SSSS.Dynazenon – 11 – Neon Genesis Ordinarion

The Eugenicists wake up lying in a parking lot, and immediately realize they’ve lost once again to Gauma and his human comrades. Only this time, their loss apparently means something: there will be no more kaiju in this world, which means they’ve lost to him for good. Mujina, Juuga and Onija all go off in separate directions to sulk, but only Shizumu stays put, looking the least defeated and very much like someone who knows something the other three don’t.

Meanwhile, with the final battle against the Eugenicists won, Koyomi starts to draw upon the change he gained since becoming a Dyna-Pilot, by crafting his resume and dusting off his old suit. Chise can only stand there with potato chip crumbs on her face in quiet recognition that Koyomi was going to abandon his NEEThood eventually. And in the most telling sign that we’re entering a new normal, Gauma seems to be suffering from a chronic wasting disease, complete with purple marks on his skin.

Free of much of her grief and uncertainty, Yume apologizes to Kano’s ex, surprising Mei, while also playfully refusing to let Mei submit a photo of her for a competition. Chise follows Koyomi’s lead and dons her sailor fuku, hoping to return to school with Goldburn flying overhead watching her. Only Gridknight and Second show depart with Goldburn, as kaiju like them don’t belong in the normal world.

Chise knew this would happen, but still doesn’t get why, and she and Goldburn flee. Juuga seeks out Gauma, apparently to intentionally receive a beating, commenting on how little Gauma’s blows hurt. Yume and Yomogi learn that Gauma’s “Princess” took her life after he died, Romeo & Juliet style, but only he was revived. Then Gauma collects their Dynazenon toys.

Koyomi already gave him his and went straight to a photo booth for some somewhat professional-looking headshots. Mujina stops by to tell him she despises him…but does she really mean it?

While looking at an article about 5,000-year-old mirror that “went missing”, Yume leans close enough to Yomogi’s phone to make him blush, then asks him if he’ll come with her “somewhere” tomorrow. That somewhere ends up being Kano’s grave, which she’s never visited before but feels it’s time to visit now. Like Koyomi, she’s taking steps forward.

In a way, Yomogi does the same when he doesn’t budge on blowing off dinner with his mom and her fiance—with an assist from his gran. Mom can be as cross as she likes with him, but she should be happy he has a genuine connection with someone that’s become far more meaningful than his other school friends considering all they’ve been through together and done for each other.

What ensues is a grave visit that feels like a date. It’s jubilant rather than morose in the way a lively wake can often be. She’s there to visit, tidy up, and pray to her family and sister’s grave, but she’s also there to bury the Yume she became after Kano’s death. Part of that is embracing Yomogi as a friend and kindred spirit, as she learns he has it as “tough” as she in the parental department—maybe worse.

That night, while walking home, Yume mentions how no more kaiju and no more Dynazenon or uniting goal means everyone might drift apart into their own stuff. As she so eloquently puts it, “We fought kaiju and stuff, but it was the closest to normal my life’s ever been.” Of course, she’s not talking about the kaiju-robot battles, but all of the things that happened in between that brought everyone closer together and changed them all for the better.

Yomogi stops, looks slightly downward then directly at Yume, and firmly assures Yomogi that kaiju or no, Dynazenon or no, he still wants to see her. Then he says he likes her and asks her to go out with him, which is, I believe, a reasonable request. Yume seems poised to answer him immediately, and while I was bracing for a “no”, instead the moment is interrupted by Shizumu.

Predictably with two episodes left, the fight isn’t over, and Shizumu hasn’t lost for good either. The thanks both Yume and Yomogi for all of the emotions they gave off in the times they were together, particularly now. He’s thanking them for this because, as we see, there’s a kaiju inside him, which he’s been saving as a last resort in case Gauma and Dynazenon got the better of him and the others.

He has no qualms about rushing Yomogi with the intent to harm and even kill him, but Gauma rushes in at the last second to take the blow for Yomogi. It’s likely the only blow he’ll be able to take against Shizumu, considering his rapidly regrading condition, but thankfully Gridknight, Second, and even Goldburn come to their aid.

Shizumu uses Instance Domination on himself, summoning a big beautiful chortling mega-dinosaur robot of a kaiju, and immediately starts wrecking up the place with abandon.

Even though Gauma says a hospital can’t do anything about the “decay” quickly consuming him, Yomogi still won’t allow him to just lie there and die, and Second helps carry him. Gridknight combines with Goldburn to form Super Dragon King Kaiser Gridknight, but Shizumu proceeds to mop the floor with him, leveling many a multi-use block in the process.

As he strolls through flames like one of the God Warriors of the Seven Days of Fire that destroyed the world of yore in Nausicaa, our ordinary heroes are once again tasked with uniting to achieve extraordinary feats. I’m as glad Yomogi finally told Yume he liked her as I’m bummed Shizumu kept us from hearing her answer (whatever it was).

