Great Pretender – 04 – The Candyman Can’t

Let’s start with the basics: Makoto has no idea how to cook drugs, yet Eddie is now spending millions to renovate a lab where he’ll be…cooking drugs. Laurent (through Abby, who sneaks into Salazar’s house in the night) provides video lessons in how to cook.

It’s pretty much the best he can do; the rest is a result of the various rash choices Makoto made that got him so deep into this mess. But it still seems rather unlikely Makoto would be able to learn how to make even a marginally passable product after a week of watching videos.

In the week the renovations will take, Eddie lets Makoto enjoy the sights of L.A., provided his bodyguard Salazar is always around. When Makoto learns that Salazar’s wife is dead and he only sees his son on Sundays, he insists on Salazar keeping to that schedule with his kid.

The three have a lot of fun together; the son knows his samurai, and also considers a bodyguard to be a much cooler job than cops or FBI. If he knows what his dad truly did for a living beyond bodyguarding, he’s not talking about it. Makoto wonders if it’s genuine ignorance or simply putting on a brave face.

During a bathroom break, Makoto is accosted by Anderson, who then introduces him to Dickens, who offers Makoto a deal: if he serves as their mole and helps them apprehend both Laurent and Cassano, he’ll be sent back to Japan without any jail time.

It’s probably as generous an offer as he’ll get from law enforcement, though it certainly doesn’t ensure his safety; Eddie’s reach, even outside of prison, is likely vast. Not to mention the last time he tried to pull one on Laurent and Abby, he ended up hanging out to dry on the Hollywood sign.

At a big lavish “sushi party” at Eddie’s celebrating the completion of the lab renovations, Eddie formally welcomes Makoto into his “family”, while also announcing he’s found a rat. It turns out to be a random guy who gets the bat to the balls.

This, despite the fact Makoto didn’t notice a video camera in the teddy in his room until he’d already had a couple meetings with Abby. The thing is, Salazar doesn’t care what scam Makoto, Abby, and Laurent are pulling on his boss. His job is to protect Eddie’s personal safety, not his money.

Salazar’s situation hits home for Makoto. He grew up thinking his dad was a cool, moral lawyer protecting the rights of the downtrodden. He’d later learn, the same time as his mother, on TV, that their father and husband was scamming them all along, and was really the linchpin of a despicable international child trafficking operation.

Makoto also wants Salazar’s dream of getting his kid in college to come true. Like Makoto himself, his son is an innocent who doesn’t deserve to have his life destroyed—or the stigma attached to his name by his criminal dad. So Makoto puts on the glasses with the built-in two-way bug, and agrees to assist Dickens—but only if they leave Salazar out of it.

Great Pretender – 03 – Burrowing Deeper

Makoto manages to win Eddie Cassano over by first spending the night watching his movies at a motel, then intentionally getting caught by Eddie’s men. Once he’s before Eddie himself, he flatters him by declaring his love for his movies—which he considers art rather than RedLetterMedia fodder—and likens it to his drugs, which are like precious children to him.

Eddie will pay $10 million not only for an exclusive license for Sakura Magic, but all of Makoto’s lab notes on the formula, enabling any chemist to make it themselves. Still, Eddie wisely withholds the exchange of cash until his lawyers have been to Makoto’s lab in Japan. Thankfully Makoto’s pals are there just in time to greet them and corroborate Makoto’s story.

However, it’s still too risky to hand over millions in cash at Eddie’s house, which is under LAPD surveillance, while Eddie himself has been hounded by Chief Inspector Anderson for over a decade. They try to give Anderson the slip with a false limo, but Anderson sends a decoy tail after it and chases Eddie’s shitty Malibu instead. A pretty nifty car chase ensues, though it’s marred somewhat by the clunky CGI car models.

Anderson turns out to be on Eddie’s payroll, and simply had to make it look good for both his team and the higher-ups. Eddie then shows Makoto, Laurent, and Abby to one of his top drug labs, presents Makoto with everything he needs, and asks him to whip up a batch of Sakura Magic right then and there.

Makoto never designed for his researcher story to endure under this level of scrutiny, and he’s able to save his skin for the time being by dismissing the lab as too filthy to work in. In response to this, Eddie vows to completely renovate the lab to Makoto’s exact specs. Each time he squirrels out of trouble the lie he uses ends up burrowing himself deeper into this increasingly lethal situation.

