It looks like being exploited for sex isn’t so bad this time around, as Joe’s new manager Yamauchi Naoko and her ties with the Fukumoto Gang actually worked in his favor. The mere mention of the Fukumoto name was enough to scare off the spiteful Five Lemons and their gun-touting manager Tsubouchi when they came by to force their way into the big Western Festival that Joe was going to be performing in. It’s just too bad that wasn’t enough to keep them away for good, as they came back on the night of the festival in the exact same fashion to spoil Joe’s big debut. Regardless, Naoko turned out to be a good thing for Joe’s career since she actually had him practicing under respectable people. i.e. The pianist Kawamata who has a son named Shigeo.
The only real knock on Naoko’s character is that she forced Joe to break off ties with Suppon and the others upon learning that he spent time in the Shonan Reform Institute. As selfish as that may sound, it actually made a lot of sense from a manager’s perspective, since his criminal record may actually come back to haunt him and tarnish his image if he does make it big. It just sucks that Joe had to choose between his dream of becoming popular singer to be reunited with Meg and his closest friends who have been with him through thick and thin. It’s not all that surprising that Joe stuck with his dream even though it weighed heavily on his conscience, but all the other guys never cease to amaze me with how they instinctively figured that his decision to not associate with them must mean he’s desperately working towards becoming a star. The same goes for Suppon, even though he was all bent out of shape about Joe blowing him off.
Their attitude towards Joe could easily be perceived as them not caring what he’s up to since they don’t see one another that often; however, it’s clearly more about giving their close friend the benefit of the doubt and interpreting his actions beyond what’s on the surface. Mario’s decision to speak with Joe one last time and offer him his new address in Tokyo in case he needs anything was a huge sign of friendship in my books. The fact that he would leave the door open to Joe after he’s chosen never to associate with him again was a prime example of the series’ theme about friendship and courage. Undoubtedly, Mario in particular has a lot to feel indebted for after everyone saved him from seven years in prison, but it’s in his character to reach out to Joe even if that never happened. Given how far the story’s progressed, it’s easy to take these type of gestures for granted, but I’m still taken back a bit every time I see them. If nothing else, they always leave me wondering if I could do the same in a similar situation. In return for Mario not breaking off ties, it was nice to see Joe remember to mail a Western Festival ticket for Suppon since he’s like the closest one to him — whether he cares to admit it or not.
As for the cliffhanger this episode, it’s a good thing that Kyabetsu happened to move into the room next door to Mario’s, since both of them look like they’ll make it in time after Joe sent Shigeo off to ask Mario for help. I’m just hoping Mickey won’t go back to the mercury thing from last time, especially now that Meg has come to festival in hopes that this Yokosuka Joe is really her brother. She may be working at a cabaret club as a hostess, but Meg does look pretty amazing grown up because of it. I don’t even want to imagine what she had to go through to get to this point, but at least she has some say in who she sleeps with now (if anyone at all). In terms of overall progression, the story reached Showa Year 33 (i.e. 1958) this episode, so I’m curious as to how much more will be covered in this final year of the second major arc. It looks like we may get into the third arc at this rate, which takes place from 1960 to 1964 after a two-year timeskip.
* I didn’t mention this last time, but “Five Lemons” is like the perfect band name for those wannabe gangsters and their lackluster band. Also, the song heard at the end of episode two makes its return here as one that Joe sings.