Jaku-Chara Tomozaki-kun – 04 – Standing Up to the Queen

Tomozaki just landed a lucky break. If there was no reason for Izumi Yuzu to approach him, he’d been making his presence known to the point that when he approached her, she felt she could come to him with her TackFam problem, which is really a Nakamura Shuuji problem. Bottom line: Izumi likes Shuuji, and wants to get good enough at the game to take him on. We also learn Shuuji recently turned down the Konno Erika, leader of the Neckties to which Yuzu belongs.

Yuzu invites Tomozaki to her place so he can teach her, and after one match he knows exactly what she needs to get better, starting with learning how to execute a short jump, which is simply a matter of practice and muscle memory. Yuzu is grateful for Tomozaki’s advice but wonders what the deal is with his various poses and gestures…turns out he’s mimicking Hinami’s teaching style without knowing it!

By the time Tomozaki is drawing detailed diagrams of all the moves Yuzu will have to memorize, she asks him: What is all the intense effort even for? He tells her what it’s not for: making friends or winning praise. When Yuzu claims she can’t ever change from her current status of superficially laughing with her necktie-wearing friends, he assures her he is proof that anyone can change; they just need to commit themselves and put in the effort.

While Hinami calls Tomozaki’s break with Yuzu pretty “miraculous” when they meet up for a debrief, she can’t deny he properly capitalized, using what he knows best (TackFam) to really connect with someone. That said, she still wants him to ask Fuuka out on a date, even producing movie tickets for them to use.

The night before, Tomozaki practices asking Fuuka out on the recorder Hinami gave her, showing how he’s learning how to listen to himself and adjust. But he also accidentally opens a folder of recordings Hinami didn’t delete: ones in which she too practices talking. He already considers it amazing she’s so good at the Game of Life; to hear the process firsthand is even more amazing.

Like him with TackFam, no matter how high a level you achieve, you can never stop practicing. But with practice comes the realization that sometimes circumstances won’t always accommodate your plans, nor will practice always inform what to do when it’s go time. To whit: Tomozaki calls an laudable audible: coming clean to Fuuka about having not read any of her favorite author, and thus not yet being ready to read her own novel.

This could have turned out disastrously, but the risk was well worth the reward of starting fresh from a position of honesty. A white lie or misunderstanding rarely forms a strong foundation for a relationship. While there’s clear and justifiable disappointment in Fuuka’s reaction, there’s also the sense she’s happy he’s being so honest. He’s also able to break the news naturally and casually enough not to come off as dismissive or cruel.

Working entirely outside the letter of Hinami’s plan while hewing to the spirit of her training, Tomozaki shows great growth here, while rejecting her “an in is an in” mentality. Yes, the author misunderstanding, got Fuuka talking to him, but so did simply asking Yuzu for a tissue.

He also wisely realizes that to ask her out on a date so soon after basically restarting their friendship from a place of honesty would be overdoing it, so he withholds the tickets for now. If he gets any flak from Hinami, he’ll be ready with a pretty good explanation. However, their next meeting is preempted by Shuuji’s two mates: he wants a TackFam rematch, now.

In the AV room, Tomozaki plays Shuuji while Shuuji’s mates, Yuzu, and Erika and her two Necktie acolytes watch. Tomozaki proceeds to beat Shuuji handily in match after match, but Shuuji keeps asking to play again. He grows more frustrated, even as he starts to improve slightly, to the point he’s able to take out one of Tomozaki’s health stocks.

That frustration creates an increasingly unpleasant tension and aura of desperation around Shuuji, to the point Erika begins to mock him as “weak”, his obsession with a “stupid game” as “creepy”, and that she dodged a bullet when he turned her down. The “stupid game” comment draws the ire of Tomozaki, as does her assertion that all of Shuuji’s hard work and practice amounts to nothing.

The old Tomozaki would have muttered something and not followed through, but this newly Hinami-trained Tomozaki is at least adept enough at the Game of Life to call Erika out for the haughty tourist she is. Shuuji may have been a dick to him all this time, but at least he’s committed to improving and keeps fighting no matter how much he loses. All Erika can do is mock someone else’s effort when she (at least as far as Tomozaki knows) puts in none at all.

Yuzu even has the courage to chime in and call Shuuji’s efforts “beautiful in a boyish way”, despite the fact doing so is contradicting the vaunted Queen of the Neckties. But I have no doubt it was Tomozaki’s earlier words about her ability to change that helped her summon the courage to speak up. Erika slinks away, pretending not to have learned anything, but she did. So did Shuuji, who probably resents Tomozaki defending him but also appreciated it.

