Vanitas no Carte – 11 – Jean d’Ate

Armed with the notion that Vanitas will despise someone who professes their love for him, our favorite easily-flustered vampire knight decides to ask her blood buddy out on a date, hoping he’ll end up in the palm of her hand. Predictably, this doesn’t go remotely how Jeanne hoped.

After all, it’s hard to pretend to have affection for someone when you are truly drawn to them, no matter how much you don’t want to be. Such is Jeanne’s plight: whether due to the lure of his delicious blood or the fact she simply adores a bad boy, she’s genuinely excited about the date, especially as it allows her to tour human Paris.

Meanwhile, Lord Ruthven, whom we know is up to no good, gets Noé out of bed so they can have a nice friendly chat at the Lord’s favorite human café, the entirety of which he rents out for such a purpose. While initially apprehensive, Noé soon settles into an easy rapport with Ruthven, to the point he reminds him of his teacher, the Shapeless One.

Throughout Vanitas and Jeanne’s date, Domi is diligently following and observing with opera glasses. She originally committed to doing this because she thought she’d derive some entertainment from it, only to find it looks like an ordinary date. It’s also funny that Dante tags along, and the more bored he gets, the more he resembles Cartman.

It’s atop Paris’ highest hill—from one gets a good look at the Sun Tower that takes the place of the Eiffel Tower in this alternate steampunk world—where things turn from a fun dawdle to Serious Business.

When a boy scrapes his knee and Jeanne gets one look at the blood, she’s ready to pounce on the lad, but Vanitas stops her, having her bite his arm instead. Dante tosses a smoke bomb so they can get away safely, but it’s close call—and a revealing one too, when it comes to Jeanne.

The pleasant, cordial café date also takes a turn when Ruthven asks Noé straight-up whose side he’s on: humans or vampires. At this point Noé is only on the side of those he cares about, which includes members of both groups. This is the wrong answer, and he fails Ruthven’s “test”.

The Lord grabs him and sucks his blood ravenously. Could this be how Noé ends up killing Vanitas, as he said he would back in the first episode: while under the thrall of Lord Ruthven?

Vanitas takes Jeanne somewhere safe, where she proceeds to seductively suck on his blood in another one of their hot-and-heavy scenes. Vanitas takes the opportunity to ask once again whether Jeanne is a curse-bearer, which Jeanne doesn’t confirm or deny.

Even so, when she stops drinking his blood and starts to shed tears that fall on his face, Vanitas promises her that whatever she is, he promises to kill her if she ever becomes a threat to her beloved charge, Luca. Of course, if he can find a way to release her of whatever is slowly sapping her sanity, I imagine try that method first!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Super Cub – 12 (Fin) – Girls’ First Tour

Koguma says “I’m off” to no one as she leaves her spartan apartment (put up some Super Cub posters!) in the early morning to meet up with Reiko and Shii at Buerre. Back when Shii begged her to use her Cub, which had rescued her from the ravine, to take Winter and send it away, Koguma said her Cub couldn’t do that. But one thing it can do is take them to where Spring has sprung so they can seize it and bring it back home.

After Shii’s doting parents see them off with their blessing and some military-grade komisbrot, Shii rides double with Reiko and the girls set off on their grandest tour yet, headed all the way down to Kagoshima, on the southwestern tip of Kyushu. There lie the first cherry blossoms. After just their first hour on the road, known as “the devil’s 60 minutes” Koguma and Reiko stop to check their steeds from stem to stern.

They take the famous historic routes used in the Edo period, which happen to include many cute cafes where Shii can gather some pointers. They also enjoy a quick lunch of the hearty rye bread with cream cheese and local smoked salmon—very Scandinavian!

They spend their first night at an economical business hotel near Lake Biwa, where Reiko again demonstrates her complete lack of modesty, claiming curry should be eaten while naked; Koguma is having none of it. They pass the stirring Shirahige torii gate, pass the Tottori dunes, shell out for some seriously huge crabs, reach the far end of Honshu, then spend the night at a net cafe in Kyushu.

As they ride through all of these famous places and take in the sights and tastes, there’s a very straightforwardness to it all; it’s essentially one long breathless montage with only a few brief stops to eat or sleep. Through it all, the three girls grow even closer and more comfortable with each other.

When they finally reach their destination of Kagoshima, the rewarding feeling of having made it all that way there on two Cubs (no cheating with trains!) is matched by the ephemeral gorgeousity of the bloossoms. They set out to find out if they could achieve this, and they did it: they seized spring and basked in its beauty.

By the time they return home, Spring arrived there as well, as if they had brought it with them. And in the midst of Spring, Shii reveals she decided to buy a Cub of her own, an elegant “Little Cub” in her preferred powder blue. When she can’t help but pet it like a new puppy, Koguma and Reiko break into laughter, having both been there and done that!

