Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 06

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When Yakumo suddenly collapses, Mangetsu is able to administer first aid before the paramedics arrive. Konatsu goes with Yakumo, and Yota is ready to follow…but instead elects to stay behind. The sound of the crowd comes back into focus: the show must go on.

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And it does, as we are presented with Yota’s rendition of “Inokori” (which was performed by Sukeroku in episode 9 of last season). This isn’t another fiasco like the time Yota cast off his robe; he basically knocks it out of the park, proving he was ready to perform it. The only problem is that as good as he was, his master wasn’t there to hear it.

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The moment the curtain falls, Yota, who had been keeping it together splendidly, starts to tear up. Matsuda can’t help but tear up too. The only one who doesn’t tear up is Shin, but he seems on the verge of doing so simply because it’s what the adults are doing. At the hospital, Yakumo remains unconscious. Matsuda takes Mangetsu home, praising his rakugo on the way. Maybe he’ll get back into it?

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A couple of weeks pass, with Yota filling in for Yakumo, all but doubling his already formidable workload and feeling the strain. He continues to proclaim master will wake up and be fine, but not even he is a sure as he sounds about that.

Meanwhile, time goes on, and the proprietor of the Uchikutei theater tells him about plans to “rebuild” it, which one would think would mean demolishing the Taisho-era venue. We get a bit of a tour of the empty place as he runs down all of the little charms and foibles that make it as unique and irreplaceable as, well, a performer like Yakumo.

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On the train to another gig, Eisuke encourages him with two bits of information: that unlike the precise technique of Yakumo and raw reality of the last Sukeroku, Yota has his own kind of rakugo: in fact, he is a vessel for it. No “ego or hunger” on display, Yota fades away, leaving only the rakugo to be absorbed by the crowd. It’s a rare gift.

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The episode ends with Yakumo opening his eyes, and though he still doesn’t look or sound too good at all, he’s still alive, which is surely enough for his family. Whatever happened in that sliver of afterlife he tasted, we see no more of it, adding to its mystique.

All I know is Yakumo looks tired, and while he doesn’t look like he enjoyed what he witnessed, he may not be particularly happy to have not died when he did, taking rakugo as he knows it with him.

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Noragami Aragoto – 06

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Usually a bad guy just wants more power, for reasons. But once Kugaha truly gets into why he wanted to “start over” with Bishamon, it wasn’t just to become her new exemplar. He truly believed this was what needed to be done. Bishamon had, after all, forsaken her war god legacy and horded “worthless” regalia, dragged them into her centuries-old grudge against Yato (based on a misunderstanding no less), and got them and herself corrupted.

But in his “selfless crusade” to rid the universe of this “selfish, detestable” Bishamon, he forgot one thing: his place, in the order of things. As Yato remarks when he diagnoses Kugaha’s plan as an elaborate cry for mommy’s attention, gods can do no wrong. They are above the morals of humans, Kugaha included. Her will reflects the will of the universe, and cannot be questioned just because Kugaha doesn’t like it.

More importantly, Kugaha deeply underestimated Yato’s power, especially now that Sekki is two swords, sharper than ever, and no longer conflicted about using deadly force. When Kugaha plays his trump card: his skeletal dragon phantom, Yato and Yukine dispatch it with ease.

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Yato prepares to dispatch Kugaha as well, but Bishamon stands up and shields him, refusing to let Yato touch her treasured regalia. Never again, it seems. The War God who had escalated matters so far so recently is the voice of peace here, recalling how she and Kazuma first met Kugaha, and how he became a valued member of her family. Her words and her apologies cut Kugaha to the quick; I might have even detected a glimmer of shame.

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But once word comes that another dragon Kugaha loosed in the mansion is responsible for killing so many of her regalia, Bishamon knows what must be done; she’s just more merciful than Yato would have been, releasing and exiling him rather than taking his life outright. It’s an act that doesn’t forgive what he did, but acknowledges he believed he was doing right by her as well as himself. But he’s not a god, and he wasn’t right.

