Those Snow White Notes – 11 – Get To the Good Part!

I don’t usually harp on structural issues, unless they’re detrimental to an episode on a level that can’t be overlooked. Unfortunately, this was one of those episodes. It just…wasn’t built right, and that starts with last week ending with Kaji breaking a string, instead of ending with him and all the other stiffs getting the hell off the stage and giving way to Setsu.

So, instead of getting all of the other stuff out of the way and giving us a climactic musical performance in which Setsu finally figures out the happy medium between imitating Gramps and building his own sound from what he’s experienced since Gramps…get get more other stuff.

Look, Kaji’s a nice guy, but I just don’t really care about him that much, and I’m certainly not that chuffed about having to watch him finish out his song on two strings. I could have also done without Umeko stepping up to Setsu when he’s just trying to eat the love-filled onigiri Sakura made for him and basically telling him he’d better resurrect her dead unsung father or else.

That said, I’ve never had a problem with the fact that Setsu’s mom is both a literal Bond Villain and Bond Girl, isn’t the issue, nor to I mind her fantastic royal blue dress or surpassingly cheesy hired cheer team. It’s just I wish Setsu could just have some time to himself to organize his thoughts and play however he was planning to play.

Instead, his mom’s unmistakable hold over him kicks in, and I was fully expecting him to lay an egg up there by constantly wavering between his own uncertain sound and perfectly imitating what he could never perfectly imitate, and coming off forced, boring, or even pathetic!

Once Setsu finally does take the stage—fifteen minutes into the episode!—I knew whatever performance he had, we were only going to get half of it, tops, due to the perfectly avoidable time constraints.

At the same time, we see that Setsu truly does love playing like his Gramps, or at least as close as he can come. He remembers a day he came home with a skinned knee, the victim of bullies, and his Gramps welcoming him with a soft smile and permission to cry as much as he wants, get angry at those who caused him to cry, and when he’s done, simply smile.

Setsu doesn’t turn in an embarrassing performance, but he is initially playing right into his mom’s hands by doing the best darn Matsugorou imitation anyone alive could ever do, which simply comes down to him having heard his gramps play for years. Umeko smirks her Dr. Evil smirk and holds her hands out to clutch not her son, but the tool with which she’ll show the world her father’s—not his—sound.

In the midst of his music, everyone who has heard Setsu’s real sound acknowledge that his performance is amazing, but also somehow deeply wrong. Those who haven’t heard him before are amazed a 16-year-old is producing such a simple yet mature sound. Setsu knows it’s wrong too; that even his Gramps told him simple imitation of the kind Umeko is demanding was “disgraceful”.

Perhaps Gramps could have chosen better words than that and “never play again”, but by taking a break from the instrument, Setsu got to live his life, meet new friends, experience new things and make new memories. Those, combined with past memories of Gramps and not just how he played but why—because he loved doing it, not to win—can be used to craft his own sound.

Now that Setsu has a blueprint, his performance suddenly changes to his more youthful, mercurial sound. Alas, that’s all the time we’ve got for this week, and so we cut to credits in the middle of a performance. The magic and the power of these musical performance scenes is in how they draw you in and cover you in goosebumps. To suddenly end in the middle without that needed final payoff (or climax, if you must) saps the scene of that immersive power.

Also constantly pulling us in and out of Setsu’s performance is the running commentary. I get it: this isn’t just about the awesome, sakugo-filled performances; the show is trying to tell more stories than that and wants us to be invested in a larger group of characters. But that doesn’t change the fact that filling scenes with dialogue, lowering the music he’s playing and replacing it with a comparatively subpar score, and cutting the performance off just feels like a real bummer, and a needless one to boot.

If I were the showrunner, I’d have wrapped up Kaji and the others plus Setsu’s scenes with Umeko and his friends, and ended last week with Setsu taking the stage, but not yet playing. Then this episode could have been his performance in its entirety. But this is the end of my ranting, and so I’ll close by saying for all its frustrating choices I still enjoyed this episode, and look forward to seeing where the second, more personal, more mom-enraging half Setsu’s performance takes everyone—and him—next week!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Those Snow White Notes – 10 – A Little Longer

Sakura has made a special bento for Setsu on the day he’s to perform in the individual competition. Of forty entrants, he’s to perform 36th, meaning he’s been given a place reserved for competitors with proven skills. While set up to be bitter rivals Souichi continues to treat Setsu as a friend, sitting close beside him while eating his red bean rice.

We then learn something of a bombshell: Setsu’s dad is also Mai and Souichi’s dad! In fact Setsu is the only child related to Kamiki Ryuugen by blood, as Souichi and Mai are adopted. Kamiki has come to “ascertain his son’s skills”, clearly not ashamed even in his wife’s presence of his love child with Umeko.

As Yui thinks impure thoughts about Setsu and Mai (quickly shot down by Kouta, Sakura delivers her special lunch to Setsu, along with the best wishes from the entire shopping district. This seems to be the first time Sakura and Shuri encounter one another, and each regards the other as incredibly cute.

