Hanebado! – 13 (Fin) – The Other Side of the Net

Hanebado! seemed to take a bit of a nosedive in critical reception as it progressed, with most of the criticism centering on writing perceived as poor and character reactions and attitudes that were too often over-the-top or unrealistic.

Frankly, neither of these things ever bothered me, because the primary draw for me was always watching two players slap the shit out of a birdie (or shuttlecock, if you’re not into the whole brevity thing). Ayano and Nagisa close out their match, and the show, doing just that.

As such, the animation of the match and of the character’s reactions grows ever more dramatic and stylized throughout the roller coaster of an episode. Ayano crawls all the way back, and Nagisa and her knee seem poised to crumble before the might of her opponent’s honed talent.

Coach Tachibana looks ready to pounce at any moment should Nagisa desire to end the match to possibly preserve her career; to lose to live to fight another day. But she doesn’t give up, nor does she let her knee stop her from hanging in there against Ayano.

After several end-of-match deuces (ties), it gets to the point that even Ayano’s body starts to give out. Indeed, when Nagisa’s winning point is scored, securing the narrowest of victories, Ayano’s racket flies right out of her hand and hits one of the net posts.

Once Nagisa realizes she’s won, she bursts into tears right there on the court, while an exhausted Ayano is helped off by her senpais, and takes that opportunity to thank them for supporting her, something that catches them off guard, since she was such an unapologetic bitch to them not too long ago!

Even though Ayano lost, she doesn’t feel like she’s going to be abandoned, nor that it’s the end of the world. Rather, both she and Nagisa realized during the match that they both love and play badminton because it’s fun; and it’s never more fun than when you’re playing such a close match against someone on or around your level.

Ayano and Nagisa might just represent the two peaks of their respective corners (talent and hard work), though it’s also clear that Nagisa has plenty of talent (otherwise she wouldn’t have beaten Ayano, period), while Ayano works plenty hard (otherwise she wouldn’t have had the stamina to almost knock Nagisa off).

Ayano also confronts her mother and states that she hated her, past-tense, because she thought she was abandoned for not having any talent. Uchika repeats her offer to bring Ayano back with her to Denmark, but Ayano wishes to remain in Japan, where she intends to keep playing and keep getting better. Uchika is impressed and moved by her daughter’s words.

As friends Riko and Nagisa share a post-victory moment of friendship, Ayano also takes the time to thank her friend Erena for always standing by her side, as well as for persuading her to get back into badminton.

When Ayano and Nagisa next meet, the latter is being told to take things easy, what with her patellar tendinitis. But Ayano immediately challenges her to a match. She quickly switches back to “Evil Ayanon”, but not out of straight-up malice; her intention to inspire Nagisa, not provoke her.

It’s also a way of acknowledging Nagisa’s skill; trash talk aside, Ayano wouldn’t play someone she believed wasn’t worth playing. And so the two arrange to practice together more and more in preparation for the inter-high tournament. After all, the person on the other side of the net is a “reflection of themselves”. Beat that, and they can beat anyone.

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Hanebado! – 12 – Crossfire

Hanesaki Ayano is good, but not invincible, and while she wins the first game, it’s not a blowout but a 20-16 eke-through, because Nagisa refuses to play the game Ayano thought she’d play. Put simply, Nagisa goes on the defense, forcing Ayano to be the aggressor, which gives Nagisa time to think and keep Ayano off-balance, all while sapping her stamina.

Nagisa’s knee is a concern, but Tachibana examines it and she seems to be okay. Erena hears from Ayano’s mom that her intent, however monstrous, was to get Ayano to become a better player by playing for herself, not for the sake of her mother. Abandoning her made her hate her mother, and thus made her find a new reason to improve: revenge.

But while she won the first game and is determined to beat Nagisa in straight sets, it just doesn’t go that way. Nagisa keeps up the defense and keeps hanging in there long enough to finally release her jumping smash at the most devastating moment. It’s everything Ayano has not to completely melt down on the court.

That’s because despite her brave face and resolve to reject her mom, Ayano still fears abandonment over everything else. By losing the second set, she feels she’s on the cusp of being abandoned again; this time by everyone who isn’t her mom. She enters a tailspin, going down 0-8 in the third game, causing some to consider the match over before it officially ends.

