Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 12 (Fin)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 11

For all the sorrow and tragedy and pain in his life, things turned out pretty well for Yakumo, AKA Bon, and as it turns out, he really did die under ideal circumstances: he died in his sleep, peacefully, painlessly, surrounded by those who loved him, listening to his grandson doing rakugo.

This episode, perhaps the finest in the entire run of the show, takes place entirely in the purgatory-like place the recently deceased go before crossing the Sanzu River to the hereafter. This requires a fare, which, big surprise, Sukeroku hasn’t been able to afford yet.

The show had always teased an interest in depicting a more fantastical world than that of the living, and in this place people can change their age at will, time is kinda hard to put a finger on. Yakumo is initially annoyed that once again Sukeroku is sponging off him, even after death, but once he’s a boy again, he quickly falls back comfortably into the very deep brotherly bond they shared.

The afterlife is suitably lush and otherworldly, but also borrows heavily from traditional Japanese aesthetics, which makes sense considering the characters we’re following. Sukeroku makes sure Yakumo understands how grateful he is for raising Konatsu.

The reunions don’t stop with Sukeroku, as Miyokichi died at the same time. While she’s cast away the “role of a woman”, she and Sukeroku are still a married couple, working together to earn fare across the river. It feels like, from their perspective, they only recently got here, just like Yakumo.

Yakumo wanted more than anything to apologize to Miyokichi for dumping her so heartlessly, but she holds no grudges in this place. In fact, she can now reflect on the mistakes she made in life, namely latching onto one person rather than rely on, and be there for, others. She’s also amused to no end by Yakumo talking like an old man, since he died as one.

The three travel together for a bit along that seemingly endless scaffolding, and Yakumo mentions the food is tasteless and unsatisfying. Sukeroku says it’s because they’re dead, but if he wants to be satisfied, he knows just the place: the very theater that burned down two episodes ago has arrived in the afterlife as well. It had a soul, after all. Even better: it’s a packed house with the biggest billing ever: All the masters of all generations…and Yakumo is on the bottom. He’s gone from grizzled old master to fresh new arrival in this place.

Sukeroku decides to warm the place up with a performance that really does seem to give flavor to the sake, meat, and onions he pretend-drinks and eats (never has his jaunty entrance theme, which Yotaro inherited, sounded better or more significant). “You can’t take this taste with you when you die!” also has new meaning. He’s still got it, in this place, which has gone back to exactly the same as it was in the old days.

There’s also a magic cushion (I’ll allow it) which brings the person from the living world the performer wants to listen the most. In Sukeroku’s case, it’s his daughter Konatsu, who appears the age she was when he and Miyokichi died. For Yakumo, it’s his grandson Shin, about the same age as his mom, and just as enthusiastic to hear Yakumo’s rakugo.

Yakumo takes the stage as his old self, but has never looked happier, beaming at his reunited family and full of energy. In a playful mood, he performs “Jugemu”, and Miyokichi and Shin “sing” along the comically long name. His story continues as the camera leaves the old, drafty, but brightly glowing theater, which slowly fades out of focus.

Yakumo then finds himself in a fine boat, packed and ready for his journey across the Sanzu. Sukeroku sees him off, and Yakumo makes him promise he and Miyokichi will join him soon, once they save up enough for their fare (the one thing he apparently can’t share with his friends, even if he wanted to). That could be a year from now, or it could be yesterday.

While en route, the ferryman reveals himself as Matsuda, who may have followed his master into death after nodding off himself, and he couldn’t be happier to be by his side again, chaffeuring him to the very gates of heaven.

It’s a fitting end to Yakumo’s story, and a achingly gorgeous episode full of joyful and tear-jerking moments, from Miyokichi first seeing Yakumo, to Konatsu hugging her mother, to Yakumo taking the stage one last time and meeting Matsuda on the boat.

The preview indicates the last episode will be an epilogue that jumps forward in time, perhaps to an older Shinnosuke with a red-haired young woman who may be his younger sister. That should be fun, even if it doesn’t come close to approaching the greatness of this, Yakumo’s farewell.

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 10

While there are certainly important stories to be told, the true genius of SGRS is the realism and intensity of the world in which those stories take place. While there was a soapy vibe to Yakumo’s inadvertent arson, this week grounds the even for what it was: something that was likely to happen to the tinderboxy theater sooner or later, regardless of who or what started it.

