Lycoris Recoil – 09 – God Is Whimsical

No sooner does Chisato not pick up than Takina is racing to the clinic like a bat out of hell. She enters the OR gun blazing, forcing Himegama to make a hasty retreat out the window, but the damage is already done. Chisato eventually awakens from the sedative, but the electric shock overloaded her heart’s battery, which can no longer be recharged. Chisato now has just two months to live.

Both Chisato and Takina are true-to-character in their reactions. Chisato basically shrugs it off as two months and ten years longer than she would have lived, and accepts her fate. Takina doesn’t want accept it, and doesn’t like how her best friend is so quick to.

Chisato heads to the DA for what she believes might be the final time, and when Kusunoki asks her to return to DA for the operation to bring down Majima, her condition is that Takina be reinstated. Sure enough, Fuki and Sakura are at LycoReco delivering Takina’s reinstatement.

After another routine mission where this time Takina apologizes for making Chisato run (she wants the battery to last as long as it can), Takina and Mizuki end up arriving at LycoReco in the middle of a private conversation between Mika and Kurumi, who has dug up enough online that Mika is compelled to tell her the story of Chisato.

Chisato had a singular talent for killing and avoiding being killed (at least by guns), but had a congenital heart condition. Yoshimatsu Shinji struck a deal with Mika, who also happened to be his lover at the time. Chisato would be fitted with a bleeding-edge artificial heart by Alan Institute, and Mika would see to it she fulfilled the promise of her talent.

Shinji made clear that even with this tech, Chisato would probably only lie to 18 – typically the retirement age for a Lycoris (if they live that long). Before the procedure, Chisato encounter Shinji in a hallway on accident, and immediately pegged him as her “Mr. Savior”, giving him a hug of gratitude. Shinji accepted the hug but soon left both her and Mika’s lives for a long while.

Having overheard Mika’s tale, Takina resolves to do everything she can to extend Chisato’s life. If that means leaving LycoReco, returning to the DA, and helping capture Majima, so be it. But before dropping this news on Chisato, she decides to take her out for what might be their last day off shopping and having fun.

Takina makes up a long and detailed schedule and keeps Chisato on it to the very minute with phone alarms. But despite being whisked from one place to another and having to move on just when she’s getting comfortable, Chisato still admits that she’s having fun, because that’s what happens whenever she’s with Takina.

The final leg in Takina’s fun day off itinerary is sitting on a bench at a hilltop park with a view of the city just when it’s supposed to start snowing. The snow doesn’t come at first, but Chisato can tell without Takina saying anything that this is about her returning to the DA. After all, it’s what Chisato told the DA would be a condition of her own return.

But for now, Chisato and Takina are to part ways. The snow finally comes while they’re still in view of one another, and they exchange bittersweet smiles of mutual affection. Chisato may have accepted the fact she only has two months left, but Takina is going back to the DA not because it’s what she wanted, but because it’s what she thinks she needs to do to give Chisato a chance she herself isn’t worrying about.

Takina is returning to the DA just as Majima and his henchmen capture Shinji and Himegama. Can Majima still be a possible ally in getting Shinji or Alan to cough up the needed tech to repair Chisato’s heart? Will the heart give out once she reaches adulthood anyway? With four episodes left, I’m hoping Takina, with help from the rest of the LycoReco crew, DA, and maybe even Majima, can save Chisato. If they can’t, that would suck!

Lycoris Recoil – 08 – Poo Parfait

One day Takina takes a look at LycoReco’s books and it’s not looking good, so she takes command of the cafe’s finances. This applies to both creating efficiencies and instilling discipline in the café as well as while on Lycoris missions. From keeping the fridge closed and plates unbroken to weaning Chisato off her love of firing lots of bullets, Takina goes to town and takes care of business.

There’s a bright and breathless energy to this extended sequence as Takina creates a new menu item that looks suspiciously like the poo emoji—something she is oblivious too until it’s explicitly mentioned on social media. But now that LycoReco feels like a home and Chisato & Co. her family, Takina resolved to make it as strong and successful as possible, and in this she succeds, demonstrating she’s more than just a capable assassin.

Throughout all this, Chisato repeatedly dodges attempts from her doctor to get her to come in for her routine physical. When Takina orders her to go, Majima surprises her at her safe house, and she isn’t able to go. Majima isn’t there to kill her, just to learn more about his fellow Alan child, whom he saw as an unkillable monster back during the Radio Tower incident.

They share a distaste for authority and a love of the Die Hard movies. (Appropriately, Powell is Chisato’s favorite character, since he too isn’t about killing unless absolutely necessary). We learn that his talent is enhanced hearing, so he can tell when Takina is approaching and gets the jump on her when she’s about to enter. He leaves peacefully but I’m sure he’ll be back.

After that, Takina sets up a phone ring code that Chisato is to follow to the letter precisely. She surprises her with a gift from the preschool she wanted (a cute doggie strap) and then once again orders her to go get her physical. Chisato admits that a fear of needles has kept her away thus far.

The next day, when Chisato finally goes in for her physical, Himegama, Yoshi’s assistant, is posing as a nurse, and injects Chisato with a sedative, all but validating Chisato’s innate distrust of medical facilities. Having promised to “be gentle” with Chisato, Himegama hooks electrodes directly into her artificial heart and starts feeding it electric shocks.

When Chisato doesn’t answer after three rings, Takina goes after her, but I’m sure Himegama and Alan are at least a step or two ahead of her. As for what these shocks are going to do to Chisato, I can’t rule out the fact it’s a means to control her into doing Alan’s bidding, rather than the “make-believe” lifestyle she’s been leading thus far.

Yoshi is adamant that Alan children cannot chose their path in life; it was chosen for them. If force is needed to get Chisato back on hers, so be it. I just hope whatever’s being done to her won’t cause permanent harm, and Takina can manage to rescue her. Or maybe the Chisato we knew is now gone. In any case, it’s a hell of a cliffhanger after 8/10ths of the episode was so lighthearted and fun.

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 13 (S1 E01) – The Play’s the Thing

After an efficient recap of where the four girls currently stand in the story, we return to Kazuya’s filthy flat (seriously dude, clean it the fuck up!), lamenting the “countdown to ruin”—Chizuru’s big acting break that will lead to her being discovered by a big-deal director and quitting her rental girlfriend gig.

