Astra Lost in Space – 08 – Four Funerals and a Wedding

Last week much of our gallant student crew was ready to give up on ever leaving Planet Icriss and were starting to make plans for how they’d live out the rest of their lives there. That is, until they found a second wrecked ship almost identical to theirs, with a single occupant in hibernation.

When she wakes up, she identifies herself as Polina Livinskaya, an astronaut who, along with four others, was on a planetary survey mission. There’s no good way to tell her that despite having been rescued, she’s still technically stranded with the rest of them due to the Astra’s reactor being kaput. When she learns this, it’s to much to take and she passes out.

However, when Zack uses the slices of an orange-like alien fruit to illustrate how it wasn’t that unlikely to find another ship in Icriss’ narrow safe zone, it dawns on Aries that, like two fruits sliced into equal pieces, the two Ark-class ships can be separated into three segments each.

They maneuver the Astra to the Ark VI, and replace the former’s ruined reactor section with the latter’s intact one. This process probably happens a bit too easily, but hey, when you’re in space, modularization is key, so I’m just glad it worked out.

With Yunhua, Ulgar, and Charce all but ruled out as potential traitors, Polina seems well-positioned to be the latest chaos-causing wild card, but she spends most of the episode in a daze (understandable, considering how long she’s been out) and distressed that so much time has passed.

As the crew gathers food (including very edible animal-like plants), Zack and Quitterie end up talking about their dreams. Zack admires his father, but learned long ago that his dad doesn’t actually like him very much, which he chalks up to how deep he got into human memory research. Therefore Zack is committed to not following in those particular footsteps, lest it change him too.

Zack tells Quitterie she should do as he and Kanata are doing and simply go for it, but she protests that it’s not so easy when her real dream isn’t to be a doctor, but to be Zack’s wife. Zack expresses puzzlement at that, because he’s been assuming all along that he and Quitterie were going to get married, recalling a promise they made back when they were kids, and affirms that he’s always loved her in his usual stoic Zack Walker style.

I love how matter-of-fact he is about the whole thing, and how Quitterie didn’t really ever need to worry, except about the fact that Zack is a lot like his father, and she’ll have to make sure his research doesn’t take him too far away from the person he loves.

With repairs complete and food and water gathered, the Astra is ready to depart from Icriss. But first, they make a detour to the last reported position of Polina’s four crewmates, just in case. This turns out to be a fool’s errand, as every additional second they’re on Icriss is a risk that they and/or the Astra could get damaged or destroyed by more homicidal plants.

They manage to find the Ark VI’s rover, oddly upturned in an otherwise flat landscape, as well as several suspicious mounds I initially thought were graves. Turns out they are the locations of gigantic bamboo-like shoots that rise out of the ground with tentacles that reach out for the crew.

Everyone retreats but Kanata, who uses his pole-vaulting skills to retrieve the dog tag of Glen, one of Polina’s crewmates. It’s nice she was able to secure at least something tangible to remember them, but it still wasn’t worth risking everything and everyone in my books.

With that, the Astra takes off and pulls away from Icriss, and prepares to jump to the next and final planet on the journey. Before that, Kanata suggests they throw a party to celebrate escaping Icriss and to welcome Polina. Unfortunately a comedy of antigrav-related blunders results in Charce’s freshly-baked cake ends up in Arie’s face.

Things then shift to blood; specifically, that Quitterie and Funi have the same kind, as she learns when she drew everyone’s blood to donate to Polina. Polina assumed (as I did earlier in the show) that they were blood sisters anyway due to their strikingly similar features.

Sure enough, after an exhaustive DNA analysis, Zack discovers something very strange and shocking, which he first reports only to Kanata: not only are Quitterie and Funi related…they are the same person—clones. What the heck was Quitterie’s mother up to with these two, and does this have anything to do with why they were set up to be lost in space together?

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Bunny Girl Senpai – 08 – A Boring Yet Sound Argument

On another night at the Azusagawa residence, Futaba Rio lends Sakuta some insight into how her separation into two different Futabas took place: it was the result of her inability to reconcile her need for attention with her inability to forgive the means of getting that attention.

Futaba developed faster than the other girls in her class—a lonely development, to be sure. It isolated her; made her feel alone, conspicuous, even dirty. And yet, her need to not be alone led her to start the photo stream; any reactions, no matter who from, were a consolation; they made her feel a little less lonely.

This debunks my theory about the competing sides of her psyche splitting off, but only partially: you could still say the Futaba living at Sakuta’s is the one more like the superego, while the one living in Futaba’s house is more like the id. One can live in an imperfect world far easier than the other.

While accepting the judgment of Mai’s manager that she cut out most private meetings with her boyfriend as a “strategic retreat” for the sake of her just-restarted career, Sakuta digs fully into this Futaba Dilemma. After all, he’s dealing with a childhood friend.

