Osamake – 05 – Making a Comeback

While it’s no match for Super Cub in my book, Osamake takes itself out of last week’s tailspin by getting back to what it does best: illustrating the enduring relationships between Sueharu and the people closest to him. When Kuro’s sisters Midori, Akane and Aoi inform him that Kuro has lost all memories after he rejected her confession, it’s because they consider him their big brother, and only he can make things right.

It’s fun to see three different aspects of Kuro reflected in her little sisters, from Midori’s frankness and assertiveness and Akane’s affinity for analysis and logic, to Aoi’s pure virtuous femininity. They’re not just there to ask Haru to help; they’re there to remind him why he should want to help; Kuro is too precious to him to leave alone.

The youngest sister Akane says it best when she says if he returns to show business she’ll be “proud, but also sad”. She just insists that whatever choice he makes, he makes it from a positive mindset, and not “run away from love.”

As her sisters indicated, Kuro meets  Haru outside his front door the next day, ready to apologize for who from her perspective is her future self she has no memory of. She can’t fathom why she’d reject Haru when she loves him so much (it’s a boon to this series that this fact is never in doubt), and wonders if he still likes her even after she did something so awful to him.

When he recoils from her, she realizes how much that other Kuro fucked up, but she desperately wants him to trust her again. She feels they simply “started buttoning up from the wrong hole”, which is a hell of a metaphor! She wants to start over form the first, correct button-hole, It’s another boon to the series that Haru’s affection for Kuro hasn’t lessened in the least, as he asks her to stay by his side.

Haru and Kuro may have messed up a lot to this point, but they’re still too close and care about each other too much to let everything that’s happened ruin their close, deep relationship. It’s gratifying to see them make up like this, even if it’s marred by Shiro showing up in her car. Her intentions are at least somewhat altruistic, as she came to take Haru to school by car to avoid the press. And yet, she also believes Kuro doesn’t really have amnesia.

Haru decides to test this the best way he knows how: by attempting to feed Kuro a food she knows had traumatized her in the past: octopus weiners! When she eventually lets him feed her one and she doesn’t react as she should, he concludes she must have some amnesia.

And yet, the fact she doesn’t remember encouraging him to do his best for his cultural festival performance brings tears to his eyes, because he wouldn’t have been able to achieved what he did without her. She may not remember that particular instance of supporting him, but she still knows when her childhood friend is troubled and crying for her, so she embraces him warmly in thanks, and tells him she’ll keep supporting him in whatever he decides to do.

Turns out all of this was recorded by Shiro, who busts in to break up the love-in. But Tetsu is there too, and he wants to come up with a way to satisfy all parties. If Shiro wants Haru back in action, he suggests they work through his entertainment club to produce WeTube videos that will surely be popular because they’ll star Haru and will be written by Shiro, the person who can bring out the best in him.

Tetsu personally thinks that Haru can always get back into big-time show business as an adult, but should really enjoy his high school years while he can, because they’ll never come again. It’s actually a pretty well though-out compromise and Haru is definitely intrigued. He’s still going to talk to the agency, but recognizes he’ll have a hard choice to make.

The next day, Haru arrives at the agency where Maria is waiting for him, and we get a nice, efficient little scene that accentuates the bond these two have for each other. When they first met, Maria wouldn’t give him the time of day, and always thought him boring. But when she watched him act, she was captivated by his pure talent for entertaining people.

The only problem is, the agent Haru deals with while Kuro, Shiro, Maria, and Tetsu in tow is…a bit of a dick. He tries to entice both Haru and Kuro with lofty amounts of money he guarantees they’ll make if they sign with him. But when Haru firmly declines multiple times, and the agent mocks her for possibly not being raised right, Haru pours his expensive red wine on his head.

With that, it seems he’s made his choice: performing in videos written by Shiro, possibly co-starring Kuro, for Tetsu’s entertainment Club. I for one am with Tetsu: you’re only a high schooler once. Spend the time having fun with the people you care about, not putting your nose to the show business grindstone. Money can’t buy happiness!

I must mention: at times, probably most times, this episode looked like absolute crap. However, I still consider it a comeback from last week because it got back to why I liked the show in the first place: the chemistry between Haru and Kuro—which even a bout of amnesia couldn’t dull—as well as an enticing way forward for our once and future acting king.

Super Cub – 06 – Forbidden Joyride

Koguma has been busy since we last saw her: she has her motorcycle license and Shino bored out her Cub into a 52cc Type II Motorbike, meaning she’s no longer limited to 30 kph. It may not be a fire-breaking chopper, but every little improvement to her Cub makes Koguma feeling a little more liberated.

It looks like she’ll be riding the bus with the rest of her class on their trip to Kamakura, though since Reiko will be with her, it’s not all bad. Reiko wants to see the Shonan Bullet Road, but absent motorbikes to ride on that, Koguma would rather splurge on some tasty local cuisine. And she’s super excited about that food—a far cry from the plain konbini-bought microwavable meals she usually sticks to.

So it’s heartbreaking when she wakes up with a low fever and has to stay home. But then, a few hours later, her fever breaks. When she kicks a rock in frustration, it skips right over to her Cub and bounces off the exhaust, and it’s as if the universe is telling Koguma what she must do.

Donning her gym jacket (it’s a uniform!) and calling Reiko to announce her plans, Koguma plots a course and hits to Kamakura on her Cub. Reiko warns her to be careful and turn back if she runs into any problems, but promises to have her back when she arrives.

Like most times when Rin rode herself to campsites, it was a blessing in disguise that Koguma’s temporary fever kept her off that bus. Her solitary ride gives her more time with her Cub in a new place, and tests her endurance and navigating skills.

