BokuBen – 01 (First Impressions) – Don’t Forget the Frustration

BokuBen or We Never Learn pulls off a fine trick; one so admirable knowing the potential underlying cynicism for its formula doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of the show. First, it draws you in with its catchy, vibrant OP, two girls as lovably drawn and animated as Trigger or Shaft fare, and brings three consummate-professional seiyuu in Shiraishi Haruka (wonderful as Asirpa in Golden Kamuy), Tomita Miyu (excellent as Abyss’ Riku) and Osaka Ryouta (from everything) to the party.

Then, once you’re at that party, you learn that the beauty is more than skin deep, and that the three main characters presented so far are richly detailed and both their dreams and motivations are clearly and strongly defined. More to the point, all three are extremely likable rootable characters, so let’s meet ’em!

Osaka’s Yuiga Nariyuki is your standard hard-working kid with a good heart. We learn his family is poor, his father deceased, and later, that he’s the man of a dilapidated house, desperate to help hold both it and the family within it together. And there’s your motivation for why he’d accept almost any condition in exchange for getting a free ride at the college affiliated with his high school.

That condition involves him having to tutor the two school geniuses, Furuhashi Fumino (Shiraishi), the “Sleeping Beauty of the Literary Forest”, and Ogata Rizu (Tomita), the “Thumbelina Supercomputer.” Those amazing nicknames are incredibly accurate in describing the two girls’ strengths, but fall far short of describing the full measure of their respective characters.

That is because Furuhashi, a genius in liberal arts, wants to go to college for science, while Rizu, a genius in science, wants to go to college for liberal arts. The scenario almost too deliciously perfect, right down to their hair and eye color resembling Eva’s Rei and Asuka.

Yuiga quickly learns that Furuhashi is as hopeless at math as Rizu is hopeless at literature, and that this will be no easy task. But the reward will be getting into college without burdening his family, which makes it worth the challenge.

At first, his frustration with their ineptitude in the fields they wish to pursue, and suggestion that they simply tutor one another, lead the girls to suspect that he’ll abandon them just like all the (numerous!) previous tutors. I mean, he’s saying the same thing they all did: stick with what you know, you’re both geniuses in that! Let your talent take you as far as it can! USE YOUR GIFTS.

But like any gift someone didn’t specifically ask for (nor had the opportunity to do so) if it’s not something they wanted, they should be free to pursue something they do.

The polite, apologetic, self-berating Furuhashi and fiery, direct, and suspicious Rizu may differ in many ways but one way in which they do not is in their steadfast determination not to take the paths of least resistance, nor let a consensus of outside voices they had no control over determine what they should be.

In their haste to take their leave of yet another tutor who doesn’t understand where they’re coming from, the girls leave their practice books behind with Yuiga, and when he finds them packed with notes proving how hard the two of them worked to understand, Yuiga proceeds to understand where they’re coming from, because it’s a place he’s been to too.

Yuiga used to suck in school, and remembered the pain and frustration of simply not understanding something, not matter how hard he tried. He’s able to empathize with them not possibly being happy if they gave up on what they wanted to do simply because what they could do was easy.

So he supplies them with advisory notes and suggests they study in the library together. I loved how he got so into his explanation of how he got them and relates to them, it sounded at first to both of them that he was confessing his love for them at the same time! Thankfully, he’s able to quickly diffuse that misunderstanding and they head to the library.

There, Yuiga learns another layer of difficulty beyond the practical matter of getting these two into the colleges of their choice—the fact that he’s a high school guy, and they’re both insanely cute high school girls. Getting his VIP recommendation and free ride doesn’t just mean making sure they succeed; he has to continue keeping his grades up.

But it’s hard to focus when, for instance, Furuhashi nods off and rests her head on his shoulder, during which he gets a whiff of her hair, or when Rizu draws in so close to show him a problem that her chest brushes against his side. Yuiga’s romantic history isn’t mentioned here (it’s likely he’s devoted all his time to studying and improving his grades), but it’s clear both of those events were probably firsts for him.

Meanwhile, Fusuhashi and Rizu remain charmingly unaware of the effect they’re inadvertently having on Yuiga. I appreciate this distinction: they’re not intentionally flirting with him, nor are they in conscious competition for him. This is all in Yuiga’s head right now. They’re both there to study. So when he starts blushing and breathing heavily, they assume he’s not feeling well due to a fever.

