Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 10

Now that they’ve arrived at Antarctica, the expedition weighs anchor and starts to bring supplies ashore using a very badass helicopter. The high school girls take a trip (which Yuzu likes not at all) and get to see the ship from the sky (it’s a thrilling bit of CGI) before being deposited at Syowa Station.

Kanae gives the girls—and by extension us—a tour of the facilities, including seperate bedrooms for all four of them, a luxury after having to share a berth at sea. While spartan, the habitations are also quite cozy and homey, far nicer than what I was expecting.

I really enjoyed the contrast between the cool Antarctic “night” (light-wise it stays dusk at its darkest) and the warm, inviting, lived-in interiors; the perfect place to kick back after a hard day’s work.

As unloading, cleaning, and other duties mount, Yuzu learns she’s been offered a role on a popular Japanese TV drama (there’s cell service at the station), but is worried it would mean, as it’s always meant throughout her career, the end of her time with Mari, Shirase and Hinata.

True to that career, she even comes up with a “friendship contract” for them to sign, causing Mari to cry and hug Yuzu with a distinct “you poor thing” vibe.

There were times when Yuzu seemed almost painfully naive about what friends and friendship are, but then I remembered that these three girls are her first, so naturally she wouldn’t be sure when the threshold of friendship had passed. Of course, no one really knows when that happens; friendships may not be as solid and structured as marriages or parenthood, but that’s what sets them apart as something special.

Mari takes the time to impart some wisdom to Yuzu regarding what she considers friendship (since it can be different for everyone) using Megumi as an example. Mari has been sending her pics, and whether Megu responds right away or as often or not, she always knows when Megumi has seen the message by the notification on the phone. That, in turn, helps Mari imagine what Megumi might be doing or thinking about in that moment.

With that, the other three arrive and unveil what they had been planning for Yuzu all along: a surprise birthday party. Her real birthday passed when they were all horribly seasick, so the Christmas party made her sad.

So the girls prepped some poppers and cake so that she could celebrate her very first birthday with friends. It’s almost too much to handle, as Yuzu starts bawling and can’t even speak clearly because of all the tears and snot.

But the next day, when Mari and Yuzu are off doing different tasks, Yuzu sends Mari a text not apologizing, but thanking her. Just a simple little check-in that lets both Mari and Yuzu know that they’re thinking of one another. Finally, Yuzu seems to get what friendship is, and that one should never overthink it.

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Koi to Uso – 01 (First Impressions)

To combat its low birth rate, the Japanese government institutes a system of arranged marriage, selecting partners for its citizens when they turn sixteen. Romance between unassigned partners is FORBIDDEN. This…is a comically ludicrous system, but in Koi to Uso (Love and Lies) it’s the law of the land, and apparently it’s not only okay with most of the population, but has actually stabilized the population.

But c’mon, what the heck is up with that system? That’s straight-up eugenics right there. And when you dabble in that, you invariably end up with evil warlords like Khan. Thankfully, our two protagonists, Nejima Yukari (who has the same damn name as the system) and Takasaki Misaki (Hanazawa Kana), are among those who don’t subscribe to a system that coldly forbids them from being with the one they love; namely each other.

Unfortunately, the “romance” of Takasaki Misaki and Nejima Yukari is almost as big a farce as the Yukari Law. Consider: one day, years ago, after four class periods of hesitation, Yukari lends Misaki half of his eraser. She whispers “thank you” in his ear and smiles, and he falls deeply in love. Okay, he’s a little boy; she’s a pretty girl; fine.

But…But…that’s the extent of their contact together…for years, until he approaches her in the hall and asks her to meet up with him after school. After waiting about four hours, Yukari gets up to leave (after building sand burial mounds [??????]), but Misaki shows up at the last second.

When Yukari confesses, Misaki not only quickly returns his feelings, but the two embrace, have their first kiss, and then start french kissing in the space of a couple of minutes. After watching the slow development of a first romance in Tsuki ga Kirei, this development is waaay too fast and unearned. I don’t know either of these jokers! They barely know each other! I’m usually the one who thinks it takes too long to get to first-name basis or hand-holding or kissing…but this didn’t take enough time by half.

As if that wasn’t enough ludicrousness, right in the middle of making out, Yukari gets his government notice, but his phone is on the fritz like a TV, and he thinks he sees Misaki’s name before it cuts out completely.  Moments later, government officials appear in the park, at midnight, to personally deliver Yukari’s notice, which does not name Misaki, but someone named Sanada Lilina.

Did they use his GPS to find him? Couldn’t it wait till morning? Would a system as strict as this really allow such loose language about never marrying in its schools, like the kind we heard earlier in the episode. Devastated by the fake-out, Yukari then finds himself having to chase a distraught Misaki, and because she’s not on the track team, he catches her and they embrace once more.

