Ao-chan Can’t Study! – 04 – A New Challenger Approaches

After waking from a recurring dream where a younger Ao is teased by her peers for the origin of her name (which is messed up enough) things only get worse for Ao, as her father presents her with a gaudy envelope left by a young woman. Inside is a photo of the girl in bed with Takumi.

Ao doesn’t understand why he’s chasing her if he already has a woman…unless he wants a threesome (he doesn’t). But his soccer senpai says Takumi attended to a mixer and claims he “went home” with one of the girls there. The “confirmation” leaves Ao a wreck…though her father didn’t help by painting the girl as resembling one of his “insatiable beauty” characters.

The girl in question turns out to be Takaoka Miyabi, one of Ao’s classmates in grade school who knew her raunchy name origin. Miyabi makes it plain to Ao: shit or get off the pot. Correction: just get off the pot; she wants Miyabi and she detests women who string men along, like she thinks Ao is doing

Of course, Ao isn’t doing that: her delaying is the result of her struggling with feelings she’s never felt, doesn’t understand, and which have been warped by her unorthodox upbringing. When Takumi calls her to assure her nothing happened at the mixer, Ao has already made up a narrative of what happened—and what’s happening—in her head.

So she tells Takumi not to talk to her at school anymore. He doesn’t, and avoids her, which neither of them like, and Miyabi swoops in and snags a date with him.

Everything would seem to be going to plan for Miyabi, who is, ironically using the very “manual” written by Ao’s dad, under a female pseudonym, that he also offered to his daughter. There’s just one problem: Takumi has no romantic interest in her, is concerned with Ao, and she can tell.

Fate itself seems to favor Ao when she and Takumi end up together in a haunted house—though it’s so dark they don’t realize who each other are until simulated lightning strikes reveal it. But their fight continues, as Ao insists Takumi find Miyabi and continue on his date.

Later that night, Miyabi is determined to take Takumi to a hotel and get a real picture with him; the one she sent Ao was simply photoshopped. Her impressive ‘shopping skills aside, she can probably no doubt sense Takumi’s distraction from Ao…and so asks what he’s going to do about her.

Takumi doesn’t know because he’s not sure whether Ao likes him or not, but the way he describes her flaws as things he’s not bothered by makes it clear he’s not over her yet. So Miyabi tells him Ao doesn’t like her, and is merely being “cocky” making him wait for her answer. But she assures him that her emotions and intentions are clear.

Quite the stirring soap opera hot pot we have simmering here! I must say I wasn’t expecting such a cliffhanger, or for a half-length episode to be packed with so much story. What will young Takumi do…take the easier route with a willing Miyabi, or try to make up with Ao and, in doing so, provide a means for them to gain more insight into each other’s feelings?

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Domestic na Kanojo – 07 – Advance and Retreat

We begin with Natsuo and Hina going on a “date” to Kamakura. The teahouse lady mistakes them for a couple. They see the sights and have a lot of fun; their chemistry is unassailable. Then they head for the beach, and Natsuo brings up Hina’s “child” comment from earlier.

Hina admits she was just trying to say the thing that would hurt Natsuo most, since she was already in a relationship with Shuu and she and Natsuo were now siblings. Then she tells him how she met Shuu: like Natsuo with Hina, he was her teacher and first love.

When her friends shunned her for being too cute and flirty, he was her only friend. When they met up by chance years later, he was wearing a ring, but she couldn’t turn him or her happiness down when he said they should get together.

When Natsuo hands her his newly-completed novel, whose heroine is modeled after her, he confesses he’s been in love with her for a long time. Hina’s reaction follows the general pattern of their incident in her bedroom: she draws closer, taking his hand, and proposing they go out together, keeping it a secret from their family and everyone else.

But then, as when she basically teased Natsuo’s lack of experience, Hina brings the hammer down, taking Natsuo a bit too far into the surf to make a point: for them to be together when they’re family will most certainly backfire stupendously. She likens it to double suicide, be it socially or literally.

Natsuo knows it’s not possible, but merely asks they stay in the surf a bit longer so he can hug her and cry it out. That night after they get back home, Hina reads the whole book in one night, and it brings her to tears. Through the pages she can probably feel Natsuo’s longing, because it’s exactly how she felt with Shuu. She can hardly blame him for something when she knows full well we aren’t in control of who we fall for.

Things seem to return to a friendly sibling relationship between Natsuo and Hina, but Rui’s crush on Natsuo continues, culminating in her visiting Natsuo’s room one night. She notes that on the day they met (and did it), they never actually kissed. She wants to try doing so now.

Despite things being cordial with Hina, Natsuo is still a wreck, and it’s at least partially his desire to prove Hina wrong about something like them being utterly impossible that leads him to acquiesce to Rui’s request. To hear Rui so earnestly describe how calm and at rest she felt while kissing him, well…it certainly complicates matters for young Natsuo.

At this point Miu seems to be the best bet for him in terms of romantic interests who aren’t related to him, while Momo would obviously welcome his company anytime. Still, with Rui stating her intentions to keep continue their kissing sessions on the downlow, it’s clear that it’s not going to be as easy as going out with Miu or Momo.

After spending the evening with Natsuo and Rui tutoring them for their upcoming exams, Rui brings up Ashihara and his apparent rapport with her, intriguing Hina. Later that night, while perhaps going to visit Rui’s room, Natsuo sees that Hina’s door is open.

Before he can knock, he hears a…a noise, and when he peeks through the crack in the door, he sees Hina pleasuring herself, letting out Shuu’s name when she finishes. I’m not sure why she didn’t completely close the door, but never mind; the deeply private moment Natuso witnessed can’t be unseen or unheard.

As disturbing as it was to see Natsuo linger by the door as long as he did, he saw in Hina what she sensed in him: an unbearable longing for the one they love. She may have broken things off with Shuu but she’s most definitely not over him. No doubt that will evoke some guilt in Natsuo, who, along with Rui, gave Hina such a harsh “him or us” ultimatum.

