Uchouten Kazoku 2 – 02

The Gist: Akadama and Nidaime’s top-dog Tengu fight ends before it even begins, with Akadama falling off the building and Nidaime not seeing his father being worth the effort to fight. For whatever reason, Akadama takes this as a victory, which Yasaburou thinks is patently absurd.

Though perhaps that’s Nidaime’s point in not calling himself a Tengu? The very definition of Tengu may project an arrogance that he finds unnecessary and unproductive.

Meanwhile, a noodle shop opens on the roof of the shopping arcade and the owner wont take it down. Apparently, he can extend his chin as a whip, amongst various other illusions and even Yasaburou’s foolishness is not enough to win the day. Actually, Yasaburou ends up a hypnotized bear, and is nearly shot by the police…

This conflict leads to a few passing confrontations between Yasaburou and his formerly betrothed, who’s angsty at him for a variety of things but, most obviously, that they are no longer engaged. Even though Yasaburou is the only one who doesn’t realize there’s no reason for them not to be engaged anymore…

It also leads to the introduction of a painter who doesn’t want to sell his paintings and reveals the name and identity of the noodle shop owner. Tenmaya, who appears magical but is also consistently referred to as just human, apparently climbed out of a painting of hell because the painter illustrated a Buddha holding a spider’s thread out to the damned… it’s unclear who the painting belongs to or what the significance of all of this is. (Tenmaya doesn’t seem to want anything from life except amusement)

What is clear is that Yasaburou probably shouldn’t have tried to scare Tenmaya by turning into a demon, which is where the episode ends. A shotgun pointed right in our poor foolish hero’s face…

The official theme this week is that we are in the age in which Man plays tricks on Tenuki. However, for me, the story was more about the world not being able to move forward. (or not being aware of its lack of forward development)

Akadama is not only stuck in the tradition of Tengu, but also stuck on his conflict with his son. Despite his rejection of Tengu, Nadaime hasn’t moved ahead himself, which is evident from his characterization of Akadama being pathetic because he interacts with Tenuki, and Nadaime’s somewhat vaguely contradictory like/disrespect of Yasaburou throughout their encounters.

Yasaburou is stuck in last season’s position of servitude to the community, pranking around without purpose, and with not advancing his relationships with family and his love interest. He doesn’t exactly have a strong narrative reason to have changed, but he hasn’t changed regardless.

The Verdict: Uchouten Kazoku takes a casual approach to narrative. It just sorta wanders all over the place, touching on many different story threads, but without any sense of specific purpose. This very much fits the nature of Tenuki, and the experience is enjoyable enough due to the odd and specifically weird situations, but it does risk becoming so whimsical as to lose my attention.

It’s already somewhat hard to follow, due to the gigantic cast, many of which can shape-change and many others who simply don’t get enough story time for me to remember who they are or what their objectives may be.

For now, the magic has me under it’s spell. However, like Akadama, I too miss Benten and the sense of specific adversarial focus she brings. Hopefully, we’ll see her sooner than later…

Uchouten Kazoku 2 – 01 (First Impressions)

The Gist: the stage is set some time after the events that closed the first season, with the cast serving mostly familiar roles. The Shimogamo brothers are an eclectic, often disrespected, but equally relied upon members of the Tenuki community.

Yasaburou continues to take care of the elderly Akadama-sensei, who appears a bit depressed now that Benten is on an extended vacation. Yasaburou’s older brother is still vying for the position of leadership amongst the Tanuki, the youngest brother is immersed in books and his own world, and the second brother is still a frog at the bottom of the well. Fools’ blood all around but fools’ blood where we would expect it.

One day, while Yasaburou is searching for a mythical snake, a couch falls from the sky. Eventually, this leads him to meet Akadama-sensei’s son, who’s returned after over a hundred years in exile. While their exchanges are guarded, the two wayward sons seem to bond over clever and polite banter. However, it’s obvious that Akadama’s son will be a source of major conflict.

Sure enough, by the end of the evening, Father and son stand on a roof ready to duel…

At it’s core, this opening episode is a leisurely exploration of nostalgia and the challenges of tradition (or, perhaps, generally grappling with the past).

Yasaburou’s snake-hunt is something his father own father played at long ago. It’s even how his father and mother met, which Yasaburou attributes as the singular reason he and his four brothers exist.

Meanwhile, Yasaburou’s older brother is attempting to revive the town’s shoji tournament, which has not been run since their father was cooked in a hot pot. Not only does this repeat the shadow of the father motif, but it reinforces the older brother’s need to retain the family place as an upstanding leader in the community. It’s strongly implied this will let him tanuki-bang the wide eye’d girl at the clinic too.

Double meanwhile, Akadama and his son have an unavoidable need to battle, due to their traditional pride as tengu. However, neither seems up for that tradition (Akadama physically and his son emotionally). It’s comical to see the modern tengu, a classless lot, dressed like dime store mobsters, egg them on from afar. As Akadama’s son says when he first meets them: if you’re tengu, at least put some pride in it.

