Darling in the FranXX – 23 – New Battles to Fight

As Hiro and most of Squad 13 and the surviving Nines head into space aboard a gigantic Klaxosaur mothership, part of a massive fleet on autopilot to Mars orbit, Michiru stays behind.

Kokoro believes that because she can no longer pilot a FranXX, she has no more purpose, other than perhaps staying by Zero Two’s side as she continues to get remotely cut by the VIRM attacking Strelizia. Since she feels herself so useless, she neither expects or wants anyone burdening themselves for her sake, but Mitsuru won’t hear of it.

A VIRM fleet intercepts Hiro and his Klaxosaur fleet, attempting to block them from reaching Strelizia, who they’re surrounding. But thanks to Nine Alpha being compatible as Hiro’s pistil, and some teamwork on the part of Squad 13 and the other Nines, Hiro is able to blast through the walls of enemy ships and reach Strelizia, which is believed inert due to not having a Stamen.

Alpha gets Hiro to the access hatch, but self-destructs soon after to take out a particularly large, nasty VIRM. The other Nines sacrifice themselves in similar fashion, going out doing what they were always created and designed to do: to fight in battles like this.

Humans like Squad 13 have other battles to fight, whether it’s the fight in which Kokoro and Mitsuru have to start over after losing their memories, protecting one another and awaiting the new life they created, or Hiro keeping his promise to Zero Two.

When he makes contact with her in Strelizia’s cockpit, Zero Two tells him she left Earth so that Hiro could remain a human, and help rebuild civilization with his Squad 13 family. But that’s not what Hiro wants. He wants to be with Zero Two, like they promised they would be, even if he becomes a “monster” like her.

He believes even Zero Two wanted this despite her actions, because she left the last page of her story blank. By returning to her side Hiro is filling that blank page with a new ending, one in which the lovers never part.

Their reunion triggers a major transformation in Strelizia Apath (or Apus, as it’s spelled in the subs this week), its mask shattering to reveal an enormous Zero Two, replacing or transporting her human body on earth into the cockpit with Hiro.

Now fully awake and in her true form, Strelizia unleashes a new and devastating arsenal of weaponry that annihilates the VIRM fleet in moments, likely ending Squad 13’s last military battle and freeing them to begin the next battle: surviving and rebuilding.

However, Hiro and Zero Two won’t be joining them, at least, not for a while. Devices emerge from the Martian moons of Phobos and Deimos, and their combined beams open a warp gate to systems heretofore long out of mankind’s reach (though at this point the couple can probably no longer be called 100% human, what with the horns and all).

The VIRM’s fleet at Mars is destroyed, but their main fleet is still out there, and their mission to enslave humanity and the Klaxosaurs remains in force. Rather than wait for them to threaten the solar system again, Hiro and Zero Two will take the battle to them.

That means saying goodbye to Futoshi, Ikuno, Zorome, Miku, Goro, and Ichigo, as well as Kokoro and Michiru. It would be nice if they could all fight their individual battles in the same place, but it’s not to be, so they’ll all have to just wait and see if Hiro and Zero Two will ever return to them.

 

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Darling in the FranXX – 22 – Nothing Remains Stagnant

The aftermath of the huge battle between the Klaxosaurs and VIRM is even more bleak than that following the destruction of Plantation 13. Squad 13 are just trying to scrape by with their year of rations remaining, hoping to grow crops to one day restock their food supply.

The goal to survive, not fight, hasn’t changed, but nearly everything else has. Everyone is worn out and hungry. A pregnant Kokoro can barely keep down the tiny ration food she’s eating. Zero Two is in a vegetative state, and worryingly, cuts are starting to appear on her arms out of nowhere.

Zero Two kept her promise and went to where Hiro was, but despite sitting right beside him, Zero Two is currently too far away for him to keep his.

The Klaxosaurs don’t offer any help; they’re busy fighting the VIRM, and the dead bodies of both entities falling to the ground, narrowly missing their meager crops. Adults like “New Nana” don’t help, absent explicit orders from “Papa” (who let’s face it, is never “coming home”.)

Finally, Kokoro collapses and upon examination learns she is pregnant. All Nana says that means is that she can’t pilot a FranXX as long as she remains with child. She gives her the option to abort the fetus or not, but carrying the child to term isn’t mentioned.

It seems clear at this point that Mitsuru remembers something of his role in Kokoro’s current situation; how else to explain how helpless he feels in wanting to help her. He reaches out to Hiro, but Hiro has is own problems, and feels just as helpless over his inability to help the one he loves.

The episode continues to pile on, as Squad 13 wakes up to find their crops are not long for this world, apparently due to nutrient deficiency in the soil as a result of magma energy mining. The world itself seems to be rejecting their existence.