Domestic na Kanojo – 06 – Exalting In Life’s Freedoms

With all the women he’s juggling, Natsuo has barely had any time to work on the novel he’s writing. During a study period, he reads on the roof, and discovers Kiriya-sensei up there smoking. Kiriya is happy to see a student reading literature, and when Natsuo tells him who he’s reading, he tells him he has good taste, then proceeds to…flirt with him? Whatever the case, Natsuo has piqued Kiriya’s interest.

Natsuo also seems to have inadvertently drawn the mild ire of one Tachibana Rui, who reports that Momo loved the yukiudon he made her while pointing out that he never made it for her at home. Natsuo assumes Rui doesn’t know what a jealous face she’s making, but wishes she wouldn’t make it. Rui is also there to ask him a favor—and not a sex favor, this time! She just wants him to accompany her as she checks out clubs. Natsuo’s guy friends tag along, but only to watch the girls playing sports.

Both Rui and Natsuo seem to find a cultural club with promise in the Literature Club, but no one is there to greet them. Natsuo sees a book on the shelf both he and Rui are interested, and so “borrows” it. When he returns to return the book, he hears a tiny voice within the stacks, and spots Kiriya-sensei seemingly kissing a female student.

He tries to flee but his shoe squeeks, and Kiriya introduces the girl, Ashihara Miu (voiced by the very talented Kohara Konomi of Tsuki ga Kirei fame), who explains that she was helping sensei with an eyelash. Considering how earnest Miu turns out to be, I’m mostly able to go along with her explanation. Natsuo is thus caught having “borrowed” a book, and Kiriya blackmails him into joining Miu as the second and only other member of the Literature Club, of which he is the faculty adviser.

Natsuo’s first duty as club member is to help Miu hand out flyers to recruit other members. It takes him until sunset but he manages to distribute all of his share, only to find Miu in the back entrance, having failed to hand out a single flyer. Natsuo reassures that her there are some things some people just can’t do, and it falls upon those who can to do them. Miu is definitely grateful for his kindness.

The next day in club things get a little weird, when Kiriya-sensei, basically reading from his two students’ face that they are romance novel writers with very little if any romantic experience, and suggests that the two gain some by…kissing each other. Yeah, you read that right.

[Slowly raises hand] Um, I’m sorry, but that’s kinda fucked up? Even a suggestion coming from an adult in authority can sound like an order a kid can’t refuse, and indeed, Miu goes along with it, closing her eyes and dutifully awaiting Natsuo’s kiss. He leans in, but ultimately can’t do it when he sees a tear welling in Miu’s eye. It just feels wrong…because it is. Kiriya doesn’t force the issue and moves on, but still…this guy has serious boundary issues, and might need a good arresting.

That night, as Natsuo works on more flyers, Hana gives her two cents about Kiriya (he’s “a bit odd”—no shit, Sherlock!—but performs his faculty duties “flawlessly” and so is given a wide berth). As for Rui, watching Natsuo become so invested in something leads to her deciding to join his little club right there on the spot. (BTW I did enjoy Hana playfully feeding both Natsuo and Rui chocolates to cheer them up).

The next day Natsuo and Miu exchange apologies and move beyond the previous day’s strangeness, not by talking but by exchanging notes in the library, thereby upholding the silence rule. Natsuo does, however, manage to make Miu laugh with his artist’s impression of Kiriya (whom Miu assures him never made her do anything like yesterday before, which again, I hope she’s right).

Miu is glad to hear Natsuo has an “acquaintance” interested in joining, and even more delighted when he shows up with two new members: Rui and Momo (who tagged along because…she felt like it?) Far from threatened by the presence of two cute girls flanking Natsuo, Miu transitions seamlessly into a pleasant chat with Natsuo, which has an particular affect on Rui she can’t yet identify.

One Sunday, Rui just needs to get out of the house, and ends up at the cafe, the teenage equivalent of going day-drinking, asks her barista why she’s felt so “off” lately, before proceeding to recite the textbook definition of falling in love. Since Rui’s never done so, she worries there’s something wrong with her, but the owner (a former yakuza who fell for a rival lieutenant at first sight) assures her it’s perfectly normal.

He doesn’t go so far as to tell her she’s feeling what he felt, but encourages her to listen to her heart and follow where it leads. So yup, despite being the person to sleep with Natsuo and then drop him like a hot potato, there’s a lot to indicate Rui has real feelings for him.

That’s probably bad news for Rui, as she was so clear so often that the sex they had was without feeling and only to gain experience, Natsuo may be infatuated with Rui the least of the now four women in his circle.

Before and after sleeping with Rui, he loved Hana, after all, and he’s probably not 100% over her. With Shuu out of the picture, now Hana seems interested in spending time with Natsuo (and only Natsuo) but whether she has any romantic intentions or simply wants a good relationship with her stepbrother, we shall see.

I assume Natsuo sees Momo more as someone he needs to look after (and out for) lest she descend into her worst impulses—which we learn cause her to drop in class rankings, as she’s as voracious a studier when she doesn’t have a man as a slacker when she does.

Finally, there’s the newcomer Miu, who actually looks like the healthiest, best fit for Natsuo (it doesn’t hurt that she’s adorable as all get-out).  They share a passion for reading and writing, have great chemistry right out of the gate, and most importantly, she’s not family! Natsuo certainly has no shortage of choice when it comes to women. It will be interesting to see how he reacts to being pushed and pulled by all their opposing interests.

Domestic na Kanojo – 05 – There Was No Going Out

With Hina breaking up with Shuu and the family back together and humming along nicely at home, Rui is enthusiastically approached by a classmate named Kashiwabara Momo. She asks if Rui will be her friend,  insists on first-name-basis, and gives her one of the dozens of plushie dolls she has tied to her bag, which…Yikes!

