Kamisama Hajimemashita 2 – 05

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Nanami and Tomoe weren’t actualy apart that long these last two episodes, but as Nanami remarks, the netherworld had a way of skewing time, making it seem like far more than four days of separation, for her as well as me. Now Tomoe is a yokai again, and in prison. Is it Nanami’s turn to save him?

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Well…he asks for space, insisting it’s his decision whether to become her familiar again. And in his yokai form, he’s a bit of a short fuse, so Nanami gives him that space and tries to focus on work as Tomoe sulks in the dark. But in fine dysfunctional courtship form, both of them can think of nothing but the other, as if they had cast spells on one another.

Mizuki tells Tomoe his feelings for Nanami won’t go away just because he’s no longer contracted with her. So what does Tomoe do? Break into her room at night and contract with her, with the customary kiss, and boom, just like that, the Tomoe Yokai Experiment is resolved.

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The fact that a contract or lack of same had no effect on his feelings for her has a profound effect on Tomoe. It occurs to him he has fallen for her, but he can’t help but express that fall by yelling, scolding, bullying, and teasing. Matters aren’t helped by the fact that Nanami reiterates her love for him, but knows he’s not interested in her in that way at all. If he wasn’t, things would be much easier.

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Just when you think he’s realized he’s gone too far and comforts her, he follows it up by trying to strip her! In any case, this is a classic case of someone reflexively taking their romantic frustration out on the very object of their affection.

Tomoe doesn’t like himself in this state anymore than Nanami does. But once the Divine Assembly officially concludes with a big divine party, Tomoe is able to be civil and even debonair as her escort. Then Nanami chases a familiar butterfly that leads her to Mikage.

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Nanami’s duties at the diving assembly, which she was performing in Mikage’s stead, involved distributing strings of destiny to and fro with the other gods, deciding who will be matched with whom in the mundane world. What Nanami didn’t know is that a similar string connects her and Tomoe; a pairing facilitated explicitly by Mikage himself.

He knows Tomoe better than anyone else in any dimension. And so Mikage knows—and it has been confirmed time and again to us by Tomoe’s behavior towards Nanami—that Tomoe believes humans to frail and fleeting in their existence to devote his full soul to. He had done so once before with Yukiji, who passed away while he lingered. Human and yokai relationships are taboo because of the vast difference in lifespans.

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Mikage brought Nanami to Tomoe to teach him that humans aren’t weak. Nanami was cast away by her family and gone through innumerable hardships, but never gives up, never hesitates to help others, and never fails to flash a big adorable smile when Tomoe is around…and not acting like a dick.

Mikage’s aim was to “rekindle Tomoe’s bond with humanity”, by choosing Nanami, taboo be damned. But while Nanami and Tomoe have yet to figure out how such a thing will work, but the fact he came back to and contracted with her unbidden by anything other than his love for her, proves there’s is no shortage of sparks at the heart of that kindling.

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Kamisama Hajimemashita 2 – 04

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Nanami is given a warm welcome in the Netherworld (and a tray of food she can’t eat if she wants to leave), but her host Lady Izunami makes it clear as crystal that she’s not taking the human back with her; he’s already dead. Nanami’s response: thems may be the rules, but she won’t accept them. She’s going to do everything she can to get out of here with Kirihito. To that end, she eats the food, making her an official resident with free roam.

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It’s yet another selfless act by the benevolent Nanami, but the fact remains she knows not who (or what) it is she’s sticking her neck out to save. That’s what makes Nanami such a promising god: she doesn’t care who or what he is; she’s going to save him, and that’s that.

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As she searches for him, Kirihito finds himself back in a darkness similar to the kind he found himself in for centuries after the gods cast him into it, after he had probably made such a nuisance of himself that he gave them no choice (what with all the murdering). We learn how he got his human body: the real Kirihito offered it to him in exchange for delivering a message to his mother.