“Shut-in” Futaba wants “Wild” Futaba to shut down the account, and while meeting with her she shows him pictures from when she was in middle school; a form of “self-mutilation” in which she intentionally posted pics of her developing form. Both Futabas say they “hate” themselves.

After a day when “Wild” Futaba gets to fan a hot Kunimi, she starts to get unwanted propositions and threats to expose her from strangers looking at her pics online. This naturally freaks Futaba out, and she deletes her account, runs to her (huge!) house with Sakuta, and has him sleepover.

There, she reveals to Sakuta that she felt like she’d be all alone again after both Kunimi and Sakuta got themselves girlfriends. She already feels like Kunimi is so far away, but all it takes is one call from Sakuta on her phone for him to come running (well, biking) to her side in the middle of the night.

Unknown to Kunimi, Sakuta just proved what a loyal and dedicated friend he is. When she realizes she was never alone after all, she tears up, and Kunimi has Sakuta buy them both drinks to rehydrate: him for his biking, her for her tears.

Sakuta also buys fireworks and they go to the beach, lighting sparklers and candles and crackers and rockets until the night sky starts to brighten. Futaba smiles and laughs and the three old friends have the most fun they’ve had together in ages.

Futaba’s “separation” may have been unfortunate, but one could argue it was also necessary in order for her to be reminded of what she has, not to mention bring the three back together after some distance was created between them due to extenuating circumstances.

More importantly, “Wild” Futaba started the day wanting Sakuta to take a side—since “the world only needs one Futaba Rio”—and ending with her urging Sakuta to help the other Futaba. He heads home to report  that the account is history, then passes out, leaving the other Futaba her phone.

The background shows “Wild” Futaba with Sakuta and Kunimi during their idyllic evening. When Sakuta wakes up, she’s gone, but the other Futaba tells him “if it were her” where she’d be: the school, in their classroom.

There, Futaba repeats the other Futaba’s words about there only needing to be one of them in the world, and how the “Wild” one is clearly being “the better Futaba”, and that she should just disappear. Sakuta rejects all of that, an invites her to the fireworks festival he, Kunimi, and the other Futaba agreed to attend (since he and Mai can’t date and Kunimi is having a fight with his GF).

He leaves it at that…then passes out a product of his bike ride in the pounding rain being a bit too much exertion immediately following an all-nighter. He wakes up in the hospital with Mai by his bedside, having been called by Futaba.

By being there for Sakuta, Futaba proved that she actually is needed. And when Sakuta sits with her later, he neither tries to tell her all of her positive qualities nor tells her how she needs to start gradually liking or loving herself, as a friend might be expected to do.

It’s because Sakuta is “the worst” in this way, not saying what a usual friend would say, Futaba is relieved and comforted. She then calls the other Futaba on a pay phone, voices her desire to go to the festival, and in a neat trick where the phone receiver suddenly falls, she disappears. But she’s not gone. Futaba Rio is simply whole again.

Whole, and no longer alone. While watching the fireworks at the festival, she seems to tell Kunimi her feelings, but rather than seeking an answer she already knows, she simply urges him to make up with his girlfriend.

Netoge no Yome wa Onnanoko ja Nai to Omotta? – 05

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Turns out Sette-san isn’t Nishimura’s sister, but his pink-haired classmate (and friend of Segawa’s), Akiyama. She teases both him and Ako by glomming on him in class, but she causes a lot more trouble than she expected, as she creates an environment Ako no longer feels comfortable in. She even suggests the club play an FPS unrelated to LA, likely to avoid Akiyama/Sette.

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Ako then recedes again from school life, vowing only to live in LA, where she knows Rusian is his wife, if nowhere else. At long last, Nishimura’s wishy-washiness and failure to clearly define his real world relationship with Ako has been laid bare, and this is the sum product: an Ako more reclusive than ever, who wishes to “reincarnate” into someone cooler.

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The club pretty easily figures out that Ako herself is caught up in a spiral of stubbornness and a desire not to lose further face, and that Nishimura is the only one who has a shot to bring her back to school. While walking home with Segawa, she relays to him how important he was to Ako, both in the game and in her life, and how she, like Ako, wouldn’t mind spending a good long time with Nishimura…gaming, of course. Just gaming. As usual, Segawa fools precisely no one but the guy she’s trying to pretend she doesn’t like.

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When he arrives at Ako’s house, Nishimura is confronted by Ako’s mom, who looks more like an equally attractive older sister and is delighted that Ako’s “future husband” has come to sort her “problem daughter” out. She then shuffles off to work, leaving him with the key to Ako’s room, of all things.