So there you go: really bizarre authoritarian breeding system in an otherwise normal Japanese society; forbidden love that’s extremely fast-paced in its development, leaving no room for suspension of disbelief…and REALLY BIG EYES. Interested? No lying!

Tsuki ga Kirei – 08

Simplicity can contain multitudes. By that, I mean sometimes there’s a lot to be found in a pure, unembellished tale of first love of the kind blooming between Koutarou and Akane. With Chinatsu out of the way (an unpleasant but necessary step), all that stands between the two is their gossiping peers at school, eager to know all there is to know.

But there isn’t that much to know. Akane doesn’t even give a straight answer to the question “Why Azumi?” She may not be able to put it in words, but that doesn’t bother her; she doesn’t care why she likes him, she just…does. And he likes her, which is why they now actively do all they can to see as much of each other as possible, during which time they’ll explore more about the ‘why’.

During their private lunch in the library, Kotarou gets a text asking him to attend a hayashi practice, and Akane pounces on the opportunity to see her boyfriend perform, which he does. Just as Akane seemed to run harder, Kotarou dances harder, impressing the hell out of his girlfriend.

Kotarou also gets nods of approval from his hayashi peers, one of whom suggests the couple attend Hikawa Shrine’s Summer festival, famous for its hanging wind chime fortunes. Akane arrives at their meeting spot for the date in full yukata. Kotarou is loving the look; Akane is loving how he’s loving it.

A near-perfect festival date ensues, with no one getting lost or bumping into unwanted secondary characters. Akane also cuts her foot on her sandal, but Kotarou tenderly bandages it when she can’t bend over in the yukata. They don’t let anything spoil their enjoyment of the night and of each other.

Akane ducks away for a bit, but only once she hears Kotarou’s most recent birthday has already passed, and decides to get him a little present: the same beanbag stress toy she has. The only remaining ‘drama’ is her trying to finding the right time and place to present it to him.

Once she does, she feels much better, and Kotarou is grateful, and decides the time has come for him to call his girlfriend by her first name, and she, in turn, calls him by his. And with no one around to suddenly stop them, they finally connect for real on their first kiss, finishing what they started last week and hadn’t been able to stop thinking about.

It all happens to the tune of a rendition of “Summer Festival”, which I last heard in Re:Life. The camera keeps a tasteful distance, underscoring how the two must feel like they’re in their own little world. The next time her friends at school ask, Akane can tell them being with Kotarou makes her feel safe.

The parting shot of what the two wrote on their chime wishes—they both wrote the same thing: to be together forever—is a little mushy, but who cares! I daresay these kids are gonna be alright, and there’s a quiet thrill in watching them steadily improve at this thing called courtship.

Orange – 09

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Now that it’s confirmed everyone in Naho’s circle has letters from their future selves guiding them support Naho and Kakeru, we see the first instance of someone other than Naho and Suwa reading their letter and acting on it. In this case, it’s Azusa, whose letters are a lot more fancy and flowery than Naho’s austere correspondence.

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The letter instructs her, during her birthday, to make sure everyone refuses to let Kakeru borrow their umbrella, so that he and Naho can share one and walk home together. It works like a charm, and just like that, Orange has arrived in episode 9 where Momokuri got in it’s second half-episode.

Naho even holds out her hand for him to take, insisting once isn’t enough. But the two still maintain they’re fine with things they way they are, rather than officially going out.

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That’s a not entirely honest position that is put to the test during the sports festival, when the group of friends are to participate in a relay. There are a number of events preceding that race, during which we get a look at everyone’s parents.

Suwa makes sure Kakeru’s grandma comes so he’s not too lonely…but he still feels lonely, because he’s not sure how long it will be before he has to move, before he “disappears.”

Suwa elects to rattle his cage, asking him if it’s really okay to not be going out with Naho, and if it’s really okay with him if he went out with Naho. Kakeru, gloomy and dejected, says that would be fine; not even a bad idea. He’s still speaking from a place of self-hatred and resignation to an uncertain, lonely life in the wake of his mother’s suicide.

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Things take a turn for the worse between Naho and Kakeru when the former dresses Suwa’s wound with the same care she bandaged Kakeru a ways back. The timing sucks, and when Naho offers to dress his wounds too, Kakeru recoils, even slapping her hand away. Immediately ashamed, he scurries off, and Naho wonders what she did wrong (nothing, really).

But Suwa is still optimistic that he’s put Kakeru on the right track to more forcefully and confidently stake a claim and pursue that which he wants – Naho. I’m…less optimistic. Even with the whole circle of friends working toward a single goal, it isn’t going to be easy to bring Kakeru and Naho closer together.

Not when they’re so cripplingly inept at courtship, and possess so little self-worth, thinking the other person too good for them. I don’t envy their friends: this isn’t going to be a smooth ride, and a future where Kakeru is with them is far from assured when he’s still speaking with dark permenance about the certainty of ‘disappearing’.

