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.

Fruits Basket – 54 – Coming Home

After a cryptic cold open in which Akito shows Kureno a black box presumably containing her father’s remains, we shift to Yuki asking Hatsuharu about Rin. Haru doesn’t know any of the details, but was unaware Rin had become close with Tooru, and gleams with pride. He tells Yuki to thank Tooru, and “if it all goes wrong”, to comfort her.

Kisa and Hiro, who are both taller now, head to Hiro’s house so Kisa can meet lil’ Hinata. Hiro admits that whenever he sees Hinata, he thinks of how stupid he is to always be wrapped up in his vanity and fear. He wants to be a brother who can protect her. That’s why even when he bumps into Haru to ruin the mood, Hiro is intent on apologizing to Kisa, since it was his fault Akito hit her.

He tells Haru that Akito pushed Rin off the balcony, but Akito and Rin both told him to keep his mouth shut. He also knows Rin is trying to break the Zodiac curse, which is why she left Haru—to shield him from whatever consequences she’d face. And as Haru tells these truths to lighten his heart, Kureno spots a maid delivering food to the Cat’s cottage, demands the key, and discovers a starving Rin imprisoned there.

The lovely, innocent exchange between Hiro and Kisa is a preemptive balm for the harsh events that follow in this episode. This is an episode full of beautiful and terrible moments. As soon as he takes his leave of Hiro and Kisa, Haru becomes Dark Haru, and storms right into Akito’s rooms to confront him*—decorum be damned.

*While we, Kureno, Shigure, and Tooru know the truth about Akito’s biological sex, Haru is one of the Zodiac members still in the dark, hence the male pronouns I use for Akito when interacting with Haru.

We’re reminded how scary Hatsuharu can be when he’s pissed off, and he has every right to be, especially when Akito denies he pushed Rin off the balcony and pretends not to know where she is now. Haru is about to get violent with him when Kureno comes in and tells Haru that Rin is in the hospital under Hatori’s care.

Then Kureno scolds Akito for doing something so monstrously cruel. He may have vowed to remain by her side forever, but he didn’t say anything about standing by and letting her pull this kind of shit. For all the shading we’ve gotten into Akito’s own background and trauma, she continues to sabotage any chance of sympathy by being so goddamn villainous.

When Akito’s demeanor changes and he tries to play the victim of Kureno’s betrayal, Haru violently grabs him, but Akito is ready with the gaslighting, saying it’s Haru’s fault Rin is suffering; he dug her grave when he decided to fall in love with her, knowing full well how Akito would react.

Akito tries to turn Haru’s love for Rin against him, into a defect that rendered him worthless when he felt Rin needed him most. And it works—at least at first, as Haru punches the wall instead of Akito, and warns him not to say anything else lest he kill him and then himself.

As he storms off, Kureno urges him never to return there, but instead to go to the hospital to see Rin, who surely wants to see him more than anything. While she was malnourished and barely conscious when Kureno found her, Rin’s first word was “Haru.” Upon hearing that, the rope representing the curse binding Haru with Akito begins to fray.

Rin, meanwhile, ends up escaping from her hospital room, as is her habit, lamenting that she has “no home to go to” anymore. She wanders the streets barefoot and frail, remembering how she ended up in the cat prison in the first place. While sneaking around the Souma compound, Rin was caught by Ren, who agreed to tell her the secret to breaking the curse if she retrieved a “treasure” from Akito’s room: the box Akito called “father.”

Rin is caught red-handed by Akito, her hair is roughly snipped off, and she’s thrown into the Cat’s cottage to rot. As for Ren? She never knew the cure to the curse, and was only using Rin, whom she always dispised. Last week didn’t show us a short-haired Rin; it was Akito with those scissors. Akito warns Rin to go into exile or Haru will lose his eyesight. Rin decides to stay in the prison and waste away, deeming herself “no good” for failing to find the secret to Haru’s happiness—i.e. the cure for the curse.

In her delirious state Rin believes she’s still imprisoned, and wishes that if she’s going to die, that at least her final dream will be of her beloved Haru, spoiling her with his kindness. She gets her wish, except that it’s not a dream: he finally found her collapsed on the sidewalk. Haru was always Rin’s true home—and vice versa—so when she “returns” from her long journey, it’s only appropriate that he say “Welcome Home.” He needs her to come home to him, or it’ll be too lonely to bear.

He scoops her up (she can’t weigh more than 90 pounds). She protests, saying she can walk on her own, but he refuses to let her go, not when he came so close to losing her! When he saw her on the ground years ago, he did nothing, but now he’s older, and wiser, and stronger, and loves her so much more, so no matter how many times she needs to be carried, it would never be a burden for him.

As two random elementary school kids gawk at the powerful, adorable romantic scene unfolding before them, Rin says “I’m home”, and she and Haru embrace tightly as one, her long journey finally at an end. Thank God. Not Akito though…a better god!

RABUJOI WORLD HERITAGE LIST

Fruits Basket – 52 – An Unwavering Truth

I’m not here to forgive Akito for her two-plus seasons (and years before that) of acting horribly shitty to just about everyone, from all of the Zodiac spirits to Honda Tooru, probably the human being least deserving of malice and cruelty in the universe.

But I’m not going to pretend she’s had it easy, either. No one cursed with the Souma name does, and just because she’s revered as god who can boss the others around doesn’t mean doing so makes her feel remotely happy or fulfilled. Nor is she immune to the nefarious Shigure’s twisted mind games!

Akito recalls a beautiful memory of years ago when she asked Shigure if he loved her. He plucks a nearby red tsubaki (Camellia) bloom—a symbol of love and desire—and tells her he not only loves her but cares about her more than anyone, which he calls “an unwavering truth”. She recalls this while in bed with a sleeping Kureno.

