Dororo – 21 – Dororo Has a Bad Feeling About This

The title of this post says it all: Dororo has stayed alive as long as he has for two reasons: She’s pretended to be a he, and he’s had very good instincts for danger. Sure, he’s gotten himself into innumerable tough spots, but has had the luck to slip out of them, thanks to Hyakkimaru, Biwamaru, and other allies along the way.

So when Dororo says he has a bad feeling about heading to Daigo, Hyakkimaru should use those new ears of his and listen. He doesn’t, and grave misfortune follows, just as Daigo is dealing with the worst misfortune since before he made his demon pact. As epidemics and blights plague his lands, Asakura has fielded a 2,000-strong invasion army, far larger than anything he can muster.

As such, what few troops he has left are forced to recruit any able-bodied men and boys from the healthy villages (leaving too much work for the women and children, which will have serious consequences) and burning the infected villages and shooting anyone who tries to escape. It’s time for desperate measures all around, and not a place Hyakkimaru and Dororo should go anywhere near.

Short-handed as he is, Lord Daigo cannot refuse his son’s demand to hunt down Hyakkimaru with no one but Mutsu and Hyougou—there’s no talking Tahoumaru down—but still assigns his “fixer” to follow them. Speaking from experience when their village was raided, their parents slain in front of them, and taken captive by samurai, Mutsu and Hyougou voice their extreme dislike of war in all its forms. More distressingly, Mutsu’s malady is worsening, and can no longer be hidden.

Hyakkimaru and Tahoumaru’s mother also laments that despite being the wife of a great lord, she is helpless to stop the path of destruction upon which both of her sons have set themselves. Nothing Dororo says can convince Hyakkimaru to reconsider his quest to get all of his body back, not matter how much death and destruction it might cost; not matter how much it might change him into someone Dororo can no longer walk beside.

Hyakkimaru counters by saying he wants to see Dororo with his own eyes and touch him with his own hands, but in the grand scheme of human suffering, it doesn’t seem enough to justify his actions, no matter how unjustly he was treated.

Those looking for two-dimensional heroes or villains will find none in this episode. People may be fighting for or against Hyakkimaru’s interests, but everyone has good motives for doing so. In Mutsu and Hyougou’s case, their loyalty to Lord Daigo and Tahoumaru in particular is the consequence of Lord Daigo having saved them from both from a fate worse than death: to starve as captives among corpses.

I couldn’t help but cheer when Daigo entered that pit of hell and dragged the feral, mangy kids out of there. Yes, he put them to work as Tahoumaru’s official friends and protectors, which might not have been their choice, but theirs are still infinitely better (and longer) lives than they’d have lived had Daigo not saved them. Both have long since made peace with the fact that they won’t always like the orders their lord gives them, or the choices their young master makes, but their loyalty is absolute all the same.

So Mutsu and Hyougou join Tahoumaru in their latest confrontation of Hyakkimaru, as their master’s right and left hands. In a bout of sickening irony, those are the same hands Hyakkimaru chops off of the two of them, now more powerful and enraged than ever. It is Tahoumaru who has to save his own bodyguards from his wrath, and receives a nasty gash on his brow for his trouble.

What I couldn’t stop thinking about thorughout Tahoumaru’s efforts to rid the world of his older brother is that how does he know killing him will solve anything? The demon pact was broken, full stop. Those parts of Hyakkimaru they took were taken from a living baby; killing him won’t necessarily automatically return those parts to them. All of Tahoumaru’s rage and single-mindedness on his destruciton, and it may not end up making any difference. His father’s lands may simply be doomed regardless.


Things look bad for Tahoumaru, but we were never meant to forget about Lord Daigo’s fixer, who arrives on the back of a prized white horse named Midoro stolen from one of the villages and pressed into military service. What does the fixer do with this splendid horse? He blows it up in a cynically efficienty attempt to kill Hyakkimaru.

Yet even this fixer is not an evil man. He’s obeying his lord’s orders, protecting his lord’s son, and defending his lord’s domain and its people the only way he knows how.

Even if it means using Dororo as a hostage, something the maimed Mutsu and Hyougou strongly protest (no doubt because the child reminds them of themselves—and of history repeating itself—neither of them have an alternative for dealing with Hyakkimaru, who is still alive at the bottom of a gorge.