He decides to buy a ticket to Chizuru’s play as “moral support”, but also wonders if he simply wants to watch the beginning of the end of his relationship with her. Sumi spots him, but before she can say anything the lights go down, the curtain comes up, and Kazuya gets a lot more than he bargained for.

Watching Chizuru perform as a completely different person—in this case a puckish kunoichi—is a revelation for Kazuya. He’s taken on an emotional roller coaster as Chizuru grabs the entire audience in her hand and doesn’t let go. She’s magnetic, clearly the “MVP” of the play. He’s so stunned by the end he doesn’t move from his seat for a while. Sumi, who can probably tell why, leaves him be.

But while he, Sumi, and indeed I truly thought Chizuru stole the show in which she wasn’t even the lead, her performance doesn’t lead to the opportunity she’d planned. Turns out the famous director is basically the lead actress’ damn uncle, and gives her the role. Even though she was a victim of nepotism, Chizuru thinks she wasn’t good enough.

Kazuya leaving the theater in no particular hurry combined with an upset Chizuru skipping the wrap party means the two inevitably bump into each other on the streets. Kazuya quickly owns up to coming to see her perform, and is extremely effluent in his praise. He also accepts the fact that this probably means the end of their rental dating.

When Chizuru explains that things didn’t work out and then puts on a brave happy face, Kazuya at least realizes that she’s trying to keep her frustration bottled up. But he’s not going to let her say she’s “just like him” in getting “too worked up” about acting, because her rental girlfriend gig is proof she does have talent, and plenty of it.

Chizuru’s attitude suggests she’s ready to throw in the towel and face reality, but Kazuya suspect she doesn’t want to, and also doesn’t think she should. If she needs to keep funding her dream of acting, then he’s going to keep hiring her to be his rental girlfriend, getting a job to pay the fees.

Chizuru is recalling Kazuya’s words when she comes home and sits in the dark, and then she gets a call from the lead actress who got the role thanking her for “warming up the crowd”, twisting the dagger and sending the cork on the bottle of her tears shooting across the room.

That said, her tear-filled eyes are suddenly reflecting the light of her phone, which just alerted her to a whole slew of new bookings from Kazuya, putting his money where his mouth is and adding financial support to his moral support. While she calls him a dumbass as usual for going to such lengths for her sake, the gesture doesn’t fail to bring a smile to her face and color to her cheeks.

I said in my review of the first season finale that if a sequel of RaG was made, it would be the girls who’d bring me back, since Kazuya was mostly an infuriating pest of an MC. Well, that sequel has now arrived two years later, and while Kazuya continues to keep a pigsty of a place and harbor a lot of misunderstandings, he’s…not that bad in this episode!

Ruka would probably disagree, seeing as how he continues to utterly ignore her, but that’s for another episode. Here Chizuru clearly stole the show, and Kazuya did what he could to make her feel better and encouraged her not to stop dreaming after one setback. He was a pretty good fake boyfriend! Now, keep it up!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Tokyo 24th Ward – 05 – Dark Mode


Last week we learn that among the two paths Kunai believes lie before him—art or crime—Kunai has chosen the latter. This week we learn why, starting over a decade ago when he and Ran were just kids. Ran, inspired by fellow Shantytown native Zeroth, quickly asserted his artistic talent. Kunai knew he couldn’t keep up in the realm of graffiti, so he became a hacker.

But he soon learned, to his unending despair, that despite both his best friend Ran and his eventual business partner Tarki calling his hacking ability “art”, his work could be corrupted into something awful. To whit: Drug D isn’t a physical drug at all, but the result of his theraputic music app being modified so that its users go nuts, resulting in the huge rise in Shantytown crime.

Kunai may have been shortsighted when he sold the IP of his app to the suspicious-looking businessman, but Tarki offered him everything he wanted: financial freedom and comfort for his grandmother suffering from dementia. He always admired Ran’s art’s ability to change the world, but Kunai knew that change wouldn’t come quickly enough to save Shantytown from Tarki and the developers. So he made a bomb.

Ran eventually tracks down Kunai’s hiding spot on a train car Zeroth tagged on the outside, preserved like a museum piece. It happens to be the same car where Kunai first launched a “bomb”, hacking all the video advertisement screens with DoRed tags. Ran wants to stop Kunai, but it’s too late; all of his words sound like lip service to Kunai. Ran would have been too late to stop Kunai from detonating the bomb that destoryed the cruise ship…but Kouki found the train car too, and a SARG sniper takes Kunai out before he can hit the “detonate” button.

Shuuta, who didn’t really play much of an active role in the operation (beyond almost getting shot up by Tarki and Win’s goons), learns that the terrorist was killed and the people aboard the ship saved. Yet he still feels uneasy, and he should: most of the people on that ship are bad people.

Absent any contact from Ran or Kouki, he instead hangs out with Kozue, who has posted her photos of Ran’s tags and written about her father as a means of processing her grief in a healthy way. As for the rift that the death of Kunai is sure to cause for the R and G of RGB, it will likely be up to Shuuta to bridge his old friends’ differences.

As for Shuutas father, he seems ready to put the KANAE System into “full operation”, thus creating some kind of “revolution” in the 24th Ward. Will Kouki go along with this, or will RGB be the check against his pops’ unbridled corporate and political power? And what of Carneades, who makes no appearance this week?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Bokutachi no Remake – 12 (Fin) – Back to Hard Times

Now that we know that Tomioka Keiko has the ability to send Kyouya back and forth through time, the question becomes, does Kyouya want to go back to the past or remain where he is? As Keiko says, there are few people who can claim they’re as happy and successful as he is. But Kyouya concludes that he didn’t want to go back in time to make a happier future; he wanted to experience pain and struggle alongside the talented creative people he idolized.

So even if, say, Aki decided she wanted to start drawing again, the fact remains that she, Tsurayuki, Nanako and Eiko all had their futures changed by Kyouya’s over-meddling, and that will never sit right with him, so it’s back to the past with him. It seems Keiko, whoever or whatever she is, brought Kyouya to this alternate future to teach Kyouya a lesson, in addition to giving him the choice to go or stay.

After a heartfelt sequence of final scenes with Aki and Maki, Kyouya is ready to go back. Keiko sends him back to the same time he left, when Tsurayuki dropped out. Aki and Nanako aren’t sure what to do about it, but Kyouya adivses that they all stay the course. If there’s a way to bring Tsurayuki back into the creative world, he’ll find one, but this time he’s not going to be so forceful and so certain.