Pretty soon he’ll be out of moves, but that may not end up mattering. That’s because Anderson’s case has been suddenly taken over by infamous mob-buster FBI SA Paula Dickins. However, she’s not even after Cassano, but Laurent Tierry & Co., purveyors of international fraud. Getting arrested by the feds is far from ideal, but it’s probably better than whatever Eddie will do to Makoto when he finds out he’s being scammed.

Great Pretender – 02 – Sins of the Father

When Abby cuts Makoto down from the HOLLYWOOD sign, he falls quite a ways and gets knocked out, which is the perfect opportunity to get into his backstory. “Edamame” the con man used to be clean as a whistle, you see. All he wanted to do was make his bedridden mom proud, but he was hired by a company that turned out to be perpetrating consumer fraud. He just thought they were selling a quality health tea product.

The fuzz raid the office and he’s arrested with everyone else. No one believes he was unaware that a crime was being committed, thanks to the ages-old adage “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”. Because his father was a convicted criminal, he’s suspected of simply following in ol’ dad’s footsteps. He goes away for eighteen months and his mom passes away. But since everyone in the world assumes the worst of him, the only thing to do is lean into the skid.

The newly conscious Makoto has a luxurious seaside lunch as Laurent explains that after spreading rumors of a hot new drug, Eddie Cassano wanted to meet the Japanese researcher who designed it. He hired the water filter lady he scammed as well as Kudou and his old crew to basically put Makoto through his con artist paces, and he passed with flying colors. He also knows Makoto’s past, and considers it an added bonus that beneath the hardened con man one is an innocent, pure-hearted mama’s boy.

That night, Laurent leaves Makoto at his swanky pad with Abby to keep an eye on him. Convinced that the plan will go south and they’ll all be killed, Makoto tries to sneak out, but Abby puts him in a bodylock. Despite this, Makoto is able to pick a bent gold medal from her pocket. She ultimately lets him go, believing him useless as long as he doesn’t want to be there, and warning him Cassano’s men will be watching both him and the airport.

Makoto ends up getting one over on both Abby and Laurent, as they assume they’ve lost him and have to start over at square one, only for Cassano to tell them Makoto’s already there and closed the deal for double the original price. It stung when Laurent said there were no good con artists in Japan, especially when he believes Hideyoshi Toyotomi, who rose from a peasant background to unify the country, to be the greatest con artist in history.

I’m still not a fan of the posterized photo-based backgrounds, but no one can accuse this show of not being colorful enough; that poppy pink-and-yellow lunch was pure Vice City. While neither Makoto’s past nor the trio’s present mission is nothing original, it still manages to be pleasantly diverting.

Great Pretender – 01 (First Impressions) – Sakura Magic

Edamura Makoto is the self-proclaimed “Best Con Man in Japan”, but when a lost wallet switcheroo goes wrong and the cops are at the door, Makoto leaves his buddy Kudou and happens to find the same foreigner who conned them out of 300,000 yen. Makoto should have known to try to con someone so slick-looking.

Makoto secures a ticket to LAX to follow his new nemesis, a Frenchman named Laurent Thierry, and even joins him for a good long sit in L.A. traffic in his imported Peugeot RCZ. He’s not letting Laurent out of his sight until he gets his cash back, but Laurent has a big scam to pull in Hollywood, and offers to let Makoto be his wingman.

After buying him a suit at Macy’s, they arrive at the mansion of a film producer with mob ties who just got out on bail. Laurent introduces Makoto as a pharmacological doctor from Japan and presents the “product” he’s willing to license for sale: “Sakura Magic”, a designer drug in the form of a piece of candy.

He has Abby, one of the beautiful bikini-clad women by the pool try the drug out, and let’s just say it gets the job done. In a chaotically animated sequence, Abby ecstatically bounces off palm trees and loungers. The producer’s interest is piqued.

Makoto takes one too, and realizes that Laurent used him as a drug mule. Not only that, Laurent never had the cash; Kudou has it, and is making it rain back home (at least I think that’s what went down…?)

After escaping the producer’s house, he rushes Laurent, only to get kicked crane-style by Abby, the swimsuited woman who tried the drug. Turns out she’s on Laurent’s team and was merely putting on a very convincing act using her impressive athleticism.

That’s when the episode ends at the beginning, with Makoto hanging upside-down from the “Y” in the Hollywood sign…I guess as a lesson that he’s not the top con dog in this town; that title goes to Laurent and Abby, who are clearly operating on another level.

That opening is reminiscent of the same kind of absurd, iconic image that started Breaking Bad: Walter White in his tighty-whiteys and a handgun. Funnily enough, Bryan Cranston would go on to co-create Sneaky Pete, which is all about…con artists!

