Heroines Run the Show – 05 – Their Juliet

Hiyori’s foot injury isn’t something that goes away overnight. Like Embiid being out with a fractured orbital, it ruins any chance of coming close to touching her goal. It only takes one race and a few hurdles before her foot barks at her and she’s suddenly washed out of prelims. She got hurt doing a job she took to help pay to live in Tokyo so she could run, and now she can’t run.

It hurts to see our typically chipper chipmunk suddenly brought so low, and struggling to hide it from the ones she cares about. She puts on a brave face for her family over the phone, but I bet her mom can imagine her daughter’s distraught face as she says everything is fine, unconvincingly. She stares at the ceiling at night and almost gets lost up there.

Aizou and Yuujirou have been around Hiyori long enough to know something’s not right, and even come right out and ask her what’s up; why she’s suddenly so much less dashy. As you’d expect, Hiyori doesn’t want to burden them with her troubles when they have a huge concert coming up, so she does her job with a smile. But they know she’s hiding something.

They learn from Uchida how Hiyori’s dream to make the nationals was deferred by her injury, and Aizou remembers when she seemed to look hurt after delivering their swag to the venue. Add to that the fact that this latest show is the last day Hiyori is contracted to work as LIPxLIP’s manager, and there’s a distinct pall over what should be joyful festivities as the duo takes another step forward in their idol careers.

Aizou and Yuujirou decide to do something for Hiyori to cheer her up. They ask her to make sure she finishes all her backstage duties before their scheduled encore, then switch the final song from “Nonfantasy” to “Dream Fanfare”, the lyrics to which almost seem like they were written specifically for Hiyori, the “Julieta” to whom they dedicate the song.

That tribute and the lyrics are not lost on Hiyori, who for thew first time isn’t on the sidelines but has a primo seat in the center of the front row of the second deck. From that vantage point she can’t not realize for the first time the true power of idols, and how they’e not just scary or two-faced, bt truly amazing in what they can do and how they can inspire a crowd.

Despite the song being meant as an encouraging sendoff for Hiyori to commit fuly to her track dreams, it actually inspires her to stay on as their manager-in-training, indefinitely. It’s true, she could dedicate more time to track if she wasn’t working, but Hiyori doesn’t want to compromise…she wants it all. She’s not ready to say goodbye to LIPxLIP, and while they react with characteristic haughty apathy at her announcement, I have no doubt they’re glad she’ll sticking around.

But what’s this? Nagisa is coming to Tokyo? Who’s Nagisa? Hiyori’s would-be fiancé? Maybe! In any case, I can’t wait to see what Hiyori’s iconic eyebrows do when this bumpkin surprise her…not to mention how he and the idols will clash! Until then, this was a beautiful capper to a mini-arc in which Hiyori apparently took too much on and stumbled, only to dust herself off and keep going. Hurdles are meant to be cleared!

Akebi’s Sailor Uniform – 07 – Hebimori Unplugged

Hebimori loves the sound of guitars, especially electric ones, but didn’t join the music club, preferring to simply listen to the music of others. But when Akebi notices the magazine she’s reading with her headphones on has sheet music, Akebi assumes Hebimori can play, and with eyes sparkling, states that she’s looking forward to hearing Hebimori play for her.

If Hebimori had simply said “Actually, Akebi-chan, I don’t know how to play at all,” Akebi would have surely understood. And yet Hebimori decides to use this opportunity to dust off her father’s old guitar and give it a strum. Once she does, she finds it so fun she dances around the dorm when her roommate, the quiet basketball clubber Togano, comes home.

Unlike Akebi and Erika, the skills they’ve chosen to master don’t come easily for Togano and Hebimori. Togano wonders whether it made sense for Hebimori to keep her inability to play from Akebi, but also understands how frustrating it can be to not be great at something upon first trying it. Like her shooting, Hebimori simply needs to put in the practice, starting a little at a time and not letting oneself get discouraged or overwhelmed.

And as Akebi practices annunciating and projecting with her voice outside and Togano keeps taking shots in the gym, Hebimori repairs the old string she broke, finds some beginner lessons, and gradually teaches herself to play the guitar. In one particularly heartwarming moment, Togano turns away from her studies to find her roommate asleep on the floor and gently lays a blanket on her.

When the time comes for Hebimori to finally play for Akebi, her jitters aren’t helped by Erika entering the music room and playing something on the piano just for the heck of it; because the piano was there. Akebi and Hebimori are hidden under the piano, and while Akebi learns that Erika can be scary when she’s mad (something she’s never seen), Hebimori decides she can’t follow Erika’s act with her shaky guitar, and confesses to being a complete newbie.

As she prepares to flee the room Akebi takes her hand and says, simply, “I want to hear.” Hebimori understands that Akebi isn’t looking to be wowed by a stellar, virtuoso performance. She’s there to hear her friend doing something she loves that she’s finally learned to do, and support her. Hebimori proceeds to play and sing with a lovely rawness and vulnerability.

It’s not perfect, but it is beautiful and from the heart, which is why Akebi stands up and applauds emphatically. There are a lot fo things Akebi can’t do, and playing guitar is one of them. In this way, Akebi is a muse to all her classmates, providing the enthusiasm, encouragement, inspiration, and motivation needed to carry through, while they in turn inspire her to work harder at what she’s invested in—a marvelous cycle of love, support, and good vibes.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Tokyo 24th Ward – 02 – Fifth Wheel

Shuuta, Ran, Kouki, Mari, and Asumi have been friends since they were little, but in a flashback to those halcyon days, we see that even then Mari was in a state of turmoil rising out of the fact that…well, she wasn’t Asumi. Asumi was the glue that kept them all together; indeed, she was the one who declared RGB was a thing. And now she’s gone.

