The Garden of Words (Film Review)

Tokyo is one of the largest, busiest, most lively cities in the world, but there’s an oasis of tranquility right near its heart, and I’m not talking about the mostly off-limits Imperial Palace Grounds. I speak of Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, once a private estate in the Edo period, and also the primary setting of Shinkai Makoto’s 2013 film The Garden of Words.

I’ll admit my review comes very late—so late, in fact, in the time between the release of the film and the day I’m writing a review of it, its co-lead Akizuki Takao would be 19 (not 15), making a potential romantic relationship with Yukino Yukari, who would be 31 (not 27) more socially acceptable. But here it is!

Akizuki loves rainy mornings. He loves them so much, he’ll skip school to visit Shinjuku Gyoen and enjoy it. One day, while preparing to sit at a sheltered bench overlooking the gardens, he encounters Yukino: a beautiful, mysterious woman in work clothes drinking beer and eating chocolate alone.

While 15, Akizuki is wiser and more mature than his years. He finds high school a major drag, and mostly stresses about a practical way to support himself doing what he loves: designing and making shoes. But when he visits the park and shares the bench with Yukino, he feels like he’s in a more mature environment, where he can sketch shoes or just shoot the breeze with her.

Their encounters also become important to Yukino, who we learn is preparing to quit her job, and is clearly in the park to escape said job and the stress/pain it causes, which was apparently bad enough that she lost her sense of taste for a time, only being able to enjoy beer and chocolate.

Not only is the hard-working Akizuki a shoemaker-in-the-making, he’s also a part-timer at a restaurant and cooks a lot at home, making him a better cook than Yukino. Thanks to the meals he shares, Yukino starts to enjoy eating again.

Wanting to help him with a woman’s shoe design, Yukino removes her shoe and lets Akizuki hold and measure her bare foot, in an intimate, even sensual scene that also happens to be practical.

That intimacy is heightened by the made-for-a-couple sheltered-bench and the gorgeous environs. But while she’ll give him her foot, Yukino never talks about herself, her life, or her struggles, no matter how much Akizuki talks about his.

Unfortunately Akizuki has to find that out when he spots Yukino, or rather Yukino-sensei, at his school—she’s a teacher there. He had no idea of that, or that she’d been taking days off because the boyfriend of a student fell for her which led to unsavory rumors about her being promiscuous and verbal and emotional abuse from her upperclassmen students.

Yukino is pained to hear all this treatment, and that she’s quitting because of it, but likely also hurt that Yukino never told him anything, or that she could even possibly have known he was a student at the school but kept him in the dark.

Whatever the case, he decides the injustice done to Yukino should have a response from someone who has come to care about her, so he confronts the upperclassmen, starts a fight, and loses. After school, they meet at the gardens, but he doesn’t tell her he fought to protect her honor.

After giving her the correct answer to her tanka poem from their first encounter, Akizuki and Yukino find themselves caught in a torrential downpour, and even when they get back under cover, they’re both soaked.

They apparently take it as a good omen, and go to Yukino’s apartment, where they change into dry clothes, and while he’s waiting for his uniform to dry, Akizuki makes Yukino a delicious meal, both noting they’re having some of the happiest moments of their lives, right there and then.

Like the sunlight, it doesn’t last, and as the sky darkens with more rainclouds, a sudden confession of love from Akizuki is countered by Yukino correcting him: “Yukino-sensei”. Akizuki hears her loud and clear: he’s a kid; she’s not, and that’s the end of it. So he changes into his still-wet clothes and storms off, just as the storm outside picks up.

Yukino doesn’t want to leave things there, so after stewing, suddenly alone in her apartment, with even Akizuki’s coffee still steaming, she does the romantic movie thing where one comes to their senses, rushes out of the house, and chases after the one they love.

When she finds him paused on a balcony, he takes back his confession and starts spewing vitriol about her intentions, but later in the rant it becomes more about why she couldn’t simply tell him, a stupid little kid, to piss off and stop bothering her. Why she never said anything to him while sharing that bench.

Yukino’s response, also classic romantic movie, is to run into his arms and sob just as the sun peeks back out from between the clouds, finally telling him why she went to that bench again and again, and how being with him helped her “learn how to walk on her own” again; how he essentially saved her.

Yukino still moves out of that apartment, back to her hometown, where she’s still a teacher. But she later writes to Akizuki, and as he reads the letter in the park where they met and spent so much time and where they taught each other how to walk, he seriously considers going to her hometown someday to see her.

The Garden of Words is gorgeous, as is expected of a Shinkai film, with its near-photorealistic exteriors, lived-in interiors, and fantastic lighting and details all around. At just 46 minutes, it runs brisk but never feels rushed, but rather feels just as long as it should be.