But then something happens: despite how badly she treated her teammates, they still cheer her on and urge her to do her best, not just for her own sake, but for the sake of the team, who can say they sent two teammates to the Nationals. Erena adds her voice to a crowd that is suddenly on Ayano’s side, as if sensing the emotional turmoil in which she’s roiling.

The sudden surge of support works. No longer afraid she’ll be discarded for being useless, Ayano breaks out something new from her back of tricks: she ends Nagisa’s 8-point scoring streak by scoring a point of her own, with her right hand. Could it be she’s a natural righty even though she’s been playing lefty all this time? Or is she simply ambidextrous?

In any case, she’s back in the game. Also worth looking for in the final episode: whether Ayano’s come-from-behind win is really in the cards. Maybe Nagisa will upset her, but then again, maybe Ayano needs to learn that she doesn’t need to win all the time to avoid being abandoned.

Hanebado! – 11 – Creating a Monster

“Why do you play badminton?” That question is oft asked in Hanebado!. Characters ask other characters, and also ask themselves. “Because I love it” seems to be a pretty popular answer. I mean, why participate in a sport and work hard at it if you don’t feel a kind of affinity for it, or because it makes you feel good?

Ayano claims not to subscribe to such a glib answer. Everyone who says they play because they love it seems to get on her nerves. Perhaps it’s envy, or perhaps it’s obfuscation. Regardless, Ayano isn’t in this for the love of the game; she’s in it for revenge against the mother who abandoned her—even as that mother claims she left her so she would become stronger.

You can call Ayano’s decision to renounce her mother a kind of growth, but there’s just as much Nagisa growth on display this week. For one thing, she’s learned not to get bothered by Ayano’s haughty provocations. She’s also learned not to push herself too far.

As Ayano is trying her best not to let the sudden reappearance of her mother throw her off her game (she sees it as yet another hurdle to clear), Nagisa is trying to get to bed at a reasonable hour the night before the match; though she can’t sleep and instead studies film of Ayano, ending up with less than three hours of sleep.

The day of the match, Ayano’s “teammates” encourage her, but she rejects that encouragement as a waste of time; her performance won’t be affected either way by their words. It’s the last display of cruel pomposity Elena is willing to bear. She takes Ayano aside and learns of Ayano’s plan to abandon her mom. And Elena blames herself for making Ayano join the club.

I can’t say I disagree with that placing of blame; while Ayano was hardly in a good place emotionally prior to being forced into joining club, the fact that she had come to hate badminton meant she had find a reason other than love of the game in order to prosper in it. With the best of intentions, Elena created a monster.

When play begins, Nagisa shows growth once more by playing a different game; not relying too much on her smash, and using more deception and less aggressive bull-headedness. She’s rewarded by winning the first two points of the first set. She also has the crowd behind her.

Elena spots Uchika walking out after her daughter’s two lost points, and as the rain starts to fall, expresses her desire to talk about Ayano with her. Meanwhile, Ayano, who didn’t see Uchika leave and probably doesn’t much care anymore, is hardly fazed by Nagisa’s surprisingly strong start.

In fact, she’s mildly amused, and then blurts out the strategy Nagisa is trying to employ. Nagisa was able to use the element of surprise to steal a couple of points, but she knew it wouldn’t be long before Ayano picked up on what was going on and adjusted her game.

While it only took Ayano two points for her to analyze Nagisa’s strategy, the show seems to want to present the possibility Nagisa could beat Ayano…but we’ll have to wait at least one of the final two episodes to know the final result. All we know is that Ayano will have a counterattack…and that we’re probably in for more flashbacks next week!

Happy Sugar Life – 10 – Partners in Crime

Shio believes everyone’s heart is a jar made of glass. If it isn’t regularly filled with love, or is hit by various stresses, it will crack and break, and when it does, there’s no coming back.

Shio is worried Satou’s jar is dangerously close to shattering, so she tries to do as much as she can. She covers her with a blanket, warms up the curry, and throws her clothes in the wash—where she sees Satou’s bloodstained clothes.

Seeing Satou in such a state reminds Shio of her last days with her mom, who became destitute when she finally left her abusive husband. Shio wanted to do what she could then too, including replace her mother’s “jar” with a new one she sees across the street.