Just as the members of the Platinum Generation put their trust in him, this time Kyouya is going to trust in their ability to shine and fluorish without undue interference or compromise. When Nanako is given an offer to work for another doujin group, she sheepishly asks him if he’ll proverbially hold her hand. Having seen what becoming overly dependent on him did to Nanako’s future, he insists she try being independent on this project. Even if he comes off as rude or mean, it’s in Nanako’s best interest.

He’ll still support her, but he won’t let her rely on him entirely again. Aki proves trickier, as she hits the very same rut that would define her future self as she transitioned from a creative life to a domestic one. Kyouya realizes that asking her to work so hard and compromise her artistic vision for the game took a toll, and that coming out of the rut won’t be a fast or easy process, but it will and does eventually happen, and without undue meddling from him.

Kyouya ends up literally bumping into the girl who will one day become Minori Ayaka, sporting her natural black hair color. Akaya seems embarrassed when Kyouya sees she has the game he made along with some promising sketches, but there’s no disputing she’s dedicated to being the best goshdarn illustrator she can be, inspired as she is by Shinoaki’s work. This must feel gratifying to Kyouya, as by abandoning that possible future he also feared he undid the good he did for Ayaka’s future.

But then, that’s just his ego talking; the same ego that thought he was singularly, personally responsible for upheaving everyone’s lives, when in reality it was a whole host of variables. It’s the same with Ayaka; she’s going to be alright, especially if the artist she adores continues to draw, as Aki does.

As for Eiko, Kyouya now realizes that she considers herself more than just a friend, creative colleague, and confidant. The future Eiko loved (past-tense) Kyouya, that means this past Eiko is in the process of falling for him, if she hasn’t already. Her blush as she admits she’d drop everything to help him if he was ever in trouble says a lot.

But Kyouya isn’t interested in dating Eiko, at least not at the moment. His primary goal is to undo the damage he did to Tsurayuki’s creative motivation. His confronting Tsurayuki as he exits a theator marks the beginning of his Remake Version 2.0, and even hints at a possible second season (though there hasn’t been any announcement of one, so who knows).

If this is the end, it’s a moderately satisfying one, as it has Kyouya on a sustainable path where he’s aware of his “power” and no longer breathlessly achieving happiness at the cost of others’ success. Even as he’s reverted to a younger version of himself, he’s grown as a person and a friend to these talented people. And so the struggle continues.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Bokutachi no Remake – 11 – You’re Amazing, I Promise!

After having to watch Eiko endure their boss’s sustained verbal abuse, Kyouya storms up to him and tells him How Things Are Going To Be if Eiko’s team, and the company, are going to get out of the hole into which they’ve dug themselves. Each time Kyouya says something the boss objects to or is taken aback by, he has an answer that pacifies him. In the end, he’s able to give Eiko’s team the time, the resources, and the goals they need to start crawling out.

You’ll notice I didn’t get too granular with regards to all the things Kyouya said, and in fact, it’s almost a little unbelievable that he’d have quite so many moves and countermoves all lined up to convince a boss who had seemed quite unmovable from his positions just last week.

But hey, this is Kyouya; this is what he does. As a kind of curtain call, he stops by Minori Ayaka and manages to inspire her into illustrating again by showing her some original art from HaruSora, the game that got her excited about creating to begin with.

It’s the second time HaruSora saved Ayaka from abandoning her life of art, which means if Kyouya hadn’t worked so hard to make it the success it was, Ayaka wouldn’t be an illustrator and this new company wouldn’t have her talent to draw upon. And yet, when Kyouya hears that Eiko is getting on the next flight to Okinawa, he fears he’s Done It Again—pushed someone into giving up their “proper” futures in his desperate efforts to remake his own.

When Eiko finds him quite by chance, she insists she’s not running away, just going on a little trip. But when she hears from Kyouya how he regrets what happened with the other creators, Eiko hastens to tell him none of that is really his fault…after smacking him with her purse a couple of times.

Eiko questions all of the things Kyouya has been feeling so depressed about, telling him he’s done nothing wrong. Eiko is so fired up she even lets slip that she loved him in addition to looking up to him for his steadfast ability to get things done, causing quite a scene in the airport and cementing her position as Best Woman in this series.

Eiko takes a trip to Okinawa anyway, but promises she’ll be back, just as she promised Kyouya that he’s amazing, and doesn’t have to feel bad about how the futures of others have turned out. That said, as her plane departs Kyouya can’t help but pine for the “good old days” of the share house where he resolved and succeeded in remaking his life.

That’s when Tomioka Keiko, who it’s been clear for a while now wasn’t just a short-statured senpai from his school, appears before him, looking the same as she did a decade ago. If she isn’t “God”, she seems to be the entity who has either sent Kyouya back and forth through time or is there to observe and guide him.

Honestly, however the mechanics of his time jumping are explained, I hope it doesn’t take up the majority of the final episode. For me, Bokutachi no Remake was far less about the sci-fi elements and more about the interaction of its characters. I want to at least see some version of the original gang plus Eiko hanging out once more, making creating something new and exciting.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Bokutachi no Remake – 10 – No Stopping the Train

As I mentioned last week, it’s a bit incredulous to say Kyouya hit “rock bottom”. He has a beautiful wife and daughter, a comfortable home, and a good job where he’s relied upon. At some point he’ll need to stop thinking about the past, and alternate future in which people important to him were more important in the world, and start thinking about the people important to him here and now; his family.

Thankfully, this episode addresses that disconnect between how bad things Kyouya perceives things have gone for the others and how good things actually are if he takes a step back. His old life of failure and loneliness is no match for this life; it’s just a matter of what had to happen to the others to make this world. For instance, Aki no longer draws, but now she’s good at cooking, and she takes pride in this.

Meanwhile, his steady hand at the helm has earned his Team B the reputation as a team that can get things done, though they are still dealing with a dearth of illustration work from Minori. When he and Morishita pay her a visit, she’s not expecting them, as she’s changed into black maid cosplay as  “change of pace” only for it not to work.

Minori isn’t slacking, she’s blocked, which is a harder thing to tackle. Kyouya’s suggestion for her to look at more of Shinoaki’s art doesn’t look like it will work, either. Worse, that’s the least of the problems for what is looking like a make-or-break game for Attraction Point, a social media game that is to be released in synch with the company going public.

