Hamefura – 02 – Friend of the Dregs

There’s an undeniable pattern emerging in this new-and-improved Catarina Claes: more and more, she’s siding with and befriending those in the “game” who got the short end of the stick. First Keith, in whom she cultivates trust and affection rather than bullying and disdain. Yet as a result of her “erratic” behavior her parents would prefer if her younger brother accompany her to a fancy tea party to keep her on brand. Sure enough, Catarina trades pleasantries for pastries.

After eating to much she ends up rushing to the lavatory, but afterwards meets another trod-upon character in Mary Hunt. Due to her mother being her father’s second wife, her three older stepsisters rain contempt down upon her, making her shy and skittish. And while Catarina’s brashness might seem like anathema to such a fragile soul, she ends up bonding with Mary through gardening. Mary does it as an escape, while Catarina does it because she’s not the kind of woman to be cooped up indoors all day!

Third on Catarina’s list of underdog friends is her fiancee’s twin brother Alan Stuart, who as it happens is engaged to Mary. Catarina’s inner council worries about her befriending the girl engaged to Alan considering how he’s a conquerable route in the otome. She also resents the fact that only Catarina is considered a villainess and monster while Mary, who also loved Alan but lost to the heroine, is merely a good-natured rival.

Still, Alan is not happy about Catarina’s attempts to “seduce” Mary, even using the same line about a green thumb as he was going to use (since she remembered it from the game). Alan challenges her to a number of tree climbing challenges, all of which he loses handily. But in the process of all those challenges and losses, something happens: the two become fast friends.

It gets to the point where Gerald intervenes by visiting Catarina before Alan shows up, basically claiming fiancee’s prerogative. Catarina suggests a piano recital, and Alan proves much better than her at playing, but senses she and Gerald are patronizing him and runs off. Catarina tracks him down and rejects Alan’s insistence he’s just the “dregs” left over form all of Gerald’s good qualities.

To demonstrate that everyone has good and bad qualities, Catarina reveals Gerald’s weakness: a fear of snakes! Even Alan, who had just challenged her to dozens of tree-climbing duels, notes how that’s a pretty childish weakness to dredge up.

But as far as Catarina’s concerned, having a snake on hand could make the difference between life and death should Gerald raise a sword to her. Considering he tattled to her parents about both the toy snake and the tree-climbing, she has every reason to suspect he might turn on her one day!

Sing “Yesterday” for Me – 02 – Switching Gears

When I first saw Shinako’s new shorter hairstyle, my mind momentarily went to competing with Haru, but that’s far to simplistic, and was immediately swatted down as a motivation when her silhouette in the barber’s chair is set against an austere blossoming cherry tree. There’s another reason, perhaps related to moving forward (or at least appearing to do so).

This week marks the introduction of the fourth member of the love polygon: Hayakawa Rou, who is in love with Shinako, his older childhood friend. Turns out he’s transferring to her school and may even end up in her class. Again, my immediate reaction was well, he and Haru are both high-school age, they’d be perfect together and the adults could go do their thing. But again, that’s making things way too easy for the parties involved!

It’s striking how much more vivid the colors are this week than last, but hey, trees blossoming in the spring will do that (indeed, it’s happening right outside my window and it’s wonderful!). It turns out Shinako doesn’t much like cherry blossoms. But after her post-graduation faculty after-party (she doesn’t attend he after-after party) she still takes some time to sit among the blossoms for a spell.

Her alone time is interrupted by Rikuo, and Shinako uses the opportunity to tell him she knows she’s asking a lot by wanting to remain just friends. But despite Rikuo’s belief she’s forward-thinking, Shinako reveals she’s nothing of the sort. If anything, she’s just good at making it look like she’s moving forward, when it’s more like walking in circles.

Then Haru walks by after her shift at the bar, assumes she interrupted something romantic, and runs off home in a mild huff. If that wasn’t enough, Rou also witnesses the tail end of Rikuo and Shinako’s talk. That’s…a lot of coincidences!

The next day, while Rikuo is discussing the potential difficulties of friendzoning with Kinoshita, Rou shows up and demands to know who Shinako is to Rikuo. At practically the same time, Haru shows up after school to have a chat with Shinako, offering dango as an olive branch.