It also felt like a particularly intimate/personal film, though not for the reason you’d expect: I once sat at the exact same bench in Shinjuku Gyoen they sat at, unhurriedly sketching the gardens and writing about my day (though as you can see, the real one has an ashtray.) If you’re ever there I highly recommend it, just as I recommend this lush and moving little film.

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 06

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When Yakumo suddenly collapses, Mangetsu is able to administer first aid before the paramedics arrive. Konatsu goes with Yakumo, and Yota is ready to follow…but instead elects to stay behind. The sound of the crowd comes back into focus: the show must go on.

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And it does, as we are presented with Yota’s rendition of “Inokori” (which was performed by Sukeroku in episode 9 of last season). This isn’t another fiasco like the time Yota cast off his robe; he basically knocks it out of the park, proving he was ready to perform it. The only problem is that as good as he was, his master wasn’t there to hear it.

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The moment the curtain falls, Yota, who had been keeping it together splendidly, starts to tear up. Matsuda can’t help but tear up too. The only one who doesn’t tear up is Shin, but he seems on the verge of doing so simply because it’s what the adults are doing. At the hospital, Yakumo remains unconscious. Matsuda takes Mangetsu home, praising his rakugo on the way. Maybe he’ll get back into it?

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A couple of weeks pass, with Yota filling in for Yakumo, all but doubling his already formidable workload and feeling the strain. He continues to proclaim master will wake up and be fine, but not even he is a sure as he sounds about that.

Meanwhile, time goes on, and the proprietor of the Uchikutei theater tells him about plans to “rebuild” it, which one would think would mean demolishing the Taisho-era venue. We get a bit of a tour of the empty place as he runs down all of the little charms and foibles that make it as unique and irreplaceable as, well, a performer like Yakumo.

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On the train to another gig, Eisuke encourages him with two bits of information: that unlike the precise technique of Yakumo and raw reality of the last Sukeroku, Yota has his own kind of rakugo: in fact, he is a vessel for it. No “ego or hunger” on display, Yota fades away, leaving only the rakugo to be absorbed by the crowd. It’s a rare gift.

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The episode ends with Yakumo opening his eyes, and though he still doesn’t look or sound too good at all, he’s still alive, which is surely enough for his family. Whatever happened in that sliver of afterlife he tasted, we see no more of it, adding to its mystique.

All I know is Yakumo looks tired, and while he doesn’t look like he enjoyed what he witnessed, he may not be particularly happy to have not died when he did, taking rakugo as he knows it with him.

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 05

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Yota is stoked. He’s flying high. He’s learned how to command a crowd, the theaters are full, his material is killing. He owes much of this to a lifting of a weight of uncertainty since Yakumo performed “Inokori” for him. Yakumo maintains that mastering that—and in just they way he instructs, by summoning one’s ego—is Yota’s next step.

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But Yakumo is no longer Yota’s sole source of instruction or inspiration. Whether he knows it or not, Yota has also fallen under the influence of Higuchi Eisuke, the outsider who shows Yota the wider world of rakugo, not just the venerable but narrow Yuuakutei canon.

The implication is obvious: like a smattering of gutted clans in days of yore, an alliance must be formed – a new rakugo – in order to survive modern times, and Yakumo’s death.

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Yota seems to rarely leave the open entrance to his home, sitting their first listening to his predecessor Sukeroku, then to all the myriad versions of Inokori provided by Higuchi, no two of them alike. It’s strong enough stuff for him to laugh and react loudly deep into the night. He’s so immersed, Konatsu has to snap him out of it so he can get some sleep for the family performance.

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And it is truly a family performance, as Konatsu will be at the shamisen per her father’s bidding. Of the three family members, she’s by far the most nervous. Performing rakugo for a bunch of kindergartners and a smattering of their parents is one thing: playing pros at the very top of the game in and out to a giant packed theater is another. But Yota (and indirectly, Yakumo) know she’ll be fine.

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Damn…when Yota offered to give Mangetsu an pregame audience with Yakumo and I saw that loooong foreboding hallway, for a few moments I feared for the worst: that Yakumo was keeled over dead in his dressing room, just like that. Blame the seductively creepy OP in which the ghost Sukeroku opens Yakumo’s cloak to reveal nothing but dry bones, and the earlier mention by someone that his voice has lost something.

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Thankfully, Yakumo is fine, but everything I mentioned before still casts a pall on him. Yota’s meeting with him is another great one, as Yota proudly shows what he’s really been up to in the red light districts: getting his carp tattoo finished. This is Yota literally not letting things go unfinished; not apologizing for who he was and who he is.

Yakumo may think rakugo is finished once he dies, but he’s wrong. His rakugo won’t even be finished; it’s not his call, but history’s. So even though he’s pissy about the fact Yota is taking into account other methods for “Inokori” (likely aware this is Higuchi’s influence), you can’t expect someone who claims, and is pretty certain, they don’t have an ego to use that ego.

