Rent-a-Girlfriend – 05 – Grandma Gambit

Kazuya dives in and rescues Chizuru from drowning, which is a big deal, even if the two weren’t in a complicated relationship that has long since blown past professional detachment. They wash up on an islet, and Chizuru wakes up first and realizes what Kazuya did for her…then notices Kazuya isn’t breathing.

Chizuru administers CPR—and mouth-to-mouth—and Kazuya comes to, none the worse for wear. Both Chizuru and Kazuya appear to have difficulty separating the romantic from the practical (in the case, from a kiss of life). On the way to hospital Chizuru later recalls Kazuya’s heroism and can’t help but turn beet red.

Things are relatively simple on at least one front: Mami’s. She doesn’t take kindly to being stood up (especially after hearing how Kazuya was indisposed) and rolls up her window without speaking to him. That’s probably not all, but it suffices for now.

In a masturbation scene that goes on way too long, raunchy images of him with Mami are gradually replaced in his head by much purer images of Chizuru. He concludes that he’s fallen for her beyond the point of no return, which means their imminent “breakup” will hurt him more than he’d hoped.

Leave it to Kazuya and Chizuru’s grandmas to make sure things don’t get any easier for the kids. Kazuya joins his gran at a hot springs hotel in Gunma to celebrate her discharge from the hospital, and the moment Chizuru’s grandmother appears, it’s clear the two set things up so their grandkids would have a room all to themselves, to enjoy their youth and have sex—both old ladies lament how reserved the kids are.

After simmering in anger and frustration, Chizuru decides to let go, at least for the duration of the trip, and enjoy herself to the fullest. That means availing herself of the baths (where she and Kazuya’s gran have a nice heart-to-heart), and lowering her guard so she and Kazuya can have a pleasant meal together.

This is a new Chizuru who is neither pretending to act like his girlfriend nor the “off-duty” version of herself who openly loathes him. As a result, Kazuya gets to see and hear a genuine laugh from Chizuru. When bedtime arrives, Kazuya proactively starts to make himself scares before she asks him “what the big deal” would be if they slept in the same room.

This episode much clinches it, if it wasn’t already pretty obvious: Chizuru doesn’t dislike Kazuya, nor is she indifferent towards him. I’d go so far as to say she likes the guy, and realizes that Kibe is right that he’s not a bad guy. That may all be true, but it doesn’t mean she wants to be his real girlfriend, nor does it mean she should feel obligated to do so, grandma angle or not.

This isn’t a matter of her not being honest with her feelings or stubborn in giving into them, but a matter of her having a good thing going with her rental business and not wanting any boyfriend at the moment.

I initially assumed she had the job so she wouldn’t be a financial burden on her family. But the fact she mentions she’s a low on funds suggests she’s paying for something expensive and important to her (either that, or maintaining her girlfriend persona is an expensive business, which it most likely is).

For all the sides of Chizuru we’ve seen, there are still things we don’t know. As a new character is introduced next week, I hope we don’t lose sight of her.

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 04 – Don’t Let Reality Win

As Mami and Kazuya kiss, all of his time with Mami flashes before his eyes, from the moment they meet to their first kiss. As Mami’s “lost” bracelet lies in a very intentional spot for her to pick up at will, she asks Kazuya to forgive her, as she just “couldn’t control herself anymore.”

This keeps the possibility alive in Kazuya’s head that a reunion with Mami isn’t just possible, but also what Mami wants. Even if this encounter is 100% a calculated move by Mami as part of her breakup scheme, a part of me couldn’t help but wonder if a part of Mami really does want him back.

When Kazuya gets a call from his gran telling him she’ll be out of the hospital soon, it gives him another opportunity to properly end things with Chizuru. His friends also give him an opening when they pepper Chizuru with questions about where she lives and plans to hang out.

But when he sorta-half comes clean and tells them they’ve been planning to break up, his best friend Kibe won’t let it slide. He starts beating Kazuya up, accusing him of fawning over Mami and generally being a wishy-washy, self-centered dirt bag. He tosses out this exquisite line: “Yes, your brain’s a dumpster fire, but at least make it burn for your current flame!”

Kibe also puts some of the blame at the feet of Mami, accusing her of leading on a guy she dumped despite knowing full well he’s a fool who will fall for it every time. Mami’s eyes narrow without going “empty” as they’ve done in the past, and half-heartedly pleads ignorance, but Kibe seems to have her pegged despite her attempts at subterfuge.

The issue is, Kibe doesn’t know the whole story, which is that Chizuru didn’t choose Kazuya, but the other way around. Chizuru knows this, which is why she regrets the beating Kazuya took but is proud of him for taking the first step to separating the two of them.

She calls what he did a bold move, and that he can be a man when he tries. When he apologizes for all the trouble he caused her, she rebuts that being a rental girlfriend is her job, and she had fun. When he walks off, ready to cut ties with her, there’s an unmistakable look of doubt in her face. She’s not doubting whether Kazuya will really go through with it, but whether that’s she truly wants.

