Kakegurui – 09

Yume-Yume was soooo confident her victory was a lock with this idol gambling competition with Yumeko, she already planned details for her opponent’s future such as sleeping up the corporate ladder and having a porno debut. It’s not really personal; Yume is trying to get to the top of the celebrity mountain, and she needs stepping stones.

So it comes as a shock when Yumeko beats her , just because the competition included just enough luck to favor her over Yumemi. Yumeko’s luck is so conspicuous, it even gets in Yumemi’s head, as thoughts of Yumeko’s doomed future are replaced by the very real present possibility that rant recording will be played and ruin her career.

But here’s the thing: after handing over 50 million yen, and after Yumeko plays the recording to the entire crowd of 100—most of them in Yumemi’s fan club—and afterwards when she confesses and thanks those fans for cheering her on thus far…they don’t abandon her.

Of course they don’t, what self-respecting super-fan would be put off by the discovery of another layer of their idol? They love her unconditionally, and don’t ask for her love in return. In fact, they love her even more because she was honest!

Throw in the fact more than a few of those fans quite enjoy Yumemi yelling at them and telling them they’re scum, and you can see why there weren’t any shots of Yumeko’s reaction to their collective shrug: she too knew that real fans wouldn’t care about Yumemi’s rant.

Well, the game’s over, the money’s been paid, the ‘blackmail’ material backfired as planned, Yumemi’s idol career is safe, and she learned a valuable lesson. Time to SING! And hey, credit where it’s due: Kakegurui actually bothers to animate the two Yumes dancing and singing through the credits.

After that, Yumeko reveals the reason she fought Yumemi at all, besides the thrill of the gamble: she wants to have another gamble with a superior foe: Manyuda Kaede, the Sudent Council member who put the whole idol competition together.

When Kaede pleads innocence and demands proof he “deceived” Yumemi with the fan letter that set her off, Yumeko rightly points out they’re not in a court of law, but in a gambling school. She challenges him to a gamble in which the winner’s story will be deemed the truth.

Kaede refuses…but Yumeko to use her Miké tag to request an official match; one Kaede cannot refuse. Looks like Yumeko was using Yumemi as a stepping stone to Kaede, and eventually, the president herself.

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Kakegurui – 08

When the cat (Momobari) is away, the mice (the student council second-years) will play. The latest member to set her sights on Yumeko is Yumemite Yumemi, who despite having a tongue-twister of a name is the school’s unofficial idol, already viral on YourTube and with a loyal army of fans.

Meanwhile, the rumors flying of Yumeko retaining her livestock status so she can challenge the presdient, Sumeragi approaches her, and after pretending to play innocent, she later fesses up to wanting a position in the council back, once Yumeko takes over.

We also quickly learn Yumemi is another two-face; with probably the greatest difference between her public and private personas. While she’s open and hands on with her sweaty fans, she secretly despises them, flashing horrific faces twisted in disgust. But she accepts the discomfort as the price of attaining her goals.

When Yumeko and Yumemi finally meet, they don’t play nice for long, as Yumeko is pretty aware of Yumemi’s disdain for her fans. The facade drops, and Yumeko manages to provoke Yumemi into an anti-fan tirade that she secretly records on a device she hid in Yumemi’s assistant.

The gamble in question seems to be a battle of idols, with Yumeko having to join Yumemi’s idol group and live the life of an idol if she loses, while Yumemi, confident Yumeko is underestimating her, agrees that if she loses the incriminating audio will be distributed and ruin her idol career in its infancy.

The details on how this particular idol-themed gamble will be laid out and scored remains a mystery, but there’s not doubt that whatever happens, Yumeko’s star will only rise with this new, very public opportunity. We also learn Ryouta is a big fan of Yumemi’s, but I assume he’ll be rooting for Yumeko as the two square off.

Handa-kun – 06

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The Gist: Kawafuji is aware of Handa’s increasing paranoia in the wake of the amnesia plot and tries to introduce him to a new friend. Handa, being paranoid, dresses in a disguise for the meeting. However, at the end of their hang out day he comes to like the new person… but totally confuses issues be rescuing his new friend from bullies as Handa.

Later, Handa defeats his middle school nemesis, a track star named Dash. Dash gets raped by a horny dog. Twice.

Then the school palm reader is stumped by how average Handa’s palm is. Also, that he will never marry nor have love, but will be surrounded by many children in the near future. She too takes this as an accidental compliment from Handa and strives to work harder.

