Those Snow White Notes – 04 – New Guide, New Goal, New Sound

It’s all thanks to Sakura’s onigiri. When she greets Setsu and he enters the boarding house without responding, she can tell he’s out of sorts, and the only thing for that is food. When she delivers it, he’s on the phone with Wakana, and she gets the idea he’s talking about a girl he likes.

Setsu is terrified of not being able to live up to Shuri’s grandmother’s memory of gramps’ magnum opus, “Shungyou (Spring Dawn)”. But Wakana reminds him that Shuri didn’t know Gramps, and Setsu doesn’t know her grandmother. It’s impossible to try to exactly copy what she heard so many years ago, so he suggests Setsu rewrite her memory, using his own song.

Kamiki calls Mai to tell her he heard Setsu play, and while he clearly couldn’t show him his “sound”, he still heard the dizzying potential Mai always believed to be there, and so desperately wants to do battle with. Setsu gets a recording of “Shungyou”, but it’s on an ancient cassette tape. No problem; Kaito’s a vintage audiophile!

When Kaito asks why they can’t just play the tape for Shuri’s gram, Setsu says there’s no comparison between a taped performance and a live one. That makes it all the more impressive that even a cassette recording of Setsu’s gramps playing is able to fully transport both him and Kaito into the story of the song, ending with the titular and redemptive spring dawn.

Even a layman like Kaito can tell how God-level Setsu’s gramps was, and Setsu acknowledges he simply doesn’t have hands quick enough to match the picking at the climax of the piece. While he tries to play it, a passing young man declares Setsu’s sound “pinched and sharp”, i.e. frustrated and confined. He hands him a handmade Tamapiyo chick: something simple anyone can make, yet still causes peoples’ hearts to skip a beat.

Speaking of skipping a beat, Shuri’s heart does so as she watches the stream of Setsu playing that Yui first saw. When Kaito learns she had been keeping it from Shuri, he gets angry at Yui, provoking her into kicking him, saying “Shuri’s all you think about!” and storming off, blushing and mad. Clearly there’s a love triangle in play here, and the addition of Setsu makes it a rhombus.

Sakura forms still another vertex, as she welcomes the acerbic young man who told Setsu to simplify. He learns his name is Rai, he plays hosozao shamisen, and is the son of a rakugo performer. They’re also neighbors! Setsu followed his advice and thanks Rai for giving it.

The day arrives, and Setsu is clearly nervous because when he first meets Shuri’s grandmother he asks if she’s dead, then warns her not to die before he finishes playing. That’s gotta be nerves! But then he sits down, begins playing a sparser, more stripped down “Shungyou” that he can actually play, thus demonstrating his own new sound based upon his gramps but no longer an attempted perfect facsimile.

The sound transports Shuri’s grandma back to when she was a six-year-old evacuee shunned by those who took her in. She met a poor and starving boy slightly older than her, and she gave him her ration of potato to play something for her. That boy, Setsu’s grandfather, wept after playing, because he ate a starving girl’s potato. When she says it’s okay for her to die because her parent is dead, he said no, you have to keep living.

As Setsu’s streamlined performance moves everyone to tears, especially Shuri, who witnesses her gran smile for the first time in a long while. Setsu and Kaito saw the Spring Dawn over the mountains that turned a new page in the life of the unnamed subject of the piece—who could be anyone.

Gran’s eyes are also dazzled here by the rising sun over deep blue waves and a purple sky, the night dissolving into darkness. The image of her sitting and listening to Setsu’s gramps playing Shamisen is etched in her mind. It’s a cot-damn tearjerker, I tellsya; a new high watermark for the series in terms of emotional impact.


When it’s over, Shuri’s gran says it sounded different. That’s because the sound she heard back in the day was a very humble sound on a shabby shamisen, and yet it gave her the courage to live. She describes Setsu’s sound as a gentle sound that can heal pain, as it healed hers. She declares that she’ll be able to sleep again without becoming lost in colorless, soundless painful memories.

Setsu’s performance was a great success, and Shuri reminds him, Yui, and Kaito that they’re all in her Shamisen Club going forward. Setsu’s mom, being massaged and pampered by an army of servants, gets word from “the unit keeping an eye on Setsu” that he’s joined the club, and she takes the liberty of entering him into the National High School Tsugaru Shamisen Koshien—the Matsugurou Cup! Looks like Mai might just get her wish of going up against Setsu…

GODDAMN TEARJERKER™ CERTIFIED

This is a re-post from last week’s episode. Episode 5 review coming soon.

Those Snow White Notes – 03 – It’s Fine if It’s Different

This week Setsu becomes raveled in the web of the adorable Maeda Shuri and her childhood friends Kaito and Yui. Yui tries in vein to get Setsu to join Shuri’s club, leading him to ask why she won’t join. Then Kaito asks Shuri if Setsu’s bothering her, even though we later learn he’s the one who bullied her when she was little!

Everything chances when Shuri gets lost in a recording of her grandmother’s humming a tune on her phone and misses the bell. She gets reamed out by the teacher, who unplugs her earbud, and the whole class can hears the tune. Setsu recognizes it: his own grandfather’s “Shungyou (Spring Dawn).”

Setsu boldly approaches Shuri in the hall and asks her about it; turns out the whole reason Shuri started the club was that she hoped to meet someone who could tell her what song it was her grandmother heard some decades ago, a memory that no longer has any sound. Kaito who has an unabashed crush on Shuri, grabs Setsu, who says he was mistaken and storms off.

Then it’s Shuri’s turn to be unexpected, as she grabs Setsu’s arm with both of hers. She answered his question, now he has to answer hers: Could she someday play the piece her granny hummed? “Impossible”, he says flatly, drawing the ire of both Kaito and Yui. Koyabu-sensei breaks up the tussle by suggesting all five of them go listen to a live performance by the former owner of the shamisen in Shuri’s care.

Meanwhile in Aomori, Kamiki Seiryuuu, formerly Ogata Kousuke, shamisen player extraordinaire, plays for the Tanuma siblings’ father, who is impressed by his progress but still assures him that his son Souichi will beat him. Kamiki politely replies that that ain’t gonna happen.

While on the way out Kamiki runs into Tanuma Mai, who may be the only one outside the Sawamura family to hear Setsu’s playing. And he was so skilled, his distaste for competition made her mad. She’s been mad ever since, and doesn’t quite buy that it’s “fine” for Setsu to not want to seek recognition.

Speaking of recognition, Koito and Setsu arrive at Kamiki’s performance with Shuri, Yui, and Koyabu-sensei, and a crowd full of adoring ladies. Shuri asks Setsu what he meant by impossible, he says even he wouldn’tbe able to play it, as his “emotions would get in the way”. Yui wonders to herself why he can’t simply try to play it.