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Yato, Hiyori and Yukine then fade out to let Bishamon deal with the second phantom, which carries the lost and still-vocal souls of her regalia. She arrives in the nick of time to save the group of survivors, calls the name of the oldest, a rusty swordstick (in a return to her humble roots), and brings the monster down as her lost children cry out for her.

This is the war Bishamon fights. Not some glorious bout on a barren hill that will be recorded in the annals of history, like Kugaha might have wanted. Instead, Bishamon is constantly fighting a war against neglect and cruelty of the near shore. She adopts those who had nowhere else to go because no one else will, and because she alone has the strength to bear so many.

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When the Ma clan was wiped out, Bishamon lost a battle, but not the war, as she and Kurama started over not by killing herself and resurrecting, but taking the ruins of what remained form her defeat and turning it into a fresh victory, her current Ha clan. And standing beside her during that resurgent win was her trusty exemplar Kurama.

When Kurama awakes to find a healed Bishamon smiling over her, he is ashamed for twice disgracing her, and asks her to release him. But like Kugaha, he’s wrong, and Bishamon can do no wrong. She still needs him in the ongoing war to help as many lost ones as she can. It’s a neverending war, but she is timeless.

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And one reason she needs him so badly is because she is unaccustomed to not holding in the manifest pain of her regalia. This is something she’ll work on no longer doing, so something like Kugaha never happens again. To that end, she’s begun an exchange journal with her regalia that she asks Kurama to add to, after she lifts his exile and asks him to return to being her exemplar. And if the War God can forgive him, it would be the highest insolence to not forgive himself.

This was a gorgeous and moving conclusion to the Kugaha vs. Bishamon arc. It managed to give Kugaha a little more dimension before shipping him off, and succeeded in bringing Bishamon and her family to the forefront as a larger-scale analog to Yato’s little but loving family. And it just may have ended Bishamon’s grudge, which dates back to the show’s last season, which is huge, because maybe henceforth she and Yato can interact civilly!

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Gakkou Gurashi! – 12 (Fin)

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Though Yuki is the only one who can save everyone, I appreciated that she didn’t have Kurumi’s zombie-smiting strength, as her first target doesn’t even feel the force of the aluminum bat she swings. She’s not going to get it done with brawn, but she does get it done with a bit of luck, as well as the relationship she’d cultivated with Taroumaru all this time.

He’s loose again, but rather than bite her, he chooses to bite the zombies cornering her, remembering just enough of his pre-zombie life to instinctively protect his friend, just as Megu-nee did by staying in the basement. It gives Yuki the moments she needs to slip into the broadcast room.

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There, she makes a P.A. announcement that school is out, along with a moving speech that mirrors her monologue in the first episode. Only now, her eyes are wide open, and she’s aware that the ideal school she speaks of is no more. The announcement works, and the zombies disperse, freeing Miki, who rushes the medicine to Kurumi in time to save her. Thank goodness!

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But there is a price for Yuki and Miki succeeding and Kurumi recovering, in the form of the show’s biggest gut punch yet. Taroumaru is doing much better than he was, but he can’t eat and only drinks a little bit of water before letting out one last little yip before dying in Miki’s lap. Needless to say, this was a heartwrenching and tearful scene, but like Megu-nee’s end as seen in flashbacks, and Yuki saying goodbye to her “specter”, the sendoff further demonstrates this show’s devotion to giving its doomed characters a proper, unblinking sendoff.

The girls bury Taroumaru next to Megu-nee; two protectors who gave their lives to save them, and when Miki says she’s fine, Yuki lets her know it’s okay to not be fine; to not bottle up one’s grief, but let it flow out without reservation. This is sage advice coming from someone who once broke from reality rather than face what was going on, but eventually opened her eyes.

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With the school’s utilities trashed and provisions dwindling, the School Life Club must disband and depart from the school for a more suitable shelter. Megu-nee provided locations of other shelters on a map, and though the group doesn’t know what kind of survivors (if any) they’ll encounter, they have little choice but to take their chances out there.

