Bokutachi no Remake – 09 – The Price of Success

Kyouya has no idea why he’s now in 2018 any more than he knew why he jumped back from 2016 to 2006, but one thing’s certain: it’s not a dream. Aki is his loving wife, Maki is his darling daughter, and he has a job as a troubleshooter for a decent mid-tier game company. He may not want to admit it, but he was successful in remaking his life. He should be happy, and he would be…if only he never found out how he achieved his success.

Despite being suddenly thrust into a new life and job, the details of which he can only guess, Kyouya comports himself well, serving as a troubleshooter and talent whisperer on behalf of Eiko, who is also still in the business. The talent in question is Minori Ayaka, an illustrator with 200k followers, but who has seemed to lost her motivation and passion for drawing. When Kyouya praises a piece of her work that strongly resembles Shinoaki’s style, Ayaka seems to build a new head of steam for her work.

A good day at work, and the realization he’s fortunate to have such a cute wife and daughter, is soured when Kyouya brings up Comiket and asks if Aki will submit anything. The truth is, she hasn’t drawn in years…and the reason is the same as Ayaka: there was “nothing she wanted to draw anymore.” That’s now two members of the Platinum Generation from his original timeline who are now completely out of the creative world.

While having lunch with Eiko, Kyouya realizes she’s much the same, only even she seems to have suffered due to his success: she’s working at a smaller company in a lower-ranking position than his original timeline. He also learns that Nanako’s last song online has less than 2,000 views and she’s decided to retire from singing, stating she “doesn’t know what she’s singing for.” I half-expected Tsurayuki to show up as a doctor on Google, but all Kyouya finds is some blog entries.

Learning that by directing HaruSora with the Platinum Generaion, he inadvertently ruined their futures as creatives by sapping their creativity and passion for a greater commercial good, Kyouya is understandably beside himself. He gets completely boiled, lands in a literal pile of garbage, than stumbles home where his wife and young daughter have to console his tears. Knowing what lives Aki, Nanako, Tsurayuki, and Eiko would have lived without his interference, he can’t accept the lives they live now.

And yet, IMO, that’s exactly what he should do. BnR has not shed one single diode of light on the precise supernatural mechanism that shot Kyouya back ten years or forward eleven. Kyouya did what he thought was best, and while he did get a bit caught up in wanting to make something with the creatives who would end up celebrities in his present, he had absolutely no idea the damage he’d do.

Add on top of that the fact that everyone in this timeline has most likely moved on, and all he does by bringing it up is reopen old and long-healed wounds. While it’s sad that Nanako is quitting singing, she’ll be fine. Tsurayuki, who comes from money, will be fine. Aki, who has Kyouya and Maki, will be fine. In exchange, Kyouya got a second chance with his past, did something admirable with it, and now has a loving family and solid career. Maybe he needs to be fine too.

Bokutachi no Remake – 08 – How It Oughta Be

Team Harusora‘s time grows short as the deadline draws near. Nanako, Tsurayuki, and Shinoaki are falling behind, and encouragement isn’t enough to get them back on track, so Kyouya has to do what all directors have to at some point: unilaterally make the changes necessary to get the product out on schedule.

This means cutting and changing parts of the music, art, and story. Nanako is easy to convince, as she’s open to trying a new method of composing that also happens to be quicker. So is Shinoaki, as she trusts Kyouya (and not without good reason). But Tsurayuki bucks. If Kyouya is changing the story now, what is he even contributing, creatively?

Kyouya manages to get Tsurayuki to fall in line with his silver tongue, and the team sprints towards the finish line with a focus on progress. Compromises had to be made due to the compressed schedule, and since the bottom line is that the game has to make money so Tsurayuki can pay his tuition.

Thanks to help from the art club, Keiko, and Eiko, and many an all-nighter right up to the 10:00 AM deadline for sending the ROM master to the printer, Bokutachi no Remake really ratchets up the tension, urgency, and excitement of bringing a project to completion in the nick of time.

There’s also a wonderful release once Keiko heads to the printer with the master, as everyone but Kyouya literally passes out from exhaustion. When the brand-new shiny newly-printed game arrives, with Shinoaki’s gorgeous, inviting art on the cover, the sense of accomplishment is only heightened.

They made this; all of them. It could not have happened without their individual contributions and without them hanging in there and relying on each other when things got hectic. But Nanako, Shinoaki and Tsurayuki also all agree that there’s absolutely no way Harusora would have seen the light of day without Kyouya’s confident, diligent direction.

Of course, none of them know that one day, in the future Kyouya came from, that they’d be known collectively as the Platinum Generation, three elite creative at the top of their respective fields. And that they were the ones who inspired Kyouya to remake his life when given a chance.

Yet while out on a crisp evening walk with Shinoaki, she stops and asks something she later apologizes for for sounding “weird”: “Is this really how it oughta be?” The team achieved great success, the game manages to sell the event at Tokyo Big Sight (thanks in no small part to Keiko’s doujin group’s clout). Everyone even makes bank!

But no sooner does Tsurayuki have his tuition money he himself made in his hands than he asks Kyouya to take a walk, stopping somewhere random where he has no other memories, good or bad, in order to tell him he’s dropping out of art school after all, and returning home, no doubt to be a doctor and husband this family and Sayuri want him to be.

The entire point of this project for Kyouya was to help Tsurayuki become the Kawagoe Kyouichi he’d become in the future, but he never stopped to think that Tsurayuki—that all of the Platinum Generation—achieved their greatness without Kyouya’s help. Having seen what Kyouya is capable of and how hard it is to make it writing for a living, this project had the opposite intended effect: Tsurayuki decided he can’t make it.