About that gorge: it is filled with the corpses of samurai and their armor, as well as the parts of poor Midoro the horse, all of which undergoes some kind of demonic transformation down there. Like Dororo said: he had a bad feeling about this. Maybe next time someone will listen…if there is a next time.

One parting nitpick: the quality of the horses this week is iffy at best, suggesting limited skill and experience rendering them on the part of the animators. Considering the importance of one particular horse, that was a rather distracting shortcoming, though not a deal-breaker.

Advertisements

Dororo – 20 – Red Autumn

Even with its often subdued, earthy palette, Dororo is a looker of a show, its gorgeous, painterly and serene natural environments forming a backdrop for all the grittier, brutish human-on-demon (or human-on-human) interactions. When the autumn season arrives, it provides a burst of colorful splendor that further elevates the setting.

Of course, Dororo points out that red is also the color of demons for Hyakkimaru. The vivid foliage is foreshadowing for the carnage to come, as the two meet a ronin who is hunting a demon who killed his ma. The fall also represents the beginning of the end of prosperity for Daigo and Tahoumaru’s lands.

When our duo meets the beast—a nue or chimera—we learn the ronin is actually helping it by serving up victims, since when others are dying it helps him forget about the gaping void in his heart after the loss of his mother. It’s just that the victims aren’t usually as tough as Hyakkimaru, who only doesn’t defeat the beast because he and Dororo take a spill of a crrumbling stone cliff.

As Daigo ponders his next move now that the deal with the demons seems to be off (remembering his wife mention the one demon who didn’t claim a part of their son’s body), Dororo wakes up from the fall with his arm trapped under rocks, and my thoughts immediately went to the grisly resolution in 127 Hours.

Worse, the spot where he’s stuck is riverbed, and the water starts to rise. Hyakkimaru can’t get any leverage on the rocks with his false arms, and as Dororo’s head slips below the waterline, Hyakkimaru resorts to slamming his head against it in desperation, screaming in desperation. It’s a sickening scenario, even if we know Dororo will somehow survive it.

That’s thanks to Biwamaru, whose continued following of the duo seems to indicate he still has a role to play with regard to Hyakkimaru. Biwa rescues Dororo, but Hyakkimaru is devastated by the fact that Dororo would have died had Biwa not been there, all because Hyakkimaru’s arms were stolen by demons.

He rushes to the nue to take back what’s his, and as the ronin watches him fight we see the truth of his story with his ma: he sought the nue out to defeat it and prove his worth both to his ma and his village. But things went south, and when the nue grabbed his ma, his ma grabbed him.

In a panic, the ronin cut his own mother’s arm off so he could flee. After that, the village ostracized him, but he ended up filling that hole in his chest by either killing them or feeding them one by one to the monster. As he watches Hyakkimaru fight, he sees the samurai he had hoped to be.

Realizing it’s too late for that, or anything else, he offers himself to the nue, which proceeds to heal the face Hyakki maimed and then sprouts wings.

By the time Dororo catches up, the sun is low, turning the surroundings suitably, intensely red. He sees the aftermath of Dororo’s vicious battle with the nue, walking past various parts of the monster sitting in pools of blood. Before Hyakkimaru kills what’s left of him, it dawns on the ronin why this man doesn’t have any fear: because he’s not entirely human.

Hyakkimaru finishes him off, but receives no new body parts in return, leading him to fume and hack at the monster’s body as Dororo tries to calm him down before he goes too far and loses himself. But Hyakkimaru believes he’ll always be lost as long as the demons have the rest of his body.

So he’s heading to the source of it all: back to Daigo, once again opening up the moral can-of-worms in which he is both justified in taking back what was taken, and Daigo is justified in wanting to stave off the destruction of his people.

Surely another clash with Tahoumaru and his retainers is imminent, all with little Dororo in the middle, doing what he can to keep his bro a human with whom he can walk through the gorgeous autumn woods, and who can live with himself and his actions.

Sagrada Reset – 23

Kei is in the back of a Toyota Harrier with Urachi, with Tsushima driving and Tomoki riding shotgun; Ukawa, Murase, Sakagami and Oka Eri (I’ll say her whole name since everyone in the show always does) escape by bike (and Ukawa turning the road into a slot car track). Haruki is still at the Karaoke parlor with Sakuin and Kagaya, apparently outnumbered…but it’s all part of the plan.

