Hamefura – 09 – Anna Bakanina

Ever since bonking her head, Catarina has been possessed by the soul of a middle-class modern Japanese high school student, which means she’s a lot more likely to befriend her maid than the originally “programmed” Catarina. So it’s no surprise Catarina has befriended her maid, Anna.

Most of this episode is told from the perspective of Anna, who may not be a member of Catarina’s harem per se, but does owe her present life and happiness to Catarina’s kindness and strength.

This show is about more than Catarina unwittingly making all of her friends fall madly in love with her. It’s also about her intentionally trying to better the lives of others. When she successfully advances to the second year at magic academy, Catarina throws a pajama party for her girlfriends, and even suggests a boys-only party for the guys.

When talk turns to romance and the girls (taking a page from Catarina) ask Anna about her prospects for marriage, Catarina discretely deflects the question, saving Anna much awkwardness. It’s a gesture that indicates that while she’s too dense to sense the infatuation wafting off her friends, she’s not too dense to detect discomfort in her other friend, Anna, and has her back.

Anna needed someone’s back. The bastard daughter of a rich baron and his maid, when her mom died in a fire and her own arm was burned, the baron basically disowned her, as she no longer had any value as a marriage pawn. That’s when the distantly-related Claes family hired Anna as a maid, and she met Catarina.

Catarina was your typical willful spoiled haughty child of rich people, until she hit her head and…changed. Before she knew it, Catarina was inspiring Anna to start standing up for herself rather than acting so meek and submissive, and Lil’ Catarina has her back when it comes time to refuse her arranged marriage.

If it weren’t for Catarina being a good person and friend to Anna, there’s no telling what awful husband she would have ended up with. In any case, being apart from Catarina wasn’t a viable option for Anna, who had never even celebrated her birthday before she befriended Catarina.

To this day, she keeps Catarina’s little gifts in a wooden box she got from her the first time they celebrated. Anna’s story seemingly comes out of nowhere, but we knew Catarina was all about treating everyone equally regardless of their station in life, and despite it’s sudden inclusion in the story, I still admit to tearing up when Anna told her story. Now we know the first person to fall for her!

As Catarina and Alan had a romantic segment at the end of last week’s outing, it was looking like it would be Gerald’s turn at the end of this week’s, as he gets a fancy handwritten invitation from Catarina. With a sudden hop in his step, he devises the perfect gift for her: a new pair of gardening shears. He was listening, and he knows she’s not like other girls!

Alas, when Gerald arrives, he finds everyone else has not only been invited, but gave Catarina the same gift (they were all listening, and know she’s not like other girls)! She’s gathered them there not to confess her love, but because it’s her Harvest Day and she wants everyone to help out. To that end, she’s had matching olive-green gardening uniforms for everyone…which is an awesome sight to behold! The Cult of Catarina is officially militarized.

Yup, things couldn’t be going any better for Catarina, and it’s frankly been refreshing and heartwarming to see. Unfortunately, nothing ever lasts, and Catarina seems poised for some kind of reckoning, as an anti-Catarina group has been formed from those she stopped from bullying Maria.

They vow to “expose all of the evil deeds” she has committed, which confuses Catarina…as well as myself! What “evil deeds” could these be? Are these girls simply running on older otome code from back when Catarina was programmed to be the chief villainess? Regardless, there’s trouble in paradise…unless she can make this posse fall for her, of course…

Oh…my…GOD she’s in an eggplant costume…

Hamefura – 08 – Pages of Desire

All Mary Hunt wants is to study alone with her one true love Catarina. Unfortunately, the object of her affection is also the object of everyone else’s, so the study group in the library consists of…everyone. Alas, while taking a break Catarina notices a flashing book on the shelf, and when she opens it, she and everyone except Mary and Maria are sucked inside!

It’s a high concept Hamefura this week, as one by one everyone in the book lives out their deepest desire, as interpreted and amplified by the magic of the book itself. Gerald, for one, reveals some of his sadist qualities in his wedding night desire, or Keith revealing his steamier side in his. Before anything can “happen” between Catarina or anyone, Mary slams the book shut in disgust.

The desire I enjoyed most was Catarina in Sophia’s private library, in which Sophia delivers an epic wall slam to Catarina like she’s the guy in a shoujo manga and declares her love. It’s just a shame nothing more comes of our discovery that Sophia may be the reincarnation of Acchan.

Mary and Maria endure all these desires until they finally come to Catarina, which involves finding an entire house made of sweets, only because the sweets are fictional no matter how much she eats she’s never satisfied. This seems to break the logic of the book, which explodes in a cloud of sweets and the trapped people. All’s well that ends well!