When he enters, Ako isn’t ready for him, being in her underwear and all. When she tells him she is ready and he can come in, she’s totally naked, revealing her and Nishimura’s definitions of “ready” in this instance differ greatly. She eventually gets some damn clothes on, however, and to her surprise, Nishimura isn’t there to drag her back to school; he’s just there to play LA with her.

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After a day of this, during which they were supposed to be at school, Nishimura essentially proposes mutually assured destruction: if Ako can stay home forever and never go to school or see any of their friends, so can he, and whatever fallout there is from that, so be it.

While I kinda doubt Nishimura’s parents would allow him to ruin his chances of getting into college or securing a good job, Ako is touched by Rusian’s devotion. The knowledge that he’d stay home with her forever if that’s what she eventually decided gives her the strength to tough it out at school with him.

Once she’s there, Akiyama mends fences by proclaiming to Ako’s peers that she has a dutiful boyfriend who visited her when she wasn’t feeling well. That’s a narrative Ako can get behind. Do I buy that it’s enough to mitigate all her other mental and social issues? Not really. Is Nishimura now Ako’s explicitly public boyfriend? No. Is that fundamental ambiguity a problem going forward? Certainly.

Furthermore, the last few episodes have felt like slightly-tweaked versions of the same story, beginning and ending in virtually the same space. Characters can talk about Ako “progressing”, but that doesn’t mean it’s true.

And everyone’s too…nice. This is high school, where are the “normie” antagonists? Those issues, combined with its Thursday night time slot (my movie night) and lackluster production values, are making this a hard show to stick with.

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Netoge no Yome wa Onnanoko ja Nai to Omotta? – 04

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There were three main story thrusts this week: Segawa’s attempts to keep her “twisted” net game-playing second life a secret; Nishimura’s insistence on drawing semantic boundaries in his relationship with an ever-increasingly enthusiastic Ako; and the introduction of Sette, who immediately threatens to rend the married couple asunder.

The first two stories are re-treads of what we’ve already seen: Segawa isn’t ready to be totally exposed for the gamer she is, even as she fails to realize all the effort and stress she’s exerting is to perpetuate a lie, and not even a necessary one.

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This doesn’t seem to be that hostile a school environment, socially speaking, and Nishimura is proof you can be openly otaku without becoming a pariah.

Segawa’s issue is that she doesn’t want to be viewed for what she really is, but rather some obscure ideal she must have consumed somewhere. The “perfect high school life” she seeks will always be a mirage as long as she’s mired in efforts to maintain a false identity.

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Also a bit of a re-tread, with little progress one way or another, is Nishimura’s careful dance with Ako. In spite of his mates having a good idea what his hobbies are, like Segawa he’s trying to have his normal life cake and eat it too; project an image of someone at least more normal than Ako.

And while he’s clearly uncomfortable with anyone mistaking Ako for his girlfriend or wife, the reality is he’s become very close to this person. I had thought they’d reached more of an understanding, but Nishimura’s discomfort and awkwardness in the fact of any advance by Ako…it’s all a bit dilatory.

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Ako doesn’t help matters by overreacting to every interaction Nishimura has with the opposite sex. It was Nekohime/his teacher last week, and Segawa’s friend Akiyama this week.

But Sette looks to be the first true threat she should actually worry about, but not because the newbie is in danger of usurping her role as Rusian’s wife, but seems more like and admiring imouto.  Heck, Sette could well be Nishimura’s real-life sister for all I know.

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Netoge no Yome wa Onnanoko ja Nai to Omotta? – 03

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The “Modern Communication Electronic Game Club” (too wordy IMO) has been ostensibly organized with the purpose of getting Ako to discern between the real world and the game world, but the road to that outcome is a long and perilous one, as Rusi—er—Nishimura quickly finds out.

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That being said, there is only a slight learning curve to playing in the same room together, and the party eventually gets more efficient in their first grinding session. Ako, under Nishimura’s guidance, equips herself properly. I also liked how Ako had to be reminded she doesn’t have to chat in-game; he’s right there. Force of habit!

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After the session, Ako is in a glow of happiness, a parade Nishimura really doesn’t want to rain on, because he must realize on some level it’s not the end of the world for the two of them to be mistaken for boyfriend and girlfriend, if not more.

But as the club sessions continue, Segawa points out that they seem having the opposite effect on Ako: only bringing the two worlds that should be separate closer together. Nishimura seeks guidance from Nekohime, the cross-player he previously proposed to, but Ako gets wind of it and her jealous side is revealed.

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After a pretty harsh sit-down with Ako, Nishimura tells her flat-out they’re not married in the real world, they’re just classmates and friends. The full effect of that statement doesn’t come until Ako doesn’t show up for school the next day, and in-game talks about meeting offline with a “friend” who is a guy (whom I immediately assumed was Nekohime).