After years of being a kind of fifth wheel, Mari suddenly found herself one of four, and the estrangement of RGB resulted. That said, she’s still close to all three, especially Shuu, who is her neighbor. Their rooms are even across from one another, so she can leap between their houses to hang out—an arrangement I’ve always longed for. But Shuu is still convinced Asumi could still be alive, shuttering a window Mari can’t leap through.

As Mari meets with each of the members of RGB currently having a post-memorial fight, we also get flashbacks centered on each member. Asumi, who established RGB, deploys them where she believes their skills are most needed—even if it’s conscripting Shuu for goalkeeper duty on the sports field. As a grade schooler Mari joked that she “just can’t win” against Asumi…and that’s seemingly borne out in both past and present.

When Mari checks in on Ran and DoRed, he shows her a mural honoring Asumi while also depicting her as a badass avenging angel, a glimpse of a possible Asumi that never was since her life was snatched away so early. This mural reminds Mari of the time Asumi had Ran paint a mural in the bathhouse. Asumi was always taking the initiative and inspiring action; Mari was always in the background smiling.

Last but not least is Asumi’s actual big brother Kouki. She’s ostensibly there to gather info on a restaurant at the big modern mall administered by Suidou’s family’s Zaibatsu, which is not only her home shopping district’s main rival for the upcoming Gourmet Festival, but also a threat to her district’s very survival. But she’s also kinda sorta there to mediate RGB’s latest  tiff.

Her meeting with Kouki coincides with a Kouki-centric flashback, in which he is utterly failing to hand out flyers for a previous GourFes. Asumi, assigned to another section and having already passed out all of her flyers, urges her brother to wear a smile and appear more friendly if he wants to pass his flyers out. Before long, all the major players in the district are out to help market the Festival. Asumi, bursting with energy and charisma, simply drew everyone towards her, like a magnet-girl.

Back in the present, while walking the dog that got her in so much trouble last week, Mari ends up overhearing a conversation between her old teacher Mr. Shirakaba and SARG officer Chikushi. She learns that Mon Jungle, her family’s restaurant Itadaki’s rival at the new mall, is run by a shady quasi-gang called Yabusame. She emerges from her hiding spot after Chikushi leaves, and Shirakaba assures her the GourFes won’t be rigged.

This leads to a flashback involving Shirakaba, whose students (RGB, Asumi, and Mari) want to keep the old elementary school they attended from being demolished. Mari may not be the nucleus of their group, but it’s clear Itadaki is the group’s base of operations.

It’s there where Mari’s creative okonomiyaki depiction of a blank chalkboard gives Asumi the idea to cover the school in graffiti and spread the word of its historical, cultural, and sentimental importance to the 24th Ward. Of course, as soon as the school and the graffiti idea came up, I thought of the cold open to the first episode and I was suddenly filled with dread.

That’s because Asumi’s idea, unwittingly sparked by Mari, ended up being the death of her. As an old building in disrepair, the school was vulnerable to fire. When that fire finally happened, Mari had Asumi by the arm, outside. All she has to do is not let go and insist they wait for the firefighters. But Asumi insists on being a hero, lets go of Mari, runs into the school to try to save others…and ends up perishing in Shuu’s arms.

The flashbacks make it feel like so long ago, and yet it was so not long ago Mari still has a video on her phone of the aftermath of the fire, admonishing her future self to never forget what happened that night. Even since then, Mari has kept striving to keep up with Asumi, trying to fulfill that role as glue and nucleus, and has found herself sorely lacking. She looks up at the night sky and tells Asumi she can’t handle RGB…not on her own.

However, Mari’s three meetings with the three members of RGB inadvertently bear fruit: they’ve all gathered at Itadaki…for her sake; to make GourFes a success. They snipe at each other a bit, but they still gathered at that same table they always gathered, even though Asumi isn’t there anymore. As different as they all are, and as deep as their wounds are, they still love Mari, and want to support her.

The strategy meeting itself isn’t all that productive as Mari manages to get the boys so stuff on okonomiyaki they get food comas, but it doesn’t matter. Mari managed to get RGB back together, through their stomachs. It’s then when Asumi appears before Mari as she’s washing dishes, offering her blessing going forward while also affirming how important Mari and Itadaki are to the circle of friends.

After one week, I was a little miffed that this show seemingly focused on three dudes. But this week Sakuragi Mari was the undisputed protagonist. Forget tough; Mari felt like Asumi was an impossible act to follow, but she ended up surprising herself, as much as this episode surprised me with its ability to plumb the depths of envy, love, longing, yearning, loss, grief, regret…and redemption. It didn’t feature a single moment of madcap superpower action. It didn’t need to.

Great Pretender – 14 – Fake is in the Eye of the Beholder

Laurent goes all out renting out a damn castle for his intentionally over-the-top art auction for the ages that James Coleman has no choice but to attend. Despite his wounded sensibilities in the face of such crassness, Snow in London is on the block, and he’s prepared to bid as much money as his partner Farrah has.

Abby, who has nicely inserted herself in Coleman’s affairs and earned his trust, proceeds to warn Farrah’s butler Tim of Coleman’s intentions to squeeze her dry.

This gaudy charade is not at all the stodgy auction atmospheres Coleman is used to, but he chalks it up not to authenticity of the auctioneers, but the crassness of its clients, namely members of the seedy underworld (aided by Fudou and Kim posing as mob kingpins from their respective nations).

