More than a married couple, but not lovers. – 12 (Fin) – Double rainbow

Akari knew she faced an uphill battle to win Jirou’s heart before he and Shiori arrive back at the beach house looking very suspicious. As summer break continues after the beach trip, She offers a thousand-yen bill to the shrine of romantic success. But because Shiori’s sudden kiss in the rain wasn’t a 100% confession of love (she apologized profusely after it happened), Akari isn’t as long a shot as she fears.

Shiori can think of nothing but that kiss, even smelling the dress she wore when it happened, and wants to know what Jirou was feeling. Jirou, in turn, wants to know what Shiori was feeling, and why she apologized. In any case, both of them realize they need to talk about this more, which is definitely the right instinct! They just didn’t expect to bump into each other at the manga store.

Remembering Mei’s advice, Shiori once again takes the initiative, inviting Jirou to her practice dorm. The fact the furniture and layout is the same as his lends a built-in comfort just like the one he has with his childhood friend. When she goes in to make sure it’s not a mess and returns to the door with a “Welcome Home, Darling!”,  I just about squee’d out of my chair.

When Jirou says [the tea] “smells so good”, Shiori briefly thought he was talking about her. They proceed to just hang out on the couch and read, but neither is actually reading their books so much as one another. When she notices him watching her closely, she has to retreat to her room, where she looks in the mirror and worries whether he might hate her, he worries the exact same thing.

The building awkwardness is softened by the auspicious appearance of a double rainbow in the sky, which Shiori says brings happiness. The selfie of the two of them with the rainbow behind certainly brings it too, and Jirou is about to take a step and bring up their kiss in the rain when Shiori shows him another photo: a photo of all of them. A photo of friends.

Presented with a photo like this where it’s not just the two of them, Jirou admirably asks himself the right questions: Which feeling is friendship? Where does love start? He knows he has feelings, but can’t quite understand them yet. But he should also know he’s not alone in this.

After a Jirou x Shiori summer break segment, it’s Akari’s turn. She’s bored, Jirou’s bored, so she LINEs him and nonchalantly schedules a date. He has no earthly idea just how nervous she really is, or how important it is that she look just right for him, which is why she’s fifteen minutes late.

But when she arrives, she’s wearing the kind of demure (for her) dress she believes to be more his taste (which is also generally how Shiori dresses). It’s a little thing, but the fact she wants to suit his tastes while remaining fundamentally Akari is sweet as all-get-out, and even he starts to realize that this gyaru isn’t just messing with him.

Jirou also shows he’s a Good Boy Who Remembers Things, as Akari takes them to a café she’d mentioned before was a favorite of hers. Akari is touched that he remembers, as it bodes well for her overall mission.

She also casually leans in for an indirect kiss (“there is some bitterness, but it’s good” is a resonant line) and when she calls Jirou out for being embarrassed about it, he’s honest, and so is she: she’d rather they get used to this kind of thing than lose their minds about it, because if all goes well they’ll be doing a lot more of it!

The date continues at a cat café, where Jirou gets to see the side of Akari who squees to the max in the presence of fluffy animals. When she shows him a picture of them as she’s holding a cat, he notes that it looks kind of like a family photo, which makes Akari laugh rather than creeping her out (she’s also clearly elated to hear him say that).

While he hews to his standing opinion that spending summer days gaming is best, he admits days like this are nice too. And it’s weird when they prepare to say goodbye at the station, since they’re so used to going home together. That’s when she suddenly heads back to the shrine, and as he follows behind her they run into Shiori. What a coincidence!

Shiori can see what’s going on here, and what needs to be done, but is aggressive and assertive in the best, sweetest, most Shiori way. She happens to be on her way to the shrine too, and challenges Akari to a race to the shrine. Akari, of course, is game, they make Jirou schlep their stuff, and off they go.

As they run with everything they’ve got, they pass a number of people who reflect their past, present, and future. Two childhood friends, a boy and a girl; a young couple, a couple getting married, having kids, and finally, at the top (where the two tie, of course), and old elderly couple, the husband of which is named Jirou!

I love how their competitive pursuit of Jirou goes unspoken, but is clear to both women all the same, even if it’s still somewhat irritatingly less clear to Jirou: this isn’t really the finish line, only the end of the first leg. And both Shiori and Akari are in it to win it.

Thus Fuukoi ends without a clear resolution to who Jirou will choose, and it’s to the episodes credit that it does not try to rush towards one after so much careful deliberation and development. Rather, this feels like a solid culmination of the episodes that came before.

It’s also a credit to the series that after twelve episodes I am myself still on the fence about whom Jirou should end up with, as both women make very strong cases for themselves this week, and there isn’t the slightest hint of mean-spiritedness to their competition. While not a tearjerker, my heart felt fuller for watching Fuukoi, and hopefully we’ll be blessed with a second season in which the three face their next adventure.

More than a married couple, but not lovers. – 10 – All the different parts

As expected, Shiori was not gesturing towards the love hotel, but the beach nearby to make a sand castle. She invites Jirou to make a tunnel through it like old times, resulting in more innocently delivered double entendres as she tells him to go in deeper, etc. Akari is not amused by him acting all lovey-dovey towards Shiori. Notably, she is not acting the same way towards Minami.

