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Stella Women’s Academy and Updates!

13 Aug

Stella-Jogakuin-Koutou-ka-C³-bu-Collage-

Well howdy there fella’s and ladies! As you may have noticed, I did not update this weekend. I apologize. This week has been rather hectic, as are most things in life ALL OF THE TIME. Also, to be quite honest, I simply didn’t have anything to say and rather than try to force myself, I would rather take time to consistently create posts that are nothing but quality. You don’t deserve half-assed posts for the sake of posts. You deserve the fucking best! So that’s what I want to give you. I may have something up this weekend as I’m kicking around a few ideas, but if not, I’ll let you know.

In the meantime, I have this review of Stella Women’s Academy, High School Division Class C3 up over at Sofa King News.  It covers the first four episodes with pretty heavy spoilers.  All in all though, I think it’s pretty neat.  So head on over and check it out!

Until (hopefully) this weekend, matta ne!

Relevent to Your Interests: Books on and by the Japanese

4 Aug

By: Stephanie Weirich

Pictured: My house

Pictured: My house

Well hey there guys! Fancy finding you here on this (depending on where you live) lovely Sunday afternoon. Today, we’re going to be doing something a bit different. And by different I mean that we’re not going to be focusing on anime (I know, shits cray right!?). Turns out, I do other things with my time besides watch anime with a voracious appetite. I also happen to read books with an equally, if not more so, voracious appetite! High amongst my preferences for satisfactory reading materials are books about Japan or books that are by Japanese authors.

My reasoning for seeking out books that fit these preferences should be fairly obvious, but all in all, I read books about Japan and by Japanese authors because it better serves my knowledge about Japan, its people and its culture. It also informs my interpretation of anime. For me, personally, I believe that if you’re interested in something, if you’re passionate about something, you need to look at that thing from absolutely every angle possible. It’s not enough for me to just watch anime and think that I’m getting all of the knowledge I need. I need to read about it. I need to read novels set there. I need to watch movies and dramas. I need to listen to music that comes from Japan. I needed to go and live in Japan and I need to go back again at some point. I feel an insatiable need to know absolutely everything I can about Japan and the best part about this is that I will NEVER know everything about it and thus I will never stop learning new things about it. Neat, right? I happen to think so, and I hope you do too.

So, if you’re at all like me and you’re looking for things to read that will enrich your knowledge about Japan, I’m here to help you out with that. This will in no way be a comprehensive list, and it most likely will not be the only one of these lists I put together. This is just here to get you started. I’m going to cover non-fiction first and then move onto fiction. SPOILER ALERT: there will be no Haruki Murakami books recommended in this list. Why you might ask? Well, truthfully, I’m not a fan of his. I haven’t read a single one of his books that did anything other than leave me cold. I’m not a fan of his empty characters or fetishization of teenage girls and I feel like overall he says very little about the state of the country that he’s from. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing—novelists do and should get to pick their subject matter—it’s just not my cup of tea. I also think that for the most part, he is the pre-eminent Japanese author that most of the book reading public has heard about and so he doesn’t need to be covered again here. Rest assured though, I am going to give you so many other suggestions that you won’t even miss him. I truly hope you can find at least one thing on this list that you enjoy.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s dive right in!

Non-Fiction:

1.) Shutting Out the Sun: How Japan Created its Own Lost Generation BY: Michael Zielenziger

shutting-out-the-sun

Straight up, this is one of the best books I have ever read about the current state of Japanese culture and social structure. Not Japanese pop culture as it relates to society, it is just straight up about how Japan’s traditional culture has informed their social makeup and some of the drawbacks to that. The book begins with a simple enough conceit: what and who is a hikikomori and why is this a social phenomenon that only happens in Japan? If you don’t know what a hikikomori , it is essentially the Japanese equivalent of a shut-in. But unlike agoraphobics, they are shut-ins because they can’t handle the very rigid and at times brutal rules and expectations of Japanese society. Why this continues to happen and what can be done to help these people who are (usually) children or teenagers has been a continual issue in Japan, particularly in schools. This book deals with the subject and the people themselves humanely and with little judgement, taking great care to present the hikikomori as human beings worthy of our compassion. Zielenziger then uses this unique social phenomena as a jumping off point to examine other social issues that have cropped up as Japan has steadily marched on towards the horizon of modernization.

I recommend this book because it tackles very important issues from a very unbiased perspective. Zielenziger manages to show us some very unfortunate consequences of Japanese social organization without outright condemning them, which is no simple trick. His writing is also clean and straightforward so you never feel as though he’s talking over your head and he doesn’t come off as being a pretentious know-it-all, which is also not an easy balance to strike. All in all, I cannot recommend this book enough and I should actually just buy extra copies to start handing out to people because I pretty much recommend it to absolutely EVERYONE.