When Rui’s lunch group sees the doll, one of them promptly tosses it in the bin, warning Rui not to catch Momo’s “flirt bug.” There are all kinds of rumors about her sleeping with one guy after the other; even multiple guys at a time. Rui calmly gets up and retrieves the doll from the trash; rumors or no, it’s up to her whether she hangs out with Momo.

Rui’s decision is to hang out with Momo (who’s already made a doll in Rui’s likeness) after school and try to get the proper measure of her. By Momo’s admission she’s been with a lot of guys (thirty by her count), but never more than one at a time, and always in proper relationships that almost always seem to end badly (including one case where the guy locked her up) Yikes!

While at the bookstore, Rui and Momo happen to bump into Natsuo, whom he’s introduced to Momo as “something like” a friend of Rui’s. Then we see first hand how Momo goes about pursuing a guy: she expresses interest in the books he likes, accepts his offer to lend her one, and is then fully smitten when he draws her close to protect her from an errant biker. And that’s pretty much it: she’s totally into him, and asks Rui if it’s okay to ask him out.

Momo is being courteous to her friend by giving her the opportunity to decline the pairing, in the instance she likes Natsuo that way (Momo doesn’t know their domestic situation). In the moment, Rui simply tells her there’s no problem, but it leaves her uneasy later, no doubt due to feelings related to Natsuo she can’t quite process.

But she said no problem, so Momo goes ahead with her pursuit … and rather aggressively, I might add, presenting him with her LINE ID and a note asking if he’ll go on a date with her later, then incidentally presenting her side-tie panties in a quick spin move. But something comes up, and even if Natsuo used LINE (he doesn’t), that something is more important: Rui suddenly develops a severe fever.

No one else is home, so it’s up to Natsuo to nurse her, which means wiping down her sweaty body (“Younger sister, sick person” is his mantra) and even administering a suppository. (Yikes!) Without trying, the two achieved a much deeper level of intimacy, and there’s no hiding anything…which is likely why Rui (normally very direct) feels comfortable brings up Momo’s crush on him, and her uneasiness about that.

The next day Momo isn’t mad (she’s relieved his lack of LINE, not the fact he didn’t like her, was the reason) and has prepared an extremely elaborate homemade lunch with him. They don’t get through that much of it when Momo invites him to her place, and before Natsuo knows it, he’s in her bedroom making out.

They’re interrupted by a text from Rui saying the rest of the fam will be home late again and asking what he wants for dinner. It would be sweet and comforting, if it didn’t so amplify Natsuo’s self-consciousness about his present situation.

The plot further thickens when Momo tells him she never has dinner with her parents, who are virtually never home, before asking him to unbutton her top. Natsuo steels his resolve: sleeping and going out with Momo will help him get over Sensei.

Then Natsuo notices the scars on Momo’s wrists, essentially ending Natsuo’s advance despite her saying they’re “not recent.” Those scars are the final piece of the Kashiwabara Momo puzzle. The compulsive doll-making,  lunch-making, sex, and her scars: they all point towards an emotionally vulnerable and above all desperately lonely young woman.

She’s trying the best she can to exist in this world, perhaps the only way she knows how, by offering all of herself to anyone who will acknowledge her existence. But the world has not been kind to her in return. She assumes Natsuo will be the latest guy to freak out about her scars and leave her alone again, but instead he asks for the location of the nearest grocery store.

He whips her up the one dish in which he has reasonable confidence in making, and while it’s hardly haute cuisine, it’s all in the feelings and intent with which he made it. Natsuo didn’t make her dinner something out of it in return, like many if not all the other people Momo’s ever known. He just wanted her to experience what it was like to eat with someone else, something he realizes he’s taken for granted with his new bigger family.

The meal and sentiment bring Momo to joyful tears, as no one has ever made such a gesture to her. But Natsuo insists he won’t go out with her, because he doesn’t want either of them going out with “people we need to depend on.” He sees in Momo a little of the part of himself that feels desperately lonely and incomplete without Sensei, after all.

Casual sex with Momo wasn’t going solve his problem, any more than it ever solved Momo’s problems—it was only going to be a temporary salve. But a lasting friendship? That just might do the trick.

Domestic na Kanojo – 04 – This Is How It Should Be…Right?

Deciding they can’t just hole up at Natsuo’s friend’s house, Natsuo and Rui spend the better part of half this episode stalking Hina, but coming up with absolutely nothing. They even steal her phone while she’s in the bath so Rui can try to imitate her sister’s voice and break up with Shuu. It all fails. But then something fortuitous happens: Hina and Shuu come to them, at the very cafe where Natsuo’s friend works and where Natsuo and Rui are discussing their next steps.

Things accelerate quickly, as Natsuo comes right out and demands Shuu end it. Shuu is non-committal, and when he tells Hina he still needs more time before he can divorce his wife, Rui throws a glass of water in Shuu’s face and runs off. Natsuo catches up to her, to be a shoulder to cry on. This whole process of confronting Hina’s affair has definitely brought Natsuo and Rui closer together. Neither of them are happy with how things turned out, and both are in agreement that they want Shuu out of the picture.

Ultimately, however, it’s up to Hina to make the choice. Shuu seems fine with the status quo being maintained indefinitely, where he’s with both women and doesn’t have to take responsibility one way or the other. The next morning, Rui’s eyes are puffy from crying all night, and doesn’t speak to Hina when she suggests they go shopping together for a birthday gift for their mom.

Natsuo, meanwhile, is off to visit his mother’s grave. We get a flashback to ten years ago: Natsuo was in first grade, and a crybaby. Worried about, well, worrying his mom once she passes away, he resolves not to cry, even at the funeral where it’s expected. He wishes she were still alive, and wonders how life would be if that were so.