Even if Yakumo was trying to deal a blow to rakugo by sending the place up, the fact is, the theater is just a thing. You don’t really need it to perform rakugo. All you need is people to perform, people to support those performers, and an audience. And those things can be found anywhere. They’ll be okay…even the kid who worked at the theater to try to get closer to rakugo.

When we see Yakumo in the hospital, Shin and Matsuda are crying by his side, but Konatsu is sitting off at a distance, with a look that conveys both suspicion (both she and Yota had to stop him from jumping off a bridge, after all) and uneasiness.

As much as she has always hated her adoptive father for killing her birth parents, the window for hashing things out with him once and for all is quickly closing. Sooner or later Yakumo, like the theater, is going to go up-either by his own hand or by nature.

Still, even as Yakumo lies there in bed with a hell of a face burn, we know that when it came down to it, he’s terrified and not at all interested in dying. He’s not ready to leave the family he’s made, which we learn is about to get larger: Konatsu is pregnant again, and this time it’s Yota’s.

Since Yota is always calling Konatsu “nee-san”, its easy to forget that these two are married, let alone sleeping together. But I loved the way Konatsu drops the news—by mentioning how she craves sweet things when she’s expecting. I also loved Yota’s total obliviousness until she actually spells it out for him too.

You can feel the love and joy in this little scene. The RABUJOI, if you will ;)

As for her scene with Yakumo, it’s steeped in a combination of loathing and tenderness. It’s not the same love that she has for Yota at all, but it’s still love, and arguably a deeper one. As she helps him into the sun and combs his hair, he tells her how his mind wanders to things he never thought about when rakugo was his life, like how he never planted a cherry tree in his garden, or all he missed out on for rakugo.

Konatsu doesn’t let the opportunity to ask him why he never followed her parents to the grave, and there’s no need for any more pretense: Yakumo was too busy raising her to think about killing himself, and in any case, being a parent has a way of simultaneously overwhelming and soothing you. Raising Konatsu kept his regret at bay, and made it possible to live as long as he did.

Upon hearing all this, Konatsu softens, her eyes well up, and she does something it’s probably been very hard for her to consider doing: thank Yakumo, for not abandoning her.

Of course, she’s very welcome, and doesn’t even have to thank Yakumo, since she did as much for him as he did for her by being in his life. It’s a marvelously executed and acted scene; the epitome of bittersweet-ness.

Then Yota comes on the radio, Shin pops out of the bushes and recites the story Yota is telling (while tossing sakura petals in the air), Konatsu asks Yakumo if she can be his apprentice, and he says “yes” without any pushback whatsoever.

Yota and Shin’s story is accompanied by a montage of imagery that matches their words, though that imagery is coming not from the imaginations of the listeners, but in the city and world living and breathing around them during a warm, pleasant sunset. It looks like a moment of almost perfect contentment for Yakumo…

Which also makes it the perfect time to leave that world, if he was going to do so. When petals on the floor are suddenly picked up by a sudden wind and dipped into darkness, Yakumo wakes up on the planks of zig-zagging, seemingly endless boardwalk flanked on either side by countless candles. Sukeroku greets him, and this time welcomes him to the land of the dead.

Tellingly, Sukeroku doesn’t tell him he’s not yet supposed to be there. So is this it for Yakumo? Did that perfect moment signal his exit from the living world? Did he agree to train Konatsu to avoid stirring rancor so close to his end?

Fuuka – 10

Fuuka still hasn’t written the lyrics. Everyone’s hounding her, but it isn’t until Yuu tries to offer some friendly help when she momentarily snaps. She’s sick of feeling the way she feels about Yuu, and seeing him flirt with Koyuki.

Of course, Koyuki isn’t satisfied either, because it’s not as if she and Yuu are really a couple. There something in between, something that just isn’t cutting it, and she can’t go on. So yeah, Yuu’s making precisely no one happy right now.

Fuuka eventually does finish the lyrics, and they’re apparently awesome. Yuu seems to think so. But whether Yuu’s calling her on the phone and being nice, smiling at her, or praising her awesome lyrics, Fuuka continues to feel like shit.

The night of their big gig we get a little slice of all the band members’ lives. Fuuka perches precariously from her roof, but we don’t see her family. Yuu’s sisters promise they’ll be there. Nachi’s grandma sparks some flint for good luck or something. And Makoto? Makoto’s getting disowned by his asshole father for daring to be in a useless band. I wish I cared…but I don’t!

