Tokyo 24th Ward – 08 – Crane Game

Managing to bake a Golden Sunrise comparable to his dad’s nets Shuuta the location of the guy painting over Ran’s Kaba tags. Zeroth tells Shuuta that while he’s not Carneades, he is “acquainted” with them, and knows that right now they’re atop the Cornucopia arcology that houses the KANAE System.

No sooner does Shuuta head that way, stopping by Mari and his mom on the way, do he, Ran, and Kouki all receive the latest call from “Asumi”, with a new Trolley Problem. Three giant cranes atop the Cornucopia will get struck by lightning. They can choose to either call the one person atop the tower and save his life, or sacrifice that person while saving all of the people who would be killed or wounded by the cranes.

Seems simple enough (though I question how lightning, a fairly common phenomenon, would be such a huge threat here), but while Ran and Kouki are united in choosing the option that saves more people, Shuuta won’ be satisfied unless he can save everyone. Ran is also approached by Zeroth and asked to hack into the KANAE System to access some data for him. He won’t say why just yet, nor does Ran know how…but he likes a challenge.

Kouki, while the most passive this week, still makes a call to Tsuzuragawa that he later believes would lead to her death. That’s because, as Shuuta learns when she’s struck by lightning and almost killed, Tsuzuragawa is Carneades. Dun dun dunnn. As she told Kouki (and only Kouki), it was a character she assumed in order to cover for a horrible flaw in the Kanae System: Asumi is still conscious in there.

Shuuta is only witness to one of those two bombshells, and gives Tsuzuragawa CPR until she starts breathing again, then basically jumps off the Cornucopia while carrying her in his arms. As for the cranes going haywire? Not much is said but I assume there were no serious casualties. He got himself pretty banged up in the process, but Shuuta prevailed: get got the third outcome.

After a brief virtual dip into the KANAE System to retrieve what Zeroth wanted, on Ran’s way out he hears what sounds like Asumi calling for help. He’s not wrong, but unlike Kouki doesn’t realize it’s the real Asumi, just in a virtual form. But Zeroth says the heart of KANAE is a “demon”, and he’s going to use the data Ran got him to hack back in and destroy it. What that means for Asumi, and how RGB will respond to his plans, remains to be seen.

Tokyo 24th Ward – 07 – Thinker, Baker, Ogler, Guy

It’s an old axiom that absence makes the heart grow fonder—after a week off for “quality control” purposes, Tokyo 24th Ward fields my favorite episode to date; an episode that could only work now that all the myriad characters in this community have been introduced and fleshed out.

It’s a brisk, pleasant, stripped down episode that mostly dispenses with the Big Picture plotlines and sci-fi, focusing almost entirely on Aoi Shuuta, the biggest, dumbest, and to date least explored member of RGB. That means lots of good honest slice-of-life that really brings the 24th Ward setting to life.

Shuuta’s hulking dad Louis is away in Paris, so it’s up to him to bake the family’s signature “Golden Sunrise” bread for the regularly scheduled food bank drive in Shantytown—where the KANAE bandwagon onto which Kouki has so enthusiastically hopped serves as a boot gradually pushing down.

In an instance of her husband not doing her any favors by naming an Orwellian technological abomination after her, it was Suidou Kanae who first came up with the idea of combining a hero show and the baked goods of Aoi bakery to fill the bellies of Shantytown’s at-risk youth. That’s also how Shuuta met Asumi, and the idea of blending heroism and bakery came about.

But it’s not the same as it was. Kanae and Asumi have passed away; the hero show fizzled out; and one pint-sized Shantytown gourmand can tell something is lacking in Shuuta’s version of his dad’s Golden Sunrise. He decides to ask his dad for some pointers, and only gets one word in response: Chest.

Shuuta, never the sharpest knife in the drawer, becomes fixated on the word and what it might mean, focusing first on the literal interpretation: how a chest feels. This leads to some hilariously awkward moments between him and, in order of instance, Mari, Tsuzuragawa, and Kozue—all of whom agree something’s off about him when they all meet at the bathhouse.

That bathhouse is also where Kinako is back to work, having essentially been jettisoned from DoRed since the authorities don’t suspect her as a member. Two months have passed since the Kunai incident resulted in the implementation of KANAE, and in that time Shuuta hasn’t been able to reach either Ran or Kouki.

Instead he must try getting to them through secondary channels: Kinako for Ran; Tsuzuragawa for Kouki. In Kinako’s case, she’s as in the dark as he is vis-a-vis Ran, no doubt for her own good. That said, I really enjoyed watching Shuuta’s interactions with both Kinako and Tsuzuragawa, who get a little more fleshed out in the absence of the other two RGB members.