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Orange – 07

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Orange continues to be a particularly hard show to assail, which explains all the 10s I’ve been doling out. It is without question First in Feels, that ahs affected me like no show since AnoHana.

Like many mysteries in fiction, I believe like my RABUJOI comrades that less is more in terms of explanation. To that end, Orange has kept away from explainin how the future letters work. What matters is that they are a means for Kakeru’s salvation, and now Naho is no longer alone in that struggle, and never was.

Suwa suggests they coordinate their moves in order to share the load of saving Kakeru. They do so by finding out his birthday and then asking him what he wants. Not only to Suwa and Naho do this, but the others as well who (as far as we know) are unaware of the letters.

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But because Kakeru and Taka want to support Naho’s pursuit of Kakeru, even being out of the loop doesn’t stop them from helping the cause. Taka finall gets to directly threaten Ueda, but stops short of assault and instead promises the school will know of the scorned girl’s continued bullying if it persists.

It’s still troubling that Ueda continues to pop up on the edges, since she still represents a wild card in the grander scheme of saving Kakeru, but good to see the united front against her. I daresay I’m also starting to feel bad for Ueda. Awful a person as she is, it’s true Kakeru dumped her pretty  fast, and if she’s going to be dumped, then Naho needs to—and forgive the crude metaphor—piss or get off the pot.

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Back in the old future, Naho, Suwa & Co. are still visiting Kakeru’s room, and the others reveal to Naho that Kakeru always loved him. Naturally, Naho’s instinct is to blame her inability to give a response contributed to the spiral of depression that led to his demise.

This time, they remember his birthday, Naho gets him a flashy sports bag—to replace the one his mom threw out in an act of possessiveness, an important symbol of moving on. Suwa gets Kakeru flowers, like he jokingly asked for, but just as Suwa does in his place in the future, Kakeru immediately gives the flowers to Naho, as an even stronger symbol of his feelings.

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Their friends file out and allow Kakeru to properly confess his feelings for Naho, though he doesn’t expect an immediate response. That’s just as well, because it takes some nudging from her friends for Naho to summon the courage to answer him.

Not only that, it takes a letter dated September 23, the day Kakeru attempted suicide after his friends from Tokyo visited and laughed off his stated desire to die. Neither Naho nor Suwa are going to let that happen. Suwa joins Naho and Kakeru for one of the tensest and most emotionally intense scenes in the show so far.

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In it, Suwa tells Kakeru no to hang out with his Tokyo friends, but with them, and goes further, saying he doesn’t want to just laugh with him. He, and Naho, want to know what’s really troubling him. Suwa’s firmness gets Kakeru to admit he wants to die all the time because he regrets breaking his promise to his mother and thinking her texts were “pain.”

As Suwa rightly puts is, Kakeru did nothing wrong. Everyone at some point feels the way he felt. It wasn’t his fault his mom died, and they don’t want him to continue blaming himself for everything. Not only that, Naho chimes in at the right time to deliver her unequivocal response: she loves him, and doesn’t want him to go away.

Kakeru’s joyful tears and smile are still tinged with melancholy, but Naho is in. She did what her past self could not, and she and Suwa, with their friends’ help, changed the future once more for the better. Now that Kakeru and Naho know how they feel about one another, the question becomes what comes next, and how to keep the good going.

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Macross Delta – 16

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Aside from a brief (and fairly pointless) visit to Windermere and a scene with Mikumo proposing they use the ruins to counter the Song of the Wind, this episode was given over completely to celebrating Freyja’s fifteenth birthday with a surprise party. As it’s the middle of a Windermeran’s lifespan, Maki and Reina wanted to make it special.

In other words, there’s no action whatsoever, nor is there any movement on the galactic war front. The episode is carried only by the characters, so how much you enjoyed it depends on how much you like and/or care about said characters when they’re not fighting (or singing) to save the galaxy.

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I went on record as saying I liked how desperate things had gotten a couple weeks back when the lights went off on the Island Ship, but now that Elysion is docked with it, there’s little difference between the ship and being on Ragna, which kind of undermines the peril.

That said, I did appreciate the efforts made to expound on the Freyja/Hayate/Mirage triangle in a less stressful environment. At the same time, Mirage’s shopping “date” makes it clear Hayate is “denser than a black hole”, as his stalkers put it.

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He’s aware that he has a special bond with Freyja (and even hears her song from afar), but he doesn’t come right out an call it romance, nor is he even a little aware of Mirage’s burgeoning feelings for him. Mirage plays the good friend to both, though, when the night of the party comes.

The party is when Freyja and the episode shine, as her story about when she discovered Earth music and started singing for her villagewas actually very moving. Her surprise and elation at everyone coming together for her sake was also infectious.

