More than a married couple, but not lovers. – 04 – Shoulder to cry on

During P.E. class when Minami is playing basketball and generally looking like a higher form of life, both Akari and Jirou hear from their friend(s) that he and Shiori are considering staying with one another as a marriage practical couple despite making A-rank.

This news obviously puts a wrench in Akari and Jirou’s plan, leaving both feeling blue. Jirou, knowing how much Akari likes Minami, imagines he’s in a fantasy video game and Minami ends up beating the final boss and winning the hearts of both heroines.

When Jirou and Shiori cross paths, to Jirou’s credit he doesn’t pretend something isn’t bothering him, and Shiori’s known him long enough to know that something is. She says she’s not sure yet whether she and Minami are extending their time together, so Jirou starts to try to tell her he’ll work hard to attain A-rank so that they can be paired together.

Meanwhile, Akari gets cleanup duty for chatting during P.E., and ends up crossing paths with Minami. His sudden presence in the storage room startles her, and she bumps into a shelf, causing a box to start to fall. Minami rushes towards her and starts to fall, leaving them face-to-face.

Akari asks Minami what Jirou asked Shiori, and his answer is yes, he’ll stay by Shiori’s side “forever” if that’s what she wants. Throughout the whole exchange but unbeknownst to Minami, Akari’s heart is beating like a hummingbird, and when she hears what sounds like a rejection from his lips, she starts to cry. Then Minami puts his hand on her chin…

I say Jirou started to tell Shiori he wanted to pair with her, because he isn’t able to get the words out. I would have hoped Shiori would have gotten the gist but she apparently doesn’t when Jirou’s friend Kamo interrupts, having seen Akari and Minami in the storage room together.

But before Kamo can say anything, Minami and Akari exit the school, and Jirou senses a strange atmosphere. Minami and Shiori head home together chatting spiritedly about nothing in particular, while Akari acts awkward and distant towards Jirou and heads off on her own.

He later learns that Akari ditched class, and Kamo tells him he witnessed “kissing going on” between Minami and Akari. He shrugs it off as having nothing to do with him, but it’s clear that he has conflicting feelings about it, what with he and Akari getting along so well of late.

When he comes home, Akari is lying on the couch on her phone, looking morose. He sits down beside her, sarcastically apologizes for not being Minami, and she asks him upfront why he’d bring him up. That’s when, again, to his credit, Jirou doesn’t beat around the bush, but says what he heard: that she was kissing Minami after P.E.

Akari laughs it off, as in reality he was just checking her eye for dust; Kamo saw what he wanted to saw from the angle he had. Akari thinks it’s “hilarious” that Jirou thought a misunderstanding from “straight out of a manga” took place. But Jirou tells her he was ready to root for her, and it’s only fair to expect her to get some kind of return considering how hard she’s been working to get Minami to look her way.

At this, Akari’s mask of sarcasm drops, and bitter tears of frustration start to fall. Jirou is right in theory, but the reality is Minami doesn’t see her that way, and more and more seems to be content to be with Shiori, even beyond the marriage practical situation. When she realizes she’s crying in front of Jirou, she tells him to look away, and he does … kinda. He pulls her into an embrace so that his head is next to hers.

In this way, he’s technically “looking away”, but he’s also there for her, in a moment when she needs someone to be there. She needs to have a good cry without the pressure of having to hold it in to keep up appearances. At this point, Jirou knows who Watanabe Akari is more than anyone else at school, Minami included. And Akari, no doubt having that feeling of being safe and secure in Jirou’s arms, puts her arm around him and cries it out.

After this cathartic moment, Jirou feels self-conscious for overreaching, literally and figuratively, but he did the right thing, as evidenced by Akari’s mood after a cleansing shower. First, she borrows one of his t-shirts, resulting in the deceptively powerful boyfriend shirt scenario. Then she plops right down beside him, leans on him, and has some ice cream as she watches TV.

When he insists he’s no longer overwhelmed by situations like this, she puts her ear to his chest and calls him a liar, as his heart is racing. Of course, since she was worried Minami could hear her beating heart in the storage room, she can relate, which is why she’s so comfortable around Jirou now.

She also hastens to mention that she’s not so “easy” that she’d kiss Minami on a whim, and in any case, she says to him for the first time that her first kiss ever was with Jirou. Jirou sits there unresponsive as she shakes him and urges him to answer for that kiss, and as he does, he admits in his thoughts how happy he feels.

Perhaps for the first time, he’s not thinking about losing Shiori to Minami, or Akari preferring Minami to him. He and and Akari are simply sitting together on their couch, enjoying each other’s company; a cozy, caring family of two. It’s something I could honestly watch all day.

More than a married couple, but not lovers. – 03 – Starting over from zero

Akari knows Jirou is in love with Shiori, but wants to know specifically why he’s drawn to an earnest, family-oriented girl, and what he wants such a girl to do for him. He wisely says “lunch”, which sets Akari off on a homemade bento kick.

She proves to be a very good bento cook, and they gain lots of points as cook and taste-tester, but one little detail—a lack of sugar in the rolled omelet—reminds Jirou that she’s doing all of this for Minami, not him. That shouldn’t bother him, as he’s into Shiori…and yet.

Jirou also can’t help but feel a little…left out when Akari goes all out to look as cute as possible to deliver a bento to Minami at his part-time job. But then Akari asks him for another goodbye kiss as a reward for her hard work, and tells him she only wants his kiss, since it made her feel safe.

Before he can summon the guts to kiss her again, Shiori shows up with extra apple pies she made for Minami, citing his sweet tooth. When she sees Akari with Jirou and a box lunch for an apparent picnic, she leaves feeling lonely. Little does she know she caused Akari’s confidence to absolutely plummet.

She never delivers the bento, and sits on the couch with her head in her knees. Jirou tries to cheer her up, but the bottom line is, she though she could appeal to Minami with cooking, but was wrong about him not liking sweet things, and now doesn’t know what to do.

