Kageki Shoujo!! – 02 – Sink or Swim

The morning before their first day of actual classes, Ai deigns to attempt to wake Sarasa up…in the gentlest and most ineffectual way possible. But their class rep Sawa personally wakes Sarasa the hell up, because the people they’re facing this morning are far more fearsome than the JSDF: their second-year advisors, AKA “Big Sisters”.

The students of the centennial class have already demonstrated their capacity for ill-natured backbiting, but it’s the same way in the classes above them. We learn that Risa and Hijiri, Sarasa and Ai’s Big Sisters, are bitter rivals who usually hide their contempt for each other behind smiles and niceties.

When Risa flat-out tells Sarasa she’ll never be Lady Oscar, she makes the poor tall girl sob into the floorboards. When she asks why not through the tears, Risa mentions the curse of the tree, and in doing so gives Sarasa all the ammo she needs. If everyone believes the tree is cursed, she’ll just have to prove the curse is fake!

While Risa admires Sarasa’s innocence and drive (as does Sarasa’s childhood friend and kabuki actor-in-training, Akiya), Hijiri reports that “Naracchi” has “zero motivation” for Kouka. But just as Hijiri’s barbs about Risa only being suited for villainess roles have led her to strive towards greatness, she tells Hijiri they can’t know what future winds may lift Ai’s sails.

I can take a stab at the identity of that wind: she’s somewhere around 5’10” with green-tipped twin tails! But it won’t just be Sarasa’s bottomless confidence and enthusiasm gradually wearing down Ai’s apathy: she also isn’t just gong to sit back and take abuse, passive-aggressive or otherwise, from her classmates.

During class introductions (which are wonderful shorthand for the various girls’ personalities) Ai at first gives a curt description of herself, but Kaoru, the big shot legacy musume-yaku-in-waiting says everyone knows “that’s not all”. So Ai stands back up and says she’s there because she was forced to quit JPX48. It’s an important step for Ai standing up for herself against damn fools.

During a tour of backstage, Sarasa sees a dramaticaly-lit door and goes through it, leading to the main stage of the Kouka Revue. Andou-sensei warns her to get off the stage and under no circumstances walk out onto the “Silver Bridge”, the part of the stage where only Kouka’s top stars are permitted to stand.

Sarasa doesn’t break that taboo, but she also takes her sweet time leaving that stage! That’s because as soon as she stands on it, it’s clear she feels she’s where she’s supposed to be. As if by divine providence, a spotlight is cast upon her. Ai can feel that belonging too, dazzled as she is by Sarasa’s stage presence.

Incremental progress is made on several fronts. We’ve got a huge cast of young women, some sympathetic, some clearly villains, and some who are just kind of there. But as long as the spotlight stays on Sarasa and Ai most of the time, I’ll be a happy camper. As Ai’s stalker arrives in Kobe, we’ll likely learn next week how close he ends up getting to Ai, how she deals with that, and where Sarasa (or other classmates) might factor into the forthcoming confrontation.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Kageki Shoujo!! – 01 (First Impressions) – The Immovable Beanpole vs the Unmovable Idol

The apathetic, androphobic, recently canceled idol Narata Ai (Hanamori Numiri in top form) enrolls and is accepted into the exclusive Kouka School for Musical and Theatrical Arts, which is the training stable for the even more exclusive all-women’s Kouka Revue, a stand-in for the real-world Takarazuka Revue.

Her opening scene is a harrowing one, as she attempts to escape one pushy fawning fan only to nearly end up in the clutches of another. Considering she had to “graduate” from her idol group (an AKB48 stand-in) due to publicly calling a male fan “creepy”, the inherent unfairness of that industry has followed her to the outside.

Like Chihayafuru, Rakugo Shinjuu, 3-gatsu no Lion, and Snow White Notes, this is an anime about a very specific-to-Japan thing, which means we’re sure to get an education on the cutthroat world of elite all-women musical theater while reveling in the absolutely wonderful odd-couple pairing of Ai and Watanabe Sarasa, who is fleet, fearless, and five-foot-frikkin-ten. Ai’s quiet jadedness and practiced apathy pairs perfectly with her bold, loud skyscraper of a roomie.