The series closes on a triumphant shot I had been hoping for since Shii first entered the lives of the rich politician’s daughter and reserved loner: the three girls on their three Cubs riding together in single file. Koguma’s final voiceover says if you sit back and do nothing, a Cub can’t and won’t help you, but if you hop on and decide to take a corner you’ve never turned at before, that Cub will be right there with you for whatever may come.

I’ll admit it: I’m a lot more enticed to buy a motorbike than I was before watching this show! I also have a similar affinity for my trusty Civic. What I thought was a gussied-up advertisement turned out to be one of the most earnest, heartfelt, unique, and beautiful stories of friendship, love, adventure and accomplishment to come along in a long time. I’ll miss my Cub girls!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Super Cub – 11 – No More Enemies to Fight

When Shii’s in big trouble, Koguma answers the call…literally! She’s able to spot a snapped twig on the cat trail and find Shii awkwardly submerged in water that must be somewhere in the forties (though the fact it’s not frozen solid indicates it’s not that cold out). Even so, Koguma took a risk she could find Shii fast enough, and that Shii—who is effin’ tiny—wouldn’t suffer hypothermia.

Everything works out, as Koguma, a picture of calm and collectedness, helps Shii out of the ravine, picks up all 70-or-so pounds of her, and plops her in her front basket for the ride to her place. That’s right, Koguma stole Reiko’s dream of carrying Shii along this way—but quite by necessity!

Once home, Koguma draws a bath and cooks a dinner of curry udon. Reiko, whom she called earlier, arrives with Shii’s ruined Alex Moulton, takes a bath of her own, and joins the other two for dinner. It’s the first time Koguma has had company, but she doesn’t make a big deal of it; but just slurps up her udon with the others, enjoying their company.

While washing the dishes, Reiko lets Shii know—quite tactlessly!—that her Mouton is donezo. Shii breaks down, cursing winter and begging Koguma to use her Super Cub to end the wretched season. Koguma deadpans that her Cub can’t do that…and seems a little sad that it can’t.

The next day, Shii’s parents thank Koguma and Reiko with a pass good for a year’s free coffee, sandwiches, and bread items, which they begin to cash in on immediately, much to Shii’s relief. If Shii ever thought they’d stop hanging out with her after her incident in the creek, then she needs to have more faith in her friends!

Shii gets what Koguma ruthlessly declares a “granny bike”, and the days of Winter continue on, only with no more preparations to make to their bikes or clothes. Then one morning Koguma hears on the radio that the cherry blossomes have bloomed early in Kagoshima. She proposes they go see them…together, escaping the winter by going where—as far as those trees are concerned—it’s already over.

It’s just what Shii needs to cheer up, and when she takes Koguma’s hands in friendship, Koguma’s world colors up bolder and faster than ever. She recounts how when it was her trudging her way uphill on her bike that she saw Shii glide past her on her Moulton, eventually inspiring her to buy her Cub, which led to her befriending Reiko.

Shii may not know it, but this all started with Koguma chasing her and her cooler, faster bike. What better way to thank her for the inspiration by giving her an early taste of spring?

Higehiro – 11 – Someday Is Here

This week begins with Sayu saying goodbye to Asami and Tokyo and taking a plane to Hokkaido with her brother and Yoshida, and ends with her returning home after more than a half a year of running away. If that sounds to you like not enough material to fill a whole episode, well, that’s when I must bring up one of the major cons of this penultimate outing: it’s padded within an inch of its life.

Whether its on the oddly-proportioned plane and its odd-looking seats, or during the two to three hours when Issa is off doing business and Yoshida and Sayu hang out in a café, scenes just feel artificially far longer than they either need to be or should. Granted, it’s Sayu’s first time on a plane or in a café with a friend, but when she held up an hourglass, I couldn’t help but think Can we maybe get a move on?

While a detriment early on, I’ll fully admit that Sayu’s trip to her school, which neither Yoshida nor Issa knew she’d request, is actually very effectively paced, as we feel with her the precise and growing dread of drawing closer and closer to the spot on that damned rooftop where her only friend’s life ended—and her life changed forever.

Honestly, I don’t know if or how she’d have been able to do this without Yoshida, so it’s very much a good thing he came along. Even an adult would have a hard time returning to the spot where their friend died for any reason. Add to that the fact Sayu witnessed Yuuko jump and blames herself for it, and you have yourself a brutal veritable trifecta of trauma.

When Sayu blames herself for Yuuko jumping, Yoshida had to be there to tell her she was wrong, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t that she didn’t really care about Yuuko, but cared too much. Her desire to help her fight the bullies wasn’t a bad instinct, even though things went terribly wrong. And frankly, Sayu wasn’t Yuuko’s entire life and can’t be expected to be such…she had her own life, and problems.

Thanks to Yoshida’s support, Sayu is able to wail with grief, letting it all out, until a stiff wind reveals the nearly-full moon and seemingly blows away the ghost of Yuuko that was haunting her. On their way back to the car, Yoshida asks if she’s okay now, and she answers quite correctly “not at all”…but she will be. She’s going to work towards the time when she can remember Yuuko and smile, rather than cry.

