Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie – 10 – So Cute, So Cool

Hot on the heels of the cultural festival is the athletics festival, and while I was fully ready to throw my hands up and shout “no more festivals”, this episode soon convinced me otherwise. That’s entirely because the five-person mixed relay team is none other than our five friends Shikimori, Izumi, Nekozaki, Inuzuka…and Hachimitsu.

The three jocks of the group help train the fast but mishap-prone Izumi and the slow, indoorsy, generally reluctant Hachimitsu. Both are amazed and heartened by how kind and patient Shikimori, Nekozaki, and Inuzuka are. Hachimitsu has the most athletic ground to cover, but she has the right teachers.

In fact, both she and Izumi are sufficiently inspired to keep training together even when their sporty friends have to head off to practice for their other events. Izumi wonders why Hachimitsu is working herself to the bone for running, something she’s never been a fan of.

As she zips her jacket over half her face, Hachimitsu’s answer is simple; if it makes everyone happy, then she’s happy. On the day of the festival, the girls watch the guys do the human cavalry thing, and Hachimitsu notices Shikimori ogling Izumi, looks a little jealous for a moment, then tells a joke. It’s a nifty little exchange that really deepens the complexity of this group’s bond.

When Hachimitsu participates in the bag toss, she turns out to be quite exemplary at it. No doubt she was motivated by watching the boys working hard, and by the warm and enthusiastic support of all of them. Her reward for her near-victory is one of Shikimori’s biggest smiles, and Hachimitsu can’t help but beam back in pride and satisfaction.

With the mixed relay approaching, Hachitmitsu can’t help but feel nervous. Shikimori, who looks so calm and cool, takes her hand in hers, revealing it’s ice cold because she’s nervous too. But nervousness and lack of confidence are two very different things. Shikimori says that having fun is most important, but if it’s all the same, she’s going to have fun winning. Hachimitsu can’t repel competitive fire of that magnitude.

Nekozaki gets their team into first place in the first leg, then hands it off to Hachimitsu. She’s moving so much faster than she’s used to she gets disoriented and trips herself. She falls on her face and skins her knee, but the baton never left her hand; they’re still in it. She gets back up and keeps running, handing the baton off to Izumi cleanly.

Izumi loses a shoe, but simply loses the other and keeps running in his stocking feet, and does not trip and fall, or fall further behind. He hands it off to Shikimori, who singlehandedly gets the team from the rear back into second place with acceleration that uniformly shocks all in attendance.

Just before Inuzuka receives the baton from her, he gets one good look at her intense face and knows that he just can’t let her or the others down. He only has one man to beat, and he beats him to the finish. Izumi is the first to tackle him into a celebratory hug, followed closely by Nekozaki.

Izumi is so high on their upset victory, he exhibits absolutely no propriety by taking Shikimori into his arms and holding her close, very nearly causing her to overheat. Then Hachimitsu—indoorsy, wisecrakin’ ol’ Hachimitsu—smiles a genuine smile of glee as she thanks everyone for working hard, shocking her friends.

The victorious quintet then poses for a beautiful Postcard Memory as Hachimitsu reiterates how happy and proud she is to have such fine friends. I tell you, it’s legit goddamn tearjerker material, and it’s also one of Shikimori’s best episodes. Just five incredibly cute, cool friends, supporting each other, making each other better, and having a blast. Who could ask for more?

Akebi’s Sailor Uniform – 12 (Fin) – You’re Lithe in April

For its finale ASU takes a somewhat unique and refreshing approach to the sports festival formula: it starts at the end, with Akebi’s much-anticipated dance in front of the whole school. Before taking the stage she admits to Usagihara that she’s a little nervous.

Usagihara knows she’ll be fine, because there’s a surprise for Akebi: joining her on stage for accompaniment is Erika, who is clearly her best friend. Unsuccessfully holding back tears at this surprise, Akebi proceeds to do what she took the stage to do: dance her heart out. This is yet another opportunity for the production team to flex its animation muscles.