You should probably watch Uchouten Kazoku’s second season because the first was a lovely, whimsical tale of weirdness. While the narrative buildup and payoff, and the tension along the way lacked the emotional impact of other weird-genre shows (Tamako Market, Tatami Galaxy, Mr.Despair), Uchouten Kazoku absolutely rules the roost for world-building. Only Durarara!! comes close.

You may choose to skip Uchouten Kazoku because it’s destined to be a slow build with an all-too-uneventful finish. While the high concepts appeal to me, and pose a creative challenge to tease out and express via review, I must admit that academic focus creates a barrier between the story and emotionally resonant action and conventional drama.

The Verdict: Uchouten Kazoku is solidly enjoyable to look at and confidently cool. Despite being a slow burn, it presents a lot to absorb; at times, too quickly for me to read without pausing.

But that’s hardly a complaint, as re-watching and rewinding lets me revel in its wonderful camera angles, solid color work, imaginative facial expressions, character designs and gestures. The music choices haven’t stuck with me but that also means I have no complaints about them either.

One Punch Man – 12 (Fin)

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With just one episode left, One Punch Man doesn’t waste any time with an OP or recap; we’re plunged right into the hugely-anticipated Saitama-Boros bout. It’s everything I could have hoped for. As Saitama claims an early arm from Boros, below the ship the S’s finish off their opponent, led by Silverfang/Bang, who grabs the foe’s core before he can regenerate his body around it, showing sprightliness beyond his years. Drive Knight also warns Genos not to trust Metal Knight, potentially presaging interhero treachery.

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Meantime, it’s back to the Main Event. Yep, all my shows are ending the same way, but that’s okay, as they’ve all used slightly different approaches to the Final Epic Duel. OPM gets into abstract territory by unleashing a lush and dazzling rainbow of colors, textures, movements, and styles of line, with ironically very little damage being done to either combatant. Hell, Saitama is punched literally To The Moon—what I assume is an equally iconic image in the manga.

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But it’s no big; Saitama takes advantage of the Moon’s weaker gravity to blast himself right back to ex-City A (causing the alien ship to list in the process) and the battle continues. It’s clear both combatants are having a lot of fun, now that they’re fighting opponents who won’t go down instantly. And many a frame in the fight would make a great piece of art to hang on your wall.

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After hearing about so many special moves from so many foes, Saitama decides to break out his ulitmate move: Killer Move: Serious Series…Serious Punch. And No, he doesn’t need to work on that awful name; the fact that it’s awful matches his persona perfectly…not to mention reminds me of “The Paddling of the Swollen Ass…With Paddles.”

Whatever it’s called, it’s the punch that defeats Boros, who remains alive long enough to thank Saitama for a good fight, happy that the prophecy proved true, but also very cognizant of the fact Saitama had plenty of strength to spare and held back; Boros never had a chance of beating him. It’s nice to hear an enemy admit defeat so graciously at the end, rather than cursing and fuming his way to the grave, as many a final boss are wont to do.

As for his surviving crew? The Class S’s round them up and take them into custody, but before that, Amai Mask confronts them and tells them what a terrible job they did due to the destruction of City A and resultant damage to the Hero Association’s reputation. He doubts the media and public will buy that they “did their best”, even though they did.

Amai Mask thus reveals himself as the ultimate villain in OPM; the guy who’s never satisfied with a victory he did not himself create. Metal Knight swoops in like a vulture to pick the bones of the alien ship and develop new weapons…for, uh, for peace. Right.

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Due to coincidence, Tornado happens to be floating right by the exact spot where Saitama bursts out of the wreckage of the ship, where he’s met by an elated Genos. Both of them ignore the little green esper until she protests, and Genos shows some rare saltiness by calling her a spoiled brat and ordering her silence (Bang breaks up an extended fight).

While Amai Mask is initially right and the destruction of City A remains in the headlines for months, news about it, and any public disgust that went with it, eventually fades. The Hero Association builds an even bigger, stronger headquarters, and builds highways sprawling out like spokes from a wheel to every city for quick dispatch of heroes. Humanity comes out of its clash with Boros’ ship stronger than ever.

And, in a comforting epilogue, Saitama and Genos remain Master and Apprentice in mopping up baddies who’d threaten humanity. Sure, there’s still a lot of collateral damage in such battles, but buildings and infrastructure can always be rebuilt. Evil must be punched, and Saitama and Genos will keep punching, for fun and profit. Here’s hoping someday we get to watch them punch more.

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One Punch Man – 11

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I’d call this episode a non-stop action thrill ride, but to its credit, it’s not exactly non-stop. Sure, millions of lives hang in the balance as the Class S heroes fight the alien invaders, but there’s a lovely nonchalance about how they’re fighting, almost like another day at the office, while the ship up above also offers moments of workplace comedy and the inefficiencies of bureaucracy, even on a space pirate ship.

