Ikebukuro West Gate Park – 01 (First Impressions) – Just a Simple Fruit Vendor

In an Ikebukuro full of rival gangs like the G-Boys, Majima Makoto is a neutral mediator to whom anyone can come with a problem to solve. Thus he is one of the people helping to maintain a delicate balance in the town and keep it from descending into violence.

I’ve been to Ikebukuro, and perhaps due to watching a lot of Durarara!! prior to visiting, I got a very cozy, familiar feeling walking its streets. But aside from the Sunshine 60 building’s super-fast elevator, there’s nothing all that flashy about the town. It’s most prominent feature is a 600-foot…incinerator chimney.

Like the town where it’s set, IWGP is similarly restrained, un-flashy and ordinary. After a more theatrical cold open in which G-Boys leader Takashi is on a literal stage knocking out a junkie his gang has surrounded, things unfold relatively straightforward manner.

Takashi visits his old friend Makoto (who runs a fruit stand with his mom), and presents him with the 12-year-old Kurashina Mion, who tried to burn a whole building down because it was the hideout of a drug addict who hit her mom with a car. He’s hopeful Makoto can get Mion justice without violence.

Practically speaking, Makoto’s case is composed of a number of sit-down meetings in restaurants. That’s not very interesting, but it gradually emerges both to us and to an initially skeptical Mion that Makoto knows everybody who’s anybody in Ikebukuro, from gang higher-ups to cops, making him the best person to help her.

The fact Mion insists on tagging along even when Makoto cases a suspicious smoke shop, leading to her panicking and smashing a jar of “high grade herbs” and resulting in a chase. It’s here where Makoto’s encyclopedic knowledge of his town and its rooftops comes in handy, as he makes sure Mion can manage their escape route.

Makoto naturally also knows a super-hacker rather embarrassingly named Zero One, and once he gets the leads he needs from the official police, he relies on Zero and Takashi’s G-Boys to help stake out the smoke shop owner’s various properties.

Once they learn he’s almost certainly dealing illegal drugs, Makoto and Takashi discover the apartment is a marijuana-filled grow-house and drug lab. It’s here where I must assume that weed is still illegal in Japan (in many U.S. states you buy it legally for medical or recreational use), and that there are harder drugs than weed being made/sold by these guys.

Mion sticks her neck out to delay the smoke shop clerk from discovering Makoto and Takashi in the apartment. The clerk chases her down and nabs her, but Makoto comes to her rescue by delivering a devastating kick. It’s clear he prefers to avoid violence unless absolutely necessary, which makes sense as this is not a “stylized” version of Ikebukuro or Japan where anything goes.

In the end the bad guys are arrested for their illegal deeds, and Mion’s mom is released from the hospital with a clean bill of health. In the titular Ikebukuro West Gate Park, Mion thanks Makoto while introducing her mom. Thanks to him she knows that “some grown-ups are cool” and that she wouldn’t mind if someone like him was her dad.

Makoto and Takashi are confident the drug bust won’t come back on them since no one knows they’re involved…but their assumption is incorrect: someone is watching them, so there may be consequences that may threaten Makoto’s neutral status in the near future.

IWGP isn’t a show that will dazzle with its visuals, over-the-top action, or outrageous characters. It looks like it aims to be a more down-to-earth and realistic version of Durarara!! in which we’re presented with a complex tapestry of relationships and loyalties, with Makoto in the middle.

It’s a show with a quiet, confident competence. If that sounds like “boring”, it might be for some. But I for one enjoyed its relative subtlety and nuance, and will be back next week for more.

Natsuiro Kiseki – 04

Yuka likes her cousin Takashi, but he’s interested in Saki. While resting on the rock, she accidentally makes a wish that swaps their bodies. Yuka is elated, and is able to arrange a date with Takashi. Saki is furious, and makes everyone wish for them to switch back, but Natsumi and Rinko switch bodies instead. The next day, Yuka goes on the date with Takashi while Saki, Natsumi and Rinko shadow them. When it starts to get serious, Yuka realizes it was a bad idea, since he only sees Saki and not her; Rinko spirits her away before they kiss, and everyone returns to their normal body.

We had pretty good episodes focusing on Natsumi and Saki; this week it was Yuka’s turn to take center stage. Only, most of the time, Yuka isn’t in her own green-haired, relatively out-of-shape body, but in Saki’s. When her wish to become Saki comes true, she totally runs with it without hesitation. For most of the episode, nobody is who they should be. We must salute the four voice actresses for nailing one another’s way of speaking and mannerisms, and there were lots of nice touches like Yuka-as-Saki cooling her face with a cola. Natsumi-in-Rinko was so much peppier than she usually is (reminding us of how she played Fam). We love bodyswap episodes (Fairy Tail and DS9 had some good ones), and this one delivered the goods.

The swapping wasn’t just played for laughs. Yuka learned that looking and sounding like Saki is no way to win the heart of her cousin (it’s allowed in Japan, though in decline). Going on a date with him only gave him the idea that Saki liked him, since that’s how he saw her. They made a good couple, but it was a dead end. Ultimately, she’ll have to approach him honestly, as Yuka, if she wants to get anywhere. We kinda feel bad for poor Takashi: about to kiss Saki one minute, and suffering rejection-by-text the next. Both Yuka and Saki kinda ended up toying with his heart. They are some cold witches.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

Car Cameo: A Daihatsu Hijet kei truck pulls up right at the beginning.