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The Verdict: while I greatly enjoyed the dog-rape segment for it’s rapier like subtlety, the third act was the most concise joke. There’s not much to say beyond that really… Handa-kun’s accidental nice guy hero formula is pretty straight forward and the cast around him follows such a predictable pattern, once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen it all.

Still worth a chuckle. Not a very clever chuckle but a chuckle all the same;

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Handa-kun – 05

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The age of males is long gone…

The Gist: This week’s unintentional conflict pits Handa against Tennouji Sawako-sama, the man-hating student council president. This is because Handa is popular, technically viceless, and looks like he is amassing a group of powerful students… all things that could challenge Sawako’s domination of the school, and males in general.

Sawako’s first plan is to seduce and control Handa with two of the school’s most predatory females but it’s thwarted in traditional Handa fashion: the girls overhear what seems like a genuine life lesson directed at them and leave, only for Handa to actually be talking to stray cats.

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Sawako’s second plan is to capture Handa and force him to wear a skirt. This leads to a chase by de-masculinated student council vice-president Rikimaru, which culminates in Handa and Sawako falling down the stares. Handa appears to have protected her during the fall and, again following the show’s formula, wins Sawako’s heart without knowing what is going on at all.

In an unexpected twist, Handa loses his memory and becomes a creepy opportunist clown. There are many jokes about him trying to pick up girls but everyone things he’s just another fake because the real Handa would never cheapen himself like that. Eventually, Handa becomes depressed again, maybe or maybe not actually regaining his memory in the process…

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The Verdict: The opening act was pure formula but it was moderately entertaining. The jokes were well timed, the visuals were silly, and the accidental life lesson was amusing.

Unfortunately, the second act was not so good. It didn’t do anything with the amnesia tropes, it was short, and nothing really came of it except end everything was back to normal by the end.

To its credit, Handa-kun builds a remarkably lived in world where any character that has received a face and screen time continues to weave in and out of future episodes. Suicide-chan and the Predator Girls and not-Handa all make appearances here. But it’s a pretty average, lightly funny world to have dedicated so much effort to.

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Handa-kun – 04

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The Gist: This week Handa-kun continued to hit its stride with another trio of silly nonsensical situations. First we meet a Handa-kun cosplayer with terrible teeth, then students misunderstand Handa’s mom to be his girlfriend, and last Handa tries to make small talk because his parent teacher meeting doesn’t go well.

The Verdict: Handa-kun’s shortcomings as a show remain the same but so do its strengths in comedic timing. This leaves me with little to say beyond summarizing the episode, unfortunately. Fortunately, I was laughing most of the way!

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Handa-kun – 03

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The Gist: This week concludes the character introductions with Tsutsui Akane-kun, Kondo Yokio and Kawafuji-kun. The three-part episode format makes each segment feel a little short but, honestly, that’s probably for the best.

Even though the core gag is the same in each segment (Handa-kun thinks the opposite of what everyone thinks he thinks), hopping from segment to segment keeps it from feeling over used. Played out or not, the question is, does Handa-kun have enough to like in the first place?

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Tsutsui Akane-kun’s segment is the most interesting, structurally. See, Akane-Kun used to be a girly boy and he was literally tormented by the way Handa imagines being tormented. In a way, it is the way Handa is tormented: Girls thought Akane was stealing their boyfriends.

Unlike Handa, Akane broke and left school to become a shut in. Then he became a tough and redefined himself. When Handa/misunderstanding inevitably brings Akane back to school, the cycle continues with his own awkwardness leading Handa to think they are enemies.

tl;dr? It’s smarter than it is funny but it was also pretty funny.

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Yokio’s section would be straight forward except we, as viewers, can draw a deeper understanding of Handa’s weird popularity from Yokio’s conclusions. Yokio see’s Handa’s decisions as bizarre, and he can see everyone is forcing themselves to think of these decisions in a positive light, but he can also see that the results are positive. Handa-Force stops fighting to pay attention to Handa’s kitchen fire and they all appreciate getting ‘treat’ of special custard at the end, even if it’s gross.

The results make the intention unimportant. In a way, because Handa is an eccentric artist, his actions are basically performances too, which makes them not out of place for him to do… in an academic sense.

Looking at it from another angle, Yokio knows Handa’s work is high concept and he gets that ‘an ordinary Joe can’t grasp his appeal’ but that’s not going to stop him from trying.

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Kawafuji’s segment isn’t particularly interesting from a structural stand point and the jokes are over the top instead of funny. However, it shows us why Handa is so terrified of everyone, why Kawafuji is his only friend and why they would still be together in Barakamon.