The animators clearly have a lot of fun both with the size comparison and the confident ease with which Sarasa moves those impossibly long limbs. She simply moves differently from everyone else. We’ve yet to see what Sarasa can do on the stage, but it’s great to see how much chaos her huge frame and loud voice causes during ordinary life, as no bed—or hastily-built privacy curtain—can hold her.

Where the two women are similar, however, is that neither intends to play The Game of catty whispers, rumors, gossip, and bullying in which nearly all the other girls on their periphery seem to engage. Ai, because she’s trained herself not to care (though it’s clear she Idoes care); Sarasa because her head is literally in the clouds. Neither of them care what others think. In that regard, they’re two peas in a pod. They can, in theory, support one another in this hostile environment.

When a positively delightful JSDF captain drills the new students on moving in sync, he singles out both Ai and Sarasa. He tells Ai to improve her core and posture, as iodl “cutesiness” has no place in Kouka. As for Sarasa, he just reminds her to be mindful of her limbs, but is impressed when he shoves her back and she keeps her balance.

This in turn leads Sarasa to cheerfully challenge him to shove her again when she’s in a special stance that keeps her firmly grounded. It’s later revealed she used a stance taught by her grandfather, a former kabuki actor (lest we forget, there are no women in kabuki).

While she’s being a lot less aggressive about it, Sarasa is employing a similar stance with regards to Ai, insisting that as roomies they should be friends and support one another. It’s only fitting that Sarasa’s the only girl at school who doesn’t know about Ai’s dark idol past. But even if she did, I seriously doubt she’d turn on her!

Kageki Shoujo!! is off to a strong start, packed with colorful personalities and potential for some pretty cool musical and theatrical performances, which the first episode only hints at. Sarasa has also loudly proclaims she intends to be the school’s top star, and I dare anyone to try to move her from that position.

I’m totally psyched to watch the girl who won’t let herself be emotionally moved live and work with a girl who won’t let herself be physically moved unless she allows it. I imagine Ai will eventually thaw a bit in the searing sunshine of Sarasa’s personality. That stalker coming for Ai better watch out—he wants no part of that Watanabe Sequoia smoke!

Jouran: The Princess of Snow and Blood – 04 – Snakes and Sinners

When Sawa sees the note from Janome she rushes to his hideout, but Kuzuhara heads her off in his car. He won’t let her walk into a trap and ruin the path to revenge he laid out for her just to save a little girl who wants to kill her. It’s not part of his plan, so he knocks her out with the back of his blade.

Unfortunately for him, Sawa is a part of Janome’s plan, and Makoto is working for him now (I guess?) and she siccs a group of changeling bomb dogs(!) on his car. In the ensuing explosions, he and Sawa are separated, and Makoto scoops her up and skedaddles. I guess Janome and Makoto knew Sawa wouldn’t make it to his hideout on her own…???

In a touching flashback to a happier past we’re reminded how cute and kind and human-behaving Sawa once was, as her brother assured her a bird would choose her someday. She wakes up to an array of disco lights and ominous organ music being played by our big bad, Janome with his back turned to her. It’s all a bit…Saturday morning cartoon villain, to be honest!

What was supposed to be dark and menacing comes off as goofy and cheesy, especially with his host of snakes that honestly might’ve have been slightly scarier if they were CG. Janome has a special restraining chair and birdcage all set up for Sawa, and forces her to submit to him fully, lest his badly-drawn snakes kill little Asahi.

He draws some of her blue blood while describing his evil plan, promising to free her and Asahi when that plan is complete, at which point she can kill him if she likes. Oh, and he’s got her brother Takeru strung up on the organ. He’s been keeping him barely alive while using his blood for his experiments, and Sawa is next. Pretty fucked up for a guy who claims to “worship” her clan!

This is when things go a bit off the rails. Makoto, who revealed she was working with Janome, switches sides again by killing the snakes holding Asahi. Another snake takes her arm in return. I guess I was right about her being a triple agent, but we know so little about Makoto that neither apparent turncoat move really did anything for me?

She feels more like a plot device than a character with discernable motivations, and it was time for her to side with Sawa here, so she did. Then Janome eats one of the crystals made out of Sawa’s blood, briefly becomes Mr. Freeze, and then turns into a frankly laughable snake-man monster. At this point, Matoko—who you’ll remember is missing an arm and bleeding profusely—still has the strength to ascend out of the hideout with a cable gun. Uh, bye, I guess??

