Eromanga-sensei – 04

Whither Yamada Elf goest, so to does Eromanga-sensei (the show, not the artist). Starting out as a caricature of a super-arrogant, condescending brat with delusions of grandeur, Elf’s become a lot more balanced in the last two episodes.

She also reveals that delusions aside she’s a highly capable, multi-talented person, as evidenced by the lovely, tasty-looking meal she lovingly prepares for Masamune. The reason she’s happy to cook is that she gains perspective on how characters in her stories feel when they’re cooking for those they have their eye on.

Sagiri has also picked up on the quickly evolving relationship between Yamada and Masamune (even if he doesn’t see Yamada as a serious love interest), and calls Masamune a liar for saying they don’t get along, when he’s clearly there all the time.

Combined with the result of bringing up the drawing of large-boobed women (Sagiri can’t do it because she doesn’t have them herself), Masamune ends up shut out of her bedroom once more, though the core of her disappointment is his refusal to come clean about the neighbor.

The day the two authors are to reveal their stories to one another, Masamune arrives at Elf’s house to…no welcome whatsoever. I fully expected him to barge in on her working (or doing something else) in the nude, but I was pleasantly surprised when he found her all covered up.

Specifically, she’s in a very practical sweatsuit, with bags under her eyes instead of ringlets beside them, and a very serious look on her face. This is all Masamune needs to realize all her talk about writing light novels being a mere “hobby” is a bunch of codswallop.

More evidence is presented when the two read one another’s manuscripts before turning them over to Eromanga-sensei. He’s reliably blown away by her story, a page-turner seemingly perfectly tuned for Eromanga’s stylus, right down to the small-boobed characters in cool outfits. But Elf is also blown away by Masamune’s…just not in the same way he is by hers.

It’s not that her story is in any way worse—on the contrary, it would likely sell many orders of magnitude more copies than his—it’s that this isn’t a competition for the most bankable LN. It’s a competition for Eromanga’s services and after reading Masamune’s manuscript, Elf is so sure she can’t compete, she tosses her manuscript straight into the shredder (much to Masa’s dismay).

Reading it also confirms to her that Eromanga-sensei is his little sister next door, and that’s why she can’t compete: it’s a 300-page love letter, for chrissake. It’s not even meant for any other reader but her, which is why Elf is both outclassed and beet-faced she read it at all.

When Masamune finally gains access to Sagiri’s room—via the window in a frankly needlessly reckless stunt that could have gotten him killed and resulted in ending up in a very lewd position with Sagiri beneath him. There, he learns why she hasn’t opened the door for him in two weeks: she doesn’t hate him, she’s been improving her drawing, both battle scenes and bigger boobs.

Her take on his dalliances next door was that the neighbor was a rival artist trying to take “Izumi-sensei” away from her, while he kept the wager secret because he was worried she’d be seduced by the more famous and successful Elf. With the misunderstanding cleared up and his victory sealed (she’d never leave him for another author), she reads the manuscript.

Like Elf, it’s embarrassing for her to read; doubly so since it’s about her. And while she considers it an interesting story, he’d never be able to release it as a book, because it’s just too personal. She also, not in so many words, rejects the implied confession the manuscript represents.

Masamune is fine with that rejection, but he’s committed to re-working the story into something he can show to his editor, something that will sell and garner a huge audience, and eventually, get awarded his first anime adaptation, putting him on the same level as Elf. Most importantly, his goal is to get Sagiri out of her room so they can watch the first episode of their anime together in the living room.

While I thought this was Masamune going too far and was sure it would put Sagiri off, I am surprised yet again when Sagiri take a couple steps outside her room; the first steps in many to come on their quest to create an anime-worthy book. Let the goal-striving begin.

Eromanga-sensei – 03

When Masamune investigates the abandoned, possibly haunted house next door, he’s surprised to find Yamada Elf has just moved in: and likes to play the piano naked after a shower to get inspired to write.

After the standard accusations of peeping tommery, she invites him in, and most of the episode is given over to making Elf a little more dimensional, if still grating in her intense, obnoxious arrogance.

As Sagiri’s bedroom window faces Elf’s office, you’d think it wouldn’t be long before she found out who Eromanga-sensei is, but Elf sees Masamune’s sister and thinks she’s just that: a little sister who has fun drawing, not the person whose services they’re fighting over.