Notable for her silence during all this is Hinami, which was no accident. The thing is, while she observed that Tomozaki had things well in hand, I also think she stayed above the fray in order to avoid needlessly upsetting the apple cart with Erika & Co., who would have likely felt ganged up on if she’d joined Tomozaki and Yuzu—an example of maintaining balance through inaction. Regardless, both Erika and Shuuji stop giving Tomozaki a hard time, now knowing better what he’s made of.

At their next meeting over lunch, Hinami asks how things are going with Fuuka, wondering if he’s lost motivation. He assures her he hasn’t, but without explaining the whole situation with coming clean and not wanting to pile on with a date request, Tomozaki pulls another laudable audible: whipping out the very tickets she gave him and asking Hinami if she’ll join him instead.

Hinami’s look of surprise is followed by the kind of proud face a master makes when their student has just done something good. Unfortunately, she’s not free tomorrow (what do you know, she does have other obligations!), but she is free for a movie now. Is it just me, or do these two just make a good couple, full stop?

It’s too early to tell, but I appreciate that Hinami doesn’t go all cliché blushy or tsundere at the prospect of Tomozaki asking her out. Maybe she gets that it’s for more “training”, or as thanks for her help so far. But at some point all these times they’re meeting up one-on-one and having fun will start painting the picture of two people…going out. We’ll see if anything comes of their consistently pleasant proximity, and more importantly, if more people start noticing them together all the damn time!

Crucially, this outing proved Tomozaki isn’t just some automaton carrying out Hinami’s directives, nor does she want him to be. She’s taught him the basics, and it’s up to him to experience how to properly use them and switch things up when warranted. The recording of Hinami also shows that her life game is an ongoing work in progress. I know it’s Tomozaki’s name in the title, but I would love to delve more into Hinami’s growth, and if Tomozaki has anything to teach her—something his recent shrewd freestyling might portend.

Attack on Titan – 61 (S4 E02) – One Last Gasp

They’ve emerged from four years of war the nominal victor, but Marley can’t rest on its laurels. The generals are in consensus that their strategic advantage of the Titans hangs by a thread. Of particular concern is the quickly advancing aviation industry. They’re on the wrong end of history, and the entire episode is suffused with that bleakness and weariness.

Reiner actually survived the naval bombardment, but it’s just a taste of what the future will bring. We also meet his comrades Galliard (Jaws, who inherited his Titan from the imprisoned Ymir) and Pieck (Cart). Interestingly Pieck has trouble walking on two feet as a human since her Cart is a quadruped.

Back on his feet, Reiner tracks down Gabi and the other three Titan candidates, much to Gabi’s elation. When the funnel of a passing ship suddenly covers them in shadow, he briefly sees four of his comrades from back when he was their age, including Bertholdt and Annie.

Our quartet of kids consist of two goers-with-the-flow (Udo and Zofia), a True Believer in Gabi, and a Skeptic in Falco. On the train home to Liberio, Gabi is all too happy to accept praise for her prowess in battle and looks forward to being the next Armored. Falco take on that mantle in her place, but not for glory. You see, he simply wants Gabi to live past age twenty-seven. Braun isn’t altogether dismissive of Falco’s attitude.

Earlier in the episode we’re reminded that even decorated Eldians like Zeke and Reiner are still considered Less Than by their non-Eldian leaders, and as such they are not entitled to privacy. When we arrive in the ironically-named Liberio, the Eldian soldiers reunite with their families—one by one we see moments of unbridled love and joy (RABUJOI!)—from people who can use any and all such moments they can get.

Again, Falco zags while Gabi and everyone else zigs. Before joining his family, he checks in on a group of Eldian soldiers who are suffering severe PTSD. The supposed doctor even mimics the sound of a bomb to freak them all out, and only Falco tries to calm them down.

At the Braun family dinner, more praise than food is heaped upon Gabi’s plate, but when Reiner is asked about his time on Paradis with the descendants of the “evil” Eldians who fled there, his response becomes a rant in which he suggests there were “all kinds” of people there, not just monsters. The matriarch quickly insists that the Eldians on Paradis are the source of all “good” Eldians’ problems, and must be wiped off the earth.

At the next meeting of Zeke, Reiner, Galliard, Pieck and Colt (Zeke’s eventual replacement), Zeke announces that they’ll be launching a new offensive on Paradis, with the goal of conquering the island for Marley within a year—which is all Zeke has left in the Beast Titan. Their meeting is being monitored by non-Eldian Marley officials, who pick up on Zeke’s offhand “not in this room.”

