Vanitas no Carte – 14 – Nu au Coin du Feu

Jeanne’s complex relationship with Vanitas gains a new layer as she rescues him from dying of exposure, finds a cabin, and orders him to disrobe. The two sit by the fire together, naked under a blanket. While she’s most often disgusted by his usual arrogance and terseness, she can’t help but find this vulnerable side of him refreshing…even cute.

On the surface, nothing she does for Vanitas is with romantic or amorous intent—even feeding him water with her mouth—she’s just helping to save someone who helped her. But it’s impossible to ignore their history together thus far—all their scenes here are sexy as hell. Vanitas even tells her that they want different things: he wants to save the Beast and she’s been ordered to execute it.

That makes them foes in this enterprise, and she’d be better off letting him die. Of course, Jeanne isn’t going to do that. Instead, she tells Vanitas why she feels responsible not just for getting Vanita’s wounded by a poisoned blade, but for the whole Beast of Gevaudan affair. When she was a little girl, she met the vampire Chloé d’Apchier while left in the care of the Marquis d’Aphcier. Chloé was like a big sister and Jeanne loved her, but that no longer matters: she’s killed scores of people, and must now answer for it.

The reason Jeanne is here is that she failed the first time, but Ruthven gave her a second (and probably last) chance to do it. The next morning, when Jeanne is far more flustered than the fully-recovered Vanitas by the previous evening’s activities, she finds him speaking with Johan, and eventually Dante shows up as well. After threatening both Dhams to tell him everything about this Beast situation, he bids the four of them make haste to the castle to retrieve Noé.

Vanitas is right to worry—Noé wakes up in an unfamiliar bed with the tiny vampire lying on top of him sucking his blood. Despite Chloé being tiny, Noé is so weakened from the battle that he can barely move, leaving him completely at her mercy. If she wants another taste of his blood (and the memories it reveals—though that’s not touched upon here), there’s nothing stopping her…

Except for her attendant, Jean-Jacques, who scolds her for sucking someone’s blood without their consent while also expressing deep loathing for the owner of the other neck she bit. That said, JJ presents Noé with a safe-and-sound Murr and his freshly cleaned and mended clothes. When Noé meets Chloé and JJ in the banquet hall, they’re accompanied by a troupe of musical automatons…along with Naenia.

It addition to being its usual sexy self, this episode of Vanitas added texture to what had initially been labeled a simple mission of kill-or-save the Beast. Chloé is an intriguing potential antagonist, but despite her apparent alliance to Naenia doesn’t come off as pure evil; she was kind to Jeanne, after all.

Instead, as is typical of ancient vampires, she seems to float over everything and everyone, seeking nothing but entertainment and satisfaction out of this scenario…a balm for the ennui of the centuries.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vanitas no Carte – 13 – La Bataille D’Argent

I did not watch the Episode 12.5 recap of the first twelve episodes, instead catching up by reading my write-up of Episode 12…only to find it full of typos and grammatical errors! I do apologize for that; it’s all fixed up now.

It’s now Winter where I live, and freezing more often than not, so it’s only appropriate for Gévaudan to be cold as well when Vanitas and Noé arrive—with Dante and Johann tagging along. As is his wont, Noé gets separated from the others in the deep Silver Woods. Then, quite suddenly, the forest becomes a winter wonderland.

When Vanitas and the others spot vintage dragoons hunting the great beast (well, trying to anyway)he deduces that time has somehow rewound to the 18th century, when the King sent his best soldiers in to take care of the storied wolf. Unfortunately for those soldiers, they’re in the way of the Chasseur and Garnet Paladin Astolfo Granatum, who unlike Roland seems to be a bit of a sadist, and doesn’t consder it his job to protect humans, only hunt vampires like Noé. He’s not bad, either, as Noé isn’t fast enough to avoid getting cut.

Their duel is interrupted by the great wolf itself, and it’s not long before Jeanne shows up out of nowhere to battle the beast. Vanitas wants to save the Curse-Bearer who is in the form of the wolf. If Jeanne kills it, that won’t be possible. The thing is, Jeanne doesn’t care. She’s a bourreau, and considers it her job to destroy curse-bearers and eliminate the threat they pose—nothing more or less.