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Yota warms up the crowd, getting them “laughing like fools”, which might be fine in a solo show, but Yakumo needs to put them in a different, more nuanced mood; Yota’s winding them up makes it tougher. Still, he’s more than up to the challenge, and performs “Hangon-ko” with both musical accompaniment from Konatsu (who he says he’s counting on, and who doesn’t let him down despite her nerves) and an extra prop: streams of incense.

The significance of the titular incense to the story—that it brings back the soul of a dead loved one—is all too apropos for Yakumo’s darkening state of mind as the days ahead of him dwindle. And even though at this part in the story he tells, the widower buys the wrong incense and burns way too much of it, the incense still has the effect of summoning the ghost of Miyokishi before Yakumo, in one of the most chilling and intense moments of the show’s entire run.

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Yakumo manages to finish the story to polite but not raucous applause, and Yota quickly orders the curtains dropped. Yakumo collapses and enters what must seem like the afterlife. Miyokichi is nowhere to be found. Instead there are off-kilter shelves after shelves of countless burning candles – no doubt signifying lives.

Like the end of the deliciously haunting OP, Yakumo’s candle must be burning very low indeed, flickering, and threatening to be snuffed out. Sukeroku also comes before him, as young and vital as the day he was killed. He asked him why he’s there, ignores his questions of whether he’s in paradise or hell, and starts to choke him.

As we ponder what medical malady struck Yakumo on that stage, an attack that will most likely result in the cancelling of the remainder of the family performance, including Yota’s “Inokori”, but more importantly, may mark the commencement of the trial of Yakumo’s soul.

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Hibike! Euphonium 2 – 07

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As BSG’s President Roslin said, “Alright…Next Crisis!” Kumiko may be dealing with a widening rift between her and her sister, but that takes a backseat to a more pressing issue that affects the entire band. It’s also the reason we’ve gotten so many close-ups of Asuka’s sadface: her mom is making her resign.

Taki-sensei refuses, but after her mom slaps her (an incident Kumiko happens to witness), the mother and daughter go home, and Asuka returns to school bright and cheery like nothing happened, she just plain stops showing up to band practice.

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The sudden loss of Asuka, and all the swirling rumors about it, instantly, negatively affects the band’s performance in practice on the eve of a very public performance at a big train station. Taki is not pleased with this, and basically peaces out and leaves President Haruka to deal with it (which is the right move to make, rather than continue trying to focus a clearly rattled band).

Haruka steps up to the plate (well, the lectern), and performs admirably, telling the band, essentially, that all this time they’ve built up Asuka as someone “special” and irreplaceable; but that’s not really the case. And now it’s up to them to support her for once, by bearing down and putting on a show they, and she, can be proud of, in hopes she comes back. That’s all they can do.

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The day of the station gig, sure enough, Asuka is there with a bright smile, ready to see what the band can do in her absence. Haruka wrests control of a massive, unwieldy baritone sax and belts out a badass solo. Taki suggested the solo to “shake things up”, and it worked: the performance boosts the president’s and band’s confidence as the Nationals draw nearer.

Asuka’s future with the band is still unclear, but the band will survive. As for Mamiko, there’s something very foreboding about the episode ending with her putting on her shoes and walking out the door of her family’s home.

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Hibike! Euphonium – 05

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That’s right, Sapph-er…Midori and Kumiko…hold your heads up high, ’cause this was one great episode of Hibike!. It built on the band’s steady improvement, and the fact that its members want to get better as a matter of pride, both personal and collective.

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With SunFes fast approaching, marching uniforms are distributed, and they’re appropriately adorable. Kumiko is initially worried that she hasn’t yet grown where she wants to, but the fact she’s not the only one cheers her up. She also manages to lock gazes with Reina, continuing the good vibes from the progress they made last week.

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With the inner turmoil among the members resolved, it’s just good to see the band out on the athletic field practicing their marching, which really is tougher than it looks. As Kumiko & Co. walk home you can see the hard work that they put in, and how well they’ll sleep. Then boom, Kumiko and Reina lock eyes again, this time on the train.

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Kumiko is as nervous as ever, and her attempts to start conversation are all shot down by one-word responses by Reina. It’s not until Reina herself asks Kumiko what she thinks of Taki-sensei.

Kumiko starts beboping about everything from his capabilities as a teacher to his good looks, and even mentions the bronze the school got last year, and Reina, gorgeously backlit by the city lights, presents her widest smile yet, which is both bemusing and heartening to Kumiko.

Reina probably has the hots for the handsome young conductor. (This probably won’t go well), but more importantly, Kumiko may have been wrong all along about Reina holding a grudge.