It’s apparently a tradition to make paper carnations at Tooru’s school, and Shigure decides to join her and make one of his own. Tooru is sitting on the bombshell of Akito’s true gender and Kureno being free of the curse, but in her usual deference to others’ feelings, she’s unable to broach the topic with Shigure. But thinking about it is like staring down a deep dark cave, and if she doesn’t tell someone, she could fall in.

This episode helpfully reminds us that school, Prince Yuki, and the much less brazen Kyou Fan Club still exist, and if the school stuff is often the weakest material Fruits Basket offers, it’s still better than 90% of other school stuff in my books!

Nearly everyone at school is fake-flower crazy. Motoko and Co. launch a raid to steal the paper flowers Yuki made for themselves, while Kyou’s admirers steal his, invoking his ire. Arisa assembles a posse to round them up.

And then there’s Machi, who quietly tails Yuki around the school as he checks in on everyone and offers to help out; everyone politely refuses, unwilling to sully a prince’s hands with common man’s work. But Machi eventually catches up to him, out of breath, only to freeze up and say she just wanted to say hello.

When Machi complains about him “roaming an unpredictable route” in which she’d kept “losing” him, the words carry more weight and meaning then mere practical considerations. When Yuki realizes she came to him and only him “of all people”, he blushes and gently puts his hand on her head. She lashes out at him, but he ends up with a flower in his hand: a flower even more of a mess than the ones he made…but of course it’s not about the quality of the flower, but whom you give it to.

While Arisa, Saki, and other classmates are chasing down Prince Yuki, Tooru is alone with Ryou, and she feels she can try to bring it up to him. She asks hypothetically what he’d do if there was someone in the Zodiac whose curse was broken, Old Ryou spits back not to ask such questions, because he couldn’t begin to answer them.

However, when he sees Tooru’s face suddenly go flat and hollow, the New and improved Ryou resurfaces, and when a simple and emphatic apology isn’t enough, he offers her his flower, which she gently takes as they’re bathed in the golden sun of the late afternoon. Their beautiful moment is rudely interrupted by Arisa & Co announcing the culprits have been found and justice done.

When Shigure presents the red paper flower he made to Akito, she asks him if there’s something familiar about this scene, but he’s evasive. As Tooru and Yuki wash dishes, Ryou reports that Shigure will be out late. Yuki assumes he’s out torturing his editor, whiel Tooru just realized one person she might be able to talk to about Kureno is Rin. But her search for Rin at her school comes up empty, as Rin’s classmates say she’s on one of her absence streaks “somewhere far away”.

In an unfortunate coincidence, Mitchan picked the same restaurant for their meeting where Akito, Shigure’s parents, and other important guests are having a big dinner. Mitchan catches a glimpse of Akito in a black suit, agrees with Shigure that he’s as white as a ghost, but also says he’s pretty. Akito spots Shigure snubbing her and leaving with the other woman…which is probably exactly what Shigure intended.

In a call with Kureno at an undetermined date, Shigure, who knows his curse is broken, berates Kureno for not abandoning Akito. Shigure also makes perfectly clear that he hates Kureno’s fucking guts—apparently another unwavering truth. Kureno pleads with Shigure not to keep being so cold with Akito.

That’s because for as loyal and present or Akito as Kureno is at all times, Akito never loved him as much as she loved—loves—Shigure. Akito comes home in a foul mood and when she’s informed Shigure is there, orders everyone to stay the fuck away.

Their encounter begins with her asking about the woman he was with and whether he slept with her like he sleeps with every woman. Like he slept with that woman…her own mother, Ren. We learn that when he did, she punished him by telling him to leave. But Akito still thinks he only slept with Ren as an excuse to leave, as he didn’t put up a fight.

When an increasingly upset Akito rants about Shigure liking and wanting “her”—whether that’s Ren or, uh, someone else—Shigure repeats what he said the day he gave her a camellia: I care about you more than anyone. That’s an unwavering truth. He remembered. He didn’t waver. And he says he only slept with Ren because she slept with Kureno.

As Shigure puts it, he loves Akito so much that sometimes he wants to “spoil her rotten”, and sometimes he wants to “crush her to a pulp”. Jesus. He starts to leave, concerned they’re simply repeating the same argument they always have, but then Akito throws herself—HERself—at him, and in a thoroughly steamy gesture, rips her tie off and embraces her.

The day Shigure told Akito he loved her, she fell in love with him, and never stopped. When Akito and Kureno became an item, it doubtless hurt Shigure profoundly…but the unwavering truth endured. I still can’t trust the guy any farther than I can throw him, but damn it all if his and Akito’s love and longing isn’t gorgeous in its gloominess.

SSSS.Dynazenon – 02 – What Are We Now?

The first of many wonderful decisions made in this exquisitely directed and impeccably detailed second episode is that we catch a second look at the end of last week’s kaiju battle from Yomogi’s POV. It’s great to see this confused ordinary kid simply along for the ride as Dynazenon leaps, flies, and takes its opponent down.

After that, the dino-mecha vanishes, or rather reverts to its resting form of four toys distributed among the three new co-pilots by Gauma. When Yomogi says he didn’t even do anything, Gauma says it’s possibly Dynazenon recognized his innate aptitude.

Then immediately goes back to what he was doing before the attack: castigating Yume for standing Yomogi up, leading Yomogi to ask for calm. Gauma goes on to say a group called the Kaiju Eugenicists controlled the kaiju, and they’ll be back, so the group has to train. Everyone agrees to meet up tomorrow…even Yume.

