Sword Art Online: Alicization – 19 – Femme Fatale

In the last episode, Alice warned Kirito to give her the unvarnished truth; anything less and she’d strike him down. That’s fine with him. He wants her to know the truth, because once she does, they won’t be enemies anymore.

Alice remarks that, like Kirito, Bercouli and other knights were worried that the forces of the Dark Territory were growing too large to deal with, but their concerns were dismissed by Chudelkin, in a classic “I don’t pay you lunkheads to think!” kind of response.

To hear her real surname, the name of her village, and the name of her sister Selka, brings Alice right to the cusp of remembering. She cannot deny that the pontifex has deceived the knights, so it’s well within her to have been the one to steal Alice’s memories of her human life and lie about it.

The moment Alice rejects the Pontifex’s authority, a System Alert appears in her right eye, which threatens to burst, just like Eugeo’s when he attacked Lord Raios the rapist. Of course, as we’ve seen, Alice is tough as cold-rolled steel, and with help from Kirito, manages to overcome the pain of the eye.

She’s done being Administrator’s puppet. All she asks is that before she regains Alice’s memories, Kirito promises to take her to Rulid to see her sister. He promises, and just like that, the forced foes are are finally allies, and she is committed to the same goal as him: raising a human army to fight the Dark forces.

If only it were so simple. When Eugeo comes to from his deep-freeze, he’s in a dream, in the house where he grew up. His mother is on the bed, but it’s not really his mother, it’s Administrator, telling him he’s the one who killed his own father and brothers so that his mother would love only him.

Eugeo wakes up from the disturbing dream in Administrator’s bedchamber atop the Cathedral, and it’s clear what route the main boss will be taking in neutralizing him as a threat: by exploiting and amplifying his deep-seated longing for the total and unconditional love of someone, anyone.

First of all, I have to note the love with which Administrator is rendered throughout this sequence: she’s ethereally gorgeous, and combined with the delicate, aloof, and haunting voice of Sakamoto Maaya, she cuts quite the bewitching profile. Administrator can also claim to know Eugeo better than he knows himself, and backs this up by telling him all about his life and where it has never gone right: in the love department.

He may love his mother, but she loved their brothers and her husband too. He may love Alice, but she also loves Kirito (and Administrator jacks up the jealousy by showing him a memory of the two kissing as kids). Tiese is the closest thing to someone giving him all their love, but Administrator insists she’ll forget him, as everyone else has. And there’s nothing Eugeo fears in that moment more than not being loved or remembered.

Administrator proceeds to lay the seduction on treacle-thick, slowly disrobing and drawing the entranced Eugeo towards her, until he’s on top of her on the bed. She offers all of her love, and unimaginable pleasure, in exchange for Eugeo offering everything he has in return. In other words, a simple monetary transaction. Due to her otherworldly charms, Eugeo is in no mental condition to refuse her, and repeats after her the words “System Call: Remove Core Protection.”

Regarding this development, it’s a good thing Kirito has managed to bring Alice back to his side, because it sure looks like Administrator has manipulated Eugeo into joining hers. That probably means that order to get to her, they’ll have to through him first. Just as Alice is breaking the Pontifex’s hold over her, she’s fitting shackles on Eugeo, and trading one integrity knight for another—and one trained Aincrad style, to boot.

Advertisements

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 02

Mari’s seething wanderlust, as well as her determination not to waste what’s left of her high school youth, makes her extra susceptible to Shirase’s Antarctic plans. When Shirase tells her to get a part-time job at once, Mari is looking for ’em (interestingly, both of them come across the same sketchy job offer for “hospitality” work with guys).

Megumi thus plays the crucial role of managing Mari’s expectations. The expedition Shirase wants to join is in dire financial straits. The safety of those who join it is not guaranteed. They’re not simply going to let high school kids join them just because they really really want to.

When Megumi’s pragmatism slips into Mari’s interactions with Shirase, Shirase can smell the doubt and hesitation, and snaps at Mari, storming off. But Mari doesn’t doubt Shirase, and she does want to do it…she just wants to do it right. As Mari forlornly walks alone, it isn’t long before Shirase returns, realizing she was too harsh, but assuring Mari she does have a plan in place.

That same evening, Mari has a part-time job, at the local convenience store. There, she meets fellow 16-year-old Miyake Hinata (Iguchi Yuka, doing her Araragi Tsukihi voice), who shows an eager Mari the ropes.

The subject of The Trip comes up, and Hinata wants IN. Thankfully, Shirase isn’t particular about who else comes along, and so now the two are three. And while Hinata’s decision to join them seems abrupt (and it kinda is regardless), she’s a person who’s never liked blending in with the crowd, which is why she bypassed high school and is working towards college.

Her time working at the konbini also made her good at observing people, like the students of Mari and Shirase’s school, including the two of them. She always saw something different about them; something she calls “honesty”. Genuine-ness, earnesty, whatever you call it, she knew they were special, and wanted to be a part of what their noble undertaking.

Next stop: Shinjuku, and these three girls from Gunma stick out like a sore thumb-ma (sorry, that was really lame). The intense sights and sounds of the big city make all three a little crazy, but nobody more than Shirase, who reveals that her grand plan was to crash the Antarctic expedition meet-up (in Kabukicho of all places) by…seducing the guys.

The moment Shirase points her head up and tries to act like a “college student” like it’s no big deal, she’s immediately picked up by a guy, and becomes understandably flustered. She’s also adamant that she can’t be the one who attempts the seduction of the expedition team, because they know her.

So Shirase and Hinata shove Mari out, and her old-fashioned sexy pose utterly fails, they shove Shirase out. The people who know her spot her, and the chase is on. Why do the girls run? I’m not sure, but neither are they. Well, Shirase knows, because this isn’t the first time she’s tried to join the expedition.

But despite the fact Shirase’s plan is crumbling before our very eyes, the fact of the matter is that she, Mari, and Hinata are having a hell of a lot of fun running around Shinjuku…Youth In Motion. Unfortunately, none of the three (even Hinata, good in short-distance sprinting) can beat the stamina of their pursuers.