Fuuka’s pink alpaca strap falls off right in the middle of the street, and everything seems to be pointing to Fuuka getting clobbered by the classic “anime truck doing 70 mph in the middle of downtown,” with Fuuka either buying it or ending up in the hospital, probably with a ruined voice on the eve of her big break.

Instead, she avoids the truck (she is pretty athletic), and leaves the alpaca strap behind, which is like a symbol for her attempting to be move beyond the torturous slog of pining for Yuu, something I’m still not quite sure why she’s doing in the first place.

So The Fallen Moon (uuuuuuggggghhhh) performs their Hedgehogs (I’m sick of capitalizing it) cover for the millionth time, followed by a slower number, and then Fuuka’s big number. Throughout the gig, there’s more than one person singing, even though Fuuka is the only one singing, which is weird.

Also, because apparently there wasn’t enough animated material in this episode, we cut to a slow pan of the classic “impossibly starry city sky” again and again. Honestly, the episode went to that sky almost as much as the band goes to Denny’s!

The gig complete (and a huge success), Fuuka finally decides she’ll do that solo contract after all. Mind you, this is the band’s second public performance, and she’s leaving the band. The band Mikasa got disowned to stay in. Nice.

Really though, Fuuka is making the right choice. Even though everyone in the band is pretty good, the offer with the cash wasn’t for the band, it was for her. And you gotta look out for number one. I’m not sure where this is going, but this is actually a mildly intriguing development.

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 09

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When his former big boss goes away for six years’ hard labor, Yotaro has a notion to do a prison show, which is incidentally how he first heard his master. Yakumo performed “Shinigami” at that show, because he liked the chilly, somewhat hostile atmosphere.

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This time, Yakumo performs “Tachikiri”, and he moves many inmates and guards alike with the sad tale of a geisha who died because the letters from her lover stopped due to incarceration.

Of course, after last week’s outburst, part of me was weary of Yakumo being interrupted once again, perhaps this time by an unruly convict. That doesn’t happen, but the sound of Konatsu’s shamisen and voice remind Yakumo of Miyokichi, and she haunts his own visuals of the story.

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After Yakumo tries to see Yotaro’s big “Inokori” show, but leaves because it just…isn’t very good to him (no matter how entertained the crowd is), the old master clears out the old theater and performs “Shinigami” alone by candlelight, in the creepiest scene in the show since he saw those rows of candles after his collapse.

When he completes his tale, one person claps, or rather, one ghost: Sukeroku himself. It isn’t long before his youthful, vital form gives way to the skeleton, revealing a real shinigami has come for Yakumo, and he may get his wish: to die doing rakugo. “Sukeroku” compels Yakumo to toss a candle into the seats, and the whole theater goes up like a tinderbox.

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This would certainly be the end of Yakumo if it weren’t for Yotaro and good timing, who just happens to come by the theater after his performance. Upon the burning stage, with a death god pressing him down, Yakumo admits he doesn’t want to die, and Yotaro stretches to reach his master’s hand and pull him out of the inferno.

Yakumo may not succeed in “taking rakugo with him” when he dies, but he did manage to claim a theater rich in rakugo history in an attempt. What else will he destroy, whether he wants to or not, prior to exiting the stage for good?

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 08

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After a taste of Kyoto-style rakugo (which has a lot more props than Tokyo style…not sure I like it) courtesy of Mangetsu, who is trying to make a comeback after ten years out of the game, We see a frail and withered Yakumo showing his grandson one of Sukeroku’s albums.

Higuchi and Matsuda then come in to show Yakumo the veritable bonanza of recordings and memorabilia the professor has collected over the years. Higuchi leaves it up to Yakumo whether the recordings and such were ever to be released to the public, or destroyed. Yakky says he’ll think about it.

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In a really, really lovely scene, we see the happy couple of Yotaro and Konatsu relaxing on a warm night, and Konatsu rests her head on Yotaro’s broad back and asks him to perform some rakugo, and is no doubt soothed by the vibration of Yotaro’s voice as he does so. It’s personal rakugo; not for a crowd, but for someone close.

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Yotaro can’t get far in his story before the couple notices Yakumo walking onto the nearby bridge; he feigns a desire to get out and about and a bout of sickness, but Konatsu knows what he’s up to: he was trying to off himself, something she won’t allow until he “atones.”