Those offsetting emotions, along with the fact this was merely the setup for the final showdown, kept this week’s score out of the exosphere, but it was still full of great, mundane, everyday scenes and sounds, and while I’m looking forward to the animators outdoing themselves in the decisive battle, I hope the finale doesn’t abandon that vital “normalness” that’s made both Dynazenon and Gridman before it so rich and absorbing.

Yes, despite its often absurd and fantastical situations, Dynazenon still manages to feel like home—a home I know I’ll miss when it departs.

The Day I Became a God – 08 – The Temporary Luster of a Miracle

Hina cries as she dreams of her late, beloved grandfather once again, but the next day—only the fifth left in the whole world—she’s her usual cheerful self as Sora shoots footage for the “making of” movie. Watching Hina interact with the others, he can’t help but want to know more about her.

If the world is to end as she says, he feels they’d be parting far too soon for his taste. So he asks his parents, and they’re refreshingly open with him. Hina isn’t a relation, but the granddaughter of a teacher and mentor to both of them. Her mother passed away, her father abandoned her, so gramps is all she had.

When he died, he made sure arrangements were made, dressing her up in conspicuous clothes so Youta’s parents would know it was her. They gladly took their mentor’s granddaughter in, but it’s up to Hina—and Youta—how long her stay lasts. It’s interesting to note that at no point do Youta’s parents mention the countdown to the end of the world.

The next day, Hina is ready for video games when Youta tells her he wants to find her real father. Hina is not nearly as enthusiastic about this, but if Youta thinks it will help him learn more about her, she’s game, and helps him locate his current residence. It just happens to be by the ocean, which Hina has never seen, so there’s a built-in incentive for her to come.

Youta comments that it almost feels like they’re eloping, but for the bento boxes his mom prepared for them. After a train ride, a bus ride, and a bit of a walk, they finally arrive at what looks like a dream house. Hina’s father guardedly welcomes them in. For a moment Youta believes neither her dad nor his wife can see Hina, but she merely requested a different kind of tea.

In truth they can see her just fine; they just have no idea the girl with lilac hair in nun cosplay is Hina. When Youta clarifies that it is indeed her, her father reacts as if he’s seen a ghost, while his wife drops her royal milk tea and completely loses it.

Hina’s dad moves their conversation to the beach and has Hina play with the family dog while he explains his shock to Youta. You see, he only knew Hina until age 7. All her life to that point, she suffered from the hereditary condition known as Logos Syndrome, which negatively affected both the brain and the muscles.

The last time he saw her she could barely stand or speak. As he tries to sort through his swirling emotions, part of him feels he should be angry, telling Youta how cruel it is to show him a healthy, happy Hina he had, to be perfectly frank, left for dead, and replaced with a new wife and kids. When Youta asks if there’s any way the father and Hina can reunite, he says it’s impossible.

Hina’s father already cut that bond, and every time an increasingly agitated Youta tries to take him to task for that—Your daughter is right there!, and such—he responds with “You’re young; you wouldn’t understand.” Youta admits he doesn’t, but Hina’s father says the time will come when he will. There is no cure or treatment for Logos, and he considers the luster of the miracle of a healthy Hina to be fleeting.

Hina has nothing to say to her biological father, so she and Youta take their leave. On the bus to the hotel where they’ll spend the night before returning home, Youta wonders what the point of the trip was. He’s pretty sure he would have preferred to remain ignorant of the existence of Hina’s father, just as he probably would have preferred not to know Hina still lived.

As for Hina, she’s her usual joyous, laughing self, playing with her food then getting excited about vintage Space Invaders in the rec room. When she notes Youta’s constant glum expression, she reminds him the world is about to end, which should be cause not to panic or despair, but to not worry about what one cannot control.

Youta has come to love Hina, as I have, but it sure looks like she’ll be a goner in four days. The rest of the world won’t end; Hina’s father and his happy family, Youta, Sora, their parents, Ashura, Kyouko, Kakou…they’ll all live on. Only Hina, who “became a god” 335 days ago, won’t be around in four more. But like Youta, I don’t want that, and I don’t want to believe her father.

Perhaps whatever treatment her grandfather administered allowed her to live for 339 days and no more. Or maybe Youta, possibly aided by Suzuki (who visits Hina’s dad that same night) and others, could end up saving her, delaying the end of her world indefinitely. One can hope…

Akudama Drive – 05 – Damn Kids

“Mission Impossible” is accomplished…or is it? Brawler is ready to head back to Kansai to fight Master, who is the first opponent to ever scare him and thus more important than the money. Hacker wants to head the other way to Kanto, and even managed to deactivate his bomb collar. Just as Brawler lives to fight, Hacker lives for excitement, and there’s nothing back in Kansai but boredom.

They’re both right: their job should be complete; the Black Cat didn’t say anything about smuggling two kids back to Kansai. And yet that’s the job. The brother offers to double the reward to ¥2 billion, but as Doctor points out (as perhaps the most intellectually shrewd of the Akudama) it’s not about the money for any of them—except Courier, who is ready to complete whatever mission the kids want.

Still, with no bomb collar the kids can’t force Hacker to keep working for them, and he’s doubtful he’ll ever get as good a chance to see Kanto than now, so he’s going to take it. He gives one of his Haro to Swindler as a parting gift, but she fully intends to return it when they meet again.