Just as the surroundings and people disgust Coleman, so too do the ridiculously overblown sums of money being spent on paintings that in a respectable auctioneer would get less than half what they end up get here. Even that prepares him to bid way too much for the Montoya, a painting he’s personally invested in.

When the big moment comes, Farrah is nowhere to be found, having been confronted by Abby during intermission. Coleman is all alone, and Cynthia takes Farrah’s seat and proceeds to bait him into not only spending all £70 million Farrah has (after liquidating her land holdings), but an additional £30 million since Cynthia doesn’t stop until £99, leaving Coleman with the painting and a very, very large bill.

Not one pence of that £100 million ends up coming from Farrah. Abby gave her a recording of Coleman gleefully playing her for the fool, but she gets the last laugh, locking him out of her estate and donating her entire art collection to the museum so everyone can enjoy and be inspired by their greatness. Farrah owes a lot to her loyal butler and friend Tim, who assures her that while she may feel alone, he’ll always be by her side (and she’s better off without James Coleman).

The final twist? Makoto switched the real and fake paintings before the auction, meaning Laurent, Cynthia & Co. weren’t actually con artists on this job, but legit art dealers (tax issues aside, of course).  That said, Makoto actually wanted the dad and daughter in Nice to have Thomas’ version of the painting, which he doesn’t consider a mere copy due to the hard work, talent, and passion that went into it.

Copying Snow of London was Thomas’ first new painting in years, but it rekindled his love of art. Marie agrees with Makoto, and comes to see Thomas’ version as more warm and kind. As for Cynthia, she and Thomas get to have one more late afternoon coffee at the cafe where they met, and have closure.

Back in Nice, Cynthia wonders out loud, somewhat bitterly, whether Laurent arranged for Makoto and Coleman to cross paths, knowing both Makoto’s moral compass would come into play and her sad past would be dredged up “for [Laurent’s] entertainment.” As always, Laurent is coy and noncommittal in his response.

Stripping away the Breaking Bad-style drug hijinx and the high-flying, high-rolling Singapore racing set to tell a rich, bittersweet story of love and art made this my favorite of the three Great Pretender arcs so far. Makoto has vowed to get out of the game for good yet again, but I’m sure he’ll get tangled up in something soon. Whether it will surpass Snow of London remains to be seen.

Great Pretender – 13 – Same As They Used to Be

When a hungry Makoto finds a toffee tin in the fridge, Cynthia quickly snatches it away, declaring that the toffees aren’t on the menu. Back in the past, Coleman makes a deal with Thomas: all he wants are ten forgeries he can pass off as “miraculous discoveries” of masterworks, and in return he’ll make Thomas a Big Deal.

The Faustian deal gives Thomas what he always wanted—financial stability and a measure of luxury—but he knows it’s wrong, and whenever Cynthia mentions that it’s wrong, it shatters the veneer of success he’s trying to maintain, thus straining their relationship. Back in the present, Abby reports her findings on her investigation of Laurent, and shows she’s not above using her “vivaciousness” to gain the older man’s confidence.

Makoto eventually makes contact with present-day Thomas Mayer, whose life took a turn after breaking up with Cynthia. That said, his two million pounds in debt isn’t due to gambling or addiction problems, but a pure and just heart. When he saw a kid sketching one of his forgeries in a museum, he vowed to quit painting forever and borrowed heavily in order to buy back the three paintings he’d forged.

This us why he initially turned down Cynthia: why would he paint a forgery to make back the money he spent removing his forgeries from the art world? But then Makoto remembers the toffee tin and presents it to Thomas. It contains a detailed drawing of a wedding ring he drew for Cynthia in better days. That she kept it all these years means she must still feel something for him.

That proves to be the spark Thomas needs to come out of retirement—that, and Makoto telling him she needs his talent in order to settle the score with Coleman. It probably takes more than one all-nighter, but he manages to pull off a very impressive forgery of Snow of London.

When Cynthia stops by to inspect the work, Thomas is asleep in bed, but Makoto tells her that he was only able to create the forgery because of her. Trying to play matchmaker, he thinks that despite everything that’s happened, the two of them still bring out the best in each other, and that deep down they’re both the same people they were back then.

Great Pretender – 12 – The Unfathomable Subtleties of a Woman’s Heart

The con moves to London, with Makoto spearheading a revenge scam against art appraiser James Coleman. It starts with Abby approaching him and asking to be his protege, while Makoto and Kudou bug the house of Farrah Brown, a wealthy woman who buys the art he doesn’t want to sell at auction, and is also Coleman’s lover. That they’re able to plant bugs under the pretense of checking Farrah’s house for literal bugs is a nice touch.

When the team hears the recording of Farrah and James in bed, Abby concludes that Farrah is simply “a stupid woman”, but Laurent corrects her: she probably does know she’s being used, but “tells herself she doesn’t notice”—either because she genuinely values James’ companionship and attention or for some other reason only she knows.

In any case, this is an episode that may have more Cynthia than any other, and that’s a very good thing, as we see her separate from everyone else working a con of her own…or is it a con? This arc is called Snow of London after the Montoya piece, but the card used for the arc features the silhouettes of a couple I initially thought it was Cynthia and Laurent.

Turns out the man in the silhouette is Thomas, a starving London artist in the throes of painter’s block when he meets Cynthia, who is, presumably years ago, working at the cafe by his flat. The two have an instant easy chemistry, and eventually Thomas goes for broke and asks Cynthia to model for him.

