The Duke of Death and His Maid – 07 – Suspension Bridge Effect

Not about to be discouraged by Daleth’s insistence they give up, Alice spends much of the episode trying to find alternative methods of lifting Bocchan’s curse. She begins by procuring a second-hand witch’s cauldron complete with a book containing recipes for curse-lifting brews. Unfortunately it’s unsuccessful, but it as worth a try.

In the next segment, Alice finds some odd sheet music from a composer named MacFarlane (not Seth) who wrote the music in white ink on black paper because it looked cool, which also makes it hard to read. That said, it’s believed if you play his piece perfectly it can lift a curse, so Bocchan does just that, powering through both the distracting ghost of MacFarlane and Alice’s usual flirting. Turns out the curse that is lifted is…the curse of MacFarlane’s ghost.

When Bocchan accidentally breaks a flowerpot, he runs and hides from the wrath of Rob, and Alice tags along. While he started out the segment wanting to create the “suspension bridge effect” in her by scaring her and causing her heart to race, the fact of the matter is there’s no need to scare her. Alice’s heart is always racing when Bocchan is around, racing all the faster the closer in proximity they are. She’s long since established she’s not scared of dying, she just loves the guy.

The final sequence, which takes place after the credits, involves Bocchan and Alice sharing an Alice in Wonderland-themed dream in which they must secure the White Rabbit in order to exact a wish from Alice (the book version).

Their mission is derailed by the fact they can touch one another in the dream, with Bocchan waking up just before committing to kissing his Alice. The book Alice is mad for them totally slacking off, but Bocchan is content to fall back asleep, hoping to pick up his dream with Alice where he left off.

The Duke of Death and His Maid – 06 – Knight in a Top Hat

By introducing the overgrown conservatory this week the show finally acknowledges that it’s hella hard to maintain a vast mansion with just two servants, one of whom has a bad back! But should Bocchan never lift his curse and his younger brother becomes the head of the family, he always has a lucrative future in landscaping, as his curse becomes an effective brush-clearing blessing.

After losing himself a bit in the satisfaction of clearing away all the excess greenery, Bocchan checks in on Alice to find her admiring some purple flowers. Rather than wither them, he manages to dry them and make a charming garland headpiece for Alice, who promises to treasure it along with the rose he gave her. If you can’t touch the one you love, at least make yourself useful!

One night, Bocchan can’t sleep and hears Alice call out. He inadvertently catches her naked, and she puts on a towel reports that a black cat has run off with her dressing gown. Bocchan gallantly offers to track down the cat and retrieve the gown, but Alice accompanies him. I mean, I know Bocchan wasn’t going to accidentally murder the cat, but there’s still that edge to his interactions, especially with animals that move unpredictably.

With Alice donning Bocchan’s coat so she won’t catch a chill (and absolutely loving the opportunity to smell his scent), the two eventually find the cat, and discover the gown is not in recoverable shape. Since the cat took it to make a warm nest for her litter of kittens, neither Alice nor Bocchan feel that bad about letting the gown go. As Alice demonstrated earlier in the episode, she has a pretty extensive wardrobe.

After these two cute little “home” segments during which Alice and Bocchan putter around the mansion, we get to the meat of the episode: the long-awaited Witches’ Sabbath. Caph and Zain arrive, repurpose a mirror in a storeroom into a portal to the meeting spot, and give Bocchan and Alice robes that will mask their scent so the witches won’t, ya know, murder them or feed them to their carnivorous plant.

As soon as they arrive, Bocchan is on edge; while there are some witches with human form (and who are dressed like they’re ready for the club/beach/beach club) there are many more witches who appear to Bocchan to be nothing but monsters. While the sheltered Bocchan shouldn’t be judging books by their covers, since he’s been judged by his curse for most of his life I suppose it’s easy for the pot to call the kettle black.

The witches’ leader, Daleth, runs the Sabbath like high school homeroom, with the stand-and-bow, roll call, and mundane announcements. It’s actually pretty funny how laid back it all this, especially considering how wound-up Bocchan got; he intended to bring along a suitcase full of weapons, but Caph burned it to ash.

Alice actually already crossed paths with the skull-masked Daleth when she and Bocchan went on their little town date, and Daleth recognizes her too, seeing right past her and Bocchan’s frankly half-assed disguises. She also happens to know—and hate the fucking guts of—the witch who gave Bocchan his curse. The bad news? That witch is dead, and even Daleth has no idea how to lift the curse.

She recommends Bocchan give up now rather than later for his sake. When he protests, she deems the conversation over, then covers her withdrawal by burning away Bocchan’s robe. With his human stench exposed, the witches chase him en masse.