I love how I was just as taken in by the legitimacy and precision of her plan as Mari and Hinata, even with Megumi offering early words of caution. And yet, even with the adults here telling Shirase “this isn’t happening”, even when they refuse her part-time Antarctica fund…even if what she’s doing amounts to chasing her mother’s ghost, I’m still on Shirase’s side.

She has to go to Antarctica. She can’t not. What kind of show would this be if she failed? It’s just, she’s gone about it the wrong way. Seduction and bribes won’t be effective, but maybe something—or someone else will be. Someone like, say, the daughter of the wealthy-looking woman who was with the expedition team.

That girl happens to be on the same train as the other three girls, two of which—Hinata and Mari—vote to relieve Shirase of her leadership role. It’s for her own good. She’s been trying and failing to get on that ship her way for the better part of three years. Now it’s time to see if others have more luck.

Gorgeous, charming, emotionally satisfying, and brimming with the energy of determined youth, and the anticipation of adventure writ both small (Shinjuku) and large (further south), Yorimoi is a no-brainer Winter keeper.

Aho Girl – 03

It’s a jam-packed Aho Girl with another not one or two or three but four separate stories, starting with a different opening in which the Disciplinary Committee President (DCP) slowly pans into the shot from the right leering at A-kun, until Yoshiko slowly pans in from the left.

From there, Yoshiko’s mom meets Sayaka, and is immediately suspicious she’ll steal A-kun from her daughter (and by extension, her). Thus she uses two pairs of handcuffs (she normally uses on her husband) and tries to get Sayaka to show them her panties, which will determine what kind of girl she is.

When A-kun threatens violence on Yoshiko and her mom, Sayaka surrenders, and when she finally reveals her panties to the women, they’re so white and pure Mom tells A-kun he’s free to be friends with her: she’s no threat.

Part Deux is another “kids in the playground” segment, with Yoshiko wanting to play and the kids preferring if she just studies, since she needs to get a job at some point. I will never tire of their mature, pragmatic banter.

Then a big white dog shows up—a huge white dog—and Yoshiko protects the little ‘uns…by attempting to ride him. There’s a poetry to her being dragged across the dirt telling the jaded kids to “hold fast to their dreams” as she holds fast to the dog, eventually ending up holding him in the air with her legs.

It’s a stray dog, so naturally Yoshiko intends to keep him, so she can keep riding him, and to the kids’ surprise, she seems to have trained him. The girl even calls Yoshiko “kinda amazing”, which immediately concerns her friends.

Following the dog rodeo, Yoshiko suddenly sounds a lot more bright and sophisticated when talking about her one true love of bananas. Her interest piqued by a bold upstart domestic banana farmer, Satou-san, and the taste is so good she bowls’ over backwards, revealing her panties once more.

The sophistocation quickly fades away when she proposes to run to Satou’s farm to meet him, and Sayaka must tag along…to the tune of 100km. Stopping to buy a drink, Sayaka very unwisely sends Yoshiko into a store that sells far more than just drinks, and the phrase “a fool and her money are soon parted” is elegantly yet devastatingly illustrated. The ugly, dull, expensive, yet not not adorable town mascots of “Middle of Nowhere” were a nice touch.

They finally reach the farm, and Yoshiko draws Satou into a perhaps not appropriate hug for an old man who is a complete stranger. Still, Yoshiko seems convinced she knows the man’s soul intimately after tasting his exquisite banana (that sounds wrong but it’s factually accurate). Then it’s up to Sayaka to get on all fours and beg for train fare home. I can’t blame her for not wanting to sprint another 100km home.

In Numero Quatro things get a little frisky and a little dark, as Yoshiko, seeing A-kun is down from not scoring a full 100 on any of his tests (say what you will about her, she’s good at nice round zeros), and decides to cheer him up…the same way her mom cheers her dad up some nights. Oh dear…

Yoshiko is truly an idiot, but she pays attention when she wants to, and was clearly taking very precise visual notes, judging from the attention to detail in which she handcuffs A-kun, talks to him like he’s a baby with an insufferably cutesy tone while stripping. A-kun is not, for a single moment, turned on by the display, and indeed, looks like he’d rather be anywhere else in the world. I’m sure Yoshiko’s mom would be sad to see him that way!

His sister, on the other hand, manages to walk in just after he’d gotten on his feet and delivered a tremendous knock-out drop kick to Yoshiko, and in the very moment he’s lifting her skirt with his teeth to fetch the key from her panties. Poor Ruri! On the one hand, she shouldn’t have to see that. On the other, well…Yoshiko really shouldn’t have to ever see her parents’ foreplay.

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 09

sg91

Things move fast this week, but most of the things that occur are basically foregone conclusions. Kikuhiko and Sukeroku both become Shin’uchi, but in his debut, Sukeroku sticks it to the association president by performing his specialty, “Inokori”, in which he must embody multiple sides of one character, Saheiji, depending on who else he’s talking to. It’s a challenging story, but Sukeroku pulls it off and gets the only approval he needs: that of the crowd.

Now a Shin’uchi, Kikuhiko is committed to shedding a woman he feels someone of his stature can no longer be with. It’s not pride so much as obligation to the structures he was raised into, which demand that a man put things above his own personal feelings. His breakup with Miyokichi had been telegraphed for some time, but that doesn’t make it any less heartbreaking when the hammer comes down.

sg92

Miyokichi, as it happens, isn’t the only one who gets dumped: as a result of his insolence in his debut, Sukeroku is taken aside by his master, who informs him Kiku, not he, will be the Eighth Generation Yakumo. Again, the writing was on the wall. As well-intending as Sukeroku is, and no matter how much practical sense it makes, he was never going to be able to successfully convince the old guard of his “change or die” views of rakugo.

For the elders, including his master, change is death; there is no difference. Oral tradition cannot truly survive if it becomes a game of Telephone. Tweaking tradition is a slippery slope, one that the elders would rather fall to their death by clinging to rather than allow it to be propped up with new ideas.

Furthermore, Sukeroku was always hampered by his modest origin; he was always an interloper, a “stray dog” who clawed his way into this world. There’s no way the master would allow such a person to succeed him, no matter how unassailable his talent. There may be TVs now, but castes still matter.