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When the morning of SunFes arrives, Kumiko goes over the dizzying array of logistics deploying a marching band to a festival entails, from arranging transport of the instruments (the bigger of which are helpfully handled by the larger lads) to the students themselves (by bus) and all the documentation and P.R. therein. The attention to details (like Hazuki practicing her steps) really lend a sense of occasion and professionalism and reality to the whole event.

Kumiko also ends up sitting next to Shuuichi (they’re meant for each other!), and is standoffish as usual, but he breaks the ice by professing his wish that both of them do their best today. She may outwardly resent his presence there, either as a sign of the past she left behind, but it’s still nice that he’s there; they can support one another just with their presence.

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It’s just Kitauji’s luck that they’ll march in between the top-ranked Rikka “Light-Blue Demons” and another elite band. Some of the returning members immediately worry they’ll be trampled. Then Kumiko goes over to a Rikka musician she knew from high school, who is glad to see her but has no idea why not only she went to Kitauji, but why Reina turned down Rikka to go there as well.

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Kumiko doesn’t know…at least not until the Rikka girl tries to lead her to some other friends from middle school. She realizes she’s about to fall into old habits and her old casual, half-committed attitude with the band, and realizes she should be with her bandmates, preparing to march. Then she knows why Kitauji: a clean break; a blank slate; a new start. And she doesn’t regret it.

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With that, Rikka starts its ridiculously elaborate, technically perfect, and disgustingly charming performance, which immediately intimidates and demoralizes Kitauji. They all snap out of it thanks to Reina, who breaks taboo by making noise during a march. But hey, it worked!

Taki-sensei didn’t really have any inspirational or motivational words for his band when they first arrived, but rather chooses to give them those words just when they’re about to march out there, sandwiched between two powerhouses:

Music is not something you do to show off your abilities to your rivals. But the many spectators and students of other schools still don’t know what Kitauji is capable of. So I believe today is a good opportunity for them to learn.

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He says those words as calmly as everything else he’s said to his band, but they make a powerful impact. You’ve shown me what you can do, he’s saying; Now show everyone…make them remember. And doggone it, they do. Kitauji shows they’re not a joke or a footnote in the high school band world anymore. It’s a powerful scene.

This is their coming out party, and they don’t screw it up. They have a beauty at drum major and a rookie on trumpet who rejected the mighty Rikka. They’re a motley bunch made up of students with all manner of reasons for being there, but they march and play as one, defiantly, purposefully, strutting their stuff, turning heads, and changing minds. Kumiko, Reina, and Kitauji are on the march.

This was a gorgeously animated and felt episode, in the finest tradition of KyoAni. Keep it up, Hibike!

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P.S. This episode was directed by Miyoshi Ichirou, one of KyoAni’s finest talents, who is responsible for standout individual episodes in Free!, Hyouka, Chu2Koi, Haruhi, and Tamako Market…and that’s just what I’ve seen.

Hibike! Euphonium – 04

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Things couldn’t get much lower than they got last week, with the band unable to play together and various factions disputing whether to continue complaining to Taki or give in to his very new way of doing things.

Perhaps demonstrating her future as a diplomat, Haruka manages to work a weeklong ceasefire, during which time they’ll practice and attempt to get to a point where Taki will at least call them an ensemble, and only complain if he still doesn’t allow them to go to their precious SunFes.

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While all the negotiating takes place, Reina pretty much floats above it all, blasting her trumpet for all the school to hear. As narrator Kumiko puts it, this is Reina’s way of expressing her apathy for all this political bullshit…and I’m with Reina! They’re a band, for crying out loud; not a social club. If they want to go to SunFes, they need to be good enough to go, and the only way to do that is to knock off all the nonsense and get playin’.

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The accord thus reached, the more whiny of the band members are subjected to more of Taki-sensei’s abrasive tutelage; having them run laps before playing to build up their hearts and lungs; giving them semi-meditative breathing exercises, and singing solfège prior to creating overtones in group practice. In spite of their resentment for the man dishing out all this work, the band steadily gets better.

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Did I mention how much I love the relationship between Kumiko and Shuichi? She’s surly with him on the surface as usual—especially when he gets a dig in about her being cynical…which is true, by the way!—yet she still goes with him and hears him out about Reina getting into trouble with the seniors.

They do this in a very romantic spot, like that bench in the first ep, and even if the content of their conversation will never be accused of being lovey-dovey, the simple fact they can interact so casually and comfortably speaks volumes. There’s something there, but unlike other things this week, it’s left unsaid; whether it will remain unsaid all season remains to be seen.