In between taking dance classes and auditioning for acting roles, Cynthia ends up hitting it off with Thomas and becomes his muse. He paints gorgeous portraits of her that are filled with obvious love for the subject. Her stolen glances of the painter show that a part of her seems to be falling for him.

For all its lack of drug lab shootouts and planes threading through skyscrapers, this might just be my favorite episode of Great Pretender yet. It’s certainly the most human and intimate-feeling, with the coldness of London in winter creating a warm cozy atmosphere to the scenes with Cynthia and Thomas.

As this understated romance is taking place in the past, back in the present the gang scores a major victory. Snow of London comes up for auction and Laurent manages to outbid Farrah to get the painting back—for £30 million!—which Cynthia must liquidate some real estate to secure. It’s a slick case of Coleman’s greed (in this case having to accept the highest bid) undermining his own artwork-hoarding operation.

Still, Coleman thinks it could one day be worth ten times that, so he’s furious Farrah gave up. Knowing how Farrah operates, the team knows they can use her doghouse status with Coleman to compel her to buy back the painting in order to get back into his good graces. But the Snow of London they sell her won’t be the one Cynthia bought, but a fake.

Makoto gives forgery the ol’ college try, but he can only do so much with no experience, little practice and scant time. But as we know, Cynthia already knows an artist with the talent to reproduce Montoya’s masterpiece.

Back in the past, Coleman happens by Thomas’ painting stall and is duly impressed by the man’s reproductions, telling him straight-up that he’d do very well indeed in the world of forgery. This may be the genesis for the reasoning behind Cynthia’s present beef with Coleman, and why she wants to bilk him for as much as she can.

Ore Monogatari!! – 24 (Fin)

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All good things must come to an end, whether it’s the most charming and engaging romance in recent memory, or a lovely but ultimately dead-end relationship between two incompatible people. Yes, that’s right, kids, this also marks the end of Rinko+Takeo, as Ichinose swoops in, sweeps Rinko off her feet, places her on a bed of maringue, and drizzles caramel sauce on her.

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…PSYCH! They remain a couple to the end. Ichinose is unsuccessful in stealing her away, despite his firm believe that A.) Rinko is his muse, and B.) he’s a better fit for her. Takeo, as usual, is a worrywort who finds it necessary to prepare for a life without Rinko should Ichinose succeed, as dense to the depths of Rinko’s love as Rinko is of Ichinose’s feeling.

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Even though we knew there was no way in hell this couple would break up in the last episode, it still managed to maintain a respectable tension, as we basically absorbed Takeo’s anxiety. But despite his worrying, he puts up a brave front, and doesn’t despise Ichinose. In fact, for all their differences, he can relate to him simply because he too likes Rinko. Suna, meanwhile, is just glad to see these new sides of Takeo; it means he’s growing as a man.

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Takeo also suspects, quite correctly, Rinko has no clue about Ichinose’s feelings, but is simply helping him out because she’s a good person, because he asked, and because she loves cakes. When Ichinose forgets his tools (no doubt distracted by Rinko), Takeo has no problem answering the call and bringing them with his superhuman speed. And as he watches Ichinose work, Takeo is rooting for him to win. He can win the pastry competition; Takeo is simply hoping he’ll lose the competition for Rinko’s heart.

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Ichinose himself can’t help but regard Takeo as a good man too, even if he feels he’s the better match for Rinko. It’s a great dynamic, with no one overtly evil or villainous or ridiculous. Even Ichinose’s extreme bluntness in his intentions as expressed to Takeo and Suna make sense, considering Ichi is a far better pastry person than people person.

He wins the Gold with a pastry containing all of the same qualities as Rinko, even naming it after her before confessing his love and asking her out—in front of Takeo and Suna, no less!

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Rinko is shocked and taken completely by surprise, but it doesn’t take long for her to formulate her response: She’s fine helping him out at the pastry shop, but she’s no muse, and her heart belongs to Takeo, as it has always belonged since she first laid eyes on the big lug. All of Takeo’s anxiety washes away in the warmth of that pronouncement, and shortly afterwards, Takeo gives her a big ol’ hug and does something he’s been working hard to do since they became a couple: call her Rinko.

Appropriately, it’s as big a deal for her to hear him say her first name as it is for him to say it, so when Takeo promises he’ll learn to use it more casually, I was also thinking Rinko would, at the same time, learn to hear it without her heart melting into goo.

An there you have it, peeps: My Love Story!! (Well, not mine…theirs). It has been quite a fun ride, and I’m not exaggerating when I say I’ll dearly miss this day-brightening, mold-breaking show, which is the first this Summer to have the good sense and manners to thank the audience for watching at the very end! Trust me, show: the pleasure was all ours.

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Mikagura Gakuen Kumikyoku – 06

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Last week lagged but gave us some nice character beats. This week was breathless but moved the plot forward…and gave us some more nice character beats. Frankly, I was impressed with how much ground this episode covered, though it features the same uneven and at times downright ugly production values that have plagued this show from the start.

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Hey, looks don’t make an anime, they only help. Mikagura keeps me around because of its fun, optimistic outlook and colorful, likable cast of misfits, led by Eruna, the most misfitty of them all, while occupying that rare, slim space between endearing and annoying. Despite everything she does and says, she manages not to come off as trying too hard. And as we see from the turnout at her surprise pep rally, I’m not alone in liking her.