Jirou tells her she has “tons more good points”, but when put on the spot, the only things he lists are related to her looks, body, and sex appeal. When she asks if he’s ever though about her that way, he says no, but she knows he’s lying. Then she jumps on top of him.

The animation and Oonishi Saori’s voice acting do a lot of strong, heavy lifting here, as the scene strides the line between being amorous and a little forced. You can see in Akari’s face and hear in her voice that she’s just as unsure about this as Jirou is, and yet she’s trying to press forward.

Jirou pushes through his body’s urge to “graduate” from virginity and rejects Akari’s advances, saying it’s only something you do with someone you love. Leaving aside that this is false, this results in Akari getting off him and saying they should stop this whole fake marriage thing.

That’s just what they do, and at the next month-end eval, Shiori sees that they’ve fallen to 75th place while she and Minami are up to 8th. She knows something’s wrong; Jirou knows it too, and knows that he erred. When he felt Akari’s cold trembling hand, he knew that he was wrong about her: what they were doing on that couch was just as new to her as it was to him.

Shiori invites Jirou onto the school roof to talk to him about things, and really does yeoman’s work as his trusty childhood friend, albeit by subordinating her own feelings. She promises him that no matter how much he screwed up with Akari, he can make things right.

Shiori’s pep talk is just what Jirou needs to break the awkwardness stalemate and give him the courage to knock on his fake wife’s door. To his shock, she not only answers but invites him into her uber-girly room, where he proceeds to apologize, but also provides a lot of real, honest talk.

He admits the obvious, that he’s fantasized about her, but also that it wasn’t like he didn’t want to do it with her, only that he wanted to do it with more care than the spur-the-moment scenario they found themselves in when she was discouraged about cooking for Minami.

He doesn’t go so far as to “out” Akari as just as much a virgin as she is, but he almost doesn’t have to, as hearing him come out and say all these things makes her face red as a beet and has her retreating into her bedsheet. But Jirou also asserts that he doesn’t like it when things are awkward between them.

Pulling back the sheet from her head like a bride’s vail, he declares that he wants them to be a married couple again. When he realizes he left out “for the practical” and stumbles all over his words, it evokes a hearty laugh from Akari, who attempts to save face by mocking him for being so desperate.

But she also ends up telling him—in just as disarmed a way as he just said all those embarrassing but true things—that she “likes him quite a lot”, even calling him by his first name. She laughs it off, but later on her balcony she covers her mouth with her hands in shock over having “said it.”

She says it in a way that could mean she’s been meaning to say it for a while. In any case, they’re giving this marriage another go, but this time they both have a deeper understanding of the kind of people the two of them actually are. That new understanding definitely has the potential to make them more attracted to one another as partners.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Spy x Family – 07 – Making It Work With Less Than Ideal

“I’m sorry I’m bad at school”, a still-drowsy Anya says to Loid and Yor. “The peace of the world rests on you making amends”, she hears Loid thinking. It’s a lot of pressure for a little girl on her second day of school, but she’s resolved to apologize to Damian. The problem is, both his toadies and her her rich girl friend Becky make that almost impossible.

Reading minds clearly takes a lot out of Anya, so between hearing the inner voices of all her classmates and probably not sleeping much last night, she nods off in first period. But when Loid sees Becky working against the apology plan, he starts disguising himself as school staff to make it clear to Anya that the apology must happen, the sooner the better.

It takes Loid calling Becky away on the PA for Anya to finally get her shot, and Damian’s toadies bully her so much in their minds they make her start bawling as she apologizes. As I’d suspected, Damian has confusing new feelings about Anya, the girl who was the first to “defy” him. When she sobs during her apology, making clear she only wanted to be friends, the resulting shot to his heart is so much he has no choice but to run away.

While Loid witnesses all this unfold and concludes that the Friendship Plan may be doomed, I’d say he’s making far too quick an assessment of the situation. Sure, on the surface Damian hates her, but he actually likes her; his behavior is the result of simply not knowing what to do about it. This is 100% classic little kid (and some times bigger kid) behavior.

That said, Loid is new to this, and Twilight didn’t get where he is by taking risks or operating under less-than-ideal circumstances. But there’s so much not in his control here and the circumstances couldn’t be less ideal, so he’s trying to overcompensate. Today Damian ran away from Anya, so he has to try to get her those eight Stella. That night Loid has an intense study session with Anya, but his anxious thoughts and calculations flood into her head and overwhelm her, and she runs into her room to sulk.

Here is where Yor’s lighter touch (if only where Anya is concerned) comes in. At first Yor feels she’s being presumptuous in offering Loid advice and insisting they not be to hard on themselves. But by doing so she reminds Loid that he’s not alone in this parenting business.

He and Yor are legally husband and wife and parents to Anya. They’re in this together, through thick and thin. They need to be patient, but also confident. All parents go through this; that this one was constructed for a spy mission doesn’t change that in the slightest.

I loved how much simpler and more macabre Yor’s inner thoughts are compared to Loid’s during the study session, but I also love how Anya truly wants to do her best, which is why Loid finds her asleep at her desk. She stopped sulking and started studying all on her own.

She’s a good girl, Yor’s a good mom, and he’s a good dad for caring about all of Anya—not just how she figures into the mission. They’ll get through this…even if Yor’s brother Yuri is only now finding out Yor has a husband and daughter.

SAKUGAN – 08 – EASIER TO RUN THAN REGRET

Rufus was going to be Gagumber’s last partner. When things went sour with Memenpu last week, Gagumber remembered why he didn’t want, didn’t need, and shouldn’t have a partner, even if it’s his daughter. While Memenpu wanders off to sulk in his old hometown, Gagumber drinks with a recovered Yuri and reconnects with the old man who ran the marker shop.

Zackletu, who had been by Yuri’s bedside, tracks down Memenpu and treats her to the local specialty of tea-in-a-plastic bag. She gets Memenpu to open up about what’s troubling her: about the dream that felt like more than a dream where Gagumber died, and how she can never really hate Gagumber. But once we get a good look at Rufus’ little “brother” Zack, I felt like things were going to take a turn.