2.) Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture has Invaded the U.S. BY: Roland Kelts

japanamerica_cover

This was the first book I ever read about how Japanese pop culture—specifically anime—was converging with Western interests. It’s a fascinating and penetrating read from an author and lecturer at the forefront of Japanese cultural criticism. Kelts does an excellent job at pulling sources from both sides of the Pacific to get into why anime is special and why it’s such an excellent inroad for Westerners who are intrigued by Japan. He also takes a good look at the appeal that anime has to the Western imagination. I haven’t read this book since college, and it’s one that is sitting on my shelf, waiting to be re-read with great anticipation. I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in anime (which if you’re on this blog, I have to imagine that you are that person).

3.) Japan: A Reinterpretation BY: Patrick Smith

Japan reinterpretation

Guys. GUYS. This book blew my fucking mind. Patrick Smith rolls fucking DEEP. He takes everything we think we know about Japan post WWII and completely flips the script. His basic premise is that the Japan we think we know is solely the product of post WWII propaganda, that this idea of a conciliatory and meek population is the result of a narrative that reached its peak during the Cold War and that has done nothing but hurt the Japanese—both in the world’s perception of them and in their perception of themselves. He calls out revered American authors and professors who have made a living off of pushing this narrative just as much as he goes in on calling out Japanese bureaucrats who used this narrative to sell out their country for their own personal gain. Yeah, this book is INTENSE. It’s also incredibly important if you’re looking for a very thorough and nuanced examination of both Japan’s history and their culture and how both of those aspects deeply inform the Japanese’s experience of the world and their country. While this book is written by a Westerner, he is not the center of this book, nor is Western culture. Japan sits very firmly at the center of this book. Smith is entirely on Japan’s side. He is invested in the country and the people and he works tirelessly over the course of this book to show the Western world what Japan is ACTUALLY all about. If there is one book you choose to read off of this list, I would say this should be it.

4.) Dogs and Demons: The Fall of Modern Japan BY: Alex Kerr

dogsanddemons

Ok, let me just get this out of the way. I am putting this book on here with some trepidation. It’s also by far the most controversial entry on this list. While living in Japan, this was the book that everyone talked about in hushed, uncertain tones. It was the book that several of my fellow ex-pats said I should read—but only after I left Japan. When I asked why, the response was some variation on the theme of “because it will make you too angry”. Which, even after I left Japan, it still made me very angry. Not because it wasn’t true, but because it WAS true. Because it highlighted so many things I noticed while living there that never sat right and then fully and brutally explained why those things are what they are. Make no mistake, this book is an intensely angry book. It is written by a man who lived in Japan off and on throughout his entire life who watched a country he loved be ruined by the very people who were supposed to protect it and its interests: the Japanese government. This book is very biased. It didn’t come to the schoolyard to play around. It came to fucking WORK. It has a very clear agenda, and that is to hold politicians, bureaucrats and businessman accountable for what they have done to Japan and its culture. Alex Kerr is not an apologist and he isn’t interested in backing down or downplaying Japan’s problems in order to coddle them from any negative backlash. He is a man who feels like Japan NEEDS to know how bad it has gotten in order to recover.

I recommend this book only if you are prepared to know that Japan is not all that it seems. This should be very obvious, but Japan is a deeply conflicted country that has many good things going for it, but please be very aware that it also has some very terrible things happening within it as well. Please do not mistake what I’m saying as a condemnation of the country—as I have said repeatedly, I love Japan. But when you love something very much, it doesn’t do you or your beloved any favors to pretend that there are no problems whatsoever. In order to love something, you need to know its shortcomings. You need to take all of the good with all of the bad otherwise you are doing it a deep disservice. If you’re willing to do that, then get a hold of this book. It will open your eyes in a way you never thought possible.

BONUS: Books that are up next on my non-fiction reading list:

Straightjacket Society: An Insider’s Irreverent View of Bureaucratic Japan BY: Masao Miyamoto

Office Ladies and Salaried Men: Power, Gender and Work in Japanese Companies

A Year in the Life of a Shinto Shrine BY: John K. Nelson

If you’ve read any of these three books, let me know what you thought in the comments!

Fiction

grotesque-natsuo-kirino-paperback-cover-art

1.) Grotesque

and

Out by Natsuo Kirino

Out BY: Natsuo Kirino

I am an unapologetic Natsuo Kirino fan-girl. I think that she is hands down the greatest novelist working in Japan at the moment and as such, I couldn’t pick between Grotesque and Out so I’m recommending both. Kirino is a Japanese feminist crime fiction writer who focuses on the ways in which Japanese society hurts both women and men by being deeply misogynistic. She uses brutal crimes—perptrated by both men and women—as a way of highlighting the systemic misogyny within Japanese society and the damage it does to society as a whole. There is no other writer who does it as beautifully as she does, either. Her writing pulls no punches and she demands that you look directly at the scenario she has created without flinching. She will not coddle you. She will not look away from things that are both terrible and beautiful. And she respects her audience enough to believe that they won’t look away either. She also has been lucky enough to have one of the absolute best translators working on her novels—Rebecca Copeland. Copeland is a scholar of Kirino’s work and as such, she has a deep and compelling understanding of what Kirino is doing and unlike so many other translators in the business, you never feel Copeland creeping in at the edges, you instead feel as though it’s all Kirino, all of the time. This is to say it’s an unobtrusive translation that lets the material breathe and live as it was intended to by the original author.