After such an emotionally draining experience at school, it almost seems cruel to then drive Sayu back home, even though she says she’s ready to go. After all, nothing in that house is worse than what happened on that rooftop, except for her mother’s last words to her before she ran away, which was to ask if Sayu killed her friend.

For all of the learning and growing up Sayu has done in the last few months, at least at first blush it looks like her mother has learned absolutely nothing. Issa tries to stand purposefully in front of both Sayu and Yoshida, but their mom pushes him out of the way to give Sayu a vicious slap to the face. That’s how she chooses to greet her. Not a great start!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Super Cub – 10 – The Girls of Winter

For me, there are few things better than waking up in a warm cozy bed, pulling open the curtains and discovering that the world has become white—or silver, as Koguma puts it—with a fresh, immaculate coat of snow. So when Koguma does just this, I can relate.

And while she prepares for a day in, as she doesn’t want to try to ride on the slick roads, Reiko gives her a call demanding she come to the cabin, and Koguma braves the suddenly very steep and terrifying hill from her apartment building. She’s rewarded with tire chains for her Cub.

Once properly affixed to the tires, Koguma and Reiko can truly go wherever the fuck they want, and they decide to head up into the mountains for a bit of mechanical horseplay. Koguma crashes her Cub for the first time ever, but thanks to the thick, soft snow, she’s able to pop right back up and remount her trusty steel steed.

She even follows Reiko in doing some jumps and then basically riding around so wildly that they both crash almost on purpose. Especially when they remove their helmets and layers, I kept waiting for a chime and message to pop up saying “Do not attempt. Messing around on motorbikes can cause serious injury or death”…but it never came!

We’ve seen Reiko continually battle Fujiyama, but this is the first time we’ve seen Koguma really cut loose and go wild, following her friend’s lead. There’s a wonderful sense of momentousness mixed with mundaneness in watching them share their usual bikeside meal with such a majestic alpine backdrop.

After lunch, it’s back to playing with their Cubs in the snow. Reiko starts a snowball fight, but Koguma escalates by peeling out her Cub so it shoots loads of snow on Reiko in retaliation. They wrap up their fun but tiring day with a relaxing cup of joe at Buerre, assuring Shii that she can join them next time, with Reiko joking that she’ll stuff her in her cargo box.

As winter goes on, Koguma and Reiko continue to augment their riding kit with ever-thicker, warmer, tougher gear. All the while, Koguma can tell Shii is working hard on converting part of Buerre to an Italian café. While having coffee there with Shii out, her dad says he’s glad she’s finally enjoying the quirky Alex Moulton bike he gave her, and that it’s as if she’s trying to catch up to Koguma and Reiko. But for the record, he’s happy the girls are insipiring Shii.

Unfortunately, while neither Koguma nor Reiko have ever suffered any serious injuries from riding, Shii isn’t so lucky on her Moulton. I’d say it was inevitable the winter would claim someone, but I figured it would be one of the girls suffering a fever or something. Certainly not the realization of a parent’s worst and most absurd fears: “What if you were in a ditch somewhere?!”

Well, Shii is in a ditch, half submerged in icy water and apparently unable to move. Thankfully she’s able to call Koguma, and Koguma answers. Hopefully she (perhaps with help from Reiko and Shii’s parents) will track her down and she’ll be okay. But that doesn’t lessen the sheer horror of seeing Shii in that position, or the audacity of the episode simply ending without getting her out of danger!

Super Cub – 09 – Winter Is Coming

An autumnal cold snap suddenly makes real what had merely been abstract: Koguma and Reiko aren’t quite ready for the full-on chill of Winter. Little things like Reiko warming her feet on her Hunter Cub’s motor offer temporary relief, but more stringent measures will soon be needed.

Despite the cold, Shii braves the outside to ask if she can eat lunch with Koguma and Reiko. These two are so tight-knit now it won’t be easy to penetrate their circle of two, especially without a Cub of her own, but Shii does have one thing at her command: copious amounts of delicious hot drinks.

Her hot Italian milk tea with a touch of grappa is so good, Reiko jokingly contemplates stuffing the tiny Shii in her cargo box so she can always have a hot drink when she needs one. And speaking of knit, when she hears of Koguma’s money problems, she offers her an oversized cardigan made of durable, minimally processed abrasive wool.

While it is indeed warm, it’s also big enough to sleep in, but Koguma hatches a new plan, Reiko removes her cargo box, and Shii rides double with her way too fast for her comfort as they race back to school before the gate closes. There, the home ec teacher regards the rare material with awe, and is more than happy to convert the huge cardigan into a jacket liner and stockings for Reiko. There’s even enough for a Thermos cozy for Shii!

