Bloom Into You – 13 (Fin) – Right Now Is Different

As she visits her family grave, Touko remains determined to “see things through” and put on the stage show in her sister’s place. And that’s all fine and dandy…for the present. But what about when the show is over? Who is she, who does she become once there’s nothing left to do in her sister’s name?

Miyako’s Café Echo is a quiet and intimate place that draws both Yuu and Kanou (to start the process of re-writing the play’s ending) and Touko and Sayaka. While the latter two are there, Miyako and Sayaka share some knowing glances and phrases, and Sayaka finally asks Touko about her sister: What was she like?

Touko is somewhat hesitant to answer, as she’s realized the Mio she knew wasn’t the whole picture. Sayaka responds that just because what she knew of Mio wasn’t complete doesn’t mean that part wasn’t a real and legitimate part of who she was—and a part about which Sayaka wants to hear.

Talking about her sister puts Touko back in a forlorn, uneasy state, and she just wants to see Yuu at times like that, to simply exist with her in the right now. Yet even though she’s been told she’s allowed to “indulge herself” Touko still hesitates to send a text…until Yuu sends her one first, inviting her to hang out.

Just that one simple little text completely changes Touko’s right now. Back at the cafe, Riko arrives, and Miyako asks her if she prefers men or women; a kind of loaded question. Riko admits, she’s not especially attracted to women, but right now, she’s dating one: Miyako. Life is full of exceptions, contradictions, and imperfections. They can or can’t be explained, and can only either be accepted or not.

Yuu and Touko go to Aqua World and have a blast, and I couldn’t be happier. I’d much rather the series end on a lovely date that explores where they’re at in their relationship right now, rather than focus on the festival and stage play. I’m far less interested as a play than as a mirror to who Touko “is.” I shouldn’t, then, be surprised that Bloom Into You gave me what I wanted.

What I also didn’t want, and thankfully didn’t get, was a confession or “awakening” from Yuu. What I did get was Touko explaining why she says I love you so easily and often to Yuu. Regardless of how Yuu reacts, simply saying it makes Touko feel relieved. Relieved that she can actually fall in love with someone, something the sister she knew never did (as far as she knows).

That means that she’s not falling in love simply to check off another box on the list of things her sister did. It’s something that happened to her, Touko, organically and without influence. And however much of who she is is only a lie or an emulation of Mio, the part of her that likes Yuu is most assuredly neither. It’s real, and it’s relieving.

She admits that sounds self-contradictory, but Yuu further comforts her by stating what she believes: that it’s perfectly fine to be self-contradictory. To be so is to be human.

While outside before the penguin march, Yuu starts performing the play, and Touko joins in once she realizes there’s no one else around. When Yuu changes some of her lines from the script, she says she’s improvising, that Touko follow suit, and that Kanou is changing things up because she wasn’t satisfied with the script as-is.

When the part comes when Touko’s character is apprehensive about which person she should choose to be based on the different stories she’s received, Yuu asks why she needs to make a choice at all. “I don’t know anyone aside from ‘you'”,  Yuu’s nurse character says. It’s not like Touko’s character has no memories, she’s gained enough during the hospital stay to lay out the groundwork of who she is right now, not who she might’ve been.

The penguin show interrupts their rehearsal, and the two continue to enjoy the aquarium. Eventually Yuu takes Touko by the hand and leads her through the transparent underwater tunnels, to other exhibits, and to the gift shop. Touko wishes this would never end, but the exit approaches … they’re there already; too soon for her taste.

On the train home, both Touko and Yuu are sleepy and close to drifting off. Yuu tells Touko she can, and she does, leaning her shoulder and head against her. In idea for the title of Kanou’s play comes to Yuu: “Only You Know.” She takes the sleeping Touko’s hand and draws nearer, gently waking her and saying they need to change trains…

…And that’s it! Such a quiet, delicate ending full of warmth and love. Do I wish we got to see more of Touko and Yuu’s relationship blooming, and possibly Yuu eventually figuring out that what she feels for Touko is indeed a kind of love? Sure, and in that regard, this series has left us with naught but an elipsis, and a second season has not yet been confirmed.

So Like Touko with her memories of her sister, we have to be content with what we have and the fact that it’s not the whole picture…though I hope we get a little more down the road.—sesameacrylic

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Bloom Into You – 12 – Changing the Ending

Actors put draw from personal pain to express pain in their performances, but in light of what Ichigaya told her about her sister, the line between performance and real emotion is perilously thin. Sure, Touko blows everyone away with her line-reading, but they don’t know that almost all of those lines could be said about her!

Everyone, except for Yuu and Sayaka. But all throughout camp, just as Yuu’s affection for Touko seems to be growing, the combination of Touko’s promise to hold back and Sayaka assigning herself in charge of “looking after” Touko, you can see Yuu grow increasingly lonely and frustrated. Yuu knows that Touko wasn’t acting when talking about who the “real her” was.