And turn they do. Turns out the tea Zackletu gave Memenpu was drugged, and she kidnaps her and uses her as bait for Gagumber. Zack was actually Rufus’ kid sister, not brother, and when she became convinced Gagumber was responsible for Rufus’ death, she spent a huge sum of money for Yuri to track him down so she could get her revenge.

What finally pushed Zackletu into carrying out her plan was seeing how blithe and callous Gagumber was being to his new partner and daughter Memenpu, after what she saw as him abandoning her after Rufus’ death. It was definitely shitty for Gagumber not to follow up with Zack. Does he deserve to die over it? Even Zackletu isn’t sure, as she fires a lot of bullets and detonates a lot of bombs in his general direction, but never seems able to deliver the killing blow.

It’s this episode where I understand why Hanazawa Kana was cast as Zackletu: in addition to being able to credibly voice a young boy, who was actually a young girl hiding her true gender to protect herself from her rough environment, Hanazawa really brings out her pathos and rage. Through all the violence she’s exacting upon Gagumber as Memenpu is forced to watch, you never get the feeling Zackletu is enjoying this.

Rather, she just doesn’t know what else to do, so she’s lashing out. It’s only when all the explosions and Memenpu’s struggling causes her rope to break, and Gagumber overrides the stopper on his “Gale” device to save her and then apologize to her, that Zackletu stops her attack. She couldn’t easily kill Gagumber knowing his daughter still loved him in spite of all his flaws; once he admitted those flaws to Memenpu, she definitely couldn’t kill him.

Instead, Gagumber is admitted and then discharged from the hospital, while Zackletu prepares to depart…only Memenpu won’t let her. She forgives her for trying to kill Gagumber, and insists she stay with the group as they head to her dream place. Memenpu just warns Zackletu, in the same way Rufus did, that next time it happens, she’ll really let her have it.

Do I buy that someone as hell-bent on getting revenge as Zackletu would not only stand down, but remain with the man she believed killed her brother for years? I do, it all comes down to buying that she tried to be a heartless avenging baddie, but couldn’t go through with it because she still had a heart, and wasn’t all bad.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

My Senpai is Annoying – 07 – Doing What You Love

This week is the Futaba-Natsumi friendship origin episode, and I’m here for it! They’re honestly such a wonderfully cozy pair of BFFs it didn’t matter if we didn’t witness them meet, but I’m so glad we did. Poor Futaba’s GPS is going haywire so she decides to follow someone in the same fuku…only for Natsumi to start running at top speed!

Despite Natsumi leading Futaba not to school but the arcade where she intends to play hooky, the two become unlikely but fast friends in the back row of the classroom. When it comes time to join clubs, Futaba expresses her wish to join the art club because she loves to draw.

Natsumi hates competition ever since a boy tripped her to win a relay on sports day in grade school, but Futaba, unaware that Natsumi is harboring that bad memory, tells her if she loves doing something—in this case running—she should do it, or she may regret it if she doesn’t.

It’s almost verbatim the advice Natsumi gives to Yuuta when the two encounter one another running in the evening. Yuuta likes basketball, so he should play, even if he’s not the best at it. You can’t get better if you don’t try! Meanwhile, Futaba and Takeda end up having a little mini-date of sorts when they’re tasked with saving a spot under one of the blooming cherry trees for an office after-hours function, which honestly looks like a ton of fun.

After complementing her hair color and her drawings, Futaba recalls how it was Natsumi who gave her the courage to join the art club. Futaba would draw between classes in her sketchbook, but one day a couple of bullies decided to mess with her, which…why would you mess with Futaba?! Why would you want to do anything but protect her with your life?

For Natsumi, the answer is she wouldn’t. For the crime of making her beloved Futaba cry, one of the bullies gets a devastating punch to the face. She then tells the boys that it doesn’t matter if she “sucks” at drawing; she’s doing what she likes to do, so lay the fuck off!

The boys wisely learn the error of their ways, and their apology isn’t forced or obligatory, as he actually explains why what he did was wrong and regretted doing it. He also realized that both they and Futaba are in the same boat, in their case joining the baseball club despite being crap at it because they like baseball, dammit!

As for Natsumi, she doesn’t get in trouble because the boys went to the teacher to explain that they were in the wrong. Futaba thanks Natsumi by telling her they should call each other by their first names only. With that, a legendary friendship was forged, which continues into their adult lives now that they both live in Tokyo.

Takeda enjoys Futaba telling the story as much as Futaba clearly enjoys telling it, as her eye shimmer with love as she described how her friend supported her in pursuing her passion. We barely set one foot in the office this week, and that’s okay, because it was simply lovely to learn more about Futaba and Natsumi. As for Futaba’s senpai, it’s pretty clear he’s not “annoying” as the show’s title says, but I guess My Senpai is Someone Who I Like Hanging Out With and Talking To would be a bit too long…

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 17 – Having It Easy

Lest last week’s episode make us too hard on Paul, we flash back to the same disaster that sent Rudy and Eris to the Demon Continent. Paul suddenly finds himself a stranger in a strange land, with only Norn with him. With Zenith, Lilia, and Aisha nowhere to be found, all Paul could do is keep Norn safe and try to find the rest of his family. Just as Rudy did everything he possibly could to keep Eris safe, Paul did the same with Norn.

Back in the present, Paul once more escapes into drink, but he just so happens to know Geese, who tells him that actually, if he stops and thinks about it (preferably while sober), he was pretty harsh on his eleven-year-old son. Yes, Rudy was an amazing and special prodigy, but that doesn’t change the fact that he is also a little kid who went through a lot and still managed to come out of it with himself intact.

Geese’s man-to-man chat with Paul really provides a key assist to Rudy, as Paul dries himself out and visits Rudy once more at the tavern. Eris is ready to attack him, but Ruijerd stops her. As the two leave to allow Paul to be alone with his son, Ruijerd reminds Paul that the grievances he has with Rudy are only important because Rudy is still alive. As in, Paul still has much to be thankful for.