Sawa enters her much cooler-looking changeling mode, but even that’s undermined by a transformation sequence that is frame-for-frame the same every time. Even this mode apparently isn’t enough, but with his last ounce of strength Takeru tosses some vials full of orange…stuff? at both Janome and Sawa.

The stuff seems to have opposite effects on the two, subduing Janome and powering up Sawa, who slices Janome clean in half. Her revenge thus complete, Sawa goes to her brother, who says it’s too late for him. Then she says in that case she’ll die with him, but then Asahi makes a noise and Sawa remembers why she came here in the first place! Roll Credits.

Sorry for the snarky tone, but Jouran kinda fell apart in this fourth episode, with thing upon thing simply happening and character upon character doing things that either didn’t make a lot of sense or were extremely heavy-handed (i.e. the organ schtick). With Sawa’s nemesis Janome turning out to be a relative pushover, I don’t know what’s next for her and the rest of Nue, but I don’t much care either.

Jujutsu Kaisen – 10 – Working Overtime

It’s pretty bold to spend the first three episodes of your anime introducing your core trio, only for them to be together in part of just one episode, then keep them separated for the next six episodes, and likely more. It’s a risk a two-cour series can afford to take, and while part of me is miffed by the withheld gratification of watching the trio reunite at last, I can’t say I dislike what the show is doing in the meantime.

To live a day in Yoshino Junpei’s shoes, you have to take a look at the whole Jujutsu sorcery profession and say to yourself “So what?” He encounters cursed creatures just as fearsome as the sorcerers, only his are fully human. It’s what makes him such a good fit for Mahito’s mentorship: Mahito is among those cursed spirits who believe his kind to be the true humans, because at least they’re honest.

Human monsters like Yoshino’s peers who disguise themselves as high school students doesn’t fly for Mahito, who makes both study and sport of disfiguring the bodies that surround their souls. He’s made one human two stories tall, while another fits in the palm of Yoshino’s hand. But again, Mahito’s experiments are no sweat for the already horrror-attuned Yoshino.

When Yuuji and Ijichi track down Yoshino, the kid has just been given sanction by Mahito to kill someone he hates as if he were eating because he was hungry; life is meaningless, so you might as well do what you want. This is another form of the fundamental “honesty” Mahito and the other cursed spirits believe makes them more human than humans.

One of Yoshino’s teachers also tracks him down, and scolds him for not attending the funerals of his tormentors. This teacher saw Yoshino being bullied by those same three students, but seemingly chose to see it as four friends just messing around. For this, Yoshino is on the cusp of killing him as Mahito gave him leave to do, but Yuuji interrupts, using the low-level curse to test whether Yoshino can see and fight curses.

Meanwhile, Nanami encounters Mahito in the sewers and the two face off. The former severs the latter’s wrist with his weak-spot technique, but Mahito quickly heals by using his soul to maintain the original shape of his body. Mahito’s “Idle Transformation” is a bad matchup for Nanami, who relies on his technique to create debilitating wounds that last.

It appears that Yoshino can see the curse (which tracks, since he can also see Mahito), but the teacher doesn’t think Yuuji can possibly have anything to say to Yoshino that’s more important than what he’s saying. So Yuuji steals the teacher’s pants and runs off them. The teacher gives chase, but Yuuji is fast enough to loop around back to Yoshino.

Yoshino is willing and even intrigued to have a chat with Yuuji, who intrinsically sensed that Yoshino hated the teacher he was talking to. I’m still holding out hope Yuuji can save this kid before he goes too far down the cursed rabbit hole with Mahito, whom I can’t imagine truly has Yoshino’s best interests at heart.

As for Mahito, he starts getting confident that if he simply makes physical contact with Nanami enough, he’ll eventually be able to control his soul and transform him into one of this living sculptures. He also uses disfigured humans as weapons, extending the battle.