When she and Jirou are assigned to go buy drinks and snacks for the group, Akari leaves his sight for two seconds and she’s mobbed by beach bros wanting to know her name and number. At first Jirou thinks she knows them, but it’s clear from her body language she doesn’t like their flirting, so in the heat of the moment he pulls her into an embrace and says they’re married.

This makes Akari happy, but then Jirou ruins it by apologizing like he always does, and for assuming she hated what she did when she said no such thing. She tells him to stop apologizing all the time, because it makes her feel like a loser for “letting her heart race”. Of course, one can’t really control one’s heart from racing!

After Shiori notes Mei’s tan line on her midsection is fading by touching her there, the two go into the bath where they’re in the midst of gyaru talk. Sachi and (possibly) Natsumi are the only actual non-virgins there, but they appreciate Mei contributing to their talk, while Akari and Shiori actually connect over their mutual discomfort with love talk.

After the bath, Akari runs into Jirou, notices his sunburn, and offers to rub aloe on his back (her watermelon nails are adorable btw). She notices he’s not ticklish there, and decides to test further by grabbing his midsection from behind. She’s very upfront about how she’s felt a distance between them since they arrived and doesn’t like it. When Sachi appears, they separate, and Jirou even calls Akari “Watanabe,” causing her to schedule a one-on-one talk later that night.

Once out by the beach shop, Akari lays it all out, literally: pulling off her hoodie to reveal the skimpier bikini just for him. She tells him she was excited about going to the ocean with him, but he’s so self-conscious about how others see them, it makes her feel cold and lonely.

When Jirou says he assumed she’d be embarrassed around a plain boring guy like him, she says she choses who she hangs out with. She knows how he looks at her at their apartment, and doesn’t want that to chance just because they’re somewhere else.

When Jirou points out that Akari is talking like a jealous girlfriend would, she pushes back on that, but not all the way. That’s when Shiori and Mei show up and they have to hide in a hot cramped part of the beach shop in a very compromising position.

Again, Jirou’s main concern is “being seen” by the other girls, and even though he’s right on top of her, Akari feels like she doesn’t exist. He’s putting his concerns about what others might see or hear or think over her. Back in the simpler times she was admiring Minami, she kept a more optimistic outlook, but being close and comfortable with Jirou for months now only makes her scared about him leaving.

Even when Shiori and Mei run off, with the former worried about ghosts, the two stay in that cramped space and talk this out. He brings up how she wanted him to look at her, and she says “that was just in the moment”, but if she said that about all the things she’s said so far, why would he change his behavior? Basically, does she mean what she’s saying or not?

As expected, the cramped, overheated conditions result not only in Jirou getting hard (and Akari mistaking it for a knee) but actually fainting from heatstroke. He comes to back at the bathhouse, and when he’s feeling better, Akari is more clear about what she wants out of this. She doesn’t just want him ogling her body, but looking at all the different parts of her.

She also wants to see and know all of his different parts, seeing as how they’re still married and all. And it’s the “still” that stays with Jirou after their talk. What will they be to each other when the marriage practical is over? What do they want to be? And where do Shiori and Minami fit into that future? There’s a lot to sift through in the final two episodes, but at least these two are really looking at each other and consciously thinking about this stuff.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Call of the Night – 06 – A Private Place

Kou insists he’s not giving Shirakawa Kiyosumi a massage so Nazuna will give her a kiss; no, he’s all about the Murasakis, baby. Last time Kiyosumi came to Nazuna’s she got the best massage of her life. Kou’s is…less so, to the point she’s wearing a distinct “Is that it?” kind of face throughout the course. It leads Kiyosumi to ask how old he is, and when he says fourteen she’s amazed he’s working at such a young age, but sure he must have his reasons.

When she asks, Kou tells her how school was boring and he got tired of it, and how much more fun and exciting the streets are at night. Hearing how he wants to “enjoy the night” reminds her of the first time she went out late on her own, and felt like she was in a special place just for her. From there, the two start to have a lively conversation about their shared love of the night.

When that talk turns bitter when Kiyosumi brings up work and how all the things she has to endure, she starts to tear up, and then her boss calls her, even though it’s the middle of the night she’s expected to answer and go back into the office. But Kou blocks the door, tells her she isn’t going anywhere, and summons Nazuna, who comes through the wall. The massage course isn’t over.

When Kou tells Nazuna to make sure Kiyosumi doesn’t go to work, she tosses her out the window. Kiyosumi has the similar feeling of confusion about what the hell just happened, followed immediately by the terror of falling and the strange feeling of whether this is it.

Kou dives out the window after her and catches her, and the two of them are suspended in the air by Nazuna. As it was with him, it feels like a rite of passage: thinking you’re going to die, and then being plucked from that certain death by a vampire saying “nah, you’re actually not.”

When they land, Kiyosumi asks why Kou did this; he says anything that makes you cry isn’t something you should have to do. This is where their age gap rears its head again, as she tells him he’s still just a kid and doesn’t understand. Adults have to keep enduring, even if something makes them cry.

Then he tells her his dream to become a vampire so he can keep enjoying the night, and it’s so earnest and serious she can’t help but burst into laughter. He Kou walks out into the middle of the road—something you can do at night since it’s not busy—and Kiyosumi joins him, once again feeling that old feeling of doing something wrong but feeling so right.

