Ikebukuro West Gate Park – 12 (Fin) – The Troublesome Troubleshooter

With Takashi out of commssion the G-Boys are rudderless and eager for revenge, and Kyouichi isn’t above acquiring guns from the yakuza in order to gain the advantage in an otherwise bats-and-clubs fight. Meanwhile, we meet one of the usually unseen victims of the fighting, a young girl whose brother was injured who will play a larger part in the episode’s climax.

Makoto remains in the shadows, relying on his trusted friends in Saru and Lin to get a bigger picture about what’s going on. He learns the Kyougokukai Group from Kansai is trying to make a move against Ikebukuro and the Hidaka Group, providing firearms to both Red Angels and G-Boys. The kid gangs will soften each other out, and Kyougokukai, will stomp them all out and take over.

Makoto still has allies in the G-Boys, including Masaru, who owes him a debt for helping him save Mizuki, only for Mizuki to end up in trouble and missing now. When some less friendly G-Boys spot him and give chase, he’s saved by a more unlikely ally in the recently banished Hiroto.

Hiroto is setting up new turf outside Ikebukuro, but can’t stand by and let his old turf go to shit, especially if it’s due to the machinations of outside yakuza groups. We later learn he and his men, like the little girl, have a crucial role to play in the endgame.

Then there’s Isogai, quite obviously the mastermind behind everything based on clues from last week’s episode. Makoto gives him a call still believing he’s someone who can be trusted, and they meet by a secluded shrine. Isogai gives him a new phone, which Makoto quickly checks for the spying app that confirms Isogai is indeed the mastermind.

Isogai goes on to explain his motivations. A native of Ikebukuro, he was bullied in school and had to stop going to classes. He ended up joining the Kyougokukai, and knowing their interest in Ikebukuro, volunteered to serve as a sleeper agent until the conditions were right to blow everything up.

For all his hatred of punks both red and blue, Isogai still sees value in Makoto as a good guy and troubleshooter, and asks him to join him, Makoto refuses, there’s a scuffle, and Isogai ends up putting five bullets in him. At the same time, Takashi wakes up in the hospital, wondering what’s keeping Makoto.

The two sides form battle lines in West Gate Park, and Takashi not only makes a surprise appearance, but starts a fight with Kyouichi despite still bleeding through his bandages. It would seem all the pieces are arranged on the board the way Isogai and his Kyougokukai superior Yoshimatsu want (the latter, Glasses Guy from last week, even watches the battle from his car).

The G-Boys and Angels are about to slam into each other when suddenly a video starts playing on the park’s Jumbotron: a video expertly recorded by Makoto’s film director buddy, capturing Makoto’s entire incriminating conversation with Isogai, exposing him as a traitor to the Angels and Ikebukuro itself. Everyone stops fighting, takes in the scope of Isogai’s treachery…and stews.

Isogai responds by pulling out his gun and shooting Makoto again, but as with the last time he shot him, it was with harmless blood rounds (lent to him by his director friend). Makoto switched the guns out when they scuffled at the shrine. Kyouichi delivers a  devastating, balletic kick to Isogai’s head and threatening to dance on him until he’s a pile of crushed bones—but Makoto begs him not to go too far.

As Hiroto’s men deal with Kyougokukai’s Yoshimatsu, who is invited to a nice chat with Saru of Hidaka Group, Makoto tries to do what he does best: call for all the warring parties to stand down, go their separate ways and think about whether they really want to fight a battle they were manipulated into fighting. Also, the riot cops are about to come in an arrest everyone.

He urges everyone to remember that while can sometimes lie and hurt each other, they also have the capacity to forgive. Everyone stands down…except that wild card little girl whose brother was injured. She isn’t satisfied until she’s able to stab Takashi, and he lets it happen, drawing her into a hug even after she sticks him in the kidneys.

Because Takashi is so gentle with his would-be killer, the avenging girl must sense that he had forgiven her before she even stabbed him, and thus can forgive him and those who cause her brother’s injury. Before passing out, Takashi tells Makoto to take over the G-Boys if he doesn’t make it.

While that would have been an thoroughly interesting development, Takashi pulls through, and even has the sister and her recovered brother visit him, completing the cycle of forgiveness and healing. Kyouichi disbands the Red Angels and moves into a house his parents left him just outside the Yamanote Line.

Makoto’s mom re-opens the produce stand, where Guo continues to help out. And finally, Makoto sits in West Gate Park when he’s approached by someone who has a problem that needs solving. In other words, life goes on in the town he loves. It’s not often a series concludes by bringing together most of its previous narrative elements into a satisfying whole, but IWGP pulled it off beautifully.

Don’t believe the low MAL score or lack of ANN reviews: IWGP was a strong Fall 2020 dark horse candidate. ambitious in its concept, resourceful with its protagonist and setting, involving at every turn (one iffy Youtuber episode aside), and realistic in its depiction of the complex social structures that make up a town, and the importance of maintaining relationships and balance.

Ikebukuro West Gate Park – 02 – New Kids on the ‘Bukuro

It was just the G-Boys in Ikebukuro, until one night at the Global Ring a young lad with fiery red hair and angel wing tattoos captivated a crowd with his flawless, shirtless ballet. That lad is Ozaki Kyouichi, and his upstart Red Angels are positioned to be the most serious rival to the G-Boys yet.

The question isn’t whether the G-Boys’ hegemony will be challenged, but when and how. But like last week’s IWGP, things don’t develop quite as predictably as I initially expected, once again demonstrating a preference for nuance and realism over black-and-white conflict.

But first, it’s lunchtime, and Makoto joins G-Boy King Takashi for a meal at OK Curry, a suddenly popular restaurant in the ‘Buro that also treats its mostly young, impressionable employees like shit. That, combined to the okay-but-not-great grub, suggests a company only concerned with maximizing its profits, not helping their community.

There’s an interesting choice to juxtapose the almost too-enthusiastic smiling employees in the front of the shop with one being mercilessly berated in an alley by OK’s suspiciously burly “management”. Since many of OK’s employees are G-Boys, Takashi suspects this is the Red Angels’ doing, and wants Makoto to investigate.