As a result of the delays piling up due to unreasonable but unmovable deadlines, Team A is working on fumes without sleep; never a good formula for work devoid of errors. An uncharacteristically flailing Eiko is just barely keeping things together, but in a rare lunch with Kyouya admits both her team and the company is “making every possible mistake”.

When Kyouya says she isn’t the Eiko he remembers back at school, and that there’s always a way to figure things out, she tells him he’s the only one who thinks like that anymore. She seems resigned to some kind of failure on some front that will have huge fallout.

Attraction Point has talented teams working on games, but those in charge never gave those teams a fighter’s chance of succeeding, and are only compounding their original mistakes with new bad decisions. Eiko and Kyouya’s boss is constantly yelling at Eiko in front of the overworked and under-rested staff, creating a toxic environment.

Kyouya tries to suggest that the only option is to delay the game, as the consequences of launching a lemon could be catastrophic for the company’s reputation. But the boss digs in: timing is everything, and the release date is set in stone. He believes it will be more harmful to miss that date than release a buggy mess.

And maybe that boss might’ve been right if a freak occurrence of a famous voice actor got a favorable “SSR”. I won’t pretend to fully grasp the technical intricacies of social media games, as I don’t play them, but suffice it to say people started to think the company was playing favorites, and the company bungled their response by blaming bad-faith users, making the PR situation worse.

Bad PR is one thing, but the game is bad too, thanks to the untested internal engine Eiko’s team was forced to use. Delays, apologies abound, while revenue and corporate reputation sinks. The boss and Eiko go at it in front of the teams desperately going at 110%, but the problems and errors keep outpacing them. Kyouya is about to step in and help Eiko, but then remembers what happened when he meddled with Tsurayuki, and stops himself from meddling again.

He got it in his head that “nothing can be done” about any of this, and if he tried, he’d only make things worse. But as fortune would have it, he just so happens to open up a brand-new video clip in which Kogure Nanako, AKA N@NA, announces that she’s not giving up on singing after all. She tells her online audience about someone at school who told her to sing, and credits him with setting her on this path to begin with.

She also faults him for being so supportive and involved that when it came time for her to stand alone, she slacked off, and her art suffered. Even so, she declares that she doesn’t want to be the one who “invalidates” everything he did for her, so she’s going to keep singing. Her memory of what Kyouya did for her was the trigger that puled her out of her creative rut.

Watching this “small salvation” in his “world of failures”, Kyouya too decides to rise up from his desk, slamming it hard for everyone’s attention and stopping the boss’s incessant chewing-out of Eiko, and decides that there actually is something to be done about this horrible broken game situation, and they’re going to figure it out together, damn it!

Again I must take slight issue with Kyouya’s so-called “world of failures” as, being husband to Aki and father to Maki are quite the opposite of failures! But I will grant that this world was seemingly grinding Kyouya’s natural tendency to Do What’s Right and Help His Friends Out When They Need it until his refrain became There’s Nothing that Can Be Done.

I’m glad he managed to pull himself out of that tailspin of apathy, but there’s still no guarantee his meddling will help Eiko; she and the company could be doomed either way. But for Kyouya, not trying to fix the mess they’re in would be even worse. Until all possible avenues have been exhausted, he’s going to keep searching for something to be done.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Kageki Shoujo!! – 10 – Give the People What They Want

Due to various circumstances, a member of one of the four troupe relay race teams cannot run, so the Superiors assign a member of the 100th class as a sub. That class member is Watanabe Sarasa, who at first glance is a ringer due to her impressive height and gait. But as large an honor as the assignment is, Sarasa suddenly becomes a magnet for resentment and envy,

This comes most strongly from Hijiri, from whose 99th class Sarasa leapfrogged over with her ridiculously long legs. Hijiri not only tells Sarasa she’s only special for her height, then insists she “become nothingness itself” to allow the top stars to shine.

Ai, like everyone else, is surprised by how much Hijiri’s ill advice trips up Sarasa, who is downright nervous the night before the festival. Ai tells Sarasa her own lack of nerves in JPX was due to being the center of attention (and particularly male attention) from a young age, and basically developing an A.T. Field to deflect it.

But Ai, already a veteran stage performer, tells Sarasa that what Hijiri proposed isn’t the best method. You can’t be up there pretending to pay attention to the audience, just as you can’t be nothingness itself. Instead, one must always be conscious of what the audience wants, and then find a way to give it to them. That’s what makes top stars. That’s what makes legends.

The day of the festival at Hakusen Grand Hall, the students participate in the opening ceremony, but Hijiri’s shit-stirring campaign has twisted Sarasa up so bad she mimes playing her recorder. Her designated senpai Risa, whom we’ve seen far too little of in recent weeks, knows exactly what that bitch Hijiri is doing and doesn’t like it one bit.

Taking Sarasa aside, Risa spares no measure of cage-rattling, and tells Sarasa to get out of her head and remember the fact that the Superiors picked her. If she can’t understand why, that’s fine, but she at least has to accept that they did it because she was someone worth believing in. Giving up without putting herself out there and doing her absolute best will only make her naysayers angrier…and in any case, fuck the naysayers!

Risa’s own strong big sis pep talk gets an unexpected boost from Winter Top Star Satomi Sei, who gives Sarara a wall slam. Having overheard that Sarasa is most nervous about “being herself”, she invites her to imagine she’s playing the role of herself instead. Sei also delivers a bouquet of roses to the kabuki actor and senpai to Akiya we can be reasonably certain is Sarasa’s biological father.

While the pep talk by Risa and Sei works, Sarasa still overthinks things by getting all caught up in whether playing the role of herself and being herself is different or better. Here Ai comes to the rescue with more sage advice, following up on what she said the night before: be the person you want the audience to think you are: your ideal self.

Hilariously, for Sarasa “ideal” means an E-cup bust so she can properly fit into an Eva-style plug suit (between this and the A.T. Field, KS had some Eva nostalgia this week!). Ai is mortified, but whatever gives Sarasa the confidence to perform—and releases her from Hijiri’s psychological black magic—is just fine!

