TenSura – 47 – Good Times Had By All (But One)

Veldora didn’t show up because he sensed Rimuru was in danger—he wasn’t—but because he wanted Rimuru to give him the next volume of a manga he was really getting into. That’s kind of the lazy otaku energy I’m here for.

While he’s there, he’s all too happy to spar with his older brother’s only child, Milim (while pulling off Street Fighter and Dragon Ball moves!). When Rimuru tells him not to hurt her as she’s being controlled by Clayman, Veldora tries to correct him, but Rimuru is in to much of a hurry to listen.

After dealing with the magical beasts by freeing Nine Tails (who was suffering under Clayman’s Demon Dominate, a spell removed with Raphael’s help) Rimuru checks in on how Beretta’s fight against Viola is doing, only to find Beretta happily humming as she neatly arranges Viola’s parts around her.

After shit got super-serious last week, it’s good to see that playful humor return, along with easy but still cool-looking wins. The pieces are meant as an offering to Rimuru in hopes he’ll find a place for her new master Ramiris and her to live in Tempest.

Speaking of cool, Shion may have the best moves of anyone this week, easily freeing herself of Clayman’s bonds and pummeling the shit out of him. When he transforms into his apparent final boss form, he’s just as easily dealt with, showing just how large the gap is between Rimuru’s most trusted lieutenants and everyone else who isn’t a Demon Lord.

It’s when Clayman is on his back and bloodied when he calls for Milim to get over there and bail him out that Milim reveals to all that still didn’t know it that she’s acting of her own free will. I complained last week that we were basically getting a Milim devoid of personality, and this episode gave me exactly what I wanted: the regular sweet, joyful, and completely chaotic Milim Nava. Plus, Hidaka Rina finally gets to say words!

We learn that Milim was pretending all along in order to get Clayman where she wanted him: in a place where he couldn’t win, and where he’d reveal the person hiding in the shadows: Yuuki (apparently).

This calls into question why she had to destroy Carrion’s kingdom in service of that lie, but since none of its denizens were harmed and Rimuru has ample treasure and labor to rebuild the kingdom, all’s good in the hood!

That is, until we get what is supposed to be Clayman’s sadsack story about being the weakest member of the Moderate Harlequin Alliance, calling out to the heavens to give him more power, and the heavens rather curiously answering his call.

As he converts his soul and the souls of all he’s had killed into energy and power, we learn this was Rimuru’s plan all along: awaken this next-level Clayman so that he can be defeated once and for all and free all those souls. And after getting his warmup in with Milim, Rimuru chooses himself for the task of taking out Clayman—to demonstrate that he has arrived as a genuine Demon Lord.

Kageki Shoujo!! – 10 – Give the People What They Want

Due to various circumstances, a member of one of the four troupe relay race teams cannot run, so the Superiors assign a member of the 100th class as a sub. That class member is Watanabe Sarasa, who at first glance is a ringer due to her impressive height and gait. But as large an honor as the assignment is, Sarasa suddenly becomes a magnet for resentment and envy,

This comes most strongly from Hijiri, from whose 99th class Sarasa leapfrogged over with her ridiculously long legs. Hijiri not only tells Sarasa she’s only special for her height, then insists she “become nothingness itself” to allow the top stars to shine.

Ai, like everyone else, is surprised by how much Hijiri’s ill advice trips up Sarasa, who is downright nervous the night before the festival. Ai tells Sarasa her own lack of nerves in JPX was due to being the center of attention (and particularly male attention) from a young age, and basically developing an A.T. Field to deflect it.

But Ai, already a veteran stage performer, tells Sarasa that what Hijiri proposed isn’t the best method. You can’t be up there pretending to pay attention to the audience, just as you can’t be nothingness itself. Instead, one must always be conscious of what the audience wants, and then find a way to give it to them. That’s what makes top stars. That’s what makes legends.

The day of the festival at Hakusen Grand Hall, the students participate in the opening ceremony, but Hijiri’s shit-stirring campaign has twisted Sarasa up so bad she mimes playing her recorder. Her designated senpai Risa, whom we’ve seen far too little of in recent weeks, knows exactly what that bitch Hijiri is doing and doesn’t like it one bit.

Taking Sarasa aside, Risa spares no measure of cage-rattling, and tells Sarasa to get out of her head and remember the fact that the Superiors picked her. If she can’t understand why, that’s fine, but she at least has to accept that they did it because she was someone worth believing in. Giving up without putting herself out there and doing her absolute best will only make her naysayers angrier…and in any case, fuck the naysayers!

Risa’s own strong big sis pep talk gets an unexpected boost from Winter Top Star Satomi Sei, who gives Sarara a wall slam. Having overheard that Sarasa is most nervous about “being herself”, she invites her to imagine she’s playing the role of herself instead. Sei also delivers a bouquet of roses to the kabuki actor and senpai to Akiya we can be reasonably certain is Sarasa’s biological father.

While the pep talk by Risa and Sei works, Sarasa still overthinks things by getting all caught up in whether playing the role of herself and being herself is different or better. Here Ai comes to the rescue with more sage advice, following up on what she said the night before: be the person you want the audience to think you are: your ideal self.

Hilariously, for Sarasa “ideal” means an E-cup bust so she can properly fit into an Eva-style plug suit (between this and the A.T. Field, KS had some Eva nostalgia this week!). Ai is mortified, but whatever gives Sarasa the confidence to perform—and releases her from Hijiri’s psychological black magic—is just fine!

Unfortunately, in the actual relay race in which Sarasa and Sei are in the same leg, Sei’s teammate loses her grip on the baton and sends it flying. While leaping out to catch it, Sei collides with Sarasa and they both end up on the ground. Suddenly it seems like even if the Superiors didn’t make a mistake by putting a rangy first year on a relay team, the end effect was a fiasco.

Only…that doesn’t happen. In the few seconds she’s on the ground, Sarasa considers the best action to take: get up, run, and win it for her Summer team, or lend a helping hand to Sei. In the end, she gauges what the audience at Hakusen Grand Hall wants, then gives it to them, by staying laid out flat on the floor and letting Winter’s Top Star give her a helping hand up.

The choice proves to be the correct one, as the crowd goes wild watching Sei and Sarasa run their leg while holding hands, and their anchors also finishing the race together. Summer and Winter may have lost the festival, but they won the crowd. That’s the kind of instincts Sarasa naturally possesses; Ai just needed to give her a little push.

While I wish we could have seen a cutaway to Hijiri stewing over Sarasa’s win, it seems her efforts were successfully countered by Risa, Sei, and Ai. I still worry about how Sarasa’s guilelessness will hold up against someone even more obnoxiously evil than Hijiri (if such a human exists), but for now, as long as she has that safety net of people who genuinely love and care for her, Sarasa will be fine. No one needs to fight their fight alone.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Kageki Shoujo!! – 09 – A Beautiful Frame

Even Kouka has a sports festival, and every ten years it’s a grand sports festival; since this will be the centennial festival it’s even more significant. For instance, Kouka’s “Superiors” will be heavily involved in the festivities.