Umeko has her hired goons escort Kamiki to her, where she declares her father’s sound to belong to her, and as such she’ll never let him take Setsu and train him. Kamiki, on the other hand, has the opposite goal: he wishes Setsu to inherit his title. He and Umeko have a spirited argument, and neither is particularly interested in Setsu, only how he can help either of them expand their power.

After that, that’s pretty much it for Setsu & Co., as the episode shifts to the individual performances of Arakawa Ushio and Kaji Takaomi. Ushio is naturally daring and rebellious, and while his super-twangy performance isn’t enough to win, the sheer fun he was having playing rubs off on the audience in a big way.

Knowing if he sticks to what he did in the group stage, he won’t be able to summon the full measure of his musical potential, Takaomi is forced by Arakawa’s brash performance to swing for the fences himself. All who know him in the crowd can tell hes fiercer than usual.

Through Takaomi’s sound, Setsu envisions a fierce gale blowing down from the mountain peaks. But he’s also described as “a good kid trying to be rebellious.” Then his frikkin’ string snaps, and since a shamisen only has three, I imagine that’s enough to keep Takaomi out of the running.

But we knew from the get-go that neither Ushio nor Takaomi were going to win. That’s why we’re getting their performances now, rather than at the end when they’d have more of an impact. This somewhat lessons my interest in the episode, as neither of these kids makes much of an impression besides “confident brat” and “meek puppy dog.”

Like his birth father, I’m waiting for Setsu, and to see how he compares to Souichi. But I’m also as disappointed as Mai herself that she’s not able to compete in the individual, and thus diurectly against Setsu.

Ikebukuro West Gate Park – 04 – Knowing the Whole Story

Last week was a half-baked and tedious exploration of the online content culture featuring an unlikable YouTuber. But that was just one episode of a show that can be about a lot of different thing. The first two episodes were decent, and this fourth happens to be the best yet. It’s also the heaviest emotionally, starting out the night of Christmas Eve with Makoto encountering an old man named Nanjou at the very spot where his son Toshi was killed five years ago.

Nanjou raised Toshi alone, and couldn’t keep him out of trouble, but considered him a fundamentally kind boy. His appeal to Makoto is simple: find out what happened to Toshi and who is responsible. As thanks in advance, he gives Makoto a ride home in his Jazz Taxi, which sounds like just about the perfect way to get a ride home on a snowy Christmas Eve night in they city.

Thanks to Takashi, Makoto learns that Toshi started a gang in Ueno called Team Apollo. As a mediator of note with powerful friends, Makoto walks through the territories of various gangs with confidence, but he’s initially regarded by Apollo as a trespasser trying to stir the shit. They refuse to tell him anything about Toshi, and when he doesn’t give up, they beat the shit out of him.

But it seems clear to Makoto that he wouldn’t get anything at all out of Apollo if he didn’t let them beat him up a little, then come right back with no hard feelings…and Toshi’s dad. Makoto’s mom assures Nanjou that Makoto gets in scraps all the time, but he’s tough and can take it, and she’s right! Makoto ends up meeting the current Apollo leader, Rintarou, who reveals that Makoto beat his girlfriend Harumi, as well as her eventual husband, Kouji.

That leads Makoto to meet with Harumi, whose son Akihiro is treated by Nanjou like his blood grandson. In truth, after suffering brutal beatings by Toshi, Harumi found comfort, safety, and eventually love in Kouji, and Akihiro is his son. She was already pregnant with Akihiro when she told Toshi she was leaving him.

Harumi’s story is familiar and sadly all-too-common: at one point she loved Toshi and he her, but he became increasingly twisted and violent towards her, yet the love was still there, mixed with fear. That’s why Harumi followed Toshi when he ran out of the house that night, only to find him dead. She felt horrible about his death, but also relieved, since it meant he could no longer hurt her, Kouji, or Akihiro.

The question remained: Who killed Toshi? It turns out the answer was right there in the opening scene when we first met Nanjou and Harumi. Makoto contacts his police friend who gives him the details of Toshi’s unsolved murder case. Turns out a young couple was on the scene, and the woman was fairly tall; only 5cm shorter than the man.

When Makoto calls his police friend, that friend is about to go on a date, and he can hear that Makoto is troubled and asks what’s wrong. Makoto ends the call soon thereafter, but his friend was right: this “case” definitely took its toll. Makoto should be with friends or family on this night, but instead he’s all alone in the cold, learning more and more about a story that can only further hurt everyone involved.

Still, he promises Harumi he won’t tell Nanjou that Akihiro isn’t his blood grandson, nor drag Toshi’s memory in the dirt. Aside from the harm it could do, it isn’t his place as an outsider. That’s why it’s gratifying that when Makoto meets with Nanjou to feed him a fake story, not only is Harumi there to tell the truth about Toshi’s violence, but so is the couple who were present for Toshi’s death.

