Sarazanmai – 10 – A Little Bit of Dishtory Repeating

Way back when, after the siege of Keppi’s castle, Otter saves Mabu’s live with a mechanical heart, but only if he makes a solemn promise. In the present, Reo reveals he’s a kappa too, once a vassal of Keppi’s along with Mabu. He shrink-wraps Keppi and demands the final dish of hope, but empathizes with Kazaki’s wish to save someone close to him, and so lets him tag along while he collects the other four dishes.

During the descent, Reo laughs at Kazuki’s earnest attempt to save his connection with Enta, and his jadedness is understandable; the Mabu they encounter is less his Mabu than ever; cold, distant, and in Reo’s words, nothing but a fake, half-baked doll. They descend further and find Dark Keppi, the half of Keppi created when he split his Shirikodama to escape capture by the Otters.

This otter demands the dishes, and also places Enta in “Enta’s World”, in which his desire—to be loved by Kazuki—is made real. But like Reo with the resurrected Mabu, it’s just not the same, and Enta escapes the fantasy. Reo has a key assist by shooting the head off the Otter and producing four of the five dishes needed, but just then Mabu jumps from a precipice and ends up transforming into a Zombie Kappa.

This means Reo has to be transformed by Keppi—like he and Mabu were in the old times—and go through the same (literal!) song and dance as Kazuki, Enta, and Toi. Even Miyano Mamoru’s casual singing voice is better than those of the other three, as he peers into Mabu’s Shirikodama and learns that in order to live and stay by Reo’s side, Mabu had to give up his connection with him.

That means when Mabu, who he only just freed from zombiehood, decides he can’t live on with that severed connection anymore. Pledging his everlasting love for Reo, his deal with Otter is broken, his mechanical heart stops, and he disappears. When the dust clears, Keppi creates a new fifth dish of hope (Kazuki broke one earlier) and Reo is beside himself with grief, unleashing it with his pistol in a destruction spree that ruins Asakusa’s bridges.

Then Reo forgets who Mabu ever was, and is then shot through the heart…by Toi, who has returned from the ferry. Kazuki thinks he’s changed his mind and come to rescue him and Enta, but Toi hesitates, wanting the five dishes to bring his brother back. Enta’s clock runs down to fifteen, ten, zero seconds…and Kazuki makes his  wish, even at gunpoint.

When Enta wakes up, Toi admits he probably would have saved Enta too…but now he’s as full of grief and rage and desire as Reo was before he shot him. That attracts Otter, who looks to bring him under his influence, using the spectre of his older brother to lure him in. Once Chikai appears, whispering in his ear, Toi lets go of Kazuki’s hand and walks into the darkness of his own volition.

With Kazuki, Enta, Haruka, Mabu and Reo’s stories largely complete, the final episode will seek to close the book on Toi, one way or another, who has only had to live in a world without his brother for a few hours (maybe less), and is thus all too easily manipulated by Otter. We’ll see how Keppi and the Golden Duo fare against that negative influence, and maybe get back to being three normal soccer-loving kids.

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Sarazanmai – 07 – Back to Who He Was

We check in on Mabu as he’s undergoing some kind of semi-sexy “maintenance,” which makes sense considering we’ve seen that he has a mechanical heart that I believe runs on desire. Mabu and his partner Reo seem more distant than ever.

Meanwhile, Kazuki is now to cherishing his connections: those with his friends, his parents, and of course, his totez-adorbz bro. He doesn’t even accept his mom’s sachet, telling Haruka to hold onto it for him. You can tell his folks are relieved Kazuki is acting more like he used to: cheerful, upbeat, and magnetic.

It’s a triumphant moment just to see Kazuki joining Enta at their riverside practice spot; more so when Toi decides to join the soccer club, a heart once thought cold sufficiently thawed by the warmth and enthusiasm of the other two and their acceptance of him, delinquent history and all.

While the kappa boys are on cloud nine, Reo surveys the ward for potential zombie kappas alone, in the dark. In a flashback to just after the siege of the Kappa Kingdom, he learns that his beloved partner Mabu was gravely wounded, and but for the grace of the Otter Empire’s Chief “Otticer” of Science and Technology, would have shuffled off this mortal coil.

The lads are shocked to find the practice spot has been vandalized by trash (like Dr. Kappa cans) and paint, but immediately set to work cleaning the place up until it sparkles, employing the same teamwork they would have used playing footie.

