Ore Monogatari!! – 24 (Fin)

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All good things must come to an end, whether it’s the most charming and engaging romance in recent memory, or a lovely but ultimately dead-end relationship between two incompatible people. Yes, that’s right, kids, this also marks the end of Rinko+Takeo, as Ichinose swoops in, sweeps Rinko off her feet, places her on a bed of maringue, and drizzles caramel sauce on her.

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…PSYCH! They remain a couple to the end. Ichinose is unsuccessful in stealing her away, despite his firm believe that A.) Rinko is his muse, and B.) he’s a better fit for her. Takeo, as usual, is a worrywort who finds it necessary to prepare for a life without Rinko should Ichinose succeed, as dense to the depths of Rinko’s love as Rinko is of Ichinose’s feeling.

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Even though we knew there was no way in hell this couple would break up in the last episode, it still managed to maintain a respectable tension, as we basically absorbed Takeo’s anxiety. But despite his worrying, he puts up a brave front, and doesn’t despise Ichinose. In fact, for all their differences, he can relate to him simply because he too likes Rinko. Suna, meanwhile, is just glad to see these new sides of Takeo; it means he’s growing as a man.

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Takeo also suspects, quite correctly, Rinko has no clue about Ichinose’s feelings, but is simply helping him out because she’s a good person, because he asked, and because she loves cakes. When Ichinose forgets his tools (no doubt distracted by Rinko), Takeo has no problem answering the call and bringing them with his superhuman speed. And as he watches Ichinose work, Takeo is rooting for him to win. He can win the pastry competition; Takeo is simply hoping he’ll lose the competition for Rinko’s heart.

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Ichinose himself can’t help but regard Takeo as a good man too, even if he feels he’s the better match for Rinko. It’s a great dynamic, with no one overtly evil or villainous or ridiculous. Even Ichinose’s extreme bluntness in his intentions as expressed to Takeo and Suna make sense, considering Ichi is a far better pastry person than people person.

He wins the Gold with a pastry containing all of the same qualities as Rinko, even naming it after her before confessing his love and asking her out—in front of Takeo and Suna, no less!

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Rinko is shocked and taken completely by surprise, but it doesn’t take long for her to formulate her response: She’s fine helping him out at the pastry shop, but she’s no muse, and her heart belongs to Takeo, as it has always belonged since she first laid eyes on the big lug. All of Takeo’s anxiety washes away in the warmth of that pronouncement, and shortly afterwards, Takeo gives her a big ol’ hug and does something he’s been working hard to do since they became a couple: call her Rinko.

Appropriately, it’s as big a deal for her to hear him say her first name as it is for him to say it, so when Takeo promises he’ll learn to use it more casually, I was also thinking Rinko would, at the same time, learn to hear it without her heart melting into goo.

An there you have it, peeps: My Love Story!! (Well, not mine…theirs). It has been quite a fun ride, and I’m not exaggerating when I say I’ll dearly miss this day-brightening, mold-breaking show, which is the first this Summer to have the good sense and manners to thank the audience for watching at the very end! Trust me, show: the pleasure was all ours.

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Ore Monogatari!! – 23

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Quite unexpectedly, we enter the penultimate episode of this lovely series with the most profound and troubling dilemma yet to face the lovely couple of Takeo and Yamato. The former has encouraged the latter to work part-time at her favorite patisserie, Les Cerises. In the process, he may have just handed his girlfriend over to a superior potential mate. At least, that’s the feeling he gets once he learns that the young, up-and-coming patissier, Ichinose, is on first-name basis with “Rinko.”

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At first, Takeo is intent on being happy and supportive of Yamato as she pursues her passion; a craft she’s very good at but until now hasn’t gotten professional exposure to. It’s also a craft Takeo doesn’t share with her, and it isn’t even something he can talk with her that much about. Ichinose can, and he’s able to dazzle Yamato in ways Takeo can not: with his pastry expertise.

That lack of a shared passion (ignoring their passion for each other) combined with the ease with which Ichinose calls Yamato Rinko (and the difficulty Takeo has even thinking about doing the same) combine to create a profound inferiority in Takeo, as he watches things unfold from afar without fully understanding the full context…nor the fact that Yamato may not actually like Ichinose that way, despite her respect and admiration for his mad skillz.

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While Takeo considers that Yamato could well be falling for Ichinose, Suna all but confirms Ichinose is falling for Yamato, judging from his careful analysis of Ichinose’s stare.

As abruptly as Ichinose enters the Ore Monogatari!! world, he’s still given a fair hearing and development all his own. He’s a talented fellow, but up to this point been a bit of a lone wolf lacking a certain…something that deprived his work of warmth and love. The more time he spends with Yamato, the more he comes to think of her as his muse.

So when Takeo comes by the shop and Ichinose learns he’s Yamato’s boyfriend, I can understand, considering his inexperience in dealing with such matters, why Ichinose is so curt and abrupt in running up to Takeo and demanding he break up with Yamato immediately, as he sees himself as the better fit. And Takeo understands too.

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Takeo put Yamato in the position to meet someone who might be better for her, and he can’t dismiss that possibility out of hand. It’s pretty devastating how effectively and succinctly Ichinose wraps up Takeo and Yamato’s unlikely relationship, even if he’s oversimplifying and underestimating the depth of Yamato’s love for Takeo.

