Hinamatsuri – 05 – I’m Totally Confused, But This Isn’t Prostitution

We begin with the very stark differences in Hina’s and Anzu’s everyday lives laid bare. Anzu learns cat’s cradle from a fellow homeless person, and is excited to show Hina so they can play together…but Hina only cares about video games.

Anzu has a good heart—perhaps too good for her own good—so rather than tell Hina to take her video games and get stuffed, she implements a scheme whereby she’ll find and sell used TVs she finds off the streets in order to afford video games with which to play with Hina.

Hilarity ensues, as Anzu first learns that CRT TVs are worth less than the dirt they’re sitting on, then learns that Hina and Hitomi are friends. Seeing the futility of searching the riverbank for LCD TVs, Hitomi asks her mom if she can have the one they’re replacing, only to get stopped by a cop for illegal dumping.

Meanwhile Hina makes herself useful (and demonstrates how clueless she is about…pretty much everything) by asking Nitta for cash to buy a new TV, then taking a 5900-yen taxi ride to the guy who buys the TVs…for 3000 yen. Hey, Anzu said she wanted TVs, right?

At the end of the night, Anzu spills the beans about wanting to afford video games to play with Hina (though it may well have fallen on deaf ears) while Nitta ends up very confused when Hina talks about selling the TV she just bought with his money to pay for cab fare. (A particularly standout exchange: Cabbie: “Where to?” Hina: “The river.”)

We then shift back to a Hitomi-centric segment, which is fine with me, as Hitomi is awesome. Two male classmates watch her enter the Little Song bar, and when Matsutani-sensei immediately follows her, they, with their adolescent brains, fear the worst: an illicit sexual relationship.

To that end, the boys start a “Matsutani Illicit Sexual Relationship Suspicion Task Force” made up of the two of them and Hitomi’s friend Aizawa, who thinks they’re full of it but recommends they recruit Hina—who has know idea what’s going on, and whose numerous pleas to know what’s going on go hilarious unanswered for the rest of the episode.

While initially skeptical, Hitomi’s ridiculous (and sometimes adorable) reactions to Aizawa’s probing convince her that something is amiss, but when it looks like she’s just messing with Hitomi to get those reactions, the boys split off (though they all have to take the same single staircase down).

After following Hitomi and Matsutani to the prep room and gaining no new intelligence, the four kids (Hina’s still there, but doesn’t know why) stake out the bar one night, and spot Hitomi entering, followed shortly by Nitta (who they regard as Hina’s dad).

Hitomi’s closest friend, Aizawa, decides to throw caution to the wind and rush into the bar, and the others follow shortly thereafter, where they catch Hitomi red-handed. However, after imagining the absolute worst that could be happening to her, Aizawa and the boys are actually relieved it’s just a matter of her being a middle school bartender.

With that, Aizawa forces Hitomi to repent for keeping them in the dark by declaring she is a middle school bartender, with the spirit of an idol introducing herself, which Hitomi does. This gets her the applause not only of her peers, but of Nitta and Utako as well. Hina, meanwhile, remains just plain confused.

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3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 04 – Your Understanding Is Not Necessary

The Ezomichi-chan in Hikari’s head tells him to stop feeling guilty about being happy, and he decides to take her advice and agrees to tutor Iroha in math. Being one-on-one with her is a bit much, however, as the vibes quickly turn from studious to romantic…until Hikari’s mom and brother are caught very blatantly snooping.

Up until this point it’s been pretty smooth sailing for Hikari. He’s gained a girlfriend, another friend who happens to be a girl, and his worst enemy seems to be himself and his own lack of self-esteem. He’s just waiting for something to come along and take all this stuff he thinks he doesn’t “deserve” to have.

The universe obliges: Takanashi Mitsuya lures him out after school with a fake love letter (one Hikari knew would be a trap), and tells him to surrender Iroha so he can date her, or else. Takanashi is bigger, stronger, more handsome, more popular, and more blonde than Hikari, who has no clear answer ready for why Iroha is with him.

After getting punched, Hikari feigns a cold to go home early, but ends up in the same playground as a little girl who turns out to be Takanashi’s little sister Anzu. When Hikari brings up the possibility of his only recourse against Takanashi would be spreading false rumors online, Takanashi decides to use that, ordering Anzu to scream as a policeman cycles past, then claiming Hikari tried to take her home with him.