Doctor isn’t prepared to go any further until she learns more about these mysterious siblings, which is where Swindler comes in—and I’ll just call her that from now on because she herself seems to have gotten used to it. She accuses Doc of bullying little kids (whose hands she can see are trembling). Brawler and Hoodlum scold Doc, and she backs down.

The brother does at least tell them where they’re headed in Kansai—Expo Park—and when everyone’s tummies start to rumble, he produces a special bento box that creates whatever food someone wants out of thin air. I’d call it magic, but the Kanto and Kyushu Plant are capable of some pretty spiffy tech. Bunny is clear to shark that Kyushu can manufacture anything—meaning it’s not outside the realm of possibility the brother and sister are themselves manufactured.

Both can feel their stomachs are empty but don’t register it as hunger, and when they eat some of Swindler’s takoyaki they can’t tell if it’s good or not, just that it makes their bellies warm. It’s fun to learn of each Akudama’s favorite food (Brawler, meat; Hoodlum ramen, then onigiri; Doctor, wine, bread and cheese; Cutthroat, marshmallows), and that Courier and Swindler share a love of takoyaki. 

With a considerable and likely intentional pause in the action this week, we get to watch these colorful personalities mingle and clash. Doc for one believes Swindler is putting on an “innocent act” that she’s not buying. And hey, it remains to be seen if Swindler really is hiding something from us as well as her comrades.

We also learn more about the Executioner Division structure, with a Boss (named “Boss”) answering to Kanto in the form of three Noh masks atop a traditional shrine-like structure. They aren’t just elite cops, but Kanto’s muscle in Kansai and a form of society control. Akudama, after all are the only people from Kansai who could threaten Kanto’s hegemony.

Boss is given an ultimatum to find and destroy the seven Akudama who raided the Shinkansen at all costs, but the hospitalized Master and Apprentice are suspended indefinitely for twice failing in their mission—something virtually unheard of up to this point.

Meanwhile, in a nice moment between Swindler and Courier as the skies clear and reveal a gorgeous sunset, she tries to give him back his dropped ¥500 piece, which she almost slips up by saying it’s what “got her in this mess.”

The Executioners’ Boss gives a rousing speech to all members, including trainees, to find and eliminate the seven Akudama, and their faces pop up all over town video boards. Frankly, while Boss talks about law, order, and justice, there are more than generous hints of fascism and hyper-conformity in both her rhetoric and the division’s uniforms.

Apprentice is frustrated she and her Master can’t take responsibility for their failures by participating, only to find that Master has given her the slip. The next we see him he’s already located the Akudama, who attempted to clandestinely enter Kansai through the drainage and sewage network. They failed, but is the Master and a single security drone really enough against the six Akudama—even if the little sister doesn’t provide defense via her flute shield? We’ll find out.

Not every episode is a bullet train heist, nor should it be, nor would I want it to be. This was just the kind of follow-up I wanted, using the calm between storms to give a little more depth and seasoning to the players and their relationships.

Whether Swindler is just an ordinary girl in over head or secretly and/or unconsciously the most powerful of all of them (due in large part to her ability to “move hearts”), the true nature of the siblings, and the all-hands manhunt add up to plenty of juicy material for the remaining episodes.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Chihayafuru 3 – 24 (Fin) – Gathering the Wind

Goddammit! This is a dark fucking period!—Dewey Cox

In the wake of Taichi’s sudden departure, the Mizusawa Karuta Club is still able to recruit four new members—two girls including one who is Class A, and two boys—and rather than quit like everyone expected, Sumire takes the lead on showing the newbies the ropes.

She has to, because Chihaya is too out of it. The cards “turn black” for her as well. Fukasaku advises that she “learn something”—anything—because karuta and the hundred poets can’t be all that holds her together.

As Mizusawa’s club loses its founding members, Arata remains determined to start one at Fujioka East. For that, he needs at least two new members, so he goes class to class in his black yukata, starting with the first-years and working his way up.

When he tells Yuu how he saw her as part of his team when they were caring for his grandpa before he passed, she decides to volunteer to join if he’s a member short—but he gains one more than he needs.

Wanting them to see one of the best at what they’re setting out to do, Arata arranges practice matches at the prestigious Fujisaki High, but Sakurazawa is the one to break to him the news that as he’s starting a new club, Chihaya and Taichi have quit theirs. He’s so shocked he can’t focus properly, but he’s still the only one on his team to come away with wins.

More importantly, he learns a lot about how a karuta team must be run and who must run it. It’s rare that a great karuta player is also a great leader. Fujisaki’s best player is Rion, but Hyuuga (“Cheers”) is better at rallying the team. Mizusawa’s leader was Taichi while its best player was Chihaya. Seeing them create a team inspired him to do the same. But he just can’t fathom what happened to cause both of them to quit.

However, he knows instinctively that as a member of their triangle it’s his turn to try to cheer them up, as they once did. So as his team is heading home, he takes a selfie of them bathed in the light of the setting sun. He assures Chihaya that Taichi “will be back”, and that the two of them have to get stronger to prepare for his return.