When the club/beach chicks sic their carnivorous plant on Alice, Bocchan need only touch one of the tendrils to kil the whole damn thing. Still, Alice does not understate the fact that Bocchan risked his life to save hers, doubtless causing her love for him to only grow.

Bocchan, Alice, Caph, and Zain make it back to their mirror portal, which closes before any of the witches can press their pursuit. After a short stint in a most magical and whimsical land, they’re back in the relative normalcy of Bocchan’s huge mansion. Bocchan isn’t about to let himself be discouraged by Daleth’s words, and continuing to believe there is a way to break the curse is crucial to breaking it.

As for Caph and Zain, he thanks them profusely for all of their help. Caph again explains that seeing him go all out inspired her to take a chance with a human, and she didn’t regret it. She assures him that the next time she and Zain return to his mansion, it will be as friends, not merely magical facilitators. As for the curse, well…who’s to say it’ll take a witch to break it?

SSSS.Dynazenon – 01 (First Impressions) – Battle, Go!!

Like its predecessor Gainax, Trigger is known for ambitious, sumptuous, stylish, and sometimes chaotic action bangers that usually pay tribute or homage to anime history in some way. Trigger’s first big hit was Kill la Kill, which approached and sometimes surpassed Gurren Lagann’s iconic escalating insanity.

Seemingly every Trigger series has been polarizing, perhaps none more than Darling in the FranXX (which I personally loved).  Even with series generally considered middling like InoBato and Kiznaiver, you’re assured a feast for the eyes and ears. There’s also a lot of love and joy in its series; they almost always reach for the skies rather than go through the motions.

Trigger’s Fall 2018 entry SSSS.Gridman revived an obscure 90s tokusatsu series and imbued it with vibrant, dynamic, flawed characters and the kind of crazy world-flipping twists that would have been unheard of in the original series. Dynazenon (which sounds like something invented by Buckminster Fuller) is the follow up to Gridman, but so far shares neither setting nor cast with its 2018 predecessor.

What is does share is a relatively mundane first couple acts, in which the kaiju and its anti-grav effects are only hinted at on the margins of the frame. We meet the four main kids: the utterly ordinary Asanaka Yomogi; the aloof Minami Yume, who serially asks boys out then stands them up and is possessed with an exceptionally icy glare; the shut-in NEET Yamanaka Koyomi; and his truant cousin Asukagawa Chise.

The fifth character is Gauma, who stands out from the others with his bizarre hair, clothes, and insistence he’s a “kaiju user”. He’s out of place in this world where the other four are just hanging around, carrying on with their normal, unexceptional lives. Still, when Yomogi hears Gauma’s stomach growling when he encounters him under a bridge, he gives him some food, and immediately gains Gauma’s gratitude and loyalty.

Yomogi’s family situation is such that his mom brings him on dates with her wealthy gentleman caller, who gives Yomogi a fat stack for his birthday to ingratiate himself. Meanwhile, we learn Yume’s sister Kano is dead her room hasn’t been repurposed yet. Yume has to ask to even enter the room, and she finds two things: a calendar with a particular date circled (a recital perhaps Yume promised to attend but didn’t) and two interlocking metal ankhs that gently clink like a rain chime and shackles in equal measure.

What I love about these establishing scenes is that they are so normal and undramatic, but also intimate. It grounds us the realism of this humdrum world and its realistic characters before things go all tokusatsu. Yomogi and Yume cross paths by accident, when the former is running away from a far-too-insistent Gauma chasing him like an eager dog.

Yume wastes no time arranging a meet-up with Yomogi when he gets off work at nine. Meanwhile, the antigrav incidents around town increase, and Chise wants to drag Koyomi out of bed so they can go investigate. As expected, she stands Yomogi up, as he waits 40 minutes in vain. Fortunately for him, Gauma’s on the case: he’ll locate Yume for him.

Turns out Yume is within eyeshot of Yomogi on a nearby bridge, and when Gauma finds her and starts yelling at her for daring to mess with his new best bro, they’re within earshot as well. Yomogi heads to the bridge, and Yume admits to him and Gauma that yes, she stood him up, because yes, there is “something wrong” with her. It’s as if her “promise-breaking affliction” is a self-fulfilling prophesy.

There’s no time to get into this further because a giant robotic dino-kaiju suddenly appears in the midst of downtown, kicking up apartment blocks and office towers like a batter kicks up dirt when stepping up to the plate. The spacial relationship between the three characters on the bridge and the kaiju is clearly established, adding to the sense of scale and realism.