Takanashi snaps pics of the incident and posts them on the chalkboard at school, and within a day everyone has been convinced that Hikari is a creepy lolicon and shuns him even more than they used to. Itou knows the rumors aren’t true, as does Iroha, but Hikari doesn’t want them to get too close to him lest it make life difficult for them (Ishino, however, believes the rumors and expresses her disappointment).

As perfectly as Takanashi’s plan to toss Hikari’s already shaky rep in the dumpster, the reason he did it in the first place—to steal Iroha—ends in abject failure, when Iroha won’t even let him talk to her. Hikari is enough for her, and she’ll certainly take a kind boy like him over someone who spreads such harmful rumors for his own gain. Takanashi is flabbergasted, but perhaps it’s a teachable moment for him.

Meanwhile, Hikari’s brother Kaoru turns out to be very good friends with Anzu, who learns that Kaoru’s brother was wrongly accused of being a lolicon. Hikari’s mother (who is always a hoot in her loving yet frank disposition) can’t help but go with what makes sense, and Hikari can’t really argue with her; he’s never gotten along with people in general; for a misunderstanding like this to spiral out of control was always a distinct possibility.

Still, Hikari is lonely enough to still reach out to Iroha over the phone, surprising her. Unfortunately, it’s to tell her she should stop wasting her time with someone like him. She ain’t hearing it, and won’t listen to another word of his self-loathing nonsense.

She says what he couldn’t say to Takanashi: why she’s with him. He’s a nice person who cares about his friends and awkward yet loving. There’s no one she’d rather be with, so he can dispense with further attempts to convince her to leave him.

Iroha is on fire this week, between shutting Takanashi the fuck down with immediate effect, and making it clear to Hikari that she’s going to go out with the person she wants, and that’s him, damnit! If he likes her like she likes him, she’ll let her be by his side, in good times and bad.

The next day, Iroha is the one who encounters Anzu, and helps her up after she trips racing to her brother’s school. Takanashi tries to start up another talk with Iroha, but Anzu insists he hear her out: Kaoru’s brother is in trouble because he told her to scream when the policeman was nearby.

Hopefully Takanashi’s love for his sister and realization that he was a gargantuan ass will spur him into correcting his mistakes, setting the record straight about Hikari at school, and accepting defeat.

Devils Line – 01 – Back to the Well…of BLOOD (First Impressions)

“AND I’m a vampire…what a week!”

From Blood and Shiki to Dance in the Vampire Bund, Rosario + Vampire, Seraph of the End, and Help! My Little Sister is a Vampire!, there is no shortage of vampire anime out there, old and new, good and bad.

There’s so much, you might not have realized that I simply made up that last one, though for all I know it might actually exist (and Tasukete! Watashi no Imouto wa Kyuuketsuki! can be readily pared down to Tawamokyu!). 

The point is, we know all about vampires in anime. So any time a new one comes around, I ask two pretty standard questions:

#1: Does this add anything notably new to the table?
#2: If not, what makes it worth watching?

In the case of Devils Line, the answer to Question #1 is a firm “no.” Sure, the vamps’ chompers are a bit over-sized (not a great look!) and there’s an emphasis on vamps as crazed blood-and-sex addicts, but we’ve got a standard “pure maiden gets drawn into the dark side” story, which hearkens back to Lucy Westenra.

As to Question #2, I actually found a lot to like in the first 19/20ths of the episode (more on the final 20th later). First, the setting is realistic and grounded rather than surreal or baroque, and there’s a familiar Tokyo Nighttime atmosphere that pervades the episode and draws you in. I took note of the way characters were back-lit from various light sources.

In keeping with the much-like-real-life setting, the vamps, while ostensibly the “bad guys”, are also given a good degree of nuance and humanization. It’s not an accident that the blood-soaked cold open depicts a vamp tearing people apart…but not being all that happy about it! (no doubt because his fangs are so comically huge).