Or at least, that’s how she chooses to label her love for the man who brought her in when she lost both her parents and raised her into the fine woman she is. Yakumo concedes that fate may not be ready to let him die.

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Yakumo visits Kido Isao, an old friend and who owes him a “debt that can’t be paid”, knows how to keep quiet, and longs to hear Yakumo perform again. Then, one night, after seeing a play with Matsuda, Yakumo finds himself the victim of his loyal servant and family’s machinations.

To wit: he’s being forced into a performance before a small, select audience of old friends, colleagues, and patrons. When he threatens to leave, the lady of the Yanashima Inn “insists” by hilariously shoving him onto the stage.

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But before Yakumo has to perform, he yields that stage to his “dunce” of a student, who performs “Shibahama” to his master’s shock. When asked how he learned it, Yotaro confesses to having watched the film, though doesn’t go so far as to hear the truth of what happened at that inn so many years ago.

As for his “Shibahama”, Sokuroku’s was, in my opinion, far superior. But to Yotaro’s credit, he uses his tendency to weep easily well here.

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When it’s finally Yakumo’s turn, he introduces himself with an air of “whelp, I guess I can’t rest easy yet, so despite my dry tongue here goes”…only to be rudely interrupted by a police raid that has come to arrest Kido Isao. Have those coppers no decency?! 

One also wonders if, like when his suicide was thwarted by the sudden appearance of Yotaro and Konatsu, if there’s something to the fact that he was so harshly silenced just when he was about to do rakugo again.

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Fuuka – 09

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Wow, we’re already nine episodes into this? Wow, that’s pretty far. What better way to celebrate than Yuu going on a date with Koyuki. Wait, whuuuh? Last time we saw them, they were locked in a hug on a pier, now they’re touring Little Edo, AKA Tiny Kyoto.

Koyuki starts out wearing a ski mask, but removes all disguises except for magic glasses that make it impossible for anyone to identify her. Also good news: her voice is “back to normal”…but I’ll believe her when I hear her!

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In any case, inertia plus history plus chemistry equals these two becoming something of an item this week, which doesn’t go unnoticed by the band. Yuu is late for practice after all, and while Nachi jokes about him being busy with his girlfriend, Fuuka is less enthused.

After practicing the same damn HEDGEHOGS song for the thousandth time (aren’t they sick of it by now?) they go to Denny’s and Fuuka presents her Next Great Idea: she’ll write an original song…by ear. Yuu ducks out to talk on the phone with Koyuki, and when Fuuka goes out to see where he went, he hears their flirting and remains…not enthused.

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A song-writing montage ensues, filled with still images, one of them showing them going to Denny’s again in short order. Honestly, how can these unemployed kids afford so many trips to Denny’s? They must get allowance out the wazoo! You’d think they were already a successful professional band what with all the cash they’re throwing around.

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They get the instrumentation done, so all that’s left is the lyrics. I’ve never been in a band, so I supposed some bands do the music first then the lyrics, while others do vice versa, while still others do both at the same time. Fuuka, at least for this The Fallen Moon song (ugh, I forgot that’s the name they picked for their band), goes with the first strategy, but gets lyricist’s block, no doubt exacerbated by her heartache.

Then one day Sara’s brother asks Fuuka to have a meeting with him and a music producer, who heard her sing at the school riot. The guy is perhaps unreasonably obsessed with her from a single impromptu recording, but goes on to say she “ate Koyuki alive” on that modest stage, the implication being, for the first time, that Fuuka is just flat-out better singer than Koyuki.

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But Fuuka doesn’t even say she’ll think over the producer’s offer to make her, and only her, a pro. She’s sticking with her unfortunately named band. Her selflessness is rewarded when she once more runs right into the middle of a private Yuu x Koyuki interaction.

The show is really piling it on in terms of Yuu and Koyuki rubbing their longer relationship all up in Fuuka’s face. Girl can’t catch a break! But she can’t worry about stuff like this right now; The Fallen Moon (UGH) is opening for other bands in like, no time at all, and she needs to get those lyrics written or she will LET EVERYONE DOWN.

Still, I’m sure no matter what happens, cash will somehow continue to appear out of thin air for the band, with which they’ll continue to buy fried food and sundaes at the local Denny’s. Eat more fish, kids.

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 07

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It’s Autumn, and getting chilly, but Yakumo goes out to sit amongst the gingko trees on hospital grounds in thin robes. Konatsu finds him and wraps him in a scarf. He’s in a dark place. When he first collapsed, he thought he wouldn’t “have” to do rakugo anymore.

