at least have a release valve in athletic greatness, but her friend Honoka beats her on the volleyball court as easily as Hishiro beats her in test scores. To make matters worse, it doesn’t seem like either girl exerted the slightest effort to best Kariu. They just did it.

When Oga, who is totally tone-deaf when it comes to matters of the heart, tries to invite Hoshino to eat with them, Kaizaki and An read the room and realize what a bad idea that is, since Kariu is right there, already staring daggers into Hoshino.

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While Kaizaki handled that lunch situation about as well as he could, it doesn’t change the fundamental problem of Hishiro not wanting to be a loner but still eating totally alone. Kaizaki has to balance his desire to help Hishiro live a happier high school life while trying to stave off all-out war between Kariu and Hishiro.

All this is to say that Kaizaki cares. These “kids” he shares his life with day to day have become important to him; and thus his life starts to revolve around them. Yoake advises caution—sometimes kids need to fall and feel pain sometimes so they learn something—but welcomes Kaizaki’s newfound concern for his fellow man, something he didn’t really have as a NEET.

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But all of Kaizaki’s progress is put into jeopardy when the tinderbox that is Kariu finally catches. In a moment when Hishiro is simply trying to reach out to her, Kariu storms off, but immediately afterwards sees Hishiro with Oga again, and wonders if she smiles at him like she smiles at Kaizaki.

Kariu’s frustration builds late at night while practicing in the gym, after Honoka leaves with her childhood friends and there’s no one around but herself and her thoughts. When she returns the gym key and finds Hishiro’s bag outside the lounge, she decides to steal it, just to try to get back some semblance of control; to, for once, hurt Hishiro, rather than the other way ’round.

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Her caper doesn’t go so well, because Kaizaki happens to cross paths with her on the way to dropping off the study room key. Kariu tries to lie, but Kaizaki sees and recognizes Hishiro’s bag; the jig is up. Kariu tries to run, Kaizaki tries to stop her, and Kariu starts to fall down the stairs…

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Just when I thought some weird looks from Hishiro were going to end up landing Kariu in the hospital or worse, Kaizaki puts his creaky old body on the line and makes a shoestring catch, only to end up falling with her the rest of the way.

Hishiro hears the crash and goes to investigate, and finds Kaizaki and Kariu huddled together on the bottom of the steps, with her bag in Kariu’s arm. Roll Credits.

While I’d like to think Kaizaki can call a time out and explain all of this, the fact of the matter is, the most logical explanation for what Hishiro sees is that Kaizaki and Kairu conspired to steal her bag together, which means they’ve got it out for her, which means Kaizaki never wanted to be her friend, putting all of his interactions with her in a new light. Hishiro is a bright kid but inexperienced in social skills, and may well believe the worst.

I still hope they can sort it out somehow, but it doesn’t look good. What started out as a sight gag (Hishiro’s funny faces) has turned quite dark and serious. But hey, I’m not complaining: this is some damn good high school drama, de-aging pill or no. Kariu’s seiyu Tomatsu Haruka deserves particular praise for her sympathetic performance.

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ReLIFE – 03

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Kaizaki may be Yoake’s project, but Kaizaki has made Hishiro his, with entertaining results. Her manner of returning 1,000 yen to him is nothing short of inspired, while her attempts to smile at Kariu end up giving the redhead the mistaken impression that Hishiro is looking down on her (figuratively).

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The growing disconnect between Hishiro’s intentions and Kariu’s interpretations ends up being the primary driving force for an episode that’s otherwise pretty light. It goes without saying that despite his youthful looks, Kaizaki’s body is still every bit 27 years old, and his lack of warming up for a ball throw results in a paltry one-meter toss and lots of shoulder pain.

We also meet the childhood friend trio of Tamarai (Kariu’s athletic rival, but also friend), Inukai, and Asaji.

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When trying to be friendly with Kariu, Hishiro only manages to add fuel to the fire that she somehow has it out for Kariu, not remembering her name and failing to shake hands properly, along with that creepy smile that is the envy of anime villains everywhere.

Kaizaki actually gets off to a great start in the 50m dash, but trips and falls hard, prompting health rep Asaji to princess carry him to the nurse; a demoralizing new low for Kaizaki, but thankfully school isn’t all about sports!

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Things look up when Kaizaki learns Hishiro shares his route to school. When they arrive together, Kariu spots Hishiro smiling naturally (because she’s not consciously trying to smile), confirming her belief Hishiro is the type of girl who is mean to other girls but nice to the guys.

All the while, Kaizaki seems resigned to the fact no one will remember him in a year, so it’s not like he’s trying to start a romance with anyone. At home during his log entry, Yoake is glad Kaizaki is making faster progress than “Sample 001” in his first month of his ReLIFE.

At the moment, Yoake is more concerned about the cumulative emotional damage being done to Kariu, for which Kaizaki is indirectly responsible via his suggesting Hishiro smile more. Judging from those dead eyes, it doesn’t look like Kariu’s going to put up with Hishiro’s faces much longer.

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