Boogiepop wa Warawanai – 04 – Snowing In April

Boogiepop switches gears completely to a new mysterious, twisting tale with a new batch of players; only Boogiepop herself is the constant from previous episodes. We seemingly begin at the end, as she confronts her new enemy and enemy of the world, “Imaginator.” But Imaginator (Hanazawa Kana) tells her endings are just beginnings. Jumping off the ledge, she says there’s “plenty of time” before she hits the ground for Boogiepop to find her.

From there, the POV switches to starving artist and guidance counselor Asukai Jin, who has a very unique ability to detect what is missing in the heart of virtually everyone he meets. The heart is depicted as a rose plant, either lacking root, stem, leaves, or buds. Everyone lacks something, and that lack can never be resolved, and Asukai can’t see his own heart, so he doesn’t know what he himself lacks. He does what he can with this ability, but he feels powerless to truly help people.

That’s when Imaginator finds him. Like him, she can see things no one else can; in her case, their deaths, or rather the possibility of their deaths. Living creatures generate a certain kind of energy before their lives burn out, and she can detect that. This makes her a valuable tool for anyone who would choose to manipulate death. She exists to “recreate the world” with that ability, but she could use some help, so she asks Asukai to assist her.

As Asukai has some dinner his cute neighbor prepared, suddenly the young woman is possessed by Imaginator and speaks with her voice. She reiterates her desire to join forces, indicating that the one thing Asukai definitely lacks is a “calling”; which she can provide.

Imaginator kisses him to show him that calling, in which he uses his right hand to “prune” the roses from people’s hearts like some kind of dark angel of death. The prospect frightens him, and he believes himself incapable of such brutality, but Imaginator tells him his calling is his calling, and he is capable of it, period. It’s ultimately up to him whether to utilize that capability.

As he wrestles with what Imaginator has said and shown him, Asukai is distracted from his work, even sketching her to perhaps make her feel more real and tangible, all the while considering what he could do with her “assistance.”

Fast forward to Asukai being questioned by police after an incident in which Imazaki Shizuko, a former student he counseled and drug addict and dealer, tried to rob him at knifepoint before committing suicide. We shift between the questioning, during which the police don’t suspect him at all, and the incident itself, when Imaginator possesses Imazaki’s body to further illustrate how their partnership will work.

She shows Asukai that Imazaki was at the end of her tether and would be dead anyway in a matter of months, likely alone and after more suffering. But she tells Asukai there’s something he can do for her, before plunging the knife into Imazaki’s neck. As she dies, he can see her rose, which he cradles in his hands.

Before heading home, one of the detectives asks if Asukai said anything to Imazaki before she died, since she seemed so peaceful, as if all the thorns had been pulled from her heart. Asukai tells the cop he said nothing, and he seems to be telling the truth. It’s not something he said, but something he did, along with simply being there.

In another incident in which three delinquents are harrassing a fourth boy who is protecting a girl they want to “have some fun with”, Asukai decides to experiment with his new “alliance” with Imaginator. He has the boy run off to safety with the girl, freezes two of the delinquents, then has the ringleader turn his knife on himself.

Back on the rooftop of Touka’s school, a girl named Komiya who was good friends with the late Minahoshi Suiko (the girl whose body Imaginator inhabits) prepares to leap off to “follow” her, but is stopped by Boogiepop, who tells her she be able to join her that way, then admits to killing Suiko, since she was an “enemy of the world.”

But hearkening back to the episode’s beginning, Suiko hasn’t “hit the ground” yet; she hasn’t reached the next world. Indeed, she’s working with Asukai to recreate this one. Will Boogiepop need help from a human (other than Touka that is) to defeat Imaginator?

Boogiepop wa Warawanai – 03 – A Little Bit More Good than Evil

All of the various knots Boogiepop tied the first two eps are laid bare this week and then gradually unraveled, bringing the three-part arc to a satisfying conclusion. It starts with Tanaka Shirou searching for his girlfriend Kamikishiro, unaware she’s already dead. Class Rep Niitoki Kei joins him in the search, as does Saotome Masami.