In the absence of his colorful old comrades, Shuuta takes it upon himself to investigate Carneades, who seems to have begun a campaign of painting over DoRed’s works, in particular those depicting Kozue’s late father.

Sherlock or Poirot may not have to worry about Shuuta in the investigative department, but I’m amazed how each and every person in the 24th Shuuta interacts with this week lends him a piece of the puzzle he’s trying to solve—not just the Carneades puzzle, but the Shuuta Aoi puzzle.

As Shuuta sees it, Ran with his now-underground mobile guerrilla art movement and Kouki with his dad’s creepy Orwellian nightmare, have transcended childhood and entered adulthood. They each chose a side and committed to it; as Chikuwa tells him, becoming an adult is “getting rid of possibilities”—a subtractive process.

It isn’t until the exhaustion he’s built up nearly results in his drowning that Shuuta realizes that Chikuwa is wrong: being an adult can also be a process of addition. And might I say, in addition to Kinako’s laid back after hours look being absolute fire, her asking forgiveness of both Mari and Ran before going in for the kiss of life, then being bailed out by Shuuta’s dad, was a breathtaking sequence both awesome and side-splitting in nature.

Shuuta’s dad revives him with a very precise thump to the chest. That’s when it dawns on Shuuta: “chest” meant the gradual working of his own pecs kneading the dough. Golden Sunrise is as good as it is because of the strength required to knead it; strength that only comes with years of kneading…of baking.

If baking is going to make you swole, well shit, you might as well be a hero while you’re at it, right? It was Asumi who first told Shuuta he could be both, and in fact being both would be more awesome than being either. He didn’t, and doesn’t have to limit himself. He can talk to everyone, laugh with everyone, feed everyone…and save everyone. Chest.

Then, almost regrettably, considering what a wonderful portrait of Shuuta and love story to the Ward I just experienced, we get back to the meat of the plot. That said, I love how it required being buff enough to make bread the Shantytown kid who’s a food critic would acknowledge resulted in said kid showing Shuuta the studio of the guy covering up the Kaba murals.

That guy turns out to be Zeroth (or 0th, if you’re into that whole brevity thing), who I imagine is being set up not necessarily as a big bad (that’s Mayor Suido, obviously) but as a kind of Extreme Ran, back from the shadows vowing to “set the 24th Ward right”. Carneades has by far been the weakest part of this story, so hopefully connecting it with Ran’s mentor will spark some interest.

Tokyo 24th Ward – 06 – A Sacrifice Too Far

RGB’s latest mission fails utterly as a collaborative effort, with Ran and Kouki going off in their own directions while Shuuta parkours aimlessly around a cruise ship. It ends with Kunai being shot to death and Kouki about to bring Ran in for questioning before he’s rescued by his DoRed buddies, whom he tells how Kunai was set up by the bigwigs.

Kouki is convinced there was no outcome in which Kunai could be saved, but in any case feels like there’s far too many similarities between Aumi’s visions and Hazard Cast, to the point that he directly tells his dad, in earshot of his assistants, that his dead sister has been calling him asking to guide the future. His dad tells him not to dwell on the past.

No sooner does he say this than a ghost appears on the news—a video recording Kunai made in the eventuality of his death or capture. He reveals his role in developing the Di-Va app meant to help people that the powers that be acquired and corrupted into a virtual drug with the explicit purpose of making Shantytown enough of a mess so as to make it a target for development.

He ends his message by making it clear that DoRed, to which he belonged, had no role in his actitivites; he acted alone, and wants everyone who doesn’t want to be crushed under the heel of The Man to support DoRed in any way they can. DoRed will need all the help they can get, as Kouki’s dad takes him to the top-secret area of the Information Center we’ve been seeing in fits and spurts.

Shuuta, out of the loop as usual but armed with bags of bread crusts, reaches out first to Ran, who is convinced Kouki will sell him and DoRed out, and then Kouki at the ruins of the old school (about to be demolished). The crusts remind Kouki of old and simpler times, and his first interaction with Ran, which was to catch him for stealing apples (Asumi spotted he crime first, but didn’t rat Ran out).

When Kouki meets the kids Ran was trying to feed with the apples, he questions whether he did the right thing. His mother Kanae assures him he did, but the world isn’t perfect, and sometimes some rules have to bent or broken to do the truly right thing. All anyone can do is keep thinking about what is right together.