Finally, while it’s ultimately a red herring, the chase scene does good and efficient double duty, introducing us to the special division and their procedures for dealing with vamps in this world (a bad-ass cop lady fights on a higher footing than the vamp, probably because she too is a vamp) while also giving us a nifty Vamp-Speed chase and moonlit brawl.

So what didn’t work so well? Pretty much what the ED portends will be the entire premise of the show going forward: a Vampire Romance. College(?) student Taira Tsukasa goes with the flow, while sometimes looking off to the side like she needs new friends (or possibly very very old ones, amirite?!) but one thing I like about her is that she’s comfortable not having a boyfriend.

It doesn’t help when one of her two close friends confessed to her at school, she had to reject him, and he’s been basically tolerating the fact they’re “just friends” ever since…for now. Turns out Mr. Unrequited Love was the vampire she needed to watch her back for, and it’s to the kid’s credit that my disgust turned to pity once the Shadowy Subway Guy came between him and Tsukasa.

Subway Guy is a special division officer named Anzai, who suspected Tsukasa’s friend would soon crack from the pressure of having to hold in his vampiric nature, but concedes the kid’s desire not to hurt her was genuine…it’s just that Vamps can’t be trusted. When they see someone’s blood, they’re off to the sexy races.

And to the list of Vamps that can’t be trusted, go ahead and add Anzai in there, because once he notices Tsukasa’s scratched face, he starts French-kissing her. This burst explosion of passion might not have come out of nowhere, but it still felt sudden and oddly staged.  It looked less like the pure Tsukasa suddenly yearning and embracing a man’s touch, and more like he just jumped her.

So yes, this show has some good things going for it, but some big questions moving forward about whether and how the whole vampire romance thing will work. That she’s ostensibly dealing with a vamp who has his shit mostly under control (and is working for the “good guys” i.e. public safety) works to Anzai’s advantage, but I want to see more agency from Tsukasa, not for her to keep going with the (blood)flow.

 

Inuyashiki – 10

Turns out the woman, father, and baby we met last week weren’t the ones in the plane that crashed. Hiro has taken control of dozens, many of which find targets on the ground below, but Ichirou is finally able to take action,  commandeering and soft-landing ten planes in the bay – including the one with the woman, father and baby.

But Hiro has already caused much carnage, and hundreds if not thousands of casualties. And perhaps more pressing to Ichirou, Mari calls him to say she’s trapped atop city hall in the observation deck, where there’s a fire raging and where oxygen is running out.

Ichirou could probably save Mari and the others in City Hall in two shakes of a lamb’s tail, but there’s a problem: Hiro has found him. In their first encounter, he bolted as soon as Ichirou got up from Hiro’s bang; here, he wants answers, and isn’t satisfied with the ones he gets.

Hiro is upset that he’s the villain, while the old man is the hero, and so lashes out like a child would, first by grappling with Ichirou, then by bang-bang-banging him mercilessly. Finally, Ichirou counters with a bang of his own, but Hiro is only momentarily stunned.

As previewed in the show’s OP, a no-hold-barred battle between Hiro and Ichirou, nobody wins or loses except the city crumbling around and below them. When they’ve finally beaten and blasted each other unconscious, their “fail-safe”/”autopilot” systems kick in.

It’s here where it’s indicated that for all of the carnage and mayhem Hiro has caused, Ichirou’s system may be the superior of the two, and not necessarily due to any mechanical differences. Rather, because the original human that was copied by the mysterious aliens was older and more experienced.

This enables Autopilot Ichirou to destroy the hapless $100 billion space station in orbit and use the falling debris as cover for a sneak attack. He essentially scalps and literally “dis-arms” Hiro, and both fall back to earth with a crash and a splash.

At this point, I didn’t have very high hopes for Mari’s survival, and indeed she looks to have succumbed to smoke inhalation and asphyxia by the time Ichirou finally arrives. We watch him quickly descend into a new sub-level of despair as Mari’s life flashes before his eyes, but after much perseverance he manages to revive her.

Mari reacts to learning her father came when she needed him most with a big hug and a lot of tears. There’s no time fo Ichirou to explain or try to hide what he is; he must save the rest of the sightseers atop the building, including Nao, and after sending Mari home, he’s all over the city, saving as many as he can as those around him call him “god”.