Of course, we know Saotome is up to no good, and his true goal is to draw out both Echoes and Kirima Nagi. And his plan works…kinda: when they send a PA message summoning Nagi to the broadcast room, she shoes up, but not before cutting the lights, taking all three of them down, and tying them up before presenting them to Echoes to determine if any of them are Manticore.

When Nagi frees the three, Kei wants to know what’s going on, but Nagi doesn’t want to involve them, as they’re “too normal” for what they’re up against. This rankles Saotome, still sore over Nagi rejecting him for the same reason. He reveals his treachery by stabbing Echoes with a pen loaded with poison that will keep him from regenerating, just when Manticore arrives.

He also slits Nagi’s throat, an event that was a horrifying to behold in the moment, even if I knew there were supernatural means of bringing her back. Echoes escapes to the roof with Nagi, and Manticore follows, while Tanaka runs away screaming, leaving Kei alone with Saotome, who liked how it felt killing Nagi and wouldn’t mind doing it again.

Echoes and Manticore engage in a kind of aerial parkour duel, the animation for which is crude, but effective. Manticore eventually bests Echoes, slamming him to the ground where Saotome and Kei are. This is where Manticore explains all the horrible things she’s going to do, including taking Nagi’s form and turning Kei into a soulless slave.

But as Kei holds him upright, Echoes has other ideas. He transforms himself into data and shoots himself into space. Saotome pushes Manticore out of the way, but gets vaporized himself. Denied her prey Manticore starts to go a bit loopy, and prepares to kill Kei in her rage, but her hand is stayed—nay, her whole left arm cleaved off—by none other than Boogiepop, who has come to the rescue.

After suspending Manticore with magical threads, Tanaka makes a triumphant return, shooting an arrow through Manticore’s head, killing her and ending the threat. Turns out his act of cowardice was just that—an act; Boogiepop told him earlier that the opportunity to “shoot through the truth” would come if he wished to…and he decided to do so. In this case, to avenge his beloved and defeat the demon that claimed her.

Turns out in his brief time with the bloodied Nagi, Echoes gave her a little of his life force, allowing her to heal with no ill effects (which is why Manticore thought he was a bit too weak, even with the poison). Tanaka thanks Nagi and Kei for their help on Kamikishiro’s behalf. Boogiepop further explains that Echoes was sent to judge whether humanity was worth living; thanks to Kamikishiro, with assists by Tanaka, Nagi, and Kei, the verdict was favorable.

Kei also wants to thank Boogiepop, but with the threat lifted, Boogiepop is gone. Still, Nagi suggests she thank the next best thing: Miyashita Touka, despite Touka having no idea what happened. This brings us full circle to the end of the first episode, when Nagi and Kei encounter Touka and Kensuke walking home. All in all, I really enjoyed this intricate little mechanism, and I’m looking forward to the next crisis that will necessitate Boogiepop’s return.

Boogiepop wa Warawanai – 02 – A Failed Creation

Well, so much for my hasty theory about Kirima Nagi being a murderer, and so much for the calm pace of the first episode; this thing’s a non-stop parade of new characters, motivations, and lashing waves of plot, presented to us out of order.

I won’t lie, it’s a bit of a mess, and definitely not an improvement on the more minimalist premiere. But at least we have some answers about the “man-eater” Boogiepop mentioned, as well as the other players in this tale.

But first, some names: Kinoshita, the girl who was worried about being killed, is walked home by the glasses-wearing Suema, who is into crime psychology books by the late Kirima Seiichi. Kinoshita is suddenly accosted by Kirima Nagi. But it’s a misunderstanding; Nagi thinks Kinoshita is someone called “Manticore”…but she isn’t.

A guy named Saotome happens upon the man-eater while in the middle of eating a second year girl named Yurihara. Saotome pleads that rather than kill him for seeing what he saw, the monster should take the form of Yurihara, and together they’ll take over the world. He names the monster-in-Yurihara’s-form “Manticore”, which…is apt.

Kinoshita tells Suema about Kusatsu Akiko, a girl who distributed a strange drug to four friends, including her. One by one, they started to disappear, including Akiko, which is why Kinoshita feels like she’s next. Suema takes this info to Nagi—her favorite author’s daughter—who only pretends to be a delinquent in order to have more time to investigate the strange goings-on at school, bad rep be damned.

