Sarazanmai – 09 – Only the Bad Ones Survive

Things go from bad to worse in the Azumi Sara comedy of errors. While trying to free Prince Keppi from ice, he slides out into the street, where he’s shattered by a passing otter-aligned Dekotora truck. Not a great start! Still, with all the comedic musical stabs, it was clear Keppi was probably going to be fine in the end. After all, he’s a magical creature!

Enta, on the other hand? Not a magical creature, just a boy who was shot by the police. Since Mabo and Reo brainwashed all the other cops, they won’t listen to his story, and instead place all the blame on Chikai. Tao sees Enta on the news, he leaves Enta in Kazaki’s care. Tao, meanwhile, is the only one who can stand with his big brother. As expected, through extremely whimsical means Sara manages to reassemble and thaw Keppi.

Enta’s sister Otone eventually convinces Kazaki to finally face Enta and try to talk to him, and to his surprise, Enta is alive and well…only in Kappa form, thanks to the newly-built Keppi springing into action right away. There’s a catch, however: there’s a ticking clock on Enta’s kappa cap, indicating when he’ll die. If they’re going to save him, they’ll need dishes fast. Time is of the essence.

Once off the ferry, Chikai meets up Masa with a former little bro in his gang who knows the truth about Tao killing the boss years ago. After hanging around with him for a while, before they depart Chikai kills him because he was “to good to survive,” and when he’s confronted by another gangster, Chikai is surprised to find Tao has a pistol of his own, and is providing covering fire for his escape.

To drive home the fact that Mabo and Reo are not your conventional two-dimentional villains, the latter is excited to have been reunited with the former until he catches him being worked over by a desirous doppelganger; a mirror of the desires within Reo. The real Reo resolves to take back the real Mabu with his own strength, suggesting he’s not in lockstep with his otter kin.

When Kazaki collects a dish from his room, Haruka is awake, and asks him if he’s leaving again. Kazaki doesn’t sugar-coat things; he may be going into danger, but it’s to help Enta, whom Haruka recognizes is someone more than deserving of help from his brother for everything he did for both of them. Haruka also produces a drawing of Kazaki playing soccer that he drew with Enta, and Kazaki suddenly remembers meeting Tao when he was little.

Tao, meanwhile, follows his brother as far as he can, before he realizes that even he isn’t safe from being offed once his usefulness is at an end. That time seems to arrive when Tao catches up with Chikai, only for Chikai to pull a gun on him. Before he can kill Tao, he’s shot by the other gangster from long range, who is, in turn, shot by Chikai before he collapses.

Turns out Chikai was wrong; it’s not always the bad ones who survive. Or is he? As he lies dying and Tao weeps on the roof of the suddenly very funereal-looking ferry, memories of their brotherhood flash by, showing a loving Chikai and Tao who were always there for one another, even as Chikai grew darker and more troubled, Tao never ceased to stay beside him.

In Chikai’s pocket is a photo of their family with everyone scratched out by Sharpie except for Tao. As terrible a person as he was, Kuji Chikai wasn’t always that way, and he never stopped loving Tao. But now he’s gone, and Tao has a choice.

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Sarazanmai – 08 – Giving Up Something Precious

Where did Kazuki originally get his miçanga? From Toi, years ago, after he shot his brother’s foe. His brother had given up so much for him, he wanted to return the favor, and so gave up soccer, just like Kazuki would end up doing after Haruka’s injury. The thing is, Kazuki doesn’t remember.

That may be part of the equation of why Toi is alright leaving Kazuki and Enta, but it doesn’t mean he’s okay with it. Still, family comes first, and Toi would do anything for his brother. Unfortunately, Chikai is such a selfish jerk that he exploits Toi’s utter devotion to him at every turn, not letting him have his own life. “You need me, I need you.” Neither is true; not anymore.

On the contrary, Toi would be better off if his rotten brother were apprehended and faced justice. He has new connections. Not to be cold with regard to Chikai—he may well genuinely love his brother and wants them to be together. But he’s also an adult who made his choices, which come with consequences.

That he’s okay with Toi getting dragged down with him out of fraternal loyalty is proof of Chikai’s self-serving nature. More proof? Relying on a 14-year-old stranger in Enta to keep him hidden from the roaming Otter policemen. At least during this interaction, Enta learns the truth about the origin of Kazuki’s miçanga, and that Kazuki an Toi’s connection goes back further than he thought.

While the sudden presence of the “bro” of the guy Chikai (though technically Toi) killed wanting revenge seems rather sudden and contrived, when Chikai tosses Enta in the line of the guy’s sword, it’s Strike Three; dude should be in jail.

Thankfully for Enta, Reo and Mabo rescue him from the gangster, and then Reo shoots said gangster dead. Two other police hear the shot, but he and Mabo use special otter pins to brainwash them into telling the story of their choosing.

