You’ll probably call me naive or even masochistic for holding out hope someone would confess to someone in this final episode, but I still steeled myself to expect a phone ringing before Futaba could get the words out after that excruciating pause. The interruption turns out to be her stomach growling.
While that’s pretty dang disappointing, it’s not the end of the world; in fact, it’s probably a good thing: Futaba only just opened up that door; shoving a confession in there on the same night is a bit much. Opening the door at all is still a huge victory for Futaba, who hints to Kou that his brother might need to be told he doesn’t resent him for being away when their mom was sick.
That leads to a really great scene with the Tanaka men all under the same roof eating dinner together like a family for the first time in who knows how long. With Futaba’s cool rushing-to-the-rescue expression and words of encouragement still ringing in his head, Kou takes small first steps to reconnecting with his brother and dad.
So now Futaba and Kou’s friendship has deepened and maybe started turning towards something more, so it’s a shame there are no more episodes to see how that goes. As if to acknowledge things aren’t quite the same, the two act very self-conscious and shy around each other, unsure of how to act after all that hugging. But Kou shows again how much of an effect Futaba had on him by agreeing to take the study groups seriously, resulting in him scoring higher than the other four.
Summer arrives, and with it comes a concerted effort by the show to set up a potential second season, what with the Tanaka/Shuuko/Aya triangle being reestablished, Yuuri reiterating to Futaba her intention to court Kou, and another shot of that random kid Futaba accidentally groped. I know of no firm plans for such a season, but I wouldn’t necessarily be opposed to another Blue Spring Ride.
Most of the first half of this episode expounds upon the daily grief, emptiness, and hesitation to care that Kou has felt every waking day since losing his mother. The manner in which he lost her: very slowly; while he was mostly alone with her; while working so hard to get good grades and a good job that he didn’t spend as much time with her while she was healthy; that he didn’t even catch signs that she might not be well, even though he was doing everything for her; that his brother told him to look after mom, and he failed.
These are the reasons Kou is the way he is, and the reasons he changed so much from the boy Futaba fell for in middle school. And for once, the show comes up with a metaphor for us: it isn’t so much how Futaba puts it: that the door to his heart is closed and double-locked, it’s that the door doesn’t have a doorknob or keyhole. He’s not just keeping people like Futaba and his new friends out; he’s trapped inside, and doesn’t know the way out of there.
Doorknob, lock, or no, Futaba is determined to break through that door no matter what, not just to let herself in, but to bust him out of the emotional prison he inadvertently built. Futaba is more determined than she’s ever been, to the point that Yuuri doesn’t really seem to have that much of a chance. She may know about Kou’s grief, but when push comes to shove she didn’t have the guts to do what Futaba does, descend upon him like a storm that will blow the door to his heart open.
As clouds gather in the sky, it takes grabbing Kou, falling upon him, and embracing him tightly, as well as finding the right words to convince him, but Futaba seems to finally make some progress, giving Kou the “permission” he’d always been seeking to feel for someone or something again. That no hole in his heart can’t be filled, even if it takes more than one, or dozens, or hundreds of smaller things to fill it. It isn’t going to be easy, but Futaba is there to stand with and support him in the gradual but necessary process of forgiving himself and moving forward.
No one likes being left out, especially when it involves two people you’d rather not be together alone, as Kou and Yuuri are to Futaba. The fact that the same weird vibe is coming off them, and they make the same pause before assuring her “it’s nothing”, only make her more suspicious about it being not nothing, which it isn’t.
“It”, in fact, is the very thing Futaba wanted to know: more about Kou. She didn’t know his mom died, and the shrine is what he showed Yuuri (Yuuri later confesses she was glad she knew something about Kou Futaba didn’t). When Futaba learns what it was, she feels like a selfish, awful person for needing everything to be about her feelings. That leads to tears that Kou can’t help but dry, and they come the closest yet to a kiss before Tanaka pops into the kitchen, ruining everything.
Kou has to go out for his job, so Tanaka takes Futaba home, and getting the feeling she’s someone who wants to know, he’s very generous in filling in some of the blanks in regard to how the present Kou came about from the one she knew, as well as why Kou is cold towards his older brother. Basically, Tanaka was busy teaching his first year of school, leaving the younger Kou alone in the hospital to sit by their mom as she slowly died.
Kou bore the brunt of the full force of slowly, steadily losing someone he loved before his eyes, while Tanaka only got the odd glance, busy as he was. That experience made Kou who he is today: someone reluctant to make friends; to get too close; to fall in love again. As much as he may care for Futaba, part of him is paralyzed by that fear: that if he tries to care about something again too much, he’ll lose it.