I don’t share Arata’s optimism, as Chihaya’s response to Taichi’s confession seemed like the final nail in the dual coffins of friendship and karuta. This season ends with us not even 100% sure Chihaya definitely quit, we only hear it second hand, while Arata has no idea what happened between Chihaya and Taichi. That’s a lot of balls in the air for a fourth season. Hopefully it won’t take six years to come!

Domestic na Kanojo – 12 (Fin) – Turning Pain Into Art

When Hina is caught, she doesn’t hesitate to be the adult and put herself at the mercy of her superiors. Sure, it probably wasn’t a good idea to sleep with a student in front of a window while on a school trip, but she doesn’t want that to affect her stepbrother’s future.

So she leaves the school, accepting a transfer far away, and then moves out of her apartment, all without telling Natsuo—who would have obviously tried to stop her and likely made things worse. That’s the second good move Hina made: not letting him have a say in the equation.

After reading a note in which Hina pours her heart out onto the page, Natsuo goes into a state of deep anguish, holing up in his room and not leaving. When Fumiya reads the note, he castigates Natsuo for basically wasting all of the pain and trouble Hina went through for his sake.

On a bathhouse trip with Kobayashi, the former yakuza and cafe owner tells him from experience that you can’t turn back time, and moving forward and continuing to live while shouldering his pain is the only way. But Natsuo manages to find an outlet for all that pain he’s shouldering: writing.

He stops his weekly short stories and instead starts pouring his heart onto the page, as Hina did with her farewell letter. At first it’s such a compulsive thing he doesn’t eat or sleep, but after his talk with Kobayashi he starts accepting Rui’s kindness in the form of cocoa, late night snacks, and other food to keep his health up.

On New Year’s Day, Natsuo finishes his novel, though he also lost track of the days. Rui takes him out where he meets with his friends from the lit club who were silently supporting him as he worked his shit out. Then they go to Kiriya-sensei’s house to deliver the first draft.

Some time later Natsuo is invited back to Kiriya’s on a Sunday, wondering what’s up. Kiriya has him meet Tsutaya, an editorial staff member with Shinkosha, and they go to a ceemony celebrating Natsuo’s first-place amateur award for his novel, which Kiriya secretly submitted.

Just as Hina had hoped, her quick action secured Natsuo’s future and ability to achieve his dream of becoming a novelist, even if it also broke both their hearts, those wounds heal, while a public school sex scandal…notsomuch!

When he gets home, Natsuo is shocked to find Hina waiting there for him…or at least he thinks it’s Hina. Turns out it’s Rui in a wig. She runs to her room to cry, because now she knows how Natsuo’s loving embrace felt to Hina. After congratulating him for his award, Rui has a proposition.

She’s done pretending to hate Natsuo, and she’s done “holding back” for Hina’s sake. When she and Natsuo made love for the first time, she didn’t think much of it, but she seems reasonably sure a second time will feel different to her, now that she has feelings for him and all.

Natsuo looks a bit overwhelmed, but if Hina truly is gone from his life forever, it’s a good idea to move on. Probably not with Rui…but I like Rui so, ah, well there it is. As Picasso said, “Art is born of your dad marrying the mother of the first girl you slept with and your longtime teacher crush.” Or something like that.

Darling in the FranXX – 05

Now that Hiro has shown he and Zero Two can make a difference in Strelizia, everything is just peachy on the Plantation, right? They can relax, celebrate their victory as Plantation 26 hooks up with theirs, and look forward to Hiro leading the way in the next Klaxosaur battle. Hiro and Zorome even bury the hatchet.

Well, not so fast. Hiro’s body is boiling. Gorou is concerned, but Hiro says he’s never felt better. On one level that might be true—he made a difference and has a chance to keep contributing—but on the basic physical level, he has to be suffering. And this is after two times in the cockpit with Two. “The next time is the third”, Nana ominously says. No stamen has ever made it to a fourth.

FranXX proves it can deliver an engaging episode without any flashy battles between the enemy and its titular sexy mecha. That’s because both the main players and the supporting roles are all very well-executed, if archetypal.

Ichigo in particular turns in a wonderfully-layered performance, due in no small part to the talents of newcomer seiyu and Hana-Kana sound-alike Ichinose Kana, as the squad leader watches her beloved Hiro snatched away from her by the haughty Zero Two.

Ichigo takes this in stride—she isn’t even the person she was a few episodes back, but just because she’s better able to prioritize her personal feelings with her duties (and asking that Gorou do the same) doesn’t mean those feelings aren’t there, seething beneath her cool surface.

Ichigo makes it plain to Zero Two that she won’t tolerate rule-breaking or offer special treatment, and takes Two’s “bossy” comment as a compliment. Meanwhile, Hiro continues to writhe in a pain he is hiding from everyone, and spots a spider on the bathroom light about to kill a moth; a not-so-subtle symbol of his current situation.