But lest we forget, Nanami is a former salaryman, and thus religiously sticks to the 10-to-6 business day model. Once his watch hits six, he goes into “overtime”, which means the kid gloves come off. The next stage of their battle should be pretty cool—as all battles in this show have been so far.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Jujutsu Kaisen – 09 – The Accumulation of Little Despairs

Yoshino Junpei is the victim of bullying by three thuggish guys, egged on by one girl who they think will let them bang her if they sufficiently impress her with their casual brutality. Yoshino starts skipping school and seeks refuge at the movies, but the bullies are there too, making a big ‘ol racket.

While Yoshino is too mild-mannered (not to mention just plain scared) to confront them, Mahito has no qualms about teaching them manners by disfiguring their faces to death. Earlier Yoshino said he probably wouldn’t push a button that killed everyone he hated, but would push one that killed everyone who hated him.

It’s an interesting distinction, and now it seems to be a reality thanks to Mahito. The question is whether Mahito and Yoshino just happened to cross paths, or if the cursed spirit sought to recruit a young follower. In any case, Gojou leaves the investigation of the theater killings to his pal Nanami Kento, with Yuuji riding shotgun.

Nanami is about as no-nonsense as Jujutsu sorcers come, and he insists that a overly gung-ho Yuuji only use “moderate effort” where it will suffice. He also makes it clear he considers Yuuji a child while he is a full-fledged adult. This is in stark contrast to Gojou, who is as much a big brother as a sensei to Yuuji.

Nanami teaches Yuuji how to sense and see “residuals”, the residue of cursed techniques, which lead them to a rooftop battle with a couple of curses. He shows off his ability to slice up a curse with the blunt end of a heavily-wrapped knife, while Yuuji demonstrates his “Divergent Fist”, the cool name Gojou gives to the natural inclination for his punches to hit once physically and then again with cursed energy for a double whammy.

But something’s off about these curses, and Nanami orders Yuuji not to finish them. Ieiri later learns that they were humans that were somehow transformed (and possibly given the ability to use cursed energy) by a particular cursed technique. (Quick PSA: do not play a drinking game whenever someone says “cursed” in this show, or you will surely die.)

As Mahito further schools up Yoshino on his elemental pals (Joujo, Hanami, and Zoidberg) from his sewer lair, Nanami instructs Yuuji to track down Yoshino with Ijichi to possibly learn the location of the culprit’s hideout. But as he confides in Ijichi, Nanami already knows exactly where the culprit is; he just doesn’t want to take a kid like Yuuji into a potentially lethal situation.

We’ll see if Yuuji’s emotional intelligence can break Mahito’s hold on Yoshino, or if the two lads are fated to become enemies in the slowly-brewing human-curse war. Apparently, Yuuji carrying around a small cage containing Boglin-like curses has something to do with the mission…

Rating: 4/5 Stars

P.S. I realize nine episodes in and I haven’t commented on the OP, ED, or omaki segments. All three are excellent on all counts, with particular praise going to the jaunty beat and expressive dance animation of the ED and the omaki skits’ ability to drop all pretense and simply have more comedic fun with these colorful characters.

Jujutsu Kaisen – 08 – Twisted Sister School

After being entirely absent from the previous episode, Megumi and Nobara stick around for the lion’s share of the eighth. While I understand that plot-wise it makes more sense to unveil Yuuji at the Exchange Event, there’s still a sense of dissatisfaction from the fact the central trio has been apart far longer than they’ve been together, and Megumi and Nobara of them are still in the dark.

The delegation from Kyoto arrives at Tokyo Jujutsu Tech, and their third-year ace Toudou Aoi decides to pick a fight with Megumi, while Zenin Maki’s twin sister Mai restrains Nobara. Toudou decides to beat up Megumi for no reason other than he finds him boring, especially when it comes to his non-specific taste in women. Mai…just wants to shoot a bitch?

Megumi tries his best against Toudou, hoping his ranged cursed techniques will let him keep his distance. But it doesn’t go well, and the outmatched Megumi ends up beaten bloody before Inumaki and Panda come to the rescue. Toudou is content to end the fight there, but it’s clear that Kyoto’s sorcerers-in-training are far crazier and more violent than Tokyo’s (Granted, we haven’t met any of the third-years).

Mai proceeds to shoot holes in Nobara’s brand-new tracksuit, to teach her a lesson in “manners”, but Maki arrives to stop her twin sister from putting any bullet holes in Nobara’s body. Nobara demands Mai leave her uniform behind as payment for ruining her tracksuit, but Toudou whisks her off, as he doesn’t want to be late for the super-tall idol Takada-chan’s handshake event.