Then he’s surprised to find Hina and Rui join him at the grave. They’ve come to formally introduce themselves to his mom and give offerings. Hina also informs Natsuo that she’s broken up with Shuu. Natsuo is delighted, and Rui is beaming. Hina even says she’s been thinking about doing it anyway due to Shuu’s half-year-long reluctance to leave his wife.

What stopped her from leaving him was her genuine love for him…but ultimately family came first. She couldn’t go on with Shuu knowing it made them so unhappy. The show seems to be taking Natsuo and Rui’s side in this instance, but will things really be that simple as Hina pulling the plug? And what of Shuu’s observation that Hina doesn’t seem to treat Natsuo like a kid? I forsee more potholes on the road of familial bliss. This is a drama, after all—not…some kind of…“constantly happy times-having” show…

Domestic na Kanojo – 03 – The Scary Realm of Adults

Natsuo visits his best friend at the cafe where he works, and describes the incident with Hina and her boyfriend last night. His friend diagnoses Natsuo as jealous, and he can relate. He observes women stuck in non-ideal or flat-out bad relationships at the cafe all the time, and jokingly(?) wishes they’d just break up and date him. Like the young “office lady” who is in an affair with a married man. His friend later spots that woman outside, and to Natsuo’s shock, it’s Hina.

Not only is Hina doing something morally questionable by sleeping with someone else’s husband, but she’s doing something contrary to Natsuo’s perfect ideal of her up to that point. Like catching her crying on the rooftop and then watching her drink herself to sleep, it’s another crack in that facade.

When he confronts her at home, she kindly tells him to stay out of her business, as she dwells within the world of adults where kids like him shouldn’t set foot, and that’s basically that. Then Natsuo kisses her, she shoves him back, slaps him, then kisses him back.

Before Natsuo knows it, he’s being pushed onto the bed by Hina, but she stops when she sees his eyes, which she immediately detects as those of a child. He may have thought his stolen kiss was bold and cool, but she can sense his fear now that she’s responded to it.

With that, she gets off of him and shows him the door. It may have been harsh, but Hina is right that her business is her own, and she gave him fair warning not to stray into it. Also, Natsuo initiated with the kiss. That being said, she doesn’t feel good about having but Natsuo in his place. Indeed, she feels like shit/

The next day Natsuo’s father finds a note from him saying he’s gone to his friend’s house for a couple days. Pops and his wife quickly assume it’s a move protesting the marriage, but Rui knows better why Natsuo left, and Hina’s not great at hiding from Rui that she knows as well.

Natsuo moulders away in his friend’s room, not even moving for the entirety of a cafe shift. But as luck would have it, Natsuo is looking out the window when Rui walks past, clearly looking for someone. They meet eyes and he meets her downstairs, and his friend’s mom invites them in.

Rui isn’t copying Natsuo, she’s simply “boycotting” Hina’s affair, much like Natsuo, if for different reasons. One reason they share is that they both had a higher idea of who Hina is, and she’s letting them down with her adultery, and if she wants her little sister and stepbrother in her life, she’ll have to make a difficult choice.

After a strategy session with Natsuo’s friend , he and Rui return to a dark house where their folks are considering signing divorce papers. Such is the result of Natsuo and Rui not telling their folks what’s actually troubling them; they make the most obvious assumption based on the little they’ve been given.

Natsuo and Rui reassure their folks they don’t oppose the marriage, but don’t tell them why they ran away from home. They’re back now, and willing to endure one more awkward day with Hina until they set their plan into motion. We’ll see if the show leans more toward their side, even as it’s offered little hints that explain, if not entirely justify, Hina’s behavior.

She likes this guy, wants to be with him, and wants to make it legit by having him divorce. She feels things neither Rui nor Natsuo have ever felt, and thus dismisses their concerns out of hand in addition to looking down on them as simple kids. I wonder if some compromise or middle ground can be found.

Musings:

  • Natsuo’s pal puts the pieces together pretty fast that Hina’s affair is what triggered Rui into sleeping with Natsuo. Rui doesn’t really mind Natsuo telling his friend, as he doesn’t attend their school.
  • I like how we get a little snapshot of Natsuo’s friend’s family life. Everyone wears glasses there, his mom is really nice, and his sister is eager to see him with a girlfriend.
  • That said, Natsuo’s friend’s boss at the cafe was…uh…something.
  • Speaking of parents, Natsuo’s pops and Rui’s mom really are kind and generous people who’d put their happiness aside for their kids’ sake.
  • Who else thought Hina was going to take it further after ripping Natsuo’s shirt open? Yikesy…

Domestic na Kanojo – 02 – Not So Strange After All

When Rui interrupts Natsuo’s kiss, she silently judges him as she roughly drags her sister to her bedroom. In retrospect, kissing an unconscious Hina definitely wasn’t his finest moment, even if it was a kiss meant to put a lid on his crush on her now that they’re step-siblings.

The next day at school, a late, bed-headed Natsuo learns that Rui has transferred to his school, and she’s immediately the talk of the school due to her being cute. Natsuo isn’t clear enough with his words, and gets Rui to think he wants them to act like strangers.

But the mere fact they went off into the courtyard together to have a private chat is suspicious enough to Natsuo’s classmates, who are well aware both he and Rui snuck out of the mixer together. When he meets with Hina, she asks if she kissed him while she was drunk last night, and apologizes in advance if she’s too “relaxed” at home again.

Rui was surrounded by girls in the morning, but by afternoon she’s all alone; Natsuo knows something’s up and has a pretty good idea: Rui is socially awkward, standoffish and fairly tactless. It’s as difficult for her to make and keep friends as it is easy for her big sister.

Natsuo offers to help her by pretending to be a (girl) classmate, and Rui is still her usual self-defeatingly honest self, but the two end up engaged in a dialogue that soon captures the attention of the entire class, who think some kind of skit is going on. Suddenly, Rui doesn’t seem so hard to approach, now that they know who they’re dealing with.