Then they get in trouble when Shuichi blames Taki for not defending Reina—just when Reina is passing by on a bike on her way home. This is a bit of a coincidence, but I’ll allow it, because Kumiko realizes she made the same blunder she did back in that flashback that started her “rift” with Reina. She knows she can blame Shuichi for stating the behind-the-back talking, but she can’t deny that she agrees with his doubts about Taki.

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Kumiko’s fresh error vexes her during her parent-teacher conference (where we learn she followed her older sister into concert band, but her sister eventually quit), and when Reina asks Kumiko to join her in a dark and secluded corner of the schoolyard, she’s afraid of vicious retribution for that error.

Thankfully, Reina isn’t that kind of person. She apologizes, in her curt way, for saying too much. But that simple honesty broke the ice, allowing Kumiko to come out and say a lot of things to Reina she could never get around to saying until that moment: she’s sorry; she won’t say things about people behind their back; she’ll practice hard; she was inspired to work harder and aim higher by Reina’s Dvorak.

Kumiko saw the opportunity to say these things, and while she fears Reina will think she’s creepy now, she still feels good about saying them. For her part, Reina seemed moved by Kumiko’s sudden torrent of spoken feelings. Two episodes ago she made initial contact; now a dialogue is open, and they’re on their way to something resembling friendship.

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Kumiko decides not to keep quiet again in practice, encouraging a sleeping bandmate to join them in playing together, and surprised when she agrees. The rest of the band is able to channel the energy from their mutual dissatisfaction with Taki-sensei into becoming a better band, which may have been Taki’s intention all along.

When their week is up, the ensemble doesn’t sound perfect, but it does sound like an ensemble. They’re playing together. They can hear each other, and they’re playing like they have something to prove. The school hears them too, and are impressed. So SunFes is on, complete with a grueling, no-holds-barred practice schedule. I know it won’t be smooth sailing from here on in, but the progress both Kumiko and the band showed this week was very heartening. And hey, no one’s dying of an unspecified illness!

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Yamada-kun to 7-nin no Majo – 02

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While last week was an exploration of two very different people finding common ground in each others bodies (that sounds kinda wrong, but bear with me), while a third supports them, while this week explored the ironies and misunderstandings inherent in suddenly throwing a fourth member into the club, Ito Miyabi, complete with her own set of charms, and neuroses. She’s voiced by Uchida Maaya, no stranger to playing weirdos.

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Itou joins and proceeds to thoroughly clean the supernatural club room. The others don’t tell her they’re in the room because it’s a safe place to switch bodies—which is far more supernatural than materia stones and UFO photos. Instead, they simply accept her intermittent existence in the room without explaining anything.

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So when she inevitably walks in on Ryuu and Urara kissing, she gets the very reasonable impression that the others never intended to start the supernatural club back up, but only wanted a place to make out. Slowing her roll and telling her the truth from the start might have been tricky, but now they have a scorned Itou out for revenge, which is worse.

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Itou’s campaign of vengeance consists of distributing posters, fliers, and rumors about how Yamada and Shiraishi are an item. When Yamada sees that the rumors are isolating Shiraishi again, he takes the rash step of cornering a hostile Itou in the clubroom and coming clean the quickest way he can: by kissing her.

This is actually played as a pretty uncomfortable scene, with Itou’s face a flurry of expressions from fear, nervousness, bashfulness, to acceptance, and then the face of Itou (in-Yamada’s body) before Yamada (in-Itou’s body) clocks her.

Chalk the discomfort to Yamada feeling he neither has time or the wherewithal to properly explain, and Itou her hostile state wasn’t going to listen.

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After the obligatory check of Itou’s body, Yamada proceeds to try to undo all the harm Itou’s rumors caused, only to find no one took them seriously, because she’s known around school for making stuff up, like UFOs and such. Shiraishi even admits she was alone because it’s close to exams and she asked not to be disturbed!

So Yamada’s desperate measure turned out to be completely unnecessary, while switching bodies had far greater consequences, as Itou (in Yamada’s body) disappears after being spotted posing in the mirror, striking poses, and performing finishing moves.

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A search of Itou’s phone reveals she was being hustled for supernatural objects by some thugs, and decided to go after them in Yamada’s body. She gets her ass kicked, but Yamada (in Itou’s body) shows up and takes the thug trio out, introducing us to the idea that Yamada’s stronger body wasn’t enough to fight her enemies; Yamada fights with his spirit, so even in Itou’s body, he kicks ass. I really like this concept.

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After switching back to their own bodies, Itou is content to withdraw with dignity, but Yamada shows her her completed club application, re-welcoming her into the supernatural club. At the end of the day, Itou was lonely and looking to become more popular at school, and while the path to get there had a few corkscrews and switchbacks, she’s now in a club with far better caliber people than she first imagined when she saw them kissing.