When Sukeroku argues too forcefully, Yakumo expels him, throwing him out of his house. And that’s how our two dumped and dejected people find and comfort each other.

sg93

Speaking of comfort, Kikuhiko isn’t experiencing it just because everything seems to be going his way. In his mind, Sukeroku is still better at rakugo than him, no matter how many elders or syncophants say otherwise. He’s particularly irritated when a dilettante-ish rakugo critic tears down Sukeroku in an apparent effort to curry favor. Kiku ends the interview right there.

Then Master Yakumo’s wife dies, and with mortality on his mind, he informs Kikuhiko that he intends to give him his name. Kiku’s initial reaction is that it’s a mistake; Sukeroku should get the name; he’s more skilled; he doesn’t have any skill compared to that raw talent. But Yakumo reproaches his apprentice.

It’s not Kiku’s place to tell him who he should give his name to, nor to say whether he’s better or worse than Sukeroku. Just like his brother, Kiku spoke out of place, but out of humility and inferiority, not arrogance and outsize obligation to take rakugo upon his shoulders and “save” it, as Sukeroku wants to do. There’s more to being Eighth Generation than being The Best At Rakugo. 

sg94

As Kiku continues to thrive but derive no joy from anything other than doing rakugo, Sukeroku and the scorned Miyokichi quickly shack up together and become an item. Just as Sukeroku and Kikuhiko must embody different people to perform their stories to suit their audiences, so too does Miyo, a skilled and experienced geisha, know how to be exactly the woman a particular man wants. She could be classy and prudish for Kiku, whom she loved, but knows Sukeroku less propriety.

I’m glad Miyo doesn’t waste any more time than she needs to worrying about Kiku; what’s done is done, and she’s moving on with someone who actually wants to be with her. Sukeroku doesn’t know if he’s quite that person yet…but he does like boobies. There’s something sad and close-looped about the two being depressed about the same person—Kikuhiko—but they must make do with each other.

Also, she doesn’t have time to wait around or worry; she has a baby on the way, and wants to raise it in the countryside. Her geisha house is shut down, so she steals the till with the intention of running off with Sukeroku.

sg95

He stops by Kiku’s not for money or a place to stay, but to say goodbye, even as Kiku urges him to make peace with the master so he can give him his name. Sukeroku knows what he has to do to get back in the good graces of their master, and he can’t do it. He tells Kiku about Miyo and the baby and the country, and Kiku is not happy.

What is Kiku going to do without Sukeroku around annoying him and challenging him to be his best? What is he going to do with Yakumo’s name when he’s certain his drunk, uncouth, stray dog of a brother deserves it more? Someone he wants to punch and embrace in the same moment?

These unanswerable questions (which must attempt to be answered anyway, one day at a time) sow the seeds of a bitterness and regret that will stay with Kiku for years, then made worse one day when Sukeroku loses his life in his prime. That bitterness will come to define the man telling this story to Yotarou and Konatsu in the present.

10_ses

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 08

sg81

As we return to Kikuhiko’s tale, he’s just finishing up his tour with Master Yakumo, having steamed up many an audience in Kyoto with his seductively funny rakugo. Talk of making him a shin’uchi is no longer presumptuous; as even his own master was too enthralled both with his performance and the reaction of the crowd to notice the mistakes he made.

Kiku is rapidly progressing on the steam locomotive to greatness, but there are sacrifices that need to be made on the way – both those imposed upon him, and those he imposes on himself.

.sg82

Back in Tokyo, Miyokichi sits in the back of another full house as Sukeroku performs and effortlessly drawing huge laughs. But she’s not laughing; she’s there to catch a glimpse of the man she loves who’s currently giving her the cold shoulder.

Her presence didn’t go unnoticed by Sukeroku (she was the only one there who wasn’t “ancient”), and he proposes a commiseration session: she gets to vent to him about a subject he’s very well versed in – Kiku-san – in exchange for buying him a drinkypoo.

sg83

Their ensuing conversation, a thing of beauty, offers many insights into Miyokichi’s character and the nature of her love of Kiku. She doesn’t even like rakugo; she prefers movies. Hearing his voice is the only reason she goes to the theater. She endures the stodgy, old-fashioned practice she wouldn’t otherwise give the time of day…for Kiku. She also endures his constant brush-offs, including this most recent unannounced trip of his.

Miyo can endure this because she’s strong. She had to be. Abandoned by a man when in Manchuria, she had to sell her body to survive, until Master Yakumo brought her home. But because she’s become so tough, neither the good Master nor Sukeroku are her type. She doesn’t go for nice guys, she likes cold guys, and Kiku has certainly been that to her.

Miyo doesn’t want the moon; she just wants to be able to stand beside the man she loves and support him as a woman. But she suspects, and Sukeroku can’t convince her otherwise, that Kiku intends to break up with her. When she takes her leave on that somber note, Sukeroku, ever the nice guy, can’t help but draw her into a hug.

sg84

It’s while she’s struggling to get out of that hug that Kiku appears, suddenly back as quietly as he left. His exchange with Miyo is brief and probably the coldest yet, but there’s a reason for it; Kiku indeed intends to break up with her, and doesn’t want to be cruel by being kind beforehand.

Kiku can admit to Sukeroku that he loves Miyo, but the Master has told him he needs to find a “proper woman” to settle down with a family. Disobeying would mean expulsion from Yurakutei, and in this case, with his rakugo future so bright and his identity and place in that world so clear…Miyokichi is second fiddle to all that.

In fact, Kiku would rather simply be alone than be with anyone, a sentiment that quickly evolves into an agreement for Sukeroku to move out of his apartment. Kiku relays to Sukeroku all of the flaws their master mentioned that are making it hard to promote him, but Sukeroku is in this business because he loves rakugo, and he has bigger plans than the Yurakutei orthodoxy could ever accommodate.

sg85

His position is legitimized by the simple fact they’re in a packed jazz hall filled with Japanese in Western clothes, listening to American music. The times they are a changin’. He acknowledges that a part of rakugo must always endure, but that’s Kiku’s duty. Sukeroku intends to be the part of rakugo that evolves by changing to suit whatever the people want, which is never fixed.