Kiyosumi tells Kou she hopes he achieves his goal of becoming a vampire, and in turn Kou tells her that when he becomes one, he promises to make her into one too. Nazuna seems taken aback by this, and later reminds Kou that to change Kiyosumi he’d have to make her fall for him, but he’s not worried; “girls tend to like him.”

That lovely character portrait of the overworked businesswoman and her night of enjoyment is followed up by Nazuna greeting Kou in her entryway and telling him to come up with different stuff for them to do. This leads to them going to a nighttime pool, which Kou remarks is “nothing like the pool in P.E.”

For one thing, it’s extremely gaudily and even raunchily lit; for another, the swimsuits are a lot more revealing, though ironically he finds Nazuna’s choice to wear more fabric than she usually does more erotic than her standard swimsuit-like garb.

It’s also here where Kou feels every bit like the fourteen-year-old he is, including rushing to jealousy and possessiveness. When Nazuna decides to tease him by letting two other dudes hit on her, He grabs her and pitches a hissyfit, even though the two guys are totally fine with him.

Nazuna apologizes for teasing by taking Kou on another aerial trip, then dumping the two of them into his school’s pool, which is nice and deserted at this time of night. As we’ve seen from his interactions with Akira and now Kiyosumi, Kou isn’t socially awkward or anything.  But his intense dislike of the other night pool came down to it being crowded and with people too casually trying to make friends with Nazuna.

Nazuna, who after all hasn’t been drinking anyone else’s blood since she and Kou started hanging out, understands his desire for quiet and solitude, where the only two eyes on her are his. Considering how tasty his blood is and how fun he is to spend her nights with, Nazuna seems fine with that. But there’s still something to be said for exploring parts of the night out of one’s comfort zone.

A Couple of Cuckoos – 05 – Shrine Stamp Maiden

Nagi is loathing returning to school, not sure he can face Segawa Hiro after she rejected him because she was already engaged. However, once he actually goes, he finds he’s the only one making this weird. Hiro has been “researching” him, and learned that he studies alone in the library an hour before school starts, and so decided to join him for a morning study session.

While Nagi is again initially hopeless, preoccupied with whether Hiro wants to steal her from her fiancé or is simply friendzoning him, eventually the two find common ground in their shared love of collecting shrine stamps. Sure, she has over four times more stamps, but he has a couple of rare ones she doesn’t. Oh, and she arrived at school earlier than him. Looks like Nagi’s in for a high school life of cozy study sessions and competing with the girl he likes in all things…

Then things go all Cuckoo and Erika not only transfers to Nagi’s school, but end sup in his and Hiro’s class. No doubt that was not an accident on the part of Erika’s parents. Turns out she was expelled from her fancy girls school when she accidentally posted the picture of them looking like a natural couple. Since such relationships are forbidden, she got the heave-ho. Nagi can’t fathom why her friends would be such “sticklers for the rules”, and Erika quietly muttered that they weren’t friends.

Erika doesn’t let that linger, and Nagi doesn’t press, but he remembers those words when he sees hordes of people surrounding Erika (though keeping a semi-respectful distance), and Erika looking thoroughly uncomfortable and lonely. Erika told him that their engagement has to remain a secret from everyone at school, so Nagi hesitates to approach her. That’s when Class Rep Segawa Hiro approaches her and breaks the ice.

Nagi isn’t surprised by Hiro’s kindness—it’s a big part why he likes her so much—while the other classmates go absolutely apeshit over sharing the air of two higher forms of life. Honestly, you’d think especially a prestigious school like this would have rules and such in place against this kind of behavior which too often feels like harassment rather than the harmless admiration the episode makes it out to be. And Nagi takes part in it!…though not for the same reasons as everyone else.

As soon as Erika and Hiro started hitting it off, Nagi imagined a metaphorical guillotine blade hanging over his head should Erika find out he confessed to Hiro and Hiro find out he’s engaged to Erika. While he’s trying to find the right time to approach Erika, it ends up being a day of stalking instead. This is the first episode of Cuckoos where I just wasn’t a fan of Nagi whatsoever…he was too cartoonish with a side of creepy (the less said about the shot of Nagi and Erika unbuttoning their shirts the better).

Nagi finally breaks the stalemate when he witnesses Hiro suddenly crouch to the ground and start sobbing. He rushes out of his hiding spot to tell Hiro that whatever Erika said or did, she didn’t mean it, she’s just nervous and is actually a good person. But Erika didn’t say anything; Hiro’s tears are of joy, because she just might be Erika’s biggest fangirl.

She just couldn’t hold it in anymore, ya know? And while I’m sure Erika is flattered, my heart sunk a little now knowing Hiro isn’t above the drooling masses wigging out over their new classmate being a big deal online. I laughed at Hiro’s threatening face after Erika tells her that Nagi is “another one of her fans”, but the flimsiness of that lie will certainly present a problem down the road.

What I did like was Erika being genuinely touched by Nagi came to her defense and called her a good person (which she is), even if he misunderstood what was happening. She blushes and tells him she’s “not half bad”, definitely a compliment coming from his reluctant fiancée. I also liked learning that Erika takes after her biological mom’s athleticism. Neither she nor Hiro are just pretty faces.

The idea of the three having morning study sessions should prove a font of comedy and drama. But between Nagi’s aggressive stalking the school losing their mind over a minor celebrity, and how Erika often comes off as traumatized because of it, this outing had its share of blemishes. Fortunately, that’s far more forgivable for a two-cour show—we’ve got a long way to go.