It’s a devastating scene that perhaps doesn’t need the gathering clouds, thunderstorm, or Kyouya on his hands and knees shouting his lament into the ground. But the added melodrama doesn’t really take away from the fact Kyouya’s entire life-remaking exercise ended up building him up, while erasing the future of one of the Platinum Generation.

The person who encounters him on the ground isn’t Nanako or Aki, but Keiko, who has this knowing tone and look that suggests she’s aware of what has been going on with Kyouya…and could even have a part in it. She smiles softly and asks what the future would be like after all that’s happened in this version of his past.

And then, just like that, Kyouya wakes up back in 2018, his present. Before he knows where or when he is, a tiny Shinoaki runs in and jumps on the bed; her kid’s drawings scattered on the wall behind him. It’s not Shino Aki at all, but Hashiba Maki, his daughter, and Shino Aki is her mother and his wife.

This is the life Kyouya remade. Is Aki even an artist anymore, or is she a housewife and mom full-time? There’s not enough evidence to see, but I wouldn’t be surprised if another member of the Platinum Generation never was due to Kyouya basically interfering in her past. No doubt Tsurayuki is a doctor in this future, while Nanako could well still be a singer.

Whatever their circumstances, and whether this is a future Kyouya is able or willing to correct once more, this is a tremendous time-shattering cliffhanger for next week, breaking the easy slice-of-life nature of the past art school episodes and launching us into the home stretch of the cour with panache.

Bokutachi no Remake – 07 – Noncommittal by Necessity

Rather than being a fifth wheel, Sayuri clings to Tsurayuki during her extended visit while both Shinoaki and Nanako start clinging to Kyouya, no doubt feeding off Sayuri’s romantic vibes. Sayuri doting on Tsurayuki gives them license to dote on Kyouya. But both we and Kyouya soon learn that Tsurayuki just…doesn’t love Sayuri that way.

When not trying to feed Kyouya, Shinoaki is showing him stills of sex scenes then kneeling between his legs to sketch his crotch. When Nanako emerges from her room whining, Kyouya goes in and assures her the digital music she composed will do just fine, and she “recharges” by hugging him tight from behind, not letting him go.

While Kyouya is being an supportive emotional rock to his dormmates, while Sayuri ups her efforts to return home with Tsurayuki in hand by trying to seduce him in a see-through nightie, Kyouya himself finds support and comfort in his café sessions with Eiko.

She must confess she’s impressed not only by the progress he’s made with the game, but in so easily getting Tsurayuki and Shinoaki to change their styles to something more commercial.

But as the game progresses, Kyouya has a very date-like Christmas Eve out in the city with Shinoaki, and the four make a New Years shrine visit where both Aki and Nanako most certainly hope for more progress with Kyouya. Their implicit trust in his producing abilities is turning into a full-on love triangle, with neither girl prepared to lose to the other.

But, again, as Kyouya makes clear to, who else, Eiko: he doesn’t like either of them that way. And that’s okay! Forget about the fact he’s mentally much older than either. Kyouya didn’t get into this to become either Aki or Nanako’s boyfriend; he did it to remake his life.

Even though this past Eiko doesn’t yet have the history and heartbreak they shared in the future, you can just tell by the way she’s his confidant and emotional rock that these two are the superior couple in the long run.

While Eiko would normally call someone being as wishy-washy as Kyouya a scumbag, she sees why he’s doing it, and it’s not just because he’s scared of hurting them. He’s scared of poisoning the group dynamic and ruining the game they’re working so hard to complete by April 29. Eiko’s advice to him is to continue to feign obliviousness…but considering how bold tAki and Nanako are getting, he probably can’t get away with that much longer.

On top of that love triangle, we have Sayuri continuing to disrupt Tsurayuki’s creative flow, her own goal of returning him to the home and life she believes to be good and right for him clashing not only against Kyouya’s goals, but Tsurayuki’s own dreams.

After Tsurayuki finally blows up at Sayuri and she doesn’t come back, she rolls up in her family’s classy Toyota Century (with its towering, intimidating chauffeur), takes him on a ride to the docks, where Kyouya starts getting unhappy mob vibes. Fortunately, Sayuri isn’t there to threaten him.

However, Sayuri has come to suspect that she’s lost her hold on Tsurayuki due to him being in an emotional and physical relationship with Kyouya. Kyouya denies vociferously, but her suspicions aren’t that out of whack. What she’s wrong about is that Kyouya and the others are leading Tsurayuki down a risky path.

Kyouya maks sure Sayuri understands that Tsurayuki is going down his own path, knew the risks from the start, and is doing it anyway. If she sees Kyouya supporting his friend as he walks that path as unwanted encouragement, fine; but Tsurayuki isn’t being manipulated by anyone. He’s doing what he wants to do, and he’s happy.

Thankfully, Sayuri is a grown-up about this and doesn’t force the issue—though she does leave Kyouya stranded at the docks! She bows and asks Kyouya to continue helping Tsu-kun “find happiness”, which is a heartbreaking thing to hear Tsu’s betrothed to say…but again, Tsurayuki never chose Sayuri, she was chosen for him.

By the same token, Kyouya never chose to be caught between Shinoaki and Nanako, while in their own subtle gradual way he and Eiko seem to be choosing one another. The question is, can he stave off the potentially inevitable destruction-by-drama of his group long enough to finish the game? After that, will Kyouya end up losing both Aki and Nanako after making his feelings clear?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Bokutachi no Remake – 06 – The Doctor(s’ Son) Is In (Trouble)

Kyouya wakes up on the floor of his room with Shinoaki on top of him; they fell asleep looking at reference materials, but Aki wants another kiss just as Nanako comes in. But to admit it bothers her that the two are becoming so close is to admit that she has feelings for Kyouya—something she’s not prepared to do.