Then the lights go out, and a dramatically silhouetted Kamiki begins his performance, pulling the crowd in with a clarity of sound Setsu didn’t think possible from a futozao. As Mai’s dad said, his playing is like a breath of mountain air; crisp, bracing…even a little frightening. Again Snow White Notes delivers another awesome shamisen performance, and due to the performer being Kamiki, it’s unlike any of the previous ones.

Koyabu-sensei gets everyone backstage so Shuri can ask Kamiki about the shamisen he left behind, but Setsu gets uncharacteristically chippy about the fact Kamiki basically abandoned such a kingly instrument to the tender mercies of a school that could have easily thrown it out.

Kamiki says he trusted someone would find it who would be able to ascertain its true value…and that turned out to be true! Then Kamiki hands Setsu his current shamisen and asks him to show him what he’s got. Setsu plays, and Shuri, Koito, and Koyabu-sensei are impressed…but Yui isn’t. Nor is Kamiki.

Yui finds his playing boring. Kamiki had an even meaner word for it in his thoughts…insipid. He recognizes Setsu has some skill, but he was just striking away recklessly.

Setsu runs off. Yui follows him and asked why he phoned it in. She heard him play properly online during the rock show and was blown away despite having zero interest in the shamisen before. But Setsu wasn’t sucking intentionally…he just couldn’t play. Shuri listens in around the corner as he laments not being able to play for Shuri even though she’s so desperate to hear that mystery tune.

A rain-soaked Setsu arrives on his block to find Sakura outside the boarding house, and he asks her upfront what she’d do if someone asked her to do something she thought was impossible for her. Sakura says she’d give it her best shot on her own terms, even if she knew she’d fail. It’s just what Setsu needed to hear to come out of his funk.

The next day, when Shuri is along in some supply room strumming out some basic shamisen notes, Setsu appears from behind and corrects her posture. He asks if it’s okay if the song he plays is different from the one her grandmother remembers, and she says of course it will be fine; like Sakura, she’s more concerned with trying than not trying. If anything, it’s better if it’s different, because that makes it his sound. That’s what he’s scared of, after all: his sound never shaping up to his gramps’.

But his grandfather didn’t want him exactly copying him anyway! Setsu thought his sound didn’t exist at all without gramps around, but by bringing sound to the silent memories of Shuri and her grandmother, he’s one more small step towards discovering that he always had a sound separate from his master’s—everyone does, and everyone should. I’ll close by saying way to go, Setsu, for totally making Shuri’s day!

Mars Red – 02 – Sin From Thy Lips

In the ruins of the bunker where Misaki was being held, Moriyama informs his newly-promoted boss Col. Maeda that there have been more vamp sightings in Kayabacho. Nitto News reporter Shirase Aoi is after the truth of the recent spate of “human combustion” incidents and keen for details on Misaki’s “elopement”, while yearning for her childhood friend, who never returned from battle in Siberia. She’s also miffed that Salomé has been replaced by Romeo & Juliet at the theatre.

We meet the vampiric members of Maeda’s vampire unit Code Zero—the “unranked” Yamagami, “A Class” Kurusu Shuutarou, and “mad scientist”-type Takeuchi—as well as Suwa, who seems to be human. Their first trip for intel on the vamps in Kayabacho is Tenmanya, a shop full of knicknacks, antiques, and curios. Its proprietor plays both sides of the human-vampire conflict.

Tenmanya is willing to offer some info in exchange for ruining his competition. Those rival “blood sellers” are selling a bootleg of his “product”—the vamp equivalent of the hard shit—and a vampire couple are enjoying it and themselves, though the woman seems to think her mate is drinking a bit too much.

While playing a bouquet of asters at the stigmata where Misaki burned up, Maeda encounters Aoi, and learns that one of his vampire agents, Kurusu Shuutarou, is her childhood friend reported dead. He doesn’t tell her of Shuutarou’s fate, nor why he’s leaving flowers, other than he “couldn’t keep his word.”

At midnight, all bridges and streets leading out of Kayabacho are sealed and Code Zero moves in on the vampire couple, who sense danger and aren’t prepared to go quietly. I love how simple yet frightening vampires are depicted in Mars Red, and once again the lighting and camerawork really sell their speed and ferocity that far exceeds human limits.

Unfortunately for our couple, they are cornered on a bridge, and Maeda has brought plenty of his own vampires to take them down. The male vamp chugs one more vial of the black blood and goes out in a blaze of glory, but it’s Suwa and not the Class A Kurusu who delivers the killing blow. Despite being an extremely powerful vampire, Kurusu is disgusted and even a bit scared of blood.

The “parent root” female vamp tries to flee, but she’s headed off by Maeda, who rather violently stuffs his fist through her mouth then slashes her with his sword. How he, a mere human, can do this is not clear. Is he not a mere human? Unfortunately Maeda’s aide Moriyama has to be put out of his misery. Maeda handles it, then has a solemn smoke on the bridge.

Like Tenmanya, Mars Red has the eclectic style and pleasantly musty scent of a shop with odd hours filled with neat things. I also like the connection between Aoi and Kurusu, though I wish after two episodes I could summon more than a shrug about Colonel Maeda, who’s almost too stiff and stoic for his own good.

Higehiro – 02 – Freedom and Choices

A princess raised in castles is going to act like royalty, like Queen Elizabeth. A princess raised by wolves is going to act like a wolf, like San, AKA Princess Mononoke. Behaviors are learned through social interactions and time. Sayu has apparently lived a life where her choices were few and her freedom nonexistent.

Leaving home only gave her a fleeting freedom, and she eventually had to do what conditions at the time demanded her of her to survive. As a result, she still behaves around Yoshida the way she had to behave around other men with whom she treated her body for shelter. He notes that the smiles she flashes often feel forced, strange, and wrong.

It’s doubly frustrating to him that someone so young had been forced into a situation where she didn’t feel safe not smiling when she didn’t feel like it. He calls her out on it with what I’d call “harsh kindness”, assuring her that even if his home isn’t hers, she’s allowed to be there, and doesn’t have to be “weird” or “lie to him” with those smiles.

Sayu understands what Yoshida is on about, and so tells him that she was thinking to herself why he’s so nice. He reiterates that he’s not being overly nice at all; he’s just being decent, the way everyone should be to each other. She says she’ll try her best not to refuse when he offers her things, or smile when she doesn’t mean it.

But she also points out that those smiles and refusals are habits that will be hard to break, since she’s still not quite used to the unprecedented freedom and choices Yoshida has given her. But through her attitude and the housework she does for him, she hopes to make him think he’s glad she came into his life. Despite everything that’s happened to her, Sayu remains a kind and decent person herself.

While last week focused on the establishment of Yoshida’s new normal at home, here we get a look into his work environment, where his crisper shirts, enhanced hygiene, and shorter-than-usual work days have led to rumors he has a girlfriend. But when his immediate underling Mishima’s code has some bugs in it, and she’s forced to work late, he works late with her, and even gets takeout.