Things get more complicated—again (don’t they always?) when Kibe takes Chizuru aside for a chat. He explains how he’s known Kazuya since they were little kids, and so knows full well what a dumbass he can be. He describes his friend to an absolute T that Chizuru can’t help but recognize. Then Kibe tells a story about a supposed weed that grew in Kazuya’s school planter.

He kept lovingly tending to until it bloomed into a different and more beautiful flower than everyone else’s morning glories. It was a combination of dumb luck and Kazuya’s refusal to stop dreaming and give in to reality. It’s also a touching enough story to make Chizuru a little glassy-eyed. Kibe certainly has a way with words!

Kibe basically gives Chizuru the extra opportunity her previous moments of doubt seemed to be searching for, in the form of ferry tickets. That said, she decides to use one ticket and five Kazuya the other simply because she can’t not after Kibe’s speech. The rest of their plan holds: they’re going to separate and not interact anymore.

Kazuya seems increasingly enthusiastic about putting all the fakeness aside, even as Chizuru is experiencing not second thoughts, but apparent seasickness combined with the fever that had been brewing throughout the episode. She asks Kazuya to let her be, despite that not being the best thing for her in her current state, on a boat.

Kazuya gets a call from Mami, who tells him she’ll wait as long as she has to for him to join her at the pool on the fourth floor of the hotel. She’s blushing heavily during the call despite not having to put on a physical performance for him. Is this a means of cynically ensuring he breaks up with Chizuru, a case of her genuinely desiring more romantic contact…or both? I see ambiguity, but that doesn’t mean it’s there.

What isn’t ambiguous at all is that Chizuru is not well. She stumbles to the railing for some fresh air when the ferry hits a wave, she loses her balance, and then dramatically falls overboard. Thankfully Kazuya is in the vicinity when it happens, and he dives off the boat to save her. Risking his life to save hers…so much for a clean break!

Sing “Yesterday” for Me – 12 (Fin) – Life Goes On

Rou is his usual puerile self upon discovering Shinako with Rikuo (though you can’t really blame him!) and runs off in a tizzy, Shinako chases him down and tries to explain. She valued their relationship and was afraid of ruining it.

To his credit, Rou takes the high road, telling Shinako all that mattered was her happiness, and he was a “chump” for not noticing her feelings for Rikuo. Despite telling her “it will take time” for him to comes to terms with it but that he gets it now, Shinako assumes she’s just ruined everything with Rou forever.

The next time Shinako and Rikuo meet, its at a park bench, and as they analyze what they are to each other and how things went with Rou and Haru, the meeting gradually morphs into a more-or-less mutual breakup.

It’s only natural; things haven’t quite felt right because Rikuo hasn’t been able to properly tell her he loves her, but when he asks her simply “me or Rou”, she can’t help but summon much more emotion for Rou, who is family.

Rikuo owns up to becoming terrified of the happiness that suddenly rained down upon him when he found himself in a relationship with Shinako, but perhaps the reason it never felt 100% real for him is that…it wasn’t. He and Shinako had a natural distance from their long friendship that could not be closed, no matter what either party tried.

At the same time, Rikuo assures Shinako that Rou, who is still mostly a kid after all, will eventually come back around to talking with her. He just needs time to cool off, and as we saw, he already exhibited the self-consciousness to admit the mistakes he made. The two cordially shake hands, committing to maintaining what they know works: their friendship, and just like that, Shinako x Rikuo is dead.

Despite this breakup occurring in the last episode, there’s nothing rushed about it. After all, these three had been milling around for three months without the slightest romantic progression, which all confirmed that they’re not meant to be in that kind of relationship, however logical it might’ve seemed.

Meanwhile, Haru notes how little has actually changed in the world since what she felt was a categorical rejection by Rikuo, but still can’t help but wear a gloomy face as she fries vegetables, much to her mom’s dismay. It turns out she’s only taken some time off from Kyouko’s cafe and moved back in with her mom and stepdad. She spends the time away contemplating what love and happiness are to her, not

Rikuo ends up securing Haru’s address and bus route from Kyouko, and sets off to meet with and talk with her about what’s happened, if she’ll have her. During his long journey we get all of his naysaying inner thoughts in real time, negative and dismissive sentiments he must force his way through in order to take action.

He doesn’t like how things ended with Haru, and despite not knowing how she’ll react to seeing him again (or even if she’ll agree to do so), he’ll never forgive himself for not making he attempt, even if it makes him look selfish and foolish.

When he finally crosses paths with her (kudos to Kansuke for keeping her off the bus he just got off!) she’d been remembering when she met him and fell for him in middle school, assumes he’s just another vision, and proceeds to punch him. But when she realizes he’s real, she regrets the assault…but not too much.

All of Rikuo’s inner dialogue was a fight with himself over whether he should even be attempting to reconnect with Haru, which means when Haru is finally there in front of him, he has almost no plan for how to describe his feelings. He initially comes off as having only come to her because Shinako dumped him, but when he elaborates on the details Haru can sense it was more nuanced than that.

Rikuo comes out and says what we all know: he likes it when a woman is nice to him, and for a long time, he thought that was love…until he took the next step with Shinako and it didn’t work out. Then an “incomprehensible, bothersome chick” came along, and Rikuo didn’t realize until recently that love was staring at him all along from the opposite end of the konbini counter.