That night, a nude Natsuo predictably walks in on Rui in the bath, but thank goodness for once it doesn’t result in a blood-curdling scream and/or punch. As Rui quite logically points out, there’s nothing he or she haven’t seen before (interesting considering she once said to “forget” their tryst ever happened).

Rather than send him out, Rui calmly invites him in, and it’s Natsuo who hesitates. First of all, she wants to thank him for giving her a helping hand in breaking the ice with her class. But she’s also curious about why he tried to kiss Hina.

At first she dismissed him as an indiscriminate womanizer, but spending the day at school changed her mind about that. So instead, she wonders if he was merely trying to cheer her up in light of her recent boyfriend troubles.

Obviously, Natsuo doesn’t know about Hina’s boyfriend troubles. After the three step-siblings have dinner alone together when their newlywed folks go out for dinner (with Rui emerging as the best cook of the sisters by far), Natsuo brings up the subject, and Hina just as quickly deflects.

In a spot of bad timing, her boyfriend Shuu calls and she goes out to the front of the house to talk to him, insisting Natsuo not go outside with her. Nearly a half-hour later she rushes in, shaking and clearly upset, but still refuses to admit to Natsuo that she’s hurting.

Then there’s a knock at the door and the doorbell rings repeatedly, and both Hina and Natsuo assume its Shuu. Rui ends up the one to get the door, and it’s just their folks, a little tipsy from celebrating their marriage becoming official.

In his first days as stepbrother to both Rui and Hina, Natsuo is already trying to help them with their troubles. Rui will probably be fine with making friends in class, but Hina’s problems will be tougher to tackle, especially since she’s so reluctant to be helped (and she’s well within her rights, as an adult, to not want to seek help from a kid).

Regardless of whether he can help Hina, the fact is Natsuo’s new family and living situation is not nearly as crazy as the initial premise indicated. Whatever he may have done with Rui in the past, and however he feels about Hina, a new and powerful element has been introduced to his relationships with both: he’s unconditionally there for them, and doubtless they’re there for him.

Kuzu no Honkai – 07

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Moca startin’ the day of ACCA-style!

The morning of her date with Mugi, Moca is on cloud nine, but she doesn’t have any illusions about suddenly winning his heart. Having an elegant breakfast and getting all dolled up is as much or more for her than for Mugi’s sake. Still, she has to try today, for she, a student of fairy tales, doesn’t think people should settle for replacements.

This week Moca accomplishes something neither Hanabi nor Mugi have been unable to in seven: confront her unrequited love head-on, face the object of that love, and, through a clean-ish rejection, be able to move forward. By doing so, she becomes, by default, the bravest of those three people.

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While Mugi is off on a date with Moca (unbeknownst to her, obv) Hanabi continues her half-cocked mission to seduce Takeya, but soon learns it isn’t so easy to elicit love in someone. All Takeya wants from her is sex right now, Hanabi doesn’t give it to him, so he leaves her to go bang some other chick.

That’s where Takeya is at at this point. It looks pretty hopeless for Hanabi, and I must have mistaken all the confidence she seemed to exude at the end of last week when getting her “project” off the ground.

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Moca, meanwhile, is always on the verge of tears, she’s both so happy about the dream-like date with Mugi, and devastated that the happiness is tempered and sullied by the fact Mugi feels obligated to take his childhood friend on a date.

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Since we’re in Moca’s head most of this week, we learn a lot, like how she’s always loved Mugi, since they were little kids, and how with waterworks, she knew precisely how to get him to do her bidding and acknowledge their special bond.

Mugi and Moca got used to this cycle of behavior for years, and the nature of their past is ultimately what stops things from going too far in the present.

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Moca is cute. She knows she’s cute, and while in Mugi’s bed, she thinks it might be enough to hear it from Mugi to allow her to keep on living (just as his not recoiling when she held his hand did). Mugi curses himself as a pathetic coward who is going straight to hell, because there’s something deep within him that is screaming this is Moca; this is wrong, and things go no further than the removal of clothes.

For too long she was, as she says, a sacred ornament to be admired, and he can’t sully her, even though he tries his darnedest. At the same time, now that things have gotten so real with Mugi, the “dream” of the two living happily ever seems to shatter for Moca. This is the way she and Mugi are; she’s “important” and “special” to him, but that only goes so far. They can’t be a man and a woman.

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Moca really put herself out there, and by the end, there’s a kind of release of pressure. And she also becomes a kind of catalyst, as Mugi’s night with her has the same general effect as Hanabi’s lonely, aimless night, and one fine day on a hill overlooking the town, the two agree that they’ll tell Akane and Onii-san how they truly feel, before the end of Summer vacation.

They are cowards, they admit that. But Moca showed them they don’t have to stay cowards. And if they’re both rejected, Hanabi wonders what will happen next; whether she and Mugi will start to date for real; whether they’ll both be able to say goodbye to their respective loves forever and accept what life has given them…or another path is needed.

Playing the Moca Card this late in the game turned out to be another good move. She’d been the weakest, least developed character in the love polygon to this point, but this week really fleshed her out nicely. More to the point, both by staying on Mugi and keeping him from Hanabi, she inadvertently showed them the only way forward.

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Kuzu no Honkai – 06

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Hanabi is tired of feeling empty, or that she’s being hollowed out. She wonders more what it’s like to play with peoples emotions; whether it feels as good as Akane makes it seem. She wants to claim everyone who likes her for her own – no mean feat, but she feels like she can’t not try.

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Because Akane doesn’t want Ecchan, Hanabi tries to cut her loose as quickly as possible to avoid complications and ruining their friendship. But Hanabi and Ecchan have already slept together, so their relationship is irrevocably changed.

