Ikebukuro West Gate Park – 09 – Trouble in Paradise

There is a lot to sift through this week, but I’ll give IWGP this: there’s no other current show that makes people sitting at tables and talking quite so dang compelling! We begin with Makoto and Takashi being hired to guard an anti-immigration group during a particularly distasteful demonstration.

They’re doing it not for the money, but to keep the peace; in fact, an anti-hate pro-immigration group is paying them so their more radical elements won’t start anything. Even here, everyone thinks it’s a bit odd that the hate group is in Ikebukuro, where the ship has already sailed.

Makoto knows this all to well, as the new brother of a Chinese immigrant. Guo makes her return this week, and we learn she’d been working elsewhere and presumably living on her own, explaining her absence in previous episodes. She introduces Makoto to another mixed family: a Japanese husband and his Chinese wife.

They own a Chinese restaurant in building called Ikebukuro Paradise, and have been the recent victims of harassment. The perps were masked, but the couple suspects the anti-immigration group that’s in town. Makes sense. Makoto gets more insight walking with Guo, who tells him how much it hurts to hear people tell her to “go home” when she is home.

The Chinese restaurant incident isn’t the first at Ikebukuro Paradise; previously a café burned down, though its owner insists it was an accident reacted to the cafe’s audio system, and he basically curtly asks Makoto to stop digging. Of course, Makoto doesn’t, contacting his pal Saru, who tells him a Chinese fund linked up with a Japanese corporation.

Lin fills in more blanks, saying the Chinese real estate company intends to redevelop the Paradise by knocking down the old building. It seems the immigration kerfuffle and harassment could be unrelated strings, but only so far. Then the latter problem escalates when a member of the anti-hate group is attacked and its more radical elements want an eye for and eye.

Then the Paradise problem reasserts itself, as a fire breaks out, killing a resident and at least temporarily shutting down the restaurant. It’s to early to ascertain if it was an accident or arson, but Takashi has seen enough, and urges Makoto to “figure out who needs crushing” so his G-Boys can crush them.

In a nice scene with Makoto, Takashi acknowledges the need for Ikebukuro to change and grow the way it’s doing, but also laments the Ikebukuro he grew up in, and fears the town will lose its unique character if the change and growth go too far and “hate and indifference” continue to rear their ugly heads.

Makoto arranges a full-on summit between the pro- and anti- immigration groups. While testy, the anti leader insists they weren’t behind the fire, and the pro leader is willing to take her at her word. Takashi believes the leader, warped as her views are, but gets an odd unsavory vibe from her second-in-command, Tsukamoto, whom he suspects is into some shady shit.

Sure enough, the former café owner Torii, hearing about the fire and death, comes forward to Makoto and the restaurant owners about the true reason he closed up shop: he was harassed by land sharks. The owners thought they were targets of racial and cultural hatred, but they and the other tenants were rather victims of cynical corporate goons.

Tsukamoto, it turns out, was the director of the company that forced Torii out, the missing link Makoto needed to tie the two problems together. Tsukamoto and his superiors intended to use the anti-immigration group as cover for their land-sharking activities.

But by the time Makoto informs the anti-immigration group’s other leaders of Tsukamoto’s intentions, it’s too late to cancel the demonstrations. It’s a tense moment the next day when the red and blue groups march past each other, but it’s a third group, a hastily-assembled gang led by Tsukamoto himself, that tries to incite violence.

Makoto expected this, and so hired his buddy Shadow to take Tsukamoto out before he could achieve his goal. Takashi’s G-Boys mop up, and all the would-be escalators are arrested. The demonstration ends peacefully, and the restaurant owners and other residents of Ikebukuro Paradise can breathe a sigh of relief, as they’re no longer in the crosshairs.

That said, Lin warns Mikoto and Takashi that some shady Kansai organization that was behind Tsukamoto’s company as well as the smoke shop many weeks back is still looking to plant a foothold in Ikebukuro and destroy the harmony Makoto & Co. have been fighting for so hard.