But in doing so, Shio is almost hit by a truck, and her mom’s jar breaks. She takes Shio on a walk in the rain, then stops and leaves her there, saying a simple “goodbye.” Her mom’s jar was broken, and she was simply…done.

When Satou awakens, she pretends like nothing’s wrong, but immediately starts talking about their next home. After all her talk about the castle where they’d live happily ever after, it wounds Shio to hear Satou so gung-ho about abandoning it.

But more than that, Shio is hurt by what Satou isn’t saying, and by all the things she’s hiding. When Satou tells Shio all she needs to do is smile and love her, it reminds her of her mother, who also asked nothing of Shio but to stay put; to stay safe.

Shio won’t have it; not anymore. She doesn’t like Satou’s secrets, or her vision of how she should be to her, which is to act as little more than a human doll. She storms off, and in her anger, tells Satou she hates her. Satou then becomes paralyzed with despair.


The same night Shio’s mother abandoned her, Satou happened to be walking around, and meets Shio, asking her why she isn’t chasing after her mom. Shio tells her it’s because what she felt toward her mother wasn’t love, it was just a desperate hope her mom would keep living, so she could live.

With an attitude well beyond her not numerous years, she decides not being with her mom anymore is for the best. But she also realizes she was too harsh with Satou. She doesn’t hate her; but she hates how Satou shoulders the burden of protecting her.

From now on, Shio wants Satou to tell her everything, and they’ll share the burden and protect each other. In other words, a more balanced relationship where Shio has agency. Satou agrees, and tells Shio all of the horrible things she’s done to keep her safe, including killing someone. Shio accepts it all and fills Satou’s jar…because Satou fills and strengthened hers.

Hanebado! – 07 – The Power and Price of Hard Work

The best and most thrilling episode of Hanebado! yet, in which Ayano and Kaoruko have their fated rematch, comes with a surprise: Ayano’s mom is nowhere to be seen; none of Ayano’s teammates mention her again; and there’s no indication she watched the Kaoruko rematch. Where’d she go? We never find out. But she’s there, and she’ll surely be back.

Her total absence reflects the new attitude towards her mother Ayano wishes to adopt: that she doesn’t have a mother, or at least not one whose opinions matter to her anymore. Ayano looks initially rattled by Kaoruko’s gift of a hankie for the tears/snot when she loses, but her pained look morphs into a wry girn.

Ayano isn’t scared of Kaoruko anymore; at least not on the surface. Her inner thoughts/feelings are off limits to Ayano’s teammates, Kaoruko, and we the audience, but it could well be she’s just as calm, cool, and committed to obliterating her opponent inside as out.

Yu loses her match, making Ayano, Nagisa and Sora the only three players left standing in the prelims. But frankly I just wasn’t that interested in the little subplots of the other characters. This was about a suddenly supremely confident Ayano and a Kaoruko humming with arrogance: an Unstoppable Force vs. an Unmovable Object.

Despite the distractions, the match lives up to the hype and then some. It’s the most high stakes match we’ve been able to watch, and the animation team pulls out all the stops, utilizing all manner of angles, zooms, pans, sweeps, etc. as well as a 3-D “floating camera” that soars from one end of the court to t’other. It really got the adrenaline pumping.

But even more important: for once, Ayano, supposedly one of the most talented players in the show, isn’t embarrassed or overwhelmed, physically or psychologically. She is in complete command of the match, and demonstrates virtual telepathy when it comes to diagnosing Kaoruko’s game plan and sabotaging it at every turn with unexpected counters.

This is where Kaoruko’s tireless hard work, ultra-granular attention to detail, and the ruthless drive to defeat Ayano at all costs actually work against her. She prepared so intricately carefully for an opponent based on what she thought she knew of them up and down, leaving no time to consider how Ayano’s skills would have improved or evolved parallel to her own.

Ayano is no stranger to hard work either, after all. She employs it here, and her grit on the court is reinforced by her conscious effort to block all of those negative and unpleasant thoughts that plagued her for so long. Free of the need for validation from her mother, she’s a player possessed.

She’s also in rare form on the trash talking front. Kaoruko talked a big game, but Ayano’s retorts are strategically toned and timed for maximum damage. Long story short: Ayano is all that’s in Kaoruko’s head. Winning is al that’s in Ayano’s head.