A Couple of Cuckoos – 04 – Sister Act

Within the two weeks he and Erika are living together, Nagi apparently is able to study enough to ace the exams and conquer the legend that is Segawa Hiro. Both the nerds and normies salute him following through on his boasts. When Hiro again invites him to the rooftop, he should have known beating her at one exam wasn’t going to cut it as far as winning her over.

As far as she’s concerned, she’s still beating him in exams, 10-1, so his confession “will not be processed”. When she declares all the other ways she surpasses him when it comes to both studies and life, the two end up chasing each other around the school and messing up a classroom and panting on the ground. Hiro had fun, but she makes it clear there’s no way she and Nagi can go out. You see, she’s engaged too!

He has had so much fun, in fact, he’s surprised to learn that his time playing Erika has already come to an end. He says he appreciated having a place to “let off steam” and how it was fun overall; Erika said it was the worst, but he can probably tell she’s not being entirely sincere. But once he packs up his stuff and bows to the house, suddenly it’s all over, and they go their separate ways…

…Except Nagi returns home to find it dark and locked; turns out his family is temporarily staying at an inn while the plumbing is fixed. There’s no room for him at said inn, so it’s back to his birth father’s house…where Erika is still making herself at home. Turns out she wanted to have a go at living on her own without help. Nagi is surprised she wants to improve herself, and vows to help her become a “professionally independent person” like him.

When Sachi comes by to drop off some of Nagi’s stuff, she finally gets to meet her biological big sister, something both she and Erika are understandably nervous about. Despite Nagi saying how friendly Sachi is and how easily she warms up to people, their first encounter is extremely stif and awkward. Sachi later confides in Nagi that she’d looked up Erika on IG before, and finding out she’s even cuter in person threw her off.

Nagi commences “Operation Sister Besties” by getting the two to cook some karaage together. While Erika is a nightmare chopping cabbage, she gets to see Nagi and Sachi interact like a real brother and sister that they are, while Nagi gets to see Sachi and Erika very much acting similar…they even eat the same way. When he points this out, they protest his assertion…by heaping praise on one another.

Erika decides to interrupt dinner by having Sachi try on some of her clothes. With Nagi not around, Erika makes clear she has no intention of marrying Sachi’s brother, something that seems like a load of Sachi’s mind. They also exchange contact info. Back home, Sachi’s folks are irked that she went and hung out with Erika. This is rich for people who went behind both Nagi and Erika’s backs to set them up to be married!

Whatever Hiro’s deal is with her engagement, it seems like a hard stop in Nagi’s quest to win her heart. Nagi and Erika are living together again, this time indefinitely. Sachi has finally met her sister and Nagi’s fiancée and can’t help but like her, but how long these good vibes last is anyone’s guess. I’m surprised how much has happened just four episodes into a twenty-four episode series. Things have moved very swiftly, but there’s clearly a lot more in store for our cuckoos.

A Couple of Cuckoos – 03 – Too Close to the Sun on Wings of Okonomiyaki

Just like that, Erika and Nagi are living alone together under the same roof. A text from Nagi’s mom and birth dad seals their fate: they’re stuck here for two weeks. They also both acknowledge that if they don’t go on defense, they’re going to end up married before they know it. So before heading to their separate rooms, they agree not to interact with each other in any way for  the duration of their stay.

AS. FRIKKIN’. IF. Moments after waking up later than he ever has (a product of not being slapped awake by his mom or Sachi) he hears a scream and comes to Erika’s rescue, only to get even more freaked out by the gecko in the bath than she is. A scenario like this begs for a bathroom walk-in, and while switching the roles would have been more refreshing, the execution get is both funny and tasteful.

Their pact last night has Nagi excited for a weekend of uninterrupted studying in his room, but he is betrayed by the nature of his arrival here: he doesn’t have his charger or textbooks. When they’re delivered, Erika takes delivery, and won’t give them up unless Nagi helps her with her Insta photo shoot of the day. This, in turn, leads to him tripping and falling into another romantic pose on her bed that’s caught on camera.

Erika doesn’t know what it is, but her pics just come out better when Nagi takes them, so she borrows him for the rest of the day, which leads to a water fight. While Nagi just wants to study, and Erika just wants to go viral, those more cynical motivations get pushed to the background as the two simply have a fun day in each other’s company. They’re in violation of their pact, but neither of them does anything about it.

Instead, Erika finds herself wanting to know more about Nagi, like why he loves studying so much. It’s a fair question from someone who is already financially set for life, and Nagi’s answer, while only a half-truth, about wanting to provide for his family of modest means gets through to her.

Erika’s reason for wanting to be popular on SM goes beyond “just ’cause” and into her desire to connect with “someone” out there—whether this someone is literal or figurative remains to be seen.

As for the other, and arguable more immediately important half of Nagi’s motivation, the challenge he issued to Segawa Hiro the other day has circled the school several times and he receives the expected extra attention and ribbing.

I like how Nagi’s a tough kid and doesn’t let any of this get him down, and even mistakes three guy’s genuine desire for him to win for teasing (if only because they’re betting on him…26-to-1 odds!). He gets it from the normies and the nerds, one of whom declares him Icarus and Hiro the sun. Nagi’s response to this guy is perfect: “Who the hell was that?”