After Sayaka dismisses Yuu’s concerns (and frankly doesn’t see the need to discuss it with a kohei at all), Yuu seizes an opportunity when she and Touko are alone and all but orders her to walk her home. She asks about Touko and her family’s further Summer plans. She stops at the railroad crossing and remembers the kiss Touko gave her.

Then, she takes the initiative once more. When Touko’s about to go her separate way, Yuu invites her to her room, and is honest about why: if they part there, they won’t see each other for a while, and she doesn’t like that. She wants Touko to have more faith in her, for she’s holding up her end of the bargain, neither loving nor hating her. Touko accepts, but warns Yuu that she’s going to “indulge” herself.

What ensues is the steamiest scene between the two yet, and another demonstration of how Yuu is probably not being fully honest with herself when it comes to how she feels about Touko.

The show pulls no bush-league parent barge-ins; the two have each other all to themselves, and spend it on the bed until dusk. Kudos to the sound designer and the voice actors for the very immersive blowing fan, as well as the extremely subtle sound effect of the girls’ lips meeting. Touko’s flowing hair is also impressively handled.

During that time, Touko opens up to her about why she’s upset, just as she hoped she would. She expresses how lost and aimless she feels now that her idea of who her sister was might not be remotely accurate. Yuu asks why she needs to “become” someone other than who she currently is.

Again, Touko’s self-loathing surfaces in response. Assuming (perhaps wrongly) Yuu feels nothing for her, she questions why she’d stay the way she is. Then, after getting on top and kissing Yuu some more, Touko whispers in her ear “Don’t fall in love with me. Because, you know, I hate myself. And I can’t be in love with someone who likes the things I hate, right?”

Well, wrong, Touko! Staking her love entirely on the person she loves never loving her back just…that’s not how this works! That assumes Yuu’s feelings will never change no matter what, even as Touko insists upon changing into someone better than she is.  Like she can evolve, but Yuu can’t. It’s unfair, selfish, and utterly misguided. But it’s also what you’d expect of someone with Touko’s experiences.

Yuu agrees with me, in that just because you can logically explain why Touko feels this way doesn’t mean you have to accept it. And Yuu won’t. She yells “Senpai, you idiot!!” when they part, hoping Touko heard her. After spending some time alone with her thoughts, she calls Kanou: she wants to change the ending.

She runs to Kanou’s house to explain, and ends up drawing out the very reason Kanou was so frustrating with the ending as she wrote it (the girl ends up becoming the person her lover remembers).  It all comes down to why the character would pick that version of her: the motivations are totally couched in the past, rather than in the present duration when she’s lacked memories but gained insights from three different people.

The need to choose one and only one of the three version to “become” was always a false one; both Kanou and Yuu see this strongly implicitly. Realistically, there’s a fourth way to go, an ending where that false choice isn’t made. But Yuu doesn’t simply seek to change the play’s ending. She wants to change Touko herself; to somehow get her to see that there’s no single answer. She doesn’t want Touko to hate herself.

It may be selfish or arrogant (and her gaze into the stars of the mini-planetarium do give her a very imperious bearing), but it’s what she’s setting out to do. Hopefully, she’ll take a second at some point and figure out why she has to…though something tells me she already knows.

Bloom Into You – 04 – The Spectator

Yuu’s friend Koyomi is distracted from after-school study since she’s busy writing what I’m guessing is a love letter. She doesn’t reveal this fact to Yuu, preferring to keep it secret, as such things should be, at least until you have a better handle on how it will go. Yuu doesn’t have time to give her friend’s reaction too much thought, because new Student Council President Nanami Touko has arrived to pick her up to go to the council office. Touko also introduces the fifth and newest member, a first-year boy, Doujima Suguru.

Touko lays out the general areas when they’ll be busiest, no more so than the cultural festival. She wants to bring back the StuCo stage play, in which they’ll fill performing roles while the various creative clubs provide script, costumes, sets, etc., in lieu of a theater club (which the school doesn’t have). Touko is enthusiastic about the idea (obviously; it’s hers), as is Doujima. VP Sayaka can be counted on to go along with whatever Touko wants, as always.

The two holdouts are Yuu and Maki Seiji. Yuu doesn’t like big crowds (she did quite well with her speech, but that doesn’t mean she enjoyed it), while Maki prefers to work “in the background” in a support role, as he did in the past in sports clubs. Ironically, it was that speech that inspired Doujima to join; Yuu seemed so fired up about joining in that moment!

After a long day of council work, much of it organizing the mess of files of the previous administration, everyone heads out except for Touko and Yuu. Yuu was going to leave too, but gets a Look from Touko that keeps her there. The fact she stays, and for no reason other than to keep Touko company…that innate kindness of Yuu gets Touko all hot and bothered.

