Girlish Number and The Mask

“You just lose it when you get older.”

These are the words Karasuma Chitose hears when she half-heartedly thanks some fans for support, and obviously isn’t doing a good job hiding her listlessness. Of course, this is a terrible thing to say to anyone and speaks to an entitlement all too common. In both life as well as being in the public eye, you are never allowed to let your mask slip. People will judge for even the slightest hint of a bad mood, or at least that’s what you tell yourself. As someone who was always self-assured to a fault, Chitose now finds herself assured of little but her own perceived worthlessness. The mask has fallen off, and doesn’t seem to fit back on. Anyone who has felt such a sense of self-loathing could tell you it’s an awful place to be, but for someone who has never faced resentment like it before it must be an especially dispiriting feeling.

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There are a number of things that led to this, and for Chitose it must feel like a collapsing house of cards. Her brother Gojo is no longer her manager, and her new manager is a handful, to say the least. Chitose would likely never admit it, but her brother had been an important emotional crutch for her. Not a crutch she was going to be able to lean on forever of course, but one that was pulled out suddenly enough to visibly affect her. Gojo had pointed out that she needed to change, but now she is faced with the reality that she just isn’t very capable on her own. Despite wearing the mask well, she was not exactly on her way to becoming a pro voice actor. Gojo is aware of this as well, and once Chitose also becomes aware of it, they share little but disappointed glances. Gojo is the one person whose disappointment gets to Chitose above all others’. With the crutch gone, there is nothing able to keep her afloat. Her now missing undue confidence is what saved her, and managed to even earn her a set of fans.

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One such fan is a newbie already seemingly more promising than Chitose herself- Nanami Sakuragaoka. She’s a charming, hard working high school student who’s talented enough to be seen as the new big thing by management. She’s also a fan of Chitose, seemingly admiring her even if it’s only thanks to the mask. This isn’t the boost of confidence it might sound like to Chitose, though- from her point of view, Nanami is everything she isn’t, and she resents that. Nanami is young, a go-getter, and most importantly talented. Her sudden rise to prominence only increases the pace at which Chitose begins to doubt herself and her goals. She’s staring down what is basically her replacement. Even if that’s not the outright intention it will surely feel so in the near future. Her career feels over even though it just started. It doesn’t help that Gojo went down a very similar path- a brief time as a voice actor before never doing so again. His own exit from the job does not sound pleasant either. Chitose hates what she is and how inevitable going nowhere seems to be, and it must feel odd to know something just like this happened to Gojo before her.

girlishnumberwantobe1girlishnumberwanttobe2So where does Chitose go from here? Well I can’t imagine Girlish Number will have its characters moping around for the entire final stretch of its run (not that I’d be entirely opposed to that specific show either). The mask has now come off, and it is arguably a necessary opportunity for Chitose. Going in to Girlish Number most would expect her to go through some growth and development of her own, but I’ve been struck by just how relatable or understandable her current struggles are. I suppose that’s plain to see. The world’s a tough place, and there’s always someone better than you. There’s always something to feel guilty or self-conscious about. But what really matters is how we respond to these things. Eventually the mask will slip and the emotional wall will come down. It’s not wrong to feel down when it does, but at some point the real test becomes pushing on without it. It’s okay to be the real you. I look forward to Chitose learning this herself.

91 Days and the Cycle Of Revenge

Spoilers for the ending of 91 Days! Please watch that before reading this. It’s good though, you should anyway!

In his final moments, Angelo Lagusa stands next to only one man. This man is so many things to him: an accomplice to the murders of his family, the one closest to Angelo’s own victims, and a former friend. Ostensibly, this friendship was naught but a lie- a creation of necessity for Angelo to get himself close enough to those he intended his revenge for. But, as he stands next to his only living target, he confesses something. The reason he didn’t kill that man Nero Vanetti even when he had the opportunity, something Nero himself had angrily questioned him about. “The reason I didn’t kill you…is because I didn’t want to.” He says no more than that, yet it says so much more about him.

While one might want to assume that it is a typical kind of forgiveness that drives this newfound respect for the life of another, the steps it took Angelo to get here make that a bit harder to reconcile. Angelo did not simply call off his revenge realizing he had made a connection he did not wish to sever- he had arguably already completed his plot of revenge. He had killed essentially every other key figure in the Vanetti circle, something which leads to the downfall of the Vanetti mafia family (The new Don of the rival Galassias family even thanks him for indirectly aiding him, after noting that Angelo had orchestrated this all quite deftly). He even tells Nero at first that he spared his life because he wanted Nero to feel just as he did back when The Vanettis had the rest of the Lagusa family killed. Considering his second explanation is so earnest, one may be tempted to simply disregard this earlier one, but I wouldn’t be so quick to do that. I think both can be at least somewhat true at the same time, especially considering Angelo could very well have thought this long before any sentimental feelings would have arose. In Angelo’s own words he wanted Nero to know this feeling he had carried for so long- “a fate worse than death”. Loss throws anyone into despair, but having your whole life and everyone you loved ripped away from you hurts in a way little else can.