The scenery is also awesome, especially when she looks out into the sky from Fuji-san’s fifth station or riding the Shonan Bullet Road beside Sagami Bay. Koguma built some detours into her trip so she wouldn’t arrive at the hotel to early, so it’s adorable when she pulls in just seconds before the class bus to a relieved and elated Reiko.

As promised, Reiko stands right beside Koguma as she gets a talking-to from the faculty, but it’s not like they can turn her away, so instead they bar her from riding her motorbike for the remainder of the class trip. They believe she’s really sorry, but the looks she and Reiko exchange indicate otherwise!

She and Reiko hit the baths, and she tells Reiko how far up Fuji-san she went, and how she stole a march on Reiko by riding the Bullet Road before her. After a soak Koguma revels in the sumptuous evening feast, and before the two fall asleep in their adjacent futons, they form a plan of action for tomorrow’s designated free time.

That plan involves locating her Cub, retracting its rear footrests, and sneaking off to ride double or “two-up” on the Bullet Road. Reiko even brought a light helmet along for emergencies, and is wearing just the brightest, most infectious smile as she holds Koguma tight from behind.

It’s not just about the ride itself, but the fact that they’re technically being bad. The teachers can’t clip these lovely bike wives’ wings—they’ve gotta fly! And while resting at a station, Reiko admits that she kinda broke her bike during her summer adventure on Fuji-san, so she’ll need to procure a new one, and has a lead on some rare, out-of-production, and very sought-after Hunter Cubs.

As for Koguma’s Super Cub, Reiko says she’ll probably be able to keep riding it the rest of her life, and that prospect really heightens Koguma’s world. When the two hop back on and continue their forbidden joyride, positively  bathing in lush, vivid greens and blues of their fast-moving surroundings, Koguma declares “I’m not going to change. I don’t want to change. I’m going to keep riding forever…Together with my Super Cub.”

Higehiro – 06 – Doing the Best We Can

Trigger Warning: This episode contains a scene of attempted rape.

With Sayu now working a part-time job, it was only a matter of time before the show’s first truly unsavory character reared their ugly head. Yaguchi Kyouya is that character, and to call him “unsavory” is putting it all too lightly. Just because he and Sayu slept together a few times, he believes he’s entitled not only to know where she lives now, but to sleep with her whenever he wants.

Yaguchi is a truly detestable scumbag in the SAO tradition of scumbag villains: a guy specially formulated to be loathed with extreme prejudice. There are moments when his presence in this show is so out-of-place compared to all the caring, compassionate, and protective people around Sayu, he feels like a caricature.

Lest I forget: Yaguchi and men like him who took what they could from Sayu and then discarded her are not only a crucial part of this story, but all too common in real life. Yaguchi shows no regard for Sayu’s agency or choices, blows past all personal boundaries, lies to her face about “just wanting to talk.” And the worst of it? When he attempts to rape her, she puts everything on herself, fearing the consequences to Yoshida and Asami.

That she’s of the mind that she has to let Yaguchi have his way with her so others won’t get hurt shows how far Sayu still has to go in being able to protect and value herself. And she would have absolutely been raped had Yoshida not taken it upon himself to read her text as a call for help. While I normally detest violence, I feel Yoshida goes far to easy on him; he should have to bear at least a shiner for his transgressions.

Yaguchi is absolutely wrong that they’re the same and the only difference is Yoshida isn’t sleeping with her. Yaguchi is definitely a criminal for having sex with a minor, while Yoshida’s harboring of Sayu is a lot more of a gray area. But worst of all to Yoshida is that at no point does Yaguchi think about Sayu. It’s all about what he can get, and why Yoshida isn’t getting it to.

Thankfully, Yoshida is firm enough to get Yaguchi to promise not to bother Sayu again, but we’ve already seen the value of this guy’s promises. Yoshida knows he may not know if he can save Sayu or how, but at least he’s trying! All the others did was hurt her more. They don’t get to protest his attempts to save her when they never tried.

When he returns to the room to comfort Sayu, she doesn’t know why she got so scared when he tried after they’d done it so many times before. Yoshida simply says that’s normal. She was right to turn him down, did and said nothing wrong, and needs to think about herself more. Seeing her not able to be the normal teenager she should be hurts, but becoming one starts with caring about herself.

The next day, Asami notices that something happened between Yaguchi and Sayu, and when Sayu won’t say anything, she confronts him. He tells the truth about what he tried to do to Sayu, then apologizes after Asami slaps him and leaves the break room, admitting he “got a little rough” (ya think?) Sayu asks why he didn’t tell Asami about them, and he says he promised not to if she brought him to her place. So I guess he’ll keep some of his promises?

Sayu doesn’t forgive Yaguchi—she never should, frankly, unless he shows serious signs of changing—but isn’t “mad” anymore, and is also present enough to make clear to him if he tries anything again she’ll be mad. His assurance he won’t seems more couched in the ferocity of her two “guard dogs” in Yoshida and Asami, but if there’s one quality of this guy I’ll put my faith in, it’s his cowardice, and if that means he really won’t try to touch her again, I’ll take it.

After Sayu’s shift, Yoshida texts that he’ll be at work late, so Asami invites herself over to her place to protect her. She stops by her palatial estate for some stuff, and we learn that she’s the daughter of a politician and lawyer who are almost never around, and Sayu’s the first friend she’s told about her house. By opening up a little about herself, she inspires Sayu to do the same, telling her plainly about how she came from Hokkaido and stayed at various guys’ places, including Yaguchi’s.

She continues that she kept running from place to place and nothing ever changed, until she met Yoshida and then Asami, and realized how “stupid” she was being. Heartened by Sayu opening up, Asami takes her to a special spot where you can see the stars despite still being in Tokyo.

As the two gaze at the stars, Asami tells Sayu more about herself, how she dressed up as a gyaru, but her parents didn’t understood she was doing it for attention she simply wasn’t getting from them. And while she’s expected to follow in her mom’s footsteps in law, what she really wants to study is literature and become a writer. That led to a huge argument with her mom.