Meanwhile, Hiro’s in a bad way, but he’s obviously not dead. Two good Samaritans encounter find him in an alley, and when he manages to mutter “water”, they give him some juice from the nearby vending machine, unwittingly helping a potential country-destroyer get back in the game.

I hope Ichirou realizes it isn’t ovr between him and Hiro, and that he isn’t so caught up in helping strangers that he neglects his family’s safety.

Inuyashiki – 09

The day after he kills an entire gaggle of press and an entire station full of police, Shishigami Hiro is all everyone is talking about. Due to his attractiveness, a number of fan clubs crop up, and many girls aren’t ashamed to voice their admiration for him. It’s a chilling reminder that this kind of “villain worship” happens in real life all the time.

Meanwhile, Hiro hacks all screens in Japan and makes an announcement: because Japan will never stop hunting him, he has declared the entire country of 120-odd million his enemy, and intends to kill every last one of them. He starts picking off targets from his rooftop vantage point, but also uses the screens of televisions and smartphones to execute people.

Andou gets Ichirou to send a hack of his own warning people to put away their smartphones, but it’s too late. In a half an hour, 100 have been murdered. He intends to kill 1,000 tomorrow and cheerfully asks the people to “look forward to it” before signing off.

Needless to say, it was hard to watch Hiro “gun” down throngs of people down in one of the busiest business districts in the world, and a place I spent a lot of time walking around. That sinking feeling is made worst by the fact he knows Chakko betrayed him (but wrongly believes he’s working with the police).

Hiro has also completely lost whatever goodwill he had with Shion. When he contacts her she begs him to stop the killing, but he responds as a machine would: there’s a problem, and they can’t live together in peace until he’s fixed it. He talks of eliminating Japan with the detached urgency one speaks of tying one’s unlaced shoe.

I doubt it will be long before even Andou and Shion enter Hiro’s crosshairs. The next day, as anticipation mounts as to whether, when, and how he’ll kill 1,000, we watch a pretty young woman board a plane, and once in the air, pacify a baby with a YouTube video.

Meanwhile, Mari is playing hooky with her friends in Shinjuku, but wants to keep the promise to come home with a treat for her dad’s dog. With Andou using Ichirou’s last name so often during their phone convos, it’s only a matter of time before Ichirou’s family is at risk too.

All the while, Mari seems to suspect/realize her father is the hero trying to stop Hiro, but is so unused to communicating with him she can’t seem to bring it up to him, or even thank him for going to bat for her over her future.

But that’s assuming she, and the rest of Japan, have a future. That plane with the woman and the baby? Hiro pulls it down in the middle of Shinjuku, in a sickening echo of 9/11. As his destructive capabilities increase, 10,000 dead tomorrow isn’t outside the realm of possibility.

Ichirou HAS to find him and stop him. But right now, he seems over-matched and overwhelmed, and it’s hard to blame him. If there’s a mark against this episode, it’s how ineffectual and unprepared Ichirou was against Hiro’s slaughter. He sent Andou’s warning to phones, but that just wasn’t enough.

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Hiro never bothered to cover his tracks that well, and so it was only a matter of time before a SWAT team showed up. In their attempt to capture him, Shion and her grandmother are killed, and the ostensible sociopath, who has chosen them as tethers to his humanity, is clearly very upset and guilty about that.

The police empty clip after clip into him but of course cannot penetrate Hiro’s skin, and he’s able to escape with Shion and her grandma and, I assume, heal them. Still, he leaves them behind, with words of apology, and will likely never let them get in harm’s way again—which means never coming near them again.

It’s a busy episode of Inuyashiki that checks in on just about everyone, even a random cop duo who hope to catch Hiro soon. But its focus is on Ichirou’s daughter Mari, who gets some welcome development beyond the thin outline we’d gleaned thus far of a girl ashamed to have such a poor, pathetic old-looking man for a father.

Turns out that was not nearly the whole picture. Mari’s grades aren’t great, and isn’t that interested in going to college. Instead, she wants to strike out as a mangaka, utilizing a craft she’s honed in secret since elementary school. She’s motivated by her neighbor and classmate, the rich and entitled son of the famous mangaka Oda, and she resents that he’s trying to follow in his footsteps simply because it seems like the natural thing to do.