Now that he’s returned from that hall of candles and from his encounter with Sukeroku…wherever he was, he feels he’s lost both the voice and the desire to ever take the stage again. Konatsu, who still blames him for her father’s death, calls it karmic retribution.

The deep-seated bitterness remains. Yet if anything, Konatsu is even bitterer to see the ultimate antagonist in her life brought so low.

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Konatsu and Yakumo’s meeting among the Gingkos, and the tragic past that binds them, is re-investigated and all but rewritten this week, as Higuchi invites Yotaro and Matsuda to join him in the countryside where everything ended and began: the hot spring inn where Sukeroku and Miyokichi Yurie died.

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It’s where Higuchi, only a boy and accompanying his father, an inn regular, first met (and pretty much fell for) Miyokichi. A few years later he encountered her in Tokyo, and she’d only grown more beautiful and refined.

When Higuchi heard the way she spoke the name Kikuhiko, he had to see what kind of man could snatch this gorgeous woman’s heart. When he went to see the future Yakumo perform, he found himself in awe like many others, and asked if he could be a rakugo apprentice.

Obviously, Kiku refused, and now we know that young man from episode 10 of last season was Higuchi, who since then has immersed himself in rakugo, not as a performer, but a student, and may just be positioned to help steer its future with Yotaro.

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But this episode is concerned mostly with the past, specifically the last days of Sukeroku. Yotaro obviously wasn’t there, but Matsuda was, and throughout the episode Matsuda is overcome with nostalgia for the barely-changed place.

More to the point, Higuchi has brought them here to view film reels of Kiku and Shin’s performances, which despite their degraded quality put everyone right back in that state of awe. The Kiku in the film is younger than Yotaro, and yet he’s so much better, and more to the point, seems so much happier to be performing rakugo. All Yotaro needs to do is close his eyes, and he sees the young master in color, performing all the roles within the world of his story.

Then the innkeeper loads the reel of Shin performing “Shibahama”, the story of the wife’s lie that made her husband’s life better, and there isn’t a dry eye in the darkened room, including my own. It’s a story told and performed so well that it simply gets me every time. And Yotaro can tell how happy Shin was.

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After that, they go to the graves of Sukeroku and Miyokichi, whose happiness—and ultimately lives—Higuchi said were destroyed by Yakumo. But Matsuda knows the truth of what happened that night, and it isn’t the story Yakumo told Yotaro last season. Likely because it was such a good and well-told story, I never questioned whether Yakumo was a reliable narrator.

But overcome by all the memories the town, inn, and film reels surfaced in him, and the sun not only setting on the day, but on his and Yakumo’s lives, Matsuda reveals all: Miyokichi stabbed Shin. Kiku was holding him and got covered in his blood when Matsuda and Konatsu came in, and Konatsu then tried to push her mother out the window. Shin grabbed Miyokichi and the two fell to their deaths, while Kiku held Konatsu back.

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That misleading image—of Kiku holding her father, the two stained in blood, and Kiku wearing a fiercely hostile expression—is pretty much all Konatsu remembers of the ordeal; her memory is hazy from passing out from the shock of the events she witnessed. But it’s an image that still haunts her to this very day, as she smokes alone in her jammies when Yotaro returns home.

When she looks up at him, wondering why he was out late, she sees the tears in the big guy’s face (not an uncommon occurrence) and assumes Yakumo must have done that to him. He did, but not directly. Those are the tears of someone who has heard the truth and come across someone who still doesn’t, and has gone through a lot of pain because of it.

He doesn’t relay to Konatsu what he’s learned on this night. Instead he embraces her…while she keeps smoking. But I imagine the truth will come out at some point, as Matsuda begged Yotaro and Higuchi not to let the master leave the world believing rakugo will die with him.

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Fuuka – 08

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Um, so yeah, I don’t know why I didn’t mention it last week, but band solidarity aside, it was really really dumb and selfish to stride out on stage before such a hostile, volatile crowd. By doing so, they put not only themselves, but everyone in that room (including Yuu’s sisters) in unnecessary danger.

It only takes a spark from a couple of n’er-do-wells for the audience to become a mob. So what I wanna know is, where in the hell were the adults in this? Isn’t this a school auditorium? Did no one bother to inform any of the festival organizers of the circumstances surrounding the performance, or the potential hazards?