Maki confirms to Nobara that she doesn’t have any cursed energy, while Mai doesn’t know any cursed techniques. You’d think that considering together they possess the two qualities that are typically crucial to being an effective sorcerer they’d work together…but you’d be wrong. As for Nobara, she gains a heightened respect for her senpai, affectionately leaning onto her as they walk.

Kyoto’s principal Gakuganji is waiting with his attendant Miwa when instead of Principal Yaga, Gojou enters the room, having intentionally changed Yaga’s schedule so he could have some time along with the Kyoto bigwig. Gojou simply wants to impart his dissatisfaction with the stuffy, tradition-obsessed higher-ups.

Between stronger cursed spirits and stronger students, terms like “special-grade” will lose all meaning, and the fogies aren’t prepared for what happens then. Gojou, on the other hand, intends to be. Miwa comports herself well, but “Inner Miwa” is going completely gaga over Gojou. Akasaki Chinatsu and some excellent character animation really bring a seemingly bit player in Miwa to life. Finally, Toudou gets to meet Takada-chan.

A month passes, and we transition to a movie theater where three high school students ended up killed and their heads severely deformed. One witness spots the apparent culprit Mahito, whom we met on the beach last week. Then Yuuji appears for the first time this episode, along with an older guy wearing Batou-like glasses. Looks like Yuuji is being given one more mission to break him in before heading to the Exchange Event.

Bloom Into You – 04 – The Spectator

Yuu’s friend Koyomi is distracted from after-school study since she’s busy writing what I’m guessing is a love letter. She doesn’t reveal this fact to Yuu, preferring to keep it secret, as such things should be, at least until you have a better handle on how it will go. Yuu doesn’t have time to give her friend’s reaction too much thought, because new Student Council President Nanami Touko has arrived to pick her up to go to the council office. Touko also introduces the fifth and newest member, a first-year boy, Doujima Suguru.

Touko lays out the general areas when they’ll be busiest, no more so than the cultural festival. She wants to bring back the StuCo stage play, in which they’ll fill performing roles while the various creative clubs provide script, costumes, sets, etc., in lieu of a theater club (which the school doesn’t have). Touko is enthusiastic about the idea (obviously; it’s hers), as is Doujima. VP Sayaka can be counted on to go along with whatever Touko wants, as always.

The two holdouts are Yuu and Maki Seiji. Yuu doesn’t like big crowds (she did quite well with her speech, but that doesn’t mean she enjoyed it), while Maki prefers to work “in the background” in a support role, as he did in the past in sports clubs. Ironically, it was that speech that inspired Doujima to join; Yuu seemed so fired up about joining in that moment!

After a long day of council work, much of it organizing the mess of files of the previous administration, everyone heads out except for Touko and Yuu. Yuu was going to leave too, but gets a Look from Touko that keeps her there. The fact she stays, and for no reason other than to keep Touko company…that innate kindness of Yuu gets Touko all hot and bothered.

She wants to kiss Yuu…badly. Yuu brings up how she made it clear ‘she can’t return the same feelings so why is Touko coming on to her’. But it’s Yuu letting Touko love her that makes Touko love her that much more. That same kind Yuu doesn’t exactly hate being kissed, and if she said she “wasn’t interested”, she’d be lying. So they kiss. And as they kiss, Maki comes back to grab his pencil case…and sees them. But they don’t see him.

The next day, Maki acts naturally with Yuu, which is to say, they have a good working relationship as student council colleagues. Yuu brings him the pencil case he couldn’t grab. We don’t know Maki all that well, except that we know that “the background” is his wheelhouse; he likes to help out, not stand out. To that end, him spreading rumors isn’t something he’d do.

All I can say is, thank God it wasn’t Doujima who spotted Yuu and Touko, or it might already have spread to the whole school. Maybe that’s not being entirely fair to Doujima, whom I also barely know, but from what we gather in his interaction with a distracted-looking Maki, we can glean that he’s a more “conventional” high school boy; he has a specific type of girl he’s into and asks Maki what his type is (to which he says he has none).