But the next day, the mess is back, and just as bad, and Toi gets a foreboding call from his brother, informing him his latest job went south and they’ll have to leave town. The timing can’t be a coincidence, can it?

While I initially thought Toi was vandalizing the spot on the sly, my suspicions evaporated when I saw how genuinely disappointed he was that he had to go, and his gratitude when Kazuki suggests they collect the one more Dish of Hope needed to make five, and use them to help Toi and his bro.

When Toi asks Enta why he’s okay with this arrangement, Enta states that the way he sees it, Kazuki’s present wish is to help Toi. Almost on queue, the potential source of that fifth and final dish arrives in the form of a “Balls” themed Kappa Zombie, reported by Sara (who goes on lovey-dovey strolls with Keppi) with an E.T. visual reference.

But when they all meet in Keppi’s park, he senses something is amiss, and sure enough, they discover the four dishes they hid under the ground tile have been stolen. Keppi suspects the Otter Empire, and he transforms the trio into kappa to do their thing, sticking with the plan to collect a fifth dish.

The Kappa Zombie’s Shirikodama reveals he longed to be kicked, either like a ball or in the balls—or heck, both—by his girlfriend. In the Sarazanmai that follows his defeat, the culprit behind both the practice spot vandalism and theft of the Dishes of Hope is revealed to be Enta, who is jealous of Kazuki’s increased attention towards Toi.

Enta’s treachery is dastardly, but easily explained: just when Kazuki is back to the way he was before Haruka’s accident, Enta has to share the guy he loves with someone else; someone he feels has neither put in the work nor been around long enough to deserve such outsize attention; at least compared to him.

Speaking of being “back to the way he was,” that’s how the New Mabu describes himself on the rooftop when Reo sees him for the first time since his injury and operation. But Reo’s reaction is immediate and intense; this is not the Mabu he knew; he would never look at him the way this Mabu does.

Mabu may have been given a mechanical heart that enables him to live on, but as Reo said earlier in the episode, everything he says is a lie. And of course, consistent with Kunihiko’s love of wordplay, uso is Japanese for “a lie” but can also mean “otter”, as in kawauso.

All this backstory deepening the Otter Cop characters is very welcome. As for the large monster with very Keppi-like pink eyes that ominously yells “daaarknessss”…well, I think I’ll just need to tune in next week to figure out what that’s about…

Zombieland Saga – 08 – An Unexpected Father-Daughter Reunion

It’s a Lily episode! By which I mean, it’s a Gou Masao episode, since we learn that’s her birth name. And it’s just as much a Gou Takeo episode, Takeo being Lily’s father. That makes this the first episode of ZLS that is at least partially told from the POV of a person who survived one of the members of Franchouchou.

At first the show plays around with the idea this immense mountain of a man could simply be a creep, but I never bought into that angle. Instead I see his fatherly determination to confirm whether “Number 6” is really his Masao. That enthusiasm earns him a rolling sobat from Saki, protecting her girls. But Lily later reveals to Sakura that the giant was indeed her father.

Lily explains the vast size differential by saying she took after her mother, who died when she was very young. Her father raised her on his own, and when she noticed how much he loved TV, she signed up for auditions, got cast in one thing after another, and never looked back.

However, Masao AKA Lily put so much stock in her tininess and cuteness that the day she found a hair on her leg she refused to go out and perform, and when she found a whisker on her face, she basically died of mental shock.

From Takeo’s POV, he was a bad father, pushing Masao too far. When he saw her smile appear posthumously on TV, he picked up the set and threw it at the wall, and ceased to watch any TV ever again.

Lily and her dad’s next meeting is a lot more cordial as both apologize, but Lily doesn’t betray who she really is, and her dad doesn’t pry, convinced No.6 just looks like his daughter—besides, from where he’s standing, there’s no way she could just come back to life. His daughter is gone; he doesn’t want to cause some girl undue stress or harm just for resembling her.

While Saki is the leader of Franchouchou, she’s always erred on the side of mocking Lily, both for her tiny stature and later for her butch real name and ridiculously vain way of dying. But Sakura has shown she’s much better with Lily, and in Sakura Lily finds the shoulder she needs to cry in after putting on a brave face for her dad.