Mishima takes their ensuing alone time to learn that Yoshida doens’t have a girlfriend, and was recently rejected by Gotou. Mishima considers herself “lucky” Gotou rejected him, and wouldn’t mind going out for a beer sometime. Like Sayu, she tells him he’s kinder than most by not simply giving up on her, but as with Sayu, he doesn’t think he’s any nicer than everyone should be.

When he gets home, Sayu is wrapped in her blanket like a Yuru Camp character, apparently angry he’s home late after she cooked dinner. But she follows her annoyed tone with genuine giggling, as she was just messing with him. As she reads manga and he has an after-work beer, he realizes that he really should have a way to get a hold of her.

Sayu threw her old phone in the ocean, and while at the mall she refuses to let him buy a new one, so he does so when she’s not around. Hashimoto, the only other person who knows about Sayu, can tell that Yoshida likes Sayu by the care he’s putting into choosing a case for her. Hashimoto gently warns him that it’s fine to be nice, but he should start thinking about how things are going to go, before she settles in too much, or she falls for him, or he falls for her.

Yoshida assures Hashimoto that that won’t happen, but while romance is out of the question, there are already glimmers of familial and paternal love. Hashimoto didn’t go so far as to say “she’s not a lost puppy”, but he’s right that Yoshida needs to come up with some kind of plan beyond keeping her off the streets.

One day at work, Gotou approaches Yoshida and they end up going out for yakiniku and beer, which she confesses she can only go out for with him, since all other men expect her to be a “sweet, proper lady.” That’s now three women who consider him to be uncommonly kind and understanding to them. One wonders why she’s with the man she’s with if she can’t be herself with him!

Gotou commences an anything-goes Q-&-A between them, starting first by asking if he’s dating someone. When he refuses, she lists all the evidence that he is—leaving work on time, cleaning himself up better—and mentions how Mishima seems to have a thing for him. He repeats that there’s nothing there, because in his give years at the office he’s always been in love with her.

When Gotou caught wind of the rumors, she was bothered by the fact he’d immediately been “taken in by another younger girl.” With the rumor staunched, Yoshida loses some points by asking Gotou what cup size she is. I know she said “ask me anything”, but c’mon, man!

When Yoshida comes home, late again, and not eating the dinner Sayu made again, she can tell he’s feeling down and needs a hug, so she hugs him. Like when she put her hand on his earlier, she does it because she wants to, and because she thinks it will make him feel better. And while in the bath he laments being a grown man cheered up by a teenage girl, it shouldn’t be anything to be ashamed of…ask any dad!

When he presents Sayu with a new phone, we learn he chose the white case for her over the black. White, the color of purity and chastity, yes, but also, Sayu just happens to like white! In that same vein, he didn’t buy it for her as a gift or a sign of his affection, but as a practical means of communication when they’re not both home.

Of course, he also doesn’t want her to worry if he is late. He doesn’t want to do or say anything to make her feel bad. He wants her to have every choice and opportunity someone her age should have. In this and in basically everything he’s done for her thus far, he’s acted like a father.

Yoshida acknowledges that Sayu is a woman, but to him, she’s a little kid. Someone to protect unconditionally. Someone who doesn’t have to force herself to smile to make him feel better. Maybe the endgame, then, is to simply adopt her.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Those Snow White Notes – 02 – Let Loose and Take Flight

Setsu remembers back when a girl in his class was mad he dropped out of a shamisen competition, calling him a coward who was running away with tears in her eyes. She wanted to beat him, but it was more than that: she clearly admired and respected his play as someone worth working to defeat. When he tactlessly tells her he only cares about his grandfather’s sound, she slaps him.

It’s that same cheek—along with the other one—that Setsu’s mother is grasping when he finally comes to after being gassed. Umeko, would never win Mother of the Year, but she’s at least concerned enough about her son to establish some structure to his new home in Tokyo, setting him up in a boarding house in the vibrant old town (Shitamachi) and enrolling him in school.

When Setsu tells his mom he’s lost his sound, Umeko asks how far it went, and insists he answer with his shamisen. Beside the boarding house room’s open window that overlooks a bustling street, Umeko challenges Setsu to make everyone down there turn and look as he accompanies her singing, warning she won’t tolerate disgraceful play.

It’s then, during his playing and her singing of “Tsugaru Ohara Bushi”, that we learn that while she’s by all appearances a pompous, arrogant, and overbearing force of nature, Sawamura Umeko is perfectly able to offset those traits with her singing talent. Tetsu says he “hates” her, but her voice has always made his heart tremble. You and me both, bud!

Unlike her personality when not singing, Umeko’s voice is more than a force of nature: it’s all four seasons. It’s apropos that her song can be interpreted as the life cycle of an apple tree…and a woman. From the first note she sings, the unyielding power, confidence, and beauty of her voice is plain…and terrifying.

For a bit under four minutes, I was transported to nirvana, experiencing winter, spring, summer, and autumn, feeling the wind blowing, smelling the blossoms and ripening fruit. Every single person in the crowd below stops what they’re doing, turns to the window, and listens. A girl seemingly falls in love before our eyes.

Umeko and Setsu put a spell on everyone, including me…and then Setsu breaks a string before he can finish his big solo, and it’s all over but the ovation below. Umeko admits she did this so Setsu would make a good first impression on the neighborhood, ensuring he could practice whenever he wants.

But that night, all of the praise and promised freebies from his neighbors amounts to nothing in Setsu’s angsty thoughts. All Umeko has done is ensure he can continue drifting along and going with the flow, accomplishing nothing; amounting to nothing. Methinks our boy doth protest too much…I think he’s got a pretty sweet deal here!

The next morning at the boarding house restaurant run by a father-daughter pair, Wakana arrives as promised to see Setsu to his first day at his new school. Umeko gave Setsu a choice: continue his education, or return to Aomori. The brothers’ breakfast and tense discussion is interrupted by their mother in a cosmetic ad on TV.

As they walk to Setsu’s school, Wakana tells him about the competition he just came from, in which he placed third. First Place went to Kamiki School master Ogata Kousuke, while Second Place went to his kohai, third-year high schooler Tanuma Souichi. Setsu recognizes the name Tanuma, as his little sister was in the same year as him, and indeed girl who slapped him in his flashback.

While Setsu gave up on competition to try to pursue his gramps’ sound, Tanuma Mai won in the competition’s women’s division, telling Wakana prior to the performances that he was no match for the Kamiki School…and turned out to be right. With Wakana and Setsu’s master deceased, it’s as if they’ve hit a brick wall and are “stuck in the dark”.

Between his good looks and refreshing accent, Setsu is well-received by his classmates despite his cool introduction. Wakana learns Umeko told some tall tales (and signed a fat check) to get Setsu enrolled so quickly. While in the faculty lounge with his homeroom teacher Kobayu-sensei, Setsu meets Maeda, a girl in his class who also happens to head up the school’s shamisen appreciation club.