It’s clear IWGP holds the anti-immigration hate group in pretty low regard, as they should. But it’s also upfront about the reasons people have to join and participate in such groups—people who might start out like Takashi, yearning for The Way Things Wereand becoming more radicalized by the growing influx and influence of immigrants.

At the same time, IWGP is just as clear in promoting the proper way forward, and it obviously isn’t brawls in the streets, but respectful, considered conversations between groups who come to the table in good faith. Makoto once again demonstrates his keen ability to mediate tough issues and keep inevitable brush fires from spreading too far.

Ikebukuro West Gate Park – 07 – Mars (Enterprises) Attacks!

“Everyone’s so worried about me…What am I, a little boy?” I doubt the people warning Makoto are doing so because they think he’s a kid, but because there is much he has to lose by diving too deep into this latest mess. Like his mother, his newly adopted sister Shungui, the family produce stand, and his reputation as a neutral troubleshooter.

Unfortunately, we don’t see his mom or Shungui either this week or last, which is a shame, not just because they could put the impudence of Makoto’s words into relief and even offer him perspective, but because I like those characters, and Shungui in particular seemed like someone we would be and should be seeing more of. Alas, Makoto is on an island at the beginning of this episode.

Ikebukuro is on the knife’s edge; war could spill onto the streets at any moment…yet he still finds time to work on Toshiaki’s film at the video store. His police buddy informs him “Shadow” is a lone operator, while his Hidaka PR buddy Saru informs him that Mars Enterprises hired both the Shadow and the masked thugs to create imbalance as a preface for expanding into Ikebukuro.

Unfortunately, Takashi is once again ghosting him, and the minute Makoto is off the phone with Saru, he has the bunny mask thug’s knife to his neck, clarifying that he and his guys have a grudge with him and Takashi personally. Bunny Mask is also helpful enough to perform his scene right in front of the “making of” camera, which is just icing for the cake in terms of how sloppy the masked thugs are.

Makoto determines that the masked thugs are Yamamoto and his men, who worked for OK Holdings and were previously run out of town. He informs Hiroto personally, but the Knight is already on his horse, and his men are itching for a confrontation with Takashi for control of the G-Boys present and future.

He finally gets to meet up with Takashi, who notes that one piece his old friend has left out of the equation are the Red Angels. Whether Makoto simply took Kyouichi at his word or has a blind spot due to his officially neutral status, Makoto isn’t willing to entertain the possibility the Angels could exploit the G-Boys civil war to expand their own influence.

Finally, and apparently quite by chance, “Shadow” presents himself to Makoto in the park. He further clarifies matters, saying the only job he did was on Donglong, while the thugs did the jobs on Hiroto’s men. He adds that they did a crap job while both they and Mars used the “Shadow” brand without his consent. This caused Shadow’s reputation to take a hit, and he paid Mars back by beating up each of their board members.

Shadow seems to consider himself an underworld equivalent of Makoto: an independent troubleshooter who works for justice (Shadow works for money; justice is just gravy), and someone for whom “reputation is paramount”. In the interests of preventing war, Makoto decides to ask Shadow to take care of the “weak link”: the war-mongering Hiroto.

Makoto institutes this gambit as much out of a desire to prove he’s not “just some kid” or a “nice guy”, but someone willing to do whatever it takes to protect the peace and balance of his town. But the gambit backfires, as Hiroto’s men blame King for the beating of their Knight and begin the march to war.

After consulting with Takashi once more, Makoto gets Kyouichi to agree to back Takashi in order to “quell the disturbance”. Kyouichi proves himself an honest and honorable man by doing his part, marching his Red Angels between Hiroto’s men and Takashi and declaring an alliance with the latter, then getting Hiroto’s uneasy No.2 to drop his bat and back down with a mere look.

With war averted—arguably way too neatly, but averted all the same—all that’s left is to take out the trash, i.e. Yamamoto and his ragtag quintet of thugs, who end up coming to them as Takashi and Makoto film a scene in Toshiaki’s film. In the adult video section, Yamamoto & Co. surround the two, but suddenly Shadow appears to even the odds. He takes out two of the thugs, and Takashi takes out the remaining three including delivering a knockout blow to Yamamoto.

