Kageki Shoujo!! – 07 – The Curse of “Never”

Summer Break is upon Kouka’s hundredth class, but Ai’s version of giddiness over getting to spend it at Sarasa’s is somewhat tempered by how the semester ended: with Sarasa taking a major hit from Andou-sensei. As I suspected, perfect replication of other actors isn’t going to cut it if you’re going to be a Top Star in the Kouka Revue. This doesn’t mesh with what Sarasa learned about kabuki growing up, where succeeding generations of actors do their best to embody their predecessors as closely as possible.

But that’s Kabuki; and this is Kouka. Sarasa and Ai also get a little education on Andou-sensei and why he’s nicknamed “Phantom”, courtesy of the two top Kouka stars who happened to be seated in the row ahead of them! Apparently Andou was an esteemed actor with a musical troupe, most famous for his Phantom of the Opera, but due to a stage accident he had to retire, and decided to teach instead.

I’m glad he did, because as I said, as painful as it was to see Sarasa’s reaction and ensuing gloom, she was straying from the path to Lady Oscar, and needed a course correction. Fortunately, there’s plenty of family and friends waiting for Sarasa to take her mind off being “Sara-sad”, if only temporarily.

Ai insists on sitting formally for the duration of the gathering downstairs, even though she’s mostly ignored and suffering the agony needlessly (gramps told her to sit however she likes). Then Sarasa then goes to see her grandma at her grave, suggesting Ai can hang with the cat while she’s gone.

Of course, we know even when Sarasa and Ai don’t that it’s not just the cat waiting in her room, but Akiya. Ai, who is not good with people, comes off as curt with Akiya, who misinterprets it as intentional rudeness, but when Ai profusely apologizes and hides behind a wall, Akiya’s stance softens.

When asked about his “girlfriend” Sarasa, all he’ll tell Ai is that they were childhood friends since forever, and they took traditional dance classes together. Fortunately, we get to learn a lot more about both Sarasa and Akiya’s past, and Sarasa comes out even more amazing for having enduring what she had to endure.

Basically, the famous kabuki actor Kouzaburou was always very close to Sarasa, so much so that rumors floated around of her being his illegitimate daughter. Illegitimate or not, had she been a boy, she would have been the heir apparent to the venerable Shirakawa Kaou name…which Akiya is expected to assume instead. He’s far more loosely related, but he’s a boy.

It didn’t help matters for Akiya that while he liked Sarasa a lot for her strength and cheerfulness, she also happened to be a better natural talent than him when it came to Kabuki. Unfortunately, Sarasa was never sat down and told that grown women aren’t allowed to perform Kabuki.

That said, when another actor is ill, Sarasa is chosen to fill in during a performance of Sukeroku, since she memorized all the lines and movements (even back then, she was amazing). Young girls are allowed to perform, so there was no problem.

But while performing beside her, Akiya could tell how goddamn good Sarasa was, and how goddamn unfair it was that Sarasa’s Kabuki career would reach a harsh dead end due to tradition. After the performance, he first hears the rumor that Sarasa is related to Kouzaburou, which he shares with his mom/grandma/aunt/guardian (I forget her exact relation to him).

Tossing that pebble in the pond causes all kinds of drama, including his mom* chewing out poor Sarasa at the front door, telling her for the first time she’ll “never” be able to be something—in this case, Sukeroku. As soon as Sarasa runs off crying she’s immediately ashamed and regretful, but the damage is done.

Sarasa’s gramps comes to Kouzaburou’s house and chews him out for traumatizing Sarasa, and declares that she’ll have nothing to do with him or Kabuki ever again. That said, gramps softens considerably upon seeing a scared Akiya in the hall, and asks him if he’ll continue being Sarasa’s friend. He’s only cutting her off from Kabuki, he says.

Shortly after Sarasa stopped coming to dance classes, her grandma died, and Akiya and Kaou pay their respects from a distance. When Akiya sees Sarasa’s raw eyes, he starts to cry too…and Kaou tells him to hold on to the pain…it will make him a better actor.

Fast-forward to the present, and Akiya and Sarasa remain friends despite having been kinda-sorta rivals in the past. The rivalry never happened because the institution of Kabuki never let it. I’d say it’s for the best, since I have every confidence Sarasa will be okay in Kouka, but if ever there was going to be a first woman kabuki actor, it would be her!