Once Vanitas and Noé reunite, Vanitas can tell that Noé was holding back in his fight with Astolfo for whatever reason. Vanitas in turn employs his inimitable gift for shit-talking by getting Astolfo extremely pissed off, and thus not at his sharpest. You have all the skills and talent in the world, but if you’re off-balance emotionally you won’t be able to fully summon those gifts.

Jeanne continues to battle the wolf, calling her “Chloé” and trying to get a dialogue going. When that fails, she re-commits to destroying the wolf. When she’s stopped by Noé, she warns the lad that if he gets in her way she’ll kill him too. That’s when Charlatan’s Naenia, who felt left out, shows up and creates an illusory world around everyone.

Some, like Astolfo, are unable to fight against the illusions and madly lashes out at Jeanne. But others, like Vanitas, can keep their heads, and he comes between Astolfo and Jeanne, paying back the favor when she saved him earlier. Sick of Naenia’s games, he whips out his titular Karte, only for someone to snap its chain, separating the book from its owner.

When the diamond dust settles, some dude with unkempt dark hair picks up the book, with Vanitas nowhere in sight. The man walks over to the silver-haired woman with azure eyes we caught a glimpse of back in episode 12; the Chloé Jeanne spoke of. Clearly she’s the Woods Witch referred to several times earlier in the episode, and if taking the Karte from Vanitas was the plan all along, then it went off without a hitch!

It’s a hell of a stirring start, introducing a new wintry woodsy setting, new characters, and big new stakes. All the while, the killer directive programmed into Noé looms over everything. Also, while I fully expected the OP and ED to not live up to their Part 1 predecessors, I’m please to report they both slap just as much! Vanitas no Karte hasn’t skipped a beat.

Vanitas no Carte – 12 (Fin) – The Beast Lives

Vanitas and Jeanne end their bloody makeout session, neaten their clothes, and return to the streets, and when Vanitas asks why she was permitted to spend the day with him, it becomes immediately apparent that Jeanne was unknowingly serving to distract him while Ruthven helped himself to a Caffè Noé. Specifically, he keeps Noé alive so that one day, he can give him a command and he’ll obey it without question…even the command to slay Vanitas.

Roland may have lived his entire life believing that vampires were an enemy to be eliminated, but his encounter with Noé changed his mind about that, and we find him digging into books in a cozy little church library. His comrade Olivier warns him against digging too deep into forbidden topics, but then Roland warns Olivier that there isn’t really anyone who can stop him from discovering the truth. He can’t believe in things he knows not to be true.

Speaking of which, once Vanitas returns to the hotel to find Noé right where he left him, the two are visited by Dante with news: The Beast Lives. Specifically, the Beast of Gévaudan, a wolf-like abomination that slaughtered women and children in the Gévaudan region in the 18th century. It’s believed to be a curse-bearing vampire, so Vanitas is just the man to hunt the beast down.

While Vanitas and Dante chat, Noé is distracted by Vanita’s ridiculously sweet-smelling blood. Combined with his fatigue and hunger, he begins to ask if he could have but a small taste. Vanitas responds deadly seriously by promising Noé that if he ever tries to drink his blood (and therefore see the memories from his past), he’ll kill him. Daaaaamn.

This creates a friction between the two that lasts through the night until the next day, when the two head out to board the non-Mugem Train to Gévaudan. Noé apologizes, Vanitas half-jokingly offers to let him lap up any blood he spills (he can only read memories from blood straight out of the taps) and the two share an easy laugh. They thus make up just in time for a train ride that Noé is super excited about, the way a kid—or me—would be about such a train! Trains are awesome.

After the credits, we get a lovely but ominous birds-eye view of a snowy landscape not too dissimilar from the countless wintry vistas we were treated to in Golden Kamuy. Only here there be not bears nor naked Russians: but Charlatan’s apparent Boss: an ethereally beautiful lass with silver hair and piercing azure eyes poetically declaring how she’ll “make my song of vengeance echo across the land”. My guess? She’s the Beast!

While there were some nice tense scenes between Noé and Ruthven and Noé and Vanitas, and their little fight and make-up sequence was a subtle, quiet little marvel of character work, but I’m not gonna lie: not a lot actually happened this week. It was but table-setting for a feast that won’t take place until Winter 2022. But the dishes and silverware look great…just in time for a giant wolf to smash it all!