The excellent fight scene really underscored how overmatched Yamamoto and his thugs were. Once the masked thugs identities and motives were made clear, they never had a realistic chance to instigate a full-scale turf war, especially since revenge was Yamamoto’s primary goal. Hopefully he won’t need a third demonstration of the futility of seeking revenge.

Toshiaki finally finishes his film, and it’s a hit, so he plans to make more, and Makoto notes the firm dedication inherent in Toshiaki’s efforts. He saw that same dedication in Shadow’s no-nonsense way of operating, and in Kyouichi’s dedication to protecting the town he’s come to like. After dancing on a razor’s edge these last two episodes, Makoto seems content to continue dedicating himself to selling fruit. Gotta pay the bills!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Ikebukuro West Gate Park – 06 – Shadows in the Knight

Ikebukuro is a town of balance, and that balance ensures peace. But one otherwise ordinary night, a group from the G-Boys Hiroto Faction are pulled from their van and viciously beaten by toughs in animal masks. Makoto is busy acting in an indie film being directed by the clerk of a doomed video store.

It’s a fitting setting in which to begin for an episode about the wider downfall of Ikebukuro’s hard-fought peace. Also on the film crew is Crow, an underling of Hiroto, whose boys were hit by the animal maskers, apparently led by a mysterious figure called “Shadow”. Hiroto suspects the attack was a warning from his boss, “King” Takashi, to keep his ambitions in check.

Before Makoto can confer with Takashi, Hiroto’s boys are hit by the Shadow again, and hard. In lieu of any word from King, Makoto meets with another childhood friend, Saru, the Hidaka Group’s PR man. He knows that Shadow is apparently elite muscle-for-hire, and that Hidaka’s position is that balance should be maintained, using his ice cream to illustrate his point.

He also warns his friend Makoto to “know where to draw the line” in his involvement, lest he end up in trouble. That’s when Hiroto reaches out to Makoto through Crow, and Makoto learns Hiroto is now having his men call him “Knight”—a direct challenge to King. With command of a third of the G-Boys, among them some of the toughest fighters, his faction has been waiting for someone to “pull the trigger” at them for some time.

In other words, even if it is King sending Shadow against his men, it doesn’t matter. He wanted an excuse to move anyway, and he got it. The spark has been lit, and the Hiroto faction is a tinderbox. Makoto gets him to agree not to move against Takashi until he’s spoken to him, but Hiroto warns if his boys are attacked one more time, it will be war.

With Takashi still not taking his calls, Makoto has no choice but to meet with the Red Angels instead. Kyouichi says he isn’t attacking Hiroto’s boys, as he has no reason to start a war that will endanger his people. However, he hastens to add, should one drop of Red Angel blood spill from the crossfire of an imminent G-Boys civil war, they’ll show no mercy.

Makoto walks down a dark Ikebukuro alley late at night with Sunshine 60 looming in the background. The mass of the tower behind him makes him look that much smaller and more alone; the town’s chief diplomat who has yet to make contact with the leader of its most powerful gang. Even as he makes no progress, he is followed by a sketchy guy in the shadows whose face he never sees, perhaps as subtle and bloodless warning as he’s going to get to quit while he’s still neutral.

As timing would have it, Takashi calls him immediately after the frightening encounter, and they meet in West Gate to talk for the first time. King hesitated to answer his buddy’s calls because he didn’t want him involved, because he can’t guarantee his safety this time. This enrages Makoto, with good reason.

When you think about it, he is one of the strongest and bravest players in this town precisely because he works alone and has no sworn allegiance, except to Ikebukuro herself. He commits to finding out who the Shadow is and who sent him to attack Hiroto’s men. As if to answer that question for the audience, the camera lingers on Isogai as he and Kyouichi walk on a bridge as cop cars race past.

