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.

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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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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 06

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry – 09

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In addition to getting a win and advancing due to Ayase’s forfeiture, Ikki also gets a week off with Stella at a mountain hotel. Thankfully, we’re well past the point that one or the other must use this golden opportunity to confess their love—they’re already lovers. Rather, it’s more an opportunity for the two to see just how much trouble they can get into, and find out what kind of lovers they’re going to be.

Alas, it also turns out the director tricked them; at least part of their “vacation” consists of helping the Student Council clean the hotel. I maintain the Student Council are all a bunch of shallow cliches with silly exaggerated designs, but it’s good to know they’re not really evil, and as a group bouncing off one another, they’re fun enough.

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…Just not as fun as watching Stella and Ikki when no one else is around. Stella wants to go see a gorgeous waterfall an hour’s walk away, but she didn’t eat enough in the morning, gets tired and weak, and eventually shows symptoms of a cold. Then it starts to rain, and Ikki postpones the waterfall trip and seeks out shelter. Almost too conveniently, they find a clean, unoccupied cabin with a hearth.

Soaking wet and coming down with a fever, the best thing for Stella is to get her clothes off so she can get warm and dry. Ikki knows it’s probably embarassing, so he strips first. It’s a kind and very Ikki gesture, and reminds Stella how they met, with him seeing “everything” right from the start. She doesn’t look on that day with scorn, but with a smile.

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In the firelight, with Stella sweating and breathing heavily, there’s no way to make this situation not incredibly sexy for both parties. Ikki attempts to keep things “businesslike”, but after unclasping her stockings and bra, Ikki pitches a tent; one that Stella not only notices, but is happy she excites him so, especially when he’s exciting her so much. After a pause that lasts seemingly forever during which only the fire snaps and pops, Stella finally puts the question to Ikki: “Do you wanna do it with me?”

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But that doesn’t lead to any slow dissolves, tasteful panning, or overdramatic score drowning out sex noises. In fact, Ikki is taken aback, asking if she’s sure what she’s saying. Without skipping a beat, Stella looks seriously and calmly at Ikki and says she does; she wants him, he wants her, and if he wants, they can have each other right here and now. Stella may be the instigator by posing the question, but she understands the choice of whether to proceed belongs to both of them.

Ikki says no, but it’s not because he doesn’t want to. For one thing, she’s exhausted and needs to rest, but beyond that, Ikki is thinking about their future—both their futures, not just his. Even if you don’t quite agree with Ikki’s somewhat conservative views on the matter, you can still understand his decision as part in parcel of the careful life he has to lead, whether it’s not getting into useless fights, or not risking getting the girl he loves pregnant in a fit of passion just because all the circumstances align.

It’s not that Stella isn’t being clear-headed, or Ikki is being a prude. It’s somewhere in between, which makes it a far more interesting situation. Stella isn’t just disappointed Ikki turned her down this time; she’s also happy he’s so serious about their relationship. This isn’t just a fling for him. She also surprises herself again with her “naughtiness”, though I sensed more acceptance of, rather than shame about, that side of her.

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In any case, they got as close as you could physically and emotionally get to going all the way, and you have to tip your hat to RKC for going there and not giving us easy or one-dimensional answers or resolutions. And from a practical perspective, it’s good they didn’t get into it, because they would have been rudely (and probably painfully) interrupted by a giant stone golem smashing the cabin.

Again, RKC and Asterisk echo one another when this attacking monster splits into several smaller versions of itself when Ikki cuts it, meaning a central controlling element must be taken out to stop it from reviving. Ikki isn’t able to find it, and nearly loses Stella while fighting when the Student Council shows up to rescue them. A very discreet Student Council that doesn’t ask too many questions about why Stella is in such as state of undress and whatnot!

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Even the council finds their backs up against the wall, until their long-talked-about but previously unseen president arrives and takes the golem—and his controller, many miles away—down with authority. The glasses-wearing, twin-braid redhead is named Toudou Touka (not to be confused with Asterisk’s Toudou Kirin), and she makes an immediate impression as a capable badass who naturally was one of the final four in the last Seven Star. Heck, her attacks even dissolve the letterboxingin a subtle visual breaking of the fourth wall.

