3-gatsu no Lion – 10

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Another week, another weak opponent with a sad story Rei must face, another dose of caustic venom from Kyoko. Remembering back to a Christmas where Kyoko’s dad gave him a shogi set instead of her, Rei admits he wants to hear the poison from Kyoko.

He must believe on some unconscious level that he deserves punishment for the pain he caused her. Kyoko is all too happy to oblige, but her shtick is getting a little old, and not just with me.

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Predictably, Rei defeats Mr. Yasui. It doesn’t even take that long. He can tell Yasui is trying his best to bring a victory home to his daughter on the last Christmas before his divorce. But Rei sees Yasui’s mistakes before he does.

That means he can see more moves ahead, which means Yasui never had a chance. Throughout the game, Rei feels like he’s walking on eggshells around the faintly alcohol-scented ol’ bastard, and doesn’t feel particularly good about dispatching him so easily.

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When Yasui slinks away without the bag containing a gift for his daughter, Rei tries to be a nice guy and gets the bag back to him. Yasui pretends it isn’t his at first, but Rei presses the issue and Yasui angrily snatches it away before continuing off, probably to get drunk.

All the while, I was thinking about how unwise it was for Rei to involve himself in the personal lives of the sadsack opponents he beats. They’re not your problem, dude. You gotta focus on winning matches so you can eat and pay the bills.

Turns out…he listened!

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WRONG, Trump, WRONG! Not everything is Rei’s fault! It’s his opponents’ faults they lost, because they weren’t good enough to beat him. He realizes there’s a “beast” inside of him, fighting for his survival, that will elicit no mercy once the battle has begun.

No matter how he became a shogi player, the fact of the matter is, he’s a Shogi Player, and a damn good one. He’s sick of feeling like shit for beating people…and allowing Kyoko to keep that river of shit flowing. Could this be a turning point?

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3-gatsu no Lion – 09

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Rei isn’t feeling great about having to bring down a guy who’s been playing more than twice as long as he’s been alive, and that feeling doesn’t improve when he spots his opponent, Matsunaga, praying at a local shrine and acting very erratic.

The old man’s inscrutability translates to his shogi game, which Rei can’t quite suss out, even to the point he wonders if Matsunaga is placing pieces randomly. He also starts to doubt if his opponent’s stress is real or all an act. Neither can we; his opaqueness makes for some entertaining human observation.

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When the match is over, and Rei wins, Matsunaga nearly falls down some stairs (the same stairs Rei was going to use to sneak away), and ends up treating the old man to a sumptuous feast and more than he can drink. Turns out Rei is a nice guy like Kyouko said, because he doesn’t leave the man’s side as long as he’s not certain he’ll be okay.

But he will be okay. The liquor greases the hinges of the door to Matsunaga’s heart, and he opens up to us and Rei. Rei may not be able to fathom forty years of shogi, but hearing the old man speak of the addictive elation of victory despite the bitterness of defeat (and he’s suffered a lot more defeats than Rei), he’s able to finally relate. Those are the same things he feels.

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Even if Rei claims to hate shogi, and Matsunaga can’t answer the question of whether he likes it, the fact of the matter is, they are both shogi players. So when Kyouko calls to gloat over Rei having to “strangle an old dog”, Rei proudly announces that Matsunaga will, in fact, not be retiring from shogi after all.

Rather than serve as a young, beautiful grim reaper for the old man, Rei, their match, and the night that followed, made him reconsider quitting the game, even after Rei beat him (that, and he really doesn’t want to do house chores).

I honestly didn’t know what to expect from Matsunaga this week, as I’m sure Rei didn’t. But I was pleasantly surprised by the swiftness with which his character was fleshed out. This week was a sprawling profile of the guy, from his knowledge of Fukushima history to the drive to play not snuffed out by Rei. Sorry Kyouko – no win for you!

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3-gatsu no Lion – 08

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3GL doesn’t conform to the usual one-twentyish-minute-episode per week, usually splitting into two or more parts. Never has the transition between two segments been as dramatic as this week, but it works in the show’s favor: Nikaidou’s teaching sessions and all the cat stuff was cute, but was also getting kinda old. I will say that it was nice of Nikaidou to buy Rei a sofa bed. That apartment needs more stuff in it!

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The hook for the much darker and emotionally dense second segment is beautifully illustrated when Rei recalls seeing a bolt of lightning in a clear blue sky: the harbinger of a storm. It’s one of his most powerful memories, and it appears – in a sense – at his doorstep when he comes home one night in the form of his estranged (I guess?) adoptive sister, Kouda Kyouko.