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As the rookie battles proceed apace, Kuzuryu is kind of in a creative rut, looking for inspiration. All the praise, admiration, and accolades he’s received in the past and is sure to receive in the future don’t matter if he himself isn’t satisfied with his own work. Shigura gives Eruna the story of how he and Kuzuryu once attended Mikagura’s sports-focused sister school, but he was punished for his exceptional talent with ostracization.

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Natch, despite the fact she’s in the middle of a tournament, Eruna comes to Kuzuryu’s aid, requesting that he draw her—nude, if necessary. Her visit is brief, but refreshing to the troubled painter, who betrays a smile after seeing her off to go watch Tonkyun avenge Usamaru, making him promise to watch her when it’s her turn to fight.

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Tonkyun does indeed defeat Azumi without too much of a fuss, discerning that her main (and really only) attack has both a time limit and a re-charging time. Azumi had been winning battles by ending them quickly before that time limit is up and hiding out of reach of her opponent when it is. In the end, Azumi wasn’t anything more complicated than a mustache-twirling villain, but it was still satisfying to see her get her just desserts.

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That’s a little disappointing, but the ep makes up for it by having a bonus battle between Eruna and Tonkyun. Tonky’s observed and analyzed Eruna as he did Azumi, and like Azumi Eruna’s tactics aren’t all that complex, so I really didn’t know who was going to win this one, an uncertainty I enjoyed after Azumi’s certain, somewhat boring defeat.

But Eruna has a trick up her sleeve in the form of a gun and bayonet Tonkyun didn’t take into his calculations, so it’s her win. As with Himi and Meika, Tonkyun is gracious in defeat, not only because Eruna is clearly somebody special, but because they had fun fighting with her.

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Kuzuryu (and Seisa, who doesn’t have much to do this week at all) watches Eruna’s match from a monitor, and it inspires him to paint what he observes. Eruna became his muse, which was probably how she intended to help him after she picked up on his creative block.

Unfortunately, Eruna’s run for the rookie championship ends in the round after Tonkyun, as the broadcast club chick did her homework and beat her easily in another off-camera battle. It’s the end of a run, but hey, she did get to promote her “Surround Ichinomiya Eruna With Cute Girls Club”, and she also got Kuzuyru to paint her picture! About that: it’s abstract art, so it looks more like a satellite photo or Civ III  map than Eruna, which disappoints her somewhat.

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As for the cute girls Eruna wants to surround herself with, we get our first glimpse at one of the school’s cutest, Fujishiro Otone. Eruna first lays eyes on her standing over the soundly beaten tournament favorite, Imizu, twirling her hair.

If there’s one thing Eruna loves more than a cute girl, it’s a tough-as-nails cute girl who will put up a challenge. As she herself was to Kuzuryu this week, girls like Seisa, Himi, Meika, Nyamirin, and soon Otone are her muses. They’re why she gets up in the morning, and strives to become stronger every day.

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P.S. This will probably be my last Mikagura review, at least of this length, due to middling ratings low readership.

Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 22 (Fin)

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BRAVO. Violin Girl had its ups and downs this cour, but really came through with a stirring and satisfying finale that looks back upon where Kousei has been, explore where he is in the present and what he’s become, and hints at where he’s poised to go, not long after a certain devastating yet inevitable development comes to pass.

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First of all, Kousei draws power from everyone who has helped him (most of whom are in the audience) and finds the sound within him, delivering by far his best performance. Entering a serene environment of still water and deep blue sky, the Kaori inside of him coalesces, not just to cheer him on, but to play violin along with him…one last time.

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It’s an exceedingly beautiful, sad, but ultimately uplifting performance, and to the show’s credit, everyone shuts up for a few minutes so we can simply listen and get lost in the wall of sublime sound. Now, if you’re not a Chopin fan, you’re probably not going to like this, but I’m just fine with him, and it was a transcendent sensory experience I hoped would never end.

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But at one point in the piece Kaori lowers her bow and begins to fade away, then light explodes violently from her core, to Kousei’s despair. Yet he doesn’t freeze. He keeps his head up and watches her disappear. He’s no longer playing with her, he’s playing for her, and for everyone else who got him to where he is: once again pouring his heart and soul into a Steinway.

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When the piece ends at the episode’s halfway point, there’s no delayed applause nor the usual post-performance victory fanfare. There’s only silence, and Kousei’s tears streaming down his face. He says goodbye.

And that’s it.

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When the B-part begins, there’s no mention of who won (probably Kousei), nor how Kaori’s operation went. The first scene is of cars trudging through the snow (something I’ll probably have to do tomorrow, despite the fact it’s the first day of Spring!). The second is Kousei in a graveyard with Koari’s parents. The operation didn’t work, and she has passed away.

Yet Kousei isn’t so overcome by grief that he cannot function as a person; he’s grown up. He also got to play with her one last time, if only in his head.

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Kaori’s folks give Kousei a letter from Kaori, affixed with the telling black cat sticker, her narration (and Kousei’s reaction) to which comprises the rest of the episode. This letter provides Kousei closure, but also fresh insight into his dearly departed love.

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Kaori first saw Kousei long before he spotted her in that playground. As a five-year-old, she was an aspiring pianist herself, who was affected so powerfully by lil’ Kousei’s performance, she ran straight home (Unattended five year olds! Japan!) and asked her parents to buy her a violin. Kousei was the reason she played a violin at all.

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Kaori continued to admire Kousei when they started attending the same school, but only from afar, as she was intimidated by the strong bond between him and Tsubaki. But the fact that Ryouta was beside them meant she’d have a chance to make Kousei notice her. To make that happen, she told the titular Lie In April: the lie that she liked Ryouta.