Deciding this is his time to shine, Gauma pulls out a glowing package, which causes a giant purple wireframe robotic hand to coalesce above his and the other’s heads. Chise and Koyomi watch it all, and Chise snaps a pic only for the purple wire robot to glare at her.

She and Koyomi run for it, but Koyomi is caught. He finds himself in a multi-chamber cockpit already occupied by Gauma, Yomogi and Yume. Then we get the first money shot of the red-and-gold mecha Dynazenon that Gauma learns he needed a total of four people to operate.

With that quota met, Gauma takes the reins—for what he admits is his first time—flies over to where his purple-and-silver enemy is waiting, and then we get a good old-fashioned rock-’em-sock-’em mecha-vs.-mecha-kaiju fight of yore—only with far more modern and enhanced production values.

You can feel the weight of the massive metal beasts as buildings crumble around them, and the heat of their various vents and exhausts as Gauma grabs his opponent and Dynazenon transforms into Dyna Rex, complete with dragon wings with which he launches high into the sky with his opponent.

One Blazing Inferno Rex Roar later, the enemy kaiju is obliterated. Gauma celebrates, Koyomi calls a worried-sick Chise to assure her he’s just fine, and Yomogi stares at Yume while recalling her words “something is wrong with me.”

You’re not alone, sister. It’s clear there’s something a little off about all four of them, and the SSSS in the title stands for Scarred Souls Shine like Stars, their flaws are the reason they’re in that cockpit, brought together by the still-mysterious Gauma.

The first battle is typically the easiest. I’m looking forward to watching how this unlikely quartet of comrades—whom I feel we already know pretty well thanks to the quieter first acts— deal with this sudden upheaval to their ho-hum lives. We’ll see if this unexpected calling is just the thing they need to sooth those scarred souls of theirs. Until then, this was a hell of an opening salvo.

Horimiya – 05 – Breaking Through the Noise

I knew when Shindo was conveniently blocked out by Miyamura’s head that there would be trouble. Souta spots him with another girl and mentions it to Hori, who is already better but taking another sick day to avoid Miyamura post-his “I love you”.

To hear the words so clearly when she was meant to hear them has had a paralyzing effect, as Hori fears their relationship changing in any way from the lovely way it is. Only her inability to text or even face Miyamura for the next day and a half proves there’s no going back; the relationship has changed. There’s no putting the proverbial toothpaste back in the tube.

In a way, Souta’s extremely vague “other girl” report gives Hori leave to speculate that Miyamura is cheating, thus justifying their distance. But she can’t avoid him forever, and as soon as he has her alone by the lockers, he reiterates that he said he loved her knowing she was still awake.

Hori diverts to talk of the other girl, and Miyamura says it’s just Chika-chan, Shindo’s girlfriend, who was leaning on him because she twisted her ankle (Shindo was leaning from the other side because he too twisted his ankle, which is hilarious).

Hori buys the explanation, but is still angered. Why? Because Miyamura won’t stop saying “Chika-chan”. She throws two books in his face and runs off, but before long he’s at her place, calmly returning the books to her in case she had homework that night.

But Because this is Horimiya and not a lesser romantic show that would drag this conflict out over an episode or more for cheap drama, Hori interrupts Miyamura’s apology with her own for the misunderstanding. The awkwardness and tension fades away, and they return to being soothing presences in each other’s lives.

As they share a chair, Hori confirms she was awake when he confessed…which comes as no surprise to him. He apologizes again for springing something like that on her then running away, as he was more scared of how she’d respond than whether she would.

I wish they had more time in this moment to talk more, but they’re suddenly interrupted…by Hori’s dad, Kyousuke. She calls him by his name rather than “dad”, perhaps because he’s a total man-child, but he takes an instant liking to Miyamura, and—this is key—when he asks his daughter if he’s her boyfriend, Hori steps up to the plate and says “yeah, got a problem with that?!”

This, more than anything else Hori says or any other look she gives him, seems to affect Miyamura most powerfully. Just as he blurted out a confession not once but twice in the midst of a bunch of mundane conversation, Hori takes a page out of his book and essentially gives him a response to his confession by telling her dad he’s her boyfriend.

When their mom comes home and is worried not by Kyousuke’s presence, but the fact they won’t have enough dinner (though didn’t Hori just feed her dad?), Miyamura takes himself out of the equation so the whole Hori fam can eat together. Hori walks him home, apologizes for how annoying Kyousuke is, and casually starts holding Miyamura’s hand, blushing all the way.

Miyamura weaves his fingers into hers and they walk like this, affirming their desire to learn more about each other little by little. When they release to part ways, Miyamura takes her arm once more and thanks her, both for being her and for what she told her dad. When Miyamura texts Tooru about these developments, Tooru allows himself to despair a bit over losing to him.