Both Out and Grotesque give me ALL of the feels. But mostly they rip me apart in a very real and emotionally harrowing way, which is something that only the greatest fiction is capable of doing. These books stick with you. They creep into your waking thoughts and daydreams and change the way you see the world. Most importantly, they add a much needed woman’s perspective to the literary experience of Japan. They are must reads.

2.) Popular Hits of the Showa Era BY: Ryu Murakami

Popular-Hits-of-the-Showa-Era-A-Novel-0393338428-L

While I’m not a Haruki Murakami fan, I am a HUGE fan of Ryu Murakami. You may recognize him as the writer of Audition, which is a movie (and book!) that I very much recommend. I see Kirino and Murakami as being two sides of the same coin. Both are writing about the much unseen underbelly of Japan—the dark spaces that could stand to have some much needed light cast upon them. And like Kirino, he is intensely sympathetic towards the plight of women within Japanese society (Kirino actually has two of her characters in Out have an entire conversation about how awesome Ryu Murakami is in regards to writing female characters and yes, I was so excited I just emitted a high pitched squeal for about 10 minutes straight). This novel is about a group of young male outcasts and their dealings with a group of middle aged female divorcees’ who are all named Midori. And by dealings, I mean escalated bouts of violence towards. Also, karaoke. No, I’m not joking. Karaoke, specifically performing karaoke versions of songs from the Showa era, is what binds this group of misfits together. Trust me when I say it works much better than you think it would. It’s a fascinating, odd, strangely scathing and rather funny book. It’s also a pretty quick read, if that’s something that matters to you. Oh, and there’s an equally fantastic film adaptation of it called Karaoke Terror that I also recommend. If the premise of this book doesn’t sound quite up to snuff, I recommend taking a look at Ryu Murakami’s other output, as there’s pretty much something for everyone.

3.) Kitchen BY: Banana Yoshimoto

kitchen

The two words that come to mind when I think of Banana Yoshimoto’s work are “gentle” and “nostalgic”. In terms of how she personifies the concept of nostalgia within her work also makes her the most “Japanese” feeling author on this list. As I’ve mentioned before, the concept of nostalgia is one that is deeply entrenched in Japanese culture. There is always a wistful longing for that which has come before and a deep sentimentality colors many important social interactions that the Japanese have (it’s why work places have welcome, goodbye and year end parties. So that everyone can come together and reminisce about what has come before and lay out earnest hopes for what will come). This is very much Yoshimoto’s wheelhouse and she is the undisputed master at writing about nostalgia in such a deeply human way that you cannot help but feel that bittersweet and rose colored feeling so intensely as you read her novels. After reading Kitchen I promptly went out and bought everything else she has written and I’m pretty sure each and every one of her books that I have read has made me cry at the end. And unlike other books that I feel might manipulated me into tears I don’t want to shed but do, I never feel like she has manipulated me into feeling what I feel. I just feel it because she has made that feeling manifest through her incredible level of skill. If you’re looking for a fully realized, beautiful and sensitively written account of the many layered feelings and desires of the human heart, you can’t go wrong with Kitchen or any of Banana Yoshimoto’s other works.

4.) Shipwrecks BY: Akira Yoshimura

shipwrecks

Something you probably don’t know about me is that primarily, I write fiction. I have done so my entire life and I will do so until the day I die. So for me, this book made a monumental impact on the way I view and construct narratives within my own work. It is such an austerely simple and beautiful book that it hit me as a revelation. There is nothing complicated about the plot and course of events in this book. It is entirely linear and very concise. It’s really a master class on fiction writing at its most simplistic. And yet, it’s a challenging piece of work. It very slowly and deliberately builds a sense of foreboding by doing little more than chronicling the daily lives of a very small fishing village through the eyes of a nine year old boy. It is not a fast paced or action packed book, but once you start reading, you are compelled to keep going. It binds you to it and does not release you until you have finished it, and even then, it will haunt you ever after. It also does an excellent job of detailing what life was like in pre-modern Japan and it will give you quite a few topics to research independently.

5.) Now You’re One of Us BY: Asa Nonami

Now youre one of us

I’m putting this on here for the pure bat shit insanity of it. Really, this book is a pulpy wonderland of family intrigue, cult like overtones, Japanese familial politics and weird sex. I read this in just about one sitting, mostly because I just enjoyed the hell out of it. This book does what it wants and pushes the pedal all the way to the goddamn floor of weirdness. I laughed. I cringed. I was icked out. But I never stopped enjoying it for even a second. All in all, it was a surprisingly enjoyable experience that I think you should let yourself have.