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Like the fact that she started playing violin so she could play beside Kousei, this lie comes as more of a confirmation rather than a surprise: it was clear pretty early on, despite all the teasing and flirting to the contrary, Kaori and Kousei had a lot more going for each other than Kaori and Ryouta, who was fun and nice and attractive, but not much more than that. Ryouta knew this too; he could never hold a candle to the power beyond words that music brings to the table.

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For all of the cursing of music for tearing Kousei’s mom away from him, or Kousei away from Tsubaki, or Kaori away from Kousei, Kousei doesn’t give up on music just because Kaori passes away. To do so would’ve meant he’d learned nothing from her. Instead, as we see, he’s grown into a cooler, more mature musician.

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In the end, music brought Kaori to him from the start; and though she was only “passing by”, she was able to bring him back to it, and it brought them together once more in his last performance with her. And as she wished, he will never forget her. If he does, she’ll haunt his ass.

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That brings us to Tsubaki, who isn’t sure how to approach Kousei after Kaori’s passing, knowing he loved her deeply. Kashiwagi, armed with 108 BL books’ (and zero boyfriends’) worth of romantic wisdom, tells Tsubaki to simply stop turning the gears in her head and simply listen to her heart and act the way she usually does with him.

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It works. In one last violent slapstick act that actually felt appropriate and earned, Tsubaki kicks Kousei in the shin and tells him in no uncertain terms that he’d better not ever think he’s alone ever again, because she’s never going to leave his side. Kousei is just fine with that, and so he should.

Kaori was the love that, rather than never was, was only a corporeal thing ever so briefly, like trees blossoming at the start of spring. Tsubaki was in his life before Kaori appeared, was there throughout his fleeting romance with Kaori and remains there for the long haul. I wish them both all the best.

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The show closes with a look at the random old photo Kaori included with her letter, of her posing with a friend. But it’s significant because a little Kousei is in the background walking past, with his mother’s stern foot just in the frame.

Ten years ago, this photo captured a moment when Koari and Kousei were so very close together, and both looking at the camera, and yet neither knew the other was in it, and in Kousei’s case, didn’t even know wouldn’t even formally meet the girl until ten years later. But not only did they meet, but she lifted him out of his deep soundless sea, he gave her a stirring sendoff and vowed to continue playing with everything he has as long as he has it.

Ill fate tore them apart too soon, but even if that photo and all other photos fade away with time, she’ll always live on in Kousei, the year or so they spent together and the music she made and helped him make etched eternally in his heart.

Once again: Bravo.

10_sesRABUJOI World Heritage List

Final Series Score: 9.05

Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 21

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Uso’s second-to-last episode brought back the magic of its sublime first cour, left me bursting with emotions, and moved me to tears. And the cost-cutting we saw in earlier eps? A lot of that was so that we could have this. I’d call it a fair trade.

After Kaori’s latest turn for the worse, Kousei can’t do it anymore. He’s reverted back to the non-piano-playing state he started this show in. Just as Tsubaki cursed music for always taking Kousei away from her, Kousei curses music for taking both his mother and now Kaori, and no one can bring him out from under his cloud.

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No one, that is…but Kaori. On a lark, Ryouta visits the hospital and is able to relay a brief letter to Kousei from Kaori:

“I want caneles.”

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Kaori is back in her room and seems to be okay, but she’s still very unwell, and initially, Kousei’s spirits aren’t raised one bit by his presence there. Kaori’s casual, nonchalant description of the ICU is as heartbreaking as the increasingly desaturated way her character is colored. But she’s in no mood for Mopey Kousei, and demands he carry her to the rooftop to eat the caneles he brought.

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Up there, it’s snowing. Up there, Kousei tells her in his current state he’d need a miracle to be able to play well at the competition. Kaori stands up and gives him a miracle, playing air violin he can hear, which restores color to their colorless world, if only briefly. It’s an achingly gorgeous, bittersweet scene; one of the best the show has done.

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Up there, Kaori tells Kousei, who is worried about ending up along, how scared she is of ending up alone, and how much Arima has meant to her all this time, and how she’s only still alive and struggling as hard as she can because he made her. Nobody says I love you, but it’s hardly necessary; we’re dealing with soul mates here.

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Kaori’s words and actions get through to Kousei and the cloud lifts a bit. As she goes under for her risky surgery, he prepares to perform after Takeshi and Emi, who are genuinely concerned for their pale rival’s health, but understand when he repeats the mantra “Gotta play”—because he’s a goddamned Pianist.

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He takes the long walk, with all the anticipatory chatter in the crowd, takes his seat on the bench, and freezes, yet again. Is another meltdown in the cards for the Human Metronome? Hardly. He’s snapped back into coherence by a disturbance the most appropriate person.

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He’s brought back by Tsubaki’s accidental, and apparently very rude sneeze. That’s right, with all her swirling contempt towards music for keeping Kousei away from her, her body almost acts of its own volition in order to keep Kousei from another disqualification. She reached out to Hiroko (who is at wits’ end) to prevent history from repeating itself with Kousei, but that little sneeze did more than anything Hiroko could in that moment.

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Kousei realizes Tsubaki is there, as is Kashiwagi, and Ryouta, and Hiroko, and Nagi, and Miike, and Emi, and Takeshi. He’s not alone, and he’s not going to be alone. He’s up there on that stage thanks to them, as well as Kaori. Whether they’re in the music game or not, they all made their contributions.