Two Adults who look to contribute a crucial role in helping the children survive and create a future are Hachi and Nana. After what he heard from and saw with Dr. Franxx, Hachi isn’t your typical adult human automaton, and follows the late doctor’s posthumous e-mail, retrieving Nana and discovering that all of the rejected parasites are in cryo-sleep.

Franxx’ last orders for Hachi and Nana were to become the surviving children’s new adults, and to take care of them until they can take care of themselves.

While chasing a “sleepwalking” Zero Two, Hiro witnesses wounds spontaneously appearing. He finally discovers the reason after reading her last illustrated page of her storybook, in which the prince is “left alone” when the princess has to go far away. Zero Two’s mind is still one with Strelizia Apath, which is out in space fighting against the VIRM. Its wounds become her body’s wounds.

At around the same time, Goro and Hachi learn that Mistleteinn still has soil with enough nutrients to grow viable crops, allowing them to survive after their rations run out.

Hiro and Goro’s opposing positions on how to proceed clash when Hiro announces to the others that he’s going to space (specifically, Mars orbit) to where Strelizia is fighting. Keeping his promise to Zero Two is the only reason he’s alive.

Goro is pissed by Hiro’s selfishness, but also the timing of his announcement, just when he’s found a glimmer of hope for the rest of them. But there’s no convincing either of them that the other is right. Hiro will go to space, and the others can’t stop him.

Meanwhile, Nana, who had been convinced she no longer served a purpose, finds a new one in comforting a crying injured parasite.

After saying goodbye to Zero Two, Hiro prepares to launch, using the Klaxosaur ship left to them by the princess, along with the choice to “fight or accept your ruin.” Well, turns out nobody wants to accept their ruin, because every Squad 13 and Nine member who is able decides to join Hiro on his interplanetary odyssey, committed to making sure it isn’t a one-way trip.

They’ll go to Mars, help/save Strelizia, come back, and build their future—because while nothing is ever stagnant, they deserve a little stability after how hard they’ve worked, fought, and suffered.

Darling in the FranXX – 20 – I’m Gonna Come Get You

Between the belated Dr. Frank backstory episode and the week off that followed, we’ve had to wait an awfully long time to get back to the central story of Hiro, Zero Two, Ichigo, and the others. Thankfully, it was worth the wait. This week starts in the Birds Nest, Squad 13 still shaken by the forced memory loss of Kokoro and Michiru.

Hiro and Zero have agreed to implant Strelizia into Star Entity, the weapon at the bottom of Gran Crevasse, in order to have a decisive edge against the Klaxosaur scourge. The couple only agrees reluctantly, telling APE that it will be the last time they call them “Papa” and let them steer their destiny.

Meanwhile, Kokoro is also she’s throwing up all the time, which is a pretty good sign that she’s preggers. That child may well prove to be the most important ray of hope for humanity, yet neither parent knows it exists, or remembers conceiving it.

Zero has also become one of the 13th again, defending her comrades against barbs from the Nines and really steaming Alpha’s beans. Once all the FranXX are mobilized the battle against a massive Klaxosaur force commences. In the middle of battle, Michiru calls Kokoro “Kokoro”, and gets a jolt of pain that spreads to her head and immobilizes Genista.

While Hiro and Zero descend to the bottom of Gran Crevasse, they commit themselves to the shared goal of being together forever. When this is all over, Zero hopes to travel the world like the princess in the story; it doesn’t matter where, as long as her Darling is with her. And should they ever be parted by outside forces, they’ll come and get one another, sealing the promise with a kiss.

With Dr. Franxx and Hachi along for the ride, Strelizia reaches the bottom, but when Strel reaches the portal to Star Entity, it won’t open, and the Klaxosaur Princess (whom Franxx calls Zero One) bursts through the walls of the Crevasse, intent on stopping the humans from stealing her “child.” The Princess forces open Strel’s cockpit, yanks Zero Two out, and restrains Hiro.

After giving him a very rough and not very romantic kiss, the Princess takes control of Strelizia, not needing the stamen-pistil interface (I like how she just floats around with arms crossed like a boss). Hiro is helpless to resist, but a wounded and bleeding Zero Two starts a slow and arduous journey back to her darling, to fulfill her promise.

As the princess links up with Star Entity, to form “Strelizia Apath”, Dr. Franxx tells Hachi about how Klaxosaurs split into two distinct forms: the magma energy that courses through the depths of the earth, and a form that consumed that energy and took physical form. He also reveals that Klaxosaurs are biological weapons built and piloted (in male-female pairs) by “klaxo sapiens”, a species of which the princess is the last surviving member.

If that sounds like how FranXX are piloted by parasites, it’s because the FranXX are themselves Klaxosaurs that genetically-modified humans can use. This confirms that most if not all of the Klax Squad 13 has fought and destroyed had pilots just like them.