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In spite of himself (he only agrees on a whim), Akura-oh is so floored by being back in the living world of light and warmth, he holds up his end of the bargain, apologizing on Kirihito’s behalf. Not surprisingly, Kirihito’s mom, who has no reason to suspect the boy in the hospital bed is anything other than her son, doesn’t give it a second thought. All that matters to her is that he’s okay.

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Unfortunately, Kirihito’s ‘goodness’ doesn’t end up rubbing off on Akura-oh, who spends his time working tirelessly at the very limits of what a human is capable of doing to get his old form back, including gaining shikigami. But now he’s back in the darkness, right on the edge of panic…when Nanami suddenly opens the door to the cell where he’s being held.

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Turns out Nanami is on a confidence streak, and her talismans are proving useful not only in finding Kirihito, but the Netherworld’s exit as well, which is good, because Izunami sends her cat familiar after them. Unfortunately, the War God has sealed that exit. Fortunately, Tomoe has learned that Nanami is lost in the netherworld, and has come to rescue her.

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And rescue her he does, but not before Kotetsu hits him with the shrine’s lucky mallet, turning him back into a yokai so he can overpower the war god (which he’d have never been able to do had he remained a familiar). On the one side, I’m a little bummed, Nanami couldn’t save herself here, but on the other, she did put her life on the line to save Kirihito—more than once. She did good. Along with Kirihito waking up in the hospital (a recurring scene this Winter), Nanami and Tomoe’s reunion is a heart-lifting moment.

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That leaves Kirihito, whom Nanami hadn’t really thought much of beyond being a human in need of her help, but whom Tomoe immediately knows is not a human, but something else in a dead human’s body. Kirihito realizes pretty early his old fox friend Tomoe is Nanami’s familiar, and even gets to lay eyes on him before passing out. I wonder how long he’ll keep his true identity from Tomoe, who is now a yokai again.

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Kamisama Hajimemashita 2 – 03

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Nanami arrives at the Divine Assembly and actually stands her ground against the War God, who then threatens to kill her, until the host, bishonen Lord Okuninushi, intervenes, and sets Nanami on her next adventure immediately.

That’s right, just when we thought we were going to get into the nitty-gritty of divine politics (or at least partying), Nanami is sent off on a mission no other god has the nose for. Nanami seems to get that Okuninushi is almost looking down on her by offering this job, but she accepts it anyway, in exchange for his assistance in locating Mikage. I guess she’s learning the politics after all!

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The job involves clearing out the yokai who take advantage of the mass god absence to stir up trouble around Yomotsu Hirasaka, the entrance to the Netherworld. Kirihito (the wan lad Nanami met in the park) happens to be there, strong-arming some lesser yokai small fry into doing his bidding, when he’s shoved into the entrance, which is bad, since humans start to decay as soon as they near the gate, let along pass through it.

Nanami, believing him a victim of the yokai, plunges in and saves him, reasonably confident that she’ll survive since she’s a human god…but really having no idea what will happen. But that’s Nanami: quick to risk her life for a stranger.

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Meanwhile, Tomoe is utterly depresed and lonely with Nanami gone, and decides to drown his sorrows in sake at the local tanuki brothel. That’s right, I said tanuki brothel. Where else would a fox go to get into a little straaange?

Just one casual rumor by one of the girls sets a Dark Tomoe backstory into motion, as their madam once apprenticed at another brothel where Tomoe and his traveling companion Akura-oh once paid a visit.

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Akura-oh arrived first…and then slaughtered everyone there. The madam, only a child, managed to escape outside, where Tomoe found her and deigned to let her go. It was an act of kindness she never forgot…even though it was six centuries ago.

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To repay him for that kindness, the girl (named Mizutama) who would become the madam often kept Tomoe company, including the two decades between Mikage leaving and Nanami appearing. What Mizutama is, then, is the woman where Tomoe sought comfort and companionship in between masters.

It’s sudden trips off the main road like this that really add a vibrancy and warmth to this world, warmth Tomoe also found with Mikage, Mizutama, and now Nanami.

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The fact that a Nanami recalls him to the shrine in a dream turns out to be merely Kotetsu in Nanami cosplay, and the school P.A. announcement-like (complete with chime!) letter from Nanami tug Tomoe roughly back into the here and now.