Not only that, Ecchan won’t let go; she’s not simply giving Hanabi leave to use her, she’s insisting. And because of their bond, she knows Hanabi won’t resist. Indeed, Hanabi considers it just punishment for what she did to Ecchan.

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After recovering from a fever (likely brought on in part from the stress of dealing with all this shit) Hanabi goes into town and bumps into Takeya, the guy she and Mugi saw with Akane. As soon as I realized who it was, I knew some trouble was going to ensue. After all, Hanabi is on a mission to beat Akane at her own game.

I’ll allow the coincidence, because it results in some of the best inner monologue by Hanabi yet; a sometimes disturbing, sometimes hilarious play-by-play commentary of her interactions with Takeya. She starts out with Don’t touch me, don’t get near me, then the light bulb goes off.

Before our eyes and ears, she starts to put in play what Ecchan says Hanabi naturally has: a knack for nabbing guys. It rarely occurs to her that she’s an attractive being, since she doesn’t really trust anyone other than Onii-chan, and her own inner voice despises her.

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When she learns he knows he’s one of many and will “never have [Akane]” to himself, his value to her drops considerably, but not completely. Taking something of Akane’s – particularly someone so into her, is one of her goals, so even though she almost caves and sends Takuya away, she manages to salvage the situation.

Takuya is, for the most part, respectful and keeps his ears open to what Hanabi does and does not want, and agrees they’ll take things slow, and not go all the way their first time.

Hanabi’s closing inner remarks regarding their date are suitably devastating in their frankness, and indicate she might just be getting the hang of this: I’ll pretend with you as much as you want. Then you can fall for a fake version of me.

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Another thing Ecchan said to Hanabi is that there’s nothing wrong with having oneself be the only one who knows one’s true self. Akane doesn’t seem to let anyone else know. After that bit of advice, Hanabi considers whether Akane truly is happy, or is lonely and sad as she, just better at hiding it. There are no true answers to be had, as it should be.

As for Ecchan, she acts against Hanabi x Mugi, planting in his head the possibility that Hanabi is still “cheating” on him with another guy. Hanabi never told Mugi who she slept with, and actually is popular with the guys, so Mugi has no problem letting that seed sprout suspicion in his head. Ecchan is still very much gunning for Hanabi.

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Well now, that’s a pretty apt subtitle there! I was beginning to think Kuzu had forgotten about Moca. But then, Kuzu doesn’t do anything by accident. After a slightly jarring introduction in which we kind of had our fill of her, the show wisely kept her away, knowing her extended absence would be noted, and increasing the drama when she suddenly shows up at the end of this episode.

Moca gets to the point, with honesty and forthrightness that seems to tick Mugi off, calling it “unexciting” in his head. Moca probably doesn’t even know who Ecchan is, but inadvertently benefits from the doubt she planted in Mugi’s head, adding water and fertilizer to the sprout by telling him Hanabi doesn’t really want him.

Then fruit is borne: Mugi asks Moca on a date. If Hanabi can have her something on the side, why can’t he?

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The episode closes with Hanabi stringing Takeya along via text (I love her fireworks avatar, as that’s what her name means), continuing to play the field, her bedroom window open to the Summer night, the night before vacation starts.

It’s a long way from being feverish, under the covers, and completely at a loss for what to do or who she is. Hanabi is now on a mission, and her date with Takuya gave her confidence. She just looks more with it, even if she still very little to no idea what she’s doing, but I think that’s part of what she’s learning: you’re only as weak as you look to others.

Like Moca with Mugi or Ecchan with her, she also seems to understand that persistence is necessary to achieve her goal of beating Akane. She can’t stop; if she does, she’s back in bed, back in her head; empty, hollowed out, alone again. She’s only lost if she stops and thinks about where she is or isn’t.

She’s still certainly no match for Akane yet, but good God, imagine if she becomes a match…or even surpasses Miss Minagawa? As Ecchan says (and Mugi agrees), what makes Hanabi great is her “danger.” It should be an interesting Summer.

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Kuzu no Honkai – 05

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Hana believes Kanai has abandoned her, so seeks her “safe space”—or at least a space where she feels she belongs and doesn’t feel the weight of life crushing her—elsewhere. When Ecchan turns to face her in bed, Hana sees Akane for a moment. Akane seems to enjoy taking advantage of men.

Hana doesn’t seem to enjoy what transpired with her and Ecchan. Hana doesn’t seem to be sure what she likes or wants, which must make Akane’s apparent certainty and staunch confidence all the more vexing.

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Last week was light on Mugi, but he returns to the forefront with the revelation he’s known about Akane’s dalliances since he was dating senpai, who he only realizes now might’ve bitten his ear out of jealousy.

He still has her number; she shows up for a booty call, from his perspective almost out of obligation, as she was the one who popped his cherry. According to her, it’s the first time they did it when he wanted to, but she still doesn’t spend the night at the love hotel with him, considering them even.

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Like Hana with Ecchan, Mugi seems unfulfilled and insufficiently stimulated by his encounter with his senpai. After a period of him and Hana drifitng apart, one day on the roof they come back together. Hana can tell Mugi slept with someone else, and he can tell she did too.

They did it for the same reason: to test if they really needed each other, or if they could get what they needed elsewhere. The results weren’t as conclusive as either had likely hoped. Hana’s thoughts say they’re both terrible. I just think they’re both profoundly lonely and unhappy.

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Shift to Akane’s POV, as she grudgingly asks Kanai out, despite the fact he’s super-boring to her. That boring-ness continues throughout most of their date, until she drinks too many to compensate and he catches her before she falls in the street, accidentally calling her “Hana-chan.”…“-chan.”

Those words, not the catch, are the first things that get Akane interested. When she gets him in a room, and he asks permission, she brings up Hana as an object of envy, and he responds by kissing her and getting things started. Too easy says Akane. Indeed. The implication is, when things are too easy for Akane, watch out.