He thinks everything he thought about love and feelings up to now had been mistaken, but he knows one thing for sure: he thought Haru was cute, and that all of the time she was suddenly away from him, and all hemming and hawing on his way to seeing her, mean that he’s in love with her. It’s something he can come out and relatively easily say to her, while he could never say it about Shinako.

Seeing the shock, embarrassment, joy, and relief wash over Haru’s face is a season standout, as is her instinct to immediately embrace Rikuo and give him a kiss before he knows what hit him. Then she allots only 35 points to his confession and orders him to give another one. After three futile months and so much overthinking, I was astounded and delighted by how comparatively easily the distance between these two was closed!

A little time passes, and Rikuo and Haru prepare to go on their first official date together. Haru, always one to wear her heart on her sleeve, is clearly on cloud nine as she glides around the cafe where she returned to work. Meanwhile as Rou’s classmates celebrate him moving in to his own place, Shinako pays him a surprise visit.

This isn’t exactly how I thought things would end up between these four, but I can’t say I’m not satisfied. The events of this last episode, in hindsight, didn’t even feel at all like sudden twists, but a logical, necessary, and welcome corrective to the awkward confusion of previous alignments. It made me immediately giddy and excited for a Haru x Rikuo future. Not a bad trick for a show based on a 23-year-old manga!

For those asking “Wait, weren’t there going to be eighteen episodes, not just twelve?” Alas, that was an unfortunate miscommunication. Turns out the final six episodes are streaming-only shorts, so this is the final episode, with an anime-original ending. That’s obviously extremely disappointing as I was watching this show unfold as if it had six more eps to work with, but oh well…at least it ended on an upbeat note!

Wave, Listen to Me! – 01 (First Impressions) – She’s Got Something to Say

Wave, Listen to Me! is a lot of fun. That is to say, it’s fun, and it’s also…a lot. The opening minutes is a surreal scenario in which late-night radio talk show host Koda Minare finds herself in the woods, face-to-face with a big brown bear. She tackles fluffy write-in comments from listeners that are well beneath the urgency of her present life-threatening situation.

But it’s all an illusion; we’re seeing what a radio listener would imagine, and we see it vividly because Minare is such a good audio performer. Her producers and assistants are along for the ride as she starts riffing off-script, drawing from her own extensive emotional baggage. It’s not just what you say on the radio waves that matters, but how you say it.

You can see why a radio programming director like Katou Kanetsugu would switch on his phone’s voice recorder upon encountering Koda Minare in the midst of the fifth—and worst—day of Getting Over a Tragedy; in this case her boyfriend breaking up with her. Minare is just her own unvarnished self, but Katou can sense the innate talent within her, and can’t let it go to waste.

Minare goes home, blacks out (though not before perfectly arranging her shoes in the genkan) wakes up, puts herself back together, and has a good therapeutic cry watching Ghost Ship (though her friend recommended Ghost). Then, while working at the soup curry restaurant Voyager, she suddenly hears herself drunkenly ranting on the radio during a “lonely hearts” show called September Blue Moon.

Minare drops what she’s doing (risking firing by her uptight boss), hops into her adorable little Daihatsu Mira Gino, races to the station, marches into the studio, and demands that they shut off her ranting immediately. Matou tells her three seconds of radio silence is a gaffe, and eight gets him canned, so if she wants it shut off, she’ll have to provide new material.

Surely knocked off balance, both by her recent relationship woes ( and associated bender) and the fact there’s always going to be something dreamlike, surreal, and disorienting about hearing yourself on the radio, to say nothing of being thrust into the recording booth, having a mic shoved in your face, and being asked to start talking when you get the signal.

When that signal comes in the form of a tap on the back, Minare comes out of the gate blazing, backtracking on her drunken stereotyping and hoping for the opportunity to judge a future partner by his unique individuality and not toss in a box based on his region of origin.

She closes by vowing to kill her ex Mitsuo even if she has to chase him to the end of the earth. Matou’s gamble pays off: Minare has “it”. She was born for this. It’s cathartic and thrilling to behold…and reminded me of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel of all things!

What’s so satisfying about Matou finding her and giving her the opportunity to talk on the radio is how much it fits her personality. While she has her own private life (and inner monologue that only we hear), whenever she’s around others she’s going to talk, talk and talk some more, especially when she’s on the sauce. It’s high time she made money doing this, right?!

This all works thanks to crackling, realistic dialogue and a brash, bravura performance by Sugiyama Riho, whose robust, confrontational, delinquent-ish voice reminds me of prime Sawashiro Miyuki and Shiraishi Ryouko. It will be interesting to see what other scenarios like the bear attack the producers come up with, as well as to see if and how Minare balances restaurant work, broadcasting, and finding a new partner…or just finding her ex and killing him!

In / Spectre – 01 (First Impressions) – An Eye and a Leg

Two years ago, Iwanaga Kotoko saved Sakuragawa Kurou‘s life by catching him as he fell backwards. All she asked in return was that he remember his savior for the rest of his life. Kotoko later learned Kurou had a girlfriend, but they recently broke up. Having harbored a one-sided affection the last two years, Kotoko now approaches Kurou with her intentions to date him with eventual plans for marriage.