I hope you don’t mind the calm, measured voice of Ishikawa Kaito, because you get a lot of it in this episode, and that’s saying something. He has an adversary with the opposite position to try to convince to his side, after all.

Kei is as persistent as he is righteous, laying out all of the alternative options to simply wiping out abilities, using the abilities of others to lighten the burden of his two “locked” parents—even transferring his father’s ability to a cat.

At the end of Kei’s spiel, Urachi is still not convinced, and Kei isn’t surprised…because Urachi isn’t the one he was trying to convince: it’s Kagaya, back at the parlor with Haruki, who heard the whole debate through Tomoki.

In light of everything that was said, Kagaya chooses to support Kei. Just like that, Urachi loses a vital team member of his crusade. He can no longer realistically carry out his plan without Kagaya’s support, so he essentially surrenders to Kei, handing him his notebook.

As for what occurs at the very end, with Souma passing thorough the boundaries of Sakurada in a train, suddenly having all her memories rush back, and lamenting that she’s “certain nothing was even” for Kei? Your guess is as good as mine. It would seem Urachi has been quite suddenly removed as an opponent, but perhaps the events of this episode were the easy part of Kei’s plan, with the true challenge coming in the finale.

Kamisama Hajimemashita 2 – 12 (Fin)

kk2121

Kami-Haji wastes no time piling on the adorableness in its final episode. Lil’ Nanami is button cute, just the kind of person you want to hold and squeeze and protect for all time. But we learn along with Tomoe that that cuteness is tempered by a steely resolve to look out for herself and be wary of men; advice given by her mother, who herself could not escape a life of bad luck with a crappy excuse for a man. We also learn that the women in her family only ever bear more women, all of them beautiful.

kk2122

Tomoe is positively transfixed by this educational foray into Nanami’s past, and even though Mizuki tries on numerous occasions to nudge him to put an end to it, Tomoe watches on, even as things go from bad (Nanami’s mother dying, as expected) to worse (Nanami living with her awful dad, who does nothing but goof off and burn their house down). The things that happen to Nanami are almost comically cruel, but for all the slapstick mixed in with the narrative, the episode never makes light of her plight.

kk2123

It also makes it clear these are the experiences that made Nanami the young woman she is today, and that something great and beautiful can come out of all that suffering and hardship. With that, Mizuki again confronts the lil’ Nanami to try to coax her back to the present, and again, she flees from Mizuki, who if we’re honest doesn’t have the most trustworthy aura about him.

Tomoe is different, though. Even though he’s a man, Nanami seems to trust him implicitly. Is it the connection she has with him in the present shining through here, or the connection between her family lineage and the god who granted them beauty at a heavy yet bearable and character-building cost?

kk2124

Tomoe isn’t just a fan of lil’ Nanami because she’s adorable. He also likes the fact that everything she desires is clear to him here in her flashback world, as things she concentrates more on appear with more detail and in greater focus. Seeing everything she wants to clearly, and having the power to grant it all, Tomoe’s devotion for her grows. Here, when asked if he truly loves her and is someone she can count on, he can answer directly: yes he does.

Heck, he even proposes marriage, and she accepts…but when the grown Nanami wakes up, she’s seemingly forgotten everything about her dream, which deflates Tomoe quite a bit, because he thought he’d actually made progress.

kk2126

He laments the fact that the happy-go-lucky yet delicate girl he was able to confess to so easily was lost in the twelve years since, especially when she’s able to single-handedly convince the zodiac sheep to allow the new year god to shear him. Then Nanami surprises Tomoe again and makes him rethink everything when the Year God furnishes her with a photo of her mother.

Now, that wouldn’t seem such an impactful gift, but considering her mother died when Nanami was very young and all photos of her were lost in the fire (a heartbreaking fact), it means multitudes for Nanami to finally see her face clearly. And in doing so, Tomoe sees that neither Lil’ Nanami nor her mother really vanished; they’re still within Nanami.

kk2125

Back at the Shrine, Nanami is back to work on her talismans, and Tomoe is back to work denigrating their poor quality, earning her defiant scowls. But when relaxing after a long day ushering in the new year for worshippers and the like, Nanami settles down for some tea and TV with her shrine family, whom she’s been with now for a year.