The dance is interspersed with scenes from the preceding festival, in which Akebi cheered on everyone in the crowd, while they cheered and supported her in her events, and now in the auditorium. It’s a nice way to break up the one weakness to the performance, which is a pretty but also somewhat bland and repetitive song, and also show all kinds of sports action.

A clever creative choice is for the assembled classmates and friends to recognize Akebi’s acrobatic dance moves in both her earlier cheer dancing and athletic feats, some of which reach incredible, lyrical heights. Then Erika switches to violin and the performance is taken to another level still. When the dancing’s over, Akebi and Erika hold hands as they bow to the crowd.

The Monday morning after the even, Akebi is naturally still fatigued from exertions both athletic and artistic. She almost can’t believe what went down during the festival and afterward, as if it were a dream. But it’s not, and she overslept so her sister made breakfast, and Akebi’s whole family is there to greet her and her bed head.

The final scenes echo the first episode, first when Akebi runs through gorgeous landscapes on her way to school, then encounters Erika alone in the classroom. This time, however, Erika isn’t smelling her nail clippers…and also, they’re the best of friends!

Akebi had once been in a class of one with no one her age to hang out with…but thanks to her joyful gregarious personality and her mom’s sewing skills, she now has not just one but at least fifteen friends in her class, and plenty more outside. They enrich her life, and she theirs—a bright and joyful balance.

Akebi’s Sailor Uniform – 11 – Volleydaaaaaw

As soon as Erika learns the Athletic Festival after-party will include a solo dance by Akebi, she decides she wants to be the one accompanying her on the piano. Usagihara gives her the encouragement (and the Miki-chan CD) she needs to make it happen, while keeping it a pleasant surprise for Akebi when the time comes.

As for Akebi, she and her volleyball team learn, through playing against an actual volleyball player like Washio Hitomi, that they aren’t that god at volleyball. They don’t lack heart, but they need practice, and more critically a place to practice. Akebi has a tearful call with Mako-sensei, who is so happy Akebi has made friends and gives her permission to use her old school gym.

At first it looks like it’s going to be just Akebi, Usagihara, Shijou and Minakami (plus Kao, who wants to know what it’s like to not be at that school all alone), but Washio and Nawashiro, initially thought to have been indisposed that day, show up to help the novices practice. I love Kao’s reaction to seeing the statuesque Washio, as well as Washio’s response: lifting Kao as high as only she can.

I never watched Haikyuu!! but speaking as someone who has watched a bit of anime, I’m confident in saying the volleyball action animation is excellent. From the power and grace of the experienced Washio to the fumbling and incoordination of the newbies, it captures all of the beauty inherent the sport. Perhaps more importantly, it’s another opportunity for Akebi to revel in all of the friendships she’s made, working together in hopes of winning at the festival.

When Akebi shows her to the restroom, Usagihara notes just how old the school is, and learns that their little practice session is not only the most activity that gym has seen in years, but also might be the last time such a session can take place. Once Kao graduates, the school will close. So Akebi is happy she could bring friends there.

Akebi returns to the gym just as Mako-sensei decided to peek in on their practice, and is surprised to find that practically her whole class turned out to practice with her, preparations Usagihara made in case Washio and Nawashiro couldn’t make it. Mako-sensei and Akebi cant help but get emotional, while Kao leads her big sis by the hand to continue practice with everyone. Akebi shows her gratitude by giving Usagihara a big and lasting hug.

As for Erika, she’s in her own little world in her dorm room, practicing the Miki-chan piece while wearing earbuds and envisioning Akebi dancing around her in a placid ocean. Akebi truly transforms into a magical girl, gracefully darting around as Erika accompanies her. It’s another big flex from the animation staff, as the scene is simply bursting with love, tranquility, energy, and beauty.

Akebi’s Sailor Uniform – 10 – Cheers for Fears

Akebi arrives at class in her new summer sailor fuku and is once again a sensation, but the other girls also have their summer unis to show off. They only lament that they just made the switch, but most of the day they’ll be in their P.E. uniforms, practicing for the athletics festival.