Since Ai, like us, has no idea what that meants, Sawa helpfully explains they’re venerable veteran actresses who don’t belong to any one troupe and enjoy a higher rank than top stars and troupe leads. They are the creme de la creme, and the episode really sells that fact.

That said, the four top otoko-yaku in one room is a pretty awe-inspiring sight too. These ladies are very, very good at portraying men and boys, and the first years are understandably starstruck; Sawa even bleeds from the nose at the sight of them.

The four are not just there to look handsome and get fawned upon. Just as their individual troupes compete for the most and most passionate fanbases, they’re equally passionate rivals in the sports festival. Each of them intends to win and beat the others.

At one point Sawa needs some scissors, so Sarasa voluntters to grab some from the faculty lounge. There, she encounters Andou-sensei for the first time since he basically told her to forget everything she knew about acting to that point and start over.

I love how Sarasa shows Andou what he was hoping for: that she wasn’t going to let harsh but true criticism keep her down in the dumps forever. After summer break that fleeting disappointment is in her rearview mirror. She’s back and ready to put in the work.

Back in episode 6 I mentioned my wish to learn more about the Sawada Twins, Chika and Chiaki. The remainder of this episode grants my wish and then some, delivering what I believe to be one of the most beautiful and realistic depictions of the unique issues that befall twins; namely the realization they’re not the same.

Chika, the “darker” twin, resents when Chiaki easily befriends one of the Superiors, Mirai—whom we later learn was the top star that inspired them as children to become Kouka actresses. When Mirai mistakes Chika for Chiaki and calls her “Juliet”, Chika ignores her and walks away.

It’s Chiaki who later gets in trouble with Mirai when she next sees her, ruining the good vibes of the rehearsals….but Chika, the real culprit, keeps quiet. Ultimately it’s Sarasa and her good hearing who clears up the mix-up.

That night, the twin sisters have a fight that quickly grows in nastiness, with Chika spewing most of the venom. Later we’ll learn it’s the first time they’ve fought. Now Chiaki moves out of the dorm room they share, switching places with Sarasa.

As we’d expect, Ai neither knows how nor tries to get Chiaki to open up, but Sarasa and Chika are a different story. We learn that the two did everything together and even walked in lockstep, but when they both applied for Kouka and only Chika got in, that suddenly ended their run of identicalness.

Rather than attend as was her right, Chika felt bad for Chiaki, who wasn’t eating or sleeping and didn’t leave their room, and as her twin knew the only way to console her was to turn down her acceptance and try again with her sister next year.

That pulled Chiaki out of her emotional nosedive, but it came as a cost: the twins were always going to be out of balance due to Chika’s sacrifice, which is both something she decided on her own to do and something she felt she was obligated to do, out of loyalty to her twin. She chose blood over fame.

But that resentment lingered, and festered, and caused Chika to become someone who’d pass up opportunities again and again for Chiaki’s sake. She felt she couldn’t do things for her sake and eventually came to hate Chiaki for it.

When Chika gets the opportunity to apologize to Mirai for her rudeness, she explains the dark thoughts that had overcome her, and Mirai understands. Jealous befalls us all, but the key is to turn it into ambition, and not let it twist us into self-destructive choices.

Rather than be a haughty Superior, Mirai comforts her junior like a mother would comfort a daughter, assuring her that her desire to apologize and make up with Chika means she’s a good person, and this bad experience will ultimately make her stronger person.

I’m not an identical twin, so I can’t imagine how scary and lonely it feels to them when they come upon a “fork in the road” past which they won’t be the same in everything. That fork came earlier than they expected; the mere fact they had to expect it would happen really speaks to that unique turmoil.

Part of Chika was just as apprehensive about taking off ahead of Chiaki on her side that fork in the road as Chiaki was about getting left behind. The two have accepted that they can’t be the same anymore, but they’re not ready to drift apart forever, either.

There’s potential in the Kouka Revue for twin roles, and Mirai, now friends with both twins, tells them they can realize that potential if they become popular enough. Nothing in Kouka comes easily; it takes blood, sweat, and tears. But the Superiors, and the Top Stars below them, embody what you get for all that hard work: a kind of apotheosis and immortality. Chika and Chiaki could be Kouka’s Apollo and Artemis…or twin Juliets.

Kageki Shoujo!! – 08 – The Bus Stop by the Sea

Back at school after summer break, Hoshino Kaoru is sporting a new super-short hairstyle, in keeping with her goal to become an otoko-yaku, but soon  scolds Sarasa and Ai for allowing themselves to get a tan. Flashback to a formative summer in Kaoru’s life: the summer before her third year of high school, her last chance to get into Kouka…and when she fell in love for the first time.

Kaoru walking on sunny days with an umbrella was derided by some, not only was it odd behavior, but also presumptuous to those who knew her pedigree. While using a bus stop to the hospital to visit her gran (recovering from surgery), she encounters Tsuji Rikuto, the younger brother of a famous rising star of baseball.

Since his gran is so into the Kouka Revue and he overheard from mean girls of Kaoru’s relation, Rikuto works up the courage to ask her about the troupe, but is interrupted by another girl in love with his brother to give him her love letter. He refuses, and shortly thereafter, Kaoru tells him her name.

At first, Rikuto thinks she’s another girl trying to get closer to his bro through him, but she quickly clears that up by telling him about the expectations being the daughter of a Kouka actress and granddaughter of a top star, and he gets it; they’re like kindred spirits.

Of the two, Kaoru is the one more keen to fight against those who would define them by their more accomplished relations, and it’s her texts to him encouraging him to be himself and not worry about being compared that causes an uptick in Rikuto’s baseball play.

Their bus stop encounters and bus rides soon become something both look forward to, such that Kaoru starts visiting her gran more so she can also see Rikuto. She confides in him how she’d never be somebody to say “I’m getting in” knowing how hard it really is (Sarasa doesn’t have that problem). Kaoru is all about the hard work, right down to covering up in the sun to avoid getting tanned.

When she shows off the skirt she’s wearing, eager to wear as many as she can before she gets into wearing men’s clothes when she’s an otoko-yaku, Rikuto is sure that even if she had a mustache she’d be pretty. It’s the first time a boy ever called her pretty, and she wasn’t prepared for how happy it made her.

Rikuto eventually asks Kaoru out to the fireworks festival marking the end of summer; unaware that it would also mark the end of their brief, cozy romance. Before meeting him there, his grandmother assures her she doesn’t have to keep trying to become a Kouka actress if she doesn’t want to.

Kaoru isn’t about to tell her still-recovering gran that she’s full of shit, but she’s still down in the dumps when she meets Rikuto. For a time, him complimenting her yukata catching her when she’s pushed by some kids, and holding her hand is enough to soothe her troubled heart.