When she steps outside, the falling snow reminds her of what a shadowy figure once said to her in a half-forgotten memory of the past (which we know to have just happened at the Torii gates), in which Tomoe tells her younger self she won’t always be alone and wary, but be “the lady and mistress of a household more rowdy than she could wish for.”

And so it’s come to pass. She has a family, without having resorted to marriage she’d sworn off. And yet, when asked again, Nanami adds the qualified “probably” to that swearing-off, opening the door for Tomoe, if he wishes to walk through it.

9_mag

Hanamonogatari – 05 (Fin)

hanam51

A revitalized Suruga returns home from her awesome mini-road trip with Araragi to find she has a package: a mummified monkey head, with a note from Kaiki telling her to do with it what she will. Armed thus with the Pièce de résistance of the devil, she returns to the gymnasium to find Rouka there. Both she and I now see her in a different light, now that we know she’s a ghost.

haanam52

Even so, Suruga challenges that ghost to another one-on-one match, this time consisting of just one play. If Rouka prevents Suruga from making a basket, she wins, and can have the head. If Suruga makes the basket, Rouka loses, and has to give up being a collector of misfortune and a gatherer of the devil. If Rouka refuses the challenge, Suruga will destroy the head, essentially ending Rouka’s quest anyway.

hanam53

Admitting it’s not much of a choice, Rouka accepts, warning she won’t hold back this time, though we know at this point Suruga has a plan to defeat her. Rouka doesn’t quite comprehend what Suruga aims to get out of this, but it’s clear to us: she wants to save her friend from becoming the devil. It’s also apparent to Suruga that Rouka doesn’t know she died and became a misfortune-collecting apparition/oddity. This delves into a common but poignant phenomenon in fiction where the dead don’t know they’re dead and keep living their lives as if they weren’t.

hanam54

I loved how the gym was dark and the court markings were backlit as Suruga brought forth the challenge, lending a very “final boss” atmosphere to the setting. When Rouka goes to the locker room for some shoes, the gym enters “Showtime Mode”, with the grandstands extending, the retractable roof opening to reveal the azure sky (Naoetsu is one swanky high school!), and a few inches of water flooding the court – perhaps a reference to Rouka’s “swampy defense” but also a metaphor for cleansing and renewal.

hanam55

The thrilling, intricately built-up duel between the two is over almost as soon as it starts. Suruga rushes ahead as usual, but then does something Rouka could never have predicted: she passes the ball to her, quickly stealing it back before she has full possession. In the moment of confusion she created, Suruga elevates and dunks over Rouka’s rushed block attempt. The two end up laughing in a heap on the (now dry) floor, with Suruga now on top of Rouka (the opposite of their last such encounter). Here, Suruga realizes how cute Rouka is, and considers kissing her.

hana56

Rouka, in accepting defeat, voices her surprise, and ultimately, is grateful that Suruga passed to her, considering how rarely anyone on her team passed to her due to her choice to focus on defense, a choice not made due to lack of talent or skill, but to appease those less talented, just as she sought misfortune from those as unfortunate (or more) than her. Rouka also tells Suruga to stop drifting and get back on the active roster as soon as she can. With that, she vanishes into the aether while Suruga is crafting a comeback with her back turned, leaving behind the mummified monkey parts she had collected.

hana57

Before the duel, Rouka and Suruga agreed on one thing: that it’s better to regret the lack of action than to regret what you’ve done. But Suruga tells her it’s better still to do something and not regret it. If there’s an overarching moral to be had from this story, that’s as good as any. Whatever else Kanbaru Suruga has been, she’s been a doer; on the offense. Sometimes, Suruga’s actions are reckless and/or lead to regrets, like wishing to the monkey paw, for instance. But her most recent actions freed Rouka from her torment. In a dream, she and her mother converse more as equals, as Suruga puts forth her own opinions rather than simply absorb those of others.