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He owes those in the music game even more, perhaps, for pouring their goddamn souls out in order to inspire him to do the same. He can’t let them down. He can’t let us down, either; this is the second-to-last episode and we need a full musical performance, dangit! And we get one: perhaps the most powerful one since he first accompanied Kaori.

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It was a much, much better performance than that train wreck, too. This time, none of the commentators are making deductions in their minds or clucking disapproval with his handling of the sheet music. Everyone is simply in awe of the richness and gravitas and intense color and pure heart-exploding sorrow of his rendition of Chopin’s Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 23. And I was one of them.

Considering what he’s going through, nay, because of what he’s going through, this was the performance of his life. The fact no flaws were mentioned makes me confident about his chances to win this thing. In this performance he proved Hiroko right about the worst experiences in his life bringing out the best in his music.

But he also may have finally realized that even if he has to say goodbye to Kaori, he won’t suddenly be alone, nor will he suddenly stop being a pianist. And that as long as he’s alive, he’s gotta play.

10_sesRABUJOI World Heritage List

Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 20

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Tsubaki’s grades continue to improve, thanks to her desire to study hard enough to get into whatever school she wants to, as long as it’s close to her Kousei. Just like years ago when her classmates were amazed the “gorilla” who wore shorts year-round was capable of catching a cold, they’re similarly intrigued that she’s capable of falling in love.

And hey, good for her; she’s not giving up on what she wants, even if she hasn’t figured quite out how to get his attention, or to get him to see her as a girl.

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Uso is capable of some seriously powerhouse heartstring-pulling when it wants to, but it also seems committed to drilling certain things into our heads through endless repetition. For instance, how are Watari and Kaori still a thing, while Kousei is the third wheel? How can Kousei look back on all his experiences with Kaori and not think she has some kind of feelings for him? I called Kousei practically everyone’s hero last week, but he seems tragically incapable of saving himself, even though it’s been a long time since Watari’s been anything resembling a threat.

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The flashbacks also tend to repeat themselves, though in different ways. Tsubaki always “looked out” for Kousei, but Kousei also looked out for her. It was a reciprocating kinda deal with them, in that whenever one of them was down the other would be ready with lemonade and solace.

Mind you, it’s tough enough believing these middle schoolers are capable of so much emotional complexity and eloquence in the description of their feelings in the present; some of what their grade school versions say to one another strains credulity even more.

Simply put, they’re too young to be talking and thinking like this. It’s more like writers in their twenties and thirties talking through young people, and it can feel hollow and…off.

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Uso mitigates those persistent issues with some good old-fashioned bombshells this week; two of ’em. First, Tsubaki finally works up the courage to confess…sorta…by insisting to Kousei that Kaori likes Watari, so he has “no choice” but to love her. Then she kicks him as hard as she can in the leg—maybe hoping to literally kickstart him—and runs off at top speed.

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Her intention with the love me remark is to make him not only see her as a girl, but to “suffer” just as she has, stuck in her limbo between family, friendship, and romance. For a second there, Kousei seems to react, but he later wonders if she was merely messing around, even if that’s not usually how Tsubaki messes around.

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In any case, Kousei is preoccupied with two other things; the upcoming finals that will determine his future, and Kaori, who he’s thinking about not visiting anymore, since she has Watari and all. She calls him to say he doesn’t need to visit, preferring if he’d focus on his music. This pisses him off, but he feels like he may finally have a legitimate way to walk away.

Then she calls him about a plane flying low at night—a plane he can see too, connecting them through the sky. He likens her to a cat; one of which sidles up to him just as Kaori calls him back. Kousei cancels his retreat. He’ll come to visit, because he wants to see her. Kaori, ever the enigma (to him at least), doesn’t respond to that.

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So here we are…again: Watari has known Kousei likes Kaori for quite a while now; Tsubaki knows Kousei likes Kaori for quite a while now; We’ve known Kousei has liked Kaori for quite a while now. Even so, Kousei feels the need to make it official by telling Watari what he and everyone else already knows.

Then Watari looks forward to duking it out with Kousei for Kaori’s heart…which, again, I thought had already taken place, and Watari had pretty much lost because he has nothing in common with Kaori besides good looks.

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And oh yeah, because The World Is Horrible, just as they’re joking about the fight for Kaori’s heart, they find Kaori fighting for her life among a phalanx of nurses, apparently having some kind of seizure. Kousei sees her hand go limp and fears the worst, but the boys are shooed away so the professionals can work on her.

With just two episodes left, no doubt Kaori will be in an even worse way next time Kousei sees her…if he sees her again at all. In any case, the chances of her performing with him have never looked bleaker.

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Oh, wait, and also because The World Is Even More Horrible-er Than All Thatthe black cat representing Kaori is hit by a car right in front of Kousei. Heck, it could’ve even been his cat Chelsea whom his mom threw out, still prowling the streets as a stray, somehow remembering her old friend. He rushes her to a vet, but there’s nothing they can do. And the tears flowed, because Dead Cat=Possibly Dead Kaori. Did I mention Where I Don’t Want To Live Anymore?

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Yikes. This is a lot for a bunch of eighth graders to go through, isn’t it? This Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso shit’s gettin’ way too dark. When is this show going to let someone be happy for more than a couple minutes before something croaks? We’ll see if the ultimate lesson of Uso will be “Whenever you spot a skinny blonde playing the recorder in a playground, run the other way and marry your childhood friend.”

8_ses

Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 19

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Don’t let that petulant mug staring down a phone fool you: Arima is in one way or another a hero to many in this episode, which makes us realize he’s been that hero to many all along.

