Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 02

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I was glad for the hour-long first episode that really established a present day for the show; giving it the confidence to go decades into the past in only its second. And while Yotarou was the main protagonist of the first episode, he and Konatsu are entirely absent here, as we have only the old Yakumo narrating the past, and how he met Sukeroku.

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This story explains why the present-day Yakumo has bouts of bitterness and insecurity that can manifest as cruel or petty treatment towards those in his life, be it Konatsu or Yotarou. It all boils down to this: Rakugo was an arranged marriage for Yakumo, while it was true love for Sukeroku.

For Yakumo, then known as Bon, was into a geisha house. He was a dancer until he ruined his leg, and so he got dumped off at Yuurakutei’s house to be his apprentice and learn rakugo. He didn’t even want to get into rakugo, but he had to. His entire future was neatly laid out for him…by people other than himself.

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Sukeroku, then known as Shin, was a filthy, orphaned street urchin, who always used to be able to get into theaters for free. He convinces the master to let him be his apprentice in much the same manner as Yotarou convinces Yakumo: a combination of charm – from his overabundance of enthusiasm, and pity – the implication he truly has no where else to go.

The master can when Shin shows him what he’s got that he’s doing a lot of straight mimickry, but the fact he makes Bon smile and laugh tells him he could be more than just another mouth to feed.

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OH MY GOD LOOK IT’S A YOUNG MATSUDA!!! Holy crap, that’s so cool that Yakumo would not only inherit his master’s title, but his manservant as well. This makes Matsuda the only character other than the narrator Yakumo whom we know form the first episode.

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Oh, but where were we? Ah yes, Bon and Shin. Another reason the master takes Shin in is so that Bon has a foil, and learns to loosen up a little. Sure enough, after Shin says out loud something Bon dare not—they were both abandoned by their families—Bon has himself a cathartic cry and tells Shin his entire story, which Shin earnestly listens to and responds appropriately: basically, “Yeah man, that’s a pretty raw deal.” But it means so much just for Bon to have someone to talk to.

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The two grow up together, alike in how they came to be in the master’s house, but otherwise total opposites, except for their ability to accept one another, much like to very different brothers who still share blood and love for one another, even as they compete for their “father’s” approval.

Once they’ve studied and practices and grown up enough, their master gives them names and deems them ready to open for him at the theater. Bon gets the elegant, refined name Kikuhiko; while Shin gets Hatsutaro, which he feels will sink him before he even jumps in the pool.

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Now we know that Kikuhiko would end up being given the title of eighth-generation Yakumo, but I’m certain the master doesn’t arrive at that decision after Kiku’s first performance, which was an unqualified disaster, though not in any over-the-top or overly cartoonish way (say, he slips and falls or flubs his lines).

He gets all the words out, it just all feels so flat. And he’s super nervous, shaking and sweating from the get-go. No nice way to say it: he bombs. And he knows it, even before he sees Hatsutaro backstage, and dares him to do better in his very first performance opening for their master.

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Hatsutaro does better. Almost too much better. His performance, starting with a loud “HEY!” that wakes up those in the sparse crowd Kiku put to sleep, is far more energetic, warm, loose, and inviting. Rather than no laughs, he gets many, and from a diverse cross-section of people.

Kiku only succeeded in making the crowd almost as uncomfortable as he was. That’s some kind of theater, but it’s not rakugo. Hatsu did some damn fine rakugo in his first performance. He even turns Kiku’s frown upside down. But that’s just it: right now, Kiku simply has no confidence in his future, because he never actually wanted to do this, and still doesn’t. He knew that truth would come out in his performance, and sure enough, it did.

This is only the first part of Yakumo’s tale, which he did fairly warn us was long. We have yet to learn how he clawed back from that sorry first performance to become the living legend he is in the present (and who inspired Yotarou to seek him out), not to mention how his relationship with Sukeroku progressed/regressed; and at some point Sukeroku will meet Konatsu’s mother.

However much more story Yakumo has to tell, I am all ears.

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Black Bullet – 11

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The first part of this episode is a perfect example of the adage “this is going to get worse before it gets better.” The conventional military predictably folds like a house of cards before a far larger and very organized Gastrea army led not only by their “king” Aldebaran, but their equally-dangerous “queen”, Pleiades, which possesses “The Spear of Light”, a mercury-based beam weapon that makes quick work of the humans.

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Rentaro’s adjuvant is able to do some damage, but at the end of the first night, half of Tokyo’s forces are gone, converted to Gastrea and added to the enemy’s ranks. I’m a little fuzzy on why the Gastrea didn’t press on and finish the job—they certainly were winning—but they withdraw, and Rentaro & Co. have at least one more night to live. But then He’s summoned by Commander Gado, who cites him for dereliction of duty.

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That’s right: even though the actions of Rentaro’s adjuvant keep the Gastrea from flanking the rest of their forces, and play a role in at least a temporary withdrawal, the fact remains he disobeyed orders to hold his position. I actually found it refreshing that, for once, the hero doesn’t just get a slap on the wrist for acting independently, though it’s clear Gado has ulterior motives for doing so. Instead, he’s sent on a suicide mission to destroy Pleiades.