Last week, both Paul and Rudy learned a lot about themselves and each other. Rudy learned that yes, he actually was kind of treating this like a game this whole time, because he didn’t know the extent of the disaster that befell Fittoa (Paul warns him there’s basically nothing left of their home). When the bartender tells Rudy to look his father in the face, he sees a face he hadn’t seen since the last friend who hung out with him when he was a shut-in in his previous life.

When that friend was doing his best to help Rudy feel like what he was and what he was doing wasn’t bad or wrong, Rudy at the time took it as nothing but patronization and pity. He lashed out at his friend, who never returned to his place. But Paul did come back, to apologize for being too harsh with his son. So Rudy, in turn, suggests they simply forget the previous day happened and start over with a simple father-son hug.

Back at the inn, and with Paul present, Rudy has another Dead End strategy meeting with Eris and Ruijerd. He tells Eris that the home they knew doesn’t exist anymore, and to his surprise, Eris had long ago already accepted that possibility. Thus their mission is no longer to return home, but to find the rest of his family.

Now his party will be active in the same search Paul’s party and Roxy’s party have been involved in since the disaster. That means there’s a good chance one of those groups will find someone. After all, Paul and Rudy found each other. And while it was initially a tough reunion, once both of them committed to being grown-ups they were able to be honest with each other.

Sonny Boy – 02 – Kindle Blue Fire

While technically a beach episode, there’s not a ball or a bikini to be found. There are crabs—you gotta love crab—as well as a makeshift open-air classroom with rows of desks and a chalkboard, but otherwise the sand is just another flat surface for Nagara to lie on and wile away the hours.

When Nozomi catches a crab, it cuts her hand up pretty badly with its claw, but she soon heals; just another one of the rules of this “This World”, as the egghead Rajdhani calls it while explaining the situation.

While most of the class is in tents on the beach, Mizuho has, presumably through the three cat Amazon power called Nyamazaon, built a Disney princess castle full of stuff, but otherwise isn’t that different from Nagara in her fondness for straight chillin’.

Another girl steals makeup from Mizuho’s vast collection of things with impunity, but that and other items acquired from Nyamazon start to burst into blue flames, rumors spread that Mizuho is doing it intentionally.

Mizuho doesn’t help matters by stirring the shit on social media that the recent election was rigged in Michi’s (AKA Pony’s) favor—which is the truth; the extremely Kyuubey-like Hoshi helped rig it. Pony and Hoshi learn Mizuho is behind it and try to exact an apology, but Mizuho is stubbornly refuses.

When they confront her at the front gate, Hoshi uses his power of showing everyone potential futures to depict the entire island covered in blue flame; everything destroyed. On top of it all, Mizuho is exhausted and filthy from looking for one of her cats, who has gone missing.

While the rumor may have well gotten started since Mizuho is a natural target for envy and resentment among the other students due to her extremely cool power, Nagara still blames himself for blabbing about Mizuho knowing something about the flames, which got twisted into “Mizuho is responsible for the flames.”

But thanks to Rajdhani’s research and a retro Game Boy, it is determined that the blue flames appear every time someone receives something without a fair exchange. Among the things that burned-up, only Raj’s Game Boy was exchanged for some toys he made with his power, and only it escaped those flames. Therefore, it isn’t Mizuho’s doing, but the Rules of the World.

Among the students, most of whom end up in the “Punish Mizuho” camp/mob, only Nagara and Nozomi want to help her. They both know she’s not doing this, but also know that she hasn’t explicitly defended herself, which isn’t doing her any favors. Nagara also finds the missing cat, and unlike two previous instances of letting birds die, this time he takes care of the animal like the non-heartless person he is.

The two decides to go to her—nay, run to her, just as she’s literally making it rain fat stacks of cash, which soon burn up and set fire to the whole island. Mizuho, overcome with relief her kitty is safe, admits that she should have simply stated her innocence from the beginning. It’s an all-around wonderful performance by Mizuho’s seiyu Yuuki Aoi—which comes as no surprise as she’s one of the best in the business.

Nagara, Nozomi, and Mizuho oversee the ruined island—the realization of Hoshi’s vision—and concede the fact that they can’t live there any more. But then something happens: as the sun rises over the ocean, the island essentially resets itself to before everything burned up.

It’s as if the island, which set the rule of fair exchange, is forgiving all of the students for their stumblings as they learn of those rules and correct their misunderstandings. Mizuho comes down from her castle and apologizes, but only for making it rain flammable money…not the stuff she was accused of doing but didn’t really do.

Mizuho also stops by the beach where Nagara is lying to give him a token of her appreciation for finding her cat: a hat to keep his face out of the sun. When he asks if he needs to give her anything in return for it, she says with a gentle smile that it’s “her treat” before walking away.

This episode was significantly less weird and frightening than the first, but that tends to happen when you take the inscrutable black void out of the equation. What it was was another relatively straightforward exploration of how the court of public opinion can be wrong—in school or life—and it’s up to those who know it’s wrong to speak up. Nagara grew as a person in this episode, as did Mizuho, and they each gained a friend in the process.

Credit also goes to Rajdhani for not giving up on trying to make sense of the place, thus confirming the injustice being done to Mizuho, as well as Nozomi, for lending Nagara the encouragement to correct the injustice. Just as she’s the “Compass” who can see the ways out of these other worlds, she’s also a moral compass; a check against both rampant authority and rampant apathy.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Kageki Shoujo!! – 05 – Staying in the World of Dreams

Trigger Warning: this episode frankly depicts bulimia and the practice of binging and purging.

Some time has passed; the girls are now in their summer unis, and Ai is trying her darndest to both apologize to Sarasa and call her by her first name…but she just can’t quite find the right time. Meanwhile, Sarasa confesses she only knows one Kouka show, so Sugimoto takes her and the others to one of the Winter Troupe shows. They run into Winter’s number two star, Satomi Sei, off-stage, and its top star Kazahana Sou on it.