It’s not a coincidence that right after Takeo concedes that “there may be others who are better” for Yamato out there, that we cut to someone who’s been tossed around by the show as someone who may be better for him in Suna’s big sister Ai, who may even understand him more than Suna. Takeo’s greatest strength, throughout his life and the show, has been putting others before himself, to make those others happy.

This week we see why that’s a weakness, as he puts himself and Yamato in a pretty good position to destory everything they’ve built these last twenty-odd episodes. But again, that’s only if we take Takeo’s inferiority and Ichinose’s desires as the law of the land. While things are in a precarious position, we have yet to hear how Yamato—no, Rinko—feels about things. And I wouldn’t be surprised she has no intention of switching boyfriends.

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Ore Monogatari!! – 22

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YAY! It’s Suna and Yukika’s time to shine! It’s their turn for falling into love and floating around on a cloud like Takeo and Yamato! It’s time for Yukika to create a new PURAIMUTAIMU to replace the one from Kindergarten! They go to the zoo with the show’s lead couple, and both seem to enjoy themselves. We’re headed towards a foregone conclusion, right?!

Well…not so fast, there.

Yes, they do have a good time at the zoo; initially Yukika talk to Suna or even be too close to him without becoming paralyzed, but when the other couple encourages her to make some memories, she pipes up, gets them into an animal trivia competition, and singlehandedly wins it, but only because they were counted as a couple when Suna takes her hand. It all looks very fun and pleasant and awkward in all the ways first dates can be.

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But the problem isn’t whether they had fun; it’s a matter of magnitude. Suna had a nice enough time; he didn’t not enjoy himself. But from Yukika’s perspective, it was categorically THE HAPPIEST DAY OF HER LIFE. It’s the same with how they feel about each other: Suna doesn’t dislike Yukika, but Suna is the love of Yukika’s life and has been for most of her conscious life.

She’s placed him on so high a pedestal that his comparative wishy-washiness actually ends up hurting her. Last week I entertained the possibility Suna actually liked Yukika, but she didn’t let him finish his sentence, but in the absense of further evidence, we have to conclude he doesn’t like her enough. As much as we may want it to work out, and for Suna to finally start dating a nice girl, it’s just not going to work.

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Soon Yukika becomes unable to continue working towards something she can’t imagine ever working out, due to that magnitude problem, and resolves to cut herself off from not only Suna, but Takeo and Yamato, cold turkey. This is an obvious overreaction,but an understandable one considering where she’s coming from socially (there’s a reason she’s so good at zoo trivia; she spends much of her time reading). What I like is that Takeo and Yamato don’t try to force the issue or over-meddle, they just give Yukika the opportunity to reassess her next move.

In the end, she too thinks severing all ties with the three others would be too sad, and Suna meets with her to give her a gift for her ten years of chocolates, and they reach a kind of closure, agreeing to remain friends. I appreciate the show didn’t try to hard to force Suna into what in hindsight was a pretty long-shot relationship. Suna is, despite his forelorn appearance and lack of girlfriend, actually a pretty content fellow, and it would take a much more powerful romantic spark than the one Yukika was capable of mustering to convince him to leave that place of contentment and try something new.

And so it is with a sense of logical resignation we consign Yukika to Ore Monogatari!!’s roster of “Losers”, joining Saijou and Ai and underlining that sometimes even when conditions are right things don’t always work out as perfectly as they did for our lead couple.

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Ore Monogatari!! – 21

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For White Day, Takeo gives Yamato cookies he baked. You heard that right: gives her cookies he baked. And while he’s his own toughest critic on said cookies, the fact that they even exist bowls Yamato over; she declares them too precious to eat—and meaning it—but still takes a bite and is delighted with them. Finally, Takeo gets to experience what she’s been able to since they met: watch someone he loves enjoying something he made.

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The Valentines/White Day proceedings were an effective and logical segue to the next arc, “Find Love For Suna.” Turns out there was no one to find; someone was watching him and circling him from afar all along, becoming a little bolder every year, especially after Valentines, and possibly borne out of the knowledge she’s running out of school years to follow Suna. This girl, Amami Yukika comes close enough that she enters Takeo’s keen “follower radar”, misjudging her as someone with malevolent intentions, then rescuing her letter from the river.

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If any show can make a stalker girl sympathetic, it’s Ore Monogatari!!, as well as the talented voice of Kayano Ai, who gives Amami the right blend of delicate femininity and forthright determination. Judging from Suna’s photo album, Amami has literally been in the background of Suna and Takeo’s lives since kindergarten when she fell for him when him after he saved her from a thrown dodgeball. The trouble is, she hasn’t made any moves to get him to acknowledge her (all her Valentines letters were anonymous), so she hasn’t been acknowledged.

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“Takeo Cupid” wants to help in any way he can, but he also realizes it’s Amami who will have to do the heavy lifting like, you know, talking to Suna. All she really needs is a push…or rather, several pushes, as she’s so overwhelmed by suddenly being in the foreground with Suna (rather than watching him from afar) it’s hard to breathe, let alone talk. Still, when he not only refers to her by name but the fact he’s known of her existence since kindergarten, she confesses her love to him right there in the street, with Takeo looking on. Then she runs.

