Zombieland Saga: Revenge – 08 – The Celestial Maiden

Note: This episode was originally accidentally labeled episode 7. It is episode 8.

This is it, the much-anticipated backstory episode(s) for the oldest (by more than a century), wisest, and most elegant and domestically capable members of Franchouchou. One and a half seasons seems like far too long without Yuugiri being the focus, but good things come to those who wait.

The clock turns all the way back to 1881 (Meiji 14), when the proud proprietor and madam are meeting with the Legendary Courtesan Yuugiri at the very height of her powers. Such is her beauty and talents of entertainment, she literally priced herself out of her market!

Her richest and most devout patron showed his gratitude for her services by setting her up with her own household in Saga. I imagine he intended to live with her, but he died of an illness, and a year later, Yuugiri arrives in Saga completely alone and knowing no one. She spends her days giving the local girls dance lessons, and her evenings staring wistfully at the gorgeous Saga sunsets.

Ay, but there’s the rub: the region she moved to was once known as Saga (and will be again in the present day), but in 1882, the Meiji government considered it a nuisance prefecture, and after losing a regional war to Meiji, Saga was split up between Mizuma and Nagasaki, effectively erasing it from the map.

Local boy Momozaki Kiichi is determined to “Bring Saga Back”, making him the spiritual (if not biological!) descendant of Tatsumi Koutarou (he’s even voiced by Miyano Mamoru) . He tries to pass out flyers urging others to join his cause to create a new beginning for Saga, but he’s stopped often by the local cop, and just as often bailed out by his more jaded friend Itou.

One day, Yuugiri’s students urge her to leave her stately roost and view the cherry blossoms. She purchases a windmill, and the wind—and possibly fate—blow it out of her hands, landing at Kiichi’s feet. Kiichi is understandably bowled over by her beauty and politeness.

They’re almost both bowled over by a rickshaw, but when he leaps to push her out of harm’s way, she deftly dodges the ride on her own, and in the opposite direction, while he lands in a muddy bog. To his continued shock and shame, she soils her yukata to dry his face. We get another gorgeous shot of Yuugiri staring at the sunset, but because the red pinwheel is there, it feels significantly less lonely than the first shot.

The woman aboard that rickshaw looks just like Tae, just like many extras in the background resemble characters from the present day. It’s an fun artistic choice that reminds me of Farscape’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and Star Trek: DS9’s “Far Beyond the Stars”—two episodes that placed the casts in totally different roles.

Kiichi learns who he met from Itou, who is more up to speed with gossip in the prefecture formerly known as Saga. It’s rumored Yuugiri was so good, it almost brought down the Meiji court. Kiichi comes calling at Yuugiri’s house to offer a humble comb as thanks for her help; it’s then he learns he’s the first person to actually visit her other than her dance students.

Itou says that Yuugiri and Kiichi are “from different worlds” and thus hopelessly incompatable, but Kiichi rejects that cynicism and begins to build a friendship with Yuugiri, which isn’t hard because she’s incredibly nice and he’s her only adult visitor.

And then, one day, Yuugiri is in the kitchen when she feels what she charitably describes “a fresh presence” that turns out to be Itou. From this point on, and really before that too, something seemed off and sinister about this guy. That he perfectly blocks Yuugiri’s chopstick strike doesn’t dispel that notion!

The aura around Itou is so menacing, in fact, that I half believed he drugged Kiichi in order to be alone with Yuugiri. Instead, he has her put down the shamisen, offers her a drink (she graciously declines), and the two talk about Kiichi. As Yuugiri learned from Kiichi while visiting him at his “gramps”,  he was taken in by an old man after he was orphaned in the Saga war.

While Itou thinks Kiichi’s wild dreams and guileless optimism will lead to heartbreak and despair, Yuugiri admires the lad’s capacity for dreams. For all of Yuugiri’s comfort and luxury, in this era she remains the proverbial bird in a cage, idolized by all and avoided by all. Yet Kiichi, with his wild dreams, visits her and talks to her like they’re equals, and Kiichi-han’s Saga is a Saga where she truly can be free.