hana58

Suruga wakes up from that dream to find Araragi in her room. As she sleeps in the nude, she’s taken aback for a moment, but Araragi isn’t there for “that”, but to help her clean her room, something she requested during the road trip. She also has him cut her hair, as she plans to return to basketball. Between the yellow bug, not being turned on by Suruga, and hairdressing, one might wonder if the producers are trying to say something about Araragi, but these are merely cosmetic characteristics that happen to match a certain stereotype, but aren’t meant to be read too much into, so I won’t. One thing’s for sure, though: the dude is good at setting up dominoes!

hana59

As he shears off her flowing purple locks, returning her to the way she looked when we first met her in Bakemonogatari (a rare aesthetic rewind) he offers some closing words of solace to Suruga (It’s also worth mentioning that Suruga’s other idol, Senjougahara, also sports a short hairstyle when last we saw her). He tells her not to worry about what she did and whether it was right or wrong…because it was neither: It was just adolescence.

9_ses

Hanamonogatari – 04

hanam41

Because Suruga insists, Rouka tells her the full story: how she met Kaiki, who told her about apparitions, and how she acquired her first piece of the devil: her left leg. It once belonged to another girl named Rouka; a high-schooler who her older boyfriend had knocked up, and whose family wanted her to abort it. With this devil’s leg, Rouka-2 almost beat her mother to death, mirroring what happened to Suruga with her arm.

hanam42

The day after hugging Rouka-2 and saying she’d take the problem from her, the devil leg had replaced her crippled old one. Rouka has since replaced almost a third of her body with devil parts, and plans to “collect them all” so she can take control of the devil altogether, even though doing so will mean losing all of her body, head to toe. With that heartrendingly bleak goal announced, Rouka says farewell to Suruga, asking her to go out and “do all the human things” she can no longer do.

hanam43

That night, Suruga gets a call from Karen who informs her that Rouka committed suicide three years ago, presumably from a combination of her broken leg and her “bad” family situation. Now we’ve reached nadir of Suruga’s arc: she’s been talking with a ghost all this time. Shaken and never more uncertain, Suruga simply goes out and runs. She runs and runs across landscapes until collapsing in an intersection; a crossroads (subtle!). Then a car pulls up and honks at her, and holy shit, it’s Araragi!

hanam44

Like Kaiki, Araragi’s appearance couldn’t have been timed better, or be any more awesome. He now has long hair, a resplendent yellow VW New Beetle Suruga can’t help but hilariously gripe about (“What’s with this round car?”), a Shinobu keychain, and a little more life experience behind his belt. But Suruga gradually realizes once they talk that it’s the same old Araragi she’s leaned on, looked up to and missed so dearly. If anyone can help give her the guidance she needs at this point in her story, it’s him. A gorgeous, art-filmy all-night “road-trip” segment ensues.

hanam45

Also like Kaiki, Araragi isn’t interested in steering Suruga in a particular direction or in doing her own legwork for her, but he’s much nicer and more caring about it. He helps her realize she’s fee to obey the opinions of Rouka, Kaiki, of her mother if she wants, but she’s just as able to fight those opinions if she’s not convinced. Rather than go along with what those voices have said or done, she decides to strike out on her own path. Araragi asks if she needs any more help, and she says no, which pleases him. Suruga’s back, and she’s going on offense.

10_ses

Hanamonogatari – 03

hanam31

So, Rouka isn’t just gathering the misfortune of others, but also gathered Suruga’s devilish left arm, and shows it to her in Suruga’s classroom. Then she invites Suruga to join her for some one-on-one basketball, and whatever the extent of her career-ending leg injury, it certainly doesn’t seem to affect her anymore, as she puts up more than a fight against Suruga (who is herself understandably rusty).

hanam32

Suruga is still troubled by Rouka’s present existence, and wants to know what she’s been up to these last three years. After she agrees to tell her own story of how she came upon the monkey paw (which is skipped over, since that’s mostly covered in Bakemonogatari), Suruga fights back Rouka’s amorous advances and insists she tell her the story of how she became the Devil Lord. Rouka was always someone who learned to hide the full extent of her talents to avoid being hated by her less talented peers, which is how she became a defensive specialist.

hanam33

But once she was injured, people only ever looked down on her, even though she was doing the same to them. She remarks that when she was hospitalized for her leg, she wanted to talk to those as unfortunate and pitiable (if not more) than she was, so she could tell them she understood exactly how they felt (the truth) and that she’d solve it all (a lie), sending them on their way. When her first “client” returned, her problems were indeed gone (though ostensibly more as a result of time), and Rouka’s Collection of Misfortune began from there.