Vanitas no Carte – 11 – Jean d’Ate

Armed with the notion that Vanitas will despise someone who professes their love for him, our favorite easily-flustered vampire knight decides to ask her blood buddy out on a date, hoping he’ll end up in the palm of her hand. Predictably, this doesn’t go remotely how Jeanne hoped.

After all, it’s hard to pretend to have affection for someone when you are truly drawn to them, no matter how much you don’t want to be. Such is Jeanne’s plight: whether due to the lure of his delicious blood or the fact she simply adores a bad boy, she’s genuinely excited about the date, especially as it allows her to tour human Paris.

Meanwhile, Lord Ruthven, whom we know is up to no good, gets Noé out of bed so they can have a nice friendly chat at the Lord’s favorite human café, the entirety of which he rents out for such a purpose. While initially apprehensive, Noé soon settles into an easy rapport with Ruthven, to the point he reminds him of his teacher, the Shapeless One.

Throughout Vanitas and Jeanne’s date, Domi is diligently following and observing with opera glasses. She originally committed to doing this because she thought she’d derive some entertainment from it, only to find it looks like an ordinary date. It’s also funny that Dante tags along, and the more bored he gets, the more he resembles Cartman.

It’s atop Paris’ highest hill—from one gets a good look at the Sun Tower that takes the place of the Eiffel Tower in this alternate steampunk world—where things turn from a fun dawdle to Serious Business.

When a boy scrapes his knee and Jeanne gets one look at the blood, she’s ready to pounce on the lad, but Vanitas stops her, having her bite his arm instead. Dante tosses a smoke bomb so they can get away safely, but it’s close call—and a revealing one too, when it comes to Jeanne.

The pleasant, cordial café date also takes a turn when Ruthven asks Noé straight-up whose side he’s on: humans or vampires. At this point Noé is only on the side of those he cares about, which includes members of both groups. This is the wrong answer, and he fails Ruthven’s “test”.

The Lord grabs him and sucks his blood ravenously. Could this be how Noé ends up killing Vanitas, as he said he would back in the first episode: while under the thrall of Lord Ruthven?

Vanitas takes Jeanne somewhere safe, where she proceeds to seductively suck on his blood in another one of their hot-and-heavy scenes. Vanitas takes the opportunity to ask once again whether Jeanne is a curse-bearer, which Jeanne doesn’t confirm or deny.

Even so, when she stops drinking his blood and starts to shed tears that fall on his face, Vanitas promises her that whatever she is, he promises to kill her if she ever becomes a threat to her beloved charge, Luca. Of course, if he can find a way to release her of whatever is slowly sapping her sanity, I imagine try that method first!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vanitas no Carte – 07 – What Is Love? Oh Domi Don’t Hurt Me…

While not a lot happens from a plot perspective this week, quite a bit of the steadily simmering love rhombus that is Jeanne, Vanitas, Domi and Noé comes into focus. This rude, selfish, annoying human has caused quite a stir in these three vampires’ hearts.

When Luca treats Noé and the others to tarte tatin at a fancy restaurant Vanitas reveals that Jeanne has “marked” him—imbuing him with some of her power while also leaving a literal rose-shaped mark on his neck. While he initially jokes that she couldn’t contain her lust for him, he then admits that the screams of the curse-bearers caused her to lose control.

Jeanne lifts him up and jumps out the window with him, landing in a dark alley demanding to know why he lied. The reality is that she is a curse-bearer who keeps herself under control with a medicine. She begs Vanitas not to tell anyone, and he gives her two conditions that underscore his genuine affection for her.

First, he insists that henceforth she drink no one’s blood but his. Second, he insists she stop calling him “Human” and start calling him by his name. Pulling his collar open to reveal her mark, she says his name as she digs her fangs back into his neck, unable to resist his sweet, sweet blood—even if the vessel of that blood’s a complete cad.

Noé, who felt compelled to chase after them, watches Jeanne bicker with Vanitas from the rooftops; it’s quite evident that he’s jealous of her closeness to him, even if he himself is to inexperienced in such things to realize this. One person who does realize it is Domi, who catches up to her Mon Chéri, but is clearly distressed when he mentions how troubled he was to hear that Jeanne sucked Vanitas’ blood.