That’s when her dad took her to this starry spot and assured her their worries are nothing compared to those stars. But while Asami knows humans are to small to be seen compared to the stars, they still have pasts and futures that matter. She knows Sayu’s past was rough, but she got through it to get to where she is: in a position to choose her future. It’s the second straight week of heartwarming girl talk, only this time between girls of the same age.

The next day after Yoshida comes home early, Sayu tells him that living with him, she’s finally able to start thinking about a future. She just needs a little more time. Yoshida will give her all the time she needs. She may have  met one too many Yaguchi Kyouya’s on the way, but those assholes are but insignificant specks compared to the growing constellation of good people she knows, who care about her and are slowly but surely teaching her to care about herself.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro – 05 – Shaved Ice and a Haircut

While her feelings about Senpai have been abundantly clear, it’s still nice to get a look inside her head, this time courtesy of a dream she’s having while sleeping on her green sofa. She’s calling Senpai gross, but he’s suddenly stopped reacting. Then Gamo and Yosshi come in, shove her aside, and snatch him…and he’s fine with it!

She wakes up from this dream to a sign the real Senpai wouldn’t feel that way—he sweetly put a blanket over her so she wouldn’t catch cold! Still, it’s clear Nagatoro understands how far she can go without pushing Naoto away, and also genuinely fearful of her friends stealing him.

In the next segment, suddenly Nagatoro is less interested in not crossing lines, first by testing Senpai’s ticklishness, then once again stripping to reveal her swimsuit and inviting Senpai to tickle her if he dares. When it’s clear that he does and will dare, she aborts the bit. Something tells me she’s not ready for Senpai to hear how she sounds when tickled!

Nagatoro then reveals the intense satisfaction she gets from watching a video of a sheep being sheared, and wants to do the same with Senpai’s wooly hair, which is honestly in need of a cut. She whips out some electric clippers she borrowed from her bro, and gets those demonic eyes…but when Naoto makes clear he doesn’t want his hair shaved, she stands down.

What Naoto would be okay with, after he imagines it in his head, is for Nagatoro to give him a trim with scissors. Alas, before she can get started she gets an urgent call from Gamo and Yosshi about math notes. The fears expressed in Nagatoro’s dream are confirmed when it’s revealed Gamo and Yosshi were just trying to separate the lovebirds.

They grab the defenseless Naoto, hold him down, and prepare to shave him bald, but Nagatoro hears his cries and rescues him in the nick of time. Once again, rather than deal with a direct confrontation, Gamo and Yosshi run away. I’m guessing they know she can throw a kick when she needs to! With the interlopers gone, Senpai and Nagatoro settle into pure barber-ic bliss. When she’s done, Naoto is legit impressed how good it looks, and Nagatoro soaks up the praise.

As summer break approaches, the days become hotter and hotter. Nagatoro wants to take Senpai to a nice hole-in-the-wall shaved ice stand, only to find its popularity ballooned after it was featured on TV. Even so, Nagatoro most vociferously dismisses any suggestion of konbini ice cream, grabs Naoto’ arm and insist on waiting in the huge line as long as it takes, decalring it a battle of wills.

Surprisingly, the heat starts getting to Nagatoro before it gets to Naoto. When he spots two older guys leering at the back of her blouse, translucent with sweat and revealing her bra strap, he chivalrously blocks their view with his own person. When Nagatoro starts getting woozy and wobbly, it’s he who grabs her by the arm (for I believe the first time), finds a shady place for her to cool down, and buys her a sports drink to hydrate.

It’s the manliest he’s ever been, and Nagatoro doesn’t dislike it. She thanks him by going to the konbini and buys him a lemon Italian ice, surprising him by touching it to his neck, then offering him a bite from her spoon, which he refuses as it would comprise an indirect kiss.

Later, the two are walking together, and Nagatoro snatches his drink and drinks out of it, demonstrating she doesn’t mind an indirect kiss or two before handing it back to him. She mentions how most of her summer break will be taken up helping out with the swim club, but then asks for his contact info, which she claims is so she can send him a “Perv!” sticker in LINE whenever he’s thinking about something pervy. But we know better, and I think Naoto does too.

I mean, just look at her expression upon receiving his number! She wanted it so they can stay in touch, and so they can hang out when they’re both free, because they’re really no longer tormentor and tormented (or at least not just that). They’re two people who enjoy each other’s company and want to keep a good thing going. Hopefully they don’t spend the whole break apart.

Episode 5 “Senpai” Count: 25 (+1 “Paisen”)
Total: 192

Those Snow White Notes – 06 – Everyone’s an Apprentice

Yui lights a fire under the ass of the Shamisen Club when she learns her gamer friend from Aomori is also participating in the group division of the Matsugoro Cup. Her name is “Maimai”—could it be Setsu’s self-appointed rival Tanuma Mai? Whoever it is, Yui doesn’t want to lose to them!

She zealously pushes the others to memorize and practice “Shinbushi” for a month, then Koyabu-sensei and the instrument shop owner Oodawara-san arrange a training camp…in Aomori. When they arrive, Setsu still isn’t sure whether he’ll enter the individual division, while Shuri is struggling with her timing.

In the throes of a full-on slump, Shuri reaches out for advice from Setsu, who is too preoccupied with his own stuff to give her anything other than “just keep doing what you’re doing”. This angers Kaito mightily, but not just because he’s in love with Shuri and Setsu is being a condescending jerk. He’s mostly mad—just as practically everyone else he knows is disappointed—that Setsu isn’t making full use of his talents.

Earlier at school, Kaito was a soccer star with a realistic shot at the pros until he blew his knee out, closing the door on his preferred future forever. He then overheard his father say the injury was a “good thing” because it meant he could focus on his studies and follow in daddy’s footsteps. As such, Kaito considers himself “perfectly set on the rails” his parents laid down.