If Kotoko sounds like an unusual girl, she is: when she was eleven she was kidnapped by various youkai who asked if she would consent to serving as their “God of Wisdom”, one who could both mediate issues between youkai and between youkai and humans. In exchange for agreeing to help them, Kotoko lost her right eye and left leg, but considers becoming a god who can commune with youkai to be a fair trade.

When a particularly nasty ayakashi troubles a local library, youkai go to Kotoko to ask for aid. But as she’s outgunned in this particular case, she asks Kurou to accompany her. While youkai everywhere fear him like some kind of bogeyman, including a kappa whose reaction to seeing him led to his breakup with his girlfriend, Kotoko sees the value of having someone like him in her corner.

Thus, their “first date” involves confronting the giant beast in the library, and while Kotoko’s words fail, Kurou’s actions don’t. Only even Kotoko is surprised by how Kurou deals with the beast: he lets it rip his arm off, only for it to immediately regenerate, and the beast shortly dies, poisoned by Kurou’s flesh. Kurou confesses that something happened to him when he was eleven too: he ate youkai flesh.

While lacking in action until the final  minutes, the introduction of the forthright, no-nonsense, charming Kotoko and the inscrutable, unflappable Kurou is very well-handled and their dialogue never drags. They sport instant chemistry, owing in no small part to the voice talents of Miyano Mamoru and Kitou Akari, and I’m eager to see not just how they work together but how they become closer going forward.

Oresuki – 05 – Not Working Out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 03 – An Honest Girl Magnet

“Something about changing and getting so happy is scary,” Hikari tells Itou. So much so it makes him overly self-conscious and embarrassed about how intensely his heart beats whenever Iroha is near. Unfortunately Hikari still has much to learn about communicating his feelings good or bad, so he ends up ignoring Iroha and even pushing her hand away.

The only answers he can give her are “sorry” and “it’s nothing”, as if she wouldn’t understand. He’s still too stuck inside himself to trust someone else, especially with emotions he’s never had and can’t begin to explain. So it causes a rift.

Almost simultaneously, a girl slips on a banana peel and Hikari helps her up. It’s his classmate Ishino Arisa, whose first instinct upon realizing who helped her is to call him “gross” like all the others do. But later, she doesn’t run away or dismiss him when he tries to seek advice from someone who doesn’t make his heart pound.

Because Ishino also likes someone, their common ground on which to lay the foundation for a conversation. Part of her is worried this gloomy dude will commit suicide if she leaves him alone, but part is just as receptive to talking about the strange feelings people get for one another, and because neither of them share those feelings for each other, there’s no pressure.

Ishino decides a good step to take is for Hikari to lose the bangs as part of a larger effort to look more presentable (and less gloomy), but she can’t take a single snip of hair (with craft scissors) when Iroha arrives and declares that Hikari “belongs to her.”

Hikari thought she hated him for how he snubbed her, but her rudeness with Ishino is ample proof that’s not the case. Nor does Hikari hate her; they’re merely misunderstanding each others’ discomfort with the new and complicated emotions they’re feeling, as just about anything new makes people uncomfortable.

Speaking of comfort, on both the advice of his mom and the fact Iroha likes the same show, Hikari gets into baking as a means of both expressing his affection for Iroha and releasing pent-up stress (with which, as we all know, eating sweets can help).

Iroha is contrite towards Ishino and before long, Hikari is one of a circle of four. Iroha may claim to “not need” friends, but what else do you call four kids at school sharing each others company (and cookies) and talking to one another about themselves?

When asked, Ishino mentions things are going okay with her boy Shun, but the others soon learn he finds Ishino “convenient” in the way she lends him money and doesn’t mind the sight of other girls’ clothes in his room. He’s a cad, but Iroha doesn’t feel its quite their place to intervene, and Hikari and Itou aren’t about to disagree.

However, Iroha breaks her own rules and pummels Shun with her bookbag, not necessarily to defend a friend (she’d still say Ishino wasn’t one), but because he was pissing her off by calling Ishino stupid within earshot of Ishino. Ultimately Ishino decides to break up with Shun, but her stoic face is quickly soaked in tears; she’s not happy about it, even though she thinks it was the right thing to do.

To help dry his new friend’s tears and reduce her stress levels, Hikari suggests they head to the roof and eat the cheesecake and donuts he made. When Iroha gets some chocolate on her face he wipes it off with his hand, and Ishino declares that while she wan’t jealous of them before, she is now.

Hikari marvels at how there are only honest girls around him, but he doesn’t know how lucky he is. It’s up to him to be just as honest with them, as well as Itou. I’m not saying fake or deceptive people are lame, but I don’t think Hikari is compatible with them at all. He’s someone who needs things said to him straight, and hopefully he’ll pick up the habit.

And so, up there on the roof, trying not to worry too much about what the future might bring, Hikari is simply happy he can be a “normie”, and interact with these very exotic creatures called 3D human friends. It might feel weird, but he’ll surely get used to it.