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From the moment we see this present-day, all-grown-up Kyouko, it’s clear the camera is a stand-in for Rei’s gaze. The camera loves Kyouko. Her piercing eyes, her golden locks, her painted toes – it’s all lovingly, enthusiastically captured, and evokes quite a bit of thought about what’s going on beneath the surface of this human bolt of lightning.

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What’s certain is that for all her talk of not knowing Rei very well, she does know one thing perhaps no one else does: she knows he doesn’t love shogi, or at least his relationship to shogi isn’t a simple as love or hate. I loved the ambiguity of Kyouko’s visit – at times she seems almost half-nice – before saying something she knows full well will upset her adoptive little brother.

Some scenes, out of context, make it appear like Rei and Kyouko might be involved in that way; which wouldn’t be a first, considering one of Rei’s darker memories has her on top of him. But the segment unfolds like a fantastic, seductive two-person play, brimming with atmosphere, tension, and malice, it wrapped around me like that overly-fluffy futon. The soundtrack that accompanied it was fantastic.

Kyouko saves her sharpest dagger for the morning, as walks out the door, warning Rei that the match he probably has to win will be against an elderly player who will be demoted and retire if he loses. Kyouko is the bolt that brings pounding rain to Rei’s life. Rei’s better at shogi, but she’s better at mind games. And yet…I don’t loathe, or even dislike her.

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3-gatsu no Lion – 07

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And endless succession of episodes in which Rei wanders around alone with the wind in his face, wallowing in despair and self-pity over everything he’s been through and all the choices he’s made, was going to get old fast. That would be too dark and brooding, and keep us at a distance.

I wanted in, so to speak, and I got in, thanks in part to a jauntier, more playful week of 3GL, and in part to Hina’s crush Takahashi. While Rei is initially intimidated, Takahashi is actually a great admirer of Rei, and comes to him for serious advice about where to steer his life.

That Takahashi essentially comes out of nowhere to have such a profound effect on Rei and how he looks at the world is of no consequence. I like how a childhood friend of Hina, whom Rei often looks to for comfort, peace, and perspective, is inadvertently responsible for showing Rei “the light.”

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Takahashi’s seriousness, forceful determination, and earnest attentiveness to any and all Rei has to say, gets Rei to open up despite himself, breaking through a barrier he’d never crossed before, letting someone in to his inner thoughts and doubts, and receiving gratitude and further admiration in return.

Even when Takahashi, invited to dinner (much to Hina’s exasperation; however she delivers a sumptuous repast), shows Rei a video of his loss in shogi (a video that exposes Rei’s “secret”/omission to the younger sisters that he and Nikaido are pros), Takahashi does it not out of malice, but to hear from the person who made the move why he made it, and what he thinks about such a move now.

Even when Rei says it was a bad move, and Nikaido almost seems to come through the TV and yell at him directly, over and over, that he needs to “take better care of his shogi and himself”, Takahashi doesn’t dismiss his father and grandfather’s assertion the move wasn’t bad, but was even “aggressive and manly,” qualities Takahashi can relate to on the road to a baseball career; a road that requires similarly bold moves.

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Nikaido’s on-video obnoxious commentary gets Rei so riled up he raises his voice for the first time, yelling at the TV as if Nikaido was there. Rei is amazed to find Hina smiling wider than ever at his outburst, as if it was a privilege to witness. And maybe it was: seeing him display so much passion, even to protest his “best friend” saying far too much to the camera, spurs Hina to ask Rei to teach her how to play shogi.

That’s when Nikaido actually comes out of the TV and appears in person at the Kawamoto household to add some humor and humanity to Rei’s stiff explanation of the game. He even presents a book he presumably wrote and illustrated in which all the shogi pieces are realized as cats, charming not only Hina but Momo too (who already regards Nikaido AKA Bodoro as a kind of demigod).

Rei has finally tasted what it’s like not only to have his thoughts and feelings listened to and validated, but what it’s like to lose it in front of people he cares about, and to share his amassed wisdom to an eager audience. All in all, its a pretty good week for the kid. Here’s hoping he keeps it going.

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Ai Tenchi Muyo! – 43

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The Galaxy Police SWAT team starts to besiege Washuu’s hideout in the old school buiding as Tenchi, Momo, Ryouko, Yuki, Rui and Beni arrive. The latter three learn who the voice of the monolith is as she recruits them to launch a counterattack.