We end with a post-credits scene I found a bit puzzling: Catarina, with no inner monologue at all, ends up barefoot and up a tree with Alan during a gorgeous sunset. Mary spots them and moves to intercept. It’s a pretty scene, but Catarina feels out of character here; certainly have an inner council meeting or two before getting so friendly with Alan…

Hamefura – 07 – A Dream of Long Ago

Sasaki Atsuko was a shy, quiet transfer student who suddenly found herself under a girl who’ fallen on her from a tree. We never learn this tree climber’s real name or see her eyes, but it’s the one who is reincarnated as Catarina. Atsuko introduces her to Fortune Lover, while she becomes Atsuko’s first real friend.

Of course, to be reincarnated, one has to die, and Atsuko’s friend falls victim to that most common of anime deaths, the car accident (I swear they should ban motor vehicles in Anime Japan!) For such a brief sequence, it packs an emotional wallup…especially when Sophia wakes up; it was all a sad dream. She rushes to the arms of Catarina. So Sophia is totally the reincarnated Acchan…right?

That day Catarina & Co. are split into two teams for the practical portion of their exams, which consists of a dungeon quest in some ancient ruins. It’s an atmospheric new setting and a prime venue for some Bakarina antics, but thanks to her cultivating such strong bonds with her more magically-inclined companions, every booby trap she sets off is successfully defended—with nice displays of magic by Gerald and Keith. One of those traps—a collapsing floor—even borrows it’s sound effect from Castle in the Sky!

Well, almost every trap. Catarina falls down a suddenly-opened hole in the wall and becomes isolated. She quickly becomes primarily concerned with securing food, but ends up harvesting what look for all the world like highly poisonous mushrooms. As her inner council freaks out over the prospect of her dying in a glorified sidequest, the Ascart siblings use their wind magic to track her voice—wisely assuming she’ll be using it!

Bakarina uses a suspiciously key-to-the-exam green crystal to cut the mushrooms growing from a yawning chasm, into which she immediately almost falls before Sophia grabs her hand. Suddenly, a gust of wind lifts them both up to safety, coming from a figure made of shadow who’d been following Catarina this whole time. Maria notably notices it too.

All’s well that ends well and the exam is passed thanks to Catarina finding the crystal…but whither the shadow? Someone else from Catarina’s life, who has yet to fully reincarnate as a character in the otome? Will Sophia continue to regain memories of the real world through her dreams? With no more roots headed to doom, Hamefura has gained a new layer of metaphysical mystery, and I’m here for it!

Hamefura – 06 – Pax Catarina

As it turns out, there are no negative repercussions resulting from the confrontation with Catarina’s mom. Instead, this episode is all about her Summer Break, split into seven parts and punctuated by the same crude crayon drawing of Cat and her friends. We start with Keith, who seems poised to kiss his half-sister Cat while she’s sleeping under a tree!

Geordo invites Cat out to an intimate day by the lake, but Cat ends up inviting everyone else, including those who consider themselves (and not Geordo) to belong by her side always. This includes Keith, but don’t count out Mary, who wins the Share a Boat with Cat sweepstakes, something she’s very happy about.

Cat goes out on a big shopping trip to town with Sophia for the first time, with Nicole in tow. While the ladies have a lot of fun picking out accessories and books together, Sophia seems to have an ulterior motive: excusing herself so that Cat and Nicole can be alone together.

The Stuarts hold a grand gala recital for Alan, where hordes of fangirls form a mosh pit in front of his piano. After he plays, Mary insists he spend time with his fans, and seems to be worried about Alan “catching on” to something…perhaps her love for Catarina?! Of course, Cat thinks Mary doesn’t like her fiancee being so popular.

It’s basically a continuous string of events in which Catarina is basically new New Maria: everybody loves her and/or wants to be her, they’re all in competition for her time and attention…and she’s oblivious to it all. “Bakarina”, indeed! She’s set things up so nicely for herself, her inner council takes a Summer Break of their own, since there’s no immediate business.

While attempting to do her Summer homework—the night before the first day back to school, of course—Cat has a dream about her life in the real world, discussing Fortune Lover with her friend Acchan. It’s an intriguing look back at a life we’d never seen before, but I wonder what bearing it has on the present, when the game is now her life and has completely changed thanks to her choices.

Hamefura – 05 – A Town Where She Lives

Catarina is on great terms with Maria—better even than any of the conquerable guys—and yet the heroine still feels…distant. Cat’s inner council determines the best way to keep the doom flags at bay is to spend even more time with Maria outside of the StuCo offices.