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Finally, Hayate is very late to the party, but for a good reason: after a lengthy but fruitless trip to the mall, he realized the best birthday gift he could give her was home, in the form of snow. And if he realized how close he was to Freyja before, their little moment in the snow was likely the final nail the coffin for poor Mirage and her unacknowledged, unrequited love.

Then again, there were moments for both Ranka Lee and Sheryl Nome when one thought the other had won the Alto Sweepstakes, and it ended up being a triangle that was never broken in Frontier. But in terms of who made the most of this brief respite from intergalactic warfare, I’m inclined to place Freyja firmly in the winner’s column.

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Momokuri – 03 + 04

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Momokuri sticks to is tried-and-true formula of getting comedy out of the fact that Momo isn’t aware of how head-over-heels infatuated with him Yuki actually is. Dialogue cuts to her saying outrageous things that are true to her feelings, but those responses are only imagined.

It creates a nice romantic tension, especially considering Yuki is just as oblivious to the fact that Momo is actually really into her too, just not in the same stalker-y way. He even chokes down black coffee to show how mature he is, a ruse Yuki sees right through but appreciates Momo doing it nonetheless.

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You’d think someone so obsessed with Momo would exert a good deal of energy keeping him away from other girls, but to my (and Norika’s) surprise, she couldn’t care less that the girls in his class are all over him, even on his birthday. It just means more opportunities for her to snap pics of his adorable expressions.

Yuki’s gift for Momo is a homemade cheesecake, but the show doesn’t make a big deal about her being good at baking; she just followed the recipe and it turned out…until she hit a pole and dropped it. Momo ends up giving himself a gift that doubles as a gift for Yuki: a simple holding of hands. He saw the opportunity and took the initiative.

Meanwhile, a short-haired girl lurks around the corner…

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Episode four is all about a study session that Yuki arranges with friends of Momo and Norika. Her motives are twofold: help Momo pass exams so she won’t lose him for two weeks of their Summer to extra classes; and the opportunity to visit his house, see his bed, pillow, air, etc.

Again Momo edits her thoughts when responding to one of Momo’s friends when they ask why she likes Momo. Instead of saying his a godlike being, she merely says he’s cute; something his friends agree on, becaue he’s so wee.

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The study session is an opportunity for Yuki to serve her cheesecake for Momo, and for the two to flirt in the kitchen (provoking a little light ribbing from his pals in the next room). During the studying, Momo notices one of his friends has grown pretty friendly with Yuki; while she’s not the nervous type, he apparently is.

The session goes well into the night, so the girls volunteer to head to the supermarket to buy stuff to make dinner. There, we see the short-haired girl int he track suit once more; this time near Yuki by coincidence.

Momokuri is sweet, funny, and uncomplicated, making it eminently watchable. Will the introduction of a new girl ruin that? I hope not.

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Boku dake ga Inai Machi – 04

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In theory, Satoru’s task is simple: if he remains in close contact with Kayo consistently for one more week, and they can celebrate their birthdays together at his house, he believes he’ll be able to change history by preventing her kidnapping and murder.

He makes it a point to try to hang out with Kayo on a Saturday date to the museum, hoping to get her away from her home so her mother won’t be tempted to beat her. And in another amusing instance of Satoru-29 thinking out loud, Satoru doesn’t mince words in asking Kayo on a date.

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Kayo’s mother proves a formidable obstacle to that day of bliss – were it not for Satoru’s truly heroic mother stopping Kayo’s mom from striking her after she admits she wants to go out. With Sachiko there (who knows exactly what kind of person she is), Kayo’s mom, concerned with appearances, weighs her options and decides to allow the date.

Thank goodness after Satoru and his mom left the episode didn’t cut to Kayo’s mom taking out her anger on Kayo. When I saw Satoru and Kayo standing before the stuffed bear, I breathed a sigh of relief.

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Of course, this being far more than just a slice-of-life romantic tale, it’s not all peaches and sunshine at the museum. On numerous occasions, Satoru gets deja vu-style flashes of Kayo saying and doing things she’s already said and done, leading him (and me) to believe that he hasn’t yet taken Kayo off the path that leads to her death, and the future won’t be changed so easily.

The film reel pattern in the letterboxing and the visualization of the various timelines as a tangle of said film is effectively used but not overused, particularly when both fast-forward to the same outcome: Kayo’s funerary portrait and total defeat.

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Satoru sticks to the plan, his courage buoyed, not cowed by his sense of duty to protect and save Kayo. He thinks out loud, in front of the whole class, that Kayo is pretty (her reactions to these slip-ups are priceless), he walks her home before being intercepted by her mother, and he tells her he’ll be at her house in the morning – the morning of Day X, which will decide everything – so they can walk to school together, which they do hand in hand.