Kiku is a traditionalist; Sukeroku the innovator. But they are alike in two important ways: they both love rakugo and they both respect each other’s place in that world. At the same time, Sukeroku didn’t want to end up like his previous “master”, the one from which he took the name Sukeroku, who ended up dying penniless.

That night, Master Yakumo celebrates with Matsuda his hard-won success in getting both Kikuhiko and Sukeroku promoted to shin’uchi, he takes the Yurakutei family record from the alter to let the past generations share in the celebration, even as he laments he wasn’t quite able to achieve what his forebears did.

Unaware of his promotion, Sukeroku roams the streets, gently kicked out of Kiku’s place, backlit by the bright lights and the winds of change. Kikuhiko, also unaware, but now alone in his apartment like he wanted, pauses his practicing to inspect the old fan Sukeroku gave him. They’ve started on very different paths for the same love of rakugo. It was an amicable parting, but that doesn’t make it any less sad!

9_ses

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 07

sg71

Now that he’s found his rakugo, Kikuhiko works like man possessed – or a man who thinks his success will be snatched away if he rests for a moment. He has increasingly less patience with Sukeroku’s easygoing lifestyle (though continues to spend the lion’s share of his free time with him, and seems to enjoy it).

As for poor Miyokichi, every time Kiku is with her he only seems halfway there and in a hurry to get away. It’s not that he dislikes her, per se, just that for all the stories related to romance he knows, he may not realize he’s in the middle of one, and he’s not pulling his weight. Or maybe he’s well aware of Miyokichi’s intentions, and simply can’t devote any time or thought to them, so caught up in his rakugo.

sg72

Of one thing I am certain: Kiku doesn’t notice the hypocrisy he exhibits in spending so much time with Sukeroku (while complaining that he can’t stand him the whole time) while insisting he has no time for Miyokichi. This results in a confrontation when Kiku puts Sukeroku to sleep in his usual way, and Miyo finds Sukeroku’s head in Kiku’s lap.

It’s intolerable to her that these two are so deeply, effortlessly close, but such are brothers. Even if they’re nothing alike, they’re also everything alike in that they need and feed off one another. They are family; she isn’t, and she just isn’t finding any kind of success in squeezing her way into Kiku’s heart or his life.

sg73

Yakumo’s dedication to his professional and artistic success and his unconscious monopolization by Sukeroku is isolating him from everything else out there in life. When his master chooses him and not Sukeroku to accompany him on a sprawling tour, he becomes singularly focused on that. Miyokichi, desperate for his company, asks him to come whenever he can.

Her intense frustration and his cold reaction causes her to break into tears, causing her geisha makeup to run. I’ll admit, I wanted to punch Kiku right in his foxy face for so treating such a beautiful, complex creature with such frosty disdain.

This is who he is, who he’s always been, and shameful displays such as this certainly help his future ward’s case that he’s a prickly, self-involved wretch of a man, undeserving of Miyokichi’s tender love. But there’s a difference between being this way on purpose and not knowing any other way to be.

sg74

Sure enough, the Kiku we see hanging out with an already-drunk Sukeroku probably doesn’t know how cruel he’s being to Miyokichi, who waits all night and probably many nights for him to come, when in fact he’ll be away for a long time. He’s so excited for his trip and pleased that the master chose him, nothing else matters.

Well, not nothing. At the end of the day, Kiku cares for his brother, and clearly worries about what will happen if he’s gone. Without him there to scold him about dressing better and eating solid food and bathing and cleaning up the place, Sukeroku will go full feral on him.

Kiku promises he’ll join Sukeroku in an independent two-man show that will capitalize on their newfound popularity. But that will be later rather than sooner. Deferred, just like his next meeting with Miyokichi, in favor of further aggrandizing himself.

9_ses

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 06

sg61

The play was a sensation, sure enough, but it also awoke something in Kikuhiko; he really liked the reaction of the audience, and wants nothing more than to get that same feeling while performing his rakugo. But at the start of this week, he’s still lacking certitude and confidence, despite the fact he has his own little fan club at the cafe where he works, not to mention the persistent attention of the lovely Miyokichi, who seems to want to be someone whom he can lean on for support.

sg62

Kikuhiko’s latest interactions with Sukeroku involve a lot of the latter stumbling into their apartment late at night wasted, then laying down some uncharacteristic wisdom before passing out. By doing so, Sukeroku inadvertently reinforces Kiku’s frustration with sharing his home and his calling with someone so different from him, who found out who his rakugo was for and how to do it in a way that played to his strengths.

Kiku has had to work hard and struggle and worry his entire life, whether it was when he was struggling to dance before being “gracefully expelled” (with women lamenting he wasn’t born a woman), or struggling to discover who his rakugo is now, when it’s too late to go back, with no other way to survive but rakugo.

Just as Sukeroku sometimes voices characters who seem like him – one bad move away from a sticky end – when Kiku begins a story about a “lover’s suicide” there’s a distinctly personal and dark subtext.

sg63

But one night, with both his fan club, Miyokichi, Sukeroku and a decent crowd watching (and already warmed up by Sukeroku’s energetic performance), Kiku finally figures it out, building on what he learned during the play, but also gaining new insights while he’s performing. As his performance changes – and improves greatly – the audience changes in turn, and he notices it.

Mind you, his method of rakugo is totally different from Sukeroku. Kiku doesn’t try to use a big booming voice. Instead, he plays to his strengths: his femininity, grace, and sex appeal. He makes the crowd laugh, but also has them feeling worried for the would-be suicidal woman, finally rewarding them for following along by releasing the tension at the end, revealing no one died after all.

In his “eureka” performance, we see glimmers of the venerable Yakumo in the young Kikuhiko, finally able to shrug off his inferiority, relax on the stage, and command a crowd with a firm but elegant touch. When he leaves the theater for home, he’s practically giddy.

As a boy he heard words of pity from those who believed he couldn’t cut it. Now, nearly everywhere he looks there are admirers eager to praise him. And this is only the beginning.