Unfortunately, in the actual relay race in which Sarasa and Sei are in the same leg, Sei’s teammate loses her grip on the baton and sends it flying. While leaping out to catch it, Sei collides with Sarasa and they both end up on the ground. Suddenly it seems like even if the Superiors didn’t make a mistake by putting a rangy first year on a relay team, the end effect was a fiasco.

Only…that doesn’t happen. In the few seconds she’s on the ground, Sarasa considers the best action to take: get up, run, and win it for her Summer team, or lend a helping hand to Sei. In the end, she gauges what the audience at Hakusen Grand Hall wants, then gives it to them, by staying laid out flat on the floor and letting Winter’s Top Star give her a helping hand up.

The choice proves to be the correct one, as the crowd goes wild watching Sei and Sarasa run their leg while holding hands, and their anchors also finishing the race together. Summer and Winter may have lost the festival, but they won the crowd. That’s the kind of instincts Sarasa naturally possesses; Ai just needed to give her a little push.

While I wish we could have seen a cutaway to Hijiri stewing over Sarasa’s win, it seems her efforts were successfully countered by Risa, Sei, and Ai. I still worry about how Sarasa’s guilelessness will hold up against someone even more obnoxiously evil than Hijiri (if such a human exists), but for now, as long as she has that safety net of people who genuinely love and care for her, Sarasa will be fine. No one needs to fight their fight alone.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Bokutachi no Remake – 09 – The Price of Success

Kyouya has no idea why he’s now in 2018 any more than he knew why he jumped back from 2016 to 2006, but one thing’s certain: it’s not a dream. Aki is his loving wife, Maki is his darling daughter, and he has a job as a troubleshooter for a decent mid-tier game company. He may not want to admit it, but he was successful in remaking his life. He should be happy, and he would be…if only he never found out how he achieved his success.

Despite being suddenly thrust into a new life and job, the details of which he can only guess, Kyouya comports himself well, serving as a troubleshooter and talent whisperer on behalf of Eiko, who is also still in the business. The talent in question is Minori Ayaka, an illustrator with 200k followers, but who has seemed to lost her motivation and passion for drawing. When Kyouya praises a piece of her work that strongly resembles Shinoaki’s style, Ayaka seems to build a new head of steam for her work.

A good day at work, and the realization he’s fortunate to have such a cute wife and daughter, is soured when Kyouya brings up Comiket and asks if Aki will submit anything. The truth is, she hasn’t drawn in years…and the reason is the same as Ayaka: there was “nothing she wanted to draw anymore.” That’s now two members of the Platinum Generation from his original timeline who are now completely out of the creative world.

While having lunch with Eiko, Kyouya realizes she’s much the same, only even she seems to have suffered due to his success: she’s working at a smaller company in a lower-ranking position than his original timeline. He also learns that Nanako’s last song online has less than 2,000 views and she’s decided to retire from singing, stating she “doesn’t know what she’s singing for.” I half-expected Tsurayuki to show up as a doctor on Google, but all Kyouya finds is some blog entries.

Learning that by directing HaruSora with the Platinum Generaion, he inadvertently ruined their futures as creatives by sapping their creativity and passion for a greater commercial good, Kyouya is understandably beside himself. He gets completely boiled, lands in a literal pile of garbage, than stumbles home where his wife and young daughter have to console his tears. Knowing what lives Aki, Nanako, Tsurayuki, and Eiko would have lived without his interference, he can’t accept the lives they live now.

And yet, IMO, that’s exactly what he should do. BnR has not shed one single diode of light on the precise supernatural mechanism that shot Kyouya back ten years or forward eleven. Kyouya did what he thought was best, and while he did get a bit caught up in wanting to make something with the creatives who would end up celebrities in his present, he had absolutely no idea the damage he’d do.

Add on top of that the fact that everyone in this timeline has most likely moved on, and all he does by bringing it up is reopen old and long-healed wounds. While it’s sad that Nanako is quitting singing, she’ll be fine. Tsurayuki, who comes from money, will be fine. Aki, who has Kyouya and Maki, will be fine. In exchange, Kyouya got a second chance with his past, did something admirable with it, and now has a loving family and solid career. Maybe he needs to be fine too.

Kageki Shoujo!! – 09 – A Beautiful Frame

Even Kouka has a sports festival, and every ten years it’s a grand sports festival; since this will be the centennial festival it’s even more significant. For instance, Kouka’s “Superiors” will be heavily involved in the festivities.

Since Ai, like us, has no idea what that meants, Sawa helpfully explains they’re venerable veteran actresses who don’t belong to any one troupe and enjoy a higher rank than top stars and troupe leads. They are the creme de la creme, and the episode really sells that fact.

That said, the four top otoko-yaku in one room is a pretty awe-inspiring sight too. These ladies are very, very good at portraying men and boys, and the first years are understandably starstruck; Sawa even bleeds from the nose at the sight of them.

The four are not just there to look handsome and get fawned upon. Just as their individual troupes compete for the most and most passionate fanbases, they’re equally passionate rivals in the sports festival. Each of them intends to win and beat the others.

At one point Sawa needs some scissors, so Sarasa voluntters to grab some from the faculty lounge. There, she encounters Andou-sensei for the first time since he basically told her to forget everything she knew about acting to that point and start over.

I love how Sarasa shows Andou what he was hoping for: that she wasn’t going to let harsh but true criticism keep her down in the dumps forever. After summer break that fleeting disappointment is in her rearview mirror. She’s back and ready to put in the work.

Back in episode 6 I mentioned my wish to learn more about the Sawada Twins, Chika and Chiaki. The remainder of this episode grants my wish and then some, delivering what I believe to be one of the most beautiful and realistic depictions of the unique issues that befall twins; namely the realization they’re not the same.

Chika, the “darker” twin, resents when Chiaki easily befriends one of the Superiors, Mirai—whom we later learn was the top star that inspired them as children to become Kouka actresses. When Mirai mistakes Chika for Chiaki and calls her “Juliet”, Chika ignores her and walks away.

It’s Chiaki who later gets in trouble with Mirai when she next sees her, ruining the good vibes of the rehearsals….but Chika, the real culprit, keeps quiet. Ultimately it’s Sarasa and her good hearing who clears up the mix-up.

That night, the twin sisters have a fight that quickly grows in nastiness, with Chika spewing most of the venom. Later we’ll learn it’s the first time they’ve fought. Now Chiaki moves out of the dorm room they share, switching places with Sarasa.