As Reiner watches the young candidates spar, he dreads returning to the “pure hell” that was Paradis. But considering how he described Sasha stealing a potato to eat way back when (I believe that’s what he was on about), and his comment to Falco about taking over for him instead of Gabi, what he says to his family and what he believes may be very different. He’s just aware that those who weren’t on that island wouldn’t understand.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Great Pretender – 14 – Fake is in the Eye of the Beholder

Laurent goes all out renting out a damn castle for his intentionally over-the-top art auction for the ages that James Coleman has no choice but to attend. Despite his wounded sensibilities in the face of such crassness, Snow in London is on the block, and he’s prepared to bid as much money as his partner Farrah has.

Abby, who has nicely inserted herself in Coleman’s affairs and earned his trust, proceeds to warn Farrah’s butler Tim of Coleman’s intentions to squeeze her dry.

This gaudy charade is not at all the stodgy auction atmospheres Coleman is used to, but he chalks it up not to authenticity of the auctioneers, but the crassness of its clients, namely members of the seedy underworld (aided by Fudou and Kim posing as mob kingpins from their respective nations).

Just as the surroundings and people disgust Coleman, so too do the ridiculously overblown sums of money being spent on paintings that in a respectable auctioneer would get less than half what they end up get here. Even that prepares him to bid way too much for the Montoya, a painting he’s personally invested in.

When the big moment comes, Farrah is nowhere to be found, having been confronted by Abby during intermission. Coleman is all alone, and Cynthia takes Farrah’s seat and proceeds to bait him into not only spending all £70 million Farrah has (after liquidating her land holdings), but an additional £30 million since Cynthia doesn’t stop until £99, leaving Coleman with the painting and a very, very large bill.

Not one pence of that £100 million ends up coming from Farrah. Abby gave her a recording of Coleman gleefully playing her for the fool, but she gets the last laugh, locking him out of her estate and donating her entire art collection to the museum so everyone can enjoy and be inspired by their greatness. Farrah owes a lot to her loyal butler and friend Tim, who assures her that while she may feel alone, he’ll always be by her side (and she’s better off without James Coleman).

The final twist? Makoto switched the real and fake paintings before the auction, meaning Laurent, Cynthia & Co. weren’t actually con artists on this job, but legit art dealers (tax issues aside, of course).  That said, Makoto actually wanted the dad and daughter in Nice to have Thomas’ version of the painting, which he doesn’t consider a mere copy due to the hard work, talent, and passion that went into it.

Copying Snow of London was Thomas’ first new painting in years, but it rekindled his love of art. Marie agrees with Makoto, and comes to see Thomas’ version as more warm and kind. As for Cynthia, she and Thomas get to have one more late afternoon coffee at the cafe where they met, and have closure.

Back in Nice, Cynthia wonders out loud, somewhat bitterly, whether Laurent arranged for Makoto and Coleman to cross paths, knowing both Makoto’s moral compass would come into play and her sad past would be dredged up “for [Laurent’s] entertainment.” As always, Laurent is coy and noncommittal in his response.

Stripping away the Breaking Bad-style drug hijinx and the high-flying, high-rolling Singapore racing set to tell a rich, bittersweet story of love and art made this my favorite of the three Great Pretender arcs so far. Makoto has vowed to get out of the game for good yet again, but I’m sure he’ll get tangled up in something soon. Whether it will surpass Snow of London remains to be seen.

Wave, Listen to Me! – 11 – Cough Up the Karma

Minare’s latest weird late-night occult/philosophy radio show continues as Mitsuo climbs out of the ground with his broken neck bent 90 degrees to the side. He invites Minare and “Matt” deep below the Sea of Trees where there’s a reincarnation of Asama-no-Okami (the deity personifying Mt. Fuji), who in turn will offer to take their karma and decided where they’ll be reincarnated, and as whom.

I have to admit, it’s all a bit trippy and bizarre, but aside from a few snickers (the deity decides to send all three to Sweden for their next lives because of it’s “established welfare”), it wasn’t really the funniest bit? More than a comedy, it’s meant to take hold of listeners as they determine which of the three people they’re most like: Matt, who murdered dozens for his work; Mitsuo, who wants to come back as someone who’s more aware of when he’s hurting others…or Minare, who doesn’t want to go to Sweden at all.

At the end of the show, Kureko again leaves a big empty space in the script for Minare to ad-lib, which is what she does best. She provides a litany of things she did in real life to real people (most of whom are listening; and Mitsuo is wearing a neck brace after her suplex), but having all that swept under the rug and being shipped to a new life Sweden isn’t for her. She’s a “wandering Japanese”, with no interest in any other country, and simply wants to return to the Sea of Trees. The deity obliges.