When Squad 13 meets Squad 26, we learn just how different and unusual our squad is, with its unique FranXX and nicknames for their parasites. 26 is All Business, but aren’t so cold they’ll crush Zorome’s dreams by telling him no children ever become adults in this business.

Parasites purpose is to fight until they die or can’t fight anymore; growing up and procreating, it would seem, is for other people. They’re not fighting for their future, but for a future for mankind they’ll never see. Hiro seems to understand this more than anyone, as he’s willing to keep partnering with Two even as a bizarre and intensely painful blue growth spreads across his chest.


Gorou eventually discovers Hiro’s secret, but Hiro makes him keep it a secret, out of deference to their friendship and because Gorou doesn’t want to be the one to deliver the news that will ground Hiro and rob him of his chance to make a difference.

There’s also the fact that Strelizia is a big part of Hachi and Nana’s battle plan for the impending surge of Klaxosaurs descending upon the kissing Plantations, and they cannot guarantee the success of the mission (i.e., their survival) if Hiro and Zero don’t sortie.

When Squad 26’s leader hears that Strelizia will join the battle, he shows the most emotion he has up to that point, condemning Two for not caring about her allies and blaming her for the death of his former partner.

Two isn’t apologetic; she doesn’t even recall the battle that changed this guy’s life, and says “weaklings die”. But when he draws closer in anger Hiro blocks him, assuring him he’ll keep Two under control.

That night, Ichigo goes off with Two to warn her not to push Hiro too far. This is beyond jealousy; Ichigo doesn’t want to lose Hiro, no matter what, but Two cannot guarantee anything. Things turn nasty when Ichigo accuses her of wanting to “suck Hiro dry” and discard him.

Two states that if he dies its because he didn’t have anything going for him, she slaps her and calls her inhuman. Two, with her headband knocked off her horns, glares at Ichigo with glowing red eyes and asks what Ichigo and the others even think “human” is.

Gorou, who couldn’t sleep (Hiro groaning in pain in the opposite bunk), observed Ichigo and Two’s exchange, and Ichigo bursts into tears, lamenting how much of a mess her mind is, and not wanting to feel the way she does. Faced with his partner getting so upset about another guy, Gorou seems to feel something similarly undesirable.

Ichigo and Gorou would seem to be in the worst possible emotional state prior to the biggest and most hazardous battle of their lives (it might claim a parasite or two from Squad 13 before it’s over), but Hiro and Zero Two are an island of tranquility, standing by the pond where they met.

Two knows about the growth and the pain Hiro is enduring, and gives him one last chance to back out from darlinghood. Hiro immediately and firmly declines. He said he’d fly with her. It’s what he wants. And he’ll do it as long as he’s able and allowed (or even if he’s disallowed, as he was last week). He knows the wings he’s been given may snap any day, but his place is in the sky.

Darling in the FranXX – 04

Mitsuru is alive, but he’ll never go near a cockpit with Zero Two again; it’s as if he knows he’d never survive. Despite this, and to Ichigo’s frustration, Hiro remains resolved to pilot with Two again if it means he’ll be able to be useful. Meanwhile, Two gets a scolding but ends up coldly writing off the other FranXX as weaklings who will die soon anyway.

Ichigo decides not to fight Hiro on the issue, and rather steels herself for that eventuality. As Hiro trains alone, she manages to get the rest of the team behind her, asserting her leadership role by reminding them of the stakes and how every day could be their last until they all get it together. She also encourages Ikuno to help Mitsuru, who like the rest of them surely doesn’t want to fail again.

Paying him back from the first episode, Zero Two walks in on Hiro bathing and makes another offer for them to run away together, just them and Strelizia against the world. When she senses his hesitation and fear, her mood darkens, and she asks him whether he thinks she’s just a pilot-killing monster like everyone else.

When a Klaxosaur worm appears during a docking procedure, Ichigo’s team sorties, and quickly brings the worm down, but wthout knowing where the core is, it comes back to life and is joined by a second enemy. Just like last week Ichigo’s team seems in over their head; but Nana refuses to allow Zero Two and Hiro to sortie; “Papa’s” orders.

Eventually, Zero Two and Strelizia’s transport lands at the Plantation, and she’s ordered to go with her “escort team” back to the front lines, without Hiro. When she bristles, they train their guns on her, and she says a sad “would’ve been nice” bye-bye to Hiro, filling him with regret and shame for his inaction.

He tries to right this by chasing after Zero Two and yelling through a security barrier, acknowledging his fear then and now, telling her he doesn’t think she’s a monster, and that what he wants most isn’t to pilot a FranXX, but to ride with her again.

With those words from Hiro, Zero Two shakes off her guards, rushes to Hiro’s side, and takes him through the barriers and all the way into Strelizia. Once there, Hiro wonders if he’ll really be able to pilot her again, and Two promises him that he—that they—absolutely can, and will.

When Strelizia enters the battlefield, Ichigo keeps her cool and continues to give the orders, telling Hiro and Two to go after one worm while she and the others tackle the second. It eventually becomes clear the two are really seperate ends of the same single worm, and when Ichigo & Co. end up in trouble again, Strelizia hurries to their rescue, slashing the worm in half and shattering it’s core—but not before showing Ichigo (whose face is repeated in Delphinium) a very smug face.