We’re shown that Saotome and Manticore are behind Akiko, the drugs, and the disappearances. Saotome took Akiko out (she had a crush on him), then drugged her drink and gives her to Manticore “modify” her brain to secrete the blue drug.

Akiko is essentially in thrall to Manticore, putting the drug in pills and distributing them to her friends. This is how Saotome and Manticore, who have become something of an item, intend to take over the world.

That brings us to the white-haired guy Takeda saw Boogiepop talk to in the city: his name is Echoes and he’s an alien. Wait…what?! Oh, there’s more, he came here to gauge human kindness, but ended up captured by some shady company that cloned him. That clone? Manticore. Echoes befriends one Miyashita Touka, who stashes him at school and informs Nagi.

Nagi doesn’t go to visit Echoes until Touka has already disappeared; she’s killed when she barges in on Manticore and Saotome. However, the fact she was kind to Echoes is probably a good thing in the cosmic sense…not to mention by bringing Echoes and Nagi together, they must be the duo who defeat the monster before Boogiepop, making her services no longer required.

As I said, there was a lot going on here, and I’m not sure that shifting between times to really served a purpose other than to confuse me…and yet it all seems to be making a kind of crazy sense…at least enough sense for me to tune back in to see what comes next.

Boogiepop wa Warawanai – 01 (First Impressions) – Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May

The first Winter 2019 anime to pop onto my screen promptly impressed with its atmosphere, economy, and a nervy Ushio Kensuke synth score that quite simply OWNS. Those elements working in concert make even the most innocuous scenario—a guy in the city apparently being stood up—feel significant.

And oh yeah, the girl who stood him up? She shows up in a witch-like getup, helps a suffering homeless man, chides the bystanders for ignoring said man, and flipping a cop for good measure.

But while the witch-looking figure may have had Miyashita Touka’s body, it wasn’t Miyashita. As Takeda (the not-stood-up-after-all lad) learns when he encounters her atop a school roof, Miyashita’s body is being used as a vessel for an entity calling itself Boogiepop. If it helps Takeda, she likens it to split personalities, and Miyashita lacks any memories of when she’s “inhabited” by Boogiepop.

Both Miyashita and Boogiepop are voiced by the wonderful Yuuki Aoi, and she voices them very differently. Boogiepop speaks more slowly, at least an octave lower, and in a tone that’s an interesting combo of aloof, playful, menacing, and slightly bored. Miyashita sounds, well, more human.

Boogiepop explains to Takeda that she automatically appears whenever a threat to the school (or humanity) arises; in this case, a monster that may be inhabiting one of his classmates. Takeda reads up on split personalities and seems to enjoy his rooftop chats.

But one day Boogiepop appears before him dressed normally, as Miyashita, and tells him their time together is at an end: the monster has already been defeated by someone other than her. Takeda protests this sudden goodbye, but the next time he sees Miyashita, she’s back to being her usual herself, and Takeda almost seems…disappointed.

Peripheral to Takeda and Boogiepop’s interactions are swirling rumors about Boogiepop (some girls think she spirits them away at the peak of their beauty so they’ll die before becoming ugly) and a delinquent among them named Kirima Nagi whom some believe is murdering the girls officially reported as runaways.

So it’s a little unsettling when Kirima pops up out of nowhere to introduce herself to Miyashita and shake her hand. The timing seems too weird considering Boogiepop just “left”…not to mention one of the creepy quick cuts of carnage that dot the episode might just confirm Kirima is indeed what some of the girls suspect:

I guess we’ll find out. I’m certainly looking forward to watching how things unfurl, and to the inevitable return of Boogiepop once things inevitably go south for Takeda and Miyashita. Until then, this was a wonderfully calm, patient, moody start. Like gradually immersing your foot into the pool rather than raucously cannonballing in, I feel successfully acclimated.

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 12 (Fin)

Its first season shows us the past, and most of its second season showed us the present. This week is all about the future, both of the Yakumo and Sukeroku names, the families connected to them, and of rakugo itself. In all cases, that future looks bright, thanks to the inspiration of those who came before.

