Bloom Into You – 08 – A Friend and a Senpai

Yagate Kimi ni Naru is the finest school romance I’ve watched since Tsuki ga Kirei back in the Spring of last year, and I’ve known that for some weeks now. Both shows are wonderful to look at, but more importantly they feature some wonderfully fleshed-out characters and relationships, and the more I learn about both, the deeper I sink into the show.

It would have been so easy and expected for someone like Sayaka to launch a transparent full-scale war against Yuu once she determined she was a potential threat to her relationship with Touko. Not only did YKN not take that route, but continued to develop Sayaka as someone just as confused, frustrated, and yet still mostly happy as Yuu.

Watching Sayaka take “revenge” on her former senpai who so coldly dumped her was a thing of absolute beauty, and a perfect way to start the episode in which her and Yuu’s rivalry is laid bare (well, more bare). And how perfect was it that Touko swiftly delivered “payback” in the form of continuing to hold Sayaka’s hand?

Yuu gets the feeling that she and Sayaka have some things to talk about, and that the present chill is affecting their relay baton exchange game, so after school she invites Sayaka to join her for a repast of McDonalds. Sayaka almost immediately calls Yuu out for her “olive branch”, which could harm Sayaka’s image simply by dint of Yuu being her junior.

Yuu holds her own, saying she wouldn’t put it so “dramatically.” Still, the two come to a sort of mutual respect once they learn that neither is the person they expected: Sayaka isn’t so easygoing, and Yuu isn’t so timid and respectful. Both appreciate their directness with each other.

That directness breaks down when neither comes right out and says what they both insinuate by mincing words. Instead, Sayaka says she likes Touko very much “as a close friend” while Yuu likes her “as a senpai” … because what other possible way would they like her??? (Gee, I wonder.)

This first segment of the episode is called “Intersection,” which is fitting in many ways. First, Sayaka and Yuu find common ground and gain a bit more understanding of what makes one another tick, leading to them eventually getting the baton hand-off right.

But an intersection isn’t just a meeting, but a splitting into different directions. In the interests of being as open with Sayaka as possible regarding Touko, she expresses her hope that after the stage play Touko will be more open and “like herself”, dropping the Ms. Perfect act. Such a prospect frightens both of them, since they’re not sure what the hell they’d do in such an instance.

Would Sayaka finally confess her feelings? Would Yuu be left in the lurch? Neither has any idea what such a future holds? Regardless, I love every minute Yuu and Sayaka share the screen, especially now that they’ve reached a measure of détente.

The second segment deals with another common school romance trope: the Rainy Day Umbrella Share. It starts with Yuu Being Yuu, which is to say being super-kind to those she cares about, even if it means getting wet. When the guy Akari likes forgets his umbrella, she nudges her in the guy’s direction, though the two were going to walk home together. Akari is deeply grateful for the gesture, and off she goes with the guy, the two already looking like a couple.

This leaves Yuu stranded at school, as the only available loaner umbrella is useless. She calls her sister, but when Rei’s boyfriend answers, she says never mind; she doesn’t want to interrupt their date. She’s also hesitant to call Touko, not just because she doesn’t want to give her the wrong idea or just because she doesn’t want to burden her. There’s a number of factors that drive her hesitation; another reflection of her character that Rei has down to a T in a brief scene with her boyfriend.

When she says Yuu is great at getting on with things once she’s dipped her toe into the water, so to speak; it’s that initial hesitation that’s her problem. Now knowing pretty clearly how much Yuu’s friend Touko likes her sister, Rei expresses her hope Yuu will find the person she needs to give her those oh-so-important nudges—much like the one Yuu gave Akari so an opportunity wouldn’t be missed.

Much to Yuu’s surprise, Touko actually called her while she was on the phone with Rei, and shows up with an umbrella just when Yuu was about to call her. They walk together with Touko holding the umbrella, but once Yuu sees that Touko’s shoulder is getting soaked she insists on taking it; they compromise by holding it together.

When they take a rest under an awning, Yuu proceeds to dry Touko off with a towel, in a very warm and delicate scene. Yuu’s “pampering” makes Touko happy, but she’s worried she’s taking advantage of Yuu’s kindness and that resentment will build up in Yuu and curdle into hatred.

It’s a perfectly plausible scenario from Touko’s perspective, since she still believes Yuu when she says her feelings are still just one-sided. Of course, that certainly doesn’t seem to be the case, as Yuu betrays when she blushingly tells Touko how happy she was to be rescued by her and her umbrella.