The more he observes Touko and Yuu, the more he learns and realizes about them. He also observes Sayaka, who he can tell feels threatened by Yuu, and she isn’t even that good at hiding it, saying, in effect, Touko’s first-year obsession “will pass” which is clearly wishful thinking on her part. That outcome serves her, but she’s not really thinking about what Touko wants, is she now?

When Maki heads back to the school from the office, Yuu accompanies him, and on the way. They talk about her and Touko, and he informs her that he saw them kiss, asking if they’re dating. Yuu is petrified; not knowing who Maki is, she envisions her version of the worst-case scenario: word spreads, and it hurts Touko.

But again, Maki isn’t going to use what he knows for anything malicious; it’s just not who he is. Touko and Yuu didn’t do anything to him; why would he do something to hurt them? It does nothing for him. What does do something for him, on the other hand, is knowing they’re a couple, and specifically being the only one who knows.

You see, Maki is not your normal high school kid either. He’s not interested in getting into or being in a relationship; only observing them from a comfortable place. It doesn’t matter if it’s a girl and a guy, or two guys or two girls; as long as he’s a spectator and not a participant (the closest to anger we see him exhibit is when he himself was confessed to in the past, shattering his “fourth wall.”

Somehow, some way, this doesn’t come off as creepy. Perhaps it’s because the way he expresses it felt so innocent to me. I’m not saying it’s a healthy or unhealthy way to live your life, and neither does the show judge him either way.

What matters to Yuu is that Maki discretely told her, alone, in a prompt fashion. So when he says he won’t tell anyone—not even Touko—both Yuu and I trust him.

Maki’s passive way of navigating the tempestuous seas of high school affords him unique insights that more active participants will often overlook. For instance: he can tell Touko is special to Yuu, because without even thinking Yuu put Touko’s wellfare before her own vis-a-vis their secret.

Maki doesn’t hate love, he just wants to be above the fray and watch it…one more reason he won’t mess with Yuu and Touko. To do so would be as unthinkable as standing up in the middle of a play and interrupting the actors on the stage (assuming, of course, it’s a non-interactive play).

And so for the first time, Yuu is flustered by someone other than Touko on the subject of her feelings for her. What she thought to be “normal” may actually be the “special”-ness she thought she’d never achieve. This changes everything.

Kabukibu! – 01 (First Impressions)

Kurusu Kurogo loves kabuki. He loves it so much and thinks it’s so fun and free, he wants to start a high school kabuki club. When that fails, he tries to start a kabuki school “group” instead, but needs a minimum of five members. Kurusu and his friend Murase Tonpo set out attempting to recruit three more. They do not succeed.

First is Akutsu, who has kabuki in his blood but would rather play back J-rock to a small flock of groupies; Niwa, an accredited and former child prodigy of dance who now looks like a beat-up boxer; and Asagi, who not only has his own thing going on with drama club (and an entire segment of underclassmen assigned to serving her), but isn’t a he, but a she. Finally, they find an actual, real-life kabuki performer with a stage name in their same grade.

I applaud Studio Deen for taking another traditional Japanese art form and trying to give it extra exposure by putting it in a currently far more popular Japanese art form. It did so with rakugo with immense success…but it strikes out here. It’s all in the execution: this feels like one more by-the-numbers obscure club in danger of never existing or being shut down. The trappings of kabuki are just that: trappings; window-dressing. We only catch the slightest glimpses of the world.

The MC himself is just a tourist, and one of the reasons he fails to recruit anyone (besides the obscurity of his passion) is that his arguments for why kabuki is so great feel so hollow. As reluctant and recalcitrant as his would-be recruits are, you can’t really blame them: they feel less like people Kurusu wants to share his passion with and more like pawns to fill a quota. He just met them all, after all; why does he expect any of them to drop what they’re doing and join his club with such weak sales pitches?

So yeah, while I personally like kabuki (though have only seen it live once), I did not like Kabukibu! Even the title grates; it sounds too much like peekaboo. 

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 12 (Fin)

Its first season shows us the past, and most of its second season showed us the present. This week is all about the future, both of the Yakumo and Sukeroku names, the families connected to them, and of rakugo itself. In all cases, that future looks bright, thanks to the inspiration of those who came before.