This gently simmering love triangle is placed on the back burner for the central conflict of this episode (and the next one, and possibly the one after that): it’s Tsurayuki’s turn to have a problem Kyouya swoops up to solve with a smile. Turns out Tsurayuki is the son of wealthy doctors who insist he become one.

Going to art school means he has to pay tuition. He’s reluctant to share this with Kyouya, but he had to at some point, since skipping classes because you have to work crazy hours to pay for said classes is ultimately self-defeating!

Kyouya weathers Tsurayuki’s lashing out because he believes he has a serious solution: they’ll produce a doujin game. This solution will require him to ask for the time and effort not only of Shinoaki and Nanako, but asking Keiko to use the name of her doujin group in order to produce enough clout for the game to sell.

Fortunately, everyone is on board with this idea in theory, though both Nanako and Tsurayuki seem particularly adverse to the more amorous aspects of doujin games, particularly the school romance theme their game will have—Tsurayuki is worried his own lack of experience with sex is a detriment, while Nanako is scandalized by the art of the sample games Kyouya supplies.

Even so, the group decides to press on for Tsurayuki’s sake, and they get the okay from their professor. Kyouya is determined to draw out his three friends’ not inconsiderable talents with his diligent direction, but their confusion with new methods and practices, combined with their need to juggle both studies and work on the game, mean it’s not long before the four of them are exhausted and not at their best.

Eiko, who was completely outside of this scheme until he can no longer hide its effects, kindly offers her advisory services as a fellow director to Kyouya, but also speaks her mind: she thinks he’s working too hard. Again, it’s great to see his future supervisor worry about him like this, unaware that she’s a big reason why he’s working so hard now, in addition to this being his second and likely last chance to do point his life in a meaningful direction.

While Kyouya and Aki’s tentative courtship is cute, I absolutely love every scene between him and Eiko, and I’m glad he didn’t keep blowing her off this week. Even so, it’s clear Eiko trusts Kyouya and cares about his well-being, while Kyouya has been nothing but strictly professional and a bit detached with her, perhaps because she was his boss once.

It’s at this point I must admit that “creating a doujin game from scratch” seems like an odd play if you’re trying not to kill your friends from burnout. Assuming they make an awesome game that makes enough money for Tsurayuki to pay his tuition, due in May, what will be left of them, and their grades? And what about paying for the next term?

A possible answer to one of those questions (i.e. where is the money going to come from) arrives at their dorm’s front door in the very end, in the form of the glamorous rich girl Jisshouji Sayuri, apparently Tsurayuki’s fiancée. Will she help the man she apparently adores to achieve his dream, or insist he come back to reality, go to med school, and marry her? The Tsurayuki Saga continues next week with a lot left to be solved.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Bokutachi no Remake – 05 – Wings of Song

I know I almost always rag on a series doing a cultural festival episode, as they typically end up pretty formulaic. But at the same time, there’s a reason that formula often works so well: it raises the stakes for all the characters by making them do things outside their routines or comfort zones. Remake’s art festival gives us a ton of wonderful little moments, plus a couple of big ones with lasting ramifications.

Things start out in Nanako’s favor, as Kyouya is so supportive of her honing her singing, she instinctively falls into his arms—though she warn him later not to get “the wrong idea.” She’s similarly flustered when Kyouya first sees her in her outfit for the maid cafe, with her, Shinoaki, and Keiko each donning different styles. The cafe is such a success, they actually poach people who were going to watch the films.

One of those who came for the films but also stopped by the cafe is Eiko, whom Kyouya can’t quite mask his surprise for showing up to something that fundamentally doesn’t seem to be her thing. I really enjoy the interaction of Eiko and Kyouya as two people who did interact in Kyouya’s initial future (unlike the others)—I just wish she had more to do than try to apologize to Nanako, only for Kyouya to say theres no need, as her stern lecture helped Nanako more than it hurt her.

On the last day, Kyouya attends the visual art exhibition with Shinoaki, spots a painting that looks familiar, and when he studies the name tag he recognizes the name, then gets all dizzy and faints. Whether due to overwork, a side effect of his time travel, or a little of both, he wakes up in Shinoaki’s lap in a quite, private back room. It’s here where Shinoaki tells Kyouya how much his care and support and praise has helped her, and leans in for a kiss, only to be stopped an inch from Kyouya’s lips by a phone call.

There’s an emergency on the main stage, as the “secret guest” band got double-booked and will be a no-show. Keiko suggests they just ask around; it’s an art school, there are plenty of people who will want to perform on stage. But both Kyouya and the music professor believe Nanako can and should do it. Nanako disagrees, feels the pressure of all those people rejecting her, and flees the tent.

Kyouya chases after her while Tsurayuki keps the crowd busy with some clown tricks. Nanako expresses how terrified she is; he tells her she’s scared because she’s serious about doing a good job. And to assuage her fear about the crowd of hundreds, she shows her the YouTube page of her singing videos, which have quickly garnered tens of thousands of views and spirited discussion about the unique appeal of her voice.

Of course, we don’t learn that this is what Kyouya showed Nanako until after we see her take the stage in her maid outfit, give a meek introductory speech, and then kick into full Performance Mode. It only taks a couple of bars for the crowd to get drawn in, and before long, they’re dancing and swaying and fully on board. Nanako, in turn, feeds off their energy and truly shines. Kyouya knew she would, because she’s the famous N@NA from his time.