He starts with G-Boy Masaru, who knows Mitsuki, the blonde kid who was being abused by OK’s suspiciously burly “management”. Masaru doesn’t like how he and others are being treated, but he used to be a useless delinquent and his job at OK Curry put him back on the right track and made his parents happy, so he’s loath to mess that up.

Makoto also tries to meet the Red Angels’ ballet virtuoso leader, Ozaki Kyouichi, but is blocked by a bunch of thugs in red. Fortunately there’s someone among them with a level head—not too dissimilar to Makoto—who politely tells him Kyouichi isn’t currently around. Makoto says he’ll try again later.

That night, Mitsuki climbs to the top of the OK Curry building and prepares to jump to his death, believing he simply isn’t cut out for life. Masaru tries to talk him down with a police megaphone, but Mitsuki doesn’t want to trouble his friend, and jumps. Uh, killing yourself when he tried to stop it will definitely trouble him, my guy!

Fortunately, he only falls a few stories and the fire brigade catches him on a trampoline; his injuries aren’t life-threatening. But the two OK thugs were present for the incident, and before long Makoto gets a call from Takashi: Masaru was jumped, and ends up in the hospital beside his friend.

Makoto and Takashi visit Masaru, and then Kyouichi soon joins them, flanked by two toughs and a bouquet in hand. For a moment it seems like Masaru was attacked just to get Takashi’s attention, but as the two sides draw closer, Makoto wisely talks first, addressing Kyouichi’s friendly lieutenant to de-escalate.

Turns out Mitsuki is a new member of the Red Angels, and Kyouichi was just there to visit a member, just as Takashi came for Masaru. They also learn that OK Holdings are pitting the G-Boys and Angels against each other with rumors that each are moving against the other, thus keeping the two gangs off-balance enough to be ineffective at curtailing OK’s appalling labor practices.

But while there are a lot of ragged toughs on both sides, the two gangs are led by cooler heads; even Kyouichi comes off as far more reasonable and less aggressive than his hair portended. Makoto comes up with a plan whereby he uses his press credentials to enter an OK Holdings shareholder meeting and confronts the president with their former employee Masaru.

Mitsuki’s near-miss convinced Masaru to do everything he can legally to put a stop to OK Holdings’ crap before anyone else gets hurt, and the G-Boys find him a lawyer to give his threat teeth. He’s then immediately surrounded by the black-clad toughs, who are themselves surrounded by an alliance of G-Boys and Red Angels—Masaru was acting as bait to draw out OK-hired mercenary goons, who are too violent and unscrupulous for either gang.

While Takashi and Kyouichi were able to talk things through and discover they had no real beef, talking won’t work against these goons, which means both gangs need to back up their words with action. It’s not a long fight, as the free-agent goons are no match against Takashi’s boxing prowess or Kyouichi’s balletic kicks.

The G-Boy/Red Angel team-up may have been a one-time thing, but as long as both sides put the well-being of Ikebukuro and their respective guys above pointless turf squabbles, coexistence is possible. That’s underscored when Makoto and Tomomi Isogai, the Red Angels’ friendly lieutenant, watch another one of  Kyouichi’s performances together in a mixed crowd of red and blue.

IWGP is as unflashy as Akudama Drive is flashy, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call it boring. It’s confidently presenting very down-to-earth scenarios that you’d see in any big city district anywhere, where open dialogue and compromise can and should always come before violence and destruction. Makoto keeping all possible channels of communication open in his town isn’t always thrilling, but it is admirable. So far that’s enough to keep be invested.

Ikebukuro West Gate Park – 01 (First Impressions) – Just a Simple Fruit Vendor

In an Ikebukuro full of rival gangs like the G-Boys, Majima Makoto is a neutral mediator to whom anyone can come with a problem to solve. Thus he is one of the people helping to maintain a delicate balance in the town and keep it from descending into violence.

I’ve been to Ikebukuro, and perhaps due to watching a lot of Durarara!! prior to visiting, I got a very cozy, familiar feeling walking its streets. But aside from the Sunshine 60 building’s super-fast elevator, there’s nothing all that flashy about the town. It’s most prominent feature is a 600-foot…incinerator chimney.

Like the town where it’s set, IWGP is similarly restrained, un-flashy and ordinary. After a more theatrical cold open in which G-Boys leader Takashi is on a literal stage knocking out a junkie his gang has surrounded, things unfold relatively straightforward manner.

Takashi visits his old friend Makoto (who runs a fruit stand with his mom), and presents him with the 12-year-old Kurashina Mion, who tried to burn a whole building down because it was the hideout of a drug addict who hit her mom with a car. He’s hopeful Makoto can get Mion justice without violence.

Practically speaking, Makoto’s case is composed of a number of sit-down meetings in restaurants. That’s not very interesting, but it gradually emerges both to us and to an initially skeptical Mion that Makoto knows everybody who’s anybody in Ikebukuro, from gang higher-ups to cops, making him the best person to help her.

The fact Mion insists on tagging along even when Makoto cases a suspicious smoke shop, leading to her panicking and smashing a jar of “high grade herbs” and resulting in a chase. It’s here where Makoto’s encyclopedic knowledge of his town and its rooftops comes in handy, as he makes sure Mion can manage their escape route.

Makoto naturally also knows a super-hacker rather embarrassingly named Zero One, and once he gets the leads he needs from the official police, he relies on Zero and Takashi’s G-Boys to help stake out the smoke shop owner’s various properties.

Once they learn he’s almost certainly dealing illegal drugs, Makoto and Takashi discover the apartment is a marijuana-filled grow-house and drug lab. It’s here where I must assume that weed is still illegal in Japan (in many U.S. states you buy it legally for medical or recreational use), and that there are harder drugs than weed being made/sold by these guys.

Mion sticks her neck out to delay the smoke shop clerk from discovering Makoto and Takashi in the apartment. The clerk chases her down and nabs her, but Makoto comes to her rescue by delivering a devastating kick. It’s clear he prefers to avoid violence unless absolutely necessary, which makes sense as this is not a “stylized” version of Ikebukuro or Japan where anything goes.