The final 21-16, 21-17 score in Ayano’s favor doesn’t do justice to the level of dominance she displayed against Kaoruko in 90% of the match. The defeat is devastating, and not just because she gave her entire team the middle finger prior to the match, so confident was she that she’d “mop the floor” with Ayano.

Ayano broke a fantasy that Kaoruko kept playing in her head as she worked so hard: that she could beat the first player her own age to beat her, without cheating by giving her a cold. She thought she was psychologically stronger. Her only loyal, sympathetic teammate helps her stretch post-match, both of them cry, for Ayano crushed those fantasies, then offered Kaoruko her hankie back.

Ayano, for her part, calls Kaoruko’s effort “pathetic”, which rubs Elena the wrong way. Ayano’s cold response is simply that on that court, winning is the only thing that matters (Sorry, Riko, Yu and Sora!). Another way to say that is that if you don’t win, then nothing matters. So yeah, Ayano may be playing her best badminton, but she’s gone to a dark, lonely place to do it.

Next up is Nagisa vs. Nozomi, but you know what? However it turns out, I can’t see how it won’t feel like a bit of a letdown after Ayano vs. Kaoruko. Both players are lower down on the character significance list. What could mitigate that is if we finally get the Ayano-Ayano’s mom reunion we’ve been waiting for all season. Who knows, maybe she did watch the match; the episode just never cut to her…

Hanebado! – 06 – Not Just One More Match

Prelims are upon us this week, and it’s Izumi Riko’s turn to be angsty. It’s her last year and last prelims, and she wants to win. The only problem is, her first opponent is her childhood friend Nozomi, who also happens to be one of last year’s final four. Riko is not confident she can hang with the likes of Nozomi, and even though Nagisa tries her best to fire her up, Riko ends up frustrated and the two part ways for the evening on a bad note.

The day of the matches arrives, and Riko and Nozomi are cordial but cool, as imminent opponents must be. The team rocks their slick new one-piece uniforms, and Riko’s four cute siblings are in attendance, but she still manages to stink up the joint in the first half of the first set overwhelmed by her own lack of confidence as well as Nozomi’s unbeatable aura.

When the interval comes, Riko knows she has to do something…so she goes over the shots of the match so far, analyzes them, and finds that Nozomi is avoiding her backhand. Riko goes on the offensive and gets a point or two before Nozomi re-adjusts. It’s a beautifully-animated, fast-paced story told through the smooth, graceful, yet powerful motions of the players; a chess match of adjustments and counter-adjustments.

Riko still loses, but she makes Nozomi work for her win, going against her opponent’s strict coache’s insistence she conserve her stamina. It was just another match for Nozomi; a stepping stone to the next round. But for Riko, it was the match; the only match left in her high school career. And as her coach directed, she had fun out there.

Whither Ayano? Well, for most of the episode she seems to be putting up a strong front of Everything’s Okay, and may even believe she’s past worrying about her mother or Connie. But these prelims are uniquely equipped to not let Ayano escape her troubles so easily. Not only is she facing Serigaya Kaoruko in the next round, but her mother will be in attendance to watch their rematch. That should be interesting…

Hanebado! – 05 – The Discarded Daughter

Ayano lived her childhood absolutely idolizing her mother and soaking up every bit of badminton know-how she could. Other than Elena, there was virtually no one else in her life she cared about. In other words, her mom was her family…until she took off, and Ayano has felt alone ever since (sorry, Elena).

Or, at least she had felt alone. Now that she’s been welcomed and embraced by her team, she feels like she can keep playing with their support. Riko offers as much at the end of their first game which they lost to Connie, 21-12. Kentarou resets the defense so Ayano has the run of the back 2/3rds of the court for the second game.

By throwing her out of the frying pan and into the fire, Ayano eventually picks up her game, returning shots that she’d previously let drop. Her sly persistence starts to frustrate Connie, who in turn steps up her game, and all of a sudden their respective teammates are treated to one hell of a grudge match, with neither Ayano nor Connie believing defeat to be an option.

Connie draws from her own childhood, which looks as lonely as Ayano’s post-mom time, while Ayano gets all Sadako-y like she did when she beat Nagisa in the nationals. The two competitors are so focused on each other, Connie ends up getting a cramp in her leg, and her partner leaps in to score the winning point, catching Ayano and Connie alike off guard and leading them to declare the result of the match corrupted.