The skies aren’t all cloudy for Tooru, however, as he has the normally serious and highly capable Kouno Sakura going into a daze while admiring him from inside the school. Remi notices Sakura’s uncharacteristic behavior and asks what’s up, but when Sakura sees Remi, she sees someone who is cute—unlike her—and so wouldn’t understand what’s bothering her. Remi, in turn, is bothered by that assertion.

Remi and Sakura have been nicknamed “Beauty and the Beast”, and that label has clearly affected Sakura’s self-esteem. She’s always stayed in her lane, but now that she has a crush on Tooru, she finds herself changing. It’s in the brief time after she ran away from Remi Sakura realizes that having “Beauty as a best friend” is more blessing than curse. When she next sees Remi, she tells her about her crush. Remi notes that Sakura is making a blushing face she’s never seen before…and it’s very cute.

Of course, Tooru is still 100% oblivious to Sakura’s feelings, but that’s not entirely his fault; he’s still feeling the sting of Hori’s rejection compounded with the fact that Miyamura and Hori are all but officially an couple. Still, Tooru doesn’t want things to get awkward, and insists to Miyamura not to worry about it. His pain is his to bear, and he’ll get over it.

The episode closes with another lovely cozy moment with Miyamura and Hori studying. Hori suddenly says “Izumi-kun”, and MIyamura assumes she’s calling him by his first name. Turns out it’s just Souta’s friend’s last name, but the truth is Miyamura would like her to call him by his first name.

She tries it, but amends it with a Baka, then descends into a baka spiral just as Souta comes home, causing his friend Izumi to ask if his family’s okay. Trust me, it’s just fine, kid! As for Miyamura, I’d advise him to start calling Hori Kyouko if he wants her to call him Izumi!

Horimiya – 04 – Not Going Anywhere

After a particularly cute scene with StuCo member Kouno Sakura, Tooru meets up with Miyamura, who has ice cream courtesy of Hori (not present). Unfortunately, the other ice cream is melon, which Tooru can’t eat. Thankfully they run into President Sengoku, and soon the boys are comparing tongue color and length, as guys do!

When Sengoku invites the two to stop by the (blessedly air-conditioned) StuCo office, they show up with Hori and Yuki, making for a full house. They use janken to determine Horimiya should grab everyone drinks, but when they’re gone too long, Tooru gets worried about what they’re “up to”. When they’re back, there’s a misunderstanding, but Kouno is there to help set him straight…and with a towel to clean his soda, which Miyamura dropped.

Back at her house, Hori apologize for the A/C not working, but Miyamura says he doesn’t mind. When the subject of his sleeping in underwear comes up, Hori impulsively asks to see his tattoos, and he immediately strips. This throws her off, but it shouldn’t, she’s seen them before. She wonders what if anything makes him blush or get flustered, and he assures her…there’s plenty!

For one thing, his middle school friend Shindo, who he bumps into while in town. Shindo has seen Miyamura with Hori enough to assume they’re dating, something that flusters Miyamura. Then Shindo sends him a photo of him with his GF and suggests a double date…a text Hori doesn’t get to see.

What Hori does see is Miyamura getting flustered and raising the volume of his voice, but calling Shindo just to yell “PISS OFF!” As with every time she sees a new part of him, Hori is fascinated…and also a little sad that there’s still so much about him she doesn’t know. Only one thing for that, Hori: keep asking!

Next time Hori’s in town, she’s approached by Shindo, not having a clue who he is. Miyamura spots them while he’s walking with Tooru, and he immediately charges Shindo and starts punching and slapping him. The thing is, Shindo barely reacts at all to this, meaning it’s just their dynamic. Like Hori, Tooru is fascinated, and the four decide to do lunch.

Unfortunately, we don’t get to see that lunch, but we do get a glimpse into Miyamura’s middle school life, thanks to a very effective smash cut to the past. He was shunned for being gloomy and depressing by everyone except Shindo, who was super-popular with the class, and soon befriends him.

When his other mates tell him to avoid Miyamura, Shindo shuts them right down, saying they’re just mad because they think Miyamura stole him from them. Now we know: Shindo’s a decent guy, like Miyamura, only more gregarious and approachable. It’s only natural they’d be friends. I just hope we meet his girlfriend soon, because we know she’s got a keeper!

Earlier in the ep we got Hori’s Chekhov’s Cough, which she denied was a sign of a cold, because “only morons get colds in the summer.” Well, one morning she has a temperature over 100°, and who should stop her from leaving the house and put her back in bed but her awesome kid brother Souta, who is growing up fast!