In the end the bad guys are arrested for their illegal deeds, and Mion’s mom is released from the hospital with a clean bill of health. In the titular Ikebukuro West Gate Park, Mion thanks Makoto while introducing her mom. Thanks to him she knows that “some grown-ups are cool” and that she wouldn’t mind if someone like him was her dad.

Makoto and Takashi are confident the drug bust won’t come back on them since no one knows they’re involved…but their assumption is incorrect: someone is watching them, so there may be consequences that may threaten Makoto’s neutral status in the near future.

IWGP isn’t a show that will dazzle with its visuals, over-the-top action, or outrageous characters. It looks like it aims to be a more down-to-earth and realistic version of Durarara!! in which we’re presented with a complex tapestry of relationships and loyalties, with Makoto in the middle.

It’s a show with a quiet, confident competence. If that sounds like “boring”, it might be for some. But I for one enjoyed its relative subtlety and nuance, and will be back next week for more.

The Millionaire Detective – Balance: UNLIMITED – 02 – Unnatural Police

Whether Katou likes it or not, money and not hard work makes the world go ’round. When he stops to watch a pair of street comics believing they’ll benefit from a real audience, Kanbe simply deposits 10,000 yen and they immediately stop performing and go out drinking. Katou is right that they’d probably continue working if they didn’t get a windfall from Kanbe, but Kanbe is right that their end goal was cold hard cash, so why waste everyone’s time?

Just as it got Kanbe on the force in record time, money makes the wheels of justice turn a little smoother, even if the sound of those wheels doesn’t sit right with Katou. Kanbe got in at the ground floor, but clearly has big plans for his new official position, as he smells drugs on the pair of comics and brings them in for questioning.

An old-fashioned detective manages to get the name of their supplier, but Katou’s AI/AR glasses and deep pockets net the same result. This round may be a tie, but the perps wouldn’t be in her were it not for Kanbe’s (or his AI’s) sensitive nose. The dealer is a male model who is popular with female models from a certain agency.

Katou and Kanbe then engage in some good old-fahsioned stakeout on the dealer, and Kanbe tries (and not surprisingly likes) instant Cup Noodles for the first time. But Katou keeps the stakeout up far longer, and his stink intensifies as the junk in his car propagates. Katou learns with help from his human asset Mita that the model is getting his supply from a yakuza underboss, aided by a gorgeous raven-haired go-between.

Katou follows this go-between…to her and Kanbe’s house, or rather their palace. Turns out she’s Kanbe Suzue, and she’s either Daisuke’s wife or sister (they very closely resemble each other). If he’s James Bond, Suzue is both gadget-master Q and attractive information broker Moneypenny.

Suzue also seems to be a bit less of a stuffed shirt than Daisuke, donning casual work clothes as she works on various machinery in what could only be described as the Kanbe’s Batcave. The bottom line is that again Kanbe has acquired as much if not more intel from the power of his purse than Katou has managed with his vintage gumshoeing.

That doesn’t stop Katou from storming out of Kanbe Manor, reconvening with Mita, and securing a spot at the mob boss’s latest drug and sex party. Things start out fine as he nabs the distracted boss’s smartphone, but he doesn’t make it past the massive bouncer, and has to be saved by the police mascot “Patrol”, whom he assumes is Kanbe but is really Mita, who had been paid by Kanbe to secure the smartphone.

On the rooftop, Daisuke and Suzue arrive via goddamn Apache helicopter and, after purchasing the whole building, proceeds to gas the entire place, using the floor-penetrating missile devised by Suzue. The boss and twenty others are arrested for drug-related charges, as well as suspected in the murder of a model that came up in the beginning of the episode.

That something that felt like a throwaway line at the time grew into an entire season of The Wire (only with a happy ending) speaks to the strength and agility of the storytelling.

Still, Katou still isn’t okay with Kanbe’s methods. Katou feels insulted on behalf of everyone Kanbe pays off to achieve his goals, and yet he can’t argue with the results. Lives were saved, bad guys caught, and justice will be done, and all at the nifty price of US $770 million. All while he got bogged down and almost killed trying to do things his way.

I mentioned The Wire above because it did indeed take an entire season of episodes to achieve what Kanbe did in a matter of days. Katou feels a lot like a sober McNulty before the systems stacked against the Good Guys fully crushed his spirit. He’s good at his job; what one on The Wire would call “Natural Po-lice”.

Meanwhile Kanbe is about as unnatural a po-lice as you can get. But despite coming off as a bit of an asshole, he’s not in this for the money, but to do something good and worthwhile with it. As incompatible a package as Kanbe presents to Katou, the contents are the same. He’s good police too, and they’ll achieve a lot more good by working together.


P.S. The cars in this show are very well-cast so far. Katou drives a staid, reliable Toyota Corolla E160 Axio. Kanbe’s daily driver is a third-gen Bentley Continental GT. The casanova they’re tailing drives a loud bright-red Porsche Cayenne Turbo. And a woman no doubt after sesameacrylic’s heart, Suzue gets around in a slick yellow Alfa Romeo 4C, an appropriate machine for a true gearhead.

P.P.S. Unfortunately, this is the last episode of Millionaire Detective we’ll be getting for a while, as the remaining episodes have been delayed due to you-know-what-19. We’ll miss it, as it had Top-5 potential, and will most definitely pick it back up if and when future episodes air. UPDATE: It is now scheduled to re-air, starting with the first episode, on July 16. Fingers crossed!

Kabukichou Sherlock – 06 – Cuttin’ The Sun

No mystery to be solved nor rakugo to be performed this week, just a heaping helping of Kabukichou slice-of-life featuring former yakuza Kobayashi and the Irregulars, a gang of kids with nowhere else to go that he helps to keep fed, even when they steal his clothes and draw on him when he passes out from overdrinking. There’s a connection with those two things: Kobayashi left the yakuza because he was too nice.

“Nice” isn’t how you’d describe his former associate, a mid-level thug named Sugimoto who is always in and out of prison. More like, Sugimoto is a deeply weird dude, as demonstrated when the kids find him trying to “cut the sun,” and a lot of other erratic behavior.

