Daitoshokan no Hitsujikai – 08

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Did the writers of this episode recently watch Whisper of the Heart? Both center on a yearning young lady who worries about being good enough, both begin with that girl checking out all the same books as a guy, and both end on a hilltop at daybreak. But before I lay into those writers for shamelessly lifting from a classic, I must note that the similarities pretty much end there.

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For one thing, Amasawa Seiji didn’t get nearly as much girl time as Kyoutarou this week. Seriously, Kyou’s all over the shop with the ladies, or rather they’re all over him. From getting squeezed between and fought over by Tamamo and Senri in bikinis on stage, to ending up with Tamamo’s bra, to rescuing Kana from the sea, the show wants to make it clear that yes, he will be giving up quite a lot if he becomes a shepherd.

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It’s not what it looks like! Though I wouldn’t be surprised if Senri swung both ways…

Interestingly, the aftermath of Nagi’s kiss-and-run is set aside so that the show can focus on the stakes, one girl at a time, starting with Kana. As we know, Kana is the clown of the group, not counting Ikkei (because Ikkei barely exists). What we didn’t know is that Kana was the clown in her last group of friends…who are no longer friends.

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Then, as now, she didn’t choose to be the clown; it was a role she was given and never challenged it. She put doing what she deemed it took to remain ‘wanted’ in a highly-structured group where everyone had a role to play. After her beach play was a failure, the brittle clown facade is crumbling. She compensates by “trying too hard”, which makes her inner struggle more evident to her new friends, who say “this isn’t like you at all!”, inadvertently goading her into trying even too-harder.

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The club also works to get their client stage time, and, StuCo Veep Takigawa gives no ground in negotiations. They hold out hope they can change her mind (not knowing that she’s trying to destroy their cub!), but for that, they need Kana to write a new script. Only Kana isn’t coming to club.

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One surprising sight was seeing Kyoutarou shadowing Nagi with her trainee shepherd work, with things back to normal; ‘normal’ meaning ‘intermittently awkward and lovey-dovey’. Yet again, Nagi dodges the question of why she wants to be a shepherd so badly, and uses the situation as another opportunity to dissuade Kyoutarou from becoming one. She does that by telling him where to find Kana so he can talk to her, thereby sharing yet another beautiful memory he won’t want to lose.

As payment for her intel, she chokes him with her legs and bites his nose.

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Up on that hill, just before sunrise, he finds Kana, and the discussion turns to books. How Kyoutarou started reading books because he was looking for ways to get along with others, something he’s clearly succeeded out. And if you’ll remember, Kana checked out a lot of those same books, perhaps for the same reason.

I really enjoyed the creativity of the closing scene, whether it’s Kana telling her backstory using Madoka witch-style shadow-puppet visuals, or Kyoutarou turning their talk into a theatrical performance. The sun rising behind the embracing friends as catharsis is reached was also a simple but well-executed visual. Sendai Eri also does her best work of the season here and throughout the episode, demonstrating heretofore untapped range.

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Kana returns to the club feeling much better about herself and her place in it, which she learns need not be in the role of the clown. She’s excited to write the hell out of a new script, and if it flops like the least one, who cares? It’s not the end of the world, and she had fun writing them.

Then Senri embraces Kana once more, imploring her to stop worrying so much about what others think and start worrying about what she wants…lest Senri take him first! Then, things immediately shift to Senri going AWOL on her music instructor. But that’s a story for next week!

Kyoutarou is sure play a role in her redemption as well, but lest we forget: without Nagi’s help, he wouldn’t have reached Kana at that crucial time and place. If he relies on Nagi again, it will further expose the limits to his ability to help others as long as he’s not a shepherd himself.

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Daitoshokan no Hitsujikai – 07

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This episode of DnH toyed with my expectations, almost as if it was aware of the fact it’s an underdog on my list (ranked fifth out of my seven shows) and needed to show me something to remind me why I’m watching. Last week it successfully maneuvered a substantial overarching plot and presaged future difficulties and conflicts.

This week initially seemed to change gears completely, starting with the four girls of the library club assembled at the table, each giving their argument for why they’re Kakei’s type. Everyone’s cordial — even clinical — but one can definitely sense conviction for their respective positions in all their voices and expressions.

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When Kakei himself pops into the clubroom, Tsugumi abruptly asks him to go on a date…with all of them. At this point I’m pleasantly bemused — is the show going to be this ridiculous with the harem scenario? — but Kakei doesn’t take Tsugumi seriously, as he reads all night and sleeps in, making him late for the date and giving the girls an excuse to invade his flat, where they each act according to the archetypes they defended in the club meeting.

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Nagi barges in unannounced, further angering the girls (who already suspect something is going on, which they’d be right about, but it’s not quite what they think!) and decides to tag along as a sixth wheel, and the 6×6 Gelandewagen of Love rolls off to the mall. At this point, I was tipping my hat to DnH for apparently making an honest attempt to make this harem thing work; a seeming fool’s errand. I should have been tipped off by the looks the girls had as they walked in formation.

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Also bemusing to the point of suspicion: how civil everyone is throughout this date. While ostensibly competitors for Kakei’s attention and affection, the four girls eschew sniping and instead encourage and assist one another in turn, sticking to their archetypes and carrying them out to their natural conclusions.