But then she asks why Rikuto seems so down, and he tells her that he’s questioning what the point of forcing himself to follow in his brother’s footsteps and fulfill everyone’s expectations of him…then he says he’s sure Kaoru thinks the same way all the time.

Kaoru…does not. Like her gran, and practically everyone else in her life, Rikuto doesn’t understand her after all; that this is precisely the path she chose to walk and she’s never questioned why she was walking it. She’s not trying to get into Kouka for anyone other than herself.

As she runs away from Rikuto in tears, she calls herself stupid for feeling jealous of the “typical high school girl’s life”, including having a boy worry about her and cheer her up. She runs along the beach singing a song, her voice wavering from her flowing tears, but eventually her voice clears as heartbreak turns into iron determination.

She swears to herself she’s going to make it. The normal life isn’t for her. She’s bound for the world of dreams and glamour.

While she intends to make a clean break by blocking Rikuto on her phone, his team actually makes it to the Koshien prelim final, and he just so happens to hit a game-winning pinch-hit home run as Kaoru is walking past a TV in the window broadcasting his game.

Despite knowing nothing about baseball (except what he taught her), and how things turned out at the fireworks festival, Kaoru is still happy Rikuto got to play, and win. Seeing him succeed on TV showed her that he didn’t give up on his path after questioning the point of it all, and after he incorrectly assumed her motives for walking hers.

She still never went back to that seaside bus stop, but it reappears again at Kouka of all places, when Sarasa sees it going viral on social media. Some mystery person left a note on the wall of the stop saying he didn’t give up and thanking another mystery person. Being a hopeless romantic, this kind of thing is right up Sarasa’s alley.

As the newly-shorn Kaoru examines the picture, she smiles knowingly and blushes ever so slightly. Of the thousands sharing that picture, only she and Rikuto know who it’s for and what it means, just like only they know what they want to do in life and are going to go after it with everything they can.

Hoshino Kaoru closes this incredibly moving portrait of her character the way one would close an epic romantic movie: by saying that when she gets to walk out on that Silver Bridge, she’ll save Rikuto “a primo seat in the SS section”…and maybe even say she was in love with him one bright, beautiful summer.

The perfect parting shot of the two having fun at the bus stop by the sea, at the height of that summer and the height of their love, was a thing of exquisite bittersweet beauty—as was the closing theme as sung by Kaoru ‘s seiyu Taichi You. And just like that, I’m in love with yet another character in this show, along with Sarasa, Ai, and Ayako.

GODDAMN TEARJERKER™ CERTIFIED

Kageki Shoujo!! – 07 – The Curse of “Never”

Summer Break is upon Kouka’s hundredth class, but Ai’s version of giddiness over getting to spend it at Sarasa’s is somewhat tempered by how the semester ended: with Sarasa taking a major hit from Andou-sensei. As I suspected, perfect replication of other actors isn’t going to cut it if you’re going to be a Top Star in the Kouka Revue. This doesn’t mesh with what Sarasa learned about kabuki growing up, where succeeding generations of actors do their best to embody their predecessors as closely as possible.

But that’s Kabuki; and this is Kouka. Sarasa and Ai also get a little education on Andou-sensei and why he’s nicknamed “Phantom”, courtesy of the two top Kouka stars who happened to be seated in the row ahead of them! Apparently Andou was an esteemed actor with a musical troupe, most famous for his Phantom of the Opera, but due to a stage accident he had to retire, and decided to teach instead.

I’m glad he did, because as I said, as painful as it was to see Sarasa’s reaction and ensuing gloom, she was straying from the path to Lady Oscar, and needed a course correction. Fortunately, there’s plenty of family and friends waiting for Sarasa to take her mind off being “Sara-sad”, if only temporarily.

Ai insists on sitting formally for the duration of the gathering downstairs, even though she’s mostly ignored and suffering the agony needlessly (gramps told her to sit however she likes). Then Sarasa then goes to see her grandma at her grave, suggesting Ai can hang with the cat while she’s gone.

Of course, we know even when Sarasa and Ai don’t that it’s not just the cat waiting in her room, but Akiya. Ai, who is not good with people, comes off as curt with Akiya, who misinterprets it as intentional rudeness, but when Ai profusely apologizes and hides behind a wall, Akiya’s stance softens.

When asked about his “girlfriend” Sarasa, all he’ll tell Ai is that they were childhood friends since forever, and they took traditional dance classes together. Fortunately, we get to learn a lot more about both Sarasa and Akiya’s past, and Sarasa comes out even more amazing for having enduring what she had to endure.

Basically, the famous kabuki actor Kouzaburou was always very close to Sarasa, so much so that rumors floated around of her being his illegitimate daughter. Illegitimate or not, had she been a boy, she would have been the heir apparent to the venerable Shirakawa Kaou name…which Akiya is expected to assume instead. He’s far more loosely related, but he’s a boy.

It didn’t help matters for Akiya that while he liked Sarasa a lot for her strength and cheerfulness, she also happened to be a better natural talent than him when it came to Kabuki. Unfortunately, Sarasa was never sat down and told that grown women aren’t allowed to perform Kabuki.

That said, when another actor is ill, Sarasa is chosen to fill in during a performance of Sukeroku, since she memorized all the lines and movements (even back then, she was amazing). Young girls are allowed to perform, so there was no problem.

But while performing beside her, Akiya could tell how goddamn good Sarasa was, and how goddamn unfair it was that Sarasa’s Kabuki career would reach a harsh dead end due to tradition. After the performance, he first hears the rumor that Sarasa is related to Kouzaburou, which he shares with his mom/grandma/aunt/guardian (I forget her exact relation to him).

Tossing that pebble in the pond causes all kinds of drama, including his mom* chewing out poor Sarasa at the front door, telling her for the first time she’ll “never” be able to be something—in this case, Sukeroku. As soon as Sarasa runs off crying she’s immediately ashamed and regretful, but the damage is done.

Sarasa’s gramps comes to Kouzaburou’s house and chews him out for traumatizing Sarasa, and declares that she’ll have nothing to do with him or Kabuki ever again. That said, gramps softens considerably upon seeing a scared Akiya in the hall, and asks him if he’ll continue being Sarasa’s friend. He’s only cutting her off from Kabuki, he says.

Shortly after Sarasa stopped coming to dance classes, her grandma died, and Akiya and Kaou pay their respects from a distance. When Akiya sees Sarasa’s raw eyes, he starts to cry too…and Kaou tells him to hold on to the pain…it will make him a better actor.

Fast-forward to the present, and Akiya and Sarasa remain friends despite having been kinda-sorta rivals in the past. The rivalry never happened because the institution of Kabuki never let it. I’d say it’s for the best, since I have every confidence Sarasa will be okay in Kouka, but if ever there was going to be a first woman kabuki actor, it would be her!

After giving Sarasa her present of another bizarre figurine she’s super excited about (which is also see-through, for reasons), he also invites both Sarasa and Ai to a performance of Sukeroku he’ll be in. He already got clearance from her gramps.