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Hana decides she wants to have sex with Mugi at his place. He has reservations, but he can’t deny her beauty, her honesty, the directness of her gaze, and her “hysteric, fickle, recklessly egocentric remarks.” So the two of them decide to break the rules of their arrangement and do something that could upset the uneasy balance that had been maintained.

But it’s Hana’s first time, and it hurts, so they stop. She’s not into it at all, but is still frustrated they can’t do it. Mugi thinks it’s because she doesn’t really love him. Just saying she loves him doesn’t work, and then Mugi insults her. The mood ruined, she gets dressed and leaves.

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Mugi sleeps alone, frustrated and depressed. Hana sleeps alone, frustrated and depressed. She wants to sleep with someone. She wants to fill the void of loneliness, but nothing is currently working, and it’s becoming unbearable.

Akane almost seems to sense her frustration, because the next day at school she walks past Hana to twist the knife, reporting on her conquest of Kanai. Ice. Cold.

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Kuzu no Honkai – 04

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Whew…well that was a properly intense episode. In it, we finally enter the head of Minagawa Akane and find out what makes her tick and what she says gives her joy in life: being desired by men. She started back when she was in school, stealing away her best friend’s crush even though she didn’t even like the guy.

Indeed, she’s only interested in guys other girls desire; it’s how she gauges their value. It’s as if she only derides pleasure from her contact with men if she knows it’s pleasure being taken from other women; depriving them of it.

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Her latest victim is Hanabi, but what’s so insidious is that like her best friend’s crush, Akane wouldn’t even care about Kanai if Hanabi didn’t love him. Hanabi is unknowingly fueling her own despair by making it so clear to Akane that she’s into Onii-san. It makes Akane the villain – if you’re rooting for Hanabi. On the other hand, if you’re rooting for the one person who seems to be confident in what they’re doing, Akane’s your girl.

Akane believes it’s Hanabi’s own fault she’s in her predicament, but not because Hanabi has never gathered the stones to confess to Kanai, but because Hanabi should be on same side of this game. She kinda already is; Moca essentially feels for Mugi (whom Hanabi has) what Hanabi feels for Onii-san (whom Akane has). Akane’s become quite adept at taking full advantage of the situation, but Hanabi seems to lack the will.

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We’re then thrust out of Akane’s head and into Kanai’s for the first time, and while I didn’t quite fathom the scope of Akane’s true personality before it was unveiled to us, Kanai is pretty much what I expected.

Kanai is normal, boring, and enough of a romantic to throw caution to the wind when someone like Akane appears in his life, even though a part of him knows (and is correct that) she’s too good to be true.

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Demonstrating how experienced she is at this kind of thing, Akane executes a perfect reenactment of the way she hurt her friend when she separately tells both Kanai and Hanabi to be in the music room after school, then lets Kanai do the rest, confessing to an utterly disinterested Akane as Hanabi watches helplessly.

Akane’s eyes narrow and turn to see Hanabi, and then the episode fades to black in a spine-chilling close to Akane’s half of the episode. This show excels at many things, but it’s particularly good at transitioning from one “soliloquy” to another and keeping the flow moving. The fantastic score and cinematography pulls you into its dark soup of an atmosphere and makes it impossible to break free.

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And we’re only halfway through! Good lord, the first half felt like a complete, and amazing, episode. Thankfully, it isn’t all downhill from here. In fact, Akane’s actions drive those of Hanabi, the main POV of the second half. They drive her to finally emulate the one who hurt her.

I’m not talking about getting hot and heavy with Mugi again, to Moca’s dismay. Seeking comfort from Mugi wouldn’t be possible without telling him what she knows about Akane (the poor bastard). So she heads home alone, in tatters, then realizes she’s been followed…by Ecchan.

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Ecchan still wants Hanabi…very much so. So when Hanabi, in tatters, impulsively embraces Ecchan, then worries how it will feel to her, Ecchan assures her it’s all good. Hanabi this way is better than no Hanabi at all. Besides, Ecchan, makes no apologies for taking what she can when the opportunity arises, almost as payment for the pain Hanabi’s caused her to that point.

As they start having sex, Hanabi finds herself in an Onii-chan fantasy, but it’s soon broken by her waking senses making her see, smell, taste and touch Ecchan, and only Ecchan. Ecchan is ready to stop at any time, but Hanabi won’t tell her to, so she doesn’t. Ecchan wants Hanabi to be filled with her, and Hanabi lets her fill her void.

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The experience, however, leaves Hanabi cold and alone, walking home in the rain, with only her force ghost as company, taunting her for destroying a friendship, notifying her that she’s actively taken advantage of someone’s feelings for the first time, and congratulating her for being scum just like Akane.

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Her force ghost doesn’t tell her anything she doesn’t already know, it is her who is talking to her, after all. She’s having a conversation in her head, and the fact this part of her is mocking her means that she is no match whatsoever for Akane right now. But she wants to be a match, and she’s going to work towards it with everything she’s got. Dark shoujo.

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In one last scene, Hanabi confronts Akane openly about being loved by people she doesn’t even like, and how it can be so fun for her. Akane’s response? There is no greater feeling than being desired by men. Whether she likes them or not is irrelevant, as long as they’re liked, preferably loved, by someone.

It’s a “get with the program” kind of line; one suspects if Hanabi somehow fell out of love with Kanai there’d be nothing left of him to interest Akane. You can have it like i have it, she seems to be telling Hanabi, as long as you’re able to redirect your energies.

Indeed, Hanabi already started with Ecchan, but if she’s serious about wanting to be a match for Akane, she’s got her work cut out for her. And I’m not saying she should! Shit’s already pretty damn heavy. Everyone has their limits. She may just not be cut out for it.