He also has an affinity for rapping about himself and “Tama”, as he calls Kobayashi (i.e. “kitty”, referencing his kind heart). When one of the kids steals Sugimoto’s protection money, Sugimoto and his massive brawny pal go after the kids.

Moriarty manages to locate the kids’ HQ, an old bowling alley, and Kobayashi rushes in under another moniker: Torataro. The night Kobayashi “betrayed” his fellow yakuza was when he took pity on a struggling mangaka who owed money.

He was just happy someone in the world cared enough to dream about something bigger. That inspired Kobayashi to become a detective, while his kindness inspired the mangaka to write a story that got published, featuring Kobayashi-like character who protects the weak.

Kobayashi ends up in a potential self-sacrificing spot, but he’s bailed out by Moriarty, Watson, Sherlock, and Kobayashi’s former boss Kaneko and his men, who put Sugimoto in his place. It’s chaotic elements like Sugimoto that underscore the fragile equilibrium of Kabukichou.

That balance of crime and kindness, of trouble and fun, is something that must be protected and maintained lest it slide too far to one end to the other. It’s why Kobayashi intends to give the candy shop owner his protection money back and treat the kids to whatever they want…even if they steal his clothes and draw on him again. You can’t cut the sun, but you can shine a little into the shadows.

Hinamatsuri – 11 – Just a Regular Nice Guy

TV journalist Seta Daisuke looking for an exciting, violent, and profane yakuza story and thinks he’s found one in Yoshifumi Nitta, who, after all, is known to have taken down an entire rival group single-handedly. Seta steels himself for a tough assignment, even writing his will.

As we know from watching Nitta, that might’ve been, ah, a bit premature. While Seta initially believes Nitta is just putting up a calm front to hide the unhinged savage within, Nitta’s daily life leads to Seta coming to the crushing conclusion that his vicious yakuza is just…a regular nice guy.

His mom and sister all but confirm it when they burst into rude laughter upon being asked whether there are any “exciting” stories about their son and brother. My friends, there are not. Nitta is as cool a cucumber as one can get in his business.

Mind you, we the audience know that he’s actually had some pretty spectacular moments that any journalist would sell non-vital organ to cover, but most to all of those involve Hina in some way, and Nitta has no intention of revealing anything about her besides the fact she has no one else so he takes care of her.

Seta resorts to staging a scene where Nitta loses his temper and brains Sabu with an ashtray. While it’s true he went a bit to far, Sabu kinda had it coming considering he almost got Nitta killed during the group’s now amicably-resolved succession crisis. That’s some good unspoken continuity!

When Seta surveys his amassed footage and concludes that he will be fired the moment he shows this to his boss at the station, he decides to abandon his journalistic integrity and resort to clever editing, narration, and flat-out fake news.

Nitta and Hina watch the farce of a yakuza profile, in which a pixel-faced Nitta’s completely tepid responses are made to sound like he’s the monster Seta’s voiceover claims him to be. Ironically, he ends his piece by lamenting the end of the decent, respectable yakuza in favor of “monsters” like Nitta (or the completely phony Nitta he created); despite the fact Nitta actually is that guy.

And not just him. His yakuza associates don’t hesitate to tease him with memorized lines from the show they knew was a bunch of bologna. Combined with Hina doing the same (and asking, bemused, who exactly was the subject of the profile they watched, ’cause it wasn’t him!), Nitta ends up running away, barely holding back tears. I guess it’s for the best the yakuza aren’t portrayed exactly like him…

 

In the second part of this episode, Nitta hosts Anzu while her parents are away at a hot spring. With Hina away on her middle school’s ski-training trip(?), it’s just him and Anzu, and in Anzu he finds a girl much better suited for his life than Hina, in terms of her ability, and enthusiastic willingness, to help out with domestic chores.

She doesn’t subtly mock or shade Nitta (as Hina is wont to do) either! Anzu is such a consistently, relentlessly good girl throughout her visit, Nitta has to run into another room to scream and curse the chinese restaurant owners for getting the good girl-in-a-metal-egg, while he’s stuck with…with Hina.

In fact, Nitta experiences a bit of what Seta did during the interview in the first segment. All of Anzu’s pleasantries and smiles sound fake to him after the ruthless “realness” of life with Hina, whom he regards as the typical spoiled brat of a kid who is a pain in the ass to their parent or guardian just ’cause.

But he’s wrong; just as Seta was wrong. This Anzu is the real Anzu. She may have been a lot more like Hina in the past, but her experiences and environment since have changed her, for the better.

Eventually, Anzu unconsciously manages to wear Nitta down until he dissolves into a cloud of sand, re-coalesces in mid-air, and flies away in formation with several Anzu-angels, leaving the Hina-demons crawling along the ground far behind.

After an incredible night in the “Ideal Father’s World”, the day arrives when Anzu’s folks return and she returns home, and the dream is over. Nitta decries that fact that “Reality is coming home.”

All the time he was shitting on Hina, something in the back of my head was telling me the show was going to teach him a lesson about not knowing what he’s lost until he lost it…even though it kinda already did that. My intuition turned out to be correct.

He gets an ominous call from the school ski trip informing him that Hina has been “lost in the mountains.” Now, you, me, and Nitta know that with her telekinetic abilities she’ll probably be just fine, and could easily deal with any threat she might come across.

That’s perhaps why Nitta responds so nonchalantly. But it’s still upsetting to hear that she’s lost, just when Nitta was dreading her return. Here’s hoping the final episode is devoted to his search for her and their reunion, perhaps with some assists from his various friends.

Hinamatsuri – 10 – Hitomi Just Can’t Say No

No Hina or Mao this week, which means it’s a Hitomi and Anzu episode, which is by no means a bad thing. Hitomi’s petite mom finally catches her coming home late, and even though Hitomi tells her the truth—she’s moonlighting as a bartender—Mama assumes something depraved is going on.

Hurt by and resentful of her mom’s lack of trust in her (and egged on by Utako), Hitomi decides to leave home. Nitta the cheapest apartment his real estate company offers (normally $2800 a month, but she only has to pay half that), and Utako literally strong-arms her into signing the lease.