Saitama is laying absolute waste to the ship, but the alien leader’s lieutenants are either off doing their own stuff, hiding out on the bridge, or already dead. That leader, the one-eyed Lord Boros, seems unconcerned with the damage to his ship; instead, he seems to want to meet with the one doing the damage.

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But he doesn’t make it easy. Saitama loses his way, then ends up on the bridge by not falling for the oldest trick in the book (being told to go right when he should go left). Then the blue octopus-like lieutenant shows off his elaborate destructive powers, but is really just tossing lots of rocks at Saitama, who dodges everything, then splits the guy’s head in two with just one well-struck stone.

Down on the surface, the heroes eventually figure out they need to destroy the cores of their foe to prevent him from regenerating. Before they do, a lower-class hero laments that as Class S heroes they’re very stuck in their ways and not prone to listening to their inferiors, even if their ways are futile and listening could get them somewhere.

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When the progress bar on the artillery department tech’s computer finally fills up, the ship prepares to unleash another barrage of shells on the surface, killing all the heroes below, but Tornado arrives just in time and shows just how useful she is to have around by stopping the falling shells, then turning them around and launching them at the ship.

Saitama doesn’t see the effects of that damage, as he’s deep in the core of the ship, having finally found the Guy In Charge, Boros, who tells Saitama here there to fulfill the prophecy of a warrior who is his match in a fight, thus curing him of his existential ennui.

We’ve seen how similar Saitama and Mumen Rider are, but Boros could be an example of what happens when someone with Saitama’s level of ability (or something close to it)  uses his power for so long he runs out of enemies to fight.

Saitama destroys his armor easily enough, but Boros gets right back up, unharmed by one punch and unleashing his full power. Only one episode left to see how many more punches Saitama will need to send this jerk packing.

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One Punch Man – 10

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After taking out the “Lizard King”, who she dispatches far easier than one would deal with a hangnail, the tiny, green-haired Terrible Tornado is immediately picked back up by the Hero Association. We get a little whiff of her power, which seems to involve summoning whatever means are necessary to destroy her target: in this case a meteor (ironic considering her dinosauric opponent). Another superpower? Keeping her panties (if she even wears any) from being seen despite the extremely high cut of her dress!

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This week Saitama finally meets Tornado, who doesn’t think much of him, and probably wouldn’t even if she saw him in action. Saitama, despite being a B among S’s, was able to tag along and get involved in this high-level meeting because, well, Genos and Bang let him come, and he had nothing else to do (I guess he watered his cactus well).

The Class-S elites gathered in the war room are quite the collection of characters, including a man in a dog suit and a fat guy who keeps eating throughout the meeting (the background eating sounds were pretty funny throughout all the dramatic dialogue). Apparently, a venerable and 100% accurate fortune teller has recently died, but not before giving one final prophecy, portending “big trouble” in the next six months.

Sure enough, a swarm of tengu descend on Hero Association HQ in City A, but they’re quickly sliced in half…but not by heroes.

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No, they’re killed by even more powerful enemies: aliens from outer space! In a huge, mean-looking mothership that wouldn’t look out of place in Nausicaa. The ship lays waste to City A—a more than 98% loss—but the Class S heroes work together to make sure that’s where the destruction ends. That won’t be easy, as the wounds by the swords of Atomic Samurai and his student on the ugly-looking aliens heal as quickly as they can be made.

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But as the heroes decide how they’re going to deal with the big alien mothership, Saitama, acting alone, burrows out of HQ, leaps up into the ship, and just starts pounding people. It’s his style: getting things done when nobody is looking, despite the close proximity of all those pairs of important, influential eyes.

Then again, the likes of Bang, #3 overall, believes he’ll soon reach the upper crust of Class S. Doing stuff like bringing down an alien mothership and defeating the cyclopic alien boss will certainly help his case. The question is, whether he’ll be able to take any credit, or once again be derided by the public as a hanger-on/fifth wheel/glory hog.

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Ushio to Tora – 13

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Ushio gets a much-needed breather at the bread shop of the old man he saved from the youkai, but the youkai hordes are still out there, and once they find him, he’s thrown right back into a battle where the youkai have all the numbers, and Beast Spear or no, Ushio is getting worn down. Enter Kagari and Raishin, who are not only there to help him, but are willing to die by his side.

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The kamaitachi are nothing if not loyal to those who helped and empathized with their plight. I find myself liking them more and more. Yet even with them around, the youkai keep coming. It’s ultimately Tora who saves the three of them from the hordes, deciding not to sit on the sidelines after all. Sure, that puts him in Hitotsuki’s crosshairs, but he couldn’t care less; in fact, he wouldn’t mind fighting his old associate, for no other reason that he keeps calling him Nagatobimaru!