The bizarre, total absence of any of the controls that would have put the kibosh on this show before it even began were conveniently missing so that “the show could go on.”

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So Yuu gets his bass wrecked and his head cut open from a bottle (which is pretty rock-and-roll, now that I mention it), and the crowd grumbles loudly, starts shoving Yuu’s sisters when they protest, and start to crush Koyuki when she reveals herself (another dumb move on her part).

And yet, like the flip of a switch, everyone in the rowdy mob just kinda…shuts up as if suddenly a single unit, and are so charmed by Fuuka’s powerful voice, her unison duet with Koyuki, and the talent of the other band members, their heckling and hostility turns to joy and cheers.

Are you takin’ a piss, Fuuka? Seriously? Quell the crowd with lame J-rock? Sorry…but I ain’t buyin’ it!

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After Koyuki is shuttled off by her minders, the band heads to Denny’s to celebrate their bafflingly successful concert, which was streamed on the internet and greatly boosted by Koyuki’s presence. They then come up with a band name, The Fallen Moon, which is, well, there’s no other way to say it, the worst name for a band everno hyperbole.

What did elicit a laugh was when Fuuka protested over using her surname to name the band, making it seem like she forced everyone to join, followed by everyone else confirming that yes, she did indeed force them. But why did you let her force you? Is she just that really, really, ridiculously charismatic?

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On the other side of the charisma spectrum is Koyuki, who is gently warned by her manager not to pull any more shit, and to stay away from Yuu lest she cause more riots and brawls. Yuu calls and calls, perhaps dozens of times, but Koyuki lets it vibrate, and he doesn’t seem to leave any messages.

All those ignored calls, combined with her guilt over what transpired and her production company cancelling all of her TV appearances (since she’s proven she’s a loose cannon no doubt) conspire to stress her out so much she literally can’t sing when called upon to do so, and has to cancel the last show she had left: the Christmas concert she invited Yuu to.

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While walking on the beach, Yuu calls once again, and it looks as if Koyuki feels she has no choice but to answer, or else he’ll just keep calling. The call is brief and curt. Yuu, not satisfied, hops on a train to track her down; not obsessive behavior at all! He finds her at the pier where Fuuka found them in the rain.

Why did she go there? Why did he know she’d be in that specific place at that specific time? Not sure, but Koyuki becomes a wreck upon seeing him, breaking into tears, blaming herself for everything, and begging him forgiveness “for loving him.” Aw jeez. Yuu’s answer is to rush at and embrace her, which…the sea’s right there dude. Be careful!

But it just doesn’t seem like Yuu loves Koyuki…at least anywhere near the extent she loves him. It seems more like an obligation hug, a comforting a friend hug, not an “I love you too” hug. But hey, at least they didn’t fall into the ocean, right?

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 18

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This is largely an episode that is doing the practical work of moving pieces on the master game board, as well as introducing a few new faces. But it also has some of the most powerful scenes of the entire series, and one of those new faces happens to be the new face of the Maiden of Revolution, Kudelia Aina Bernstein.

Wounded by the loss of Fumitan but now hardened by the wider plight of the people who believe in her, she takes up the baton of destiny. While before she was wide-eyed and often seemed lost, here her stare has grown a lot more resolved and aware.

But this episode is called “Voice”, so it’s not just a new face she’s found in herself, but her voice as well. It’s a voice that’s powerful enough to inspire the larger revolution she didn’t know she was the idol of, and strong enough to stop the Gjallarhorn fleet without firing a shot. Mika is understandably impressed, as am I.

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So is McMask (who continues to have Mustachirato around). He contacts Tekkadan with a business proposal on behalf of the “Montag Company.” It looks like he’s decides to enlist Kudelia’s aid on his crusade to reform Gjallarhorn.

McGillis’ long game has gotten so long, it makes thinking about a potential Gundam rematch with Mika seem like a dinky whim. They’re for all intents and purposes on the same side, due to his and Kudelia’s shared desire for change.

On the other hand, there are some who aren’t so inspired by Kudelia’s voice, like the Gjallarhorn fleet that only stopped because they were ordered to; Gaelio, who’s only looking for a piece of the action, and most notably Ein, who is actually half-Martian and thus mercilessly discriminated against for being “less than human”, which is what Gaelio warns him he’ll become if he undergoes the A-V procedure.