If one were to liken Satoru’s quest as a war, we would call his 29-year-old self a grizzled veteran, hardened by the despair of the bad future that didn’t just affect him and Kayo negatively. Yuuki’s in prison and his mom is dead. There’s a lot riding on his success, but his previous 10-year-old self would never have been able to achieve what he achieves during this week, because he lacked that foresight, that loss of innocence, that ability to see beyond himself. This Satoru can.

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So he only very grudingly breaks contact with Kayo on this last day, seeing her right to her door, getting up before midnight to watch over her house and wait for the stroke of midnight. This entire day and in particular those last moments of it, are positively brimming with suspence, so much so I had to make sure to control my breathing just in case something awful transpired.

The episode also made sure to show us what Kenya, Yashiro, and Kayo’s mom – all persons of interest with regards to her potential disappearance – but none of them are anywhere near Kayo, and aren’t doing anything suspicious. When the second hand ticked past the twelve, I felt I could relax a little…but only a little.

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Seeing Kayo in her jammies receive a waiting Satoru at her door was a moment of triumph, as well as another perfect use of her unofficial catchphrase “Are you stupid?” As the hours and minutes until their birthday party ticked away, the suspense started to build all over again, especially when Yashiro told the two to do cleaning duty after school.

Turns out both that, and the suspicious-at-the-time meeting between Yashiro and Kenya that ended last week, were perfectly innocent: Satoru’s friends planned a surprise party for him and Kayo. Isn’t that something? Gee, it’s really dusty in here…or maybe there’s an raw onion nearby? *sniffle*

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The joy and mirth of the festivities are matched, and then some, when the episode inevitably, mercilessly brings the hammer down. At some point Satoru has to walk Kayo home and wish her good night, she promises to give him his birthday present tomorrow, and waves goodbye wearing the mittens he got her.

The promise is never fulfilled. The next morning at school, Kayo is absent. Satoru was able to change the future, but only by one day. I’d say I can only imagine what became of her in those evening hours they were apart…but I honestly have no freakin’ clue.

When confronting Kayo’s mother, Satoru exclaims, beyond the years of his physical body, “when it comes to saving a friend, there are no gains and losses!” And he’s absolutely right. Just as he wrongly thought getting past the X-Day was a victory, he’s wrong if he thinks this latest development is a loss.

Even if it is, and even if he doesn’t have ready acces to an IBN 5100, the results of those past battles don’t matter. The war goes on. It has really only just begun.

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Boku dake ga Inai Machi – 03

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We bear witness to some truly dark, viscerally awful events in this episode from which my heart is still hurting, but also glimmers of brightness, joy, and hope, even as a vice seems to close around an unwitting Satoru. He may be 29 in a 10-year-old’s body, but there’s still so much he doesn’t know about Kayo’s disappearance, those glimmers can’t quite cut through the gloom of his predicament, especially considering this could be it; his last chance.

He will have to do his absolute best in order to save Kayo, something he does not do when he intentionally slows and lets his athletically-superior classmate beat him in a skating race, repeating the same mistake he made the first time he lived in this time. Everyone who worships the other kid just assumes it was a close race, but had Satoru won, they would have accused him of cheating, so he took the easy way out.

This, after promising to Kayo (doing her best to cheer for him, in her way), that he’d do his best. Afterwards, when he asks what Kayo’s birthday is, she accuses him of lying to her…which he did. And Satoru must think at this time: if he repeated the skiing mistake, what else would he repeat that would doom Kayo a second time? The variables are seemingly endless.

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However, the possibilities do thankfully narrow considerably for Satoru. Kayo’s body wasn’t discovered until Spring, but she hadn’t turned 11 when she disappeared. He’s determined the day she disappears is between March 1st and her birthday, and learns her birthday is the same as his: March 2. He has eleven days to save her. Will it be enough?

He learns, by the way, by checking the ledger of his teacher, Yashiro Gaku, one of the first people other than Kayo’s mother whom I suspected of being responsible for Kayo’s disappearance. This is due to Satoru’s observation that he’s a sharp, observant guy, but also because the camera lingers on him suspiciously.

Satoru learns more about Yuuki (whom he’d also save from Death Row if he stops the kidnappings), both good and bad. Turns out he wasn’t just some unemployed kid; he worked early hours at his dad’s bento store. He also has porn, which embarasses the 10-year-old in Satoru (who seems to take over a little more while he’s hanging out with Yuuki). But having a porn stash is normal; it certainly doesn’t make Yuuki a bad person, and it’s far from evidence he’s a murderer.

But Satoru, and I, for that matter, simply was not ready for the horror of discovering a skimpily-clad Kayo laying in a shed, exposed to the elements, covered with marks from a truly vicious beating from her nightmare of a mother.

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Forget 10-year-olds; this is hard for anyone of any age with any morals to witness and allow to stand. And yet, Satoru’s body betrays him. Were he 29, he could scoop Kayo away right there and then, take her to the police and tell them what he found. But he’s a puny little kid, and the mother tosses him aside like a ragdoll. Satoru can’t do anything right now, and it sickens him.