First, we have a Shin in his late teens or early twenties, and he’s the spitting image of his grandfather Yakumo, even though they’re not related by blood…or are they? The resemblance is uncanny, Konatsu is committed to taking the truth to the grave, as is her prerogative.

In other news, Konatsu has become the first female rakugo performer in history, which is awesome, because it’s something we know she’s always wanted to do, and she’s also very very good at it (sadly though, we don’t get to see her perform).

Interestingly, it doesn’t seem her and Yotaro’s daughter (and Shin’s little sister) Koyuki is interested in following the path the rest of her family has walked, and is content to listen to them work their craft.

As far as Shin is concerned, Yotaro, now the Ninth Generation Yakumo, is his Dad—he helped raise him, after all. That is very clear in a quiet, private scene between the two. As it’s very possible he carries both the blood of Sukeroku and Yakumo, Shin seems to strike a nice balance between their two extreme styles. And the little boy Shin we’re accustomed to comes out when his dad encourages him before one of the biggest performances of his life.

That performance is part of the grand re-opening of the Uchikutei theater, which had burned down years ago but now has been completely rebuilt (only now, no doubt, is up to code). Seeing the new Yakumo IX on the stage with his wife and son (and Master Mangatsu) is a triumphant moment, and the full crowd suggests Yotaro has succeeded in restoring rakugo from the brink it was dangling from when Yakumo VIII died.

Now it’s a more inclusive, less stodgy, and more welcoming place, without sacrificing the things that made it unique. Even Konatsu realizes she was foolish in her earlier thinking that she’d upset some kind of “harmony” by entering the world of rakugo.

It must be that much more encouraging for Matsuda, the only character to inhabit all three timelines. He’s 95 and wheelchair-bound, but seems as warm and cheerful as ever.

After Shin opens with a very good performance that demonstrates why he will be an excellent Sukeroku and/or Yakumo one day, Yotaro performs “Shinigami”, a Yakumo VIII original, as a tribute. And what do you know, the old man visits him at the climax of his performance, leading me wondering momentarily if Yotaro had been taken to the far shore himself!

Thankfully, Yotaro is fine, and he and his family and friends celebrate after the show with a flower viewing by the riverside. Matsuda mentions how he saw his master to the far shore (apparently during a near-death experience of his own back then), and Higuchi waxes poetic on Yotaro’s contributions to helping prevent rakugo from dying with Yakumo.

Yotaro, however was never concerned that rakugo would go anywhere, with or without his help. It’s too good for that. And I tend to agree: various humans can argue over whether the art of rakugo is something that must be vigilantly protected from disappearing, like tending a delicate fire.

But fires can be rebuilt and reignited, and there will always be those who want to sit in an old theater (or a newly rebuilt theater) and hear someone tell a funny, raunchy, or moving story that will transport them somewhere else. Rakugo is eternal.

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 11

For all the sorrow and tragedy and pain in his life, things turned out pretty well for Yakumo, AKA Bon, and as it turns out, he really did die under ideal circumstances: he died in his sleep, peacefully, painlessly, surrounded by those who loved him, listening to his grandson doing rakugo.

This episode, perhaps the finest in the entire run of the show, takes place entirely in the purgatory-like place the recently deceased go before crossing the Sanzu River to the hereafter. This requires a fare, which, big surprise, Sukeroku hasn’t been able to afford yet.

The show had always teased an interest in depicting a more fantastical world than that of the living, and in this place people can change their age at will, time is kinda hard to put a finger on. Yakumo is initially annoyed that once again Sukeroku is sponging off him, even after death, but once he’s a boy again, he quickly falls back comfortably into the very deep brotherly bond they shared.

The afterlife is suitably lush and otherworldly, but also borrows heavily from traditional Japanese aesthetics, which makes sense considering the characters we’re following. Sukeroku makes sure Yakumo understands how grateful he is for raising Konatsu.

The reunions don’t stop with Sukeroku, as Miyokichi died at the same time. While she’s cast away the “role of a woman”, she and Sukeroku are still a married couple, working together to earn fare across the river. It feels like, from their perspective, they only recently got here, just like Yakumo.