There’s one more big reveal: APE is led by members of an alien race known as the VIRN, whose objective was to retrieve both Star Entity and Hringhorni (a spear made of Klax cores) for use in space as “soldiers”, i.e. tools. Now that the princess is threatening that, they decide to destroy both assets and the rest of Earth with them.

With that, a massive space fleet appears just past Earth orbit. The Princess activates Apath’s main weapon, obliterating much of the fleet in a dazzling show of lights an kick-ass space battle sound effects. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a lot to take in all of a sudden, but there was always something alien about APE, so it’s not like all of this is coming out of nowhere.

We even get to see a VIRN’s true form, a four-pointed star-cross with eyes. Maybe not the coolest or scariest design (and more than a little similar to Eva-explosions), but definitely weird and alien.

Turns out they booby-trapped Strelizia Apath, rigging it to explode if the Princess ever piloted it. As she is restrained by glowing VIRN-purple bonds, they start to infect Hiro as well, but he still can’t move, and even if he could…what could he do?

I have no idea how Hiro and Zero Two are getting out of this one, but they’re both alive for now, Zero is still coming for her Darling, and there’s four whole episodes left; plenty of time to craft a satisfying final denouement.

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 48

McGillis, sporting a slightly less ostentatious look goes to the hangar to ask Mika what he wants to do, and whether he wants to join him in fighting the Gjallarhorn forces surrounding them. But no matter how he phrases it, Mika’s answer is the same: He’ll do what Orga wants, no more, no less.

Ever since the two met as boys, their relationship has been defined by utter dependence on each other, a bond no one, even Atra, could break. He is the hand; Orga is the will. But what happens if one dies before the other?

Yukinojo decided that now is the time to bring up the only remaining potential means of Tekkadan’s escape: underground tunnels and comms equipment left over from the Calamity War. Orga’s new order is not to fight, but survive, even if they have to dig themselves out by hand.

In order to ensure a future for everyone, even if it’s a future where they’re able to keep on living and nothing else, Orga has to contact Makanai. So he, Chad, Ride, Kudelia and Atra leave HQ in an unassuming armored car.

Notably, Orga does not take Mika along, saying he has another task for him. Mika is weary of what Orga “might mess up” if he’s not with him, but still gives him his pistol when he asks for it; the same pistol Orga watched Mika kill at his command with years ago.

At first Mika scared him; but he soon realized that there was nothing to fear, because if Mika was your friend, you couldn’t lose against anyone. Who would have thought Mika would be right about Orga messing up, and that this would be the last time they saw each other?

I greatly appreciated the little scene in which Kudelia and Atra kiss Mika goodbye, much to the discomfort of Ride and Hush. I personally have never had any problem with their weird lovey-dovey triangle (indeed, it’s been a nice change of pace from the usual kind), but this is an acknowledgement of that weirdness in the eyes of other Tekkadan members, who either don’t quite understand, or are jealous, or both. It’s really the only funny moment in the episode, but I’m glad it’s there.

And how will Orga’s little road trip get to Chryse without being attacked by Gjallarhorn? McGillis has that covered, though he doesn’t deploy, defeat Iok in three strokes, and fight the entire force on his own merely as a diversion for Orga. He still speaks of destroying Rustal, but Rustal isn’t even on the planet.

Whatever scheme is still in motion for McGillis, he seems resigned to the fact that he isn’t a wolf in a pack like the members of Tekkadan; he’s always been alone, and if that’s how he has to achieve his goals, so be it.

Orga & Co. get to Chryse, where they learn that those they’ve helped survive in the past are ready and willing to return the favor, like Makanai, who despite being one of the older adults on the show, continues to favor the youngins of Tekkadan who are the only reason he’s still around.

And what a nice reveal of Takaki, who is doing fine, working as Makanai’s aid, and implying Fuka’s doing fine too. One could argue as long as one member survives Rustal’s purge, Tekkadan wins.

Makanai and Takaki aren’t their only allies, for they are providing haven, but not the means to get there. Enter an email from an awesomely-suited Azee and Eco, stating that they have the okay from McMurdo to assist Tekkadan in any way they need, at any time. All of the fighting and dying wasn’t for nothing; Tekkadan made important friends whose loyalty isn’t wavering when it counts the most.

With that, Orga says goodbye to Kudelia and Atra in a hallway gorgeously lit by the setting golden sun. They’ll hole up in the Bernstein residence and await good news from Earth. I’m sure Atra would have liked to stay with Mika until the end, but he wouldn’t have wanted that for her or their baby, and Kudelia promised Mika she’d protect them.

After a long walk down that almost eerily lit hall, with Ride all but shouting death flags about everything working out, the seething tension was almost unbearable. It didn’t get any better when they step outside to the waiting car and there’s no Gjallarhorn soldiers, or anyone around at all. It’s too quiet, too calm. Something was going to happen.