She wants to kiss Yuu…badly. Yuu brings up how she made it clear ‘she can’t return the same feelings so why is Touko coming on to her’. But it’s Yuu letting Touko love her that makes Touko love her that much more. That same kind Yuu doesn’t exactly hate being kissed, and if she said she “wasn’t interested”, she’d be lying. So they kiss. And as they kiss, Maki comes back to grab his pencil case…and sees them. But they don’t see him.

The next day, Maki acts naturally with Yuu, which is to say, they have a good working relationship as student council colleagues. Yuu brings him the pencil case he couldn’t grab. We don’t know Maki all that well, except that we know that “the background” is his wheelhouse; he likes to help out, not stand out. To that end, him spreading rumors isn’t something he’d do.

All I can say is, thank God it wasn’t Doujima who spotted Yuu and Touko, or it might already have spread to the whole school. Maybe that’s not being entirely fair to Doujima, whom I also barely know, but from what we gather in his interaction with a distracted-looking Maki, we can glean that he’s a more “conventional” high school boy; he has a specific type of girl he’s into and asks Maki what his type is (to which he says he has none).

The more he observes Touko and Yuu, the more he learns and realizes about them. He also observes Sayaka, who he can tell feels threatened by Yuu, and she isn’t even that good at hiding it, saying, in effect, Touko’s first-year obsession “will pass” which is clearly wishful thinking on her part. That outcome serves her, but she’s not really thinking about what Touko wants, is she now?

When Maki heads back to the school from the office, Yuu accompanies him, and on the way. They talk about her and Touko, and he informs her that he saw them kiss, asking if they’re dating. Yuu is petrified; not knowing who Maki is, she envisions her version of the worst-case scenario: word spreads, and it hurts Touko.

But again, Maki isn’t going to use what he knows for anything malicious; it’s just not who he is. Touko and Yuu didn’t do anything to him; why would he do something to hurt them? It does nothing for him. What does do something for him, on the other hand, is knowing they’re a couple, and specifically being the only one who knows.

You see, Maki is not your normal high school kid either. He’s not interested in getting into or being in a relationship; only observing them from a comfortable place. It doesn’t matter if it’s a girl and a guy, or two guys or two girls; as long as he’s a spectator and not a participant (the closest to anger we see him exhibit is when he himself was confessed to in the past, shattering his “fourth wall.”

Somehow, some way, this doesn’t come off as creepy. Perhaps it’s because the way he expresses it felt so innocent to me. I’m not saying it’s a healthy or unhealthy way to live your life, and neither does the show judge him either way.

What matters to Yuu is that Maki discretely told her, alone, in a prompt fashion. So when he says he won’t tell anyone—not even Touko—both Yuu and I trust him.

Maki’s passive way of navigating the tempestuous seas of high school affords him unique insights that more active participants will often overlook. For instance: he can tell Touko is special to Yuu, because without even thinking Yuu put Touko’s wellfare before her own vis-a-vis their secret.

Maki doesn’t hate love, he just wants to be above the fray and watch it…one more reason he won’t mess with Yuu and Touko. To do so would be as unthinkable as standing up in the middle of a play and interrupting the actors on the stage (assuming, of course, it’s a non-interactive play).

And so for the first time, Yuu is flustered by someone other than Touko on the subject of her feelings for her. What she thought to be “normal” may actually be the “special”-ness she thought she’d never achieve. This changes everything.

Zombieland Saga – 04 – Relax the Pain Away

Tatsumi informs the group that their budget has run dry, and they need to start earning their keep. To that end, he’s booked them a gig for a pharmaceutical company at the Ureshino Hot Springs. In the ultimate tease, he forbids them from actually going in said hot springs, or from having any fun at all; they’re to practice, then perform, then get paid.

Saki leads a quiet revolt when he leaves them alone for the day (ironically, to go sightseeing), and the girls do the same. It turns out to be a valuable bonding experience, as even Junko and Ai agree that from now on they’ll give the idol group their all—as long as they think everyone else is working just as hard.

The pharma company’s product—Saganship Z dermal pads—turn out to give the zombies an energy boost in addition to soothing their aching backs and limbs, and they put on a splendid show while sharing the pads with all the relaxing employees. Unfortunately, they perform the same interminable song as last week, and the CGI dancing, while precise, still looks weird.

Saki leads another revolt by sneaking into the hot spring with Sakura and Junko, and they almost get away with it until their patron from the pharma company jumps in, and while trying to hide Sakura’s head pops off and floats over to her. A horror sequence ensues, demonstrating just how scary the girls look to humans, even if they look relatively normal to themselves and to us.

