Girl Friend BETA – 07

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After careful deliberation and due to impending scheduling conflicts, I’ve decided that this will most likely be my last review of Girl Friend BETA, though I’ll still be watching it. Coincidentally, this last episode I’ll review is about an ending…the ending to Natsume’s novel about a kooky collection of ridiculous characters who save the world that she’s been working on since elementary school.

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I must say, this story hits very close to home, as I myself have written a novel and, related to a lot of Natsume’s troubles, including hitting backspace again and again! I had the hardest time finishing it, and ended up resorting to the same strategy that Natsume’s friends recommend: setting deadlines. I also created a rough outline of how the story was to end, giving a basic framework for the novel that I could tweak as I filled in the details. Granted, my novel didn’t have anthropomorphic dogs, monkey bartenders, or drunk cyborgs!

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Natsume first confesses her writer’s block to library assistant Fumio, who reads it and really wants to know how it ends. She then accidentally shares it with four other girls (Chloe, Erena, Chizuru, and Emi, if you were wondering) who all gather ’round Natsume to urge Natsume to finish it.

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The five seek to aid Natsume by researching the nature of her characters, and end up wrangling four more girls into the operation (Isuki, Tsugumi, Yuzuki, and Miss Monochrome) This follows the Girl Friend BETA formula of solving a problem with an ever-increasing, dizzying array of colorful characters, some we’ve seen before, others we haven’t.

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It’s all quite a bit of attention and pressure placed on Natsume, but as the other girls continue contributing their assistance and support, Natsume finds she’s stopped hitting backspace all the time; the block is lifted, and she has an idea how to end it!

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Again, I have felt the joy of that “Eureka Mode” before, where the words just pour out of your hands and onto the laptop, to the point you don’t stop even if it’s well past the time you’re usually asleep. I have yet to replicate the awesome feeling one gets the moment the final words hit the page.

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Natsume’s is an ending everyone ends up loving, for different reasons. But it’s a bittersweet moment, because she had had so much fun living in the world she was creating. She’s arrived at the destination in tears, knowing the journey she loved so much is over. But hey, that’s what sequels are for, and she promptly starts work on a continuation of her story.

This was another nice little episode in a show that’s full of them. GF Beta is definitely doing something no other show is doing, and for that reason I’ll keep watching. It’s great “comfort food.”

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Girl Friend BETA – 06

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This week, a cafeteria out of sweet potatoes, a half-overheard conversation on the stairwell, and a curious passage in a 30-year-old yearbook lead to a cascading confluence of green-skirted first-years. Now that’s random!

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First-year go-getter and light music club member Asahina Momoko is afraid the second-years Kurokawa and Kazemachi think she’s a rude pain for being so casual with them, as it’s poor etiquette in Japanese schools for the underclassmen to be too familiar with their senpais. Momo’s friend Hazuki Yuzuko is swept up in her efforts to mend fences, which leads to the fourth wall-breaking shot above.

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Momoko’s goals cross with occult club member Amari Akari and curiously star-eyed Miyauchi Nozomi, who are trying to figure out the cryptic yearbook message, which seems to relate to re-forging connections and something red-clothed in a golden field. Two more freshmen hear of the investigation and they set to work.

In the end, Momoka’s first mishap of the day, waiting in line for sweet potatoes only for them to be sold out when she got to the counter, turns out to be the answer that both solves the yearbook mystery and help her apologize to her senpais, and that’s with a big basket of sweet potatoes under a tree.

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At least, it’s the answer they go with; the true meaning of the passage remains unclear. But Momoka had no cause to worry to begin with, as she left before hearing the rest of the second-years’ talk, which allowed for casual interactions between firsts and seconds in the light music club, where cohesion is so important.

While not quite as good as the study group or cafeteria episodes, this GF BETA continued the show’s ability to draw from its vast collection of disparate personalities to tell unique, detailed, and ultimately charming stories.

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Girl Friend BETA – 05

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This week’s delicious episode of Girl Friend BETA centers on an entirely new set of students, namely the school’s student council, led by President Amatsu Kanata and Vice President Shinomiya Risa (Hikasa Yoko). The schools in a rather unusual pickle: with the entire cafeteria staff stuck on Easter Island, the cafeteria finds itself stocked with food, but no one to cook, order, or serve. President Amatsu decides the StuCo will take up the challenge and cook for the school in the staff’s stead.

