Oresuki – 11 – Stifled by Righteousness

After Joro dispatches Tampopo for running another kooky op—this time on him with Pansy’s cooperation—Cosmos rushes in to tell them the bad news: the school is shutting down the library. I won’t go into how bizarre and random a development this is…but it’s as bizarre and random as Tampopo’s ops!

Turns out there IS a way to save Pansy’s haven, but it might be a case of the cure being worse than the disease. It’s nice if her friends all tell their friends to start packing into the library, but isn’t the whole point for Pansy that it’s a place of peace, tranquility, and (present company excepted) relative solitude?

Oddly, this quandary isn’t really addressed, and it suffices that the end of the library remaining open will justify whatever means are used. It could also mean that having been warmly welcomed into Joro’s circle of friends, Pansy is ready to graduate to larger social networks.

Instead of exploring whether the rescued library will still be a place for Pansy, the episode instead ruminates on who is helping with the rescue, and why. Enter Hazuki “Hose” Yasuo, the seemingly perfect buddy who helped Joro out in a previous episode. Joro lacks a large group to call upon to help with filling the library, but he does have Hose.

Hose comes to Joro’s school with Sakurabara “Cherry” Momo and Kusami “Tsukimi” Luna, his StuCo president and childhood friend. It’s like “Bizarro” version of Oresuki, with Hose as Joro, Cherry as Cosmos, and Tsukimi as Himawari. They’ve come to help with the library problem in any way they can.

Joro could have probably predicted the resulting interactions would threaten to supplant him as MC. What Joro doesn’t know until it’s a problem is that Hose, Cherry, and Tsukimi all went to middle school with Pansy. Hose is the boy everyone in class wanted her to date, eventually leading her to disguise herself for high school.

At the end of the day, after Joro orders Asunaro to take Pansy to her house to talk newspaper story on the library (so that a visibly uncomfortable Pansy doesn’t have to walk home with Hose), Cherry and Tsukimi meet with Joro, Cosmos and Himawari. They come right out and say it: they’re both in love with Hose, but are putting their friendship with him and each other before those feelings.

They also know he loves Pansy, so they’re dedicated to getting them together. As the wheels turn in Joro’s head, he can’t help but conclude that there’s nothing inherently wrong or malicious about the two girls’ positions. Tsukimi even directly asked Joro if he liked Pansy. When he reflexively responds in the negative, she takes it as the truth.

That truth is all she needs to know that even if Pansy loves him, she’ll eventually have her heart broken, thus their nudging her towards someone who actually has feelings for her. But there’s a piece of this seemingly even-steven puzzle Joro feels is missing.

That piece is revealed and confirmed when he speaks with Pansy about it: Hose “doesn’t understand the other side of people’s feelings,” and his good intentions unintentionally hurt people. He’s hurting the two girls who love him, but he’s so good and kind and righteous that they feel compelled to put his feelings before their own. And he hurt Pansy too, even if he never meant to.

Pansy likens him to a demon. Even when he resisted his own feelings for her in order to protect her from others in middle school, he was only tackling the surface of her feelings. Joro has seen how conveniently things always seem to work out for Hose, but that’s only because, unlike him, Hose simply isn’t seeing the whole picture. His Bizarro counterpart is a cautionary tale: paths of least resistance can still cause great harm and even suffering.

Joro vows to make sure Pansy won’t be hurt or made uncomfortable any more, but while he’s off doing so, Pansy is confronted by Sun-chan, who for some reason thinks his “chance has finally come around,” following that up with an uncouth smirk. I knew they should have excommunicated this dirtbag when he threatened her back then!

Oresuki – 10 – Mission Creep

This week, Joro ends up back on the Bench from Hell, this time sharing it with a new girl. Well, not entirely new, as we caught a glimpse of her when she refused to participate in the Flower Dance. She’s baseball coach Kamata “Tampopo” Kimie, and right off the bat (pun intended), she exudes arrogance and egotism to match any New York Yankee (or Yomiuri Giant).

Joro at least knows full well by now that no good can come from whatever Tampopo wants during their bench chat. Turns out she wants him to help her hook up Sun-chan and Pansy, so Sun-chan will play better baseball, so their school will Win It All and increase Tampopo’s own notoriety.

Tampopo is so confident of her cuteness, she offers Joro a racy picture of her as payment for his services, which he accepts. But Asunaro happened to spot Joro being pulled into the science lab with Tampopo, and so inserts herself into this little venture. In exchange for being able to observe and write about their progress, she’ll also write a glowing article on Tampopo.

