I got more than I bargained for this episode after asking to see more of Meg for the past while. This episode only served as a setup towards her reintroduction next time, but proved to be a pretty pivotal moment in the series as a whole with the notable direction change. More specifically, this marked the sudden end of Mario’s relationship with Setsuko, which I was expecting to take off following his release last episode. I was a bit wary of the “Parting” title seen in the preview for this episode, but it still came as a shock that it was in reference to those two. Part of me didn’t want to believe what I was actually seeing midway through the episode, especially after Mario grabbed Setsuko and kissed her without saying a word. Looking back, I realize now that the stormy sky in that scene was ominous as hell, but Mario’s manly confession had a very good ring to it that had me thinking otherwise at the time. They did spend the night together in the nude after all, which speaks for itself about what likely took place off screen. Considering the post World War II Showa period this story takes place in (i.e. 1955 onwards), I’m not upset about Setsuko’s decision to go through with the arranged marriage and help save her father’s company though. She did mention that the guy treats her well and is likely going to be a good provider, so the fact they weren’t brought together by mutual feelings of love really isn’t that bad in that era.
Nowadays, the idea of marrying someone you don’t even love probably sounds outrageous, but back then most women would consider themselves fortunate to marry a man with a respectable job who will treat them well. This is particularly true in Asian families, where being picky about partners over the well-being of your family wasn’t a luxury most people had. As such, it was good to see Mario recognize that and respect Setsuko’s decision, even though I do feel it’s rather unfortunate they didn’t end up together. Given Setsuko’s tearful reaction to seeing Mario show up at her wedding and how she could only leave him the picture they took with Sakuragi and words of thanks and goodbye to them both, it clearly wasn’t an easy decision for her to make. In light of Joe’s insistence to not let things simply end this way, Mario deserves a lot of credit for taking the high road and not making things even harder for Setsuko than it already was. For that reason, this first half of the episode actually turned out to be the easier portion to swallow. It helped that the story changed up the mood a bit with Baremoto losing his virginity to a good-looking prostitute after Suppon set him up with an old hag first. There was also his premature ejaculation too, being the inexperienced youngster that he was.
Compared to all that, the second half with Joe finally catching a break and substituting in for a band as their vocalist was deceptively darker. Just when I thought he had finally caught his big break, the actual band that he works as an errand boy for and puts up with all the crap they gave him turned out to be a bunch of pricks jealous of his talent. The beating he got from them was a big enough shock as-is, so I was suspicious about their vocalist Mickey remaining behind to help Joe wipe the blood off his face. I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt after seeing him show some remorse and understanding of Joe’s position — which had me going for a while — but somehow I couldn’t see him as a goodhearted person if he did step in earlier to stop the thrashing that Joe got. Seeing Mickey threaten to permanently destroy Joe’s vocal chords with the mercury in a thermometer soon after had me reaching for my throat and wincing at sight of it. It wasn’t so much the actual health-related issues that had me reacting as such, but the idea that Joe’s dream of being a singer was going to be cruelly snatched away from him right after he got his big break and made good on it.
Rather than witnessing Joe suffer such an ill fate, I was relieved to see him give in by saying he’ll never sing again, before running into some agency manager named Yamauchi Naoko (Koyama Mami) promising to make him a real star in three months. At that point, I was thinking, “Yes! Something going right for a change!”, but that too ended up being too good to be true as Naoko intended to get sexual favors out of Joe at the same time. The only saving grace is that she isn’t a completely perverted hag like the one back at the orphanage, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s in a sickeningly similar situation. Surprisingly, Joe decided to go through hell and back to reach his goal if need be after being reminded of how Meg did the same to survive, which I’m only okay with since it looks like it’s going to lead to their reunion next time when she attends one of his performances. I still hate seeing Joe go through this crap all over again after all he’s already endured.
On a separate note, I didn’t mention this back in the Spring 2010 Preview, but the RAINBOW manga actually concluded in February of this year prior to the start of this adaptation. In its eight year run, it amassed 22 volumes and 235 chapters, with the complete story spanning a thirteen-year time frame over four major arcs. The anime is currently in the second one taking place from Showa Year 32-33 (1957-1958) and will likely conclude in it if the series ends this season. I still haven’t seen confirmation on how long this anime will run for, but I was under the assumption that it’s going to be 26 episodes. I’m all for it being longer of course, should that be what MADHOUSE has planned.