This leads to Cat encountering Maria once again being bullied, by characters who in the game are working under Catarina herself! Cat shifting from chief tormentor to chief defender of Maria has left these bullies leaderless, and they’re easily dealt with.

Little does Catarina know that she just stole another event from a conquerable guy; in this case her own brother Keith, who in the game was the one who saved Maria from Cat and the bullies. The council determines this is no big deal, since only bad things can happen to her if Maria falls for any of the guys.

As things stand, it’s not only Maria who likes Catarina best, but Mary and Sophia feel the same way. In her relentless quest to eliminate any and all death flags, Cat still seems reluctant to rest on her laurels, despite how safe and favorable a situation she’s created for herself.

Cat’s relationship with Maria shifts into overdrive when, after spending the day in the fields learning more about farming (something else Game Cat would never ever do) she pays an impromptu visit to Maria’s hometown and house with Keith in tow. It should be an encouraging sign to her that she can bring one of the main love interests along without worrying about him and Maria falling for each other.

While Catarina makes use of her farming skills to shape up Maria’s family’s little field, Maria starts to bake more sweets to fill her stomach. All the while, Maria’s mother is dumbfounded by the sudden and dramatic positive change in her daughter’s demeanor.

You see, when Maria’s light power awakened (she used it to heal a friend’s leg injury), her fellow commoners in her hometown started to spread rumors that she was the illegitimate daughter of a nobleman. Even if it wasn’t true, it tore through her family until her father left and she became a pariah at school.

Remembering how happy she and her mom and dad were when making sweets, she decides to learn how to bake for herself. But when she presents the product of her hard work, her classmates turn their backs in unison and leave her alone, refusing to even look at her.

With Catarina in her life, Maria seems to have left that pain in the past. Her mother is so surprised because Maria stopped baking after being rejected at school. Cat may have done a lot for Maria to get her to like her, but it was enough for Maria just to be seen, not as a bastard daughter or bad news, but as a normal, kind, and generous girl who deserves all the friends in the world.

Her mother realizes how cruel she was to get lost in her own troubles and stop looking at Maria. So she dusts off the old cookie cutters and bakes with her daughter, and starts to feel better herself. It’s a beautiful moment of catharsis when Cat and Keith depart and Maria and her mom exchange gazes. It’s like they’re looking at one another for the first time, recalling the warmth of better times, and realizing they can get that warmth back.

All thanks to Catarina, who has now gone way past preserving her own life and staving off potential exile. She’s making the lives of everyone around her better day by day. Now all she has to worry about is her sinister dirt-hating mother!

Hamefura – 04 – Breaking Flags and Taking Names

Now that Catarina is a teen attending magic academy, the game as it unfolded in Fortune Lover truly begins. Yet as the Inner Claes Council reports, she’s made progress changing some of the characters. Nevertheless, Gerald still meets the heroine Maria Campbell by chance, making Catarina nervous about the doom flags that will sprout should the wrong love triangle form.

Keith is no longer a affection-starved playboy, which means he’s turned into a “nice young man” (AKA goody-goody), so when he tells Catarina he picked up Maria’s handkerchief, he doesn’t use it to hit on the heroine. Still, Catarina is worried about inadvertently coming between Keith and Maria should he fall for her, and assures a very confused Keith that such a thing won’t occur.

With both Gerald and Keith encounter Maria before Catarina, and first steps on conquest routes may have been officially started, her inner council decides that she should continue developing her farming skills so in any scenario in which she’s exiled she’ll have a marketable skill (and won’t go hungry). But when she finally does meet Maria at the Student Council office, she proceeds to have a far more consequential first encounter than either of the boys.

It all comes down to Catarina’s sweet tooth, and the fact the otaku within makes no distinction between commoner or noble when it comes to tasty treats. She kindly asks Maria if she’ll bake something for her, but while Maria is on her way with said treats, she’s intercepted by three bullies. Catarina leaps out of the bushes to rescue Maria, then eats her delicious sweets even though they’d fallen on the ground.

While Catarina was just trying to be nice, her actions resulted in her stealing an event from Gerald. In the game, Catarina was one of the bullies, and she was run off by Gerald. Without that opportunity for Gerald and Maria to get closer, Catarina successfully broke a doom flag. Nice!

Also, most importantly, while there was no possible Catarina X Maria route, that looks to have already gotten started. Gerald catches a glimpse of that route when he sees the two hand-in-hand. It’s definitely a route I’d like to see explored, even if it ends up creating new doom flags!

Hamefura – 03 – Catarina Claes and the Cursed Child

Lil’ Catarina has just discovered the romance novels of her world and has become hooked, just as she was hooked on manga and otome in her world. All she hopes for is someone she can converse with on these books, and she finds that someone quite by chance at the Stuarts’ tea party. Her name is Sophia Ascart, and due to her white hair and red eyes she’s a pariah among most of their peers. Obviously, Catarina sees things differently.