As a result of her ordeal, the poor lady forgot everything that happened the previous day, which apparently means Tatsumi doesn’t get paid (though it’s odd; other employees could certainly attest that a service was provided). Regardless, the group is still broke, which means they just have to work harder to excite and inspire audiences, develop buzz, and yes, not terrify clients before they’re paid!

Zombieland Saga – 03 – More than Guts

The group’s next mission is neither death metal nor hip-hop, but your standard spontaneous “guerilla” idol performance in a public place. They only have one night to prepare. Lily suggests they make their group more official by naming a leader (Saki) and a permanent name (Franchouchou, inspired by Tae sneezing marker ink).

Practice is… a bit shaky, as one would expect of a group fielding five amateurs. Matters are made worst by the fact the other two members who are pro idols—Junko and Ai—are contributing nothing but sullen looks and pessimism. Sakura tries to rally the five, but Yuugiri steals her thunder, and ends up more effectively galvanizing the girls (minus the idols, that is).

The day of the performance arrives, everyone is in their human makeup…and Junko and Ai stay in the car. The remaining five have to make do…and they get a crowd to gather. But when Lily trips just like she did in practice and Sakura suddenly forgets the lyrics, that crowd becomes disinterested and starts to disperse fast. Franchouchou needs cavalry, and they get it in Junko and Ai, who do what they do best.

The animation of the actual performance is a mixed bag. On the one hand, it’s very colorful and stylish, smooth and precise. But the 3D CGI models of the girls are different enough from their 2D counterparts to be conspicuous and distracting, and their motions are so precise they look less like people and more like robots. Execution issues aside, the group ends up putting a smile on the face of the last spectator, a little girl who is soon dragged off by her jaded mom. They were able to reach one person, so there’s no reason to believe they can’t reach more if they get better.

And they will get better, if the change in attitudes of both Junko and Ai are any indication. Junko had never performed in a group and was weary of doing so, but once she got into the spirit of things she had a lot more fun than she imagined. Similarly, Ai could tell from their performance that the others were sincere in their desire to get better and become more legitimate, so she’s now more willing to lend her not inconsiderable talents to that effort.

Steins;Gate 0 – 16 – It’s Not Just a Cheap Coat

Daru and Maho are hard at work on “Phone Microwave (Temporary) Unit-02”; progress is slow and full of smoky setbacks, but neither party has any intention of giving up anytime soon. Meanwhile, in Mayuri’s words, the “normie life” of Rintarou (who has given up on trying to have both Kurisu and Mayuri in his life, without starting WWIII) is taking off, and he can’t tell how left behind she feels.

Rintarou can’t so much have a conversation with her without checking his buzzing phone. He says things like his going to America is “good for everyone”, even though it’s not good at all for her. She decides not to go eat with him, but ends up encountering Ruka, who calls her Rintarou’s “Orihime-sama”, pertaining to Vega and the heroine of the story upon which the Tanabata festival is based.

While the lovers representing Vega and Altair were banished to opposite ends of the galaxy, once a year a flock of magpies forms a bridge for them to meet. Mayuri, who can tell that Rintarou loved/loves Kurisu and not her, can’t subscribe to Ruka’s assertion, and all Ruka can do is offer a handkerchief to dry Mayuri’s tears.

Rintarou suddenly arrives at the lab while Maho is showering and Daru is unprepared. He’s ready to drag Daru along with him to America, but the trash is full of bananas and there’s a curtain covering the back of the lab. A light dawns in Rintarou’s head, and his initial suspicions are proven right when he pulls a bunch of slimy green ‘nanners from the trash.

When he discovers the new Phone Microwave, he whips himself into a damn frenzy trying to remind Daru just how much torture he endured and who died last time the device was constructed. Eventually his rantings are interrupted by Maho (in a towel, at first), but he soon turns on her, going so far as to call her a murderer if she proceeds. That earns him a much-deserved punch to the face.

Once heads have cooled a bit, Rintarou and Maho debate the “laws of the world” and whether messing with them is “challenging God.” While Maho can appreciate and even respect certain aspects of Rintarou’s theory about how the world works, she doesn’t believe humans would have the ability to make a time machine if they were never meant to.

Rintarou rebuts, telling her how she couldn’t possibly understand what it’s like to fail and fail hundreds and thousands of times, which is laughable to us because we know that the entire time Kurisu was alive, Maho was struggling and failing to reach any of the breakthroughs or earn any of the accolades or gain any of the fame her kohai had. But she never gave up then, and she’s not giving up now, no matter how much Rintarou yells at her.

Rintarou skulks off, and by chance, ends up encountering Mayuri in the park where they used to spend a lot of time before they met Daru. She used to wait for Rintarou just as we saw her wait outside his college in the present. What Rintarou doesn’t know, but eventually finds out as she talks, is that Mayuri heard every word in his rant back at the lab about how saving Kurisu meant killing her off.