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This week is full of optimism in the face of doom. Nobody is moping in the corner feeling sorry for themselves; they’re doing something about it; moving forward to attain what they desire. Yes, even Tsubaki! Her love for and devotion to her next-door-neighbor pianist is driving the career jock to excel at her studies for the first time in her scholastic career, and the hard work and determination look good on her.

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With her negative prognosis and deteriorating frame, Kaori was in an even worse way. But Kousei manages to pay her back for rousing him from his deep sea slumber with his love and devotion, bringing color to her greyed heart and shaking her out of her bed of only-half-joking suicide threats and into the rehabilitation room.

She also asks for a risky surgery that may give her a little more time, because every little bit of time on this earth, with Kousei, will be worth it. Kousei makes her remember how bright and sparkling she was on that stage. Now she’s working to get back on it with him.

I’ll just say both Kousei’s interactions with Kaori’s parents and Kaori’s speech to the surgeon were both tearjerking moments, which I’m enough of a katsudon-eating real man to admit!

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Tsubaki still has problems asserting herself within Kousei’s life as an object of romance, but that doesn’t stop her from taking Kashiwagi’s advice and visiting Kousei, both to support him during his fierce all-night practicing for the upcoming compeition (which is, for him, as important as acing final exams).

For all the people he’s able to inspire, including Tsubaki, Kousei remains someone who needs caring for. Tsubaki whips out some scissors and cuts his disheveled hair, something we have to thank her for. And while it doesn’t look much different the next day, the fact that Tsubaki is there, in a way, “marking her man”, is definite progress, which I hope will continue.

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When the day of the preliminaries arrive, Kousei is able to disarm both a ravenous Emi and and a post-vomiting Takeshi with delicious free-range egg salad sandwiches, which he happens to have three of. Seeing these three rivals sitting together shooting the breeze is an unexpected delight, and a show of their splendid chemsitry.

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Flashbacks show that these three really have a lot of history sitting together, eating, and waiting to see which one of them will be best that day. It was always Kousei before, but his unrelenting competency drove both of his rivals to become the major talents they are today, and did so again by training Takeshi’s sister, provoking him to come out of “retirement.” We also see that Emi always enjoyed sitting beside Kousei. In a show without Kaori or Tsubaki, they’d have made a great pianist power couple themselves.

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Most of the second half is about Takeshi’s comeback, and about how enemies in music not only benefit from the support of one another, but require it. Takeshi and Emi wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for Kousei, and one another, while Kousei wouldn’t be there without Kaori.

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But today, Takeshi takes the first step towards leaving his hero Kousei’s shadow and starting on his own path; beyond replicating or surpassing him is not needing him anymore, like a fledgling finally flying off from the nest. As such, his Chopin performance is so stirring, there were moments when I wished all the various parties watching, along with his internal monologue, would cease so I could listen in peace!

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It’s only the first of two pieces Takeshi is scheduled to play in the preliminaries; but Takeshi plays like his life depends on, and ends up “making Chopin smile” along with bringing down the house. He’s back from his self-imposed exile; a musician among musicians; among enemys who are also his friends and his fuel, who fully intend to respond to his brilliant performances with some of their own. I can’t wait to hear ’em.

9_ses

Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 18

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Uso’s primary strength, and what sets it apart from anything else this Winter (that I’m watching, anyway) is its bravura musical performances, accompanied by both play-by-play and color commentary from members of the audience. This week continues that trend of really nailing that strength.

The performances aren’t just wonderful to listen to; they’re a crucial means of delivering catharsis or proving the mental and physical mettle of the performers. They’re also meant as messages: Kousei is on that stage to give Kaori a musical kick in the pants; Nagi is there to scream out “Here I Am!” to her big brother.

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For the first time on Uso, there’s two people at the piano, and while Kousei does go a little off script with the bass, wanting to turn off the sound of the notes and merely feel them, where he’s at his best, but it doesn’t derail things. Rather, Nagi realizes she’s being goaded, and it’s up to her to realize her potential and fight back.

It becomes a battle on the blacks and whites, but not an all-out brawl; more like a friendly game of table tennis. And with Ryouta relaying the performance to Kaori via speakerphone, Kaori soon joins in from her hospital room, first standing up, and then playing air violin. It worked!

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Due in large part to her adorable but not over-the-top design and Kayano Ai’s similarly restrained little-sister voice, Nagi has more than grown on me; she’s become a vital part of Kousei’s growth. Hiroko wanted him to see the joy of watching someone learn and grow and become something great, just as she saw with him; the unique perspective of the teacher.

Meanwhile, once Takeshi gets over his outrage that Kousei seduced his sister (and wasn’t even aware she was his sister; doesn’t even remember his name, in fact!) he too shows signs that Nagi’s music reached him. He vows to defeat Kousei at the next major competition, essentially ending his brief retirement.

As he runs off Nagi recognizes the spring in his step from when he was a little kid singing the praises of the “robotic” Kousei. With his help, she made him hear and notice her, and now he’s back in the game.

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On the hospital roof, Kaori calls Kousei a cruel jackass for subjecting someone who can’t play the violin to music that made her want to play more than anything. And though there’s hardly any color in poor Kaori, the consuming darkness of her hospital room has been replaced by an endless blazing blue sky.

But Kousei won’t commit double suicide with her, and he won’t let her go gentle into that good night. He wants her by his side, playing violin one last time, in a performance neither they nor anyone else will forget. That should be some performance. But this one with Nagi wasn’t bad either, because it made that possible.

9_ses

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