Citrus – 12 (Fin)

The Citrus finale ends predictably, but starts with a bit of a surprise: Nina’s brute strength is all but neutralized by Yuzu’s sheer force of will. Nina realizes she can’t hold Yuzu back from doing something she may regret the rest of her life. But that doesn’t mean she won’t tag along when Sara summons Yuzu.

Nina has always seen her sister as someone who will put her own happiness last, and when she and Yuzu arrive, Sara appears to be doing just that by giving Yuzu a chance to confess to Mei. But letting Mei go and supporting Yuzu does make Sara happy. She can tell they’re a better match; they just need to work harder at understanding each other.

Sara is also happy because she has a little sister who cares about and protects her so much. And she has no intention of ceasing to be friends with either Yuzu or Mei. When you put it all together, Sara gained more than she lost.

As Yuzu takes the long walk to the shrine where Mei is waiting, her friends give her a wide berth. Matsuri wanted to inject herself into Yuzu’s trip, but resists the urge to bother her.

Harumin and Himeko spot Yuzu running like a bat out of hell, and both admit that her whirlwind nature is what draws them to her. Harumin has never minded supporting Yuzu as much as she has because she has so much fun watching her figure things out (that, and she’s a natural mama bird).

Night has fallen by the time Yuzu finds Mei on one of those bridges where confessions usually happen, but Mei is not in a receptive mood, and bolts when Yuzu tries to press the issue. Not quite sure if the ensuing chase was absolutely necessary, but it does add to the dramatic mood, especially when it ends with an accidental full-body tackle by Yuzu.

By the time Yuzu has Mei down by contact, she’s said a lot of the things she hadn’t said before but needed to, like admitting a lot of what Mei says and does just doesn’t make any damn sense to her, but also knows Mei feels the same way about her. She goes through the times Mei tried to reach out with her feelings when Yuzu was only thinking about her own.

Yuzu regrets putting Mei through those things, but it doesn’t change the fact she loves her and wants to do better, so if Mei loves her too, she should give her a kiss. Suddenly too bashful to do so, Mei has her mini teddy bear kiss Yuzu instead. Yuzu, in turn, gives Mei a kiss.

After much groping (literal and figurative) in the dark, the sisters are finally sure about one thing, even if Mei says she needs to date Yuzu to find out for sure. With that, they hook back up with Sara and Nina, Nina gives Mei and Yuzu her blessing and tells Mei to try to be more selfish at times, and they part ways with a promise to take a trip to Kyoto again, just the four of them.

Sara also said she’d “forgive” Mei for choosing Yuzu if Mei held Yuzu’s hand as they headed back to the hotel. On another cold night, Yuzu is thankful for Mei’s warm touch, leading to them sharing another kiss on another romantic bridge.

Back at school, Mei, Yuzu, Harumin and Himeko make a fine quartet, and Mei shows how much Yuzu’s confession meant by holding hands with her, even there on school grounds. Whatever the future holds for Yuzu and Mei, they’re going to enjoy their present.

That’s nice! I’m glad the stepsisters aren’t on tenterhooks and are moving forward with an attitude of honesty, openness, and a desire to understand each other more. With friends like Harumin, Himeko, and Sara (and…okay, fine, Nina too) supporting them, who at times threatened to steal the show away from the core couple, they’ll be just fine.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 05

I only realized at the end of last week’s episode, with the camera lingering on a sad and lonely-looking Megumi, that she might not be particularly pleased about Mari actually going through with her Antarctica trip; especially without her.

This week, in an emotional powerhouse of an episode, all of the resentment and negativity that had been festering within Megumi comes to the forefront; but while there are constant signs she’s Had It, Mari doesn’t realize until the very last moment: the morning she leaves for Australia.

Before that, the show strikes a scintillating balance between being excited for Mari and thinking she’s being an awful friend to Megumi. Case in point: while packing for three months (she’s only allowed 100kg, including her own weight), she finds the game she once borrowed from Megumi under her bed (another sign of the friendship she took for granted)

She invites herself to Megumi’s house to play the game, but Megumi couldn’t be any clearer about how few fucks she gives about the game. When Mari can’t take a hint, Megumi pulls the plug, pretending to have slipped, and that’s the end of it.

It’s really quite brilliant what goes on here, because I honestly can’t even blame Mari for being such an oblivious ditz, because that’s the friend Megumi cultivated all the years they’ve known each other. Compound that with her very understandable building excitement and anticipation for a life-changing adventure, and it’s all too devastatingly obvious why Mari can’t respond to or even sense Megumi’s growing miasma.

Meanwhile, there’s just such a grand sense of occasion to the quartet of new friends finishing up their packing. They may only be going abroad for three-odd months, but it feels like they’re packing for much more than that. It feels like they’re packing for a new chapter in their lives, in which they’ll see and experience things they never have before.

The episode proceeds to throw everything it possibly can towards the goal of pissing off Megumi as much as possible, as Mari and Shirase (whom Megumi continues to stubbornly, scornfully call “Antarctica”) suddenly become a big deal at school. And it IS a big deal for high schoolers to be going to Antarcitca, for crying out loud!