First, we have a Shin in his late teens or early twenties, and he’s the spitting image of his grandfather Yakumo, even though they’re not related by blood…or are they? The resemblance is uncanny, Konatsu is committed to taking the truth to the grave, as is her prerogative.

In other news, Konatsu has become the first female rakugo performer in history, which is awesome, because it’s something we know she’s always wanted to do, and she’s also very very good at it (sadly though, we don’t get to see her perform).

Interestingly, it doesn’t seem her and Yotaro’s daughter (and Shin’s little sister) Koyuki is interested in following the path the rest of her family has walked, and is content to listen to them work their craft.

As far as Shin is concerned, Yotaro, now the Ninth Generation Yakumo, is his Dad—he helped raise him, after all. That is very clear in a quiet, private scene between the two. As it’s very possible he carries both the blood of Sukeroku and Yakumo, Shin seems to strike a nice balance between their two extreme styles. And the little boy Shin we’re accustomed to comes out when his dad encourages him before one of the biggest performances of his life.

That performance is part of the grand re-opening of the Uchikutei theater, which had burned down years ago but now has been completely rebuilt (only now, no doubt, is up to code). Seeing the new Yakumo IX on the stage with his wife and son (and Master Mangatsu) is a triumphant moment, and the full crowd suggests Yotaro has succeeded in restoring rakugo from the brink it was dangling from when Yakumo VIII died.

Now it’s a more inclusive, less stodgy, and more welcoming place, without sacrificing the things that made it unique. Even Konatsu realizes she was foolish in her earlier thinking that she’d upset some kind of “harmony” by entering the world of rakugo.

It must be that much more encouraging for Matsuda, the only character to inhabit all three timelines. He’s 95 and wheelchair-bound, but seems as warm and cheerful as ever.

After Shin opens with a very good performance that demonstrates why he will be an excellent Sukeroku and/or Yakumo one day, Yotaro performs “Shinigami”, a Yakumo VIII original, as a tribute. And what do you know, the old man visits him at the climax of his performance, leading me wondering momentarily if Yotaro had been taken to the far shore himself!

Thankfully, Yotaro is fine, and he and his family and friends celebrate after the show with a flower viewing by the riverside. Matsuda mentions how he saw his master to the far shore (apparently during a near-death experience of his own back then), and Higuchi waxes poetic on Yotaro’s contributions to helping prevent rakugo from dying with Yakumo.

Yotaro, however was never concerned that rakugo would go anywhere, with or without his help. It’s too good for that. And I tend to agree: various humans can argue over whether the art of rakugo is something that must be vigilantly protected from disappearing, like tending a delicate fire.

But fires can be rebuilt and reignited, and there will always be those who want to sit in an old theater (or a newly rebuilt theater) and hear someone tell a funny, raunchy, or moving story that will transport them somewhere else. Rakugo is eternal.

HaruChika – 04

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I decided to go out on a limb and watch one more episode of P.A. Work’s generally disappointing HaruChika, intrigued that we might find a chink in the perfect Haruta’s armor in the guise of his family. I did so knowing it could well be a trap that would lead me to keep watching, despite the fact I should have learned from Glasslip that the show isn’t really ever going to actually go anywhere, only tease.

And it was a trap. But while I’m still committed to dropping this, I didn’t dislike my final look. Once one gets used to the look of HaruChika, it really does show good command of animating characters and creating awkward situations for comedic effect. And I liked Haruta’s eldest sister,who’s far from the hell-beast Haruta made her out to be. In fact, her presence and his discomfort with it made Haruta a lot more tolerable.

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We learn that Haruta is only one of an entire family of talented people; Mimami is an architect (and a pretty nifty drifter in her Civic Type R), while his other two sisters are an illustrator and a chiropractor. So certainly there’s both pressure on him, the baby, to perform, as well as do whatever his three sisters want. I only have one little sister, so I can’t quite relate, but his discontent with his lot in life is at least more understandable now that I know he comes from a home practiclaly bursting with ability.

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In any case, when he was evicted from his old apartment, Haruta took to living with the chickens and being cared for by the animal club. This won’t do, so Minami is there to help him find a new apartment; Chika volunteers to help out (especially when she learns the alternative may be Haru staying at Kusakabe’s place), and drags Miyoko along. When the seemingly perfect place’s only flaw is that it might be haunted, Miyoko’s scaredy-cat side comes out, and it’s fun to watch Chika mess with her at every turn.