Souta also contacts Miyamura, who is in Hori’s room with water, sports drink and meds when she wakes up. She has a feverish dream about her mother having to leave a previous time she was sick in bed. Her mom praised her for being so good at “toughing things out”, but what Hori didn’t tell her mom is that she didn’t want her to go.

After giving Hori a wet towel, Miyamura gets up to leave so she can change, and Hori panics, rising out of bed only to collapse from the fever. She grabs Miyamura’s arm and asks what she could never ask her mom—“Where are you going?”  Miyamura knows what she means is “Please don’t go”. Taking her hand in his, he answers: He’s not going anywhere until she doesn’t need him anymore, or is sick of his face.

He helps her back in bed, then tells her to drink some water while she’s lying on her side away from him. He also tells her he’s in love with her, and has been for a while now, and to call or text him if she needs anything. He’ll be right over. A few beats after he leaves, Hori leaps out of bed, her fever momentarily broken, thinking “WHAT did he just say?”, even though she already knows.

She wonders if she pretends not to have heard it, the two of them can “stay like this for a little while longer.” But he said it—albeit in the middle of a bunch of “boring stuff”—and she can’t un-hear it. Especially with her abandonment issues in mind, I can understand her desire to maintain the status quo. But she shouldn’t pretend out of fear of losing what she has when she could have so much more. The more she waffles, the greater the chance Miyamura will return to thinking she doesn’t have the feelings he has. It seems the ball is in her court. No pressure!

Kakushigoto – 07 – What They Grow Beyond

Hime voices interest in a puppy, and researches a bunch to prepare, she comes across the “ten commandments of dog ownership”, one of which is to spend as much time as possible with your dog, as chances are they’ll only live ten years. Having any lifetime put in such stark terms is particularly upsetting to Kakushi, who later equates it to the life of a manga artist.

Kakushi comes around to having a dog when he learns through Ichiko how having one will help an only child feel less lonely (though Ichiko is not an only child), just as Hime learns from some mothers in an alley that they (i.e. what she and Kakushi don’t have) are necessary to properly care for a dog. If they knew Hime’s situation they probably wouldn’t have said that within earshot. Meanwhile, the original litter of puppies all found homes, but Kakushi’s father-in-law produces one for Kakushi to present to Hime.

It’s not just any dog, but the descendent of the dog Hime’s mother had (and the subject of her father’s painting, which one of Kakushi’s assistants find at the ocean house). While the moms discouraged Hime a bit, the sight of the new puppy erases those doubts, and she vows to sleep beside the puppy on its first night home (though later ends up kind of between her dad and the puppy).

Kakushi’s father isn’t done with anonymous gifts for Hime: Kakushi comes home to find a baby grand piano has been delivered. Like the dog with the long and distinguished lineage, the piano is a kind of inheritance. That gets Kakushi and the assistants thinking about how assistants inherit some of their masters’ style, but because they end up doing most of the physical work, it’s more of a new synthesis. Similarly, as master age their skills often wane while their apprentices rise.

In the midst of all this talk of lineage, and inheritance in the present, some new clues are presented in the obligatory flash forward. Hime’s classmates tailed her to the seaside house, continuing their detective club from school, but also because they’re worried about her. Then Ichiko appears, shockingly not in a tracksuit, bearing “good news and bad news.”

This got me thinking: perhaps Kakushi isn’t dead yet in this timeline? Maybe he’s just ill, bedridden, and possibly near the end. Maybe during this time he told Hime about the house, finally revealing the hidden thing he’d kept hidden so long even at 18 she had no idea what he did for a living. And maybe the good and bad news relate to his present condition. Or maybe not.

In any case, the consistent trickle of future information is starting to create a conflict: While I’ve enjoyed the present-day adventures of Kakushi, Hime & Co. (and the ensuing comedy), I’m beginning to care more about these more drama-oriented future events. There are essentially two shows here running in parallel, with the future one by far getting the short end of the stick runtime-wise. We’ll see whether and how the show manages to bridge these two times.

Kakushigoto – 06 – Pride and Privilege

Someone keeps giving Hime expensive backpacks every year, despite the fact her dad already bought her one. Because she’s a kind and gentle soul, Hime tries to wear both at once, inspiring Kakushi. But to him, giving a kid a backpack is a privilege that must be earned and appreciated, not an obligation to be fulfilled.