After giving Sarasa her present of another bizarre figurine she’s super excited about (which is also see-through, for reasons), he also invites both Sarasa and Ai to a performance of Sukeroku he’ll be in. He already got clearance from her gramps.

That night, Ai learns about Sarasa’s performance in Sukeroku when she was only six. The two girls are transported into space as Sarasa beautifully, poetically describes what it was like being on that stage, feeling the audience like heat on her skin, feeling like the stage was a different world; feeling she had transformed into someone else.

It was clearly one of the most amazing moments of her life, making it doubly tragic that she was later deprived of pursuing a future there despite how much she loved it and how good she was. Even so, hearing Sarasa’s words makes Ai want to go see Sukeroku with Sarasa all the more, if only to catch a glimpse of the stage Sarasa once stood upon.

During the performance, Ai notices Sarasa crying, and isn’t sure whether it’s due to fond memories or “something else entirely.” Uh, why not both? From there, the episode abruptly cuts to the train platform where Sarasa and Ai are heading home. Akiya gives Sarasa some words of support and assurance from his heart.

He reminds her they’ve only just started down their paths; it’s okay to lose sight of what they want sometimes; and all they can do is keep moving forward. Sarasa still wants to play Lady Oscar, and she’s going to make it happen—”nevers” be damned!

She also wants Akiya to play Sukeroku. After a firm handshake (throwing Ai off a bit, as she assumed they’d at least hug), the two part ways, both feeling better than before they’d seen each other. They may not be a lovey-dovey couple, but they’re a couple where it matters.

Kageki Shoujo!! – 03 – Toughing it Out

Ai is aloof, standoffish and antisocial, and makes it crystal clear even to a lunkhead like Sarasa that she doesn’t want to be friends with her or anyone else, despite the fact they live and learn together. Sarasa is flummoxed by this declaration, but before they properly discuss it, Ai is whisked off by her big sister, Hijiri.

This week Kageki Shoujo! takes a long, hard, and sometimes downright distressing look back at how and why Narata Ai became the way she is. She always lied about being a perfect loving daughter to her glamorous actress mother, but the lying became harder as she grew older and more beautiful.

I can’t imagine the torment of men both young and old ogling you left and right, and What a cutie being akin to Hello for her, but that’s what Ai endured. When her mother shacked up with one of those older men, that constant public torment became private. She’d always been creeped out by Seiji, but then one day he was alone wither her and kissed her with his tongue.

After such a horrific assault, Ai no longer felt safe anywhere or with anyone…except her uncle, Taichi. And thank God for Taichi, because he was at least able to give her a measure of peace and security by installing a lock on her door and giving her a key to his place should she need to run away. But before he did that, she had already been assaulted, vomited, cut her hair, and tore apart her big teddy.

Considering her interactions with men who weren’t her uncle up to the point she became an idol, it’s not surprising that one day she’d say or do something to break the façade she’d created. Now that very scruffy dude whom she called a creep at a fan event has stalked her all the way to her school. Again, Ai is fortunate Taichi isn’t far, and she runs headlong into his arms. He’s the brother and dad, the family she never had.

Taichi will always be there for his niece, but he knows she can’t go on with no friends of any gender. Kouka is a chance for her to form new bonds with peers, and Sarasa, as bombastic and annoying as she is, really is a good person who would make a great friend. Sarasa is ready to accept Ai’s rejection, but Taichi insists she keep trying with Ai.

Sarasa does so, by escorting Ai home, which leads to the scene I was hoping for: the gigantic Sarasa spreading that massive wingspan to form an impenetrable shield for Ai against the smelly stalker.

Never mind if he’s not there to “get back” at Ai like she fears, but just wanted to return her bookbag and talk to her. The fact is he had absolutely ZERO right to meet with or speak to her after following her there.

Ai may have been rude to him at the fan event, but being rude isn’t a crime, and he doesn’t get to play the victim after committing the actual crime of stalking. While it wasn’t always easy to watch, I’m glad we gained new insight into Ai’s twisted childhood and coming of age, which only makes someone like Sarasa seem more, not less, suitable to be her friend.

My only gripe is that we’ve still gotten very little actual musical theatre education in, with the exception of a brief tap class in which the teacher berated the objectively scrawny Yamada a “fattie” and all but ordered her to give up food. Fuckin’ yikes! I also wish the stalker situation had been fully resolved, instead of us being left hanging.