Nishimura wants to stop her from meeting a random dude on her own offline, but is worried he’d be going against his code of keeping world separate if he did. Balderdash, say both Segawa and Goshouin, in a united front against Nishimura’s wishy-washiness.

It’s clear he likes real-life Ako too, and so there’s no way he’d stand by and let her do something imprudent at best and potentially dangerous at worst. I like how the other two girls in the club are supportive of what Nishimura and Ako have, and quick to show him the proper path.

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In a nice twist, we don’t get the heartfelt reunion between Nishimura and Ako I thought was coming. Instead, the cross-playing Nekohime turns out to not only be a woman, but Nishimura’s teacher, Saitou-sensei. Which means that yes, he once unknowingly proposed to his teacher.

Now, this is an awkward situation for all parties involved—save Ako, who has come prepared to punish whoever the real Nekohime turned out to be, teacher or no, for breaking her beloved Rusian’s pure heart.

For a second, I thought like Nishimura and Saitou that she was about to pull some kind of serious weapon. Thankfully, it’s just a toy mage staff; but Saitou still instinctively defends herself, taking Ako out.

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That puts Saitou in the pefect position—from the club’s perspective—to fill a role the club needed to ensure its survival: a faculty advisor. As someone who not only understands the club’s purpose but also plays LA, she’s the perfect person to advise the club (whether it’s under duress or not).

As for the purpose of the club, well, it seems to have taught Nishimura more of a lesson than Ako. While she considers the two worlds too similar, he’s kept them too separate, putting his actions an his manner with real-life Ako at odds with his actual feelings for her.

Yes, Ako still needs work in the real world, but that’s accomplished here too when Saitou makes her agree to come to school as much as she can. Another fine Netoge that highlights a rarity in these kinds of shows: a club in which all the members are likable characters that still have their own personalities and quirks. Rusian and Ako are also a lovely, fun-to-watch couple, even if Rusian has trouble seeing them as such.

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Netoge no Yome wa Onnanoko ja Nai to Omotta? – 02

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This second episode of NetoYome didn’t cover quite as much ground as the first, and seemed to lag at times, but didn’t do any harm to my impression that this is one of the better school comedies airing this Spring. There’s an inscrutable exhilaration from watching Nishimura suddenly find himself among the real-world equivalents of his game comrades.

They seem just as exhilarated…even Segawa. As for Ako, she barely acts any differently in real life, professing her steadfast love for Rusian, and being elated to hear he chose her irregardless of what age or gender she was in the real world.

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It’s interesting, then, that throughout the scenes in which Nishimura is gaming, his mind’s eye no longer sees Apricot and Schwein as exclusively men, which he assumed they were. That makes Apricot’s garb suddenly extremely racy, but he can’t help it. He’s met the real Apricot, Schwein, and Ako, and there’s no going back.

What’s interesting is that both Nishimura and Segawa are determined to go back to their normal high school lives after the real-world meetup, and they have no reason to suspect they couldn’t. Segawa doesn’t help matters by greeting Nishimura, something I doubt she did before they met.

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But the most doom befalls the two when Ako enters the classroom, refers to them by their game names and calls Rusian her husband in front of the entire class. The class is more bemused than anything else, but Segawa in particular finds this whole situation a serious breach of what she considers a sacrosanct barrier between the game and reality.

But here’s the thing: Ako knows of no such barrier, which is why she floats right over it. Rusian is Rusian, even when Rusian is named Nishimura Hideki. Same with Schew-chan. This ‘condition’ of not being able to discern between their real and in-game personalities troubles both Segawa and Nishimura…but I wasn’t as quick to condemn her.

Initially, I thought, people fall in love sight unseen all the time, and I was backed up by Ako asserting that her and Nishimura’s hearts connected through their in-game chatting. The difference is, Nishimura and Segawa were attempting to affect personas distinct from who they really are, while Ako was doing everything she could to be herself.

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Ako is firm in her belief that that doesn’t matter. I think the answer is in the middle, and Ako’s very different mindset from Segawa and Nishimura makes for an enticing character dynamic going forward, not just as a matter of debating these matters, but the fact Nishimura is closer to Segawa on this issue, despite Ako being his waifu.

One thing I’ll say is that while Ako is usually all over Nishimura, neither Segawa or the Prez seem intent on rocking that boat, at least not for the moment. As to Goshouin, she sets up a club where their game and real selves will be in the same place at the same time, which, if Real Nishimura’s as good a person as Ako already believes, is a gesture not so much tailored to ‘curing’ her of her inability to separate games from reality, as much as it could only confirm to Ako that she’s right.