She also happens to have a shamisen left at the school by one Ogata Kousuke. Setsu is initially troubled by the idea of a tourist like Maeda handling such a honed instrument, but lowers his hackles when she looks at him forlornly with trembling eyes and asks “Is it wrong for me…to touch it?” Phrasing!

He helps her assemble the shamisen, which has a torn skin as a result of disuse and neglect. But other than that correctable flaw (at the not insignificant cost of ¥40-50k!) he recognizes it as a particularly exquisite specimen. Maeda is smitten with it, and with Setsu, who clearly knows his shamisens. Alas, before she can properly thank him, Setsu has executed a perfect Batman exit.

Wakana meets up with him after school and presents him with the parting gift of a genuine kiri wood case, which Setsu clearly loves. Wakana also says he now understands more why Setsu left home, considering the burdens left for him there. Setsu tells Wakana how, like penguins and seals can recognize the call of their young out of a group of hundreds, he’ll always be able to pick his brother’s sound out of a chorus of shamisens.

Before Wakana takes his leave, Setsu suggests they go somewhere and play something together. They invite the boarding room father and daughter (Sakura) to join them, and they pick out a nearby Inari shrine where Sakura assures them the kitsune won’t mind their music.

Talk about it! Once again a musical number sends me straight to heaven. The two brothers play a piece with no title they came up with when they were younger and “just messing around”. As Sakura and her dad stand absolutely rapt, the brothers’ music summons images of a golden light-soaked Aomori evening. Wakana recounts how Setsu would always follow him. He’d run ahead, or climb a tree, and Setsu would fall behind and cry.

But then Wakana would take Setsu’s hand and bring him along, making sure he didn’t fall too far behind or feel lonely. Back and forth they’d go, just as their dueling shamisens chase each other. The piece gets very quiet for a bit, then they both cut loose and take flight like birds.

Sakura recognizes that this is no idle strumming, but the melody of the two brothers; the vocalization of their love and devotion; a dialogue of souls bound by blood far stronger than words could manage. With fresh strings on Setsu’s shamisen, the piece ends properly with a two-note exclamation point: blang-blang. The duet is the perfect cap to another perfect episode of Those Snow White Notes. Now the wait begins for the third episode, when Maeda will no doubt attempt to recruit Setsu into her club.

Higehiro – 01 (First Impressions) – Inadvertent Guardian

Yoshida had the evening with his attractive co-worker Gotou all planned out in his head. They’d have a nice dinner at a fancy restaurant, and if things went well, he’d ask if she wanted to come home with him. He hadn’t banked on the possibility Gotou was already seeing someone for years, and simply never mentioned it at work because she wanted to keep life and work separate—which is perfectly reasonable.

Thus rejected, Yoshida goes and gets drunk with a friend until that friend has to head back home to his wife. Yoshida blabbers about how Gotou “tricked” him, and stole his heart and won’t give it back, but I’ll forgive his attitude as he’s allowed to wallow in defeat, drunk and horny as he is. The bottom line is Yoshida didn’t want to look past sleeping Gotou, and now he’s a little lost at sea.

He most certainly didn’t plan to encounter a runaway teenage girl (voiced by Ichinose Kana) outside his apartment, nor for this girl to offer to let him sleep with her in exchange for a roof over her head for the night. But even when her other options are seemingly ruled out, Yoshida makes it quite clear that he’s not sleeping with a “little kid”, nor is he prepared to leave her to the tender mercies of the night.

So, in his drunk and staggering state, he invites her in, then collapses into his bed to pass out. The girl, no stranger to crashing at men’s houses in exchange for sex (though she is thankfully not shamed for this), sits on the bed and asks matter-of-factly “Hey, are you sure you don’t want to do me?” He’s sure. When asked if there’s anything else he wants, before passing out he mumbles “miso soup.” The next morning, that’s what he gets: miso soup, made by the girl he flat-out forgot he invited in last night!

When he hears how he rejected her offer of sex, he salutes his last-night self, relieved nothing sordid happened. She also mentions how he mumbled about being rejected by someone named Gotou, and whether he wanted her to make him “feel better”. Once again, he declines, saying he’s not so far-gone he needs “a tiny little teenage girl” to do that.

When she points out that her breasts are quite big and asks “aren’t F-cups you can touch better than H-cups you can’t?” he flat-out asks why she’s trying to seduce him…and if she even wants to sleep with him. She says she doesn’t, but then embraces him and says she’s never met a man willing to let her stay for nothing in return, so maybe he’s the “abnormal” one. That’s when Yoshida, God bless him, asks for her ID, a gesture that again makes clear he’s not interested in her in that way.

He learns her name is Ogiwara Sayu, that she ran away from high school in Hokkaido six months ago. When he tells her to go home already, she says she’s sure they’re happy she’s gone, Ichinose Kana’s voice breaking ever-so-slightly. The more Yoshida thinks about Sayu, the worse he feels about it. He takes it out on her to a degree by calling her “stupid”, “dumb as a rock”, and “a spoiled brat”.

But beneath those harsh barbs, he understands that Sayu is not “fine” as she says in the slightest; that what she’s had to do to survive since leaving home is not right or okay. More than she’s an idiot, she’s a victim: both of a home that she felt she had to leave, and to a world apparently full of men who taught her all the wrong lessons and twisted values and standards. He’s also angry that such a kind and sweet young woman couldn’t have a “normal life” and a “normal love”.

Obviously, Yoshida’s positions are showing both his privilege and paternalism. The former was a result of his own upbringing and life experience; the latter was learned through both, just as Sayu learned a certain way of living the last six months. But I can forgive the motives behind his fundamentally principled choice to stop this child from being harmed anymore by offering her a safe, clean place to stay.

I’m not going to pretend that in the real world this isn’t his choice to make. As a matter of law, he should probably go to the police, right? And yet who’s to say Sayu wouldn’t be harmed anyway if he took that route? Considering what she’s been doing to stay away from her home, it’s clear going back there isn’t what’s best for her. Being placed into an overworked and uncaring social services system also wouldn’t be much better.

The fact there are no easy answers or cut-and-dried solutions add a lot of welcome emotional heft to the whole scenario. Yoshida, whom I mentioned is somewhat lost at sea, has encountered a fellow castaway adrift and rudderless, who has the added disadvantage of being far too young to have to endure the waves. So for now, he decides to lash their ramshackle rafts together and chart the course of least harm.

The more time he spends with Sayu, the more disappointed in his fellow man he becomes. When he heads out to the patio to smoke, she calls him “nice”, but our boy Yoshida is not so deluded to think he’s some saint, and makes it clear to her in perhaps his best line of the episode: “Listen up! I’m not nice. They were shit.” He contemplates the environment that put Sayu in such an unfairly precarious situation, and even implicates himself for “letting her stay spoiled” by giving her a place to run to.

But even as he checks headlines about an unrelated case of a man arrested for kidnapping a teenager, and Sayu walks over him, inadvertently giving him a look up her skirt, Yoshida isn’t about to cut the ropes of her raft free. He found her on those waves, which means he feels responsible for her well-being. That doesn’t just mean a roof under her head, but more appropriate clothes, pajamas, and a futon to sleep on.