Asunaro loves a good story, but she’s also rooting for Pansy to get hooked up with someone other than Joro, which will increase her chances with him. Of course, that still leaves Cosmos, Tsubaki, and Himawari in the way. And while the episode almost forgets about poor sidelined Sasanqua, I won’t—though her brave attempt to ask Joro out to an amusement park while her clique watches…doesn’t go so well. The frikkin’ Queen Bee of his class wants to date him, and he doesn’t see it!

After a very ill-conceived quasi-military operation crashes and burns (earning Tampopo the deserved moniker “Commander Crazypants”) Joro offers a counter-scheme. To serve as the romantic rival Tampopo believes is needed to bring Pansy and Sun together, Joro will come right out and confess to Pansy behind the school. But that’s just what Joro says will take place.

At first I was worried that Joro was again playing games with people rather than being honest and confronting conflicts when they exist (as he’s done thus far in his happy little library group), thus inviting further ire from Pansy. However, that’s not the case! He actually brings Pansy in on this, with the new information that Tampopo and Pansy went to the same middle school.

Back then, before she disguised herself, Pansy was often pressured into getting a boyfriend by her peers. With this scheme, Tampopo hoped to get her a boyfriend by using Joro as an indirect catalyst rather than repeating the direct pressure of the past. She was thinking of Pansy. Tampopo’s baseball connection with Sun was just a happy coincidence.

Pansy then tells Tampopo that she’s already in love with Joro (AKA “Slipper Man”). When asks why she went through so much subterfuge when telling the truth from the start would have been fine, Tampopo hesitates then runs off before telling “the truth.” Is that truth that she actually likes Joro, and was getting Pansy out of the way?

Regardless, this was a mostly self-contained episode designed to introduce yet another girl to Joro’s already sizable cadre, but at the unfortunate cost of marginalizing another (Sasanqua), not to mention stop Himawari’s recent developments in their tracks. It didn’t really feel necessary.

Then there’s Cosmos, whose pained looks this week might be less about being neglected of late, and more because she’s the only one who knows the school is planning to close the library—Pansy’s sanctuary and their sacred meeting place—and not even she as StuCo President can do anything about it. I’m just hoping that on a show now brimming with relationships, a non-relationship plot development won’t get in the way in the last two episodes.

I also hope there’s a second season!

Programming Note: Just as there was no Oresuki episode last week, there’s no Cautious Hero episode this week.

Oresuki – 05 – Not Working Out

We saw Asunaro’s smirk last week as she looked over an inflammatory article about Joro’s alleged three-timing, so when she invited him up on the roof, I feared the worst for him, even as he thought Asunaro was poised to confess. It isn’t until he sees that damnable bench that he knows nothing good will come of their imminent conversation.

Sure enough, Asunaro isn’t there to confess, but to warn him about the article she’s about to publish documenting his Don-Juanery, with photos of him very close to Cosmos, Himawari and Pansy to prove it. However, Asunaro believes in publishing the truth, and so agrees to shadow Joro and give him a chance to clear his name.

Sure enough, his next interaction with Cosmos does nothing to assuage Asunaro’s suspicions. He asks the three girls if they can just keep their distance for a bit, and all refuse. On the contrary, he’s doomed to stick close to them until the festival, as he’s been chosen as the boy in the Flower Dance, while Cosmos and Himawari are two of the three girls with whom he’ll dance.

When Cosmos asks if he’ll accompany her to meet the first-year who will be the third to dance with him, he asks if she’ll treat him more strictly around Asunaro, but she ends up pulls out a completely over-the-top full samurai lord act. As for the first year, the nasty rumors about Joro are still floating around her grade, and he’s known as the “Slipper Man” for licking girls’ hallway shoes. So yeah…she’s out of the Flower Dance.

Cosmos picks Sun to replace her (still not sure why Sun is even in the picture anymore after his horrendous threat to Pansy), and gets permission from the adults, which means the whole study group (plus Pansy) end up spending more time together, both practicing and buying outfits for the dance. The more she shadows him during these events, the less Asunaro is convinced of the accuracy of her article—which, it should be said, begs the question of why it ever got from draft to ready-to-print status.

That fact ends up costing Joro a lot when the unedited original article is accidentally published and distributed to the whole school. Joro is confronted by the elites in his class who promise punishment for anyone who hurts girls. They’re not even entirely convinced when President Cosmos arrives to defend him, as they suspect she’s one of the three girls in the article. It takes Asunaro to call them off, and she seems incredibly apologetic and upset to the point she doesn’t even check her dialect.