Something did: in an incident just as quick and merciless as Lafter’s muder, Orga is gunned down by a bunch of suits in a passing car. Chad and Ride escape mortal injury, and Orga kills one of the assassins with Mika’s pistol, but he’s riddled with bullets and leaking his life’s blood on the pavement.

Still, he wears a wry smile, gets up, doesn’t slip on the blood puddle, and moves forward. Not towards the car, just forward. His last order to Tekkadan before collapsing: don’t stop. “As long as you don’t stop, I’ll be at the end waiting for you.”

Before heading off on his own, McGillis told Mika the power he saw in him, and once thought would bring about a bright future, turned out to have “no ideals, no objective, no destination,” any more than a pistol has such things. A defiant Mika derided Macky’s use of too many words and insisted “We’ll get there.”

But at least for Orga, Mika’s will, the definition of “there” has shifted, from a happy, ideal, peaceful life they always fought for, to whatever comes after that life ends. Barring a medical miracle, Orga has already reached “there.” Mika must now decide what to do all on his own; whether to join Orga now, or stay alive and chart a new course with Atra, Kudelia, his kid, and the others.

Until then, R.I.P. Orga Itsuka. You died well.

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.

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 47

This is an episode of small consolations and comforts before the apparent End of Everything arrives in the form of a Gjallarhorn mop-up crew (including but mercifully not led by Iok). The Mars branch of Gjallarhorn won’t join forces with McGillis and Orga, but they will overlook their arrival and claim ignorance as to their whereabouts. Like so much that happens, it just isn’t enough.

Mikazuki, perhaps sensing the end of Tekkadan as they know it, literally stops to smell the flowers at Sakura Farm. Once all the news outlets start proclaiming Tekkadan as a brutal criminal organization led by the rogue McGillis, who Iznario now claims was never his legitimate child or heir, even Biscuit’s twin sisters get ostracized at school.

Acknowledging that his promises of a better life came to nothing, and that with Tekkadan’s assets frozen, he can’t even pay his people well, or at all, Orga has an all-hands, and says anyone who wants to leave won’t be stopped, nor will less be thought of them. Obviously, Voice of Reason Zack is the first to volunteer to split.

He certainly wants to save his own skin, but we see how it pains him to no end that hardly anyone else has the same good sense to know that the end has already arrived, and there’s nothing to “give up.”

Of course, Zack still can’t understand that so many Tekkadan members like Dane don’t have the life fallbacks he enjoys. Dane is a murderer; Tekkadan was the only organization that let him in.

Kudelia calls her odd but sweet triangle with Mika and Atra “awkward”, and she’s not wrong, especially when Atra, who has already tried to conceive with Mika (off-camera, natch) and is waiting to see “if it went well”, enthusiastically asks her to have a baby with Mika as well.

She has to settle for another group hug, the first, and possibly last one in a long time, and Kudelia’s promise that she’ll protect them: Mika, Atra, and the baby, with everything she’s got.

Orga, who has reverted back to old All On Me Mode, calls McMurdo to beg him to put him in touch with Rustal so he can beg him to spare his men in exchange for his life. But Rustal has all the cards and needs a scapegoat to raise Gjallarhorn back up into a place of legitimacy. Orga alone won’t be enough, no matter how awfully they kill him.

After the pathetic call that gets him nowhere, Eugene tries to shake some more sense out of him, and glimmers of hope start to appear towards the end of the episode, as Dexter and Merribit are able to scounge up a fifth of Tekkadan’s funds from secret unfrozen accounts. Kudelia adds to the hope by suggesting everyone in Tekkadan simply take on new identities, evacuate to Earth, and live on, leaving Mars behind but saving their lives.

But all of those little glimmers are quickly stomped on by the arrival of the Gjallarhorn task force, which surrounds Tekkadan HQ. All communications in and out of HQ are cut off, including, presumably, what’s left of their cash. Just like that, a jumping-off point for a future of peace becomes a siege that could consume everyone. At best, many more members of Tekkadan will die if anyone is to escape.

But hey…at least Macky has Bael, right?

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?

Big Order – 03

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Apologies to fans of this show and its source manga: this write-up is a bit harsh. -Ed.

Feelings—especially on anime—can be fickle, changing from week to week, and Big Order’s dominating spell wore off fast. It’s fitting that it shares its initials—B.O.—with body odor, because this show smells bad, in a way that makes me feel icky and want to keep my distance.

Perhaps foremost among its sundry problems is its ridiculous free-wheeling nature. Eiji wants to save his sister, and Rin wants to kill Eiji, but beyond that, the show is all over the place, with the attention span of a child and the petty sadism of a teenager burning bugs with a magnifying glass.

Rin is imprisoned, but in her panties, in a refrigerated padded room. Why? The Prime Minister opens negotiations by executing the family members of the Group of Ten, to “test” whether they’re actually under Eiji’s domain.