Just like that, has her own place, and has to make over $300 per week to afford it. Fortunately (or rather unfortunately) every single person at the bar is so impressed with her bartending work that they have jobs to offer her.

She can’t turn down any of them, and so just like that Hitomi is washing skyscraper windows, waiting tables at fancy restaurants, selling concessions at baseball games, and even dressing up as the evil bear in a live hero show.

Another job she takes basically puts her in the office world of Aggretsuko, and it certainly seems like Hitomi needs someplace to blow off steam. Mostly, she just needs sleep; her classmates are shocked to find her dozing off right next to Hina.

Meanwhile, at the office, her co-workers see her as a suck-up using her babyface as a meal ticket for advancement, but their bullying has little to no effect; Hitomi just keeps working hard, and eventually wins them over.

Hitomi is a girl cursed with such preternatural capability that if she’s not careful, she can slide right into the life of an adult many years before she should. But it’s not an issue of being careful; it’s an issue of saying no; and she’s biologically incapable of doing so, however much she might want to.

She basically hits rock bottom when she passes out on the floor just after coming home, and before tossing the half-off assorted side dishes in the fridge (and let’s be honest, they’re always half-off, amirite?). She wants to be a normal girl again, and thinks she might have a way out when Utako insists she throw a housewarming party at her apartment.

Hitomi invites her mom in hopes she’ll make a huge scene and shut everything down. Naturally, her plan backfires when her mom sees all of the major corporate connections her daughter (whose capable-ness has always scared her a bit)  has already made, and decides she’ll trust her to do as she pleases from now on.

So Hitomi stays put in her classy apartment, her side hustles no longer a secret from her mother, but with no one left to turn to and tell her it’s okay to be a normal girl.

On to Anzu, who receives what she deems a windfall allowance of 5000 yen (about $45). She seeks Hitomi’s aid in spending it properly, but Anzu, a survivor of the streets part-raised by the homeless, considers all of Hitomi’s suggestions superfluous wastes of money, from bowling to karaoke to clothes shopping.

What does pique Anzu’s interest is the idea of buying her new mom and dad a present to express her gratitude. Hitomi privately lauds what a good girl Anzu is, and when Anzu finds a shoulder massage thingy that would be perfect for her folks, Hitomi offers to help pay for it.

Unfortunately, Sabu overhears their conversation, and says there’s a way Anzu can pay for it all by herself: by going to a racetrack and betting on horses. Hitomi laments how she knows not one responsible adult. She can handle that, but Anzu is too guileless to be left alone.

Anzu ends up picking a horse with a 1-in-90 chance of winning, and it wins thanks to a freak fall from the favored winner. With a cool 400 bucks, Sabu urges her to keep going. Her luck runs out and she loses everything. Dejected that she can’t buy any gift for her folks, Hitomi tells her it’s the thought that counts.

To that end, Anzu issues some shoulder massage coupons in order to help some of the pains of old age. As Hitomi assured her, they didn’t need an expensive gift any more than Anzu needed bowling, karaoke, or fancy clothes. As long as her folks are happy, she’s happy.

Hinamatsuri – 09 – A Tropical Vacay, a Promotion…and a Funeral

If Hina had simply been sent home via orb, none of the hilarity this week would have transpired. Chalk that up to an “organization” that is way more incompetent than you’d expect of an entity that deals with girls with terrifying telekinetic abilities. You’d think there’d have been some kind of revolt at this point.

Consider Mao: the “shy but capable” courier meant to deliver a new orb to Kei for Hina to use to return home (so that’s not off the table like it is for the officially-dead Anzu). Only Mao is transported to a remote tropical island just north of Indonesia, and both her orb and the spare for Hina are washed away within moments of arriving.

From there, the first act is a one-woman homage to Cast Away starring Ozawa Ari as Mao. She certainly is capable, able to survive just fine for days thanks to her ability (though why’d it take twelve days to make clothes?) Like Tom Hanks, she makes a friend—two friends, Anzu and Hina—out of coconuts. Unlike Tom Hanks, she voices both of them.

Weeks pass, and like Hanks, her hair gets longer and she develops a more stoicly intense look, while her “friends” have grown bodies. But eventually she snaps, tosses the coconuts—which are not her real friends, but just, well coconuts—off a cliff, and does what she should have done weeks ago: builds a raft and sails for the mainland (though ends up in Thailand, not Japan).

With Hina’s departure again indefinitely on hold, we move on to Nitta. He and Sabu have been ordered to pick up Nitta’s former brother Naito “The Slayer” from prison. With the president in a coma prior to naming a successor, an idiotic little power struggle plays out, thanks in equal part to Hina and Sabu.

Nitta manages to convince Naito not to challenge the lieutenant, but when Gramps wakes up and names Nitta his successor (to placate Hina, to whom he’s taken a shine), Sabu has too quick a text trigger. Both the lieutenant and Naito believe Nitta played them to steal the throne. Nitta sets the old man straight and the lieutenant is reinstalled two minutes later, but Sabu never texts this to the still-enraged lieutenant.

Before he knows it, Nitta is encased in an oil drum full of hardened concrete, with the LT and Naito ready to make him swim with the fishes. But Sabu’s chronic nausea is the first sign something is amiss. Nita’s failure to “nut up and go out like a villain” is another.

The president arrives just in time to corroborate Nitta’s defense. Once the LT and Naito realize they jumped the gun (with Sabu continuing to vomit but not own up to causing this) it’s needless to say an awkward situation. The LT decides to promote Nita to replace him on the spot, and everyone cheers him…but he just wants to be let out of the damn concrete. Where’s Hina when you need her?

Well, she and Nitta are apparently fine now after she walked in on his “one-man party.” We know this because there’s a helpful side note at the bottom of the screen. And that’s fine with me; that shortcut enables us to move on to something funnier: Hina planning a celebration for Nitta’s promotion.

