The leadership training retreat turns out to be something of a comedy of errors right from the start, but leaving her bag at his place and getting on the wrong train does result in Futaba and Kou spending more time alone together than they otherwise might have. Futaba also gets to see (and feel) Kou shirtless. But they end up being so late to the retreat that they have to write formal apologies.
They also end up alienating two-thirds of the other three members of their group. Murao and Kou do not get along in their first encounter, Kominato takes her side and leaves with her, but not before taking Yuuri’s cupcake, revealing her dark side. The group is in tatters, which doesn’t speak well for the leadership skills of the reps. Then again, this is training; you don’t just hop on a bike and start riding; you have to skin a couple of knees.
The thing is, Kou and Futaba are generally quite nice to one another throughout the episode, culminating in a very nicely-staged scene at night where Kou puts his head down on the table opposite Futaba’s, and they both end up turning to face one another. This is while Kou is, in spite of the devil-may-care attitude he tries to maintain, going out of his way to say nice things about her.
They’ve rarely if ever been as close as they are here, but as lovely a moment it is while it lasts, it’s a bit premature, as Kou isn’t ready to admit how he feels about Futaba; not ready enough to be at the point where she’s nuzzling up to him. It’s panic and his long-honed defenses kicking in at the worst moment; he throws barbs her way, and she gets pissed. It’s a lasting pissed-ness, one the others can’t help but notice.
Futaba and Kou act very much like an old couple locked into a familiar battle. Futaba snaps out of the funk on her own, realizing that it isn’t that she doesn’t love the New Kou, it’s that she still has a lot of work to do in getting to know him, as well as continuing to improve herself. Which is why it almost seems like we’re going to be subjected to a cliched gut-punch when she goes to make up with Kou and spots him smiling at a girl apparently confessing to him.
That doesn’t happen, thankfully. Instead, there’s a twist: Futaba somehow thought two third-year boys were trees or something, and ended up clinging to them long enough that they thought she wanted to confess to them. But yet again, Kou steps up to rescue her, even going so far as to tell them she’s his girlfriend. She also starts to suspect that she may love Kou after all, since whatever he says to her affects her deeply and lastingly. He’s under her skin, and she’s pretty much under his too—why else would he keep finding ways to be with her?
It’s weird watching a rom-com that satirizes shoujo (GSNK) right beside the very kind shoujo anime it enjoys satirizing. Ao Haru Ride has its share of funny moments, but they’re never ironic commentary on the genre the show inhabits. It’s playing things straight and sticking with the fundamentals, which is fine with me.
Part of Murao’s hostility towards Kou stems from the fact she’s infatuated with his older brother, whom she gets alone and tries to make a move on but is rejected, not for the first time. Falling for a teacher who isn’t going to cross that line…not a pleasant position to be in.