BONUS: Books that are up next on my fiction reading list:

The Thief BY: Fuminori Nakamura

Naoko BY: Keigo Higashino

The Goddess Chronicles BY: Natsuo Kirino

Masks BY: Fumiko Enchi

Ok! So there you have it, my first reading list, from me to you! I truly hope that you find something on here that you like and that you feel enriches your reading life—both with knowledge and perhaps newfound feelings. Also, if you have any suggestions for things that you think I should read, let me know about it in the comments. Or, if you’ve read any of these books and want to wrap about them in the comments do that too! Until next weekend, matta ne!

Pictured: What reading looks like

Pictured: What reading looks like

Aku no Hana Episode 13: The Fallout

2 Jul

By: Stephanie Weirich

Well, it’s all over guys. OR IS IT? /dun dun dun!

Wait...What?

Wait…What?

But seriously, unless there ends up being a second season (which thus far has not been announced) Aku no Hana—that rousing story of a honey badger and her fellow deviant—has come to an end. And what about that ending, eh? Did you hate it? It’s ok if you hated it. Many, many, many people feel that same way. There are elements of it that are definitely hateable. As for me personally, I still don’t know exactly how I feel about it, but man, I give Hiroshi Nagahama and his whole crew credit for having the biggest, most pendulous and low hanging balls to ever gently brush the face of this earth (can you hear them gently whispering against the hot Tokyo pavement with each step, even now? I hear it in my very dreams).

Yeah, it's a bit like that.

Yeah, it’s a bit like that.

Seriously, regardless of whatever you might think about how the ending to this show went, it takes some sort of moxie to give your audience 12 episodes of a show that they think is building towards some sort of conclusion, only to reach the 13th and final episode only to reveal that all of that which they saw, all of that which they were invested in emotionally, yeah, well guess what? That was just set up. Set up for a season that may or may not already exist (has it been filmed? I have to believe it has been. They wouldn’t just shoot snippets would they? They’d shoot whole scenes and then make a montage right?) that has yet to be announced. Because that’s what actually happened, and if that pissed you off, you have every right to feel that way. But allow me to temper that hatred with an alternative viewpoint.

I know, I wanted to see it too you guys.

I know, I wanted to see it too you guys.

You may have noticed that I’m doing this a tad differently, and this is because I feel that this episode deserves to be handled differently. I usually have a recap of what happened in the episode, but I sort of feel like that’s a moot point when this entire episode can be summed up relatively easily. The summation is thus: boy sees girl’s room, boy reaches full understanding of the fragile state of girl’s emotions and psychology, boy has emotional catharsis and becomes a fully realized human being and gains purpose in his life, his purpose being to save the girl from herself. Girl then freaks the fuck out on boy. Uber cray cray montage happens and boy proposes new contract with girl. BOOM /drops mic. Now that we’ve got that, let’s get into a play by play dissection of the important bits, shall we?

Nakamura, you'll always be THE BEST

Nakamura, you’ll always be THE BEST

For me, the most interesting thing to ask when looking at that summation is: what about the girl? What is her role in the self-actualization of our main character? We have, after all, gotten all of our information about other characters through our following of Kasuga’s story. Our interpretation of both Nakamura and Saeki comes about due to how Kasuga perceives them and their actions/reactions to him and their surroundings. The previous episode and this one particularly are the only times where we get to see Nakamura as her own independent person, in her own words and surroundings. The picture we’re beginning to get is much sadder than one would expect. Nakamura is characterized by all that she isn’t, as opposed to what she is and this is conveyed through her room. A teenager’s bedroom is their one safe space and the one place they can feel comfortable truly expressing themselves. It is their psyche made manifest. What did we find in Nakamura’s room? Nothing. So very much nothing.

Well...This wasn't at all what I was expecting.

Well…This wasn’t at all what I was expecting.

Not even a bed. Instead, she just sleeps under a sheet on the floor, surrounded by nothing but bare furniture and a few items of clothing. There’s nothing on her walls but holes she’s punched in them.

Though to be fair, closet doors in Japan are actually made out of structurally unsound paper.

Though to be fair, closet doors in Japan are actually made out of structurally unsound paper.

Her only outlet is a journal Kasuga finds in a desk drawer where we see for the first time exactly how happy Kasuga’s potential deviancy made Nakamura. Throughout the show we’ve seen Nakamura’s attitude and behavior towards Kasuga as menacing, forceful and uncompromising but very rarely have we felt that she was experiencing actual joy. Through her own written words we see a girl who hated everything and everyone and was utterly alone whose world suddenly brightened at the prospect of finding someone like herself for the first time in her life. Her experiences with Kasuga, the time spent with him truly made her happy.

We totally know.

We totally know.