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Ushio finds himself deposited before a large traditional Japanese estate wreathed in fog, and he is welcomed to come in, calm down, sit, and listen. The Zashiki Warashi is there, along with the leader of the youkai who have been attacking him; Hitotsuki’s long-nosed boss. He tells Ushio a little more about who her mother is, and the nine-tailed Hakumen no Mono she protects from the youkai with a powerful barrier, as her predecessors have done for the last thousand years. What the youkai boss can’t tell Ushio is why, but he suspects Ushio can ask her himself when he finds her.

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Ushio also learns the reason the boss is being so nice to him: he’s the old man he saved in the forest, who he hung out with at the bread shop. Like Kagari and Raishin, if one is kind to youkai, chances are they’ll be kind to you as well; they’re not wholly evil or anti-human under all circumstances.

As for Hitotsuki, the boss is miffed for him disobeying orders, but allows him to duel Tora to decide whether he gets to have his way. As I said, Tora is fine fighting him, considering they have history, but twists himself in knots explaining to Ushio that he’s not doing this for his sake (even though he really kinda is.)

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At first Hitotsuki mops the floor with Tora, slapping him around and biting him with his many serpent-head digits and goring him with his giant horn. But Tora eventually takes the gloves off, breaths fire on his opponent, then zaps him and smacks him around until he’s declared the winner (though Tora doesn’t kill him, again showing his new, slightly softer side). The boss shows his true form—a magnificent Tengu—and promises Ushio none of his youkai will harm him ever again, as per the terms of the duel.

With that, Kagari patches up Tora (I like the deference the kamaitachi now show to who is essentially their “senpai”), and he and Ushio head into the misty woods on the next leg of their eventful journey to find Ushio’s mom. Turns out it will take a lot more than bumping into an old acquaintance like Hitotsuki to break his complex bond with Ushio.

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Kamisama Hajimemashita 2 – 10

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This episode features the unlikely but increasingly tolerable pairing of Nanami and a somewhat humbled (and therefore more reasonable) Brother Jiro, as they search for the Sojobo’s soul. He’s still stern and no nonsense, but he doesn’t prevent Nanami from following him down into a secret cavern.

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Jiro even tells her this was where Shinjuro got into trouble with a thunderbolt beast, and where Suiro lost his ability to fly by rescuing him. But when Jiro drops into a deeper chasm, even when lightning shoots up, nay, because it does, Nanami goes in after Jiro, not because she doesn’t trust him, but because he had the bearing of a man going to his death.

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The beast rears its head for Nanami first, and while she’s able to fire off a barrier against evil, it counterattacks with a massive lightning strike. It’s in this moment Jiro finally understands why Suiro saved Shinjuro and regrets nothing: the despair of losing his ability to fly was small compared to the despair of losing someone he loves.

Before Suiro knew it, he was moving to save Shinjuro. And before Jiro knows it, he’s moving to save Nanami, whom he admits he’s fallen for, and can’t bear to watch die.

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I love how over-the-top Shinjuro’s reaction to learning the soul is hidden in the same place where he was traumitized, but he quickly composes himself, knowing that not only is he a far stronger tengu now, in part because of that experience, but he’s also not alone: Tomoe is with him and Nanami is further in.

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Tomoe dispatches the “kitten” with his superior fox fire, but he isn’t able to bask in the light of Nanami’s gratitude for saving her as he usually does. Nanami is too concerned with Jiro, who is badly injured and loses consciousness.

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In a really nice icebreaker, the defeated thunderbolt beast, suddenly not so fearsome-looking anymore, coughs up the Sojobo’s soul like a hairball. Kamisama Kiss has always been great at tempering or punctuating its more serious scenes with lighter fare. Unlike, say, Violin girl, its slapstick never ruins the mood, but rather keeps it in check.

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Nanami’s continued concern for Jiro irks Tomoe, because he doesn’t like the idea of Nanami, whom he likes, worrying about another man. Still, he’s able to comfort her by assuring her Jiro will happily bear whatever consequences he must, because he got to save Nanami. He speaks form his own extensive experience: saving Nanami is always worth it.

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Kamisama Kiss puts on a romantic comedy/drama clinic this week, perfectly balancing Nanami’s joy and relief when Jiro comes to (thanks to her peach pills) with the embarrassment of walking in on a nude Jiro being bathed by Suiro.

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Tomoe initially playfully teases Nanami, but as usual goes a little bit farther than he should due to his own frustration of holding in his true feelings for the lass. When he tells her it makes no difference to him whether she goes back home with him or stays with Jiro to get to know him better, it clearly wounds Nanami, who contrary to Tomoe’s jealous suspicions, hasn’t simply flipped her love switch from Tomoe to Jiro.

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Still, Jiro did manage to do one thing Tomoe hasn’t been able to yet: clearly confess his feelings for Nanami. So at the cherry blossom tree viewing/Sojobo & Jiro recovery party (that’s a mouthful), Nanami is receptive to Jiro’s own attempts at courtship, which aren’t bad for someone who’s never laid eyes on a woman before.