Turns out in his rage, Toshi assaulted the husband, and when the wife shoved away him he fell awkwardly down the steps and suffered a fatal head injury. It was an accident caused in self-defense, but the couple never turned themselves in, and now the wife is with child, making things more complicated. They promise Nanjou that once their kid is born and older they’ll turn themselves in.

Nanjou doesn’t seem eager to let them do that, as it would only ruin their lives and that of their child. Instead, he turns all the blame in on himself; had he raised Toshi better, he wouldn’t have hurt Harumi, not to mention put himself in the position where the young wife pushed him to his death. He apologizes to Toshi, and Makoto, whose father is gone, can’t help but feel pride for the poor old man.

This episode got downright noir-y and hardboiled, and Makoto showed off his detective chops, much of which come down to his considerable people skills (and ability to take a beating). The setting of snowy Ikebukuro adds to the brooding atmosphere, as does Makoto’s early comment about how some spots in the city feel like they’re devoid of air—like the otherwise unexceptional spot where Toshi died.

At least now Nanjou can breathe knowing the truth of what happened and why, and if he doesn’t want to dwell on it, he can always turn up the jazz in his taxi.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Koi wa Ameagari no You ni – 05

When Yuuto shows up at the restaurant with a hamster but it’s his dad’s day off, Tachibana escorts him home, and is surprised to find the manager is not there, either.

Yuuto invites her in in his stead, and Tachibana takes full advantage of the opportunity to gather intelligence on her target. Placing her shoes right between his and Yuuto’s is enough to make her blush…Why, it’s like they’re already a family!

Kondou is always running himself down as a loser, but while much of the somewhat messy apartment kinda supports that claim, Tachibana finds Kondou’s “man cave” through a cracked door that betrays a passion for both historic literature and a writing bug she had no idea he had.

When Yuuto is hungry, Tachibana makes do with the paltry contents of the fridge to make omurice, something Yuuto likely doesn’t get often. As she cooks at the stove, she’s in pure heaven.

When Kondou returns home, Yuuto thinks it will be fun if Tachibana hid herself. But she’s still in earshot when Yuuto, almost unconsciously sensing Tachibana’s curiosity, talks to his dad in a way that gets him to reveal that besides his job, reading and writing, he doesn’t have much going on…though he did enjoy going on a movie recently.

When the heat of the confined space is too much, Tachibana bursts forth and plops to the ground, surprising the dickens out of Kondou, who has no earthly idea what she’s doing in his house (nor does he ever get an answer, at least on-camera).

The harm of Yuuto’s little practical joke is seemingly compounded when he accidentally spills barley tea all over the back of her shirt, revealing her bra. However, even this is a win for the Kondou-crazy Tachibana, who gets to change into one of his big t-shirts; borrowing clothes is a big couple thing, after all.

Kondou is far more self-conscious about washing her shirt with his laundry, and takes it to the laundromat (yes…one shirt), but when it rains, Tachibana shows up with Yuuto and an umbrella to pick him up.

Tachibana uses this opportunity to tell him she wants to know more about him; that which she cannot glean merely by being in his apartment, cooking for his son, or wearing his shirt.

The last act takes place at the restaurant, and we get dual perspectives from Kondou and Tachibana, as he learns that it doesn’t take how-to books to get oneself on good speaking terms with one’s staff; one just needs to have a hamster, as all of them have had hamsters and are eager to dispense advice.

This irks Tachibana, who is trying to give the manager a note in private, but cannot because he’s constantly surrounded; suddenly Mr. Popular. She finally puts a stop to it by urging everyone to get back to work (only Kase remained in the kitchen; Tachibana’s interaction with him is mercifully brief and unremarkable this week).

Once alone with Kondou, she tells him the only source of info on caring for hamsters is her, and hands him the note: not a love letter but a list of supplies he’ll need. It’s a sweet, practical interaction, but also an instance of Tachibana acting swiftly and decisively to thwart any efforts to impede her progress with the manager.

Koi wa Ameagari no You ni – 01 (First Impressions)

Tachibana Akira is a quiet, soft-spoken high schooler who works part-time at a family restaurant. Despite one of her older co-workers always shitting on the manager, Akira actually has a thing for the guy, even though he’s much older. Where others see weakness or spinelessness, she sees kindness and gentleness.

The manager is divorced and also a dad, and when the kid is hanging out in the break room, Akira shows the kid how to play the recorder properly, noticing he has his dad’s eyes. It’s here we see that Akira is every bit as warm and kindhearted as the manager, and that, if she was, you know, an adult, they might be a fine match for each other.

While Akira’s school friends are fixated on the dreamy soccer captain, Akira doesn’t give that guy a second’s look, and when asked what her type is, basically describes the manager, open fly, loud sneezing and all. They kinda laugh it off, unable to relate to her taste. We also learn that Akira has been working at the restaurant since a leg injury forced her to retire from the track team prematurely. Still, she and Haruka, her former track captain, remain close.