That night, Ai learns about Sarasa’s performance in Sukeroku when she was only six. The two girls are transported into space as Sarasa beautifully, poetically describes what it was like being on that stage, feeling the audience like heat on her skin, feeling like the stage was a different world; feeling she had transformed into someone else.

It was clearly one of the most amazing moments of her life, making it doubly tragic that she was later deprived of pursuing a future there despite how much she loved it and how good she was. Even so, hearing Sarasa’s words makes Ai want to go see Sukeroku with Sarasa all the more, if only to catch a glimpse of the stage Sarasa once stood upon.

During the performance, Ai notices Sarasa crying, and isn’t sure whether it’s due to fond memories or “something else entirely.” Uh, why not both? From there, the episode abruptly cuts to the train platform where Sarasa and Ai are heading home. Akiya gives Sarasa some words of support and assurance from his heart.

He reminds her they’ve only just started down their paths; it’s okay to lose sight of what they want sometimes; and all they can do is keep moving forward. Sarasa still wants to play Lady Oscar, and she’s going to make it happen—”nevers” be damned!

She also wants Akiya to play Sukeroku. After a firm handshake (throwing Ai off a bit, as she assumed they’d at least hug), the two part ways, both feeling better than before they’d seen each other. They may not be a lovey-dovey couple, but they’re a couple where it matters.

Kageki Shoujo!! – 06 – Such Sins Shall Not Be Endured

The 100th Class is restless. For four months they’ve been subjected to basics basics basics when each of them are anything but. They’re fed up of boring lessons…they want to ACT. Sarasa, never one to shy away from making her thoughts known, whatever they may be, airs the united class’s grievance to Andou-sensei.

He seems miffed by her impression of her, even though everyone agrees it’s as spot-on as her impressions of all the other teachers. They wonder if it’s because it’s so good that it struck a nerve. Such is Sarasa’s performative power.

Oh, it’s also Sarasa’s 16th birthday! Akiya’s older kabuki kolleague took the liberty of delivering sixteen roses to Sarasa under an alias, living as he is vicariously through Akiya and Sarasa’s chaste, minimalist long-distance relationship. But Ai isn’t going to lose to some “frog bot”; so she plays and plays the store lottery until she wins a figurine she knows Sarasa will cherish.

She also uses the opportunity to try to call Sarasa by her first name instead of “Sara…Watanabe-san”, and when prompted by Sarasa herself to do so, Ai is finally able to do it. More than by the figurine, Sarasa is made happiest by seeing her first name in Ai’s handwriting and hearing it in Ai’s voice. I love these two so much it hurts.

I could honestly deal quite well with a Kageki Shoujo!! that’s nothing but Sarasa and Ai hanging out and gradually becoming closer, but we’ve got a whole ensemble to cover here, and the results of spreading the love across multiple Kouka students isn’t bad either!

This week focuses on the other members of Sarasa and Ai’s Group E, who along with the other groups have two weeks to prepare to do a scene from Romeo & Juliet. Rock Paper Scissors is used to determine who plays what role, resulting in the suboptimal pairing of Hoshino Kaoru’s Romeo with Ai’s Juliet. Sarasa has to play the much darker Tybalt.

The role of Juliet was really won by Chika, one of the Sawada twins, but she decides to be the lesser role of Juliet’s nurse, later seeing her sister Chiaki claim the role with giddy elation. Is Chika less ambitious than Chiaki, or is she simply trying to differentiate herself from her sister in order to shine on her own? The twins have just been background noise until now, so I’m looking forward to them getting a bit more fleshed out.

Kaoru, whom I’d forgotten wishes to be a otoko-yaku like Sarasa, does not surrender Romeo to Sarasa. Instead, she takes Group E firmly by the reins and does not spare the whip. She harshly criticizes both Sarasa and Ai for seemingly not giving it their all, then finally snaps at Sarasa for daring to propose they practice on the sidewalk like common street performers.

As with Ayako last week, Ai sees a member of JPX in Kaoru, specifically the leader, who was always angry and never satisfied. She also learns why from the other girls; both of the previous generations of Hoshino women were Kouka performers. Ai bridges the gap between her and Kaoru by acknowledging the pressure Kaoru is under, while also admitting something she deems to be shameful and almost disqualifying for a Kouka actress.

Due to all of her years performing from a young age, she never properly learned to read kanji. Ai tells Kaoru there’s nothing wrong with her having a short fuse or being tough on them; if she’s not tough on them, Group E will fail. And if Kaoru doesn’t want to be the bad guy of the group, they’ll also fail!

Speaking of bad guys, Sarasa has zero experience embodying characters like Tybalt, but while she sucks at reading a script, watching a Blu-Ray of Romeo & Juliet is another thing entirely. She absorbs every moment of the performances on the screen, and the shape and color of every line, like a very tall, very efficient sponge. And lest you think I’m being harsh on Sarasa, I hold living sponges in high regard! We should all wish to live such an elegant existence!

When the time comes for the first-ever Great “Let First-Years Act” Experiment, Andou chooses Group E to go first. As they perform in their tracksuits on a rehearsal stage, the audience (including us) are transported to the fully-dressed performance stage, complete with lighting and costumes. This is a nice stylistic touch.

Kaoru makes a good Romeo, but Andou can see her gaze is uneven, indicating she’s distracted and letting her self intrude on her performance. Chika flubs a line by repeating it, but after a momentary breakdown, remembers Ai’s words about them continuing to the end even if they mess up, and improvises a great save. Ai isn’t bringing true love to the performance (because Sarasa is her true Romeo), and she’s also doing what she was trained to do as an idol: performing to an audience of one. A Kouka actress must perform for everyone.

Then Tybalt takes the stage, and we finally see why Kaoru said what she said earlier about people normally improving gradually. Sarasa isn’t normal. After watching the video, once, she manages to serve up a perfect performance of Tybalt, causing her classmates to audibly gasp in unison. Andou is also impressed by the way Sarasa stands, locks her gaze high as if she were performing to a packed Kouka theatre crowd of 2,500. It is stirring, but in the end, it’s too perfect.

In his critique of Group E, Andou-sensei tells Sarasa flat-out that she will never be a top star of Kouka…not unless she changes. As I am prepared to give my life to defend Sarasa’s smile (not to mention Ai’s), it’s here where I must apply Tybalt’s line “Such sins shall not be endured” and “He is naught but a villain” to Andou-sensei. He is a villain whose sin was turning Sarasa’s smile into a look of pained bewilderment. Curse him!

But here’s the thing…he’s absolutely right, and Sarasa needed to hear his harsh words sooner rather than later, because she wasn’t really acting on that rehearsal stage, she was mimicking what she saw—down to the last precise detail. That is an impressive talent, foreshadowed when she did impressions of the other teachers, but it isn’t acting. Sarasa can’t be a top star of Kouka by simply perfectly replicating what she’s seen and heard. At least, that’s what I think Andou-sensei is on about.