Makoto and King end up shaking hands, symbolically sealing Makoto’s fate as a declared ally of King and thus a legitimate combatant in the G-Boys war to come. Because it is coming; and Makoto is out of time to stop it. The Shadow attacked Hiroto’s boys a third time, and this time a group from Dongfeng were hit as well.

Hiroto justifiably doesn’t care about the attack on Dongfeng muddying the waters; too much of his boys’ blood has been spilt. Just as Makoto is confident he can keep both King and Knight at bay, Knight draws his sword: he’s quitting the G-Boys, and no longer taking orders from Takashi. Their meeting in the alley was but a mere formality.

Maintaining peace and balance is not Hiroto’s goal. He’s thirsted for power, and is now taking the opportunity to grab it. Once he’s in charge of the G-Boys, he dreams of expanding their influence across all of Tokyo. Obviously, this is folly, and Takashi tells Makoto that it’s a product of his lack of strategic experience (Lao Tzu would also have some criticisms of Knight’s approach).

The episode ends with another suspicious lingering camera shot at Kyouichi, who is apparently pleased with how things are going. Did he and/or Isogai hire Shadow to destabilize the G-Boys? Were they simply biding their time all along? Or are they just looking forward to their largest rival eating away at itself from the inside, poised to fill the vacuum that results?

Whatever the case, IWGP is on a certified roll, following up two strong case-of-the-week episodes with a headfirst dive into the central gang conflict. It may be too late to keep a war from starting, but perhaps Makoto can still find a way to end it before it causes too much damage.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Dororo – 08 – Black Skies Are Gonna Clear Up

There’s no shortage of accursed demons out there, and this week’s nasty customer happens to periodically terrorize a village by casting a giant black cloud of miasma and then threatening to eat everyone unless they provide it a “bride” in the form of a young woman…willing or not.

In this case, the young woman is willing to sacrifice herself for the rest of the village, but her “brother” (from another mother) Saru doesn’t agree. Dororo and Hyakkimaru agrees to help him deal with the monster, so they can free his sister, even though she’s already resolved to die.

When the demon, a giant centipede called Nokosaregumo, casts its black cloud, it presents a unique challenge to Hyakkimaru: the entire cloud reads to him as a demon, so he’s completely blind when he’s inside it. While he tries in vain to locate it, the monster goes after Saru, but his sister pushes him out of the way and gets swallowed up, defiant smile and all.

Saru is devastated; other than his deceased mother, no one other than his sister ever treated him with as much kindness. Dororo assures him he and Hyakkimaru will stick around, though due to the latter’s blindness in the cloud, the two boys will have to get the job done without the most skilled warrior.

Again Dororo demonstrates his ease at making friends, especially those around his age, though after hours of casting rocks at the same spot, Hyakkimaru checks on the lads and discovers that both of them are crying in their sleep.

The next day, Dororo poses as a bride, tricking the Nokosaregumo and drawing it into an area of flammable gas that Saru ignites with a lit arrow. However, the centipede’s carapace protects it. It’s up to Hyakkimaru to take care of the rest, using arrows and then the sound of his and Dororo’s voices to locate the proper direction to rush at the monster and take out its eyes with his arm-sword.

With one of the heads destroyed, the second head on the other end snaps Hyakkimaru up whole, but he simply slices the guy clean in half from within, completing yet another imaginative, unique battle that required overcoming his inability to properly see while using his still-new hearing.

As an added bonus to the demon being defeated, Hyakkimaru gets his sense of smell back—just in time to enjoy the harsh stink sulfur. Saru’s sister also survived—they killed the monster before it could digest her—and the two decide they’ll live together in the village from now on, after both being alone for so long.

Dororo and Hyakkimaru’s payment may be modest—a small nugget of gold, some grubs, and a flower from the woman—but the flower proves quite the treasure for Hyakkimaru, considering he’d never smelled anything like it before. He’s so excited, he actually says Dororo’s name when he passes it to him, bowling Dororo over. Here’s to Hyakkimaru finally adding to the conversation on their future wanderings.