It’s also a bit shitty of Masamune not to even mention to Sagiri his little wager with Elf, considering Sagiri is the ‘prize’. Then again, it’s a good thing that Masamune isn’t the perfect MC while everyone around him is flawed in some way.

Indeed, Masamune’s flaw seems to be that in spite of Elf’s toxic personality, incessant pretentiousness, and pronunciation of ahhh-neee-may, he can’t help spending time with his new neighbor, nor indeed being a fan himself, even if meeting Yamada-sensei wasn’t what he expected.

For a time, it doesn’t seem like Elf invited Masamune in just to rub his nose in her superior success, but to spend time with a fellow author. She earnestly asks why he’s a fan, and he earnestly answers: after a death in the family, her books cheered him up. They taught him that novels can “save lives” of some readers, and for that she has his heartfelt thanks, competition or no.

Elf’s reaction betrays a softer, more genuine side to her, even if it’s short-lived and she’s back to being awful the next day. But it’s also clear that she’d rather have Masamune around than not, and also strongly disagrees with his workaholic approach to authoring, as she considers her job a “hobby” and only writes if her motivation is maxed out.

Despite knowing nothing of their competition involving her, Sagiri is uneasy anyway because her big brother, who has been All Hers up to this point, is suddenly ‘in the web’ of a cute, rich next-door neighbor.

While her music and online fans keep Eromanga merry, I feel one of the factors that drives her motivation to draw is knowing Masamune will always be there in the house, serving her meals and protecting her.

Yamada throws a thorn in that arrangement, and it will be interesting to see whether that motivates Sagiri to explore beyond her room. But yeah…Masamune really should tell her about his wager with Elf.

Eromanga-sensei – 02

The beautiful girl at the door turns out to be Sagiri’s classmate and class rep at school, Jinno Megumi. After a joke about how much she loves dicks, the very flirtatious “Megumin” states her purpose for being there: she wants Sagiri to come to school so she can be friends with her, like she’s friends with everyone.

Well! That’s a strong personality to contend with, but she doesn’t get her way, at least today. Sagiri never meets her in person, but only overhears her conversation with Masamune through his phone—and later, without his knowledge, through Megumi’s, leading him to say some very nice things about his “pride and joy”, Sagiri.

After that new girl encounter, Masamune jumps into an old one, Takasago Tomoe, who seems to be a classmate and/or childhood friend whose family runs the bookstore where his manga are sold.

Well, they’re offered for sale, but to Masamune’s horror, it doesn’t look like any have actually been sold. He wants Tomoe to help him out by putting them in a more prominent spot, but she doesn’t bend: if he wants better placement and sales, he has to write better stories that touch people’s hearts.

The third girl Masamune encounters is perhaps the worst, Yamada Elf, a thoroughly unpleasant, petulant, arrogant young author who couldn’t be more different from Masamune (or Sagiri for that matter). She lets her “#1 on Oricon” standing go straight to her head, believing she isn’t just the Savior of LNs, she IS light novel. Yikes!

Masamune encounters Elf trying to poach Eromanga-sensei away, something even Masamune feels would benefit his little sister, so when he goes home he’s extremely contrite and gives an offering of not-so-tasty (according to Sagiri) snacks. I don’t see Sagiri abandoning her brother anytime soon…at least until the fourth girl arrives, whom I am predicting is another artist who tries to poach Masamune, the way Elf wants to poach Sagiri.

Until then, a tiny bit of progress seems to have been made in Sagiri; she asks if her brother’s heard back from Megumi, and also tells him she’ll wash her own underwear from now on, which means she’ll have to leave her room, however briefly.

Eromanga-sensei – 01 (First Impressions)

Izumi Masamune is a popular light novel writer despite still being in high school. He lives with his stepsister Sagiri, whose face he hasn’t seen in over a year. One day while he’s watching a livestream of Eromanga-sensei, the mysterious illustrator of his works whom he’s never met, he notices the note he left with Sagiri’s meal, proving that she is Eromanga-sensei.

She finally lets him see her face, and even invites him in her room to talk, but despite having collaborated with each other on light novels for three years, the road to re-connection won’t be a smooth one.

Eromanga-sensei’s value isn’t in the twist that the siblings are artistic collaborators. I figured that out the moment Masamune said he’d never met his illustrator. Rather, it lies in excitement bred from the sudden disruption of a long-standing status quo; a stalemate between Masamune and Sagiri that had no end in sight.