Ai, totally unaccustomed to fighting with friends, follows her uncle’s advice to take her time and calmly tell Sarasa how she feels when the time is right. That time finally arrives when Sarasa suddenly recites verbatim lines from Romeo & Juliet.

Her peers are amazed both that she memorize the lines so easily, and by her performance on their walk home. Ai can’t help but reach out and grab the star shining brighter that all the others, and formally asks to be Sarasa’s friend. Sarasa, of course, is glad; she’s wanted to be Ai’s friend from the moment she saw her!

Later, Ai had hoped Sarasa would accompany her to the bathroom (as besties do), but instead Sarasa wants to check out the exam scores. Sarasa is delighted to have moved up from dead last to second-to-last in ranking, but the reason for that advancement is less about her studies improving and more about poor, poor Yamada Ayako’s plummeting.

As we saw at the end of last week, Ayako is in trouble. In a desperate effort to lose 5 kg (11 pounds—probably around 10% of her weight!), she is obsessively binging and purging. Her body and mind are suffering. Tachibana-sensei, who called her a “fattie” and started her on this path, defends how blunt she was with Yamada because all students must grow a formidable backbone in the cutthroat environment of the Kouka Troupe.

“If Yamada can’t cut it, she shouldn’t be there” is Tachibana-sensei’s position, while her music teacher Onodera-sensei disagrees in the strongest terms. He understands their role to toughen the girls up, but calling a sweet, sensitive Yamada a “fattie” was way beyond the pale. Tachibana-sensei is also unaware of how badly Ayako wants to make her loving big sister proud.

One night, Ai catches Ayako in the bathroom, and tells her something I never knew: throwing up as much as Ayako does causes the stomach acid to irritate the esophagus, leading to pain, swelling, and the deterioration of one’s voice. She knows because someone in JPX did what Ayako is doing.

The only problem is, Ai, inexperienced with interacting with people, is way too blunt at the wrong time, and Ayako mistakes her concern with kicking her when she’s down. Ayako also has an inferiority complex when it comes to the naturally stunning Ai, even if Ai herself isn’t aware of how her beauty affects other women around her.

One day in singing class, a wan Ayako with deep eye bags and chapped lips can’t sing a single note before collapsing on the ground. Onodera-sensei takes her to the doctor, who diagnoses her with pharyngitis. The only remedy is to rest and relax, something Ayako feels she can’t do because she fears falling behind even further. Thankfully, the doctor is totally unwilling to administer drugs to rid of her fever so she can continue. She has to rest, period.

While lying in bed, at rock bottom, Ayako gets an encouraging text from her sister, and Ayako expresses how she’s suffering by telling her sister all the delicious pastries and desserts her family makes that she wants to taste. Picking up on this, her sister says there’s no shame in quitting and coming home. She contemplates doing just this, prepared to look upon her time at Kouka as a passing dream as she returns to “the world she knows.”

Thankfully, and unlike the horrible Tachibana-sensei—who should be fucking fired for what she did in a just and fair world—Onodera-sensei breaks the rule about no men in the women’s dorm by rapping on Ayako’s door to tell her what she needs to hear. When the dorm mom protests, he asks her to regard him as “a beautiful Kouka girl on the inside.”

Onodera-sensei, who is a genuinely Good Guy, impresses upon Ayako the fact that she is far too young to be giving up on an opportunity as great as Kouka, and that stumbling, falling, and despairing are normal from time to time. He wants her to remember that over  girls couldn’t achieve what she did: get accepted to Kouka. Girls with “nothing to offer” simply don’t get it in. So he asks her to tell him why it is she got in: her beautiful singing.

Even before she got sick, Ayako had never given singing her all in class, so none of her peers heard what got her into Kouka. But apparently her soprano was so sweet and lovely, the normally bored teachers sat up and listened intently. When Ayako recovers from her pharyngitis and returns to class looking much better, Onodera-sensei asks her to sing the same song she sang at that audition, to build her confidence and show the others how beautiful a singer she is when she’s serious.

While it was lovely to see Ai reach out a hand of to Sarasa and begin her awkward little dance of friendship, this was really Yamada Ayako’s episode. Her seiyu Sasaki Rico delivers a stunningly beautiful performance that shattered my heart into a million shards only to painstakingly piece it back together better than ever by the end.

My chief complaint with this episode is that it seemingly solves Ayako’s eating disorder far too quickly and easily. But at the same time, I’m relieved beyond belief she’s okay, she’s not quitting, and a decent adult was in her corner when she needed one, reminding her how she earned the right to be here by her own talent and hard work, and that she belongs there just as much as top stars Satomi or Kazahana.

GODDAMN TEARJERKER™ CERTIFIED

Kageki Shoujo!! – 04 – Opening of Borders

I was both fully expecting and looking forward to Sarasa either scaring Mr. Stalker away with her imposing stature or showing off her jujitsu moves if he persisted. Thankfully something completely unexpected and much better happens. Truly great art tends to challenge the viewer in some way, rather than giving them what they expect or predict.

That kind of narrative and thematic creativity really suffuses this, the best episode yet of Kageki Shoujo and the one that finally had me coming around hoping there’d continue to be less actual on-stage performance and more human drama. Like last week, there are some tough-to-watch moments, but also moments of great joy, goofiness, and redemption.

Mr. Gross Otaku, one of Sarasa’s many hilarious, unintentionally insulting nicknames for the guy, didn’t come to exact “revenge” on Ai; he came to apologize for being the one who ruined her career. He was a shut-in NEET who had lost hope until he first saw Naracchi on-screen, and it fascinated him how she was trying so hard never to smile.

In one unguarded moment, Naracchi does smile, and there’s video evidence, but that little smirk at the sight of her favorite mascot shattered Mr. Gross Otaku’s hermitic existence, inspiring him to get a job and make friends (naturally, other admirers of Naracchi). At the in-person event, he was so nervous about properly thanking her for helping save his life, he held on her her hands too long, leading to her making the remark that ended her idol career.