The episode allows us a moment with the manager, as Akira brings up “types” with her co-worker Yui, then brings up the manager as a possible type, and Yui dismisses that possibility immediately, complaining that the manager has a weird smell. The manager accidentally overhears this, and later makes a note to be mindful of the smells he emits as well as take care not to eavesdrop on conversations.

Finally, we learn how Akira and the manager met. Akira, fresh off her surgery, gets out of the rain, and the manager gives her a free cup of joe while she waits. It was just a little gesture, but well-timed Akira was likely feeling very lonely and down, from having to quit track.

Presumably, she applied for a job at the restaurant to get closer to this kind older man, and despite the fact he caught her smelling his shirt, he’s still very much unaware of her feelings, and when he spots an annoying stalker-y classmate who bothers Akira, assumes the prick is her boyfriend.

I’m sure she’d like to tell the manager how she is, but is obviously apprehensive due to the extreme age difference. No doubt this show will explore her attempts to get to a place where she can do so, or failing that, be content with the way things are.

I’d describe this show as fresh and breezy, and yet also warm and very thoughtful. Despite the controversial nature of the premise, it’s handled with all due delicacy and respect so far. The aesthetic is crisp and detailed; everything from the clouds in the sky to the steam on the food, there’s a keen realism to everything, which plays off the somewhat retro character designs nicely.

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 07

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It’s Autumn, and getting chilly, but Yakumo goes out to sit amongst the gingko trees on hospital grounds in thin robes. Konatsu finds him and wraps him in a scarf. He’s in a dark place. When he first collapsed, he thought he wouldn’t “have” to do rakugo anymore.

Now that he’s returned from that hall of candles and from his encounter with Sukeroku…wherever he was, he feels he’s lost both the voice and the desire to ever take the stage again. Konatsu, who still blames him for her father’s death, calls it karmic retribution.

The deep-seated bitterness remains. Yet if anything, Konatsu is even bitterer to see the ultimate antagonist in her life brought so low.

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Konatsu and Yakumo’s meeting among the Gingkos, and the tragic past that binds them, is re-investigated and all but rewritten this week, as Higuchi invites Yotaro and Matsuda to join him in the countryside where everything ended and began: the hot spring inn where Sukeroku and Miyokichi Yurie died.

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It’s where Higuchi, only a boy and accompanying his father, an inn regular, first met (and pretty much fell for) Miyokichi. A few years later he encountered her in Tokyo, and she’d only grown more beautiful and refined.

When Higuchi heard the way she spoke the name Kikuhiko, he had to see what kind of man could snatch this gorgeous woman’s heart. When he went to see the future Yakumo perform, he found himself in awe like many others, and asked if he could be a rakugo apprentice.

Obviously, Kiku refused, and now we know that young man from episode 10 of last season was Higuchi, who since then has immersed himself in rakugo, not as a performer, but a student, and may just be positioned to help steer its future with Yotaro.

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But this episode is concerned mostly with the past, specifically the last days of Sukeroku. Yotaro obviously wasn’t there, but Matsuda was, and throughout the episode Matsuda is overcome with nostalgia for the barely-changed place.

More to the point, Higuchi has brought them here to view film reels of Kiku and Shin’s performances, which despite their degraded quality put everyone right back in that state of awe. The Kiku in the film is younger than Yotaro, and yet he’s so much better, and more to the point, seems so much happier to be performing rakugo. All Yotaro needs to do is close his eyes, and he sees the young master in color, performing all the roles within the world of his story.

Then the innkeeper loads the reel of Shin performing “Shibahama”, the story of the wife’s lie that made her husband’s life better, and there isn’t a dry eye in the darkened room, including my own. It’s a story told and performed so well that it simply gets me every time. And Yotaro can tell how happy Shin was.

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After that, they go to the graves of Sukeroku and Miyokichi, whose happiness—and ultimately lives—Higuchi said were destroyed by Yakumo. But Matsuda knows the truth of what happened that night, and it isn’t the story Yakumo told Yotaro last season. Likely because it was such a good and well-told story, I never questioned whether Yakumo was a reliable narrator.

But overcome by all the memories the town, inn, and film reels surfaced in him, and the sun not only setting on the day, but on his and Yakumo’s lives, Matsuda reveals all: Miyokichi stabbed Shin. Kiku was holding him and got covered in his blood when Matsuda and Konatsu came in, and Konatsu then tried to push her mother out the window. Shin grabbed Miyokichi and the two fell to their deaths, while Kiku held Konatsu back.

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That misleading image—of Kiku holding her father, the two stained in blood, and Kiku wearing a fiercely hostile expression—is pretty much all Konatsu remembers of the ordeal; her memory is hazy from passing out from the shock of the events she witnessed. But it’s an image that still haunts her to this very day, as she smokes alone in her jammies when Yotaro returns home.