After her encore, a winded but joyful Nanako rushes to the tent to see Kyouya, who among the crowd of hundreds was likely the one person she was singing for, in addition to herself. But the others tell her Kyouya went off somewhere. We then see him with Shinoaki, who mustve gotten a little lightheaded as a result of all the hard work she’s done and the size and heat from the crowd. Shinoaki stands up so she and the seated Kyouya are of a height, and then leans in and finishes the first kiss they started earlier.

Nanako is just in time to witness this kiss, and watches Kyouya and Shinoaki looking every bit like a couple through the light of a fountain, holding crepes for her and Kyouya. You can see her post-performance high evaporate from her face, and her reflection in the babbling fountain is a nice visualization of how all of a sudden everything is out of sorts again, just when things seemed to be on the right track.

And all because despite herself she’s developed feelings for Kyouya, who let it be said is fully deserving of those feelings. It’s just, Shinoaki likes him too, and unlike Nanako she’s never tried to qualify or deny it. We’ll certainly see how this incident affects the group dynamic, and whether the official establishment of this love triangle will destroy what Kyouya believes he was brought back in time to do.

Bokutachi no Remake – 04 – A Talent that Shines

After filming on a beach specifically for purposes of fanservice, new member of Team Kitayama Plus Kawasegawa Eiko learns that Kyouya broke the rules a little in order to get the equipment they needed for longer than first years can check it out. Another senpai, the diminutive Tomioka Keiko, overhears this, but promises not to say anything…but now they owe her.

But thankfully this episode isn’t really about bikinis or lolis or…sigh…an impending arts festival. It’s about Kogure Nanako, and how she’s pursuing acting, something she’s not fully serious about, because she’s not passionate about it. Their team wins the competition with a better overall production, but everyone—including Nanako—agrees the acting in their competitor’s film was ten times better.

As the team celebrates their win, Eiko can tell Nanako is faking her cheer—even at that, she’s not the best actor—and Kyouya can’t disagree. But then Nanako is given a mic, everyone who isn’t Kyouya hears her powerful but tone-deaf singing for the first time and are kind of in awe of it. It even makes Eiko angry, because it’s clear to her Nanako’s true passion isn’t acting at all.

Eiko is so honest and forthright that she abandons all delicacy and tact and really lets poor Nanako have it. She says it’s a terrible waste of talent for Nanako not to take her vocal training more seriously and instead dither away in acting, afraid of failing at her true passion. Nanako, who only just manages to hold back a slap before running off, is so devastated by what Eiko says because it’s true.

The next day, Eiko prepares to resign from the team, but Kyouya won’t have it. While she could have broken it to Eiko more gently and at a later time, it’s clear she told Nanako something she needed to hear. She may still be depressed—devastated, even—but Kyouya admits that’s her problem to work out.

Eiko does actually feel bad about how she put it to Nanako, but when she saw how much Nanako shined when she was singing—even the raw, out-of-tune version of it she heard—yet pretend not to care about it simply made her too angry to stay quiet. Kyouya promises he’ll help pull Nanako out of the abyss, and while Eiko doesn’t have the empirical evidence she usually demands, there’s something about Kyouya’s words that make her believe him.

As for believing in himself…Kyouya’s not quite there yet. In a scene at the fine art club that goes on a bit too long (and introduces that damnable art festival), Keiko sneaks up on him and offers him a job directing a game for her doujin company. Just like that, he’s been given another opportunity to pursue his passion for video games.

But he respectfully declines, because he doesn’t believe he has what it takes. This is Kyouya reflecting on his future failures and acting in a less reckless way than someone his actual age might (though someone as old-souled as Eiko certainly would!) but it’s also Remake showing us that those failures are scars he still bears, and here they cause him to pass up a great opportunity.

Still, it’s not only because he feels he needs more directing experience before attempting to go pro (again); he does have a full plate. He promised Eiko he’d help Nanako, and it just so happens to be one of Keiko’s extremely well-produced doujin group’s games that gives him a “Eureka” moment.

Specifically, when hearing the quality singing in the game reminded him of how he had to stay up all night to digitally adjust the notes of a singer in one of his company’s games. Thus inspired, he approaches Nanako’s door, behind which she sulks in a monochromatic malaise…and plays her a recording of her voice…only in tune.

Kyouya didn’t have to do much—just tweak some of the tones—to let Nanako hear a taste of her potential through the door. That he had to do so little is a testament to her vocal power and talent, and he needed her to hear it before talking about how she has “nothing” and “everything’s been smashed completely.”

Nanako emerges from the room in tears of joy and a tentative smile—and really this whole episode has been a clinic of detailed facial expressions and animation, which combined with Terakawa Aimi’s vocal performance really lends an emotional kick to this scene. She always loved singing but hated how she sounded, but with his magical laptop Kyouya has opened her eyes to a new way forward.

When Kyouya takes her hands into his without thinking, Nanako blushes, but also doesn’t recoil. On the contrary, she leans forward with a hopeful smile as she declares she’s going to trust Kyouya. It’s starting to look like maybe he does have what it takes—at least in terms of production, direction, and encouraging and inspiring the creatives—who also happen to be his friends.

It’s extremely fun to watch Kyouya do his thing, and it helps that he’s a genuinely good, earnest person who isn’t imbued with snark for snark’s sake like so many MCs in similar scenarios.

Bokutachi no Remake – 03 – Getting Fired Up

BnR isn’t wasting any time, jumping from the realization Team Kitagawa only has a still camera to work with, to screening day. It was also somewhat disappointing that we didn’t get to see a moment of Eiko’s teams short, only the overwhelming positive reaction to it.