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Kisara suggests they run away. They’re strong, after all. But there’s nowhere to run where they won’t be under constant attack but Tokyo. They’ll run out of varanium bullets; his bionic parts will be trashed and need repair; Kisara needs dialysis, for crying out loud. Still, even if the lives they led were short and violent, at least they’d be lived protecting each other, not a city full of racist ingrates.

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Truth be told, the battle that ultimately led to Rentaro’s “court martial” was a bit…meh, perhaps a factor of things escalating a bit too quickly and the tactics of the adjuvant seeming a bit disjointed, as if the producers had a really big battle in mind but didn’t really plan it out when it was time to present it. It felt a bit rushed and half-assed, and when it suddenly ended and returned to a place of safety, it was jarring.

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What actually redeemed the episode, besides the fact Rentaro actually got punished for disobeying orders, was that his one-man anti-Pleiades expedition leads to him running into Hiruko Kagetane and his huge-eyed daughter Kohina. And here I thought he was dead and she was in custody! Their appearance, and not as straight-up foes, gives Rentaro more of a chance against Plei-chan, but it’s oddly nice to see them again, as they’re as kooky as they are lethal.

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Black Bullet – 10

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Since the beginning of their careers as a civil officer/promoter and initiator, Rentaro and Enju have struggled to reconcile their duties with the feelings of bitterness and futility that come from protecting a population that not only outwardly hates and oppresses the cursed children. After the horrifying events of this week’s episode, they’ve never been in a stronger position to dust their palms and walk the fuck away; letting rabble to be damned.

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This week, the Gastrea remain entirely, forebodingly off-camera, despite the fact they’re only days from breaching Tokyo’s defensive perimeter, but Rentaro and Kisara continue their classes with the cursed orphans. They’ve little else to do, and the kids could use the human contact. Notably, they’re portrayed just as the innocent, normal little girls they are; including developing puppy love for the strapping young teacher.

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When they’re told to write about their dreams for the future, none of them write “I don’t have one,” but it was one of several bad signs that whether the Gastrea are fought off or not, and no matter how much spare time Rentaro and Kisara put into it, nothing good was going to become of the poor wretched girls. I just didn’t expect their fate to arrive so soon, or so brutally.

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Two nights before that awful event, Rentaro joins Kisara on a walk on a beautiful starlit night, and they even lie beside each other staring up at it. Kisara professes her happiness with the lives they’re living and the family they’ve built, and she’s terrified of losing it. Rentaro assures her he’ll protect her and everyone else. It’s a truly lovely moment when their awkward hand-hold transitions to tightly but tenderly linking fingers. Neither recoils in embarrassment; they simply enjoy that moment.

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Things get uglier and uglier from then on. The next day, Rentaro is just in time to save the blind urchin from a lynching. The day after that, Rentaro and Enju arrive at the site of school, only to find a smoldering crater. His students, all eighteen of them, were killed by a varanium-laced bomb. To recall all those smiling girls full of life and hope for the future, and then to see their shrouded corpses neatly arranged on the floor of the morgue…it’s just a rough moment.

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It’s more than enough to open a bottomless well of despair for Rentaro and most definitely in Enju, who once again has has seen far too much hatred and death in her short life. And like I said, they’d be well within their rights to refuse to lift one finger to help the people who did this, or did nothing to stop it. It takes a call from Kisara, Rentaro’s rock, to try to explain to him why they need to do their duty as civil officers.

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She says that if they’re successful in saving the city from the Gastrea, some of the people they saved may actually be grateful, and let go of their hatred of the cursed children who saved them. Kisara isn’t naive enough to say all of them will be, or even a large number. But she realizes that exacting revenge or letting the city burn won’t be any more just than what happened to their ill-fated students. Even if they only enact a little change, that could make a significant difference in the lives of the cursed.

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Or, if Rentaro and Enju can’t fight for the people who hate her and hurt her sight unseen, then they should just fight for themselves; for each other; for the people they hold dear. There’s little time to grieve, as Monolith 32 collapses a day ahead of schedule, possibly aided by the haunting lament sung by the blind girl…the one who makes Enju and Tina look very, very lucky. With the life she’s led, I really can’t fault her for wanting to speed the city’s demise (again, if that’s what she did), along with her own.

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Stray Observations:

  • Some may say this episode verged on the gratuitous, exploitative, manipulative, or even maudlin. I’d have to disagree. No matter what awful situation is going down in which part of the world, the children are always the first to suffer, and the ones to suffer the most. This episode portrayed that perfectly, and its emotional weight felt earned.
  • Kisara finds out her father had something to do with Monolith 32’s construction. The fact none of the other monoliths are deteriorating suggests shortcuts may have been taken in erecting 32. It may even have been meant to fail.
  • No Shiba Miori flirting this week. Yeah, I didn’t really miss her; her comedic antics would’ve been a bit inapproprate this week.