After rescuing her from verbal barbs of other nobles, Catarina becomes fast friends with Sophia, and they geek out on romance novels. Catarina could see her and Sophia being friends in the other world too. She also learns that befriending Sophia won’t throw up any additional doom flags, though Sophia’s taciturn older brother Nicol is quite the looker, attracting women and men alike.

I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop with her friendship to Sophia, but…it never happens. In this manner, Hamefura subverts expectations by playing things straight. They become good friends without any problems, and all of a sudden seven years have passed and Catarina is now fifteen years old. Now all the characters look like they do in the otome.

That means the prologue is officially over. The time jump was abrupt but well-timed: watching lil’ Catarina dart from party to party was growing stale. She’s done her best to avoid the things that kill or exile her in the game, from remaining close and kind to Keith to honing her combat skills.

She also remains good friends with Sophia and Mary, with no messy love triangles with the guys (so far). Gerald is still committed to marrying her (and plants a hickey on her neck, demonstrating his covert sadism). We’ll see how things unfold as she pursues the route of survival in earnest!

Hamefura – 02 – Friend of the Dregs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hamefura – 01 (First Impressions) – Avoiding the Inevitable

I don’t mind isekai anime, as long as it’s not always the exact same thing. You don’t have to re-invent the genre to hook me, just give it a fresh twist or two. Hamefura easily meets and exceeds that modest bar, as Catarina Claes isn’t the heroine of a fantasy RPG, but the villainess of an dating sim! At least, she’s the villain in the game she played in her previous life, before dying at seventeen.

Catarina is oblivious of her real-world Japan past until she stumbles and hits her head and it all rushes back. That’s when it dawns on her that if her path follows that of the game Catarina, she’ll either be killed or exiled in every route. It’s not a matter of playing and winning the game as normal; she has to break the game to avoid certain doom. One thing in her favor: she’s only eight, the proverbial Phantom Menace Anakin: Far from too far gone, plenty of time to devise a plan.

The question, of course, is how to things from going downhill. Having been an otome otaku in her previous life, Catarina has some ideas, and her inner deliberations are given the form of a “Council of Catarinas”, consisting of four different emotional states and an administrator to gather their votes. It’s another novel idea that adds variety to the story, and lets Uchida Maaya play off five different versions of herself—six, including her standard, “unified” inner voice.

The council’s solution to avoid another early death is to develop her sword and magical skills, so that if anyone comes at her, she’ll be ready to defend herself and survive. The magic will also mean she has something to fall back on for money should she end up exiled. Both her parents, her betrothed Gerald Stuart, and her various servants don’t know quite what to make of Catarina’s suddenly odd behavior.

Before long she’s hacking at dummies with a sword and building a garden to commune with nature (and build up her earth magic). But at the end of the day, Gerald still asks for her hand in marriage and she accepts, which means she could still be on the path to doom!

To make matters worse, her parents introduce her to her new adopted brother Keith, who in the game is bullied mercilessly by Catarina, becomes a playboy to sooth his trauma, and eventually he and the heroine Maria fall in love. When Catarina interferes, she’s either exiled or killed off.

She consults her inner head council, who decides that the best way to keep Keith from falling for Maria is to not bully him or make him feel lonely. Catarina does just that, but ends up persuading Keith to use his advanced earth magic, something he promised their parents he wouldn’t.

Catarina is injured by the giant dirt doll, Keith and their parents blame him, and he ends up isolated and alone. Different cause, same effect. Desperate to take the nearest ramp off this doom-filled route, Catarina literally chops Keith’s door down and apologizes for making him break his promise.

Keith comes into the picture pre-messed up thanks to his immense magical talent but lack of control that has led to accidents. But rather than let him stay isolated (or bully him), Catarina shows him she’s not afraid, and promises him they’ll never be apart. She gets in trouble for the door, but things are looking good on at least one not-getting-killed front! Also, it’s a genuinely sweet and moving scene.

I’m well-sold on Hamefura. It places its protagonist in the rigid structure of an otome and challenges her to forge her own path, even if she has to take an ax to the occasional door! She’s fighting against fate with charisma, panache, knowing this world will offer nothing but ruin unless she works her butt off.

Those around her are straight men witnessing her comic transformation from well-bred noble to tree-climbing gardener. Uchida Maaya lays on the industrious charm the whole way through. Her inner council is wonderful. Just as Cat is finding a way not to end up dead or exiled, this is a show managing to innovate and surprise in an over-saturated genre.