Wit Studio/Netflix’s Great Pretender is bright, bold, brash, and looking to capitalize on the long-popular “in too deep antihero” trend, though in a clearly more lighthearted than Mad Men or, more recently, Ozark. Cons include an abundance of bad English in the first half (it thankfully switches to Japanese) and an abundance of digitized photos in place of hand-drawn or painted backgrounds, that, intentional stylistic choice or no, always come off as lazy to me.

Still, Laurent, Abby, and Makoto seem like a trio of people who will be entertaining to watch, and the premise, while common in live-action American TV, is something I haven’t seen a lot of in the anime medium. Oh yeah, the late great Freddie Mercury sings the cat-filled ED (Freddie loved cats)! To quote Pecorine, How crazy is that?

Carole & Tuesday – 03 – ASCENSION!

After a rough first impression (I believe accusations of cyberstalking are leveled), Gus Goldman introduces himself to Carole & Tuesday, dropping names left and right. Unfortunately, the pair is #notimpressed because they don’t remember Bruno, Justin, or Brian Epstein—being from a much younger generation.

Brass tacks: Gus knows talent when he hearts it, and if they want to do what they do for more than just fun, he wants to be there to help them. His enthusiasm and earnestness make up for his underwhelming Wikipedia page. But since nobody’s become a commercial hit quite yet Gus has to insist his talent pay for their own Margherita.

Meanwhile, Tuesday’s mother leaves getting her back to her son—lest police involement sully her campaign—then (presumably) retires to the boudoir with her toyboy. How I hope Tuesday’s bro doesn’t try to drag her back to this horrid gilded cage.

As Angela is asked 37 questions on some kind of vlog of her life (and introduces her extremely annoying AI pet rabbit Aladdin), C&T are at the laundromat waiting for their clothes to be done.

Tuesday likens the still, then suddenly-spinning clothes as mirroring the two of them, and Carole starts stomping and clapping out a beat, with Tuesday joining in and the two starting to sing an impromptu song (albeit one that is not clandestinely recorded).

Just messin’ around in the laundromat is a kernal that germinates as the two refine the music and lyrics, and their song is the soundtrack for a montage of their day in the life in Alba City, all gorgeously rendered and adding to the lush textures of both the sprawling city and their digs.

As for Gus, he vows to lay off the sauce now that he has a new client. Whatever his reasons for copying Motörhead in the past, he seems genuinely determined to put a human musical duo on the map—no small feat in a Martian cultural continuum in which AI has taken over so much of the creating.

What was billed as a trip to a voice coach friend of Gus’ turns out to be…something else entirely: a SPACE YOGA session so bizarre to Tuesday’s sheltered psyche she fears she’ll have nightmares about the experience.

Angela’s experienced at Artience is no less nightmarish. When she can’t hit a high note, Tao activates her restraints and deploys all manner of nasty-looking torture instruments, all an elaborate artifice in order to goad Angela into screaming…and hitting that high note she thought impossible.

She still voices her complaints to her mother, a former child star herself. But her mom insists she keep at it, lest she become as forgotten as she now is due to people moving on and her career not moving on with it. This looks like a classic vicarious parent situation. I hope Angela actually wants to continue as Tao’s guinea pig for her own sake, not just Mom’s.

Thanks to Roddy, C&T score a meet with the famous celebrity DJ Ertegun, whose sold-out megashows are the toast of the town. When they arrive at his waterfront mansion, Gus is prepared to make the pitch, but he’s held back by Ertegun’s security, leaving C&T on their own among the tacky pop art, including Banksy’s self-destructing painting!

Ertegun makes them wait as he talks on the phone by the woman-filled pool, but when he finally comes in, he initially scares the shit out of them by seemingly stripping in front of them; mercifully, he’s got boxer briefs on, and merely shed the robe so he could do some push-ups while he raps with them.

Either Roddy didn’t explain why C&T wanted to meet with Ertegun, or Ertegun didn’t listen to him (probably the latter), because Ertegun doesn’t know why C&T are there: he assumes they want autographs, selfies, or…him (Gus warned earlier them not to give him a leg massage).

When he learns it’s a pitch, he immediately shuts them down, rejecting them without so much as listening to a single bar. Why is he so confident they’re boring generic trash? Well, for one thing, “he’s DJ Ertegun,” which is apparently sufficient explanation. But for another? Because they’re not AI. Like Tao, Ertegun doesn’t trust humans to make good music, except through technology.