At the post-show meeting, Minare learns the voice of the deity was Chisato and the voice of Mitsuo was Koumoto, while Kureko thinks he got Mitsuo’s character down accurately. When Minare accuses Kureko of hating her for having such huge holes in the script, Matou admits he had Kureko leave lots of opportunities for ad-libbing on purpose, in order to assess and exploit Minare’s inherent adaptability. And adaptability, more than any other quality, is what makes a great radio personality.

Matou informs Minare that her next show will be from an idea she creates, or otherwise acquires from, say, listeners via email or social media. He also encourages her to listen to her favorite personalities on radio to get a feel for the increased freedom the medium provides over TV. That night, Mizuho is worried about Mizuho and her cheerful brave front in the midst of Kureko quitting radio, considering she wanted Kureko on her radio “dream team” once she’s promoted.

That night, Mizuho seems to lean in for a kiss, in what is surely one of the sexiest pieces of animation Wave has turned out—only for her to be rousing Minare to listen to a comic midnight broadcast. Mizuho also tells Minare that Matou is looking for her to create something “wild, living in the moment, and anarchistic”.

Whatever Minare comes up with, she only has one more episode to pull it off. After her momentous victory over Mitsuo, the last two weeks have taken a step back, and overall the show feels like it’s stalled. Still, better to peak in week 9 than not at all!

Wave, Listen to Me! – 10 – The Galactic Campaign

This week, which bears little resemblance to the last, starts with Mizuho asking a departing Kureko if he’s free for a meal sometime. It remains to be seen if Mizuho has feelings for the guy or simply likes and respects him as a friend and mentor, but though Kureko is too busy to commit to anything, Mizuho still wishes him well. All the while, Koumoto, who unsuccessfully courted Mizuho, watches from the shadows…which is kinda creepy!

Whatever Mizuho’s preference in terms of the age of a potential partner, she’s sad to hear that Minare has decided to move out sooner rather than later. Minare has learned from her recent experience that people tend to deteriorate as they come to rely on the kindness of others. She’s even observed that she’s someone predisposed to devoting herself to her partner, feeling as sense of pleasure from spoiling them.

While Minare exhibits signs of growth and self-reflection as part of a larger effort to avoid repeating past mistakes, she also exhibits a blind spot in her relationship to Nakahara. This blind spot is exposed by none other than Makie, who is not only frustrated by what she considers Minare’s continued “toying” with Nakahara, but Nakahara’s lack of interest in her.

There’s every indication Makie wants to move beyond indebted house guest (or refugee, or general object of pity), but whether she’s aware of it or not, Minare is an obstacle to that. For the record, Minare considers Nakahara incompatable simply because he’s so darned self-sufficient: not only is he not one to ask to borrow large sums of money, but he cooks, cleans, and even sows freakin’ leather!

That aside, Matou used Minare’s recordings of her date with Mitsuo (that’s right, she was wired for the whole thing!) in a way Minare did not expect. Rather than broadcast the date either in full or in edited form, he gave the samples of Mitsuo’s voice to a couple of legendary veteran sound engineers who go by the pseudonyms “Katokon and Kakoen”.

Masters of both foley and waveforms, they were able to create a synthetic voice that sounds just like Mitsuo, but can say whatever they require him to say in a broadcast. These two are a couple of colorful characters—you could also call them sound nerds—and Mizuho is delighted by their very old-school foley tricks like beads on fans.

The next episode of Wave, Listen to Me documents the “burial” of Mitsuo by fictional versions of Matou and Minare on a rainy day (to hide the burying sounds). The two foley masters work their magic while Mizuho and Koumoto provide support in this live radio drama.

Once Minare and Matou finish burying Mitsuo, they share a long and passionate kiss…only for Mitsuo’s hand to burst out of the ground and his formerly-lifeless corpse to move and speak anew with the synth voice the master techs devised. Matou’s ultimate goal is to also bury “Minare Koda”, and for a new legendary voice to rise from those ashes. All I can say is so far so good!

Wave, Listen to Me! – 07 – The Evil is Defeated

 

“I have no doubt other women have thought of doing what I did. They just didn’t do it.”Abe Saba, who cut off her lover’s genitals while making love. She also worked at a restaurant, FWIW…

Minare’s first radio job in the field is turning out to be a weird one, but she and Mizuho are able to calm Shinji down enough to talk about his lost dead Slavic girlfriend, Azohara Ritsuko. When he proposed they “cross the line” from friendship to romance, they agreed upon a secluded volcanic hot spring in Zao as the dramatic venue for their inaugural doing of the nasty.

However, after disrobing but before getting down, Shinji passed out from the volcanic gasses. He woke up in a cabin, rescued by good Samaritans…but they only found him. For all he knows, Ritsuko could be dead or still wandering around Zao as they speak.