She offers to personally retrieve every copy, but there’s no letting the genie out of the bottle, and Cosmos seems to realize that when she can’t convince the gals. She decides to call off the rest of the practices between her, and basically tells him it will be best to avoid hanging around each other for the time being. Not just her, but Himawari and Pansy too. Cosmos is worried continuing to interact so closely will only create more misunderstandings, for which Joro will bear the brunt.

This leaves Asunaro as the only girl still in Joro’s orbit at the end of the episode, and considering how many twists this show has already presented, part of me can’t help but wonder if this was her plan all along. The article, the rooftop meeting, the shadowing, the “accidental” publishing, her offer to help fix everything, and finally, her eagerness to practice dancing with him (in which she appears to take great joy); all of that can be construed as a sequence of actions undertaken by someone who wanted to likes Joro and wanted to isolate him from the other girls.

If that was the plan, it’s worked perfectly so far. Chances are it wasn’t the plan, because this is Oresuki, which loves flipping the script. But if it was, she hasn’t achieved total victory quite yet; Cosmos watched them dancing on the roof, and despite being a bit of a goofball most of the time, has the smarts to expose and foil Asunaro’s plot…again, if it is indeed even the plot!

Oresuki – 02 – Golden Sombrero

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Joro’s thankless parallel missions to help both Cosmos and Himawari win the heart of the same guy would continue on for a number of episodes, but this week that’s just a small part of a much bigger picture, as the plot progresses farther than I could have anticipated. Lesser shows might’ve have kept the cupid act going longer, but Oresuki sweeps it all aside in favor of something new. It has more to say. Much more.

It also reveals something I touched on last week: the intentional repetition of situations and dialogue that lend the show an appealing poetic rhythm. While Cosmos and Himawari are equally terrible in executing the plans Joro lays out for them (due mostly to how nervous they get around Sun), their particular ways of bombing are both unique to their characters. It takes a lot of hands-on involvement from Joro to get the two definite dates with Sun.

But it’s not just the girls’ ineptness that makes things hard for Joro. Either consciously or not, Sun is simply hesitant to go on a date with either Cosmos or Himawari, and on Pansy’s urging, learns that there’s a girl Sun already likes. In a third “Darth Bench” scene, Sun confesses to Joro that he’s in love with Pansy, adding further complexity to an already unwieldy love polygon. His story is also very similar to the girls’, as there was a third exit from which he encounter Pansy, who encouraged him after seeing him cry.

This scene with Sun features some subtle yaoi undertones, such that until he specifically said “girl” instead of the vaguer “someone,” I thought Sun might confess his love for Joro. Not only that, after the way Joro genuinely blushes when Cosmos and Himawari mentions his strong bond with Sun, I had to remind myself that Joro was interested (at least initially) in those girls…and hence not into Sun.

Joro refuses to help Sun with Pansy, claiming not to know her well enough (partly true, but also partly a lie) but when Sun brings up a baseball metaphor, Joro responds with advice as if it were about baseball and not love. Sun’s confession of love for Pansy ups the danger for Joro exponentially, since that bombshell renders not just one but both of his cupid missions futile.

When Sun sees Joro talking with Pansy about Sun, and Pansy gets angry for Joro cruelly pushing his friend on her when it’s him she loves,  he gets suspicious. But Pansy of all people bails Joro out, confirming Joro’s claim that they’re not close and were only talking about official school business.

Still, Joro keeps Cosmos and Himawari in the dark, clearly overestimating how much time he has before they find out on their own…which of course they do when Sun does the same thing to the two of them that they did to Joro: ask them to help him get closer to someone else…in this case, Pansy!

That brings us to the Golden Sombrero, a baseball term for when a batter strikes out four times in a game. In this episode, Joro strikes out once when he’s not entirely honest with Sun vis-a-vis Pansy, once when he’s callously dismissive of Pansy, and twice more when he tries to explain to Cosmos and Himawari why he kept Sun’s true feelings from them.

As a result of Joro’s Golden Sombrero, his friendships with both Cosmos and Himawari are in the toilet, all because he took Sun’s words about baseball literally and inadvertently advised him to do what he thought best, which was to ask the two girls he went on a date with about another girl. His friendship with Sun seems secure for now, but Joro is still keeping him in the dark about who Pansy really likes.