Both go off skulking, only to be picked back up by the very people she felt were unnecessary (in Connie’s case) or the people whom she felt she’d let down (in Ayano’s). Sora, who’d been pretty quiet up to this point, confesses that she hated Ayano for seeming not to care despite being so talented, but has revised her feelings about her after seeing how far she went in that match. The two girls end up spending the evening having fun with their teammates.

The next morning when both teams are set to return home, Ayano confronts Connie, who tells her what I (and probably everyone else watching) had suspected last week: Connie is the girl Ayano’s mother replaced her with as daughter. Connie’s goal is to prove to her “mama” that she’s the better player by beating Ayano.

As I mentioned last week, one would assume the question of “who is best” had already long been settled by the fact Ayano’s mother f-ing abandoned her biological daughter for Connie. I guess Connie just isn’t satisfied with her mom’s decision, but wants to be sure she’s better than Ayano. As for Ayano, on the bus ride home she breaks out her crazy face once more, declaring that she “doesn’t need” her mother any more.

While that’s a depressing sentiment, somewhat creepily delivered, I can hardly blame her for wanting to give up on the person who gave up on her. But I still feel there’s a reconciliation story brewing here. Simply stating she’s done seeking her mom’s approval doesn’t magically make it so…right?

Mahoutsukai no Yome – 23

Whether he feels bad about trying to sacrifice Stella or not (I would guess not), Elias can’t accept Chise leaving him. He wants her back, and wanders aimlessly in search of her. When he kills part of the forest he’s in, Spriggan springs into action and takes him down.

Titania and Oberon show up, willing not just to help him find Chise, but to invite them both to the land of the faeries (always with the ulterior motives). Elias declines that particular offer, but Titania still helps him find Chise.

Titania’s powers reach far and wide, and practically everyone Chise has encountered and/or befriended on her various adventures notices those powers. As for Chise herself, she now finds herself watching a young Joseph’s memories.

Joseph was the son of a witch and gravedigger and much hated by the villagefolk for those qualities. But when he finds Cartaphilus half-buried in the woods, he takes him home out of pity, and resolves to heal his extensive injuries using the skills he no doubt learned from his mom.

Only Cartaphilus never gets better, no matter what treatments Joe tries. He doesn’t get worse either, which means the conditions that would allow Joseph to leave the town he hates so much never materialize. Joe snaps, and decides that drastic measures are the only answer: he “becomes one” with Cartaphilus.

The newly merged individual travels (presumably) to London, collecting body parts from innocents to replace the ones that no longer work, and learns from a mage that the ancient curse he has cannot be lifted.

With that, Chise comes out of it, and Cartaphilus almost immediately tries to rip her arm off, hoping it’s the final piece to the puzzle of ending his suffering. It doesn’t look good for Chise until Titania, Elias, Spriggan, and Ruth arrive in the nick of time to save her.

Renfred and Alice arrive as Cartaphilus unleashes his grotesque menagerie, and a big battle occurs in the small space. Still, Chise is laser-focused on Cartaphilus, and when he creates a portal to escape, she follows him, but not before shooting an angry look at Elias.

Elias and Ruth follow her, and they end up in a foggy London alley with Chise, just as a fleeing Cartaphilus bumps into Mariel, who just happens to be in that very same alley. Mariel, hoping to help in some way, transforms herself into a bull for Chise to ride.

They find Cartaphilus sitting on the same fountain we’ve always seen during the second-cour credits. Can Chise end his suffering, while also saving herself?

Mahoutsukai no Yome – 22

Chise makes the only deal she believes she can make, not just to save Stella, but her own life as well. That deal puts her in the lion’s den, and Joseph, the lion, makes it clear he still hates her, even if he’ll honor the deal.

The process starts with the two swapping eyeballs—a particularly icky sequence—and when his body doesn’t reject it, he prepares to remove her cursed left arm.

While Chise was awake for the eye-swap, Joe locks her in her memories for the next phase—childhood memories she thought lost forever, in which she and her dad and brother were together and she was a normal, well-adjusted girl.

After painfully bittersweet images of their nearly perfect family life flash by—among them her dad fighting off some kind of demon or faerie—a form of Joseph appears that isn’t so much Joseph, but the piece of him that has now made itself at home in her body—his eye.