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Back in the Netherworld, it takes a full sixty seconds before Nanami’s about to eat a dumpling offered by yokai that would keep her from ever leaving. Fortunately for her Kirihito knows the ways of this place…though she can’t fathom how, considering he’s a human who shouldn’t even be alive here.

The shots above show the pure variety of ways Nanami is drawn depending on the situation. I must say I’ve really missed her expressiveness and spunk.

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Of course, I’ve also kinda figured out that Kirihito is really Akura-oh in a human body. I don’t think it was meant to be hard to figure out, as among other similarities, both are voiced by Suwabe Junichi. But while I know Nanami can take care of herself in a pinch, I would still feel much better when she’s out of that creepy Netherworld and no longer along with this sketchy guy!

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Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun – 05

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Nozaki gives his apartment a thorough cleaning for his extremely curt editor, Miyamae. Chiyo doesn’t think the editor likes Nozaki at all, but Nozaki is totally in love with the guy for the punctual and straightforward nature of their communication. We learn why Nozaki feels this way in an episode that explores the mangaka-editor relationship, which can be a treacherous sea.

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Nozaki has been scarred by his previous editor, Maeno (whose name means “previous”): who always suggested and took credit for obvious ideas Nozaki had either already come up with, or ones he hates. After a subtly manipulative, self-important boob like Maeno, Miyamae seems pretty darn “cool and mature”, as Nozaki describes him.

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Nozaki is also troubled by the fact his neighbor and fellow mangaka—the beautiful college student Miyako Yukari—is still suffering under the affable boot heel of Maeno, who forces her to put random tanukis in everything she draws, regardless of genre (her apartment is also full of the things). The website set up ostensibly for artists’ benefit is full of posts of him describing what he’s wearing or abusing Miyako’s manuscript.

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Miyako should get mad—indeed, when Maeno shows up unannounced and teases Nozaki, Nozaki very nearly hulks up—but she doesn’t. Such is the insufferable, inscrutable power of Maeno, something Nozaki is very glad to be (mostly) rid of. From there, Nozaki receives criticism from Miyamae that he isn’t revealing enough of Mamiko’s emotions to the reader. Believing the only way to understand Mamiko is to become Mamiko, Nozaki decides to do just that.

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The results are unsurprisingly hilarious, though not as over-the-top as you’d think. He makes a bunch of bentos to give to friends to try to capture Mamiko’s feelings, but ends up conjuring a somewhat sinister Mamiko. He also tries to understand what it’s like to have girls for enemies. In an inspired choice, he does this by speeding Kashima around on a hand cart; her hordes of worshipers in hot pursuit.

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The chase sequence is a hilarious peace of physical comedy, and the little moment the “spurned” Kashima has with Hori afterward is pretty cute as well. Ultimately all of Nozaki’s research only leads to an even more confusing, unrealistic version of Mamiko that further frustrates Miyamae. Even so, it was neat to watch the creative process in action.

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Uchouten Kazoku – 09

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At the tanuki gathering at a shrine for the two Nise-emon candidates to confer with the “Center Stone”, the Ebisugawas block the Shimogamo’s way, but eventually let them through. The scheduled Kurama tengu witness is unavailable, so Yasaburou is conscripted to convince Professor Akadama, and barely manages to do so. Later, on the near-eve of the election, Yasaburou encounters Kaisei at the bathhouse. She doesn’t think Yaichiro will win, and warns caution, while also offering a cryptic apology.

This episode moved the Nise-emon election plotline forward, but more importantly, holy crap, we finally see KEISEI! The reveal is tantalizingly slow and deliberate, starting with obscured shots that don’t show her face, and then there she is, in the bath of all places, where we can finally put a face to the voice of the girl stuck between two feuding families (though Yasaburou still can’t see her) She acknowledges her brothers are jackasses, but also makes an effort to defend them from insults. She also looks down on Yaichirou as Shimogamo’s nominee for Nise-emon.

