Tokyo 24th Ward Dropped

Somewhere between the far-fetched lightning episode, the flashback episode that didn’t move the story forward, and the show not airing at all last week, I lost interest in this show. The first half of this episode did nothing to re-spark that interest.

The ham-fisted political commentary now dominates everything, leaving our characters nothing but pawns darting across a breakneck plot while two bad guys on opposite ends of the spectrum weave their respective webs. I’d have preferred more of RGB solving trolley dilemmas interspersed with slice-of-city-life moments of earlier episodes.

Tokyo 24th Ward – 09 – Sowing and Reaping

You said it, Cowboy Man. Nothing like a prequel three quarters into a show to kill the momentum. RGB, who flailed around independently last week during an improbably destructive thunderstorm. Rather than follow up on those events, we flash back to 1999, when Kanae was still working on autonomous driving tech with her colleague Kuchikiri.

When a car drives into their lane, the AI overrides Kanae’s steering so that Kuchikiri is seriously injured while Kanae and a pedestrian, a young Tsuzuragawa, are spared. When Kuchikiri comes to he finds himself unable to read words or numbers properly, and decides to reinvent himself with the name “Kuchikiri” now looks like to his eyes: 0th.

Kanae, who had just struck a business deal with Suidou Gouri, eventually becomes his wife and the mother of his kids…but the episode isn’t interested in explaining exactly how these two people with zero chemistry fell in love. But hey, Tsuzuragawa, guilty over what happened with 0th, decides to follow in Kanae’s footsteps even as Kanae abandons her research. Tsuzuragawa also meets Chikushi at college, where he once exhibited the same wannabe hero qualities as Shuuta (which explains his present-day cynicism).

Kanae also sets up the Takara Food Bank with the shopping district, which is how her kids Asumi and Kouki meet Shuuta and Ran. But while she’s chasing after someone asking if they need help, she ends up robbed and stabbed to death. Chikushi came between her and the first slash, but couldn’t stop the second. Gouri’s kids watch their dad break down for the first time in their lives, and I daresay he transformed into a different person in that hospital that night.

Determined to prevent crimes like the one that claimed his wife, Gouri turns to Tsuzuragawa to dust off Kanae’s research and complete it; the beginnings of what would become the KANAE System in the present. Tsuzuragawa probably knows right then and there that if Kanae couldn’t perfect the tech, she doesn’t have a prayer, but presses on anyway out of guilt and obligation.

Where Tsuzuragawa finds time to do this research while acting as chauffeur and personal assistant to the Suidou family is unclear, but as the years pass Gouri turns the resurrected Cornucopia Project as the cornerstone of both his mayoral campaign and his bid for the 24th Ward to join Tokyo. When 0th hears about this, he wants to fight Gouri, and I can’t blame him. Kanae’s tech was flawed and she knew it, but he’s going to use it anyway?

Perhaps too conveniently for the completion of Gouri’s descent, Tsuzuragawa is unable to make the system work without a human brain at its core, and as you’d expect, you can’t buy living brains on Rakuten. But when Asumi is severely injured at the school fire, Gouri decides to turn her into the 24th Ward’s “Guardian Angel”, which even for him feels like too large a leap to Super-villainy.

Ultimately, while this flashback episode colored in some of the broad strokes and made some connections regarding the adult characters of the show, the fact remains RGB are still flailing about in the present day, with one less episode for them to figure shit out. Meanwhile, Gouri’s monstrous decision was decidedly not justified here, while Tsuzuragawa comes off as the misguided protégé. The grown-ups have left a big mess for the kids to clean up!

P.S. Episode 10 is delayed; a recap episode is airing this week.

Tokyo 24th Ward – 08 – Crane Game

Managing to bake a Golden Sunrise comparable to his dad’s nets Shuuta the location of the guy painting over Ran’s Kaba tags. Zeroth tells Shuuta that while he’s not Carneades, he is “acquainted” with them, and knows that right now they’re atop the Cornucopia arcology that houses the KANAE System.

No sooner does Shuuta head that way, stopping by Mari and his mom on the way, do he, Ran, and Kouki all receive the latest call from “Asumi”, with a new Trolley Problem. Three giant cranes atop the Cornucopia will get struck by lightning. They can choose to either call the one person atop the tower and save his life, or sacrifice that person while saving all of the people who would be killed or wounded by the cranes.