No matter wha airs the others put on in the game, they remain essentially who they are, and those are the people Ako wants to be friends with in both worlds.

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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 16

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Throughout the duration of Shirayuki’s visit to Tanbarun, the prevailing issue hasn’t been whether Shirayuki would fall for Raj (she just doesn’t see him that way, and in any case is already in love with Zen) or whether Raj would keep her here against her will (he owes his growth as a prince and a person to her, and the present Raj would never do that). Nor is it whether Obi will fall for Shirayuki (he seems to be, but doesn’t want to).

No, the issue that casts a shadow over this entire Tanbarun trip has been not if, but when those who are after Shirayuki will get their hands on her. Because we knew that when that happened, neither Zen nor Raj nor even Obi would be able to protect her, because if any of them did, because this is Akagami no Shirayuki-hime,which is Japanese for “She’s Getting Kidnapped.”

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That being said, until the night of her abduction arrives, life goes on, and it’s still great to see Raj putting in a very Beauty & the Beast (Disney Version) awkward effort into her sorta-not-quite-courtship. He’s even got a rose and a ginormous and awesome library that would even make Mirepoc Finedel gawk with awe.

Initially cute but quickly wearing out their welcome? Raj’s siblings Rona (who can’t help but meedle for Raj’s sake) and Eugena (too passive to stop the force of nature that is Rona). He’s a big boy, Rona. Let him sort this out for himself. Heck, she doesn’t even have the whole picture, wrongly assuming her heart belongs to Obi, which she “confirms” by shoving Shirayuki into him.

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When left to his own devices, Raj is slowly groping his way in the dark shadows of his selfish upbringing, and gradually starting to see the light of what an equitable interpersonal relationship is. Sure, he cheats a bit with notes, but he’s making the effort, which counts. And there’s no subterfuge in his lovely violin playing – at least this guy knows how to do something!

No amount of notes on general knowledge or violin playing, however, will convince Shirayuki to stay in Tanbarun any longer than originally planned, at least not if she’s not specifically asked to and given a good argument for why she should. She misses Zen terribly, which Obi can see when the two inadvertantly meet on their adjacent balconies.

When Obi said goodnight and went in first, staring at the hand that arrested Shirayuki’s fall in the library, as if thinking “I will never wash this hand again!”,  I was more than 50% sure his hand-staring would be interrupted by a scream indicating Shirayuki had finally been captured. After all, when Obi’s mind is staying to thoughts of impossible romance, his efficacy as a bodyguard is diminished.

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But no, the hammer doesn’t drop until the night of the ball, when Shirayuki gets dolled up in a gorgeously flowing pale green gown that makes her hair pop. Obi is telling her all the ways Raj is making the ball as painless and enjoyable as possible for her, before receiving a letter from Zen warning about Kazuki and an accomplice are on their way to Tanbarun.

How did Kazuki know which room Shirayuki would be in? How did he scale the castle walls without detection? Why the heck is he so gung-ho about kidnapping Shirayuki in the first place? These are all questions for which the answers lie ahead. All we know is, this season’s pleasant extended “honeymoon” is over.

Speaking of honeymoons, Zen, in demanding to go to Tanbarun to rescue Shirayuki, tells his brother he wishes to marry her. And Izana warns Zen if anything happens that requires him to bail him out, he can forget about bringing Shirayuki back to the castle. Yikes…everything is on the line now.

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 04

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 15

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After a brief introduction to Raj’s siblings Rona and Eugena, we see that things aren’t exactly going so smoothly between Raj and Shirayuki. It’s nothing dramatic; he just can’t seem to strike up a proper conversation with her, perhaps feeling the pressure of not saying the wrong thing. His difficulty contrasts sharply with Shirayuki’s effortless chat with Obi on the balcony overlooking her hometown. It’s the conversation she should have had with Raj, but couldn’t.

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The siblings were a hint that the whole of Scheherazade is singularly focused on Raj’s interactions with Shirayuki, which explains why he feels like he’s on the spot. So he decides a change of scenery is best, and wouldn’t you know it, the castle has a greenhouse, which is Shirayuki’s wheelhouse.

The only problem is, while Raj has gotten a little nicer and more considerate, he’s still inept at most things, such as finding his way through the labyrinthine (and booby trap-laced) vaults that lead to their destination. Raj is doing his best to seem on top of things with his authoritative snapping, but he soon gets the three of them lost – which surely doesn’t help his confidence.

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Meanwhile, as Zen meets with that island hottie Kihal and her awesome birds, Mitsuhide runs into Prince Izana. He decides to ask point-blank if he’s testing the lovebirds, to which Izana responds point-blank (to Mitsu’s surprise) that yes, he is. If Zen and Shirayuki are for real, this little forced separation in the midst of an at-large would-be kidnapper should be a walk in the park.