One night, the perfect family situation dies. Chise’s father gets out of bed with his infant son, walks out the front door, says goodbye to Chise, and never returns. One could explain his course of action as cutting his losses—perhaps having had enough of living with two Sleigh Beggys—and perhaps he simply did what he felt he had to in order to protect his non-Beggy son.

Whatever the reason, it’s a huge betrayal, and Chise’s mom cannot make up for her husband’s absence. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t try: she works any and all jobs she can to scrape by, but because so many monsters are attracted to her no one else can see, she cannot hold those jobs for long, and she slowly drowns in debt.

Like Chise, her mother had a frail body, and when keeping up with everything simply became too much for it, her mind snapped as well. In a moment of weakness, she listened to the voice that told her it would be easier if Chise weren’t around.

She chokes Chise awake, telling her the words Chise never forgot: “I shouldn’t have given birth to you,”, but in this context she isn’t talking of Chise’s inadequacy as a daughter, but the fact that she exists at all. Her mother knows that her curse is her daughter’s curse. It’s more an act of misguided mercy and desperation than malice.

That’s why her mother snaps out of it before she kills Chise, and overwhelmed by shame for what she tried to do, throws herself out the window. After that day, Chise forgot everything that came before, and it was the genesis of her belief she was worth so little even her mother regretted having her.

But that villainous mother, devoid of the context of her torment or the lengths she went to to keep their family of two together, was nothing but a creation in Chise’s mind. Her real mother didn’t really wish her dead; on the contrary, she decided she’d rather die than live on knowing she even made the attempt.

Chise breaks free of this vision of her mother as the real one, and says goodbye before letting her go entirely in a dreamy field of flowers. She even goes so far as to thank this false artiface of her mother, as she was the reason Chise ultimately ended up meeting so many wonderful people, among whom she still counts Elias, despite what he did to Stella.

With her “dark mother” gone, replaced by the whole picture of how things went so damn wrong with her family, Chise is left with the portion of Joseph’s curse of eternal life embedded in his left eye. That curse promises to be a blessing to Chise for as long as she wants to live—meaning that the moment she wishes to die, it will be a curse.

Joseph is not the first to have hosted this curse, and won’t be the last, but all of them have said the same thing to it throughout the centuries and millenia—”Help me.” Chise, waking up on the operating table, grabs Joseph by the throat and tells him she’s going to do things his way, diving into his past to find out how he became is the person he is—to make sense of his truth. Even if he hates her.

Darling in the FranXX – 07

After last week’s epic battle, the 13th gets some well-deserved R&R on a real beach, which makes this a respite episode and a beach episode. It’s a good time to let us spend more time with the pilots as they interact in non-life-or-death situations for once.

The other big news is that 002 and Hiro are officially partners and Zero Two is now a member of the 13th. The higher-ups pulling the strings assign extra surveillance to her and seem to want Hiro to safely “deliver” her somewhere specific. Hiro also meets a fellow young man who’ll be the one doing the surveillance.

But for now, splashing and floating in the ocean are the order of the day, and the male gaze is in full force, with even a “goody-two-shoes” like Gorou thanking the powers that be for such a wonderful experience.

Hiro got to meet Dr. Franxx, who warns him not to let 002 “consume his emotions” if he wants to always be her partner. That is obviously a challenge, since Two is extremely flirty whenever around her Darling, even leaning in for what Hiro thinks is another kiss before she licks his cheek.

Zorome, Goro and Futoshi are in the dark about what all this “kissing” is about, and when Hiro grudgingly describes it and how it feels, Zorome is so eager to experience it for himself he tries to kiss Hiro. Mitsuru and Ikuno don’t participate in the other girls’ and boys’ fun, but Ikuno also makes it clear that doesn’t make them alike.

Then Mitsuru finds a path and leads everyone through it, and they find an abandoned ghost town not unlike the one they appear in during the typical end credits (we get a girls-in-swimsuits sequence this week).

It’s a place that’s gorgeous in its decay, where nature is taking over what was once civilization. Kokoro finds a book on child-rearing, something I’m sure is not done anywhere near the way we know about in our world, considering the ignorance of the parasites—or maybe it is, but since it has nothing to do with their duty to protect humanity, they were never taught about it.

002 tries to tease Ichigo about the fact that she’s kissed Hiro, but Ichigo mostly stands her ground without revealing she kissed him too. In any case, she’s far from ready to surrender Hiro to Two.

