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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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 05

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 04

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 03

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Aquarion Logos – 01 (Part I)

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Gosh, has it only been three years since Aquarion Evol? I’m getting too old for this shit. Now it’s apparently the tenth anniversary of the Aquarion franchise, the first installment of which I never watched. Evol felt kinda like Macross Frontier’s younger, less accomplished, more sex-obsessed red-headed cousin, complete with mecha battles set to pop ballads.

I assumed Logos wouldn’t have anything to do with Evol or the first Aquarion, but this first half of the first episode would seem to be a kind of commemorative prologue/forward/episode 0 before getting into Logos in earnest. It also seems like an attempt to squeeze a feature-length movie into 26 minutes. It is packed, and it rarely makes sense.

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But Aquarion has never been about making a whole lot of sense, it’s about shoving as much stuff onto the screen as possible as youths do battle in elaborate CGI mecha with super-elaborate attacks with goofy names fueled by love and/or lust. Casts from both previous shows appear as though from different dimensions, along with a couple new characters residing in a third in 1966 Japan, Yuno and Shin, who look just like Yunoha and her dearly departed friend Jin from Evol.

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The reason for the dimensional merging/out-of-whackness revolves around an old book in a language only Yuno could read, until Shin came along and read it. They accidentally tear the book in two, and we’re off to the chaotic races, with the two of them being whisked from one bizarre, trippy inter-dimensional setting to another, all while some old fart lectures about tadpole awareness as they grow into frogs in his hand. Are you getting all this?

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Anywho Yunoha’s stuffed frog travels to a dimenison and forms a froglike Aquarion with Yuno and Shin, who combined with the other Aqarion crews, manage to zip up the dimensions and get everyone home (or kaeru, which also apparently means frog.) Yunoha wakes up to see her hand being held by an apparition of Jin. I kinda wanted everything that had happened before to be her dream, but nope, all that stuff happened.

But now what? This first half reached dizzying heights of nonsense masquerading as profoundness, but l was frankly pretty disoriented throughout, having been just thrown back into a franchise I hadn’t watched in over three years, and which I thought would be moving on from what I had watched. The preview for the second half suggests it will do just that…so maybe this was just one last curtain call for the last two shows? I guess I’ll find out.

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Amnesia – 11

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The heroine and Orion learn that Ukyou has a split personality: one side wants to protect her and prevent her from dying on the 25th, the other side wants to kill her so he can live. Despite warning her to stay away, she can’t, and when a text he sends her a text on the 25th implying he’ll die that night, and she goes out into a storm to find him. The evil Ukyou corners her in a burning church.

The heroine proves yet again that her sense of self-preservation is iffy at best, but overpowered by her refusal to stand by and let anyone suffer, especially if it’s for her sake. Logically, if half of Ukyou wants to see what the inside of her skull looks like, she should stay away from him, period. But she thinks with her heart, not her head, and for her trouble she ends up right where she started the series: in that burning church, hiding from the person she came to save. Nice symmetry!

Apparently, while this world will try to kill the heroine until the 25th, if Ukyou dies in her place, she’ll live on. Ukyou makes reference to having met the heroine and seen her die countless times, so it’s not unrealistic to assume the experience has made him go at least half-mad, developing a side of himself to stop him from dying in the heroine’s place. That half’s willing to do anything – kill anyone – to stay alive, just as the heroine is willing to risk her life again and again to relieve the pain of others.


Rating: 7 (Very Good)

Amnesia – 09

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After the heroine’s hair is cut by the Ikki fans at the mall, Toma grows increasingly protective, insisting she stay at his place and not go out anymore. Orion appears and tells her he’s drugging her food and drink to keep her asleep. Shin shows up, and she learns Toma isn’t really her boyfriend. Eventually, Toma locks her in a cage to keep her safe, but doesn’t feel good about it. Desperate to know how she feels about him, she escapes and heads to her apartment to see if there’s anything in her diary – but Toma pursues her.

Whoa…okay then! Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome aboard the crazy train. Your conductor is none other than Toma, who takes his commitment to protecting the heroine a bit too far, to say the least. Granted, she is being mercilessly bullied by the fangirls, and her contact information has been distributed online, which can’t be good. She’s having garbage stuffed in her mailbox, flower pots dropped on her, and her lustrous locks are sheared every chance the bitch squad gets. And more importantly, she’s utterly incapable of dealing with any of this do to her disorientation with the timeline.

But still – and we don’t give a rat’s ass whether Toma’s “heart is in the right place” – you cannot kidnap, drug, and imprison someone in a cage and expect us to be okay with it. The heroine shows a surreal amount of passivity to this situation, and even seems on the verge of forgiving him for this sickening treatment (the episode never explains, for instance, how she goes to the bathroom in there). But we don’t care how many memories she’s missing or how much she may actually love Toma. He has to go to jail for this. In any kind of sane world, he would. This apparently isn’t that world, but at least Toma admits what he’s doing is, indeed, quite fucked up.


Rating: 7 (Very Good)

Amnesia – 04

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As Shin walks the heroine home, he tells her he doesn’t want to go back to being just childhood friends. When she and her coworkers have a fireworks party, she invites him. He declines at first, then comes, and proceeds to tell her about the accident. He was too forceful, which led to her running off and falling off a cliff. In the past, she didn’t give up on him, so he vows not to give up on her. After almost getting hit by a car, she wakes up. It’s August 1st again, and Ikki is back, and calling her out for a date. When she heads outside, she sees him with the girls who confronted her in the future.