When she looks up at him, wondering why he was out late, she sees the tears in the big guy’s face (not an uncommon occurrence) and assumes Yakumo must have done that to him. He did, but not directly. Those are the tears of someone who has heard the truth and come across someone who still doesn’t, and has gone through a lot of pain because of it.

He doesn’t relay to Konatsu what he’s learned on this night. Instead he embraces her…while she keeps smoking. But I imagine the truth will come out at some point, as Matsuda begged Yotaro and Higuchi not to let the master leave the world believing rakugo will die with him.

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 06

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When Yakumo suddenly collapses, Mangetsu is able to administer first aid before the paramedics arrive. Konatsu goes with Yakumo, and Yota is ready to follow…but instead elects to stay behind. The sound of the crowd comes back into focus: the show must go on.

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And it does, as we are presented with Yota’s rendition of “Inokori” (which was performed by Sukeroku in episode 9 of last season). This isn’t another fiasco like the time Yota cast off his robe; he basically knocks it out of the park, proving he was ready to perform it. The only problem is that as good as he was, his master wasn’t there to hear it.

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The moment the curtain falls, Yota, who had been keeping it together splendidly, starts to tear up. Matsuda can’t help but tear up too. The only one who doesn’t tear up is Shin, but he seems on the verge of doing so simply because it’s what the adults are doing. At the hospital, Yakumo remains unconscious. Matsuda takes Mangetsu home, praising his rakugo on the way. Maybe he’ll get back into it?

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A couple of weeks pass, with Yota filling in for Yakumo, all but doubling his already formidable workload and feeling the strain. He continues to proclaim master will wake up and be fine, but not even he is a sure as he sounds about that.

Meanwhile, time goes on, and the proprietor of the Uchikutei theater tells him about plans to “rebuild” it, which one would think would mean demolishing the Taisho-era venue. We get a bit of a tour of the empty place as he runs down all of the little charms and foibles that make it as unique and irreplaceable as, well, a performer like Yakumo.

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On the train to another gig, Eisuke encourages him with two bits of information: that unlike the precise technique of Yakumo and raw reality of the last Sukeroku, Yota has his own kind of rakugo: in fact, he is a vessel for it. No “ego or hunger” on display, Yota fades away, leaving only the rakugo to be absorbed by the crowd. It’s a rare gift.

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The episode ends with Yakumo opening his eyes, and though he still doesn’t look or sound too good at all, he’s still alive, which is surely enough for his family. Whatever happened in that sliver of afterlife he tasted, we see no more of it, adding to its mystique.

All I know is Yakumo looks tired, and while he doesn’t look like he enjoyed what he witnessed, he may not be particularly happy to have not died when he did, taking rakugo as he knows it with him.

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 05

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Yota is stoked. He’s flying high. He’s learned how to command a crowd, the theaters are full, his material is killing. He owes much of this to a lifting of a weight of uncertainty since Yakumo performed “Inokori” for him. Yakumo maintains that mastering that—and in just they way he instructs, by summoning one’s ego—is Yota’s next step.

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But Yakumo is no longer Yota’s sole source of instruction or inspiration. Whether he knows it or not, Yota has also fallen under the influence of Higuchi Eisuke, the outsider who shows Yota the wider world of rakugo, not just the venerable but narrow Yuuakutei canon.

The implication is obvious: like a smattering of gutted clans in days of yore, an alliance must be formed – a new rakugo – in order to survive modern times, and Yakumo’s death.

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Yota seems to rarely leave the open entrance to his home, sitting their first listening to his predecessor Sukeroku, then to all the myriad versions of Inokori provided by Higuchi, no two of them alike. It’s strong enough stuff for him to laugh and react loudly deep into the night. He’s so immersed, Konatsu has to snap him out of it so he can get some sleep for the family performance.

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And it is truly a family performance, as Konatsu will be at the shamisen per her father’s bidding. Of the three family members, she’s by far the most nervous. Performing rakugo for a bunch of kindergartners and a smattering of their parents is one thing: playing pros at the very top of the game in and out to a giant packed theater is another. But Yota (and indirectly, Yakumo) know she’ll be fine.

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Damn…when Yota offered to give Mangetsu an pregame audience with Yakumo and I saw that loooong foreboding hallway, for a few moments I feared for the worst: that Yakumo was keeled over dead in his dressing room, just like that. Blame the seductively creepy OP in which the ghost Sukeroku opens Yakumo’s cloak to reveal nothing but dry bones, and the earlier mention by someone that his voice has lost something.

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Thankfully, Yakumo is fine, but everything I mentioned before still casts a pall on him. Yota’s meeting with him is another great one, as Yota proudly shows what he’s really been up to in the red light districts: getting his carp tattoo finished. This is Yota literally not letting things go unfinished; not apologizing for who he was and who he is.

Yakumo may think rakugo is finished once he dies, but he’s wrong. His rakugo won’t even be finished; it’s not his call, but history’s. So even though he’s pissy about the fact Yota is taking into account other methods for “Inokori” (likely aware this is Higuchi’s influence), you can’t expect someone who claims, and is pretty certain, they don’t have an ego to use that ego.