Before taking his leave for the night, Itou insists Japan is still too “twisted” and “barbaric” a nation for Kiichi’s dreams to ever come to fruition. Yet the next morning, a hot one, two strapping young lads approach Kiichi with his flyers in hand, interested in a new Saga themselves.

That glimmer of hope Kiichi has finally found some like-minded folks is all but snuffed out when Itou tosses a scrap of paper to an beggar who moves a lot faster and with far more purpose than you’d expect. This elicits a host of suspicions in me, from Itou plotting something horrible for Yuugiri (perhaps on orders from the Meiji court), to those two lads interested in Kiichi’s cause actually being hired muscle waiting for their chance to silence Kiichi, possibly for good.

And then there’s the overarching pall hanging over this look back: it is a look back. We know Yuugiri is already dead. I feel we just may have experience the happy half of the Legendary Courtesan’s saga. One way or another, the second half will end in tragedy as Itou predicted (and could well be an architect in that tragedy), and more than a century will pass before Yuugiri is revived by Koutarou and actually gets to see the New Saga Kiichi-han dreamed about.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Read Irina and Crow’s discussion of episode 8 here!

Yuru Camp△ – 02 – Wide-Open Camp

This was never going to be a show just about two girls, so this week Nadeshiko joins her school’s Outdoor Activities Club, or Outclub for short. To my surprise, Shima Rin is not a member, which in hindsight explains why she always camps solo. The only two members of the club are Oogaki Chiaki and Inuyama Aoi. Aoi convinces Chiaki that if they increase the club to at least four members, they may be able to get a larger clubroom.

A lot of comedy is suceesfully mined from the current clubroom, which is more of a cloakroom. Its surreally absurd narrowness reminded me of the low ceilings at Lestercorp office in Being John Malkovich. But a good point is made: it doesn’t really matter how small their indoor clubroom is. Their true clubroom is the great outdoors!

Aoi shows Nadeshiko some tent magazines so she can become familiar with the pros and cons of various types, but Chiaki suggest they leave the cozy confines of their clubroom for the courtyard to put theory into practice. This is where Rin, reading in the library, finally spots Nadeshiko and realizes they attend the same school.

Unfortunately, the club’s super-cheap (¥980!) tent’s support poles snaps. Rin’s friend Saitou Ena asks if there’s a way to repair it, and just happens to have the little bit needed to do so, having “found it in lost-and-found!” After helping the other girls fix the pole, Ena makes it a point to point out “Shimarin”, and Nadeshiko is so excited to see her she rushes headlong into a plate glass window.

While it’s fun to meet Chiaki and Aoi and see how Nadeshiko fits into their club, the first half of this second outing was missing the sweet natural serenity of camping that drew me in. Fortunately, the second half makes up for that as Rin goes on another solo camping trip, this time in the wide-open fields of the Fumoto Campgrounds.

As Tateyama Akiyuki’s breezy guitar gently strums, Rin proceeds with her elegant, joy-sparking ritual. Never has watching someone set up a campsite felt so wonderfully relaxing. After exchanging some playful texts with Ena (and it’s absolutely 100% important to let a friend know where you’ve gone) and weighing the costs of a fire, Rin goes on a leisurely stroll, sees the sights, and snaps some photos.

As she settles in with a book and some tea, Fuji-san starts to turn pink from the setting sun—a breathtakingly gorgeous image that, as with all images of Fuji, doesn’t remotely do the real thing justice but is a fair facimilie. She thinks back to the other day at school when Nadeshiko approached her, and in response to her offer of a camping trip together she gave her a disgusted look.

Rin didn’t didn’t want her solo camp time to be threatened—and who can blame her…it’s bliss!—but realizes that it was “kinda crappy” of her not even try to hide it. But who should then appear at her campsite but Nadeshiko, bearing a big bag full of groceries!