The next day at school and in Koyomi’s room, everything seemingly reverts back to normal, except for the compression of classes due to the kaiju attack. Yomogi’s friends want him to hang, but he has work. Chise points out to Koyomi that if he’s a robot co-pilot then that means he’s technically employed.

After school Yume gets a piggyback ride from her best friend Mei on a grassy hill near the flood gate. We’ve never seen her so outwardly joyful, laughing until she’s out of breath before heading to training session, this time keeping her word. Mei, a photog, notices this sudden change in Yume’s attitude and snaps some gorgeous candid shots of her as she parts.

Yomogi, who’d classically be the one most “into” this new kaiju-punching mecha scenario, has to work instead, missing the first training session. When his manager what happened on his date, he says “way too much” happened, though none of it “erotically”. He then goes home for a soak and is shocked when Gauma comes in to join him in a far-too-cramped tub.

There’s a lovely juxtaposition between Yomogi and Gauma’s bath and Yume’s. Yomogi was thinking about what having “aptitude” for Dynazenon means, while Yume is thinking about apologizing to Yomogi. Her parents are arguing on the other side of Yume’s bathroom door, one instance of many of Dynazenon’s elite sound design.

From the tinny sound of voices on radio or TV, voices muffled through walls, far away, close up, outside and on the train, we hear voices in Dynazenon just like we do in real life. Also adding to the immersive realism are the extremely lived-in interiors. Like Gauma, we feel like an honored guest in the cozy, realistically cluttered home Yomogi shares with his mom and aging granny.

It’s also clear from this scene why Yomogi is working so much he’s missing all of Gauma’s training sessions: with no siblings or father, now that he’s old enough to work he wants to help support his family as much as he can. As odd as Gauma is, he still seems to get this, and isn’t hard on Yomogi’s choice to skip training for work.

But as we’re introduced to four suspicious figures near a wrecked station, he won’t be able to ignore his Dyna-duties for long. Yume tracks him down and decides to give him a one-on-one lesson on how to access his Dyna-vehicle. She starts by accessing hers: the aerial Dyna Wing, and he accesses Dyna Soldier. Then she merges with him, giving his robot the ability to fly and giving her robot arms and legs with which to fight.

The two combine quickly and without any fanfare, but it still feels like an intimate act, and it was foreshadowed by Yume piggyback riding on Mei’s back. Now she’s piggybacking on Yomogi, and their maiden flight together results in a very sweet and simple conciliatory talk from 40,000 feet travelling at mach 0.8.

Yume is sorry, and Yomogi isn’t mad. Yomogi asked “What are we now?”, referring to their combined Wing/Soldier form. But you could just as easily answer that “what they are now” … is friends. They were able to bridge the distance between them and start fresh…all thanks to robots.

In a very slick transition, their combined “Dyna Wing Soldier” flies behind a building as the camera pans down, and once we’re at ground level we see Yume and Yomogi walking together. They visit the collateral damage the kaiju battle caused, which distresses Yomogi, but Yume assures him it would have been far worse had they not fought and defeated the kaiju. In light of the mess they made, Yomogi wonders if they should hand off their Dyna duties to someone else—perhaps someone older or more experience.

Yume’s response is instructive: If you always go by the book, there are things you can’t protect. On the train home, Yume opens up to him about how her sister died, in an accident, at the flood gate where she spends so much time. It’s another momentous moment presented with sublime mundaneness. Kudos again to the sound design, as you can hear her voice bouncing off the metal walls of the train.

Just like that, smash cut to the kaiju of the week – initially so unassuming, taking up a tiny portion of the frame as it lurks under an overpass. Then Yuuga, one of the four too-cool-for-school “Bad Guy” kaiju users in marching band uniforms (a Trigger trademark) is chosen by the others to take command, and the kaiju grows to immense size.

The psychedelic kaiju starts leveling city blocks when Dynazenon arrives, just as Yuuga & Co. predicted. Only as expected, this second kaiju is a lot trickier than the first. One can’t just punch it, because it can freakin’ teleport. Yuuga uses this ability to great effect by kicking the shit out of the comparatively sluggish Dynazenon while dodging all it’s counterattacks.

Gauma decides to audible “Disperse!”, and the four Dyna parts split, giving their opponent four targets. The only problem is, without any training Yomogi has no idea how to move his Soldier Dyna on its own, and as he wrestles with the controls his sitting duck Dyna’s arms flail around comically. If that wasn’t enough, his manager calls him from work, a fun instance of his normal life interrupting his new kaiju-bustin’ one.

When the enemy kaiju accelerates its destructo-beams and buildings start to crumble, Yomogi spots a bus full of innocent people in harm’s way, and realizes that whether he’s confident in his abilities or not, he wants to protect them. Yume suggests they do what they did before and piggyback into Dyna Soldier, and with Yume’s added agility is able to destroy the fragile wings the kaiju was using to teleport.

After that, he and Yume launch the kaiju high into the sky, where Gauma is able to finish it off with his Dyna Launcher Burst Missile. Team Dynazenon is now 2-for-2, with Dyna-teamwork making the Dyna-dream work. As they exit their robots and bask in their latest victory, Yomogi asks if Yume was close to her sister. She says they didn’t get along well, but admits that now she’s not so sure anymore.

Just as their regular lives are portrayed so simply and realistically with both sights and sounds, there’s a similar realism to the feelings Yume and Yomogi expressed here. There’s nothing over-the-top or melodramatic about their exchanges. Instead, they’re becoming closer little by little, at their own pace.

Unfortunately the pace of battles is likely to heat up, as the enemy kaiju users Gauma identifies as the “Kaiju Eugenicists” are steaming over their latest defeat. Our ragtag gang of good-hearted souls want to keep protecting what they can, they’ll need to step up their Dyna-battle game, ’cause these drum majors look serious, and the gloves are coming off.