Ein is still inspired by the voice of his late mentor Crank, who for all his toughness was someone who didn’t believe in judging people by lumping them into ordered groups (they chat in a brief but strong flashback scene). He treated everyone equally, and encouraged Ein not to worry about what others think of him. If the A-V can help Ein defeat Tekkadan, so be it.

In terms of wild cards, Ein’s not as flashy as McMask, but he could still exert some influence before the end. In another Gundam, he indeed might be the protagonist, and we can actually empathize with his desire for revenge. However much I like and support Tekkadan and Mika, Mika did kill Crank.

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Another great scene is after McMask’s introductory meeting with Kudelia, Orga, and Naze, in which Orga and Biscuit learn that McMurdo and Nobliss were in cahoots without their knowledge. Biscuit is somewhat miffed by being left out, but Orga isn’t the slightest bit surprised, nor does he feel betrayed

His aniki simply hasn’t deemed him or Tekkadan quite ready for that kind of information, that’s all. His “scurrying at the feet” of greater men who are in the business of outwitting each other. And while Tekkadan are largely now a means to an end – protecting Kudelia – Orga’s talk reminds us they’re not done changing.

In one of the funniest moments of the series, and a very knowing one from the production staff, Mika immediately recognizes McMask as the Chocolate Guy. Yet McGillis doesn’t even skip a beat; after all, he’s not wearing the mask to conceal himself from them, but from his peers.

McMask cannot yet show his hand to the world, but there’s no harm in letting Orga, Biscuit, and Mika (but only them for now) in on his secret, and tell them of his plans to transform Gjallarhorn, and how his goals align with Kudelia.

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But realistically speaking, this has been an extraordinarily rough, draining few days for Kudelia, and she’s continuing to push herself, not sleeping or eating while furiously preparing for negotiations. Atra noticed her legs shaking during her televised speech – something I’m glad we learned through her rather than when it happened. At the time, the show itself, like us, was focused on the voice of Kudelia the Revolutionary; Atra was focused on Kudelia the flesh-and-blood human being.

We’re briefly introduced to the charismatic female commander of the Outer Earth Orbit Regulatory Fleet, who digs eye makeup and may be afflicted with the Gundam equivalent of Chuunibyou, though with the firepower to back up her theatricality. She looks to be a fun and formidable foil to Gaelio as well as Tekkadan. We also meet a female politician and an old whitebeard who considers Kudelia his “Prince Charming.”

Finally, as Akihito trains Shino in the simulators on the Hammerhead, Laffter seems to be throwing out restless vibes that suggest she may have a thing for Akihito. I could totally see her dumping Naze for someone who can give her their full attention…but this could all be just wishful thinking on my part.

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But what puts this episode over the top for me is the final scene, which is definitely be in my Top 5 of the series so far. It had just about had me in tears needing to be held and consoled by Mika. It’s a scene that rekindles Atra’s strange, beautiful, adorable fantasy, but also shows how Kudelia will find the strength to keep pushing forward.

The burden of her responsibility literally pounding at her head, a lonely Kudelia is joined by Atra, who came to deliver her some lunch, but also comfort and solidarity. Atra wants Kudelia and her to talk to each other more, so that they can share the burden she’s carrying alone. Atra actually forgot the lunch, but Mika brings it, hears their conversation, and joins in. Kudelia may think herself powerless, but that’s the strain of her burden speaking.

Mika thinks she’s amazing, having stopped an attacking fleet in its tracks with her voice. No one can overstate how rare a gift that is, no matter how much luck may have played a role. Mika admits even Orga couldn’t have done what Kudelia did. Mika knows he’s out of the loop about a lot of things and knows he can only do so much, but he also knows what he can do, which is support Kudelia with everything he’s got (which, as we know, is a lot).

Atra concurs with his ‘amazing’ label, and Kudelia is moved to tears, prompting Atra to order Mika to take her in his arms and console her. She’s surprised at first, then leans into the hug. When Atra starts to cry, Mika surprises her by bringing her into the hug as well, simply going by the rules Atra herself laid out regarding consoling ladies.

The three just float there Atra and Kudelia crying it out, and you can just about feel the weight of Kudelia’s burden lessening as it’s distributed among the other two. It’s a beautiful moment, full stop. When she later informs Naze of her approval of the McMask deal, her eyes are still raw from tears, but they’ve never looked more strong or determined, because she has friends who love her and who have her back.