Even Sarasa looked a little uncomfortable confronting the guy, and no single high school girl, no matter how big or small, should have to go up against someone like that alone. I just hope that as we learned a lot about Ai, Ai also learned more about Sarasa, and how she’s someone she can lean on in times of strife.

Appare-Ranman! – 04 – Win With Something Else

While working diligently at the diner, Kosame learns how expensive automobiles are, and gets the idea to simply sell the car they won from Al Lyon. Even with just his half share he’s sure he can book passage back home. Alas, Appare has already dissected the BNW down to the last bolt, and is already preparing to integrate its components into his custom racer.

Meanwhile, Xialian’s boss turns her down simply because “women don’t race.” She just wants a chance to prove she’s capable, and thanks to getting into a fight with lead driver David, the team owner decides to allow an informal race before practice Wednesday. If Xialian loses, she’s fired.

The owner also lends Xialian the team’s infamous Number 0 car, which has engine gremlins so bad it doesn’t even make it to Appare’s garage. The odds are certainly stacked against her, but all the elements are present for an vital upset against the sexist good-old-boy club of racing.

When Xialian arrives pushing Number 0, laughing in the face of those odds, Appare recommends giving it acceleration mods so she can easily win the race, but she just wants it serviced normally. Appare, an engineer first and driver second, doesn’t see the point, but he has Al Lyon’s team work on the car.

Then he shows that while he’s not a driver first, he knows what it means to drive, and win, despite not having the best or fastest car. In the previous episode he used his technical know-how and the terrain. With no time for prototypes, he must visualize test driving his racer in his head, and Xialian follows along until the two are steering and shifting in unison.

Xialian takes the creatively-delivered advice to heart on the day of the race. David has his usual sexist comments ready, but she’s the one who gets of to a better start, which the men chalk up to her lighter weight. That may be the case, but no matter the gender a driver must exploit every advantage.

As Kosame, Hototo, Al and Sofia watch and cheer for Xialian, she lets David maintain a slim lead without letting him pull away. Since she started ahead of him, he wore his tires out aggressively driving to take that nominal lead. That puts her in his draft, so his car is displacing air hers doesn’t have to, lessening her fuel consumption and tire wear.

Xialian re-takes the lead and David can’t get it back, so on the last corner he makes contact with her car in order to take the lead. Her car spins, but she never loses control, keeping her foot on the gas and keeping the car out of the wall.

At the end, David is ready to celebrate his win while Xialian is ready to slug him. But to her shock, it’s the owner whose fist reaches David’s face first. He saw exactly what he did, and it nearly got two of his cars wrecked in an exhibition race.

Meanwhile, he also saw how Xialian handled herself, both during the race and when David hit her, and he’s impressed. His “hate the culture, not the owner” stance regarding a woman pro racer is still a cop-out, but he won’t deny she’s a true racer. He also decides to lend her Number 0 for the Trans American Race, while the similarly impressed mechanics offer to help outfit the car for cross-country racing.

The scenes in which Dylan and his ambitious business friend discuss the players in the upcoming race, and in which the press only has time for one hasty photo of Kosame shielding his eyes from the camera flash, feel out of place at the end of this episode, and more like a prologue of the next.

Nevertheless, Appare-Ranman! emerges from its three-month hiatus having not skipped a beat. It was cool to see two conventional race cars go at it on a track, and I’m glad Xialian’s hard work paid off. Appare was mostly his usual passive self, but his “mind-driving” session with Xialian was beautiful. It looks like we’ll be out of L.A. and on the road soon!

Arte – 07 – Opportunity Knocks

Despite the fact she’s surely busy with her apprenticing duties, Arte still finds the time to teach Darcia, a young woman she recently met, how to read and write. It’s an example of how Arte is paying forward the advantages she has as a woman of noble birth.

The other side of that is that noblemen like Yuri Falier from Venice are quick to kiss her on the hand to introduce himself. Yuri has a proposal for her: he wants her to travel back to Venice, become his family’s official portrait artist, and become a tutor for his niece, who is also an independent woman.

After sleeping on it, Arte decides to respectfully refuse Yuri’s offer. She’s simply not sure she’s learned enough to jump right into being a full-time artisan and tutor, and more to the point doesn’t feel right leaving Leo alone (Leo for his part, says it’s Arte’s choice to make).