hanam34

The basketball match is brief but adds a welcome touch of action to what is essentially another long monologue with occasional commentary by Suruga, but that doesn’t mean the setting of that conversation is any less visually interesting. I especially dig the very upscale gymnasium with way more markings than it needs, and the court of is made up of the kind of wood you’d find in the Kia K900. Rouka’s appeal to Suruga’s bisexuality is also good continuity. But the fact remains, Rouka has only told half of her story. The other half centers on how she started gathering parts of the devil – a story she warns doesn’t have a happy ending.

8_ses

Hanamonogatari – 02

hanam21

This act begins with unbridled elation, as Suruga almost revels in the fact her regular human arm is back. She goes for a giddy run on a beautiful day, and the very air she breathes seems to smell better. But the new arm totally throws off the balance she had achieved with the hairy one, which tempers the elation somewhat. She’s initially happy by the fact the arm is gone, but now she’s troubled by how it might’ve happened.

hanam22

Suruga may not be the most classically bright of the Monogatari cast, but even she’s able to connect the dots between her arm and her encounter with Rouka. But her sources say the Devil Lord has ceased operations and disappeared, so Suruga heads to the train station to search for her out of town. There, she comes afoul of a wan but impeccably dressed and magnificently bearded Kaiki Deishuu. And as I for one am aware, adding Kaiki to the mix always makes things better.

hanam23

There’s a dark, predatory air to Kaiki early on as he chases Suruga throughout the station and outside into the streets. This reinforces all of the bad things her senpais have said about the man. They told her to run if she ever encountered him, and she does, not having any other information to work with. That changes when Kaiki, grabbing her by the scruff of her shirt like a helpless kitten, cordially offers to treat her to a cup of tea.

hanam24

That tea turns into an all-out sumptuous korean bbq feast. Who among those who include meat in their diet wouldn’t be elated at being in her shoes here? As Kaiki grills the succulent cuts of meat and organs and serves her, Kanbaru’s opinion on him becomes muddled. Moreso, when he states his business with her, it reveals a humanity she’d heretofore thought impossible for her senpais’ nemesis: Kaiki loved and admired Suruga’s biological mother, and promised to look after her daughter.

hanam25

To that end he gives her his card and tells her to contact him if she’s ever in a pinch, even though he admits its probably if she doesn’t. He also tells her to expect a “collector” to come and take her mummified monkey paw. That merges this present encounter with Rouka’s, leading Suruga to ask the simple question that wason all our minds form the start: how Kaiki knew Suruga would be at the station. He says the collector told him…a girl named Numachi Rouka.

hana26

That’s not an unexpected twist, considering we certainly weren’t done with Rouka in this series, but still nicely staged. The atmosphere of the elaborate yet intimate korean bbq (contrasting with the huge open space where Suruga met Rouka), and the vaguely paternal way in which Kaiki seems to be upholding his promise to Suruga’s mom again shows us his softer side. But he isn’t about to tell Suruga everything. It’s up to her to investigate further.

9_ses

Hanamonogatari – 01

hana11

Hanamonogatari was released all at once and as such can be enjoyed as a single movie-length feature, but we decided to split our review into its five distinct acts. -Ed.

hana12

Of all the interesting characters in Monogatari, one of my favorites has always been Kanbaru Suruga. For one thing, in such a talky series her seiyu Sawashiro Miyuki gets plenty to say. But her character has been underutilized as late, only appearing in cameos in the last few shows since the Bakemonogatari arc. Hanamonogatari corrects that with one fell swoop. This is her show.

hana13

Interestingly, she herself seems a bit nervous about this fact. Chronologically, the events of this arc are the latest we’ve seen yet. All those who have been high schoolers knows the sense of loneliness that can come when your upperclassmen—your senpai—graduate and move on to other things. Kanbaru is particularly lonely and drifting, since she’ll later admit she largely defined her character through Araragi and Senjougahara, to senpai she loved dearly.