Spoilers: it’s Kawafuji’s fault because he was jealous. It’s also his fault because he hasn’t told Handa the truth yet. It’s also likely in Handa’s favor not to learn the truth because a normal acting Handa loses all the mystique. It loses any purpose to watch the show, really.

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The Verdict: This week gave us the best Handa outing so far, largely because Akane, Yokio and Kawafuji are more interesting characters than the chairman and the model. Yokio and Kawafuji are especially good, because they actually see Handa for what he is: a wreck and bizarre.

Now that the comedic timing and dialog are tight, Handa-kun is enjoyable to watch. (even with the socially awkward cringe-factor) If some chuckles and tie-forward to the better show is enough to warrant keeping it on your schedule, there you have it. If not, summer’s packed with great shows. No big loss.

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Handa-kun – 02

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The Gist: Handa ‘defeats’ the two girls from last week, as well as ‘glasses’ Aizawa Junichi and ‘model’ Nikaido Reo who were introduced as members of Handa-force last week.

As with last week, Handa ‘defeats’ these opponents largely through his lack of understanding and, for the same reason, most people think highly of him. As you may have expected: all’s well that ends well: ‘muscles’ Juri-chan and Maiko-chan are back to being friends… and accept being romantic rivals.

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What makes Handa-kun special: its protagonist is a hot mess of illogical responses that, against all odds, turn out in his favor. Take his misunderstanding of Maiko and his choice to write her a letter.

By making Muscles (Juri) fall for him, she became aware of the inequity of her relationship with Maiko. Then, after they both fail to win his affections and choose to try calligraphy, their relationship realigns, but with a new balance between them. A truer balance. That’s good narrative building!

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What holds Handa-kun back from being great is that it only gives us one side of the coin seen in Barakamon. There, Handa played off of another character, and there was warmth from their back-and-forth.

Here, there is truly no warmth. Handa doesn’t like anyone here, not even a little. This isn’t ‘wrong’ but it is a little weird if you think about it: it’s about a talented jackass getting away with whatever and everyone assuming he’s a nice person.

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The Verdict: Handa-kun has a solid formula and it deserves plenty of laughs. There’s real craft to how the narrative is constructed too. That said, it’s hard to imagine Handa-kun standing out without Barakamon.

And this is no Barakamon.

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Handa-kun – 01 (First Impressions)

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Barakamon was an awesome, often frenetic comedy with a ton of heart, so I was weary of a prequel taking place in high school. There was no need to worry: Handa-kun is an entirely different animal in the best way. It’s no match for Barakamon, but it has it’s own absurd energy and charm.

If you’d assume the first half of the first episode of a show called Handa-kun would contain…Handa-kun, you’d be mistaken! Instead, we get a lengthy, and very meta, scene in which four of Handa’s friends miss the first episode of his anime, and so make their own horrifying Handa-kun, until the studio mails the real anime to them.

The scene plays with out own expectations and ignorance about what exactly this show is going to be about (besides Handa in high school), while taking a couple of good-hearted digs at the expectant audience-anime studio relationship.

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When we finally get to Handa in high school, he’s an absolute mess, as expected. While everyone around him either loves, envies, or reveres him, Handa doesn’t have a clue, and gets the exact opposite vibes that are being thrown his way. Even the button-cute class idol wants to date him, but he assumes she’s trying to beat him up.

Handa’s talent also lets him get away with murder in class, as his thought processes often leak into public hearing, the math lesson be damned. He doesn’t bother to look or hear anything anyone does or says correctly. He’s hopeless.

That being said, Handa tries to hear Maiko out, but in the strangest way possible; writing a note for Maiko’s gruff, bizarrely proportioned friend Juri, in a scrawl elaborate and nigh-incomprehensible to a high schooler. Not exactly the best way to relay a clear message!

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His note convinces Juri that he’s into her, and so when Handa arrives at the agreed upon spot behind the gym after school, both Juri and Maiko are there waiting for him. Naturally, he assumes the worst: some kind of challenged or fight is imminent, but you have to respect his “courage”…if only he had a friggin’ clue what was going on around him! Alas, his constantly churning mind obscures all.

We close on that spot behind the gym, and go back to the group of four friends who started the episode, just as frustrated as I am by the “To Be Continued.” But the kicker is when they mail Handa their creepily-drawn homemade anime, and before the OP is over,  he simply has to switch it off.

Well, that’s not what I’ll be doing with the real anime…it was a gas, and I’m excited to see what bizarreness it can bring to bear next time.