This is why his behavior on the mountain, his rejection of both her and Saeki, brought her so low. It was a betrayal of her only bright spot of happiness, a betrayal of her very being that she thought was shared with Kasuga. His discovery of her final entry about not being able to go the other side of the mountain finally leads to Kasuga’s full understanding of both the situation he caused and of Nakamura herself.

The feels.  I HAVE THEM.

The feels. I HAVE THEM.

That is why he cries. He finally understands and it’s painful. Nakamura’s experience of the world and his now fully known betrayal of her breaks his heart, as well it should.

So does Kasuga.

So does Kasuga.

This is also why she reacts the way she does. She comes home to find the one person who mattered and who utterly sold her out reading her most personal thoughts and feelings and crying over it. He’s an interloper at this point and it’s a violation of her privacy and of the world she’s built around herself for protection. Of course she’s furious.

GAH!

GAH!

Her interpretation is that Kasuga thinks he can reappear in her life whenever he sees fit. It would seem as though he’s fucking with her and her wellbeing. She is absolutely justified in her anger at him in light of everything we have learned about her in this episode. How is she to know that Kasuga is serious this time? How is she to know that he fully understands her and her outlook, finally?

That is the face of abject heartbreak Kasuga.  LOOK AT IT.

That is the face of abject heartbreak Kasuga. LOOK AT IT.

I think it’s important to realize that Nakamura has her own walls, her own burdens to loose herself from and potentially, her tearing down of Kasuga’s walls was a way for her to tear down her own as well. Once Kasuga rejected her, the progress she made was rendered void.

I am not equipped to deal with this sort of anarchy.

I am not equipped to deal with this sort of anarchy.

Now that we’ve got that covered, let’s get back to Kasuga and what we see during his final confrontation with Nakamura. We start out with a pretty innocuous flashback of everything that’s happened between them, Hell, we even go all the way back to Kasuga’s childhood when Nakamura accuses him of living an empty life.

One thing this show didn't prepare me for: The appearance of fat babies.

One thing this show didn’t prepare me for: The appearance of fat babies.

Where this gets interesting, and where I think much of the hatred for this ending comes from lies within Kasuga’s “flash forward”. For those who have read the manga, this has to especially feel like a cheat as everything that is contained in that montage comes directly from the manga and is most likely material that they thought this series was going to cover in full. I know I did. I honestly thought they were going to get to one very specific event that was teased in that montage, but that was not the case. I don’t want to spoil anything for those that haven’t read the manga, but trust me when I say that things were going to get cray.

However, instead of getting to that craziness, we got 13 episodes of set up for it. You could say that this was due to poor pacing, but I don’t think so. I think Aku no Hana has, from the get go, been deliberately paced in the way it has and I think they took this approach to make it feel very much like French cinema. This would make sense, seeing as how the genesis of this series was Kasuga’s love of French philosophers. But why do I say it feels French? If you’ve ever watched a French film, one thing you may have noticed is the very slow and deliberate pacing and the way character is revealed through observed behavior as opposed to exposition. Many scenes in French films might seem extraneous at first and yet, as the film continues, we come to realize that those scenes where nothing seemed to be happening were actually showing us everything we needed to know about the characters and their motivations. Aku no Hana is very much in the same vein. So much of our understanding of these characters has come through what we’ve been shown, not what we’ve been told. So much of the focus has been placed on behavior and actions as opposed to dialogue. This ending is no different.

This conveys more than dialogue could.

This conveys more than dialogue could.

So how are we to interpret that montage then? Especially when it culminates in Kasuga turning the tables and asking Nakamura to make a contract with him? It could go one of a couple of ways. First is that it was all a preview for a forthcoming season and nothing more. The second, and the one that I think is vastly more interesting, is contingent on there NOT being another season. It’s entirely predicated on these 13 episodes being completely self-contained. What if that montage was Kasuga’s interpretation of where his and Nakamura’s relationship could go, now that he fully understands her and her experience? And what if by asking her to make a contract with him wherein she crawls out of the shithole that is their town and their experience of it with him is his rejection of that possibility? What if now, in a move that would distinctly separate the anime from the manga entirely, Kasuga is choosing a different future for himself and Nakamura, one where they save themselves by their own means as opposed to heading further down the path of “deviancy”? For me, personally, if the ending is viewed in that light, it changes things significantly as far as my perception of it is concerned. That’s an ending I can get behind. Whether that’s how it was meant to be interpreted remains to be seen, but a girl can dream.

I'm going to miss you crazy kids you.

I’m going to miss you crazy kids you.

Anyway, that’s about it for this, our potentially final recap of Aku no Hana. I have to apologize a bit, as I know during these last few write-ups my cultural analysis has waned somewhat. I think this is due to the direction it took at the end and the fact that I honestly did not know how it was going to end and what it was all going to be building towards in regards to the message it wanted to send. But have no fear, now that it has concluded, I’ve got a much fuller picture and I am working on a longer piece about the series as a whole and what it’s all been about specifically regarding what it’s saying about being Japanese, so look forward to that in the very near future. And as always, let me know your thoughts on the ending and on the series as a whole! Toodle loo for now guys, but have no fear, we’ll talk soon!