Rai tells Setsu this, providing context for why Kaito blew his stack, and in the baths, Setsu comes to Kaito to apologize. Kaito apologizes too, and then the two of them and Rai start horseplaying, which Yui and Shuri can overhear from the girl’s bath, indicating the boys made up.

The next morning, super-early, Oodawara-san takes the club up to a vantage point overlooking the Tsugaru Strait and offers a history lesson that proves instrumental in Setsu reorganizing his thoughts about finding his sound and participating in the individuals. The first Tsugaru shamisen players were blind and living hand to mouth. Oodawara wonders what the hearts of people looked like to those who never saw the natural beauty of Tsugaru around them.

Oodawara goes on to say rules and traditions only go so far when it comes to Tsugaru Shamisen, since the circumstances and experiences of the first players were so very different from their successors, who weren’t blind. The past is not simply endlessly repeated; there is a conversation between the past and present, meaning change and boundary-pushing is not only inevitable, but crucial to its survival.

Setsu, grasping better how to find his sound, has Rai and Kaito switch shamisens to better match their playing styles and personalities. Shuri keeps struggling, but is determined not to give up. Wakana and family friend Kouta pay him a visit, and it’s clear to Setsu they’re both trying to light a fire under him.

Talk turns to gramps, who never took on any apprentices because he believed anyone who truly listened to him would be able to learn his sound. But more importantly is what Wakana says before parting: gramps also said that the reactions of the people listening were the most important lessons. In other words, Setsu will never find his sound if there’s no one listening.

Setting up atop the vantage point overlooking Cape Tappimi (or “Dragonsflight”), Setsu starts to play, and at the base of the hill, Shuri hears him and comes running as fast as she can. She can hear Setsu’s sound, and when she reaches the top that sound is so powerful, a feeling rose up in her chest that made her suddenly shout “Wa!”

Turns out that while “Wa” isn’t one of the kakegoe shouts, she shouted it precisely when she should have, because she was riding the sound, not chasing it as she had been throughout her slump. Setsu’s sound was “leaping so freely” it not only felt amazing, but helped her leap right out of that slump with a new understanding of what she was doing and how to fix it, all through the power of his sound.

Setsu, in turn, thanks Shuri for giving him the final little push he needed to decide he’s going to enter the individuals after all. That’s right: IT IS ON.

In their final “Shinbushi” practice of training camp, the club gets through the piece without a single mistake. Everyone’s feeling good, and Oodawara suggests they celebrate their success by attending Nebuta, one of the “three great festivals of Tohoku” according to Yui, and something hard to argue with what with the excellent music, dancing, and food.

All the while, the tiny obaasan who hosted the club at the guest house clandestinely shows off her god-level texting skills, revealing that she was one of Umeko’s spies all along. She informs Umeko that Setsu has indeed agreed to enter the individual division, just as Umeko is promoting the Matsugoro Cup. She got what she wanted yet again, but in this case it’s because Setsu wants it too.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Super Cub – 05 – The Ascent

Kudos to Koguma, who over the summer she expanded her horizons, learned an abject lesson in preparing for the elements, saved up some cash ferrying documents between her school and Kofu. That’s a summer anyone can be proud of. She comes to Reiko ready to make some tasty okonomiyaki in exchange to hear what she did this summer…and why her Postal Cub looks like it’s been mauled by Oniguma-sama.

Reiko also expanded her horizons, learned a hard lesson or two, and presumably also made some money with her job doing manual labor “somewhere close…yet far away.”

It’s just…she went about it a little differently…

I see you, Super Cub.

Back in the day, anyone could ride up Fuji-san, but new laws and environmental restrictions narrowed the opportunities considerably. Reiko’s job with an official team that maintains and resupplies the trail and outposts going up the mountain was the opportunity to do something she’d wanted to do ever since she got her license: Ride to the top of Fuji-san.

She researched modifying Cubs for off-roading and secured the job, which consisted of a lot of manual labor but also riding ahead to ensure the way is clean for the giant resupply Caterpillar that climbs up and down the mountain. Reiko’s arduous ascent is often appropriately accompanied by heavy metal soundtrack, and also full of vicious crashes and tumbles.

Still, every time she falls, she dusts herself off and gets back up, because there’s still a mountain to be climbed. When her boss, who climbed Everest, asks her why she’s so intent on climbing the mountain on a glorified moped originally designed to deliver mail, she says it’s to find out if she’s the kind of person who can overcome something like that.

Instead of mail, Reiko intends her Cub to deliver her to a better sense of who she is and what she’s capable of. It’s an incredibly moving, well-realized, self-contained epic little movie of an episode, and what’s all the more impressive is that it doesn’t exist to outdo or overshadow Koguma’s own summer achievements, but simply to present the vast spectrum of experiences.

Oh, and it surprised me almost every time Reiko hit a rock or peeled out, and I found myself actually crying out in anguish whenever it happened, hoping Reiko would be able to get up and start her Cub back up. Fortunately, she always is, and always does. One day when it’s clear she’s really struggling, her boss tells her not to try to “stand up” against the mountain, but to “come alongside”.

Also lending a sense of grandeur is the absolutely spellbinding scenery that grows more strange and otherworldly and beautiful as Reiko reaches higher and higher elevations. There is nothing quite like the way the earth sprawls out before you when you’re on a mountain, and that unique feeling is captured perfectly.

Reiko takes her boss’ advice as a reminder that she should be having fun, not suffering, but when push comes to shove, she’s not going to “go limp” let the mountain push her around. She holds herself and her Cub down and fights as hard as she can. Alas, her final crash is her worst, and cracks her stalwart Cub’s enging casing.