You could say this show isn’t about Eiko’s team or their short, and having them go first added tension to Kyouya’s screening. But jumping straight to judgment day only to rewind back to explain how Kyouya pulled it off feels a little awkward.

That said, I’m happy I was correct in my prediction they’d go with a photomontage style, which was the most logical thing to do, but also that nobody on Kyoya’s team knew what he was going to do. And it worked—even Eiko is impressed!

That said, Kyoya’s team only gets third place, while Eiko wins. Yet Eiko is just as angry as they are, because she thought Kyoya’s short was the best! Alas, it’s not just about artistic attributes; this is a class, and the short was an assignment.

The professor—who is Eiko’s big sis—could tell that Kyouya’s team didn’t think their project through due to some kind of logistical difficulty with production. But she was nevertheless impressed with Kyouya’s problem-solving skills, such that she assigns Eiko to work with Kyouya’s team in the future.

Kyouya may have been simply trying to prove to himself that he could take a different path than the one he took before, but in the process, he inadvertently put his teammates/roommates on notice. Seeing what Kyouya could pull off without a video camera makes them that much more eager to step up their respective games.

In Nanako’s case, she wants to show off her acting chops in an actual moving picture … but she also wants Kyouya by her side while she tries to improve her singing. Even before Kyouya knows what’s really going on, he can tell Nanako has volume and charisma…it’s just she’s quite tone deaf! There are romantic undertones throughout the karaoke session and their walk home.

Not to be outdone by Kyouya or Nanako, Shinoaki reveals to Kyouya that she knows he knows about her night drawing in secret. She tells him that while she knows she’s good enough at it to win some awards, that’s not enough to make a living, and she has zero confidence about it, to the point she’s considering quitting art school altogether!

This is when Kyouya, who knows the Shinoaki of the future will be a famous artist who will bring joy and comfort to millions, including himself, takes Shinoaki by her slender shoulders and tells her she can’t give up…because he loves her…art. Adding the “art” at the end kinda dulls what would have otherwise been a confession, but hearing those words brightens Shinoaki’s entire world, and puts a twinkle in her eyes.

She wants to know what kind of guy thinks such nice things about her, and what his goals might be. Kyouya’s not ready to tell her yet, but like Nanako and Tsurayuki, he’s lit a fire in her belly that she’s determined to feed by continuing to improve her craft.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Bokutachi no Remake – 02 – On the Right Track

Given the chance to go back ten years, Kyouya has resolved to do a better job this time around, starting with taking a different path in choosing art school. But beyond that he had no idea where that new path would take him. If the answers are in his head, you could say they’re locked, and getting to know his three roommates is a good start in finding the means to unlock them.

By coincidence, Kyouya gets a part-time job at the same konbini as Nanako, and a part of that job is restocking the walk-up fridges. Between the darkness of the stocking space behind the shelves and the coolness of the fridge, the scene is akin to a cozy winter night in the park, only Kyouya and Nanako are on the clock.

While Kyouya may have entered art school completely devoid of confidence, he’s already learned from his roomies that just because they’re talented doesn’t mean they don’t have their own insecurities. It didn’t sit well with Nanako that she thougth Lake Biwa was the ocean, so she left her hometown to get a better idea of the size of the world, hoping to learn who she is as the explores it.

Kyouya admits to us that he’s in no hurry to get past either quiet little scenes with Nanako in the fridge or even the little conflicts that arise when two guys and two girls live in the same space (read: food stealing, which Shinoaki will not tolerate).

Things become a bit more urgent in the now when their class is assigned a short film assignment. They’ve only got three minutes to tell their story. Having spoken to Aki and Nanako and having found similarities to his own (and even having visions of the three on the same train platform), Kyouya comes up with the idea of telling the story of a woman’s life by using a day at train station.

Tsurayuki, the one roommate Kyouya hasn’t reached out to about why he enrolled, goes into his room for a half-hour and comes out with a treatment for the station idea. But then he takes Kyouya aside and says he had the same exact idea locked away. He knows Kyouya didn’t steal it, but asks if “anything else is going on.” Kyouya is unsure of how to answer, so he says nothing, and the tension passes.

Still, it’s telling that Tsurayuki is the first one to get a hint that there’s more to Kyouya than meets the eye, even if he has no idea what that is. He’s a screenwriter, after all, and scenarios like that are always going through his head. He accepts that two people get the same idea all the time, and the group starts production of the short in earnest.

This inevitably leads to creative differences, with producer Kyouya’s insistence they stick to the three-minute limit butting up against Tsurayuki’s desire to tell his story his way. He thinks if it’s good, no one will care about the runtime, and even asks Shinoaki and Nanako to adjust what they’re doing to accommodate his contribution.

When Kyouya puts his foot down, Tsurayuki is angered, but in this case at least, Kyouya is right; this is an assignment and if the rules are broken all their collective efforts are for naught. That said, he also knows Tsurayuki has a point about taking risks and not over-compromising on one’s art.

A lot happens this week with the group beyond the group’s short film. There’s the aforementioned getting-to-know-you and slice-of-life scenes; Kyouya, Shinoaki and Nanako are snared into a fine arts club desperate for members, and Eiko reveals her group is also filming in a train station and won’t be outdone. I do hope at some point Eiko becomes a less antagonistic presence, knowing how well she and Kyouya work together in the future.