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The heads that are sliced off are real, but when Eiji shoots the Group of Ten, he stops the bullets from killing them while keeping up the fiction he’s someone to be feared. But to what end?

How in God’s name is Kyushu supposed to conquer the world, especially when the crack team of soldiers who accompany Eiji and Rin haven’t the slightest loyalty to him and turn tail at the slightest hint of danger? Why a giant CGI rock monster?

These are not good questions, and it is not a good show that raises them. I don’t care about the answers, because the show doesn’t seem to care either. It just seems to want to shock, only doesn’t have the firepower or gravitas to come close to doing so.

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The casual violence (often accompanied by goofy upbeat jazzy music) seems like an ill-conceived attempt to be “edgy”, but it just comes off as silly and idiotic, which can also be said for Iyo, a seemingly capable miko-type character who melts into a puddle and becomes freaking pregnant when Eiji touches her bunny-ear ribbon. Just…what? 

I don’t want to find out how Eiji deals with the huge-nippled Order controlling the rock monster. It will probably involve breaking out his lame-looking CGI mummy dude, yelling “ORDER!” and poof, putting yet another woman under his thrall.

If it’s all the same to you, I’m going to spare myself any more of BO’s dopey, trying-too-hard faux-edginess. Like I said – its spell wore off quickly.

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Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 03

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Well, Mumei and Ikoma got on the train, but hardly any of the ingrate cowards aboard want them there. Unfortunately, they can’t do shit about that, and Mumei makes it clear that if they think she’s their enemy, the feelings mutual and they’re welcome to die by her hand if that’s what they want.

It’s great that Mumei hasn’t the slightest will or compulsion to calmly explain herself. She saved all their pathetic lives; that should be enough reason for her to be allowed aboard. Ikoma, on the other hand, would like to explain himself, but he doesn’t quite get it yet himself.

Ayame, who is de facto in charge of the train following the loss of her father, tends to agree. She’s the only one standing between the Kabaneri and the jumpy ingrate cowards eager to kill them, and she lets Mumei and Ikoma stay in the boiler car, provided they promise to stay there.

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Mumei doesn’t keep her promise long, as she senses a Kabane and rushes into a car full of scared evacuees, including a woman who is pretty clearly bearing a Kabane child, a possibility that probably escapes Mumei because she’s never come across it.

The resulting standoff with guns is defused when an engineer warns the train must stop before reaching the next station to repair the precious water tank, which I’m starting to think was manufactured by Ducati.

While the train is stopped we get a little more world-building with the evacuees, led by elders and holy men, conduct a funeral service for the scores who were lost. Ikoma takes the opportunity to recount the story of how he ran from his sister rather than stay and fight, resulting in her death (he also still carries around the green stone he and his sister kept as good-luck charms).

Ikoma wants to believe his past cowardice and trauma are exceptional in some way, but Mumei is again on the spot with the cruel truth: Ikoma isn’t special, and neither is his story: the weak died; the strong survived.

That cynical but not-wrong summing-up implies Ikoma is strong, by the way, even if he gets his ass handed to him in his first “training” sessions with Mumei. Clearly she believes him strong enough to be his shield when she falls asleep.

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But she gets no sleep tonight, as a gang of disgruntled ingrate cowards gathered by a tsking ringleader (who of course hangs back) challenges Mumei, despite Ayame’s pleadings for calm. Again, Mumei exposes her arrogant streak, perfectly fine with taking out anyone who raises a weapon to her with killing intent.

Ayame again, somehow, manages to stop a full-on fight (i.e. massacre) from breaking out, by pulling out her dagger, putting it to Ikoma’s chest, and proving to the malcontents (and to herself) that he’s not the enemy.

Meanwhile, Mumei slipped away to hang with the women, and kinda proves that she’s not the enemy either by comforting a baby and generally being able to slip into the role of ‘just one of the girls’.

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That act doesn’t last long, however, as after all the fun, Mumei gets hungry. She declines an offer of dumpling soup and asks for blood instead. That’s right; the dun dun duuuun moment occurs at roughly the same time for both Mumei among the girls and Ikoma with an initially relieved, thankful, even bashful Ayame.

This week, I came to empathize a little more for the ingrate cowards of the train. They’re weak, and can’t help being freaked out by the mere possibility a Kabane is walking among them, pretending to play nice, but only for now. Mumei doesn’t help matters by being aggressive and arrogant, but she can’t help being like that either, because she’s strong.

But like a vampire, she still needs blood to stay strong (and operating at peak efficiency). So does Ikoma, which is why after leaking a bit of blood, he starts to go at Ayame like, well, a thirsty vampire. I also learned this is a show that likes its cliffhangers, despite the fact that we know Ikoma isn’t going to remain in that state forever, nor is he going to kill Ayame.

But his and Mumei’s sudden need for fresh blood certainly doesn’t help their chances of ever being trusted by the people they keep saving.