She reaches out to virtually all of her amassed acquaintances, who all have different suggestions. I particularly liked Mika’s suggestion of booze…while drinking booze, stating she’s always celebrating the fact she was born, which is a slick way to excuse her alcoholism! A woman after my heart…

Hina can’t decide which persons advice to use, so she combines them. However, she isn’t able to procure booze, and spends so much on flowers she cans afford a cake, so makes one out of salt

Hinamatsuri – 08 – Getting Angry at Balls

When a serious-looking woman with black boots and gloves arrives in town (fully-clothed-Terminator-style) asking Anzu for Hina’s whereabouts, it felt like the beginning of the end for Hina’s stay with Nitta…for about five minutes.

Then we learn that while Ikaruga Kei looks the part of a badass punative field officer, Anzu has to keep her from constantly taking shortcuts in her duties, and she’s terrified of clashing with Hina, who apparently destroyed a city when she lost control one day.

Ikaruga’s duties aren’t even that involved or complicated; as Anzu says, anyone could follow Hina and check off boxes that determine whether she’s still out of control (she isn’t). As for Anzu herself? When she never returned due to her travel orb getting ruined in the wash, she was declared KIA and is now free to live her best life.

Ikaruga ultimately gives up when both the novice and advanced-level questionnaires reveal Hina has changed and grown, but later reads an addendum that stipulates if she gets over a 90% score, it means she can, and should, return “home”, wherever that is; thankfully the show never says. Ikaruga also has a dog, thanks to a failed gambit to get Hina to fail a question about caring for animals.

Meanwhile, Hina continues going to school where she mostly eats and sleeps. However, despite having a broken leg she still has cleaning duty, and a classmate witnesses her using telekinesis to toss out the garbage. Not just any classmate, but Shinjou Mami, who is obsessed with magic and the occult.

Mami believes she’s made a monumental discovery, but has heard what the ominous “Organization” did to the last person to speak out about it, and so intends to tread carefully. At the end of the day, however, she just comes right out and directly confronts Hina, who does not deny her powers.

Mami quickly befriends Hina and decides to become the disciple to the master, even though Hina’s powers are non-transferrable. Watching Mami try all day to lift a rock on her own, Hina lifts it for her out of a desire to leave the riverbank since it’s getting late.

That only makes things worse for Mami, who believes she lifted the rock (and later rocks), and despite not being able to lift anything when Hina’s not around, she quickly gets full enough of herself to make a big show of her powers in class, which ends in abject failure and humiliation.

Eventually Ikaruga confronts Hina, who is celebrating her leg being healed with a big chocolate parfait, and tells her she has to go home. Hina doesn’t want to, but she’s grown to the point where she knows the value of orders, and will obey them in this case, to Ikaruga’s shock.

That means she has to drop the news to Nitta that she’s leaving, and the novelty tees she wears that say “BYEBYE” and “SAYONARA” don’t do the trick. She levitates and flies around in place until she’s nauseous trying to think of the best way.

After a brace of medical tests comes up, Nitta finally demands she tell him what’s up. He responds by taking her out for one last ikura bowl before driving her to the spot where she’ll meet with Ikaruga. Nitta is honest in his parting words, telling Hina she’s been a royal pain in the ass, but he nevertheless really enjoyed the time they had together.

That puts a rare joyful smile on Hina’s face…but she’s obviously not going anywhere. After all, the “Orb” in which she arrived at Nitta’s apartment—and in which he got stuck and had to stew in his own urine all night—was discarded (with other non-burnable trash) and is now lost and possibly destroyed. No orb, no return home.

Hina’s, and the episode’s, return to the status quo is marked when she reappears at Nitta’s to learn that he is holding a New Year “Without Hina” Party…all by himself. She interrupts the start of his explanation with a grave “NOT COOL.”

Between the sometimes lazy security chief Ikaruga and the would-be disciple Mami, we got two solid new players in this world of complex characters who each command their share of laughs with both their actions and their inner thoughts.

I also enjoyed little moments like when Anzu and Ikaruga muse on what should be done with the dog, or Mami’s mom standing in the hall. While it might well have been interesting for Hina to actually go home, by not doing so the show preserves the mystery of that place and the organization that administrates it.

I don’t mind learning how “powered” girls need the Orbs to travel…but I don’t really need to get too deep into the workings of the other world. I dig the mystique. Plus, there’s plenty to do right here on Earth.

Hinamatsuri – 07 – Take a Deep Breath Here and Hold it

Despite being introduced as the girl from the same “realm” as Hina come to eliminate her, Anzu’s stories since have tugged hardest on the heartstrings due to the circumstances in which she ends up, and this week is no different.

We start off with her learning the ropes of the restaurant owned by the couple who took her in, and she’s constantly saying and doing things that remind them of her destitute recent past, and thus make them tear up.

Those things include her clothes always being too big, 800 yen being a king’s ransom, and using only cold water for her shower. However, her time among the homeless made her a hard worker and a quick study, and by the time her first day is over, she has time to soak in her warm and comfy new home. Dawww.

From the sweetness of Anzu getting acclimated to her new life, we shift to Hina getting chewed out by a teacher for constantly sleeping (guilty as charged), and what do you know, Hina actually uses her powers!

Not to do anything to the teacher, mind you; she merely manipulates her desk neighbor Hitomi into pocking out a pointillist sketch of a knife-wielding oni, which Hitomi would surely get in trouble for if teach saw it!

Hina isn’t just sleeping at school because she’s tired; she’s also bored. Nitta tells her to figure out on her own how to make things more fun. When she hears some somewhat exaggerated claims about how much power a student council president has, Hina mixes it with stuff she saw on TV and announces her candidacy, to the dubiousness of all.

When Hina tells her homeroom teacher “I’ve got this”, he’s never been less convinced, and scoffs at a fellow teacher praising his ambitious kids. The only one who takes Hina seriously is someone who barely knows her; Nitta’s boss, who instructs the company lawyer to draft a proper speech for her.

When that suggestion was first made, I knew it would result in some comedy gold, and readers, I was not disappointed. After ignoring a teacher’s insistance first-years can’t run for president (causing the whole auditorium to note her ignoring him, in unison!) Hina starts out strong, as her speech is a reasonable argument for a competitive bidding process for a new lunch supplier.