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This is where a second nudge by Takeo is needed. He brings her back to Suna (who almost seemed to be waiting for them), where she tells him she wants him to watch her and learn more about her before he gives her his response. I thought this was overly cautious on her part, since it wasn’t completely outside the realm of possibility he’d say “sure, let’s go out.” Suna isn’t opposed to going out with girls, just girls who talk shit about Takeo.

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They exchange cell numbers, and an initial bond is formed, to my relief. But Amami needs a couple more nudges, as she finds it hard to break out of her usual routine of stalking-kinda-not-stalking. Takeo sends Suna off to walk her home, but she still can’t talk, so Takeo then brings in Yamato for a female perspective on the thing. She shares her experience having difficulty making moves toward a relationship, but as we’ve seen the benefits of making those moves have been more than worth the stress involved.

Ultimately, they determine the best way forward is for Amami, Suna, Takeo and Yamato to do a double date, in this case to the zoo, which Suna promptly agrees to. Takeo tells him he doesn’t have to, but Suna knows that, and wouldn’t say he’s going if he didn’t want to. That doesn’t mean he’s going to say straight-up “Yes, I want to go on a double date with Amami to see if it will work out because she seems like a genuinely good person and possibly a good match as well.”

Even if asked directly, he won’t answer that directly, but the seeming lack of enthusiasm can’t be taken as an actual lack of it. I imagine he’s just as interested to see where this goes as Takeo, Yamato…and me. Lord knows Suna has demonstrated throughout the show that he deserves a good woman, and not just because he’s good-looking.

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Ore Monogatari!! – 20

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In a show full of romantic firsts, it’s pretty amazing OreMono!! has kept the Valentine’s Day/Chocolate episode in its back pocket…where one would assume it would melt! But here it finally is, with only four more episodes to go, and I think holding out was a good move, what with Takeo and Rinko so well-established as a loving couple.

I like how once more Takeo’s secondary friends come to him looking for help by having a group Valentines Day with Yamato’s friends. Suna, ever the stalwart best mate, deflects them, saying they had their fun for Christmas (and one of them, Osamu, even ended up dating one of the girls).

Even better, while Takeo appreciates Suna standing up for his right to be alone with Yamato, the truth is he doesn’t mind making it a group thing at all, nor does Yamato, for they are always looking for ways to spread the love they already have in droves for each other. Suna calls him a “do-gooder”, but c’mon now…so is he.

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Yamato is also eager to spread her wide knowledge of baking chocolate-making with her girlfriends (including Nanako, who wants to make something for Osamu) while working on a secret side-project specially for Takeo. It’s great to see both the boys looking so forward to getting chocolate while the girls look forward to giving it.

Valentine’s Day arrives, and we’re reminded how popular Suna is with the ladies when a small avalanche of chocolate pours out of his locker. Takeo asks a question on my mind as well—what does he do with it all—and he simply says he accepts it, gives reciprocating gifts on White Day to those who gave him their names…and that’s it. As much as Takeo may want his buddy to find love, no one has “clicked” for Suna the way Rinko clicked with him. That many of the girls who pursued Suna talked ill of Takeo behind his back surely contributed to that lack of clicking.

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The after-school Valentine’s Day group date goes swimmingly, with the guys convincing the girls to distribute the chocolates they made as if they were giving them to guys they liked. Each successive group event has had the girls gravitating less towards Suna alone and more evenly to the other guys. In a perfect world, each girl would click with each boy like Rinko x Takeo and Nanako x Osamu, but for now they’re content to exchange contact info and hang out sometime even without Takeo or Rinko around. Progress!

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But Takeo is confused—stunned, really—when Rinko suddenly says she’s in a hurry and scurries off. He’s so shocked he can’t quite walk in a straight line and mistakes a vending machine for his front door, because he expected to get chocolate from the girl he liked, for the first time…and didn’t.

Now, I was pretty sure, with so much time left, Rinko was “busy” getting Takeo’s chocolate. Then Takeo remembers two things: she actually did give him cookies at the cafe, and he simply neglected to savor them; and she spoke with great longing for fancy expensive chocolates.

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Takeo then decides to make up for the fact he didn’t properly enjoy Yamato’s chocolate buy buying her the chocolate she said she wanted, a nice subversion of the whole “Girls give on Valentines/Guys give on White Day” system.

But on his way out—and thank GOD Rinko was a safe distance from the outward-swinging door, or she would have been launched off the balcony—she’s standing out there with the biggest, prettiest chocolate dessert she’s ever made for Takeo.

And while they don’t end up locking lips, Takeo does send one hell of an air kiss off his balcony to Rinko, who catches it with giddy elation.

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So all in all, it’s a great Valentine’s for Takeo. The next day, he gets one more surprise (as do we!) when a very pleased-looking Mariya presents both him and Suna with obligation chocolate, a day after Valentines out of respect for Rinko. After she takes her leave Suna says she’s a good person, and that people who fall for Takeo—his sister, Rinko, Mariya—tend to be good people.

That gets Takeo thinking that a good person is what Suna needs, not just some fangirl who thinks it’s cool to talk shit about his friend. And as they shuffle off to class, someone who is potentially another one of those good people watches them go from around the corner…a silver-haired girl who must’ve given Suna chocolates. Could love finally be on the horizon for our boy Suna? I’d be down for that!

