I’m compelled to preface this review with a bit of a rant: I simply couldn’t buy Hajime not knowing that his childhood friend Hinako is his favorite idol, HINA.
Most anime rely on a certain degree of suspension of disbelief, but I can tell quite plainly that Hinako is HINA, and so can Alec. Both of us have just met her. And the only elements that “disguise” her are glasses, a big braid, and hair that magically changes color (what’s up with that?)
Therefore it’s nigh inexcusable that someone Hajime has known since they were little kids, and seen nearly every day, could not discern the resemblance, unless he were “face-blind” like Oliver Sacks or Chuck Close. Since there’s no indication he is, his inability to see HINA in Hinako makes him look stupid, and made me feel stupid for going along with it.
Now, an amendment to that rant: I wrote it before I watched the entire episode, pausing it after the cold open. And here’s the thing: once I did watch it, the show managed to not only restore my suspension of disbelief, but reinforce it.
By the end, the charm of the episode convinced me that maybe it’s okay, for now, for Hajime to be an oblivious dolt. Perhaps because, for the time being, it’s okay for Hinako herself, and that’s what matters here.
When Hajime announces to the club that he’s won one of only 100 passes to a live meet-and-greet with his beloved HINA, it suddenly places Hajime in a bind: there’s no way he won’t recognize her when they come face-to-face, bereft of the filters of photos on glossy paper or the scan of television screens and the internet.
Moreover, Hajime is an emotional wreck, and cannot fathom coming face-to-face with HINA at all without collapsing in a puddle of flop sweat. His club members suggest he “practice” how to interact with one of them, and that one of them ends up being Hinako.
It’s definitely interesting seeing the two interact together, as Hajime lists all the weird ways he loves HINA, and Hinako outwardly saying no girl wants to hear those things while being inwardly flattered. She also tells her childhood friend the best way to calm oneself: write the character for “person” on his hand and “swallow” it.
Somewhat dragging down the perceived intelligence of the entire cast, Alec and Alec alone is the only one who clearly and immediately realized that Hinako was HINA. Thankfully, it’s something Teresa also realizes as soon as she’s told the truth, giving Hinako two allies in which to confide.
She tells them how a one-time deal taking the place of an ill model suddenly snowballed into a side-career, and when Hajime announced he was a fan of “HINA”, Hinako felt it impossible to tell him. It’s clear to Alec and Teresa that Hinako likes Hajime, but Hinako wants him to figure it out for himself that she and HINA are one and the same.
When Alec calls Hajime “an unfortunate man” for unknowingly worshiping the girl right in front of him, Hinako objects, as Hajime’s oldest and dearest friend has every right to. As she puts it, he may be “stupid and a little perverted” but he’s also a shy sensitive boy with a gentle heart who will always have her back when push comes to shove.
Hinako is worried Hajime will be “disappointed” if he learns the truth, and wishes he’d simply take a stronger interest in the “real her”, but Teresa objects to that: HINA is a part of the real her; she shouldn’t forget that.
The day of the meet-and-greet arrives, and despite their earlier grumblings, everyone turns out to support Hajime (except Hinako, who had “errands to run”). Sure enough, Hajime overcompensates for his shyness by dressing way too…too much, and the boys play rock-paper-scissors, resulting in Tada having to swap clothes with him.
He heads in, and it’s all over so fast. Hajime lost his precious notes in the clothes he gave Tada, and is initially a nervous, sweaty mess with the clock ticking. But HINA asks him what he should do when he’s nervous, and he remembers Hinako telling him about writing “person” and swallowing it.
That just barely does the trick; the staff is about to shuffle him off, but he makes contact with HINA and says what he came to say: to thank her for being born. He’s then taken away by security, leaving Hinako wondering if he finally noticed who she really was.
I’m of the mind that perhaps it did…a little, subconsciously. But Hajime plays his cards close and maintains the belief that Hinako and HINA are two different people when he calls her up later. He first describes how amazingly beautiful HINA was in the flesh, then thanks Hinako for the advice that ended up saving his ass.
While initially disappointed, Hajime’s heartfelt thanks put a smile on Hinako’s face, and she later confides in Teresa and Alec that she’s fine with things the way they are, at least until she summons the confidence to tell him herself. I’m totally fine with that; the ball is in her court. I’m not holding my breath Hajime will ever take the initiative, even if the truth fully comes to him.
As for Teresa, she laments to Alec that she’s kept something from everyone else in the club—namely, I suspect, that she’s Luxembourgian royalty—but Alec tells her not to sweat it and just to enjoy the time they have in Japan, because, after all, it’s only a study abroad trip, and one day it will end and they’ll return to Europe.
As Teresa quietly develops feelings for Tada, she can’t help but relate to Hinako’s dilemma, as Tada perhaps hasn’t shown as much interest in her as she’d like. Only one thing for it: more time and more interactions together.