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This last point is a key one in a different way as well. Nero is completely on his own in the end, speeding off in his vehicle to a destination he doubtlessly knows as little of as we do. Angelo had lost his entire family, but he was not truly alone. His childhood friend Corteo had been there for him back when he had no where else to go, and was still there for him for as long as he could be. That even meant joining him on his quest, sliding himself along with Angelo into the mafia world. Of course, this was destined to end poorly as Corteo was never going to find himself fitting in with the criminal underworld. But even Angelo probably never imagined that the man holding the gun to Corteo would be himself. The events of the story had led up to Angelo being tasked with killing Corteo in order to prove his loyalty to the man he intended to betray and kill. While this is the first and perhaps only time killing elicits an emotional reaction from Angelo, it shatters an already broken man. It’s a tear-jerking moment, but also an anger-inducing one. Angelo’s revenge led him to kill the one person who truly cared about him. He was all Angelo had left, but he couldn’t bring himself to abandon his goal so he might save his friend. Could he really claim to have no reason to live after his family died despite having such a close friend? Could he really claim to have been just as alone as Nero is in the end when Nero has no best friend to turn back to?

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It is this action that really makes Angelo’s reluctance to kill Nero so surprising. His actions led to the death of his best friend at his own hands, and yet the target of his revenge is someone he has seemingly grown so close to that he can’t bring himself to finish the job. Though he doesn’t exactly lay out his reasons for no longer wanting Nero dead so there is interpretation to be had there. Perhaps he really had grown fond of Nero, despite killing those closest to him and destroying his life. Perhaps he had realized that revenge was no longer a pursuit he cared about, especially since he had already accomplished everything else he had set out to do. He could even have felt that he in fact had finished his revenge plot, as Nero had no where to return to, leaving him in a rather similar position to Angelo all those years ago. But unlike Angelo, Nero sees the future differently. “You don’t need a reason to live. You just live.” After he shares this and Angelo tells him his true reasons for not killing him, Angelo slowly walks forward, likely aware of what comes next. Nero takes out his gun, lines up his shot, and hesitates ever so slightly. But in the end the sound of the bullet being fired echoes out among the soothing sound of the lightly crashing waves, and Nero is now well and truly alone. The cycle of revenge is one that is never truly complete.

Battery 3: What Goes Around Comes Around

Battery is a pretty simple show. I don’t mean that in the sense of it being a typical sports series. Battery is a full-on character drama with the central sport serving as a vehicle for the drama. The characters themselves are nuanced and interesting, in part thanks to coming off believable. Battery itself is very down-to-earth, with drama not nearly as heightened as many of its peers. That is exactly what I mean by “simple”- Battery is a show about understandable people living rather normal lives. Main Character Harada is a teenager with a very recognizable attitude, and as one might expect, it does not endear him to many people. batterytheworst

This characteristic attitude was very visible from the beginning, but it is the third episode that displays the inevitable effects. Harada turns off pretty much everyone he comes into contact with. His mother snaps at him for being demanding in a way that seems very understandable given how cold he acts towards everyone including (perhaps especially) family. His school baseball team coach tells him he must get a haircut, a request that even I must admit comes off as a bit odd but one which it is easy to assume the coach has his reasons for. Harada is predictably less accepting of this demand. He counters that it is completely nonsensical and irrelevant to his playing the sport, going so far as to say to the person who is as close to a friend as he has gotten that he’d be willing to lose his chances at ever playing just to indulge his defiance. Harada does not like playing by others’ rules when they don’t make sense to him. Not only that, but he also assumes his skill will lead him to the playing field anyway, thinking the coach would use him no matter what in order to have the best shot at winning. Almost as predictable as his defiant nature is the reaction of his teammate.

Go bonds with Harada over their shared interest in baseball, but he doesn’t completely understand the attitudes that Harada consistently carries. When Harada claims he is willing to forgo his opportunity to play for his petty reasons, Go lashes out in his own brand of defiance. He can’t believe what Harada says and it leaves him as angry as he is stunned. In a bit of violent rage Go grabs him by the neck, choking him a bit, telling him off for looking down on people. Harada’s bad attitude came back to bite him in a moment that was likely cathartic for many viewers. Much like a baseball it came back at Harada forcefully. Also much like a baseball, it came back and Harada didn’t expect it and thus couldn’t deal with it (Though to be completely fair, he was gasping for breath at the time). batterysupporting

It’s not at all hopeless for Harada though. Not only do the general conventions of coming-of-age stories such as this dictate that it is likely he will be able to mend these bridges, but he has shown a softer side before. In the previous episode he broke down after finding his brother who had been missing for much of the day. Contrary to his loner persona, this shows that he genuinely cares and worries about his brother at least. Harada may be a bit of an asshole, but that’s not exactly an unusual trait in a teenager, and if he learns to play ball with others, he might truly shine while really playing ball. He may have received more than three strikes, but he isn’t out yet.