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The beauty of the restored cherry tree makes for about as romantic a locale as one could hope for, but as much charm and respect Jiro has for Nanami, when she tells him how precious the peach pills she used to save him are, and how she wants Tomoe to have them if anything ever happens to her, it becomes clearer to him that he’s barking up the wrong tree.

Consider: when he flew her up into the tree, in a moment of fear Nanami called out for Tomoe. Also, when she has too many high-proof sake-filled steamed buns and gets wasted, she repeats his name again and again. With the walls of sobriety down, she also lowers her toughing-it-out mask. The only one she wants is Tomoe, and she’s far more happy being carried on his warm comfortable back than being in the middle of a cherry tree with Jiro.

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She even unabashedly lets off an “I love you”, not her first nor her last directed at Tomoe. And perhaps knowing she’s passed out and won’t hear it, he says he loves her too out loud. It’s a small step, but he knows it’s a necessary one.

As Shinjuro tells him, it’s precisely because human lives are so short, that if you have to say something, you’d better say it before it’s too late. Tomoe has technically said what he needs to say, but this time doesn’t count. Can he do it when Nanami is conscious? We’ll see.

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Kamisama Hajimemashita 2 – 09

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I had a feeling this “heist” episode was going to be a good one, but I wasn’t prepared for how much ass it kicked, much of it courtesy of our heroine Nanami. It’s quite simply one of her finest hours. It’s all because she has to be herself, which means tapping into her stores of morality, decency, and emptahy along with her increasingly potent divine powers.

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But first of all, I just want to reiterate that Tengu Nanami just made my year. He/She is so friggin’ cute she makes Botanmaru look like a pile of puke! The spiral glasses are a particularly nice touch. But along with that cuteness comes great strength.

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But anyway, the reason Nanami is able to steal the show is that the (somewhat) carefully orchestrated operation doesn’t go according to plan. Kurama had hoped to get Jiro drunk on mundane world medicinal alcohol, but the bull has formidable tolerance.

Tomoe, furious that Jiro hurt Nanami, tries to work his magic, posing as a slightly sultrier Nanami to throw Jiro off his game (helped at least a little by the booze). It works for a time; at least long enough for Nanami to find the Sojobo.

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Kurama and Tomoe are undone when Tomoe breaks character and brings up Nanami, the maiden Jiro met, and even threatens violence. Kurama stops his “familiar”, but Jiro imprisons them both in a strong, anti-yokai barrier prison. With these two out of commission, it’s Nanami’s game to lose.

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She doesn’t lose. The plan fails mostly because she and the others weren’t aware of the existence of a yokai under Jiro’s employ (Yatori), or the fact the Sojobo has been petrified as a result of his soul being extracted.

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Nanami, in top heroine goddess form, doesn’t cower in fear before the bombastic Jiro. In fact, when he smacks Botanmaru, she gives him a stern scolding, one he probably hasn’t heard in a long time, if ever, and sorely needed. He blames Botanmaru for being weak, but Nanami points out Jiro hasn’t been running this mountain himself, all alone. Even the strongest have people they rely on.

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Jiro doesn’t know how this litle whelp of a tengu knows about such stuff, because he doesn’t know he’s talking to a human land god. When Nanami brings up Sojobo’s soul extraction, Yatori butts in a shoos Jiro away. In case you were wondering, yes, this guy is up to no good, and is simply using Jiro to secure an army for Akura-oh.

But Yatori is just as clueless about this tengu lad as Jiro, and when he threatens to off him and Botanmaru, the wig and gloves come off and Nanami enters Full Bad-Ass Mode, a mode she remains in for the duration of the episode.

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With Mamoru by her side, she casts a barrier against evil that easily dispatches Yatori. One could say he’s dealt with too easily, but this has never been a show about long, drawn-out physical battles, but rather battles of wits, timing, and ideals. In any case, it’s awesome to see Nanami wield such power so comfortably and confidently, and we know why: the people she loves and cares are counting on her, and she won’t let them down.

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Even in disguise, her words prove just as powerful a weapon against the big dumb mean bear that is Jiro, within whom lies a precocious but insecure boy desperate to earn the Sojobo’s approval.

When he isn’t watching where he’s going he bumps into the three adorable little tengu we met last week, who all expect to be reprimanded severely for getting in his way. But Nanami’s words echo through his head, and suddenly picking on a bunch of little kids seems stupid. Good for him. Better for Nanami!

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Jiro’s sudden crisis of the heart also means his hold on his “encampment” is tawdry at best, and Nanami takes advantage. Ignoring Yatori’s pleas to keep him around since he’s the only one who knows where the Sojobo’s soul is stashed, she decides to simply cancel out all of the barriers in the compound with one big barrier against evil, and find the soul herself.