After enjoying a lovely sunset on an outcropping, the squad returns to the beach to find a sumptuous barbeque awaiting them. There, Ichigo and the others officially welcome Hiro to the 13th. They welcome 002 as well, but she runs off to swim some more, and seems miffed her Darling did not follow her.

That night, Ichigo gets some much-needed alone time with Hiro as they both wake up in the middle of the night and take a nice starlit stroll along the beach. Seeing Ichigo step into each of Hiro’s steps ahead of her was a really adorable move on her part, and she has a lot of nice closeups of just how much she’s enjoying being with Hiro and Hiro alone.

Ichigo eloquently expresses her feelings, from telling him not to give “all his attention” to 002 “look at her too”, to how much their kiss meant and her desire to be with him forever. She’s relieved Hiro still remembers the “Ichigo Star” in Orion he once pointed out to her.

Unfortunately, Hiro interrupts her, but it’s because a shower of shooting stars breaks out, further adding to the magic of the evening. Ichigo sees them as a good omen; the light they give off looking to her like rays of hope. Rather than repeat herself to Hiro, she playfully calls him baka for not listening when he had the chance. As exotic and alluring as 002 is, Ichigo shows no signs of relinquishing her Best Girl status.

Kino no Tabi – 04

This week KnT switches things up a bit, following Shizu and Riku’s Journey rather than Kino and Hermes’. We saw a moving country on the land last week; here, it’s a moving country on the sea; a Ship Country.

Shizu is invited aboard and brought before the ruling “Tower Clan”, who look like black mages. They offer him a choice of roles while aboard: serve them as a kind of rent-a-cop, or join the common people. Unsurprisingly to us, the humble prince chooses the latter.

He meets a cute, tiny girl named Tifana, or Ti for short, who doesn’t speak, but takes him and Riku all over the ship (despite choosing manual labor, he never has to do any). The general sorry state of the ship, periodic shaking, and numerous flooded compartments tell the tail of a ship that has long been neglected and may not even be afloat much longer.

As per usual, KnT doesn’t skimp on the gorgeous environment; quite a departure from the clean, gleaming, well-maintained Moving Country. When he finds what looks like a long-abandoned control room, he has Ti point out all the places where there’s flooding. The situation is dire, and the rulers of this country have much to answer for…or so he thinks.

Ti, meanwhile, conveys so much despite never speaking; she takes a liking to Shizu, and doesn’t seem to have anyone else. It’s a lovely, immersive moment when Shizu shields her from a sudden rainfall with his jacket and the two quietly listen to the nice, calming sound of the rain hitting the fabric.

Ti then takes him to the country’s roof, and the endless ocean sprawling out before him makes him feel like he’s flying above it. After experiencing this unique and exhilarating sight, he turns to the tower at the country’s center, and remembers that this could all end up under the see unless he does something.

That “something” means confronting the Tower Clan, and when they rebuke him, readies his sword. But another traveler arrived aboard the country who chose the opposite path: that of serving the leaders. When this traveler lifts their mask to reveal Kino, I was nearly bowled over. There‘s Kino!

She and Shizu aren’t on opposite sides long, as the clan quickly accuses her of plotting with Shizu, changes course, then sentences the two to remain aboard to die with the other people.

Shizu and Kino quickly answer by storming the tower and easily overpowering its haughty occupants. When they reach their Jedi Council-like observation deck, Shizu is asked by their leader if he wishes to be the new king, to which he says if necessary. With that, the black cloaks and hats fall to the floor, no longer occupying bodies.

It’s Shizu’s country now, and he promptly points it towards land, opens the gates, and has everyone come out. He tells them that the days of the country functioning properly, or at all, are numbered, something he may well be right about. However, he didn’t consider the fact that the people don’t care. They don’t want to live on the land; they never have. They’d rather die at sea. In trying to be the hero, Shizu only made himself the villain.

When Shizu turns Ti away to join the others, she suddenly stabs him in the gut with a knife, cursing him for leaving her nowhere to return to (as she says, speaking for the first time.

Hermes fills Kino, Shizu, and Riku in on who Tifana really is: the abandoned daughter of passing travelers who shares her name with the ship itself. Hermes also describes the country’s inhabitants as the descendants of children whose parents were killed by a plague, leaving them alone and with no one to lead or take care of them; enter the Tower Clan.