The first time Koguma rides with the new woolly lining, she beams with joy and the episode’s color bumps up. Reiko is also happy that she can be warm and fashionable with her stockings. With the more saturated color comes another patented Super Cub wordless sequence, accompanied by an austere, minimalist piano and trumpet piece.

Unfortunately, the woolly upgrades only last so long, as soon both Koguma and Reiko are uncomfortably cold on their steeds. Even so, Reiko is adamant about not procuring a windshield, which she dismisses as deeply uncool.

In another example of how Shii hasn’t quite clawed her way into their circle of two, they leave her in the dust with nary a word to her when they ride off to the store. Poor Shii! Still, I’m sure in time she’ll be as close to the other two as they are to each other; this stuff doesn’t happen overnight.

Koguma is staring at the 4000-yen price tag of a Super Cub windshield when a clerk removes it from the display and sells it; turns out it’s the last one. An affiliate has both Super and Hunter shields in stock, but the girls shake their heads: Koguma can’t bear the cost, while Reiko can’t bear the lameness.

Even so, they visit the resident Cub collector from whom Koguma procured her cargo box, and each of them tries out an old battered Cub with a windshield…and they’re both sold!

They order their shields, and then work together mounting them to their bikes without anyone else’s help. Once they’re done, they hop on, the color bumps up again, and they just keep riding, thanks both to the protection of their windshields and their high spirits.

As Reiko admits while drinking more of Shii’s coffee (honestly I worry about the girls’ caffeine intake now that they’ve met Shii): “If it works better, it’s not ugly.” She initially pooh-poohed windshields, but that was before she experienced just how much of a difference they make. They don’t just make winter riding bearable, they make it fun.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Super Cub – 08 – United Nations

The bike wives have become so close they’re now casually drinking out of one another’s Thermoses. Fall is transitioning into winter, which is no joke for riders. Kitting out their rides to battle the coming cold (Koguma’s first, by the way) means having to spend a lot of coin, which means vending machine coffee is a luxury best avoided.

It’s karmic providence, then, when Shii invites the girls to her family’s café, which looks like an inn straight out of Tyrol (in Austria), but has the French name Buerre, while inside resembles both a german bakery, a British sandwich shop, and an nifty fifties American diner. It’s about as all over the place as Koguma isn’t, but it has its charm.

More to the point, the coffee is free due to their herosim during the cultural festival, and it is also excellent, whether it’s Shii’s or that of her father, who quit the corporate rat race in Tokyo to pursue his scattershot passion. The coffee is so good, the color in Koguma’s world gets jacked up to eleven!

When not mainlining caffeine at Shii’s place, Koguma and Reiko hit up a job lot store for discount winter outfitting. Reiko is quickly distracted by rare firearms, drawing Koguma’s subtle ire, but then Koguma falls in love with a particularly nifty bento box that reminded me of Rin’s little portable camp grill—and may well be similarly much sought-after on the internet marketplace!

It may not be a purchase that helps winter-proof her Cub, but it’s a sign that Koguma will spoil herself on occasion, and has also begun to cook better lunches than the glorified microwavable salt pouches she choked down at the start of the series. She also manages to procure some handlebar covers within her budget, and is immediately glad she did so, as they keep the cold wind off her hands and out of her jacket sleeves.

While Reiko initially pooh-poohs the mod as too “old fogey”, one ride on Koguma’s Cub and she’s totally sold, hopping on the ‘net to buy the exact same pair of covers. They return to Shii’s family’s café and meet her Americanophile mom, whose yellow pickup truck and 50s outfit explain the diner half of the business. While her mom is Mrs. America and her dad is Herr Deutschland, Shii is a “tiny sliver of Italy”—tiny, but tenacious!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Super Cub – 07 – La Vita in Moto

Koguma has owned her Cub for half a year, while Reiko bought a new Hunter Cub. Not only do they carry themselves like the motorbiking equivalent of old salts, they  come off as old, close friends. They hang out a lot more, their earlier clipped greetings replaced by more consistent banter. Koguma even messes with Reiko, fining her for saying it’s cold, then accepting a ginkgo leaf plucked from her hair.

Everyone is saying its cold because autumn has arrived, and with it the school’s cultural festival. Koguma and Reiko’s tiny classmate Shii leads the executive committee, who have decided on an Italian-style coffee bar. Reiko knows Shii since her family runs a bakery she frequents, but when Shii asks for after school volunteers, Koguma puts Reiko’s dire need for new riding gloves first.

Why Reiko’s wealthy parents would let her go around with holes in her gloves, I can hazard a guess: they don’t know what shes up to and are too busy with their own stuff to ask. I love how Koguma keeps their shopping trip focused by taking Reiko by the arm; it’s so nice to see her being so assertive!

Koguma’s dry but fertile sense of humor continues when the two head to Reiko’s cabin to hang out, as Koguma has little patience for Reiko’s waxing poetic about non-slip work gloves. The next day, quite by accident, Koguma and Reiko end up drawn into Shii’s café plan.