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Yota warms up the crowd, getting them “laughing like fools”, which might be fine in a solo show, but Yakumo needs to put them in a different, more nuanced mood; Yota’s winding them up makes it tougher. Still, he’s more than up to the challenge, and performs “Hangon-ko” with both musical accompaniment from Konatsu (who he says he’s counting on, and who doesn’t let him down despite her nerves) and an extra prop: streams of incense.

The significance of the titular incense to the story—that it brings back the soul of a dead loved one—is all too apropos for Yakumo’s darkening state of mind as the days ahead of him dwindle. And even though at this part in the story he tells, the widower buys the wrong incense and burns way too much of it, the incense still has the effect of summoning the ghost of Miyokishi before Yakumo, in one of the most chilling and intense moments of the show’s entire run.

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Yakumo manages to finish the story to polite but not raucous applause, and Yota quickly orders the curtains dropped. Yakumo collapses and enters what must seem like the afterlife. Miyokichi is nowhere to be found. Instead there are off-kilter shelves after shelves of countless burning candles – no doubt signifying lives.

Like the end of the deliciously haunting OP, Yakumo’s candle must be burning very low indeed, flickering, and threatening to be snuffed out. Sukeroku also comes before him, as young and vital as the day he was killed. He asked him why he’s there, ignores his questions of whether he’s in paradise or hell, and starts to choke him.

As we ponder what medical malady struck Yakumo on that stage, an attack that will most likely result in the cancelling of the remainder of the family performance, including Yota’s “Inokori”, but more importantly, may mark the commencement of the trial of Yakumo’s soul.

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 04

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After each episode, and after announcing the next, a character thanks us for our “continued support,” and my continued support of Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu has never gone unrewarded.

Case in point: another absolute gem, combining lovely family slice-of-life (with a very unique and cool family), the clouds hanging over Yakumo’s head, and Konatsu getting to do something, out of the blue, she never dreamed of actually doing.

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That adorable little kid up there is Konatsu and Yota’s kid. Some time has passed, but not too much: he’s only in kindergarten, and yet, he’s already surprising and delighting all, even his parents, with his nascent rakugo skills. They may have a genius on their hands.

He’s every bit as charismatic as Konatsu was. Even Yakumo can’t stay mad, going quickly into Grandpa Mode. By the way, how often does a show come around where so much time passes, we get to watch both Konatsu and her son at the same age? It’s a generational show.

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It’s generations that Higuchi Eisuke wishes to discuss with Yakumo, who grudgingly gives him a ride home and his ear for the five or so minutes. Eisuke doesn’t waste them, almost going too far in proclaiming he won’t let Yakumo kill rakugo off, or even define it as something dead or dying. With Yota, Eisuke aims to keep it alive, changing to suit the mood of a generation, just as it always has.

Ever the rigid bamboo, Yakumo won’t hear of any of that, nor will he have any part in Eisuke’s project. And when Yakumo says rakugo is dead, he’s not just talking about how it would die with him, but perhaps how it already died with Sukeroku, someone Yakumo has always believed to be better than him.

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Yota is very much the progressive, without even being that aware of it, because he knows how good “Sis” is at rakugo and thinks if she loves it so much she should just do it. What’s the harm in going out there and trying it? Such an idea is unspeakable to Konatsu, however, and considering the man who raised her, her attitude is hardly surprising. Instead, she’s being trained in shamisen, so she can play her husband and others in and out.

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But when they both go to their kid’s school to perform, Yota gets inspired by the scenario, warms the crowd of mostly little kids up, and then…hands the show over to Konatsu. All of a sudden, she’s doing something she hasn’t done since she was a pint-sized urchin, living with her father.

While initially flustered and overwhelmed, a switch flips and all of a sudden Konatsu us that urchin in the bar, without skipping a beat. Scratch that; after years with Yakumo as a father, she’s gotten better, despite having never performed in public. She’s also, in my opinion, better than Yota, at least in terms of better differentiating between the characters she voices (all kudos to the great Kobayashi Yuu here).

“Jugemu” is a simple story that’s not too raunchy or complicated for the kids, and it involves quite a bit of linguistic limberness to repeat the overly-long name of the titular child over and over at increasingly faster speeds. But it’s a cakewalk for Konatsu. She’d have brought down the house no matter what the makeup of the crowd was.

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And holy crap, the surging of emotions going through Konatsu before, during and after her impromptu performance were just a delight to behold, right up until she embraces her hubby with tears of relief and joy, and he essentially says “See? Rakugo’s hella fun, right?”

The next morning, Konatsu’s back to “usual”, and despite Yota’s protests, she still won’t commit to ever doing rakugo again. It just doesn’t seem right to her to crash something that’s been a “boy’s-only” affair for so long.

It’s an old-fashioned view of a very old-fashioned art, but par for the course for someone with her upbringing, which may have been laissez-faire with Sukeroku, but got real conservative real fast with Yakumo. So while, like Yota, I’m disappointed, and think it’s a waste, I understand why she feels the way she does.