Meanwhile, Ichirou continues to explore and refine his abilities with the help of Andou, another classmate of Mari’s, and it isn’t long before she spots the two walking and talking together. She stalks them, and dismisses the wild (and hilarious) theories that initially enter her mind (Andou is asking for permission to pursue Andou; her dad is into younger boys; Andou is his bastard son).

She keeps following them, watches them go into hospital rooms, then Googles the “miracle worker” who has saved over 120 lives. Then she sees her father launch himself into the sky like a rocket, and nothing will ever be the same.

By that, I mean Mari immediately starts to think of her father in a different way. Not much time is spent on her processing what she’s seen—it would understandably take some time—but when her mother confronts her on her low grades and insist she abandon the manga hobby and go to college, expense be damned—Ichirou walks in and immediately takes her side. 

Granted, Ichirou probably has no idea Mari knows anything about his abilities, so there’s no leverage at play here. Indeed, a pre-transformation Ichirou may have taken his wife’s side instead, because he struck me as a bit of a pushover. But not now. Now he’s willing to let his daughter embrace her dream, because he wants her to be happy.

As for Shion and her Grandma? They’re alive and well, in a new apartment, receiving payments from “him.” He healed them, but apparently could not wipe their memories. My money is on Shion trying to reach out to Hiro again, perhaps to her peril…again.

But being apart from Shion, her grandmother, and their quiet, simple life, not to mention the reason he had to leave it, has an immediate and strong negative impact on Hiro, who slips back into his old homicidal ways. The ones he cares about may still be alive, but it doesn’t change the fact that the police killed them, obviously lacking the knowledge he could repair them.

Had the police left him alone (whether that was the right thing to do or not), he may have continued on his peaceful course. But now he wants revenge, and to lash out at those who dared hurt Shion and her grandma. So he heads to the station and starts systematically slaughtering every policeman he sees—including the two cops we saw earlier.

When he’s done inside the headquarters, he goes outside to find a huge force waiting for him. A sniper knocks him down, and SWAT teams riddle him with bullets anew, but they can only slow him down; they can’t stop him, or really even hurt him. Even when “unconscious”, his defensive systems deploy and eliminate all threats with grim efficiency.

All of this unfolds before the video cameras of the media, which it seems Hiro doesn’t kill. Indeed, he leaves one defiant policeman alive so he can witness him killing all the other police around him, to prove to him he will always win in the end.

But because those cameras are capturing him, Ichirou and Mari are watching on the news, and Ichirou doesn’t see the boy who fought to protect Shion and her grandmother, or saved as many lives as he killed (though he’s now clearly “in the red” again). Ichirou just sees a butcher only he can stop.

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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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 08

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After a taste of Kyoto-style rakugo (which has a lot more props than Tokyo style…not sure I like it) courtesy of Mangetsu, who is trying to make a comeback after ten years out of the game, We see a frail and withered Yakumo showing his grandson one of Sukeroku’s albums.

Higuchi and Matsuda then come in to show Yakumo the veritable bonanza of recordings and memorabilia the professor has collected over the years. Higuchi leaves it up to Yakumo whether the recordings and such were ever to be released to the public, or destroyed. Yakky says he’ll think about it.

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In a really, really lovely scene, we see the happy couple of Yotaro and Konatsu relaxing on a warm night, and Konatsu rests her head on Yotaro’s broad back and asks him to perform some rakugo, and is no doubt soothed by the vibration of Yotaro’s voice as he does so. It’s personal rakugo; not for a crowd, but for someone close.

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Yotaro can’t get far in his story before the couple notices Yakumo walking onto the nearby bridge; he feigns a desire to get out and about and a bout of sickness, but Konatsu knows what he’s up to: he was trying to off himself, something she won’t allow until he “atones.”

Or at least, that’s how she chooses to label her love for the man who brought her in when she lost both her parents and raised her into the fine woman she is. Yakumo concedes that fate may not be ready to let him die.

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Yakumo visits Kido Isao, an old friend and who owes him a “debt that can’t be paid”, knows how to keep quiet, and longs to hear Yakumo perform again. Then, one night, after seeing a play with Matsuda, Yakumo finds himself the victim of his loyal servant and family’s machinations.