But for Megumi, it’s just a constant and unyielding reminder that Mari is “leaving the nest”, so to speak. Megumi fires back by bringing up rumors going around about Mari, Shirase, and the depths they sunk to to acquire the funds to go on the trip. Megumi is then almost immediately punished when Shirase herself shows up, along with Hinata.

When Shirase hears of the rumors, she wants blood immediately. Three Cheers for the wonderfully mature-when-it-matters Hinata experly talking her down by being the adult in the shrine. Yet even she seems to inadvertently take a dig at Megumi’s macchinations with her latest self-quote: “Sometimes, people are just mean. Don’t fight mean with mean. Hold your head high.” Almost a haiku!

The torture of being outnumbered by Mari’s new friends wasn’t enough, apparently, so poor Megumi has to be dragged along to karaoke, despite the fact she is in no mood to hang out with anyone, especially Mari, but especially her new friends. Still, here more than elsewhere she seems able to mask her contempt.

It must very much take Megumi aback, then, that despite Mari’s complete inability to pick up the signals, she is still able to speak surprisingly candidly and eloquently about how she sees this turning point in her life.

First, Mari assumes Megumi considered the fact they hadn’t been hanging out a lot lately a “relief.” Then, Mari talks of how she always wanted to go far away, how she hated being where she was, and how she hated herself.

Megumi’s long acceptance of Mari as someone who would always cling to her had the unintended side effect of driving Mari to become someone who wouldn’t have to cling. Someone with worth of their own.

After parting ways, Mari comes home to find her entire family cooking their butts off to celebrate her imminent departure. Mari’s reflex is to send Megumi a photo message and an invite…but Megumi never responds.

The morning of departure comes, and what a morning. First, we watch Mari get up, wash her face, brush her teeth, comb her hair, get dressed, and give herself a final check.

All very routine morning activities given monumental status by the fact they’re the last such activities she’ll be doing for some time. And to be perfectly candid, when Rin gave Mari a big hug, I had already started to tear up, just like Mari’s dad.

And that was before a dark, brooding Megumi confronts Mari, who is just SO freaking ready to tear the world a new one, and tells her she came not to say “see you later”, but to break up; to cease being friends.

At first, Mari has no idea what’s happening, but once Megumi starts to list all the things she and she alone has done—spread false rumors, told the bullies about Shirase’s cash; told Mari’s mother before Mari could told her herself—it all comes into focus. All Mari can say is “Why?”

All those things—and even going there in the morning to confront her—were all meant to return the pain she felt from the feeling that Mari was abandoning her, and that it wasn’t Mari who had been clinging to her for some time now, it was the opposite. Without Mari, Megumi considered herself nothing, and if she was to be nothing, she didn’t want Mari to have anything either.

Megumi thought, even hoped that at some point Mari would catch on and get mad, but she never did, nor did her new friends. She considers that not just evidence of what morons they are, but that she wasn’t even worth being figured out; that Mari had moved on so much from what Megumi thought of her. That could only make someone feel even more worthless.

Mari begs Megumi to come with her, but Megumi is ready to take her “first step into a world without” Mari. In a way, she’s trying to do the same thing as Mari, Hinata, Shirase and Yuzuki: step into a world without any of the things they usually rely on; where they don’t know what lies around the corner; where they won’t know where they’ll be tomorrow.

Those sentiments are narrated by Mari as we watch scenes of the other three saying their goodbyes and taking those first steps. And then, before Mari joins her, she takes a few steps toward Megumi, hugs her from behind, and declares her breakup rejected.

Maybe Megumi wanted Mari to come to hate her that morning after all of the things she said and did without remorse. But sometimes people are just mean. Mari doesn’t fight mean with mean. She holds her head high. It’s an abrupt, almost brusque end to what had been an epic Friend Fight, and a clear instance of Mari having the last word.

But it’s also an acknowledgement that while Mari no longer sees Megumi as someone she must cling to at all costs or look to for guidance, that doesn’t automatically mean the end of a friendship. It just means that a change has taken place.

Now everything springs into action.

Houseki no Kuni – 10

Old Phos used to cause trouble and get in the way. New Phos holds court—with Alex (AKA Lexi) over detailed descriptions of Lunarians; agreeing to take on Jade’s patrols while Kongou sleeps; and even with Bort, who wants to team up with Phos.

But always not far from Phos’ thoughts is the ghost of Antarc. While Phos might initially hesitate over teaming up with Bort (a little of the Old “what a pain” Phos seeping out), it’s a step Phos has to take in order to get stronger and learn more about how to fight properly.

Phos’ only concern is how Diamond will feel; Bort is basically dumping Dia sight unseen; Dia hears it from Phos first. But Phos has Dia’s blessing; after all, it was Dia who told Pho she needed to change back when Dia was Phos’ only advocate.

That being said, Dia still seems awfully dejected, quietly picking flowers for a lonely-looking bouquet as Bort departs with Phos. Unfortunately for the pair, their first mission as partners is not an easy one, as an entirely new and powerful Lunarian emerges from a “double sunspot.”

Bort plays right into the Lunarian’s trap. Bort’s first strike only multiplies the apertures, through which more than four limbs emerge and grab Bort. Phos delivers a gold-plated assist, but the fuzzy white many-armed beast isn’t going to go down easily.