Sarasa will have to change. She may even have to forget everything she knows about performing and start over from scratch. Her friend Ai will be there for her, as will the other girls of Kouka. After all, if there’s one person they want to see on stage more than the Sarasa they’ve already seen, it’s the future Sarasa who has mastered how to deliver performances all her own. I know Ai wants to see that Sarasa, and I do too!

Osamake DROPPED

It was a real struggle to get through this episode. As soon as Momo proposes a contest to see who can make the better sports drink commercial—a bunch of high school kids or a professional agency—complete with all kinds of rules and small print and secret conditions and hidden motives…I was pretty much checked out.

The completely irrational amounts of plot layered on top of plot absolutely suffocated the outing, and that’s before we get into Kuro’s half-assed fake amnesia, or Momo and Tetsuhiko’s convoluted plots, or the fact Shun is Tetsuhiko’s father, or Momo’s inevitable transfer to Haru’s class.

There was a time I was enjoying a show that promised in the title that the childhood friend would win. But as the show completely lost interest in its characters and tangled them up in a grotesque mess of plot points and twisted motivations, I’m afraid that time has now passed.

Osamake – 05 – Making a Comeback

While it’s no match for Super Cub in my book, Osamake takes itself out of last week’s tailspin by getting back to what it does best: illustrating the enduring relationships between Sueharu and the people closest to him. When Kuro’s sisters Midori, Akane and Aoi inform him that Kuro has lost all memories after he rejected her confession, it’s because they consider him their big brother, and only he can make things right.

It’s fun to see three different aspects of Kuro reflected in her little sisters, from Midori’s frankness and assertiveness and Akane’s affinity for analysis and logic, to Aoi’s pure virtuous femininity. They’re not just there to ask Haru to help; they’re there to remind him why he should want to help; Kuro is too precious to him to leave alone.

The youngest sister Akane says it best when she says if he returns to show business she’ll be “proud, but also sad”. She just insists that whatever choice he makes, he makes it from a positive mindset, and not “run away from love.”

As her sisters indicated, Kuro meets  Haru outside his front door the next day, ready to apologize for who from her perspective is her future self she has no memory of. She can’t fathom why she’d reject Haru when she loves him so much (it’s a boon to this series that this fact is never in doubt), and wonders if he still likes her even after she did something so awful to him.

When he recoils from her, she realizes how much that other Kuro fucked up, but she desperately wants him to trust her again. She feels they simply “started buttoning up from the wrong hole”, which is a hell of a metaphor! She wants to start over form the first, correct button-hole, It’s another boon to the series that Haru’s affection for Kuro hasn’t lessened in the least, as he asks her to stay by his side.

Haru and Kuro may have messed up a lot to this point, but they’re still too close and care about each other too much to let everything that’s happened ruin their close, deep relationship. It’s gratifying to see them make up like this, even if it’s marred by Shiro showing up in her car. Her intentions are at least somewhat altruistic, as she came to take Haru to school by car to avoid the press. And yet, she also believes Kuro doesn’t really have amnesia.

Haru decides to test this the best way he knows how: by attempting to feed Kuro a food she knows had traumatized her in the past: octopus weiners! When she eventually lets him feed her one and she doesn’t react as she should, he concludes she must have some amnesia.

And yet, the fact she doesn’t remember encouraging him to do his best for his cultural festival performance brings tears to his eyes, because he wouldn’t have been able to achieved what he did without her. She may not remember that particular instance of supporting him, but she still knows when her childhood friend is troubled and crying for her, so she embraces him warmly in thanks, and tells him she’ll keep supporting him in whatever he decides to do.

Turns out all of this was recorded by Shiro, who busts in to break up the love-in. But Tetsu is there too, and he wants to come up with a way to satisfy all parties. If Shiro wants Haru back in action, he suggests they work through his entertainment club to produce WeTube videos that will surely be popular because they’ll star Haru and will be written by Shiro, the person who can bring out the best in him.

Tetsu personally thinks that Haru can always get back into big-time show business as an adult, but should really enjoy his high school years while he can, because they’ll never come again. It’s actually a pretty well though-out compromise and Haru is definitely intrigued. He’s still going to talk to the agency, but recognizes he’ll have a hard choice to make.

The next day, Haru arrives at the agency where Maria is waiting for him, and we get a nice, efficient little scene that accentuates the bond these two have for each other. When they first met, Maria wouldn’t give him the time of day, and always thought him boring. But when she watched him act, she was captivated by his pure talent for entertaining people.

The only problem is, the agent Haru deals with while Kuro, Shiro, Maria, and Tetsu in tow is…a bit of a dick. He tries to entice both Haru and Kuro with lofty amounts of money he guarantees they’ll make if they sign with him. But when Haru firmly declines multiple times, and the agent mocks her for possibly not being raised right, Haru pours his expensive red wine on his head.

With that, it seems he’s made his choice: performing in videos written by Shiro, possibly co-starring Kuro, for Tetsu’s entertainment Club. I for one am with Tetsu: you’re only a high schooler once. Spend the time having fun with the people you care about, not putting your nose to the show business grindstone. Money can’t buy happiness!

I must mention: at times, probably most times, this episode looked like absolute crap. However, I still consider it a comeback from last week because it got back to why I liked the show in the first place: the chemistry between Haru and Kuro—which even a bout of amnesia couldn’t dull—as well as an enticing way forward for our once and future acting king.

Osamake – 04 – Piling On

Osamake reiterates the fine mess that has been made as each vertex of the Shiro-Haru-Kuro love triangle wallows in misery in their dark bedrooms. Haru blames himself, Kuro blames Haru, and Shiro blames Kuro for the mess, but they’re all pretty much equally responsible.

Tetsu doesn’t make things easier for any of them the next day at school when he announces that his video of the whole horrific fiasco was watched by over a million people on “WeTube”, though his primary goal wasn’t to humiliate anyone but promote Haru’s potential comeback.

The video has the unexpected effect of attracting another woman from Haru’s acting past: the now famous and beloved star Momosaka Maria, who stakes out her territory immediately by coming into Haru’s class and glomming onto him. When Shiro and Kuro try to complain, she dismisses them as, respectively, the woman he used to like and the woman who rejected him about as publically as anyone could reject someone.

Bottom line, Momo-chan considers them to be in Haru’s rearview mirror, while she represents his future. Haru was this little sister figure’s first love, and she’s determined to hitch her star to his wagon, so to speak. After she departs for the time being, Tetsu treats Haru to an apology pizza, only to reveal it was procured by his “jack-of-all-trades” fixer, Asagi Rena, who smells “good money” on a Haru comeback.

But Rena’s intro is interrupted by Shiro, who with her friend Meiko’s help invites Haru to come to her house sometime, ostensibly to meet with her father again. When Kuro tries to intervene, the mere sight of her triggers Haru’s trauma over being rejected and he literally turns into a tiny monkey hiding behind Shiro, who lets Kuro have it on his behalf.