Meanwhile in Tanbarun, Obi starts to notice they’re being followed, and manages to catch Rona and Eugena (and show off his mad ninja skillz). That gives Raj a rare moment alone with Shirayuki, during which he expresses his (wrong) opinion that she knows this was all going to go pear-shaped, and that she’s only sticking around so she can “say she couldn’t do it and leave as soon as possible”.

Shirayuki rightly takes exception to that assertion. In fact, she legitimately wants to change her relationship with Raj for the better. She believes she was sent to him for a reason and she’s going to stick it out. Once Obi and the twins (who know a way out) rejoin them, Shirayuki praises Raj for looking her in the eye when speaking to her, a first.

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Once they reach the greenhouse, Raj could, ya know, escort her around the grounds and stike up some kind of conversation about plants, but he’s so exhausted he collapses onto a bench and leaves her to Obi. Still, he makes sure to apologize for his mistakes – another first, by his siblings’ reckoning, and when the sun sets, Shirayuki says she’ll see him tomorrow.

So sure, there’s room for improvement, but large strides have already been made between Raj and Shirayuki; strides forged in those vaults. If only things could stay this breezy; but it would appear Mihaya may be forming an alliance with Kazuki, who promises to reward him handsomely through his “villainous” associates.

I’d say Shirayuki is safe in Raj’s castle with Obi in a room right next door to her, but surely there’s a Shirayuki-napping quota to be met, and Kazuki (who isn’t bad at the mad ninja skillz himself) will find a way.

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 03

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SGRS has played a clever trick. I thought this show would be about Yotarou, the reformed thief, but he hasn’t been present the last two episodes. Instead, it’s been young Yakumo’s, or I should say, Bon’s show.

And that’s totally all right, as he puts immense craft, care, and detail into his quietly epic life story, a large part of which contained Sukeroku (AKA Shin) who is absent from the present world. In hindsight, that absence and the events that let up to it (which have yet to be told) are given greater weight with each new section.

Bon is struggling with the same boisterous kind of rakugo Shin performs and gets reliable laughs from, and having to balance school means he feels like the gap between them is growing. So Shin suggests he try rakugo that makes the most of his weak voice: bawdy and erotic stories. On that note, Shin suggests they go to a brothel and get laid…once they have the scratch, of course.

In the midst of hanging out offstage with the “house band”, Bon, who had no prior interest in or time for girls, meets Ochiyo, a girl he becomes interested in and spends lots of time with. The warm fondness and melancholy in present-day Yakumo’s voice makes the couple’s inevitable separation really sting.

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That hurt is somewhat mitigated by present-day Yakumo keeping Ochiyo’s promise to never forget her, because here he is telling us about her! The reason she has to leave Tokyo is basically the same reason people start leaving Tokyo in droves: World War II is about to break out. The dread of that fact is underlined by highly effective use of loud white noise, which swells and cuts out suddenly, creating tension and foreboding.

The government starts censoring rakugo just at the time Bon sees the raunchier stuff as his way in, almost as if the universe were blocking his path. Soon it’s just the master and his two students, and he only takes Shin with him to a kind of USO tour in Manchuria, sending Bon and his bad leg to the country with the mistress. But the night before Shin leaves, Bon has his brother pinky-swear that they’ll see each other again.

Bon gets a job in a factory, meets another nice girl, and settles into a provisional life, a life without Rakugo he never thought he’d have to deal with until it came. Sure, he’s not exactly on the front lines or anything, but his suffering is borne of not being able to take the path he wishes due to, well, history itself.

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And yet, he never fully gives up on rakugo. He stuffs the books in the closet, but he still tells stories to himself when he feels down. He finds the rakugo heals and fuels his troubled heart; it gives him vitality and hope. And then, one day, just like that, the war is over.

More white noise, and a few well-chosen sights like a cloud in the sky and the sight of a radio broadcasting the emperor’s surrender mark that new event. When it comes to depicting the parts of the war we know well, the show doesn’t show much, because Bon himself doesn’t see any of the horrors.

More than anything, both Bon and the Mistress miss Shin and the master terribly, and even some time after the war continue to live in a kind of limbo as they await a return that may never come. The good news is, rakugo roars back into popularity, including the kind best suited for Shin, who gets a promotion and gets very busy very fast.

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He gets so busy, he’s totally caught off guard when one dusk, just as suddenly as Ochiyo, and country life, and the war, and loneliness, came and went, Shin, Bon’s brother and other half, returns. Five years had passed mercilessly, heartlessly, but by the end of it their promise was fulfilled and they were together again. They ease back into theater life; rakugo life; and peace. Only now, no doubt, with so much time spent apart, this family understands and appreciates far better what it means to be together.