Arte also meets Ruthanna, the daughter of Leo’s master who is very pregnant, but whose husband recently died, and his family won’t return her dowry, leaving her in serious financial trouble. After a cordial reunion with Leo, she doesn’t tell Leo the truth, but she does tell Arte.

Since legal matters are hardly her forte, Arte comes to Veronica for advice.  Veronica basically tells her that in lieu of her husband, Ruthanna needs someone of sufficient status and authority to serve as a proxy and pursue her interests.

Being a widow, Ruthanna has no leverage with her late husband’s family, who don’t care what happens to her or her child. Fortunately, she has Arte, who recently turned down work from someone with ample status and authority!

Arte revisits Yuri (who was already deep in preparations for an “offensive” to win her over anyway, the rascal), and reverses her decision. She’ll work for him, but only three months (negotiated to six). In exchange, he’ll help Ruthanna with her affairs (and he quickly comes through), and agrees that she’ll be able to return to Leo’s workshop when the period is up (though he won’t rule out an extension).

Similarly, Arte agrees to work not as an independent artisan, but as a representative of Leo’s workshop. After seven weeks in Florence, looks like Arte is headed for the picturesque canals of Venezia, where she’s been given an opportunity few men of her day ever got, as well as the opportunity to educate and possibly befriend a fellow strong-willed young woman in Yuri’s niece. She’s approaching all of this in good faith; here’s hoping Yuri does the same…no funny business!

Arte – 06 – Football and Frescoes

This week’s Arte was heavy on the history lessons, as the episode depicted the funeral of a master, handled by the guild. The guild also finds new masters for his apprentices, settles his various other financial affairs, and chips in for the family who survived him.

After the funeral, Arte witnesses a game of Calcio Florentino, a violent early version of football. One of the players notices Arte and is insulted by her presence, but Angelo defends her, saying she’s one of them. Other men come to Arte’s defense, the game turns into a brawl, and Arte gets smacked in the face with the ball.

Fortunately she’s fine, but it is evident at all levels of society that Florence is in a “slump”. In their post-funeral guild meeting, many masters voice their objection to Leo’s taking in of a female apprentice, fearing that an element such as she that divides the apprentices can’t be good.

When Leo comes home with a large bag, I was worried he was ordered to fire her, and it was severance. Instead, they decided to allow Leo to keep Arte, provided the two participate in a huge fresco-painting project in a grand hall. Arte is excited to be a part of it, but faces the usual sexism.

Leo is intentionally harsh on Arte so none of the men think he’s giving her special treatment because she’s a woman. They watch her toil (and in one instance, has to go vomit from overwork) without complaint—with a smile—despite taking on a workload with which even they confess they’d have trouble.

Arte’s hard work doesn’t go unnoticed. Guild Master Aroldo praises Leo on having found a hardworking apprentice any master would want: someone who believes in them and is always trying to keep up. She reminds him of a young Leo, and later admits he may have been selling her too short.

Arte continues to win hearts and minds, including the apprentice who most objected to her presence. When she asks if she can join a game of calcio, he agrees, and the game is on. It’s not the first sport I would choose to play after several consecutive nights of collapsing from exhaustion…but hey, have at it Arte!

We’re then introduced to the fancy Venetian lord, Yuri Falier, who comes to inspect the frescoes so far. His eyes immediately go to Arte’s practice sketches, and he admires their soft, clean lines in contrast to the rougher sketches of the other apprentices. Looks like Arte might have another new patron waiting in the wings.

Appare-Ranman! – 02 – Even if the World Won’t Allow It

Note: Due to covid-19 the broadcasts of Appare-Ranman after the third episode have been delayed indefinitely. We’ll be reviewing future episodes if and when they become available.

It dawns on Kosame that returning to Japan (something he’d very much like to do) is no easy matter, and could take as much as “ten years of toil” to manage. Fortunately, his fighting skills are readily street-applicable skill than Appare—his fighting skills—and Appare puts him to work showing them off.

Then Appare picks up a flyer for the Trans-America Wild Race and stumbles upon the speedway where state-of-the-art driving machines are pitted against one another. While drivers like Dylan enjoy celebrity status, “the cars are the stars” here. It dawns on Appare he’s exactly where he needs to be: in a position to do something people say can’t be done. He’s going to enter the race and he’s going to win it.