Now that they ‘know who each other are’, so to speak, they have an opening that I imagine they’ll be ever-so-slowly exploring throughout the show. A show with a crisp, clean, airy look and theme of emotionally distant siblings that viewers of he Oreimo series will find familiar, due to the two shows sharing the same character designer, Kanzaki Hiro, and writer, Fushimi Tsukasa (the two collaborated on the source novels of both shows).

The moment Sagiri finally opens her door is a momentous moment, but the Schrodinger’s Cat-style tension it releases is replaced by the long, difficult, and outright awkward road ahead.

As Sagiri says, this is all very sudden, and it’s hard for adults to wrap their heads around and process such sudden changes in life, let alone a kid who hasn’t left her room in three years.

It’s far easier for, say, Masamune to wrap his mind around this, because the mystery of who Eromanga-sensei was always irked him, and he never suspected for a minute it was his sister (Sagiri, on the other hand, seemed to harbor some vague suspicions, as his pen name is the same as his regular one, albeit in katakana).

Masamune also has the benefit of being able to leave the house at will and interact with other people face-to-face rather than exclusively through technology. Sagiri’s voice-amplifying headset is a nice touch for illustrating how ill-prepared for social interaction she really is. Even having Masamune in there is so strange, on more than one occasion she cuts off their encounters so she can return to the normalcy of solitude.

This is all to say that I really admired the way Sagiri’s condition is portrayed. She’s not slob; her room is neat and tidy, and there’s no denying she’s an immensely gifted artist, especially considering her age. She just…can’t leave her room, nor has she been able to since her mother (who encouraged her to draw) passed away. We all process grief in different ways, she did so by shutting herself off from the world that took her mom away.

Learning her brother is Izumi Masamune doesn’t change any of that. She still feels trapped in that room because of her mother’s death. And unlike Masamune, she doesn’t think they’re family just because they live in the same house and he serves her meals. It’s a combination of frustration over her self-confinement and shame that she’s been such a ‘troublesome sister’. Masamune’s unconditional love is confusing and frightening, and Masamune does come on a bit too strong with his enthusiasm over learning the truth at times.

But one thing’s for sure: Sagiri loves drawing for the enjoyment of fans and readers, just as Masamune loves writing for the same reasons. She likes the interaction her livestreams and blogging allow. She is every inch a child of the 21st Century, in which even self-imposed prisons still contain windows to the world. It will be interesting to see if, when, and how Sagiri is able to emerge from her room, and from the house to see the world again with her own senses.

…It will also be interesting to see if Masamune ever asks Sagiri where she’s been stashing the cash she’s made illustrating, and why she hasn’t contributed to living expenses!

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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Ao no Exorcist: Kyoto Fujouou-hen – 05

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Alright: I’m officially frustrated with how slowly this arc is moving. It’s one thing to spend an episode or two in one place, but this is getting ridiculous. Yaozou holds another tedious meeting to bring everyone up to speed, and we keep seeing the same flashbacks of Rin flaring up and standing trial. The show seems to be spending so much time reminiscing while setting the table, I’m starting to lose my appetite.

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Mamushi, still being portrayed with the possibility she could still be redeemed, if barely, is having difficulty bearing the evil of the Right Eye, but Todou claims he can’t bear them both alone. Mamushi honestly thinks she’s doing what’s best for her order, so a little suffering is par for the course.

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The sitting around back at Myoda HQ is all the more frustrating because no one, save Tatsuma, seems to be in any hurry to follow Todou and Mamushi. Granted they vanished without a trace, but…you’re exorcists. Do something exorcisty to detect and find them! Instead we get more meetings, then are treated to Yukio reading a letter by Tatsuma that’s as big as a goddamn book.

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Granted, at least the book-letter takes us to a different place, namely the Myoda Temple years ago, when Tatsuma was a young man with a dying pregnant wife and preparing to take over from the master, his ailing father. We also learn that Rin’s Koma Sword was once the main relic of the Myoda sect…until one day Rin and Yukio’s dad…stole it.

Now that sounds like an interesting story. But in the back of my mind, I know that back in the present Rin and Yukio and Shura are sitting around in a jail doing nothing. What little momentum had been built up isn’t likely to survive such a leisurely stroll down memory lane.