He later elaborates that he just wanted to taste that sweet blood first, and Domi works out her frustration with him by gnawing on him, but their embrace gradually becomes more intimate when she drinks from his neck, only for him to gently slip off her glove and drink from her hand, noting that her blood is delectable. So is this scene, gorgeously lit as it is by the setting sun.

Since both guy-gal pairs had their steamy scenes, it’s only fair that the two pairs switch off for the final act, in which the dashing Domi leads Jeanne in a courtyard dance while Noé leads Vanitas in another. It’s here where Noé asks Vanitas “what in the devil is love”, to which Vanitas replies he has no idea.

All Vanitas knows is that when he thinks of Jeanne, his heart races and his body trembles. He lists all the reasons he believes those bodily reactions mean love, and none of them are more important than the fact that Jeanne will never love him, as he has “zero interest” in the sort of person who would love him. I guess that doesn’t bode well for Noé then, huh?!

As it stands, Vanitas loves Jeanne, Noé is growing to love Vanitas, Domi loves Noé, and Jeanne is strangely drawn to Vanitas. All these beautiful sexy people are all stirred up in a big romantic goulash. It’s sublime. It’s even enough for me to not particularly care how the plot progresses—except insofar as how it affects these four characters’ relationships.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

BokuBen – 06 – Imagine and Be Considerate

Kirisu-sensei somehow knows about Nariyuki and Rizu’s accidental kiss in the mountains, but she doesn’t know about all the other inappropriate incidents with the girls he’s tutoring. That is, until Fumino, Rizu and Uruka burst in one after the other to forcefully declare that those incidents—of which Kirisu had no prior knowledge—were all their fault, not Nariyuki’s.

Nariyuki is convinced this is the end for him: forget a VIP recommendation, he could get suspended for all the things that he did/were done to him. But instead Kirisu lets him go, and she does so precisely because Fumino and Rizu made it a point to come in and talk to her, something she imagines they wouldn’t normally want to do, considering how things turned out when she was their tutor.

Nariyuki sees Kirisu’s scratched-up hand and it dawns on him that she was up there in the mountains looking for Rizu because she was worried, and that there’s a nice person under that cold demeanor. Kirisu has of course nailed it, but Kirisu won’t give him the satisfaction of knowing that.

She’ll leave Nariyuki alone for now because the girls are clearly enthusiastic about him tutoring them, and because they’re making progress. But she still thinks it’s folly for them to let their fleeting emotions steer them on life paths that don’t match their considerable talents.

The girls are waiting outside with baited breath, each of them very contrite about blabbing about all the compromising situations they’ve been in with him, but it’s all water under the bridge. As Nariyuki walks off with them, Kirisu remembers him calling her a nice person and betrays a small blush and smile.

The main dilemma this week then isn’t the intrusion of Kirisu-sensei—who is dealt with in the first five minutes—but another issue that crops up which was inevitable considering how much time Nariyuki is spending with three lovely young women: untoward rumors.

When Nariyuki is smirking in class due to his tutoring plan having so much success (and a glowing assessment from the headmaster), his friends assume he’s acting like that because he got lucky in love. He vehemently denies such insinuations; he rarely if ever thinks romance with the three tutees, owing to the fact he no idea they have any romantic interest in him.

His ignorance of how his words could be used against him is exposed when he fails to properly refute rumors he kissed someone, calling the encounter an “accident.” That sends his puerile mate running out of the classroom crying about wanting to “kiss girls like Nariyuki.” Naturally, Uruka overhears this and her heart is suddenly in turmoil, because whatever girl(s) are kissing Nariyuki, it ain’t her!

In a clever use of an English lesson about yes-or-no questions, Uruka straight-up asks Nariyuki if he kissed someone, and continuing to shoot himself in the foot with his responses, doesn’t come right out and say “no” (because his and Rizu’s lips met, there just wasn’t anything to it). Absent any context, Uruka takes his non-denial as proof he has a girlfriend, gives a half-hearted endorsement, and races off to cry.