She calls her boss, who picks her up in the Cat. He remarks that she didn’t make it to the top: she’s only a few switchbacks from it; perhaps a few hundred feet. But that’s okay; Reiko can’t look out at creation unfolding beneath her and feel bad about what she accomplished.

Koguma maybe gets the line of the episode in response to this epic tale of man vs. nature: “That’s silly.” As in, climbing Mt. Fuji on your motorbike is silly. Maybe it is, but Reiko still had to do it, and doesn’t regret it. They change the subject to Koguma’s “Cursed Cub”, and Reiko eases her friend’s mind by assuring her none of the three previous owners died because of it. Two of them didn’t even die.

Koguma takes Reiko up on the offer to sleep over, if nothing else to experience the pitch-black darkness far from the city lights. Ensconsced in the mummy sleeping bag Reiko provided (and looking more like Shima Rin than ever!) she clarifies her statement about the silliness of climbing Mt. Fuji as not meaning that it could not be done. Hell, Reiko came really really close to doing it, and probably could have if she’d just slowed down a bit!

And as we’re treated most gorgeous images of Fuji-san yet, Reiko says the first Cub rider climbed the mountain in August of 1963, followed that same year by a team of Cub riders. Reiko isn’t done; she’s going to be the next one to do it—and the first high-school girl!

That morning, over coffee, Koguma makes clear she’s not done expanding her horizons either. She took the summer job in part to pay for driving school so she could get her full motorcycle license. Reiko hops on the laptop to book Koguma’s reservations, and also to look for cheap ways to increase the power of her Cub so her friend can climb her own mountain a little higher.

This whole episode certainly took Super Cub to new heights, but even if and when it comes back down to earth, Reiko and Koguma will unassailably remain my two heroes.

Zombieland Saga: Revenge – 05 – Always Be Twinkling

This week is a Lily episode, as she decides she wants to shine even brighter by entering herself in the Saga regional of the awkwardly-titled national TV talent competition Japan’s Got Performance. If she wins, she’ll move on to the finals in Tokyo. I love how the pint-sized Lily announces this by shaking up Koutarou’s usual dungeon briefings. This is a choice she made—not him—and she’s going to do it.

But upon arriving at the venue for the competition, Lily learns she’ll be facing stiff—and very familiar—competition in the form of Oozora Light, the latest child prodigy star. While his meeting with Lily is friendly, Sakura and Tae later discover that unlike Lily he’s an arrogant, cynical little shit, spoiled by and abusive to his manager and expecting an easy win in the “sticks” of Saga.

While much of the competition before him seems to support that assessment—none more than Koutarou’s own baffling impersonation of a mudskipper—Lily brings some class, charm, and heritage to her multi-faceted rakugo performance, proving she can do whatever she wants on stage and excel.

Both the crowd and celebrity judges are eating out of her hand, laughing at the comedic bits and crying at the dramatic ones. Lily is an expert at working the crowd, but it’s always about shining as bright as she can and entertaining them, not manipulating them. If she isn’t having as much fun as they are, there’s no point.

Light follows it up with…sigh…juggling. It’s here where we see that he’s more concerned with tricking the crowd into siding with him with his on-stage performance, since they’d probably loath his true self. He does this by pretending to mess up, only to yell Never Give Up! and get back on track. As juggling acts go it’s pretty good, but in all honesty he’s riding his celeb status here; Lily’s act was far superior.

Unsurprisingly, the two finalists for the Saga Regional are Lily and Light. Lily stops by his green room to wish him good luck, and predictably Light throws her good wishes back in her face, calling her out for putting on such a syrupy sweet and cute act that they both know isn’t going to last once they’re out of elementary school.

Of course, Light isn’t aware that Lily was once a bigger star than him, and also will never grow up, because she’s a zombie. But even if she wasn’t, Lily is still a veteran of show business, and doesn’t rise to his trash talk, keeping things friendly and cordial. Even so, Sakura, who overheard Light laying into Lily, has her back, reminding her all of Franchouchou are with her.

When Light inadvertently steals “Life”, Lily’s signature song from her past, she once again shows what a multitalented consummate professional she is, re-arranging her music for the band and altering her costume, all in the time it takes for Light to perform his song. It’s also not lost on me that her light blue hair and pink and white ribbons match the transgender flag, a lovely personal touch.

Lily counters with “Life”, but rather than the classic bittersweet version, her vivacious arrangement integrates addictive scat-singing and dancing that get all the kids in the crowd and on TV dancing with her. She also basically turns all the adults into kids as the clap along, swept up in her sparkling, twinkling awesomeness.

As I expected, she still loses to the Next Big Thing, but not only is she perfectly gracious in on-stage defeat, but she tracks down Light to cheer up and encourage him off-stage. While he technically won, he knows full well Lily put on a performance he couldn’t have hoped to match, especially in the compressed time frame she had.

Lily reminds him that show business is about who wins, not always who’s best, but all either of them can do is keep shining as brightly as they can. She manages to thaw his cold, dark heart, and when he points out she’s in the boys bathroom, her response is pitch-perfect: “It’s fine…it’s just me after all.”

A lesser show would have had Lily put Light in his place by beating his ass and moving on to Tokyo (something Koutarou wasn’t going to be happy about—Tokyo isn’t Saga!). Instead, Light is given extra depth and humanity, which is gratifying because being a child star in any era is not easy…just ask Macaulay Culkin!

They part ways on good terms, with Light inviting Lily to Tokyo sometime so they can work on something together. And while Lily didn’t make it to the national final, a kid doing her scat performance of “Life” becomes a viral sensation all over the country, netting Franchouchou thousands of new fans. Let it never be said the shrimp doesn’t pull her weight!

Irina and Crow’s discussion of this episode has dropped. Check it out here!