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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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Kuzu no Honkai – 02

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Just as Hanabi and Mugi are getting acclimated as a kinda-sorta-couple, Kuzu no Honkai throws a couple of wrenches into the works: namely, alternate love interests for both of them in the persons of Ecchan (Hanabi’s only female friend) and Moca (Mugi’s childhood friend).

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Hanabi makes it clear to Moca that Mugi is hers and she isn’t into sharing. Possessive or not, it’s logical for her to suggest Mugi gently reject Moca, but because both of them are in situations of unrequited love, it’s also not strange to see him hesitating.

That being said, there are already signs that Hanabi sees Mugi as more than just an onii-chan replacement; she even calls him Mugi when he starts to make out with her. The rules of their “arrangement” are being bent this quickly, what hope to they have of not falling for each other?

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Hanabi never having the slightest opening with onii-chan, nor Mugi with Akane, certainly makes being a couple together more mutually comforting. Mugi is starting to feel like a boyfriend, and she doesn’t hate that.

When she interacts with other girls who ask her for love advice, they seem to be simply playing around, compared to what she and Mugi are up against. They laugh off her talk of liking someone so much it hurts, so she can’t take them seriously from that point on.

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Hanabi decides she wants a girls-only night with her only friend Ecchan; little does she know Ecchan is harboring a crush on her; one we see her acting on despite herself as the night fast-forwards to Ecchan kissing Hanabi in bed. As if things weren’t already complicated enough, eh…

Kuzu no Honkai continues to be a moody, intriguing drama, wading into the murky swamp of infatuation and longing, and punctuated by sudden moments of intimate contact. Moca seems like she belongs in a different show so far, but Ecchan is more promising, if for no other reason than she completely blindsides Hanabi.

As Kuzu nears Nagi no Asukara levels of love polygonage in just its second episode, I’m curious to see how those pursuing their own one-sided loves deal with others pursuing them.

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Kuzu no Honkai – 01 (First Impressions)

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It’s not what it looks like…

The Gist: Yasuraoka Hanabi is and has always been in love with the older Kanai Narumi, who she calls onii-san. Awaya Mugi has always loved his middle school tutor, Minagawa Akane. Now both Kanai and Akane are teachers at Hanabi and Mugi’s school, and they are into each other.

Brought together by their similar situations, Hanabi and Mugi grow closer, nearly sleeping together, then enter a pact to soothe each other’s loneliness, becoming, in effect, replacements for the ones they truly love.

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This show isn’t entirely humorless

Whoa. Move over Masamune-kunKuzu no Honkai is the best Winter ’17 romance I’ve yet seen. It certainly has the strongest opening episode, which cuts to the freaking chase with immense alacrity.

And while it centers on the girl Hanabi (voiced by Anzai Chika, Reina from Euph as well as Chaika) and her thoughts, what drew me to KnH is how it tosses the usual girl-pursues a boy and boy-pursues-girl scenarios out the window.

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Look at those lovebirds down there…disgusting!

It also makes them equal actors with equal agency. In the face of the utter despair that comes from not being chosen by the the ones they deem their soul mates (and watching them flirt with each other every day at school), Hanabi and Mugi act to change their conditions, and make their miserable lives just a little more bearable.

In the episode’s powerful central act, Hanabi and Mugi are hanging out in his room as they always do, acting something like friends, in a dark and gloomy room. They’ve done this many times, but this time Hanabi feels compelled to reach out and embrace Mugi from behind. Mugi suggests she not see him as himself, but to imagine he’s actually Kanai.

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This is what they’ve wanted for a long time…but not from each other

Things get quite a bit steamier (without the deed being done, mind you) as Hanabi allows Mugi to be a vessel that contains her ideal version of Kanai doing these things with and to her, and she’s very conscious of how Mugi is no doubt seeing her as his beloved Akane. It’s so raw and sad, but it does soothe both parties, so it’s not a total waste of time.

When she was much younger, Kanai told Hanabi “we both have something the other is jealous of”, referring to her mother, a great cook, and his father; Hanabi’s never known hers. He then says they’ll be able to “help each other when we’re feeling lonely.” Hanabi took it as the God’s truth, but Kanai let her down, and came off as a liar.

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If we’re going to do this, then let’s DO this!