As we’d expect, Ai neither knows how nor tries to get Chiaki to open up, but Sarasa and Chika are a different story. We learn that the two did everything together and even walked in lockstep, but when they both applied for Kouka and only Chika got in, that suddenly ended their run of identicalness.

Rather than attend as was her right, Chika felt bad for Chiaki, who wasn’t eating or sleeping and didn’t leave their room, and as her twin knew the only way to console her was to turn down her acceptance and try again with her sister next year.

That pulled Chiaki out of her emotional nosedive, but it came as a cost: the twins were always going to be out of balance due to Chika’s sacrifice, which is both something she decided on her own to do and something she felt she was obligated to do, out of loyalty to her twin. She chose blood over fame.

But that resentment lingered, and festered, and caused Chika to become someone who’d pass up opportunities again and again for Chiaki’s sake. She felt she couldn’t do things for her sake and eventually came to hate Chiaki for it.

When Chika gets the opportunity to apologize to Mirai for her rudeness, she explains the dark thoughts that had overcome her, and Mirai understands. Jealous befalls us all, but the key is to turn it into ambition, and not let it twist us into self-destructive choices.

Rather than be a haughty Superior, Mirai comforts her junior like a mother would comfort a daughter, assuring her that her desire to apologize and make up with Chika means she’s a good person, and this bad experience will ultimately make her stronger person.

I’m not an identical twin, so I can’t imagine how scary and lonely it feels to them when they come upon a “fork in the road” past which they won’t be the same in everything. That fork came earlier than they expected; the mere fact they had to expect it would happen really speaks to that unique turmoil.

Part of Chika was just as apprehensive about taking off ahead of Chiaki on her side that fork in the road as Chiaki was about getting left behind. The two have accepted that they can’t be the same anymore, but they’re not ready to drift apart forever, either.

There’s potential in the Kouka Revue for twin roles, and Mirai, now friends with both twins, tells them they can realize that potential if they become popular enough. Nothing in Kouka comes easily; it takes blood, sweat, and tears. But the Superiors, and the Top Stars below them, embody what you get for all that hard work: a kind of apotheosis and immortality. Chika and Chiaki could be Kouka’s Apollo and Artemis…or twin Juliets.

Kageki Shoujo!! – 08 – The Bus Stop by the Sea

Back at school after summer break, Hoshino Kaoru is sporting a new super-short hairstyle, in keeping with her goal to become an otoko-yaku, but soon  scolds Sarasa and Ai for allowing themselves to get a tan. Flashback to a formative summer in Kaoru’s life: the summer before her third year of high school, her last chance to get into Kouka…and when she fell in love for the first time.

Kaoru walking on sunny days with an umbrella was derided by some, not only was it odd behavior, but also presumptuous to those who knew her pedigree. While using a bus stop to the hospital to visit her gran (recovering from surgery), she encounters Tsuji Rikuto, the younger brother of a famous rising star of baseball.

Since his gran is so into the Kouka Revue and he overheard from mean girls of Kaoru’s relation, Rikuto works up the courage to ask her about the troupe, but is interrupted by another girl in love with his brother to give him her love letter. He refuses, and shortly thereafter, Kaoru tells him her name.

At first, Rikuto thinks she’s another girl trying to get closer to his bro through him, but she quickly clears that up by telling him about the expectations being the daughter of a Kouka actress and granddaughter of a top star, and he gets it; they’re like kindred spirits.

Of the two, Kaoru is the one more keen to fight against those who would define them by their more accomplished relations, and it’s her texts to him encouraging him to be himself and not worry about being compared that causes an uptick in Rikuto’s baseball play.

Their bus stop encounters and bus rides soon become something both look forward to, such that Kaoru starts visiting her gran more so she can also see Rikuto. She confides in him how she’d never be somebody to say “I’m getting in” knowing how hard it really is (Sarasa doesn’t have that problem). Kaoru is all about the hard work, right down to covering up in the sun to avoid getting tanned.

When she shows off the skirt she’s wearing, eager to wear as many as she can before she gets into wearing men’s clothes when she’s an otoko-yaku, Rikuto is sure that even if she had a mustache she’d be pretty. It’s the first time a boy ever called her pretty, and she wasn’t prepared for how happy it made her.

Rikuto eventually asks Kaoru out to the fireworks festival marking the end of summer; unaware that it would also mark the end of their brief, cozy romance. Before meeting him there, his grandmother assures her she doesn’t have to keep trying to become a Kouka actress if she doesn’t want to.

Kaoru isn’t about to tell her still-recovering gran that she’s full of shit, but she’s still down in the dumps when she meets Rikuto. For a time, him complimenting her yukata catching her when she’s pushed by some kids, and holding her hand is enough to soothe her troubled heart.

But then she asks why Rikuto seems so down, and he tells her that he’s questioning what the point of forcing himself to follow in his brother’s footsteps and fulfill everyone’s expectations of him…then he says he’s sure Kaoru thinks the same way all the time.

Kaoru…does not. Like her gran, and practically everyone else in her life, Rikuto doesn’t understand her after all; that this is precisely the path she chose to walk and she’s never questioned why she was walking it. She’s not trying to get into Kouka for anyone other than herself.

As she runs away from Rikuto in tears, she calls herself stupid for feeling jealous of the “typical high school girl’s life”, including having a boy worry about her and cheer her up. She runs along the beach singing a song, her voice wavering from her flowing tears, but eventually her voice clears as heartbreak turns into iron determination.

She swears to herself she’s going to make it. The normal life isn’t for her. She’s bound for the world of dreams and glamour.

While she intends to make a clean break by blocking Rikuto on her phone, his team actually makes it to the Koshien prelim final, and he just so happens to hit a game-winning pinch-hit home run as Kaoru is walking past a TV in the window broadcasting his game.

Despite knowing nothing about baseball (except what he taught her), and how things turned out at the fireworks festival, Kaoru is still happy Rikuto got to play, and win. Seeing him succeed on TV showed her that he didn’t give up on his path after questioning the point of it all, and after he incorrectly assumed her motives for walking hers.

She still never went back to that seaside bus stop, but it reappears again at Kouka of all places, when Sarasa sees it going viral on social media. Some mystery person left a note on the wall of the stop saying he didn’t give up and thanking another mystery person. Being a hopeless romantic, this kind of thing is right up Sarasa’s alley.