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Kuzu no Honkai – 03

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Just as Moca has a legitimate reason for loving Mugi (they’ve known each other a long time), Ecchan has one as well: Hanabi saved her from being assaulted on the train. When she ends up sharing Hanabi’s bed, Ecchan isn’t planning to do anything, but she just can’t hold back, and takes a gamble…one that doesn’t work out.

Hanabi thinks Ecchan is pretty, and she clearly values her as a friend, but when things get physical…it just doesn’t feel right for Hanabi, and not just because Ecchan is a girl. There’s a heavy weight she feels from being the object of Ecchan’s desires, accompanied by an acute, paralyzing fear.

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We learn a little more about what sent Mugi head over heels in love with his tutor Akane; he had his cherry popped by a beautiful senpai who later dumps him and breaks his heart. There’s every indication the girl he was with treated their fling as just a fling: casual, secret, fun while it lasted. Then she moved on.

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We see this unfold in what turns out to be a sexy dream Mugi wakes up from with an erection, just when Hanabi sneaks into his room for some contact. He initially stops her from touching him, worried he won’t be able to stop if they cross that line, but Hanabi doesn’t want him to stop, so she continues.

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Just as he was once so inexperience with his first, Mugi no doubt sees a little of himself in Hanabi’s inexperience, but after she expresses a bit of smugness, she starts to tear up, because she’s realized something: what she gets from Mugi she can’t just get from anyone. She didn’t get it from Ecchan, whom she was too scared to touch. Mugi is different.

Then and there, he’s someone she can see falling in love with, even if he isn’t Onii-san. After all, if she came on to Onii-san, who’s to say he wouldn’t feel the same tense, uncomfortable weight she felt from Ecchan? This is Hanabi taking stock of what she has in Mugi and thinking about her best interests.

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Later that night Mugi and Hanabi go to a family restaurant for dinner, and who do they run into but Akane-senpai, with a young-looking guy who definitely isn’t her brother who is really into him. Talk about awkward. Akane tries to be friendly, but the guy drags her away, clearly eager to continue their evening unfettered by her “students.”

The next day, Mugi tells Hanabi he recognized the guy as another student she’s tutoring. It’s all too clear he was more than that. Hanabi can’t believe how blind love makes Mugi, and is frustrated they don’t see things like this the same way, to the point she worries they weren’t as close as she thought.

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But then she realizes of course they’re not that close, at least not yet: their relationship, such as it is, has only just begun, and both of them agreed at the start they’d see other people in each other. Seeing Akane out in public with a different guy threw that plan into chaos for Hanabi.

She decides what she’s feeling now is something approaching hatred for Akane, which isn’t allayed by their brief, uneasy encounter in the schoolyard. Hanabi asks Akane (still wearing the same clothes from last night) if that guy was her boyfriend; she said it was just a friend, and that they can talk about it later. Assuming neither of them want Onii-san to find out about them being with other guys, Hanabi contemplates her next move as Akane, her back turned to her, cracks a wry, knowing smile.

Kuzu continues to excel with its serious, weighty but deft internal drama (not of the melo- variety) and quietly steamy scenes of sensuality (one of which ends with the mundane practicality of having to wash dirty clothes). We’re with Hanabi and Mugi all the way as they endure and explore their pain and pleasure; their playfulness and despair; their confusion and their revelations.

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Trickster – 02

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Yup, she’s the culprit

It happens so often, especially in old detective stories: a beautiful, seemingly pure and innocent “Dame” walks into the private eye’s office, claiming they’re the victim of some heinous crime…only to end up being the femme fatale using the P.I. to frame someone else for crimes she’s committed.

That’s the case here (literally), and despite the dame’s attempts to misdirect (not reporting a crime, only suspecting her boyfriend of possibly being up to something illegal), the episode couldn’t keep up the charade for long.

Indeed, when she reached for her bottle of mineral water rather than touch the coffee, I knew she was up to something. It was pretty darned obvious.

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“Get down!”

Before I pat myself on the back for correctly suspecting the woman, I’d just note that the episode put that clue there for a reason, which is to get us questioning her motives. Her obsession with the pure and organic is revealed to extend to a hatred of anything non-organic, and she targets the genetic scientist whose activities go against her ideology.

So even though the big “twist”, when it comes, comes far too late, I still enjoyed the journey to get there, which included some key assists from Kobayasahi, who is convinced this week that if he wants to die, he should stick with the kid in yellow.

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“I’ve always wanted…sniff…to attend a catered affair.”

Kobayashi’s ravenous hunger (and the unsettling threat of “food being stuffed down his throat” if he tried to starve himself) lead to him tasting poison soup meant for the scientists.

It was poisoned not by the client’s boyfriend, but by the client herself, without the boyfriend’s knowledge. Hanasaki, not the worst judge of character, initially determined the guy’s face was too “pure” to be capable of those letters. And he was right.

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Personal space!

When the time comes to stop the scientist from drinking the poison water the client personally serves to him (indicating she didn’t care what happened to her as long as he died), the door is barred, but Kobayashi uses his power to break it down so Hanasaki can save the scientist and nab the perp.

Thus the case-of-the-week is wrapped up with an almost too-neat little bow. Ultimately, this case wasn’t that important, or high-stakes, and the criminal this week, unlike Twenty Faces, was extremely dumb for not cutting her losses and staying far away from her failed, overly convoluted plot.

But the case didn’t matter so much as how it affected the characters. When he places his hand on the stage where the scientist had thrown a glass, a shard of it sticks in Kobayashi’s hand, and he bleeds. That’s the second time that’s happened hanging out with Hanasaki, so his best chance yet to get what he wants (death) is to join the club.

Hansaki, on the other hand, is starting a race with himself: will he find a way to kill Kobayashi first, or find a way to get him to not want to die instead? It’s an intriguing challenge; I look forward not just to the results, but the events and means by which they were achieved. But yeah, there was definitely an old-fashioned flavor to this story.

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