Yuiga’s interactions with Furuhashi and Rizu post-“confession” plumb satisfying new depths in both their character stories, both for Yuiga and me. Those new layers further explain why Furuhashi and Rizu are pursuing fields opposite their strengths, and it isn’t just for the sheer challenge.

Furuhashi wants to pursue a career in astronomy because she loves the stars and wants to have a closer connection to them, especially as one of them might be her late mother’s star. Meanwhile, Rizu’s family owns an udon restaurant, but while on break between deliveries she is playing a card game for 2-10 players…by herself. Yuiga plays her learns she sucks at it, but she still loves board and card games, and wants a career that will help her understand more about the human emotions that blend with the math to make those games special.

In both cases, Yuiga promises both he’ll support them, and again, their conversations take a turn that could be construed as romantic, only this time he isn’t being supportive to them both at the same time, like his “confession,” so each girl has more cover to express their gratitude for his continued support.

The episode closes by putting faces on the family Yuiga wants to protect: his mother, two younger sisters, and younger brother. But he’s no mercenary in this effort; and his family is no longer the one and only reason. He seems genuinely invested in working to help secure Furuhashi and Rizu’s happiness, as someone whose late father urged him to value failure, and the pain and frustration that result form it, as among the most important teachers in life.

When he’s approached by both Furuhashi and Rizu at school in front of his friends, and both of them whisper in his ear not to mention to anyone what they talked about last night, it creates a third layer to Yuiga’s increasingly complicated mission: the social aspect outside the trio’s dynamic. This is high school; rumors will spread and misconceptions will develop. How will the three of them deal? Not to mention there’s a third girl on the horizon: one who may be a genius in swimming.

I’m over 1200 words here, so I should wrap this sucker up—BokuBen had a very strong start, as I’m invested in everyone I’ve met so far. It’s a great-looking show with great-sounding seiyuu and has a very promising premise. If it can maintain the quality of its premiere, I’ll have no problem tuning in.

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Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san – 04

This week  the happy little world of Nishikata and Takagi is invaded, as the secondary characters begin to notice the two are together an awful lot beyond class. Take the first segment, in which Nishikata has to clean the science room because he’s so loud.

Takagi joins him, not to help clean, or because she feels guilty, or even to tease him more. Rather, she wants to “enjoy their youth”, the way another couple is clearly doing when they spot Nishikata and Takagi on the way to the rooftop. For Takagi, enjoyng her youth means spending as much time as she can with Nishikata.

Clearly Nishikata doesn’t mind hanging out with Takagi that badly, even if she does tease him a lot. Indeed, he seems to savor the challenge of fighting against such a formidable opponent, and never lets the discouragement of virtually never winning against her get to him for very long.

While on the way home, Nishikata challenges Takagi to a high-bar kickover, something he’s only just recently mastered. Takagi agrees to do it, but only if he looks the other way, as she’s wearing a skirt. The first time they both do one, but he doesn’t know whether she cheated, so the next time, he peeks.

When he does, he learns not only that Takagi is doing proper kickovers, but is wearing gym shorts under her skirt. But even if she made him look away despite that, he’s honorable enough to admit defeat because he peeked, even if she calls him a pervert.

Nishikata often shows he’s a good lad, but his desire to best Takagi sometimes leads to unnecessary deceit. When he comes in with an apparent cold, Takagi immediately presumes it’s because he stayed up all night watching 100% Unrequited Love anime.

Nishikata intends to make Takagi blush by telling her she’s “cute”, but ends up too embarrassed to say something meant to embarrass her. He’s so thrown off he claims to not have a cold after all!

While Takagi still believes he has a cold (which he actually does), she seems frustrated she can’t tease him as usual lest she make him cough, so when he later insists he’s fine (after watching how damn cute she is when sitting quietly), she just starts teasing him even harder to make up for lost time!

Finally, Nishikata and Takagi are spotted by the three girls. Yukari assumes they’re a couple and decides to tail them to confirm it. Takagi being a particularly observant person (and the trio not being that stealthy), she and Nishikata take a quick turn around a corner and then hide, throwing the girls off the trail and causing them to give up.

In the process, Nishikata and Takagi have to squeeze together very close—closer than under the umbrella last week—and Nishikata is understandably flustered, but when asked if he would have preferred a different tactic, he drops the matter.