8_ses

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 05

sg51

As we return to Yakumo’s saga, which is already suffused with a constant underlying melancholy borne from the knowledge these events have long since passed, a young Yakumo is desperate to be good at whatever it is he’s doing, be it rakugo or a more straightforward play.

To that end, he’s far more concerned with practicing than women, who a drunk Sukeroku brings home one night. It’s just the latest iteration of something Sukeroku has done since he and Yakumo first met as boys: trying to get him to loosen up.

Sukeroku believes you have to be “a little stupid” in order to survive in rakugo, something Yakumo is not only virtually incapable of being, but would be betraying who he is if he tried. The audience will always know if his heart isn’t in it. We’ve seen how bad that can go!

sg52

Speaking of his heart, it’s in a state of turmoil over the prospect of not being “cut out” for rakugo, turning an intimate little make-out session with Miyokichi into a pity party. For her part, Miyo loves Yakumo’s rakugo, which should tell him it’s worth pursuing.

Yakumo remains depressed, but puts his head on Miyo’s shoulder when she offers it. It’s notable that things don’t ever seem to go anywhere sexually between the two, something Miyo herself might’ve confirmed by telling her senpai essentially “it’s not like that;” in other words, platonic.

sg53

Nevertheless, it’s a strong, warm friendship, and Miyo is excited for the lovely, elegant Yakumo to be portraying a man disguised as a woman for the play, and offers her services as makeup artist gratis. She does good work; the transformation is striking.

Sukeroku laughs his ass off when he first sees Yakumo’s somehow even foxier fox face, when he sees how terribly nervous his bro is (to the point of threatening to flee), he tells him to steel himself, knowing full well with his looks and talent he’ll have the audience eating out of his hand.

sg54

Sukeroku turns out to be exactly right, which shocks Yakumo. When he starts feeling the rapt audience following his every move, his confidence builds more and more. His progression from initially jittery suits his role as meek ‘wife’ to the more boisterous Sukeroku’s ‘husband’, and makes it that much more of a shock when the time comes for him to reveal he’s a guy. His change in voice, posture, and level of dress; it’s all pretty much perfect.

sg55

He leaves the stage to enthusiastic applause, a very different man than the one he walked onto it as. He was depressed, but now he’s seen with his own eyes and by his own efforts that there is hope after all, not only in theater but in rakugo as well. His performance showed everyone out there what he’s capable of, and the elegant “racy stuff” he can do so well; as effortlessly as Sukeroku pull of his unwashed galoot bit.

Finally, to once again remind us we’re only looking into the past, of two people who were still so close but whom we know will one day be separated once more and for good, the theater manager takes some candid black-and-white photographs of the two brothers, preserving the joy and victory of that night for posterity.

9_ses

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 04

sg41

This week we stop in on Bon and Shin as they’ve moved out of the master’s house and into their own apartment together. Shin has a job serving women he charms without trying and pinches every penny, while Bon spends all his non-rakugo time drinking away his earnings.

Shin continues to struggle to find his own rakugo, while Shin oozes confidence on the stage and has every crowd before him eating out of his hand immediately, including Bon. He’s even given himself a new name: Sukeroku. These two continue to be completely different in every way, yet they remain friends.

sg43

It’s also this week that one of the few things that could strain their long-standing and deep friendship/brotherhood is formally introduced – by their master, no less. I speak of the lovely Miyokichi, whom the master has taken as a side-project, getting her a job as a geisha, likely in exchange for, ahem…other favors.

Miyokichi takes an instant liking to the serene, doll-like Bon, and isn’t subtle about her desire to meet with him alone, using a dance lesson as an excuse. Even in a show chock full of marvelous voice acting, Hayashibara Megumi (who voiced both Ayanami Rei and Faye Valentine) stands out; every line from those red lips oozes sex appeal.

sg44

I’d say Bon was immune to her charms, either due to having lost his first love many years ago, or due to being so preoccupied with how he’s going to continue to do rakugo whilst his roommate rubs his apparently effortless yet immense success in his face every day. But he isn’t immune. Few would be.

He returns to Miyokichi’s (a rare subject that shuts Shin – sorry, Sukeroku, up), where he gives her a dance lesson, plays the shamisen while she sings (beautifully), and share some sake. Bon becomes more and more desirable as the evening progresses, as Bon’s not the typical kind of man she deals with, which must be refreshing.

Bon leaves before things get that far, but when she insists he promise to return again, he cannot resist drawing her closer. I don’t think the master introducing him to Miyokichi was an accident. Bon needs to learn to loosen up and have a good time if he’s to make any headway with erotic rakugo. What better way to do than in the company of a beautiful, complex, charming woman who may well actually want him?

Miyokichi, like his rakugo, is something Bon is still trying figure out. But if Sukeroku’s reaction to his interest in her is any indication, this is probably going to lead to some conflict between the brothers.

8_ses

Prison School – 08

ps81

Yours truly should have known, but my “manly feelings” were also manipulated, as I, like Shingo, stopped worrying about what was or wasn’t too good to be true and actually roll with the idea of a random girl at Shingo’s school being legitimately into him. After all, Chiyo can’t be the only one who likes having the guys around, right? Well, it’s not really a yes or no question.

But let’s just say for most of the episode and all of last week, Anzu was putting on an act. Unlike Chiyo, who puts herself at risk trying to warn Kiyoshi of the impending plot afoot (writing it in Go stones…so refined!), Anzu is acting on behalf of the Underground Student Council, in exchange for Mari’s recommendation she be named to the executive committee next year. She was a part of DTO…but by the end, she’s almost responsible for foiling it.

ps82

Why does she do that? Well, everything was going according to plan, with cheek-pinching about to move on to something else, until Shingo just cant sit there and watch some random kid in the park get sand thrown at him by his friends. When he yells at them too harshly, they cry, and the kid who was getting bullyed throws sand on him. 