As “recklessness is for the inept”, Bort grabs Phos and falls back to HQ, then tosses Phos at the bell to strike it six times (an order for all other Gems to hold position). Bort’s plan involves luring the Lunarian to Kongou, who will hopefully awaken in time to destroy it.

But the Lunarian doesn’t follow Bort and Phos…it goes its own way, which turns out to be where Diamond is sulking. From here until the time Dia takes the upper hand, the episode takes on the flavor of a creepy horror movie where the protagonist must quietly hide from the monster hunting them.

Dia watching the flower vase jostle from the monster’s booming steps is a neat Jurassic Park reference, and some niftily subtle animation to boot (the way Dia gently arranged the flowers earlier was also an elegant moment).

Diamond eventually gets sick of hiding and decides to do what Bort always yells at Dia for: get reckless. This is Dia in full-on Badass Mode, without a care for how much bigger or stronger their opponent is.

Dia’s first strikes don’t do much (even a diamond limb-as-a-weapon doesn’t make a major mark), but Dia only needs one leg to rush the Lunarian, dodge its swipes, and deliver a killing blow before collapsing into a half-shattered pile—just as Bort is watching from outside the window.

But even that isn’t the end of things, as Dia’s strike only managed to cut the one big enemy into two smaller ones. With Dia out of commission, it falls to Bort to face the pair, which Bort does without fear, as usual.

But as tough as Bort is (tougher than nails, literally), I’d feel a lot better if Phos, other Gems, and hell, why not, Master Kongou arrived in time to assist Bort. I tell you, these Lunarians get nastier and more devious with each passing week.

Tsurezure Children – 11

There’s a lovely momentum to this week’s quartet of stories, befitting what may be the second-to-last episode (though I wouldn’t mind a second cour) – things seem right on the cusp of coming together for some of the more stubborn pairs, thanks in part to third parties.

Take Chizuru, who learns through Ayaka’s now active and thriving relationship, what it actually means and how it feels to be in love. There are too many coincidences for her to merely shrug this off, and too many who have heard the rumor Sugawara likes her.

As for what I consider the most emotionally close (if physically furthest away) relationship, Kana ignores Chiaki after the first kiss incident, and he thinks he’s been dumped. Kana’s friend tells her breaking up is a bit much for a muffed first kiss, and she knows that. It gets to the point where she thinks she’s ignored him enough, and starts to worry that he might hate her.

The two are so in sync, Chiaki decides to send one last message just as Kana decides to accept one last message, if he apologizes. Everything’s looking good…until she drops her phone in the tub! I’m not too too worried, though; if these two really love each other, they’re not going to let technological snafus keep them apart.

Still reeling from their technological snafu, Takase and Kanda are both still interested, but weary of making the first move, even to the point of asking for/offering pencil leads for final exams. Enter Minagawa, the third party, to tell Kanda to get them from Takase as a means to get closer.

She chickens out, but Takase, who has the easier job here, thankfully doesn’t. When Kanda runs out of lead, he tosses her more, and after the exams they’re on friendly speaking terms again; which is what they both want.

The third party in Ryouko’s case is the entire rest of her class. As she crams for the exam after so many months of slacking off like a yankee should, she gets super-self-conscious about how that class sees her, worried they’re all better than her because they studied more or something.

Akagi wants to offer support while she’s studying in class, but won’t (and orders the Prince kid to hit him if he does), since Ryouko will be alone for the actual exam, after all. We’ve seen precious little of Akagi without Ryouko around, and it’s nice to see his hands shaking in anxiety because he’s worried about his girlfriend.

Ryouko doesn’t have what you’d call a fun time during exams, but who does? When she drops her eraser, she’s even too self-conscious to raise her hand. Her classmate Patricia Shibasaki picks it up for her, and adds that she’s rooting for her. Her nerve restored, Ryouko can continue.

Tsurezure Children – 10

Motoyama has to endure the extreme wussitude of his friend Yamane Kurihara, the girl who likes him. She made pudding for him, so asks him behind the school, but Yamane take Motoyama along, and once he’s there, Kurihara doesn’t want him to leave either!

When he finally does, Kurihara simply hands the pudding over to Yamane and the two depart just moments later. An exercise in futility, as long as Yamane continues being so low on himself.

Kamine and Gouda are faring much better, but there are still things Kamine wishes her boyfriend would improve upon, like not being so sudden, calling her by her first name, and not holding hands with other girls—even if it’s to arm wrestle with the foreigner Patricia. (Opening bottles is okay, but if he’s nice to another girl he has to be nicer to her).

Gouda takes all of this in stride, not minding at all that she’s being a little needy and selfish because, well, he likes her, and thinks she’s only gotten cuter since they became a couple.

When a passing Kana and Chiaki spot the happy couple doing things they never imagined Kamine or Gouda would do (especially in public), you could say they are inspired, and try to have their first kiss right there.

Unfortunately, it is interrupted by…Kamine and Gouda, and the two couples exchange ‘what are you doings’ with ‘aw nothings’ and that’s that. Only Kana and Chiaki actually did nothing.