hana14

Having done awful things in a trance before as a result of her “devil arm” affliction, when Suruga hears rumors at school about a mysterious person who “solves problems”, she almost immediately suspects she could be this Devil Lord, especially since she’s been having strange dreams in which her mother lectures her on numerous philosophical points.

hana15

Suruga finds this Devil Lord (thanks to Karen), and is surprised to find it’s her old basketball rival, Numachi Rouka (voiced by Asumi Kana in her Monogatari debut). The site of their meetingis pretty damn dreamlike too; a vast, salt flat-like space populated by stairs that go nowhere, various construction vehicles that change position and pattern, and not much else. Rouka had to retire from basketball after a leg injury in junior high, and now she’s…hangin’ around, answering requests for help.

hana16

Rouka makes her case to her old nemesis (Rouka played “swamping” defense while Suruga was an offensive ace): she doesn’t actually meddle in the lives of those who request her help. She merely listens, then agrees to take away all their worries and misfortunes. This practice leads to a high “success rate” that increases with time, since in the end, Rouka believes it’s time that solves most of her clients’ problems. Still, she makes it a point to collect the letters and recordings of misfortune, and that collection has become vast.

hana16a

Suruga can’t really endorse what Rouka is doing, but she can’t really condemn it, either. Rouka gropes her breast for an uncomfortable amount of time, but Suruga ultimately decides to do nothing and goes home, doubtless relieved someone else is the Devil Lord. Then, the next morning, Suruga wakes up as she always does (in the nude in her vast room furnished by a bed and mountains of books), and finally finds her nail clipper, only to realize her devil arm is gone.

hana17

It would seem Rouka was being a lot more literal when she said she would “take away other’s misfortune.” Suruga’s arm has definitely been that, as she nearly beat someone to death with it once (not just someone; Araragi) and it keeps her from playing basketball. A suddenly normal-armed Suruga is definitely an intriguing hook to lure us back into the Monogatari universe. It’s as talky and philosophical as ever, but also just as pretty with its whimsical environments an detailed close-ups.

8_ses

Majimoji Rurumo – 04

maji40

Just as I was complimenting MMR’s compact cast, this episode introduces three new characters, the girls of the disciplinary committee. It’s not as bad as all that, though; two of the three are little more than background, while the third, Inoue Sumiko, turns out to be a lot more interesting than the cliched imperious school busybody constantly adjusting her glasses.

maji44

Don’t get me wrong: she is bossy and domineering, at school at least (though I didn’t notice an excessive amount of glasses-straightening); quite possibly to the point of overstepping her official bounds with regards to confiscating and destroying contraband ero literature, of which Kouta is known school-wide as a prolific wheeler and dealer. But here’s the thing: she’s not being a heel simply for being a heel’s sake—this is personal for her.

maji43

Drawn far more straight, sturdy, and angular than the girls regarded as “hotties” in previous episodes, it’s made clear by several trips into Sumiko’s head that she harbors a deep resentment towards her peers, who never regarded her as a girl. None of the boys would even flip her skirt—once a source of pride, now fuel for her high school angst. But there was one boy who did flip her skirt, and isn’t shy about regarding her for being her: and that boy was Kouta.

maji45

That’s right: in school they’re arch-nemeses, but in the real world their mothers are friends. They go way back. It would seem they live close by. If their families were more traditional, they may even have been betrothed to be wed by now. It occurs that were Rurumo not in Kouta’s picture, Sumiko would be the primary female interest in his life. Kouta’s tawdry rep precludes them appearing to get along in school, but they seem to get along just fine on the outside.

maji46

By “getting along” I mean Kouta can earnestly compliment Sumiko’s cute clothes when she delivers cake to his house; she can put on Rurumo’s pair of “Glasses of Misfortune” and cling to him when rats appear (it was frogs for Rurumo), and then he can chase her down the street during which she gets drenched by various water sources. She may call him a pervert, but he’s her pervert. As for Sumiko herself, she was a pleasant surprise.

maji47

7_mag

Stray Observations:

  • Rurumo got the short shrift this week…and was almost done in by frogs!
  • Chiro can transform into a human girl. Not sure why, but it was the first time in 25 years that she did it, and she did seem to revel in it. Could come in handy later.
  • Again Kouta uses his magic selflessly…or at least semi-selflessly, as he can’t bear to have to report back to his buds that all of their accumulated treasures were cast into the incinerator.
  • I kinda want Kouta to ask Sumiko out (or vice versa).