Outside, a veteran GP officer tells a rookie that Washuu is responsible for the disappearance of several planets and solar systems, and should neither be taken lightly nor shown mercy.

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The SWAT team neutralizes Washuu’s booby traps, but Yuki is ready with some kind of cannon, while Rui has been fitted with a small spider dangling in front of her head, causing her to go into berserk mode on anyone in range of her stick – all to buy time for the others heading to the caverns.

Tenchi tells Momo and Beni that they’re really aliens who crashed there 1,300 years ago. He enlists Ryouko to climb through the fissure in the rock, where she finds the glowing, dildo-like “dimensional controller” that is supposedly the key to fixing everything.

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Ai Tenchi Muyo! – 42

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As Ryouko surveys Takahashi from a high vantage point, you get the sense she senses something’s up. So when Yuki turns out to be absolutely right about there being a big government conspiracy (though people always sound crazy when they say that) and Kurihara has the Science Club and Momo arrested, Ryouko doesn’t stand idly by.

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Kurihara puts a lightsaber to Tenchi’s throat, insisting she’s done with his games, but Ryouko busts in and uses her diversionary magic to allow Tenchi to escape with the girls.

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Meanwhile, the GP Commander in charge of the operation to extract the “singularity points” finally zeroes in on Washuu, as the warhead is less than 45 minutes from reaching its target. But Washuu isn’t concerned…that is, with anything other than the fact these GP jokers are on her turf. Time and Space are her ‘playground’, and she won’t have interlopers. So what’s she got up her sleeves?

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Ai Tenchi Muyo! – 41

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Half of this episode is spent aboard the Galaxy Police flagship now in orbit around earth, which has come to arrest the “singularity points” (Momo, Beni, and Washuu) before the “dimensional deficiency” they’re causing rises to catastrophic levels and the entire universe implodes. Are these stakes high enough for ya?!

There’s a great Star Trek-like feel to these space proceedings, helped not just by the barely-coherent technobabble, but by the prominent presence of okudagrams, which, to the non-Trekkie crowd, are cost-effective yet sleek and futuristic displays invented by technical adviser, scenic artist, and Japanese-American Michael Okuda.

The going-over of the mission is also a clever way to name-drop the show’s sponsor, Takahashi, Okayama, I believe for the first time.

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Okayama is where the GP is headed, and in cooperation with the government, has created an entire cover story for the operation: a old Russian space station’s orbit decaying. The debate and election are cancelled and the school is evacuated by what look like JSDF troops but are really GP officers in disguise.

The student council stops being a counter-scheming squad and fulfills their actual duty as student authorities. But when the last people besides them who have yet to evacuate are the Science Club of Rui, Yuki and Beni, Momo and Tenchi go after them…just as the GP launches a space-time fluctuation warhead. And those, my friend, are not something to be trifled with. I guess?

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Ai Tenchi Muyo! – 01

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“‘Scuse me, Ma’am!”

My very first taste of this new project by a franchise celebrating its 20th year is a mere sliver of the first day of school for trainee teacher Masaki Tenchi. For some reason he ends up stranded on a mountain where his compass goes haywire. There, he bumps into one different color-haired girl after another, all of whom end up attending the class he’s teaching back at school.

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I’m guessing this is Hakubi Washuu.

Without any research, watching this is a waste of my time. But I did find out a few interesting things, like the show’s plot, from a trusted source:

In this story, the world is in chaos, thanks to Washu. Now in order to save it, Tenchi Masaki must go undercover as a student teacher at an all-girls school. Unfortunately for him, trouble always comes his way.

Oh, so he’s undercover? The episode didn’t make that clear, but I’d probably know that if I knew the character from other stuff, of which there is much. And he does look a little out of sorts at school.

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As for the world in chaos, well, it’s certainly chaotic for me, being new to the franchise. And that class had Sayonara Mr. Despair written all over it: full of eccentrics. It kinda begs the question: how does teaching at this all-girls school save the world? I imagine I’ll find out.

I also learned that the series (which will consist of 50 5-minute episodes) is sponsored by the city of Takahashi in Okayama Prefecture, in order to promote tourism for the city. That is an awesome idea. I want my city in an anime.

But yeah, this is just an introduction, and it wasn’t interested in cluing noobs in on what was happening. That being said, I can’t say I disliked it. So I will see where it goes.

