The Gymnastics Samurai
Episode 8

by Christopher Farris,

How would you rate episode 8 of
The Gymnastics Samurai ?

In case you've forgotten about its period-piece nature, The Gymnastics Samurai packs in several more reminders than usual this week. The episode opens on the archaic tones of an AOL-style ‘You've got mail’ voice notification of Rei receiving a message from her new friend Kitty Zhang. From there the pair's play-date runs the gamut of 2002 culture, from Dance Dance Revolution to Aya Matsuura's hit single ‘Momoiro Kataomoi’ being delivered to the godless masses. It's all distinctly flavorful, a feeling the series has always had in different ways, and lends just the right kind of bouncy, oddly-specific energy needed to make this episode feel entertainingly light-hearted while still continuing to deliver in terms of ideas and advancing its narrative.

Kitty Zhang actually popped in last episode, recognizing Rei as the daughter of the famous actress she is, and the friendship they apparently forged is central to the advancements made in this episode. Just to start, as much as Rei's woes with socialization have factored into her story in previous episodes, it's such a relief to see her having a new pal with such positive interactions. Rei and Kitty hanging out is an absolute joy to watch and I actively had to restrain myself from snapping screencaps of their day because I'd otherwise have way too many to choose from for the review thumbnail. It's great to see this show has found a place where it can tell its story by making things nice for Rei, as opposed to always dragging her through stress and melodrama.

The Gymnastics Samurai has never been shy about its themes being based around the people we interact with in our lives, since the show's real plot effectively kicked off with a ninja following the Aragaki family home. So Kitty representing a turning point in Rei's still-early life isn't a surprising narrative choice. The part that is surprising is how direct she is in it, being I believe the first person so far to ask Rei, unprompted, what it is she wants to do. The reactionary elements of Rei's character were a frustration in the earlier episodes, smoothed out into sweeter resolutions later but still under the unmistakable shadow cast by her father's plot. Here, thanks to Kitty's influence, she realizes she should make choices about what to do outside of just cheering Jotaro on, and her resolution to become an actress like her mother makes perfect sense. It adds an appreciable sense of growth to the overall show, embodied in the character it should be easiest to see in.

All that between Rei and Kitty, however, is really only here to lay the groundwork for the kind of narrative The Gymnastics Samurai is demonstrating with this episode overall. As teased at the end of last week's episode, Jotaro has realized he needs to bring some new techniques to the table if he wants to remain relevant in the sport he so loves to compete in. And despite being a deep thinker, the most he can conceive is simply to add another rotation to his flips. The logistics of pulling off a quadruple form the sports-show sections of this week's plot as Jotaro and his coach discuss the best ways of making it happen. Notably, the possibilities of this technique are very well laid out for the audience here, with suggestions like using it as a dismount positioned in sensible ways we can understand. At this point in the show, it's also become rather conspicuous that the writing only makes explanations of the gymnastics accessible when Jotaro is involved, as opposed to the much more opaque presentations from the competitions and training of other gymnasts. It's an interesting choice, and I wonder if it's supposed to be demonstrative of Jotaro's more casual, welcoming feeling with which he brings in his friends and family. It distinguishes him from the more self-centered takes that others like Minamino make their point with.

The input of others, as laid out by Kitty in her and Rei's half of this episode, turns out to be the key to Jotaro's own growth. He learns of Leo's ballet abilities this week (thanks to Kitty, both he and Rei are aware of his status as a celebrity back in England) and ends up taking the ninja dancer's own suggestions in perfecting his quadruple flip. It results in a very pleasantly-surprising turnaround from something I'd had in the back of my head since the series started. The first episode made the point that Jotaro's approach to gymnastics made him ill-suited to coaching, foreshadowing the possibility of Leo being the one who could understand his odd directions and paving a way for Jotaro to teach a member of the next generation after his retirement. But what actually ends up happening here is that Leo's descriptions of his own ballet are on the same bizarre wavelength as Jotaro, so he's the one who provides effective advice to the gymnast! The Gymnastics Samurai has set itself apart from the conventions of its contemporaries from the moment it started with an old dad as its central star, and here again it subverts the trope of an older character being the one to pass information down, letting the older hero be coached by the young newcomer instead.

It's one more notch on The Gymnastics Samurai's belt of exploring the personal and public aspects of a sport. A gymnast must train and push themselves singularly, but other markers of progress, such as learning new techniques, can come from outside influences. It immediately calls up the question of how Jotaro receiving this kind of assistance from Leo will let him stack up the next time he meets Minamino, who does his best to eschew the influence of others. It also brings up the notion of wanting to continue with an activity you love due to the loved ones you perform it for, as in Jotaro not wanting to give up performing because of the connection it provided him with Rei. All in all, this stands as an episodic entry with its own particular theme, but like the main characters, is not truly alone in how it connects with the other parts of the story.

Rating:

The Gymnastics Samurai is currently streaming on Funimation.


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