In a theater, Keppi consults with Sara on the Otter situation, and Sara unveils an apparatus that will flash freeze them alive upon capture, all to get back “Dark Keppi.” It’s interesting to see these two work so closely together, and to see Sara’s intermittent extreme clumsiness on display as she sneezes from pepper and accidentally kicks Keppi into the device, freezing him.

When Toi calls Enta to say his farewells, Enta tells him he knows about the miçanga, but that Kazuki doesn’t realize it’s Toi who gave it to him. Toi doesn’t think it matters, nor is there any reason to tell him, and says goodbye, wishing Enta and Kazuki the best as the Golden Duo.

When Toi calls Kazuki, he tests him by saying the same words he said years ago about having to “protect the connections he has.” Kazuki assumes, quite wrongly, that Toi is leaving because Enta betrayed them and stole the Dishes of Hope.

That makes Enta’s next encounter with Kazuki fraught with a great deal of anger and sadness over the misunderstanding. Even though Enta returns with the dishes and urges Kazuki to hurry up and help him get Toi back, Kazuki is still burning from Enta’s betrayal, and won’t believe or even listen to another word he says.

This is how, on the same day his friend Toi leaves his life, possibly never to be seen again, Kazuki puts all the blame on Enta and disowns him as a friend. To make matters worses, Keppi is nowhere to be found and thus can’t protect them when Reo and Mabo show up in the park.

Reo pulls out his pistol and shoots, and Enta takes the bullet for Kazuki…a love bullet! As the cops leave with the dishes, Mabo tells Kazuki he may still have time to save Enta’s life, and Enta comes to sprawled over Kazuki’s lap, and laughs that he couldn’t even joke about ever hating him before passing out again.

No doubt unsure what else to do, Kazuki calls Toi, but Toi is already on the boat out of Tokyo with his brother, and doesn’t bother answering. One imagines if Kazuki texted him that Enta got shot, he might ask the boat to turn around, but Kazuki doesn’t text him, so he doesn’t know how dire things are back on land.

With Kazuki a definite emotional wreck, Enta possibly dead, Toi on a boat and Keppi an ice kappa-cube, the Otters couldn’t be in a stronger position, nor could the good guys be mired in a deeper abyss of despair. Where does Sarazanmai go from here?

Fairy Gone – 02 – Wherein Things Happen

This episode doesn’t start on the sunniest of notes, dropping back a few years to chronicle the history of people near Mariya meeting their ends because she sees herself as something of a talisman of bad luck. We also witness a younger Free being bailed out by his friend Jet, who takes a blade to the gut in his place. It’s almost as if both he and Mariya are bad luck to those closest to them.

Thankfully the dreary, muddy browns and grays give way to the greens and blues of the present as Mariya settles into Dorothea and distinguishes herself in target practice. She accompanies Free to some ruins where it’s believed a large-scale “artificial fairy”transaction involving the mafia is about to go down. Mariya seems mostly resolved to honoring her former friend and big sis Ver, who told her the Ver she knew is gone. She also meets Serge, who has a sniper fairy, and Clara, who has a recon fairy.

Free’s old comrade Wolfran Row shows up, apparently now a mercenary hired by the mob to ensure the deal goes down, but Dorothea is there to interdict. Like Ver with Mariya, Wolfran doesn’t hesitate against Free for a second, and while Mariya’s fairy protects her, it loses both of its arms in the process, which means she can’t summon it again the rest of the episode. Thankfully, Serge is able to bail her out and force Wolfran to fall back.

Free and Mariya catch up to Wolfran again, who sics three artificial fairies at them. Once they’re dealt with, Free and Wolfran go one-on-one again, but it basically ends in a stalemate with Wolfran fleeing in a very bizarre transport that uses legs instead of wheels. By the time Free catches up, not only is Wolfran nowhere to be found, but he’s killed everyone on his side, leaving no trail for Dorothea to follow.

This is all still…fine, just fine…but I can’t help but feel like Fairy Gone isn’t leaving much of a trail for me. A lot happened this week, but for the second straight week I didn’t really come away actually caring about any of it. Ichinose Kana does her best, but Mariya is bland…as are her Dorothea comrades, and her and Free’s flashbacks did nothing to change that. Meanwhile the soundtrack, apparently all done by the same band that did the OP, is hit-or-miss.

Mayonaka no Occult Koumuin has some good ideas but lacks the production values to do them justice; Fairy Gone has the production values (better than MOK, anyway) but lacks compelling ideas and characters. I’m not sure how much more I need to watch.

Fairy Gone – 01 (First Impressions) – Victims of War, Choosing Different Sides

Like Owari no SeraphFairy Gone centers on two friends who went through hell together but separated and then encountered one another years later on opposing sides of the “war after the war.” They are Mariya Noel and the slightly older Veronica Thorne. Their village was burned along with the fairies who resided there, and they had no choice to escape.