Seems simple enough (though I question how lightning, a fairly common phenomenon, would be such a huge threat here), but while Ran and Kouki are united in choosing the option that saves more people, Shuuta won’ be satisfied unless he can save everyone. Ran is also approached by Zeroth and asked to hack into the KANAE System to access some data for him. He won’t say why just yet, nor does Ran know how…but he likes a challenge.

Kouki, while the most passive this week, still makes a call to Tsuzuragawa that he later believes would lead to her death. That’s because, as Shuuta learns when she’s struck by lightning and almost killed, Tsuzuragawa is Carneades. Dun dun dunnn. As she told Kouki (and only Kouki), it was a character she assumed in order to cover for a horrible flaw in the Kanae System: Asumi is still conscious in there.

Shuuta is only witness to one of those two bombshells, and gives Tsuzuragawa CPR until she starts breathing again, then basically jumps off the Cornucopia while carrying her in his arms. As for the cranes going haywire? Not much is said but I assume there were no serious casualties. He got himself pretty banged up in the process, but Shuuta prevailed: get got the third outcome.

After a brief virtual dip into the KANAE System to retrieve what Zeroth wanted, on Ran’s way out he hears what sounds like Asumi calling for help. He’s not wrong, but unlike Kouki doesn’t realize it’s the real Asumi, just in a virtual form. But Zeroth says the heart of KANAE is a “demon”, and he’s going to use the data Ran got him to hack back in and destroy it. What that means for Asumi, and how RGB will respond to his plans, remains to be seen.

Tokyo 24th Ward – 03 – Cross Purposes

The Third Annual Gourmet Festival is upon us, but Shirakaba-sensei’s daughter Kozue won’t be attending. Presumably as a result of the fire that claimed Asumi’s life, she been loath to leave her room. But that doesn’t stop her dad from checking in to make sure she’s good. He says he’ll wait as long as it takes.

As for the GourGes, Mari’s family’s restaurant has a problem: their competiton at the Takara Mall has bought up all the fancy cabbage they need for their okonomiyaki. When RGB locate the vegetables, Ran is ready to take a crowbar to the storage unit and have at it. Kouki, basically a kind of cop-in-training, vetoes the idea. It’s up to Shuuta to keep the two from bickering with each other and keep them focused.

Thanks to ‘Kaba-sensei, they’re able to acquire the needed cabbage without resorting to breaking and entering. Unfortunately, that isn’t the only dirty trick the gangsters try to pull, going so far as to place weights in their box of chopsticks to ensure they’ll win GourFes. They threatened Kaba-sensei by ensuring Kozue would get kicked out of her school for not attending, but he exposes their cheating anyway.

It just so happens to be the same day Kozue decides to leave her room and go to GourFes, to see both her Dad and her friend Kinako. But after a simultaneous phone call fakeout earlier in the episode, the real thing happens to RGB again: an “Asumi” gives them a choice: lead people across the bridge when a tornado hits the island venue of the festival, or help them into cargo containers for shelter.

One plan will result in the deaths of the weak, the other in the sacrifice of the courageous. Naturally, RGB needs to find a third way that saves everyone, and there’s every indication they will…until it all goes pear-shaped. Oh, it starts out well, with both Ran and Kouki ordering Shuuta to clear the bridge of traffic by literally pushing cars into Tokyo Bay, which honestly looks like a lot of fun.

From there, however, Ran and Kouki’s plans diverge, and without proper communication, they end up working at cross purposes. Ran hacks some tractor trailers to shelter the weak, while Ran persuades those who are able to hurry across the bridge…just when the trucks arrive. Shuuta has to try to clean up the resulting mess, but ends up blocking the bridge.

As the tornado rages, RGB does what it can, but the damage caused by their lack of teamwork is done: 21 deaths, over 130 wounded. Among the presumed dead is Kaba-sensei, though Shuuta was able to rescue Kozue, now she has to deal with a fresh round of crippling trauma. Looks like the first episode’s train dilemma was just a warm-up; the difficulty level has officially been ratcheted up.

While I’ll admit I missed both Mari and Asumi as the focus of the show, I also knew that this episode was probably going to return that focus to RGB. I wrongly assumed they’d save the day without anyone getting hurt, but it wasn’t to be, and that was a particular downer, just as it’s a downer that the Asumi we met last week is gone forever, no matter who is on the other side of RGB’s phones.