When the teacher flakes out on transporting the equipment they need from the Kofu school, and Koguma overhears the committee pooh-pooh a motorbike’s cargo-carrying abilities, she steps in and volunteers to assist: partly to uphold her Cub Pride, but also because she and Reiko have the means to help.

Those means include a trailer from the gym and a frankly ingenious damped rig for carrying delicate cargo (including soba in breakable bowls!) The bike wives don their jackets in the autumn chill and get to wrenching on each others’ rides, until they have themselves a pair of pack Cubs.

When Shii comes out to see them off, Koguma and Reiko give her some percolators and tell her where she can find everything else she needs for an “classic American saloon”-themed café, in case they fail to get the equipment back in one piece. Showing her true biker-girl colors, she says you should always have a backup plan.

The resulting ride is all too familiar to Koguma, who rode to and from Kofu dozens of times for her summer job. Her teacher friend greets her with a handshake, and when she sees the girls’ bikes, she’s impressed and even inspired to procure a relative’s used Cub. When Koguma says she should get a new one and Reiko adds that old ones are “nothing but trouble”, the teacher says she “wouldn’t mind that kind of trouble.”

Thanks to Koguma and Reiko’s motorized heroics, Shii and the class’s Italian cafe is a resounding success. More importantly, a great weight of anxiety has been lifted from Shii’s slight shoulders as she pulls off her plan with aplomb. As she switches on the espresso machine and it starts to make those satisfying brewing sounds, she unleashes a beautiful smile very similar to those Koguma flashes when things go her way.

Koguma and Reiko are ready to make an Irish exit when Shii comes out and offers them some Italian coffees, a humble token of her gratitude for everything they did for her. The biker wives chortle together and gladly accept the warm drinks. Then Shii compliments their bikes as “terrific”—an adjective Koguma had never thought to assign to them.

Shii says she wants to right one someday, but is afraid she’d fall off like she often does on her regular bike. Koguma tells her Cubs are made so that “you have to want to ride them, or they won’t let you,” saying a spooked rider will spook the Cub. I don’t doubt her, as she’s logged a good many kilometers.

Still, I hope that Shii, this “delicate young lady” of whom Koguma once had a “washed-out light blue” impression, but now sees in her the bright sunny azure of a summer sky, comes to befriend our Cub Girls…She couldn’t ask for cooler people to befriend, and maybe she’ll muster the courage to join the club!

Yuru Camp△ 2 – 02 – Four Sunrises

Rin arrives at Iwata, and it’s everything a gal from a landlocked prefecture could hope for: crystal-clear skies and endless ocean. Riding her moped beside the sea feels great, until the cold and wind get to be too much. Fortunately her mom recommended a tea place, and who should be minding the store but the mountain climbing lady she met at the Yashajin Pass.

Yuru Camp seems to be running with the idea that Japan is just a big small town, where you’re always bumping into people you know by chance. I don’t mind, it’s fun! Rin goes to the upstairs café for a matcha tiramisu set, and suddenly wants to set up her tent right there.

Rin also visits the Mitsuki-Tenjin Shrine, but learns that Shippeitarou III passed away years ago, making Rin suddenly think about how short dogs’ lives are, even going so far as to text Ena her worries about Chikuma. Ena says she’ll be devastated when it happens, but it’s inevitable. All she can do is make sure her pup has as many good times as possible.

Rin switches gears from pondering mortality to getting a fire and dinner going. With no pine cones or twigs on the campground, Rin uses her knife to make a feather stick to start her fire, showing how there are plenty of tricks she still learning. After whipping up a duck soup nameko mushroom soba, she sends all of her pics to the gang, and Nadeshiko reports that it’s snowing back home.

After getting a few hours of sleep, Rin gets up to watch the first sunrise of the new year from Furude Beach, where many others are already gathered and a torii gate is set up for the event. Toba-sensei elects to drive Chiaki, Aoi, and Aoi’s little sister Akari to Mt. Minobu.

They take the ropeway, pray at the shrine, buy some dango, drink some amazuke, and find a good spot to watch the sun rise. In both locations, there’s a palpable electricity in the air, a sense of anticipation in the literal darkness before the dawn.

Then the sun rises in all her majesty, filling that darkness with blinding light and vivid colors. Rin aligns herself so the rising sun appears directly within the torii gate, as if a great spirit were emerging. Yuru Camp has previously displayed a gift for depicting sunrises and sunsets, but it really outdoes itself this time, showing us the same sunrise from multiple locations.

As the day goes on, Rin is looking forward to trying out Iwata’s local specialty pig’s foot curry, but is tempted by a food truck selling pizza and pot-au-feu, and decides to indulge. Chiaki gets Toba and the others to hurry off Mt. Minobu so they can try to catch a second sunrise in Fujikawa City fifty minutes after the first—and one that looks like a diamond rising over Fujiyama’s summit.