And speaking of reunions, who should show up at their door but Miyokichi, a beautiful young woman. The brothers have competed in rakugo, and endured separation for an entire war’s length. Will their next trial be a love triangle?

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Kiseijuu: Sei no Kakuritsu – 23

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While it felt like momentum-killing padding at the time, in hindsight it was a good idea to expose Shinichi to Mitsuyo’s worldview and advice before seeking out Gotou for a rematch. She instilled in him the idea of not simply rushing to his death half-cocked, but rather constantly using the noggin in his skull to think of ways, no matter how unlikely or ridiculous, to keep living. In other words, to trust his instincts; the same instincts that drive all other living things on Earth to survive.

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It isn’t all that unfair a fight. Sure, Gotou is nigh invincible and far stronger and faster than Shinichi, (I even felt that mega-punch) but he can’t kill him if he can’t find him. This was one somewhat glaring flaw, however; it seems odd that Gotou has virtually no idea where Shinichi is. For one thing, he’s human, which is Gotou’s food…why wouldn’t he be able to smell out a meal? For another thing, there are still Migi cells in Shinichi’s body, which you’d think Gotou would be able to at least detect a little.

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Another glaring flaw is that Shinichi survives the fight early on mostly because Gotou takes his sweet old time killing him, because he doesn’t consider a human to be any threat. Shinichi could have possibly even talked him into letting him live, or at least run far enough away that Gotou wouldn’t bother fighting him. Of course, that means putting more innocent people at risk.

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And that’s primarily why Shinichi confronted Gotou; not out of anger, or for revenge, or because he wants to be the hero, but to prevent others from dying because of him. With poise that would make Mitsuyo proud, just moments before Gotou skewers him, Shinichi remembers Gotou bleeding in a specific location. Lying in a pile of garbage, he picks up a rusty pipe and stabs the lunging Gotou with it. It turns out to be a vulnerable area, and it pisses Gotou off even more.

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But stabbing him there also broke the link between the “head” and the “rest”, and as I had suspected after the uncertain fate of Migi last week, Migi himself became part of that “rest” and is freed when the rusty pipe introduces life-threatening toxins that make the other “rest” parasytes wake up and resist the “head’s” orders.

For the second time in just a couple of minutes, Shinichi is about to face his death, but this time all he can do is sit there and wait for the blow to come. That’s when the Migi in Gotou’s swinging killing arm meets with the Migi in Shinichi’s stump and BOOM, Migi transfers back to Shinichi right then and there, nullifying the attack. Shinichi’s so damn happy he’s back his eyes glint!

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From there, the duo of Shinichi and Migi is more than enough against the severely weakened and uncoordinated Gotou. It’s very satisfying when Migi goes through him like a wire through clay and he explodes, bringing about the dawn.

Upon inspecting the garbage pile, Migi deduces that the toxins on the pipe that proved fatal to Gotou were proof that “there’s no beating humans,” especially if you corner them atop a garbage pile they made that they can use the contents of to kill you!

It raises questions in Shinichi’s head about whether parasytes came to be to reduce the population of humans, who have spread across the earth and ravaged the environment. Those toxins are representative of human’s status as Earth’s wasting disease…and parasytes could be deemed the cure.

That’s one way to look at things, anyway. So when Migi declines to finish off a member of his kind (to do so would be murder in his eye/s) and leaves Shinichi to decide, Shinichi initially hesitates to finish killing the slowly reconstructing Gotou. When taking enough steps back, Gotou, or what’s left of him, has as much right to exist and survive as Shinichi does.

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Shinichi changes his mind again when he realizes that he can’t live his life all those steps back; not as long as there are people at risk, or people he wants to protect. If Gotounator re-coalesces, he’s not going to stop killing humans; it’s what he exists for. That makes him, in the arena of protecting one’s own small band of humans, not all of humanity, an enemy whose existence is intolerable.

Shinichi sheds a tear before finishin Gotou, and in the brief cuts to the writhing, reconstructing corpse, it does indeed engender a kind of primal human sympathy for the weak and struggling, even if we know full well the monster it will become if allowed to reconstruct.

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Shinichi goes home, having done what was necessary to protect Mitsuyo’s village, along with ensuring he himself will be safe for the time being, along with his father and his beloved Satomi. Gotou is by no means the last parasyte, but he was certainly the toughest. I doubt anything tougher will show up in the finale, which I hope will focus on where Shinichi and Migi go from here, and in particular whether he plans to finally inform Satomi about his deep, battle-tested friendship with the little monster in his right arm.

