Akebi’s Sailor Uniform – 09 – Pipe Organ of Light

After a string of episodes in which new classmates were introduced, it’s nice to get back to the “core four” of Akebi, Erika, Usagihara, and Koujo, as they meet up on the weekend for a trip to the mall for festival supplies. After getting a haircut from her mom, Akebi actually encounters Koujo on the bus, but Koujo is so absorbed in her book, Akebi doesn’t disturb her, resulting in a beautiful, silent little scene of a bus ride through the gorgeous landscape.

When the four meet up, they all praise each other’s street attire, which is very appropriate for their respective characters: Akebi’s practical tee, slacks, and sturdy sandals; Usagihara with a flowing skirt, pink nails and classy braid; Erika in a very smart, mature blouse, tiny purse, and heels; and Koujo in a super-comfy overalls with huge pockets. A look at the directory is vetoed by Akebi, who says she’ll be their guide.

A number of non-festival-supply-related detours ensues as she gives them a tour of the places in the mall she goes to most—and, this is key, has gone to the most. Akebi has been coming here since she was little, and has a lot of fond memories of shopping with her mom and sister then meeting up with their dad if he was off work. When Usagihara recognizes clothes and accessory chains Akebi never visited, she gains a whole new appreciation for the place.

Everyone gets something out of the mall. The gang follow Kojou’s lead as she’s drawn to a bookstore, and Erika happens to pick out the very book Kojou had just finished on the bus, and offers to lend Erika her copy. Akebi also comments on Kojou’s pressed flower bookmark, which her mom made for her. At lunch, Erika, new to malls, experiences her first fast food hamburger, and her friends get a kick out of how happy she looks eating it.

But when the four are about to leave the mall, Kojou notices the bookmark her mom made her is missing. Since it’s a good luck charm to her, and she has nice friends, the four comb the mall, but come up with nothing. It’s not at the lost and found, nor did it turn up at the depot. Kojou, clearly upset about losing it, nevertheless suggests they head out anyway, as the bus will be there soon.

As luck would have it, somebody found her bookmark by the exit, and tied a red balloon to it, which Akebi spots through the windows of the exit. I breathed a sigh of relief with Kojou, but then the balloon slips out of her hand, and since it’s full of helium, starts to rise into the sky. Kojou’s past memories of the bookmark flash before us. Fortunately, the balloon gets snagged on a tree, but it’s out of reach…or is it?

I half expected Akebi to climb the tree like a lemur and grab it for Kojou, but instead, offers her shoulders as a boost. Kojou says she couldn’t possibly. Usagihara suggests they get all get into mock cavalry formation, but Kojou still needs a few more inches of height. That’s when Akebi suggests they hoise her up by her leg so she can jump up and reach it. Kojou is successful, and for a tick fears she’ll fall to the ground…but Akebi’s got her.

When it starts to rain, three of the girls seek shelter, as the bus stop’s a ways away. But Akebi simply dances in the rain, and her energy and joy compels the others to join her in racing to the bus stop together, wet clothes be damned. They laugh as they run through pink, purple, and blue hydrangeas, Akebi leading the way with her red balloon.

The rain suddenly stops when they reach the bus stop shelter; it was only a passing shower. But the rain causes crepuscular rays, of the same kind Akebi saw a pretty photo of at the bookstore, and which are also called “a pipe organ of light” by a famous writer. The rays might as well be pure love descending from the heavens.

This just might’ve been the loveliest, most life-affirming and heartwarming shopping trip episode I’ve ever seen, and by far the most dramatic lost bookmark dilemma! But it’s also the longest and best sustained interaction between these four and only these four girls. The simplified cast of the episode allows all four to shine.

We’re even given the possibility that Kojou, inspired by her friend of bottomless energy, optimism, and love, might just end up being the writer of Akebi’s Sailor Uniform! This outing was peak comfy slice-of-life/friendship/youth anime, and made me yearn for the days I was actually in awe of the fancier malls of my own youth.

Bloom Into You – 03 – Too Kind, or Just Normal?

This week Yuu stays by Touko’s side at every turn, giving her an indirect kiss-through-bottle-sharing like it’s not biggie and then surprising Touko about her family owning the bookstore she likes. Yuu’s fam is certainly impressed with Touko (and why wouldn’t they be) while Yuu’s older sister Rei seems to cut right to it, perhaps without realizing what she’s doing, by referring to Touko Yuu’s “girlfriend.”

During vacay Yuu hangs out with friends, one of whom the others know is pursuing a senpai. She doesn’t break it to them until after they watch the mushy romance movie that she already confessed but was kinda-sorta rejected, with the guy saying he wants to focus on basketball.