When Fumino offers a caring ear, Uruka tries her darndest to post the questions applying to her as being about “her friend”…a friend has known a guy for years, was cheered on when she swam, and who know studies with him. Fumino’s no foolmino, and her response is tailored to Uruka, not this non-existent “friend”: don’t assume one kiss that may or may not have happened means the guy has a girlfriend.

She tells Uruka’s “friend” to keep fighting, and that she’s rooting for her 100%. Also, she should ignore the rumors about Nariyuki…though the rumors are snowballs into the absurd so rapidly, Fumino knows she’s asking a lot. But when Rizu appears and drops her books when she overhears the rumors, Fumino realizes Rizu might like Nariyuki too.

That supposition is all but confirmed when both Uruka and Rizu’s test grades drop suddenly and drastically. Fumino is happy for both of them, and wants to root for them both, even if that’s ultimately impossible. As for me, I’m just glad she’s not in love with Nariyuki too…at least not yet.

Because of that, Fumino can act normally around him, and when he comes to her for advice about how to end the sudden awkwardness between him and the other two, Fumino knows she just can’t come out and say it’s because they like him. It’s really something he should figure out himself, so she tells him to imagine how they feel and be considerate of that in future interactions.

Naturally, there’s no way Nariyuki will use the advice the way Fumino intends. Instead, he takes what she’s saying to mean Uruka and Rizu may be acting awkwardly because they’ve grown too close, blurring the lines between tutor and tutee. So he decides he should take a step or two back and restore a measure of personal boundaries with the two.

Mind you, that’s precisely the opposite of what Uruka wants, and her two trusty, loving friends know just how to help her: by shortening her skirt and opening her blouse for her next encounter with Nariyuki. Like her cute date outfit last time her friends aided her, she ends up feeling ridiculous and embarrassed.

Nariyuki, committed to widening the distance even in the face of such adversity, tries to do just that in a physical sense, but Uruka stays with him, and the two are so focused on jockeying for position that they get lost right outside a shrine to academic and romantic success. What a coinkydink!

Once the two pray (Nari for academic success, Uruka for romance) the heavens suddenly open up, and with no umbrellas, the two wait it out under the shrine. Uruka lies down and suddenly falls asleep, and Nariyuki’s eyes can’t help but wander to her legs and tan-lined bust.

Of course, that’s the point: Uruka is only pretending to be asleep, hoping if she leaves herself “wide open” he’ll make a move. She feels something soft on her head, then tongues licking her everywhere, and imagines it’s Nariyuki doing so, but upon opening her eyes she discovers the various stray shrine cats find her tasty. Nariyuki has widened the distance.

As they walk home, and Uruka is wondering if she’s “just not attractive”, Nariyuki notes how her chest is. Taking the hint, Uruka draws closer, much closer, and can hear that his heart is racing, telling him so. He basically tells her it’s racing because she’s so close to him with her top open. He thinks she should only dress like that in front of the guy she likes, to which she says “OKAY NO PROBLEM!” beaming like the Best Girl she is.

When the next test comes along, her grades are suddenly back up, but Nariyuki doesn’t know why. You’d think someone who picked up on Kirisu being a good person would be a little more observant of how one of his oldest friends was acting around him, but what are ya gonna do. Otherwise, it’s another hard-won victory for Uruka, with an assist from her friends. I’ll savor it, even though she still has Rizu to contend with—not to mention Fumino, if Nariyuki should do or say something to make her fall for him.

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.

Golden Kamuy – 20 – Inkarmat Holmes

Ah, the seaside. Warm breeze, giant sunfish, sea otter meat, and…swarms of locusts?! Golden Kamuy brings a lot of people together, but then immediately splits them apart, both with the swarm, and with sudden clashing stories about who is dangerous and who is (still) working for Tsurumi.

When Sugimoto, Shiraishi, Ogata and Tanigaki seek refuge in a building and proceed to cook the sea otter stew, they all start to get very horny and see sexier versions of each other (including the latecomer Kiroranke), resulting in a ridiculous sumo orgy. There’s more serious activity afoot outside, as a highly suspicious Asirpa demands Inkarmat tell her how she knows her father.

According to Inkarmat, Nopperabo they’re seeking isn’t her father at all. Her father is a man named Wilk, whom Inkarmat befriended and even fell for (though he only regarded her as a child). Wilk, Inkarmat tells her, was murdered by his best friend…Kiroranke.