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Amatsu is notorious among the council members below her for being terrible at absolutely everything except making tea, which she’s almost preternaturally good at. She’s also good at suggesting ideas that require an immense amount of work, the bulk of which ends up being done by Shinomiya and the other members, because Amatsu can’t do anything properly and ends up creating more work than had she not lifted a finger at all. But again, when the first morning of training is over, she makes everyone a fantastic cuppa.

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Do not watch this episode on an empty stomach! Between the curry and rice, meat and potatoes, tonkatsu, freshly-made yakisoba bread, udon, and “random” designer bentos, there’s a lot to make one’s mouth water. I for one love cooking, and the episode does a good job showing just how Herculean a task running the cafeteria can be…especially when word gets out the council is kicking ass in there and the number of customers increases.

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Throughout it all, Risa is essentially a very hands-on Executive Chef, handling several orders at a time and keeping the rest of the kitchen running smoothly while making sure Amatsu doesn’t serve anyone raw chicken. At one point when the orders pile up, Risa starts to think she’s in over her head and screams out for help. Amatsu is there in the break room with the perfect cup of Chamomile with honey to calm her nerves.

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And that’s what makes Amatsu the X-factor in the whole operation: Sure, she’s terrible at cooking, recommends dishes that aren’t on the menu, and is generally a nuisance, but the phenomenal tea actually makes a big difference for the makeshift staff throughout the episode; she almost serves as their White Mage. But it’s not just about the tea: Amatsu knows how to rally her troops, set lofty goals, bring out the best in everyone, including Risa, and never ever lose heart. That’s what makes Amatsu a good leader. It’s not really a mystery why she’s the president.

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Girl Friend BETA – 04

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GF Beta is a pleasant, ultra-lightweight show, but it’s also oddly ambitious; never more so than this week. Cutting us loose in a universe of roughly fourteen million characters, it appears to clearly favor quantity over quality. And yet, there’s still a quality about that quantity; with such a big, diverse cast, the possibilities for storytelling are almost endless. So far, despite pretty much switching up the order and hierarchy of the focus cast each week, its fresh stories have consistently held my interest.

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Our “anchor” this week is the school radio emcee Sakurai Akane (Satou Rina, who also voices Misaka in Railgun), who finds Shiranui Isuzu (Yuuki Aoi, also Madoka in Madoka) looking over five abandoned kittens. She decides to help Isuzu find them homes, but the students who volunteer need to get good midterm grades to earn their new pets. This is a collection of students whose lives are already packed with extracurricular activities, jobs, and housework; so their grades suffer accordingly. Only the night before do they manage to arrange an all-night study session; Isuzu offers her sprawling home to host it.

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That night, the girls do, well…pretty much everything but study. They’e in awe of their classy traditional surroundings, spend lots of time on introductions, cook dinner, go out to buy snacks, get stuck in the rain, go to a bath house, and return to Isuzu’s home to tell ghost stories.

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When Isuzu comes in to see what the screaming is about, they see the cat on her obi and are reminded of why they’re really there: For the Kittens. The studying then commences in earnest. The night is a fine depiction of the myriad forms of procrastination that can transpire in such scenarios. There’s an epic quality to it that often accompanies all-night scenes where a deadline is nigh.

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The study session proves to be more than just a means of raising the girls’ scores to win kittens (which they do); the group also gained friendships (including the shy Isuzu), and making friends (or exploring why people are friends) is what this show is all about. And everyone was united by Akane, who, wishing to help both the kittens and Isuzu, made the radio announcement.

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Girl Friend BETA – 03

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Oddly enough, we begin with Murakami Fumio examining a book of nudes by “Gilbert Royal Thorpe,” who Fumio knows is her friend Mochizuki Erena’s favorite photographer. Those who know Fumio are a bit surprised Fumio is friends with someone like Erena, and Erena’s friends are surprised she’s friends with Fumio. After all, the energetic, gregarious, impulsive Erena and the solitary, quiet, bookish Fumio look on the surface like complete opposites.

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In this case, opposites attract, as we go back and learn precisely why Fumio and Erena aren’t just friends, but good friends at that. It all started when an initial encounter on the subway got Erena to notice Fumio, who tends to keep to herself and read. Erena, a photog-in-training, is enchanted by Fumio’s quiet good looks, and appoints her as her muse.

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Erena asks Fumio to be her model for an upcoming contest, but Fumio never really gets a clear response out, and gets caught up in Erena’s rhythm. This could be construed as a form of stalking and voyeurism if it wasn’t being done by the innocent, well-meaning Erena, who’s oblivious to the possibility Fumio has something to say but just can’t say it. The communication logjam gets so back, Fumio ends up smacking Erena’s camera away and the wrong words come out.