Taichi, who had been observing from a close distance in case Mr. Gross Otaku was a Mr. Total Perv, tells the guy that it wasn’t anything personal; in fact, it was likely only the straw that broke the camel’s back. Like Otaku Guy once did, Ai has given up on the world, and it led her to shut off her emotions. And yet, running away and leaving Sarasa alone invokes very strong emotions indeed, to the point Ai works up the courage to go back.

Naturally, her timing is terrible, and when she sees Sarasa doing goofy dance moves with the would-be tormentor while Taichi watches, Ai’s concern immediately curdles into something resembling hatred, and she storms off once again. The only problem is, poor Sarasa doesn’t know what she did to engender such hate!

Sarasa is persistent, and Ai finally makes a deal: she’ll tell her why she’s mad if she leaves her alone from now on. But when she does, Sarasa still doesn’t get it: if she came back out of worry for her, she should’ve been happy she was alright! As usual, Sarasa is right, but too blunt, and Ai retreats behind her curtain. Both girls seem incredibly unsatisfied where things end.

Sarasa, understandably getting a little fed up with being treated like this, declares that they’re “through”, though later confesses that might’ve been too harsh via Twitter to her friend Akiya—whose fellow Kabuki actor-in-training is tweeting more profound responses on his behalf. He tells Sarasa not to rush until they know each other, to be prepared for her feelings to be entirely one-sided, and appreciate that that’s beautiful in its own way.

The next day, Hijiri, Kouka’s Shit-Stirrer-in-Residence, confronts Sarasa with the pic she snapped of her with a guy (Mr. Gross Otaku), but Sarasa doesn’t have any time for this nonsense, as Ai is skipping classes and Taichi is worried about where she ended up. Sure enough, while staring at the sea, Ai is harassed by a couple of guys who recognized her, and one of them grabs her arm.

I have scarcely felt more fear and apprehension for a character than I did for Ai in this moment, but that was tempered by the knowledge that somehow in short order, Ai would be rescued. I just didn’t know it would happen by Sarasa calling Mr. Gross Otaku, who predicted Ai would go to the ocean to calm down (as she once stated in an interview) then run a social media search and locate her .

From there, all Mr. Gross Otaku has to do is buy a little time by haplessly trying to attack Ai’s harassers. He fails, faceplants, and gets a bloody nose, but still wins, as Taichi and Sarasa arrive and the latter screams for the police, who come running. There are no words for Sarasa’s transformation above as she voices satisfaction for scaring off the jerks.

What’s even more heartwarming about this entire scene that lets me forgive its many contrivances—as well as the entire premise of using stalking methods to save the target of stalkers—is that at this point, Sarasa is sticking to her guns when she said they were “through.” Yet even if she’s uncertain Ai will ever want to be her friend, she rescued her anyway, because it was the right thing to do.

When Sarasa explains to Ai how they found her and the role Mr. Gross Otaku —real name Kitaouji Mikiya—played, it’s Ai’s turn to do something completely unexpected: offer her handkerchief for Mikiya’s bloody nose. During the hand-off she drops the cloth on the ground, but it wasn’t intentional or meant as a slight.

As Ai says with tears welling up in her eyes, “this is the best I can do right now.” But Mikiya, being uncharacteristically cool, tells her to dry her eyes; all he and her other fans wanted was to see those rare and amazing moments when Naracchi genuinely smiled. Because that meant their idol was happy. He promises to return to see her perform on the Kouka stage.

Ai and Sarasa take the long walk back to their dorms, where they’ll face consequences for the incidents that transpired. While they walk, Ai opens up to Sarasa, asking her what she should do about something she wants to forget but can’t (though not going into detail). All Sarasa can tell her is to keep having good memories that will eventually cause the bad to fade from prominence.

Notably, Ai can’t see Sarasa’s face when she says this, but it sounds like a new invitation to make some of those memories with her, if she’ll have her. At this point, it’s safe to say the cat-and-mouse game between these two girls will continue, but they’ve definitely already made one of those memories Sarasa speaks of, and I’m looking forward to them making more.

As for poor, Yamada Ayako, who is now purging regularly and barely has the energy to sing, all I have to say is that every one of her upperclassmen and every adult on the faculty are totally failing her, and I’m terribly worried about how bad things will get until someone helps her. It shouldn’t have to fall to someone like Sarasa and/or Ai, but if it does I won’t complain. I just want Ayako to be happy and healthy!

Higehiro – 07 – What Then?

It’s telegraphed from the beginning of the episode: someone who knows Sayu (or is working for them) has found her. There’s no other reason a suspicious black car would keep showing up at the konbini where she works, and Sayu is right to be weary. After all, she’s committed to working towards a future for herself, but hasn’t had enough time to figure out what that might be. Simply going home now would solve nothing.

This week marks the return of Mishima, whom I castigated for literally stalking Yoshida the last time we saw her, but the more I think about it, the more she’s the most realistic of the bunch. She invites herself to lunch with Gotou to express her frustration with her supervisor’s boss: if she’s in love with Yoshida, why is she just sitting around when Sayu could “take” Yoshida from them any day?

Gotou says she simply doesn’t see the point of artificially forcing anything with her and Yoshida. If it happens, it happens, but she’s not going to pretend she can control the feelings of others. Mishima says flat out that Gotou is simply scared to stick her neck out, while she’s far more scared of losing what she could’ve had because she didn’t do anything.

Neither Mishima nor Gotou are presented as the person with the “correct” philosophy…and that’s okay! Anybody who says they have all the answers is trying to sell you something. But Mishima is determined to try her way, and so asks, nay, demands Yoshida’s contact info. Yoshida is taken aback, because he doesn’t consider himself “attractive enough” to be worth giving his contact info for no special reason.

At this Mishima snaps at him for deciding everything by his standards, including his own appeal. She says he has a bad habit of doing what he wants to do while convincing himself its for the sake of others. Then she confesses her love for him (“a little”) and texts him a request to go out for a movie when Sayu isn’t making something special for dinner. He texts back a sheepish “sure”, which lifts Mishima’s spirits.