Paging: visual metaphor.

Paging: visual metaphor.

Aku no Hana Episode 12: It’s About Family

25 Jun

By: Stephanie Weirich

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Well guys, we’re just about ready to wrap this whole thing up. This was the penultimate episode of Aku no Hana, and unlike pretty much every other anime series that has EVER been made in the history of the medium, this one felt like it set up very little in way of a conclusion. This will probably be my shortest piece about the series, because if you watched the episode, you know that very little actually happened and I therefore have very little to talk about. So let’s just get INTO IT!

And so it hath been written

And so it hath been written

In typical Aku no Hana fashion, we pick up right where we left off: with Kasuga pouring his soul into an essay to Nakamura about his many failings as they played out in their relationship. The kid seemingly spent all night on it because the sun is rising when he finishes. We then get to see him go to school and be the very definition of an awkward middle school boy.

NOPE

NOPE

Pretty much everyone ignores Kasuga’s existence now, including Nakamura, who he painfully attempts to speak to. Nakamura continues to be all like this:

Seriously, just go the fuck away

Seriously, just go the fuck away

ALL THE TIME. The only person who seems to actually be aware of the spot Kasuga is in is Saeki’s best friend Ai, who confronts Kasuga’s “friends” about what his deal is. They, being the paragons of humanity that they’ve shown themselves to be talk about how creepy he is and how they don’t like him anymore (because guys with wicked unibrows and sex offender voices are the experts on creepiness).

Pictured: Experts on creepiness

Pictured: Experts on creepiness

We then get to see Kasuga chase Nakamura down after school in order to give her his surely epic essay. Nakamura, as you may have guessed, is having none of this shit so she keeps walking, completely ignoring Kasuga.

The words every girl is hoping to hear one day

The words every girl is hoping to hear one day

He then starts reading his essay aloud to her, which prompts her to RUN THE FUCK AWAY. Does this deter our man? Of course not, he just runs along behind her, shouting the contents of his essay at her now quickly receding back.

HEY, SO SORRY ABOUT EVERYTHING!

HEY, SO SORRY ABOUT EVERYTHING!

This continues until they run across an intersection and Kasuga narrowly avoids getting Froggered. As Kasuga lies on the pavement, pondering his many failures, Nakamura escapes.

It's a trap!

It’s a trap!

Kasuga then runs home and frantically digs up his class list, taking off again to Nakamura’s house so that he can leave his essay in her mail slot (NOT a euphemism). He’s thwarted though by Nakamura’s dad, who invites Kasuga in to talk after Kasuga apologizes for the trouble he caused a month ago (nice job Kasuga. You’ll be a man soon).

Attention: MANHOOD APPROACHING

Attention: MANHOOD APPROACHING

Nakamura’s father and Kasuga have a heart to heart, where we learn that Nakamura’s mother is no longer in the picture after her parents divorced when she was 5. Nakamura has, since then, been raised by her father and her delightfully ancient grandmother.

Grandma, tell me about the Meiji Restoration again.

Grandma, tell me about the Meiji Restoration again.

Nakamura’s father confesses that he doesn’t understand his daughter, that she hardly speaks and when she does it’s nothing but cursing (totes obvs) and he asks Kasuga what his impression of Nakamura is. Kasuga admits that he doesn’t fully understand Nakamura, but that he really wants to and then my heart grew three sizes bigger.

We all do Kasuga.  We all do.

We all do Kasuga. We all do.

The episode ends with Kasuga approaching Nakamura’s bedroom door with extreme trepidation (of note: she spray painted Keep Out Shitheads on her door. Bless her heart). Cue danger music.

DUN DUN DUN!

DUN DUN DUN!

First I’d like to state that I was a big fan of the chase scene, mostly because I loved how it was shot. That was the good stuff. But really, as much as I would love to wax ecstatic about dem sweet visuals, the meat of this episode was obviously in Kasuga’s meeting with Nakamura’s father. This was an excellent—and much needed—scene. We’ve gotten a glimpse of both Saeki and Kasuga’s home lives, but no picture of the home that produced Nakamura. And rather than have something stereotypical (though I suppose you could make the argument that her coming from a broken home contributed to shaping her into the black hole of rage that she has become, I don’t think that’s solely to blame) such as an abusive family or even a neglectful one, we see that she has a father who is greatly concerned about his daughter’s wellbeing. A father who it would appear is patient and kind, who just wants to understand why his daughter is who she is.

And he's so affable!

And he’s so affable!