Nagi gets a rooftop invite from Hiro that he’s sure is a prank, but when he learns that he, not her, is currently the top-ranked student prior to the upcoming waves of exams, he realizes it’s genuine. Sure enough, Hiro meets him on the rooftop, but not to confess her love to him, but to declare to him that she won’t lose to him…not in exams, class ranking, sports, cleaning and eating speed…she won’t give up a millimeter of ground anything.

This is a side of Hiro Nagi has never seen, and it only endears her to him more, and now both of them are each other’s prime motivating factors for pursuing greatness. We’ll see if one’s bitter rival really makes for a better match than a fiancée raised by your birth parents. I also imagine Hiro will cross Erika’s path eventually, and the two will have some thoughts about things.

But first things first: Nagi really does need to study. Unfortunately, not only did hanging out with Erika cost him the weekend, but the water fight gives him a cold. Erika dresses up like a nurse to take care of him, but he tries to power through, and ends up passing out. Erika, in turn, cancels her plans for the day to tend to him, and when he comes to, admits she’s duly impressed by how hard he works to achieve his goals.

This doesn’t just affect Nagi because a cutey is saying it, but because literally no one has ever said they’re impressed with his academic work ethic. His birth parents might’ve had they raised him, so it’s apropos that Erika, who was raised by them, is the first to do so.

It’s the kind of unforced gesture that should sow doubt in Nagi’s mind that he should choose Hiro (who let’s not forget could well reject him anyway) over Erika. Unless he and Hiro hang out more, that soil of doubt will only grow more fertile as he and Erika continue to interact and learn about each other. Those parents might’ve been on to something.

Three episodes in, A Couple of Cuckoos is a solid textbook rom-com that succeeds in making all parties (save Sachi) dynamic and likeable—not just cogs—while finding ways to ground the chaotic premise. This is not the car wreck in slow motion I thought it’d be. It’s just a good, fun, and engaging show, full-stop.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The aquatope on white sand – 21 – Don’t wallow…struggle!

The way Kukuru simply disappeared last week was extremely worrying, but it turns out she simply needed to get away. Asking herself over and over “What am I doing?”, the answer is clear: work got to be too much, so she needed a break. She takes the ferry to sleepy Yamenura Island, where she soon runs into Umi-yan’s wife Misaki, a professor specializing in sea turtles.

Kukuru did the right thing by eventually responding to an understandably worried Fuuka by telling her she’s safe and everything’s fine, she just needed time off. Fuuka tries to cover for Kukuru like a good friend and co-worker, but Suwa sees right through the ruse, and tells Fuuka not to interfere with matters that aren’t her job. The way Suwa phrases it makes Fuuka so mad she starts shadowboxing like Kukuru, and almost accidentally slugs Kai in the face!

While there’s always a measure of underlying worry and stress one gets while playing hooky, it’s largely neutralized by the extremely chill vibes of Yameruna. Misaki, a wise woman, tells Kukuru she’s going to get yelled at later, but no point being sad about it now. She should enjoy the time she’s taken…and she does, by sleeping in, taking a leisurely stroll to the tiny island aquarium, and watching one of her gramps’ protégés in action.

Even if she knows Kukuru is fine, a part of Fuuka still wants to be with Kukuru during this time. When she learns from Gramps that Choko will be joining Tingarla soon, she wants to text Kukuru, but hesitates, worried the timing of such a text would be wrong.

She’s distracted, and shortly afterward an overly curious penguin gets badly pecked and scratched up by territorial peers. Fuuka blames herself, but both her boss says penguins fight all the time. The vet tells Fuuka not to wallow, but struggle. There’s no time for regretting when you’re carefully watching over living things.

The night arrives when Misaki’s quarry, a huge nest of sea turtle eggs, finally hatch, and it’s probably the event of Yameruna, which I may have mentioned is usually super laid back and tranquil. Much like the baby penguin’s first dip, the tension of this event is extremely nicely built up, then released when the adorable baby turtles emerge from the sand in droves.

Kukuru looks both awed and honored to be present for such an event, then overhears someone behind her saying “It’s amazing.” She recognizes the voice, because it’s Fuuka, who learned through Umi-yan that Kukuru was on the same island as his wife.

Instead of running into each other’s arms, Kukuru and Fuuka stand apart and continue to quietly observe the magic of nature. The hugs, tears, laughter, and scolding will come later. For now, they’ll keep a close eye on the animals.

My Senpai is Annoying – 05 – Heartfelt or Courtesy?

Valentines Day is drawing near, and for the first time Futaba has someone to make chocolate for besides Natsumi. The question is, will she have the guts to both make and offer homemade chocolate to her senpai? My friends, she will. But first, we meet Sakurai’s little brother, who Futaba and Natsumi first help when he’s lost, then Takeda helps by beating up some punks trying to shake him down.

This is all before either Futaba or Natsumi even know Sakurai is his big sister. When there’s the option to all have ramen together for dinner, Sakurai reads the room and heads off with her brother…she can tell Futaba was hoping to eat with just Takeda on that particular evening.

Sakurai ain’t no fool. While she may come off to some as oblivious to all of the attention she receives from men—both at work and back in high school—in reality that’s a kind of defense mechanism. Other girls resented her for being so effortlessly popular, overlooking the fact that Sakurai was (and is) a sweet and gentle young woman who never freaking asked for all that attention.