The graduation ceremony they have isn’t some empty gesture, but is carried out with the same decorum and formality as the real thing would have had most of the school not been zombified—Yuki even neatens her hair! They are literally graduating from one kind of life, one of relative safety and routine and contained within the walls of their beloved but now-broken school, and striking out into the vast, unknown world, full of as many possibilities as hazards.

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But I have no doubt that they’re ready, if they stick together, they’ll do fine. And when Kurumi fires up the Mini Cooper and they pull away from the school, even when Miki catches a glimpse of one last zombie who may well be her friend Kei, she doesn’t insist they turn back, because they can’t turn back.

Megu-nee, Taroumaru, and even Kei may be lost to them, but they wouldn’t be alive without them, and aren’t going to squander the product of their noble sacrifice. We also get a glimpse of the puppy Taroumaru saved; an upbeat parting shot of the school grounds.

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After the gang heads off into the horizon and the credits roll, there’s one last ambiguous scene imparted with GG!’s signature sneakiness, in which a glasses-wearing girl we’re not familiar with (but who definitely isn’t a zombie) approaching a field of debris (though it looks more like building rubble than car wreckage) finds Yuki’s childish drawing of the School Life Club members with the message “We Are Happy”.

Is this something Yuki left behind, like Miki’s note to Kei on the blackboard, for anyone who might come past, like this girl? Or is this drawing all that’s left of them? The latter possibility is too dark and ghastly for me to contemplate any further, so let’s say the latter and call it a day, shall we? After all, it’s School-Live, not School-Die,right?

…Right? O__O

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Gakkou Gurashi! – 11

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After multiple events at the end of last week’s episode piled upon each other like so many zombies, spelling imminent doom for the School Life Club, this week starts off with a continuation of that despair, with no shortage of intense terrified close-ups of Rii-san and Miki. But Yuki’s expression is different. It’s not existential fear…it’s an awakening, which comes in the form of a sudden flash as she sees her former choker-wearing classmate as she truly is.

That awakening continues gradually and painfully throughout the episode, as more and more, it becomes clear Yuki is the only club member who can save everyone. Her emotional scars are re-opened and reckoned with, and the same voice in her head that’s taken the form of Megu-nee for so long steps into high gear, putting Yuki not only in a position to stay alive, but help the others, starting with Miki. Now that she finally sees again the danger she and her friends are in, she doesn’t crumple into a ball; she picks up a shovel.

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Nostalgia, despair and hope go hand in hand (…in hand) this week. Rii-san remembers promising to “do what must be done” if Kurumi were to get infected, and as she’s being slowly driven mad by Kurumi’s increasingly horrifying moans and screams, with a knife in her lap, Rii-san starts to contemplate fulfilling that promise. Meanwhile, the zombies are everywhere, including the roof, where a lightning storm ignites the zombies, who then ignite the crops and Megu-nee’s grave marker.

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With all this grimness, Yuki’s strength in this time of ultimate crisis, and her desire to have more fun times with the club in the future, inspires Miki to action, after she was briefly paralyzed by her grief over Taroumaru. She then use’s Kei’s discman to try to sooth/distract the zombies at another barricade as she heads to the basement to find medicine. As that gorgeous music first we heard in episode 4 plays, we return to the day the club drove out in Megu-nee’s car and ended up saving Miki.

On the drive home, Kurumi and Rii-san (the only two still awake) talk about whether the zombies are still “aware”, and Kurumi hopes they aren’t, after all the terrible things she’s done to them. She says she had no choice—it was them or her—and she’s right. But that doesn’t make what she’s done, or not knowing the true nature of the zombies, any easier a pill to swallow.

Back in the present, Rii-san prepares to stab Kurumi to death…but just can’t do it, thus avoiding the possibility of Miki getting the antidote, only to return to find Kurumi is dead. If Rii-san isn’t already FUBAR, she certainly would be under that scenario.