As she “tears” through the place, she scares the bejesus out of various tengu who’ve never laid eyes on a woman before, and even leaves a gleaming golden trail in her wake. Once her barrier is cast, the whole place starts to sparkle. When Tomoe and Kurama’s prison fades away in the golden light, Tomoe knows exactly what’s up: his Nanami is demonstrating precisely why she’s worth falling for.

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Kamisama Hajimemashita 2 – 08

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The tables are turned on the human Nanami early this week as for once she is the one being regarded as a rare and strange supernatural creature, a “celestial nymph,” by Jiro. He’s not the gentlest soul to her, either, roughly grabbing her arm and threatening to break it before Mamoru, true to his name manages to spring her.

Scared, trembling, and sporting a sore arm, the sight of the far gentler Tomoe is enough to make Nanami collapse into his bosom ing joyful relief. This is the side of Nanami that makes Tomoe want to protect her with everything he’s got. And I’m sure Nanami would always prefer for Tomoe to be waiting with open arms whenever she gets into such a state.

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After being treated roughly and then gently, Suiro continues to talk to Nanami while facing Tomoe, as if her countenance is too awful to look upon. When she forces the issue, he admits he’s simply not used to interacting with women, especially, as he says, “beautiful maidens.”

After glimpsing his impossibly gorgeous face, Nanami has to wonder if he’s just being nice. Don’t get me wrong, Nanami is super-cute, and I wouldn’t call her plain, but it’s clear her’s is a more normal, casual beauty compared to all these magazine cover bishounen. 

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Suiro, perhaps the most classically feminine of the characters in the room, has always mothered Shinjuro, and now that he’s back it’s as if nothing has changed: he still sees him as a little kid with mussed hair who can be placated with apples and promises “it will all work out.” Only Kurama isn’t a kid, and isn’t buying it. Nothing will work out this time unless he acts.

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When Kurama storms out to cool his head, Suiro asks Nanami and Tomoe not just to leave themselves after giving the peach pills to give to Kurama’s sire, but to take Kurama with them as well. He can tell that Kurama left a lot behind in the mundane world to come to the mountain, and he shouldn’t be expected to abandon the life he’s lived for seventeen years.

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Nanami’s response is simple: she and Tomoe aren’t leaving until Kurama says he wants to go. They both find Kurama surveying Jiro’s heavily-fortified compound, and Kurama comes to the same conclusion Tomoe does: he can’t do this alone. Nanami volunteers to help in anyway they can, because she’s not just someone who runs scared into the arms of others. She’s both vulnerable and strong; scared and brave; all seemingly contradictory traits that perplex Tomoe so.

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Kurama doesn’t even have to ask Nanami, but he does anyway as a courtesy; not an easy thing at all for him to do, considering he prefers to shoulder all the burdens himself. What’s so funny is the cliff they’re on is so windy, Nanami doesn’t quite hear him ask for her help, and Kurama is too bashful to ask again. Thankfully, Tomoe heard.

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Meanwhile, within compound they intend to infiltrate tomorrow, it’s plain to Yatori—and us—that Nanami has had an effect on Jiro. You could say he’s been enchanted; his heart and mind are in disarray. His instincts made him act forcefully to a potential threat in the nymph, yet he cannot deny her presence in his mind has been all but constant ever since their meeting. You can call it puppy love, but no doubt he sees it as a weakness, one he’ll hide from his subordinates at all costs, even as he continues to cull young tengu who aren’t strong enough to pass muster.

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This episode is immediately made better by frikking having Tomoe in it, saying more than one line; although a few of his lines are obviously defensive barbs loosed against the girl he’s fallen for flustering him simply by existing. As fate would have it, they share a bedroom that night.

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Nothing really happens, despite what these images might suggest, but when coming back from the bathroom, Nanami accidentally curls up in Tomoe’s bed, and while initially freaked out, Tomoe is surprised to find himself embracing her, right up until she comes to. It’s all very “romawkward”, as one would expect from two people still on the very fringes of a romantic relationship, and still not comfortable openly talking about it or even acknowledging the mutual attraction exists.

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That morning, we see the plan that will get them into the compound: Kurama will pose as the land god Nanami really is, Tomoe will pose as his familiar instead of Nanami’s, and Nanami will pose as an apprentice tengu, which introduces us to Nanami Tengu Drag, which might be the most adorable thing I’ve seen all Winter.

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Kamisama Hajimemashita 2 – 07

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Botanmaru’s wretched state (he passes out from the mundane world “poison” and has welts from lashings) convinces Kurama to return to his home mountain from whence he descended seventeen years ago, when he wasn’t much bigger than lil’ Botan. I like how he admits he’s far more into the mundane world scene because of all the cute girls.

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One of those cute girls insists on tagging along in case she can support Kurama. Nanami constantly referring to her damn white talismans is a nice little running gag, but it’s also a more serious sign that she’s no longer one to sit on the sidelines as friends—or even mere acquaintances—face challenges. And fixing the problem on the tengu mountain is definitely a challenge.