This is a rather harsh contrast to Kasuga’s parents who have essentially written him off as a lost cause since they discovered what he did to his classroom. They make no attempt to understand him, instead they bemoan the faulty job they did raising him, which has the effect of stripping him of any autonomy or personhood. He’s seen as a product of their faults, and as such, they have no desire to actually understand those faults because the truth might be unpleasant. It’s easier to ignore the darkness that rises up due to your inaction than it is to understand it, particularly when it relates to your children. Even when they initially discovered the truth about their son, they cared only about how it affected them, not about how he might be feeling or what his motives might be. There was no recognition of the potential struggles that he might be encountering in his daily life that would cause him to do what he did. There was only shame in themselves as parents, and then no effort made to address that OR to repair their broken relationship with their son.

It’s even more remarkable how Nakamura’s father deals with his daughter because we can imagine that the abuse she has hurled at him on a daily basis has been much worse than what Kasuga did. And yet in spite of that, he seems to want to reach his daughter in some way. He invites a friend of hers into his house, even after that friend was caught with her by the police half way up a mountain on a rainy night. He wants to know what that friend thinks of his daughter. He’s reaching out instead of shutting down, and that’s more than Kasuga’s parents can say for themselves.

You wanna hug it out bro?

You wanna hug it out bro?

I am also so incredibly thrilled to see Kasuga finally maturing into his own person. Whether or not that is ultimately tied to his flirting with deviancy is irrelevant. He’s becoming a fully-fledged human being. He took responsibility for his actions when he apologized to Nakamura’s father, which is not an easy task for any teenager to undertake, let alone a Japanese one. And then he goes and makes a deeply honest confession about his true desire to understand Nakamura. That takes moxie. That takes initiative. That takes individual desire. Kasuga is finally growing up, and he’s doing remarkably well. In this episode at least.

So what’s going to happen next? I honestly don’t know. Whatever happens though, this episode made me realize how much I’ve been pulling for Kasuga to grow as a character. This episode made inroads towards that, and for a series like this, that rich character development can do more in the long run than having an episode packed with rising action or plot points.

That’s about all I’ve got this time folks. Who else is excited for the finale? Let me know in the comments! Also, if you have a theory about how it will all end, throw that in there too as I would love to hear it! Until next time, matta ne!

...That you are the best.

…That you are the best.

Aku no Hana Episode 11: It’s Always Been Your Choice

18 Jun

By: Stephanie Weirich

TONIGHT.  YOU.

TONIGHT. YOU.

All right guys, we’re getting down to the wire here! We’ve got 2 episodes left of Aku no Hana after this one and the feeling of trepidation is starting to swell within me. Where are we going? Where will this all end? Will Kasuga ever get to transcend his emo-ness? Will Nakamura burn the world down finally? Will Saeki realize that she’s out of her league and should pack it in? Your guess is as good as mine folks, but before all that, let’s get to the recap!

We're back....in the car again.

We’re back….in the car again.

So we start out in the car again. It’s still just as awkward. And then we get to have a lot of jumping around in time in order to fill us all in on the repercussions of Kasuga’s and Nakamura’s attempted escape. The bulk of the episode takes place in the present, which is one month after the events of the previous one. Summer is here, everything sucks and is boiling hot and there are even swimsuits in this episode for everyone who wanted to see that (Fanservice amirite?).

Hey gurl, lemme holla atcha.

Hey gurl, lemme holla atcha.

Kasuga looks like a shell of himself, and he’s clearly being ignored by his former friends, while he ignores Saeki’s existence and Nakamura…Well, Nakamura is probably thinking about drowning everyone in fire and poop. But either way, she’s totes ignoring Kasuga. She also is floating around aimlessly in the lap lanes until she’s rudely disturbed by the gym coach blowing his whistle at her repeatedly.

Nihilism bro.  It's heady.

Nihilism bro. It’s heady.

In typical Nakamura fashion, she steals his damn whistle and asks him if he thinks he’s a stupid pigeon and then she takes off in the middle of gym class because YOLO.

YOLOLOLOLOLOL

YOLOLOLOLOLOL

We get some more flashbacks from Kasuga about how his mother and father took the news of what he did to his classroom and essentially, Kasuga did what every Japanese boy does in these situations: stay stone silent and stare at an undetermined point until everyone stops talking. Just like what you’re supposed to do when pursued by a T-Rex. So he’s got that covered, just in case the situation arises. While Kasuga perfects his silence, his mother weeps and blames herself and her husband for Kasuga’s current state while his father very calmly attempts to wrest the truth about things from him.

You know they can still see you right?

You know they can still see you right?

That shit doesn’t happen though, because authority can suck it. Back in the present time, Saeki breaks up with Kasuga after her friend forces a confrontation between the two of them and Kasuga just apologizes for everything. Well done Saeki, well done.

In Japan, awkward handshakes end all relationships

In Japan, awkward handshakes end all relationships

We then also get to see how Kasuga’s home life is faring after everything that has gone down and turns out that now his parents are giving him the silent treatment, because that’s how that should be done. Kasuga excuses himself from the table without eating, heads to his room and pukes in a bag. He has now officially become every goth girl I knew in high school, high minded (yet totally misunderstood) reading habits and all.

Love.  Love will tear us apart.  Again.