Despite that olive branch, Haru is here to do battle, and not on an empty stomach. She wants to hear who Rikuo is to Shinako, and Shinako is quite clear that all they’ll ever be is good friends. Haru isn’t satisfied with this, because she doesn’t want to be a “compromise” Rikuo is nudged towards by Shinako.

When Shinako asks what exactly Haru likes about Rikuo, she doesn’t have a good answer beyond her belief that love is “a trick of the mind” that demands a beginning, a middle, and some kind of conclusion, be it good or bad. That’s when Shinako tells Haru she can’t be more than friends with Rikuo because there’s someone she already loves…or rather loved.

Rou mentions it to Rikuo as well: Shinako keeps a flame burning for his older brother, who died six years ago of a heart condition. Shinako took care of him until his death, which occurred during…the cherry blossoms. When most people see rebirth and the future in them, Shinako sees death and a past she can’t let go of.

Rou’s brother’s death wasn’t the “conclusion” Haru said is needed to stop that “trick of the mind” that is love. Shinako’s love endures, superceding any other opportunities (i.e. Rikuo). Even so, Haru still decides to declare war on Shinako, and will prepare for anything, including Shinako coming around with Rikuo. Having heard about Rou’s brother, Rikuo waits by Shinako’s place to talk to her, but can’t properly organize his thoughts and starts to walk away.

Shinako, for her part, is sorry she never brought the brother up, but didn’t want to use him as an excuse to reject him. Then the two decide it would be best if they weren’t friends anymore, due to the significant imbalance in effort. He’d rather wait than be friends, indicating he hasn’t given up on her (and why it was wise for Haru to declare war). Shinako is relieved…but hates that she is.

So far I’m liking this fairly brisk pace of events. Less wallowing and introspection, more communication and firm decisions. Rikuo is still being shamefully dense about Haru’s intentions—though he may yet be justified in doing so.

The progress made this week was worth the occasionally questionable coincidences. I also like how this takes place in the 90s, where the cassette is king and there are no cell phones, necessitating more face-to-face interaction. And both the animation and voice acting are terrific. It may not be the happiest story, but I’m in my happy place.

Kaguya-sama: Love is War 2 – 01 – Happy Life Game

With Re:Zero, SAO, and SNAFU all postponed due to These Times, Love is War emerges as our #1 most-anticipated sequel of the Spring. That’s not to say it wasn’t the equal or better of those; only Dororo and The Promised Neverland ranked higher than Kaguya’s first season in Winter 2019. Those were a couple of absolute powerhouses, but neither was a school rom-com.

Love is War’s second season wastes no time getting right back down to business, delivering a tantalizing variety of scenarios involving our favorite will-they-won’t-they couple in years. The first segment focuses on Hayasaka Ai, who as Kaguya’s servant and ally wants to help her mistress achieve love and is willing to go to Mission Impossible style lengths to see to it.

Unfortunately, her considerable efforts prove wasted. After going to the trouble of switching Miyuki’s regular coffee with decaf, thus bricking him,. Kaguya is utterly paralyzed by the fact his sleeping head came to rest on her shoulder, and whatever it was she wanted to do with that tape measure never comes to pass.

The next segment reiterates Miyuki and Kaguya’s additional roles as love-advice sages despite their utter lack of experience (beyond their various machinations involving one another, of course). Tsubasa returns from Summer vacay utterly transformed into a “dude-bro” and only seems to want to throw his lovely dating situation in Miyuki and Yuu’s faces.

When his girlfriend Nagisa shows up, Miyuki and Yuu leave the office while she waits for Kaguya, leaving Nagisa and Tsubasa alone. Kaguya and Chika arrive just as things start getting hot and heavy in the office, but Nagisa reveals she and Tsubasa were only teasing them. They successfully punk’d the whole of the StuCo.

The third segment underscores Chika’s importance as the chaotic ball of energy that is constantly—and usually unconsciously—either helping or hindering Kaguya and Miyuki’s progress. This time it’s with a game her Tabletop Game Club came up with: the “Happy Life Game.”

In real life, Kaguya lucked out by being born into money; in the game she lucked into a big #MeToo settlement. To her horror, Miyuki ends up marrying Chika and they have nine kids, while Kaguya gets richer and richer remains single into old age.