As the newly-shorn Kaoru examines the picture, she smiles knowingly and blushes ever so slightly. Of the thousands sharing that picture, only she and Rikuto know who it’s for and what it means, just like only they know what they want to do in life and are going to go after it with everything they can.

Hoshino Kaoru closes this incredibly moving portrait of her character the way one would close an epic romantic movie: by saying that when she gets to walk out on that Silver Bridge, she’ll save Rikuto “a primo seat in the SS section”…and maybe even say she was in love with him one bright, beautiful summer.

The perfect parting shot of the two having fun at the bus stop by the sea, at the height of that summer and the height of their love, was a thing of exquisite bittersweet beauty—as was the closing theme as sung by Kaoru ‘s seiyu Taichi You. And just like that, I’m in love with yet another character in this show, along with Sarasa, Ai, and Ayako.

GODDAMN TEARJERKER™ CERTIFIED

Kageki Shoujo!! – 07 – The Curse of “Never”

Summer Break is upon Kouka’s hundredth class, but Ai’s version of giddiness over getting to spend it at Sarasa’s is somewhat tempered by how the semester ended: with Sarasa taking a major hit from Andou-sensei. As I suspected, perfect replication of other actors isn’t going to cut it if you’re going to be a Top Star in the Kouka Revue. This doesn’t mesh with what Sarasa learned about kabuki growing up, where succeeding generations of actors do their best to embody their predecessors as closely as possible.

But that’s Kabuki; and this is Kouka. Sarasa and Ai also get a little education on Andou-sensei and why he’s nicknamed “Phantom”, courtesy of the two top Kouka stars who happened to be seated in the row ahead of them! Apparently Andou was an esteemed actor with a musical troupe, most famous for his Phantom of the Opera, but due to a stage accident he had to retire, and decided to teach instead.

I’m glad he did, because as I said, as painful as it was to see Sarasa’s reaction and ensuing gloom, she was straying from the path to Lady Oscar, and needed a course correction. Fortunately, there’s plenty of family and friends waiting for Sarasa to take her mind off being “Sara-sad”, if only temporarily.

Ai insists on sitting formally for the duration of the gathering downstairs, even though she’s mostly ignored and suffering the agony needlessly (gramps told her to sit however she likes). Then Sarasa then goes to see her grandma at her grave, suggesting Ai can hang with the cat while she’s gone.

Of course, we know even when Sarasa and Ai don’t that it’s not just the cat waiting in her room, but Akiya. Ai, who is not good with people, comes off as curt with Akiya, who misinterprets it as intentional rudeness, but when Ai profusely apologizes and hides behind a wall, Akiya’s stance softens.

When asked about his “girlfriend” Sarasa, all he’ll tell Ai is that they were childhood friends since forever, and they took traditional dance classes together. Fortunately, we get to learn a lot more about both Sarasa and Akiya’s past, and Sarasa comes out even more amazing for having enduring what she had to endure.

Basically, the famous kabuki actor Kouzaburou was always very close to Sarasa, so much so that rumors floated around of her being his illegitimate daughter. Illegitimate or not, had she been a boy, she would have been the heir apparent to the venerable Shirakawa Kaou name…which Akiya is expected to assume instead. He’s far more loosely related, but he’s a boy.

It didn’t help matters for Akiya that while he liked Sarasa a lot for her strength and cheerfulness, she also happened to be a better natural talent than him when it came to Kabuki. Unfortunately, Sarasa was never sat down and told that grown women aren’t allowed to perform Kabuki.

That said, when another actor is ill, Sarasa is chosen to fill in during a performance of Sukeroku, since she memorized all the lines and movements (even back then, she was amazing). Young girls are allowed to perform, so there was no problem.

But while performing beside her, Akiya could tell how goddamn good Sarasa was, and how goddamn unfair it was that Sarasa’s Kabuki career would reach a harsh dead end due to tradition. After the performance, he first hears the rumor that Sarasa is related to Kouzaburou, which he shares with his mom/grandma/aunt/guardian (I forget her exact relation to him).

Tossing that pebble in the pond causes all kinds of drama, including his mom* chewing out poor Sarasa at the front door, telling her for the first time she’ll “never” be able to be something—in this case, Sukeroku. As soon as Sarasa runs off crying she’s immediately ashamed and regretful, but the damage is done.

Sarasa’s gramps comes to Kouzaburou’s house and chews him out for traumatizing Sarasa, and declares that she’ll have nothing to do with him or Kabuki ever again. That said, gramps softens considerably upon seeing a scared Akiya in the hall, and asks him if he’ll continue being Sarasa’s friend. He’s only cutting her off from Kabuki, he says.

Shortly after Sarasa stopped coming to dance classes, her grandma died, and Akiya and Kaou pay their respects from a distance. When Akiya sees Sarasa’s raw eyes, he starts to cry too…and Kaou tells him to hold on to the pain…it will make him a better actor.

Fast-forward to the present, and Akiya and Sarasa remain friends despite having been kinda-sorta rivals in the past. The rivalry never happened because the institution of Kabuki never let it. I’d say it’s for the best, since I have every confidence Sarasa will be okay in Kouka, but if ever there was going to be a first woman kabuki actor, it would be her!

After giving Sarasa her present of another bizarre figurine she’s super excited about (which is also see-through, for reasons), he also invites both Sarasa and Ai to a performance of Sukeroku he’ll be in. He already got clearance from her gramps.

That night, Ai learns about Sarasa’s performance in Sukeroku when she was only six. The two girls are transported into space as Sarasa beautifully, poetically describes what it was like being on that stage, feeling the audience like heat on her skin, feeling like the stage was a different world; feeling she had transformed into someone else.

It was clearly one of the most amazing moments of her life, making it doubly tragic that she was later deprived of pursuing a future there despite how much she loved it and how good she was. Even so, hearing Sarasa’s words makes Ai want to go see Sukeroku with Sarasa all the more, if only to catch a glimpse of the stage Sarasa once stood upon.

During the performance, Ai notices Sarasa crying, and isn’t sure whether it’s due to fond memories or “something else entirely.” Uh, why not both? From there, the episode abruptly cuts to the train platform where Sarasa and Ai are heading home. Akiya gives Sarasa some words of support and assurance from his heart.