Sayu isn’t ready to accept all this without worrying about not being able to repay him in some way. Yoshida is again disheartened by the fact a kid has to think that way, but indulges her by insisting that the cooking and cleaning she’s done constitute more than adequate payment, and that arrangement will serve for the time being.

The next morning over breakfast, Yoshida explains to Sayu that it isn’t the act of shaving that makes him feel old, but becoming too lazy to shave every day. Sayu spares no tact in saying he doesn’t look good with stubble, so he decides to shave after all. The exchange indicates this won’t be a one-way street. Perhaps in helping keep this lonely damaged girl safe, Yoshida can find a new course in life post-Gotou rejection.

Higehiro is fraught with potential problems, as all series involving an adult and a child always are. And yet unlike the horrifically skeevy KoikimoHigehiro presents its situation, questions and arguments in good faith, and from a place of human decency and empathy. It’s a compelling, hopeful tale of an imperfect person trying to do the right thing for someone who has already been wronged far too much. Unlike Koikimo, I don’t feel like I need a shower after what I saw, but rather want to see what happens next!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Those Snow White Notes – 01 (First Impressions) – Challenge Issued

AOTS Alert. Repeat, we have an Early AOTS Alert. Those Snow White Notes is an absolute joy to experience from beginning to end. Its absolute banger of a first episode tells a story of inspiration, loss, loneliness, listlessness, self-worth and self-actualization, jealousy, love, and much more—so much it feels like a little self-contained mini-film.

Oh yeah, did I mention it centers around a shamisen player, so the show’s music is supervised by The Yoshida Brothers, in addition to being directed by the fellow who not only gave us the tone-setting first episode of Rakugo Shinjuu, but both seasons of the excellent Master Teaser Takagi-san, of all things? We’re clearly dealing with some talented folks, so it’s amazing it doesn’t feel nearly as pretentious as it should.

A lot of that has to do with how simply and how efficiently the story is laid out and how easily it is to slide into the lives it follows. We start with Sawamura Setsu and his big brother Wakana listening through a cracked door as their grandfather plays to a transfixed crowd. An aside: I’m probably not alone when I say the sound of a well-played shamisen activates my sense of musical awe in addition to my ASMR, resulting in persistent goosebumps every time I hear it…or even think of it!

That said, as soon as the sweet music is over, the warm scene is replaced by a face-slap of a bitter winter scene, in which the Setsu is leaving home. When his gramps died, his “sound” disappeared too, so he’s going “somewhere loud” in hopes he can get it back. He doesn’t know if Tokyo is that place, but he knows he can’t stay home, saying “there’s nothing here anymore.”

We’re only two minutes in, and we’ve already learned so much while being treated to what is the first but hardly the least shamisen number. (It’s also clear I’m going to end up writing way too many words in this review! If only we had an editor around here…)

SWN’s next efficient-yet-effective character portrait is of Tachiki Yuna, an actress/model who is paying the bills with a hostess club job, having to keep smiling and pretending to be happy to be there even after her agency notifies her that she was passed over for a role. After her shift she’s encouraged by her boyfriend Taketo’s texts, and she considers herself fortunate to “have a man who’s talented.”

Yuna happens to be in the bustling streets of Roppongi when Setsu literally bumps into her after getting temporarily dazed by the sheer brightness of the city lights. The two part ways, but Setsu immediately bumps into some less savory characters who start to beat on him. It’s here we learn that Yuna has a heart of gold, as she comes to the Setsu’s rescue with some karate kicks.

After dreaming about his grandfather essentially telling him to stop playing the shamisen if he dies, Setsu wakes up in girly pajamas in Yuna’s cozy apartment, and she cooks the two of them breakfast. Setsu learns that Yuna is a 22-year-old gravure model. Yuna learns Setsu is a Tsugaru shamisen player, but he can’t play for her because he’s “empty inside”, which just happens to be how she’s been feeling lately.

When Wakana hears from Setsu in a letter, he assumes his little brother just went to Tokyo to get laid. But seeing in Setsu a kind of kindred soul, she proposes he continue living with her and doing the housework until he can get his sound back. Before long, a week passes, the longest he’s ever gone without playing since first picking up a shamisen.

Yuna takes Setsu to a restaurant to meet her great and talented boyfriend Taketo along with his band, and Taketo is revealed to be a preening, self-involved jackass who is far beneath Yuna. Setsu intervenes when he sees Taketo trying to extract some serious cash from Yuna to pay for studio he’s renting. He then tells her he’ll be too busy writing music to hang out later that night.

When Yuna and a bandmate have to hold Taketo back, Setsu peaces out, running through the crush of people and noting just how much noisier Tokyo was than a bumpkin like him could have imagined. He gets caught up on a word his gramps used about his sound—”disgraceful”—not because Setsu sucked at shamisen, but because all he ever did was imitate his gramps.

But right here and now Setsu is mad and wants to express it. He wants to play. So he sits down beside the river and plays. Yuna happens to pass by as he’s starting to play, and while he’d later describe the performance as rough and ugly due to the rust of a mere week, but Yuna and I become entranced.

As someone who can only understand between 1-10% of any given spoken Japanese sentence, the language itself is a kind of music, although I know enough words and phrases to know that it isn’t, so it remains separate from the real thing. But pure music like Setsu’s strumming transcends words as it expresses emotions, ideas, and memories of both player and listener.

In Yuna’s case, she’s transported back to her meeting with her agent, who was trying to get her to audition for racier movies and TV. Rightfully insulted by the insinuation she’s nothing but a pretty face and body, she throws a glass of water in his face, and is warned that she won’t go far if she turns such jobs down.

In the midst of listening to Setsu’s raw and angry performance, Yuna takes comfort in knowing even if her career doesn’t amount to anything, at least she has a good man in Taketo. She stops by the good man’s place to find him with having slept with some other woman, to whom she says “you can have him” and leaves as Setsu’s piece comes to a bitter, final note.

When Setsu comes home, Yuna is still awake, and tells him she heard his music. When she did, she realized they’re not alike at all. Setsu isn’t a “sad person with nothing going” for him like she is, and so she can’t help but feel jealous of him. She says she’ll be going away for a while, and asks him to vacate her apartment while she’s gone.

Another day, Setsu encounters Taketo on the street, who is preparing for a concert with his band. Taketo decides to use Setsu as a hostage, telling Yuna he’ll break his arm if she doesn’t show up. For this shitbaggery, Taketo is promptly punished with a Karma Kick from Yuna, coming to Setsu’s rescue once more.

She apologizes for involving Setsu in her drama, but with the wind kicked out of Taketo, she needs to ask for him to be involved a little bit longer. They need someone to go out there and entertain the crowd until the scumbag recovers. Just like that, Setsu finally gets a stage and a crowd on which to test whether he can get his lost sound back. Three guesses as to whether he manages this.