Futaba has made it pretty clear: she wants to be with him. She lost him once, and doesn’t want to lose him again. She also sees through his cold act to the kindness he’s always had, which Tanaka confirms. Futaba’s challenge is to get him to believe it’s alright to open up and get close again; that happiness is worth some degree of risk. That won’t be easy, especially with a still determined Yuuri also gunning for him.
Futaba’s quest to figure out Kou continues, but she’s having trouble finding a way in. She tries to get him to notice her with makeup, and he does, but he rubs it off her lips and knocks it as “not suiting her.” Nine episodes in, and the guy is still playing his cards close. But he has lots of eyes on him now: the circle of friends forged from that day in the classroom.
Opportunity presents itself when Shuuko happens to catch her beloved Tanaka-sensei admonishing Kou on the stairs about his subpar midterm grades. Kou, for his part, is willful, threatening to quit school if his grades aren’t good enough to advance, then laughing it off as a joke. For this, Shuuko labels Kou a brat, and rightly so. Futaba sees it as an in: study session!
She’s not the only one interested: Aya defends Kou valiantly against shit-talking advanced class members, but rather than thank the guy who had his back, he asks why he did that, like an idiot. At this point Kou better do or say something mildly redemptive, because Futaba and Yuuri are starting to look like fools themselves for being so into this guy.
But they can’t help that, and while Futaba takes a low-key approach to interacting with Kou at the study session in his room, Yuuri, feeling like she’s being left behind, takes the initiative, getting Kou alone, and spending a moment with him we only see the beginning and end of, but not the middle.
More likely than not, it was a wordless moment, so both Kou and Yuuri can tell Futaba “nothing at all” happened…but it was still a moment. I gotta say, I can’t yet endorse Yuuri’s taste in guys, but she comported herself well this week. If Futaba knows what’s good for her, she’d better not let her guard down!
“Today, no matter, what, I will definitely, definitely tell Yuuri properly!” As soon as Futaba said this, we were convinced she’d lose her nerve when it came down to it, a fear reinforced when two seconds later she says “I bet I’ll still lose my nerve when it comes down to it.” The odds of her telling Yuuri drop even more when Yuuri, unaware of the hammer Futaba’s trying to bring down on her, invites Shuuko to join them for ¥100 donuts.
Prove me wrong, I said to the anime I like to think is based on one of Nozaki-kun’s shoujo manga: show me you can move forward and resolve this shit.” And what do you know, Ao Haru Ride answered the challenge. Even with Shuuko around and Yuuri going on about Kou, Futaba still gets it out; gets it all out, in the first five minutes of the episode. That was as welcome and refreshing as a cold shower on a searing summer day (though we’ve had precious few of those round these parts.)
And wouldn’t you know it, Yuuri takes it extremely well…at first. Her immediate reactions involve saying “You too?”; noting how she’s not surprised, as Kou’s so totally hot and all; and acknowledging she’s at a disadvantage since Futaba’s closer to him. Then she goes to the bathroom and we get the first of two instances of characters crying for multiple reasons (Futaba’s the other, later on). One could say Yuuri is crying because her friend loves the same guy as her, which means she could potentially lose of them.
But she’s also crying because Futaba obviously went through hell getting those words out, but she did. As Futaba thinks to herself earlier, this is the crux of her growth as a person: no longer “friends in name only” with anyone, she’s allowed to say what she wants, and in this case, needs to say. She wants to be honest, even if it could create conflict. Having friends you care about opens you up to hurting and being hurt, but the rewards are immeasurable.
Witnessing a genuine exchange between two friends who love each other has a significant effect on Shuuko, who only tagged along because Yuuri asked her too and she had nothing else to do. What’s amazing about this first act is that this is the first time Shuuko is hanging out with people after school since she started high school. Far from fearing socializing is always this intense, she realizes what she’s been missing out on.
It’s the perfect environment for her to get something off her own chest: that she’s in love with Tanaka-sensei. Futaba’s utter shock at this confession serves as proof Yuuri never spilled the beans, which comforts Shuuko further. When Aya passes by and happens to spot Shuuko hanging out with friends—and enjoying it—it puts a spring in his step and a tune to hum. He’s happy for her, as are we.
Yikes, I’ve only covered half the episode! That’s not to say the other half isn’t interesting, because it was, but it didn’t have quite the cathartic, warm-and-fuzzy power of the first. That could be because after running into Kou by chance, who is playing with the stray black cat, then says he won’t adopt it because “caring for things brings a lot of trouble” in the most obnoxious angsty way possible, Futaba decides to spend the rest of the night stalking him!
This is why I like to think Nozaki-kun wrote this manga. He truly understands girls’ hearts, and in shoujo, if you like a guy and stalk him, he’ll eventually like you too! I kid, I kid…sort of. But really, if he doesn’t want Futaba following him he could be more forceful about it, but he’s very wishy-washy about it, and by the end puts on the air of a protector by lecturing her on the risk of being assaulted by going out in the night alone, culminating in the closest they’ve come to a kiss.