With his tale of woe out of the way, Minare climbs into the ceiling to investigate the stinky dark liquid, and finds an absolute nightmare: six fly-covered garbage bags filled with what she assumes to be the remains of a petite woman, soaked by a leaking shower line.

Minare calls the police, and Shinji is arrested on suspicion of killing Ritsuko and storing her remains in the ceilng. But at no point does Shinji admit this, or even get overexcited: he merely calmly asserts his innocence, all while Minare is certain “evil was destroyed” in that apartment.

In the face of such a traumatic experience (Mizuho got less of the meat juice on her but still needed three showers), Minare crafts an even more fanciful story nevertheless rooted in reality rather than the supernatural.

She imagines that Ritsuka was a Russian spy, and Shinji proposed the remote site to speak to her without being surveilled. Ritsuka was trained to kill if her cover was  blown, but whether due to her love for Shinji or the effects of the gas, she couldn’t do it.

However, neither the murder and dismemberment story nor the spy thriller make it to her first official broadcast of Wave, Listen to Me! The afternoon before the show she stops by the police for questioning, and the real, unvarnished mundane truth is laid bare: the stinking dark liquids, and the bags from which they seeped, were originally put there…by Minare herself.

They were the remains not of a murdered Ritsuka but of 50 kilos of on-the-bone mutton delivered to her apartment by her parents when she first moved there. She stowed them in the under-floor compartment as a temporary measure but then completely forgot about them. They sank through the floor into the space above Shinji’s apartment, mixed with the leaking water, and the rest is stinky history.

This puts Minare in a bind, as she’s facing charges to be brought by Shinji, whom it’s indisputable was someone to whom she did harm, even if she didn’t mean to, and then went further by having him arrested. But Shinji magnanimously provides Minare with an out: she’ll break down the truth of what happened and apologize to all involved. Shinji is in the booth when she does this, just to make sure.

Not only that, Minare makes the theme of the show for, about, and by “people who have caused countless problems for others” in hopes of finding ways for those people (including her) who don’t want their lives going to waste simply because they’re predisposed to such troublemaking.

It’s not at all what she expected to be doing, but rotting mutton comes at you fast, and it’s actually a great subject for a radio show airing so late at night. An audience will no doubt project themselves in the stranger-than-fiction scenarios Minare puts herself, and appreciate how she’s is open, vulnerable, and ready to be redeemed.

She won’t claim to have all the answers—that’s for that sumo guy—but she’ll have plenty of entertaining questions!

Wave, Listen to Me! – 06 – A Warm Fluffy Towel Drenched in BLOOD

We’ve now reached the halfway point of WLM!, and while this week’s installment lacks the adrenaline high that accompanies a live broadcast and the moments leading up to it, it further fleshes out its eclectic, sometimes eccentric, but always authentic-feeling cast of characters, while setting up stranger things to befall Minare on her path to becoming a radio star.

We learn more about Minare through those she came from, starting with her dad when she accidentally calls him. He’s outside a pachinko parlor on his fifth or sixth beer (Sapporo, natch) so he’s…got some issues, but you can tell he loves his daughter and just wants her to be happy— just as sure as Minare can smell the alcohol through the phone!

Meanwhile, Casa Nakahara is hardly the sordid lovenest Minare might imagine in her more jealous moments. Yes, Makie is living there, but so is Nakahara’s sister Meiko (Minare, Makie, Meiko…dude knows some M’s!), who walked out on her husband with their baby for going to a hostess club. Far from being treated as a burden, Nakahara is appreciative of Meiko for being to get Makie to talk more in the wee hours of the night as the two women lie in adjacent futons.

Makie confides in her that after her parents died in the mountains, her brother grew obsessively protective and locked her up like Kaspar Hauser…which explains her manner. Meiko tells her she shouldn’t feel ashamed for using the car accident as an opportunity to reclaim her agency freedom, which she has every right to have.

After a thoroughly confusing little sequence involving Minare’s dad talking about a dream of “decades ago” and a “brutal accident”, we suddenly cut to Minare talking to her mom this time. Unlike her dad, her mom is a littler sterner, insisting she seek out “a life people can respect”, not just one in which she’s happy, and not to listen to a “loser” like her dad. And her little “It makes me sad…oh, very sad” line about Minare telling her dad about her radio job first—*Chef’s Kiss*

Still, her dad still managed to buy her daughter a slick Sky Sensor 5900 radio as a cute “good-luck-in-your-radio-pursuits” gift. Makie’s family may have bitten the tragedy bug, but it’s refreshing that our protagonist Minare not only has both parents still living, but on talking terms with her (if not one another). Like Makie, her parents feel like longingly-rendered real human beings.