Samurai Flamenco – 21

sam211

As it turns out, Sawada Haiji is indeed a real person, but Masayoshi is no closer to finding him or predicting his next move, let alone defeating him. His first targets this week are Moe and Mizuki, who collapse on stage after drinking drugged coffee before their LIVE PEACE concert begins. In Mari’s defense, there wasn’t much she could do with Masayoshi’s warning. But the point is as clear as it was last week: none of his friends are safe.

The Flamengers aren’t that worse for wear (Sakura’s new hairstyle is excellent, as is the sniping between her and Joji’s wife) and Joji is conscious and on the mend, telling Masayoshi he saw the boy described and hear him mention Samumenco. Joji is not the most reliable witness, but later it’s confirmed when Haiji kidnaps Goto. Joji also tells him the ultimate weapon they have against evil is love. Only problem is, Masayoshi doesn’t know what that is.

sam212

While the fact that Haiji is a real person coordinating all these attacks without leaving any witnesses or evidence strains credulity, but compared with some of the other outrageous things that have happened in previous arcs, it’s plausible enough, especially when we learn more about his story and realize just how hard he’s been working to become the ultimate villain.

Back to love, and what we thought was the best part of an episode full of meaty character moments: while he thinks about Joji’s words in the cab with Sumi, he remembers turning down a girl in school who liked him. When Sumi asks him what’s up, he does the exact same thing, totally oblivious to the fact Sumi could help him. Fortunately, Sumi takes him by the scruff and spells it out for him, as she must…in the nick of time, too, as Masayoshi had been considering taking his own life to end Haiji’s rampage.

sam213

The show’s been very subtly ratcheting up the chemistry and romantic tension between Sumi and Masayoshi, and we love how she is the one to explain love in all its forms to him, as a very likable character who has been somewhat underutilized due to the show’s deep bench. We also like how she knew about him being Samumenco all along, but let it continue. But most of all, we like how she casually confesses her “technical” love for him. We still hold out hope this will go somewhere.

Really, the show has been about different kinds of love all along, starting with the love a hero must have for the people and ideals he protects, the brotherly love between Masayoshi and Goto, the unrequited love Mari has for Goto (or Moe for Mari), Sumi’s love for Masayoshi, the love that drives Goto to text his dead girlfriend, the love between a married mentor and his protege, and lots more. Then there’s the love that shook Haiji out of his apathetic existence, but twisted him into the final boss in the Samurai Flamenco saga.

9_superiorRating: 9 (Superior)

Samurai Flamenco – 20

sam201

A lot of weird stuff has been happening to Masayoshi of late, particularly in the mental/metaphysical departments. So while his latest enemy appears to be a real flesh-and-blood guy, and someone he briefly met once before and has a whole story, that doesn’t mean he’s…real. Nothing this week suggests he really is, which is why no one really believes him.

“Real” or not, Sawada Haiji is a refreshing change of pace from the usual loud, boisterous, theatrical foes Flamenco has fought and defeated in the past. He’s incredibly stealthy and precise; impossibly so, as there are never any witnesses or evidence of his involvement in anything that happens to Masayoshi or his friends. And we say “that happens” instead of “Sawada does”, because the truth is, it could all be a coincidental sequence of simultaneous mishaps.

sam202

Only Masayoshi is connecting the dots, egged on by the first in-person appearance and subsequent phone calls. Sawada is more than just an obsessed stalker or enemy, he’s the enemy; a classic nemesis, with the exact opposite goals of Masayoshi, and will hit him anywhere and everywhere where it hurts, even playing around with the idea of killing Goto. It’s telling then that when Masayoshi visits Goto, both to ensure he’s alright and to seek advice, this time bad things happen it has nothing to do with Sawada.

When Goto doesn’t believe him, Masayoshi throws Goto’s dead girlfriend in his face…which is a bad move, and Goto throws him out of his house. Masayoshi ends up by a riverbank to try to make sense of what’s going on, but ends up swimming wildly after a mirage of Sawada, a pretty creepy experience that awakens him to the possibility that no one else can see this newest evil because it resides within him, and only he can defeat it.

8_great
Rating: 8 
(Great)