Re: Zero – 50 (S2 Fin) – Number One Knight

The only thing standing between Subaru & Co. and winning the day is one of the Three Great Mabeasts, the Great Rabbit, who surround the Graveyard just as Subaru returns from the mansion with a newly-revitalized Beatrice. What with the weakness of her contractor (Subie) and the length of time since her last real battle (400+ years), Beako deems she has just the right handicap to make the fight interesting.

With that, she unleashes El Minya—a shower of pink crystal shards that obliterate bunnies on contact. They keep coming, but her contractor, Subaru maintains hand contact and uses El Minya as well until the Rabbits, not being truly infinite, reach their maximum number. Subie then builds a crystal paddock to restrain them, which Emilia traces and reinforces with her ice magic, rising them off the ground.

Having been given sufficient time to prepare it, Beako finishes the Rabbit off with Al Shamac, transporting it in its entirety to an isolated space—like the forbidden library—from which it will never be able to return. A great psychological weight lifts from everyone—and myself!—when they realize that the battle is over, and they won.

Just when Beako is hoping for a little more enthusiastic celebration, she gets more than she bargained for when Subie lifts her up and spins her around in elation. Beako and Roswaal pay their respects to Echidna, their mother and teacher. Beako realizes for the first time that the Roswaal before her is the Roswaal she knew—the product of soul transcription, Echidna’s dream was realized.

Given some time to themselves outside the graveyard during a gorgeous sunrise, Emilia bashfully, adorably broaches the topic of “the baby in her belly!” It’s a phrase that nearly causes Subie to jump out of his shoes, but is only the result of some god-level trolling on Puck’s part, who convinced Lia that a mere kiss like the one she shared with Subie is enough to create life!

What follows is a “purification ritual” at the chapel, in which everyone in the main circle Roswaal wronged is given a much deserved slap or slug to the face. Ram, who is recovering quickly thanks to Beako, doesn’t stop them, as not even she can deny he’s made mistakes—one of them never being aware how much she loves him until now.

Emilia and Subaru knows they need Roswaal’s power for the Royal Selection and Battles to Come, but what’s stopping him from turning on them again? He removes his shirt to show just that: an oath sealed by a curse, which he received after losing to Subaru (on whose chest it would have appeared had he lost). Gar and Petra object anyway, but defer to everyone else, while Lia is sufficiently satisfied upon hearing a simple “I’m sorry” from the margrave.

A little time passes, but not much. With Roswaal’s mansion in ruins, the house of Annerose Miload, of a Mathers branch family, serves as the venue for the knighting of one Natsuki Subaru by one Emilia. Before the ceremony, Roswaal informs Subaru that he still intends to bring Echidna back, blood, breath, and soul.

Because he lacks the Tome of Wisdom, and the pain of losing what may be lost in his quest to revive teacher might surely cause him to Burn Everything Down, he instead vows to keep a close eye on Subaru and the path he walks. Like Roswaal, Subaru has lost so much, but every time he picks up the pieces, refusing to lose anything, bearing every wound those initial losses create.

After some flowery dialogue, the deed is done; Subaru officially becomes Sir Subaru. Subaru marks the occasion by telling Emilia how sexy and cute she looks in her be-knighting outfit, and in another sign of how much stronger she’s become, Lia laughs it off and sticks out her tongue rather than crumbling before praise. More importantly, Subaru now dons world-appropriate clothes that match Emilia’s white-and-purple theme.

As the well-earned party rages indoors, Subaru goes out onto the balcony for some quiet contemplation, and Emilia soon joins him, accurately accusing him of being drunk…on himself and the atmosphere, not booze. Emilia tells him there’s something she wants to talk to him about, and asks him to come to her room later to do so, employing a pinky swear to seal their agreement.

Subaru assures her no matter what she needs to say, he’ll never become “disenchanted” with her. After all, she just made him her Number One Knight! Emilia compliments Subaru’s sweet face, and remarks that the scene they’re beholding just might be her “ideal”, and she’ll never forget it. It was at this point I was convinced a shoe or two would drop, pulling the rug from everyone’s feet and plunging the celebratory mood into some fresh devilry as White Fox often does.

But it didn’t! The fact Rem never woke up aside, this was a totally happy ending, not leaving us with any cliffhanger we’d have to stew with for an unknown duration until a third season arrived to sate our hunger anew. And I’m very happy about that, and where everyone stands at this stopping point.

The gorgeous way the episode fades to white as Subaru and Emilia dance a waltz while surrounded by friends and allies—that’s pretty much my ideal too! Emilia finally got the character-building arc she deserved, and cemented her role as Best Girl. The Royal Selection, Rem’s reawakening, and dealing with the Sin Archbishops can wait. For now, Let’s party!

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 03 – Childhood Friend

Thanks to Roxy, Rudy is no longer a shut-in, which means he can now freely explore the boundless natural beauty beyond the Greyrat residence. Paul tells his son that a man’s strength isn’t for pushing people around, but protecting and befriending the weak—and if some girls are impressed in the process, it’s all gravy.

It’s the first of several moments Paul talks to his son as if he were much older, even though he tells him he worries about the ways he doesn’t act like the kid he is. This only makes sense: Rudy is Paul’s first kid, while Rudy’s emotional and social development was profoundly stunted by bullying and harassment. They both have plenty to teach each other.

As for making friends, the first three kids his age Rudy meets are bullying a weaker boy, and uses his water magic to disinterest them off. He learns they were picking on the boy for having green hair and thus resembling the hated Superd. In reality, he’s the son of a human and half-elf; the green hair is just a harmless genetic trait.