She also tearfully notes how much he’s looked like he’s suffered ever since he made the decision, which makes her think he might’ve made the wrong choice. There’s no way he can be okay with how things have turned out if he has that look. His eyes have always betrayed how he actually feels. Rintarou is devastated, and tries to tell Mayuri to do the impossible: “not think about it.” Things aren’t that simple, Okarin. The clouds part, revealing Vega and Altair.

This was an emotional powerhouse of an episode, with clashes between characters of an intensity that’s been mostly missing from this season. With those scenes came brilliant performances from Miyano Mamoru, Hanazawa Kana, Seki Tomokazu and Yahagi Sayuri. Also brilliant is the fact that there are no right or wrong answers.

As Daru and Maho search for that one perfect solution to the formula among an infinite possibilities—for the Steins Gate—they must be cognizant of the fact that they are imperfect, lest the despair Rintarou has already experienced not only return, but worsen.

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 03

Day One of the Moon Festival…doesn’t go so well for Souma and Megumi. Kuga’s big flashy restaurant rakes in all the customers, while Souma’s little bun cart only manages a couple dozen sales. Kuga makes sure to stop by to gloat and patronize Souma as further punishment for challenging someone out of his league. Unfortunately for Megumi, she’s tied her cart—and her fate at Totsuki—to Souma’s. For once, Souma can’t just laugh this off.

Joining Souma and Megumi in the red on the first day are Alice, Ryou and Akira, which draws the ire of Erina, considering all three were Autumn Elections finalists. Souma still offers her and the others dinner in the form of leftover buns, but the fact remains all five are in dire straits.

The next day, to Kuga’s surprise, Souma’s cart does a little better, jumping from 40th to 35th in the area rankings, and you can just a comeback mounting. Wait…that’s actually the smell of Sadatsuka Nao’s grotesque cuisine. As Megumi says, she and Yukihira make quite the pair as culinary sadists.

Turns out Souma’s increased sales were due to the fact he used some bun dough to make fresh handmade noodles, and by moving around the area and giving away samples, he hopes to stoke up a marketing campaign that will get him and Megumi the customers they need to get back in the black.

While I admire Souma’s generosity, surely it only hurts his bottom line to be not only feeding his friends after the first day, but giving out so many freebies on the second night. I guess it’s a matter of him not compromising his values just to profit…but he’s only making things tougher for himself when Kuga has made things plenty tough.

I imagine Alice, Ryou and Akira will also be expelled unless they get their shit together, but Akira thinks Ryou’s years of spoiling Alice has ruined any possibility of them climbing out of the hole they’ve made the first two days (though a naan lollipop does sound intriguing). Then Alice concedes that they should focus not on her ambitious and expensive experiments, but on a more customer-focused menu.

Meanwhile, Souma knows he needs more than buns and noodles, and Megumi is sticking with him to the bitter end, so he prepares for an all-nighter. Meanwhile, his old hometown friend Mayumi notices the Yukihira Diner’s lights are on, and upon entering, receives a terrible shock…

Koi to Uso – 09

A nervous Yukari spins his wheels the whole episode cursing himself for doing more in a school festival that does little more than take up time better spent with him and Ririna making up. Ririna barely has three lines, occupying the margins of the episode with her new buddy Arisa.

While the school play scenario was tolerable last week, another entire week of contrived “Romeo & Juliet” dot-connecting went a bit too far, and some last-second shenanigans from whassernam, the Yuki-Onna…Igarashi, mark a return to the plotting issues of the first episode, and make for a tedious, meandering episode.

I get it; Yukari’s in a weird place right now, and he’s hesitant to do or say anything that will make that place any weirder, and neither Nisaka nor Misaki make it any easier for him (not that they should).

But honestly, I felt like I was caught in an endless circle of Yukari milling around, worrying about things, not to mention his ultra-weak flyer game. Nisaka and Misaki seem to be putting on their performances for Yukari’s sake, as a means of openly expressing how they truly feel through the lines of their roles.

Unsurprisingly, the two knock it out of the park due in part to the real emotions and conviction they put behind their acting. When it’s over, Yukari is back to wandering around the school like a headless chicken, and runs into Igarashi, who drops the bombshell that calls the notice that names Ririna as his future wife into question.

Igarashi tells Yukari that Misaki, not Ririna, is his “destined partner,” and JUST THEN Ririna just HAPPENS to walk by and hear that bit, and like Yukari, demands to know what Whitey-chan means. We’ve seen her in a control room doing tech stuff for the Ministry, but if you ask me, it doesn’t matter anymore which girl is supposed to be his chosen future wife.

We’ve got a love triangle between them regardless, not even counting Nisaka, and that’s not going away just because all doubt of the notice’s veracity has been extinguished (which may not even be possible). Fewer plot contrivances from tertiary characters—and a little more time inside Ririna’s head—would be greatly appreciated.