Tuesday wigs out and burns their lyrics with the DJ’s cigar lighter, setting off the sprinklers before running away. Ertegun doesn’t seem particularly miffed that all his goofy art is getting doused, but I imagine T&C left an stronger impression on him!

Charlotte – 05

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This week’s Charlotte begins with a rather unpleasant scene of Nao being dragged out of class and beaten behind the school by a mob of other girls. Yuu follows but doesn’t interfere, but what’s unclear is whether Nao is disappointed or glad about it. He presumes it’s what she gets for messing with people with her invisibility. He knows what it’s like to bear misdeeds; he’s perpetrated plenty of his own with his body-swapping.

And yet, while Yuu doesn’t play the role of the shining knight swooping in to save Nao from her tormentors, with or without his ability, Yusa and Joujirou both agree they’re “not an unpleasant couple to be around” due to their natural chemistry and spouse-like interactions. If they didn’t care about each other one way or another, they wouldn’t fight; that kinda thing.

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Nao believes the Council’s next target is up in the mountains near the city practicing his flying ability (the downside to the power is never mentioned). The best way she believes to do that is to set up camp and stake the place out indefinitely until they either spot him or he comes to them.

In the process of camping the group participates in typical group-bonding activites that take place during camping, like starting a fire, roasting corn, meat, and vegetables, playing video games, and stargazing. The latter is something only Nao and Yuu do, with the latter finding her alone listening to a group called ZHIEND, whose lead vocalist and composer is blind.

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In another indication Yuu and Nao are a somewhat fated couple, he gets the same feeling from the quiet music as she does: that of being in a vast, gorgeous, lonely open space. She even gifts him her music player, excited as she is to find a fellow fan. The music makes Yuu remember the face of girl who looks a lot like a younger Ayumi but who he doesn’t know, but he’s woken from the dream when it’s his turn to keep watch.

On the second night of the camping stakeout, Yuu and Jou bathe in the river, where Jou tells Yuu it’s best if he set romantic plans aside until two years from now, when they’ll lose their abilities. It makes me wonder if this show will let us see that future and how it changes these classmates and colleagues who are gradually becoming friends.

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It really is a journey-not-destination kind of episode, as the flying kid mission is wrapped up extremely easily. Yuu swaps bodies with him and ends up several thousand feet above the ground (an awesome sight, to be sure), and when he comes down softly but slightly banged up, less than a minute of convincing from Nao persuades the guy to stop using his ability.

Back home, there isn’t much pizza sauce left, and so Yuu gets his first tolerable meal frmo Ayumi in a long time. He also manages to convince her not to put it in everything, finally. But then Ayu starts coughing, and her temperature is 37.8, prompting Yuu to get her under a futon. Hopefully Ayumi doesn’t get sicker as a prelude to the awakening of her own power; but I’ll admit that’s not outside the realm of possibility.

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Charlotte – 04

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I don’t dislike baseball, and while I probably wouldn’t watch an anime exclusively devoted to it, I do enjoy the occasional baseball episode (it was one of my favorite DS9 episodes, simply because it’s so fun and feel-good).

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This week’s Charlotte was one of those, and it turned out a lot like “Take Me Out to the Holosuite”, which featured a ragtag team of Sisko’s crew (many of whom never played baseball) against a superior team—or in the case of Charlotte, a team with an ace who uses telekinesis to pitch perfect games.

They’re not just playing for pride, either: Nao gets the pitcher to agree never to use his power again if they lose; warning him that to do so would invite unwanted attention and ultimately capture by evil scientists. She also points out that he’ll lose the power, and thus any change of getting to the Bigs, once he grows up, but he seems undeterred.

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The game that unfolds is a bit of a circus, what with new Hoshinoumi transfer student Yusarin transforming into Mika, who has above-average athleticism baseball “game sense”, but is limited by Yusa’s weaker, slower body. Joujirou is predictably an asset in getting to first in record speed, but Nao has to record his at-bat with a high-speed camera to prove to the ump via instant replay that he was indeed safe. And, of course, Yuu switches bodies with an opposing batter while manning first base, with his repeated fainting confusing the ump to no end.

Finally, Nao calls upon Yuu in the most important at-bat; one in which a base hit will give them the win. Unlike his usual M.O. of sneaking around and swapping bodies, Yuu must face something head-on. He goes down 0-2 quickly, but realizing the gravity of his position, he valiantly fouls off pitches until the pitcher tries a new angle that results in a passed ball, scoring the two runs they need to win the game and the bet.