When this philosophy is applied to the manga industry, Kakushi imagines a kind new world where everything is a privilege to be grateful for, whether it’s the artists being grateful for the privilege of having their art published, or the readers being grateful for the privilege of that art. But when taken too far, Kakushi ends up overextending himself, having accepted the privilege of too much extra work. Rasuna thinks he sounds like a corporate slave, but as he’s self-employed he’s more of a “man-slave”. 

We eventually learn that the mysterious serial backpack provider is Kakushi’s father-in-law, who judging from the Toyota Century is some kind of big shot. Kakushi still seems to hold a grudge for the man’s reluctance to allow his daughter to marry a gag manga. But now that Kakushi has been a father for ten years, he would feel the same way if Hime brought someone like him home. As Kakushi says, he’s “a freakin’ paradox.”

One of the extra tasks Kakushi took on to realize his Kind World was an autograph session, which is booked the same time as his day-date with Hime at the very popular and sought-after Kidzanira, where kids get to try out a bunch of adult jobs in a controlled environment. Fortunately, the bookstore where he’ll be signing autographs and the Kidzanira are in the same mall. But that also means a risk of Hime finding out his job, so his assistants take turns keeping an eye on her.

During the morning session Kakushi is convinced everyone in line is either someone he knows (Ichiko), a friend of someone he knows, or people paid by his editor to stand in line. The way he phrases his questions to the latter group furthers his misinterpretation of events. It’s not until after spotting a poster for a famous painter that he realizes that those in the line are there because they are legitimate fans who love and respect his work. Even a father and young son are united in their love of Balls of Fury.

Just as his confidence returns and he yells “I’m a manga artist, damnit!”, his exuberance accidentally knocks down a partition, revealing Hime in a cloud of smoke. For a moment it looks like the gig’s up, but Ichiko swoops in with a tremendously creative save, telling Hime she and Kakushi are at the “Kidzanira for adults” trying out different jobs. Even so, Hime doesn’t even recognize her dad in his manga uniform, so he didn’t have to worry. What he may have to worry about? Hime wanting to work in a bookstore!

Fast forward to the future, where the older Hime opens the “17” box to reveal envelopes full of manuscripts. At first she seems unmoved by the manga, which is about a father, mother, and daughter. It’s all so boring and ordinary…which is why as she continues to read the tears start welling up. There may not be swords or magic on those pages, but there is a bunch of real life; a life very familiar to Hime.

This closing scene is one more emotional “bomb” that had been intricately constructed in the “past” sequences that preceded it. All those mundane moments of her and Kakushi just living life together given gain deeper resonance in the future where he’s suddenly absent.

Despite Kakushi’s reservations—not to mention his father-in-laws about him—Hime may well fall for someone like him. Not because that person will be a gag mangaka, but because they’ll be kind and loving, and consider loving and caring for her to be an honor and a privilege…because that’s exactly what it is.

Just Because! – 03

Izumi’s entanglement with Komiya Ena proves all to brief, as she’s forgotten the photo that she wants permission to submit. Showing zero consideration for Izumi, she zooms off on her moped to grab it, and it’s no surprise when she returns, in the rain, to find he’s gone.

The next day is Christmas (?), and everyone seems a bit listless, mimicking the somewhat grayish day with their moods. Izumi and Natsume type messages into LINE, but delete them without sending, seemingly hesitant to make any forward motion that will evoke a response from the other. It’s a stalemate, I tellya!

Things are dreary at Casa Morikawa too, as Morikawa confides to Yoriko that her life plan after high school doesn’t include furthering her trumpet performance, but rather college, a job, and eventually taking over the family business. It’s all said with the enthusiasm of someone inspecting turnips.

Left unsaid is any discussion of starting her own family, and as Morikawa seems almost criminally oblivious to Souma’s feelings (mostly his fault, BTW), that’s not surprising.

When Komiya reaches out to Natsume for info on Souma, Natsume uses it as an excuse/opportunity to message and meet up with Izumi. When they meet up, they’re still very cold and distant to one another, and the energy completely changes when Komiya spots her elusive transfer student.

Komiya’s casual nature with Izumi doubtless irks Natsume even more, since neither she not Izumi know what the heck they’re doing or what they should do. And while Komiya’s mission to get Izumi’s permission or LINE ID fails, she doesn’t seem like the type to give up easily.

Meanwhile, Souma is invited by Yoriko to join her and Morikawa for a walk, and his resulting meandering bike ride to their location is a constant source of suspense…will he ever get to them?

He does, only to freak out when Morikawa’s dog barks at him, which he thinks is a deal-breaker where dating her is concerned. Frankly, he should be more worried about, you know, telling her how he feels about her and asking her out on a proper date…but who am I?