Kabukibu! – 01 (First Impressions)

Kurusu Kurogo loves kabuki. He loves it so much and thinks it’s so fun and free, he wants to start a high school kabuki club. When that fails, he tries to start a kabuki school “group” instead, but needs a minimum of five members. Kurusu and his friend Murase Tonpo set out attempting to recruit three more. They do not succeed.

First is Akutsu, who has kabuki in his blood but would rather play back J-rock to a small flock of groupies; Niwa, an accredited and former child prodigy of dance who now looks like a beat-up boxer; and Asagi, who not only has his own thing going on with drama club (and an entire segment of underclassmen assigned to serving her), but isn’t a he, but a she. Finally, they find an actual, real-life kabuki performer with a stage name in their same grade.

I applaud Studio Deen for taking another traditional Japanese art form and trying to give it extra exposure by putting it in a currently far more popular Japanese art form. It did so with rakugo with immense success…but it strikes out here. It’s all in the execution: this feels like one more by-the-numbers obscure club in danger of never existing or being shut down. The trappings of kabuki are just that: trappings; window-dressing. We only catch the slightest glimpses of the world.

The MC himself is just a tourist, and one of the reasons he fails to recruit anyone (besides the obscurity of his passion) is that his arguments for why kabuki is so great feel so hollow. As reluctant and recalcitrant as his would-be recruits are, you can’t really blame them: they feel less like people Kurusu wants to share his passion with and more like pawns to fill a quota. He just met them all, after all; why does he expect any of them to drop what they’re doing and join his club with such weak sales pitches?

So yeah, while I personally like kabuki (though have only seen it live once), I did not like Kabukibu! Even the title grates; it sounds too much like peekaboo. 

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 12 (Fin)

Its first season shows us the past, and most of its second season showed us the present. This week is all about the future, both of the Yakumo and Sukeroku names, the families connected to them, and of rakugo itself. In all cases, that future looks bright, thanks to the inspiration of those who came before.

First, we have a Shin in his late teens or early twenties, and he’s the spitting image of his grandfather Yakumo, even though they’re not related by blood…or are they? The resemblance is uncanny, Konatsu is committed to taking the truth to the grave, as is her prerogative.

In other news, Konatsu has become the first female rakugo performer in history, which is awesome, because it’s something we know she’s always wanted to do, and she’s also very very good at it (sadly though, we don’t get to see her perform).

Interestingly, it doesn’t seem her and Yotaro’s daughter (and Shin’s little sister) Koyuki is interested in following the path the rest of her family has walked, and is content to listen to them work their craft.

As far as Shin is concerned, Yotaro, now the Ninth Generation Yakumo, is his Dad—he helped raise him, after all. That is very clear in a quiet, private scene between the two. As it’s very possible he carries both the blood of Sukeroku and Yakumo, Shin seems to strike a nice balance between their two extreme styles. And the little boy Shin we’re accustomed to comes out when his dad encourages him before one of the biggest performances of his life.

That performance is part of the grand re-opening of the Uchikutei theater, which had burned down years ago but now has been completely rebuilt (only now, no doubt, is up to code). Seeing the new Yakumo IX on the stage with his wife and son (and Master Mangatsu) is a triumphant moment, and the full crowd suggests Yotaro has succeeded in restoring rakugo from the brink it was dangling from when Yakumo VIII died.

Now it’s a more inclusive, less stodgy, and more welcoming place, without sacrificing the things that made it unique. Even Konatsu realizes she was foolish in her earlier thinking that she’d upset some kind of “harmony” by entering the world of rakugo.

It must be that much more encouraging for Matsuda, the only character to inhabit all three timelines. He’s 95 and wheelchair-bound, but seems as warm and cheerful as ever.

After Shin opens with a very good performance that demonstrates why he will be an excellent Sukeroku and/or Yakumo one day, Yotaro performs “Shinigami”, a Yakumo VIII original, as a tribute. And what do you know, the old man visits him at the climax of his performance, leading me wondering momentarily if Yotaro had been taken to the far shore himself!

Thankfully, Yotaro is fine, and he and his family and friends celebrate after the show with a flower viewing by the riverside. Matsuda mentions how he saw his master to the far shore (apparently during a near-death experience of his own back then), and Higuchi waxes poetic on Yotaro’s contributions to helping prevent rakugo from dying with Yakumo.

Yotaro, however was never concerned that rakugo would go anywhere, with or without his help. It’s too good for that. And I tend to agree: various humans can argue over whether the art of rakugo is something that must be vigilantly protected from disappearing, like tending a delicate fire.

But fires can be rebuilt and reignited, and there will always be those who want to sit in an old theater (or a newly rebuilt theater) and hear someone tell a funny, raunchy, or moving story that will transport them somewhere else. Rakugo is eternal.

