Zombieland Saga: Revenge – 08 – The Celestial Maiden

Note: This episode was originally accidentally labeled episode 7. It is episode 8.

This is it, the much-anticipated backstory episode(s) for the oldest (by more than a century), wisest, and most elegant and domestically capable members of Franchouchou. One and a half seasons seems like far too long without Yuugiri being the focus, but good things come to those who wait.

The clock turns all the way back to 1881 (Meiji 14), when the proud proprietor and madam are meeting with the Legendary Courtesan Yuugiri at the very height of her powers. Such is her beauty and talents of entertainment, she literally priced herself out of her market!

Her richest and most devout patron showed his gratitude for her services by setting her up with her own household in Saga. I imagine he intended to live with her, but he died of an illness, and a year later, Yuugiri arrives in Saga completely alone and knowing no one. She spends her days giving the local girls dance lessons, and her evenings staring wistfully at the gorgeous Saga sunsets.

Ay, but there’s the rub: the region she moved to was once known as Saga (and will be again in the present day), but in 1882, the Meiji government considered it a nuisance prefecture, and after losing a regional war to Meiji, Saga was split up between Mizuma and Nagasaki, effectively erasing it from the map.

Local boy Momozaki Kiichi is determined to “Bring Saga Back”, making him the spiritual (if not biological!) descendant of Tatsumi Koutarou (he’s even voiced by Miyano Mamoru) . He tries to pass out flyers urging others to join his cause to create a new beginning for Saga, but he’s stopped often by the local cop, and just as often bailed out by his more jaded friend Itou.

One day, Yuugiri’s students urge her to leave her stately roost and view the cherry blossoms. She purchases a windmill, and the wind—and possibly fate—blow it out of her hands, landing at Kiichi’s feet. Kiichi is understandably bowled over by her beauty and politeness.

They’re almost both bowled over by a rickshaw, but when he leaps to push her out of harm’s way, she deftly dodges the ride on her own, and in the opposite direction, while he lands in a muddy bog. To his continued shock and shame, she soils her yukata to dry his face. We get another gorgeous shot of Yuugiri staring at the sunset, but because the red pinwheel is there, it feels significantly less lonely than the first shot.

The woman aboard that rickshaw looks just like Tae, just like many extras in the background resemble characters from the present day. It’s an fun artistic choice that reminds me of Farscape’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and Star Trek: DS9’s “Far Beyond the Stars”—two episodes that placed the casts in totally different roles.

Kiichi learns who he met from Itou, who is more up to speed with gossip in the prefecture formerly known as Saga. It’s rumored Yuugiri was so good, it almost brought down the Meiji court. Kiichi comes calling at Yuugiri’s house to offer a humble comb as thanks for her help; it’s then he learns he’s the first person to actually visit her other than her dance students.

Itou says that Yuugiri and Kiichi are “from different worlds” and thus hopelessly incompatable, but Kiichi rejects that cynicism and begins to build a friendship with Yuugiri, which isn’t hard because she’s incredibly nice and he’s her only adult visitor.

And then, one day, Yuugiri is in the kitchen when she feels what she charitably describes “a fresh presence” that turns out to be Itou. From this point on, and really before that too, something seemed off and sinister about this guy. That he perfectly blocks Yuugiri’s chopstick strike doesn’t dispel that notion!

The aura around Itou is so menacing, in fact, that I half believed he drugged Kiichi in order to be alone with Yuugiri. Instead, he has her put down the shamisen, offers her a drink (she graciously declines), and the two talk about Kiichi. As Yuugiri learned from Kiichi while visiting him at his “gramps”,  he was taken in by an old man after he was orphaned in the Saga war.

While Itou thinks Kiichi’s wild dreams and guileless optimism will lead to heartbreak and despair, Yuugiri admires the lad’s capacity for dreams. For all of Yuugiri’s comfort and luxury, in this era she remains the proverbial bird in a cage, idolized by all and avoided by all. Yet Kiichi, with his wild dreams, visits her and talks to her like they’re equals, and Kiichi-han’s Saga is a Saga where she truly can be free.

Before taking his leave for the night, Itou insists Japan is still too “twisted” and “barbaric” a nation for Kiichi’s dreams to ever come to fruition. Yet the next morning, a hot one, two strapping young lads approach Kiichi with his flyers in hand, interested in a new Saga themselves.