So it was exciting to see the show stay with Kana and Chiaki for the final segment, though in hindsight I might be sorry I wanted such a continuation. Chiaki invites Kana to his otherwise empty house with the express intention of kissing her before she has to be home by 8.

After a lot of awkward interactions, he decides to do a skit—one in which he pretends to be drunk. Chiaki assumes he drank something, and would rather their first kiss be something they can remember with fondness, even if it isn’t a big deal.

Then Chiaki reveals he’s just acting and surprise-kisses Kana, then invites her to ‘play along’ as if it were another one of their skits…and she is NOT into it. In fact, she storms out in tears, declaring their duo over. Is it really over? I hope not, but Chiaki had better apologize!

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 09

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Things move fast this week, but most of the things that occur are basically foregone conclusions. Kikuhiko and Sukeroku both become Shin’uchi, but in his debut, Sukeroku sticks it to the association president by performing his specialty, “Inokori”, in which he must embody multiple sides of one character, Saheiji, depending on who else he’s talking to. It’s a challenging story, but Sukeroku pulls it off and gets the only approval he needs: that of the crowd.

Now a Shin’uchi, Kikuhiko is committed to shedding a woman he feels someone of his stature can no longer be with. It’s not pride so much as obligation to the structures he was raised into, which demand that a man put things above his own personal feelings. His breakup with Miyokichi had been telegraphed for some time, but that doesn’t make it any less heartbreaking when the hammer comes down.

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Miyokichi, as it happens, isn’t the only one who gets dumped: as a result of his insolence in his debut, Sukeroku is taken aside by his master, who informs him Kiku, not he, will be the Eighth Generation Yakumo. Again, the writing was on the wall. As well-intending as Sukeroku is, and no matter how much practical sense it makes, he was never going to be able to successfully convince the old guard of his “change or die” views of rakugo.

For the elders, including his master, change is death; there is no difference. Oral tradition cannot truly survive if it becomes a game of Telephone. Tweaking tradition is a slippery slope, one that the elders would rather fall to their death by clinging to rather than allow it to be propped up with new ideas.

Furthermore, Sukeroku was always hampered by his modest origin; he was always an interloper, a “stray dog” who clawed his way into this world. There’s no way the master would allow such a person to succeed him, no matter how unassailable his talent. There may be TVs now, but castes still matter.

When Sukeroku argues too forcefully, Yakumo expels him, throwing him out of his house. And that’s how our two dumped and dejected people find and comfort each other.

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Speaking of comfort, Kikuhiko isn’t experiencing it just because everything seems to be going his way. In his mind, Sukeroku is still better at rakugo than him, no matter how many elders or syncophants say otherwise. He’s particularly irritated when a dilettante-ish rakugo critic tears down Sukeroku in an apparent effort to curry favor. Kiku ends the interview right there.

Then Master Yakumo’s wife dies, and with mortality on his mind, he informs Kikuhiko that he intends to give him his name. Kiku’s initial reaction is that it’s a mistake; Sukeroku should get the name; he’s more skilled; he doesn’t have any skill compared to that raw talent. But Yakumo reproaches his apprentice.

It’s not Kiku’s place to tell him who he should give his name to, nor to say whether he’s better or worse than Sukeroku. Just like his brother, Kiku spoke out of place, but out of humility and inferiority, not arrogance and outsize obligation to take rakugo upon his shoulders and “save” it, as Sukeroku wants to do. There’s more to being Eighth Generation than being The Best At Rakugo. 

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As Kiku continues to thrive but derive no joy from anything other than doing rakugo, Sukeroku and the scorned Miyokichi quickly shack up together and become an item. Just as Sukeroku and Kikuhiko must embody different people to perform their stories to suit their audiences, so too does Miyo, a skilled and experienced geisha, know how to be exactly the woman a particular man wants. She could be classy and prudish for Kiku, whom she loved, but knows Sukeroku less propriety.

I’m glad Miyo doesn’t waste any more time than she needs to worrying about Kiku; what’s done is done, and she’s moving on with someone who actually wants to be with her. Sukeroku doesn’t know if he’s quite that person yet…but he does like boobies. There’s something sad and close-looped about the two being depressed about the same person—Kikuhiko—but they must make do with each other.

Also, she doesn’t have time to wait around or worry; she has a baby on the way, and wants to raise it in the countryside. Her geisha house is shut down, so she steals the till with the intention of running off with Sukeroku.

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He stops by Kiku’s not for money or a place to stay, but to say goodbye, even as Kiku urges him to make peace with the master so he can give him his name. Sukeroku knows what he has to do to get back in the good graces of their master, and he can’t do it. He tells Kiku about Miyo and the baby and the country, and Kiku is not happy.

What is Kiku going to do without Sukeroku around annoying him and challenging him to be his best? What is he going to do with Yakumo’s name when he’s certain his drunk, uncouth, stray dog of a brother deserves it more? Someone he wants to punch and embrace in the same moment?

These unanswerable questions (which must attempt to be answered anyway, one day at a time) sow the seeds of a bitterness and regret that will stay with Kiku for years, then made worse one day when Sukeroku loses his life in his prime. That bitterness will come to define the man telling this story to Yotarou and Konatsu in the present.

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