At first glance it’s clear to Rudy that Sylph (delicately voiced by Kayano Ai) is a drop-dead gorgeous bishounen. Having acted on his father’s advice to be a friend to the weak, his decision is also routed in his baser desire to meet hot babes, who will surely flock to this prettyboy. Sylph is delighted to have a friend, as Rudy is his first as well. They agree to meet up soon so he can teach him how to use the magic that got rid of the bullies.

But Rudy comes home late to find an angry Paul at the front door. He heard from the mother of one of the bullies that Rudy punched him. Rudy tries to explain the way an adult would to another, but Paul doesn’t want to hear excuses. When Rudy is insolent, he’s slapped, but instead of crying, Rudy becomes even more adult and logical.

He tells Paul how he’s worked hard to earn his father’s trust, and had hoped that would have in turn earned him the chance to explain his actions. He then assures Paul that next time he sees three boys picking on another, he’ll either ignore it or join in, as befits the “Greyrat Family Way.” Paul, knowing he’s been rhetorically beaten, apologizes and asks Rudy to tell him what happened.

Like I said, Paul is as new to being a dad as Rudy is to being a kid in this world. Both are going to make mistakes. What’s so wonderful about the exchange here is that virtually equal time is given to their respective analyses and growth as a father and a son. Paul thought he needed to be hard on a son who is already a saint-level mage, even though part of him was glad he finally did something childish.

Paul knows he wasn’t practicing what he preached and furthermore, Rudy was fully capable of exposing that hypocrisy. That said, their “fight” expand beyond the night, as Paul is contrite and reflects not only upon how he’ll parent going forward, but whether his own father felt the things he’s feeling. That he does this while nestling his head in Zenith’s shoulders also underscores that he’s not walking this path of parenthood alone.

Six months pass, and it’s summertime. Rudy and Sylph are still targeted by the bullies, but Rudy fights back every time. He gets the distinct impression that one of the bullies’ moms is using her son as an excuse to see Paul, whom she fancies. Rudy has also been training Sylph in magic, and he turns out to be an excellent student.

When Sylph asks Rudy to teach him how to cast a spell without incantation, Rudy wonders if, like the public myth about set mana levels, it’s easier to do than people let on. As someone in a new world, Rudy wants to be special in at least one or two things, but either it is indeed relatively easy to do incantation-less casting, or Sylph is pretty special himself.

The moment he pulls it off, Sylph practically blooms with joy, dancing and spinning with the water he conjured, then running as fast as his fair legs can carry him through golden fields. Rudy can only keep up and share in the pure, unadulterated joy. As they lie together in the reeds, catching their breath, Rudy reiterates how goddamn pretty Sylph is.

Then a pop-up storm starts to drench them, and they make haste for shelter at Rudy’s house. Rudy leads Sylph to the bath that Lilia already prepared, strips down to his birthday suit, and sets to work stripping an extremely reluctant Sylph down as well, urging him not to be bashful—they’re both boys!

Only…they’re not. As was fairly evident from the start, Sylph is a girl, and was never able to get out her full name: Sylphiette. For once, Rudy isn’t turned on by a naked girl. In fact, he feels awful, as well as stupid for not realizing sooner. As he bathes with his dad, Paul makes sure that even as his son starts getting more interested in girls that kind of thing, he needs to listen and heed them when they say “no”.

Again, Paul is glad his son is acting like the kid he appears to be—and emotionally, still is—in this situation. He knows his son will “make good use” of his failure, only to watch Rudy “apologize” by saying he honestly thought she was a boy the whole six months they’ve hung out, causing her to cry even more. At that, Paul wonders if his son is dumber than he thought!

A day or a few pass, Rudy can’t concentrate on sparring with Paul, and Paul knows exactly why. What he doesn’t know is that the 30-year-old in Rudy is similarly depressed about having seemingly pushed away the lovely childhood friend was hoping to meet someday. Rudy showed his whole ass (literally!), Paul is certain they’ll make up. He assures Rudy that women love men’s strengths and weaknesses, and showing your vulnerable side can help mend fences.

His dad later admits he’s getting into some pretty advanced romantic advice for his still-very-young son, but it’s all good advice, from someone who is clearly a good man who, while hella strong, understands his own weaknesses and flaws, be it as a father, a husband, or a man.

Sylphiette shows up right after Rudy and Paul talk, and Rudy approaches her weary and contrite. He tries a dating sim line about “missing her beauty”, all while on the verge of tears, fearing permanent rejection. Instead, Sylphiette tenderly takes his hands in hers, tells him she “doesn’t hate him or anything”, and asks him to just “act normal,” giving him a pat on the head for good measure.

That she’s forgiven him so easily baffles Rudy, but he’s also obviously relieved beyond belief. He admits to not knowing how to get along with her, even though that’s what he’s been doing the last six months. His adult brain looks outward into the future when he’s a man in need of a good woman, but for now, the gender of the first friend his age shouldn’t matter. They’re still young, and have all the time in the world.

Rudy and Sylphiette will learn together how to continue get along with each other. There will be times they’ll make each other angry, get into fights, and maybe not talk or want to look in each other’ faces. But they’ll also run through golden fields together, laughing, playing, doing magic, and simply reveling in each other’s proximity. They’ll falter and forgive together—that’s what friendship is all about.

P.S. Read Crow’s write-up here!

Horimiya – 02 – Your (First) Name.

The first Horimiya was so nice I watched it twice, and if anything it was even better because I didn’t have to take mental notes for a review, I just slipped into it like a warm cozy blanket and enjoyed. I enjoyed so much, in fact, at no point during the two viewings did I realize that Hori didn’t know Miyamura’s first name!