That brings us to his latest scheduled meeting with Pansy in the library after some time off, which I assumed was to get a possibly-still-suspicious Sun off their trail. Instead, Pansy comments about how “interesting” things have gotten now that Joro’s plans for the girls have gone up in smoke and the girls are now doing what Joro did for them: supporting someone they love in their quest to be with someone else.

Early in the episode, I wanted to take Joro to task for being so unceasingly hostile towards Pansy in all of their interactions, since we hadn’t really experienced enough of Pansy as a character to justify that attitude. And yet, here we are, with Pansy effortlessly manipulating people and having a gas doing it! She even brings Cosmos, Himawari, and Sun to the library in order to find out how much more interesting things can get.

While that final twist feels very Jerry Springer-esque, it’s entirely earned by the events that preceded it. Sun may be the school’s ace pitcher, but when it comes to twisting people into knots with change-ups and curveballs off the diamond, Pansy wins walking away!

Oresuki: Are You Really the Only One Who Likes Me? – 01 (First Impressions) – Why is that Bench There?

Right off the bat, Oresuki looks good—and keeps looking good; there’s a lot of love in the animation and character design—but otherwise feels so damn boring. Ordinary high school kid narrating? Check. Childhood friend who likes him, unbeknownst to him? Check. Regal StuCo Prez who won’t give him the time of day? Check. Everyone has nicknames. Stop narrating! Show, don’t tell!

So, it’s not looking good. But then interesting things start happening. First, Regal StuCo Prez Akino “Cosmos” Sakura asks Ordinary high school kid Kisaragi “Joro” Amatsuyu out on a Saturday date…but it’s not what he thinks. When she sits him down on a bench, she doesn’t confess her love for him, but his best friend, Ooga “Sun” Taiyou. She wants him to help her go out with him.

The next day, Joro spends the day with his childhood friend, Hinata “Himawari” Aoi. She sits him down on a bench and confesses her love not for him, but for Sun! Even more hilarious, she fell in love with him at the same exact time Cosmos did—when they spotted him from opposite sides of a hall secretly crying after a big team loss.

Needless to say, Joro is pissed off; he was aware that Himawari had feelings for him, and no doubt saw her as a reliable Plan B. Instead, because he can’t resist either of the girls’ charms in the moment, he agrees to help both of them get with his best friend, whom Joro admits is quite a catch.

As all of this goes down, Joro shares his inner thoughts with us, the audience, like Fleabag in…Fleabag. And while he’s patient and dutiful to both Himawari and Cosmos as the two bomb in their attempts to naturally approach Sun, his Plan C is to help both of them and let Sun decide, and he’ll ask out whomever Sun rejects. I mean, Sun can’t date both of them…can he? (He totally can.)

But the sequence of twists in Joro’s carefully manicured bonsai of a plan for high school love is not yet finished: there’s a third bench. That bench is purchased on Amazon by the librarian’s aide Sanshokuin “Pansy” Sumireko, a girl who is quiet and meek to everyone but Joro, whom she teases and berates at every turn.

As Joro learns when she makes him sit on that third bench (to the tune of a modified arrangement of “The Imperial March”, hilariously enough), Sumireko is in love with him. Not Cosmos, not Himawari, but Pansy. Furthermore, she’s been stalking him for a while and the Joro she’s fallen for isn’t the Nice Joro he presents to everyone else. She wants Inner Thoughts Joro. Mean Joro. The Joro he only shows us, the odd slip-up aside.

Just like that, Mr. Calm, Cool, and Cynical is totally off-balance. Someone he’d never imagined would come close to liking him is the only one who likes him. Yet of the three young women, Pansy seems like the one best suited for him—I mean, she likes the guy beneath the surface! And though we saw her the least this week, I’m sure we’ll see a lot more of her, even as Joro tries to stick to his Plan C.

Oresuki starts out cliched and obvious on purpose, so when interesting things start happening and it flips the script on you not once or twice but three times, you’re that much more surprised and delighted. Or at least I was. But you don’t have to take my word for it…go watch it!

The Garden of Words (Film Review)

Tokyo is one of the largest, busiest, most lively cities in the world, but there’s an oasis of tranquility right near its heart, and I’m not talking about the mostly off-limits Imperial Palace Grounds. I speak of Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, once a private estate in the Edo period, and also the primary setting of Shinkai Makoto’s 2013 film The Garden of Words.

I’ll admit my review comes very late—so late, in fact, in the time between the release of the film and the day I’m writing a review of it, its co-lead Akizuki Takao would be 19 (not 15), making a potential romantic relationship with Yukino Yukari, who would be 31 (not 27) more socially acceptable. But here it is!