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This week’s challenge for the Student Council turns out to be a little more interesting than the one-dimensional producer targeting Yusarin, because the pitcher wasn’t cheating for personal gain; he wanted to take his team as far as he could because he wanted his friend, the catcher, who has excellent natural ability without the use of powers, to be noticed by scouts. Nao respects the guy’s selfless motives, but tells him there are other ways to do that; ways that won’t get him locked up and experimented on.

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Perhaps Yuu also learned the benefits of facing problems head on, which would serve him well in the unending battle to get his sister to stop putting pizza sauce in his meals. This is getting pretty ridiculous: I know he doesn’t want to hurt her feelings, but if he really doesn’t want pizza sauce in everything, he needs to confront her directly and tell her to please stop. I’m sure he could figure out a way to do it tactfully. Or better yet, have Yusa tell her for him! But not Mika. She’d probably spit in the food. ;)

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Charlotte – 03

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After another incident of Joujirou injuring himself while procuring lunch (the show already spent that nickel last week!), the StuCo gets a new lead: someone who can not only channel the dead, but also has the power of pyrokinesis. It turns out to be the idol we saw Ayumi watching, whom Jou is also enamored of: Nishimori Yusa (voiced by Uchida Maaya). With some more Yuu and Takajou teamwork (in which Nao gets cold-cocked and Yuu takes the brunt of Jou’s attack) they manage to find one of Yusa’s protectors, who take them to her.

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When Yusa goes into channeling mode she’s unaware of what’s happening, and the girl she channels is her late older sister, Misa, who was once an delinquent with Yusa’s present bodyguards. It’s Misa, not Yusa, who is able to control flame. But Yusa is in trouble: she accidentally ended up with an incriminating smartphone, and a producer is looking to wipe her off the map to protect its secrets.

Nao devises a plan whereby Misa takes over Yusa and acts tough like she’s killing all of the producer’s henchmen left and right, but all she does is lightly singe her two buddies in flame-resistant suits, while Jou, Yuu, and an invisible Nao make it seem like she also has The Force. The producer is scared off, almost too easily, but at the same time, after that demonstration, I’d be pretty freaked out too!

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After that, Nao insists Yusa transfer to Hoshinoumi; it’s only a matter of time before her powers manifest in public and she’s taken away by scientists and used up like just another human “battery.” Misa agrees it’s what’s best for her little sister, even if it means one day she’ll no longer be able to possess her. One of her buddies also takes the time to confess his feelings for her; feelings he wasn’t able to confess when she was alive. And of course, back home, Ayumi is over the moon that her brother is now classmates with “Yusarin.”

This was an alright introduction of the fifth member of the main cast as displayed on the official promo art, and Uchida Maaya does a good job differentiating between the cutesy Yusa and the tough-as-nails Misa. But to be honest, there wasn’t much in the way of danger this week; everything just kinda worked out perfectly. for all involved Also, after just finishing the lovely Yamada/7 Witches, yet another instance of two people in one body feels a bit passe.

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Hanasaku Iroha 23

The inn has an ill-favored mood as it’s likely it will be shut down. Takako is off to Tokyo to track down the producer who duped Enishi and the inn, as she plans to take over as madam manager. Ohana (now her niece) tags along, both to discuss her future with her mom and to possibly see Ko again. But her mom has already ‘kidnapped’ Ko. After spending the day together talking about Ohana, she plays the test footage for him, reignting his hope just when he was about to give up on her. The two then meet by chance on an overhead crossing.

“Never give up,” Takako says in her characteristic Engrish. That sentiment pertains not only to her goal to save Kissuiso, but to Ohana and Ko’s distance-strained relationship as well. Takako somehow finds one man among millions and gives him a judo throw…by not giving up. Whether she’ll get the money the inn lost back or not, she’s restored honor. Meanwhile, Ohana’s mom, while a bit nosy and manipulative here, has her heart in the right place, setting Ko straight vis-a-vis Ohana.

Ohana abandoned Ko when her mother abandoned her, but she never went to Yusonagi to learn to be a waitress, or fulfill her calling. She wouldn’t have gone at all if her mom hadn’t acted like a spoiled, impulsive child and run off with some random guy. So in a way, what Ohana’s mom does is amends of a kind. Now that Ko understands a little more, he and Ohana can proceed accordingly. But considering the manager needs Ohana back in two days (two episodes?), Ohana will have to be quick about it.


Rating: 3.5