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Kiseijuu: Sei no Kakuritsu – 22

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Shinichi’s blissful honeymoon with Satomi doesn’t last long; in fact, there’s absolutely no mention of it, or even Satomi’s name, this entire episode, lending it a somewhat disjointed episodic feel. Mind you, more big things go down this week, but once those things are over and done with, the episode kinda grinds to a halt.

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Migi alerts Shinichi that Gotou is on his way, and then Migi steals and drives a car, then ditches it off a cliff, hitting the one Gotou is driving. Naturally, this isn’t enough to kill him, so Migi decides to separate completely from Shinichi to act as a decoy, so the two can execute a pincer attack. However, in his weakened, separate state, Migi isn’t strong enough to fully behead Gotou, and begins to shrivel up.

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Migi decides to stand his ground and cover Shinichi’s escape, saying a quick goodbye. But what’s interesting is that it isn’t just Shinichi who feels bad about this. Migi is no longer the cold, logical bastard he once was. Shinichi has humanized him as much as he’s parasytized Shinichi. Migi even considers Shinichi a friend. What he doesn’t do is wilt away into nothing, at least on camera. We don’t witness his death, so there’s a chance he’s not dead.

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Shinichi runs, feeling like a coward for abandoning Migi, and when trying to steal a drink from an old woman’s backyard, that old woman takes pity on him and takes him into her house.

This woman, named Mitsuyo, used to work in retail, so she can read Shinichi to a degree: he’s not a burglar (he’s too polite), he hasn’t had his right arm for a while (since it’s been Migi), and his injury is the result of being bullied in an unfair fight. She gets the gist right, but never in a million years would she ever believe the details…perhaps even if they were staring right at her.

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Shinichi ends up staying for days, making me wonder whether Satomi or his Dad are worried about him, or if by now they’re used to him pissing off for days at a time. In any case, while under Mitsuyo’s roof, he has another creepy dream in which he communicates with what’s left of Migi within him.

When he awakes, it’s even able to form an eye on his stump…but no more. If anything, Shinichi feels worse than if there was nothing left; those cells being a constant reminder of the fact he’s still alive thanks to Migi’s sacrifice.

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Mitsuyo, ignorant as she is to his specific situation, nevertheless imparts some wise council wizened old ladies tend to impart in these situations. When Shinichi blathers on about “making use of his life” to stop the monster that’s terrorizing the town, Mitsuyo scolds him on his youthful recklessness.

Having lived life far longer than him, she knows full well how precious it is. She won’t stop him from doing what he thinks he has to do (face the monster), but she does insist he exercise caution and flexibility, and not squander his life so readily.

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Deep in the forest, we see Gotou lying as if in wait for a rematch with Shinichi. But the emphasis on his single gleaming eye makes me wonder if Migi didn’t get absorbed into the weakened Gotou, either by his own will or not. That will mean one of two things: Shinichi will have to finish off his friend, or Migi has taken control of the parasytes within Gotou.

The fact that it’s not certain at all whether Migi is really dead and gone, and probably isn’t, detracts from the drama, and makes Shinichi’s crisis of confidence and extended stay with Mitsuyo feel like leisurely padding for a show with just two episodes left. Still, with Shinichi only armed with a rusty old gardening ax thingy, it should be an interesting fight. Here’s hoping this was the final “rest” in the narrative.

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Chihayafuru – 03

Chihaya, Wataya (Arata), and Taichi enter the world of competitive 3-on-3 Karuta when they join a local club, who are pleased to have them. Here, Chihaya awakens her talent, Taichi learns teamwork and sacrifice, and the three become friends. But when Taichi is accepted to a far away school and Arata has to leave town to be with his ill grandfather, the golden trio splits apart after competing in a tournament, which they barely lose. Chihaya plays Arata one last time before he moves, and manages to beat him. She vows they’ll never be apart as long as they keep playing Karuta.

That was a god-damn tearjerker at times. We haven’t seen this much vibrant, compelling drama fill a scant twenty-two minutes of airtime in a while. This episode covered both the establishment and the disbanding of Team Chihaya Furu, and really fleshed out the excellent core trio. Taichi was far more likeable, Arata showed his gloating side, and Chihaya was simply fantastic throughout, as she finds her passion and develops her skill for the game, even as her family offers zero encouragement (We don’t care how pretty her sister is, she’s just plain scum).

All these good and bad times almost pass too quickly; but at the same time the series definitely made a bold statement telling so much story in so little time; it means it has a lot more story to tell. After all, we’re still in the past: Chihaya’s in high school now. We’re not sure the next episode will return to the present (there are no previews), but we would say we’re ready. All that needed to be established in the past was deftly, efficiently, and affectingly established. The series needn’t maintain this rapid pace, but if it maintains this quality, it has a chance to join the likes of Hanasaku Iroha and AnoHana as our favorite dramas of the year.


Rating: 4