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Ore Monogatari!! – 19

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For most of the run of this tremendously touching and often uproariously funny show, Gouda Takeo has been portrayed as both a mensch (a person of honor and integrity) and an Übermensch (a goal for humanity to set for itself, given form). Yamato certainly sees him as a virtually flawless mate.

Yet when Yamato gets to sit with Takeo’s tough (and very pregnant) mom Yuriko, she—and we—get an entirely new perspective on Takeo. His mom still sees him as a little kid who will run out in the street and get killed if you don’t stop him. She’s also pretty confident Takeo is a wimp, in that he, like his father, worries about her too much.

Yuriko is basically handing her grown son on to another woman so she can care for him. She’s teaching Yamato a valuable lesson that she already intrinsically understands: Takeo is tough and strong about some things, but not definitely not everything. That’s where she comes in: just as his mom did, Yamato needs to protect him.

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In Takeo’s cool dad’s flashback, we see that Yuriko has always been tough and selfless, putting herself in danger to spare others pain, a big part of being a mom. Those qualities made her future husband fall for her right then and there. Yuriko isn’t overestimating her abilities when she keeps a fellow pregnant woman from falling down steps, she’s acting reflexively.

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Yet the rescue ends up hurting Yuriko, and when Takeo has to get her in a cab to go to the hospital, we see the weakness she still sees in her boy: he kinda falls apart. It’s thanks to Suna that things don’t get worse. Takeo may be great at saving strangers, but when it’s his mom, who he’s always seen as an invincible, indomitable force of nature, in trouble, his worry overwhelms him and prevents quick and rational decisions.

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When we see Yamato during these trying times for Takeo, she’s never frowning or outwardly worried, but has her usual cheerful, glowing smile. She goes to Takeo’s and cooks dinner for him. She comforts him with a simple touch of his arm, like a magical girl. She takes care of him, in a preview for how things will be for the formal hand-off (i.e. marriage one day). Yamato may be much twee-er than Takeo’s mom, but she shows she’s just as tough and able to protect Takeo.

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Witnessing these strong women around him inspires Takeo to pull himself together. When his mom gives the wheelchair meant for her to another mother going into labor, Takeo picks his mom up and carries her to the delivery room, surprising her. It’s a gesture that makes her realize he’s not a dumb little kid anymore; he has grown up a little, and he’ll keep growing up into a good man, a good big brother, and if all goes well with Yamato, a good husband and father as well. I’m sure as hell pullin’ for him!

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Ore Monogatari!! – 18

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Ore Monogatari!! isn’t one to stray too far from its main couple for too long, so it’s back to the Rinko x Takeo Show this week, and as expected, Nanako and Kurihara’s quick first kiss puts pressure on the two, if for no other reason than kissing is now on their minds. Takeo is content to wait until the “autumn of his third year” of high school, but Rinko wants it to happen sooner. A lot sooner. Like, New Year’s, which is the day after she asks Suna and Ai for advice. Which is also Takeo’s sixteenth birthday.

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This is one of those episodes that brings up a certain fact about a couple—like, for instance, how they haven’t kissed yet, at least while both parties were awake—and thus commits to giving the audience some payoff. That is to say, if this episode had ended with no kiss, due to whatever circumstances (and early obstacles like Takeo’s prying mom or Takeo’s horde of childhood friends), that audience, i.e. me, would have been most displeased. I want mah damn kiss, yo.

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So I was a bit tense about the couple’s day together—right up to the moment Rinko shifted over to where Takeo is sitting and planted a kiss on him while his eyes are closed for his birthday wish. HOWEVA, it seems like Takeo didn’t notice the kiss at all, which makes sense: he’s a bit dude with big lips; if you want to kiss him, you’ve got to go all out. So, would Rinko’s little closed-eyes peck be all we get this week, after Rinko promised Takeo she’d give him a birthday he “wouldn’t forget”?

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I suspected not, since the episode still had a bit of time, and I seriously doubted it would cut away to Ai or Nanako x Kurihara at a time like this. Instead, as Takeo describes his birthday with Rinko in detail to Suna, his description of the “bug” that landed on his lips as he wished is the tidbit Suna needs to set him straight. Ashamed he didn’t recognize Rinko’s kiss for what it was (and remembering her body language throughout), Takeo goes to Rinko’s place to make things right.

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And then, without too much fuss, the two kiss, for real, for a long time, in the snowy night. We got the payoff, thank God. Yes, Takeo is comically taller and bigger than Rinko, but that doesn’t matter in this moment, just as it’s never mattered throughout the show’s run. These are two hearts beating as one. They’ve shed their embarrassment and misunderstandings in the past, and they do so here as well, thus progressing to the next level in their relationship: the post-first-kiss period.

Next up: the second kiss! A couple’s work is never done.

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Ore Monogatari!! – 17

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With Takeo and Rinko’s relationship secure (as if there was going to be any doubt) after the Mariya Incursion, and Christmas approaching, Rinko asks Takeo if it would be okay to celebrate with her friends and his friends, and he’s find with it. After all, they’re on cloud nine, and they’re united in their desire to spread the love and happiness; paying it forward, if you will. And with one of each of their friends, Nanako and Kurihara, at the dating ten-yard line, they want to do everything they can to help.

