After the previous episode somewhat flagged, BokuBen comes roaring back with a stirring, dramatic episode that introduces the biggest threat to the status quo/harem stalemate, without omitting its go-to tried-and-true romantic and situational comedy.
It starts simply, with an interesting reversal in which Uruka is chosen to tutor the athletically-feeble Nariyuki in swimming. The only problem is, Uruka is terrible at teaching! She just does what she does because she’s awesome. Enter the reluctant substitute swimming coach, Kurisu.
Kurisu, as good at educating young minds in all matters as she is bad at keeping her apartment clean, has an effective approach: getting Nariyuki to identify, acknowledge, and move past the fear that is causing his body to seize up in the pool. By closing his eyes and holding her hands, he’s able to swim just fine, after which Kurisu hands him off to Uruka as her swim buddies swoon.
I consider myself an honorary Uruka Swim Buddy, because I want her more than anyone else to break through her fears keeping her from confessing her feelings, and which caused her to create in him the misunderstanding that she likes someone else.
For some reason I did not expect Kurisu’s past as a highly competitive figure skater to end up providing both kinship and inspiration to Uruka, but in a brilliant example of Fanservice Done Right, while handing Kurisu her shampoo in the showers, Uruka immediately identified her toned body as that of an athlete.
When Uruka opens up about the pressures she faces due to lofty expectations both within and without, Kurisu gives her advice developed from experience: stop trying to keep calm, accept all those things and have fun. Uruka learns that Kurisu isn’t “cold”, as Fumino and Rizu once described her…she’s cool.
Uruka follows Kurisu’s sage advice and ends up winning her 400m Freestyle, by a large margin. Her achievement is celebrated at a school assembly in her honor, and it dawns on Nariyuki how amazing Uruka is. Later, her principal and coach present her with a life-changing opportunity to study abroad at a university in Australia with a top-class swimming program.
Uruka has never felt more like the protagonist of this show than this episode, from when she gets the opportunity to hold Nariyuki’s hand in the pool, and getting a glimpse inside thoughts and insecurities surrounding her swimming exploits (rather than exclusively Nariyuki). She’s not just MC’s Childhood Friend…whatever she chooses is going to have profound reverberations.
Unfortunately, Uruka can’t quite overcome her fears surrounding Nariyuki that she could to win her tournament…not at first. She can’t even tell Fumino outright when they meet at a restaurant; Uruka uses the thin and completely transparent ruse of “my friend” when referring to long distance relationships.
It isn’t until she hides under the table (and has some truly wonderful reactions, both facial and texted) when Nariyuki arrives that Fumino not only assures him Uruka isn’t dating anyone, but gets him to admit that while he’d hope whomever she liked would make her happy, that “he would miss her a bit” all the same.
Fumino realizes that Uruka alone isn’t going to be enough to break the logjam between these two. She tracks Nariyuki down and gives him one more bit of crucial information: the bit about Uruka liking “someone else” is a lie. How Nariyuki comes to interpret this remains to be seen.
As for Uruka, after giving it thought, she’s going to “do everything she can do and then cry”, shouldering any burden to realize her goal of studying abroad. She asks the principal and coach not to tell Nariyuki that goal. Does she truly intend to keep it a secret until it’s time to say goodbye?
There’s a lot to contemplate here. Uruka may be banking on the old adage that “if it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be”—that studying abroad needn’t be the end of her future with Nariyuki, but the foundation of a better future with him. I also imagine even if Nariyuki knew Uruka loved him and he loved her back, he’d want her to go and do her utmost best. He’ll wait for her…right?