We were thinking this isn’t just politically prudent for an Ebisugawa to not like him, but because she might actually think Yasaburo would be the better choice. We know when Kaisei says he “doesn’t have what it takes,” we know it, because Yaichirou only inherited one part of Soichirou, and is missing the others. But then, so is Yasaburou, and as lovely as a match as Kaisei and Yasaburou were, there would be no guarantee their marriage would have repaired the rift between the families, any more than So’s brother Soun’s marriage did. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea.

9_superiorRating: 9 (Superior)

Stray Observations:

  • We enjoyed scene with the swarm of tanukis keeping their distance in half-sincere deference and fear from a stubborn Akadama, Yasaburou’s deft handling of him was also impressive.
  • In that scene, Yasaburou learns his father couldn’t transform around Benten.
  • We want a Yuzu bath…
  • Kaisei’s character design is suitably elegant and cute, and the whole tit-for-tat over-the-wall conversation with Yasaburou was lovely to behold.
  • A Yashirou-lit Christmas tree and fried chicken with the family…nothing better than that.

Uchouten Kazoku – 07

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Yaichirou, Yasaburou, and Yashirou drag Akadama to the bathhouse to clean himself up. The Ebisugawa Elite Guard barges in and Yaichirou is confronted by Kinkaku and Ginkaku, who want him to drop out of the race for Nise-emon. If he doesn’t, they’ll use their ace-in-the-hole to seal Ebisugawa’s victory: information that Soichirou got extremely drunk with Yajirou the night before he was boiled in a hot pot. Yaichiruo disperses the twins and rushes to confront Yajirou in his well, who admits that he got wasted with dad and left him behind, and ultimately to his doom.

All the strife and uncertainty swirling around the wounded Shimogamo family can all be traced back to the sudden boiling of their patriarch in a hot pot, and the mystery of how such a great tanuki ended up meeting such an ignoble fate. This week that mystery is revealed to Yaichirou and Yasaburou, and the truth they get stings all the more because it comes first from their feuding relatives, not Yajirou. Instead of ever telling them what happened after he stumbled home and passed out, Yajirou became a frog and never changed back, shedding his tanuki existence and all the baggage that comes with it.

Last week Yasaburou learned more about how his father faced his demise from the guy who ate him, but his father would have never even ended up in that cage had he not gotten drunk with Yajirou. It could be argued Soichirou died before Yaichirou was fully prepared to succeed him. Now Yaichirou’s election as Nise-emon on his own merits is threatened by the scandal the Ebisugawas will use as ammunition. Knowing how dearly his mistake cost him and his family, no one can blame Yajirou for preferring to live in the bottom of a well. Not for his sake – even as a frog he can’t escape his guilt – but for everyone else’s, taking himself out of the game lest he make another costly mistake.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Uchoten Kazoku – 03

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With the Gozan Fire Festival coming up, Yaichiro asks Yasaburou to procure a leisure cruiser. Knowing Akadama has an flying “inner parlor”, he and Yashirou pay him a visit, but tells them he’s given it to Benten. They travel to a sunken clock tower where she is relaxing. Though the Ebisugawa twins already tried to bribe her into staying out of the tanuki feud, she decides to lend it to Yasaburou anyway, then summon a storm and grab a whale’s tail.

When the Shimgamo tanukis pilot a leisure cruiser in the sky during the Gozan Fire Festival, they’re not necessarily doing it to honor the memory of their ancestors, they’re doing it because they want to throw a huge party, and “that’s what tanukis do.” Yasaburou calls this an effect of what he calls their “idiot blood,” something they can’t control and must obey because it’s a part of what they are. To do so, though, they need a cruiser to replace the one they lost, and the mission to find one occupies Yasaburou and his brother this week. We love focused episodes like this that take one major mission and enrich by having Yasaburou encounter other characters along the way as he draws closer to his quarry.