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 11

For all the sorrow and tragedy and pain in his life, things turned out pretty well for Yakumo, AKA Bon, and as it turns out, he really did die under ideal circumstances: he died in his sleep, peacefully, painlessly, surrounded by those who loved him, listening to his grandson doing rakugo.

This episode, perhaps the finest in the entire run of the show, takes place entirely in the purgatory-like place the recently deceased go before crossing the Sanzu River to the hereafter. This requires a fare, which, big surprise, Sukeroku hasn’t been able to afford yet.

The show had always teased an interest in depicting a more fantastical world than that of the living, and in this place people can change their age at will, time is kinda hard to put a finger on. Yakumo is initially annoyed that once again Sukeroku is sponging off him, even after death, but once he’s a boy again, he quickly falls back comfortably into the very deep brotherly bond they shared.

The afterlife is suitably lush and otherworldly, but also borrows heavily from traditional Japanese aesthetics, which makes sense considering the characters we’re following. Sukeroku makes sure Yakumo understands how grateful he is for raising Konatsu.

The reunions don’t stop with Sukeroku, as Miyokichi died at the same time. While she’s cast away the “role of a woman”, she and Sukeroku are still a married couple, working together to earn fare across the river. It feels like, from their perspective, they only recently got here, just like Yakumo.

Yakumo wanted more than anything to apologize to Miyokichi for dumping her so heartlessly, but she holds no grudges in this place. In fact, she can now reflect on the mistakes she made in life, namely latching onto one person rather than rely on, and be there for, others. She’s also amused to no end by Yakumo talking like an old man, since he died as one.

The three travel together for a bit along that seemingly endless scaffolding, and Yakumo mentions the food is tasteless and unsatisfying. Sukeroku says it’s because they’re dead, but if he wants to be satisfied, he knows just the place: the very theater that burned down two episodes ago has arrived in the afterlife as well. It had a soul, after all. Even better: it’s a packed house with the biggest billing ever: All the masters of all generations…and Yakumo is on the bottom. He’s gone from grizzled old master to fresh new arrival in this place.

Sukeroku decides to warm the place up with a performance that really does seem to give flavor to the sake, meat, and onions he pretend-drinks and eats (never has his jaunty entrance theme, which Yotaro inherited, sounded better or more significant). “You can’t take this taste with you when you die!” also has new meaning. He’s still got it, in this place, which has gone back to exactly the same as it was in the old days.

There’s also a magic cushion (I’ll allow it) which brings the person from the living world the performer wants to listen the most. In Sukeroku’s case, it’s his daughter Konatsu, who appears the age she was when he and Miyokichi died. For Yakumo, it’s his grandson Shin, about the same age as his mom, and just as enthusiastic to hear Yakumo’s rakugo.

Yakumo takes the stage as his old self, but has never looked happier, beaming at his reunited family and full of energy. In a playful mood, he performs “Jugemu”, and Miyokichi and Shin “sing” along the comically long name. His story continues as the camera leaves the old, drafty, but brightly glowing theater, which slowly fades out of focus.

Yakumo then finds himself in a fine boat, packed and ready for his journey across the Sanzu. Sukeroku sees him off, and Yakumo makes him promise he and Miyokichi will join him soon, once they save up enough for their fare (the one thing he apparently can’t share with his friends, even if he wanted to). That could be a year from now, or it could be yesterday.

While en route, the ferryman reveals himself as Matsuda, who may have followed his master into death after nodding off himself, and he couldn’t be happier to be by his side again, chaffeuring him to the very gates of heaven.

It’s a fitting end to Yakumo’s story, and a achingly gorgeous episode full of joyful and tear-jerking moments, from Miyokichi first seeing Yakumo, to Konatsu hugging her mother, to Yakumo taking the stage one last time and meeting Matsuda on the boat.

The preview indicates the last episode will be an epilogue that jumps forward in time, perhaps to an older Shinnosuke with a red-haired young woman who may be his younger sister. That should be fun, even if it doesn’t come close to approaching the greatness of this, Yakumo’s farewell.

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 10

While there are certainly important stories to be told, the true genius of SGRS is the realism and intensity of the world in which those stories take place. While there was a soapy vibe to Yakumo’s inadvertent arson, this week grounds the even for what it was: something that was likely to happen to the tinderboxy theater sooner or later, regardless of who or what started it.

Even if Yakumo was trying to deal a blow to rakugo by sending the place up, the fact is, the theater is just a thing. You don’t really need it to perform rakugo. All you need is people to perform, people to support those performers, and an audience. And those things can be found anywhere. They’ll be okay…even the kid who worked at the theater to try to get closer to rakugo.