The next day when Yoshida is off work, he’s just kind of sitting around while Sayu cleans around him. He offers to help, and she pushes him into his bed, tripping in the process and landing on him. Their resulting position is lovingly drawn and lit the way a romantic scene would, and Sayu lingers there before Yoshida asks her to take the wet rag off his shoulder.

After this awkward scene that appears to play right into Mishima’s worst fear —that Sayu has the inside track on winning Yoshida’s heart—Sayu decides to go through a box of stuff in his closet (with his okay…but it’s still hella random!) and finds his high school yearbook, along with a photo of him and his gorgeous senpai girlfriend.

I for one am willing to give both parties the benefit of the doubt regarding the bed incident, but then Yoshida starts talking about how that girlfriend called him “clingy” and that she didn’t want somebody who cared about him so much. Again his standards come through, as he tells Sayu it’s only natural to care about someone, to want them to smile and be happy, and to be the one who makes that happen. Sayu mutters “what about me?”, but Yoshida doesn’t hear (naturally).

Back at work at the konbini, Sayu ends up sharing a shift with her former attempted rapist, which is never something you want. When the mysterious guy in the black Lexus comes in and reveals he’s Sayu’s big brother (and clearly loaded), Yaguchi tells Sayu to hide in the break room and then covers for her.

While I appreciate the show’s dedication to showing the good and bad in people, I really didn’t need this guy performing a remotely redemptive act, and it frankly sours the whole scene, especially when Sayu thanks him. Now, if he actually owned up to what he actually did and earnestly apologized, maybe I’d feel a bit different…but probably not!

As for Ogiwara Kazuto, well…it’s interesting that this President and CEO of Ogiwara Foods is Sayu’s brother and not a parent. I’d also guess he’s about Yoshida’s age. The look on Sayu’s face when she realizes who he was was, and then upon realizing that she may not get to decide when she goes home, is heartbreaking. I’m hoping Kazuto is reasonable and doesn’t just drag her into the car, but Sayu ran far, far away from these people, so all bets are off.

The Saint’s Magic Power is Omnipotent – 06 – Goddess Dressing

Sei is surprised that Grand Magus Drewes deigns to serve as her tutor even in the most basic of basics until he explains why it has to be him. In addition to the Saint’s abilities being a jealously guarded state secret, Yuri is, at the end of the day, a researcher, and Sei is the most intriguing subject to come along in a good long while.

While not 100% enthused to be treated like a subject of research, Sei can’t deny that despite how hard Yuri works her he’s still going easy on her compared with the others he trains. She makes it a point to work hard and do her best to lesson the time it takes to cast her magic. Then Sei brings up expeditions with the knights, something Yuri hadn’t considered, but if and when it does happen, he’ll accompany her to ensure she’s kept safe.

Of course, Sei still sees this as Yuri preserving his prized subject, so her heart isn’t affected. Contrast this to Commander Hawke, who has missed Sei the woman, tenderly touches her face, then agrees to let her participate in the knight training exercises so she can get more practical healing experience. When she plops down on her bed, she’s exhausted but happy.

The next day is a “Lady Day”, the name Sei gives the days she’s taught how to dress, gesture, speak, and dance like a proper lady. The head maid seems to almost take a bit too much pleasure out of tightening Sei’s corset, but there’s no arguing the final result is a properly glowed-up saint.

Albert comes in before her dance lesson is complete, and her instructor suggests Sei dance with him, in order to get comfortable with another partner. Al shows he can cut quite the rug, while Sei doesn’t embarrass herself by tripping on her dress like I thought she would.

The “social season” is fast approaching, and while neither Sei nor Al are fond of them, as the Saint she won’t be able to refuse all invitations that come her way. With this in mind, Al asks if she’d let him be her date on these events to make them more palatable; after her mind wanders a bit, she blushingly accepts.

Sei’s next lady lesson involves a tea party of the daughter of a prominent marquis and the fiancée of Prince Kyle. It initially slips Sei’s mind that “Ashley” is the surname of her library friend Liz. Liz is impressed that her friend is so adept at healing she’s been called a “goddess” by knights she saved.

When talk turns to Aira and the way she’s befriended many a “taken” man—including Liz’s own Kyle—Sei explains to Liz just how much less socially strict her and Aira’s homeland of modern Japan are. She doubts Aira is acting “improperly” on purpose, and hopes she’s going okay.

I for one would sure like to hear Aira speak some time; I feel all the show has done with her so far is tease us about an imminent encounter with Sei that keeps getting pushed off. Maybe they’ll finally be able to meet at one of the upcoming soirees?

Higehiro – 06 – Doing the Best We Can

Trigger Warning: This episode contains a scene of attempted rape.

With Sayu now working a part-time job, it was only a matter of time before the show’s first truly unsavory character reared their ugly head. Yaguchi Kyouya is that character, and to call him “unsavory” is putting it all too lightly. Just because he and Sayu slept together a few times, he believes he’s entitled not only to know where she lives now, but to sleep with her whenever he wants.

Yaguchi is a truly detestable scumbag in the SAO tradition of scumbag villains: a guy specially formulated to be loathed with extreme prejudice. There are moments when his presence in this show is so out-of-place compared to all the caring, compassionate, and protective people around Sayu, he feels like a caricature.

Lest I forget: Yaguchi and men like him who took what they could from Sayu and then discarded her are not only a crucial part of this story, but all too common in real life. Yaguchi shows no regard for Sayu’s agency or choices, blows past all personal boundaries, lies to her face about “just wanting to talk.” And the worst of it? When he attempts to rape her, she puts everything on herself, fearing the consequences to Yoshida and Asami.

That she’s of the mind that she has to let Yaguchi have his way with her so others won’t get hurt shows how far Sayu still has to go in being able to protect and value herself. And she would have absolutely been raped had Yoshida not taken it upon himself to read her text as a call for help. While I normally detest violence, I feel Yoshida goes far to easy on him; he should have to bear at least a shiner for his transgressions.