The ensuing powerhouse of a performance by Setsu calls to mind the best music scenes of Your Lie in April, only in this case the crowd was expecting a rock band, not a Tsugaru shamisen player. As he nervously tells the initially confused crowd, he plays “Jongara Bushi”, and as he does, he recalls in black-and-white memories what his grandfather had to say about the peice.

Gramps described the beginning as passionate and hot-blooded, but it starts to calm, grow progressively sadder and heartrending, weakening and waning. He’s basically describing a life. But, unlike a fiery youth who calms down in middle age and eventually withers and passes away, “Jongara” claws its way back, refusing to be beaten down, issues a challenge with its final furious crescendo.

The crowd watches in dead silence, just as Yuna did, and you can’t help but think of what is flashing through their heads while they listen; while they’re being taken on this roller coaster ride of powerful emotions. Just like April, the stage lights illuminate dust motes to give the simultaneous appearance of snow and magical sparkles. Setsu is casting a spell on everyone in that hall with his sound, and not even Taketo can deny its power.

Not only that, but the performance is being live-streamed on the internet, where even if it doesn’t go viral, it’s being watched from home by someone Setsu is sure to meet at some point; perhaps someone who like him has been around shamisen music enough to know that by their standards his performance was just okay. But I’m with Yuna, Taketo, and rest of the crowd: that was fucking awesome.

Also awesome? Yuna doesn’t take Taketo back. They’re done, and he knows he “lost himself a good woman”, even if Yuna would argue that she’s good at anything. Also, while I’m sad to see her go, Yuna does go on her trip to find her…well, not sound, but I guess to find what it is she can contribute to the world and feel good about it. Modeling and porn were decidedly not those things, but I hope the show won’t lose sight of her journey.

Setsu continues to live in her apartment after she leaves, but Taketo tends to come by a lot, so it’s clear that while he’s an asshole, he and Setsu will probably continue to interact with each other, if not outright befriend each other. While Setsu has the kettle on, he recalls walking Yuna to the train station, gives him a kiss before pushing him away and boarding the train with a final wave goodbye. Assuring him that whatever girl he ends up with “will be very happy”.

Back at her apartment, Taketo says that Setsu seems most alive when he’s playing, but if the shamisen is what gives him life, then sooner or later that world will “drag him in.” Taketo is hitting the nail on the head when their talk is abruptly interrupted by the most ridiculous occurrence in the episode: on the snap of a woman’s fingers, the door to Yuna’s apartment is forced open, a smoke bomb goes off, and two SWAT officers flank a glamorous woman with silver hair, blue eyes, and an April O’Neil jacket.

She’s here for Setsu, whom she calls “Baby-chan”, and Setsu calls her Umeko, but I know from the initial description of the show that this is his mom…who it’s immediately clear is a lot. Looks like however much of his sound Setsu believes he’s found in Tokyo, Umeko will have an unnegotiable say in his life…at least as long as he’s still a kid.

Talk about a mood-changing, enticing record-scratch of an ending! And it’s followed by an end theme that positively slaps: Miliyah Katou’s Kono Yume ga Sameru made, featuring the Yoshida Brothers. This was an opening episode that scratched all of my itches and then some. If you’re tired of my incessant gushing, go give it a watch yourself! I for one am probably going to go watch it again!

Mars Red – 01 (First Impressions) – On a Silver Platter

Tokyo, Japan, 1923: Major Maeda Yoshinobu is escorted to a maximum-security underground prison at Tsukishima Island housing a single inmate: Misaki, an actress who was performing Salome at the Imperial Theatre when she was turned into a vampire. When Maeda meets her through thick glass, she’s still reciting the lines of the play, as if she were still on stage.

Later on, a suspiciously vampiric-looking young man at the theatre tells Maeda that when the lights go out and the curtains rise, the audience is transported to the underworld. I can’t help but watch Maeda and his chatterbox underling’s journey deeper and deeper into the Tsukishima  facility and think they too are on a journey to the underworld.

While Japan and its military are rapidly modernizing and westernizing, it’s ironic that the covert vampire hunting unit Lt. General Nakajima has created deals with ancient monsters. The general reminds Maeda not to allow sympathy or pity to dull his blade, and Maeda assures him if Misaki cannot be brought to their side, he’ll promptly dispose of her.

Maeda visits the theatre, where the stage is still a mess of blood and ruined scenery, and he meets the inscrutable actor Deffrot, who played Jokanaan, AKA John the Baptist, whose head is served to Salome on a silver platter as payment for her Dance of the Seven Veils. In a very neat piece of “camera”work, the shadow of Maeda’s head is cast on the play’s poster, held in Salome’s hands.

Outside the theatre Maeda is approached by a young lady he mistakes for Misaki, but she introduces herself as Shirase Aoi, a reporter for the Nitto News. Maeda ignores her requests for comment and access to the theatre, and then Moriyama arrives by car to report that Misaki has escaped. For a second there, I wondered if Aoi was Misaki after all.

As Moriyama speeds Maeda back to Tsukishima, Misaki effortlessly smashes through all of the steel doors and barriers in her way, takes a bullet with barely a flinch, bleeds black blood, bites a neck, casually nudges a bullet away and dodges the others with her vampiric speed. Through it all she moves with a dancer’s grace, embodying the role of Salome—whom I learned was transformed by French writers from her biblical role to the “incarnation of female lust”.

A different dance ensues, with both Maeda and Misaki gradually making their way to the same spot: across the Nihonbashi bridge to Marunouchi Plaza at Tokyo Station. It’s the capper to an episode that serves as a Where’s Where of Taisho-era Tokyo.

Misaki gets closer and closer to Maeda, but when he grips his sword and prepares to draw, she places her hand over his, embraces him a little while longer, then steps aside and lets herself be consumed by the morning light, without further bloodshed. The same stigmata design on her tongue appears on the spot where she incinerated.

Back at HQ, General Nakajima promotes Maeda to Colonel and puts him in command of Code Zero, with the mission of apprehending or disposing of vampires in Japan. If I had to describe Mars Red in one word, it would be classy. Given another word, I’d use deliberate. As Maeda navigates a Tokyo in flux and deals with Misaki, every scene is given room to breathe.  Maeda is a bit of a stiff, but still…I’m intrigued.

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 08 – Doctor Tamayo, Medicine Demon

Tanjirou pounces on the man Kibutsuji Muzan transformed into a demon, while urging bystanders to keep pressure on the wife’s shoulder wound. The police arrive, and demand Tanjirou get off the man. When he refuses (for their sake), they whip out the batons.

A woman in the crowd scratches her arm and from her blood a flowery screen of illusion occludes the cops’ vision. Tanjirou locates the source of the magic: the ethereally beautiful woman and her boy attendant…both of whom appear to be demons.