I was hoping, for once, that instead of moping about not being useful for yet another episode, Hiro would finally be allowed to show he could be useful again. And I got that, so I’m satisfied, even if it happened rather easily, and with likely consequences on the way.

At the same time, the pair has kinda backed their superiors into a corner: Zero Two needs a stamen who won’t die after three sorties, and Hiro is mostly fine after two and may well do fine in a third. They can’t very well put the welfare of civilization above nailing him to the wall for his disobedience.

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 – 13 (Fin)

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After a dominating emotional one-two punch of the last couple of episodes, the last episode of Shouwa Genraku Rakugo Shinjuu was bound to be quiet and uneventful by comparison. The first half or so is the aftermath of the death of Sukeroku and Miyokichi. Kikuhiko takes Konatsu on as a ward and after making arrangements for the internment of her parent’s ashes, he takes her to Tokyo.

There, he’s officially named Yakumo, since, well, there’s no one else to take it. No matter how good I or anyone else think he may be, he’ll never believe he deserved the title. Were it not for the war, or the events that led to his brother’s death, someone better would have inherited it. That being said, he knows someone has to take it, so he accepts.

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After we witness a smidgen of Yakumo’s (lack of) parenting skills, as a young, grieving Konatsu soothes her heart with rakugo (in spite of her guardian’s displeasure with the practice), we return to the present, with a futatsume Yotaro getting a haircut as penance for letting slip that he’s to be promoted to shin’uchi soon.

The now-grown Konatsu is proud of the lug, and probably a little jealous too (what with her wish to do what he’s doing). At the end of the day there was no need to go right back to that night Yakumo forgave Yotaro and started his long epic tale that came to comprise the lion’s share of the series. Suffice it to say, Yotaro did what was asked of him, and is on the cusp of making it in a world many have now forgotten.

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Sharing some congratulatory tea in the doorway of their home, Konatsu asks Yotaro to do some rakugo for her. Not just any story; the same one she tearfully performed to herself years back, which led to Yakumo’s scolding. It brings tears to her eyes again, surprising Yotaro, and she suddenly tells him she’s preggers.

What she won’t say is who the father is, only that she wants to carry on the Sukeroku bloodline for her father’s sake. Yotaro, saying the first thing to come into his head, offers to be the kid’s father; she reacts with anger and exasperation and storms off, but notably without outright refusing the offer.

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As for Ol’ Yakumo, he’s washing the family grave on the anniversary of the seventh generation’s death, and pondering his own eventual demise as disconcerted Matsuda stands by. Yakumo can’t believe Yotaro is about to become a Shin’uchi, but like his masters before, he has little choice.

It’s as if the deterioration of rakugo has only accelerated, with Yakumo only being able to carry it on in its purest—but least flexible—form. Only one theater remains open in Tokyo, and it’s rarely full. With someone like Yotaro under his wing, rakugo’s future is that much brighter. But then, Yotarou asks to inheret the Sukeroku name, not moments after Yakumo saw the ghost of the man himself.

So ends the first act of Shouwa Genraku Rakugo Shinjuu. There would seem to be plenty of material for a second, for which this episode serves as a kind of entre’acte. And indeed, after the end credits, Yotaro apologizes for not being able to tell more, but they simply ran out of time. If and when an Act Two comes, I shall emphatically seek it out!

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Dimension W – 06

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Despite their intimate level of involvement in the case, Kyouma and Mira felt like background tourists in the Lake Yasogami arc. This week finds the show back on track, largely because despite the fact there is another whole new set of characters, both Kyouma and Mira feel a lot more connected to the events.

One of those new faces is the “Wind of Africa” Prince Salva-Enna-Tibesti. Loved by the ladies but pissed by how obvious they are, Salva is both CEO of the world’s #1 Robot manufacturer, Islero, and COO of one of the Central coil stations; #60. His aide Lasithi is almost certainly a robot, as is his younger brother, Prince Lwai.

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We learn the former when Salva is able to “bind” Lasithi with a command, while we learn the latter when the precocious Lwai (or “Loo”), eager to experience Japan, latches onto Kyouma (who is just minding his own business) and ends up spending the day with him as he avoids being picked up by Salva’s men.

Kyouma takes a distinct “why me” stance towards Lwai’s continued following, but when he accidentally destroys a fish-catching kiosk at the market (revealing his superhuman strength), Kyouma decides to at least get the kid some less conspicuous clothes.

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That leads him to the clothing store of Azumaya Tsubaki, who has a past with Kyouma (she calls her his “big sister” but they’re the same age.) Tsubaki is also related to Miyabi, a girl Kyouma presumably once loved but lost, and since her death has been unable to visit her grave but struggled to move on. This would explain his hesitance to get closer to Mira (other than the fact he distrusts technology…and most everyone/thing else).