Love. Love will tear us apart. Again.

Kasuga’s goal here is to die a pathetic and inevitable death “like a desert tree”. Again, if he was constantly listening to the Smiths and burning incense to cover up the smell of cigarettes, this would be my life in high school.

Does anyone else smell cloves?

Does anyone else smell cloves?

Anyway, all of that malnourishment leads to some pretty wicked fever dreams which brings us to my favorite moment of the episode.

I LIKE THIS VERY MUCH

I LIKE THIS VERY MUCH

Kasuga has a dream that he’s wandering through the town, and as he wanders, the landscape begins to change. The sky becomes increasingly red, which then leads to flames and underfoot, evil flowers bloom, all watching his slowly paced trip through his dying (and now burning) town.

It's like the poster for "Midnight in Paris" but with more burning.

It’s like the poster for “Midnight in Paris” but with more burning.

He eventually comes upon Nakamura, and as they talk, everything around them disapppears—the flames are gone and the flowers uproot themselves in a swirling tangle that circles Nakamura—which is a none too subtle visual metaphor for Nakamura’s place at the center of Kasuga’s life.

Fancy finding you amidst all of this fire.

Fancy finding you amidst all of this fire.

In this dream, Nakamura shows some real humanity and while choking back tears tells Kasuga that he ultimately disappointed her by clinging so desperately to his walls and refusing to show his true nature. She calls him a liar before brokenheartedly walking away from him.

There you go, breaking my heart again.

There you go, breaking my heart again.

He wakes up panting, reinvigorated with purpose because he knows how Nakamura feels. He knows that Nakamura shouldn’t be left alone in her pursuit of something beyond what this town has to offer. He knows that Saeki can live on happily without him. And so he resolves to write all of this out for Nakamura, and thus make amends.

That's the spirit!

That’s the spirit!

Ultimately, this episode is just continuing the themes that were at the forefront of the previous episode making them much clearer for Kasuga and the viewer. Kasuga got so close to embracing his true nature and living out his true deviancy and then he backed off because he couldn’t commit. He couldn’t do it for himself. He had no clear purpose and no tenacity to see anything through while Nakamura most certainly did/does. While he needed the true catalyst of Nakamura to push him further along on his own path, what he truly needs, what Nakamura truly wants him to do is to realize that HE wants to take that path with her. As forceful as she has been, she wants a companion. She wants an equal. And Kasuga is no good to her if he can’t realize that he wants to be that person. He has to decide to end his own world for the sake of moving onto something better.

vlcsnap-2013-06-18-20h51m50s38

It was also necessary for him to realize that being with Saeki platonically or not would only forever tie him to normalcy. It would, whether they stayed together for years or had a brief school days relationship, put him further on the path towards the kind of life that is encouraged in Japan. And this is the kind of life that he’s subconsciously been rejecting all along. He’s right when he realizes that Saeki can and will be happy without him, because that is the life she wants and deserves. And there’s no judgment there; it’s just that that’s not the life for Kasuga. This is an incredibly important moment for Kasuga. This realization fully pushes Kasuga towards to point of no return. He is finally, FINALLY, making a decision on his own and is committed to carrying it out with his own hands, for better or worse. And that is a huge, character changing moment. I’m sort of proud of the guy, to be honest.

YES.  LET THE AWARENESS CARRY YOU FORWARD.

YES. LET THE AWARENESS CARRY YOU FORWARD.

I want to talk a bit about Kasuga’s parents and their treatment of their only child in light of his obvious problems, but that’s a longer piece that I’m still mulling over that will most likely appear in my much longer recap of this show as a whole. But for now let’s just say that I don’t think the best solution for dealing with a troubled child is to bemoan how it’s your fault as a parent and then follow that up by essentially acting as though that admission is enough, and their kid just has to deal with all emotional fallout on their own, with no parental guidance. Needless to say, this is also something that I’m rather familiar with after teaching kids in this age range and being privy to parent/teacher meetings about the most troubled of students. Much of the time, when the parents had reached the point of personally giving up on dealing with a difficult child, their next solution was to demand that the school and the kid’s homeroom teacher take responsibility and finish suitably molding them into a full-fledged Japanese adult. There were more parents than I was comfortable with who seemed all too ready to wash their hands of their difficult children in favor of the schools raising them in whatever way they could. Expect more on this topic at a later date.

Yeah, that's totally helping the situation right now.

Yeah, that’s totally helping the situation right now.

So that’s about it guys. We’re almost done with this crazy ride and we’ll all get to be together when we see where it takes us in the next two episodes. Oh, and one last time, let me sing the praises of that dream sequence. It was beautiful I tells ya! Beautiful! In your face people who hate the visuals of my beloved Aku no Hana! IN YOUR FACE!

Look at it!  FOREVER!

Look at it! FOREVER!

Do you disagree, agree, fall somewhere in between? Or did you get something completely different out of this episode? Let me hear it in the comments!