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Things are a little awkward for a while, and Erena considers giving up on the contest  now that her muse has rejected her. But when she invites Fumio on a cake date, the truth comes out: it isn’t that Fumio didn’t want to be her model; it’s that she thought she wouldn’t be good enough, since she’s always seen herself as plain, inexpressive, cool. All Erena has to do is show her a photo she took just a moment ago to see how wrong she is. Erena isn’t interested in fake smiles or poses, but genuine, candid emotion.

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Wait…there are GUYS in this school?!

Fumio has more of that than she ever imagined, and Erena was the one who helped her clear up a misconception about herself. Fumio changes her mind about being her model, and Erena ends up wining the contest. And because the rest of the school sees a warm and joyful side of Fumio they’d never seen before, she ends up meeting more friends as a result. This isn’t exceedingly complex stuff, but it hit some solid emotional notes about art, inspiration, and friendship that resonated with me.

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Girl Friend BETA – 02

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This episode is all about Kokomi’s anxiety about gaining weight as the day of her gymnastics competition approaches. Interestingly, all her conversations and even a question from the teacher all seem to be related to “weight” or “reaping what you sow.”

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As Kokomi mills around school enduring this kind of talk, Chloe is in a not-so-heated debate with Fumio on a wide range of issues, from fried chicken to the trends of Japanese teenagers.

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Kokomi ends up in the equivalent of the Dieting Club when they learn she’s interested in losing weight, and they start running and exercising furiously throughout the afternoon.

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Their plan backfires when they’re presented with a large supply of hi-calorie, hi-carb melon buns (Kokomi’s favorite) as thanks for Kokomi being on the radio show, under the mistaken impression the other girls are helping her train for the competition, not lose weight. The girls cannot resist the buns and eat many of them. I would have, those buns look goood.

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Kokomi goes to often-sleepy model Miyoshi Nao, who has never dieted herself but knows everything there is to know, and picks her brain, learning what she should have known all along: her weight gain was due to putting on muscle, not fat. The resulting plan involves balanced nutrition – no starving oneself. Kokomi ends up taking first at the prelims.

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When their classmates learn that Nao was Kokomi’s secret weapon, they all reach out to her, hoping she can help them, too. Since Nao admired Kokomi’s ability to make friends with girls outside her class and grade, Kokomi’s success ended up making Nao a lot more popular, and gave her the opportunity to talk with more girls. So everybody wins!

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Girl Friend BETA – 01

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With my schedule pretty much set at five shows plus one short, Girl Friend BETA was the last Fall show on my preliminary watchlist to check out, and, well, I’ll give it this: it’s a lot different from everything else I’m watching. By far, it is the most “slice-of-life-y” slice-of-lifes I’ve encountered this season, with very little in the way of conflict.

It’s just a typical school day from start to finish for Shiina Kokomi, member of the rhythmic gymnastics team. Ironically, she can’t get into a rhythm during morning practice because she is continually encountering other characters who want to have a word with her. During one of these conversations, the French exchange student Chloe drops a family photo, and it becomes Kokomi’s mission to track her down and return it to her before the day is out, or the world will end.

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Well, the world won’t really end, it will just be a minor convenience. Still, in her epic search for Chloe, Kokomi canvasses literally dozens of characters throughout the school. Like the mobile game it’s based on, this show is packed with characters and many well-known seiyus, leaving me to wonder if the point of said game is to “collect ’em all.”

The separation between “girl” and “friend” in the official show’s logo also suggests this is more about making friends who are girls than having girlfriends, at least so far—though one such girl does make Kokomi blush, and when she finally finds Chloe and returns the photo, she gets a kiss, though Chloe’s French, so it’s not meant to be romantic. I actually like how Chloe’s seiyu tries to replicate someone for which Japanese is not their first language, though the effort is somewhat undercut by bad French.

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Girl Friend BETA is kinda like Oberto Beef Jerky: You get out…what you put in. Many of Kokomi’s conversations feel a bit stiff and formulaic, and the sheer volume of characters can be daunting, especially in a season full of shows with large casts to keep track of. Still, there’s nothing particularly awful or offensive about Girl Friend BETA, and has the makings of a passable “rest” show to spool up whenever you just want to turn your brain off and simply enjoy a school slice of life.

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