Ao Haru Ride – 02

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When I think back on it, this show’s first episode had its protagonist in a very dark place. Of course, high school can be a dark place for a sizable chunk of youths; a place where you compromise and do what you have to do to just get through it; where you take advice given years ago about “always getting along with your friends” and you make that happen at any cost, because the alternative is being all alone.

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In other words, it’s a pact you make with yourself, and it’s a pact we thought Futaba would continue to honor for some time, both much to our chagrin and, evidently to Mabuchi’s as well. While he’s still hard to read, his words to Futaba about Asumi and Chie being “friends in name only” created a small fissure in the “High School Armor” she’d spent so much time and effort polishing; getting lost in its sheen and forgetting important things like emotional connections and trust.

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Those cracks spread when Futaba finds Makita—a girl who acts all cutesy around guys like she used to and pays for it by having to eat outside in the cold, alone—to have a perfectly reasonable explanation for why she acts the way she does—because that’s just who she is. She’d rather bear the petty ire of her peers than cease being her natural self. She doesn’t deserve the treatment she’s getting, but no one said high school was fair.

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That’s when Futaba, with her now badly-cracked armor, sits down with Asumi and Chie, and she suddenly can’t suffer any more bile directed at Makita. The real Futaba bursts out of the tatters of that false armor, giving her “friends” a thorough piece of her mind, thereby losing them in the process. But good riddance: real friends should be able to be themselves around one another. Futaba couldn’t be that around them, so they weren’t meant to be friends.

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She realizes this too, so it doesn’t hurt much when her relationship with the other two girls is officially rescinded. But while she lost those two vapid gossips, she gained a lot more: the respect, attention, and even affection of Mabuchi Kou (who she finally starts calling “Kou” rather than Tanaka, since that’s his name now), a new, real friend in Makita…and our regard as well. I gotta say; girl did good this week. I’m glad Kou realized that too, giving her a cute hug through the window, shielding her teary-eyed face from passersby.

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Her gesture to cast away the artifice of “getting along at any cost” and its fallout may have been modest in the grand scheme of things, but right here and now, in the jungles of high school, it was a significant, life-altering achievement. And no doubt Mabuchi was a catalyst for that change, whether he intended to be or not. I’m now hopeful there’s something about him that she can fix…no need to keep things one-sided!

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Hanayamata – 02

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As Hana continues to immerse Naru face-first into the dazzling world of yosakoi, she is also spending an awful lot of time with her, which irks Yaya. We met Yaya last week as the smart, talented beauty whom Naru looks up to and who ultimately is the source of Naru’s desire to better herself. But this week we see a new side of her: the jealous, tsundere side.

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Yaya and Naru go way back, and became friends because they walked the same way home from school. While on those many walks, Yaya would always brag or whine, and Naru would always listen, take her side, and back her up enthusiastically. Naru says again and again that she wants nothing more than for Yaya to approve of her decision to get into yosakoi, but at first, Yaya can’t; because it exposes something in her.

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That is that for all her popularity and skills and looks, she’s miserable if Naru isn’t around to take her side or if Naru isn’t around for her to protect. The two may be very different people, but they’re alike in the only way that matters for them to be friends: they’ve both come to depend on one another. Yaya knew all along that Naru wanted to improve herself, but couldn’t approve at first because she feared losing the special bond they’d both become accustomed to.

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Yaya’s desire to hold on to the comforting status quo mirror’s Naru’s hesitation to join Hana, whom Naru (and we) learn isn’t as strong or fearless as she thought, but still finds the courage to do what she does. It took Yaya’s outburst at Naru for her to realize that a true friend doesn’t pretend her friend doesn’t want to change, simply because it might inconvenience her. Instead, she vows to support her, and they make up.

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I really like what this episode did with Yaya, taking her of the pedestal she was atop last week and painting her friendship with Naru as much more reciprocal. We also see Naru dancing yosakoi for the first time, then in front of her audience (of one; Yaya), showcasing the animators’ deftness with body motions. Her performance is rough, but there are glimmers of greatness, harking back to when she swings the naruko Hana gives her for the first time and it makes a crisp, clear clack…the clack of destiny.

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