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Musaigen no Phantom World – 05

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This week focuses on MPW’s member of the team who isn’t really a member yet, the aloof, distant Minase Koito. We learn she gained her powers at a young age, and at the cost of never being close to friends or family ever again. A chimera-like beast who loves preying on animals is the phantom that first awakened her powers, and she wants payback. Only she has two problems: she can’t take the phantom on alone, and Haruhiko won’t leave her alone.

It starts with one of Haruhiko’s friends saying something mean about Koito with Koito right behind him. Haruhiko means to apologize, but ends up caught up in the fight with the phantom. Koito saves Haruhiko from the brunt of its attack, but gets a face full of voice-nullifying gas, and without her voice, Koito can’t do squat.

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The episode is basically a progression of Koito realizing again and again that the phantom is too much for her to take on alone, as Haruhiko, Mai, Reina, and newcomer Kumamakura Kurumi (the girl who was observing the group from afar last week). Turns out Kurumi’s teddy bear Albrecht can balloon into a huge golem who fights for her

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Koito doesn’t take kindly to having her personal affairs intruded upon by meddlers like Haruhiko and Mai, but Haruhiko, feeling responsible for her voice getting damaged, can’t help but stay near her side as she tries in vain to take out the phantom. Mai, meanwhile, is very obviously miffed by Haruhiko’s sudden obsession with Koito, a classic childhood friend reaction.

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Koito’s voice heals enough for her to go at the phantom one more time, but it isn’t long before it breaks out the gas and she finds herself in a tough spot. But thanks to Ruru, Haruhiko was able to locate her. He summons Marchosias to distract the phantom while Kurumi uses Albrecht to pummel him into submission.

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From there, it becomes a group affair, with Reina healing Koito, Mai employing her elemental magic, and Haruhiko sketch-sealing the phantom. Himeno-sensei then notes that the phantom isn’t the same one that awakened Koito’s powers years ago after all; Koito was chasing after the wrong phantom.

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After Haruhiko & Co. went the extra mile for her sake without claiming the quarry she meant to claim, Koito can’t help but ask Himeno for Haruhiko’s address so she can wait outside his place as he waited outside hers, in order to apologize and thank him for his help. Which for someone as introverted as Koito, is real progress.

This episode got repetitive at times – Koito faces off against the phantom; loses; gets bailed out; then protests the others’ interference – but it was a decent enough fleshing out of the heretofore least fleshed-out member of the team…aside from Kurumi, who seems to exist in the show for “cuteness (as opposed to comic) relief.”

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Sket Dance 25

Switch’s flashback continues. Having recieved a death threat, Sawa enlists the aid of the Usui brothers. But when he’s shot down by Switch for the umpteenth time, Kazuyoshi tells them to go off without him, believing Sawa’s best off with Switch. They head out, and a girl named Yukino arrives at Sawa’s door. She describes a creepy stalker who pulled a knife on someone in middle school, who Kazuyoshi spots behind a pole and pursues. When he catches him, he learns that Yukino is the knife-wielding stalker. She finds Switch and Sawa and pulls a knife on them. Switch protects Sawa, takes the blade in the chest, and dies. Kazuyoshi is devastated, and blames himself for his brother’s death. Sawa moves away, and the three are down to one. To honor his brother’s memory, Kazuyoshi takes on the title and appearance of “Switch”, and studies hard to amass the great amount of information he possesses. Bossun reaches out to him and he joins a new trio in the Sket-dan.

I’m not sure why what was a consistently zany, over-the-top comedy would want to try straight-up serious drama, but Sket Dance really hit it out of the park with this Switch arc, totally changing gears from its usual fare. We’re thrown into a very tragic story, where a brother has a bad day and says some stupid things he shouldn’t, and it gets his little brother killed. When you add it all up: Kazuyoshi not accompaning Switch and Sawa; his curt last words to Switch; and finally egging on the psychopathic Yukino then letting her loose, it’s hard to argue with him. Gone half-mad with guilt and grief, Kazuyoshi makes an incredible decision: to stop being Kazuyoshi.

He hasn’t spoken since the day of that decision, except with the software than combines his voice with Masafumi’s. And the young Switch we saw this week and last was actually someone we never knew; it was the big bro who turned out to be our Switch. Very strange, but it definitely works. This wasn’t a perfect episode – Sawa was kind of a bland airhead most of the time, and the story relies a little too often on convenient coincidence, but as this was one of the best episodes of a series that has been anything but serious to this point, I’m giving it top marks.


Rating: 4