A win will net him a cool 1.51 million dollars—them, if Kosame sticks by his side in this crazy venture. As they sit in an anachronisitc Art Deco diner(!) the samurai can’t deny that his share of the purse could solve many of his problems—his fiancee won’t wait ten years!—but he’s still skeptical, and rightfully so. Appare may have a dream, but they both just got there, and barely earn enough at the moment for food. They’re staying in a storeroom for free, and have no budget for a race car, let alone one that can beat the big manufacturers.

But absent a viable alternative (and fearful of FOMO), Kosame follows Appare, who breaks into the racetrack that night to check out the machinery. There they encounter Jing Xialian is already racing there, and almost accidentally runs a fearless Appare over. She damages the car—whih isn’t strictly hers—and when Kosame approaches her she exhibits her own martial arts prowess. In an effort to de-escalate, Kosame lets himself get hit by her kick.

As he recovers in the garage, Appare and Kosame learn more of Xialian’s story: she’s always loved cars and racing and joined the team as a chore girl. She’s good enough to race herself, but due to the sexism of the time she’s told she can’t be, and has come to believe it. Someone like Appare is clearly a good influence, as he doesn’t let the world tell him his limits, and doesn’t see why she should either. If you can do it, do it; don’t worry about the world’s rules. It’s hard to argue with him considering how far that attitude has gotten him so far.

Xialian’s story is not a particularly original one, but she’s another fun, colorful character I’m compelled to root for, even if she becomes Appare’s competitor in the race. Then there’s the celebrity driver Dylan, who saves Appare and Kosame when the latter is trying to help a young Native American kid from a group of racists. Notably, Kosame cannot physically draw his katana due to PTSD from a bloody incident in his past, so he needs the save. Dylan may well only be intervening because his peace is being disturbed.

There’s a lot of disbelief to suspend in Appare-Ranman from the total lack of language barriers, to the anything-goes dress code and futuristic technology/architecture. But once you let all that go, it’s a tremendously entertaining ride that’s just getting started. It’s just a shame we won’t be able to see much more of it due to delays. I just know I’ll definitely be tuned in when it returns.

 

Classroom of the Elite – 09

“This test is sounding much more complicated and difficult than I thought it would be.” You and me both, Horikita! The details of weeklong survival trip that pits the four classes against each other is indeed are many and complicated; one might even say convoluted, to the point of ungainliness.

Much of this episode simply sets up all of the various rules and ways of spending, scoring, or being deducted points, but it’s a lot to keep track of, and the episode itself doesn’t do the best job of organizing everything in any kind of order. Instead, it lays out some rules, the students mill around in the woods, and then they lay out some more.

There’s also the fact that Class D is made up of twenty students, and yet we don’t really learn or get any kind of impression from any but the ones we already know: Horikita and Ayanokouji, the three bad apples, Hirata and Karuizawa, etc. The rest are kinda just there.

I appreciate the fact that everyone in the class can agree to appoint Horikita as their Leader (a position with both advantages and potential pitfalls requiring both responsibility and discretion).

What I did not appreciate were the incessant sexist allusions to girls being weaker, more delicate, and somehow not as cut out for roughing it as the boys. Out of twenty students, you’d think one or two of the girls would be outdoorsy types like Ike.

On that same subject, what the hell is the deal with the toilet situation? Have these kids not heard of these things called holes that you can dig in the ground to do your business? I realize a lot of these kids are rich and sheltered, but still…

Somehow, some way, the girls manage to survive the first day (/s), and Hirata manages to work out a reasonable number of points the class can walk away happy with: a floor of 120 out of the 300 they start with. As for the ceiling, well, it all depends on how many leaders they can identify, how may “spots” the possess for how long, and how much food and water they can take from nature without spending points on rations.

They also have to be careful not to lose too many points to deductions, and in this, right off the bat they stand to lose 30 points when Kouenji, after doing his Tarzan thing all over the island, craps out on the rest of the class by returning to the boat. I’ve no idea if he’s just out of the game or has some other plan (probably the former), because all he does is strut around saying “beautiful.”

At least with the majority of the test’s rules out of the way, we’ll see more execution next week. But seriously, CotE: dial back the male chauvinism a bit, if you would. It leaves a bad taste in the mouth.