Basically, this episode finally lets us a little bit into Kyouma. We meet someone close to him whom he does trust, and we see the source of much of his present and lasting bitterness and depression. He even shows kindness towards Loo, though Tsubaki’s assistants dress him in a girl’s yukata because he’s so pretty. When Lesithi shows up wanting Lwai to come with him, no discussion, Kyouma lets him go, but wishes him well.

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Knowing at this point that Salva is concerned with Lwai because he’s his new secret weapon, it’s not surprising when Lwai – in a totally different state of mind (or “mode”, as it were) shows up at Mary’s simply to easily kick her bodyguard Four’s ass (after an earlier scene showed how tough Four is).

Meanwhile, somewhere remote, Loser continues his search for Numbers, needing only one more, while his daughter Elizabeth assists. It’s here when I finally realized Liz has been around since the first Loser episode and has simply had a different look each time we’ve seen her (I wrongly thought she was a boy at first, and so didn’t realize the same character was at Lake Yasogami).

Anyway, now I know. And now she and Loser know something’s up at Central 47 (in Tokyo).

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That something is an open challenge from Salva and Islero, announcing a grand battle royale or race for all worthy collectors, as he announces to Claire over a very old glass of wine. Mary, not taking Four’s destruction lying down, wants Kyouma to go.

The venue of this “war to avoid war” will be Easter Island, a “sealed off island of ruin.” It resembles the rocky place we see in flashes of Kyouma’s memory, and it’s likely sealed off due to something to do with Dimension W.

While Kyouma is headed for Easter Island, it doesn’t look like he intends to bring Mira with him. Part of that is obviously because he’s still used to working alone and wants her out of his hair. But perhaps he doesn’t want to involve Ponkatsu in anything that will get her exposed or worse. He already seems to bear the burden of losing someone under his care.

After shooing Mira away from the garage where he tinkers on a car, he starts to reminisce on how he met another pretty young lady, Miyabi, quite by chance. I’m looking forward to that tale.

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Gakkou Gurashi! – 12 (Fin)

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Though Yuki is the only one who can save everyone, I appreciated that she didn’t have Kurumi’s zombie-smiting strength, as her first target doesn’t even feel the force of the aluminum bat she swings. She’s not going to get it done with brawn, but she does get it done with a bit of luck, as well as the relationship she’d cultivated with Taroumaru all this time.

He’s loose again, but rather than bite her, he chooses to bite the zombies cornering her, remembering just enough of his pre-zombie life to instinctively protect his friend, just as Megu-nee did by staying in the basement. It gives Yuki the moments she needs to slip into the broadcast room.

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There, she makes a P.A. announcement that school is out, along with a moving speech that mirrors her monologue in the first episode. Only now, her eyes are wide open, and she’s aware that the ideal school she speaks of is no more. The announcement works, and the zombies disperse, freeing Miki, who rushes the medicine to Kurumi in time to save her. Thank goodness!

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But there is a price for Yuki and Miki succeeding and Kurumi recovering, in the form of the show’s biggest gut punch yet. Taroumaru is doing much better than he was, but he can’t eat and only drinks a little bit of water before letting out one last little yip before dying in Miki’s lap. Needless to say, this was a heartwrenching and tearful scene, but like Megu-nee’s end as seen in flashbacks, and Yuki saying goodbye to her “specter”, the sendoff further demonstrates this show’s devotion to giving its doomed characters a proper, unblinking sendoff.

The girls bury Taroumaru next to Megu-nee; two protectors who gave their lives to save them, and when Miki says she’s fine, Yuki lets her know it’s okay to not be fine; to not bottle up one’s grief, but let it flow out without reservation. This is sage advice coming from someone who once broke from reality rather than face what was going on, but eventually opened her eyes.

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With the school’s utilities trashed and provisions dwindling, the School Life Club must disband and depart from the school for a more suitable shelter. Megu-nee provided locations of other shelters on a map, and though the group doesn’t know what kind of survivors (if any) they’ll encounter, they have little choice but to take their chances out there.

The graduation ceremony they have isn’t some empty gesture, but is carried out with the same decorum and formality as the real thing would have had most of the school not been zombified—Yuki even neatens her hair! They are literally graduating from one kind of life, one of relative safety and routine and contained within the walls of their beloved but now-broken school, and striking out into the vast, unknown world, full of as many possibilities as hazards.

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But I have no doubt that they’re ready, if they stick together, they’ll do fine. And when Kurumi fires up the Mini Cooper and they pull away from the school, even when Miki catches a glimpse of one last zombie who may well be her friend Kei, she doesn’t insist they turn back, because they can’t turn back.

Megu-nee, Taroumaru, and even Kei may be lost to them, but they wouldn’t be alive without them, and aren’t going to squander the product of their noble sacrifice. We also get a glimpse of the puppy Taroumaru saved; an upbeat parting shot of the school grounds.

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After the gang heads off into the horizon and the credits roll, there’s one last ambiguous scene imparted with GG!’s signature sneakiness, in which a glasses-wearing girl we’re not familiar with (but who definitely isn’t a zombie) approaching a field of debris (though it looks more like building rubble than car wreckage) finds Yuki’s childish drawing of the School Life Club members with the message “We Are Happy”.