But before that, Hori and Miyamura are strolling along the shopping district when she overhears the theme song of an anime Souta likes, and starts singing along. In addition to showing off Tomatsu Haruka’s lovely singing voice, she also charms Miyamura to no end, even though she herself is embarrassed.

It’s such a gorgeous and realistic little moment in these two’s normal lives, not just because she felt so carefree with Miyamura she sang in front of him without thinking. Memorizing songs your kid siblings (or kids, if you’re a parent) is just a thing that happens IRL. You think I care about “Let it Go” enough to memorize the lyrics? Doesn’t matter, because my nieces watched Frozen literally hundreds of times!

Back to first names: Hori suddenly realizes she doesn’t know Miyamura’s when her perpetually busy mom stops by the house unannounced. Voiced by Kayano Ai in Full Mischievous Mom Mode, Hori can’t conceal how much Miyamura has been over of late since Souta is right there to fact-check. That said, Hori’s description of him as “dark villain in a detective movie”? *Chef’s kiss*

While a more structurally complex episode than the first, Horimiya hews to storytelling best practices. A “what’s your first name” scenario could be drawn out across a whole episode, but it manages to resolve things in just a third of one. Hori’s Wile E. Coyote-like attempts to learn without asking fail hilariously, particularly when she has the gall to ask Tooru, the guy she just rejected, about Miyamura!

With her mom around, Hori has a surefire way of hearing Miyamura introduce himself, but her mom seems to sense she’s trying to take a shortcut and save face, so she diabolically sends Hori off on an errand when Miyamura stops by. Finally, with Miyamura directly asking if something’s bothering her, and if it’s because she has a crush on someone, she has no choice but to come clean.

Miyamura Izumi has a good laugh at her expense. Souta calls her lame, and Miyamura has known her first name was Kyouko all along. But at the end of the segment, she’s able to cast aside the histrionics and laugh about it with them. The bit doesn’t go on any longer than it needs to, and now Hori has a piece of paper with Miyamura’s name, so she has no excuse to forget it!

The next segment introduces three new classmates, bringing the total to seven. All three are in the Student Council, and include President, Top-Ranked student, and Hori’s childhood friend Sengoku Kakeru, his gorgeous girlfriend/StuCo mascot Ayasaki Remi (M · A · O), and the VP, Kouno Sakura.

The StuCo and Kakeru in particular seem to have no qualms pushing huge heaps of StuCo paperwork on Hori, despite her not being a member. Worse still, much of the work she’s tasked with doing should be Remi’s responsibility. Hori’s friends can tell all the extra work is weighing on her, but she seems stubbornly determined—and oddly obligated—to do it anyway.

Later that afternoon, while Miyamura is minding his own business in the hall, thinking about whether to bake Hori a cake to cheer her up, Remi races past and barrels into him, spilling a huge box of papers everywhere. Then Remi has the temerity to ask him to watch where he’s going. Dude was stationary, kid! When he notices she left a stack of papers behind, she says it’s cool to just toss them.

The next day, Miyamura arrives to find a potential dust-up in the hallway, as Kakeru accuses Hori of losing track of the budget papers. She rightfully pleads innocence, and while Kakeru admits both sides share some responsibility, he still demands an apology. Hori seems on the verge of tears as the crowd around them prepares to make their own conclusions.

From then, it’s Miyamura to the rescue, handing his bag and glasses to Tooru for safekeeping, pushing through the crush, and delivering a swift headbutt to Kakeru, then producing the missing budget papers. Remi is revealed as the party responsible for their being misplaced, and turns on the waterworks.

But like Miyamura lying to Tooru last week, or the first-name thing this week, this is just another thing, and all parties are able move past it. The StuCo bow in apologetic unison, Yuki gives Hori a relieved hug, and Hori thanks her pierced knight in tattooed armor.

As for why he headbutted Kakeru, well…the guy was simply pissing him off. Me too, Miyamura! But we also learn the reason why Kakeru and Hori’s dynamic is the way it is. It reveals that ever since they were little tykes and through grade and middle school, Hori consistently bullied and messed with Kakeru.

I for one am glad Kakeru isn’t just a one-dimensional bad guy, but something more nuanced, and with reason and history behind his manner. He vowed to Hori that he’d make something of himself in high school and she’d no longer be able to mess with him, and so he has; he’s the academic top dog and loved by virtually everyone.

Miyamura is a new wrinkle in their long-standing relationship, and even though Miyamura has no intention of delivering any further headbutting, Kakeru still shrinks into a anxious ball when Miyamura greets him in the morning. Maybe Kakeru, like his childhood friend, also sees the detective movie villain in him!

The third and final segment (lotta bang for the buck this week!) could also have been stretched into an entire episode, but Horimiya’s writing is tight and efficient enough that it’s able to basically tell three episodes worth of story in one. This one focuses on the fact Hori’s birthday is coming up, concurrent with spring break.

Souta asks Hori if Miyamura (whom he thinks of as a brother now) will be over every day; Hori gently warns her little bro that the day may come when Miyamura won’t come over anymore. That could be for a variety of reasons, from the two of them drifting apart, to him finding a girl(or boy)friend, to them simply graduating and ending up in different places afterwards.

The bottom line is, Hori is as sad as Souta about the prospect of Miyamura not coming around anymore. Fortunately, that prospect should be a ways off, if it ever comes. Miyamura comes by with a cake (natch) as well as a very personalized and thoughful gift: a CD of “all the popular music young people like right now” (I love how she phrases it as if she were some old lady).

Between school, housework, and caring for Souta, Hori confessed to have fallen behind on musical trends. She told Miyamura this back when she was singing the anime theme. He not only remembered, but got her exactly what she wanted. She’s amazed he did this, but she shouldn’t be. As Souta tells her earlier, exhibiting quite the precociousness, she should be more honest with herself.