After Nawashiro teaches Akebi, Tanigawa, and Kamimoku how to make pompoms, the cheer squad can start practicing their cheers in earnest. The only problem is, none of them, including Akebi, really know all that much about cheering. Tougeguchi, who is in the table tennis club, has to teach Akebi basic choreography.

While Akebi flits hither and thither, cheering on the various other clubs, Erika finds a tennis partner in Shijou, whose body has developed faster than most girls her age and has thus left her with something of a complex about that. While she has experience playing tennis, all of it came before these changes, so she can’t quite find a rhythm on the court.

Not to fret: Erika offers Shijou some calming black tea, while Akebi takes her by the hand and has her do some cheer practice to loosen up a bit. Shijou only ends up in this unplanned situation because she became fixated on Akebi’s slender midriff and absent-mindedly poked her navel while saying “must be nice”. Akebi, bless her heart, assumed cheering was “what must be nice.”.

With Tanigawa recording their practice, Akebi finds areas to improve, while Shijou sees how stiff and restricted her movements are. But rather than give up, she pulls up her sleeves, ties off her shirt, and gets back to it, feeding off of Akebi’s boundless stores of exuberance. She even assists Akebi with a more advanced lift. Despite her initial misgivings, seeing Akebi give it all makes her want to give her all.

The cheering also reminded Shijou why she loved tennis to begin with: because it gives one the chance to look really cool. And indeed, Akebi’s Sailor Uniform animates Shijou’s powerful serve with all the camera angles and slow-motion of a superhero pulling off a special move. In essence, Shijou got her groove back!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Come wa Machigatteiru – 13 (Fin)

Shiromegumi Megumi, Yuigahama Yui, Yukinoshita Yukino, Hikigaya Hachiman

The Volunteers Club starts taking up “Cross-Chiba Counseling Emails”, the latest being one from student council president Shiromegumi Megumi, who wants their help planning the main events for the athletics festival. Hiratsuka shoots down everyones’ ideas, so Hikigaya recruits Ebina Hina and Zaimokuza Yoshiteru. Zaimokuza comes up with a “Girls’ Chiba Citizen Cavalry Battle” for the girls, which Team Red wins, and Ebina devises a pole-toppling contest, which the red team also wins, but is later disqualified for foul play.

Another day, another series wrapping up, and Oregairu does so on an ellipsis rather than a period, with the core of Yui, Yukino and Hikky tighter than they’ve ever been, despite the occasional barbs exchanged between the latter two. So confident are they in their bonds, they’re already looking forward to spending next year’s festival together, even if they’re not still on the same team. But while at first glance following up one festival with another seems like a bit  of a dawdle, this series pulls it off admirably, holding our interest with plenty of peppy dialogue (some of our favorite exchanges are on our tumblr) and action.

Yukinoshita Yukino, Shiromegumi Megumi, Yuigahama Yui

The episode also gives pretty much all the side characters one last chance to shine before taking a bow. Shiromegumi, she of bubbly but inspiring energy and optimism (not unlike Yui!) requests the mission. Ebina and Zaimokuza play the important role of devising unique and ultimately fun and memorable main events, though both chose the events they chose for purely selfish, not altogether savory reasons. Hayama has the ladies in his thrall and knows it, while Totsuka inadvertently makes every member of the same sex melt because of his excessive cuteness.

We can’t believe we’re saying this, but we wouldn’t mind a second season of this, although we no of none in the works. After this season brought the three misfits together and threw challenges at them to strengthen their bonds, we’d like to see a season in which, now firmly established as their own little posse, face more challenges, such as the romantic tension between Hikigaya and the girls, while continuing their service work, perhaps with a fourth freshman member? But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Regardless of whether this story continues, it ultimately left us satisfied and glad we watched.

7_very_good
Rating:7 (Very Good)

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