Ena told Nadeshiko where Rin was staying. While this certainly wasn’t what Rin planned (like last time), she has grown tired of eating cup ramen. She’d hoped to try some real cooking, but none of the supermarkets on her way were open. Now that Nadeshiko is here, they can cook after all (and maybe split the cost of firewood and a stand). Trading solitude for al fresco hot pot—I think that’s a trade off Rin can live with!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Yuru Camp△ – 01 (First Impressions) – So Amazing, So Tiny

I’m three years and two months late to Yuru Camp, AKA Laid-Back Camp, but Hannah taking a very worthwhile look back at Demon Slayer got me thinking, what was a series from the last couple years I never took a look at, for no reason in particular? Yuru Camp is the answer, which in hindsight is a crime, as it’s about as up my alley as an anime can be!

Its first episode really sets the tone. After a cold open involving the entire future group, we go back to an instance of Shima Rin going to the foot of Mount Fuji during the off-season to camp all by herself. She gets there by bike, and I have to agree with the campsite reservations guy and his friend: she’s small, but tough!

One thing I loved about Cast Away was how it just let events breathe, really pulling you into its world as if you were there on that beach with Tom Hanks and a volleyball. Only here, the situation isn’t a matter of survival, but simply getting away from the hustle and bustle of the town and enjoying Japan’s natural splendor.

Rin is clearly very practiced at camping and camping alone in particular, bringing everything she needed for a cool evening, carefully, perfectly setting up her tent and galley. With every completed task, she balls up her fists and lets out a little satisfied “yoshi” (Touyama Nao delivers a cute, subtle, pitch-perfect voice performance). And while she didn’t want to deal with a campfire, it eventually gets cold enough to warrant one, and once she’s beside it, there’s no substituting that warmth!

Rin’s tent isn’t too far from the public bathrooms, and the first time she passed them on her bike she noticed a girl with pink hair sleeping on a bench. She spots her again when she uses the bathroom, noting she migrated a bit but remained asleep. Finally, when Rin takes a second trip there in the night, the girl is seemingly gone…only to pop up behind her in tears. After a brief chase, the girl identifies herself as Kagamihara Nadeshiko, voiced by Hanamori Yumiri.

She recently moved to the town, and wanted to catch a look at Fuji-san, only to fall asleep and wake up in the pitch black of night. Rin, while not expecting company, is nevertheless a kind and generous host, offering Nadeshiko a spot at the fire, a cup of curry noodles, and the use of her phone to call her big sister. But before calling, both Nadeshiko and Rin bask in the sight of a moonlit Fuji-san, no longer obscured by clouds.

It’s a gorgeous, dreamy shot, only adding to the coziness of Rin’s warm campsite. Before Nadeshiko is carted off by her big sis, she gives Rin her contact info, saying they should go on a proper camping trip together sometime. Rin calls Nadeshiko a “weirdo”, but that doesn’t preclude the  fact that Rin is a little weird, too. Nadeshiko is the yang to Rin’s yin, if you will.

The next day, Nadeshiko makes her way to school, first by bike, then train, then foot. She’s excited to have seen Fuji-san in all its glory, and as she searches for her shoe locker, she passes Rin, who just happens to have her head down.

While the two miss each other, it should come as a surprise to Nadeshiko that her new acquaintance isn’t a grade schooler, as she suspected, but her own age. I imagine it won’t be long until Nadeshiko is introduced to the other members of the Outdoor Activities Club.

Yuru Camp is anime-as-meditation therapy absolutely oozing with charm. The vistas are gorgeous, the direction is simple and naturalistic, and the laid-back score by Tateyama Akiyuki is the perfect accompaniment. The first episode left me with a big smile on my face, and I couldn’t wait to see the next episode. It’s nice to not have to wait a week!

P.S. There’s a lot to love with this show, but one thing I can’t quite get on board with is the OP. The song sounds like a version of the Jackson 5’s “ABC” tweaked enough to avoid a copyright suit, while the visuals are a bit too herky-jerky for such a “laid-back” show.

Toaru Kagaku no Railgun T – 15 – Clones Aren’t Just People…They’re Some of the Best

Suck up to the researchers. Words Kozaku Mitori lived by while she was at the facility. Put on a happy face, be chipper, never show them you actually hate their guts and everything they’re doing. But even if it was an act, her secret rebelliousness was futile. As long as she was cooperating, she was giving in to their control.