Yakumo wanted more than anything to apologize to Miyokichi for dumping her so heartlessly, but she holds no grudges in this place. In fact, she can now reflect on the mistakes she made in life, namely latching onto one person rather than rely on, and be there for, others. She’s also amused to no end by Yakumo talking like an old man, since he died as one.

The three travel together for a bit along that seemingly endless scaffolding, and Yakumo mentions the food is tasteless and unsatisfying. Sukeroku says it’s because they’re dead, but if he wants to be satisfied, he knows just the place: the very theater that burned down two episodes ago has arrived in the afterlife as well. It had a soul, after all. Even better: it’s a packed house with the biggest billing ever: All the masters of all generations…and Yakumo is on the bottom. He’s gone from grizzled old master to fresh new arrival in this place.

Sukeroku decides to warm the place up with a performance that really does seem to give flavor to the sake, meat, and onions he pretend-drinks and eats (never has his jaunty entrance theme, which Yotaro inherited, sounded better or more significant). “You can’t take this taste with you when you die!” also has new meaning. He’s still got it, in this place, which has gone back to exactly the same as it was in the old days.

There’s also a magic cushion (I’ll allow it) which brings the person from the living world the performer wants to listen the most. In Sukeroku’s case, it’s his daughter Konatsu, who appears the age she was when he and Miyokichi died. For Yakumo, it’s his grandson Shin, about the same age as his mom, and just as enthusiastic to hear Yakumo’s rakugo.

Yakumo takes the stage as his old self, but has never looked happier, beaming at his reunited family and full of energy. In a playful mood, he performs “Jugemu”, and Miyokichi and Shin “sing” along the comically long name. His story continues as the camera leaves the old, drafty, but brightly glowing theater, which slowly fades out of focus.

Yakumo then finds himself in a fine boat, packed and ready for his journey across the Sanzu. Sukeroku sees him off, and Yakumo makes him promise he and Miyokichi will join him soon, once they save up enough for their fare (the one thing he apparently can’t share with his friends, even if he wanted to). That could be a year from now, or it could be yesterday.

While en route, the ferryman reveals himself as Matsuda, who may have followed his master into death after nodding off himself, and he couldn’t be happier to be by his side again, chaffeuring him to the very gates of heaven.

It’s a fitting end to Yakumo’s story, and a achingly gorgeous episode full of joyful and tear-jerking moments, from Miyokichi first seeing Yakumo, to Konatsu hugging her mother, to Yakumo taking the stage one last time and meeting Matsuda on the boat.

The preview indicates the last episode will be an epilogue that jumps forward in time, perhaps to an older Shinnosuke with a red-haired young woman who may be his younger sister. That should be fun, even if it doesn’t come close to approaching the greatness of this, Yakumo’s farewell.

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 10

While there are certainly important stories to be told, the true genius of SGRS is the realism and intensity of the world in which those stories take place. While there was a soapy vibe to Yakumo’s inadvertent arson, this week grounds the even for what it was: something that was likely to happen to the tinderboxy theater sooner or later, regardless of who or what started it.

Even if Yakumo was trying to deal a blow to rakugo by sending the place up, the fact is, the theater is just a thing. You don’t really need it to perform rakugo. All you need is people to perform, people to support those performers, and an audience. And those things can be found anywhere. They’ll be okay…even the kid who worked at the theater to try to get closer to rakugo.

When we see Yakumo in the hospital, Shin and Matsuda are crying by his side, but Konatsu is sitting off at a distance, with a look that conveys both suspicion (both she and Yota had to stop him from jumping off a bridge, after all) and uneasiness.

As much as she has always hated her adoptive father for killing her birth parents, the window for hashing things out with him once and for all is quickly closing. Sooner or later Yakumo, like the theater, is going to go up-either by his own hand or by nature.

Still, even as Yakumo lies there in bed with a hell of a face burn, we know that when it came down to it, he’s terrified and not at all interested in dying. He’s not ready to leave the family he’s made, which we learn is about to get larger: Konatsu is pregnant again, and this time it’s Yota’s.

Since Yota is always calling Konatsu “nee-san”, its easy to forget that these two are married, let alone sleeping together. But I loved the way Konatsu drops the news—by mentioning how she craves sweet things when she’s expecting. I also loved Yota’s total obliviousness until she actually spells it out for him too.