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But Miki is still a long, long way from getting that antidote to Kurumi. It’s by no means a sure thing. She encounters Megu-nee down there, gets cornered by her and pays her respects, cognizant of the possibility the teacher’s stayed down there all this time in order to prevent hurting her still-living students. Despite that apparent awareness Kurumi mused about (and hoped wasn’t true), Megu-nee is still, ya know…a zombie, and grabs Miki’s ankle, forcing Miki to take her out.

Just then, as if there was a chip in Megu-nee tied to the school (though probably a coincidence what with the roof generators going haywire), an alarm sounds and red lights come on, and a P.A. system announces emergency power has been activated for the shelter (which probably means batteries, which aren’t going to last). All that noise attracts hordes of zombies to Miki’s location, and she ends up trapped in a room, unable to act, just like when she was at the mall.

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Thus Yuki becomes the only one who can save everyone. She does so by finally opening her eyes to “the hard stuff” she left to the others for so long, even before she went into her dissociative state, because she deemed herself clumsy and weak. But she’s able to use a vision of Megu-nee to get to the place she needs to be, have one last conversation with her through a door before opening it, and seeing, finally, that Megu-nee is no longer around, that she’s gone, and now it’s up to her.

It’s not easy, nor is it painless, but it’s what has to be done, or, Yuki knows, the School Live Club is finished. Her smile and her silly optimism sustained the club for so long, but now she has to do more, by breaking out of the protective shell she created in her mind, facing the reality of her situation, grabbing a bat, and getting to work. Everyone is counting on her.

No matter what happens, everyone will be scarred by this day they’re having. But can Yuki stand strong and act; protect and guide as Megu-nee did; be the new guardian angel, so that she and the others can live a little longer? I hope so.

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Nagi no Asukara – 20

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As the days went on and Manaka simply wouldn’t wake up, it was interesting how remarkably calm and upbeat Hikari remained. Perhaps it was because he really was optimistic Manaka would wake up any minute, and if she didn’t, that catching Lord Uroko and making him wake her up would be a piece of cake.

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But it doesn’t take long for Hikari to become a man obsessed, repeating patterns from early last season when he was a fiery ball of bad-tempered energy fueled by many factors, including his feelings for Manaka and the future of their village. Even as the sea grows colder and he grows more exhausted, he can’t just sit still; he suddenly can’t soldier on with normal life until she’s awake.

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In other words, things pretty much the same as they was when Miuna and Tsumugu first found the awakened Hikari, only amplified: before, he thought of little else but finding Manaka, and now that they’ve found her, now he thinks of little else than waking her up. In the midst of this wild intensity, Miuna no doubt feels more left out than ever. Manaka is the Sleeping Beauty that has invaded her home and monopolizes the thoughts and time of the boy she loves.

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It’s a very cruel situation for Miuna, in my opinion, and I can’t hold it against her if she happens to voice her frustration in a moment of weakness. She starts to wonder if a part of her doesn’t want Manaka to wake up. But her desperation for Hikari’s attention is butting up against his desperation to wake Manaka, and something has to give. It does, when after mistaking Miuna for Manaka (with her hair down, a rare sight), Hikari collapses into a feverish heap.

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Miuna learns again that she’s not alone; Tsumugu is having similar complications in his relationship with Chisaki, and the two have a very interesting little chat on a pier. Tsumugu admits he too pondered a simpler world without anyone ever waking up, but he can’t deny he was and continues to be happy they’re back too. Miunta wants to be happy too; Tsumugu says it will happen, but it’ll take time.

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He’s not suggesting she surrender, but it is important not to get sucked into a vortex of despair from persistent lack of success. Life is too precious to waste inordinate amounts of time on self-pity and navel-gazing. In life, circumstances and fortunes can change in an instant. To whit: Manaka quite suddenly waking up, not because Hikari kissed her, but to scold him for yelling at Miuna for suggesting he kiss her.

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