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They end up doing just that…and it’s just too much. Combined with their own usual lovey-dovey behavior towards each other, Rinko and Takeo carefully set everything up so Nanako and Kurihara are together, and it puts a lot of pressure on both of them. Kurihara deals with that pressure by doing a lot of nervous laughing and joking, while Nanako seems to coil up into a ball of irritation, not to mention confusion over Kurihara’s words and gestures and the meaning behind them.

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She finally just leaves the karaoke booth, and as Rinko chases after her, a trio of roughs start bothering them. Kurihara does the practical thing: when he sees what happens, he runs off to get Takeo (who intimidated these same roughs in the cold open without even trying or, indeed, knowing they existed). But that makes Nanako even madder; why couldn’t he rescue her himself? She continues fleeing, and when Rinko tries to follow, she snaps at her that not everyone can be like her and Takeo.

It’s a bit harsh, but it’s also true, and Takeo and Rinko know it. They came together naturally without overt outside assistance (they both recall Suna simply sitting back and quietly supporting/rooting for them without getting too hands-on. Yet again, watching a secondary relationship in the making helps this couple grow.

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Kurihara decides to be a man and make up for his misstep with the roughs by performing a feat of manliness: climbing the giant Christmas tree to the top to grab an ornament that, it is said, will help you get the person you like to go out with you. Obviously there’s no real power in the thing; it’s just a totem, but the gesture of getting it (as Takeo spots and ultimately catches Kurihara when he falls) and the feelings behind it are what move Nanako, who returns when Rinko tells her what Kurihara’s doing. The two have a very public mutual confession, to the delight of all around them, especially Takeo and Rinko. It happened, without them having to push too hard, or at all. They just had to let it.

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The aftermath to this is fantastic, with Kurihara and Nanako starting to act totally differently, and just as lovey-dovey as Nanako poo-pooed before her own relationship bloomed. Indeed, the lovebirds were holding hands before they were a couple, and literally hours after they became one, already got their first kiss out of the way.

That gets Rinko feeling down, and all of a sudden the tables are turned as now it’s Nanako who will offer advice—but hopefully not do too much—to see to it Rinko gets her first kiss from Takeo. And just like that, we have a fun new couple different from the main one, whose portrait was very quickly and efficiently painted this week. The love is spreading. Soon no one will be safe.

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Ore Monogatari!! – 16

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—”I wonder if I can like someone again.”
—”I’m sure you can.”
—”When?”
—”Eventually.”
—”I’m sick of this! I want to now! But I can’t right now!”

That exchange between a fiercely honest, freshly-heartbroken Saijou Mariya and a savvy, supportive, tissue-providing Suna, says it all: Falling for someone who’s already firmly in love with someone else SUCKS. But it’s also a near-universal feeling we all have at some point in our lives. Even “Nature Is My Master” Takeo felt that way, when he thought Rinko liked Suna and not him.

As such, it’s a near-ubiquitous theme in romance anime. But rarely have I seen it so beautifully—and efficiently!—handled than these last two episodes. Saijou’s arc went by breathlessly quickly, yet still allowed us to get lost in it, in her head, and in all those swirling emotions people in her situation tend to have.

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When she added “…as a person” to her confession to Takeo last week, I knew she actually liked him as a man, you knew she actually liked Takeo as a man, and after a couple periods of class, Suna knew she actually liked Takeo as a man. But Takeo? Forget it. In exchange for all his wonderful qualities, he’s an appallingly oblivious fellow, and that’s okay; I don’t need a perfect protagonist.

But more to the point, he simply trusts Saijou’s words as she spoke them, because he has no reason he knows of not to. He’s convinced he’s not popular with girls…and because neither Ai nor Saijou confessed their love, he has no reason to doubt that assessment of himself, either.

Similarly, Rinko trusts Saijou, and even decides to cultivate a kind of friendship with her, as they find it easy to talk to each other. Rinko is worried about other girls falling for Takeo, but not Saijou, because she said she likes him as a PERSON. That’s enough for Takeo, and it’s enough for Rinko, and neither will be hurt by Saijou continuing this charade indefinitely.

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No, the person who will end up hurt is Saijou herself. When Suna approaches her, she expects to be castigated and comes clean to him: “Yes, I know I’m a cheat, and I’m lying about the extent of my feelings. So what?” She knows the answer: because she’ll never be happy with things like this. At the end of the day, she’s a good person, and isn’t going to try to break anyone up. To her surprise, Suna isn’t concerned with her actions thus far, but rather the emotional toll they’re having on her. He…he cares about her! AS A PERSON!!

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Thanks to Suna, Saijou decides to nip things in the bud. The limbo she’s in is untenable; she has to be honest about her feelings, because Takeo and Rinko will never accuse her of being dishonest. The scene where she finds Takeo alone in the dark classroom, which then fills with gorgeous golden light, is as good a visual metaphor for a weight being lifted as one can ask for. It’s also mighty purty.

Takeo briefly sports an appropriately stunned look, followed by a quick and categorical rejection. But he’s not saying no because he already has a girlfriend; he’s saying it because he loves Rinko with all his heart, for any, all, and no reasons at all. He’s oblivious about a lot of things, but his heart never lets him doubt his love for Rinko for a minute.