Back “home”, Kayo’s mom proceeds to shove Kayo’s head in icy water so the swelling of the wounds will go down in time for school. There’s both desperation and cold, evil calculation in the mother’s methods; perhaps she went further than she usually does with Kayo. The “man” watching TV in the living room, rather than act like an actual man and stop this, warns Kayo’s mother to save some ice for his booze. Truly disgusting people. Kayo is in hell.

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And yet, the marks and swelling is all covered up (as much as can be, anyway) the next day. Kayo is late, but she comes to school. Most of her classmates don’t notice the marks because they’re not really looking at her. But Satoru’s gaze goes straight to the welt on her neck.

When lunch money is misplaced, one girl, Misato, immediately accuses Kayo, because she’s “poor and hungry” all the time. Kayo’s mom may be a dispicable brute and a coward, but Misato is like a larval version, attacking with caustic words that spread across the class.

Satoru isn’t having it. He shuts Misato, making her cry (oh, boo-freakin’-who–brat!), but also restores Kayo’s faith in him. Satoru was able to do something (unlike before with her mom) and he did it, without worrying about how it would cause trouble for him.

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Satoru later speaks to Yashiro-sensei, who shares his concern for Kayo’s well-being, and may now have the evidence needed to have her removed from the danger by social services. During their talk, Old Satoru thinks out loud with his 10-year-old voice, talking beyond his years, but Yashiro doesn’t seem to think anything of it, instead agreeing that up to this point social services have been incompetent.

Also, Kayo’s mom is ruthlessly meticulous when it comes to hiding the abuse and not being around when they come to inspect the home). This is one of those glimmers of hope, but not knowing if Yashiro is hiding his true colors, they’re just that; glimmers. Besides, even if Yashiro is a saint, he won’t act to save Kayo as fast as Satoru knows she has to be saved.

Made up after he defended her in class (her memory about Misato’s stupid mechanical pencil was great, as well as underlying how terribly petty kids can be), Satoru invites Kayo to join him in the mountains to see a “Christmas tree”, after she also mentioned how she once went to Misato’s house for a Christmas party and saw a great big and beautiful one; obviously, there are no holidays in Kayo’s home; only blood and despair.

Satoru lets her forget about her everyday hell for just a little while, and when a pair of red foxes circle them numerous times, it almost seemed like part of the universe was placing some kind of protection on them. As for the real icicle-decorated tree, it’s not technically a real Christmas tree (leading Kayo to use her catchphrase “are you stupid?”), the grand sight of it does produce her first big smile of the show; a rare moment of pure joy that’s wonderful to behold. Kayo really needed this, and so did I.

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Unfortunately, there’s another part of the universe that has it in for Kayo and Satoru, as it’s all but confirmed that Yashiro may be up to no good, as the final shot of the episode features a camera looking through a murky window at Yashiro with his back turned to us, backed by a foreboding musical stab.

But it might be worse than I thought: Kenya is also there, with his black turtleneck; his eyes covered in shadow, and what looks like a smirk on his face. Old Satoru did say Kenya acted beyond his years. Could he and the similarly sharp, observant Yashiro be behind the kidnappings, and like Kayo’s mother, escaped justice in the original timeline? I know, I’m assuming the worst, but the episode isn’t making it easy not to.

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Working!!! 3 – 08

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Yamada may have moved back home, but she remains at Wagnaria after Otoo and Kyouko allowed her to keep coming in like Takanashi’s little sister to help out, and spending the night there when her mother isn’t home. So in a way, there hasn’t been a major change in the status quo, aside from the fact Yamada is usually going home and is now on better terms with her mom—though not her brother Kirio.

After that Aoicentric episode, this one is more of a grab bag, with a little story involving just about everyone from Otoo reuniting with his wife to Souta having to get a birthday present for Yachiyo (he actually gives her four for the four years he’s liked her).

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Many of these stories involve a Yamato in one way or another. Takanashi is annoyed that Kirio is talking so pleasantly with Inami, because he likes Inami, but won’t acknowledge that. He ends up beating Kirio up too much, and must recite a long-winded compliment that Takanashi thinks sounds like a joke, and it’s also how Inami interprets it, embarrassing her. So no real movement there.

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In another non-Yamada-related tidbit, Takanashi notices Popura may have shrunk, and Souma confirms she’s lost around 2cm, causing her to become depressed, because as much as she likes being pet by Katanashi, she also wants to grow more, not less. Turns out she actually did grow a centimeter, only because Takanashi grew three, she didn’t gain any ground, causing her to become depressed again.

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Back to Aoi, who convinces her mom over a period of six weeks to buy her a cell phone, then sends her mom a text, waits 30 minutes, and gets a blank reply back. Kirio, full of hidden talents, interprets the blank text as a long-winded inner monologue going on in their mother’s head about what Aoi’s original text meant and how best to respond.