Both express their happiness in that moment with wide but also tentative smiles, as they both look outside the window and watch the sakura petals falling. If it’s Hori’s birthday, it means spring break is almost over, and they’ll be in their third and final year of high school soon.

For such an ostensibly jam-packed episode, the fact this moment is given such time to breathe and fill the space says a lot about the deftness of Horimiya’s direction. It also says a lot about the writing in terms of what isn’t said in this closing scene, simply letting the joy of being together in the present become tempered by the uncertainty of future. Frankly, Miyamura and Hori should stop worrying so much about the future and try to enjoy life in the present!

Yes, it’s something to think about, but it cannot dominate their thoughts, nor always mar otherwise happy times. Heck, the fact they’re so apprehensive about a future in which they’re not together should be an obvious sign of their feelings for one another. If they’re so concerned about time, then they should get a move on with acknowledging those feelings and making them known to one another.

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 10 – Who Rents the Rented?

Ruka got a job at the same karaoke parlor as Kazuya, and the boss loves her so she’s not going anywhere. Ruka believes she can “close the gap” if she’s in close proximity to him in a “Chizuru-free zone” unlike his apartment where she’s right next door.

Having Ruka around reminds him of how he aided in the breaking of Kuri’s heart when Ruka Kuri him to date him. Whether it was right for Kuri to pretend Ruka was his real girlfriend, the fact is he really liked her, and Kazuya is worried the heartbreak will make him distrust or even hate women the rest of his life.

That’s probably selling Kuri too short, but Kuri’s creepy private Twitter account and Kibe’s worries suggest he’s in a deep slump. Flush with cash from his job (and not wanting to anger Ruka by going on a rental date with Chizuru), Kazuya decides to do something he hopes will help cheer his friend up: he pays for Chizuru to go on a rental date…with Kuri.

At first Kuri is simply confused: why would his friend’s girlfriend be going on a date with him? Then he sees how perfect and accommodating Chizuru is and gets self-conscious, to the point he considers Kazuya is playing an elaborate (and cruel) prank. But at some point he realizes he’s having so much fun, it doesn’t matter whether Chizuru is a real or rental date.

Being with someone as lovely as Chizuru restores his faith in women and makes him want a real girlfriend of his own again. That evening Kazuya pops out of the bushes, not to break up the date, but to apologize to Kuri for how things went down with Ruka. He also owns up the fact that he was lying too: Chizuru isn’t his real girlfriend.

While this puts him and Kuri on the same level, that doesn’t stop Kuri from laughing at him and mocking him all the same, which leads to some playful mutual ribbing. However, more than anything Kuri is relieved, and Kazuya’s plan worked, he’s genuinely cheered up. Such is the power of Chizuru. As fo Kuri’s parting question to her—about whether she’d fall for a rental date—Chizuru simply beams as Asakusa glows behind her and says “Who knows?”

Chizuru’s opinion of Kazuya must have improved upon being asked to help him cheer Kuri up. Not only is it proof he doesn’t only ever think of himself and his own gratification, but also that he’s willing to risk embarassing himself if it means owning up to the truth. In this regard, telling Kuri was a practice run for telling their grandmothers, which is still presumably going to happen at some point.

Finally, his request confirms to Chizuru that Kazuya is a guy she can trust to go on a different kind of practice run: Her rental girlfriend colleague Sakurasawa Sumi is just starting out in the business, but has received complaints (and likely poor ratings) for being far too shy.

On their adjacent balconies the next night, she asks him to go on a date with Sumi, trusting he’ll be both kind and impartial. In addition her request, which Kazuya accepts, Chizuru asks about how things are going in his love life completely unbidden, which takes him aback.

All this time she’s been keeping him at arms length, but their talk about his (lack of) progress with Mami looks and awful lot like a legitimate friendship between two people, romance aside. And while it’s late in the game to introduce a fourth girl, I’m looking forward to Takahashi Rie’s take on Sumi.

Kaguya-sama: Love is War 2 – 11 – The Other Side of the Story

The Cheer Squad’s cross-dressing skit goes off without a hitch, pleasing Yuu, who feared everyone would think he was gross. He starts to finally think about enjoying life more instead of dwelling on past regrets and failures…only for the greatest regret of his life to show up to anti-cheer him.

Just as Yuu is drafted to fill in for an injured Kazeno as anchor on the club relay race, all of the past unpleasantness rushes back into the forefront of his mind. All his ears hear around him are the discouraged and annoyed voices of the crowd cursing his name and everything about him.

The mystery girl who arrives is Otomo Kyouko, who was neither a crush nor a friend in middle school. She was just a kind classmate who’d look out for him whenever she could. She was a good person. Then she started dating Ogino Kou, whom Yuu soon learns is cheating on Kyouko with other girls.

Honestly I don’t remember middle school being this sexed up, but Kou further demonstrates how pure a scum he truly is by refusing to stop cheating, then using footage of Kyouko on his phone to threaten Yuu into silence.

Not about to let a good person, even someone who’s barely an acquaintance get hurt by a bad one, Yuu’s sense of justice curdles into rage before the despicable Kou, and he punches the shit out of him in the middle of class. He aimed to ruin his face so no girl would approach it again, but Kou quietly threatens to abuse Kyouko if Yuu doesn’t stand down.

If that wasn’t enough, Kou also loudly professes that Yuu is a stalker. To both her and everyone else around, it looks like a crazed Yuu is beating up her boyfriend because he’s jealous and obsessed, and he’s too shocked by how badly things are going for him to defend himself, though I doubt it would have helped.

For the assault, Yuu is suspended for a month and ordered to write a letter of apology to Kou, but despite writing and erasing over the paper hundreds of times, he’s unable to write a single word of anything; neither a false apology nor an indictment of Kou’s own misdeeds. In his absence at school his reputation as a creep crystallizes.