When Souma reports the dog incident to Izumi and begs him for help getting better with dogs, Izumi tells him he has no pets, but Komiya stealthily enters the frame and offers her help…in exchange for Izumi’s LINE ID, which he gives her.

Interestingly, Komiya makes it clear she’s “over” the fact Izumi didn’t give her permission to use the photo, but with his ID, maybe she’s playing a longer game. Heck, maybe she just likes the cut of Izumi’s jib and wants to be friends…or more, which would complicate the love polygon even further.

Speaking of complications, Souma, unaware of the deal Izumi struck with Komiya, messages Natsume about helping him with dogs, since she has one too. This basically puts Natsume in the friendzone area of helping her unrequited crush get along with his own crush.

Over the most mundane circumstances, and in the absence of direct, honest, face-to-face conversation regarding how people feel about one another, the web of conflicting or one-sided romantic interests grows ever more tangled.

Just Because! – 02

Izuki reacts the way he does to Souma’s text about Natsume being at the school because, as we learn in another flashback, he liked her in middle school. Unfortunately for him, Natsume liked Souma, something Souma never knew.

Back in the present, Izuki and Natsume reunite in a similar situation, with Souma nearby with another girl, this time Morikawa. He’s unable to properly confess his feelings to her, but instead manages to invite her, along with Izuki and Natsume to the aquarium on the weekend.

Morikawa accedes to the wishes of her two little brothers and brings them along, further muddying the “date” waters for Souma, but he comports himself well, even earning the brothers’ trust and showing Morikawa he’s good with kids, which is definitely something she’d look for in a man…were she looking.

It’s a pleasant, cozy trip to the aquarium, and by the end Morikawa and Souma are virtually exuding warmth. As for Izumi and Natsume, well…they’re less warm together, even if I got the sneaking suspicion that Izumi still likes Natsume despite his aloof manner with her.

Similarly, the more time she spends with Izumi, the more comfortable she seems interacting with him. It’s far from lovey-dovey, but it’s a nice low-key resumption of their relationship.

While Souma and Morikawa have a kind of “talent anchor” (baseball and trumpet, respectively), I appreciate how Izumi nor Natsume don’t really have those anchors, and are also alike in being on the wrong side of an unrequited love.

With the benefit of future episodes—as well as the flashbacks they’ll likely contain—we’re sure to learn more about these kids and who likes whom, and what Komiya plans to do with Izumi now that she literally has him in her grasp. I like that JB! is taking the time to flesh out the various characters and not rushing things.

Just Because! – 01 (First Impressions)

With a rookie director, two rookie seiyuus in the lead roles and a super-vague synopsis, I had no idea what to expect from Just Because! —all I had to work with was a script by the guy who wrote seven scripts for Gundam IBO. What I did know was that Just Because! is a pretty nifty title.

We begin with an extended introduction to the neck-of-the-woods where we’ll presumably be spending time, and the show seemingly blows its entire suspended monorail budget in those first few minutes. Still, it’s a nice slow, but not flashy, establishment of this world.

The slow unflashiness continues at school, where there seems to be a dreary atmosphere; a malaise waiting to be snuffed out. Like the transfer student we eventually meet, we’re thrust into this school without knowing quite who to follow or what to do. That lack of bearing is essential to putting us in the mindspace of the protagonist, before he’s even anywhere near the center of the frame.

I’ll admit, I was dubious when terms like “transfer student” and “disbanding tiny club” came up; I consider myself just about clubbed out (both dance clubs and tiny school clubs in anime) and combined with the leisurely pace, I was starting to get a bit bored and depressed with this place. Especially when there’s no one or two people in focus for most of the episode. Even the camera feels afraid of showing us the players in this story.

Then Izumi Eita and Souma Haruto unexpectedly reunite on a baseball field after not contacting each other for the better part of four years (after Izumi moved away). He’s back for one semester, and while he and Haruto are initially a bit cool to each other, they manage to reconnect via baseball, with Izumi pitching and Haruto eager to hit a home run (I speak literally here, not in sexual euphemisms, BTW).

As their pitch-and-hit session heats up (hehe), it gradually garners the attention of the three other protagonists: the girl who is angry the photo club could be disbanded (the fiery Komiya Ena), the girl who plays the trumpet (Morikawa Hatsuki, providing the incidental score to the final act), and the former student council president who seems both jealous and part okay with the fact her friends went off to have fun without her (Natsume Mio).

Izumi and Souma are the magnets that draw the others together, though their individual vantage points keep them from realizing they’re all watching the same thing. This drawing together of disparate gazes also brings the show into focus. Finally, at the very end, we see people having fun, smiling, and laughing, after three quarters of an episode of somberness and ennui approaching existential dread.