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Yakumo, meanwhile, holds Sukeroku’s fan – old Sukeroku’s; not Yota’s. And as he holds it, a figure appears behind him – Sukeroku’s ghost, I presume. There’s no hint of arrogance or superiority in this moment, as Yakumo seems haunted by the fact a someone as loathsome and untalented as he is “all that’s left” of rakugo.

Yota will probably never be able to impress him, just as he won’t be able to impress himself. Eisuke may be right that rakugo needs to evolve, and Yota may be right that someone of Konatsu’s talent should be a part of that evolution. But you’ll never convince Yakumo of that, and Konatsu will never think it’s appropriate to be anything but musical accompaniment.

That leaves the youngin’. Who knows what future he’ll see that no one else will be around to see. What I hope we do see is Yota’s rakugo continuing to be popular, and that rakugo continuing to grow into something his son can inherit. But Yakumo’s warning about how quickly a fall can come makes me weary of too many good times to come.

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 03

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The fireworks fly in this episode of SGRS2, both in the night sky and later, in the private room of a restaruant where Konatsu worked before she went on maternity leave, run by a friend of her mother Miyokichi.

But first, we get to soak up a gorgeous, festive night, with Konatsu, the baby, and the mistress relaxing on a bench while Yota practices his ranting on a boat with his patron.

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When the mistress and Konatsu rush to the restaurant Yota follows—as does Eisuke, hungry for details about rakugo life, which he learns is surprisingly similar to thug life. Yota finds his old mob boss, as well as that boss’ boss, who happens to be close to the mistress.

Yota decides to intrude, and after making courteous, verbose apologies, kinda lays into the old man, seemingly unconcerned that he has the power to kill him if he doesn’t like him.

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Fortunately, the big boss is not only a fan of rakugo, but Yota’s rakugo in particular. Even when Yota picks a fight, and even wonders out loud whether the boss is the father of Konatsu’s child, the boss merely tosses him into a koi pond to “cool off”; he doesn’t rough him up.

Yota doesn’t back down, instead belting out an elaborate rant he was practicing before, only customized for the boss, who is entranced and charmed. Yota is starting to realize he’s not just some punk anymore; he’s a shin’uchi…and he’s a father.

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After a night where some doubted if Yota was going to be able to keep his promise to outlive his master, and some goldfish scooping with Eisuke, he returns home, having quite accidentally found “his rakugo” with his elaborate, animated ranting style.

Mind you, Yakumo hasn’t heard it yet,  but agrees to do a family performance, if Yota learns and masters “Inokori,” a Sukeroku classic. To inspire him, Yakumo performs it himself, seemingly flipping a switch and channeling Sukeroku. Yota is spellbound. When he’s finished, Yakumo looks like he’d just climbed twenty flights.

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Yota scared the crap out of Konatsu by confronting the father of her child, but everything worked out for the best. The episode’s parting shot is what Konatsu wants in a nutshell: to live in a comfortable house, to hear Yota’s/Sukeroku’s rakugo, and to have her son hear it as well.

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Ushio to Tora – 33

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Looks like last week lifted our spirits only to utterly crush them here, as Hakumen no Mono rises out of the ocean, and its tails take the form of monsters Ushio already defeated, reminding him of how much he lost, and how much hatred has built up inside of him after enduring all that loss.

His mom tries to slap him out of his spiral of hate, but that only makes things worse. Whether she’s there with him now, for the majority of his life she was lost to him, and he has very little time to be with her now. Ushio dredges up all of that accumulated hatred to launch a counterattack, but he’s going about it entirely the wrong way.

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But Ushio won’t listen to reason from anyone. Not his mother, and not even Tora. Especially when Tora admits he killed Nagare and doesn’t bother explaining the extenuating circumstances. He doesn’t bother because he knows nothing he’ll say will change the fact that Ushio told him not to kill Nagare, and he killed Nagare.

The Kouhamei Sect awakens from their stone slumber and comes in force to set up a barrier, but they, and apparently the prison where Asako was waiting, are easily destroyed by Hakumen. He destroys an entire island, killing untold thousands, in the blink of an eye. And news cameras get it all on camera, spreading the fear across Japan and further fueling the demon.

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Did I mention the stone pillar the JASDF fleet destroyed had kept Japan from sinking into the sea? Well, that happened to. The triumphant return of Mayuko isn’t triumphant at all; it’s an afterthought, as nothing anyone can do can snap Ushio out of his berserk hatred-mode.

But he can’t fight hatred with hatred, and when he tries to stab Hakumen in the head with the Beast Spear, the spear shatters into a million shards. So yeah, this was not a feel-good week for Ushio and Tora; not at all! Ushio lost; Hakumen won, Asako could be dead…it’s all over. Japan is hosed. 