Sakura and the other girls put their heads together and get clearance from Tatsumi to hold a free public show and invite Lily’s dad, who almost doesn’t attend, but changes his mind at the last second. He’s then treated to a concert in which the other idols provide backup vocals and moves and Lily is in the spotlight.

She sings a song with lyrics that, while perhaps a bit too on-the-nose and even kinda sappy, nevertheless successfully delivers her feelings to her father, even if he still doesn’t realize she’s really his daughter. The next time he’s at work, he doesn’t go out for lunch while his co-workers watch TV, which of course features that chicken commercial in which Lily appears.

Zombieland Saga – 07 – A Truly Shocking Performance

(Apologies for the horrible pun that titles this post.—Ed.) Last week’s episode proved ZLS is far more than just a venue for Miyano Mamoru’s manic voice performances or a showcase for idol-dancing CGI. It can also do serious character drama. How would it resolve the generational rift between Franchouchou’s dual aces?

With Junko unwilling/unable to continue in this new and scary idoling world and holed up in one of the mansion’s many rooms, Ai commits to doing Junko’s part as the days to Saga Rock count down, even as the strain causes her head and limbs literally fall off (kudos to the foley artists for appropriately gross sound effects as the zombies move about).

Even Lily admits there may be nothing any of them can to to convince Ai to come back. Sakura asks Tatsumi for help, but he shouts her away. Even so, Tatsumi later breaks down the barricade Junko had built over the door and, surprisingly enough, provides the sober voice of reason. He acknowledges Junko’s fear of how things have changed in the last thirty years, but assures her the calling of idol is no less noble than it was in her time.

He also suggests something Junko didn’t consider a possibility: that if she doesn’t want to get so close to her fans…that she just shouldn’t. She can still sing and dance with the others while continuing to carry the Showa flag and live the life she’s most comfortable with.

He also reminds Junko that she’s not the only one with fears as a result of waking up a zombie in a strange time and place. He informs her how Ai died, and the weather forecast for the festival, and how Ai is going forward to face her fears. Considering she’s already dead, what harm would it do Junko to give this idol thing one last try?

With that, Tatsumi leaves Junko with her outfit for tomorrow’s festival…and a casual order to fix the door he busted (hey, this is still a comedy first and foremost). The next morning everyone waits as long as they can, but then pack into the van without Junko.

Just as they start off, Junko heroically leaps over the mansion gate lands in front of the van…which absolutely pummels her, in such a similar fashion to Sakura’s own demise it sparks a vague memory for her. Like a zombie horror movie, Ai slowly gets up…but not to eat brains; to join her fellow members of Franchouchou, all of whom but Ai run to embrace her.

Still, Ai decides to bury the hatchet as the group prepares for their show, promising Junko she’ll have her back. Tatsumi liberally sprays shoe waterproofing all over the girls so their makeup won’t melt in the coming rains.

The others join Ai as she watches her old group Iron Frill knock it out of the park (without anyone getting roasted by lightning). Why the more popular band would open for unknowns like Franchouchou, I have no idea, but that plot contrivance is only one of a long chain of them that, IMO, somewhat mar the group’s biggest moment yet.

While Iron Frill’s dancing and singing was 2D animation, the show breaks back out the smoother-moving but still far creepier CGI models of the Franchouchou members. I remain mostly unconvinced this was the best way to animate them performing, as it really pulls you out of the otherwise 2D world of the show.

Technical aspects aside, I liked how the storms made Ai so frightened she couldn’t sing properly, threatening to make their big break a disaster right from the start (the rain also forces much of Iron Frill’s crowd to flee, combined with the fact they don’t know who Franchouchou is). I liked Junko having Ai’s back even better, especially when Ai said she’d have hers. Junko may have nerves too, but they don’t relate to performing in a thunderstorm.

The idols regroup and finish out their first song strong, but the entire stage is suddenly destroyed by lightning, making real Ai’s worst nightmare: a repeat of the events that killed her. However, due to them already being dead and zombies (and perhaps the thick coats of spray Tatsumi applied), their exposure to lightning only makes them glow, and makes their voices distorted.

The group proceeds to perform their last song in “autotune” remix mode, their bodies providing the only light on the stage, and occasionally shooting lightning beams out of their fingers. This sequence of events represents a new level of preposterous-ness for the show.

While a show about zombie idols already demands one to suspend disbelief about quite a number of things, the piling on of absurd events culminating in glowing idols shooting lasers while singing autotune…was just a bit much.