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Sore ga Seiyuu! – 10

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As the OP states, even though Kohana Rin is only fifteen, she’s been working for ten years. As such, she’s by definition not your ordinary, run-of-the-mill fifteen-year-old junior high schooler. She’s a special case, which is why her counselor counsels her to seek education at a high school better suited for special cases such as hers, in which she can take acting classes and her work-related absences can be worked around.

The whole reason Rin’s been working so long (in addition to being talented) is that she used to be so painfully shy, so her parents put her in a theater trope. Since then, she’s simply gone with the flow, but it isn’t until now, when she’s now faced with going to a different school than her oldest and best friend, the heart-eyed Sayo, that she starts to doubt whether she even should be a seiyu.

The episode makes it a point to show that unlike Futaba and Ichigo, her present situation didn’t come about as a result of a choice she consciously made; her parents made it for her in hopes it would help her social skills. Futaba and Ichigo don’t lets their doubts get the best of them because they know they’re on the path they want to be on. But Rin isn’t so sure anymore.

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Things become a little clearer when, suddenly and coincidentally, her manager hands her a script for an anime film where she’ll be playing the little sister of the lead, voiced by Kamiya Hiroshi (making his second appearance on SgS). The director specifically chose Rin because he wanted a real 15-year-old actor.

With few actors her age out there with as much experience, she seems the perfect choice, but Rin’s recent realization she hasn’t led a typical 15-year-old’s life makes her uncertain. The director cuts several times because she’s either sounding too responsible or too young. But that’s to be expected, considering Rin is more responsible and composed than most kids her age.

Even Kamiya tells her she impresses him; when he was fifteen, all he did was goof off, and even though he’s regarded as one of the industry’s top voices, his own opinion of himself is of someone constantly unsure if he’s even cut out to be a seiyu. He can be negative and overthink things. He never thinks he’s good enough, so he’s always polishing.

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Learning this insight from such a towering voice works wonders for Rin, now that she knows she’s not the only one who feels the way she does. And however her career started, she is a seiyu, and she wants to become a great one. For that, she decides she’ll change schools for high school.

When she breaks the news to Sayo, Sayo takes it as you’d expect. She can’t hide her sadness or tears, but nor does she think it’s the end of their eternal relationship; not by a long shot. In fact, Sayo’s tears are both of sadness they won’t see as much of each other, but also joy and pride that her once-profoundly shy friend has grown so strong, and can now stand on her own two feet.

Of course, Rin still needs Sayo’s help with one thing, and will continue to year after year, no matter what: their annual end-of summer giant parfait.

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Sore ga Seiyuu! – 09

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After eight episodes focusing on the seiyu, mostly Futaba, this episode switches things up a bit and re-tells many of the past events, along with a couple future ones, from the perspective of Futaba’s petite but tireless manager Konno Aoi.

As the intermediary between numerous seiyu and numerous production companies, her day is never not busy, and it’s full of small victories and failures, either made better or worse by how she reacts to them and how she delivers the news to her charges.

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From a flashback in the cold open we see what brought Konno into this kind of work: while taking the stage or the spotlight isn’t for her, facilitating the rise of others is not only something she’s good at, but something she enjoys, especially when she gets a big hug from the recipient as a reward.

Just as Futaba makes up for her relative deficiency of otherworldly talent of the Kamiyas and Hories by working hard and trying to stay positive, Konno works no less hard to get Futaba two jobs in one day, further building up her experience, motivation, and confidence as she gets better with time.

Plus, their increasingly dramatic run through the city to make a recording appointment (instead of simply calling to say they got held up in traffic) made for an unexpectedly amusingly action sequence.

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Sore ga Seiyuu! – 08

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This week Futa-Futa, Ichigo and Rin-Rin are reunited for an in-store event marking the release of their first CD single, “Into Your Ears.” There, they learn of the stress and anticipation prior to the event starting, along with the understanding that the designated performance room will not be packed, judging from the wider spacing of the seats and the fact a couple of employees will be in the crowd (I count 31 total people above).

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But despite all that, the girls do their best for their small but passionate mini-legion of fans who did turn out to watch their first performance, and while the song doesn’t start exactly when they think it will, they don’t make any mistakes in the actual performance, which is good. Far from a fiasco, everything goes pretty smoothly.

It becomes clear to Futaba that Rin and Ichigo are more popular than she, but is heartened by an encounter with one particular fan of hers who not only knows her C.V. and traveled from Saga to see her, but bought the same Korori doll she has. I’m also glad the show didn’t go too dark or cynical with regard to the intensity of the fans; they all behaved themselves…except, perhaps, Rin’s hyper classmate/”first fan” Sayo!