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 13 (Fin)

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After a dominating emotional one-two punch of the last couple of episodes, the last episode of Shouwa Genraku Rakugo Shinjuu was bound to be quiet and uneventful by comparison. The first half or so is the aftermath of the death of Sukeroku and Miyokichi. Kikuhiko takes Konatsu on as a ward and after making arrangements for the internment of her parent’s ashes, he takes her to Tokyo.

There, he’s officially named Yakumo, since, well, there’s no one else to take it. No matter how good I or anyone else think he may be, he’ll never believe he deserved the title. Were it not for the war, or the events that led to his brother’s death, someone better would have inherited it. That being said, he knows someone has to take it, so he accepts.

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After we witness a smidgen of Yakumo’s (lack of) parenting skills, as a young, grieving Konatsu soothes her heart with rakugo (in spite of her guardian’s displeasure with the practice), we return to the present, with a futatsume Yotaro getting a haircut as penance for letting slip that he’s to be promoted to shin’uchi soon.

The now-grown Konatsu is proud of the lug, and probably a little jealous too (what with her wish to do what he’s doing). At the end of the day there was no need to go right back to that night Yakumo forgave Yotaro and started his long epic tale that came to comprise the lion’s share of the series. Suffice it to say, Yotaro did what was asked of him, and is on the cusp of making it in a world many have now forgotten.

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Sharing some congratulatory tea in the doorway of their home, Konatsu asks Yotaro to do some rakugo for her. Not just any story; the same one she tearfully performed to herself years back, which led to Yakumo’s scolding. It brings tears to her eyes again, surprising Yotaro, and she suddenly tells him she’s preggers.

What she won’t say is who the father is, only that she wants to carry on the Sukeroku bloodline for her father’s sake. Yotaro, saying the first thing to come into his head, offers to be the kid’s father; she reacts with anger and exasperation and storms off, but notably without outright refusing the offer.

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As for Ol’ Yakumo, he’s washing the family grave on the anniversary of the seventh generation’s death, and pondering his own eventual demise as disconcerted Matsuda stands by. Yakumo can’t believe Yotaro is about to become a Shin’uchi, but like his masters before, he has little choice.

It’s as if the deterioration of rakugo has only accelerated, with Yakumo only being able to carry it on in its purest—but least flexible—form. Only one theater remains open in Tokyo, and it’s rarely full. With someone like Yotaro under his wing, rakugo’s future is that much brighter. But then, Yotarou asks to inheret the Sukeroku name, not moments after Yakumo saw the ghost of the man himself.

So ends the first act of Shouwa Genraku Rakugo Shinjuu. There would seem to be plenty of material for a second, for which this episode serves as a kind of entre’acte. And indeed, after the end credits, Yotaro apologizes for not being able to tell more, but they simply ran out of time. If and when an Act Two comes, I shall emphatically seek it out!

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 09

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Things move fast this week, but most of the things that occur are basically foregone conclusions. Kikuhiko and Sukeroku both become Shin’uchi, but in his debut, Sukeroku sticks it to the association president by performing his specialty, “Inokori”, in which he must embody multiple sides of one character, Saheiji, depending on who else he’s talking to. It’s a challenging story, but Sukeroku pulls it off and gets the only approval he needs: that of the crowd.

Now a Shin’uchi, Kikuhiko is committed to shedding a woman he feels someone of his stature can no longer be with. It’s not pride so much as obligation to the structures he was raised into, which demand that a man put things above his own personal feelings. His breakup with Miyokichi had been telegraphed for some time, but that doesn’t make it any less heartbreaking when the hammer comes down.

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Miyokichi, as it happens, isn’t the only one who gets dumped: as a result of his insolence in his debut, Sukeroku is taken aside by his master, who informs him Kiku, not he, will be the Eighth Generation Yakumo. Again, the writing was on the wall. As well-intending as Sukeroku is, and no matter how much practical sense it makes, he was never going to be able to successfully convince the old guard of his “change or die” views of rakugo.

For the elders, including his master, change is death; there is no difference. Oral tradition cannot truly survive if it becomes a game of Telephone. Tweaking tradition is a slippery slope, one that the elders would rather fall to their death by clinging to rather than allow it to be propped up with new ideas.

Furthermore, Sukeroku was always hampered by his modest origin; he was always an interloper, a “stray dog” who clawed his way into this world. There’s no way the master would allow such a person to succeed him, no matter how unassailable his talent. There may be TVs now, but castes still matter.

When Sukeroku argues too forcefully, Yakumo expels him, throwing him out of his house. And that’s how our two dumped and dejected people find and comfort each other.

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Speaking of comfort, Kikuhiko isn’t experiencing it just because everything seems to be going his way. In his mind, Sukeroku is still better at rakugo than him, no matter how many elders or syncophants say otherwise. He’s particularly irritated when a dilettante-ish rakugo critic tears down Sukeroku in an apparent effort to curry favor. Kiku ends the interview right there.

