Penguindrum 18, Chihayafuru 6, Ben-To 5, Bakuman II 6

Another dazzling episode of Mawaru Penguindrum this week. It’s one of the most suspenseful, yet doesn’t sacrifice any of the eccentric imagery and humor that defines the series.

It starts with an impressionist painting in Keiju’s flashback, and continues to tell Keiju’s story in a beautifully executed series of images and sounds, up until his rescue by Momoka at that generic factory setting. It looks great, and as we learn what Keiju has lived through, the premature, self-imposed stifling of his talent to salvage his mother’s love, and we can understand why he did his heel turn. And I was kicking myself for not realizing that every character in this show has something twisted in their past and a hidden motive, so why not Keiju? He can’t just be a pure voice of reason. Purity of that type doesn’t exist in this show. I’m guessing even Momoka has some more surprises to her. Too many people regard her as a saint for her to actually be one. But while we can understand why Keiju worshipped Momoka, given his rescue at her hands, why this would propel him to punish the Takakura children for their father’s crimes I don’t understand. Well, I don’t understand why any of them are trying to hurt these kids. But, of course, it’s not as simple as revenge. Keiju is convinced that Kanba knows where his father is, that he’s the one providing the money for Himari’s treatment. I’m sure he’s right. It’s hard to read Kanba, because he manages to look sneaky no matter what he does, and while he seemed earnest in his denials I wonder if he isn’t wondering about it himself.

As for the big crisis, Keiju is surprised to see Kanba refusing to let go of Himari’s cable in spite of her entreaties (so sad and earnest that for a moment I thought she was really going to die this episode), exactly what Momoka did to save him years ago. And … it hits home. He rescues them from the trap he set and walks away, calling himself a failure. I suppose because he doesn’t have that kind of devotion to anyone, except maybe Momoka. He can’t comprehend it. A failure? Maybe. But for me he became a failure the moment I learned he hadn’t grown beyond his bad experiences, that he wasn’t actually the steady person who can help the ones around him get on with THEIR lives. On the other hand, he could have exacted revenge, but didn’t. Kanba announces that he has taken the punishment, but he’s talking about his injured hand, though he couldn’t have known about Keiju’s hand, or Momoka’s. In other words, I’m not sure what happened. Kanba doesn’t, either. Shouma, missing out in the end, certainly doesn’t.

Er, Shouma, get her to the hospital, like, NOW, okay? Shouma?

So where do we stand? Yuri has half of the diary. Natsume the other. Keiju’s had his fun and I suspect he won’t play a major role in the final episodes, no, leave that to his wife in his “pretend family.” She’s a more interesting character, anyway. But as it stands the series feels like it’s at a crossroads. Apart from Masako probably taking another shot at Kanba next week (gosh!), which is nothing we haven’t seen, it’s impossible to say where the show will take us for the final episodes.

Apart from a couple of pointed moments, Chihayafuru 6 finally turns away from Arata. Good thing, too. They’ve done all they can do with that relationship for now; it was getting to feel stifling. Instead we watch as Chihaya and Taichi meet a potential new member, an odd, flighty girl called a lot of things, but I’ll call her Kana.

They say she was born in the wrong era. She reads “old books” and since her parents run a traditional clothing store, that’s what she wants to wear. She’s attracted to the Karuta club because the invitation poster had Chihaya in a kimono. She is disappointed when she sneaks a peek and sees Chihaya and Taichi wearing regular gear. In other words, she’s a bit of a nut, but then, so is Chihaya. She’s also quite sensible, like Taichi, though she’s not such a stick-in-the-mud. She and Taichi see the problem immediately. Chihaya is interested in competition (or Arata, but she’s still working that one out, as shown by a moment of silence when Taichi mentions that very thing), while Kana loves the history and tradition of the game. This marriage can’t work … except I remember that Chihaya wears a kimono in the OP.

The inevitable occurs when Chihaya visits Kana’s store and mentions her favorite karuta poem, only to learn from Kana she’s interpreted it all wrong. This sets off her formidable nerdiness and soon she’s asking Kana to explain ALL 100 of the cards. And the next day she’s crushing Taichi in practice because the poems have come alive to her. Two things I don’t buy here, well, three. She got explanations for all the cards in one sitting? I’m sure Chihaya can memorize fast, but to simply take down the information would take even longer than it would for the sun to set outside the store window. Second, she had absolutely no idea or interest in the 100 poems before this? None? And third, she could assimulate this information almost immediately to improve her game? No, I’m not buying it, but the whole sequence gives us some nice visual things to look at, we learn a possible significance to autumn leaves we saw so many of earlier in the series, and the karuta club, on Kana’s insistence, is going to look a lot classier than it does now. As a whole, the episode was just what we needed. Kana is a fun character, and we see more of the game than we’d seen before. It’s like they opened the window and let a fresh breeze into this show.

Reactions to Satou's new clothing style.

Ben-To 5 (I know, I’m a week behind) leaves me scratching my head over how this series works, why it’s so effective. We get Satou, in his underwear, again on the run from a school somebody or other, meets a new weirdo named Asebi, who is pretty much forgotten after stealing her scenes, threatening talk from the Gabriel Ratchett and heir leader, the Monarch, who wants to destroy Satou for some reason, all leading to Satou wearing a girl’s uniform over his trunks and a silly hat and getting the shit beaten out of him by the Monarch, who wants to take over the west side of town. And just about all of it works! From quick-dialogue reactions to Satou’s outfit to the fight scene itself, as wild as the others. I’m hoping that the underlying cause of the Monarch’s plans, which involve another new character named Matsy, won’t bog down the organized oddness that’s carried the show so far. That is to say, I don’t want it getting too serious on me.

It is indeed a sad dilemma that Saiko and Takagi face in Bakuman II 6. Should Saiko get the rest he badly needs and risk his manga’s new-found popularity, or draw on despite the odds and make himself sicker. The answer for everyone, apart from maybe Takagi, is the former. Even Jump’s editors say the health of the artist comes first, okay, while they’re also reconsidering the wisdom of subjecting highschoolers to the pressures of weekly deadlines. Only Saiko is fine with continuing the schedule even though they’re going to take a PART OF HIS LIVER OUT because of it. In the end, sadly, it comes down to the woman (Miho) supporting her man in spite of all common sense, in spite of the fact that she has to put the pen in his fucking hands. God, this show drives me crazy sometimes.

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