By grabbing some ramen with Takeda at an intimate little spot he’s been going to since high school, Futaba learns a little bit more about her senpai. It’s a simple, no-nonsense place…right up until the chef brings out some nonsense about a “chocolate ramen bowl.” That’s when Futaba learns he’s not a big fan of sweets, which is a good thing to know this time of year!

When the big day arrives, Futaba uses her resourcefulness to craft a chocolate with matcha powder that’s less sweet and thus more appealing for someone with Takeda’s palate. He’s charmed by the presentation with the little bear drawing, and when Takeda praises the taste, Futaba flashes the biggest, stupidest, most wonderful smile you could ask for. If she’s trying to hide her true feelings, she does a terrible job!

Meanwhile, Kazama retreats into his own little world of binge-drinking Monster and the resulting partial catatonia that comes with it, all because he saw Sakurai walking with and laughing with a tall guy with blonde hair…who was actually just her little brother walking on a ledge to appear taller.

After giving courtesy chocolate to the other guys, Sakurai seeks Kazama out and legitimately wants to know what’s been up with him. Then she gives him a simple Meiji bar (the equivalent of a Hershey bar, only better), which he interprets as “courtesy” chocolate.

This angers Sakurai, who says chocolate is chocolate and it’s te thought that counts. The reality is that it is heartfelt chocolate, even if she bought it at a konbini around the corner. Compare that to the expensive Godiva chocolates Takeda got from a client simply as a thanks for his and Futaba’s hard work.

For Sakura, the bar for Kazama means more than the chocolates she gave to the others out of courtesy. It’s a gesture of affection, but also of thanks for his being different from the others in a way that appeals to her. You get the feeling they’re just both on the same wavelength, and when she hears about his misunderstanding, Sakurai has a good laugh, and Kazama is so relieved Futaba catches him wearing the biggest grin she’s ever seen on him.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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

Chihayafuru 3 – 09 – Luck of the Draw

As Chihaya desperately watches her phone for updates from the Master qualifiers, her friend Michiru hits her limit, snatches Chi’s phone, and removes the battery. Good for you, Michiru! The only reason Michiru is even at the Hundred Poets Museum is because she hoped Chihaya would teach her a few things.

Chihaya, having come back to earth, apologizes profusely, but as we know, her own knowledge of the poets is pretty limited. It falls to the incomparable Kanade Oe to school them both, demonstrating that she could be a decent history teacher today if she wanted to—and kick Chihaya’s ass at it!

Back at the East qualifiers, Taichi also hits his limit, losing to the goof-prone but still focused Koshikawa Shusaku of KU. In a tense back-and-forth game that comes down to a luck-of-the-draw he loses, Taichi curses himself for not taking the “Impassionate” card, which will never not remind him of Chihaya. It’s almost as if Koshikawa eliminated him from qualifying and stole his girl!

Sumire watches the whole thing through the window, but when she starts to rush to Taichi’s side, she’s stopped by Tsukaba, who tells her that the last thing Taichi wants is company, because it’s the last thing he’d want after such a tough, close loss.

Dr. Harada, old crab meat knees and all, manages to avenge Taichi by defeating Koshikawa in the semifinal, which also ends in a luck-of-the-draw which Harada wins largely because he’s been playing for forty-five years, longer than Taichi or Koshikawa. He has a pretty good idea which cards aren’t going to be read at the end—the so-called “Eternal Maids”—a confidence borne out when he claims victory.

He’ll face Sudo in the East Master qualifiers final, while Yamamoto and Inokuma will face each other in the Queen qualifiers final. Back in the West, Arata ends up in the final with his own society-mate, Murao Shinichi, and is disappointed—and a little relieved!—to learn Taichi won’t represent the East.

Finally, Suo wants to win a fifth-straight crown so he can retire, while Shinobu is vexed by her gramps worrying about her having no friends, which is none of his business. Is it just me, or to both of these monarchs seem a teensy bit…vulnerable?

Fruits Basket – 02 – Sodium in Water

When Kyou, Yuki and Shigure all transform into animals, Tooru panics, right up until the dog signs for a package with his seal, and they start talking with human speech. Turns out each member of the Souma clan is possessed by an animal of the Zodiac, and when hugged by the opposite sex, they transform into those animals for a time, eventually changing back to (buck naked) humans.

To call Yuki and Kyou like oil and water would be inaccurate: oil kinda just sits on top of water. Yuki’s more like sodium and Kyou water; it always ends up with an unpleasantly violent explosion. Once’s everyone’s dressed they go at it again, and Kyou breaks a table in his rage, accidentally injuring Tooru’s forehead. Yuki has had enough, and decides to show why sparring with Kyou is never fun for him: he always wins handily.

At school, suspicions from Yuki’s fan club persist, but he doesn’t pay them any mind, and meets with Tooru in an empty classroom, asking if she told anyone about “them.” Tooru takes this to mean the Souma family secret of animal transformation, but it could just as easily be asking if Tooru told her friends she was now friends with Yuki and living in his house.

Regardless, Yuki informs Tooru that Shigure has to report to the Souma family head, Akito, who will determine what if anything is to be done about Tooru knowing, up to and including memory-suppressing hypnosis. Tooru accidentally bumps into him, turning him into a rat, but once the shock of that is over, Tooru expresses her wish that even if her memories do have to be altered, she’d like to still be friends with Yuki afterwards.