Then Master Yakumo’s wife dies, and with mortality on his mind, he informs Kikuhiko that he intends to give him his name. Kiku’s initial reaction is that it’s a mistake; Sukeroku should get the name; he’s more skilled; he doesn’t have any skill compared to that raw talent. But Yakumo reproaches his apprentice.

It’s not Kiku’s place to tell him who he should give his name to, nor to say whether he’s better or worse than Sukeroku. Just like his brother, Kiku spoke out of place, but out of humility and inferiority, not arrogance and outsize obligation to take rakugo upon his shoulders and “save” it, as Sukeroku wants to do. There’s more to being Eighth Generation than being The Best At Rakugo. 

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As Kiku continues to thrive but derive no joy from anything other than doing rakugo, Sukeroku and the scorned Miyokichi quickly shack up together and become an item. Just as Sukeroku and Kikuhiko must embody different people to perform their stories to suit their audiences, so too does Miyo, a skilled and experienced geisha, know how to be exactly the woman a particular man wants. She could be classy and prudish for Kiku, whom she loved, but knows Sukeroku less propriety.

I’m glad Miyo doesn’t waste any more time than she needs to worrying about Kiku; what’s done is done, and she’s moving on with someone who actually wants to be with her. Sukeroku doesn’t know if he’s quite that person yet…but he does like boobies. There’s something sad and close-looped about the two being depressed about the same person—Kikuhiko—but they must make do with each other.

Also, she doesn’t have time to wait around or worry; she has a baby on the way, and wants to raise it in the countryside. Her geisha house is shut down, so she steals the till with the intention of running off with Sukeroku.

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He stops by Kiku’s not for money or a place to stay, but to say goodbye, even as Kiku urges him to make peace with the master so he can give him his name. Sukeroku knows what he has to do to get back in the good graces of their master, and he can’t do it. He tells Kiku about Miyo and the baby and the country, and Kiku is not happy.

What is Kiku going to do without Sukeroku around annoying him and challenging him to be his best? What is he going to do with Yakumo’s name when he’s certain his drunk, uncouth, stray dog of a brother deserves it more? Someone he wants to punch and embrace in the same moment?

These unanswerable questions (which must attempt to be answered anyway, one day at a time) sow the seeds of a bitterness and regret that will stay with Kiku for years, then made worse one day when Sukeroku loses his life in his prime. That bitterness will come to define the man telling this story to Yotarou and Konatsu in the present.

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Subete ga F ni Naru: The Perfect Insider – 10

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Last week came as close as Subete ga F ever got to being a 9, but this, its penultimate episode, finally breaks the threshold. It’s a great episode, make no mistake, but it wouldn’t have been possible without all of the careful preparations laid out by the previous nine. In the parlance of Sakurako-san, this episode is the product of “good bones”.

It begins with Saikawa communicating with someone he claims is The Doctor Magata Shiki, who invites him to “meet” her in the sensory deprivation chamber, which seems to be more than that, since it’s “hooked up” to the lab’s system in some way. Moe tags along, but notably, the environment she perceives is very different from Saikawa’s.

Where she sees a standard interrogation room—she wants answers from whoever or whatever this is, and justice; she is her police uncle’s niece to the core—Saikawa sees a idyllic beach cabana, complete with wicker armchairs and fancy cocktails. For him, then, this isn’t the harsh grilling of a suspect, but a casual and stimulating conversation with a very unique individual whose intellect he admires at least as much as Moe admires his.

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Because “the game is over” now, Shiki is willing to answer whatever questions come her way, but would obviously prefer if Saikawa figured them out for himself; again, just as Saikawa prefers not to give Moe the answers. Saikawa finally determines what “Everything Becomes F” pertains to: in the hexadecimal code of Red Magic, “FFFF” is the highest number possible: 15 to the fourth power, minus one. This was the timer Shiki built into the system that allowed her crimes to take place.

And I say her crimes, because Saikawa is fully confident this isn’t Shiki’s daughter, though that’s who became her public face once she was old enough; and the face Moe saw in her interview. Instead, it was Shiki who killed her daughter, de-limbed her, then escaped (made possible when “everything became F”), went to the roof, and killed her uncle and lover, Shindo.

Why did she kill her daughter? She says she wanted to be “free”, as in completely bereft of all worldly or material considerations. The freest free there can possibly be (at least by human perception) is death; the release of whatever it is inside us from its vessel, or our bodies. The plan may have gone the other way, but when Moe asked her “Who are you” it caused her daughter to hesitate.

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“Becoming free” was also something Moe considered in her darkest hour, but she didn’t go through with that, because, for one thing, she had Saikawa with her. Shiki’s daughter had only a choice: be the seed that thrives as the flower that bore her wilts, or die so that the flower can live on.