Super Cub – 04 – Summer Courier

Some of my favorite moments of Yuru Camp involved Shima Rin on her own, setting things up, figuring things out, or on the road in harsh weather with the knowledge a soothing hot spring wasn’t far away. I could watch her do stuff alone without saying anything all day, just like I could watch Super Cub’s Koguma do the same.

Super Cub, I’ve been remiss in mentioning, distinguishes itself in the musical department by employing a lot of soaring classical piano pieces that really match the moods of the montages with which they’re paired as well as lend a sense of added majesty. Plus, it just makes the show that much more classy.

Anywho, this week is full of Koguma taking care of business as she takes on a challenging summer job as a document courier between her school and a high school in Kofu (also a Yuru Camp locale). Pre-job preparations include buying some sturdy new boots, a dependable Casio watch, and getting a 100-km oil change at Shino’s.

Her first trip to Kofu High is full of suspense; she really doesn’t want to screw up, and even declines the Kofu teacher’s invitation to stop and have some tea just so she can remain ahead of schedule.

Just as she got comfortable with operating her Cub and interacting with Reiko (who is spending her summer touring “somewhere close yet far away”), Koguma gets used to the daily trips back and forth. Eventually loosens up and derives more joy from the new routine.

Before she knows it, she’s put 500km on her Cub, and so takes it back to Shino. He tells her she might be riding her Cub a bit too gentlyleading her to give it the beans at her next green light.

One day Koguma is caught in a summer shower, and arrives at Kofu High looking like a half-drowned cat. The teacher makes sure she’s dried off and has her wait out the rain with a cup of tea.

Not wanting to endure another soaking, Koguma heads to the store to buy a waterproof rainsuit. It costs nearly as much as three round trips, but the next time it rains it pays for itself, as Koguma can ride dry and comfortably, looking up at the sky and saying “take that” upon arriving at Kofu High.

The days and weeks go by, and soon Koguma has reached 1000km. She takes Shino’s advice and gives changing the oil a try. While at first she can’t loosen the bolt that releases the spent oil, she watches a bicyclist ride by and it gives her the idea to use her foot to move the wrench, which does the trick.

In addition to yet again gaining inspiration from observing life around her (as with the goggles), the colors of the episode become more lush and vivid, matching the dopamine high that comes from having cleared what is the toughest hurdle in changing oil—getting that damn bolt off without making a mess or hurting yourself.

The rest of the change goes smoothly, and while Koguma probably should have worn gloves, there’s something to be said for getting a little oil under your fingernails after your very first wrenching job. Go Koguma!

After a month and a half of round trips at ¥2,000 a pop minus fuel and expenses, Koguma has a nice chunk of change squirreled away, with which she can use to further expand the world she’s started to grow with this job, both as a matter of geographic distance, and overcoming her shy, reserved nature.

Even betterm she’s rewarded for a summer job well done by a call from Reiko, who returned home the same day Koguma’s job concluded and invites Koguma over to her place. After a beat, Koguma asks Reiko where to go, and pulls up in front of an absolutely gorgeous log cabin in the forest at dusk. Reiko invites Koguma inside so they can talk about their summer adventures. It’s a cozy, warm, and above all triumphant way to end the episode.

Osamake – 04 – Piling On

Osamake reiterates the fine mess that has been made as each vertex of the Shiro-Haru-Kuro love triangle wallows in misery in their dark bedrooms. Haru blames himself, Kuro blames Haru, and Shiro blames Kuro for the mess, but they’re all pretty much equally responsible.

Tetsu doesn’t make things easier for any of them the next day at school when he announces that his video of the whole horrific fiasco was watched by over a million people on “WeTube”, though his primary goal wasn’t to humiliate anyone but promote Haru’s potential comeback.

The video has the unexpected effect of attracting another woman from Haru’s acting past: the now famous and beloved star Momosaka Maria, who stakes out her territory immediately by coming into Haru’s class and glomming onto him. When Shiro and Kuro try to complain, she dismisses them as, respectively, the woman he used to like and the woman who rejected him about as publically as anyone could reject someone.

Bottom line, Momo-chan considers them to be in Haru’s rearview mirror, while she represents his future. Haru was this little sister figure’s first love, and she’s determined to hitch her star to his wagon, so to speak. After she departs for the time being, Tetsu treats Haru to an apology pizza, only to reveal it was procured by his “jack-of-all-trades” fixer, Asagi Rena, who smells “good money” on a Haru comeback.

But Rena’s intro is interrupted by Shiro, who with her friend Meiko’s help invites Haru to come to her house sometime, ostensibly to meet with her father again. When Kuro tries to intervene, the mere sight of her triggers Haru’s trauma over being rejected and he literally turns into a tiny monkey hiding behind Shiro, who lets Kuro have it on his behalf.

Haru doesn’t like how things ended with Kuro there, but he’s more distressed about the mess he helped make as a result of not fully understanding how Kuro felt despite being so close to her for so long. He talks with Tetsu on the phone about it, unaware that Tetsu has him on speaker and Kuro is listening. Tetsu asks what Kuro is going to do, but she doesn’t respond.

Meanwhile, Momo continues her campaign to conquer Haru and cut the other two out of his life by letting herself into his house and cooking him all his favorite dishes, which she learned of from his late mother way back when. Haru realizes that the press crush and online calming must’ve been Momo’s doing, while Momo admits that the video was the trigger to finally approach him about rejoining the agency where they first met, now run by Shun Hardy, son of its former boss, “Auntie Nina.”

She has two cards: one for Haru and one for Kuro, but then this development is interrupted by another: Kuro’s three sisters are at Haru’s door to report that…Kuro has developed amnesia. As sudden bouts of amnesia (especially those unexplained by an accident or other physical trauma) are my least favorite anime plot device, I sincerely hope this is another ruse. But even if it is a ruse, it’s simply one too many things going on. The gorgeous mess has become an ugly one.