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Earphones as a group also learns that they have to be realistic about the speed of their ascent into J-pop relevance, and have to be satisfied with a few CD sales rather than selling out, just as they have to be satisfied with a third- to half-full hall. Everything takes time, patience, resilience, and work work work.

After the event, Futaba ends up being called into Gonzo’s TV studios to do a narration for a show, her first such job. She’s understandably nervous about this too, especially when she learns the guy doing the job with her is the famous TV voice Machi Yuji (also the voice of Ultraman Tiga, and Tsukino Usagi’s dad). Machi-san is a Pro with a capital P, having amassed enough skill and experience to nail a script that’s literally just been handed to him, even offering the producers corrections down to the frame.

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Watching Machi work and make it look so easy is obviously quite intimidating to Futaba, to the point she totally blows her dry run. But when Machi-san tells her he used to be in her position—no one starts out perfect, or even good—she’s stops worrying about how bad she was and starts working to be as good as she can be.

Her second try is much better, and Futaba’s seiyu Takahashi Rie does a fine job clearly differentiating between bad and better to even the untrained ear. She gets through the job, and impresses enough that Machi mentions finishing a story he started next time they meet, suggesting she’ll get more work there.

If she does, each time she goes, she’ll learn more and more, and get better and better. But she won’t ever be able to stop working any less hard than she is now. Constant improvement requires constant struggle, especially for people like Futaba.

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Sore ga Seiyuu! – 07

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More jobs have come for Futaba, Ichigo and Rin, to the point that they’re busy enough to end up in the same studio on the same day, not for their Earphones work but for three separate gigs: Futaba is dubbing a zombie movie with veteran Koyama Rikiya (and the rude guy who said she stunk way back when), Ichigo is reading for an audiobook, and Rin is doing voice work for a video game.

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Futaba is scared of the film’s horror theme, especially the fact one of her roles is a zombie, but eventually finds her footing, inspired by the always professional (and veggie juice-drinking) Koyama. Ichigo must adjust her voice to something less urgent than anime yet emphatic enough to get the point across. Rin has the strangest and most abstract job, simply firing off all her lines with no one else around, and even making noises for when her character receives small, medium, and large punches.

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While all three were nervous going into their respective jobs, by the end they’re all happy and confident in their performances. And while it’s raining when it’s time to leave the studio, Futaba and Ichigo remembered to bring umbrellas, proving they’ve grown since the day they had to share Rin’s due to poor preparation. That preparation and growth is also apparent, as both the rude guy and Koyama say Futaba did well, raising her spirits even more as they head to the wrap party.

So ends another funny, informative, and charming episode about the day in the life of new but increasingly successful seiyus.

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Sore ga Seiyuu! – 06

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Earphones are about to go through a very busy gauntlet of dancing lessons, recording, music video filming, events, and promotion for their first single, “Into Your Ears.” But before that, Futaba recalls the her of last year, who recorded a Drama CD with Kugimiya Rie (the show is on a mini Toradora! tear).

When she passes a video store and sees a display for an anime adaptation of the CD, she gets excited about having to budget her time even more, which feels pretty premature; it’s practically assured at this point she’s going to end up disappointed.

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Sure enough, she doesn’t hear from the producers of the CD when she should, and it’s Rin who inadvertently breaks the news to her in the middle of one of their radio shows: she, not Futaba, will be voicing Kugimiya’s little sister in the anime version.

Futaba is able to keep it together long enough to finish the show, but after that, she just needs to get away from Rin, and Ichigo, and everything. The show really lets us feel the sting of rejection, garnished with the extra shock of her friend and unit partner being the one usurping her.

It falls to her senpai Shiodome to talk her out of her funk, and I’m pleased to report Shiodome, while kind, isn’t overly or conspicuously kind, and it seems from her body language she’d prefer not to be so hands-on with her juniors, lest they not learn the lessons they need to learn. But in this case, Futaba had her idea of being a seiyu being a dream burst.

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Shiodome clarifies that it’s the audience that sees and hears the dream, not the seiyu. The seiyu make the dream possible through their commitment and professionalism, performing with everything they’ve got no matter what’s going on with their personal lives. And all seiyu, even TsundeRie and Hocchan, have felt the sting she’s feeling.

Futaba listens to her drama CD again and learns that the her of a year ago actually sucked, but realizes the fact she can tell is proof she’s grown, and demands more of herself. Expressing to Rin her jealousy and frustration with not getting the part, but also her excitment by what Rin will bring to the part, help clear the air.

For now, Futaba must focus on Earphones, singing and dancing her heart out. If she does well, she’ll get noticed, and other jobs will come.

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