As for the bizarre Danganronpa-looking Carneades taking over the television feed to declare he is the one “thrusting choices upon the world for the future”, well, his aesthetic is certainly…a choice.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Tokyo 24th Ward – 02 – Fifth Wheel

Shuuta, Ran, Kouki, Mari, and Asumi have been friends since they were little, but in a flashback to those halcyon days, we see that even then Mari was in a state of turmoil rising out of the fact that…well, she wasn’t Asumi. Asumi was the glue that kept them all together; indeed, she was the one who declared RGB was a thing. And now she’s gone.

After years of being a kind of fifth wheel, Mari suddenly found herself one of four, and the estrangement of RGB resulted. That said, she’s still close to all three, especially Shuu, who is her neighbor. Their rooms are even across from one another, so she can leap between their houses to hang out—an arrangement I’ve always longed for. But Shuu is still convinced Asumi could still be alive, shuttering a window Mari can’t leap through.

As Mari meets with each of the members of RGB currently having a post-memorial fight, we also get flashbacks centered on each member. Asumi, who established RGB, deploys them where she believes their skills are most needed—even if it’s conscripting Shuu for goalkeeper duty on the sports field. As a grade schooler Mari joked that she “just can’t win” against Asumi…and that’s seemingly borne out in both past and present.

When Mari checks in on Ran and DoRed, he shows her a mural honoring Asumi while also depicting her as a badass avenging angel, a glimpse of a possible Asumi that never was since her life was snatched away so early. This mural reminds Mari of the time Asumi had Ran paint a mural in the bathhouse. Asumi was always taking the initiative and inspiring action; Mari was always in the background smiling.

Last but not least is Asumi’s actual big brother Kouki. She’s ostensibly there to gather info on a restaurant at the big modern mall administered by Suidou’s family’s Zaibatsu, which is not only her home shopping district’s main rival for the upcoming Gourmet Festival, but also a threat to her district’s very survival. But she’s also kinda sorta there to mediate RGB’s latest  tiff.

Her meeting with Kouki coincides with a Kouki-centric flashback, in which he is utterly failing to hand out flyers for a previous GourFes. Asumi, assigned to another section and having already passed out all of her flyers, urges her brother to wear a smile and appear more friendly if he wants to pass his flyers out. Before long, all the major players in the district are out to help market the Festival. Asumi, bursting with energy and charisma, simply drew everyone towards her, like a magnet-girl.

Back in the present, while walking the dog that got her in so much trouble last week, Mari ends up overhearing a conversation between her old teacher Mr. Shirakaba and SARG officer Chikushi. She learns that Mon Jungle, her family’s restaurant Itadaki’s rival at the new mall, is run by a shady quasi-gang called Yabusame. She emerges from her hiding spot after Chikushi leaves, and Shirakaba assures her the GourFes won’t be rigged.

This leads to a flashback involving Shirakaba, whose students (RGB, Asumi, and Mari) want to keep the old elementary school they attended from being demolished. Mari may not be the nucleus of their group, but it’s clear Itadaki is the group’s base of operations.

It’s there where Mari’s creative okonomiyaki depiction of a blank chalkboard gives Asumi the idea to cover the school in graffiti and spread the word of its historical, cultural, and sentimental importance to the 24th Ward. Of course, as soon as the school and the graffiti idea came up, I thought of the cold open to the first episode and I was suddenly filled with dread.

That’s because Asumi’s idea, unwittingly sparked by Mari, ended up being the death of her. As an old building in disrepair, the school was vulnerable to fire. When that fire finally happened, Mari had Asumi by the arm, outside. All she has to do is not let go and insist they wait for the firefighters. But Asumi insists on being a hero, lets go of Mari, runs into the school to try to save others…and ends up perishing in Shuu’s arms.

The flashbacks make it feel like so long ago, and yet it was so not long ago Mari still has a video on her phone of the aftermath of the fire, admonishing her future self to never forget what happened that night. Even since then, Mari has kept striving to keep up with Asumi, trying to fulfill that role as glue and nucleus, and has found herself sorely lacking. She looks up at the night sky and tells Asumi she can’t handle RGB…not on her own.

However, Mari’s three meetings with the three members of RGB inadvertently bear fruit: they’ve all gathered at Itadaki…for her sake; to make GourFes a success. They snipe at each other a bit, but they still gathered at that same table they always gathered, even though Asumi isn’t there anymore. As different as they all are, and as deep as their wounds are, they still love Mari, and want to support her.