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Finally, Kirio is sick of Aoi not acknowledging him as her true big brother (thanks to that natto theft incident), so he tries to become her big brother by becoming Souma’s little brother, which he attempts in the most ridiculous, true-to-the-Yamadas manner possible.

It’s actually Souta, whom Kirio asks for advice, who tells Kirio to take this route, in order to best annoy Souma as payback. But it isn’t long before the plan backfires and Kirio is annoying Souta to the point he must retreat from his own kitchen. Don’t get involved with Kirio; it isn’t worth it!

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Ore Monogatari!! – 18

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Ore Monogatari!! isn’t one to stray too far from its main couple for too long, so it’s back to the Rinko x Takeo Show this week, and as expected, Nanako and Kurihara’s quick first kiss puts pressure on the two, if for no other reason than kissing is now on their minds. Takeo is content to wait until the “autumn of his third year” of high school, but Rinko wants it to happen sooner. A lot sooner. Like, New Year’s, which is the day after she asks Suna and Ai for advice. Which is also Takeo’s sixteenth birthday.

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This is one of those episodes that brings up a certain fact about a couple—like, for instance, how they haven’t kissed yet, at least while both parties were awake—and thus commits to giving the audience some payoff. That is to say, if this episode had ended with no kiss, due to whatever circumstances (and early obstacles like Takeo’s prying mom or Takeo’s horde of childhood friends), that audience, i.e. me, would have been most displeased. I want mah damn kiss, yo.

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So I was a bit tense about the couple’s day together—right up to the moment Rinko shifted over to where Takeo is sitting and planted a kiss on him while his eyes are closed for his birthday wish. HOWEVA, it seems like Takeo didn’t notice the kiss at all, which makes sense: he’s a bit dude with big lips; if you want to kiss him, you’ve got to go all out. So, would Rinko’s little closed-eyes peck be all we get this week, after Rinko promised Takeo she’d give him a birthday he “wouldn’t forget”?

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I suspected not, since the episode still had a bit of time, and I seriously doubted it would cut away to Ai or Nanako x Kurihara at a time like this. Instead, as Takeo describes his birthday with Rinko in detail to Suna, his description of the “bug” that landed on his lips as he wished is the tidbit Suna needs to set him straight. Ashamed he didn’t recognize Rinko’s kiss for what it was (and remembering her body language throughout), Takeo goes to Rinko’s place to make things right.

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And then, without too much fuss, the two kiss, for real, for a long time, in the snowy night. We got the payoff, thank God. Yes, Takeo is comically taller and bigger than Rinko, but that doesn’t matter in this moment, just as it’s never mattered throughout the show’s run. These are two hearts beating as one. They’ve shed their embarrassment and misunderstandings in the past, and they do so here as well, thus progressing to the next level in their relationship: the post-first-kiss period.

Next up: the second kiss! A couple’s work is never done.

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Ore Monogatari!! – 09

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This week’s episode begins in somber fashion, Suna dreaming about sitting on that bench (the way Takeo did last week) during a particularly red sunset.

As Suna and Takeo part ways for their very different activities, the question becomes: can Oremonogatari have it’s expensive cake you need to get a part-time job at an aniki cafe to afford to buy, and eat it too? And this episode responds resoundingly: Sure, Why the hell not?!

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In the first minute of their meeting and mutual beaming at each other, one can tell it’s already Yamato’s happiest birthday EVAH. And while it’s not his birthday and he has Suna constantly on his mind (since Suna helped him craft the schedule for the day), Takeo can’t help but be happy around Yamato, too.

First up is bowling, which is all kinds of great, from the largest heaviest ball looking like a softball in Takeo’s hand, to the juggling that makes Yamato giddy, to Yamato trying to lift his ball, then going for a lighter one and splitting the pins.

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Their infectious giddiness continues at the expensive patisserie I mentioned, where Yamato is almost content just to look at the amazing confections on display, but fortunately for her Takeo not only made enough at his job to treat her, but has the staff sing her “Happy Birthday,” which sends her into heretofore unexplored depths of elation. She’s just happy Takeo is with her on her birthday, but even moreso that he’s going the extra mile for her sake.

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That’s when the constant references to Suna finally gets Yamato to ask Takeo a question he can’t dodge: “Where’s Suna?” After a pause, and handing her the schedule and planetarium tickets, Takeo tells her the truth; about how Suna’s with his Dad at the hospital, and how Takeo can’t bear to leave him alone anymore and must go to him.

Yamato is upset, but only because Takeo didn’t tell her something important sooner. She urges him to hurry to Suna’s side. At this point, she’s already had a gas, and because both she and Takeo are always thinking of others before themselves, she completely understands; which comes as no surprise. Frankly, a pissed or sad Yamato would be out of character.