Haru doesn’t like how things ended with Kuro there, but he’s more distressed about the mess he helped make as a result of not fully understanding how Kuro felt despite being so close to her for so long. He talks with Tetsu on the phone about it, unaware that Tetsu has him on speaker and Kuro is listening. Tetsu asks what Kuro is going to do, but she doesn’t respond.

Meanwhile, Momo continues her campaign to conquer Haru and cut the other two out of his life by letting herself into his house and cooking him all his favorite dishes, which she learned of from his late mother way back when. Haru realizes that the press crush and online calming must’ve been Momo’s doing, while Momo admits that the video was the trigger to finally approach him about rejoining the agency where they first met, now run by Shun Hardy, son of its former boss, “Auntie Nina.”

She has two cards: one for Haru and one for Kuro, but then this development is interrupted by another: Kuro’s three sisters are at Haru’s door to report that…Kuro has developed amnesia. As sudden bouts of amnesia (especially those unexplained by an accident or other physical trauma) are my least favorite anime plot device, I sincerely hope this is another ruse. But even if it is a ruse, it’s simply one too many things going on. The gorgeous mess has become an ugly one.

Shiro’s continuing attempts to make Haru fall for him again, the viral video kickstarting Haru’s acting career, the sudden appearance of Momo and Rena, whatever Tetsu still may be planning, and now Kuro apparently has freakin’ amnesia? It’s needlessly, discouragingly too damn much. Combined with the increasingly apparent meh production values, the shine is starting to wear off Osamake. I’m morbidly curious to see what becomes of this amnesia issue, but the show needs to settle down and focus soon, or I’m out.

Osamake – 03 – Flipping a Switch

The day of the cultural festival and its all-important confession session have arrived, and Sueharu is ready to do battle with Mitsuru for Kachi’s heart. But just as Sueharu is causing Kuro to blush by complimenting her cute café outfit, he gets an unexpected visitor: Shirou, the kid he hung out with when he was little.

Of course, we know it’s just Kachi, with her seiyu Sakura Ayane only making her voice a little more boyish. To her surprise and delight, not only does Sueharu remember who she is, but remembers the promise he made to appear in something she wrote. Shirou reveals she is and was Kachi all along, and asks that he call her Shiro, and she’ll start calling him Su-chan again.

Kuro overhears this all, and isn’t ready to give Sueharu up just yet. Sueharu may not have known until now that Shirou was Kachi, but he knows Kuro well enough to know when she’s seeking attention, since she goes off on frustrated rants to him and only him. Everytime Kuro and Sueharu share the screen, you know you’re in for some wonderful character work.

Unfortunately their time together leading up to his big performance ends on a bitter note, as Kuro decides it’s necessary to “hit the reset button” on her and Sueharu’s relationship. She commemorates the moment with a slap, saying whatever he does with Kachi isn’t her concern. Though she runs off, she can’t help but turn back when Sueharu calls her name, and gives him just the saddest, loneliest smile as she wishes him luck on stage.

With that, the confession festival begins, and by God what a cur-sed exercise. Sure, it works out for one guy confessing his love to a girl who feels the same way, but seriously, if this is a real thing in schools these days I’m glad I’m not in high school anymore. I’ll confess to someone in private, thaaaaaanks.

The resulting song-and-dance-off between Mitsuru and Sueharu is suitably anticlimactic. I’m no dance instructor, but it looks like they’re both dancing like Elaine from Seinfeld, and their mouths rarely, if ever, move while they’re supposedly singing. Still, the scene is notable for not going the way I thought, with Sueharu suffering a sudden bout of stage fright and ruining his big chance, as several flags set earlier suggested.

I made special mention of Kuro’s parting smile immediately before his performance because that’s what I believe caused Sueharu to flip a switch of his own, and I’m not talking about going into stage mode. While he woke up that morning intending to confess to Shiro, his interactions with Kuro before and since have finally gelled into the realization that she is the one most important to him.

When Sueharu confesses to Kuro instead of Shiro, it’s a tremendous shock for both girls. Shiro is shook, while Kuro is caught so off guard she impulsively and very publically turns him down, still sore from when he turned her down.

As we learn in the aftermath of this total romantic fiasco when he and Tetsuhiko do the postgame show, Mitsuru wasn’t an asshole after all! Shiro was never dating him; he simply went along with it when she lied and then was too proud to take it back. Mitsuru intentionally chose a song that Sueharu was far better at performing, because he selfishly wanted to see Mitsuru back on stage.

Both Mitsuru and Tetsuhiko did all they could for Shiro and Sueharu, respectively. But when Sueharu changed on a dime who he’d be confessing to, he sealed his fate; Haru was under no obligation to say yes, due to a part of her wanting revenge against him for taking her for granted and pining for Shiro. Shiro, in turn, could have gotten Sueharu if she hadn’t lied about Mitsuru, which caused him and Haru to plot revenge against her.

Finally, Kuro played herself, because in hindsight the satisfaction she got from rejecting Sueharu simply wasn’t worth it. Now she regrets rejecting him, just as Shiro did after learning him quitting acting wasn’t his fault. The timing of all three sucked, resulting in all of them being alone and miserable.

And as complicated as this whole business felt, this is the last time it’s just Sueharu, Kuro, and Shiro, as a third girl is introduced post-credits, discovering her “Onii-chan” has returned to the stage. The messiness has just begun!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Osamake – 02 – The Cost of Assumptions

Maru Sueharu was indeed a famous and talented child actor, while his dad was a stuntman and his mother an “unsuccessful” actress. Abe Mitsuru asks why Sueharu suddenly quit acting six years ago, but I doubt the answer matters much to him, as once Mitsuru found out Sueharu liked Shirokusa, he decided to date her for the express purpose of humiliating him and proving that he “won”. I take it back; this guy’s a dick!

Mitsuru also makes clear his intentions to officially confess to Shirokusa at the confession festival, in hopes of squashing Suehar’s first love for good. Why he cares so much about Sueharu is anyone’s guess, but the bottom line is that if Sueharu will need to make a big splash at the festival to foil his scheme.

Despite Kuroha loudly proclaiming she and Sueharu are now dating, Shirokusa still agrees to write a script for a play Sueharu will perform for the festival—provided he’s the star and she gets properly compensated. She then contributes to his persona non grata status with the boys by exchanging NINE info with him.

Kuroha, who we learn is one of four beautiful Shida sisters who live next door to Sueharu, stops by to check on him. Once again the two exhibit a warm, lovely lived in chemistry. While she’s organizing his books, a photo slips out of one of them: a photo of him as a kid with someone who is clearly Shirokusa.

Sueharu, who calls Shirokusa Kachi, doesn’t make the connection to his old friend “Shiro”, because he is very dumb and possibly face-blind. Right on cue, Shirokusa then calls Sueharu up, and they have a playful little chat to arrange a place and time to meet and talk about the play. After the call, Kuroha knows it was Shirokusa on the line, and is worried about Sueharu jumping back into acting after so long.