The strategy meeting itself isn’t all that productive as Mari manages to get the boys so stuff on okonomiyaki they get food comas, but it doesn’t matter. Mari managed to get RGB back together, through their stomachs. It’s then when Asumi appears before Mari as she’s washing dishes, offering her blessing going forward while also affirming how important Mari and Itadaki are to the circle of friends.

After one week, I was a little miffed that this show seemingly focused on three dudes. But this week Sakuragi Mari was the undisputed protagonist. Forget tough; Mari felt like Asumi was an impossible act to follow, but she ended up surprising herself, as much as this episode surprised me with its ability to plumb the depths of envy, love, longing, yearning, loss, grief, regret…and redemption. It didn’t feature a single moment of madcap superpower action. It didn’t need to.

Tokyo 24th Ward – 01 (First Impressions) – The Third Way

Aoi Shuuta, Suidou Kouki, and Akagi Ran were once-inseperable childhood friends, with Shuuta in particular training to one day become a “hero”. Then one horrible night the school burned down, and Kouki’s sister Asumi died saving the life of a classmate. When he most needed to be a hero, Shuuta was too late to save her.

Fast-forward a year, and RGB have graduated and gone their separate ways, only to reunite for the memorial held at the one-year anniversary of the fire. We learn Ran leads a guerilla multimedia group, standing in cheeky defiance of the cold order represented by Kouki’s wealthy businessman and politician father, the 24th Ward’s mayor. Shuuta…helps out at his folks’ bakery, but is otherwise listless.

When the three end up convening by chance at their mutual friend Mari’s for okonomiyaki, the three lads’ phones suddenly ring at the same time. It’s no ordinary call, traveling up into their ear canals and “hacking” their brains with the voice and image of the dearly departed Asumi, who tells them to “guide the future”, showing them two scenarios: allowing a runaway train to kill someone caught on the tracks, or switch the track and derail the train, killing 150 people. Classic Trolley Problem.

In an added instance of the universe being particularly cruel, the person who ends up caught on the tracks is Mari, who was taking her puppy to the vet when she got caught up in the crowds surrounding the ceremony celebrating the new fully-automated train. The pup got free and ran straight onto the tracks, and Mari loses her phone while pursuing it.

Suddenly realizing they feel lighter and tasks come easier to them, the team of RGB pools their skills and resources to avoid either of the futures not-Asumi presented, and instead create a third in which no one is hurt. Suidou, the politician’s son and intern for the 24th’s emergency service SARG, relies on his dad’s trusty underling Tsuzuragawa to track him down and give him a motorcycle so he can rush to his father and make sure he decides not to risk derailing the train.

Ran, the hacker of the trio, chugs a dozen energy drinks and manages to activate the train’s emergency brakes, which are designed to stop in 600 meters no matter what—an instance of the artist actually saluting government efficiency and rules. He’s helped by Kinako, a chipper member of his guerilla art/media team.

Finally, there’s Shuuta, who is simply extremely fast and strong; the muscle of the group. Whatever not-Asumi’s call did to them, it enhanced his already considerable athletic ability, enabling him to basically Spider-Mans/Neos his way to the train long before anyone else can. Kouki and Ran know this of their friend, and after they do everything they can, they leave the rest to him.

Shuuta is very nearly derailed form his mission himself when he’s suddenly dropped back in the middle of that hellish night when he was too late to save Asumi. But he shakes it off, accelerates ahead of the train, then kicks off and launches himself at Mari, plucking both her and her dog out of harms way. Before Mari even knows what the heck is going on, Shuuta runs off, asking her not to tell anyone he was there.

After this first heroic mission dropped in their hands by the mysterious not-Asumi, the three visit the real Asumi’s grave to pay their respects, only to end up in an argument that highlights how far apart they’ve become in the ensuing year. Shuuta wants to believe Asumi is still alive, but just saying that makes Asumi’s brother Kouki want to punch him. Ran, the artist who nevertheless isn’t about to believe in magic, agrees with Kouki; Asumi is gone. But then…what the heck was that call?

We return to the opening moments of the double-length episode, where something is going on involving the somehow-preserved brain or soul of Asumi … or something. The framing device with the strange, fantastical machinery appeals to me less than the prospect of watching three scarred old friends who couldn’t be more different come together to make their beloved 24th Ward a better place…and possibly solve the Asumi mystery. This was a strong start to an intriguing new winter series.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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