Now that he knows the truth, Shizu commits to taking care of Ti from now on, for which she’s very happy and grateful. But as Shizu, losing blood, starts to pass out, Ti fears he’ll die and leave her alone again, and pulls the pin on a grenade to end them both.

Fortunately, Kino’s there to shoot the grenade away and tend to Shizu’s wounds. Once he’s healed enough, she and Hermes take their leave, hopeful they’ll cross paths with Shizu, Riku, and Ti again. I hope so too; they make a fun team.

Hajimete no Gal – 03

As expected, Yukana’s very tan best friend Honjou Ranko inserts herself into her relationship with Junichi by writing him a love letter then mounting him behind the school. After a brief feint, Yukana laughs off Ranko’ actions as just messing around with Junichi…but Ranko seems determined to break them up.

A very predictable development, combined with a lot less comedy (a lot of it recycled jokes that don’t hit as hard, or at all, the third or fourth time around) made for a less-than-stellar Hajimete no Gal.

While out on a shopping trip, Junichi learns more of the challenges of dating a gal, like the need to properly choose which clothes look better on her, or defending her from man-sluts. In both cases, Ranko tries to upstage Junichi, finally meeting him at his house to talk.

She mounts him again, assuring him she’d rather take his virginity then let him get with Yukana, whom she’s secretly in love with. Ranko’s kinda all over the place, and Kitamura Eri does fine voice work, she doesn’t have much to work with here.

I guess I should be glad Ranko’s not in love with Junichi, but he still gets off the hook way too easily. Indeed, Junichi moves at the speed of a sloth throughout this episode, which I suppose is par for the course considering his self-image as a loser, but it’s still pretty annoying.

This week he did next to nothing—other than halfheartedly trying to tell off the guys hitting on Yukana, which failed—to deserve all the attention he’s getting. Next week it appears will involve more Kashii Yui, who was obviously going to be more than just the Miss Perfect Junichi believes her to be. She looks particularly pissed watching Ranko tease him.

Hajimete no Gal – 02

After Yame accepted his request to go out with her, Junichi is in a bit of a daze, not sure whether it’s all a prank or not, considering what he believes to be the logical fallacy of a cute gal dating the likes of him. His loser friends commit to standing by him come what may, only to immediately turn their backs on him when he receives a sexy selfie from Yame.

Despite this, Shinpei still offers advice to Junichi: take Yame to karaoke, which is how popular kids “get a room” for sex. He elaborates on the process with his “Karaoke XXX Rule”, before “dying” from exasperation that karaoke parlors have become indistinguishable from dens of ill repute.

Later that morning, Yame proves she’s not messing around by announcing to the entire class that she’s dating Junichi, then fielding questions. Both Kashii Yui and his “little sister” are dumbfounded. Junichi tries to ask her out to karaoke, but never finds the right opportunity until she asks him out after school to that very thing.

Corrupted by Shinpei’s overblown theory about karaoke parlors (which seems to be confirmed by a sign), Junichi is initially weary of their date, but once he sees how much fun Yame is having, he stops overthinking things and has fun himself. To his surprise, she even knows anime songs; the only kind he can sing.

But after Shinpei’s three tenets of the Karaoke XXX Rule are fulfilled (Yame singing a suggestive song; the two singing a duet; Yame removing her sweater), Junichi re-enters his head for a conference with all his various alter-egos, including ‘Good’, ‘Pessimistic’, ‘Horny’, and ‘Cool’, with ‘Cool” him eventually convincing the others that if he’s a true man, he’ll give her a kiss before moving on to sex.

Junichi tries to kiss Yame, only for her to point out an errant hair sticking out of his nose and excuse herself. Out in the hall, she regains her composure, certain Junichi just tried to kiss her. Far from the easy girl for whom sex is no big deal Shinpei, his friends, and Junichi himself believe her to be, Yame isn’t the kind of girl to even kiss someone so easily. She’s more like Junichi than he presently realizes.

Hopefully he’ll find this out in time, and stop interacting with Yame with misconceptions about who and what she is, just as she seems to be embracing him for who he is, not assigning a silly label. As for Yame’s friend Ranko, it appears we’ll soon learn how she feels about this new boyfriend.