Her dad was also responsible for delivering four whole Aramaki salmon, which won’t fit in Minare’s little fridge. After Nakahara drops off his ideas for Minare on possible radio story ideas (hilariously, she reads them and immediately apologizes for even asking him!) she decides to hang the fish from the doorknobs of her neighbors, which Nakahara mentions could be construed as some kind of criminal mischief.

By the way, another absolute doozy of an exchange: Minare describes her dad to Nakahara, and all Nakahara can see is Minare. Drunk half the time? Check. Either in dirty joke-telling mode, venting mode, or preaching mode? Check. Goes off on random tangents? Check. Makes no sense at all? Check. Can’t have a proper conversation? Check!

Granted, these are exaggerations of who Minare really is, but sometimes the rougher edges stick out more…especially from the perspective of someone like Nakahara, pursuing her with little to show for it. Another main takeaway from the fish-hanging scene is that Oki Shinji, who accepts one of the fish without hesitation, looks very out of sorts, and Nakahara notices the stench of rotting protein emanating from Shinji’s apartment.

The strangeness continues at the studio, where Mizuho shows Minare a creepily-scrawled fax about a dead girlfriend who hasn’t forgiven the writer…who happens to be Oki Shinji! Minare wants to shift gears to something more fluffy and less occult, but Matou is eager for her to learn the full ropes, which means she and Mizuho are going on a field recording adventure!

After reiterating her commitment to always protect her (something Mizuho doesn’t remember her saying before), Minare drives them to their destination: her former apartment building (note that Mizuho calls Minare’s car a “mini” but it’s not a MINI Cooper, but rather a Daihatsu Mina Giro Minilite. IMO the Giro’s cooler than any Cooper!) They also dress for the occasion, like an onmyouji and a shrine maiden.

Shinji welcomes them in without so much as a flinch from Minare’s stellar long-range joke about the same woman showing up drunk to his door also showing up to appease a spirit since “rituals, sake, and women” have been inexorably intertwined throughout history. Still, Shinji has good reason to be the way he is, because something very very strange and gross is happening inside his apartment.

Reddish-black liquid starts to ooze from the ceilings and drops on what couldn’t have been a cheap costume rental. Then again, it’s likely the station will cover the dry cleaning, just as Matou promises to bail out Minare should things take a turn. After all striking out into the untamed wilds diagonally below her old place means she’s no longer an amateur, but a professional, like Mizuho…risking their very lives for entertainment.

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – 19 – Storytime for the Kiddies

Sakura’s a wonderfully kind person, and so it comes as no surprise she’d go to the pediatric ward to read to children. I also think she intrinsically understands she has a tremendously entertaining voice, and it would be a shame not to show it off once in a while!

Tomoyo is coming to film the event (of course), and Sakura manages to recruit both Akiho to help her read and Syaoran to accompany them with piano. She achieves this by knocking both their HP levels to zero with her thoroughly persuasive glare.

Syaoran checks in with Wei for help with scoring the book (and denies his four doting sisters’ request to see him on video mode), while Akiho studies the storybook and marks in a notepad all the places she’ll have to be careful (Japanese not being her first language an all).

After being given simple yet elegant tunics and caps, the two read the story of the Fox and the Mittens to the assembled children, all while Syaoran plays the organ, an upgrade from the piano.

It’s a delicate and beautiful presentation, an interesting departure from the usual formula of the show. This is also an episode in which Sakura doesn’t capture a card, and doesn’t even say her trademark “Hoe” once!

When the crowd gets riled up at a perilous point in the story, he quiets them with a flourishing solo, allowing the girls to get back on track. All in all it’s a tremendous success, and the group of kids come away not only entertained but impressed with the skills of the storytellers and organist.

Tomoyo caught everything on tape, but Sakura managed to stealthily release her Record card. Unfortunately, the footage it took is from over thirty years in the past! Sakura is disappointed; she must’ve “done it wrong.”

Upon seeing this, Kero-chan finds an excuse to rush to Yue’s place and inform him of what she did. Sakura has become far more powerful than either of them could have imagined, to the point it has become imperative they inform Eriol, of whom we’ve only gotten the slightest glimpses so far.

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – 07

After a somewhat fruitless video conference with Yue, Sakura heads to Tomoyo’s vast estate to test out her new “Record” card, since who has more experience recording things than Tomoyo?

Tomoyo uses the opportunity to dress Sakura up, presents a new miniature camera drone, and then offers her vast gardens as a venue for Sakura’s experimentation.

Upon summoning the card a camera appears, which they learn can be used to record holographic footage on command.

Syaoran arrives and a apologizes for cutting their fun short, and they have yet another discussion in which Syaoran voices his frustration at not being able to sense the cards.

