By Noel Kirkpatrick
Episodes 36 and 37: “Glowing Fireflies, Blazing Passion” and “Carousel”
Original airdates: Apr. 26 and May 3, 1992
With these two episodes, Oniisama e… ties up its loose plot threads and leaves maybe just enough room for the two remaining episodes to have something to do. (Though a little bit of me wonders if we really need two episodes to wrap up whether or not Kaoru will go to Germany with Henmi. OF COURSE SHE WILL.)
So after being mysterious for over 30 episodes, we get everything we needed to know about Kaoru, even though some of it was pretty easy to piece together from the series. I’ve been only slightly frustrated by Kaoru’s lack of a role in the series. Mariko was a bit more central (whatever happened to these two’s friendship, by the way, show?) than Kaoru ever was, despite her clear connections to the bigger storylines. But Rei’s death provides an organic way for Kaoru to come forward in the narrative that might not have in any other point in the show.
Still reeling from Rei’s death, Kaoru gets another round of potentially bad news as her doctor wants her to come by for weekly check-ups. Taking this news to mean that her cancer has returned, she begins to wander around the area, crying and in a despondent state, unsure of how to go on with her life. Rei served not only as a source of strength for Kaoru, but was also a way for Kaoru to ignore her own problems, someone else to take care of. Without Rei to fill those voids, Kaoru’s left to face things on her own and herself, and it’s not something she’s prepared for.
And so it is revealed that her year off from Seiran was a busy one. She had a partial mastectomy and broke up with Henmi due to her cancer. The break-up is seemingly typical Kaoru. She’s worried about the pain and anguish her cancer would cause Henmi (not her) because should she relapse, she’d likely die, and she has no desire to put Henmi through that, let alone allow her cancer to be a factor in his decisions about this life. It’s as much a gesture of self-sacrifice as it is self-preservation: She doesn’t want someone else to suffer over her, and would likely feel guilty over it. There’s also, of course, the issue of Kaoru being a complete woman, one that could give Henmi the pleasure he’d want, though she never gives him the option to object to this reasoning, but it’s certainly an important element in that her break-up reasoning. It’s the element I wish were more fully explored, but there’s just so much to work through here that it’s (somewhat) understandable that it doesn’t get the attention it deserves.
As if to apologize that it took so long to get to her story, Kaoru gets to be the one who delivers the news about Henmi and Nanako being related to Nanako. It’s unsurprising how generally easily Nanako takes this news. Sure, there’s a little bit of moping about it, but that’s to be expected when it seems that everyone in your life has been keeping a major secret from you. She quickly bounces back, however, ready to embrace this new status quo. Nanako’s dad confirms things before she can ask, which is very convenient for everyone, and she quickly goes and has some coffee with Henmi, including pulling a cruel (but funny) prank about what he would’ve done had she fallen in love with him.
The reveal also allows for Henmi and Nanako’s father to have a moment of reconciliation. I’m not sure it’s exactly necessary, and it certainly dragged the episode on a little bit, but in a pair of otherwise strong episodes, it’s a minor quibble.
There’s only ONE WEEK of coverage left! I plan to take two weeks after that off, and then starting on Jan. 1, 2013, I’ll devote a month’s worth of coverage to the original Astro Boy, in honor of the show’s 50th anniversary.
In addition to the episode reviews, I’m going to read Fred Ladd’s Astro Boy and Anime Comes to the Americas and Frederik L. Schodt’s The Astro Boy Essays. Feel free to read along with me, but I want your input about which episodes to cover over the course of January (the first episode is a no-brainer). I’ve seen a small chunk of the series a number of years ago, but not all of it, so I want some assistance. You can offer terrible episodes, interesting episodes, favorite episodes, whatever. I just want some suggestions.
And speaking of suggestions, also let me know what you’d be interested in reading about starting in February. It needs to be animated, but it doesn’t have to be anime. It does have to be legally and readily available in the United States, and I would prefer streaming, but that’s not a deal breaker. Leave suggestions for the future show, and the Astro Boy episodes, in the comments, or tweet them to me on Twitter.