Kouki’s dad has determined that the right thing to do is to create a system even more invasive than Hazard Cast, which he unveils to the Ward on TV as the KANAE system, named after his wife (who would have surely had many problems with it). Basically a PreCrime system, Shuuta is right to hesitate to update his phone to the preliminary version, even as others around him quickly make the choice that one tap of their phone is a small price to pay for enhanced safety and security

Obviously, they won’t know the real cost until it bites them in the collective ass. And then there’s the CPU that makes KANAE function: Asumi’s desecrated corpse and its still functional brain. This development has been teased for a while now, but I’m surprised by how quickly Kouki goes along with his clearly evil father.

So much so, in fact, that I wonder if he’s only going along with it so he can remain in the thick of things, where he can best put a stop to this before it gets out of hand. Then again, he may have made the choice that the sacrifice of his sister’s dignity and the personal freedoms of the Ward are worth the peace and order that will result. If that’s the case, RGB truly is history.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Tokyo 24th Ward – 04 – There is Nobody Else

Last week’s tornado disaster was ambitious, but awkwardly executed and punctuated as it was by the introduction of Carneades, (AKA Goofy Anime Clown Villain #5,000,406), I didn’t feel the weight of those twelve deaths until here, when RGB are attending Kaba-sensei’s memorial service.

Shuuta blames their inability to properly work together to create a future whre no one got hurt, and now doubts his ability to be a hero to anyone, and thinks this is something to be left to someone else. Ran points out that there is no one else receiving calls from “Asumin”. They’re it. They can’t get discouraged—too many more lives are at stake.

Three months pass with neither a call from Asumi nor a message from Carneades, but there is an uptick in the distribution and use of a mysterious Drug rather unimaginatively called “Drug D”. This coincides with an impending deal with a foreign casino magnate (not Trump) to re-develop the 24th Ward’s near-lawless Shantytown.

While Kouki investigates from one side of the law with SARG, Ran, a Shantytown native, and his crew takes action from the other side, locating and neutralizing users and searching for the source of the drugs. It’s likely Ran & Co. suspect the drugs are being brought in specifically to facilitate the redevelopment venture at the cost of Shantytown’s culture and identity.

While Kouki and Ran are busy with the Drug D case, Shuuta stays on the sidelines baking bread, until one day at closing time Mari spots Kozue wandering off on her own and tells Shuuta to go after her. It’s here were we finally see how Kozue is doing, having lost her dad just when she was starting to get over Asumi’s death.

Kozue is standoffish with Shuu even as she calls him Shuu-ni-chan, even threatening to scream or report him as a stalker if he doesn’t buzz off. She also says he shouldn’t have saved her, which is just heartbreaking. But Shuu stays with her, because a big brother from another mother can’t let a young girl walk the mean streets of Shantytown all alone.

There’s every indication that Kozue is up to no good or, dealing with her pain by seeking dangerous situations due to her lack of regard for her safety illustrated by her comment Shuuta. But it turns out she’s on an errand of love, braving Shantytown to locate the latest tag from DoRed depicting a rocket powered “Kaba”, or hippo. Celebrating these tags is helping her work through her grief.

While Kozue and Shuuta are separated, she soon encounters Kunai, nominally part of DoRed, though someone Ran notes hasn’t shown up in a while. Kunai tells Kozue that Red from DoRed painted it, but he can’t divulge Red’s true identity any more than the people of Oz can know the real Wizard. Kunai also beleives there to be only two paths for those born in the Shantytown…a life of criminality, or a life of art like the one Red leads.

After Shuuta encounters Kouki apprehending a Drug D dealer, he bumps into Kouki, who sets his mind at rest by locating Kozue with his friend Kunai, then enlisting him to film him paint his latest Kaba tag. While he works, Ran reinforces Shuuta’s misgivings about turning the Shantytown into another surveillance district.

Kouki is all on board with such a transformation for the greater public good, but I’m glad Shuuta has another friend in Ran who can argue for the other side of the debate, which is that there are some fish who can only live in murky waters. The government and business interests are just looking for another way to tread upon the poor and disadvantaged by taking what little they have. There is certainly ugliness in Shantytown, but also beauty.

After Ran splits, Shuuta lingers by the new tag for a while, and eventually Kozue comes to him by seeking out said new tag. Her attitude towards him has softened now that she’s seen not one but two beautiful artistic tributes to her dad, and shows him the photos she’s taken of all the tags so far, though she wonders why Red is painting these when he knows the government will erase them by painting over them.

Shuuta counters that the art won’t be erased, because he’ll remember it, and the one who made it. Just like a loved one dying, a part of them will always remain in one’s memory and heart. She tells Kozue not to say things like she should have died in her dad’s place, and Kozue smiles and asks Shuuta to keep protecting her. He’s her hero, after all.