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Kurama didn’t just hesitate to return because there are no women on the mountain. When he says he’s a failure, he means it; and not only did he flee the mountain, but he fled after his beloved brother Suiro, who was the fastest tengu on the mountain, saved him from a cruel trial, costing his mentor his wings, which, for a tengu, are everything. The one who put Kurama thorugh that trial is now poised to succeed the dying leader.

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The mountain is also covered in thick, nasty misasma in which evil spirits lurk, one of which exploits Kurama’s weakness and takes Suiro’s form. At first I was like “Okay, this guy is kind of lame for spouting all this exposition like this” but it turns out he was an imposter. The real Suiro is much kinder, though notably cold to Nanami, sending her on a trek to the outhouse.

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The somewhat mannerless Yatori has slinked his way into Jiro’s court, which is troublesome, since we know Yatori aims to hand this mountain over to Akura-oh. As friendly as he’s being with Jiro, this guy is no ally. Jiro, all puffed-up and tough; the yang to Suiro’s yin, doesn’t see Yatori as a threat, which could prove fatal as the crisis on the mountain worsens.

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The change of setting would be refreshing if it weren’t essentially a bunch of thick green-gray fog and dead trees. The mountain is a very dreary place right now, though Nanami is hopeful she can bring some light and joy, if only to a few wary fledglings, one of whom had his orphaned boar piglet slaughtered by Jiro while cradling it in his arms.

Jiro is all about tough love and strength; he has no time for the weak or sentimental. But it’s not at all certain Jiro is the right one to ascend to leadership—especially with Yatori hanging off of him.

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Jiro is built up throughout the episode as a bit of an ass, but these are dire times and he has cause to put up a hard line. So when he spots Nanami under the cherry blossom tree she temporarily restored and seems to be instantly smitten (and why not; Nanami is a cutey), it’s clear this guy isn’t your normal villain/usurper. But while I realize this is the introduction to a more tengu-focused story arc, I was still miffed by Tomoe’s exceedinly scant presence.

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Kamisama Hajimemashita 2 – 06

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Following the Divine Assembly, this week’s Kami-Haji is a bit of a disjointed grab bag, with some parts superior (in terms of my interest in them) to others. I’ll get right to my favorite part: the aftermath of Nanami’s talk with Mikage. Despite Mikage’s blessing, without knowing explicitly why Mikage wants Tomoe to “choose” her so badly (beyond wanting him to be free of him), Nanami remains hesitant in her courtship of Tomoe, especially when Lord Okuninushi recommends against it.

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Nanami even travels home separately from Tomoe in order to give her situation more thought, but thankfully, she gets another viewpoint, and one she should give more weight than Okuninushi, who as far as we know hasn’t ever truly loved a human. That other viewpoint comes from Himemiko. It only takes one look at Nanami to sense her uncertainty, and wastes no time setting her straight.

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Nanami thinks she’s being reckless and foolish to cultivate a romance with Tomoe because she knows she’ll die long before him, and thus knows she could break his heart when that day arrives. She’s doubly concerned with the fact this would be the second time in Tomoe’s existence that he’s survived a human lover. But I, like Himemiko, think Nanami has it all backwards.

It’ll do Nanami no good to conceal her love the rest of her days, or settle for someone she doesn’t love. Rather, she should treasure what time she has in the living world with Tomoe, expressing her true and unfiltered feelings, not letting those years go to waste and lead to regret. Himemiko speaks from experience: the pain of one day losing her human love Kota will pale in comparison to the regret she’d have in her heart had she never pursued him.

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As great as Himemiko and Nanami’s day of shopping and love talk is, it doesn’t quite fill a whole episode, which is a good thing, as I preferred the montage (during which a lovely arrangement of the first season’s opening theme plays) to a more heavily-padded shopping scenes. Still, that means the balance of the episode must be filled, and in this case, it’s filled with less compelling stuff.

Kirihito/Akura-oh’s quest to restore himself has promise, but the introduction of Yatori is sudden and shrug-worthy. Sure, I dig Yatori’s Sia Wig and crazy green eyes, and the fact he’s aware Kirihito is really Akura-oh (and Kirihito believes him to be a fool, which he isn’t), makes for an interesting dynamic. But nothing happens yet; Yatori only promises to raise a force and begin a campaign against the tengu mountain of Kurama in Akura-oh’s name. Kirihito’s just, like…“um, thanks?”

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The mention of Kurama calls to mind Nanami’s crow-tengu classmate and sometime-ally Kurama, who just happens to be having a concert that Ami invites Nanami to (Tomoe outright refuses). She then accidentally steps on a little tengu named Botanmaru who just happens to be looking for a fellow tengu who came down from the mountain seventeen years ago.

Botanmaru is specifically after this tengu because he doesn’t believe the commonly-held opinion among his peers that leaving the mountain made him a failure. He also looks up to him as an inspiration, because both of them are late-bloomers (Botan still can’t fly) and hopes he’ll be able to offer some advice.