Mind you, that didn’t break the powerful spell he’s always had on her, and so here Hanabi and Mugi are, deciding that they’ll be the ones to help each other when they’re lonely, because they both have the exact same thing: someone who may never return their burning feelings. They agree to let each other have everything but their feelings, and if one of them makes it with the one they actually love, their pact will end.

Yeesh. That’s some dark, depressing stuff, but also not outside the realm of reality. While the formula is common, I personally haven’t seen this specific premise crop up much. It’s so simple, yet powerful, and like I said, it’s great that the girl and guy are equal partners. One hopes they’ll eventually fall for each other, because their other prospects don’t look so good, but who knows…that’s why we watch!

The show also has welcome moments of levity that don’t come off as tacked on, even though they sometimes surprise. And while its palette is a little on the drab side most of the time, that fits the desired atmosphere, and the animation is superb. If you’re up for some really well done seinen romantic drama, check this kuzu out.

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Watashi ga Motete Dousunda – 12

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And so Kiss Him Not Me comes to an end, with the ending pretty much in the title all along. Mutsumi’s sudden realization of his romantic feelings for Kae make her other four suitors scramble to keep him away from her, but he eventually outsmarts them with a P.A. announcement calling Kae to the school roof.

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Mu, however, does not discourage the others from joining him on that roof and letting their feelings be known. With everyone saying they like her, clearly, and asking if she’ll go out with them, the onus is on her to choose.

Kae flees to A-chan with her predicament; A-chan is understandably frustrated with Kae putting everything in fujoshi terms, but the solution they come up with is for Kae to do things dating-sim-style. The scene is another hint that Kae simply isn’t ready for a 3D romantic relationship.

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She goes on dates with each of the suitors, and has a wonderful time with each of them, as each of their charms are laid bare before her. But it doesn’t make it any easier to choose among them; indeed, it only make the choice harder and more confusing.

All five are great, they’re just lacking that special something that would compel her to choose one over the others. Which is why, in the end, she chooses no one. The status quo prior to their confessions is the situation at the end, for Kae doesn’t “love” any of them the way she loves Shion, who may be resurrected in a new season of his anime.

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So there you have it. Kae has never subscribed to the notion that the princess belongs with the prince, or even that the princess belongs with another princess. She’s all about 5×7, tops, bottoms, and lords. Furthermore, she lives a full and happy life not with a boyfriend or girlfriend, but with her sixteen waifus.

“Sorry, that’s how it is,” she says to her shocked, former suitors. And I can’t really feel that bad for them. They’re all still friends, both with her and with each other. Hopefully they can get over the fact she’s not the kind of girl who’d date them, and never was.

It’s a fitting end to a satisfying, if not perfect show that centered on a genuine ‘unconventional’ girl (whatever that means) who may be a bit naive when it comes to romance, but in the end knows what she wants and what she loves, and isn’t about to conform.

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Watashi ga Motete Dousunda – 11

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Mu’s ill-advised attempt to convince his brother that Kae was already his girlfriend is undermined by everyone else, and only ends up emboldening Kazuma, who now knows that all of them are into Kae, and he’s only too happy to throw his hat in the ring.

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One by one, the group falls before Kazuma, who uses tactics that exploit the weaknesses of each person, be it Shi’s skittishness, Nana and Iga’s reputations, or Shina’s first doujinshi.

It feels a little Wile E. Coyote, in that each character gives up after one attempt to thwart Kazuma, but the point is that only one person can stop him, and he can only stop him by shedding the “meek little brother” act of always conceding everything to him.

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Kazuma is the way he is because Mu always gave him what he wanted. But as he demonstrates in the obscure Sengoku era-themed card game duel, Mu is not willing to cede ground to his brother. He cares too much about Kae.

In an amusing, if not particularly thrilling card duel (during which the gathered crowd and everyone but Kae constantly mention they have no idea what’s going on) Mu executes a just-barely-legal, gutsy move Kazuma did not expect, defeating him by all means at his disposal.

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Mu’s newfound intensity and confidence gets through to Kazuma, who accepts defeat graciously; not something I thought would happen after he locked and taped Mu in a locker just a couple days before. But Kazuma is happy Mu finally stood up for himself.

The group is happy Mu won…right up until the moment he capitalized on his victory by confessing his feelings to Kae, who seems to react positively. That naturally puts the others on edge, as with Kazuma (probably, hopefully) out of the picture, Mu is now back to being their rival for Kae’s heart. Even though she’s content to have sixteen fictional waifus.

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