The attitude that created this sequence seems to be: “So we carefully crafted a nuanced character conflict between Junko and AI rooted in generational differences…but SCREW ALL THATAnything goes when they take the stage; nothing has to make sense!” Never mind the fact that there were zero consequences for Junko not practicing with the group for weeks. I know she’s one of the best from her time, but no one’s that good!

All that criticism aside, the festival, ridiculous as it was, had the intended effect of getting Franchouchou much-needed publicity, as news of their “illuminating” performance at Saga Rock ends up published in a magazine. We’ll see how that translates into cash to fund their operation, but more importantly how it heightens their statute in the idol world, and how they’ll respond to that increased fame.

Zombieland Saga – 06 – Not Ready to Be History

Let’s face it: as quirky and hilarious as Tatsumi is, he has technically been holding the zombie girls in a kind of servitude. As such, they find themselves compelled to rebel now and again, as Ai does when she sneaks onto the internet during Tatsumi’s long baths.

She lets the others in on her little act of resistance, and they even find a potential new gig for Franchouchou: the famous Saga Rock Festival. Here, the differing philosophies between Ai and Junko (already shown when Junko can’t quite keep up with Ai’s faster, more modern dance moves) are laid bare.

Junko thinks incremental improvement is better in the long run than aiming too high, while Ai’s past career and present purusal of the ‘net has taught her that you have to strike while the iron is hot; stiving for perfection is a luxury they can’t afford.

The next gig Tatsumi lines up for FSS is the kind of even that is commonplace in the present day for idols: a mini-concert followed by a swag sale and photo-op with fans (and yes, they have a good number of those now, as hilariously reported by an oddly kabukiesque Tatsumi).

Everything goes swimmingly—as their gigs tend to do—until its time for the picture-taking. Suddenly, Junko is completely out of her element. Idols in her time would never dream of closing the distance between their fans to such an extreme. She walks out of the job.

Because Junko and Ai are two idol veterans living in the present, they both believe they are right in their views on what an idol should and shouldn’t be. But because they’re from different eras, they end up clashing, and because they’re both stubborn, it flares into a lasting fight the other girls can’t extinguish.

Junko goes to the beach for contemplation, but Sakura catches up to her. That’s when Sakura learns why Junko is so loath to interact so closely with fans: it would be crossing a boundary and going against what she believes an idol is supposed to be: a timeless dream to aspire to, not a fallible chum.

That brings us to how Junko died: while on her way to her next gig, her plane crashed into the sea. Sakura’s death was presented as a joke, but Junko’s is treated far more soberly.

That brings us to the most tragic (and, incidentally, most metal) death to be revealed thus far: Ai’s. We learn what her fate was when Saki finds her cowering in a thunderstorm. Unlike Junko, in less than a year Ai’s Iron Frill was performing in front of tens of thousands in packed arenas. At her biggest show yet, which happened in an open-air venue, it started to rain.

One moment, she was lighting up the crowd with her energetic performance…the next, a lightning bolt zapped her into a cinder. Her charred remains, still holding her final pose, simply stood there in front of her stunned fans. It was a deeply traumatizing experience for all, and a national tragedy.

Most distressingly for Ai, it was history. She became history because of the completely bonkers, completely heartbreaking way her life was snatched away at the very height of her powers.

She may be deathly (undeathly?) afraid of lightning to this day, but she’s not ready to be history quite yet. She’s back, and she’s going to make the very most of it. I liked Sakura and Saki, who each heard the sad tales of Junko and Ai’s respective demises, meeting up when neither could sleep. After all, being told what they were told would unsettle anyone.

But neither of them have an answer for how Junko and Ai can make up. Right now, Junko isn’t even sure she can be in FFS, if they have to do things like the photo op. It’s as much a question of pride and identity as shyness. But by episode’s end, Tatsumi has already made another decision for them: he’s booked them for Saga Rock, just as they had intended to do anyway.

That means Ai will have to perform in an open-air venue, which literally killed her the last time she did it. Even worse? Her old group, Iron Frill, will also be there. Will they recognize her (if they’re even the same members, which is doubtful after ten years)? Will Junko participate? Can they find a way to put their generational differences aside? We shall see.

Really strong and emotionally resonant outing for Zombieland Saga, showing it can be just as adept at serious drama as madcap comedy.