That would have been a lovely way to end the episode, but 24-ku demonstrates narrative efficiency by using the final few minutes to set up next week’s Trolly Dilemma. Carneade’s sigil appears in the skies over the ward and he hacks everyone’s TVs and phones, and shortly thereafter, RGB’s phones ring with “Asumi” on the other line. They were expecting her.

This time, it’s the cruise ship owned by the casino magnate that is the setting of the dilemma. A terrorist has rigged it with bombs. She offers two futures: kill the terrorist and save the ship and all the people aboard, or let the terrorist go and let everyone die? Shuuta and Kouki don’t understand…it doesn’t seem like that hard of a choice. But it is for Ran, because the terrorist they see in the vision—the one he’ll have to kill—is his friend and wayward ally: Kunai.

Just as Kunai is wrong about there only being two ways for someone from the Shantytown to live, Asumi is wrong about these being the only two outcomes. With what they see as a 1-and-1 record guiding the future so far, RGB will be extra-determined to manufacture a third outcome. The question is, will Shuuta, and more importantly Kouki, respect Ran’s desire not to kill Kunai?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Tokyo 24th Ward – 03 – Cross Purposes

The Third Annual Gourmet Festival is upon us, but Shirakaba-sensei’s daughter Kozue won’t be attending. Presumably as a result of the fire that claimed Asumi’s life, she been loath to leave her room. But that doesn’t stop her dad from checking in to make sure she’s good. He says he’ll wait as long as it takes.

As for the GourGes, Mari’s family’s restaurant has a problem: their competiton at the Takara Mall has bought up all the fancy cabbage they need for their okonomiyaki. When RGB locate the vegetables, Ran is ready to take a crowbar to the storage unit and have at it. Kouki, basically a kind of cop-in-training, vetoes the idea. It’s up to Shuuta to keep the two from bickering with each other and keep them focused.

Thanks to ‘Kaba-sensei, they’re able to acquire the needed cabbage without resorting to breaking and entering. Unfortunately, that isn’t the only dirty trick the gangsters try to pull, going so far as to place weights in their box of chopsticks to ensure they’ll win GourFes. They threatened Kaba-sensei by ensuring Kozue would get kicked out of her school for not attending, but he exposes their cheating anyway.

It just so happens to be the same day Kozue decides to leave her room and go to GourFes, to see both her Dad and her friend Kinako. But after a simultaneous phone call fakeout earlier in the episode, the real thing happens to RGB again: an “Asumi” gives them a choice: lead people across the bridge when a tornado hits the island venue of the festival, or help them into cargo containers for shelter.

One plan will result in the deaths of the weak, the other in the sacrifice of the courageous. Naturally, RGB needs to find a third way that saves everyone, and there’s every indication they will…until it all goes pear-shaped. Oh, it starts out well, with both Ran and Kouki ordering Shuuta to clear the bridge of traffic by literally pushing cars into Tokyo Bay, which honestly looks like a lot of fun.

From there, however, Ran and Kouki’s plans diverge, and without proper communication, they end up working at cross purposes. Ran hacks some tractor trailers to shelter the weak, while Ran persuades those who are able to hurry across the bridge…just when the trucks arrive. Shuuta has to try to clean up the resulting mess, but ends up blocking the bridge.

As the tornado rages, RGB does what it can, but the damage caused by their lack of teamwork is done: 21 deaths, over 130 wounded. Among the presumed dead is Kaba-sensei, though Shuuta was able to rescue Kozue, now she has to deal with a fresh round of crippling trauma. Looks like the first episode’s train dilemma was just a warm-up; the difficulty level has officially been ratcheted up.

While I’ll admit I missed both Mari and Asumi as the focus of the show, I also knew that this episode was probably going to return that focus to RGB. I wrongly assumed they’d save the day without anyone getting hurt, but it wasn’t to be, and that was a particular downer, just as it’s a downer that the Asumi we met last week is gone forever, no matter who is on the other side of RGB’s phones.

As for the bizarre Danganronpa-looking Carneades taking over the television feed to declare he is the one “thrusting choices upon the world for the future”, well, his aesthetic is certainly…a choice.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Tokyo 24th Ward – 02 – Fifth Wheel

Shuuta, Ran, Kouki, Mari, and Asumi have been friends since they were little, but in a flashback to those halcyon days, we see that even then Mari was in a state of turmoil rising out of the fact that…well, she wasn’t Asumi. Asumi was the glue that kept them all together; indeed, she was the one who declared RGB was a thing. And now she’s gone.