While Toba-sensei drifts her Suzuki Hustler up and around the mountain road with the skill of a rally driver, they arrive to find the sun already high above Fuji-san—Chiaki was off by a whole half-hour. The last to see a “sunrise” is Ena, once it’s already pretty high in the sky. Still, I’m sure she enjoyed the extra sleep!

While Rin is starting to think about preparing to check out, she gets a call from her mom: Yamanashi has frozen over in the night, making the roads home too dangerous to attempt, particularly on a moped. The new plan is for her grandpa to drive out in his van to get her and her bike. She just has to sit tight for two days. Considering she’s a short walk from the beach, there are far worse places to be “stuck!”

The Quintessential Quintuplets – 17 – Working Five to Five

The New Year is here, and Fuutarou and Raiha spot the Quints at the local shrine positively resplendent in their kimonos. I don’t often comment on the wardrobe of the sisters, but it is never not 100% on point, whether it’s modern or traditional garb. From there, Raiha invites herself to their new place, which means Fuutarou comes too.

The Quints’ new apartment is far more modest and normal than their previous spacious penthouse, and while, say, even Nino is fine with sharing the warmth of the kotatsu, the sisters simply aren’t used to the close quarters (Itsuki excepted, as she lived with the Uesugis for a while).

Newly reunited and empowered, the sisters are on a blessedly united front on the subject of Uesugi continuing to tutor them…they just don’t know how to pay him back! Ichika is the only one working, and is falling asleep during their first study session of the year, which isn’t a good sign! Because they’re watching a romantic TV show, there’s talk of a “peck on the cheek”, which is carried out by Yotsuba when she nonchalantly eats cream off his face.

Realizing having only Ichika pay their way isn’t tenable, the other sisters consider other jobs, which is really an excuse for the show to have sumptuous pans of them in various career outfits: Ichika as a tutor, Yotsuba as a grocery clerk, Miku as a café maid, and Nino as a dominatrix!

Speaking of cafés, Fuutarou is trying to advance at the one he works at, but while the apple pie he bakes looks identical, it is underdone. His boss then tells him they’re closing at noon to allow a film crew to shoot there, and who should Fuu encounter but Ichika—in full horror movie ditzy high school girl costume.

“Tamako-chan” wall-slams Fuu in a very romantically lit back room scene, voicing her embarassment with him watching her perform such a silly role. She feels she has no choice but to take any and all acting work she can, since rent, food, and utilities are proving more expensive than she thought. Nevertheless, the eldest sister will be strong for the other girls, and won’t let Fuu try to convince her otherwise.

To her surprise Fuu doesn’t scold her; in fact, he’s proud of how hard she’s working and grateful she’s making it possible for him to keep tutoring them. Once her scenes are filmed, Fuu catches her studying on her own, only to nod off from fatigue. Fuu provides a shoulder for her to nap upon and he says “good work”. Little does Fuu know she’s only pretending to sleep…she can’t let him see her blushing face!

While on a shopping trip in which she and Fuu are being used as Nino’s pack mules, Nino almost drops a bag of rice Yotsuba gives her to tie her shoe, but Fuu catches her, causing her to blush and her heart to beat faster. Having just gotten over his blonde alter ego, Nino simply isn’t ready to accept that Fuu is her “prince.”

While heading home, Yotsuba spots Ichika at a Starbucks with their dad. Believing her to be the most “amenable” (read: malleable) daughter, he insists that she and the other sisters return home immediately. When Ichika mentions Fuu, her dad says he’ll be welcomed back too…but as an aide to a professional tutor of his choosing.

When Ichika bristles at that, he asks her if she really believes Yotsuba can earn a passing grade with Fuu’s continued tutoring. Fuu, Nino, and Yotsuba are listening in from the bar, and Fuu cannot stand to hear the sisters run down by their own father, but Nino takes his hand and asks him to hold off.

Instead, Yotsuba approaches the table and tells their dad they’ll be continuing with Fuu and Fuu alone. Her Dad’s fine with that, but on the condition that this is collectively their last chance to pass. If they fail again under Fuu’s tutoring, he’ll transfer them to a different school for their third year—one that will accept them regardless of their scores.

Papa Nakano is an odd duck. One can’t overlook his resemblance to Fuutarou, nor his cold manner to match his wan complexion. He loves his daughters in his own way, but like most dads with daughters their age, he’s loath to let any man have them. He comes right out and tells Itsuki he “hates” Fuu. Part of that could be that Fuu chewed him out when he resigned, telling him to be more of an active father and calling him an asshole.

But another part of him could simply be envious that Fuu is able to spend so much time with them. Like Ichika, her dad works alone to pay the bills that come with raising five girls at once. I wonder if he regrets the sacrifice he made so they could live in luxury, seeing as how the result of never being around was that they moved out.