Even when Miyuki and Chika divorce late in life, Kaguya can’t get married due to a DISTRUSTS ALL MEN card. The game is a nightmare for all except Chika, who had fun, and Yuu, who was happy to die on his first turn.

Finally, the episode closes with a segment that hearkens back to the time when Kaguya and Miyuki were cold and impersonal with one another. A year ago, Kaguya told him she wouldn’t dream of doing anything special for his upcoming birthday, but a lot’s changed in a year and his birthday is all she can think about.

When Chika introduces a horoscope app based on gender and birthday, Kaguya can smell the Barnum effect of the fortunes. She still insists on Miyuki participating, which he vehemently refuses to do. Turns out he’d not only already used that app (and wasn’t pleased with the fortune), but has Kaguya’s birthday of January 1 prominently marked in his planner, just as his is in hers.

Kaguya, perhaps prematurely, interprets Miyuki’s reluctance to do anything for his birthday as a sign he’d rather do something just with her, like a couple. I doubt he’d have a problem with that if it went down, but he’d never tell Kaguya that.

We’ll see if Kaguya can make it happen without betraying her intentions too overtly. She’ll probably need help from Agent Hayasaka. Until then, Love is War’s return was packed with wonderful situations, dialogue, animation, and laughs.

Arte – 02 – Put Your Back Into It!

This week Leo gives Arte a sack of money to go out and purchase the materials needed to fix her rooftop shed. Seems simple enough, except that Arte has never had to do any of this before. Every man she interacts with treats her coldly as she goes about business they wouldn’t give a second thought to if she were male.

This kind of misogyny is nothing new to Arte: most men around her assume she’s less than (or biologically unsuited) to do the work they do, and hence they treat her with aversion. The other side of the coin is someone like Angelo Parker. Unlike most of the other men, he treats women with kindness and is eager to help them. That’s nice and all, but it comes out of a sense that women are weak and unsuited to most tasks, and require his help.

It’s paternalism, which he learned from his father (obviously). Angelo has many sisters and as soon as he arrive home they line up to be pampered by him, and he’s all to willing to do so. Now I’m not saying Angelo is a bad guy or a bad brother and son—he’s neither. But he has the wrong mindset for anyone who might want to get involved in Arte.

Compare how Angelo treats Arte throughout this episode to Leo. Thus far, Leo hasn’t made an issue of Arte’s gender, only her worthiness as a person to be his apprentice and an artisan. Arte may be clumsy at times, but at no point has she slacked off given Leo any reason to doubt her commitment. He works her hard, but it’s because he’s setting challenges so she can prove to herself what she’s capable of.

A concept like this is foreign to Angelo, not because he hates women, but because he sees them as too different to be capable of what men are capable of. It explains his quizzical looks when Arte reacts negatively to his gestures of goodwill. Case in point: his master refuses to let Arte sketch a sculpture in his studio, Angelo offers to sneak her in.

But that defeats the whole purpose of striking out as her own independent person. Sure, you’ll need helping hands from people now and again. But Arte is determined to change the master’s mind on her own, and sketch his sculpture with his knowledge and approval. Even if that means lifting ten of what look like 60-pound bags of clay all by herself. Sure enough, watching “a girl do it” in practice convinces the master, as well as endears her to him.

Arte likes Angelo, but doesn’t need him to save her or spoil her. Instead of confused or quizzical, his parting look after Arte explains this is one of revelation. He realizes he doesn’t have to do everything for his sisters, and more importantly they shouldn’t want him to. When he comes home, he asks them to try doing things for themselves, something that might not have ever occured to them. I look forward to Angelo’s feminist conversion!

This week’s Arte can come off a bit preachy at times, but at the end of the day the messages it’s conveying shouldn’t be construed as special or strange, any more than Arte should be considered weird for being an apprentice. Of course, in 16th century Florence seeing a well-dressed young woman hiking up her skirt and pulling a cart full of lumber is an incredible sight because it’s such a rare one.

For Arte and pioneering women like her, there’s no blueprint for how to do this. In addition to working her ass off, Arte also has to endure the reactions of a society that has yet to embrace the idea that men and women are equal. The fact that the battle for equality is still being waged half a millennium later speaks to the sheer weight of Arte’s burden. But like the cart and the bags of clay, she’s putting her back into that ongoing fight.