That glimmer of hope Kiichi has finally found some like-minded folks is all but snuffed out when Itou tosses a scrap of paper to an beggar who moves a lot faster and with far more purpose than you’d expect. This elicits a host of suspicions in me, from Itou plotting something horrible for Yuugiri (perhaps on orders from the Meiji court), to those two lads interested in Kiichi’s cause actually being hired muscle waiting for their chance to silence Kiichi, possibly for good.

And then there’s the overarching pall hanging over this look back: it is a look back. We know Yuugiri is already dead. I feel we just may have experience the happy half of the Legendary Courtesan’s saga. One way or another, the second half will end in tragedy as Itou predicted (and could well be an architect in that tragedy), and more than a century will pass before Yuugiri is revived by Koutarou and actually gets to see the New Saga Kiichi-han dreamed about.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Read Irina and Crow’s discussion of episode 8 here!

Zombieland Saga: Revenge – 07 – We’ve Got a Live One

This week’s opening minutes are very familiar, because they unfold very similarly to the very first episode of ZLS, when a super-chipper Minamoto Sakura’s life was unfairly snatched away by a passing car.

In the case of Yuzuriha Maimai (Hanazawa Kana!), she trips and falls on the way to the bathhouse, smashing her glasses. Undeterred, she accidentally walks into the men’s bath, then slips on a bar of soap that happened to slip out of a bathing Koutarou’s hands.

Cue the death metal and multiple camera angles that, in its first ever episode, made clear that this wasn’t going to be quite like other idol series.

We quickly cut to the briefing basement, where Koutarou, Maimai’s wrapped corpse behind him, announces they have a new member! There’s no doubt that among the many thoughts going through the girls’ heads is Did Koutarou finally go too far and murder someone??

Fortunately, the “corpse” comes to—apparently, Maimai is too dumb to die (either that, or the blow to the back of her head wasn’t as bad as it looked). In any case, Maimai’s series of errors led to Koutarou panicking and not confirming she was actually dead before exposing the rest of Franchouchou to a living person.

Fortunately, Maimai is a good girl, and also a huge fan of Franchouchou and Number One in particular. She has no intention of telling anyone their secret, but since she’s there anyway, she asks if she could join the group anyway! Koutarou, thanking his lucky stars he didn’t accidentally kidnap someone brighter, agrees, and Maimai is christened Number Seven.

While Maimai knows all the words to their songs and all the moves to their dances, her brain and body rarely operate in concert. As a result, her training does not go smoothly at first, but Ai, consummate professional that she is, never loses her patience, and Maimai eventually starts to improve.

When her school’s cultural festival committee is deadlocked on what the big act should be, she says she can get the Franchouchou. The girls are excited to perform there, particularly since they either didn’t spend much time in high school or, in Lily’s case, never made it there. It’s also slightly implied that Koutarou seduces the principal to get approval.

The girls stop by for a pre-festival tour of the festival, and when Maimai tells Sakura how she thought Saga was “done for” until she heard Franchouchou, Sakura can’t help but remember how negative her outlook was until she first heard Ai and Iron Frill. Maimai is shocked to learn of the group’s intention to have a “revenge” show at EFS, but Sakura tells her that’s what Franchouchou is: they never give up.

The big day arrives, and wouldn’t you know it, Maimai doesn’t screw up once! Instead, she totally surprises her friends and classmates by appearing on stage and performing with Franchouchou, announcing after their first song that she’s the newest member…only to then immediately announce she’ll be “graduating” from the group as soon as she leaves the stage.

Her reasoning is solid: while she initially thought she was “one of” them, and they welcomed her with open, caring, and encouraging arms, the bottom line is that other seven have no choice but to do what they do, because they’re zombies. Maimai reckons she needs to live out her life in Saga first in this new Reiwa era, inspired by their dedication to continue rising up and living life to the fullest despite being dead.

After giving a giddy Saki a parting gift of a 20th-anniversary color Tamagotchi, Maimai parts ways with Franchouchou. Part of me is sad Hana-Kana’s time with the group was so brief, but I absolutely understand, respect, and even admire Maimai’s choice.

And while she’ll absolutely never spill the beans about Franchouchou’s true undead nature, reporter Ookuba Shinta has now matched all seven members except Yuugiri to their living counterparts.

Whether he’ll put this scoop on the front page immediately, or go to Franchouchou first for further explanation, I don’t know the guy well enough to say for sure. All I know is, the preview for next week confirms that Yuugiri, the only member on which he has no info, will finally get her own focus episode, which looks to be a period piece. It’s about time!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Read Irina and Crow’s discussion of this episode here!