The Gymnastics Samurai
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 6 of
The Gymnastics Samurai ?
The Gymnastics Samurai is a series that demands to be allowed to proceed at its own pace. I thought I understood this well from the beginning: its first episode appealed to me entirely because of my inability to predict where any of it was going. And yet, I have been futilely wrestling with the show's sense of pacing and direction for the past few weeks, arguing with its priorities in characterization and conceptual focus. It's a common pitfall of reviewing a series an episode at a time, and can mean ample opportunity to look back at previous takes and realize how some episodes work better outside of the weekly vacuum. But that also means I get to be even more pleasantly surprised when an episode comes along that not only works on its own, but uplifts some of the content I'd been quite critical of previously.
With that caveat, I must note that we still don't actually get any progress on Leo's plot in this week's episode. His mysterious disappearance last week does technically factor into this one's content and developments, but if you were wondering what his relationship with those mysterious Men in Black is, you're still left wanting here. It feels like they've barely been teasing this for weeks, but like I said, patience. This is a series that pulled off illustrating Jotaro's growth in gymnastics last week without actually showing him do any gymnastics. If they're saving Leo's revelations for later (what are the betting odds up to on him being a literal alien?), I've got to give this show the benefit of the doubt that it has its reasons.
It earned that benefit with the successful detour it takes here, giving Rei another turn in the spotlight and building off the portrait it painted for her back in episode 4. The story constructed here is to prove that what that episode outlined was indeed not meant to be a full character arc for her. Frustrating as it was to watch, the issues of responsibilities that Rei was shouldering needed to be displayed and played against Jotaro's own conspicuous absence from the most stressful segments of her life for the shifts and understandings of this episode to work; we were meant to empathize with Rei's issues and the feeling of incompleteness at how the adults in her life tried to address them, to make it more satisfying when they actually do come together here.
It's signaled with clear character growth on other key fronts we've been privy to since the beginning. Opposite his abysmal handling of the subject of retirement back in the first episode, Jotaro is actually able to steel himself and discuss with Rei the training camp he wants to attend which would cause him to miss her birthday. It's a relieving segment compared to all the frustrations we could previously feel at Jotaro dodging similar subjects out of mere discomfort, especially as the series has gone on and we've gotten a picture of how delightful the dad and daughter's dynamics are when they actually do communicate. It marks Leo's absence more as a necessity of telling this part of the story in this episode, rather than a particular plot component it's moving forward, since it forces Jotaro to shoulder his own burden of being the sole pillar in Rei's home life again and take responsibility for that part of the relationship.
It also lets the show address more directly that issue of Rei's limited grown-up support network and her own poorly-internalized preferences for interacting with it. It's only a little ironic that the genesis of the issue is leveled not at Jotaro himself, but at his dead wife for painting too idyllic an image of coping with family-managing stress before she kicked the bucket and inadvertently passed that responsibility onto Rei. But rather than a buck-passing for Jotaro's own parental shortcomings, it provides the key Rei needs to unlock her ability to really express her feelings on the matter. It's not about who her mother or Jotaro is personally, it's the point that she can't put them on a pedestal to her own detriment. A family isn't something one person should be tasked with stewarding, it's a unit that's supposed to be open and supportive with one another. Rei learning about her mother's lack of vulnerability, or taking Jotaro and Leo to task for their inconsiderate lack of communication with her, helps underscore the lesson she's learned that issues that happen at home aren't her fault just because she was the only one left to take care of them.
The show gets there by building on both our growing sympathy for Rei as well as its own casual absurdity. The sheer silliness that leads to Big Bird's overnight stay in the animal hospital leaves us confident that they probably won't kill the creature off tragically, but we still empathize with Rei's distressed reactions to the situation, and are primed for the emotional flashback revealing the importance the bizarre pet actually holds for her. It speaks to the idea this episode comes around on, that Rei needs a support network regardless of the actual level of issues she's dealing with or how strong a front she puts up. The show has depicted this with clever attention to detail; I want to go back through the previous episodes now and see if they made a visual point of Rei always walking her bike rather than riding it before this. That's the connective element that brings together the aspects of her and Jotaro's characterizations, the same point they've made about the Gymnastics Samurai himself before – that while his denseness as a dad may be charming in places, it doesn't excuse him not thinking through what observations he actually makes that can cause him to inadvertently hurt those he loves. Similarly, Rei is on the hook for expressing those issues when needed to Jotaro – otherwise she's just going to keep on walking that bike until another situation where it's needed comes to a head.
So not only did I really like this episode, I appreciated how well it brought together elements I'd written off as disparate in the series before. Rei comes away following up on episode 4 learning that she doesn't actually have to grin and bear all of this. But it also illustrates how, quirky and frustrating as they may have been in some of that earlier material, entities like Leo and Big Bird are still appreciated company amongst all the burden she's shouldering. It's a heartening payoff to several character and conceptual threads, and I'm absolutely glad I got to watch the show take its time to get here. I'll take it as a sign that I perhaps need to stop rushing The Gymnastics Samurai, just letting it go and seeing where it lands in its routine.
The Gymnastics Samurai is currently streaming on Funimation.
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