Back home, Kyou is making preliminary repairs on Tooru’s ceiling, and is about to offer some kind of apology when Shigure returns home with good news: as long as Tooru keeps their secret, she’s free to live there without any memory modification. Tooru celebrates by putting her well-honed cleaning and cooking skills to use. That night, she learns Shigure has arranged for Kyou to transfer to Yuki and Tooru’s school.

The reason for this is because he essentially dropped out of the school he was attending to train his body and mind to defeat Yuki, and he could use a fresh start to learn more about interacting with people in ways other than confrontation and combat. True to his Zodiac sign, this is better said than done.

He causes an instant sensation at school, as the girls flock to his desk to chat with him. Not used to so much attention, he tries to get away, but one of the girls clings to him, and he puts her in a painful arm lock before jumping out a high window (and landing on his feet, natch). In other words, not a good start!

Outside, Yuki tracks Kyou down and scolds him, and their two diametrically opposed goals are made plain: Kyou wants to work to become a full-fledged member of the Souma clan, something Yuki considers a cage he’d rather escape.

The fight gets heated, and Tooru intervenes, resulting in Kyou transforming into a cat. The enraged Kyou snaps at Tooru once more, and she slinks away, believing Kyou truly hates him. Yuki doesn’t even bother punching him.

Back home, Shigure tells Kyou it’s simply not going to be easy, but he has to keep going to school, and consider it training. That means hurting, being hurt, and developing empathy that informs his future words and actions, not just going with his impulses.

As Tooru walks home from work later that night, she remembers her vow to her mom to cease being a Dog and become a Cat in solidarity for the way the Cat was treated in the Zodiac legend, but now that she’s met the Cat, he seems to hate her. Of course, that’s not strictly true; Kyou simply isn’t sure how to act around Tooru yet, and takes Yuki’s place as her escort home as an olive branch.

He snaps at her again once or twice, but takes the advice from Shigure—not every strike, verbal or physical, needs to be carried through. He can stop short; hold his tongue or fist; consider a less extreme response. He tells her she can call his name even if she doesn’t need anything, can hang around where he can see her, and she’s welcome to hit him if she says or does something she doesn’t like. It’s his way of apologizing, and it lifts Tooru’s spirits considerably. She tells Kyou about her love of the Cat, and her desire to be friends with its vessel.

Kyou reacts somewhat like a tsundere would, and Tooru feels she finally understands Kyou has a gentle heart under the rough exterior. Having thus made peace with Cat and having official permission from the family head to live with Yuki and Shigure, Tooru is looking forward to fun-filled days ahead. Here’s hoping she gets them; she’s already experienced enough of the other kind.

Bunny Girl Senpai – 08 – A Boring Yet Sound Argument

On another night at the Azusagawa residence, Futaba Rio lends Sakuta some insight into how her separation into two different Futabas took place: it was the result of her inability to reconcile her need for attention with her inability to forgive the means of getting that attention.

Futaba developed faster than the other girls in her class—a lonely development, to be sure. It isolated her; made her feel alone, conspicuous, even dirty. And yet, her need to not be alone led her to start the photo stream; any reactions, no matter who from, were a consolation; they made her feel a little less lonely.

This debunks my theory about the competing sides of her psyche splitting off, but only partially: you could still say the Futaba living at Sakuta’s is the one more like the superego, while the one living in Futaba’s house is more like the id. One can live in an imperfect world far easier than the other.

While accepting the judgment of Mai’s manager that she cut out most private meetings with her boyfriend as a “strategic retreat” for the sake of her just-restarted career, Sakuta digs fully into this Futaba Dilemma. After all, he’s dealing with a childhood friend.

“Shut-in” Futaba wants “Wild” Futaba to shut down the account, and while meeting with her she shows him pictures from when she was in middle school; a form of “self-mutilation” in which she intentionally posted pics of her developing form. Both Futabas say they “hate” themselves.

After a day when “Wild” Futaba gets to fan a hot Kunimi, she starts to get unwanted propositions and threats to expose her from strangers looking at her pics online. This naturally freaks Futaba out, and she deletes her account, runs to her (huge!) house with Sakuta, and has him sleepover.

There, she reveals to Sakuta that she felt like she’d be all alone again after both Kunimi and Sakuta got themselves girlfriends. She already feels like Kunimi is so far away, but all it takes is one call from Sakuta on her phone for him to come running (well, biking) to her side in the middle of the night.

Unknown to Kunimi, Sakuta just proved what a loyal and dedicated friend he is. When she realizes she was never alone after all, she tears up, and Kunimi has Sakuta buy them both drinks to rehydrate: him for his biking, her for her tears.

Sakuta also buys fireworks and they go to the beach, lighting sparklers and candles and crackers and rockets until the night sky starts to brighten. Futaba smiles and laughs and the three old friends have the most fun they’ve had together in ages.

Futaba’s “separation” may have been unfortunate, but one could argue it was also necessary in order for her to be reminded of what she has, not to mention bring the three back together after some distance was created between them due to extenuating circumstances.

More importantly, “Wild” Futaba started the day wanting Sakuta to take a side—since “the world only needs one Futaba Rio”—and ending with her urging Sakuta to help the other Futaba. He heads home to report  that the account is history, then passes out, leaving the other Futaba her phone.