You can feel the love and joy in this little scene. The RABUJOI, if you will ;)

As for her scene with Yakumo, it’s steeped in a combination of loathing and tenderness. It’s not the same love that she has for Yota at all, but it’s still love, and arguably a deeper one. As she helps him into the sun and combs his hair, he tells her how his mind wanders to things he never thought about when rakugo was his life, like how he never planted a cherry tree in his garden, or all he missed out on for rakugo.

Konatsu doesn’t let the opportunity to ask him why he never followed her parents to the grave, and there’s no need for any more pretense: Yakumo was too busy raising her to think about killing himself, and in any case, being a parent has a way of simultaneously overwhelming and soothing you. Raising Konatsu kept his regret at bay, and made it possible to live as long as he did.

Upon hearing all this, Konatsu softens, her eyes well up, and she does something it’s probably been very hard for her to consider doing: thank Yakumo, for not abandoning her.

Of course, she’s very welcome, and doesn’t even have to thank Yakumo, since she did as much for him as he did for her by being in his life. It’s a marvelously executed and acted scene; the epitome of bittersweet-ness.

Then Yota comes on the radio, Shin pops out of the bushes and recites the story Yota is telling (while tossing sakura petals in the air), Konatsu asks Yakumo if she can be his apprentice, and he says “yes” without any pushback whatsoever.

Yota and Shin’s story is accompanied by a montage of imagery that matches their words, though that imagery is coming not from the imaginations of the listeners, but in the city and world living and breathing around them during a warm, pleasant sunset. It looks like a moment of almost perfect contentment for Yakumo…

Which also makes it the perfect time to leave that world, if he was going to do so. When petals on the floor are suddenly picked up by a sudden wind and dipped into darkness, Yakumo wakes up on the planks of zig-zagging, seemingly endless boardwalk flanked on either side by countless candles. Sukeroku greets him, and this time welcomes him to the land of the dead.

Tellingly, Sukeroku doesn’t tell him he’s not yet supposed to be there. So is this it for Yakumo? Did that perfect moment signal his exit from the living world? Did he agree to train Konatsu to avoid stirring rancor so close to his end?

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 09

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When his former big boss goes away for six years’ hard labor, Yotaro has a notion to do a prison show, which is incidentally how he first heard his master. Yakumo performed “Shinigami” at that show, because he liked the chilly, somewhat hostile atmosphere.

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This time, Yakumo performs “Tachikiri”, and he moves many inmates and guards alike with the sad tale of a geisha who died because the letters from her lover stopped due to incarceration.

Of course, after last week’s outburst, part of me was weary of Yakumo being interrupted once again, perhaps this time by an unruly convict. That doesn’t happen, but the sound of Konatsu’s shamisen and voice remind Yakumo of Miyokichi, and she haunts his own visuals of the story.

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After Yakumo tries to see Yotaro’s big “Inokori” show, but leaves because it just…isn’t very good to him (no matter how entertained the crowd is), the old master clears out the old theater and performs “Shinigami” alone by candlelight, in the creepiest scene in the show since he saw those rows of candles after his collapse.

When he completes his tale, one person claps, or rather, one ghost: Sukeroku himself. It isn’t long before his youthful, vital form gives way to the skeleton, revealing a real shinigami has come for Yakumo, and he may get his wish: to die doing rakugo. “Sukeroku” compels Yakumo to toss a candle into the seats, and the whole theater goes up like a tinderbox.

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This would certainly be the end of Yakumo if it weren’t for Yotaro and good timing, who just happens to come by the theater after his performance. Upon the burning stage, with a death god pressing him down, Yakumo admits he doesn’t want to die, and Yotaro stretches to reach his master’s hand and pull him out of the inferno.

Yakumo may not succeed in “taking rakugo with him” when he dies, but he did manage to claim a theater rich in rakugo history in an attempt. What else will he destroy, whether he wants to or not, prior to exiting the stage for good?

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Bleach – 01

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On this evening, 10 years, or 3,652 days, or 87,648 hours, or 5,258,880 seconds ago, the premiere of Bleach aired on TV Tokyo during the network’s 40th anniversary on the air…and the world was never the same. Well, maybe that’s overstating things…but the world was most definitely slightly different for me, as Bleach would go on to be the first contemporary anime I’d follow regularly, and at one point, religiously.