This isn’t just a show about T&A. It’s a show about fate and justice; friendship and forgiveness. The confessions that take place in that park aren’t of love between Shingo and Anzu. Shingo confesses to being a snitch, and can’t betray his friends anymore. But then Anzu ‘fesses up about being appointed by Mari to seduce him as part of a plan to get the boys expelled.

ps83

Of course, Anzu was only one of Mari’s variables in her devastatingly intricate scheme, which involved using Meiko’s voluptuousness and lack of punishing Andre to drive him mad until he’s chasing cardboard cutouts, and finally, the real thing. When Meiko offers to whip him if he just comes through the fence, Andre can’t help himself, pushes through the wire (which had already been cut), and is guilty of the boys’ second breakout. If Shingo doesn’t get back in time, that will be three strikes, and they’ll be out. Baseball Metaphor!

ps84

In the time Anzu’s spent with him, culminating in those shared confessions, she can no longer play him any more than he can play Kiyoshi and the others. So she does everything she can to get him back to school on time. At first, their getting along seemed all to easy, then was revealed to be an artificial fondness that then became real. I just hope this isn’t the last we see of these two.

If Mari and the council have their way, however, it will be…and the boys won’t get to experience “seaside school” in the summer, when the girls hold a wet t-shirt contest. While I’m almost positive that’s just bullshit to get them riled up, the fact they believe her so intensely is pretty hilarious.

In fact, it’s that dream of transparent tops that move Kiyoshi, Gakuto, Andre and Joe to put their wishes and hopes together and chant for Shingo’s on-time return. Shingo is almost hit by a truck, but avoids it, and that truck happens to be the laundry truck for the school! Almost as if the universe is rewarding him for his honesty, eh?

Well, not quite: the kicker in DTO is that the other four inmates were put to work adjusting how the door to the stockade opens so it slides rather than pushes in, so Shingo can’t open it, and he’s outside when his time runs out. Dayum, that is one ice cold checkmate.

ps85

Happily, as they await their impending expulsion, Shingo prostrates himself and apologizes profusely for what he’s done…and he’s forgiven, just like that. Well, until he mentions details of what happened with him and Anzu; then they lay into him, but when they’re done, they’re all of them satisfied and even. Mari may have gotten them expelled, but she failed to break their brotherly bonds.

Mari all but smacks her dad in the face with the official school regulations and how the boys are indeed guilty of breaking out three times. Chiyo is there to argue their case, but her pleas are shouted down by Kiyoshi and her confederates. This is one of those times you’d really wish her dad the chairman had some backbone, but considering how awkward and awful he feels about Mari seeing so many overt glimpses of his fetish, he probably feels he has no moral ground to stand on, even if Chiyo were to back him up in the pro-boys corner.

ps86

So, is that that? Will the end of the week after next be all she wrote for our lads? Or is the festive victory celebration by the council—complete with cake, sparkling cider, and Meiko getting her thong caught on the door after doing fingertip pullups—premature? For her part, Anzu tells her boss how she ended up failing her mission when she fell for the target, but Mari lets her off the hook, while ordering surveillance on her as soon as she’s out of the room.

As for the boys, because their bonds have never been stronger, and their hopes somewhat miraculously reached Shingo, they belive anything is possible. They’re not done yet. They’ve got allies in Chiyo and maybe Anzu and the director, they have each other, and they have at least a couple of weeks. Can they somehow overturn the verdict of the council? Will they turn DTO’s victory into a defeat? I hope so.

10_ses

Noragami Aragoto – 09

na91

Because Yato is in a charitable mood and possibly harbors guilt for the things he did with her, he goes along with Hiiro’s idea to go into the underworld to rescue a conjurer, despite the fact he could very easily get trapped down there by it’s queen, Izanami. When that conjurer turns out to be Ebisu (who is absent for the latest colloquy, correctly suspected, and for whom an arrest warrant is issued), suddenly Yato’s personal dilemma is intertwined with the overarching threat of Ebisu.

For a supposed Big Bad, it’s surprising how casual Yato and Ebisu are when they meet. Perhaps it’s because Yato trusts a far more famous god, or because hasn’t always been the most scrupulous fellow himself (as his continued entanglement with Nora attests) but he doesn’t really protest Ebisu’s use of Masked Ones as “phantom regalias”. In fact, we get a lot of Ebisu’s silly, eccentric side, rather than any goofy evil face-twisting. It’s a nice change of pace; I like it.

na92

While Yato, Hiiro, and Ebisu tread deeper into the underworld, Hiyori is snagged by her high school friend into a triple date at Amagi Brilliant Park some Capybara-themed park. Notably, Tenjin stops Tomone (curious about where Yato went off to) from getting Hiyori’s attention in the street; it’s been established Tenjin wants Hiyori to stop hanging out with gods an regalias and live a normal living high school girl’s life.

Now it looks like that might be happening. We don’t know her friends that well, but their meeting up and pairing off at the park is very well done. It’s amusing to see the girl who arranged everything ended up pairing up with a different guy, leaving the handsome, well-spoken Fujisaki (who caught her from falling last week) to Hiyori, and the two have instant chemistry, courteously apologizing to each other for putting one another out.

na93

When Yato and Ebisu encounter Izanami, everything seems arranged to keep them by her side. She takes the form of people they care about—a very forward Hiyori, in Yato’s case—and she constantly offers food, drink, friendship; all of which will keep them stuck in the underworld as her “friend” forever. Hiiro actually does Yato a solid by protecting him from “Hiyori’s” kiss; let it be said that Yato and Hiiro really do make a good team; it’s just that being in that team puts serious strain on Yato’s newer relationships in the living world.

na94

Yukine, for his part, has very little to do this week, but he continues to train and become stronger in body and mind under Kazuma’s wing. Kazuma notes that Yukine is also trying to remain strong for Yato’s sake, even though he’s worried about him.

He should be, it would seem: when Izanami says she’ll only give them the brush if one of them stays behind, Ebisu picks Yato to stay with the logic that he’s the more famous god with a lot more at stake. Obviously, Yato takes exception to this—he has as much a right to exist as Ebisu, regardless of his past—so they fight.

But it all turns out to be an elaborate distraction. When Ebisu “beats” Yato by snatching Hiiro from him (she once served him as well, taking the form of a pistol), Izanami celebrates the fact Yato will be her friend. But then Ebisu uses his little masked phantom bat to snatch the brush, and he and Yato high-tail it together as Izanami fumes.

na95

As they flee, Yato thinks only of getting back to the near shore and to Yukine and Hiyori, whom he cares for so much. Surely this is the end of his dealings with Hiiro, right? He’ll pop back at an awkward time during the date and Hiyori will be embarassed but relieved and happy at the same time, right? Right?