He reminds her they’ve only just started down their paths; it’s okay to lose sight of what they want sometimes; and all they can do is keep moving forward. Sarasa still wants to play Lady Oscar, and she’s going to make it happen—”nevers” be damned!

She also wants Akiya to play Sukeroku. After a firm handshake (throwing Ai off a bit, as she assumed they’d at least hug), the two part ways, both feeling better than before they’d seen each other. They may not be a lovey-dovey couple, but they’re a couple where it matters.

Kageki Shoujo!! – 06 – Such Sins Shall Not Be Endured

The 100th Class is restless. For four months they’ve been subjected to basics basics basics when each of them are anything but. They’re fed up of boring lessons…they want to ACT. Sarasa, never one to shy away from making her thoughts known, whatever they may be, airs the united class’s grievance to Andou-sensei.

He seems miffed by her impression of her, even though everyone agrees it’s as spot-on as her impressions of all the other teachers. They wonder if it’s because it’s so good that it struck a nerve. Such is Sarasa’s performative power.

Oh, it’s also Sarasa’s 16th birthday! Akiya’s older kabuki kolleague took the liberty of delivering sixteen roses to Sarasa under an alias, living as he is vicariously through Akiya and Sarasa’s chaste, minimalist long-distance relationship. But Ai isn’t going to lose to some “frog bot”; so she plays and plays the store lottery until she wins a figurine she knows Sarasa will cherish.

She also uses the opportunity to try to call Sarasa by her first name instead of “Sara…Watanabe-san”, and when prompted by Sarasa herself to do so, Ai is finally able to do it. More than by the figurine, Sarasa is made happiest by seeing her first name in Ai’s handwriting and hearing it in Ai’s voice. I love these two so much it hurts.

I could honestly deal quite well with a Kageki Shoujo!! that’s nothing but Sarasa and Ai hanging out and gradually becoming closer, but we’ve got a whole ensemble to cover here, and the results of spreading the love across multiple Kouka students isn’t bad either!

This week focuses on the other members of Sarasa and Ai’s Group E, who along with the other groups have two weeks to prepare to do a scene from Romeo & Juliet. Rock Paper Scissors is used to determine who plays what role, resulting in the suboptimal pairing of Hoshino Kaoru’s Romeo with Ai’s Juliet. Sarasa has to play the much darker Tybalt.

The role of Juliet was really won by Chika, one of the Sawada twins, but she decides to be the lesser role of Juliet’s nurse, later seeing her sister Chiaki claim the role with giddy elation. Is Chika less ambitious than Chiaki, or is she simply trying to differentiate herself from her sister in order to shine on her own? The twins have just been background noise until now, so I’m looking forward to them getting a bit more fleshed out.

Kaoru, whom I’d forgotten wishes to be a otoko-yaku like Sarasa, does not surrender Romeo to Sarasa. Instead, she takes Group E firmly by the reins and does not spare the whip. She harshly criticizes both Sarasa and Ai for seemingly not giving it their all, then finally snaps at Sarasa for daring to propose they practice on the sidewalk like common street performers.

As with Ayako last week, Ai sees a member of JPX in Kaoru, specifically the leader, who was always angry and never satisfied. She also learns why from the other girls; both of the previous generations of Hoshino women were Kouka performers. Ai bridges the gap between her and Kaoru by acknowledging the pressure Kaoru is under, while also admitting something she deems to be shameful and almost disqualifying for a Kouka actress.

Due to all of her years performing from a young age, she never properly learned to read kanji. Ai tells Kaoru there’s nothing wrong with her having a short fuse or being tough on them; if she’s not tough on them, Group E will fail. And if Kaoru doesn’t want to be the bad guy of the group, they’ll also fail!

Speaking of bad guys, Sarasa has zero experience embodying characters like Tybalt, but while she sucks at reading a script, watching a Blu-Ray of Romeo & Juliet is another thing entirely. She absorbs every moment of the performances on the screen, and the shape and color of every line, like a very tall, very efficient sponge. And lest you think I’m being harsh on Sarasa, I hold living sponges in high regard! We should all wish to live such an elegant existence!

When the time comes for the first-ever Great “Let First-Years Act” Experiment, Andou chooses Group E to go first. As they perform in their tracksuits on a rehearsal stage, the audience (including us) are transported to the fully-dressed performance stage, complete with lighting and costumes. This is a nice stylistic touch.

Kaoru makes a good Romeo, but Andou can see her gaze is uneven, indicating she’s distracted and letting her self intrude on her performance. Chika flubs a line by repeating it, but after a momentary breakdown, remembers Ai’s words about them continuing to the end even if they mess up, and improvises a great save. Ai isn’t bringing true love to the performance (because Sarasa is her true Romeo), and she’s also doing what she was trained to do as an idol: performing to an audience of one. A Kouka actress must perform for everyone.

Then Tybalt takes the stage, and we finally see why Kaoru said what she said earlier about people normally improving gradually. Sarasa isn’t normal. After watching the video, once, she manages to serve up a perfect performance of Tybalt, causing her classmates to audibly gasp in unison. Andou is also impressed by the way Sarasa stands, locks her gaze high as if she were performing to a packed Kouka theatre crowd of 2,500. It is stirring, but in the end, it’s too perfect.

In his critique of Group E, Andou-sensei tells Sarasa flat-out that she will never be a top star of Kouka…not unless she changes. As I am prepared to give my life to defend Sarasa’s smile (not to mention Ai’s), it’s here where I must apply Tybalt’s line “Such sins shall not be endured” and “He is naught but a villain” to Andou-sensei. He is a villain whose sin was turning Sarasa’s smile into a look of pained bewilderment. Curse him!

But here’s the thing…he’s absolutely right, and Sarasa needed to hear his harsh words sooner rather than later, because she wasn’t really acting on that rehearsal stage, she was mimicking what she saw—down to the last precise detail. That is an impressive talent, foreshadowed when she did impressions of the other teachers, but it isn’t acting. Sarasa can’t be a top star of Kouka by simply perfectly replicating what she’s seen and heard. At least, that’s what I think Andou-sensei is on about.

Sarasa will have to change. She may even have to forget everything she knows about performing and start over from scratch. Her friend Ai will be there for her, as will the other girls of Kouka. After all, if there’s one person they want to see on stage more than the Sarasa they’ve already seen, it’s the future Sarasa who has mastered how to deliver performances all her own. I know Ai wants to see that Sarasa, and I do too!

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