As for the gangster-type guy who arranged the golem attack, I don’t much care for him at all, but wonder if he’s specifically after Ikki on behalf of the Kuroganes, or more interesting working against them (and the Kurogane clan having to put on a front of loathing to protect Ikki all this time)

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Mercifully, Shizuku isn’t quite obsessive enough to have snuck on the bus with Stella and Ikki and stalked them on their trip (though it would have been somewhat interesting if she had been the one to save them from the golem, I don’t think she could have handled peeking through the window as the lovers stripped and sweated). Instead, she goes home to her big, cold sad room in the big, cold, sad Kurogane Manor, where she’s summoned by her big, cold, sad father.

Her dad claims to want to know how Shizuku is doing, so had her mother write a letter to her on his behalf. In addition to being insulted by being tricked into coming, Shizuku is pissed that her father won’t even speak of Ikki, even though like her he’s won twelve matches in a row without a loss.

He’s quick to express his pride in her, but not Ikki, so she rejects his pride, along with whatever excuses he has for treating her brother like garbage for so long. (Of course, if there is a good reason Ikki’s family does that, which Shizuku isn’t aware of, it would be nice to hear about it.)

This is actually Shizuku at her best, “behind enemy lines”, where the enemy is the entire rest of her family who treat Ikki like an inconvenient eyesore, and taking the fight to that enemy. If they’re not going to treat Ikki like they treat her, she’d rather they treat her like Ikki, and go to the devil while they’re at it. Going home made Shizuku mad, which is why its such perfect timing that her next match will be against Toudou Touka, in a battle of water vs. lighting.

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Sidonia no Kishi 2 – 12 (Fin)

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We left Nagate in a very bad, but at the same time very sexy way, with placenta in the precise form, sound, and probably even smell of his first love Shizuka, whom he’d once shared a very meaningful period of time while stranded in a cockpit. But the senses are deceiving; this is not Shizuka and never was, it’s a predator, and she looks primed to eat him.

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Or…well, do something with him. The French kiss she/it initiates, and the whole slow pace of her attack on Nagate, suggests something other than mere feeding. She’s taking her time with him, restraining him, and about to become one with him; I wouldn’t be surprised if this is Benisuzume either conducting an experiment of her own or something built into her genetic profile.

In any case, Beni didn’t count on Izana being inside Nagate’s frame. She’s able to use her bionic arm to activate aux power and close the neck airlock, separating the Shizuka placenta from the rest of Beni and releasing Nagate, who stabs her in her core, causing not one but two of those sweet, sweet bubble disintegration sounds that tell you a Gauna’s gone for good.

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That’s not the end of this decisive battle, however; Planet Nine remains a battlefield, and Nagate, the crippled Tsumugi, Izana, and whatshisname are soon surrounded by seemingly all the Gauna on the planet. Nagate prepares for another last stand, but he’s bailed out by a cavalry of Hayakazes led by Samari, who have finally arrived in orbit, one hundred strong (grouped in 25 Hayakazes). As Nagate and Tsumugi serve as bait, the rest of the planet’s Gauna are mopped up with overwhelming firepower.

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It’s a great feeling when that last Gauna disintegreates, but due to the nature of this show, it never felt quite right to let my guard down until everyone was back aboard Sidonia, and even then, there could have been some ginormous ship-to-ship battle in space to close us out.

Instead, Nagate (with a still-alive nude Placental Shizuka in his arms) carries Tsumugi and launches away from the planet to join the Hayakaze squad, and they return to the mothership without incident.

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With the titular Battle for Planet Nine won, the balance of the episode, and perhaps the Sidonia series, is spent in Epilogue Mode, similar to the last episode of UBW. Nagate is awarded a medal (the first awarded in decades) by Kobayashi in order to continue building him up as the Great Hero to inspire the rest of the soldiers; there’s a party where the Honoka clones cluster around Nagate to Izana’s disapproval.

Nagate asks what’s become of the new Placental Shizuka, and Kunato tells him she’s being treated as a valuable specimen for further research, citing “important things must have a spare.” The march of “progress” goes on, and I imagine it also entails one day creating a spare Nagate.

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The series then ends where it began, which I thought was a nice touch (though my one major gripe about this finale is that we didn’t get to see any more Izana after that awards ceremony). Nagate hadn’t just come a long way in becoming a decorated, respected, and fawned-over pilot and war hero; he also came a long way geographically, as the same journey through the bowels of Sidonia from his cloistered domicile to the rice thresher is played in reverse, only instead of an urchin on the run for theft, he has an entry pass and is welcomed with salutes once the staff knows who he is.