She also makes clear that even if it doesn’t go well it doesn’t matter, because he has other qualities besides acting ability, and she reiterates that she likes him. When she teases his red face, he raises a mirror to show her hers, then tries to go further by taking her by the chin and teasing a kiss, only to chicken out when she was ready to go.

I realize I said this last week, but it sure would be a lot easier if he got over Shirokusa and dated Kuroha for real! I know, I know, love polygon romcoms need these kinds of bumps to provide drama. Speaking of drama, on the day Sueharu practices on stage with Tetsuhiko, he suddenly suffers what I’d describe as a panic attack and passes out.

He wakes up in the nurse’s office, with Shirokusa by his side, ready to begin their meeting when he’s ready. She admits she decided to write the script for him because she’s supporting him getting back into acting. As far as payment goes, she wants neither cash nor groveling, but an explanation for what happened to his acting career. Sueharu proceeds to tell a sad tale of his mother getting the role of his mother in the second season of Child Star, the show that made him famous.

But his mom put so much into her role, she ended up hitting her head while filming a scene where her character was to be hit by a car. The show was going to be cancelled, but Sueharu insisted the show go on. But after that second season it went on indefinite hiatus, along with his career. He couldn’t tell anyone at the time what happened due to a gag order.

Sueharu’s story moves Shirokusa to tears, and not just because it’s a sad story, but because it throws off her whole revenge plot against him—which predates his by six years! As expected, the “Shiro” Sueharu and Kuroha saw in the photo was her. She was spellbound by his performances on TV, and had him invited to her house to hang out. I particularly love how in this flashback her younger self looked his way with her head sideways on the desk, just like she did in the present when he asked her to write him a script.

Back then, she asks if she could write something for him to act in, and he was enthusiastic about it. He thus became her muse, as she began to write prolifically. But when he stopped coming by without explanation and his show ended, Shirokusa took it as a personal affront. She dedicated to becoming stronger, prettier, and famous to get back at him for leaving her.

As she walks home after their meeting, Shirokusa is in tears, because he’d gone from her first love to her hating him, and now she’s back to loving him, especially knowing what happened wasn’t her fault, or anyone’s. My questions are, is she in cahoots with Mitsuru or are they using each other to make Sueharu envious, and will this revelation lead to her cancelling her vendetta?

Whatever path she takes, Sueharu and Kuroha are proceeding with the play in which he upstages Mitsuru and confesses to Shirokusa. But Kuroha doesn’t trust Shirokusa and worries that this is a trap by her and Mitsuru to kick him as low as he can go just when he’s riding high. Nevertheless, Sueharu wants to give it a try.

While Kuroha is worried about him, as a childhood friend would, she’s also supportive, telling him that even after all this time his natural talent is still there, and he’s a better actor than he gives himself credit for. As long as he’s acting for someone, she knows he’ll do great. Ideally, that someone is her!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Osamake – 01 (First Impressions) – The Romcom Where The Childhood Friend Won’t Lose!

When Maru Sueharu (melodic name, that) encounters his classmate and the school’s vaunted idol, Kachi Shirokusa, he’s honored she knows his name, and says her first novel moved his heart. His praise moves her to tears as she thanks him, showing a side no one at school had ever seen, and that was that: Sueharu “fell victim to love’s poison”, as for him love isn’t something you fall into, but rather eats away at you.

It’s eleven days until the cultural festival, on the second day of which is the “confession festival”. While on friendly speaking terms with Kachi, Sueharu made no further progress with courting her. His mate Tetsuhiko isn’t surprised. She’s smart, athletic, an award-winning novelist and model—way out of the league of Sueharu…who just seems to be…some guy?

Sueharu watches Kachi (imperiously voiced by Sakura Ayane) tearing her own notes rather than letting a girl copy them. Then he catches Kachi in the library, either writing fresh notes or re-writing the ones she tore, all with tears in her eyes. If ever there was an chance to approach her, it’s here, but Sueharu chickens out. Tetsuhiko suggests Sueharu ask his childhood friend Shida Kuroha out instead of tilting at windmills.

She’s out of his league to, but due to their osananajimi status, she might actually say yes. Sueharu admits that Kuroha is cute, all the guys like her, she’s good at communicating, and he respects her a lot. Just then, Kuroha announces her presence, bending her diminutive frame to face him while he sits on the floor. Sueharu gets all shy, something Kuroha mentions is something she likes about him.

As other boys in class curse Sueharu and plan his death with startling detail for daring to have an “older loli” as a childhood friend, Kuroha makes no effort to lower her voice when she asks if Sueharu regrets rejecting her when she asked him out. Even Kachi and her friend Maiko take notice.

Sueharu prostrates himself and admits that yes, he’s grateful to have Kuroha. Then Maiko accidentally blurts out that Kachi is dating actor Abe Mitsuru, himself the son of a famous actor. Sueharu’s heart drops out of his chest, and he flees the classroom in a cloud of despair.

Naturally, because they’ve known each other since they were little Kuroha knows just where to find him sulking: on the riverbank. She repeats that her asking him out was only because “she lost a game” but he knows that while she acts like an older sister, she likes to be doted on. Because he’s spot-on about that, she cradles his head in her chest as a reward.

Kuroha reiterates her affection for Sueharu, for being nice to her even when he’s hurting himself. She also says that despite the fact he rejected her, her feelings are still there, which is why she can relate to how he’s feeling having been passively rejected by Kachi.

It was in this scene where Kuroha and Sueharu won me over. For one thing, both the characters and their seiyuu Minase Inori and Matsuoka Yoshitsugu have properly gorgeous chemistry that oozes from the screen. They feel so comfortable and sweet together, it’s a crying shame they don’t just date each other…but then there wouldn’t be a show, would there?!

Instead of taking the easy route of going out for real, Kuroha offers to help Sueharu get revenge on Kachi, for stringing him along out of a desire to “keep him around” despite having a boyfriend; the proverbial cake and eating it. It would also be revenge for Kuroha, who is insulted by Kachi’s implied rejection of her friend. As far as she’s concerned it’s Sueharu who’s out of Kachi’s league.

It’s here where Sueharu mentions in VO that Kuroha’s name is based on “clover”, which is not just a symbol of luck, but promises, thinking of her, and…revenge. And at their first meeting to plan this revenge, Kuroha makes no secret of her preferred method: Sueharu and her pretending to be boyfriend and girlfriend, thus depriving Kachi of the buddy she friendzoned.

Before Sueharu fully agrees to this method, Kuroha immediately settles into the role, which she made quite clear would be “all profit” to her, as she’d get to go out with the guy she loves. She gets close to Sueharu, runs her hand down his arm and weaves her fingers into his, whispers in his ear, and eventually gets him on his back, hoping to commence their “fake” dating plan with a real kiss.

Just before their lips touch, Sueharu thinks of Kachi crying on the bridge and wigs out, leaving an upset and unsatisfied Kuroha alone. After trying and failing to get dirt on Abe Mitsuru—he’s perfect!—he flees to the roof to basically monologue in a very dramatic, theatrical way—one instance of many in the episode that allow Matsuoka Yoshitsugu to have some fun with his performance.