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Saijou tells Takeo she wasn’t lying when she said she liked him as a person too, and is able to withdraw with dignity, but once she hits the bench outside, the tears come hard and fast, so it’s good Suna’s there with two(!) boxes of Kleenex to help her through this trying but ultimately necessary time. She fell for the wrong person, but it will pass, and she’ll fall for someone else eventually. Hopefully Suna, AMIRITE!?!

As for Takeo, the sudden realization that there are girls besides Rinko who do like him, make him look upon his constant protestations to the contrary with contempt. All this time he was telling Rinko something he believed was true, but wasn’t. So as soon as Saijou is gone, he runs as fast as he can to Rinko to make everything sparkling clear: it doesn’t matter whether other girls like him or not (sorry Ai!); Rinko is the only girl for him.

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As they walk home hand-in-hand, tears suddenly come to Rinko; tears of happiness, which finally spur Takeo to say “I love you” out loud. Woo! And she says the same. Saijou may have felt like a rival and a possible antagonist last week, but turned out to be neither, but something much, much better: a lifting of the misconception of Takeo’s popularity with girls, a catalyst for the deepening of his relationship with Rinko, and, as we see the next day, a new friend who still wants to call him “master.” Saijou Mariya was another revelation in a show positively stacked with ’em.

Now, start falling for Suna. Immediately.

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Ore Monogatari!! – 15

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I’m not sure I’ve heard the parable about the bear who danced with the girl, but because Rinko likes big things the way Takanashi likes small things, in her version the girl who dances with the bear comes to like said bear. And so it comes to pass, when Takeo takes an athletically ungifted classmate everyone else is miffed about being in the upcoming Swedish relay under his wing. So just as the door seemed to be closed (for the time being) on Ai, it opens on one Saijou Mariya, she of short statue but ample bust.

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Saijou feels like she’s in the way and, like most people, assumes Takeo is mean, scary, and easily upset, when none of the above are the case. Gradually, as she spends more time with Takeo simply being Takeo, you can see the increased affection growing in her eyes, in the many gorgeous close-ups of her normally reserved for Rinko (and to a lesser extent, Ai). Ironically, it’s running from Takeo out of a misplaced sense of fear that motivates Mariya to run her fastest…along with his constant support.

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When the day of the relay arrives, he tells her, quite simply, just run as fast as she can and pass him the baton. Well, once everyone else passes her, she trips and drops that baton, but remembering his directives, she gets back up, keeps running, and passes that sucker off. Then Takeo does his thing and they win by a landslide. Then the kicker: he congratulates her, then asks her if she’s okay from her spill, and BOOM, without even trying, “not popular with girls” Takeo has finished unlocked Mariya’s heart.

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Let me say one thing: I like Mariya, even though she’s Rinko’s new rival. I like her a lot. She’s cute, she’s kind, and in some ways, she’s a lot more normal than the often eccentric Rinko. Not that eccentric is bad; Takeo is eccentric too (so is Suna, for that matter…and Takeo’s parents…and Ai…aw jeez, what have I done?!). But despite the fact she sees Rinko right there, and Takeo introduces her as “my girlfriend” she still has the guts to give him her gift of a towel (his first, somehow!) to him. This is a girl who knows how she feels, and is honest about her feelings, at least in this instance.

Meanwhile, because Rinko has always felt her grip on Takeo was precarious at best due to her own perceived inadequacies, she seeks advice from her girlfriends on how best to fight for Takeo. Despite Takeo’s protests he’s not popular with the girls, Rinko, to her credit, knows what she saw: Mariya danced with the bear, and liked it. (Oh God, that sounds so wrong!) 

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Mariya is also the recipient of some good luck vis-a-vis Takeo. She goes to the same school and is in his class. Even when she nervously mocks his couple background and matching straps (which IS a bit overkill, if not SO overkill)when she runs after him to apologize and trips down the stairs, she ends up in his arms, and after it’s clear the shoulder-leaning is out due to Takeo and Suna’s imposing height, she gets to choose Takeo to ride piggyback on. Suna really tried to do it so Takeo didn’t have to, but Mariya overruled him.

Unfortunately for Rinko, she chose this afternoon to wait outside Takeo’s school, though Takeo doesn’t act guilty, because he isn’t guilty, because he loves Rinko and is just giving Mariya a hand. When he runs straight back to Rinko after his errand, she can’t help but beam with glee. But in the normal universe where high schoolers of the opposite sex aren’t normally so friggin’ nice to each other—like the universe Mariya normally inhabits—Takeo with another girl riding him still looks bad.

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By the way, I’m not considering Mariya’s non-confession legit. She’s not giving up; she’s just decided to play the long game. She only tells Takeo (with Rinko eavesdropping) that she likes him “as a person”, but we know better, since we’re in her head too. Now that she’s allowed to call him “Master”, she has an excuse to stay by his side as his “student”. Rinko has been enjoying a “Pax Gouda” up until now, but love is war, and the battle has begun.

Takeo won’t be easily swayed—had Mariya had confessed for real here, I’m certain he’d have shot her down without hesitation—he does love Rinko deeply. But Mariya knows that, and I hope she’ll apply the same determination to pursuing Takeo as she did preparing for the relay with him.

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Ore Monogatari!! – 14

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Ai tells Hayato in no uncertain terms she’ll never let herself be caught alone with Takeo, and even if she does, she’s not just going to tell him how she feels. When Hayato introduced this plan last week, it seemed like a solid one with the possibility for some great emotional work…and it was, it just didn’t go quite as smoothly as Hayato intended.