When Kyouya’s teacher can tell he’s down in the dumps, she shows him a script from a film that everyone loved, but no one liked the finished product, because the director and cast got to do whatever they wanted without any boundaries. She reminds him a producer doesn’t just issue cuts or subtraction, but about properly wrangling and harnessing the collective talent of his team to make a final product people will like.

It’s just as much a creative process as writing a script, drawing storyboards, or acting, and it’s something Kyouya reveals he’s actually good at when he applies himself. He manages to strike the balance of motivating Tsurayuki and the others to do what they do best without letting them run wild, and they in turn appreciate his calming, organizing presence.

That’s why it’s so heartbreaking that on the first day of filming, when all their planning and preparation is about to start paying off with real images on film, learn Tsurayuki accidentally checked out a digital still camera instead of a video camera. Here, the others echo a statement Kyouya had repeated to himself and used as a crutch for much of his ten years to come: It is what it is…nothing to be done about it.

It is here where we learn the true power of Kyouya’s potential as a producer: he alone, having lived and learned from those ensuing years, is the only one of the four to say No, something CAN be done about it. And he’s right. Chris Marker’s La Jetée is just one famous example of a film composed of a series of still photographs.

I’m guessing that’s what they’ll do, but even if it isn’t, the fact Kyouya isn’t going to let things end here means he’s continuing to learn and benefit from the time jump. What’s so satisfying about this dynamic is that he now finds himself in a position to help everyone out because living and working and bonding with them helped get him in that position. It’s a symbiotic balance creative teams always strive for.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Bokutachi no Remake – 01 (First Impressions) – To Be an Artist Is to Believe in Life

Bokutachi no Remake’s first episode is fifty minutes long, giving it a cinematic quality. While there’s no combat or explosions, there is a lot of heart and a lot of quiet, relaxing atmosphere. I was a little surprised we spent nearly half of the episode on protagonist Kyouya’s life in 2016, but in hindsight I’m glad we got as much as we did.

Kyouya comes to believe his life went wrong when he chose an economics school over an art school when he received acceptance letters from both. He burned out of his office job, went to work for a video company, but was soon laid off. While searching for work he happens upon Kawasegawa, who just so happens to be in dire need of Kyouya’s specific set of skills at SucceedSoft.

At first it seems Kyouya has found his dream job, but gradually politics from higher-up curdle that dream, and he has to take the express bus back to his parents’ house for the second time. That double whammy, combined with Kyouya’s laid back affability-turned disillusionment, helps us feel for him. I could also relate: I was laid off a job of eleven years due to Covid!

It’s here where the show stops teasing us with “will he/won’t he” travel back ten years every times he hits the hay. This time he wakes up in 2006, which he identifies from his sister’s middle school uni, his deep CRT TV, PS2 (all I had in ’06 too!), and flip phone. It doesn’t really matter how he ended up back to the day he got two acceptance letters—just that he chooses the art school this time.

He’s the first to arrive at the house he’ll be sharing with three other co-eds, and there’s a palpable excitement to spending his first night in his half-unpacked room. Things get quite a bit more exciting when, after a bizarre dream sequence, he wakes up to find a cute blue-haired girl dozing next to him. When this girl slips and falls into Kyouya’s crotch, his other two new roommates enter and get quite the first impression.

Fanservice and pratfalls aside, the blue-haired girl, Shino Aki, as well as Nanako and Tsurayuki, soon settle into an easy co-habitation and become friends. They’re even all in the same visual arts program. Kyouya soon learns that his former/future boss Kawasegawa also attended this college, but she gives him the cold shoulder.

Kyouya also learns just how few art school grads end up working in their desired fields (just eight out of over 130), but also just how little he believes his past ten years future experience will help him in this setting when he’s among so many talented people. Again, I can relate to Kyouya here, in that I was the best artist at my non-art high school but when I reached college there were plenty of people way better than me.

It was a little overwhelming, but I soon learned to see it not as being someone unable to shape up in an ultra-competitive field, but part of the education itself being meeting people who do what you do, either better or worse; learning from them, and them learning from you.

Of his roommates, Kyouya ends up spending most of his time with “Shinoaki”, and the two have a lovely cozy chemistry, to the point he can carry her home on his back when she nods off, but she doesn’t wig out when she wakes up. On the contrary, Aki insists Kyouya drop the act and tell her what’s bothering him, because she can sense something is.

He tells her, and she assures him that there’s plenty he can do at their school, just as there’s plenty the people he deems amazing can’t do. Even the amazing worry; probably especially so. It’s just a lovely and beautifully lit scene between the two that thankfully time doesn’t lead to any goofy romantic pratfalls, but instead to Kyouya discovering that Shino Aki is his favorite illustrator from his future. Learning this doesn’t discourage him, it inspires him.

If you find Bokutachi no Remake’s premise too familiar by half, do not be discouraged; unlike say Tokyo Revengers there’s no effort to explain the mechanics of the time travel, which works to the shows benefit. Suffice it to say, Kyouya gets a second chance, and he’s not going to squander it, and now he lives with some of the best creatives of his generation. They’ll all make each other better by making up for each other’s shortcomings.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro – 12 (Fin) – The Exhibition

With the cultural festival fast approaching, Naoto has managed to belt out a whole series of Nagatoro Being Nagatoro, and her friends are impressed. Hayacchi herself is happy they turned out well, even if they give off “creepy virgin vibes”—though it’s obvious by now she’s a virgin too.

When the others go to the other side of the clubroom to spy on the President’s progress, Naoto doesn’t go with them, and Nagatoro tells him even if the Prez is “Queen of the Lewds”, he can still beat her. That is, until she sees the Prez’s piece and passes out. Gamo assures the two that she, Yosshi and Sakura will figure something out to help them.