Akizuki loves rainy mornings. He loves them so much, he’ll skip school to visit Shinjuku Gyoen and enjoy it. One day, while preparing to sit at a sheltered bench overlooking the gardens, he encounters Yukino: a beautiful, mysterious woman in work clothes drinking beer and eating chocolate alone.

While 15, Akizuki is wiser and more mature than his years. He finds high school a major drag, and mostly stresses about a practical way to support himself doing what he loves: designing and making shoes. But when he visits the park and shares the bench with Yukino, he feels like he’s in a more mature environment, where he can sketch shoes or just shoot the breeze with her.

Their encounters also become important to Yukino, who we learn is preparing to quit her job, and is clearly in the park to escape said job and the stress/pain it causes, which was apparently bad enough that she lost her sense of taste for a time, only being able to enjoy beer and chocolate.

Not only is the hard-working Akizuki a shoemaker-in-the-making, he’s also a part-timer at a restaurant and cooks a lot at home, making him a better cook than Yukino. Thanks to the meals he shares, Yukino starts to enjoy eating again.

Wanting to help him with a woman’s shoe design, Yukino removes her shoe and lets Akizuki hold and measure her bare foot, in an intimate, even sensual scene that also happens to be practical.

That intimacy is heightened by the made-for-a-couple sheltered-bench and the gorgeous environs. But while she’ll give him her foot, Yukino never talks about herself, her life, or her struggles, no matter how much Akizuki talks about his.

Unfortunately Akizuki has to find that out when he spots Yukino, or rather Yukino-sensei, at his school—she’s a teacher there. He had no idea of that, or that she’d been taking days off because the boyfriend of a student fell for her which led to unsavory rumors about her being promiscuous and verbal and emotional abuse from her upperclassmen students.

Yukino is pained to hear all this treatment, and that she’s quitting because of it, but likely also hurt that Yukino never told him anything, or that she could even possibly have known he was a student at the school but kept him in the dark.

Whatever the case, he decides the injustice done to Yukino should have a response from someone who has come to care about her, so he confronts the upperclassmen, starts a fight, and loses. After school, they meet at the gardens, but he doesn’t tell her he fought to protect her honor.

After giving her the correct answer to her tanka poem from their first encounter, Akizuki and Yukino find themselves caught in a torrential downpour, and even when they get back under cover, they’re both soaked.

They apparently take it as a good omen, and go to Yukino’s apartment, where they change into dry clothes, and while he’s waiting for his uniform to dry, Akizuki makes Yukino a delicious meal, both noting they’re having some of the happiest moments of their lives, right there and then.

Like the sunlight, it doesn’t last, and as the sky darkens with more rainclouds, a sudden confession of love from Akizuki is countered by Yukino correcting him: “Yukino-sensei”. Akizuki hears her loud and clear: he’s a kid; she’s not, and that’s the end of it. So he changes into his still-wet clothes and storms off, just as the storm outside picks up.

Yukino doesn’t want to leave things there, so after stewing, suddenly alone in her apartment, with even Akizuki’s coffee still steaming, she does the romantic movie thing where one comes to their senses, rushes out of the house, and chases after the one they love.

When she finds him paused on a balcony, he takes back his confession and starts spewing vitriol about her intentions, but later in the rant it becomes more about why she couldn’t simply tell him, a stupid little kid, to piss off and stop bothering her. Why she never said anything to him while sharing that bench.

Yukino’s response, also classic romantic movie, is to run into his arms and sob just as the sun peeks back out from between the clouds, finally telling him why she went to that bench again and again, and how being with him helped her “learn how to walk on her own” again; how he essentially saved her.

Yukino still moves out of that apartment, back to her hometown, where she’s still a teacher. But she later writes to Akizuki, and as he reads the letter in the park where they met and spent so much time and where they taught each other how to walk, he seriously considers going to her hometown someday to see her.

The Garden of Words is gorgeous, as is expected of a Shinkai film, with its near-photorealistic exteriors, lived-in interiors, and fantastic lighting and details all around. At just 46 minutes, it runs brisk but never feels rushed, but rather feels just as long as it should be.

It also felt like a particularly intimate/personal film, though not for the reason you’d expect: I once sat at the exact same bench in Shinjuku Gyoen they sat at, unhurriedly sketching the gardens and writing about my day (though as you can see, the real one has an ashtray.) If you’re ever there I highly recommend it, just as I recommend this lush and moving little film.