To wit: he’s being forced into a performance before a small, select audience of old friends, colleagues, and patrons. When he threatens to leave, the lady of the Yanashima Inn “insists” by hilariously shoving him onto the stage.

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But before Yakumo has to perform, he yields that stage to his “dunce” of a student, who performs “Shibahama” to his master’s shock. When asked how he learned it, Yotaro confesses to having watched the film, though doesn’t go so far as to hear the truth of what happened at that inn so many years ago.

As for his “Shibahama”, Sokuroku’s was, in my opinion, far superior. But to Yotaro’s credit, he uses his tendency to weep easily well here.

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When it’s finally Yakumo’s turn, he introduces himself with an air of “whelp, I guess I can’t rest easy yet, so despite my dry tongue here goes”…only to be rudely interrupted by a police raid that has come to arrest Kido Isao. Have those coppers no decency?! 

One also wonders if, like when his suicide was thwarted by the sudden appearance of Yotaro and Konatsu, if there’s something to the fact that he was so harshly silenced just when he was about to do rakugo again.

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ACCA: 13-ku Kansatsu-ka – 02

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Despite the threat of bad things on the horizon, the still-for-now peaceful world of ACCA is a very comfortable place to jump into and spend time, and the show continues a relaxed pace that draws you in rather than makes you nervous or impatient.

While we start with more frankly unnecessary explanation of Dowa and ACCA (though it’s good to now know what an ‘acca’ is), we suddenly find that the “mushroomhead” rookie officer Rail was never going to be able to frame Jean Otus for anything, because the well-informed Jean was on to him all along. It’s a nice demonstration of Jean’s towering competence that it’s important to establish for later on.

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The show keeps things grounded in reality and humanity by continuing to show Jean and others hanging around food and drink. This week we see Jean have breakfast, lunch and dinner, having lively discussions in each one.

Jean’s also often grabbing food for the house and his sister, which is how he bumps into Mauve, who has been ordered to cease her solo investigations, which had to deal with rumors of a coup d’etat plot.

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We also meet an actual not-work friend of Jean’s in Nino, who is a freelance reporter (and certainly looks the part). He’s on good terms with Jean’s sister Lotta too, so Nino is clearly a guy Jean trusts when he tells him not to worry about the feeling he’s being followed.

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I’m loving watching Jean’s far-flung travels between districts, and the way it isolates him from both home and office. He’s out there on his own, autonomous, soaking everything in, doing his job with what seems to be pride.

And yet…is the Jean Otus we’re seeing just an elaborate, near-perfect cover? Chief Officer Groshular believes Otus has something to do with the coup plot, so he has an elite undercover agent following him…who it’s hinted at earlier with a silhouette, then confirmed to be Nino, whom Groshular calls “Crow.” What a tangled web ACCA weaves.

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Right now, it seems just as plausible (if not more so) Jean is totally innocent, and his unorthodox behavior, combined with an inaccurate tip, has led Groshular to cast his suspicions upon him. But it’s intriguing to wonder if we’re only trusting Jean based on what we’ve seen and not the person Jean Otus truly is, hiding just beneath the surface.

Once he arrives in Jumoku, Jean almost looks like Alice, dealing with people and things far bigger (or smaller, in the case of “Tintin”) than they should be. It adds to the disorienting feeling of who is following whom.

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Nino/Crow is clearly perfectly comfortable observing Jean in plain sight; they go back 15 years to high school (though Nino cryptically says he’s been watching him for 30), after all. So is Jean oblivious to the fact his buddy is his tail, or is he well aware, and on his toes to avoid giving Nino anything to work with? Does Jean only pretend to get really drunk to lull Nino in a false sense of security?

It looks like the makings of a great noirish cat-and-mouse game thus far, presented with stylish art and a gorgeous soundtrack. ACCA exudes confidence without arrogance, telling a good yarn without getting too serious about it. But always present is that subtle background noise of looming dread in a peaceful world.