Last week demonstrated that Kibutsuji Muzan can turn humans into demons with one scratch and has no qualms about doing so in public. This week we learn a little more about the man. To his wife and adorable daughter he appears to be the model husband and father, and they’re rich enough to afford a car and fancy western-style clothes.

But when his family isn’t around, he doesn’t hesitate to bear his claws, easily killing a drunk kid and his big brother and then burying his clawed finger into the brain of a poor woman, transforming her into a demon so quickly her body can’t bear it, and turns into a horrific mass of blood and viscera that collapses into red dust.

After making things right with the udon vendor by eating two bowls, Tanjirou encounters the lady’s attendant once more. Things between the two boys don’t start out smoothly, as he calls Nezuko a “hag”—which is just objectively false, by the way—but the attendant was order to fetch him, and he follows his lady’s orders. He leads Tanjirou and Nezuko through an apparent brick wall to reveal a hidden medical clinic.

It is the refuge and laboratory of Tamayo (Sakamoto Maaya), a doctor who was transformed into a demon by Kibutsuji but was able to sufficiently modify her to survive on only a small amount of human blood to survive. Her attendant, Yushirou, whom she turned into a demon, can survive on even less.

Tamayo is excited by Tanjirou and Nezuko’s arrival, because they each have something they can offer one another. Tamayo tells Tanjirou something he desperately needed to hear—it is possible to turn Nezuko back. But the means to do so must be thoroughly researched and tested. To that end, Tamayo asks for permission to study Nezuko’s blood, and also asks that he bring her the blood of demons that were made by Kibutsuji or his creations.

In a beautiful little moment during Tamayo’s proposal, Tanjirou tenderly places his hand on Nezuko’s lovely forehead and she affectionately takes it into her hands. It says all that needs to be said about their bond without words, as do most of their interactions, as she is no longer verbal.

He agrees to the deal, but no sooner is it struck than two demon henchmen Kibutsuji ordered to find and kill Tanjirou (whose earrings reminded him of someone he fought in the past) crash their way through Tamayo’s illusory barrier, ready to fuck shit up.

These two look like tough customers, but as we know well by now, so are Tanjirou and Nezuko…and Yushirou and Tamayo are likely no slouches either. I like the good guys’ odds.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 07 – Taking the Plunge

Nezuko emerges from her box to viciously attack the tripartite demons, but when Tanjirou tells her to cease her attack, she dutifully returns to his side. He has her protect Kazumi and the young woman he rescued while he dives into the soupy bog where the demons dwell and devour.

While the demons are confident of their aquatic home-field advantage, the because Tanjirou trained in the thin air of the mountains and his attacks are water-based, he has no trouble executing a devastating whirlpool attack that chops the two demons into rustic chunks.

He returns to the surface just in time to stop the third and final demon from further harming Nezuko, who’d already received a nasty slash to the forehead. Before dispatching him, Tanjirou asks about Kibutsuji Muzan, but the demon start to smell strongly of fear—a fear so intense he literally can’t say anything about Kibutsuji.

While Tanjirou was able to defeat the demon and save one of the women, that woman wasn’t Kazumi’s fiancée. Tanjirou tries to comfort him by saying he must keep living despite life’s devastating blows. Kazumi lashes out in anger—how could a boy know what he’s feeling? But Tanjirou gently takes Kazumi’s hands in his and smiles a gentle smile, and Kazumi realizes Tanjirou knows all too well, and his hands aren’t those of a boy.

A Demon Slayer is always in high demand, so within moments of completing his first official assignment, his crow arrives with his second. He and Nezuko travel to Asakusa, Tokyo, and he is immediately overwhelmed by the densely packed humanity and the lights that make it as bright as midday.

Since this is the Taisho period, electricity is commonplace in the capital and there’s a vibrant streetcar network; we don’t see any cars buzzing around, but only because they’re still pretty rare. The huge city looks and sounds fantastic, and seems to pulsate with a modern energy Tanjirou has never before encountered.

Tanjirou is only one slurp into some therapeutic udon when he detects a scent that quickens his pulse and has him leaving the sleeping Nezuko at the stand. He dives into the crush of Tokyoites, following the very same evil scent that was present when his family was murdered, and it leads him to a fair-skinned man in a western black suit, a white hat, and reddish eyes.

This is it: this is Kibutsuji Muzan, the progenitor of all demons whom Tanjirou has been seeking. It’s almost too tidy that he’d locate someone so reluctant to be found he threatened other demons not to talk about him, but then again maybe he simply doesn’t consider Tanjirou a threat and would just as soon dispatch him.

As for Tanjirou, before he can unsheathe his sword, Kibutsuji makes a quarter-turn to reveal he’s holding a young human girl, his daughter. Soon, his wife appears, wondering who the boy in the checked coat is. To the mother and daughter, Kibutsuji is their husband and daddy. To Tanjirou, they’re his hostages. But that’s only the beginning: Kibutsuji quickly slashes a passing man without his wife or daughter noticing.

That man instantly transforms into a demon and bites his wife, starting a panic in the chaos of which Kibutsuji will no doubt slip away while Tanjirou tries to clean up the mess. Perhaps this was just a matter of Kibutsuji’s guard being down, in which case he won’t be so careless next time.

Jujutsu Kaisen – 03 – Gauging the Crazy

Here I thought we’d be spending more times in the woods of Tokyo’s outskirts, but Yuuji joins Gojou and Megumi to Harajuku to pick up Jujutsu Tech’s third first-year student, Kugisaki Nobara, voiced by Seto Asami of Chihayafuru fame.

Her first act in Tokyo is to try to browbeat a modeling scout into signing her, and her first reaction to meeting Yuuji and Megumi is to let out a blatant sigh. I immediately came to like her, and while she’s short-tempered and mercurial, she and Yuuji soon bond over love All Things Tokyo.

Unfortunately for them both, sightseeing and sushi (revolving or otherwise) will have to wait, as Gojou has the two of them enter a curse-infested, graveyard-adjacent abandoned building in Roppongi. Nobara exhibits her lack of patience with Yuuji and unwillingness to work together.

They split up, with Yuuji starting at the bottom with the miniature Buster Sword Gojou gave him. He has no problem with the Curses he encounters, but as Gojou tells Megumi (who is sitting this one out), this is more a test for Nobara anyway. She’s used to country Curses, but in the big city where there are more people and negative energy to draw on, the Curses are on a different level.

Nobara learns the hard way that “level” means more than cursed energy, but also cunning. After she uses her customized hammer and nails to defeat a mannequin Curse (using the hilariously bad catchphrase “Nailed it”), a scared child hiding behind boxes is taken hostage by another Curse.

After weighing her life and the little boy’s, Nobara tries to get the Curse to release him by dropping her weapons, but the Curse won’t bite. Fortunately Yuuji arrives in the nick of time, punching through the (unreinforced) concrete and slicing off the arm of the Curse that was holding the kid.