Is this something Yuki left behind, like Miki’s note to Kei on the blackboard, for anyone who might come past, like this girl? Or is this drawing all that’s left of them? The latter possibility is too dark and ghastly for me to contemplate any further, so let’s say the latter and call it a day, shall we? After all, it’s School-Live, not School-Die,right?

…Right? O__O

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Oregairu 2 – 07

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In shopping list she slipped into her brother’s bag, with whom she’s on good terms again, Komachi writes that what she wants most is his happiness (and detergent). But he’s increasingly unsure of how to get that happiness. All he knows is that saving people with his methods hasn’t quite done the trick.

Something is missing: “His responsibility…the answer” he needs. And as much as he doesn’t want to admit it, there may be no more answers in the Service Club, which he now attends increasingly for Yui’s sake, haunted by what would happen if he wouldn’t and Yukino’s “smile of giving up.”

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He may not realize it yet, nor does she, but Hikky’s answer may lie in Iroha, and hers in him. He is someone she can be herself with, after all, and who insists on carrying her bag even though it’s not heavy. I initially thought Iroha’s presence on the show would lead to cliched conflict, but we’ve instead been blessed with a far more complex and satisfying dynamic as the two tentatively circle one another.

The way the camera stays on the other side of the street as they cross and make the bag hand-off had just as much power as past close-ups of said hand-offs, if not more. Hikky isn’t just settling for handling Iroha’s tough stuff; he wants to support her in the little things too.

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If only it were that easy. Hikky hasn’t been this earnestly hands-on a “service client” like this before, nor has he faced quite as formidable and opaquely frustrating an opponent as the other school’s talky president, who continues to spew unproductive bullshit as the clock ticks on the Christmas event. Among the elementary kids they’ve recruited to assist is Tsurumi Rumi, whom I think I’ll call “Mini-Yukino” due to her not-at-all-not-coincidental resemblance to Hikky’s emotionally estranged club mate.

The council quagmire is the challenge he’s facing now, but Rumi is a symbol of someone he saved before with non-ideal, imperfect methods: sabotaging the bonds of the peers who bullied her so they’d no longer trust one another or level coordinated attacks on her, while leaving her just as alone in the end.

Later that night Hikky is treated to someone on the other end of the spectrum: Saika, who thinks it’s cool the way Hikky’s always working hard for others without complaint. Saika’s opinion is valid from his point of view, though he’s not in on the whole picture.

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Someone else who doesn’t have the whole picture is Orimoto Kaori, who bumps into Hikky and Iroha on the streets and, perhaps due to her proximity to her classmates, her vague language about her past with Hikky pique Iroha’s interest. Is it just me, but it feels like Yukino and Yui fade out of focus whenever Hikky is with Iroha, and having Kaori around makes a triad—a new triad.

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In fact, when Iroha very overtly puts her hand on Hikky, it looks every bit like a gesture of possession, not idle flirtation, in the presence of another girl Hikky may have had “dealings” with. “This is my man now,” so to speak. She seems happy that such a scenario may have occurred, though, because it reinforces the part of her that sees Hikky as a suitable mate. Whoa, sorry for gettin’ all Discovery Channel there!

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Bag hand-offs and arm-touching aside, in semi-public Iroha still plays her rapid-rejection card when she senses Hikky is flirting with her, but like Hikky, she’s maintaining a facade that doesn’t express her true feelings about the way Hikky is treating her.

That facade always mentions some quality she believes Hikky doesn’t possess or never will, in the process painting the picture of an ideal guy she’s never met, and maybe never will. Meanwhile, here is Hikky, staunchly by her side, worried he may be carrying too much of Iroha’s load with regards to the event, but still feeling responsible for her being there to begin with.

I should also mention that Hikky reaches out to Rumi even though he doesn’t have too, simply sitting with her and helping with decorations so she won’t be alone, then encouraging her to go to the others. If Hikky were the guy his facade less and less convincingly attempts to assure us he is, he’d never bother, but he can’t help it, especially with someone he feels an obligation to be nicer to after providing only an imperfect solution to her problems.

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Which brings us to an understated but ultimately pretty heartbreaking closing scene as Hikky bumps into Yukino. He’s been nothing but submissive, contrite, and polite to her since she’s been able to occupy the same room as him, but he only told her a half-truth about being busy with Komachi’s exams. In reality, he’s busy with Iroha, and enjoying it as well. Yukino knows this, and knows there’s little she could contribute.

She also believes Hikky is only still attending club out of obligation. For Shizuka, who brought them together, but tellingly has been nowhere to be seen of late—maybe the experiment is over, with mixed but still valuable results? For Yui, who not only wants to walk to the club with him, but wants to be seen walking with him by others.

But Yukino, without any hint of bitterness, tells him he doesn’t have to beg her pardon or ask her permission or force himself to attend. Yukino’s analysis may be right—Hikky is certainly deriving happiness from helping Iroha—but she also walks away before Hikky can at least attempt to respond to it. Maybe he just likes attending club. Or maybe it’s time to move on.

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