The background shows “Wild” Futaba with Sakuta and Kunimi during their idyllic evening. When Sakuta wakes up, she’s gone, but the other Futaba tells him “if it were her” where she’d be: the school, in their classroom.

There, Futaba repeats the other Futaba’s words about there only needing to be one of them in the world, and how the “Wild” one is clearly being “the better Futaba”, and that she should just disappear. Sakuta rejects all of that, an invites her to the fireworks festival he, Kunimi, and the other Futaba agreed to attend (since he and Mai can’t date and Kunimi is having a fight with his GF).

He leaves it at that…then passes out a product of his bike ride in the pounding rain being a bit too much exertion immediately following an all-nighter. He wakes up in the hospital with Mai by his bedside, having been called by Futaba.

By being there for Sakuta, Futaba proved that she actually is needed. And when Sakuta sits with her later, he neither tries to tell her all of her positive qualities nor tells her how she needs to start gradually liking or loving herself, as a friend might be expected to do.

It’s because Sakuta is “the worst” in this way, not saying what a usual friend would say, Futaba is relieved and comforted. She then calls the other Futaba on a pay phone, voices her desire to go to the festival, and in a neat trick where the phone receiver suddenly falls, she disappears. But she’s not gone. Futaba Rio is simply whole again.

Whole, and no longer alone. While watching the fireworks at the festival, she seems to tell Kunimi her feelings, but rather than seeking an answer she already knows, she simply urges him to make up with his girlfriend.

Grand Blue – 04 – Trying Hard in a Bad Way

There’s no diving in the ocean this week, but Chisa, Iori and Kohei all “dive into” a new experience: being on stage, in front of hundreds if not thousands of spectators. But first, they help man the Okonomiyaki stall at the Izu Spring Festival.

While on a break, Iori fails to clear up Asuza’s misunderstanding about him being bi, but only when Asuza tells him how nice it is to have someone else to talk to about it. This is how you know beneath all the drunken boorishness Iori has a good heart: while the truth is always better, it also hurts, and he doesn’t want to hurt a friend if he doesn’t have to.

However, he does want to talk about it with Chisa, so on the next break the two are left alone, and I love how they work the griddle like a single highly-polished unit, dazzling the customers—but they don’t notice how skilled they’re being! Unfortunately, not much comes of the talk; Chisa assumes Iori is nervous because Asuza is so pretty, not because Asuza thinks he’s bi.

Asuza and her sister also insist she wear something more appropriate than her regular street clothes for the 4PM women’s pageant. Iori knows Chisa well, and so knows when Chisa is nervous. She stiffens up, and her aura and responses initially come off as cold and curt. They want to help her, but he and dating-sim expert Kohei only have bad ideas that make things worse.

When they try to make her smiling by smiling at her, but their grins come off as creepy and off-putting. Ditto posing shirtless as a club and raising a banner professing their love for her.

Finally they agree to throw a bunch of bouncy balls on the stage that will flip her skirt up and show her bashful side. They get it, but it’s bashfulness cut with seething rage. Iori knows he went too far, and only went as far as he did because he thought everyone would do it.

While Iori is hiding from Chisa’s wrath with Kohei, the latter is pounced upon by another woman who was part of the pageant; one with makeup so thick they use the nickname “cakey” on her. She asks Kohei out; Kohei hesitates and she storms off.

They go to the drinking party hosted by the rugby club. Chisa initially forgave Iori for the upskirt incident, but when he mentions how he’ll buy her sexier underwear, he’s back on her shitlist, and she intends to make him suffer with two liters of shochu.

While getting some air, Iori and Kohei again encounter Cakey, whose real name is Yoshiwara Aina. She’s deep into her own cups, and proves a very…emotive drunk. But she also provides the lads with a clearer picture of her deal; she was accepted into the tennis club of beautiful people, but basically only so they could laugh at her, and when they got bored, they told her she could leave.

Iori and Kohei decide to use the pageant as a means to not only raise Aina’s spirits, but to give the cocky blue-haired tennis captain a dose of his own medicine. And yet by getting swept up in this new mission, they forget about Chisa.

Kohei sets a trap by confessing to Asuza on stage; the captain does the same, only for the lads to reveal “Asuza” was really Iori in disguise. In other words, they balance the distribution of laughter, disproving her belief it was eternally directed at her.

All’s well that ends well, as Iori and Kohei may well have made a new friend who is grateful for what they did for her…but the partying that follows leaves the lads horrendous wrecks, unable to protect the winner of the women’s pageant—Chisa—from another round of advances from guys, which she hates more than anything.

Up to this point, I had felt like Chisa was too often being defined through Iori, as Iori’s love interest. But Asuza makes clear to the other guys why exactly Chisa is upset: Iori and Kohei worked hard, but for the other girl, not her. In a rare instance of seeking/expecting protection from them, they let her down.

And so just as the tennis captain got his comeuppance, so must Iori. Upon receiving her award for winning the pageant, Chisa delcares to all assembled that she’s off the market: Iori is her boyfriend. Iori can’t protest, because he’s passed out.

In effect, Chisa has made delicious lemonade with the lemons she was dealt: Iori will repel other guys for her. He’ll be her shield. Considering how popular the pageant made Chisa with the guys, it won’t be an easy job; Iori may well prefer the tranquility of the ocean floor!

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