Like another popular animated series, Bleach went on too long, and I watched too long; in hindsight I’d have retired from the show at the conclusion of its third season after a total of 63 episodes. After that came the first of many excrutiating “anime-original” arcs that, also in hindsight, weren’t worth my precious time (or yours). That was a perfectly respectable three seasons.

Bleach’s best years happened long before RABUJOI was a glimmer in its reclusive founder’s eye, so on the tenth anniversary of its premiere airing, I thought it would be fun to give it a standard RABUJOI review, as if I were picking it up for the new Fall 2004 Season (Mind you, I won’t write it as my ten-years-younger self; that wouldn’t be good for anyone.) Enjoy!

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A gloomy, colorless dimension: two black objects shoot up out of a larger mass. Cut to the real world at night. We have no form, therefore we fear it. Two objects fall onto a sidewalk; their faces show for a moment. And because we are formless, we revere it. Then cut to a solitary girl in a black perched on a telephone pole, admiring the full moon before bounding over the town. Thus we are slain. Striking images, striking words (displayed, not spoken). An enticing prologue overall. So far so good!

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Cut to a punkish-looking kid beating up other punks. Turns out he’s mad over them knocking over the flowers left for a recently-deceased girl, so he’s a punk with a heart as gold as his head, which looks bleached. The dead girl thanks him: she’s a ghost, but Kurosaki Ichigo can see ghosts. At home, above the clinic his dad runs, dad ambushes Ichigo, and a heated battle commences as his more mature little sisters tuck in to dinner. Ichigo isn’t hungry, so goes to bed. Nice looking family; worth fighting for.

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The next morning is eventful and strange, with Ichigo running into the ghost girl again, who is on the run from a ferocious monster with a very distinctive, Godzilla-esque roar. As the brute bears down, the girl cloaked in black gives it a taste of her katana, then another, and it’s gone. Then she’s gone, and the color and sound of the world returns. Increased ghost sightings, now monsters? Ichigo is troubled.

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That night the girl in black breaks into his room and ignores him as if he’s not there, earning her a kick in the ass, killing the dark, serious mood in the best way. The girl is amazed he can see her, but identifies herself as a shinigami, charged with killing monsters like the one he saw that morning, as well as sending more docile ghosts to Soul Society, i.e. heaven. Ichigo voices his disbelief and calls her a stupid brat, and for that gets hit with a kido binding spell. The shinigami explains the particulars of the system: plus good, hollow bad, soul burial good. It’s an infodump, but efficiently delivered with a dash of comedy, thanks to her silly drawings.

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The mood becomes dark again when hollows invade Ichigo’s house, and they don’t fuck around, going straight for Ichigo’s beloved little sisters. The shinigami springs into action without unbinding him, but he breaks the magic with sheer shounen will…and yelling. He jumps out in front of the hollow to make it drop Karin, and the shinigami has to come between them to save them, gravely wounding herself in the process.

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The hollow is stunned but not dead, so the bloodied shinigami gets a crazy idea, based upon all the unheard-of-for-a-human abilities Ichigo has thus far exhibited. She’ll lend him, say, half of her shinigami powers so he can finish the hollow and save them all, telling him her name in the process: Kuchiki Rukia. But Ichigo isn’t a halfway kinda guy, and ends up taking all her powers. Donning the same black-and-white garb as her and wielding a Freakin’ Huge Sword, Ichigo takes care of business, easily dispatching his first hollow in the first moments of his new job as Substitute Shinigami.

On the whole, this was the kind of episode that mercilessly tempts you to watch on. It lays out a lot, and gets a little talky at times, but still leaves so much up in the air that I can’t help but want to tune in to see what comes next. While Ichigo initially comes off as a bit of a dick for stealing all of Rukia’s powers, he doesn’t do it intentionally, and did it out of a desire to protect his family. It struck a nice balance of action, comedy, and supernatural elements wrapped in a stylish package, somewhat rough animation aside, with a memorable soundtrack to boot. I think this show could go far!

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