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Nagate inspects the simulator his grandfather and him used to learn how to fight Gauna, giving him the tools to make a contribution to society should he leave the confines of his sheltered home. He did, and he doesn’t regret it. He’s seen and done amazing, extraordinary things with a host amazing people of all stripes.

Yes, he’s still technically a pawn of the junta, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s a Knight of Sidonia, who will keep fighting to protect his home and its inhabitants until he draws his last breath—or at least until his new-and-improved Chimera replacement takes over for him!

As for me, I shall deeply miss Sidonia’s dark, gritty, sexy, terrifying, and always gorgeous and impeccably-rendered sci-fi milieu. From the start it’s reminded me of the rebooted Battlestar Galactica, only it managed to maintain the mystique of its primary foe (the Gauna remain alien and terrifying by the show’s end; the Cylons, not so much). Sidionia told and showed us a lot,  but never too much; it’s deepest mysteries remained so through to the end.

I really wouldn’t mind a third season, or failing that, a Blame! anime, a peek of which we saw on Nagate’s TV. I want this style of anime to continue.

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Sidonia no Kishi 2 – 11

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Sidonia 2’s second-to-last episode is another brutal, no-holds-barred battle for survival between human and Gauna (and Chimera). Whether it’s in the duel between Tsumugi and Benisuzume or Nagate and seemingly all the other Gauna on the planet, it’s all about staying one step ahead, and constantly worried about looking over your shoulder at the next damn thing that could kill you in the blink on an eye.

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Izana’s battle is more of a race, as she and the lollygagging bearded redshirt pilot run for their lives from an absolutely terrifying Gauna Giant who seems intent on sampling a couple of hors d’oeuvres to go. The show actually subverts the predictable by  keeping the bearded guy alive throughout, but by the end of the episode, who knows who’ll survive this thing.

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They’re driven to the precipice of a cliff, and just when the Gauna’s tentacles are about to grab them, Nagate saves the day with his particle beam. But rescuing the two pilots is only a small and temporary victory; now he has to rendezvous with Tsumugi (who it’s assumed will make quick work of Benisuzume) past a humongous gauntlet of Gauna.

Nagate digs into one of the floating islands and lets loose with his cannon until he’s out of ammo, then takes care of the last three Gauna with his new sword, laughed off earlier as something one would use on themselves, but proving crucial to survival here. And once he defeats every last Gauna that surrounds him, he still has to meet up with Tsumugi.

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As Benisuzume giggles and grunts and gasps while locked in battle with Tsumugi, Mozuku is convinced it’s only a matter of time before the under-matched Beni slips up and gets her core penetrated. She, not Beni, is the “Ultimate Being,” or so it’s been drilled into her psyche. But that superiority affords a certain arrogance that proves decisive. After Tsumugi has blown most of her placenta away, Beni plays possum, and a seemingly human Shizuka crawls out of the placenta.

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In that moment of confusion and possibly fellow feeling, at the sight someone the same size and makeup as her friends, Tsumugi lets her guard down, and Beni jams a stake through her neck and starts sucking out all of her Hyggs particles (i.e. go juice). Now Benisuzume has the upper hand, presumably since she’s not bothered by sentiment, and proceeds to literally nail the poor outsmarted Tsumugi to the wall, almost as bait.

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Nagate saves Tsugumi in the nick of time, but again, only temporarily, as Beni has summoned thousands of her friends to their location, and she herself gloms onto Tsugumori. Nagate blasts her with the beam in his head, but she fires back, blinding him. She then sneaks up from behind and sticks all of her tentacles into his frame’s hull, and all of a sudden it looks like game over…but only if Benisuzume’s only goal was to kill him, which it clearly isn’t, because she forms another human Hoshijiro Shizuka inside his cockpit.

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When “Shizuka” opens her eyes to reveal they’re both human, it resparks debate on what elements of Nagate’s old flame are still extant, and the nature of what it means to be someone, especially someone you love. Is Benisuzume merely taking her time for creulty’s sake, or does she intend to mate with Nagate.

Nagate, for his part, is literally cornered, strapped into his cockpit with absolutely nowhere to go. But Izana and Beardy are still in there somewhere, so it’s not ridiculous to think they might have a role to play in the immediate future in freeing Nagate somehow.

Until then, we’re left with one strange, sexy, frightening scenario: Nagate either about to be killed, fucked, and/or eaten (in no particular order) by a monster with the face and body of his believed-dead first love. Yikes.

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