Well…no. As the date progresses, Hiyori continually remembers someone who’s name and face she can’t place, and it starts to eat at her, until it’s clear to her date Fujisaki that something is very wrong. But Fujisaki reads her demeanor as something that can be remedied by taking her hand and kissing her in front of the hugely-romantic fireworks parade.

His instinct isn’t wrong, nor could he possibly be aware that by being kind and charming and comforting to Hiyori all but snaps the thread connecting her to Yato. Who was the one she wanted to take to the park so badly? Wait…she’s at the park with someone now. Does it matter? 

This is what Tenjin – and Hiiro – wanted. Will that kiss really work, or will Hiyori become even more troubled by her inability to remember? Will someone be able to jog her memory before it’s too late?

9_mag

Kamisama Hajimemashita 2 – 11

kk2111
“Dang it Mom, I’m working on my science project!”

Kami-Haji is really in the zone in its home stretch, such that it can abruptly change gears from the Tengu arc to Kirihito without breaking a sweat. Mind you, I was a little skeptical of the choice of gear—there’s only two eps left; get back to Nanami and Tomoe!—I decided to be patient and see where the show was going with this. It was a good decision, and my patience was rewarded handsomely.

kk2112

Having built a new portal to the Netherworld…in his house (probably not the best idea), Kirihito—or I should say Akura-oh—prepares to dive back in to look for his body. What’s interesting is the means with which he does so: by using the bracelet he made from Nanami’s hair (quite a bit of it…yikes!) to keep his human body intact while down there. That’s right, Mr. Big Bad can’t do a thing without Nanami’s (indirect) help, and he knows it.

kk2113

The Netherworld is just as dark and dreary and unpleasant as it was last time, but it doesn’t take long for Akura to find his body. Just a slight niggle: it’s on top of a volcano, in an eternal cycle of being simultaneously burnt and regenerating.

Yatori tagged along as is ridiculous 90% of the time, but we see why he came when he gets serious and stops Kirihito from doing something reckless. His hair bracelet will be of little use; what he needs is the ability to quell the volcano’s fire…and the best thing for that is fox fire; specifically Tomoe’s.

k2114

So, okay, Kirihito will be paying Tomoe (and by extension Nanami) soon. Is there really time for that? Never mind; Kirihito’s side of this episode comes to a beautiful end: once Yatori gets him back to the mundane world, the portal starts leaking poison from the Netherworld. At first Kirihito/Akura is unconcerned, even after one of his shikigami turns to dust; he slaved over that portal and he’ll be damned if he’s going to seal it.

But then he remembers he’s in Kirihito’s house, and his mother is at his door with a late night snack. And he seals that portal right up. It’s an incredible feat for someone so nasty and self-concerned, but Akura-oh clearly inherited more than just Kirihito’s body.

kk2115

Embedded in Kirihito’s side of the story is a cutaway to Tomoe, the guy who betrayed him by falling for a human woman and thinking he could be a human himself, who is in that moment making hamburger steak for his human/god master, because it’s her favorite.

First of all, BAAAAAAAAW. Secondly, Kirihito may poo-poo Tomoe’s love and devotion for a human (first Yukiji, now Nanami), but he kinda loses his philosophical ground when he puts the safety of his host body’s mother before his own.

Like Kirihito sealing the portal later, Tomoe suddenly feels guilty removes the shiitake mushrooms he meant to sneak into the mix after Nanami expresses excitement about him making her favorite dish. DOUBLE BAAAAAAW.

kk2116

The second half begins with Nanami watching a wedding on TV, and brings up the fact she’s agreed to host Himemiko’s wedding when it happens. Mizuki and Tomoe briefly misunderstood her phrasing to mean she was getting married, to which she responds “I’m not getting married. Ever.” And she says it with a creepy face that suffers no debate.

Her stance is harsh, but understandable, considering she comes from a broken home, and the marriage she’s most familiar with—that of her parents—obviously didn’t end well.

kk2117

How apropos then, that when Nanami tags alone with Tomoe and Mizuki to visit the Year God, she ends up revisiting those rough years, even transforming into her twelve-year-younger self.

One wonders why in the world Nanami would ever think looking back on her past twelve years would “sound fun”, but call it curiousity and awe at her surroundings, combined with her special brand of hard-headed recklessness Tomoe both loves and hates about her.

And while I maintain Tengu Nanami remains The Best, Lil’ Nanami is no slouch in the adorableness department!

kk2118

Tomoe and Mizuki fail to catch Lil’ Nanami (who lands a fantastic jump-kick on the latter, believing him a kidnapper), but they’re able to bear witness to her experiences at this age, from being given a chocolate bar by her deadbeat dad just before he runs off for good, to her mother being hounded by debtors.

It’s a lot for a little kid to take in, but even at her young age, she becomes overcome by shame at enjoying a luxurious chocolate bar as her mother struggles to scrape by. (Mind you, it’s her Dad’s fault, not hers).

kk2119

Even in the face of such hardships, the moment Nanami’s mom notices her daughter, her face brightens and she embraces her treasure, as if to assure her that everything will be all right. I had no idea Nanami’s mother was so kind, decent, and loving. Fortunately for us, Nanami took after her mother in that regard.

kk21110

So the question is, what happened to make Nanami family-less and homeless? Tomoe learns this after getting a good look (and possibly feeling the aura of) Nanami’s mother: she’s very ill, and doesn’t have long to live. Her mom didn’t run off like her dad…she died.

Being a little kid, Nanami has no knowledge of her mother’s impending death. And as we know, once she’s gone there’s no one else to take her in, until she comes upon the earth god shrine. But Tomoe tells Mizuki not to interfere; he wants to see a bit more. After all, he’s witnessing a side of the woman he loves he’s never seen before. Maybe seeing that side will finally give him the courage to tell her of his love. Here’s hoping.

9_mag

Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata – 10

sae101

AND THEN THERE WERE FOUR. Or FIVE, if you count IZUMI. OMG, WHY AM I SHOUTING AT YOU WHERE ARE MY MANNERS?!