That night, just as the others are coming down from the sea otter, Inkarmat mounts Tanigaki and disrobes. While there are any number of reasons she decided to sleep with him (including genuine attraction, which is definitely there) she later attributes the lay with the sea otter’s legendary aphrodisiac effects.

Once everyone is reassembled on the beach, Asirpa immediately confronts Kiroranke with what Inkarmat just told her. When Kiroranke plays innocent, Inkarmat produces evidence in the form of fingerprint matching.

Then Ogata draws his rifle on her, accusing her of working for Tsurumi, but she says she was only using Tsurumi. Tanigaki puts himself between Inkarmat and Ogata’s gun, and Ogata accuses him of letting himself be seduced.

It’s a big mess, with multiple people suspecting each other of murder, or conspiracy, or some such foul play. This week Sugimoto not only gets the horny sumo orgy started, but also plays the role of peacemaker (after all, no one is pointing any fingers at him for anything).

He tells everyone that their mission remains the same: go to Abashiri and meet with Nopperabo for answers. He half-jokingly warns that whoever “makes their move”, resulting in another member of the group suddenly meeting their maker, will share the fate of their victim. Call it Mutually Assured Justice.

Tsurumi’s intel network is formidable, and he is informed the moment the reunited group is headed to the prison. He even has a mole there, posing as a greenhorn noob. His superior officer is ordered by the warden to “feed him to the pigs” when his duplicity is uncovered, but the young lad make quick work of the two inmates who ambush him. Looks like our friends are heading straight into a hornet’s nest. What else is new?

As for the post-credits sequence in which a wagon is robbed in the night by a crack shot with a pistol…not enough info to form an opinion one way or another, except to assume the able gunman in question will probably cross paths with either Tsurumi, Hijikata, or Sugimoto & Co.

Golden Kamuy – 11 – And Now, Some Light Eyeball Licking

It all starts with a coincidence, as Sugimoto, Asirpa, Shiraishi and Kiroranke decide to spend the night at the Sapporo World Hotel, where Ushiyama also happens to check in. Both Ushiyama and Shiraishi are immediately smitten with the comely proprietess Ienaga Kano; unbeknownst to them, she’s running a murder hotel.

Ienaga takes an interest in Ushiyama due to his superhuman strength, and so dangles him along as she settles Sugimoto & Co into their room. While pursuing Ienaga, Siraishi almost crosses paths with Ushiyama, but doesn’t, thanks to a trap door that leads to Ienaga’s torture and dismemberment chamber.

More importantly, the Immortal Sugimoto and Undefeated Ushiyama finally meet, and test one anothers’ prowess with Judo, leading to this hilarous quote from Ushi: “At this rate, we’ll end up killing each other…I like you. Drinks are on me.” With that, Ushiyama treats Sugimoto, Asirpa, and Kiroranke to drinks and dinner, including a dish Asirpa believes to be poop, leading to another one of her priceless faces.

They all get ruinously drunk; Asirpa and Kuroranke pass out, but fortunately Sugimoto can hold his alcohol enough to stop Ienaga when she starts licking Asirpa’s eyes. Shiraishi remembers who “Ienaga Kano” really is: a fellow prisoner from Abashiri, a mad doctor who believed he could achieve perfection by taking the best parts from others.

It’s left up in the air is whether Ienaga is simply posing as a woman or has actually completed full gender reassignment as a result of their quest for perfection. One thing’s for sure, Ushiyama doesn’t care who Ienaga was or is; he’s just committed to screwing them.

That doesn’t happen, as Ienaga triggers the hotel self-destruct system, blowing the whole place to kingdom come. Sugimoto, Asirpa, Shiraishi and Kuroranke escape in one piece (albeit lightly singed) and decide to continue their journey to Abashiri to meet Nopperabo.

They assume they lost not one but two tattooed prisoners in Ushiyama and Ienaga in the blast, but after the credits Ushiyama emerges with an apparently alive (or at least intact) Ienaga, which means Team Hijikata just became one tattoo closer to completing the map.

This episode managed to move the overarching story forward while confined within one crazy kooky hotel and threw together a lot of strong personalities to see how they’d mingle. And it was an absolute riot.

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 09

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 08

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 07

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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