Rather, Takeo having to take his leave is precisely why she loves him so much, just as her kindness and selflessness is a big part of why Takeo loves her so much right back.

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Suna must’ve felt bad about the fact his dad’s surgery fell on Yamato’s birthday, so he told him he’d be happiest if Takeo went and had fun. But this was Suna putting Takeo’s happiness ahead of his comfort. By the time Takeo arrives, he’s already had lots of fun with Yamato and vice versa.

When Takeo arrives, he’s not surprised, but it does lift his heart. It also opens it a little more, with him confessing to Takeo that he blames himself for the situation his Dad is in, for not being there for the attack that led to his first hospitalization.

Takeo assures him that no one else feels that way about him. It’s what Suna needs to hear, because he’s had no one to listen to about the matter but his own thoughts for far too long.

Before you know it, the surgery light goes out, the doctor pronounces the op a success, and Suna’s mom and Makoto arrive to take over, glad that Suna didn’t have to deal with this alone after all.

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And wouldn’t you know it, when Takeo and Suna head down to the lobby, there’s Yamato, not only waiting for them, but making paper cranes. Turns out she wanted to finish out the date they organized for her, but couldn’t stop thinking about them and rushed over. I’m with Takeo: I LOVE HER.

This episode deftly avoids all the narrative pitfalls of a big date episode, despite having a heart surgery at it’s tail end. The surgery goes well despite Suna’s initial pessimism, and Yamato proclaims she had her best birthday ever, and she and Takeo, floating on Cloud Nine, proceed to brainstorm getting Suna a girlfriend…maybe one just like Takeo (whom I believe was in Danganronpa…)

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After seeing Yamato safely onto the train, Takeo and Suna, the brothers by other mothers, pay a visit to the butt tree, and the episode ends as it began: with a sunset. But it’s far less red and morose and gloomy as the one of the cold open. Even when the sun goes down and the night’s chill arrives, it’s warm and bright with Takeo by his side.

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Ore Monogatari!! – 08

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This week’s episode “My Friend” sets the theme immediately with a nostalgic dream Takeo has about the day he met Suna. Suna looks cool, even on the swing, but Takeo senses he’s lonely too. So he runs over, swings himself into a bush, and makes Takeo laugh. Ten years later, and it’s pretty much the same story with these two, who are for all intents and purposes brothers by another mother (and father).

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That past gives way to a present upon cloud nine, with Takeo managing to wring “Don’t Trouble Yourself For Little Old Me” Yamato, whom I notice Takeo isn’t calling “Rinko” yet (to do so would be a big step for the big guy). But as his super long-range vision indicates, her birthday is only ten days away. All she wants is to spend the whole day with him, but he wants to plan a special day for her, for the same reason she wants to  plan one for his birthday next Jan. 1: because he loves her, and doing things for people you care about makes you happy.

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Takeo also gets big news from his super-tough mama: at age forty (but physically 22 according to her), she’s going to have another baby. The talk of birthdays gets Takeo thinking about how people are born, and how glad he is that Yamato was born, and that he had the luck to find her. We already know Takeo is going to be a great big brother, and probably father as well.

What he’s not so great at yet is planning birthday dates; he packs the day with so much stuff without including travel time or accounting for the weather. Enter Suna, who brings the schedule back down to earth, ironically enough with a bunch of activities that he and Takeo once engaged in, and were instances when Takeo did something silly that made Suna laugh.

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Takeo’s kindness and funniness are what drive Suna to want to help him so. The scene where he effortlessly charms the salesperson into holding a broach Takeo wants to get for Yamato is a nice example: Suna knows of his powers, but rather than use them to live the life of a playboy, he uses them to help out a friend when he can.

So it’s interesting and intriguing that throughout the episode Suna is clearly hiding something from Takeo and reflecting any attempts for Takeo to learn what that is. This led a part of me to wonder when the other shoe was going to drop. Now that I know what it was that was really troubling him, I feel bad for thinking ill of him. That’s powerful characterization right there.

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Turns out while his mom and sister are abroad and incommunicado, he’s been all alone in dealing with his hospitalized dad, who has a history of heart problems, and he’s having surgery on Yamato’s birthday. Suna kept it from him because he knew Takeo would offer to spend the day with him instead of his girlfriend.

Suna tells him straight up: that wouldn’t make him happy. He wants his dear friend, who never had any other girl like him back (besides Suna’s sister, but he didn’t know that!) to spend Yamato’s birthday with Yamato. Takeo respects his wishes, and tells Suna not to worry about him, all while in his muscle-revealing “bro cafe” uniform (which is pretty much the perfect part time job for Takeo).

And like he did when Takeo first got on the swing next to him and performed a physical feat of buffoonery, Suna’s frown turns upside down. Seeing Takeo happy makes him happy. He’s a hell of a guy. But I still hope he too finds a nice girl at some point in this show’s run!

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