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Sket Dance – 74

In the first half, Bossun is playing with a collectable toy car in the hallway when he’s scolded by Tsubaki, who breaks it while attempting to confiscate it. Mimorin recognizes the car as the same kind her father collects, and invites Tsubaki, Bossun, and Himeko over to her “house”, which is more like an underground city. In the second half, the ramen shop owner challenges Captain to a rematch, but Bossun’s indelicate words lead to her retiring her “Cap’n Munch” special eating move. Bossun takes her place in the challenge, but can’t cut it. She swoops in and uses a supersonic “Neo-Cap’n Munch” to defeat the shop owner once more, until she learns she ate hard-boiled eggs and throws everything up.

This week was a very special episode of Sket Dance, in which we get an inside look at the living conditions of perhaps the wealthiest anime characters we’ve ever known, the Unyuus. Worth at least 5 quintillion yen (50 followed by eighteen zeros), we learn that all of Mimorin’s boasts throughout the series were justified…and then some. Her family is in fact worth many times more than the whole rest of the world economy, which is fun. More to the point, we love just how over-the-top and uncompromising her wealth is depicted. She doesn’t just have a butler; she has hundreds of servants who live in an underground city with a stark palette. Her above-ground entrance hall occupies several city blocks. It’s nuts, but hilariously so.

The second half can’t quite match the scale of the first, but it exceeds it in passion – or should we say, “Cap’passion”; as in the infectious competitive passion of the captain, Takahashi Chiaki, who gets another chance to show off her eating skills. Like the first half, it starts small: Bossun makes an offhand comment about how quickly Captain eats. It puts her in a self-conscious, sulky mood, and she gives up the “Cap’n Munch” ability. Still, Bossun, Switch, the ramen shop owner, and eventually even Hani and Asahina get all fired up, and their passion then re-stokes hers as she sees Bossun struggling. It’s all very dramatic and powerfully depicted, only to be comically and suddenly cut short at the end when she barfs it all up (off-camera), thanks to the end credits rolling in the middle.


Rating: 8 (Great)

Car Cameos: This episode was replete with some classics, being about collecting cars: Bossun is playing with a toy Mercedes-Benz SSK, and gets an SSKL from the Unyuus after a lot of trouble. Among the model and real cars Rintarou owns are a Mercedes-Benz 300SL, a Volkswagen Beetle (pictured), a Volkswagen Golf MkI, and a Mercedes-Benz 280SL. In Mimorin’s recollection, there’s also a Shelby Cobra, Beetle Cabriolet, and a ’55-’56 GMC Truck. None of the cars and trucks in the Unyuu underground city were detailed enough to be identified, but they looked to be of general 70s-80s vintage.

Tari Tari – 02

With Sawa’s help, Konatsu is able to recruit Wakana as a non-participatory member of her new choir club, and the principal approves the application and volunteers as the advisor. Konatsu begins to conscript other misfit students with singing ability, including her younger brother. When the day of a dual recital with the official choir arrives, the principal isn’t around. Sawa attempts to track down Mrs.Takahashi while Konatsu finds out the principal is laid up in the hospital from a minor bike accident. She and Sawa make it back just in time, but the bus containing the rest of the choir is late, so they go on as a duet, accompanied by Wakana on piano.

We were a little reticent about continuing on with a show that so closely resembles Hanasaku Iroha in both looks and subject matter, and the fact Sawa and Wakana still looked so similar to us. The scene after the credits of the five characters all talking over each other, having numerous conversations, was also a little overwhelming right out of the gate, but we can’t deny it was very well done. It wasn’t long before we could tell the Sawa and Wakana apart and became invested in Konatsu’s goal of starting up a new choir. It’s hard not to root for someone considering she’s fighting the oppression of a vice principal who has a major stick up her ass. If this is a high school drama, she’s definitely the villainess.

We were amazed how fast everything progressed, from getting approval from the eccentric principal to recruiting a quorum of singers and rehearsing. We also liked Wakana’s running tally of cakes she’s due for all the favors she does for Konatsu, as well as Sawa’s dedication to her friend, including what has to be the most sincere, justified spanking we can recall ever seeing in an anime. Sawa’s delivery of the word “NO” in response to her teacher asking if she’s in the maternity ward because she’s pregnant had us LOL’ing profusely. And Konatsu and Sawa’s little duet at the end was sweet and moving. Konatsu got over her stage fright and rose to the occasion, with sticktoitiveness and a little help from her friends. After this episode, we’re confident this is no Hanasaku Iroha carbon copy, but something else altogether.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

Car Cameos: Mrs. Takahashi’s Daihatsu Move makes another appearence; a Toyota Coaster conveys the choir club to the recital hall; background cars include an Audi A4, Toyota Alphard, and Subaru Sambar.