Things go off the rails once Hina simply recites even the parts she’s not supposed to read (‘take a deep breath here’) and even the lawyer-speak can’t hide the fact that a school-mandated afternoon nap for middle schoolers is…a bit silly.

Nevertheless, Hina wins secretary, a job for which she’s a no-show for the first few council meetings. When a member pays a visit to her classroom, only Hitomi is there to receive her, and Hitomi being Hitomi, gets roped into yet more work as she inadvertently fills in for Hina and is appointed “stand-in secretary.” Guys…Hitomi’s got a bar to tend!

The third segment finds the middle ground between Anzu’s poignant introduction to homed life and Hina’s comedic presidential campaign, as Nitta once again fails to secure a date with Utako, and Hina urges him to talk about it with her so he’ll feel better (having learned this on TV, of course).

When Hitomi gets word Hina’s “dad” wants to date her boss, she thinks of how hard it must’ve been for Hina losing her mother (whom she envisions also had blue hair, since Nitta doesn’t), and vows to help get Nitta that date in any way she can so Hina can one day have a new mom.

Her efforts don’t go so swell at first, as Hina’s hamfisted act makes it seem as though Nitta put her up to asking Utako on his behalf. Hitomi persists, and Utako relents, agreeing to go on the dang date.

Upon learning Hina got him said date, Nitta picks her up and spins her around the room in elation…until she smacks her foot on the doorway and breaks it. In the hospital room Hina insists Nitta carry on with the date, which he does…but on that date—the audio for which we never hear—he apparently never stops talking about Hina.

Utako takes that, and Hina’s closeness to Nitta, to mean that she’d only come between them if she continued dating them, not at all perceiving the fact that they’d both welcome her as part of the family if things progressed that far (and there’s no reason to think they wouldn’t).

And so Nitta essentially strikes out for being too good a fake dad, and has to resort to using a hand puppet to represent Hina’s new mom, which even Hina isn’t buying!

Hinamatsuri – 06 – All She Remembers is the Chili Shrimp

The moment his mother calls and Hina answers, Nitta has to figure out a way to explain why a 13-year-old girl is living with him, so he crafts an intricate story, the gist of which is that Hina is the orphan of a couple who were killed in a feud.

Hina’s robotic delivery may be unconvincing, but Nitta explains it away by noting that the girl was traumatized by the experience, and all she remembers of it is “the chili shrimp” (though he should have said ikura, since Hina knows what that is).

Nitta eventually comes clean to his mother and his alcoholic kid sister, though he replaces one lie with another: Hina is his daughter. But is it a lie? I mean, obviously not biologically, but in practically every other way, that’s what he is. His fam doesn’t object, and welcome her with enthusiastic open arms.

Watching Nitta knit his web of lies had lots of comedic value, as did Hina’s inept attempts to stick to their story. But the second half of this episode barely makes any effort to be funny. Instead, it goes for straight drama, as new municipal statues mean the homeless people Anzu lives with are going to be kicked out of the park where they live.

While all the old men go their separate ways, Utako (their friend and vocal advocate) has found a husband and wife willing to take Anzu in. Anzu doesn’t want to stop fighting, but this is a battle she can’t win, and the old men are not only resigned to their fate and fully prepared to move on, but are likely relieved this young kid won’t have to live on the streets collecting cans anymore.

Anzu is anything but celebratory. Upon suddenly finding herself in the relative lap of luxury, with delicious food, clean clothes, and a warm bed—none of it costing her anything—all Anzu can do is worry about how she doesn’t deserve any of it, as well as worry about her friends like Yassan who are still out there on the streets.

Anzu thinks this way because she has an enormous heart and a strong moral compass. But she’s being far too hard on herself; no one of her age (or at least the age she appears to be in the form she’s taken in this world) should have to worry about working for food; she should have adults who care for her, as Nitta cares for Hina.

Sure, Hina helps him out occasionally (though certainly not lately), and when Anzu learns he new guardians run a Chinese restaurant, she is eager to help out in any way she can (again, because she’s a super-good person). But one thing she’ll hopefully learn is that her work isn’t an requisite of food, shelter, and care.

Her new guardians just want her to be happy and safe. Still, they tell her the people she’s worried about will always be a part of her, and her a part of them, so she needn’t ever feel alone.

I tellsya, it was a goddamn tearjerker; Anzu’s tears of joy wouldn’t be out of place in 3-gatsu no Lion, while seiyu Murakawa Rie does a marvelous job voicing Anzu. I’m mostly just glad she’s no longer homeless!

Hinamatsuri – 05 – I’m Totally Confused, But This Isn’t Prostitution

We begin with the very stark differences in Hina’s and Anzu’s everyday lives laid bare. Anzu learns cat’s cradle from a fellow homeless person, and is excited to show Hina so they can play together…but Hina only cares about video games.

Anzu has a good heart—perhaps too good for her own good—so rather than tell Hina to take her video games and get stuffed, she implements a scheme whereby she’ll find and sell used TVs she finds off the streets in order to afford video games with which to play with Hina.

Hilarity ensues, as Anzu first learns that CRT TVs are worth less than the dirt they’re sitting on, then learns that Hina and Hitomi are friends. Seeing the futility of searching the riverbank for LCD TVs, Hitomi asks her mom if she can have the one they’re replacing, only to get stopped by a cop for illegal dumping.

Meanwhile Hina makes herself useful (and demonstrates how clueless she is about…pretty much everything) by asking Nitta for cash to buy a new TV, then taking a 5900-yen taxi ride to the guy who buys the TVs…for 3000 yen. Hey, Anzu said she wanted TVs, right?

At the end of the night, Anzu spills the beans about wanting to afford video games to play with Hina (though it may well have fallen on deaf ears) while Nitta ends up very confused when Hina talks about selling the TV she just bought with his money to pay for cab fare. (A particularly standout exchange: Cabbie: “Where to?” Hina: “The river.”)

We then shift back to a Hitomi-centric segment, which is fine with me, as Hitomi is awesome. Two male classmates watch her enter the Little Song bar, and when Matsutani-sensei immediately follows her, they, with their adolescent brains, fear the worst: an illicit sexual relationship.