Naoto and Prez have a slightly tense but also very honest little scene together, with the Prez making it clear this is less about winning and losing and more about tapping into the artistic potential she knows Naoto has within him. She’s not holding back, so she urges him to “hit her with a soulful work of passion.”

She then produces a “Torocat” strap that closely resembles Nagatoro, and the next day Naoto learns what that’s all about: Yosshi and Sakura are in costume as Torocats to support Nagatoro in her now familiar catgirl cosplay—though it’s clear Nagatoro is not at all into having to “toy with” all the guys who come to visit Senpai’s exhibition.

That said, as the day goes on, she becomes less stiff and starts to have more fun. When Naoto sees her basically flirting with other guys the same way she does with him, it’s hard for him to hide his jealousy.

The reverse occurs when other girls approach Naoto, express how impressed they are with his work, and ask him to teach them how to draw. Nagatoro doesn’t like that one bit!

That said, when Naoto asks her to join him for lunch, she still comes along. She calls him out for suddenly being so popular with the ladies now, and he chalks that up to the paintings turning out so well, for which he credits her. This causes a rapid succession of Nagatoro faces, and ends with her toying with him, but unlike with the other guys, she genuinely enjoys it.

When they return from their break, which essentially serves as a little mini-date during the festival, they find a huge commotion outside the Prez’s side of the club: the Disciplinary Committee is censoring her super-provocative painting, citing it a threat to “moral order” after hearing rumors it was being used to “play with the male students’ lust”.

While I initially thought we saw the Prez meeting with the committee last week to set this whole thing up in order to create more buzz and win the competition, it seems that isn’t the case, and she’s not in on anything. In fact, she’s outraged her art is being censored.

That’s when her kohai Naoto comes in to defend her, stating that her amazing art has inspired him to find the subject he wanted to draw the most: Nagatoro. Gamo and Sakua push Nagatoro in to back Paisen up, and even she admits that Prez’s art is amazing. Yosshi even produces video footage that proves that there were more people were taking the art seriously than horny boys leering at it.

This might’ve been one of my favorite scenes not involving just Naoto and Nagatoro, because it subverts the “competition with the club on the line” trope in favor of something more interesting: doing the right thing, even if the person you’re doing it for is a rival. It’s not just Nagatoro; Yosshi, Sakura, and Gamo are good people at heart!

When the Prez returns, tells the others she worked out a compromise, and voices her appreciation for their support with her very first expression resembling a smile, the girls can’t help but gloat over the fact that she lost. That said, the Prez isn’t a sore loser, and even takes their chosen punishment: that she dress up as a bunny girl to help sell Torocat merch. Naturally, it all sells out.

With the festival in the rearview mirror, Prez pays Naoto a visit on his side, explaining her getup as “the fate of the defeated.” She admits it’s humiliating, but also “a new form of oppression” to “stimulate her creative desire” and bring her “unprecedented deliverance.” Let it never be said Prez doesn’t have a way with words, but Naoto’s reply—“Just get changed already!”—is equally sublime!

When Nagatoro, eager to see Naoto, leaves her friends and enters the club room to find the Prez seemingly about to undress, she nearly flips her shit…but the Prez is only joking. She has a sense of humor! She also admits she likes Naoto’s paintings of Nagatoro, which not only contain “a definite passsion”, but love as well.

She may have lost the competition, but the fact her underclassman learned a valuable lesson about art and vastly improved his work renders that competition moot. As a senpai, the President actually won. When Naoto is hesitant to admit his pieces contain his love for Nagatoro, he’s mercifully saved by the bell for the festival’s closing concert.

Remembering Nagatoro’s words at the summer festival, Naoto meekly comes out and asks her if she’d like to go together. Nagatoro, happy beyond words, asks him to ask again, only louder, then takes him by the hand and off they go!

After the credits, we see Nagatoro and Naoto alone again in the clubroom they won back together. Nagatoro is resting her eyes, but looks up to flash a soft smile before returning to her catnap. When Naoto’s drawing is complete, she tells him to close his eyes and accept his reward, which this time is a real kiss on the cheek.

Even this chaste peck proves too much for Nagatoro, who runs out of the club room after pulling down an eyelid and sticking out her tongue. But she can’t undo that kiss, nor does she want to. This has been a relationship of small but meaningful steps forward all along, and I have no reason to think that slow but steady progress won’t continue.

And that’s a wrap! Don’t Toy with Me may have started out with a sharp edge of kinkiness, but turned out to be one of the sweeter loves stories of the last couple years. We watched both Naoto and Nagatoro come into their own as two people who found each other, navigated the often stormy waters, and found happiness and inspiration in one another. We should all be so lucky!

Episode 12 “Senpai” Count: 9 (+2 “Paisens”)—hardly any at all!
Final Count: 391

Kiznaiver – 07

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While Ruru wasn’t literally killed by Maki (obviously), her mother is glad Maki feels guilty for abandoning her as a friend, making her write the final chapter by herself. Half the house is a shrine to Ruru, so the tension runs high in the mother’s presence. They may have known Ruru was going to live a short life due to her chronic illness, but that doesn’t make the pain any less difficult to bear.

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This week we also learn how Maki and Ruru —two loners—met for the first time and became more dear to one another than anyone else. They filled in each other’s manga weaknesses (Ruru’s writing, Maki’s art), and rose quickly as their audience soared.

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But it seems Maki was never a fan of Ruru “joking” about jumping off high ledges, faking a seizure, or getting more romantic with her. Though the last one, Maki knew, wasn’t a joke, nor was she not interested.