Takagi then immediately sets off on the race to the shrine they proposed. Nishikata cries ‘false start’, but honestly, the only thing he can and should do in such a situation is chase after Takagi…which he does.

 

Net-juu no Susume – 06

So, here we are: Hayashi and Lily IRL. Was it a setup by Koiwai? Apparently not; due to her Elite NEET status, Morioka got the day wrong. Little does she know that Sakurai is really Lily, which is the true reason he knew to where and when to “rescue” her from the wrong day.

Let’s not beat around the bush here: Sakurai is, like, totally into Morioka, and their date goes as swimmingly and is as enjoyable as when they’re hanging out in the MMO…maybe moreso! It’s just as enjoyable to watch, despite the fact neither party treats this as an official, “real” date.

I’m a little disappointed things are more complicated than Koiwai staging a setup to get the two together. That seems to be what he’s doing anyway, considering he stops joking around and directly asks Sakurai if he’s really okay with him going out alone with Mori-Mori tomorrow. I’d personally be fine with Koiwai graciously backing out of the triangle rather than keeping the heat on.

I was also a bit miffed that Sakurai made no serious effort to tell Morioka the truth about their being MMO partners. What could have been a built-in in with Morioka instead needlessly muddies the waters. There’s never going to be a good time to tell her, but he needn’t keep holding off the truth until it’s a unequivocally bad time; or worse, to late to salvage any kind of relationship.

Sure, I’m getting ahead of myself, but c’mon; we’re not honestly supposed to be rooting for Koiwai and Morioka. Still, while Koiwai teases both Sakurai and Morioka incessantly, he also shows that he genuinely cares about both of them, and isn’t putting on any act for Morioka (who is almost constantly selling herself short).

Morioka thinks the last two days to be almost too good to be true, but I was glad when she corrected herself earlier and said “thank you” instead of her usual unnecessary apologies. I also liked how she mentioned she might not have left her job if she had co-workers as kindhearted as Sakurai and Koiwai. This suggests that a part of her didn’t really want to resign, but it felt like the best way out of a bad situation.

In any case, it’s wonderful to behold Moiroka’s jubilation upon returning home and, more importantly, re-entering the MMO as Hayashi after two straight nights of going out and drinking as Morioka. It isn’t long before Lily shows up. Sakurai looked like he was in agony the whole night Koiwai was out with Morioka, but he’s decidedly relieved-looking upon her return to the MMO and his (well, Lily’s) side.

Still, I worry he’s being far too passive. Allow Koiwai go out with Morioka too much unchallenged, and there’s a good chance Koiwai falls for her and says “Sorry Sakura-chan, you had your chance!” Heck, that may already be happening! The only one who can do anything about this sad state of affairs is the one enduring them. And he’s only got four episodes left to do it!

Watashi ga Motete Dousunda – 06

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This week’s WagaMoDo explores one of the pitfalls of fujoshi friendships: what happens when they develop opposing views on which guy in a new anime is on the left side of the shipping “x” and which guy is on the right. Kae is adamant that it’s Lord x Akane; Shina the opposite.

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Once the guys figure out what the heck the girls are actually on about, they set to work trying to mend fences. Igarashi in particular tries to counsel Shina on the error of her ways, but both girls remain ruthlessly stubborn, finally entering into a fan-fiction writing duel that Shina will likely win with her superior writing experience.

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Shina is so caught up in her “justice” that by the time she’s loudly gloating her (surprisingly narrow) victory, Kae is on her hands and knees on the roof, sobbing her eyes out, still not willing to concede Shina’s right. That’s when Iga brings the hammer down: Shina, who claims to love only what is beautiful, has done something ugly…and she knows it.

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We get a lot of Shina’s backstory, from when her talents were shrugged off as a product of her family’s wealth and status, to her need to “find a place for herself” in the world, to her interactions with Kae, whom she always thought was beautiful.

Reminiscing on the events that led to her friendship to Kae, Shina soon realizes she must make amends. Enter Iga once more, giving up Kae’s whereabouts when she won’t answer Shina’s call. Shina arrives just as Kae is also coming around to realizing that she doesn’t want her friendship with Shina to end just because of a relatively petty squabble.

They both compromise, stating Akane and his Lord to be “versatile.” A great episode that deepens our understanding of Shina and presents a very realistic situation in which something small and seemingly innocuous can turn into something big and destructive, but the two girls’ friends never stopped trying not to force them back together, but get them to see for themselves that together is where they belong.

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