Yuu quickly corrects by saying she “meant nothing weird” about it, and Touko thinks to herself “that’s more the Yuu I know.” But that’s the whole point: she doesn’t know the Whole Yuu…nor the Whole Sayaka. Both girls have acknowledged and accepted each others’ existences. Now comes the hard part: acknowledging and expressing Touko is much more to them than the words “friend” or “senpai” alone can express.

P.S. The piece of music that plays during particularly dramatic scenes reminds me of Uematsu’s “A Secret Sleeping in the Deep Sea,” one of my all-time favorite video game audio tracks. 

Bloom Into You – 07 – Plenty for Right Now

In middle school, a girl confessed to Sayaka. Sayaka thought it was weird, but went with it, and got very much into it, such that when she and the other girl were apart for a long time, her longing only grew. That made it particularly painful when they reunited and the other girl was just, suddenly…done with her. She laughs off what they did to be “what kids do”, and “just a phase.” But Sayaka’s heart was broken that day.

She decided to push the experience to the back of her head, and focus on her studies, enrolling at a co-ed high school where she imagined a boy would fall for and confess to her (or vice versa). But the heartbreak still stung so much she couldn’t quite focus enough to score the top grades of the class. So the role of freshman rep went instead to one Nanami Touko.

Whoever this Nanami was, Sayaka resolved to surpass her. But then she caught a look at her face and heard her voice, and she ended up never surpassing her, and moreover stopped caring about trying to. Despite never wanting to fall for another girl again, Sayaka fell for Touko.

Of course, Sayaka could never admit that to anyone, most of all Touko, because she could tell the burdens Touko bore even without knowing about the tragedy of her older sister. Touko was friendly and kind and approachable to all, but only to a point; she’d keep everyone, including Sayaka, at a certain distane to avoid exposing the old, flawed Nanami Touko she was hiding from everyone with her flawless facade.

Sayaka never thought she was special for detecting that other side, and so never seriously considered crossing that boundary to get closer to Touko, however much she might want to. Touko, in her words, belonged to no one. Rather, Sayaka carved out the role Touko’s right hand; her sidekick; her rock. Thus she could be pretty much closer than anyone else.

Touko is aware of this, and to the episodes credit, it takes time away from Sayaka’s head to spend some in Touko’s. Touko knows Sayaka is aware of “the other Touko,” but never oversteps any boundaries. Sayaka is only ever asking Touko to keep up that perfect version of herself while also supporting her in that effort. That’s the way things have been, that’s the way Sayaka likes it, and that’s the way Sayaka wants things to stay.

But now there’s a threat to that status quo named Koito Yuu. Sayaka didn’t consider Yuu a threat at first, and perhaps she still doesn’t; after all, Yuu hasn’t known Touko as long as she has. But at much as Sayaka prides herself on knowing Touko more than anyone, Touko and Yuu continue a gentle dance that is drawing them closer together. It frustrates Sayaka to no end that Yuu seems willing to so blithely cross the boundaries Sayaka established for herself…but still thinks she’ll fail, due to her “Touko belongs to no one” theory.

Touko’s reactions to calling Yuu “Yuu”—not to mention Yuu calling her “Touko-senpai”—make Yuu want to be more “aggressive;” to see how far she can make Touko go. Maybe, just maybe, if and when she does, Yuu will finally feel something as strongly as Touko does.

Like Sayaka, Yuu always thought it was puerile, weird or somehow not right for girls to like other girls. And it’s true that even in 2018 the LGBTQ community in Japan has it pretty rough, at least relative to other developed countries.

So it’s most gratifying that the show introduces a serious adult same-sex relationship in the form of the Japanese teacher Hakozaki Riko and her girlfriend, who owns the cafe where Touko, Sayaka and Yuu meet with Koyomi on writing the script for the stage play.

Hakozaki-sensei conceals this from her students when they ask how she knows the cafe owner, but like the intimacy of a first-name basis, the way the owner first greets Hakozaki before either of them are aware her students are there betrays the fact she’s hiding the true extent of her relationship. Ever the observer of human behavior, Sayaka also notices it in the way Hakozaki drinks her coffee at the counter.

While the other students are oblivious, Sayaka can tell something’s up, and her “suspicions” are confirmed when we see Hakozaki staying at her girlfriend’s place and kissing each other goodnight. It shouldn’t be such a big deal (again, this is 2018)…but it still feels like one. It’s not just what kids do. It’s not just a phase.

Sayaka’s isolation only intensifies when she hears Touko calling Yuu by her first name like it’s nothing. She stages a passive-aggressive protest, to no avail. Then, the next day, she visits the coffee shop and strikes up a chat with the cafe owner. She asks, as carefully as she dares, what her relationship is to Hakozaki-sensei. The owner states clearly and unequivocally that she’s her girlfriend.