Ultimately, it seems more like Maki cut herself off from Ruru in order to be spared the even greater pain she’s endure if Ruru died when they were lovers. This is a very tense but lovely scene because it’s so intimately shot, but also interspersed with art from their manga depicting the same actions.

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The other Kiznaivers don’t know most of this…because Maki hasn’t told them, but also because they haven’t come out and asked. They come up with a plan to become her friend at all costs, not leaving her alone until she realizes there’s no point in resisting any longer; it’s six-against-one, after all.

It’s just really nice to see how much these six have gelled as a group, and how they basically became friends through osmosis, without even realizing it. Chidori in particular notices how Kacchon is changing, but for the better, and how he doesn’t simply allow Tenga to walk all over him, but rather likes having him around.

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As blue and lost as Maki is right now, the six still want her around too, especially Yuta, who tries to use the manga to learn more about what happened. The final chapter is one that Maki never read, and she assumes Ruru “cursed” her to love her and no one else forever and ever.

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That turns out to not be the case, as Ruru, treating the final chapter she wrote alone as a kind of indirect letter to Maki, telling her if remembering her ever gets too painful, it’s okay to forget, because she loved her smile and wouldn’t want her to stop using it.

Yuta manages to get Maki to come out for fireworks, but she’d rather watch everyone swim in the ocean instead. To everyone’s shock, Yuta doesn’t hesitate in running as fast as he can into the water and splashing around like a goon.

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Once Maki has read and understood Ruru’s wish for her, the smile returns to her face, the first smile we’ve seen that wasn’t sinister or fake. And the Kiznaivers feels something that isn’t pain – a weight being lifted from Maki’s heart. She can’t be friends with any of them, she says—because they’re already far closer than friends or lovers.

I enjoyed the resolution to Maki’s impasse with the other Kiznaivers. It felt earned and realistic that these people who so badly want to be her friends would eventually pull her out of the darkness and into clarity, closure, relief, and understanding. It’s also neat how the story of these last couple episodes serves as a real-life extra chapter to the manga Maki and Ruru made together.

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Kiznaiver – 06

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In the OP, which I consider the most excellent of the season, the Chidori is the final of the seven Kiznaivers to run across the screen before the title splash, giving her a certain prominence. But in both of the OP’s character “roll calls”, the one in the middle is Honoka Maki, and in the second one, there’s a dramatic visual stab (and the presentation of the Trigger logo) when she appears.

This, and some of the mysteries surrounding Maki and the someone she says she “killed”, has had me thinking the whole time that the most significant character story to date would eventually come from her, not Chidori. Another piece of the puzzle falls into place in a powerful flashback where Maki’s friend (and apparent manga partner) Ruri nearly leaps to her death before being pulled back by Maki.

Ruri laughs uncontrollably, doubtless because of the profundity of what had just transpired—Maki may call her stupid, but still saved her when it mattered. But Maki is just stunned. Why did Ruri do that? What if she tries it again when she’s not there?

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Maki is toeing a similar line in the present: she may act all aloof, but she still comes to Kiznaiver get-togethers when invited, even if she leaves early without partaking in somen. Nico tries to follow and be friendly with her, but when she calls herself stupid, Maki can’t help but be reminded of Ruri saying the same thing, gets upset, and runs off. But now that she and the other six Kiznaivers’ hearts are connected, everyone feels her pain, and they can’t just forget it.

While she’s still a far more sterile personality, Noriko also seems a bit lonely as the mayor warns her of increasing difficulties in keeping the experiment under wraps. Her time is running out—perhaps in more ways than one, judging from her in-car self-injection—but she’s committed to delivering results. And hey, it’s not as if she hasn’t made real progress with the Kiznaivers.

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Yuta, still trying to maintain his normal life with his ladies, happens to be shown the same manga Maki created, made immensely popular when readers learned she and Ruri were middle schoolers. I like how Yuta is freaked out by the huge eyes, unimpressed by the hodgepodge of themes, but at the same time feels this is a window into Maki that, along with their new connected hearts, can help him get somewhere with her, in terms of helping to lift some of that pain and gloominess.

Maki, for her part, stubbornly rejects any kind of help, even when Yuta offers it unsolicited when her former editor asks her to sign off on a documentary of “Charles Macking”, her nom de plume.

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The editors ignore her refusal to permit such a project and arrive at school to film her. When the cameras are stuffed in her face and everyone hears she’s Charles de Macking-sensei, she starts to lose it right quick. Fortunately, the other six Kiznaivers are given a mission she’s not aware of to “save her”, and they do—at least temporarily, from the camera crew.

It’s great teamwork, but it does nothing to solve the underlying pain Maki feels. Indeed, she seems to be repulsed by any attempt to help her, perhaps because she feels responsible for Ruri’s death, and thus feels she’s no longer worthy of friends, happiness, or pity.

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Maki’s covered it up with her antisocial personality up to this point, but now her comrades know her game, and they aren’t about to accept her continued self-punishment. But rather than pester her more—she still needs to recover form the shock of that camera confrontation—they decide to try to learn more about Ruri, the person whose death caused Maki to fall into this state whom we know precious litle about, besides the fact she was a little bit of a daredevil.

As for Kacchon, he branches off from the others momentarily to express his disappointment with Nori-chan, most likely for giving them a mission involving Maki without Maki’s knowledge; a mission that saved her in the immediate but if anything made her emotional state worse. Noriko, for her part, is as surprised by Kacchon’s words as he is for saying them. She’s being pressed from both sides. I wonder what will happen, and if and how she’ll change, as conditions grow more desperate.

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