Shiro’s continuing attempts to make Haru fall for him again, the viral video kickstarting Haru’s acting career, the sudden appearance of Momo and Rena, whatever Tetsu still may be planning, and now Kuro apparently has freakin’ amnesia? It’s needlessly, discouragingly too damn much. Combined with the increasingly apparent meh production values, the shine is starting to wear off Osamake. I’m morbidly curious to see what becomes of this amnesia issue, but the show needs to settle down and focus soon, or I’m out.

Super Cub – 03 – Calling Out to the Universe

Koguma notes how it’s been a few days since her “life of emptiness” was suddenly filled by her Cub, and then by a fellow Cub rider. She acquired the Cub by actively visiting a dealership, while befriending Reiko happened more by chance when Reiko approached her. Koguma is gradually getting more comfortable with both of these things.

During lunch (the running gag of Koguma never being able to microwave her meals is great and very relatable) Reiko announces her intention to go touring during summer vacation, and is glad to have the big luggage box that comes with the Postal Cub. Koguma would like one too, so Reiko reaches out to a fellow Cubber and finds another box within walking distance.

Reiko has Koguma remove the box from the worn-out Cub, and using tools on a Cub for the first time must feel satisfying. That feeling is repeated when a teacher gives her a free front basket from his Cub he doesn’t need anymore. As she vicariously revels in Koguma grinning like a goofball, Reiko tells Koguma that whenever she needs a part of something, the universe will provide if you “call out” to it.

As Koguma tries opening up the pipes on her Cub, she learns she’ll have to call out for something else: a means of blocking the wind from hitting her face. I must say these three episodes have been an absolute face clinic, and Koguma’s wind-in-her-face face is as priceless as her satisfied grins. It’s great watching Koguma discover the simple but powerful joy of upgrades.

That night, Koguma considers how to solve this problem as she cooks a dinner of fried rice—not a microwave packet—perhaps indicating she’s taking more pride in the process and effort of all things, not just her Cub. Reiko takes Koguma to the library to search the web for a face shield, but even the cheapest are around $40.

Then, as if the universe were answering Koguma’s call for an alternative, she spots a custodian wearing safety goggles, which are both cheaper than a mask and tough enough to withstand the rigors of riding. Koguma had to go to the hardware store to buy a chain lock anyway, so kills two birds with one stone. Goofy grinning ensues, and that night Koguma dreams of riding her Cub on a road through a flower-strewn meadow. She’s officially got the Cub Bug.

Koguma’s mood extends into the morning, and Reiko notices her friend’s extra pep. After school, both of them want to go riding, so they do, although I was a little confused when Reiko left first, because I thought they intended to ride together. Another time, perhaps. In the meantime, Reiko gives Koguma her cell number, tells her to call if she needs anything, and to be careful on the road.

Koguma admits that getting her licesne wasn’t a particularly emotional moment, but getting Reiko’s number was another thing entirely. She isn’t sure yet if she and Reiko could be classified as friends, but that doesn’t matter, because they’re something she considers deeper and more profound: they’re both members of that ancient and noble tribe of Honda Cub owners, and they are legion!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Super Cub – 02 – Two-Wheeled Freedom

Koguma discovers how to hang her helmet off her Cub after seeing her classmate stow his under the seat of his scooter. Once in class, she daydreams about suddenly blurting out that she came to school on a motorbike and suddenly becoming Miss Popular. Thankfully, she chooses a much more natural time to mention her new scooter—in Home Ec class when they’re making drawstring bags. Her mention leads to a classmate asking if she can see her Cub after school.

While last week Koguma was thoroughly in her own little world, directly interacting only with Shino, this week we see just how socially awkward she is, first by only tentatively agreeing to meet up and then trying to make an Irish exit, only to forget her newly-made bag.

Fortunately, the other girl doesn’t hold it against her, and reveals she’s something of a motorbike otaku in her appraisal of Koguma’s Super Cub. She also makes plain her biker girl bonafides by presenting her own steed: a red MD4=90 Postal Cub, she’s souped up with aftermarket and bespoke parts.

Their interaction kind of trails off when the girl, named Reiko, has to head out, but Koguma privately hopes they’ll get to talk more tomorrow. Even so, when tomorrow arrives, it takes everything she has to let out a hushed good morning that Reiko only acknowledges with a curt “Mmm.”

Koguma’s fear that their interactions are at an end are alleviated when Reiko takes her arm and leads her to their bikes where they eat lunch together, explicitly mentioning they’re friends now. Yet even here, when Reiko tells her they can go anywhere they want with their Cubs, Koguma seems held back by a lack of imagination.

But once she’s riding home after school, Koguma starts to feel what Reiko was talking about, and instead of going straight through her usual intersection, she takes a right turn. That leads to a supermarket with much better prices on her lunch packets, and she even saves a few yen by using the drawstring bag she made the other day.

You could say that inspiration fueled Koguma’s imagination, allowing her to make a different turn than usual and find a new an unknown place. It’s her first small step to realizing the boundless potential for freedom her new ride represents. As we see Reiko taking full advantage of her Cub to find a gorgeous Yuru Camp-esque vista featuring Fuji-san, Koguma looks forward to her next after-school side trip. So am I!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Super Cub – 01 (Belated First Impressions) – Kickstarting a New Journey

Koguma has no family, no friends, no goals or hobbies, and not much in the way of money. She gets by living on her own in a near-monastic existence, and the first four minutes of this episode are spent in silence as the sun comes up and we witness each step of her morning routine from waking up to heading to school on her bike. If you love anime that portray real life without any embellishment, as I do, you’ll have already been pulled willingly into Koguma’s life, as I was.