But in the meantime, Takeo and Rinko practically lose it at MM Land, both laughing so much their faces hurt. The shot of a clown-like Takeo rendered as if he were part of the carousel triggered similar laughter in me, along with Takeo’s hilarious reactions to the haunted river ride.

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Hayato is a bright guy, so his chess moves end up outmaneuvering Ai, who ends up spending a lot more time alone with Takeo than she bargained for, and it’s at turns awkward and enjoyable, to the point she start to enter into the frame of mind of “well, we’re here…why don’t I tell him?” It doesn’t help matters that Takeo is pretty much his usual awesome self around her, enjoying himself with Ai and helping a lost kid get found.

When he says he doesn’t remember calling Ai a certain flower years ago, Ai is almost off the hook…until Takeo spots the very same flower and tells her if she was a flower, it would be that. This is the reinforcement of a powerful feeling Ai’s had buried in her heart ever since he said those words the first time, but that Takeo’s view of her hasn’t changed a bit even though he’s grown so much speaks volumes to her.

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Even so, she finally tries to confess, but you could say she undone by fate, in the form of the announcement that the Sparkly Parade Takeo and Yamato promised to meet up for is starting. This could have come off as a cheap conceit—doomed by the bell, rather than saved—but to Ai, it’s a fresh chance to forget about telling Takeo, which might well fundamentally change him, and simply be content with what she has.

And she is. A delicious coffee cake that represents her (bitter yet sweet) baked by Yamato, and being called a lily twice by Takeo at two different points in his life; this is enough to make her happy. She doesn’t need to look on the other side of the curtain. And because of that, perhaps Hayato’s chances aren’t as dire as he thought.

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As for Yamato, Ai prods her in the right direction once more, telling her not to worry about silly jinxes and trust in Takeo, as he trusts in her. She does so, and because they’re simply meant to be together, the crowds seem to part at just the right time for them to find each other, with Yamato jumping into Takeo’s arms with elation.

They get to watch the parade together as they hoped, and even get within kissing angle and distance before Suna accidentally interrupts with his apologies. But considering how happy these two make each other simply being in general proximity to each other, that first kiss can wait a while longer.

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Ore Monogatari!! – 13

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At the start of this episode, Takeo and Yamato prove not only that they’re an exceedingly awesome and adorable couple, but also a great team when it comes to doing nice things for people they care about. They’re also pretty proud themselves about how nicely their plan to surprise Suna goes, and are totally in sync, matching their gestures and expressions perfectly.

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Of course, Suna’s no fool, so he suspects something’s going on, but assumes that it’s just another case of his nice friends doing nice—and to his mind, unnecessary—things for him. But when the cake comes out and they remind him it’s his birthday, he suddenly gets it. Taken aback, he’s not sure how to react, until Takeo tells him simply to be happy, which Suna can get behind.

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From there, both Yamato and Suna get to witness Takeo at his job at the bro cafe (a job the owner wouldn’t let him walk away from, popular as he is). And here, we get the first sign of trouble this show has presented in some time, in the form of another guy looking for Takeo (but mistaking Suna for him).

Turns out this fellow, Oda Hayato, is a classmate of Ai’s at college, and wanted to meet the man she still clearly has feelings for, because he has feelings for Ai, and her unrequited love for Takeo is getting in the way. Still, she has no patience for him, and offers to take him to the station to be rid of him.

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When Takeo, flush with cash from his job, asks Yamato out to “MM Land” (Not Disneyland, lawyers!), Yamato gives a three-layer response of initial excitement, followed by the apparent memory of something, followed by a deflation of interest and a rejection.

It’s a complex response, one Takeo doesn’t have a hope of parsing. Thankfully, Ai is home for the long weekend right next door. Takeo meant to consult with Suna, but Ai proves even more helpful, as she says she’ll get to the bottom of it when the four go out for coffee tomorrow.

(I especially enjoyed Takeo’s inner embarrassment at storming into his best mate’s room, forgetting Ai was there, then reminiscing about how he’s done it often throughout the years, but she never seemed to mind at all.)

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The next day, Ai comes right out and asks Yamato about MM Land, and without wondering how Ai got the information, Yamato stands her ground. It takes the sudden surprise return of Hayato to wrench out the detail’s of Yamato’s hesitance to go: she’s worried about an apparent jinx that couples who go there will break up. (Hon, it’s not IKEA!)

So Hayato proposes all five of them go to MM Land tomorrow; since it isn’t a date, the jinx won’t apply. Yamato really wants to go, and go with Takeo, and vice versa, so they’re fine with it, while Suna goes along with whatever. The only one not 100% okay with this little plan is Ai.

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Later that night we find that Hayato is so serious about wanting Ai to come around to him, he came to her hometown without any plans about where to stay. Because Takeo is a great guy, and his family is totally chill and also great, he can stay at Takeo’s without any problem; an offer he takes with gratitude.

As they go to bed (way too early for his taste, but he’s a guest), Hayato talks with Takeo more about, who else, Ai, and what he says offers insight that’s in conflict with her standoffishness we see from her. She seemed genuinely concerned for him when he got in trouble, and helped him with a problem, likely saving his skin.