When we see Yakumo in the hospital, Shin and Matsuda are crying by his side, but Konatsu is sitting off at a distance, with a look that conveys both suspicion (both she and Yota had to stop him from jumping off a bridge, after all) and uneasiness.

As much as she has always hated her adoptive father for killing her birth parents, the window for hashing things out with him once and for all is quickly closing. Sooner or later Yakumo, like the theater, is going to go up-either by his own hand or by nature.

Still, even as Yakumo lies there in bed with a hell of a face burn, we know that when it came down to it, he’s terrified and not at all interested in dying. He’s not ready to leave the family he’s made, which we learn is about to get larger: Konatsu is pregnant again, and this time it’s Yota’s.

Since Yota is always calling Konatsu “nee-san”, its easy to forget that these two are married, let alone sleeping together. But I loved the way Konatsu drops the news—by mentioning how she craves sweet things when she’s expecting. I also loved Yota’s total obliviousness until she actually spells it out for him too.

You can feel the love and joy in this little scene. The RABUJOI, if you will ;)

As for her scene with Yakumo, it’s steeped in a combination of loathing and tenderness. It’s not the same love that she has for Yota at all, but it’s still love, and arguably a deeper one. As she helps him into the sun and combs his hair, he tells her how his mind wanders to things he never thought about when rakugo was his life, like how he never planted a cherry tree in his garden, or all he missed out on for rakugo.

Konatsu doesn’t let the opportunity to ask him why he never followed her parents to the grave, and there’s no need for any more pretense: Yakumo was too busy raising her to think about killing himself, and in any case, being a parent has a way of simultaneously overwhelming and soothing you. Raising Konatsu kept his regret at bay, and made it possible to live as long as he did.

Upon hearing all this, Konatsu softens, her eyes well up, and she does something it’s probably been very hard for her to consider doing: thank Yakumo, for not abandoning her.

Of course, she’s very welcome, and doesn’t even have to thank Yakumo, since she did as much for him as he did for her by being in his life. It’s a marvelously executed and acted scene; the epitome of bittersweet-ness.

Then Yota comes on the radio, Shin pops out of the bushes and recites the story Yota is telling (while tossing sakura petals in the air), Konatsu asks Yakumo if she can be his apprentice, and he says “yes” without any pushback whatsoever.

Yota and Shin’s story is accompanied by a montage of imagery that matches their words, though that imagery is coming not from the imaginations of the listeners, but in the city and world living and breathing around them during a warm, pleasant sunset. It looks like a moment of almost perfect contentment for Yakumo…

Which also makes it the perfect time to leave that world, if he was going to do so. When petals on the floor are suddenly picked up by a sudden wind and dipped into darkness, Yakumo wakes up on the planks of zig-zagging, seemingly endless boardwalk flanked on either side by countless candles. Sukeroku greets him, and this time welcomes him to the land of the dead.

Tellingly, Sukeroku doesn’t tell him he’s not yet supposed to be there. So is this it for Yakumo? Did that perfect moment signal his exit from the living world? Did he agree to train Konatsu to avoid stirring rancor so close to his end?

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 09

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When his former big boss goes away for six years’ hard labor, Yotaro has a notion to do a prison show, which is incidentally how he first heard his master. Yakumo performed “Shinigami” at that show, because he liked the chilly, somewhat hostile atmosphere.

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This time, Yakumo performs “Tachikiri”, and he moves many inmates and guards alike with the sad tale of a geisha who died because the letters from her lover stopped due to incarceration.

Of course, after last week’s outburst, part of me was weary of Yakumo being interrupted once again, perhaps this time by an unruly convict. That doesn’t happen, but the sound of Konatsu’s shamisen and voice remind Yakumo of Miyokichi, and she haunts his own visuals of the story.

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After Yakumo tries to see Yotaro’s big “Inokori” show, but leaves because it just…isn’t very good to him (no matter how entertained the crowd is), the old master clears out the old theater and performs “Shinigami” alone by candlelight, in the creepiest scene in the show since he saw those rows of candles after his collapse.

When he completes his tale, one person claps, or rather, one ghost: Sukeroku himself. It isn’t long before his youthful, vital form gives way to the skeleton, revealing a real shinigami has come for Yakumo, and he may get his wish: to die doing rakugo. “Sukeroku” compels Yakumo to toss a candle into the seats, and the whole theater goes up like a tinderbox.

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This would certainly be the end of Yakumo if it weren’t for Yotaro and good timing, who just happens to come by the theater after his performance. Upon the burning stage, with a death god pressing him down, Yakumo admits he doesn’t want to die, and Yotaro stretches to reach his master’s hand and pull him out of the inferno.

Yakumo may not succeed in “taking rakugo with him” when he dies, but he did manage to claim a theater rich in rakugo history in an attempt. What else will he destroy, whether he wants to or not, prior to exiting the stage for good?

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