But when a mysterious unseen wind-like force starts bothering Sakura, he still shows he can take care of business by summoning a magic sword.

The intruder dodges his attacks, and Sakura stops Syaoran from taking further action, preferring to follow it herself and try to learn more.

The somewhat cheeky, almost childlike “wisp” sends Sakura on a wild game of tag across Tomoyo’s land, and Sakura can’t quite keep up even when she uses Gravitation to create a series of wormholes to teleport from spot to spot.

Action is even less effective, with the tree vines only serving to tangle themselves up. Finally, Sakura realizes that unlike previous cards, a direct attack won’t work, nor will any provocative action.

Instead, she has to stand still and simply act friendly, asking the wisp if she can be it’s friend. Only then can she secure the card, appropriately called “Flight.”

Sakura puts the card to use and spreads wings with which she can propel and maneuver herself across the sky with ease in a beautiful, joyful sequence. Sakura hopes that along with all of her other powers, her newly-acquired aerial abilities will be able to “make people happy”…but down on the ground Syaoran ain’t smiling.

Is he concerned about the nature of these cards he can’t detect? Worried about Sakura? Jealous? Hiding ulterior motives? Plotting a betrayal? We still don’t know enough. Ditto her dream about the cloaked figure and the giant clocks; it’s only briefly mentioned with no additional information provided.

CCS definitely elevates Sakura’s card capturing as far more than mere tedious drudgery, and the formula of most episodes has been reliable watchable and packed with fun character moments. I just hope we’ll eventually get movement—rather than further reiteration or repetition—of the show’s more mysterious elements.

Kakegurui – 10

Fresh off of beating Yumemi, Yumeko challenges Manyuda to an official match in front of the same crowd, without so much as an intermission for bathroom breaks! The Vice President (she of the white mask and distorted voice) steps in as dealer of a game called “choice poker”, in which no folding or calling is allowed, but the last person to raise can decide whether the stronger or weaker hand is the winning one.

In the crowd, both Mary and Sumeragi recognize that this game overwhelmingly favors the player with more money; in this case, Manyuda with his 100 starting chips over Yumeko and her 31. But having watched three other council members fall to her, Manyuda has a good basis of data upon which to calculate the best strategy to defeat Yumeko.

Specifically, he knows she’s a compulsive gambler and a little insane, and so needlessly makes risky raises despite the fact this is a game of more measured, one-chip raises. Sugita Tomokazu’s inner monologue dominates the episode, and at times it sounds like a slightly less apathetic Kyon is playing a particularly serious game of cards against Haruhi.

But at the end of the day, it’s a simple card game, with simple rules, and when Manyuda sticks to fundamentals, he manages to easily bait Yumeko out of all her chips. It’s then when Yumeko beseeches Sumeragi, who said she wanted to be her friend, to bail her out with more cash.

It’s revealed that Manyuda recommended Sumeragi’s entry into the Student Council, after she proved to him they had similar levels of ambition, but when Yumeko beat her she was discarded, and Manyuda concluded Sumeragi never had the talent to match her lofty ambitions.

That doesn’t stop him from appealing to her desperation in trying to return to a position of power where she can again vie for the top spot, as well as inherit her family’s business, something only possible with a council seat, so he dangles that over her head to counter Yumeko’s request.

Sumeragi doesn’t fall for it, instead pledging 100 chips to Yumeko, hoping to exact revenge on Manyuda, who only ever saw her as a pawn; a stepping stone on his own road to the top. Yumeko rarely looks that reliable, but Manyuda is clearly underestimating her. There’s a method to her madness she has yet to reveal to anyone—perhaps even herself!

Kakegurui – 09

Yume-Yume was soooo confident her victory was a lock with this idol gambling competition with Yumeko, she already planned details for her opponent’s future such as sleeping up the corporate ladder and having a porno debut. It’s not really personal; Yume is trying to get to the top of the celebrity mountain, and she needs stepping stones.

So it comes as a shock when Yumeko beats her , just because the competition included just enough luck to favor her over Yumemi. Yumeko’s luck is so conspicuous, it even gets in Yumemi’s head, as thoughts of Yumeko’s doomed future are replaced by the very real present possibility that rant recording will be played and ruin her career.

But here’s the thing: after handing over 50 million yen, and after Yumeko plays the recording to the entire crowd of 100—most of them in Yumemi’s fan club—and afterwards when she confesses and thanks those fans for cheering her on thus far…they don’t abandon her.

Of course they don’t, what self-respecting super-fan would be put off by the discovery of another layer of their idol? They love her unconditionally, and don’t ask for her love in return. In fact, they love her even more because she was honest!