This week some of the pieces finally started to fall into place for the heroine. She now knows about the bond between her and Shin that led to his confessing to her, as well as what transpired before she fell off the cliff. Shin is a forceful, aggressive guy who doesn’t usually mince words, and at first glance he seems a curious choice for the heroine to date, but after this episode we could definitely see her saying yes to him. She never gave up on Shin after the unpleasantness that followed his dad being branded a murderer, and never let him give up on himself. He wants to return the favor by not giving up on her.

For a long stretch of the episode, even though Shin is giving her a lot of backstory, there’s the sense that the heroine is no longer just trying to regain lost memories, but being content for the time being to form happy new ones, like the little fireworks soirée. These are people she got along with and even loved; in time, memory loss or not, she’ll reform the bonds she lost. But only if she can stay in the same place! Her shift back to August 1st, and the reappearance of Ikki the also-super-aggressive ladies’ man (dick didn’t even give her the chance to say ‘No’), threatens all the progress made with Shin. Her trials continue.


Rating: 7 (Very Good)

Amnesia – 03

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Shin takes the heroine home from the hospital. The next morning he returns, telling her they’ve been dating for three months. He takes her to her university, hoping to jog her memories, including in the practice room where they first kissed. When she returns to work, the trip to Shinano differs in several details, and Kent and Ikku no longer work at the maid cafe. She asks Shin what happened the night of her accidnent, but all he can tell her for now is that it was “all his fault.”

Things don’t get any easier for our poor delicate heroine this week, as she wakes up in a hospital, back in the beginning of August, after an employee retreat that she remembers happened days later. And it isn’t just dates she’s confused about: people who used to work at the cafe are now just random acquaintances. There was no meteor shower. And the “photographer” guy? He helped them look for her, but now he seems to vanish into thin air when she’s not alone. Consistent  facts elude the heroine at every turn. We’d be pissed, but she handles it all with grace and patience.

All we know for sure (we think!) is that she fell off a cliff and was injured How, and why and to what extent she was hurt, we don’t know. Nor do we know if the last episode was just a dream, or if this one is. Shin isn’t forthcoming, because he’s not confident enough to discuss it calmly, or something. Beside their frustrating discussion, a juggler juggles, providing a not-so-subtle visual aid of what the heroine is trying to do. And then, to complicate matters further, Orion, who had been absent in this time, tries to re-establish contact.


Rating: 7 (Very Good)

P.S. The heroine’s university is Rikkyo University in Ikebukuro. We happened upon the real thing while on a trip  there and were struck by its Western design. It looked like someone plopped down a patch of England right in the middle of Tokyo! Also, like Shin, we love melon soda.

 

Amnesia – 02

Eureka the heroine wakes up after her encounter with the girls, wondering if she broke a promise and caused someone harm as a result of her amnesia. She decides to join her co-workers on a 2-night orientation trip to an island where they’ll be able to see a meteor shower. She gets flashbacks of Kent at a festival and of Shin confessing to killing someone, and when she ends up alone with Shin, she panics, and ends up falling off a cliff. She comes to in a hospital. It’s August 1 again, Shin comes in to kiss her, and Orion is gone.

The mysteries continue unabated this week, with the poor unnamed heroine’s plight becoming more and more complicated and confusing. It’s bittersweet feeling, as we’re enjoying all the intrigue, but at the same time frustrated that we just don’t know anything concrete yet. On more than one occasion Orion apologizes for being useless, but really, where would the heroine be without her guidance? Well, we may find out next week, as it would seem she’s gone back in time, her neck is bandaged, and Orion is nowhere to be found.

Is Orion being trapped inside her soul the main cause of this, or are matters more complex than that? How much time traveling has she done? Are there paradoxes to resolve? (sorry, we’re deep into FFXIII-2). It seem’s she’s had/has/will have some kind of romantic connection with all the guys (explored in both OP and ED) at some point. Who knows? She doesn’t even know who she is, only that she’s apparently quite popular, despite spacing out all the time. We haven’t even mentioned that weird photographer guy. Curiouser and curiouser…


Rating: 7 (Very Good)

Amnesia – 01

Three days after passing out at work, a girl finds she has no memory of who she or anyone around her is. The amnesia is brought about by Orion, a spirit only she can see and hear who crossed paths with her soul by chance and is now trapped inside it. The girl’s friends Toma and Shin walk her home, and the nex day she goes back to her job at a main and butler cafe, where she meets Ikki and Kent. When she goes home, she’s cornered by three girls accusing her of betraying them. She experiences a traumatic memory and passes out again.

The title “Amnesia” turns out to be a perfect description of what we see in its first installment, which is all about the confusion, frustration, and helplessness that accompany a state of Amnesia, and this girl has it bad (worse still, no one will say her name, which she doesn’t know herself.) Despite a couple tiresome moments of her fumbling with words or dishes, we’re on her side, because we’re just as in the dark about everything around her as she is. Her relationships to all these guys for instance, remain a total mystery, and none of them do her many favors with regards to helping her remember.

Still, she does okay for one day. Jumping right into a job at a maid cafe – or any job, for that matter – is no small task, but she does it to try to unlock some memories. All she gets are flashes that only raise more questions. The OP and ED seem to have fun with the fact that any or all of these guys could be her lover; we just don’t know at this point. As for Yumekui Merry Orion, well…we’re not the hugest fans. Her voice is annoying, and her design is a bit rote (Yumekui Merry looked cooler, even though we dropped her). Still, we like the premise atmosphere well enough, and will certainly give it another look next week.


Rating: 7 (Very Good)