Winter 2016 Anime Season Check-In

It’s about time to unleash my thoughts on current anime. Let’s get right to it with Dimension W, being a show I am considering parting ways with after the latest episode. Dimension W had a lot of potential right out of the gate. FUNimation co-producing this one was a big deal, and being essentially a buddy-cop mystery show tailor-made to the aesthetic preferences of western fandom meant that I was certainly going to give it a look. It never rose above being a decent entry in its genre, but the most recent episode ended up being pretty dreadful. The writing was bad and could at times be downright incoherent. The main characters have not really been given much personality. I can’t imagine anyone is very interested in the overarching plot at this point. I had decent hopes for Dimension W, but I suppose this dimension was not worth discovering.

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Now I should probably get on to the other show that took a noticeable hit in the most recent episode. Erased, or BokuMachi, or whatever you call it, quickly became of the biggest hits of the season. A tense mystery thriller that pulled off the execution rather well. Not only was the show incredibly good in both writing and aesthetics, it is in a genre space I tend to be fond of. As of episode 5 though a few more flaws are coming to light. This week the plot essentially halted, and the characters the show was trying to carry itself with are not very interesting. I don’t think this show is empty without the thriller pacing, but it has not built a cast effective enough to resonate by themselves. It also seems like Satoru is remarkably calm for someone who’s gone through what he has. That may seem like an observation I could have had many episodes ago, but it becomes much more noticeable since this latest episode becomes very slow once Satoru returns to the present, acting almost like a stopgap for the story. Ultimately, Erased has lost sight of its strengths, but it could very easily rebound. This was just one episode after all, and the previous ones show that there is a great show here. Hopefully it regains that greatness.

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On the flipside, Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu (which shall simply be referred to as Rakugo from here on) has been consistently wonderful. Being a character-driven period piece about an already niche artform, Rakugo has a pretty narrow audience to perform for. But anyone belonging to that audience will likely find themselves incredibly satisfied. The central characters have a great relationship, the story is effective, and the actual Rakugo is delightful to watch (when it’s not intentionally hard to watch for character purposes). The latest episode did an especially great job with the relationship between Kikuhiko and Sukeroku, with the two of them putting on a great performance despite the difference in their attitudes and feelings surrounding it. Spending time with the characters here just feels fundamentally worthwhile. Rakugo is a smart, well-crafted drama with plenty of heart and a good sense of humor. Definitely not one to be missed.

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There are also the shows returning for this season. Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans is as good as it has pretty much always been. The show has never done enough to rise to the level of being truly great, and it tends to repeat itself with themes or characters now and then. But this show’s biggest strength is its cast, and the characters are mostly interesting enough to feel invested in. They may not be very three-dimensional, but spending time with them always feels worthwhile. It also helps that the story has gained quite a bit of momentum in recent episodes. Iron-Blooded Orphans continues to be a fine watch.

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Assassination Classroom has also returned, but it is not one that leaves huge amounts to discuss. The oft-nicknamed AssClass is a fun watch that fulfills the job of comfort food. It may have an interesting thing or two to say, and many gags are genuinely funny (though assuredly not all), but it is not a must-watch by any means. I cannot say it would be an easy recommendation, but more often than not it is an enjoyable show, and sometimes that’s all you need. Similarly, Dagashi Kashi is a decent comedy that is comfort food in a more literal sense. Many of Dagashi Kashi’s best jokes revolve around all the characters being equally silly and involve candy. The cast is likable and wacky enough to push through the weaker gags. Not an outstanding show, but one that is fun enough. There is also the final entry in this trio of comedy, KonoSuba. KonoSuba is probably the one to have gotten the most laughs out of me, even if not every gag lands. The voice cast elevates much of the humor, especially when it involves silly or deadpan reactions to things. A band of merry idiots is always a fine comedic setup, though occassionally the idiocy is not evenly distributed. The show has had some cracks lately – the panty gag that every anime ever apparently requires was not terribly funny, and I am still on the fence about Darkness as a character and addition to the cast. But there has still been enough satisfying gags for me to say KonoSuba is enjoyable, and the genuinely funny gags are easily worth the low points.

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I would be remiss if I did not mention Tabi Machi Late Show, which technically is no longer an airing show, but was a fantastic entry in this season regardless. Four wonderful short stories that touched on the journey of life and the goodbyes we are faced with while living make up the rather short runtime. I’m saving more extended thoughts for a certain reason, but I implore any reader to check this one out.

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So there you have it. A decent season this far, but there are many twists and turns we could yet come across. Until then, enjoy this Winter!