Turns out it’s no accident that Sueharu is often performative like this, as we learn when Abe Mitsuru appears on the roof, having heard Sueharu was asking around about him. When Sueharu expresses surprise a famous guy like Abe knows him, Abe says he doesn’t so much know him, but remember him…as the “former genius child actor” Maru Sueharu! This is the first sign that Abe isn’t going to be just some faceless baddie gumming up the gears of Sueharu and Kachi’s romance. Hell, it’s possible Sueharu inspired Mitsuru to follow his dad and become the actor he is!

As it is, Osamake takes the tried-and-true formula of a two-girl, two-boy love polygon, but flips the script of the classic childhood friend character, so often portrayed as meek, supportive, and ultimately content with an unrequited love.

Kuroha may be supportive, but she’s neither meek nor content. Confident and assertive, she knows exactly what she wants and isn’t going to give up trying to get it. And hopefully, for once, the childhood friend won’t lose, as the title suggests (it could be lying). Sueharu came off a bit dull at first, but through his interactions with Kuroha we see what she sees in him. I just hope he doesn’t have amnesia about child acting…that would be one romcom cliché too many!

Jaku-Chara Tomozaki-kun – 11 – Shedding the Mask

If Hinami was genuinely scared of the cicada, it was only for a moment. It certainly didn’t keep her from getting back to her feet by herself. No, the ensuing embrace and almost-kiss is only more practice, more training … more lies. Of course! Tomozaki wonders what would have happened had he not dodged her kiss. She probably would have kissed him, but it wouldn’t have meant anything.

How either she or Tomozaki feel about each other wouldn’t factor, because she wouldn’t ever let it. The test of courage ends with Misuzawa reporting that Nakamura and Yuzu agreed to make plans to hang out at some point in the future. It’s baby step, perhaps, but a meaningful one, because neither Nakamura or Yuzu are following a script or playing roles.

Later that night Hinami texts Tomozaki to see if he’s still up, and they review his progress throughout the trip. But they’re interrupted by Mizusawa, who is also up. Tomozaki hides, and Mizusawa has a very important chat with Hinami. Watching Nakamura and Yuzu fumble through their courtship, and Tomozaki fumble through socializing, he can’t help but admire and even envy how goshdarh sincere they are.

They do what they want and getting emotionally involved in everything. He mentions Tomozaki calling life a game, but Mizusawa feels like he’s holding the controller but moving someone else around. Because of that remove, he gets neither hurt nor happy when the player does. He feels like he’s merely putting on a show, and asks Hinami if it’s the same with her.

Hinami responds by saying maybe she is watching from a distance as she goes through the motions. But due to the perfect ideal she represents to everyone, she unconsciously suppresses her real self, and speaks of “one person” she can show her true self to. Tomozaki, listening in, knows that Hinami isn’t being sincere here; she’s just removed one mask to reveal another, subtler mask.

By not shedding all of her masks, Aoi puts Mizusawa in a position he’s not used to: being the sincere one to open up. He’s a high-tier character, but he’s no match for a top-tier. Mizusawa confesses he likes her, and while he already knows the answer, he’s still glad he came face-to-face with what he wanted and gave it an honest shot. One day he wants to know how Aoi really feels, and asks her how long she’ll “stay on that side.”

Hinami would probably have preferred if Tomozaki had stayed hidden, but he can’t, and when he emerges to apologize for seeming to eavesdrop, he explains the “it would be weird to stay hidden”. That’s very telling, because it reflects Misuzawa’s own thinking on the matter after watching Nakamura, Yuzu, and Tomozaki acting with sincerity the whole trip.

Hinami suggests they all head back to the cabins, and is content to pretend nothing that was discussed or heard ever happened. But neither Misuzawa or Tomozaki want to forget. Misuzawa exhibited growth by being sincere and confronting what he wanted. Hinami “wasn’t the slightest bit moved” and simply continued her “perfect performance” by keeping her mask on.

Watching how Hinami reacted to Misuzawa’s sincerity made him realize that he can’t continue to follow Hinami’s training regimen. She tells him to tell Fuuka how he feels after their fireworks date, but to him it sounds like she wants him to put on another show; another mask.

So for his date with Fuuka, he tries something different. He forgets all the conversation topics he memorized and simply speaks to her extemporaneously. It’s a little awkward at first because there’s more silence, but what he does say is sincere.

Sure enough, when asked, Fuuka tells him he’s been easy to talk to all night. His hunch was correct: on their first date, it wasn’t him going off-script that made it harder for her to talk to; it was the fact he was trying to follow a script at all.

Tomozaki doesn’t tell Fuuka how he feels, because he’s not sure yet, and their date doesn’t suffer for his omission, any more than it suffered because he ditched the script. When he meets Hinami at the station, she considers this not only a defeat, but a surrender—taking his hands off the controller.

Immediately, Hinami starts going into ways to minimize the stiltedness and clumsiness of his conversation with Fuuka, and Tomozaki does something he’s never done before: he asks her to stop it. To stop her cold, logical discussion of strategies and countermeasures that totally elide and ignore what he really wants.

Himani remarks that Misuzawa “got to him”, and now he’s being misled like most everybody else by an idea that doesn’t exist—”what I really want”—and being unable to move forward, not mincing words as she dismisses it as “textbook weak-human behavior”. Tomozaki the gamer calls Hinami out for viewing human connections in terms of tasks and goals, saying it’s “weird out of the gate”. But Hinami doesn’t want to hear someone like Tomozaki judging her for her methods.

As far as she’s concerned, abandoning her regimen and rejecting her advice is no different from abandoning his personal development; giving up on progress. She expresses the same disappointment in Tomozaki she expressed for Misuzawa when he dropped his mask, and judigng that there’s nothing more to be said, gives Tomozaki back the button he gave her, asks for the backpack she gave him back at a later date, and hops on the next train.

While I know there hasn’t been a lot of romantic chemistry between Tomozaki and Hinami, that doesn’t mean there’s none there whatsoever. In the spirit of the sincerity Tomozaki has chosen to start living his life and interacting with people, he’s not going to confess to Fuuka willy-nilly simply because it’s the next assigned task. Both he and Fuuka preferred him being his genuine self, warts and all.

By trying to be no less earnest and open with Hinami, Tomozaki thought he could bridge the gap between them. Like Misuzawa, he wants to know what she truly feels and wants behind the mask. But in trying to find out, he called her entire philosophy into question, causing her to retreat even deeper within her mask.

I think losing Tomozaki as a student genuinely hurt her. She saw in both him and Misuzawa kindred spirits who played the game at a remove. Now she perceives herself as being all alone, stubbornly clinging to her ideology. Hopefully Tomozaki won’t shrink before the most challenging boss yet: Hinami’s misguided obstinacy. If her mask can be shed, he still stands the best chance of shedding it.