Gaaaah… That’s what I get for saying things and then end up jinxing the situation. As much as I wanted to get out a week in review a bit earlier this week, lab work had me fully decked and basically coming home too exhausted to write, let alone even watch anything.
But yeah, so is life. C’est la vie and all that jazz. I’m happy I can get back to writing. So like I said, I’m splitting up my weekly thoughts into two parts, which have been re-named somewhat and are labeled “Side A” and “Side B”. Not to sound patronizing, but in case some of you out there might be too young to remember this, we used to listen to music on audio cassettes that had you flip it around when it got to the end. There were also things called laser discs, which were basically the spiritual predecessor of the DVD — and yes, they had two sides, as well. Likewise, my thoughts have two sides to them. Neat, huh?
Anyway, that’s enough history for one post. So let’s get down to it then, shall we? Side A of the weekly thoughts — let’s do this!
March comes in like a Lion
Man, why does this show have to be so good. Going over the past two episodes, there’s just so much material to cover. For one, I’m glad the show explored the effects of Rei’s visits to the Kuramoto household as something akin to a kotatsu (heated table) in that it’s so warm, you don’t feel like you want to leave it. And when Rei realizes that this warmth simply highlights how cold and pitch dark his own lived experience is, he panics and tries to redirect his thoughts from descending into a downward spiral of self-loathing. This is exactly what I was referring to in my last entry when I mentioned how experiences of the ideal tend to highlight one’s own insecurities. It’s the same thing that lead Oikura to denounce other people’s happiness as “too bright” in Owarimonogatari, and why for many reasons it is more comforting for the depressed mind to seek solace in the darkness. That attempts to embrace happiness are met with frustration and damnation, hence why she resorts to despising Araragi to the point that it’s as if he’d killed her own parents. But Araragi reprimands her by telling her not to underestimate what it means to be “happy”. That you can’t make someone happy if they don’t WANT to be happy, and that everyone’s object of happiness is different. Happiness is not an idealized concept to be placed on a pedestal; happiness is not a race or a competition between people. As Araragi elegantly puts it: We must be able to become happy together properly.
Similarly, Rei’s character experiences a similar dilemma to Oikura, albeit much less emotionally charged. But unlike Oikura, he truly does wish to be happy; he rejects the darkness that bubbles up from his subconscious and makes an active effort to try and achieve what he believes will make him happy. And this action is what makes Rei’s attempts to win the next few matches in the Lion Tournament all the more important. Rei’s reason to win is beyond the fame and glory — it’s for his own self-affirmation and victory over his inner darkness that plagues his depressed mind. It’s enough for him to realize that he does not despise the warmth of the Kuramoto household; rather, he must not lose sight of the true goal that will free him from the shackles of his dark inner self.
And this brings us to Smith, a man who basically lives in the moment and DOES NOT have the same existential reasons for winning a shougi match like Rei. In fact, these past two episodes did a great job at characterizing the motives that drive people like Smith, and we see quite clearly how he personally contrasts himself from Rei. He says he has no vision of him defeating Gotou because he’s painfully aware of their differences in ability. And yet he contradicts himself by going through with it anyway, stating that it’s because he’s a professional. But the truth is, Smith enjoys the thrill of a match and being able to understand the other player. His inner dialogue is filled with his own assessment of Gotou‘s play style, and he similarly adjusts his own techniques to suit the situation. But in the end, Gotou defeated Smith not because he was more talented; rather, he simply saw through Smith in a way that exceeded his own expectations.
In the end, knowing thy enemy has a deeper meaning in this episode insomuch as it not only reflects a deeper understanding of the mechanics of Shougi, but it also says much about the way we deal with people. Smith and Gotou are both very mature and pretty much aware of the emotional circuitry that makes up the highly emotional Rei. We see this on display in episode 12 where Gotou’s provocations towards Rei work with tremendous effect. And it’s the same emotional instability that distracts Rei from realizing what it means to understand someone completely. He may have organized his own emotional conundrums by likening his situation to a chess match (i.e. he calls his emotional setbacks “stalemates”, and considers courses of action as “moves”), but the same mechanistic maneuvering cannot be said when trying to know thy enemy, which Shimada makes known by the end of the episode. In his desperation to win every match, Rei forgets that each person he’s up against isn’t just made up of a set of moves on the board or a characteristic style of play. Behind the board is another person: he needs to face them and look them in the eye and acknowledge them for who they are, lest he lose himself in a quagmire of questions as to why he has lost sight of his own game.
And so March comes in like a Lion further drives home the point as to how Shougi can be a conduit into exploring the depths of lived experience. I must say, I’m very, very surprised that this show has maintained such a level of depth throughout its entire run. I know this entry is so friggin’ long, but heck there’s just so much to talk about. And I haven’t even mentioned how the music and cinematography helped to heighten the appeal all the more. Just, man… what a show.
Shôwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjû: Sukeroku Futatabi Hen
I really appreciate how the series is keenly aware of the generational mindset of each of its characters. There are also nice bits of incidental framing that highlight the general decline in popularity of Rakugo, going so far as depicting a child playing a Game Boy while their parents are listening (somewhat disinterestedly) to a shoddy Rakugo performance. And this shifting attention span is also met with the modernist trend in gossip and rave news articles that bring to light Yotarô’s past as a member of the Yakuza. It’s enough to make him realize his own inadequacies despite his positive demeanor throughout the entire show. But an uncharacteristically supportive Yakumo reassures him that the “scars” of his tatoo are not something to be ashamed of. That a true entertainer is not ashamed to bear the scars of his past, and that being able to express yourself despite that is art personified. It is this realization that breaks Yotarô out of his rut of wanting to go beyond the Rakugo that was simply him borrowing off of the teachings of Yakumo and his namesake, Sukeroku.
And yet there’s a very painful irony to Yakumo’s advice that highlights his own inauthenticity. He has a VERY big scar in the form of Konatsu and her son, and the weight of carrying on a legacy at the behest of his own best friend turned rival in love bears down on the aging Yakumo. It’s clear that his anger is directed towards the art of Rakugo itself — a “hand-me-down” trade that could justify his existence given he could no longer live as a dancer due to his limp. But it’s the same trade that robbed him of his best friend and lover. Which brings us to the strange relationship he’s built with Yotarô, and his insistence on supporting him despite his ulterior motive to take the art of Rakugo with him to the grave. It’ll be interesting to see where this story takes us, and what sort of revelation is in store for Yakumo.
Demi-chan wa Kataritai
I kinda like how this show is balancing its stance on someone who wants to understand the minority more by highlighting the importance of a mutual effort towards understanding. Case-in-point how it’s important for characters like Machi to make an effort if they want to be understood the way they want to. And although I understand how doing a teacher-student-date-setup might come off as a little weird (not to mention the whole harem-esque nature of the show’s premise), I think the whole thing works thanks to the fact that the protagonist shows no signs of being self-aware of the situation. Instead, the show runs with its setups regardless and depicts a rather earnest Tetsuo who is, really, just interested in understanding his students more. And his honesty is seen in how he actually addresses the issue of Machi having to hold her head with one hand whilst carrying a standard issue school bag without her having to tell him in the first place. It’s this nuance of understanding — doing so without being presumptive or assuming a stance just because someone pointed it out to you before hand — that makes for a pleasing character dynamic, which I think is turning out to be a unique selling point for the show. And this works even with the obvious fan service elements at play, which only serve to highlight Hikari’s quirky character. In fact, I had no qualms with her rudely thrusting her fingers into Machi’s breasts just for kicks. Heck, part of me admittedly felt that I’d have done the same thing if I were in her position… and if I were a girl, too. Either way, this show is still consistent at being silly, albeit full of nice little lessons and character dynamics.
Tales of Zestiria the X
This week’s episode was a little slow, but there was a good attempt to characterize the world further by highlighting the questionable power the church has over the state. This sort of setup seems a little overused for titles of this nature, but I honestly still feel like I’m not getting what the stakes are at this point. And you could say that I’m being overly dense, but the truth is I actually enjoy stories that depict political strife and the tried church vs. state shtick. I just feel that Sorey’s role as investigator into the whole conspiracy feels a little dull given his approach has always been to identify everything as being due to Malevolence. And I get it, that’s the underlying theme of this show, but there are ways to increase dramatic tension without having to resort to cool visual effects or irritating cliff hangers. I just… I dunno. Maybe I need to re-watch the first cour just to get things into perspective again, but yeah… It’s clear that I’m getting pretty confused at this point.
And just as I mention that the “show your belly” gag is getting overused, they go ahead and use it within the first three minutes of episode 2. Yeah, very creative. It doesn’t help much, either, that much of the comedy actually falls into the sort of gag routines that involve slapstick, comedic cross bandages, and face planting for every seemingly off putting response that is apparently contrary to everyone’s expectations. This is further heightened by lines selling themselves out of sheer execution, opting for “EEEEEH???” and “AAAAAH!!!” to sell a joke or two. And it’s this sort of comedy that, frankly, feels a little juvenile. And I know that sounds patronizing of me, but that’s really what it feels like. I can understand why some people might enjoy jokes like these, but the comedy itself doesn’t do much to sell the show’s underlying narrative of Chiya wanting to become a rank 1 diviner in order to find her mother. Comedy can be random — it can be tangential to the plot if it wants to be — but none of that justifies the fan service-y situations the show throws out right when it tries to up the stakes. Case-in-point how Saku makes an illogical digression to ask why Chiya wears so little clothes just after they make a heartfelt agreement to help the latter become a rank 1 diviner. Yeah, make a suggestive joke that Chiya goes commando to drive home the sincerity of the show’s message of working hard to achieve your heart’s desire. I don’t get it, either.
Hah! only five shows on this list and I went beyond 2,000 words! That’s just as long as a typical weekly thoughts segment with nine-odd shows in it! Well, I promise it won’t be this lengthy in the up-coming months, given this is two weeks’ worth of content after all. Plus, I blame it on March comes in like a Lion for being so darn good. So yeah, I’ll bring out Side B in a bit, but honestly, I want to write more editorial articles. Sigh… let’s hope RL will be more forgiving next week. Until next time, ciao!