Like Suna, Hayato doesn’t have any trouble attracting ladies; it’s a matter of attracting the lady he likes. Right now, there’s an old flame in his way, keeping her from falling into his arms, and he wants to clear it. I don’t blame him.

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The next morning, Ai is shocked and pretty pissed off that Hayato took advantage of Takeo’s hospitality and ended up spending the night right next door to her, but in the hallway, after she threatens him with another fork (just like at the cafe!), Hayato informs her of the plan within the plan: at some point at MM Land, he’s going to separate Yamato and Takeo, giving Ai the opening she needs to tell Takeo her feelings.

Sure, it seems like this guy is barging in on Ai’s life and forcing her to do something she hasn’t done to this point, but when I consider that she’s the one who brought Takeo up in the first place (under hypnosis, mind you!) and the way he remains on her mind, tells me she may not necessarily decry an outside effort to break her out of her unrequited love cycle. The problem is she’s never told Takeo how she feels, and she should, so she can get real closure—because the closure she’s settled for isn’t cutting it.

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Of course, the way Hayato puts it—”separating” the inseparable couple—carries its own foreboding, especially when next week’s episode is called “My Jinx.” Will MM Land not care that Yamato and Takeo are with others and events conspire to threaten their bubbly relationship after all? How will Takeo take Ai’s confession (assuming she confesses)? Lots to ponder going into Ore’s second half.

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Ore Monogatari!! – 12

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It’s the halfway point of Ore Monogatari!!, so did the show do what anime of every genre typically do around this time and throw a new wrench into the works; a new conflict for Takeo and Yamato to overcome? Well, yes and no. But first, it was a pleasure to see Takeo’s athletic prowess on display in areas besides Judo.

He’s a literal wall of flesh at goalkeeper (and scores a goal on the other end by throwing it baseball-style), and surprisingly graceful on the ice rink; like a penguin underwater. The point is, Takeo is physically gifted; extremely gifted, and combined with his kind heart, makes him socially gifted; he’s always surrounded by friends.

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Yamato is just as popular with her peers, though not because she can perform awesome feats of strength. In addition to her kindness and general affability, Yamato is also pretty good at academics. In fact, it’s one thing she’s much better at than the hulking Takeo. So the “conflict”, if you even want to call it that, is borne out of the fact that eventually these two will go to college.

They both want to attend the same one, but Takeo doesn’t want to make Yamato enroll at a substandard one, so he has to study; exercising a muscle he rarely needs to simply because the rest of his body is so extraordinary.

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He initially enlists the help of Suna, but Yamato also starts stopping by Takeo’s place. When Takeo tells his mother Yamato is indeed his girlfriend, Mom and Dad gradually start to spruce the place up, even though Yamato would be the first one to tell them not to go through too much trouble for her.

What I like so much about Takeo’s parents is that A.), they’re both alive, which seems like a minority in anime; B.) they’re still happily married, with a baby on the way; and C.) they genuinely love their son and are both grateful for and protective of him. In addition, as Yamato remarks, Takeo really is a composite of his parents, with nearly equal parts of both of them in his physique and personality. Dad is tan and handsome and flashy; Mom is nurturing yet no-nonsense. Both are badass. Takeo is all of the above.

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The parents are so excited about Yamato that neither she nor Takeo can actually study, so they go to Suna’s When Takeo suddenly passes out from too much studying, it isn’t treated like any kind of serious emergency, but rather another opportunity for Yamato to snuggle with him. This time, to her horror, Suna walks in on her, but true to form he assuages her guilt, assuring her didn’t see anything and slinks out, basically saying “as you were.”

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This halfway point also didn’t provide any indications Sunakawa has any ulterior motives about being friends with Takeo, but is really just a caring, loving friend; a brother from another mother. This, again, goes against the usual anime romance archetypes, for which I’m glad. While the show was a smidge more ambiguous earlier on, it is now officially patently ridiculous to think Suna will one day try to steal Yamato from Takeo.

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Not only does he not seem to mind that this is the case, despite liking Yamato (in a non-romantic way, as a good match for his bro), but he doesn’t mope about it either. Suna’s not the most social or open guy despite his popularity, but that seems like a conscious choice rather than any kind of impasse or struggle he has to overcome. The show respects how he lives his life. Suna also derives quite a lot of fun and laughs from being friends with Takeo, as we see again when he plays charades during English study.

So the day of a benchmark (read: practice) exam for the three colleges Takeo and Yamato are trying to get into arrives. Both are bundles of nerves, but Yamato gives him moral support before they get started.

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Looking at the various subjects he studied as various enemies to vanquish, Takeo goes into the exam like a warrior entering a gauntlet. But like Yamato did in a previous test, his multiple choice answers are shifted, a mistake he feverishly tries to correct, resulting in a blizzard of eraser filings and a pool of Takeo sweat.

He gets a “D” in two of the three colleges he aimed for, and an “X” in the difficult-to-get-in one Yamato was trying for, but not only did she not get in either, in a nice bit of villainy from Suna, it’s a women’s only college anyway, so he was never going to get in no matter what!

Also, the “D”s aren’t even that big a deal, because it’s just a dry run. He’ll keep studying, Suna and Yamato will keep helping him, and I have every confidence he’ll get to go to college with Yamato, and maybe Suna too.

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