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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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 06

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Gundam IBO is so deft at telling its story, crafting compelling characters, and drawing us in to its world, that even an exposition-heavy episode that would have been boring in less capable hands is almost as engrossing and thrilling as the big adrenaline-fueled battles. One reason is easy: people tend to hew closely to what they know, both about themselves and the world.

The company and family that is Tekkadan is between worlds right now, but they have a place and a home in their ship, if only a transitory one. When we watch Atra and Mika act like an old married couple, we’re comforting that however much has changed, both for better or worse, some things haven’t.

Which will make it that much more impactful (and potentially devastating) when the core status quo is seriously challenged. Which it certainly will once Tekkadan reaches out the Jovian mafia, Teiwaz, for help, and Fareed continues his slow-burn pursuit.

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But that comes later. IBO recommends we be on our guard by checking in on the outside parties pursuing Tekkadan, but also welcomes us to kick back and enjoy the slice-of-life aboard a ship that’s equal parts military contractor transport, orphanage, school, and embassy.

Like any small community, everyone must pull their weight. Atra has settled in as the cook, and the better food is crucial both for growing young ones and morale of the older ones. Even Fumitan flashes her technical skill, getting hired as communications officer. But until this week, with the exception of securing funding from Nobliss, Kudelia has felt increasingly useless.

She’s being unfair: as she makes clear in her elevator speech to Mika and Atra, she might just have the most important role in Tekkadan’s survival—her pursuit of Martian independence. But she’s still restless and wants to make immediate positive contribution to what she sees as a microcosm of the planet she wishes to free, so I like how she settles on the one important role the ship glaringly lacks: a teacher.

That’s doubly important considering how un- or under-educated Tekkadan’s crew is. Most of the youngest are illiterate like Mika, who doesn’t even know why Kudelia is going to Earth, while Atra doesn’t even know they were headed to Earth (technically, they’re headed to Jupiter for the moment).

Mika smiles a bit when Kudelia says she wants to make everyone happy, because to hear Kudelia, complicating his life by expanding his world through reading and writing is the key to that happiness.

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And Kudelia would be right: as long as Mika and the others aren’t properly educated and remain in the dark about how the world works, they’ll always have a disadvantage that makes them vulnerable to those who do. Their potential enemies are getting smarter as the dumb ones exit stage right.

Enter Fumitan, who Orga seems to trust enough to not only make her comms officer on a mission requiring radio silence whenever possible, but leave her alone on the bridge. In my Mika-like ignorance (Mika would trust whoever Orga trusted), I’d hope Fumitan and her close-up eye-narrowing were only a red herring, not something more sinister. But I can’t discount that she’s the new internal threat to Tekkadan, and someone to worry about far more than the hapless Todo.

Similarly, Fareed is light-years ahead of Coral in antagonistic competence. He lets Tekkadan go so he can learn more and more about them, and in particular the weapon that’s keeping them alive. That weapon isn’t the outdated Barbatos (about which he already knows plenty), but its pilot Mika. Fareed reaches out to 2nd Lt. Ein Dalton for more insight into that pilot, and considers rewarding him by letting him join the pursuit mission. “I understand your feelings. I’ll think about it.” So far, that’s Fareed’s credo.

One of the unsung (no pun intended) elements that makes IBO such a great show to immerse oneself in (like an Utawarerumono hot bath) its its excellent score, and the theme that plays under Fareed’s talk with Ein is quintessentially Fareed: quiet, subdued, exacting, and inquisitive, building to more dramatic instrumentation when Ein expresses his desire to avenge his fallen comrades.

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Back aboard the Ex-Will-O’-the-Wisp, Biscuit wonders if Tekkadan is suffering from mission bloat on its first mission. Is this simply to tough with the manpower and equipment at their disposal? Shouldn’t they ask for help, like from a subcontractor? Biscuit asks these questions, but he’s fully aware of the answers: no and no. This is Tekkadan’s first mission, and they can’t compromise or fall short on the promises they’ve made.

Orga has to be bold, not just to make a name for the company, or cement the loyalty and confidence of its employees. It’s all for Mika. Her His eyes are there” every time he turns around. Mika is always ready for action; ready to be told what they’re doing next. To Orga, Mika is stronger and cooler than he’ll ever hope to be. So he, in turn, must be as bold and cool as possible.

That leads to taking shortcuts like balancing the fate of the entire mission on the presumption that Fumitan is one of the good guys who shares his values and goals. Or getting in bed with pirates and mobsters. Or embarking on a mission before determining the fate of your well-connected ex-CEO who ran off with a suitcase full of cash. We’ll see if Orga’s increasingly bold stance to carrying out his mission will pay off or lead to his downfall.

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