In any case, the Quints have really put themselves and Fuutarou on the spot. If Dad is to be believed, this is their last shot. They’ll have to improve their scores considerably, or they’ll end up at different schools next year. I wish that felt more threatening, but they spend so little time actually in school—it’s more that Fuutarou truly does want to help them. If they fail again, he’s failed again That can’t happen.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Episode Five Quintuplet Ranking:

  1. Ichika: Between being surprised by almost bumping into Fuu in the new place (so he can examine her mouth) to the whole Tamako-chan performance and their quality time “backstage”, Ichika takes her first win of the season. It was only a matter of time! Total Points: 13 (3rd)
  2. Yotsuba: The other girls are all talk and blushing, but only she actually puts her mouth on Fuu’s face, so she wins on that front. Combine that with the fact she carries a bag of rice for Fuu and stands up to their dad with conviction, and #4 had her best episode yet. Total Points: 12 (4th)
  3. Nino: For once Nino wasn’t in the spotlight, but her feelings for Fuu continue to simmer at key points this week. Her inviting him to sit under the kotatsu and taking his hand at the café were both nice moments.  Total Points: 22 (1st)
  4. Itsuki: I’m not saying she would have folded without backup, but I’m glad Yotsuba was there to back her up against their manipulative papa. Total Points: 18 (2nd)
  5. Miku: That Miku has yet to even slightly improve her culinary skills stretches credulity at this point—the joke is officially stale. There’s no doubt that she’d be a popular café maid, though. Total Points: 10 (5th)

Uzaki-chan wa Asobitai! – 09 – Mother’s Intuition

After weeks of affable but otherwise frustrating wheel-spinning, the romantic part of this rom-com has really come along in the last couple episodes. I was hoping for that to continue in this ninth installment, and it mostly does. No there are no confessions or anything—those would be wildly out of character!

Instead, the romance comes through in the closeness and comfort these two have come to share. Oh, and Sakurai meets Hana’s mom, Tsuki! Unlike Uzaki, Sakura can only see the surface man. For one thing, she’s surprised her daughter’s senpai is a man at all. For another, he’s big and scary!

Mama Uzaki’s handling of her fear is demonstrated in a rather ingenious camera shot we don’t see often in rom-coms: while she appears to be across the kitchen table from them, the camera pulls back to reveal she’s really all the way across the room!

While Sakurai turns out to be more well-mannered than he looks, Tsuki’s misunderstandings continue when one of their cats jumps on her lap and Sakurai can’t help but stare at it. Being a big fan of a soap opera in which an older woman is being seduced by a younger man, she assumes Sakurai is looking at her chest, and thus has his eye on her.

This misunderstanding persists when Tsuki visits Hana and Sakurai at the cafe and meets the owner and Ami. They tell her the kids of customers love Hana, while older women love Sakurai’s blend of dignified hunkiness. This leads Tsuki to wonder out loud if he likes their attention, to which Ami’s reply is priceless: “He’s no cougar hunter. He’s just a doofus!”

Tsuki has cause to question Ami’s assurances when she overhears and misinterprets Sakurai and Hana’s conversation about the need to mature adult beans, how it leads to more richness, if one overindulges you’ll be so excited you can’t sleep, and how he plans on getting a good taste before long. It’s just coffee shop talk, but Tsuki is convinced Sakurai has the hots for her.

Back at Sakurai’s place, he and Uzaki are playing video games as usual, and after beating him soundly, she has him get her a drink, noting she’ll do “whatever it takes to see [him] frustrated.” This leads Sakurai to compare her to her “quiet and kind” mom, and Hana starts to carefully observe Tsuki at home.

The next day at the cafe, Uzaki’s persona and very way of speaking has transformed to the “quiet and kind” Sakurai apparently craved…and its a nightmare for him! Rather than endure her continue to act and sound as sweet and reserved as her mom, Sakurai literally folds, bowing and apologizing for messing up.

But by adding that he “prefers the usual Uzaki”, he sets off a heated lovers’ quarrel between them, as Ami perhaps over-zealously imagines the two taking on different personas based on the clientele. It’s clear that if Ami and not her dad were in charge, the cafe would become a very different (but not altogether worse) place!

Uzaki and Sakurai’s bickering is stopped not by the owner or Ami, but by one of the little kids whose mom is a regular. The girl gives them a ticket for a shopping district lottery, and as they head over to try their luck after work, the couple is chastened by having been scolded by a child. That said, Uzaki is also secretly elated Sakurai prefers her “usual” self—but damned if she’ll let him see it!

In keeping with situations that continue to help bring these two together, they end up winning the lottery’s grand prize: a two-night trip for two to Tottori, which is apparently the home of Detective Conan. And in the very next scene, they’re already there! I found it refreshing there was no debate or waffling over whether to go; they just go.

As for the bizarre oil-slick faces who are watching the couple…I’m somewhat stumped. Assuming they’re not Conan villains (I’ve never read or watched so I know next to nothing about that venerable franchise) I’m guessing it’s Ami and Sakaki, but would the two really drop everything to follow Uzaki and Sakurai to Tottori? We shall see…

Great Pretender – 14 – Fake is in the Eye of the Beholder

Laurent goes all out renting out a damn castle for his intentionally over-the-top art auction for the ages that James Coleman has no choice but to attend. Despite his wounded sensibilities in the face of such crassness, Snow in London is on the block, and he’s prepared to bid as much money as his partner Farrah has.