Yuu is both envious and bemused by her friend, but also her other friends’ insistence things will “turn around” if she keeps at it. Speaking of persistence, before Vacay is over Touko makes it a point to stop by Yuu’s to give her a gift…but also, likely, simply to see Yuu at work at the store.

Yuu “guesses” she’s “pretty” happy about being given the gift of a mini-planetarium, but seeing the stars projected on her ceiling call to mind how the distance from her understanding of why Touko likes her sometimes feels as vast as the distance from those stars.

She just might gain a little bit of understanding the day of the stump speeches. Touko looks like a picture of calm…until Yuu notices her hands are shaking. She takes Touko outside, where Touko admits she can’t hide from the likes of Yuu. So she doesn’t: she bares her feelings right there, and also goes into her past, when she was “nothing” (i.e. shy and introverted).

Yuu isn’t shocked by Touko’s sharing. Even if others see Touko as perfect, Yuu knows perfect people don’t exist…but nor does she look down on Touko for not being perfect and trying to hide it. Touko may say she’s “hardly special” for showing her “weak side”, but Yuu thinks having such a side is perfectly normal.

But out there, Yuu realizes she saw a “special” side of Touko, one she wouldn’t show to anyone else. Simply being that person makes Yuu herself special, and not just to Touko, but in general. Her speech doesn’t betray what she’s learned about Touko, but nor does it lie about who Touko the Student Council member is. She really does put the work in, and really is kind, and really would make a good president.

But it also means Touko’s hands will shake sometimes, and she’ll need someone to help her steady them. Yuu lists the boxes Touko checks, but includes her personal take on her, including using the speech to announce that she’s joining the council.

Touko win the election handily, and celebrates with Yuu via a PDA that their classmates don’t read too much into. As for Yuu, she’ll stay close to Touko and see where this goes. Will things “turn around” if she merely “keeps at it”? She’s resolved to find out.

Wotaku ni Koi wa Muzukashii – 02 – Settling into a Nice if Familiar Rhythm

If the newness of WotaKoi masked it in the first episode, Hiraike Yoshimura’s style has become apparent in the second, as this week’s episode is more of a loosely-connected sequence of joke-dense vignettes with plenty of self-deprecating commentary (and some that references Eva, including Hirotaka-as-Ikari Gendo…Oigakkosan Cameo!)

Where WotaKoi distinguishes itself from Working!! and its various sequels is the speed with which the main couple comes together. Even when Hirotaka and Narumi are a little awkward at work, their friends Koyanagi and Kabakura point out the positive aspects of the other party, and that they’ve made the right choice.

But when Narumi somewhat carelessly admits Kabakura might be more “her type” in earshot of her boyfriend, she draws his ire, and the episode takes on the structure of a multiple-choice RPG, in which her avenue of escape is blocked until Kabakura and Koyanagi—former captains of their schools’ volleyball teams—start going at it, and she exploits the opening to flee.

Hirotaka chases after her, however, which results in the two adults working things out right then and there. She was scared of his reaction, while he was worried she didn’t like him anymore and wonders if it was a bad idea to confess to her.

In response to that, Narumi hugs him tightly, telling him not to say such things. She makes sure he knows she’s happy he confessed, and likes where they’re at. Some initial awkwardness is to be expected in a romance where the two parties work together.

Those initial hiccups in the relationship are all but forgotten in the next segment, in which the quartet decides to go out for drinks after Narumi finishes up some OT work. But because all four of them are otaku, they decide to head to a bookstore first.

Once there, the women split from the men. Narumi and Hirotaka may be dating, but their forms of otakuism differ, which means on occasion they’ll give each other a berth in which to pursue their individual interests.

That’s especially the case on a night when Narumi gets to browse and shot with Koyanagi. Narumi has always hidden her otakuism from her friends, and feels liberated for finally not having to. Koyanagi, for her part, wants Narumi as a cosplay partner.

The result of the group’s extended shopping trip to the bookstore is that everyone other than Hiyotaka bought so much stuff and they’re so eager to read it, they skip going out for drinks altogether, part ways for the night, and stay up way too late. The next day they’re all groggy at work, which might actually work in Hiyotaka’s favor with regards to his attempts to learn how to wink!

While I’m sure it will expand to more people before too long, this is a fun quartet of people so far, consisting of a definitely-together-yet-casual couple and a long-standing love-hate/will-they-won’t-they. Those two kinds of dynamics on display lend balance to the proceedings, and the volume of jokes is high enough that even if some might not land huge laughs, there’s always more to come.

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