Throw in the fact more than a few of those fans quite enjoy Yumemi yelling at them and telling them they’re scum, and you can see why there weren’t any shots of Yumeko’s reaction to their collective shrug: she too knew that real fans wouldn’t care about Yumemi’s rant.

Well, the game’s over, the money’s been paid, the ‘blackmail’ material backfired as planned, Yumemi’s idol career is safe, and she learned a valuable lesson. Time to SING! And hey, credit where it’s due: Kakegurui actually bothers to animate the two Yumes dancing and singing through the credits.

After that, Yumeko reveals the reason she fought Yumemi at all, besides the thrill of the gamble: she wants to have another gamble with a superior foe: Manyuda Kaede, the Sudent Council member who put the whole idol competition together.

When Kaede pleads innocence and demands proof he “deceived” Yumemi with the fan letter that set her off, Yumeko rightly points out they’re not in a court of law, but in a gambling school. She challenges him to a gamble in which the winner’s story will be deemed the truth.

Kaede refuses…but Yumeko to use her Miké tag to request an official match; one Kaede cannot refuse. Looks like Yumeko was using Yumemi as a stepping stone to Kaede, and eventually, the president herself.

Kakegurui – 08

When the cat (Momobari) is away, the mice (the student council second-years) will play. The latest member to set her sights on Yumeko is Yumemite Yumemi, who despite having a tongue-twister of a name is the school’s unofficial idol, already viral on YourTube and with a loyal army of fans.

Meanwhile, the rumors flying of Yumeko retaining her livestock status so she can challenge the presdient, Sumeragi approaches her, and after pretending to play innocent, she later fesses up to wanting a position in the council back, once Yumeko takes over.

We also quickly learn Yumemi is another two-face; with probably the greatest difference between her public and private personas. While she’s open and hands on with her sweaty fans, she secretly despises them, flashing horrific faces twisted in disgust. But she accepts the discomfort as the price of attaining her goals.

When Yumeko and Yumemi finally meet, they don’t play nice for long, as Yumeko is pretty aware of Yumemi’s disdain for her fans. The facade drops, and Yumeko manages to provoke Yumemi into an anti-fan tirade that she secretly records on a device she hid in Yumemi’s assistant.

The gamble in question seems to be a battle of idols, with Yumeko having to join Yumemi’s idol group and live the life of an idol if she loses, while Yumemi, confident Yumeko is underestimating her, agrees that if she loses the incriminating audio will be distributed and ruin her idol career in its infancy.

The details on how this particular idol-themed gamble will be laid out and scored remains a mystery, but there’s not doubt that whatever happens, Yumeko’s star will only rise with this new, very public opportunity. We also learn Ryouta is a big fan of Yumemi’s, but I assume he’ll be rooting for Yumeko as the two square off.

Sore ga Seiyuu! – 12

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Ichigo’s foot is hurt, and though she tries to hide it, both Futaba and Rin know it’s hurt. The success of the concert is in jeopardy, but both of them care more about her health. Ichigo, not wanting to let everyone down, assures her she can do it, and makes the others promise not to tell Kaibara. Her foot, her terms, it would seem.

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However, after watching Hocchan on TV and bumping into her at the studio (not recognizing her at first because of her disheveled off-stage appearance), Futaba gets yet another invaluable piece of advice, this time about units: everything is shared amongst everyone, be it happiness, hardship, or pain. That means the foot isn’t just Ichigo’s problem and Ichigo’s call, it’s the unit’s. Rin agrees with Futaba, and Ichigo tells Kaibara, who naturally freaks out.

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However, the Earphones haven’t gotten this far without overcoming hardship (or lack of natural dancing talent, in Futaba’s case.) So Ichigo gets taped up, and both Rin and Futaba will pick up her slack in the dancing department, rearranging choreography to lessen the strain on Ichigo’s foot, doing a slow song while seated, etc. Konno even finds a clever way to conceal Ichigo’s swollen foot: fuzzy leg warmers!…Which at least to me call to mind the soft padding of earphones.

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In order to balance out the proportions of their look (with their $5000 outfits…geez Kaibara!), they also go out wearing bunny ears, and while the first tense few moments after they take the stage they worry they’ll be laughed right back off of it, but the full house of nearly 500 (480 to be exact) end up digging the cuteness.

The trio goes out with everything they have, powered by Futaba’s pre-concert motivational speech that was the culmination of everything she’s learned from working with pros like Hocchan, and while Ichigo stumbles, she doesn’t fall, because Futaba and Rin take hold of her and keep her upright. The unit even gets a call for an encore.

It’s an unforgettable night for the Earphones; far more of a success than any of the girls could have hoped for, especially considering the setback with Ichigo’s foot. But they pulled it off with aplomb, and it was immensely rewarding to watch them do so.

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