To that end, the boys start a “Matsutani Illicit Sexual Relationship Suspicion Task Force” made up of the two of them and Hitomi’s friend Aizawa, who thinks they’re full of it but recommends they recruit Hina—who has know idea what’s going on, and whose numerous pleas to know what’s going on go hilarious unanswered for the rest of the episode.

While initially skeptical, Hitomi’s ridiculous (and sometimes adorable) reactions to Aizawa’s probing convince her that something is amiss, but when it looks like she’s just messing with Hitomi to get those reactions, the boys split off (though they all have to take the same single staircase down).

After following Hitomi and Matsutani to the prep room and gaining no new intelligence, the four kids (Hina’s still there, but doesn’t know why) stake out the bar one night, and spot Hitomi entering, followed shortly by Nitta (who they regard as Hina’s dad).

Hitomi’s closest friend, Aizawa, decides to throw caution to the wind and rush into the bar, and the others follow shortly thereafter, where they catch Hitomi red-handed. However, after imagining the absolute worst that could be happening to her, Aizawa and the boys are actually relieved it’s just a matter of her being a middle school bartender.

With that, Aizawa forces Hitomi to repent for keeping them in the dark by declaring she is a middle school bartender, with the spirit of an idol introducing herself, which Hitomi does. This gets her the applause not only of her peers, but of Nitta and Utako as well. Hina, meanwhile, remains just plain confused.

Hinamatsuri – 04 – Unfit to be Homeless

“I’m disowning you.” Those are the three words that suddenly upend Hina’s cushy life at the top, after she upends nearly everything Nitta owns. While decent parents sometimes say things like that in moments when they might be nearing their limits, they never mean it.

Only Nitta doesn’t see himself as her parent, merely a caretaker of heretofore bottomless generosity and patience…and now that Hina has exhausted his supply of those qualities, she’s out.

To the show’s credit, he has a well-established good reason not to feel like her parent—she showed up in a metal egg!—but Nitta eventually learns it doesn’t really matter how bizarrely she entered his life, only that entering it changed that life forever.

Surely a part of Nitta buried by his anger in the moment immediately regretted kicking Hina off, because it knew just how useless she’d be in the real world after the cushy life she’s been used to since arriving.

That uselessness is demonstrated when she immediately spends 10,000 yen on junk food and plays video games until her battery runs out, then latches on to a concerned Anzu, whose limits are quickly tested.

Nitta’s lack of thinking his plan through is also exposed when Hitomi comes to his front door with printouts for Hina. And because Utako is such a good person, she works at a soup run in the park and discovers what Nitta has done. None of the people in the bar who judge Nitta know where she really came from, and that she’s no ordinary defenseless kid who you couldn’t dream of kicking out of your house.

When Nitta tries to defend himself and they run him out of the bar like the one kid all the other kids agreed was Bad News, he gets a harsh lesson in how unimportant details like what Hina is and where she comes from really are. By kicking Hina out, Nitta is a bad guy, at least in the world he wants to keep living in—a world of conscience, selflessness, and kindness.

Kicking her out means Nitta not only has his cushy apartment to himself, but his own world; even Sabu is not having it. Meanwhile, Anzu learns what it’s like to be Nitta, only in accelerated form, as Hina reaches her bike gang-coated friend’s limits and is kicked out after just three days.

Mind you, he’s right that Hina isn’t entirely hopeless. She does befriend some buskers and uses her telekinesis to pep up their show, and is able to make money on her own for the first time. Like the homeless people Anzu befriends, Hina is lucky not to end up with bad people who might to weird things, and even if they tried, she’s be more than capable of fighting them off.

Would Hina have been fine with the band indefinitely? In terms of money and food, perhaps, but where would she stay? And what if she hits the band’s limits like she did Nitta’s and Anzu’s? As Anzu tells Nitta when the two cross paths, Hina simply isn’t fit to be homeless, a devastating line to behold, in no small part due to its blinding accuracy.

But the main reason Hina wouldn’t make it out there is because she doesn’t want to. She liked being with Nitta the most, and so waits outside his door with a newly bought 2900-yen vase and a sincere apology. Nitta, having been banned from Utako’s bar until he makes up with Hina, makes up with Hina.

Yes, it’s a really nice bar, but also Nitta had reached a new limit: he’d gone as far as he could go without Hina, and vice versa, and so the two are back together, and he proudly displays her cheap vase beside the pricey ones, because like HIna, it doesn’t matter where it came from.

Hina’s expulsion from and eventual reinstatement in the good life takes up three-quarters of the episode; the balance is made up of another Hitomi portrait, cementing Hitomi’s role as without doubt the Best and most fascinating character on the show.

While Hina needs to learn the hard way the value of hard work, “half-assed” is not and has never been in Hitomi’s category. She knows she’s good at bartending, and continues to perform that job with pride. Not only can she mix drinks like an adult pro, but she’s now able to dispense advice and say just the words her customers need to hear, whether it’s Nitta’s superior or her own homeroom teacher.

Most importantly, her advice comes from her own experiences, which are numerous despite her modest age. She tells the yakuza boss that a bar is where you can come to be your honest self and not worry about their “real life” outside the door because that’s exactly what she’s doing.

And Hitomi won’t stop doing it, not just because she gets paid, but because she enjoys it, even on the weekends when she works through the night.

It’s in that exhausted state after an all-night shift that Hitomi comes upon Anzu in the alley, and learns that she collects cans. Hitomi, going all out in all things, directs Anzu to a windfall of cans (and gently blackmails a fellow bar employee to gain access to them. She learns fast).

Things get “heavy” in a hurry when Hitomi learns the extent of Anzu’s destitution, and feels bad about even eating the 200-yen ramen she’s offered, especially after learning Anzu usually makes 600 yen a day; the same amount Hina can make in a half-hour.

Suddenly confronted with someone living what appears to be a much tougher life with much smaller rewards weighs heavily on a Hitomi already physically taxed by her dual life. And so, during a protracted game of tag through the forest, Hitomi finally reaches her limit, and falls asleep standing up. If Hina is unfit to be homeless, Hitomi is unfit to be idle…or apathetic.