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Itou also puts the possibilities of the body-swapping into high gear, testing out every possible combination between the four of them. I’ll admit I lost track watching the scene the first way through (which I think was kinda the point), but the order goes like this:

  1. Yamada switches with Shiraishi (when Itou shoves him into her).
  2. Miyamura kisses Yamada (in Shiraishi’s body).
  3. Itou kisses Yamada (in Miyamura’s body).
  4. Miyamura (in Shiraishi’s body) kisses Yamada (in Itou’s body).

That right there is some big-league comedic complexity. It’s a wonderfully absurd sequence and all the voice actors do a great job imitating each other’s voice patterns and modulations.

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In the end, we finally meet more witches, though they’re not identified as such. I’m not sure where this whole power struggle for class president between Miyamura and Odagiri Nene (Kitamura Eri) is going, but nor do I really care…yet. 7-nin will have its work cut out for it integrating stodgy politics into the far more fun body-swapping narrative.

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Kokoro Connect – 16

After getting told off by Iori, Inaba can’t argue with anything she said. Yui keeps her and Taichi and Aoki focused on completing their work for the presentation. When the rumors in class persist, led by Setouchi Kaori, Taichi tells the class he came onto Iori, causing the radical change in her attitude, in an attempt to stop the rumors. Kaori doesn’t buy it. After finals, the club room is ransacked and all their work sabotaged. They vow to start over, but when Iori sees the room, she goes after Kaori and has to be held back by Taichi and Inaba.

They get Iori in a room, where Inaba confesses every embarrassing detail about her love of Taichi. Iori is initially unimpressed, but the emotions transmitted between the three result in her confession that she’s really a very dark and cold person who got into the habit of acting like the opposite, and can’t do it anymore, especially in light of all of Heartseed’s experiments. Finally understanding, Taichi and Inaba tell her she’ll have their friendship no matter what. She asks for time to think. That night, Inaba comes across boys who ransacked the clubroom and confronts them, and they grab her.

Whew, sorry for the long synopsis, but a shitton of stuff got done and said in this episode entitled “Determination and Resolution” that we just happen to be reviewing the day after resolutions are made going forward into a new year. The dramatic heart of this episode is a lengthy confrontation between Iori and Taichi, with Tachi backing up the latter. Inaba’s painfully honest confessions intended to trigger an emotional catharsis end up provoking another diatribe by Iori about how she’s fed the fuck up with maintaining the Iori everyone’s known. That’s not her.

Iori is tired of being the “tragic heroine”, but like it or not, it’s what she is, victim of both the happiness she derived from acting happy and cheerful around everyone, and the torture of Heartseed’s machinations, which have nearly cost Iori her life and sanity on more than one occasion. Heartseed destroyed any chance of the “ideal Iori” surviving, and without that, Iori felt she didn’t deserve the love and support of the others anymore. That shame, and her frustration with nobody understanding the true cause of it, has her at her breaking point.

So, why don’t Inaba and Taichi just say “Fine, nice knowing you…fuck off, bitch?” Because they really do still consider her a friend, even if she deceived them. And it’s not like she didn’t have good reasons to do so. Of course, it isn’t enough that the other four CRC members forgive and accept Real Iori; her words and attitudes toward other classmates has stirred up a storm of hate. The scorned Kaori tells some boys to ransack the CRC clubroom, and when Inaba finds those responsible, she can’t control her temper and confronts the three of them, alone, at night. Bad, bad move.

Other details we want to mention (whew, we’ve written way too much here. That’s what Kokoro Connect does): it’s interesting to see Yui’s relatively quiet transformation to the strong club manager keeping everyone focused on the task at hand. She even prods(shames) Taichi into action, as he attempts to dispel the Iori rumors and repair her reputation by sacrificing his own. That’s the “selfless freak” we know, and it seems to work on everyone except Kaori and her two aides. It’s also hilarious. Inaba and Taichi have been very generous with the embarrassing confessions in these extra episodes. Also, the scene in which Gotou stops by and for once he isn’t Heartseed – very nicely done.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

Kokoro Connect – 15

Iori rejects another boy harshly, drawing the ire of another girl who likes him. Rumors of her worsening attitude spread across the school, and she doesn’t help her cause. Taichi meets with Inaba when her thought about disbanding the club reaches him. He decides Iori’s rejection of him was his fault alone, and he’s going to move forward. Nobody knows what to do about Iori, who stops coming to club. Yui’s talk with only makes things worse. Heartseed visits Yui, who stands up to him, boring him. She chastises Taichi for his inaction. Inaba confronts Iori, who calls her selfish and blames her for ruining things with her and Taichi.