Sayaka wasn’t prepared for such a frank, unambiguous response, but it’s something for which she’s greatly appreciative. It’s also liberating for her, and she opens up about her own feelings for another girl, even after having her heart broken by another (Touko’s name is left out of it, of course). It goes without saying (though Sayaka does mention it), but she really really needed to talk to someone about this, especially with someone who, like her, thought she should keep it a secret when she was younger.

When asked why she doesn’t simply confess, Sayaka lays out the reasons: there’s no room in Touko’s heart to accept the feelings of others; it would only be a source of stress for her; it could disrupt or even ruin what they have now, something Sayaka couldn’t bear. She asks the cafe owner if it’s okay to hide one’s feelings for someone in order to stay by her side…or is that just selfishness or cowardice?

The owner responds by giving Sayaka another coffee on the house…for being such a kind soul. Because that’s what she deems Sayaka to be. Someone who keeps her feelings hidden for the sake of her friend, who carries a lot of stress so their friend won’t have to, is very kind, in her book. Confessing wouldn’t be wrong…but neither is staying the course.

The truth is, Sayaka isn’t ready for things to change one way or another, so staying the course is the right path. Does Yuu get on her nerves? Absol-friggin’-lutely. Could it become more of a problem if Yuu and Touko get ever closer together? Of course. But as Touko makes it clear—almost as if she sensed Sayaka needed some reassuring on that particular day—is that she’s glad Sayaka is a part of her life.

If she weren’t, things would be too easy, and Touko would slack off. Standing in front of Sayaka helps her be the ideal person she strives for (which, as we know, is the person her late sister was). Wherever Yuu falls in the equation in the future, Touko will keep relying on Sayaka, which is, for Sayaka, plenty for right now.

Bloom Into You – 06 – Flawless Performance

With midterms over, the council is full speed ahead on the cultural festival stage play…although they don’t yet have a scriptwriter. Yuu thinks she knows the perfect one in Koyomi, whose novel was so interesting she read it twice before handing it back with her endorsement.

But Yuu still isn’t 100% in on even having a play, and if circumstances such as having no scriptwriter means there won’t be one, well…better that than having to worry about Touko working too hard.

This is the week Sayaka’s silk gloves come off, as she takes every opportunity to lay into Yuu on stepping the fuck off her turf. Sayaka knows the “real” Touko just as Yuu does, and deems herself the one, only, and best person to look after her.

She also gives Yuu a clue to start digging into why she’s adopted the “perfect” girl persona so far from who she really is. Her sleuthing leads her to learning that seven years ago Touko’s sister Mio was StuCo President, but before the stage play she was killed by a traffic accident.

It’s pretty clear to Yuu now why Touko is so gung-ho about the play, and about continuing to put on a “flawless performance:” since she was ten and badgered by everyone around her to do so, she’s always been committed to being just like her sister. Someone beloved, praised, and relied upon. Even if it’s all an act, she’s not going to stop…not even for Yuu.

What Yuu leaves unsaid when she confronts Touko with what she knows and asks if she’d reconsider not doing the play is that she’s coming close to falling in love with Touko. Not “Perfect” Touko, but “Weak” Touko, who you could also call “Real Touko.”

Yuu wants Touko to be who Yuu deems to be “her true self,” but it’s ultimately not her call, and she knows that. But it pains her to wonder who she’ll ever love if she can’t ever fall for the Touko she’s been dealt; one who detests the very idea of giving up on being like Mio to everyone else.

As her self-proclaimed guardian, Sayaka seems to be fine with the status quo, and doesn’t want Yuu mucking it up. But when Yuu holds back what she should say in order to maintain her comfortable limbo with Touko, it seems like a seed that could grow into something unpleasant.

Add to that the post-credit sequence, which repeats Yuu and Touko’s evening walk while holding hands but switches from Yuu’s to Touko’s head. In Yuu’s head, we can hear her desire to change…specifically into someone who can fall in love with Touko.

But here’s Touko telling her to never change. Why’s that? Touko believes words like love to be “shackles”, and that if Yuu changes she might become someone Touko won’t love anymore, leaving her alone again (clearly, Sayaka doesn’t do much for her).

It’s a reasonable position for a little sister who was essentially treated as a spare by her family and utterly lost in the dazzling glare of her big sister, only for that light to suddenly go out. Touko filled the vacuum by transforming. It wasn’t just obligation; it was fear of loneliness.