The thing is, an exploration into Haruta’s family suddenly turns into another very random mystery-of-the-week involving the recently deceased landlord’s nephew, who believes his prank-loving uncle left the house to him to cause him trouble: the tenants always complain about what sounds like a priest’s staff in the night, and the inheritance tax is more than he and his pregnant wife can afford.

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Haru ends up staying at Maren’s house (thanks to an assist by Miyoko that Chika praises her for…wait, wasn’t Chika terrorizing Miyoko all day?) and he puts all the clues that were laid out together. My first thoughts on hearing about the nature of the ghost sound, combined with the will written on the blueprints and mentioning “precious metals”, was that the walls were full of coins.

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Mind you, I’m not usually too skilled at solving mysteries before the show reveals them, but this was one of those instances, leaving me tapping my foot a bit, waiting along with Chika and the others for Haru to make yet another big show about what a frikkin’ genius he is. All Hail The Glorious, Perfect Haruta…(farting noise).

Now, I did enjoy details like 1982 being the year the 500-yen coin was first put into circulation, and that all the coins in the walls are 500-yen coins, as well as the warm, casual Christmas flavor that suffused the episode. As for Haru and Chika ending up in Kusakabe’s arms, lying on a pile of cash, well…that was just goofy, and a useful reminder that I need to step away from this show while I still can!

I do so with one final unsolicited, uninformed prediction: Haru and Chika will not be a couple by the end of the show. I know that’s not necessarily the point of the show, but c’mon now. I may check in on the last episode to see if I’m proven wrong.

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HaruChika – 03

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Haruta and Chika’s lame love triangle continues to be an ongoing problem with HaruChika. If it were a classmate they both loved, male or female, that would be one thing; the fact their object of affection is a teacher all but eliminates the possibility of anything actually going anywhere. It doesn’t help that said teacher is a walking snooze-fest. I simply ain’t buying what either the show or its two title leads are selling.

But hey, at least that triangle is only a peripheral element of the story. This week, the show once again focuses on a new character, Sei Maren, who doesn’t get off to a stirring start with an opening line like “Where is the step I should take to move forward?” Whoa there, Proust.

He also has a whole built-in story, with a Life Box he opens sometimes to stoke his angst! Haru, Chika, and Miyoko encounter him in drama club, looking lost (and not at all good at drama, as the leader Nagoe admits frankly).

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So this Sei guy has a personal problem, and people are worried about him (particularly Miyoko, randomly). So what does Haruta do? Write a play that will “make everyone happy.” Only Nagoe rips it up, and the drama club and brass band get into a little exchange of unfriendly words, resulting in a challenge that will be settled on the stage.

The subsequent dramatic “exit game”, in which Haru, Chika, and Miyoko square off against Nagoe, Sei, and their star actress Yaeko (who does a fair impression of Princess Mononoke), is actually the niftiest part of the episode. It has all six “actors” essentially straddling two different worlds, gradually adding to the complexity of their setting and situation in order to get one of their opponents’ actors to exit stage right.

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Of course, it ain’t perfect. Haruta shows yet another skill he’s good at – acting and improvisation, as well as being nigh telepathic about Sei’s personal concerns, not helping his annoying Gary Stu status. Many of his lines in the exit game are a little too on the nose, to the point of being cruel to Sei. But more than what he knows and probably shouldn’t, it’s just deeply troubling how meddling this guy is!

He’s such a busybody, interfering in others’ lives and being as coy and dramatic about it as he can, in this case literally. They also somehow stole Sei’s Life Box from the closet in his room! WTF? (Note: I don’t want to hear a rational explanation for this; it’s just silly.) And Sei’s feelings about abandonment are far too easily quelled by Haruta and Nagoe’s intrusive charade.

As for Miyoko’s apparent feelings for the guy, well, she must see something I don’t, which is to say she sees…something, period.

Haruta also didn’t have to keep Chika in the dark…but of course he did, because he’s a jerk! So when Chika kicks him and sends him careening to the earth, it’s highly satisfying. I LOL’d. It’s like she’s kicking the little twerp not just for her own sake, or for Sei’s, but for all of us.

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