Everyone’s an emotional train wreck with this emotion transmission business, but they all seem to be keeping it relatively together, with one exception. Nagase Iori has gone off the deep end. Thanks to the phenomenon, her heart has been exposed like everyone else’s, and she cannot hide behind her cheerful, friendly facade anymore, so she doesn’t bother. Both the writing and the acting by Toyosaki Aki do an excellent job giving Iori this new dark edge without pushing her into emo angst or evil villain territory. Everyone feels betrayed by her, and she is being nasty and short with everyone, but what choice does she have? To her the gig is up: those are her thoughts and she can’t change them. It’s a stark transformation, but not unexpected, considering she’s always had identity problems.

After visiting Aoki last week, Heartseed comes to Yui, but she’s steadfast and defiant like he was, irritating him. He should really just go to Iori, since she’s the one being affected most negatively by his works. Meanwhile, Inaba has been absolutely killing it this week in her adorable interactions with Taichi. But the notion that loving the same guy Iori once loved at the same time was perfectly okay goes straight out the window, and Iori confirm’s Inaba’s suspicions that she’s partly responsible for what Iori’s going through. Iori is merciless in the way she turns Inaba’s argument around on her. While everyone’s worried about what’s gotten into Iori, no one stops to think it was always in her to begin with, and it’s done hiding. So…what’s gotten into them?


Rating: 9 (Superior)

Sukitte Ii na yo – 08

Mei kisses Yamato, but has nothing to follow it up with, and in a moment of shyness she pushes him away with her words, and he goes home. Rumors persist, and in a new magazine interview, Megumi all but declares her love for Yamato, though not by name. After pushing away Asami and Aiko, Megumi goes home alone. Aiko tells Yamato about the rumor, and he chases after Mei to clear things up. While at work, Mei meets Takemura Kai, who is transferring to her school. Right after accidentally breaking her bracelet, Yamato appears and apologizes.

This episode is called “New to Love”, and quite appropriately so. By the end, Mei learns that she’s not the only one new to love; Yamato is to. As such, they’re both going to make mistakes, and they’re both going to worry and not say what they should say or say what they shouldn’t say, and misinterpret each other’s words and actions, and see deeper meaning in trifling events. The difference is, Yamato is new to love despite being fawned over by the masses and having been involved previously (with Aiko). Mei is new new, as in she’s barely ever spoken to a boy before Yamato. Her newness is such that when the golden opportunity comes for her to tell Yamato what she feels about his modelling and Megumi, she just chokes.

She’s in her head too much, and that’s causing her pain, which is all she says she’s experienced since falling for Yamato, which makes part of her want to just quit by the end. But of course, pain isn’t all she’s experienced. She’s also experienced RABUJOI love and joy in her dealings with Yamato – and it’s mutual, despite her suspicions. Thankfully, the episode doesn’t end in an ultra-ambiguous mess of emotions – both Mei and Yamato finally gets to say what they should have said days ago, and with a well-timed kick in the pants by Aiko, Yamato spills the beans and assures her nothing’s going on with Megumi. But as last week’s kiss proved, one moment of clarity won’t be enough to maintain their relationship. There’s got to be an open dialogue.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

P.S. Oh yeah, about Kai, the mohawk dude. He just kinda showed up. Grabbed Mei inapproprately, asked if he could have her key, and left. Is he going  to be competition for Yamato? We’ll see.

AnoHana – 11 (Fin)(Retro Review)

Originally posted 24 Jun 2011 – That was a properly fitting and satisfying finale. It cemented its place as by far the best series of Spring 2011, along with perhaps the most consistent, moving and best-executed eleven-episode series we’ve ever seen. we were expecting a good ending after the quality of what had proceeded, but we could never have predicted just how much dramatic ass it would kick. Nothing in it felt the slightest bit contrived or out of place; it remained fiercely true to its characters, and above all, was a surprisingly happy ending, and the perfect place to close the book.

After Menma fails to pass to heaven, the busters regroup and it turns into an all out CryFest, with everyone pouring their guts out. Tsuruko gets worked up for the first time. Even Poppo loses his laid-back composure. And in this mega-catharsis, they all finally realize that none of them are alone in their inconsolable grief or guilt. They’re all in the same boat. They can all forgive each other, and themselves. They all love her. And I’m sorry, but Anaru’s little eyelash moment was the perfect way to re-lighten the mood.

After this, Jintan races home to collect Menma so they can finish things and say goodbye. But she’s fading fast; it turns out, her wish was inadvertently granted: the wish to make Jintan cry. She promised his mom she’d do it. More specifically, to make him break out of his shell and properly grieve, embrace the pain and the love that’s released, and to be able to move on and live his life. By the time he reaches the base, he can’t see her anymore, and is sent into a panic. “Oh no,” we thought; “Will this just end with him still ‘crazy’?”