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As one girl is engaged with Kakei (they each get a scene of alone time with him), the others analyze their chemistry, first with Tamamo, then Senri, then Kana. As they cycle through these interactions, and interesting thing happened: I the viewer began thinking about the type I go for. Rather than resent or envy Kakei, I became Kakei. And part of what makes a successful harem is being able to see yourself in the guy’s shoes…not having a target on the guy’s back.

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The sequences of mini-dates-within-the-date, also showed me that it’s not really as simple as what type to choose. Sure, I’ve somewhat gravitated towards him and Senri (among the four club girls), but the fact is all four exhibit desirable qualities, to the point that the date is essentially one long pleasant stalemate.

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Oh yeah, the date also bent time, becaue I was sure the episode was four-fifths over when Nagi took Kakei aside to tell him they had Shepherd’s work to do. Instead, that was the halfway point. Not that the date of the first half felt long, but it did feel like it was building towards completion. Little did I know the show had far more in store for us!

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But first of all, the Shepherd mission: having to stop a creepy guy from getting a good look at Tsugumi so he won’t develop a wildly popular love doll in her image is a hilariously awesome job. Better still is the fact that Kakei has to suddenly embrace Tsugumi like a lover to do so — knowing full well it could throw off the Utopian balance of the group date. But he doesn’t want Tsugumi to have to live her life being famous for being the ‘love doll girl’ and so does what he must.

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He’s able to explain away his behavior as an ‘experiment’ he and Nagi were performing to test the girls’ reactions. This in tern gives the girls leave to come clean: the group date was a means of researching and considering their response to a question submitted to the club asking what kind of girl Kakei likes.

Therefore the group date works on two levels: one, as a straightforward if slightly empirical harem date, and as a legitimate social experiment and service…that just happened to also satisfy the girls’ own curiosity regarding Kakei’s preferences, as well as their own latent desire to experience dating him firsthand, rather than just in their heads.

But wait, there’s yet another level to come out of this group date, because Who submitted that request in the first place?

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The answer, of course, is Nagi. The request wasn’t merely a prank (though it was partly that) but a carefully-designed gambit in the fight for the open Shepherd position. Kakei would be the first to admit he’s uncertain about becoming a Shepherd, and Nagi wants to maneuver him out of the running altogether.

Witnessing the girls blanking about the Shepherd research is very disquieting for Kakei, and Nagi warns him that if he were to become one his “book” would be erased; everyone would forget he ever existed. Dates like the one he just experienced would be impossible, as would remaining friends with any of the club girls…or anyone, for that matter.

Such is the price of the power to change peoples’ fates a Shepherd gains. It’s not really an unfair price, but having gone from detached loner to a treasurer of friends since joining the Happy Project, it is a steep price for Kakei. Nagi drove that point home by arranging the date.

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Kakei’s never been more unsure of what to do after the weight of that price comes down on him, but Nagi’s plan doesn’t go as smoothly as she’d like, because he doesn’t drop out right then and there. Instead, he asks her if she’s okay paying the price. When she says she is, he laments that he’d forget her, causing her to drop her armor of resolve and steal a kiss she’s wanted so badly for so long.

At this point I imagine the Shepherd remembers their past life even if no one remembers them, and in that regard, this kiss is particularly tragic and poignant, because Kakei won’t remember it or anything about Kodachi Nagi if she’s successful. As she skulks away, she insists she’s “given up everything already”, but it sure seems like she’s trying to convince herself of that rather than it being a done deal.

The two people who seem most suitable for each other are the two contemplating erasing themselves from each others’ lives, which is both tragic and compelling. At this point an unhappy ending for both seems certain. Will that turn around, and if so, how? You have my full attention, DnH.

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Maoyuu Maou Yuusha – 02

Maou decides to begin agricultural experiments and education in a small village. Yuusha meets Maou’s longtime Head Maid. One night two serfs – sisters – break into the stables. The Maid is ready to turn them in, but Maou and Yuusha let them spend the night, and the maid eventually offers them jobs as maids. Maou begins enriching the land and educating the village youth, the first small step in her and Yuusha’s crusade.

Whenever characters have such well-defined traits and limitations – be it a queen, hero, maid or serf – there’s the risk of them becoming mere allegories in service of the plot, at the cost of emotional connection to them. Indeed, every character here is a manifestation of an idea/worldview first and foremost. The Maid is cold, logical, and unyielding, but tempered by her master’s authority. While she may sound cruel in making no distinction between serfs, slaves, and insects, she knows no other way to express these concepts. Her role doesn’t require her to distinguish between insects and humans who can’t or won’t determine their own fate.

But there’s something very weird and cool going on here: despite the characters being such strong archetypes, the sense of order that ensues is comforting and reliable. And Maou and Yuusha remain a cute, warm, and surprisingly witty couple; even if Yuusha doesn’t seem to be doing much yet, it’s clear just his being with Maou lends her emotional and moral support. We like how she gets into the nitty-gritty of agriculture and illustrates just how much careful, intricate preparation will be required to achieve their ultimate goal of peace.

On top of all that work, Yuusha isn’t even sure what peace is and where his place will be in that peace, other than by Maou’s side. After all, who needs heroes in a perfectly resolved world with no enemies to defeat or battles to win?


Rating: 8 (Great)