Mariya almost gave up, but Ver made sure they got away safely, only to leave Mariya alone to pursue her quest for vengeance. Many years later, Mariya is in a mafia family providing security for a fairy auction, while Ver is there to steal one of the lots—a page from the Black Fairy Tome.

When Ver takes the stage, she doesn’t hesitate to shed blood to attain her quarry. Mariya’s ostensible boss, Free Underbar, isn’t messing around with Ver, summoning the werewolf-like fairy within him to counter her weird birdlike fairy.

Mariya’s loyalties are clearly torn, as the whole reason she joined the mafia was in hope that one day she’d find Ver. In the midst of battle, a glass container shatters and a fairy meant to be auctioned off is released.

It makes a beeline for Mariya and basically merges with her, making her a summoner just like Ver and Free, and thus giving her the power to break up their duel. Mariya does just that, summoning her fairy to grab Ver and Free’s fairies and dispersing them both.

While the characters are 2D, the fairies are CGI, but the juxtaposition of the two styles isn’t jarring, and the designs are cool.

When the dust settles, Ver has fled, and Mariya finds herself in an interesting position: she is a criminal by dint of now possessing a fairy. Free, who had only infiltrated a mafia family, is actually a member of an elite group of policemen called “Dorothea”, who track down and arrest illegal fairies.

So Free gives Mariya a choice: get arrested, or join Dorothea as a recruit. Mariya chooses the latter, as it will enable her to resume her search for and reconnection with Ver—whether or not Ver wants to be found, or considers herself the same person who parted with Mariya years ago.

Fairy Gone is…fine. I’m on board with the estranged friendship angle. The action is decent. The soundtrack is outstanding. But like Zane with some of the new Spring shows, I wasn’t ever really wowed. You can chalk that up to a lack of any original elements to the premise or narrative. This is, so far, basically a period Tokyo Ghoul, a show I had to stop watching when it started adapting its source material so quickly I was totally lost. So we’ll see.

Happy Sugar Life – 07 – What are Friends? What is Love?

Satou’s teacher sees her with Shouko and doesn’t like the fact that she seems to be sharing “dirty little secret.” Of course, Sensei is operating under the assumption that Satou’s parents died early and she was brought up by her aunt in an environment devoid of the love humans need to grow up to become “normal.”

He believes Satou snapped one day, murdered her aunt, chopped her into pieces, and gave the bags to him to incinerate. It’s as good a theory as any judging from the evidence he has…but he doesn’t quite have enough for the whole picture, and as a result, he’s dead wrong.

Satou doesn’t take Shouko to the apartment where she lives with Shio; she takes her to her aunt’s apartment. Her aunt turns out to be very much alive, and the cops are at her door answering reports of a “suspicious smell” emanating from the apartment.

Satou’s aunt may be alive, but to the horror of both Shouko and the cops, she’s completely whacked out of her gourd. Seiyu Inoue Kikuko, a grizzled veteran of anime who’s played dozens of mothers, balances the sweet kindness of her voice with an underlying malaise.

Everyone who enters her apartment, and sees horrid room in which she sleeps, immediately wants to leave and take a shower. But before the cops can leave, having found nothing law-breaking, she literally jumps on the male cop, senses he’s lonely, and tells him he can do whatever he wants to her and she’ll accept it—sex, violence, violent sex…anything.

This, Satou later tells Shouko, is how her aunt considered “love”, being a receptacle for whatever other people wanted to give her, good, bad, and ugly…all of it. And she’s never changed, and likely never will, as the cops (and you could say society at large) are neither properly equipped or empowered to “do anything” about her.

The female cop manages to wrest her partner away (and turns down the aunt’s invitation to her), and then turns to Shouko, who she also senses is “lonely” and is looking for her “prince.” Satou comes between them and ushers Shouko out of the apartment. Halfway to walking her home, Shouko expresses herself honestly; that she thought Satou’s aunt was hella weird.

When Satou asks if, now knowing the woman who raised her and how she sees love, if Shouko will still be friends with her. When Shouko hesitates to answer, Satou tells her they can go back to being “just friends at work.” and leaves. Shouko wanted to know the truth, and she only got a small taste, and it was way too much, but she’s still ashamed.

After shedding her tail, Sensei, with some properly dominating language, Satou leaves her aunt’s apartment’s front door, marked 305, and walks up to her apartment with Shio, number 1208, where she continues her Happy Sugar Life, untroubled by what went down with Shouko.

But then we flash back to the rainy day she didn’t want to go home to her aunt anymore. Someone chatted her up, invited her to their apartment (1208), and asked her to model for them (they were apparently an artist). Now we know who she murdered: that artist and 1208’s previous occupant.

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.

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.

Inuyashiki – 08

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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