Perhaps its because he was genuinely worried that Futaba would do that to try to get closer to him that he was cross with her. But at least Futaba isn’t just hiding in her head and actually trying to act on her feelings. As Shuuko so eloquently puts it, it’s ultimately up to Kou to decide between Futaba and Yuuri, or to reject them both. But if he has feelings for Futaba (and let’s face it, he does), then he shouldn’t be allowed to get away with toying with her much more.
Komatsu Mikako is doing great understated work as Shuuko; her laugh sounds like the first laugh she’s laughed in years.
Come to think of it, Uchida Maaya is also showing she can handle non-chuunibyou dialogue with the best of ’em.
Aw, why not? Kudos to Kaji Yuki, while we’re at it. No one does sensitive/whiny angst like Yuki. This is Hope we’re talking about, after all.
Steelers? C’mon, animators. Surely you can think of a better team to slap on Kou’s t-shirt.
Last week Hiyori and Yato decided not to give up onf Yukine, but if they’re to survive, Yukine has to not give up on himself. That becomes increasingly difficult when Yato’s next request for help comes from Hiyori’s underclassman, a mercilessly-bullied kid named Manabu. Manabu’s whimpering disgusts Yukine, and when Yato calls him out for harboring similar feelings, he wanders off on his own.
The “Bullied Kid” mission may be relatively routine for Yato, but after we’ve seen a case of someone crossing over to the dark side (i.e. that lost little girl), the possibility Manabu could meet the same fate remains throughout the ordeal. The danger is only compounded by Yukine growing more resentful and alone as he observes the living students. Throughout all this Yato is looking far more sluggish to Hiyori; to the point her playful beatings actually end up hurting him.
Yato decides to place Manabu’s fate in his own hands in the form of two utility knives: one for him, and one for the bully he confronts. A phantom grows behind Manabu’s shoulder, egging him on with a creepy chorus of voices that he himself joins. But while he scares the bully into wetting himself, he remembers Yato’s words to him: crossing the line means abandoning humanity.
Through his unpleasant school experience Manabu’s cultivated the wrongheaded belief thinking he has no place in the world; but if he used the knife, he really wouldn’t. And while Yukine’s angsty antics (angstics?) are starting to wear thin, there’s still ample motive for them continuing and escalating: unlike Manabu, Yukine has no place in that school.
The frustration that comes from realizing that truth leads him to smash the school’s windows with a bat. That’s the bat that breaks Yato’s back, as he can no longer hide the blight that covers most of his body. Hiyori is shocked by its progress, but snaps to and heads for Kofuku as instructed by Yato if things turned bad. You can see and hear her bitter disappointment in Yukine, after everything she’s done for him.
Only things are worse than she can imagine, because when they arrive, dripping with blight, Daikoku throws up a borderline. It may only be a quarantine precaution, but it was still surprising, and a gut punch for Hiyori. Earlier Kofuku momentarily switched into badass mode when she told Bishamon there’d be hell to pay if she harmed Yato. But so far Yukine’s doing Bishamon’s work for her.
Chihaya drags Taichi with her to Fukui to confront Arata. She’s carefully crafted what to say, but when they’re finally in his house, she pulls out karuta and suggests they play, infuriating him. They find out from his neighbor, Yuu, that his grandfather suffered a stroke, and relapsed while Arata was at a tournament to reach Class A. Blaming himself, he forswore Karuta forever. But Chihaya left her notes and letter to him behind, which make him see the error of his ways. As Chihaya and Taichi pull out of the station, Arata chases them in his bike. Taichi agrees to help her start the best Karuta club in the world.
We knew this was going to be a special episode, but it still managed to eclipse all expectations. It was quite simply some of the best 22 minutes of drama of the entire year, certainly of the Fall. Every moment was simply brimming with emotion and the characters were firing on all cylinders. The soundtrack was soaringly awesome as always. And all the little gorgeous details, like Chihaya’s chocolate wrapper notes. Everything was masterful. We can’t believe how much we now connect and sympathize with Taichi now, who has clearly fallen for Chihaya. Those moments when he was about to take her hand kicked so much ass. And hey, she is frikkin’ gorgeous.
Arata’s grandfather used to tell him about a “karuta god” who whispers the next syllable into those deemed worthy. But rather than the Gods forsaking Arata, perhaps he was meant to be playing Karuta when his grandfather died – the god challenging him to see to his own future and realize his limitless potential. He quit instead, but it would seem Chihaya’s words snapped him out of it. His grandfather certainly wouldn’t have wanted him to quit. Quite separately, Chihaya refers to Arata as a karuta god in her letter. Meaning she worships him, or at least her idea of him up to this point. It’ll be tough for Taichi to compete with that! Hard to believe this is just the fifth episode.