Having hit a home run like he intended (but never thought he’d actually do), Souma goes off to ask Morikawa out, but he and Izumi exchange texts, and Izumi learns that Natsume, whom he also knows from the past, is also attending this school. Neither Izumi nor Natsume seem particularly happy at the start of this episode, but perhaps that will change when they reunite.

Fune wo Amu – 11 (Fin)

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Last week restored my faith in Fune wo Amu’s ability to engage and pull its audience in with an up-against-the-wall crisis that requires a tremendous group effort to pull off. But that same goodwill didn’t quite carry over in the show’s eleventh and final episode, which only reinforced a problem I’ve had since the eighth episode pushed us forward so many years without warning.

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I understand how the show basically needed to show us the ultimate payoff of a published Great Passage, but I maintain that it didn’t have enough time to tell that story, nor would extending the effort across, say, a full 26-episode series would have been possible before getting stale, monotonous, or over-contrived in an effort to stoke up some drama.

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Before the dictionary officially goes on sale, Matsumoto suddenly succombs to esophageal cancer he only told his comrades a day or so before his death. His death has been telegraphed so much, it didn’t elicit a shock in me so much as a shrug. Again, his death only underlines the problematic nature of leaping so far ahead in the dictionary’s timeline to a point where most people only look slightly different, but suddenly Matsumoto is at death’s door.

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The missing words episode was a temporary diversion from the fact the development of the dictionary didn’t feel as epic as it should have because the show skipped too much time.  Ditto Matsumoto’s death. He seemed like a nice guy and all, but he was a character with a tendency to spout flowery philosophy and little else. Post time-jump, it was hard to get a handle on the characters were; spending so much time with the new hire didn’t help matters.

So yeah, Fune wo Amu was, to me, the definition of “watchable,” but I won’t lie: I’m glad there’s no twelfth episode, because I’ve been mostly checked out since episode 6, when Majime’s attainment of Kaguya was sold as the Most Important Thing going on in the show, without ever really getting into why the two liked, let alone loved, each other.

The show had glimmers of greatness, but couldn’t help but feel either too drawn-out (earlier in the story) or too rushed (after the time jump). And there’s only so many ways you can present the metaphor of a ship lighting the way.

Considering how carefully the dictionary at the heart of its story was planned and prepared, Fune wo Amu too often felt unsure of itself and random in where it chose to focus its attention. That made it hard to stay involved.

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Fune wo Amu – 10

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There’s a missing word in The Great Passage. The ship has a hole in the hull before it’s been launched. That’s actually a good thing; better now than when it was on sale. But Majime can’t let this one word go.

There could be others, so he mobilizes a small army of temps, and together with Kishibe and Araki, sets to work re-checking each and every one of the Passage’s 240,000 words.

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It’s a massive undertaking due to the limited time frame — which is never actually stated, but must limited, or else everyone wouldn’t work almost around the clock and not leave the editorial office. Fatigue inevitable sets in, and like it did in “33”, the first (and best) episode of Battlestar Galactica, it’s engrossing to behold.

Not necessarily Majime’s too-on-the-nose dreams of words escaping through a tear in his “construct“, but in the way people start to get slower and more tired, but still have a job to do, and struggle through. It adds a welcome touch of adventure to the proceedings.

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Of course, eventually Majime has to send everyone home to get some real sleep (no Cylons chasing them, thankfully), and he comes home to a Kaguya who is nothing but warm, loving, and caring, feeding Majime a home-cooked meal before sending him back out to fight the good fight.

Kaguya understands pride in one’s work; she’s an accomplished restaurateur. She knows it’s pride that drives her husband to ensure without a shadow of a doubt that the ship he’s building is as perfect as he can make it.

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Marking time throughout the episode (in addition to the changes in people as they tire) is a huge table where each section completed is marked in red. For much of the episode less than half of it is marked, but it eventually becomes fully red.

In the surprisingly thrilling final minutes, Kishibe, Araki, and lastly Majime officially finish the checking, immediately after which the legion of temps, all of them having just shared a life-changing experience they won’t soon forget, either cheer in exultation or breathe deep sighs of relief it’s finally over.

Only it isn’t. The book still must be printed, bound, put on sale, marketed, and most importantly, it must sell, or everyone involved will likely have to fall on their swords, Majime most of all.

As for Matsumoto, he’s seemed ill since the time-shift (which the show somewhat cheekily nearly admits was pretty abrupt, as hardly anyone’s appearance has changed), and the episode’s final shot in his empty house seems to suggest he may not live to see The Great Passage leave port.

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