Abby, who has nicely inserted herself in Coleman’s affairs and earned his trust, proceeds to warn Farrah’s butler Tim of Coleman’s intentions to squeeze her dry.

This gaudy charade is not at all the stodgy auction atmospheres Coleman is used to, but he chalks it up not to authenticity of the auctioneers, but the crassness of its clients, namely members of the seedy underworld (aided by Fudou and Kim posing as mob kingpins from their respective nations).

Just as the surroundings and people disgust Coleman, so too do the ridiculously overblown sums of money being spent on paintings that in a respectable auctioneer would get less than half what they end up get here. Even that prepares him to bid way too much for the Montoya, a painting he’s personally invested in.

When the big moment comes, Farrah is nowhere to be found, having been confronted by Abby during intermission. Coleman is all alone, and Cynthia takes Farrah’s seat and proceeds to bait him into not only spending all £70 million Farrah has (after liquidating her land holdings), but an additional £30 million since Cynthia doesn’t stop until £99, leaving Coleman with the painting and a very, very large bill.

Not one pence of that £100 million ends up coming from Farrah. Abby gave her a recording of Coleman gleefully playing her for the fool, but she gets the last laugh, locking him out of her estate and donating her entire art collection to the museum so everyone can enjoy and be inspired by their greatness. Farrah owes a lot to her loyal butler and friend Tim, who assures her that while she may feel alone, he’ll always be by her side (and she’s better off without James Coleman).

The final twist? Makoto switched the real and fake paintings before the auction, meaning Laurent, Cynthia & Co. weren’t actually con artists on this job, but legit art dealers (tax issues aside, of course).  That said, Makoto actually wanted the dad and daughter in Nice to have Thomas’ version of the painting, which he doesn’t consider a mere copy due to the hard work, talent, and passion that went into it.

Copying Snow of London was Thomas’ first new painting in years, but it rekindled his love of art. Marie agrees with Makoto, and comes to see Thomas’ version as more warm and kind. As for Cynthia, she and Thomas get to have one more late afternoon coffee at the cafe where they met, and have closure.

Back in Nice, Cynthia wonders out loud, somewhat bitterly, whether Laurent arranged for Makoto and Coleman to cross paths, knowing both Makoto’s moral compass would come into play and her sad past would be dredged up “for [Laurent’s] entertainment.” As always, Laurent is coy and noncommittal in his response.

Stripping away the Breaking Bad-style drug hijinx and the high-flying, high-rolling Singapore racing set to tell a rich, bittersweet story of love and art made this my favorite of the three Great Pretender arcs so far. Makoto has vowed to get out of the game for good yet again, but I’m sure he’ll get tangled up in something soon. Whether it will surpass Snow of London remains to be seen.

Great Pretender – 13 – Same As They Used to Be

When a hungry Makoto finds a toffee tin in the fridge, Cynthia quickly snatches it away, declaring that the toffees aren’t on the menu. Back in the past, Coleman makes a deal with Thomas: all he wants are ten forgeries he can pass off as “miraculous discoveries” of masterworks, and in return he’ll make Thomas a Big Deal.

The Faustian deal gives Thomas what he always wanted—financial stability and a measure of luxury—but he knows it’s wrong, and whenever Cynthia mentions that it’s wrong, it shatters the veneer of success he’s trying to maintain, thus straining their relationship. Back in the present, Abby reports her findings on her investigation of Laurent, and shows she’s not above using her “vivaciousness” to gain the older man’s confidence.

Makoto eventually makes contact with present-day Thomas Mayer, whose life took a turn after breaking up with Cynthia. That said, his two million pounds in debt isn’t due to gambling or addiction problems, but a pure and just heart. When he saw a kid sketching one of his forgeries in a museum, he vowed to quit painting forever and borrowed heavily in order to buy back the three paintings he’d forged.

This us why he initially turned down Cynthia: why would he paint a forgery to make back the money he spent removing his forgeries from the art world? But then Makoto remembers the toffee tin and presents it to Thomas. It contains a detailed drawing of a wedding ring he drew for Cynthia in better days. That she kept it all these years means she must still feel something for him.

That proves to be the spark Thomas needs to come out of retirement—that, and Makoto telling him she needs his talent in order to settle the score with Coleman. It probably takes more than one all-nighter, but he manages to pull off a very impressive forgery of Snow of London.

When Cynthia stops by to inspect the work, Thomas is asleep in bed, but Makoto tells her that he was only able to create the forgery because of her. Trying to play matchmaker, he thinks that despite everything that’s happened, the two of them still bring out the best in each other, and that deep down they’re both the same people they were back then.