Anywho, everyone’s favorite purple-haired tomboy Hyoudou Michiru is here, and her timing couldn’t have been better. Why? Because after a seemingly long string of episodes in which Tomoya is fawned over by one girl after another for various reasons, this week Tomoya is the fawner—perhaps not by choice, at least at first—and not the fawnee.

sae102

Tomoya is content to bury himself in Blessing Software, as he holds teleconferences with his staff and make progress on the dating sim (though Kato’s line deliveries either need more work or none at all, bwahahaha). Then his only cousin Michiru appears, topless, in his bathroom, having run away from home after the latest disagreement with her dad (Tomoya’s uncle).

sae103

Whether she is oblivious to her power over her cousin of the same age (who was born on the same day in the same hospital as her!) is having fun torturing a horny teenage boy, or is herself into Tomoya (the truth is likely a combination of the three) calling Michiru a disruptive force in Tomoya’s little otaku world would be a grim understatement.

The sudden 3D onslaught nearly drives Tomoya to insanity. The camera reflects his uneasy but utterly-unable-to-avert gaze, and it’s all over the voluptuous, scantily-clad Michiru. This episode features the most fanservice since the prologue; possibly more.

But like that promising if totally out of chronological order start, the fanservice is never tiresome because a.) it’s also character-service and plot-service, and b.) it’s very well-done, right up there with Monogatari. For example, animators are notoriously bad at feet, but not here.

sae104

For one reason or another it’s a long night for Tomoya, so in the A.V. clubroom, he’s all but asleep at the laptop, causing him to spout supportive dialogue that gets Utaha all hot and bothered—and forces Eriri to quarantine her in the broadcast booth, where she nonetheless continues to participate in the discussion via the P.A. system.

sae105

I like how the show clearly isn’t interested in such tedious minutiae as why Tomoya’s circle has such unfettered access to such slick digs. You’d think the A.V. Club would be in there, or at the very least some paperwork and lobbying would be required to gain access to the facilities. But this isn’t that kind of show. Saekano doesn’t care, and nor do we. They’ve got a place at school to work, and that’s all we need or care to know.

sae106

Just as the circle’s topic of discussion turns to determining who will score the game, a very big oversight to this point, considering the awesome power of music (cough-Violin Girl-cough), Tomoya gets a cheerful text from Michiru asking when he’s coming home and stating she’s ordering pizza (or possibly four pizzas in one).

It’s innocent enough, reflecting Michiru’s unique position as friend, family, and love interest. Kato, possibly exercising Stealth Mode, “can’t help” but glance at Tomoya’s phone and read every word.

sae107

That maks Eriri curious, which in tern makes Utaha curious, and Tomoya has a full-scale riot on his hands. He’s tied up in caution tape and interrogated, and each girl stays true to character: Utaha remains her seductive self, but is clearly annoyed and maintains a certain intentional unpredictability to put Tomoya that much more on edge.

Meanwhile, Eriri recedes to the very edge of the room, flustered and on the brink of panic. Kato is just Kato; meaning she kinda stays in the background and lets the two heavies do all the outragin’.

sae108

When Tomoya tells them who Michiru is and why she’s in his house, it hardly assuages their anxiety. On the contrary, it sets these two creatives types’ imaginations ablaze, as Utaha writes a scenario about the cousins on the spot, one so troubling it just about does Eriri in, which may have been Utaha’s intent all along.

But it’s true that while Utaha teases, often very seductively so, she can’t touch the inherent intimacy of Michiru, nor her fearlessness and utter lack of inhibition regarding Tomoya. Eriri, meanwhile, may be a childhood friend, but Michiru, who was present at Tomoya’s birth, is the Ultimate Childhood Friend.

sae109

What I didn’t think I’d see was so much of the family side of Michiru. I’d thought all along that she was at least a little older than Tomoya rather than the same age, but even so Michiru lives in a more “normal” world than Tomoya, and takes immediate (and unsolicited) attempts to make him grow up, first by tossing all his otaku crap and replacing it with her own, more sober musically-themed room decorations.

sae1010

This means that in addition to having Utaha’s seduction and Eriri’s longevity beat, she also gives Kato’s domesticity and practicality a run for their money. Keep in mind Michiru is not being mocking, but giving her honest opinion as someone who’s known Tomoya longer than anyone, when she tells him he could easily get a girlfriend if he stopped acting like a weirdo. The fact that Tomoya wouldn’t be interested in that kind of girl is irrelevant; Michiru is looking out for a family member. One has to think about marriage at some point!

Similarly, when Tomoya is finally able to segue into telling Michiru his dream of creating the ultimate dating sim, Michiru couldn’t be less impressed. In fact, she finds it ridiculous that Tomoya would try to make a living off his childish hobbies. She even strikes a concerned parent/wife pose…which wouldn’t look bad painted on the fuselage of a P-51.

sae1011

Tomoya has always had a blind spot for the non-otaku Michiru, who has flitted from passion to passion, always abandoning something when she’s bored, while it’s in his nature to stick to one thing like stink in a Basset Hound’s un-groomed ear. But here’s the thing: Michiru is really good at everything she tries. Of late, she’s been in an all-girl band, which was the cause of her argument with her dad. So we know she’s good at that too.

sae1012

So good, in fact, that when she decides to defy Tomoya while he’s taking a bath by plugging her guitar into an amp and playing a piece she’s working on, Tomoya sees the same cherry blossom petals that flew by his face when he first saw Kato on that hill. Not only that, he sees the entire dating sim story unfold to Michiru’s stirring tunes.

He’s so spellbound, he forgets he’s in nothing but a towel when he enters the room, a reversal of their first encounter this week. Michiru is about to apologize, but Tomoya isn’t there to hear one. He’s there to ask her to join his circle as composer.

sae1013

Then his towel slips off, and Michiru gets the Full Aki. She neither accepts nor declines. She simply stares. Having been built up so much recently by the fawning of Utaha and Izumi and Eriri, Tomoya has come back down to earth and stands before Michiru, as naked as the day they were both born in the same hospital.

9_ses