Back in the present, the relay anchors are ordered to their marks, but Yuu is so out of it he forgets what color team he’s on…until Miyuki puts his red headband on his head and offers him words of encouragement and a pat on the back. This mirrors Miyuki’s eventual visit to Yuu’s house to present the “Student Council Secret Report” he prepared with Miyuki and Chika.

While Miyuki doesn’t judge whether Yuu’s actions were right or wrong (merely that they could have been better), he cannot deny that Yuu’s ultimate objective was to protect Otomo Kyouko, and that objective was achieved when Kou broke up with her days after the beating. Turns out all those months of refusing to apologize made Kou paranoid, and he released his grip on the poor girl.

However, Kyouko never saw this report, and still has the same idea of what went down. She still believes Kou to be a good guy and blames Yuu for their breakup. She came to the festival specifically to “unload” on Yuu, but rather than continue to wallow in despair, Yuu draws strength from the knowledge someone—specifically Miyuki, Kaguya and Chika—learned his side of the story and supported him.

So before running his leg of the relay, Yuu responds to Kyouko’s heckling with the same words Miyuki wrote in thick black permanent marker way outside the gridlines of the apology letter stock…so hard that to this day the ink residue is embedded in the desk: GO TO HELL, DUMBASS.

As the race progresses, Yuu is determined to win. He believes he has to win to prove he truly “shake Kyouko off” and move on with his life. Kaguya and Miyuki and Chika cheer him on, hoping the good person they know can overcome adversity. Kobachi loudly cheers him on, while Miko, who helped get Yuu reinstated, cheers for him almost under her breath—but with no less conviction.

Yuu ends up losing by a hair. Like the lack of a forced reconciliation with Kyouko, the defeat is an excellent subversion of how these races usually go. But the fact is, he still tried his best and his cheer squad comrades appreciate that. Koyasu, the pink-haired girl, even tears up, so moved by his genuine frustration. Rather than calling him a loser and failure and weirdo like he feared, they tell him he did good.

Suddenly, as his tears give way and his field of vision clears, he can finally see the EYES of the cheer squad members, a pack of Normies with whom he thought he’d never get along and inherently distrusted due to past traumas. But there they are in all their glory. We’d never seen their eyes either because Yuu never looked at them properly. Now he does, and he’s elated to discover they’re all good people.

As Kyouko departs, she tells her former classmates she was glad to be able to give Yuu a piece of her mind, and leaves Shuchiin with fun memories despite how things turned out. As Kaguya and Ai observe, she’s blissfully ignorant, but the smile she wears as she leaves is the very thing Yuu worked and suffered to protect, and he succeeded.

That Yuu would do that for a classmate he barely knew, at the cost of so much personal turmoil and with no reward, then he must be the very best quality of person. It’s no wonder he was recruited into the StuCo. This episode of Love is War had virtually no jokes or gags, but it didn’t matter. What it offered instead was masterful character drama, further cementing its status as Anime of the Year.

Sing “Yesterday” for Me – 09 – Ginkgo Nuts

When Shinako returns to the Hayakawas’ kitchen, its a tactical retreat to familial comfort, and a means of stalling for time with the whole Rikuo angle. But she’s at least certain on one front: she loves Rou and her dad like family and never wants that to change. Rou apologizes for making things awkward with his advances. Like her with the Hayakawas, he’d rather she remain in his life than not, and to that end, suggests they celebrate Christmas together, like old times.

This episode is notable as being the first in which Rikuo and Haru never interact, but Rikuo is never not in her thoughts throughout. She rolls restlessly in bed, frustrated by her feelings for Rikuo, his apparent lack of interest in her, and her dwindling opportunities to see him due to his quitting the konbini. Still, she’s not ready to give up on him, and so the fact they never cross paths this week shouldn’t be an indication of Game Over.

That said, and as much as I like Haru, things are going so well between Rikuo and Shinako (even if he doesn’t think so) that he barely notices Haru’s absence. He and Shinako are thinking about college days at the same time, for crying out loud! In his case, it’s because Fukuda’s wife wants to see the photos Rikuo took of her new husband.

In Shinako’s case, because she spotted Gingko nuts at the grocery store, which she helped him pick on campus when he was hard up for cash. He doesn’t seem to remember, and Shinako seems pretty cross about it, but he still manages to halfheartedly invite her to Fukuda’s little Christmas get-together, which she must decline only due to previous obligations with Rou.

Shinako and Rou’s Christmas celebration turns out to be pretty staid, as the awkwardness is still very much there, especially since Rou’s dad is out of town and Rou insists on drawing her portrait. When he suggests she loosen her collar to look a little more “sexy”, she makes a quick exit…and good for her! I like her zero tolerance policy for Rou’s flirtations; she neither sees him that way nor wants to.

Since it’s only 20:00 when she leaves Rou’s, Shinako has a choice: go home and watch a movie, or go to Fukuda’s. Again, she makes the right choice in my opinion, as it’s clear she and Rikuo have something that should be cultivated, and it can’t be cultivated if they never hang out casually.

Rikuo, who is seemingly genetically incapable of being optimistic about anything regarding Shinako, is shocked she actually came. Maybe she’s shocked too, but her previous invitation, despite not amounting to anything, may have made her a bit bolder regarding Rikuo. Here’s hoping he can respond properly!

As for Haru, well, there’s no doubt she’s in rough shape, seeing as how there’s currently no way for her to bump into Rikuo anymore (and her crow left a feather behind that he found; the one and only moment he thinks about her). But hey, we’re only halfway through this saga, so it’s anyone’s game to win!