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To Nanami’s surprise, the one Botanmaru seeks is Kurama. With her extra ticket, she takes Botanmaru to his concert, where he’s in Full Fallen Angel Idol Mode, and not anywhere any guy, particularly Tomoe, wants to be. The episode concludes without the two tengu meeting yet, but it seems the next main storyline will be about this, and I suspect Tomoe will object to Nanami intervening in tengu affairs, for no other reason than it means having to hang out with Kurama.

Nanami’s observation at the end that Kurama never actually plays the acoustic guitar he breaks out on stage for his “ballad”—it was just a prop—is a funny way to close.

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Uchouten Kazoku – 13 (Fin)

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Yaichiro informs the elders of Soun’s treachery, but he stubbornly feigns innocence. Enraged, Yaichiro transforms him into a tiger and throws Soun through the wall, into the room where the Friday Fellows relocated. They have mother in a cage, which even enraged Soun, and when Hotei gets a good look at her, refuses to let her get boiled. Akadama interrupts the chaos and blows everyone away with his fan, and continues to chase Hotei through the streets as the Shimogamo brothers chase him. Benten takes over, coaxing him into a cab. The brothers talk to their mom, who is safe and sound at Akegarasu. The next day the family celebrates New Years at the shrine.

This episode takes some time to get going, as we must endure more of Soun’s lies, but Yaichiro finally does what we’ve wanted him to do for a while now: go into Tiger Mode and flatten him. In a city where humans, tanuki and tengu live in a delicate balance, they all end up converging at the same restaurant to celebrate New Year’s Eve. While the Friday Fellow’s sacred tradition is deferred and the election for Nise-emon in tatters, the Shimogamo family is made whole again. That’s all that mattered to Yasaburou, his mom, and us. Yajirou speaks to his mother again, Hotei meets the tanuki he nursed back to health, and even Benten returns to her master. New year, indeed.

Yasaburou has spoken at length about the idiot blood of tanukis. Perhaps part of that idiocy is trying to create the same hierarchies and possess the same lofty ambitions as humans. In the end, Souichiro rose as high as a tanuki could rise, but it didn’t save him. Yasaburou doesn’t want to be Nise-emon. He just wants to live a full and interesting life, and to have fun with his family, which is now whole again. Of course, now all the tanukis and fellows who were present that very weird night will remember Yaichiro turning into a tiger and taking Soun down – some of the small “glory” Yasaburou allowed for in his New Year’s wish. And interestingly, he didn’t wish to see Kaisei’s face: that’s her choice.

9_superiorRating: 9 (Superior)

 

Uchouten Kazoku – 11

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Benten saves Yasaburou by using him as an umbrella and flying away. She tells him Yodogawa is claiming the tanuki soon, and right after she leaves he spots him, covered cage in hand. Yasaburou follows him to a restaurant, where he orders an egg bowl, but it was all a trap by the Ebisugawa brothers. Poison in the egg bowl makes Yasaburou revert to tanuki form and they cage him. Soun brushes off judgment by his sister-in-law and delivers Yaichiro to the real Yodogawa. Kaisei notices a light in the warehouse and frees Yashirou, but she must stay behind to occupy the guards.

The ladies come up big this week, with Benten saving Yasaburou from capture by Soun. It’s only temporary freedom, though, as Ginkaku and Kinkaku actually get one over on him. Disgusted by her brothers’ behavior, Kaisei decides to sabotage her family’s plans by springing Yashirou. Benten could pass of her heroics as simply needing an umbrella, but Kaisei’s won’t be so easily explained to her father. So two brothers remain free, though one is small, weak, and timid, and the other is a frog in a well who doesn’t think he can change back. Still, better than nothing, right?

As he sits in his cage under the watchful eye of an iron-girded Ginkaku and a creepy Kinkaku who’s giant face is literally popping out of the wall, Yasaburou gets broodily philosophical, as Yajirou is wont to do. Everything that he and his family has endured is all part of being a tanuki, whether it’s tricking humans, annoying tengu, or getting captured and eaten. Their situation can be fully explained by their blood. But as his mother protests, the Soun and his sons aren’t acting like tanukis. Such horrible treachery is more suited to humans or tengu. Which is precisely why they can’t be allowed to lead tanuki society. They’ll be its downfall.

9_superiorRating: 9 (Superior)

Stray Observations:

  • The twins’ elaborate “back in the game” celebration upon capturing Yasaburou was a fantastic piece of stagecraft.
  • When a caged mother tells Soun how pained his brother be if he knew how horrible his brother had become, Soun simply says “he knew I was like this.” Cold bastard.
  • We realize he’s not strictly a villain, but when Yodogawa takes delivery of Yaichiro, the tone of his voice is blood-curdling.
  • Again, mad props to Kaisei, who is just plain badass this week. We only wish she could go with Yashirou to teach her dim-witted brothers a lesson.