Thankfully, we had no reason to worry. She says goodbye by hastily scrawling goodbyes to everyone, which sets off another CryFest. All that’s left is to finish the game of “hide and seek” – at the end of which everyone can see Menma – and get Jintan to cry once more, and then she disappears, content and with her wish fulfilled. Closure at last!

What follows is a phenomenal end-credits epilogue, in which Jintan goes back to school and shows signs of giving the long-suffering Anaru a chance; Poppo is working construction and studying for a diploma; and Yukiatsu and Tsuruko become an item (her tiny smirk is awesome. We honestly wouldn’t mind these two as the focus of a spin-off).  This series was an emotional roller coaster, and its makers knew the viewers wanted and deserved this ending and wrap-up. Menma’s ultimate gift was bringing these friends back together.

So what have we learned? Well, first of all, director Tatsuyuki Nagai and scriptwriter Mari Okada put on a romantic drama clinic, and we shall most definitely be looking out for their next works. Secondly, don’t collapse within your own grief. Everyone has it; let it out and make your true feelings known. Don’t let ghosts haunt you. Er…don’t go up to a hotel with a guy you just met. And, of course stay in school!


Rating: 10 (Masterpiece)

RABUJOI World Heritage List

AnoHana – 10 (Retro Review)

Originally posted 18 Jun 2011 – This series’ ability to really tug at the heartstrings without coming off as schmaltzy, while simultaneously infusing so much life and emotion into every single one of its characters, never ceases to amaze us. This show has almost rendered RABUJOI’s 4-ranking irrelevant (snicker) – every episode has been excellent and a cut above most of the rest of the spring 2011 season, now winding to a close. This was one of the best yet, when all the build-up around Menma’s “firework send-off” comes to a super-dramatic head. Not one minute is wasted.

Poppo, planner-in-chief, plans a farewell party. Yukiatsu isn’t planning on going at first, preferring to wait for the rocket launch itself. But after meeting Anaru, he comes up with a plan, one that is both devious and necessary for catharsis. He convinces Anaru to re-enact that day years ago, when she asked Jintan if he loved Menma. This time, he tells the truth: he does. We thought for a moment Menma was going to disappear right there – but she just cries, and later tells him she loves him too, and probably would have ended up marrying him if she was still alive. This kills Jintan, because this is also what he wanted.

He’s so desperate to keep her around, he even asks if its okay if she just stays. But she wants to go to heaven; his mom taught her about reincarnation, which is her only hope of her being able to talk to everyone else. Jintan wants her to himself; but considers that maybe he alone isn’t enough for Menma. It isn’t fair to her. Saying he loves her out loud sends Anaru into a crying fit, at which point Tsuruko tells her she too has her unrequited love, (Yukiatsu), but her situation is worse: If Menma goes, Jintan may warm to Anaru, but Tsuruko never thinks Yukiatsu will come around to her.

This brings us to the climactic firework launch, which is gorgeously presented; we particularly loved the quick “camerawork” which lent to the tension and gravity of what was about to happen: Menma is really going to go, and Jintan doesn’t open his mouth to stop it until it’s too late. It’s up in the air, and with it, quite a bit of weight. Only one problem: It Didn’t Work. Menma is still there, and all the issues that come with her still being there remain as well. That’s fine with Jintan, but the obvious question is, what now? Only one episode left; will Menma ever go, and how will that happen?


Rating: 9 (Superior)

AnoHana – 06 (Retro Review)

Originally posted 22 May 2011 – Deep in thought about why Menma is haunting him to begin with, Jinta decides to attempt another return to school, as per one of her wishes-in-passing. He not only makes it through the gates, but into his classroom and to his desk, only to notice hardly anyone is talking about him, but rather the recent incident involving Anaru and the love hotel. Apparently, someone saw her walking around in a slinky outfit with an older man. (Though we don’t (or don’t want) to believe she was ratted out by her “it” girl “friends”.)

Just when he senses Anaru is about to lose it from all the murmurs, he stands up and sticks his neck out for her, with a passionate, heartfelt defense, the jist of which was: “She’s a great person who’d never have sex for money, so everyone shut the hell up.” While he may have let loose one too many personal details for Anaru’s taste, she is both grateful to him for the effort and greatly entertained by the embarrassing spectacle he wrought. She’s also probably happy he’s back in class – if only briefly. Their relationship has come a long way.

When Poppo recommends they visit Menma’s house for clues, their mother is kind enough to let him, Jinta and Anaru pray by her shrine, enter her empty room, view her box of possessions, and even borrow her diary. After reporting this to Menma back home, Menma is upset by the prospect their visit made her mother remember and worry about her, causing her more grief. This could be the key to why Menma is still loitering around: she can’t stop putting others ahead of herself, even after death.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

P.S. In the beginning Jinta is watching Occult Academy! He has excellent taste.