Saikawa is in awe of her whole plan, along with the place she “takes him” next. After revealing to Moe that the real Shiki is likely communicating with them from some remote terminal, Moe is kicked out of the fantasy, and it’s just Saikawa and Shiki on a sandbar, then in a clear, deep blue sea.

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A part of Saikawa clearly feels kinship to Shiki in her “disinterest in the material world”, and wants to stay in that peaceful void with her forever. Shiki seems flattered, and impressed with how far he’s been able to figure out, but she eventually takes her leave of him, though promises she’ll “come to him” one day.

With that, Saikawa awakens to a worried, then relieved Moe. The autopsy of the body shows no signs of pregnancy, confirming the daughter was murdered.  Saikawa then asks Setsuko to describe the people she saw board the boat off the island. Looking back at episode 9, sure enough, a woman in a purple dress, Miki, was among those embarking. Only Saikawa now knows that Miki wasn’t Miki; “Magata Miki” never existed.

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Returning to the room where he conversed with her in English (as Preston said back then, and I agreed: the content of their talk was wonderful, it was the bad English that really hurt the scene), Saikawa finds a note from “Miki” drawn on the painting with lipstick: “See you soon — Dr. Saikawa.”  As we’d suspected, Miki was really Shiki with a haircut, and the fiction that her isolation had halted her growth and aging was perpetuated by using her daughter as a decoy.

All Saikawa can do is step back and admire Shiki’s genius, as we watch how it all went down: how Miki arrived on the rooftop, how Shindo received her lovingly and knew exactly why she was there; and how they shared one last kiss before she drove the knife into his neck. Then she hopped onto the next boat off the island and disappeared, only to resurface at a time and place of her own choosing. As Saikawa says, nobody ever had a chance against her.

When everything became F, she had the perfect insider.

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Subete ga F ni Naru: The Perfect Insider – 09

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This is Hannah filling in for the Magical Churl, Preston.

This week Magata Labs opens up; not only do the police arrive, but so does Moe’s rival in love, Gidou Setsuko, whom we hadn’t seen since the pilot. Not only does she make fast friends with Shimada (though later denies it as they get drunk together), but she also wastes no time effortlessly pushing Moe’s buttons by describing how Sohei uses her place “like a hotel.” Moe, a brilliant but very emotional young woman, finally purges the thought her man actually did as Gidou claimed.

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With the police there, and unwilling to maintain the fiction that Magata isn’t alive for a week, the time to solve the locked room murder mystery grows short. After looking at the video files and the code that recorded and compressed them, Saikawa has a pretty good idea what happened, and encourages Moe to deduce it for herself rather than telling her.

She comes up with the theory that Magata Shiki entered the room with child, and the child she’d give birth to was the one who murdered her. But he still doesn’t know how that child left the room, when there’s no record of it. That is, until Moe provides a spark to a new line of thinking, as she promises she’ll solve the case “more or less” by 7:00 PM.

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That “more or less” gets Saikawa thinking about how the release of Red Magic and the more recent blackout effected the labs’ clocks. Turns out they were delayed by a minute, so when the system went back on, a minute of footage was overwritten—the very footage of Shiki’s daughter leaving the room.

It was just a minute, but it was all she needed. Saikawa rushes to Shimada to confirm, to find her drinking with Gidou. And you have to hand it to Horie Yui and Hikasa Yoko, they know how to shoot the breeze while downing brewskis.

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One of the final pieces of the puzzle comes when he and Shimada do some hacker stuff (I’m no expert) and find some suspicious code many tens of thousands of hours ago governing Dr. Magata’s door. Saikawa then avails himself of Moe’s talents, asking her to multiply 256 by itself, then calculate how long ago 65,535 hours before 7:00 AM two days ago.

It only takes her a few seconds to determine it was Feb. 10, 4:00 AM, seven years ago: the day and time Red Magic version 4 came online. And that version was always meant to go haywire exactly when it did, orchestrating the events that led to the murder of Magata Shiki and Shindo. This is one of the always-adorable Moe’s finest moments, and she savors all the profuse praise Saikawa sends her way.

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When Moe’s uncle arrives at the lab, it’s past 7:00 PM and time for Saikawa to make his presentation on the locked door murder. Specifically, he intends to tell the killer herself, thereby inducing a confession due to said killer’s pride. That killer would be “Michiru”, the alternate personality of Magata Shiki, who now resides within the lab’s computers.

In effect, Shiki got what she always wanted: she shed her limiting physical body. And now she’s finally “meeting” Professor Saikawa. We’ll see if he’s able to impress her, as Moe impressed him (and me, and everyone else) with his brilliance. And let’s not forget this latest epiphany only came because Moe mentioned how it didn’t really matter whether his watch was off or not with regards to solving the case by or around 7.

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