This became untenable when her chipper attitude led the researchers to pairing her up with Dolly. Like Misaki after her, Mitori initially found the lonely sick girl to be a pain in the rear, but Dolly’s sad, beautiful soul eventually wore her down, until she was looking forward to their visits. More importantly, her smiles were always genuine.

More than anything, Mitori saw Dolly as neither a clone nor a lab rat, but above all, a human being, deserving of rights and care. So when she saw the condition of Dolly’s body as a result of the researchers’ merciless experiments, she used her ability to learn more about her, and became even more outraged.

Sadly, nearly every adult in a white lab coat is a psychopathic, redeemable monster who tortures and murders children without blinking an eye. So it’s no surprise that her protests don’t just fall on deaf ears, but mocking laughter, which fuel a smoldering fire of hatred for The System in Mitori’s heart.

For dropping the nice girl act and breaking the rules, Mitori is held in solitary for months, never getting to see Dolly again. But one day her cell door is unlocked and she finds the place deserted. She vows to wage a one-woman campaign of vengeance against the Governing Board who approved what was happening to Dolly.

Her attempts ended in failure, mostly because she was acting alone and even 10,000 of her wouldn’t be enough to tough the bigwigs. Enter Kihara Gensei, who puts his trust in hatred and thus in their aligned desire to bring Academy City to its knees. Again Mitori picked the losing side and lost, this time to the good guys”.

Following Kuroko’s beatdown, Mitori lies in the sewer having utterly given up…until Misaki pays her a visit. She still has every intention of turning her over to Judgment, but before that, she has a personal matter to attend to and could use Mitori’s assistance. You see, the Dolly they know may be gone, but her memories were transferred to her clone sister, who is still alive…and they’re going to free her.

Where as everything involving her researcher handlers at the facility was about bending to their physical and psychological control, Misaki spares the Mental Out remote and plainly asks Mitori if she’ll accompany her. Aside from Mitori not having much else going on, Misaki knows that if Mitori felt the same way about Dolly as she did, she’ll gladly tag alone of her own free will.

Thanks to Misaki’s ability, the pair are able to easily infiltrate the facility and remove “Dolly II” from her stasis tube. A tearful reunion ensues, where again Mitori doesn’t have to put on any act; she’s overwhelmed by emotion upon finding this girl who is for all intents and purposes the same Dolly who knew and loved her, and whom she knew and loved.

This episode and scene in particular are the perfect way to wrap up the arc of Kozaku Mitori, who started out as a shadowy, one-dimensional baddie but soon evolved into a full-fledged character beyond black-and-white labels. Her alliance with the geezer and resulting actions may have been misguided, but everything she did was out of a desire to hurt those who hurt Dolly, and you can’t argue with that.

Misaki too, gets a nice catharsis in this reunion scene. At first she’s so guilty about misleading Dolly and failing to learn the whole picture before it was to late, and feels like she’s not entitled to forgiveness or affection. Dolly, of course doesn’t care about what happened in the past; what matters is that she, Misaki, and Mi-chan are together again. It’s what she’d been dreaming about in that tube, and now it’s a reality.

Thanks to Dolly, and her clone, Misaki and Mitori not only became strong individuals capable of setting their own courses in life, but were able to endure the cynicism and cruelty of the villainous scientific complex and retain their humanity. As Mitori tried to make clear to one of those villains, Dolly is a person, not a clone of fodder.

She also happens to be one of the best people, with a warm and kind soul. But even she wouldn’t be who she was (not to mention free of captivity) without her two friends. Hopefully they’ll never be separated again.

In other housecleaning, Mikoto’s circle of friends celebrates Kuroko finally being 100% and out of her wheelchair, and then Mikoto visits a recovering MISAKA in the hospital. But Mitori, Misaki, and Dolly were the refreshing narrative and emotional core of this epilogue, and I was more than fine with that.

The effects of their reunion seemingly carries across the network of Sisters, as MISAKA has a vague sense of deja vu and a sudden desire to visit the ocean. She’s most likely glimpsing Dolly’s beautiful dreams—which can now be a reality.