Yaguchi is absolutely wrong that they’re the same and the only difference is Yoshida isn’t sleeping with her. Yaguchi is definitely a criminal for having sex with a minor, while Yoshida’s harboring of Sayu is a lot more of a gray area. But worst of all to Yoshida is that at no point does Yaguchi think about Sayu. It’s all about what he can get, and why Yoshida isn’t getting it to.

Thankfully, Yoshida is firm enough to get Yaguchi to promise not to bother Sayu again, but we’ve already seen the value of this guy’s promises. Yoshida knows he may not know if he can save Sayu or how, but at least he’s trying! All the others did was hurt her more. They don’t get to protest his attempts to save her when they never tried.

When he returns to the room to comfort Sayu, she doesn’t know why she got so scared when he tried after they’d done it so many times before. Yoshida simply says that’s normal. She was right to turn him down, did and said nothing wrong, and needs to think about herself more. Seeing her not able to be the normal teenager she should be hurts, but becoming one starts with caring about herself.

The next day, Asami notices that something happened between Yaguchi and Sayu, and when Sayu won’t say anything, she confronts him. He tells the truth about what he tried to do to Sayu, then apologizes after Asami slaps him and leaves the break room, admitting he “got a little rough” (ya think?) Sayu asks why he didn’t tell Asami about them, and he says he promised not to if she brought him to her place. So I guess he’ll keep some of his promises?

Sayu doesn’t forgive Yaguchi—she never should, frankly, unless he shows serious signs of changing—but isn’t “mad” anymore, and is also present enough to make clear to him if he tries anything again she’ll be mad. His assurance he won’t seems more couched in the ferocity of her two “guard dogs” in Yoshida and Asami, but if there’s one quality of this guy I’ll put my faith in, it’s his cowardice, and if that means he really won’t try to touch her again, I’ll take it.

After Sayu’s shift, Yoshida texts that he’ll be at work late, so Asami invites herself over to her place to protect her. She stops by her palatial estate for some stuff, and we learn that she’s the daughter of a politician and lawyer who are almost never around, and Sayu’s the first friend she’s told about her house. By opening up a little about herself, she inspires Sayu to do the same, telling her plainly about how she came from Hokkaido and stayed at various guys’ places, including Yaguchi’s.

She continues that she kept running from place to place and nothing ever changed, until she met Yoshida and then Asami, and realized how “stupid” she was being. Heartened by Sayu opening up, Asami takes her to a special spot where you can see the stars despite still being in Tokyo.

As the two gaze at the stars, Asami tells Sayu more about herself, how she dressed up as a gyaru, but her parents didn’t understood she was doing it for attention she simply wasn’t getting from them. And while she’s expected to follow in her mom’s footsteps in law, what she really wants to study is literature and become a writer. That led to a huge argument with her mom.

That’s when her dad took her to this starry spot and assured her their worries are nothing compared to those stars. But while Asami knows humans are to small to be seen compared to the stars, they still have pasts and futures that matter. She knows Sayu’s past was rough, but she got through it to get to where she is: in a position to choose her future. It’s the second straight week of heartwarming girl talk, only this time between girls of the same age.

The next day after Yoshida comes home early, Sayu tells him that living with him, she’s finally able to start thinking about a future. She just needs a little more time. Yoshida will give her all the time she needs. She may have  met one too many Yaguchi Kyouya’s on the way, but those assholes are but insignificant specks compared to the growing constellation of good people she knows, who care about her and are slowly but surely teaching her to care about herself.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Saint’s Magic Power is Omnipotent – 05 – Unappraisable

There’s a lot of lead-up to Sei’s introduction to Grand Magus Yuri Drewes—yet another hot guy who just recovered from the coma he suffered after summoning her and Aira. But when it comes time for him to do his duty as the most powerful mage in the kingdom and appraise Sei’s power, his spell is unable to penetrate her own far superior magical power. That means Yuri is fairly certain she’s the true Saint, because he was able to appraise Aira’s power.

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Yuri’s inability to properly appraise Sei means he can’t be certain she is the Saint. Aira may not possess her incalculable magical power, but she is progressing abnormally quickly in her training at the academy, which is to prepare her to do battle against the monsters threatening the kingdom. If Sei were to follow a similar path, she’d be playing catch-up, at least on the training side of things.

Yuri relays his findings to King Siegfried, assuring him he’ll continue his research, but a satisfactorily definite answer as to who is the Saint probably isn’t forthcoming. All Siegfried has is Yuri’s expert opinion that Sei is the true Saint in one hand, and an unruly son in Prince Kyle who insulted Sei by choosing Aira as his Saint.

Siegfried decides to flex his royal power by officially inviting Sei to the court, which is a whole thing. Marie and a phalanx of maids thoroughly bathe her, massage her, and dress her in saintly robes. Then Hawke (who it turns out is the younger brother of Earhart, the Assembly’s second-in-command) arrives to be her personal escort, as both he and Johan worried she’d feel lonely entering the court on her own.

Sei, who is a bundle of nerves, is happy to have Commander Hawke to lean on, but once they enter the court chamber, she alone approaches the throne. Siegfried descends from the dais, and he and the rest of the court bow their heads in formal apology for Prince Kyle’s conduct. Sei accepts the apology and is praised for her grace and once again asked what she wants.

It was at this point that I figured the thing she wanted most was to continue living a quiet but rewarding life at the Research Institute. Considering she doesn’t seek any land or titles, this would be a simple thing to grant. But even there she’s hit a bit of a wall, so she asks for two things that will help breach that wall: access to the forbidden section of the royal library, and a magical tutor to teach her the ways of spellcasting.

Siegfried appoints the only person remotely qualified to tutor a saint: Grand Magus Yuri Drewes. As for Prince Kyle, he hears a report about his father’s activities and digs in his heels. As far as he’s concerned, there’s only one Saint, and it’s Aira, whom we finally see in the flesh, but unfortunately don’t hear her utter any actual words. Still, it’s inevitable that Sei and Aira will meet. I hope they won’t allow all the politicking going on around them to spoil what could be a meaningful, supportive friendship.

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