Wotaku ni Koi wa Muzukashii – 09 – Changing at Their Own Pace

Hirotaka and Narumi go on a normie date to a theme park, and Hirotaka takes the normie part very seriously, bringing along a piggy bank and fining Narumi whenever she uses an otaku reference or says something a yaoi would say. Never mind the fact that bringing a piggy bank to a date isn’t a very normie thing to do!

Hirotaka is doing this because he believes he won’t truly make progress in his relationship with Narumi until they can spend time as something other than otaku buddies. That is to say, he wants to see the same side of Narumi her other dates saw: the one actually trying to hide her otaku/yaoi sides.

The date proceeds normally, with both Hirotaka and Narumi incurring penalties for letting their true sides slip. Then they reach a haunted boat ride, and in her rush to get aboard, she ends up leaving the platform on a boat not with Hirotaka, but with Kabakura.

Turns out Koyanagi, who ends up in a boat with Hirotaka, made Kabakura take her to a theme park, because she heard Hirotaka and Narumi would be doing it and it sounded fun. Narumi has to cross her arms tightly so as not to accidentally hold Kabakura’s hand, and both are scaredy-cats.

Meanwhile nothing fazes Hirotaka or Koyanagi, though the latter can sense a bit of restlessness on the former’s part. He tells her not to worry too much about how fast things are progressing; it’s not often two people go at the exact same pace. There’s nothing wrong with taking things slow, and if that’s how things are going, there’s no reason to shake things up.

When the two couples meet up then part ways, Narumi and Hirotaka rest a spell on a bench, and Narumi scares the dickens out of Hirotaka by saying “this isn’t working” and “we should end this.” She’s not talking about their relationship, thank God, but about the piggy bank penalties. Once free to talk about otaku stuff, they both feel much more at ease.

She then gives Hirotaka a surprising gift: a pair of earrings. It turns out she too wanted to see a side of him she hadn’t seen before; in this case, the side of Hirotaka who wanted to grow up fast. While the looks of the show on the whole are pretty much average for the genre, the animators take their time on Narumi fiddling with her hair and Hirotaka suddenly pulling it back to reveal she’s wearing (clip-on) earrings too.

He leans in to what looks at first like a kiss to thank her, but it turns into a hug, albeit a tight and romantic one. He thanks her for the earrings, and admits he can be as childish as she claims to be. He had no reason to be concerned about them not going anywhere, or nothing changing, because they are…just at their own pace.

Kuzu no Honkai – 12 (Fin)

Last week I joked that I’d be fine with whatever transpired in the Kuzu no Honkai finale…as long as it didn’t feature a school festival. Alas, that’s what we get, and for the most part, it felt like marking time; padding for some closing remarks by Hanabi.

There’s also a time jump from the November festival to March, only for the episode to go back to the festival, which feels fairly weird and not altogether necessary. The jump occurs after Hanabi does some milling around as a stagehand, then ends up encountering Mugi in a supply closet.

What’s going to happen there? Well, I was reasonably sure it wasn’t going to turn into anything steamy, but the jump to March, when Hanabi’s class is now preparing a celebration ceremony for Kanai and Akane’s impending wedding. While being hit on by another guy, Hanabi is “saved” by Ecchan, now sporting shorter hair.

The shorn locks are a not-so-subtle symbol for her having shorn the part of herself that couldn’t live without Hanabi in her bed, and Hanabi is relieved to have Ecchan talking to her again. Ecchan is also correct that Hanabi still wants space and isn’t altogether uncomfortable being alone…though Akane’s olive branch of a rose from her bouquet is an encouragement to, at some point, go looking for her next love.

As we rewind to the festival, we learn that that doesn’t mean a romantic reunion with Mugi. Hanabi goes over a number of reasons why she wouldn’t mind continuing to be with him, but ultimately, she’s a lot happier simply talking with the guy; not having to continue to define their relationship with physical contact. They’re “using their words,” and it feels good to do so.

“Real Love” is what both are after, which is why they decide say goodbye to each other (though whether they remain platonic friends, we don’t know.) After all, they both know what it feels like to be in love, and while they could one day find themselves more deeply in love with each other, neither want to be “saved” in that way, at least not yet.

They don’t want to give up on the possibility that some day, someone will cross their path and they’ll know it’s true love. They decide to live that way, even knowing they could get hurt even worse next time, or may never find that love. They are finally assigning value to themselves; they no see themselves as ‘scum’, or ‘the worst’. They both lost their first loves, but they’re young, and life goes on.

Kuzu no Honkai – 11

While on a train to a weekend hot springs getaway with Kanai (two adults! How often does that happen in anime?) Akane falls asleep (she later blames being with the younger Mugi last night). She dreams she’s in a gallery of all the men she’s had, and all the lines she supposedly crossed, while either not realizing it…or not caring.