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Onihei – 01 (First Impression)

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The Gist: a gritty historical crime anime, which nails the mood of swords and samurai Japan, all the way down to the jazzy saxophone music. Heizo Hasegawa is chief of Arson Theft Control, a title that makes about as much sense as his personal blend of torture-love to get criminals to turn over a new leaf does. Learning that the chief’s daughter isn’t biological, but rather adopted from a thief, ATC’s most recent tortured prisoner decides to turn over a new leaf and join them.

The Verdict: the pacing is terrible, lurching right into a lengthy period of non-action before giving the viewer a reason to care about the characters, followed by lengthy exposition and spoken backstories by guards and the protagonists. It doesn’t look great, it doesn’t have much music after the opening roll, and the lethargic pace make this a pure skip.

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ACCA: 13-ku Kansatsu-ka – 01 (First Impressions)

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The Jist: From the creator of House of Five Leaves, the director of Space Dandy and One Punch Man, and Madhouse, ACCA follows the vice-chairman and second-in-command of ACCA’s Inspection Department Jean Otus, fulfilling one last audit before the department is shuttered.

However, Otus’ exposing of corruption in a district results in the shuttering being cancelled. Otus starts to feel like he’s being followed and watched, as he wonders if his department was really spared because trouble is on the horizon in otherwise-peaceful Dowa.

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Rejecting the notion that all police dramas must start with a bang and with thrilling action or the capturing of some devious members of the criminal classes, ACCA takes a far more leisurely, introspective, and detailed approach.

While some early scenes where ACCA officers talk to each other about the structure and purpose of their own organization (which is a little clunky), the episode rights itself by diving into the monotonous but not awful day-to-day existence of a glorified functionary who seems to be coasting.

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If this all feels somewhat boring, I think that’s kind of the point. There’s a distinct foreboding feeling lurking on the margins of otherwise mundane world of Dowa. Comments about the increasing number of fires and the fact the King of Dowa has just turned 99 adds to the looming dread.

Nice little details like Otus’ penchant for smoking cigarettes (a rare luxury in Dowa), the birdlike form of the country, and all the various organizations and ranks and their relationships with one another also kept me interested.

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But while trouble may loom (Otus’ discovery of black market corruption indicates there could be larger rot lurking in the depths of ACCA, and one of the org’s “Chief Five” mentions a possible coup d’etat), life nevertheless continues as normal, and that’s where ACCA really shines.

Otus and his colleagues spend a lot of time either in diners, bars and cafes, or opening up tasty treats at work (specifically, at or around 10). The building he lives in is managed by his sister, who wants him to get out of ACCA and join her in the family business.

All those little slice of life moments add up to a rich, lived-in experience, which makes up for the lack of exciting action. The visuals are nothing fancy, but get the job done, while the eclectic soundtrack is superb. If ACCA continues along this offbeat tack, it should secure a firm place on my Winter watchlist.

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ēlDLIVE – 01 (First Impressions)

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Kokonose Chuuta is a high schooler who avoids contact with others and is always talking to a voice no one else hears. One day he’s scooped up by ēlDLIVE, a space police force, who immediately put him to work apprehending an alien criminal, who turns out to be his buxom teacher.

The voice belongs to an alien who lives within him, and with its help Chuuta successfully arrests the alien and is formally accepted into ēlDLIVE. Among the bureau’s members is his classmate and crush Sonokata Misuzu.

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Isn’t it always the way: you try to keep your head down and lead a quiet life helping your auntie at her muffin shop, only to be recruited by a bizarre space police unit? ēlDLIVE presents that rather outlandish scenario, and does it with a brisk pace, confidence, and humor.

Not only that, the person who had been the least human-looking character – Chuuta’s teacher – turns out to be an alien perp in disguise. His crush is pretty generically hostile to him, but at least she’s voiced by Hayami Saori.

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ēlDLIVE is fine harmless fun, but there’s not much to it beyond its vivid candy coating, and while it tries to go out there with kooky alien designs, the weird alien that harmlessly pops out of Chuuta’s chest just…doesn’t look that cool. Nor does Chuuta himself, who I guess is supposed to be an innocent weenie.

Still, both the premise and the execution smacks of a show with limited appeal for actual adults – this has Saturday morning kid’s cartoon all over it, unlike something darker like Parasyte. I don’t foresee ēlDLIVE lasting long on my Winter watchlist, but it is inoffensive and decent for what it is.

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