Except it isn’t, right? There are at least six whole episodes left! So even with no spear, no hope, and nothing but seething hatred in his heart, we can’t rule out a come-from-behind win. But I have to salute this show for letting things get so very FUBAR before that happens. This Hakumen guy is one tough little shit!

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Ushio to Tora – 32

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“Mother” – such a simple title for an episode positively bursting with powerful, complex emotions; frustration, loneliness, and powerlessness among them. Ignoring his fearful young colleague, the Undine’s grizzled pilot Goro is willing to take Ushio where he needs to go now that he knows what Ushio wants to do once he sees his mom, which is to give her a stern talking-to about how devastating her absence from his life has been.

But nothing, nothing can prepare Ushio, who has been through so much, for the singular occasion of being in the presence of his mother for the first time since he was barely crawling. He doesn’t even remember her face, and for one horrifying moment I thought a monster or corpse would be all he would find. The episode really does a good job building up this, one of the most important moments both of Ushio’s life and for the show as a whole.

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The sights and sounds of his journey to his mother’s side is filled with a sense of quiet awe and grandeur. And to my relief, his mom is just a regular woman…who happens to have been sitting in the same place for nearly Ushio’s entire life. She may have freakishly-long hair, but she also has Ushio’s familiar dark eyebrows above warm, kind eyes. There’s no doubt about it: this is Ushio’s mom.

And look a how all of the things Ushio wanted to say to his mom melt away, replaced by love, gratitude, and relief. He’s in awe of his mother and her own meekness and contriteness. Her first act upon seeing him is to bow her head. But before he lets her ask his forgiveness, he assures her, by showing her all of his various scars and wounds—some acquired fighting monsters, others just doing stuff kids do—that it’s no big deal; and it’s true.

While she’s been here, the love she put into Ushio endured and sustained him, and made him into the fine young man he is today. He knows that, and he no longer has any hard feelings on the matter. How can he, when his mother sacrificed so much?

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Her look when he starts dusting her off, and the laugh they share when he bashfully askes for miso soup (there’s no kitchen there, bub!), it’s all wonderful. Finally, goddamnit, Ushio gets to see his mom, and she’s not terrible! What is terrible is the impending situation, in which the shit hits the fan before his mom can pat him properly on the head.

The East and West youkai have arrived up at the surface (in giant amalgamated forms), with the former keeping the latter from attacking Hakumen by fighting them. The navy fires its torpedoes and destroys the stone pillar, as Hakumen had planned. Ushio’s mom’s barrier finally fails after 700 years of continuous activation.

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It’s the end of the line for Ushio’s mom as far as being the Oyakume goes, which begs the question: where the heck is Mayuko at? Isn’t she supposed to pick up where Ushio’s mom left off? I hope she gets there soon, because it becomes clear Hakumen isn’t going to stay put.

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Indeed, after ignoring Ushio’s mom’s warning that he’ll be dealt with by Ushio and the others soon enough and has no reason to celebrate, Hakumen still appears to be very happy to be free, and does celebrate by tossing the entire sub fleet into the air and impaling the East youkai, then vowing to destroy everything in the world.

All poor Tora can do is watch! I do hope his girl Mayuko arrives soon with a barrier, or some other somebody comes out of the woodwork to lend him and Tora a hand. I also hope that while her Oyakume days are over, Ushio’s mom doesn’t have to die; at least not until she gets to see her son defeat Hakumen no Mono once and for all.

Then she gets to pat Ushio head, and they get to spend some time as mother and son, with worries about saving the world far behind them. But I’m getting ahead of myself…the next episode’s title isn’t vague at all: “Beast Spear Destroyed.” Nuts!

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Ao no Exorcist 20

The attacker of Rin and Yukio’s monastery is a masked stranger who writes in Polish and uses a nasty spider-web like silk to envelop his victims. When Rin gives chase he immediately has his ass handed to him, and has to be saved by Yukio, who continues the chase and runs into Professor Neuhaus, originally believed to have retired.

After a “rest” episode, it was good to get back to the main story, but I feel like most of this episode was simply rehashing what’s already been said, done, and/or established. Rin should know by now he can’t just rush headlong into threats he doesn’t understand. He almost gets killed in the first five minutes thanks to his impatience and hardheadedness. He should know by now he can’t just do what he pleases – the Vatican has him on a tight rope as it is. All this just…seemed to have slipped his mind this week. At least later in the episode he finally gets the candle training right, and uses his flames like a scalpel, not a sledgehammer, to remove the webbing from his allies.

The enemy-of-the-week is also pretty boring at first. I mean, spiders crawling across his face? Seriously? Rin has already fought the Paladin and the Earth King…after those bosses this guy never seems like much of a threat. Things do get a little more interesting when a hostage standoff ends with the Paladin arresting Pheles for suspected illegal research, while Neuhaus shows up again, claiming the then un-masked woman is his wife. Yukio, getting more angsty for not being able to protect Rin, is suddenly summoned by…his grandfather, of all people. One we didn’t know he had…


Rating: 3