It all unfolds very naturally, from his brother’s initial near-begging (their mother referees), to Akadama and his visiting tengu friend (both of whom seem a bit morose over their recent impotence), to a winding, surreal journey to Benten’s awesome marine “lair” (setting her up as an antagonist capable of benevolence), to the stunning storm she summons and the whale she pulls a whale’s tail, just because she wants to. The stunning flight of the floating, port-powered “inner parlour” is the cherry atop a marvelous episode that shows that preparing for a traditional event is an adventure in and of itself.

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Rating: 9 (Superior)

Stray Observations:

  • We like how the mom stops Yasaburou from making Yaichirou beg. The brothers need to limit their antagonism against each other; they have enough external antagonists.
  • We learn that Ebisugawa Kaisei was/is betrothed to Yasaburou, but he’s had very little exposure to her. Still, their pairing is what his father wanted.
  • The flashback of Soichiro transforming into a mountain was pretty sweet, reminding us of Mononoke Hime.
  • Yasaburou’s and Yashirou’s multi-stage “odyssey” to Bentens’ sweet relaxation spot reminded us quite a bit of Spirited Away.
  • We like Benten’s ‘informalware’, and learn she’s no stranger to skinny-dipping.

Uchouten Kazoku – 02

Yasaburou, Yashirou, Mother ("Prince"), and Yachirou

After masquerading as Benten to comfort Professor Akadama, Yasaburou hangs out at a pool hall, with her mother, who takes the form of a flamboyant “prince”. He then checks on his brother Yajirou, who is stuck in the form of a frog and lives in the bottom of a well. He goes to the power plant to pick up Yashirou as a storm brews, and the two are cornered by the Ebisugawa twins, but Yachirou rescues them. They then search for their mother, who reverts to a tanuki in storms, finding her under a bridge with the twins’ sister Keisei. Back home, she waxes about how lucky she is to have such nice sons.

Japan knows a few things about adapting to change. For centuries, they stood alone and isolated, either warring among themselves to being ruled by divine emperors. Even today, they still have an emperor from an unbroken line, but like the Queen of England, at the end of the day, he’s a figurehead. It’s a modern democracy now. He’s just not the boss of everyone anymore. It’s the same with the Shimogamos. When the patriarch Soichirou died, his widow and sons weren’t able to carry on his legacy and the united tanuki society he spent his life building fell into disarray. Only the eldest, Yachirou, seems dedicated to keeping the flames burning, but he’s also just a figurehead, and not the most respected one at that. Yachriou probably looks at the lives of his brothers with disdain because they represent a future (or possibly even a present) where Shimogamo is…just another name.

Rather than stubbornly stand against the winds of change, they let the change flow around them and adapted; it’s what raccoons do; tanukis too (probably). Their mother did the same. They still have their abilities and their name and their house and all the honor that entails, but they don’t live and die by that honor anymore; they live for themselves. Yajirou (the frog) believes Yasaburou was their father’s favorite, and it could’ve been for all the same reasons Yachirou believes he is shaming the family name. The Shimogamos may never rule over tanuki society again, but it’s enough to keep looking out for one another and live happy, full lives. Yasaburou and his mom seem to understand this intrinsically, while Yachirou is either unwilling or unable to let go of the past. His mom may be known as the “Prince”, but he’s the one still playing royal House.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Stray Observations:

  • Looks like Benten doesn’t have a soft spot after all; it was just Yasaburou pretending to be her. You got us, show!
  • The Ebisugawa twins were thoroughly unpleasant, weren’t they? Kudos to Yachirou for dealing with them.
  • Talk about going off the reservation; by becoming a frog, it’s as if Yajirou is living some kind of pared-down monastic existence as a simpler form of life. No one can say the brothers aren’t a diverse bunch!
  • Apparently, the brothers’ dad was killed and boiled in a hot pot, and Benten may have had something to do with it. Yikes!
  • We got the impression storms make their mother revert to her tanuki form, thus rendering her vulnerable to the same fate as her husband. We may be wrong on that, but it explains why her sons worried about her so much.
  • Those twins may be shits, but their sister – who appears as nothing but a twinkling light, Doonesbury-style, is apparently much nicer.