The distinction is moot; what matters is the reason: she’s never felt truly connected with anyone. In the dream, Kanai asks her why she “keeps doing this” if, as she herself said, she’s not “suited for it.”

Like last week, there’s only one brief scene involving Hanabi, and it’s one in a situation we’ve barely seen her in: hanging out with high school peers she hasn’t laid with. They view her and Mugi as some kind of ideal couple, and we the audience, like Hanabi, can only roll our eyes and say If they only knew.

When Hanabi tells them how she thinks it’s best if she and Mugi don’t see each other, they call her “such a grownup”, and considering everything she’s been through in such a short time, and the satisfying end result of Kanai’s rejection and Mugi’s, er, “moving on,” I tend to agree.

Even the contrast between the girls’ food orders and her plain ol’ coffee seem to help her exude a wisdom beyond her years. She’s been through some stuff; they haven’t. If they actually have, this show didn’t have time to show it.

Last week Akane didn’t like her dynamic with Kanai, in which she he was occupying far too much of her thoughts for her comfort. Trying to move on by telling all, if anything only intensified Kanai’s feelings for her. She’s in a nonchalant “okay let’s see where this goes” mode when they start off on the hot springs trip, but by the end, she starts to notice her heart beating.

No one has been able to throw Akane off like Kanai throws her off here. He tells her he’s fine with her messing around because he thinks she does it because she likes it, as opposed to never having known anything else. The flaws she’s always thought kept her from connecting are of no concern to Kanai, and his love for her isn’t transactional; it’s unconditional, almost paternal.

That unconditional love, and his desire for her to live a happy life, wipes clean those portraits in her dream gallery, replacing them with the image of her and Kanai. She finally feels connected. It’s something entirely new to her, but she doesn’t dislike it, and the next morning when Kanai goes for it and asks if she’ll marry him, she decides to give it a try.

Now that she’s ready to take that step, her first date with Mugi is more about closure than anything else; even Mugi realizes this. For so long he tried to find out how he could change her, but in reality, the Akane he loved was the one who existed; not the ideal he hoped to help create.

It’s clearly shitty for Mugi to see the change in her once she announces her marriage, knowing he had nothing to do with that change. But like Kanai’s rejection of Hanabi, it’s also freeing. Mugi loved the way Akane was before she changed. But she has, and so I imagine he’ll move on. But he won’t forget her.

It will hurt for a while, but Mugi will be okay, just like Hanabi and Moca and Ecchan will be alright. With Akane and Kanai getting hitched, it will be interesting to see if Hanabi and Mugi attempt a relationship, only not as it was: rather than an pragmatic alliance of “replacements”, a genuine romantic pairing of two people who no longer consider themselves scum.

Hanayamata – 06

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Naru has been following through on her efforts to change herself for the better, and those efforts haven’t gone unnoticed by her father. He’s concerned by the change, suspecting everything from delinquency to illicit sexual relations, and even more confused when she asked him if he’s noticed her changing, but he has nothing to fear.

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Naru’s simply found something to be passionate about, and work hard with others on. He unwittingly gives her the idea to make the favorite flowers of its members the theme of their yosakoi club. But with only two months to prepare for the Hanairo Festival, they decide that a smaller event would be better in order to test how they’ll perform for a crowd.

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Hana finds such an event at a department store, but numerous hurdles stand in their way. Sari is working hard not to be a pushover, and denies permission to participate unless they all score an average of 80 in their exams and show her their complete performance beforehand. Yaya also has to prepare for her band’s audition, which is a big deal to her and her bandmates. (Interestingly, we don’t get to watch their audition.)

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In the end, Hana doesn’t score high enough, but turns in supplementary work to Sari, not to change her mind, but to show her she’s working hard. When she accidentally gives Sari a notebook with their choreography, Sari starts to have a change of heart, and changes her mind after seeing them perform in front of the class.

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That first impromptu public performance comes when a classmate spots the naruko in Yaya’s hand, and Hana gets the idea to show rather than tell the class exactly what they’re up to. It’s certainly not a perfect or even complete performance, but you have to start somewhere. Also, the music Tami wrote is a really nice piano arrangement of the opening theme.

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But while the yosakoi club enjoys a victory this week, Yaya’s band did not qualify, and they look pretty forlorn about it. At this point I’m sure Yaya is wondering whether her drumming suffered due to diverting some of her passion and energy to yosakoi. The time may come when she’ll have to choose one or the other, and it won’t be an easy choice.

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