But after watching the better part of one day in that quiet, lonely little life, we watch as she’s easily overtaken by a classmate on a motor scooter, and she decides to head to Shino’s motorcycle shop where she’s in luck: a used Honda Super Cub (the most-produced motorized vehicle in history) is available for just ¥10,000 (around $91). Immediately upon hopping on, the bike literally adds color to her life.

We watch the painstaking but also rather simple process of acquiring a license and tag for her bike as well as a helmet and gloves, as well as the always initially tricky starting protocol. But once all that’s squared away Koguma hits the road (calling to mind Yuru Camp’s Rin on her scooter), and regularly flashing a warm smile simply at the sight of her new Cub sitting in the paddock. It’s not exaggerating to say it saved her from what was a tedious, mundane, aimless existence.

Koguma realizes she’s still shaky on the road, so unable to sleep anyway, she gets up for a midnight ride to practice when the roads are all but deserted. Again, the Rin is strong in Koguma, right down to the occasional relieved sigh and assured yosh after a notable achievement. When she stops at a konbini and can’t get the Cub started, she simply consults the owner’s manual and switches to her reserve tank.

After refueling, Koguma heads home, plops down in her genkan relieved and exhausted, and falls asleep right there, waking up only when her alarm goes off. Already, her crushingly drab routine has been upended by her new mechanical companion. As she confidently rides to school, she starts to think of new adventures to go on with her new ride, like Kofu, well-known to all Yuru Campers. But the point is, she’s finally found an interest and has gained a measure of ambition.

I initially passed on Super Cub worried that it was going to be nothing but a glorified ad for the Honda Super Cub. I reconsidered when I saw it had a decent MAL score and glowing reviews on ANN, and noted that I was missing a iyashikei-style slice-of-life anime this season. So while it’s adding a sixth show to my schedule, it should feel far more like a treat than a chore.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Higehiro – 05 – The Mysterious Woman

I love the series that can replicate the same butterflies in the viewer’s stomach that the characters have in a particular scene, such as when Yoshida takes Gotou to his place to see Sayu. They stop at a konbini first, where Gotou prepares an extravagant bag of drinks and snacks to break the ice.

It’s not like there was going to be any melodramatic blow-up between Gotou and Sayu, but the episode is always cognizant of how strange this particular scenario is without going too over the top with it. It’s an episode titled “Reality”, after all, so Gotou and Sayu’s meeting unfolds realistically.

Gotou also has Sayu send Yoshida off on a shopping errand in short order so they can talk in private as two women. Gotou asks simple and direct questions—where Sayu is from, how long ago she ran away—but also knows not to press when she asks a question Sayu isn’t ready to answer (why she ran). Another important question Sayu tries to consider is how long she intends to stay with Yoshida.

Gotou makes clear that no matter how hard or respectable Sayu is, a high school girl cannot escape the high-school girl label, so it’s best to use it to her benefit rather than detriment. Sayu admits that in the process of running she was probably looking for someone to tell her not to run away.

Before Yoshida, the men she let use her body in exchange for a place to stay were only enabling her. “Something inside me just went crazy”, and she couldn’t deny that, at times,  when they wanted her it made her feel good. Then she met Yoshida, who not only didn’t do anything to her, but said he’d set her straight.

Gotou may not have Sayu’s sexual experience, but she’s still a woman who was a teenager and knows how hard it was and is. So shetells Sayu she’s glad she found somewhere safe, and because she knows and trusts Yoshida, she thinks it’s fine to let him be nice to her…as long as it’s the right way.

Sayu knows she shouldn’t run from her past forever, and resolves to face it, leave Yoshida’s, and “go back to where I was”. But Gotou, gathering Sayu into a supportive hug, makes clear she should take her time facing what she needs to face, while accepting the kindness she needs to accept.

It’s such a staggeringly lovely and understated scene of empathy and sisterhood, with superb voice performances from Ichinose Kana and Kanemoto Hisato, it makes what goes on with Yoshida in the meantime that much more disappointing. Because he happens to run into Yuzuha…who has been stalking him and Gotou all night. Yikes!

It’s the first time on this show I didn’t quite buy a character’s behavior. After inviting herself to go shopping with Yoshida, she makes a scene at the station as if Yoshida were two-timing her. While she initially accepted that Sayu was living with him, she deems it “weird” for him to let Gotou and Sayu in the same room on a night she thought he and Gotou were spending the night.

While Yoshida could have cleared up matters rather quickly by simply telling Yuzuha that Gotou wanted to meet Sayu, and that was the sum total reason she went to Yoshida’s place, the fact remains Yuzuha is reacting to a situation she knows far too little abhout to make judgments.

Especially when she questions Yoshida’s “priorities” and doubts whether he actually loves Gotou, she seems motivated by her own jealous rather than genuine concern for him or Sayu. She is right about one thing, however: Yoshida is far too nice…in not more forcefully telling her off!

Before Yoshida returns home, Gotou makes clear to Sayu that she loves Yoshida and isn’t interested in anyone else, while Sayu confirms that Yoshida loves Gotou. Sayu is frustrated by Gotou’s “mysterious woman” act but still offers her blessing. Then Gotou puts some makeup on Sayu, partly so Sayu can feel better after her little cry, and partly to mess with Yoshida when he comes home.

Yoshida walks Gotou home, and learns that she and Sayu have a “hotline” if he tries anything. But Gotou is impressed by Sayu, whom she regards a a great girl. Yes, she’s a little unstable and “doesn’t understand herself at all”—but she’s a teenager, what else is new?—but she thinks it will all work out. After all, Yoshida is known by the bosses at work as the “problem-solver.”

With Gotou making clear her true feelings for Yoshida, it’s lookig likelier than ever that neither Yuzuha nor Sayu have a chance, should the latter end up truly falling for him. As for the introduction of a young man who works at the konbini with Asami , I’m desperately hoping he doesn’t turn out to be one of the men Sayu stayed with.

Rating: 4/5 Stars