With the kid safe, Nobara finishes off the Curse by using a voodoo-like straw doll to hammer a cursed nail into its heart as it flees, defeating it. I hasten to add that no one has made hammering a nail into a straw doll look cooler than Jujutsu Kaisen! She then proceeds to ask Yuuji how the hell he managed to punch through solid concrete.

As the ordeal is resolved, we learn a little bit about Nobara’s reason for leaving the countryside. The brass tacks (pun intended): when she was in first grade she met Saori-chan, a beautiful girl from the city who was ostracized by the townsfolk to the point she was forced to leave. Nobara simply didn’t want to be in a place that did that to her friend.

After earnestly thanking Yuuji for his help with a bright smile, she seemingly devolves into first-grade mode, telling him they’re even now. As for her more superficial reason for joining Jujutsu Tech? She likes Tokyo, but didn’t want to deal with the considerable expense.

With that, the field test is passed, and the group escorts the kid back home and then they grab some grub, though Yuuji and and a hangry Nobara bicker over the kind of sushi place they should go to. Megumi remains aloof the whole time, giving the other two the opportunity to bond over their mutual vivaciousness.

Nobara makes for a fine addition to the Jujutsu first-year class, alternating between frolicsome fervor, coarse sullenness, and everything in between. She’s a blast, full stop, and I can’t wait to watch the full trio in action.

Cardcaptor Sakura – 40 – Tower of Dreams

Sakura, Tomoyo, Syaoran and Meiling go on a shopping and sightseeing trip to Tokyo…on their own. Wait, aren’t these eleven-year-old kids who require supervision during such a trip? Apparently not! I guess all that cardcapturing has forced them to grow up fast. In any case, I was definitely vicariously living through them as they did ordinary city things now made far more difficult during the Covid ordeal.

As the quartet darts around the metropolis, they are shadowed by a glowing blue butterfly that is most definitely a Clow Card that starts having an effect on them one by one. First there’s Tomoyo, who is happily recording their day when all of a sudden an entire squadron of Sakuras in battle costumes surround her. As you would expect, Tomoyo enjoys this hallucination immensely.

When the group catches a movie and it gets to a romantic scene with a seaside sunset, Syaoran shows himself out of the theater to grab some drinks as Sakura and Meiling both swoon. Unfortunately, upon reaching the theater door he finds himself within the movie as its protagonist and Sakura as his love interest, flustering him even more than if he’d just kept his seat.

From there, the group heads to the Tokyo Tower to get some birds-eye views of the city. Despite having never been there in person before, as we know Sakura has been dreaming of the tower on-and-off ever since Syaoran showed up, with the dreams increasing in frequency when Mizuki-sensei arrived. Upon entering the tower’s base, Sakura feels…off? Then she encounters both Touya and Yukito working up in the observation deck, even though they’re supposed to be playing soccer.

Night falls, and Sakura watches her dream unfold from a different viewpoint, and it’s confirmed beyond doubt that Mizuki is the woman perched on the tower. Sakura starts to wig out, not sure what to do, but “Dream” Sakura approaches Sakura and tells her everything will be alright and work out in the end. From there, Sakura wakes up to find she never left the tower’s lobby, with Syaoran supporting her with one hand while pinning the Dream card with the Time card.

Sakura manages to seal Dream, which flies into Syaoran’s hand as the one who subdued it, and the four continue their trip without the threat of slipping into any more dreams. Then we cut back to one more wide shot of the tower and there is Mizuki-sensei, in broad daylight, magic bell in hand, smiling her inscrutable smile. Kero warns Sakura that the dreams she’s experiencing foretell events that will come to pass in the real, waking world. But the nagging question remains…What the heck is Mizuki up to?

Fire Force – 04 – Infernal, Know Thyself

Many scenes of this week’s episode (and indeed previous ones) reminded me of the work of Akiyuki Shinbo, whose work in turn reminds me of live action directors Kubrick and Anderson. Sure enough, Fire Force’s director Yase Yuki is a SHAFT vet, having worked on Monogatari, Madoka, Nisekoi, even Koufuku Graffiti. That means there’s a generous amount of artistry to each shot, even if said shots aren’t really doing that much for the narrative.

The three balloon-holding mascots against an azure sky is one example; the scene of Company 5 Captain Princess Hibana and her man-throne is another, the latter evoking religious iconography that is reflected in the brief scene of Iris in a stained glass-filled chapel, looking at the burned photo of what we gather to have been her family. It’s just a really pretty, stylish show, but if you’ve been watching you knew that already.

Despite the flashy visuals, the episode starts out pretty harmlessly, with Maki dispatching Shinra and Arthur to help get a dog—later revealed to be one of the firefighter mascots—out of a tree. He was “hooray”-ed up there by college kids. With a firefighter (distinct from the fire soldiers) named Miyamoto on trial for a string of murders, the profession is not as respected as it once was.

However, just after Miyamoto is declared not guilty (by reason of insanity) he spontaneously combusts and becomes an Infernal, and not just any Infernal, but one that is self-aware and can talk (and also reminds me a of a hollow from Bleach).

Company 8 deploys to deal with the threat (though Maki leaves out the part about her sending the boys to get a mascot out of a tree, so Hinawa thinks they’re on unauthorized leave. Meanwhile, Princess Hibana moblizes her Company 5 in hopes of grabbing a rare specimen for Infernal research.

Thanks to Shinra’s rocket feet, he and Arthur get there first, and make quite an acrobatic entrance, with the force of Shinra’s kick knocking Miyamoto back the exact same distance Arthur flies before arresting his momentum and showing Miyamoto the back of his fist.

Mika and the rest of the 8th arrives, but her Sputter Comet attack is immediately neutralized. Even so, Miyamoto puts up his hands and surrenders—another Infernal first—before making a quick getaway. Only Shinra is fast enough to chase him. Oubi understands the difficulty of sending off a self-aware entity, but Hinawa tells Shinra not to listen to anything it says.

The ensuing fight between Shinra and Miyamoto!Infernal involves the former kicking a Peugeot 405 at him, showing the guy he means business. Again Miyamoto pleads for the mercy of a nun’s prayer before being sent off. Shinra forgets what Hinawa told him and listens to the Infernal, which immediately double-crosses him by trying to attack.

That’s when Princess Hibana and the 5th arrive and start throwing their weight around. Shirna says this is his job, but Hibana outranks him and her company outnumbers the 8th. Shinra manages to resist having to lick the imperious Hibana’s shoes, and uses his rocket feet to free himself from three of her “5th’s Angels”

The standoff continues when the rest of the 8th catches up to Shinra, and Hibana looks down on her fellow captain Oubi for having no pyrokinetic powers—not to mention low breeding. Ultimately, it is Oubi who caves, deciding letting a better-equipped company use Miyamoto in their research to learn more about human combustion is for the best.

Before the two rival companies go their separate ways, Oubi promises Hibana that the flame of the 8th won’t go out so easily. Kinda sounds like a challenge the princess would be all too happy to accept. In the meantime, she’s got a new specimen for her research department to mess with.