After years of being a kind of fifth wheel, Mari suddenly found herself one of four, and the estrangement of RGB resulted. That said, she’s still close to all three, especially Shuu, who is her neighbor. Their rooms are even across from one another, so she can leap between their houses to hang out—an arrangement I’ve always longed for. But Shuu is still convinced Asumi could still be alive, shuttering a window Mari can’t leap through.

As Mari meets with each of the members of RGB currently having a post-memorial fight, we also get flashbacks centered on each member. Asumi, who established RGB, deploys them where she believes their skills are most needed—even if it’s conscripting Shuu for goalkeeper duty on the sports field. As a grade schooler Mari joked that she “just can’t win” against Asumi…and that’s seemingly borne out in both past and present.

When Mari checks in on Ran and DoRed, he shows her a mural honoring Asumi while also depicting her as a badass avenging angel, a glimpse of a possible Asumi that never was since her life was snatched away so early. This mural reminds Mari of the time Asumi had Ran paint a mural in the bathhouse. Asumi was always taking the initiative and inspiring action; Mari was always in the background smiling.

Last but not least is Asumi’s actual big brother Kouki. She’s ostensibly there to gather info on a restaurant at the big modern mall administered by Suidou’s family’s Zaibatsu, which is not only her home shopping district’s main rival for the upcoming Gourmet Festival, but also a threat to her district’s very survival. But she’s also kinda sorta there to mediate RGB’s latest  tiff.

Her meeting with Kouki coincides with a Kouki-centric flashback, in which he is utterly failing to hand out flyers for a previous GourFes. Asumi, assigned to another section and having already passed out all of her flyers, urges her brother to wear a smile and appear more friendly if he wants to pass his flyers out. Before long, all the major players in the district are out to help market the Festival. Asumi, bursting with energy and charisma, simply drew everyone towards her, like a magnet-girl.

Back in the present, while walking the dog that got her in so much trouble last week, Mari ends up overhearing a conversation between her old teacher Mr. Shirakaba and SARG officer Chikushi. She learns that Mon Jungle, her family’s restaurant Itadaki’s rival at the new mall, is run by a shady quasi-gang called Yabusame. She emerges from her hiding spot after Chikushi leaves, and Shirakaba assures her the GourFes won’t be rigged.

This leads to a flashback involving Shirakaba, whose students (RGB, Asumi, and Mari) want to keep the old elementary school they attended from being demolished. Mari may not be the nucleus of their group, but it’s clear Itadaki is the group’s base of operations.

It’s there where Mari’s creative okonomiyaki depiction of a blank chalkboard gives Asumi the idea to cover the school in graffiti and spread the word of its historical, cultural, and sentimental importance to the 24th Ward. Of course, as soon as the school and the graffiti idea came up, I thought of the cold open to the first episode and I was suddenly filled with dread.

That’s because Asumi’s idea, unwittingly sparked by Mari, ended up being the death of her. As an old building in disrepair, the school was vulnerable to fire. When that fire finally happened, Mari had Asumi by the arm, outside. All she has to do is not let go and insist they wait for the firefighters. But Asumi insists on being a hero, lets go of Mari, runs into the school to try to save others…and ends up perishing in Shuu’s arms.

The flashbacks make it feel like so long ago, and yet it was so not long ago Mari still has a video on her phone of the aftermath of the fire, admonishing her future self to never forget what happened that night. Even since then, Mari has kept striving to keep up with Asumi, trying to fulfill that role as glue and nucleus, and has found herself sorely lacking. She looks up at the night sky and tells Asumi she can’t handle RGB…not on her own.

However, Mari’s three meetings with the three members of RGB inadvertently bear fruit: they’ve all gathered at Itadaki…for her sake; to make GourFes a success. They snipe at each other a bit, but they still gathered at that same table they always gathered, even though Asumi isn’t there anymore. As different as they all are, and as deep as their wounds are, they still love Mari, and want to support her.

The strategy meeting itself isn’t all that productive as Mari manages to get the boys so stuff on okonomiyaki they get food comas, but it doesn’t matter. Mari managed to get RGB back together, through their stomachs. It’s then when Asumi appears before Mari as she’s washing dishes, offering her blessing going forward while also affirming how important Mari and Itadaki are to the circle of friends.

After one week, I was a little miffed that this show seemingly focused on three dudes. But this week Sakuragi Mari was the undisputed protagonist. Forget tough; Mari felt like Asumi was an impossible act to follow, but she ended up surprising herself, as much as this episode surprised me with its ability to plumb the depths of envy, love, longing, yearning, loss, grief, regret…and redemption. It didn’t feature a single moment of madcap superpower action. It didn’t need to.

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